Ken Tucker
May 23, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Here’s an inside look at the fall TV season

I’m all for having a TV show that’ll deflate the ever-expanding ”Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” (FOUR TIMES A WEEK this fall!), but if it comes at the price of watching Bette Midler rap a Kid Rock tune, I’m not sure it’s worth it.

CBS thinks ”The Bette Show,” a foray into sitcoms by Midler minus her Harlettes, will challenge Regis and his brainiacs. During last week’s TV-industry unveiling of the new fall schedule, the clip shown of the star’s show was quite funny in a slapstick, ”I Love Lucy” sort of way — that is, until the star started making fun of rap music, at which point Midler suddenly seemed completely out of it. It was like those ancient clips of Steve Allen reading the lyrics to Little Richard’s ”Tutti Frutti” as the audience guffaws: old fogies making fun of the kids’ music.

Certainly, Midler’s show was by far the funniest sitcom clip screened all week, as CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, the WB, and UPN extolled their wares. The other movie star stepping into a sitcom is Geena Davis, whose ABC ”Geena” vehicle — about a wacky single gal who marries a guy who has two kids — looks decidedly shakier.

In general, the upcoming fall season is short on big names, and like last year, longer on promising dramas than comedies. CBS’ remake of ”The Fugitive,” starring ”Wings”’ Tim Daly, looked like an exciting, imaginative variation on both the classic ’60s TV show and the solid Harrison Ford movie. Andre Braugher, late of ”Homicide,” is bound to give a good performance as a doctor in ABC’s ”Gideon’s Crossing,” from ”Homicide” cocreator and first-rate screenwriter Paul Attanasio (”Quiz Show”).

Yet when people have asked me, ”What new shows look good?” I had to stop and hem and haw and give the answer no critic likes to give: ”Um, not much.”

Well, there IS one surefire must see, for at least the first few weeks of its existence: NBC’s ”Titans,” a ”Dynasty”-like nighttime soap from soap king Aaron Spelling, with Yasmine Bleeth as a vixen so recently married to a rich older guy that it’s not until the pilot that she finds out she once slept with the guy’s son. At its presentation, NBC hailed ”Titans” as a ”guilty pleasure.”

I don’t like having my pleasure defined for me in advance — I’ll make up my own mind as to the level on which I’ll be enjoying something, thank you — and I offer this TV-critic advice: If you set out to make something a campy guilty pleasure, it’s going to be way over the top and unamusing. Just calm down and let the gorgeousness of the cast and gooniness of the plotlines do their work, and ”Titans” will probably become one of the new season’s biggest hits.

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