Cover Story

The fall 1992 TV preview: Thursday

Inside looks at "Martin," "The Heights," and more

RHYTHM & BLUES
*CONCEPT: Amen meets WKRP in Cincinnati.
*COMMENTARY: A struggling black radio station in Detroit hires a wild disc jockey to boost ratings-it's not until he arrives that the station learns that Bobby Soul (stand-up comic Roger Kabler) is white. The station manager (Amen's Anna Maria Horsford) wants to fire him because he's not African-American, but Bobby makes such an impassioned speech about the inspirational powers of Motown that he's kept on. The premise makes us queasy, but there's no denying Kabler's bursting energy and funniness.

*BEHIND THE SCENES: NBC is braced for a Thursday-night war of DJs: Fox's new Martin, about a black radio personality in Detroit, will also air at 8:30, and although Rhythm's pilot tested very well in the network's research, there are jitters surrounding its white-man-as-savior premise. One concern is a scene in the pilot in which Kabler does an impersonation of the late Redd Foxx. ''Everyone has their statute of limitations,'' says Kabler. ''When I do impressions, they're meant as tributes, not insults. But if enough people are sensitive about it, I won't do it again.''

*CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: Two radio comedies can't survive in this time period; we bet this one blinks first.

DELTA
(ABC, 8-8:30 p.m.; premieres Tuesday, Sept. 15, 9:30-10 p.m.)
*CONCEPT: Alice goes to Evening Shade.
*COMMENTARY: Yes, Burke is back and she's blond. She's also a barmaid in a country-music joint run by Earl Holliman. But she's a barmaid who boasts that she's a belter. Her character idolizes Patsy Cline and wants to become a country star. The notion of linking Burke, who got her best laughs on Designing Women as an imperious, pampered urbanite, with the current down-home country boom is pretty dicey. Wanna bet that the show's sweeps stunt will be Delta wiggling with Billy Ray Cyrus in a special duet of ''Achy Breaky Heart''?

*BEHIND THE SCENES: There's trouble already (you were expecting peace on the set of a Delta Burke show?), but so far it's only with the scripts. After seeing the pilot, ABC asked the producers to make Delta more funny-ha-ha and less funny-Hee Haw. As for Burke herself, all's quiet for now. ''I have my quirks,'' she told reporters this summer, ''(but) I don't pull prima donna stuff. What really pisses me off is when there are certified bitches out there, and nobody writes about them.'' The names, Delta, just give us their names!

*CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: Only fair. Competition is fierce; ABC needs a big initial audience, and not just Burke's strong female following.

MARTIN (Fox, 8:30-9 p.m.) *CONCEPT: A funny Talk Radio meets a not-so-white About Last Night.... *COMMENTARY: Anyone watching HBO knows that Martin Lawrence, host of the Def Comedy Jam, is as raunchy as he is charming, which is to say, very. So, going into his first sitcom, Lawrence already seems constrained by its mild premise: This Martin is a fun-loving but sensitive radio talk-show host who discusses things like the changing roles of African-American men. It will take all of Lawrence's talent as a fast ad-libber to make this career move a wise one.

*BEHIND THE SCENES: There's already a language barrier between Lawrence, whose best Def Comedy Jam jokes are entirely unprintable, and Fox, which deleted even the relatively innocuous phrase ''kick your ass'' from the pilot. Nevertheless, Lawrence assures, ''You'll be seeing the things I talk about in my (stand-up comedy) act. We just won't cuss.'' As for Lawrence's softer side, ''My mother is someone who has inspired me,'' he says. In tribute, Lawrence dons wig and mascara to play her, with just one variation: ''My mother doesn't have a mustache, except in the show.''

*CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: Good; Martin will certainly do better in this time slot than last year's dreary Drexell's Class, and that's all Fox is asking.

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