THE GOLDEN PALACE
(CBS, 8-8:30 p.m.; premieres Sept. 18)
*CONCEPT: The Golden Girls in Fawlty Towers.
*COMMENTARY: This revamped, de-Bea Arthur-ized version of The Golden Girls finds Betty White, Estelle Getty, and Rue McClanahan buying and running a Miami Beach hotel, the Golden Palace. In an attempt to bring fresh blood into a seven-year-old show, the producers have decided to skew weird—hey, let’s cast Cheech Marin as a wacky hotel chef and let the girls bounce off him! The hotel setting also offers the chance for the trio to interact with newly registered guests (and guest stars) each week.
*BEHIND THE SCENES: With a new network, a new format, and a new supporting cast, The Golden Palace, says executive producer Paul Junger Witt, offers a chance to ”get rid of some of the bathwater and keep the baby.” So far, the definition of bathwater has been very flexible. British actor Alexei Sayle— whom Witt called ”one of the funniest men who works in the English language” after hiring him to play the hotel cook—was replaced by Marin just days after starting work. ”Cheech is a wonderful addition,” says Witt.
*CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: There may be another year of life in the old Girls yet, but no more than that.
(NBC, 8-8:30 p.m.; premieres Sept. 18, 8-9 p.m.)
*CONCEPT: Inadequately Solved Mysteries. *COMMENTARY: Robert Stack is host of this Unsolved Mysteries spin-off in which convicted criminals are given another look, as inmates present evidence they think proves their innocence. The appeal of Final Appeal is that it might permit some innocent people to be set free; the unpleasant aspect of the show is that the victims of these real-life crimes have to relive their bad experiences after the cases supposedly have been closed.
*BEHIND THE SCENES: What’s the hardest part of making Final Appeal? Executive producer John Cosgrove offers a familiar show-biz gripe: Everybody wants to be a star. ”There are approximately 750,000 convicts in prisons around the U.S.,” he says. ”Each and every one of them says they’re innocent. The challenge is to find cases where there’s actual evidence.” Those cases are few and far between; only about one in 50 of the sob stories researched by Cosgrove’s team will make it to the air.
*CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: The lure of crime-based reality TV is powerful, but this probably won’t be one of America’s most wanted series.
(NBC, 8:30-9 p.m.; premieres Sept. 25)
*CONCEPT: When Bad Things Happen to Big Objects.
*COMMENTARY: NBC rounds out its reality hour with this Ken Howard hosted effort, a series that examines everything from collapsing buildings to the plane crash that killed singer Ricky Nelson in 1985 and tries to figure how these disasters occurred. It’s a way to show lots of dramatic news footage and put a scientific, documentary spin on it.
*BEHIND THE SCENES: ”With the bad rap reality shows are getting, this was a way to take the high ground,” says executive producer Robert Jaffe, whose show was a last-minute addition after NBC decided to schedule infotainment rather than comedy on Fridays. ”The networks need inexpensive programs,” adds Jaffe, who calls What Happened? ”pretty low-budget. Not every show can be a $2 million episode of Cheers.” But at least Cheers has laughs; What Happened?, with its relentless focus on the likes of burning airplanes, bids to become TV’s most depressing show. ”We have stories by survivors and rescuers, too,” says Jaffe. But he admits, ”We’re not getting any discounts on airfares.”
*CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: Tiny; this one’s a time killer until NBC can figure out what to do with Fridays.