October 02, 2000 12:00 PM

NBC (Mondays, 9 p.m. ET)

Oliver Piatt, who in the past 10 years has made more than a dozen movies (Mouse Hunt, Bulworth, et al), is a welcome addition to prime time. His specialty, a tricky one, consists of being off-putting yet slyly ingratiating. He has a doughy, open face anchored by a disapproving mouth, a dapper elegance dampened by occasional sourness—W.C. Fields sent to finishing school. He’s well-cast as Wallace Benton, a Manhattan tabloid reporter and columnist who doesn’t mind twisting arms, hurting feelings and stooping to a thousand mildly unethical manipulations to get that story.

Benton also has the good luck to work in a newsroom with an actor’s dream cast: Hope Davis (Mumford) as a fellow reporter (and Benton’s ex-wife); Bebe Neuwirth as his editor; Lili Taylor (The Haunting) as a gossip columnist; and the old reliable Tom Conti as the paper’s owner, gruff but harmless.

But what deadline are these folks trying to make? The show, which premieres Oct. 2, is often slack when it should crackle along. In the first two episodes—one about a massacre in a fast-food joint, the other involving a ’60s student radical on the lam—the suspense seeps out by the end. It’s like watching newsprint yellow. These are ace performers; why not make ’em hustle a little?

Bottom Line: Great cast on a slow news day

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