What do Seinfeld, 3rd Rock From the Sun, and Ellen have in common? All were mid-season replacements. These days, networks devote almost as much attention to their bench as to their fall starting lineup — in large part because they’re swifter in giving laggards the hook. Thus Chicago Sons has usurped The John Larroquette Show, JAG has succeeded Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Orleans is subbing for EZ Streets. And that’s just for starters. The following series — organized in ever-popular genres — will soon replace the networks’ weaker shows (most debut in March; the majority are still unscheduled):
— Fighting for Justice L.A. Law vet David E. Kelley focuses on a defense attorney — played by the always interesting Dylan McDermott — in ABC’s THE PRACTICE. Executive producer Sam Raimi (Hercules: The Legendary Journeys) calls ABC’s SPY GAME ”a modern version of cool secret agent shows [like] The Avengers.” Star Allison Smith (Kate & Allie), however, is no Diana Rigg. NBC has high hopes for PRINCE STREET, a kind of EZ Streets lite based on true stories of undercover cops. Also from NBC: CRISIS CENTER, a kind of ER for social ills starring Kellie Martin (Life Goes On). CBS will offer FEDS, a drama featuring Blair Brown as the boss to federal prosecutors — a part ”generally played by a man,” Brown notes. ”Thank you, Janet Reno.” Fox will launch LAWLESS, a drama with former NFL star Brian Bosworth as a Miami PI, and SECRET SERVICE GUY, a comedy starring Judge Reinhold. ”He’d take a bullet for the President’s dog,” says exec producer Steve Pepoon. Yes, but can he protect another Fox sitcom from biting the dust? Finally, The WB’s BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER takes on assorted high school ghouls in a small-screen adaptation of the feature film (think Clueless meets The X-Files).
— Working Girls Speaking of justice: With three sitcom offerings from NBC, we can only hope one will replace Mr. Rhodes. It won’t, however, be THE NAKED TRUTH, which takes over Suddenly Susan’s Thursday slot beginning this week. A la Susan, the revamped Truth finds Tea Leoni’s character writing a magazine advice column (attention, Overlap Department), only the ’80s star playing her boss is George Wendt (Norm!). Another sitcom, another magazine: NBC’s JUST SHOOT ME has Laura San Giacomo, George Segal, David Spade (SNL), and Wendie Malick (Dream On) working at a fashion bible. And NYPD Blue’s Sharon Lawrence proves she can also make ’em laugh as a downsized promotions exec (”Auntie Mame with an edge,” says the star) on NBC’s FIRED UP. Over at CBS, TEMPORARILY YOURS fashion maven Debi Mazar (Civil Wars) will try on all kinds of jobs as a temp.
— Family Strife In his still untitled ABC comedy, Arsenio Hall is a sportscaster who shacks up with a divorcee (Independence Day’s Vivica A. Fox), only to discover that marriage is harder than, say, hosting a talk show. Perky Pam Dawber (Mork & Mindy) returns in CBS’ LIFE…AND STUFF, described thusly by costar/creator Rick Reynolds: ”Every couple with kids has a relationship in need of repair.” All wackiness will no doubt ensue. Fox has KING OF THE HILL (see review on page 52) and the Pauly Shore sitcom PAULY, which even network entertainment prez Peter Roth calls ”an acquired taste.” And UPN’s SOCIAL STUDIES turns a Manhattan boarding school into one big Welcome to the Dollhouse kind of family. ”We’ve really cranked up the teenage angst,” says creator Nancylee Myatt. If Studies ends up airing after Moesha, it should make the grade.