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Picks and Pans Main: Tube

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STARTLING ORIGINALITY HAS NOT BEEN a theme of the fall 1996 television season. With the exception of Millennium, Fox’s creepy Chris Carter offering, which starts on Oct. 25, and Lifetime’s intriguing Canadian import Traders (Sundays, 7 p.m. ET), which deals with voracious investment bankers, most of the new shows—even the good ones—are formulaic retreads.

Two new offerings are sanitized remakes of British sitcoms (Cosby, Men Behaving Badly), and five shows are about teachers (Dangerous Minds, Mr. Rhodes, The Steve Harvey Show, Something So Right, Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher). There are too many movie remakes (FX, Clueless, Party Girl, Dangerous Minds), too many roommates, secret government agencies, shows set in Seattle, and too much facial hair. The only bright spot: Fox’s Lush Life, with Lori Petty, has already been canceled, and NBC’s The Jeff Fox-worthy Show can’t be far behind.

Still, despite the short supply of fresh ideas, there is one blatant rip-off worth watching: Dark Skies, a paranormal Cuisinart of The X-Files, Independence Day, Three Days of the Condor and even Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Like The X-Files, the program deals with a secret government organization (Majestic-12) that investigates weird occurrences; like Alien, it has scary, jumbo-sized parasites festering inside seemingly harmless organisms; and like Body Snatchers, it warns that the aliens have already landed.

What gives the program (NBC, Saturdays, 8 p.m. ET) its only original touch is that it is set in the early 1960s and immediately raises the possibility that treasonous government agencies—or extraterrestrials—may have been involved in John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Oo-ee-oh. One eagerly awaits future episodes explaining the involvement of space aliens in the deaths of Jimmy Hoffa, Malcolm X and Elvis.

One other selling point of the show is J.T. Walsh’s performance as the head of Majestic-12. Walsh (Nixon, A Few Good Men, The Client) is one of the most gifted, credible character actors working today, and his potbellied, middle-class malevolence is a nice change from the generic depravity we see in most TV villains. No, Dark Skies is not breaking much new ground. But it’s ground worth revisiting.