Peter Castro, Tom Gliatto, Michael Neill, and Curtis Rist
September 01, 1997 12:00 PM

TV TITANS

It is good to be a king or queen of prime time. Meet the monarchs currently enjoying the view from the top of Mt. Nielsen

Remember when they called it the boob tube? Joanie Loves Chachi and Starsky and Hutch hardly challenged that notion. But over the years, that box in the living room began emitting cathode rays of hope. Television is now sharper (The Larry Sanders Show), gutsier (Homicide) and more compelling (ER) than ever before. In its finest hours the medium cedes nothing to Hollywood films in terms of writing, direction and acting. Even salaries have caught up. At $22 million a year, Jerry Seinfeld now resides in Jim Carrey country.

On the following pages, our panel of experts—former network honcho Fred Silverman, USA Today TV critic Matt Roush, BBDO ad agency executive vice president Steve Grubbs and PEOPLE’S TV critic Terry Kelleher—checks out the landscape of the new season and sizes up the luminous talents who will keep you turned on.

Drew Carey

The Drew Carey Show (ABC, Wed., 9 p.m. ET)

Carey has turned his average-guy routine into a Top 20 smash, but true to his shtick the Cleveland native prefers fortune to fame. “I see fulfilling my five-year contract and disappearing,” says the 39-year-old bachelor. “I was mobbed in the adult section of a video store in Las Vegas, and I thought, ‘I’ve got to get out of this madness.’ I want to grow a beard, have money and retire. Meanwhile I’m gonna have fun.”

THE BUZZ: “A second-season success, he rewarded ABC for its patience,” says Kelleher.

‘Drew is part me, not all. I’d have left that job long ago’

Lucy Lawless

Xena: Warrior Princess (syndicated)

“Who could have expected this kind of success?” gushes New Zealander Lawless, 29, about her astral trajectory as Xena, history’s most bodacious barbarian. “My daughter [Daisy, 9] tries to pretend that Mom being Xena is a bit of a burden,” says the 5’10” divorcée (she’s dating Xena producer Rob Tapert). “But I think she truly loves it.” So do the millions of fans in more than 50 countries where the show airs. But proving that she can carry a tune as gracefully as a sword, the opera-trained Lawless is leaving the forest for the asphalt jungle. From Sept. 2 to Oct. 19 she’ll be starring as—who else—tough cookie Rizzo in the Broadway production of Grease. Still, Xena remains Lawless’s signature character. “People are attracted to her masculine bent,” says the actress. “Finally, a woman you can have a beer with.”

THE BUZZ: “She dishes out camp with more gusto than Linda Carter ever dreamed of,” says Roush.

‘Xena is threads of my character taken to extremes’

Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen (ABC, Wed., 9:30 p.m. ET)

“I’m looking forward to this season more than any other one,” says DeGeneres, 39. “For the first time I feel completely free.” Last spring the sitcom star made TV history when she revealed that she was gay (and in love with film actress Anne Heche, 28). Her sitcom alter ego, Ellen Morgan, made a similar voyage of self-discovery in what turned out to be ABC’s highest-rated episode last year, creating new expectations for a show that in its previous three seasons had never created much of a sensation, ratings or otherwise. The focus of the reoriented Ellen, says DeGeneres, “will be: Do I live my life different, act different and dress different? And ultimately, of course, the answer is no.” The other question is whether onetime bookshop manager Ellen Morgan will find romance, as DeGeneres did when she met Heche at an Oscars party in March. Dismissing rumors of a breakup, she says, “We’re very happy.” And she adds, “When you’re happy, it changes everything you do for the best.”

THE BUZZ: “She proved with those final three episodes last season that the show can be great,” says Roush. “The problem everyone fears is that the show will not live up to that promise.”

‘I’ve never gotten so many thumbs-up signs in my life’

John Lithgow

3rd Rock from the Sun (NBC, Wed., 9 p.m. ET)

“When you play an alien,” says Lithgow, “anything goes.” As Dick Solomon, an extraterrestrial team leader masquerading as a physics professor, the Emmy-winning Lithgow, 51, is not so much over-the-top as out-of-this-world. When Dick modeled for an art class in one episode, the star stunned all by posing buck-naked. Lithgow hopes the show stays a hit “absolutely forever,” especially since sitcom work, unlike movies such as Cliffhanger, lets him stay near second wife Mary, a UCLA history professor, and his three children in L.A. Says costar Jane Curtin: “He’s having the time of his life.”

THE BUZZ: “He’s a major comic talent and the glue that holds this show together,” says Silverman.

‘In a curious way, I think I have fallen into my destiny’

Bill Maher

Politically Incorrect (ABC, weeknights, 12:05 a.m. ET)

Most talk show hosts offer a cocktail of chatter. Maher, 41, knows how to toss a Molotov. Presiding over the half-hour program on which panelists, from Tom Arnold to Deepak Chopra, debate the news and fling insults, “he knows when to mix it up,” says Pauley Shore, a participant in that forum, “and when to chill.” There’s one voice above the din: his mother, Julie, who phones daily from New Jersey. “She’ll say, ‘Boy, last night those guys wouldn’t shut up,’ ” says Maher, who lives in Bel Air, Calif., with two mutts, Blackie and Odie. “I’ll say, ‘Mom, I want it like that.’ ”

THE BUZZ: “The perfect chaser after Nightline,” says Kelleher.

‘People continue to do insane things. It’s just grist for our mill’

Norm MacDonald

Saturday Night Live (NBC, Sat., 11:30 p.m. ET)

If he didn’t have to study the headlines for fresh material, says the Canadian-born comic, anchor of SNL ‘s Weekend Update since ’94, “I’d never read the news.” A standout in a revitalized cast, he’s also known for his killer Bob Dole impersonation. “I always liked Bob,” says MacDonald, 33, who has a son, Dylan, 4, with wife Connie. “He’s hilarious.”

THE BUZZ: “Without him,” says Grubbs, “Saturday Night Live would probably be in trouble.”

‘I always had manual labor jobs so I could be alone making up funny stuff’

Téa Leoni

The Med Truth (NBC, Mon., 9:30 p.m. ET)

“Téa is a star,” says NBC president of entertainment Warren Littlefield. “She makes you pay attention.” But even though Leoni’s screwball energy has earned her comparisons to Lucy, her show didn’t click in its first two seasons. So expect further changes in the already-much-tinkered-with series about a tabloid journalist. “Viewers will find out I’m a man,” says Leoni. Nah. The truth is already out there: She has been married for four months to X-Files star David Duchovny, 37. “Marriage is pretty good,” says Leoni, 31. “But right now we’re like ships in the night because of our schedules.” When they recently spent their first day apart, “we didn’t handle it too well,” she says. “He was on the cell phone a lot.”

THE BUZZ: “It’s a big question whether the show will work,” says Silverman. “But her career is assured.”

‘I could use a bit more sleep, but I think my life is fascinating’

Garry Shandling

The Larry Sanders Show (HBO, time to be announced)

A Shandling’s joyless talk show host ends up jobless when the barbed sitcom returns in January for its sixth and (hey now!) last season. Although he’s nursing a shoulder injured while shooting hoops, Shandling, 47, likens series stardom to boxing: “After four years, your brain isn’t functioning the way it used to.”

THE BUZZ: “The funniest series on television,” says Kelleher.

‘Don’t underestimate my sexiness. Really’

Clark Johnson

Homicide (NBC, Fit, 10 p.m. ET)

Johnson, 40, entering his sixth season as Det. Meldrick Lewis, accepts the reality that the gritty drama will never be a big hit. “It’s not The Dukes of Hazzard,” says the Philadelphia native, father of two from a previous marriage. But in Baltimore, the show’s home base (he lives in Toronto with second wife Heather Salmon), he gets respect. “Around here,” says a coffee shop worker, “we call him Big Johnson.”

THE BUZZ: “A superb character actor,” says Roush.

‘Working in a real town, you feel like a real cop’

Oprah Winfrey

The Oprah Winfrey Show (syndicated, weekdays)

“I got the bug,” squeals Winfrey, 43. An Oscar nominee for The Color Purple, she is thrilled to be in a movie again—she plays an ex-slave in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, filming in Philadelphia—but it has made the decision about returning after this, her 12th season, harder. “I want people to have the grandest vision for their lives,” she says of her TV mission. Oprah herself shuns the tube, says boyfriend Stedman Graham, 46, noting, “She’s a huge reader.” One exception: The Andy Griffith Show. “I know everyone,” says Winfrey, who suggests a tiny change: “If we could just have one little black neighbor down the street…”

THE BUZZ: “She continues to grow,” says Grubbs.

‘Some days I wake up thinking, “What else can I do?” ‘

Dennis Franz

NYPD Blue (ABC, Tues. 10 p.m. ET)

Franz, 52, is back on the beat, doing NYPD Blue location work in Manhattan. That can only mean some fresh hell is brewing for his perpetually embattled character, Det. Andy Sipowicz, who over the past four seasons has struggled with alcoholism and a son’s death. This season, Sipowicz will cope with his crumbling marriage to Sylvia (Sharon Lawrence) and questions about his role in a criminal’s death. And yet, Franz is upbeat. The series “is my home,” says the two-time Emmy winner. Besides, he already spent the summer decorating his other place of residence, the house he and wife Joanie recently bought in Santa Barbara. “We’ve struck up an interest in scouting the swap meets,” says Franz. “We just cleared out this antiques store.” He also got in some time on the links with his costar Jimmy Smits. “Golf’s something that really seems to clear Dennis’s head,” says Smits. “Let’s put it this way—he talks about it a lot.”

THE BUZZ: “He’s carved out a distinct persona,” says Silverman.

‘I doubt that I’m going to turn out to be the killer’

Rosie O’Donnell
The Rosie O’Donnell Show (syndicated, weekdays)

In May she won a daytime Emmy. In June, hosting the Tony Awards, she singlehandedly rescued the broadcast from ratings doom. And now, come September, O’Donnell, 35, will be given the prime afternoon spot in most markets. Think she’ll stumble? Geddoudda here! No matter where O’Donnell winds up, her adopted son, Parker, 2, keeps the single mother grounded. “When I go to the park with him,” she says, “and there are other moms there, we talk mom-to-mom. It gives me back my humanity like nothing else.”

THE BUZZ: “People love her. There’s an honesty about her,” says Silverman.

‘I can’t remember my life before [Parker], and that’s the greatest gift’

Jason Alexander

Seinfeld (NBC, Thurs., 9 p.m. ET)

His salary, as befits someone on the No. 1 sitcom, is now reportedly $600,000 per episode. A Tony-winning song and dance man, Alexander, 37, father of two with wife Daena, also gets his due this fall in the TV musical Cinderella. He’s just a page, but, he says, “they built the part up for me.”

THE BUZZ: “A brilliant, versatile actor,” says Silverman

‘We just want to get out before the show gets to be old news’

Christine Lahti

Chicago Hope (CBS, Wed., 10 p.m. ET)

Before she replaced Mandy Patinkin in 1995, Lahti had to sell CBS execs that “a woman could head a hospital.” Spoken like her gutsy alter ego, Dr. Kathryn Austin. Don’t confuse the two. Says Lahti, 47, wed to director Thomas Schlamme since ’83 and mother of three: “It’s tough for me to memorize words like cardiomyopathy.”

THE BUZZ: “I didn’t think she’d ever do TV,” says Silverman. “She’s very good at it.”

‘We’re often cutting into cows’ hearts on the show. I haven’t had red meat since’

Cybill Shepherd

Cybill (CBS, Mon, 9 p.m. ET)

Entering the fourth season of her semiautobiographical sitcom, the twice-divorced Shepherd, 47, has her priorities down. “It’s my job as star and producer to make a show that’s not boring. The ultimate sin is to be boring.” Up in the air is when she’ll wed longtime fiancé, musician Robert Martin. “I like the idea of 2015,” she says. “I’m afraid of marriage. I’m not good at it.”

THE BUZZ: “She and [Christine] Baranski work occasional magic,” says Roush.

‘People used to call me a bitch. It must have meant that I stood up for myself’

David Hyde Pierce

Frasier (NBC, Tues., 9 p.m. ET)

Despite his acclaimed range as an actor, Pierce, 38, a Saratoga Springs, N.Y., native, doesn’t have to stretch much to play Kelsey Grammer’s brother Niles Crane. Besides looking like Grammer, Pierce, like Niles, enjoys classical music—and he attended Yale.

THE BUZZ: “Maybe the best-written show on TV,” says Grubbs, “and he’s integral to it.”

‘My father contributed to my silliness and my mother to my dry sense of humor’

John Henson

Talk Soup (E!, weeknights, 10 p.m. ET)

Few believed Henson could succeed mighty Greg Kinnear as Soup’s sultan of sarcasm. But since taking over in 1995, the goofy host has not only made his predecessor a faint memory, he has acquired an impressive following of his own. Recently, Henson, who like Kinnear is pursuing a film career, was stopped on an L.A. street by Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. “[Baldwin] said, ‘You’re the funniest person on TV,’ ” says Henson, 30. “It blew my mind.” Mind you, his material—talk TV’s tawdriest subject matter—is fodder any comic would kill for. Soup succeeds, says Henson, who lives alone in L.A., “for the same reason P.T. Barnum became a millionaire. People like seeing oddities.”

THE BUZZ: “Even Greg Kinnear is finding it hard to be the next Greg Kinnear,” says Roush.

‘The show has made me aware of the incredible variety of lifestyles out there’

Andy Richter

Late Night with Conan O’Brien (NBC, weeknights, 12:35 a.m. ET)

Why did Conan O’Brien approve of an unknown comic named Andy Richter to be his sidekick in 1993? “This guy looks like a young, Nordic Ed McMahon,” cracks O’Brien. “I was like, ‘Hey, Andy, sit next to me.’ ” O’Brien sat and stuck by Richter, 30, who was savaged by the critics in the beginning. “I knew world-class funny people that thought I was funny,” says Richter. “So I trusted them.” And while he’s since won the naysayers over with his droll humor, Richter “can’t imagine [being on the show] in 15 years,” he says. “I’m too antsy.” For starters, he dreams of acting in films. Then there’s his future role as a parent. “When I have a baby to come home to,” says Richter, who shares a Manhattan apartment with actress wife Sarah Thyre, “I’ll definitely be the absentee sidekick.”

THE BUZZ: “The best sidekick since Ed McMahon, for what that’s worth,” says Roush.

‘I have a great life at home. I’m not a party boy. I don’t have the energy anymore’

Chris Berman

NFL PrimeTime (ESPN, Sun., 7 p.m. ET)

No other sportscaster has quite the style of 6’5″, 250-lb. Chris “Boomer” Berman, 42, who credits two influences for his play-by-play poetry (“Rum-blm’, stum-blin’, fum-blin’ “) and love of nicknames (Baltimore Oriole Roberto “Remember the” Alomar): “Rock and roll and old-time television,” says the Huey Lewis fan and married father of two. “I have chosen to miss the ’90s.”

THE BUZZ: “He’s the signature ESPN sports broadcaster,” says Grubbs.

‘I’m not smart enough to be someone else—I’m barely smart enough to be myself!’

Gloria Reuben

ER (NBC, Thurs., 10 p.m, ET)

This fall, “I’ll pace myself better,” says the 33-year-old Toronto native. Playing HIV-positive doctor’s assistant Jeanie Boulet, Reuben finished last season emotionally drained—yet enriched in her perspective on life. “Moments are cherished,” says the unattached Reuben, who learned to scuba dive in the Cayman Islands over the summer. “Everything means something else than before.”

THE BUZZ: “The quiet breakout star of ER,” says Roush. “She stole our hearts.”

‘People [with HIV] have come up to me in the street who were thankful’

RETURN ENGAGEMENTS

From a prodigal son who left prime time for movies to an ex-barfly whose name everybody already knows, some familiar faces are back at the helm of some of the season’s most intriguing new shows

Jenny McCarthy

Jenny (NBC, Sun., 8:30 p.m. ET)

As cohost of MTV’s Singled Out, McCarthy had teenage boys in hormonal overdrive. Will the spell work in prime time? “Jenny has that ‘it’ quality—you’re drawn to look at her,” says Heather Paige Kent, who plays her pal on Jenny, a sort of Laverne and Shirley meets Beavis and Butt-head. An episode, says McCarthy, 24, might involve “getting our tongues pierced and not being able to talk to cute boys because our tongues are swollen.”

THE BUZZ” “Every adolescent male will watch at least the first night,” says Grubbs.

‘Everyone has their eyes on me, going, “Can she do it?” ‘

Keenen Ivory Wayans

The Keenen Ivory Wayans Show (syndicated, weeknights)

Oddly, Johnny Carson was an inspiration for the former In Living Color star, who first night out brought on a cow to lick an audience member. “Johnny was quick-witted and low-key,” says Wayans, 39, the father of two, who as a boy in Brooklyn used to watch The Tonight Show with his grandfather. Now, he says, “the genre is stale. I want to bring back the energy.”

THE BUZZ: “He has good comic instincts,” says Silverman.

‘People who know me say, “You’re perfect for this” ‘

Chuck Woolery

The Dating Game (syndicated, weekdays)

Woolery, 56, who quizzed contestants about their sex drives on Love Connection, would seem perfect for this revival of the ’60s game show. “But my real desire,” says the twice-married father of five, recovered from bypass surgery last fall, “has always been to do a fishing show.”

THE BUZZ: “Love Connection just wasn’t the same without him,” says Kelleher.

‘I’m basically shy. At parties I’m the guy alone in the corner’

Bob Newhart and Judd Hirsch

George & Leo (CBS, Mon., 9:30 p.m. ET)

The two sitcom veterans play an odd couple (Newhart, 67, married in real life for 34 years to Virginia, is a bookstore owner; Hirsch, 62, married nearly three years to Bonni, is his good-for-nothing in-law), but they’re really peas in a pod. “He’s a very generous actor, and I’m very generous,” says Newhart. “The danger is that we’re both so generous, we won’t say anything.”

THE BUZZ: “Their comic chemistry looks fantastic,” says Kelleher.

‘I think this show will be a hit,’ says Newhart. ‘My golf game is coming back’

Kirstie Alley

Veronica’s Closet (NBC, Thurs., 9:30 p.m. ET)

“I didn’t sleep with anyone in the cast,” jokes former Cheers diva Kirstie Alley about her new sitcom. “They had to sleep with me, which explains what it means to be a star of your own show.” Alley, 46, plays romance expert Veronica Chase, who finds new meaning in life after dumping her husband. The role hits close to home: In March, Alley filed for divorce from actor Parker Stevenson, 45, her husband since 1983 (they have two adopted kids, William, 4, and Lillie, 3). “In that one aspect of my life, I needed to make a change,” says Alley, who now dates actor James Wilder. “This has been a bizarre but great year for me. I fulfilled a lot of my dreams.”

HE BUZZ: “The season’s one sure-fire hit,” says Roush.

‘I loved the idea of doing movies, but I missed performing for a live audience. I mean, I’m hammy’

Bryant Gumbel

Public Eye with Bryant Gumbel (CBS, Wed., 9 p.m. ET)

“I’m enjoying my morning coffee un-perky-lat-ed,” says Gumbel, 49, who left the Today show in January after 15 years and doesn’t regret it. A $25 million deal with CBS is why. “I intended to stay retired,” says Gumbel, host of the Sept. 14 Emmys. “I came back because I enjoy the challenge.”

THE BUZZ: “Good acquisition,” says Silverman.

‘I’m no miracle worker’

David Caruso

Michael Hayes (CBS, Tues., 9 p.m. ET)

After an ill-fated move to film (Jade, anyone?), the ex-NYPD Blue star is back as a cop turned prosecutor. “I may have to re-earn my stripes, and I’m willing to do that,” says Caruso, 41, who lives in L.A. with his wife of one year, Margaret, 28, a former flight attendant, and shares custody of daughter Greta, 13, from a marriage to actress Rachel Ticotin. “The focus will be on the work.”

THE BUZZ: “So he went off half-cocked,” says Kelleher. “Give the guy another chance.”

‘Even if the movie career doesn’t happen again, I’ll be happy playing this character’

FRESH FACES

Each year the medium must renew itself. Fortunately fate seems to provide an endless supply of actors and actresses, funnymen and stunning women—even cartoon characters. Here, we take a look at some new faces and ponder the eternal question: Will we still love them in January?

Jon Tenney

Brooklyn South (CBS, Mon., 10 p.m. ET)

Before Steven Bochco’s new cop noir series started shooting, a real Brooklyn cop gave Tenney, a Princeton, N.J., native, some advice. “He said getting out of the car and walking to the crime scene is 90 percent of the job,” recalls the actor, “because that first impression makes or breaks you.” Tenney, 35, knows about fast appraisals: He met his wife of three years, Lois & Clark’s Teri Hatcher, 32, on a blind date Hatcher is expecting their first baby in November. “I can’t wait,” says Tenney. “It’s going to be astounding.”

THE BUZZ: “He’s got a shot at stardom with this show,” says Silverman. “It’s very well done.”

‘This year has been a real rush. My cheeks hurt from smiling’

Sarah Michelle Gellar

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (The WB, Mon., 9 p.m. ET)

At age 4, Gellar played Valerie Harper’s daughter in An Invasion of Privacy. At 14, she was the young Jackie in A Woman Named Jackie. Now, at 20, she’s the nation’s foremost hemophobic heroine. “I always wanted to play a strong, feminine character who makes mistakes,” says Gellar, an only child who grew up in New York City. “Buffy’s a real good role model.”

THE BUZZ: “One of the really cool shows,” says Grubbs.

‘Right now, my job is my significant other’

Hank Hill

King of the Hill (Fox, Sun, 8.30 p.m. ET)

“He’s trying to survive in the irrational, dehumanized modern world,” says co-creator Mike Judge of the animated blue-collar Texan.

THE BUZZ: “Hank hit a Homer for Fox,” says Kelleher.

‘My philosophy is, just tell it like it is. If Americans respond, fine. If they don’t, well, screw ’em!’

Calista Flockhart

Ally McBeal (Fox, Mon., 9 p.m. ET)

Growing up in Iowa, Flockhart, 32, would have been mortified to see her name in lights. “I made up names for myself like Ann and Jennifer” to avoid being teased, she says. No more. That memorable moniker has taken her from Broadway (The Glass Menagerie) to multiplexes (The Birdcage) and now to a TV drama—as romantically challenged lawyer Ally McBeal. “We heard hundreds of people,” says McBeal creator David E. Kelley, “but when Calista walked in on a cold reading, she just was Ally.”

THE BUZZ: “She’s the Mary Tyler Moore of the ’90s,” says Silverman.

‘I never thought of acting as something you could do for a living’

Rhonda Ross

Another World (NBC, weekdays, 2 p.m. ET)

If Ross—the daughter of former Supreme Diana and Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr.—expected royal treatment when she landed the role of police officer Toni Burrell in March, she didn’t get it: Burrell was promptly—and brutally—raped. By summer, though, she was the focus of the soap’s hottest story line. A Brown University grad who married jazz pianist Rodney Kendrick last year, Ross, 26, started out as a jazz singer. Like mother, like daughter? She hopes so. “Someone once said, ‘She was a good mother—for a celebrity,’ ” says Ross. “I said, ‘Oh, no. She was a good mother for anybody.’ ”

THE BUZZ: “She has her mom’s eyes,” says Kelleher.

‘It’s wonderful as an actress to have good scenes, to have good meaty stuff’

Jenna Elfman

Dharma & Greg (ABC, Wed., 8:30 p.m. ET)

“I’d rather enjoy my life than waste it with drama,” says Elfman, 25 (who is married to actor Bhodi Elfman). She does just that as Dharma Finkelstein, bringing comedy to the role of a ditzy daughter of hippies who marries an upper-crust San Francisco U.S. attorney. Elfman calls it typecasting: “Dharma’s freeness is me.”

THE BUZZ: “She’s going to be one of the bright spots for ABC this year,” says Silverman.

‘I’m genuinely happy because I’m doing what I want. I mean, I used to bag groceries’

Carol Leifer

Alright Already (The WB, Sun., 9:30 p.m. ET)

Leifer has a thing about extremely hairy guys—and wants everyone to know it. “You don’t have sex with something like that,” she quips at the start of her sitcom about a Miami Beach optometrist. “You have sex on it.” After 20 years of stand-up, Leifer, 41, became a Seinfeld writer (she’s the real-life inspiration for Elaine) in 1993 and, last year, a producer on The Larry Sanders Show. But she never lost the lust for performing. “I really believe in this show,” the Long Island, N.Y., native told advertisers at the network’s presentation of new shows in May. “I want to take it all the way up to number 78!”

THE BUZZ: “I look forward to her new show,” says Kelleher. “There’s definitely a vein of Miami comedy that The Golden Girls didn’t tap.”

‘It took me 12 years to get on the Tonight Show; I’ve developed a sense of patience’

Gregory Hines

The Gregory Hines Show (CBS, Fit, 9 p.m. ET)

Asked the name of his new sitcom, the dancer-actor blushes. “I’m happy that it is called The Gregory Hines Show,” he says. “It’s just a little difficult for me to say it.” Playing a widower (and book publisher) raising a 12-year-old son, Hines, 51, will fit dance steps into the script wherever he can. For Hines (father of three, grandfather of one and married 16 years to his second wife, producer Pamela Koslow), that’s a lot like life. “This afternoon I was in the elevator and there was nobody there, and I did five or six combinations by the time I got to the first floor,” he says. “I’ve got a lot to dance about these days.”

THE BUZZ: “I’d watch him in anything,” says Kelleher, “even another single-dad sitcom.”

‘I won’t embarrass people’

Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell

All That (Nickelodeon, Sat, 8:30 p.m. ET)

What makes kids laugh? Probably Atlanta’s Thompson and Chicagoan Mitchell, both 19, who met on All That. A spinoff, Kenan & Kel, and the film Good Burger followed. “We have fans all over the world,” says Kenan.

THE BUZZ: “Very funny, fresh and sweet,” says Roush.

‘When you’ve got kids loving you, you’re the man,’ says Kel. ‘I like the attention’

Serena Altschul

MTV News (MTV, daily)

Altschul, 26, recalls turning on MTV at age 11 in Manhattan to catch an interview with her favorite artist, Prince. Now she’s wielding the mike on stories from school dress codes to the murder of The Notorious B.I.G. “It feels good to give viewers something that might really excite them,” she says.

THE BUZZ: “She will survive,” says Grubbs.

‘I feel very connected to my generation’

Laura San Giacomo

Just Shoot Me (NBC, Tues., 9:30 p.m. ET)

“George Segal was cast first,” says Shoot Me creator Steve Levitan. “Then we needed somebody who could go toe-to-toe with George. Well, Laura comes in, and then we started feeling bad because maybe George was going to get eaten alive.” Everyone survives in the sitcom about an unemployed writer (San Giacomo) reduced to seeking a job at the magazine run by her father (Segal). For San Giacomo, 34, it’s her sitcom debut after 12 movies, including sex, lies, and videotape. The job allows her more time with 20-month-old Mason, her son with actor Cameron Dye. “There’s work time and there’s Mason time,” she says. “That’s where my passion goes these days.”

THE BUZZ: “Following Frasier can’t hurt,” says Kelleher.

‘Mommy’s burning the candle at both ends’

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