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Remote Patrol

Keeping a watch on TV


Much ink has been spilled over the disparity in TV-viewing habits between blacks and whites. In the latest study, Seinfeld, the No. 1 sitcom for whites, ranks 54th overall with blacks, while the No. 1 series for blacks, Fox’s now-canceled Between Brothers, placed 107th with whites. The creation of UPN (home of Moesha) and The WB (as in The Wayans Bros.) – which initially targeted African Americans – only hastened small-screen segregation.

Three mid-season sitcoms with interracial casts try to bridge the barrier: For Your Love (NBC, Tuesdays, 8:30-9 p.m.), Damon (Fox, March 22, 29, April 5, 8:30-9 p.m., then Mondays, 8-8:30 p.m.), and Getting Personal (Fox, Mondays starting April 6, 8:30-9 p.m.). Only the last seems destined for comic, if not Nielsen, success.

Created by Living Single’s Yvette Lee Bowser, For Your Love concerns three young couples, two of whom are African-American: Holly Robinson Peete (Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper) and James Lesure play newlyweds who move next door to their Caucasian best friends, D.W. Moffett (Chicago Sons) and Dedee Pfeiffer (Cybill). Lesure’s commitment-phobic brother (Edafe Blackmon) and his divorced girlfriend (Tamala Jones) frequently drop by.

With Love, the Peacock makes an honorable attempt to broaden its mostly monochromatic sitcom palette, but the scripts are hopelessly white-bread. Among its tepid observations: Guys don’t like to hold gals’ purses! And ladies don’t like fellas who come to bed with sharp toenails! By trying to be universal in its appeal, the show winds up maddeningly mundane (which could make it the ideal companion to its lead-in, Mad About You).

Damon takes the opposite tack: It wants to offend everyone. Damon Wayans plays an undercover cop, which allows the In Living Color man to play outrageous characters (e.g., an effeminate pimp). Fellow ILC alum David Alan Grier costars as Wayans’ Barney Fife-ish security-guard brother, and SCTV vet Andrea Martin pops up as Wayans’ boss.

Too bad such a gifted cast gets stuck with the crassest sitcom in history. Lowlights are too numerous to list, but here are a few: In his pimp guise, Wayans boasts of an 80-year-old ”ho,” ”This bitch can take her teeth out and work you like a neck bone!” Two-time Tony nominee Martin, meanwhile, is reduced to grabbing her crotch for cheap yuks. Damon makes Married…With Children look like Masterpiece Theatre (which just might make it Fox’s first non-animated sitcom hit in ages).

Getting Personal has a few smarmy gags, but it’s got just as many smart ones. Vivica A. Fox stars as the new boss of a video company that employs Duane Martin (Scream 2) and Jon Cryer (Partners). Elliott Gould fills the George Segal-in-Just Shoot Me role as the company’s out-of-it owner.

Personal’s cast possesses far more charm than Love’s generic ensemble. Fox displays better chemistry with Martin than she did with Arsenio Hall in his ill-fated ABC sitcom, and Cryer’s always reliable for laughs. The pilot features an uproarious pop-culture debate: ”I refuse to believe that Weezy was only with George for his money!” Martin fumes when Fox questions The Jeffersons’ bond. ”She loved that little man!” So did America, black and white. It remains to be seen if anyone today can unite the TV nation like Mr. Jefferson did.

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