By Terry Kelleher
November 30, 1998 12:00 PM

CBS (Wednesdays, 8:30 p.m. ET)

A lot of critics (count us in) have complained that too many sitcoms have youngish big-city protagonists with media-related jobs. But Maggie Winters is evidence that there may be a rational basis for the Caroline in the City/ Suddenly Susan syndrome.

The show premiered auspiciously in September. Maggie (Faith Ford from Murphy Brown), voted Most Likely to Succeed when she graduated from high school in 1983, slunk back to her hometown of Shelbyville, Ind., after leaving her philandering husband in Chicago. She moved in with her mother (Shirley Knight), a woman with an amusing habit of saying discouraging things in an encouraging voice (and vice versa). Her old friends forgave Maggie’s superior attitude and failure to keep in touch, but she had to eat a large helping of humble pie. While the pilot was light and funny, it also conveyed how bad it feels to return home feeling like a flop.

Now it’s late fall, and Maggie Winters looks less likely to succeed. Maggie works at the local department store, but the raging insecurity of her boss (Clea Lewis) has grown tiresome. Her best friends (Jenny Robertson and Alex Kapp Horner) turn out to be on the boring side. And life in Shelbyville is, uh, slow. Maybe likable Maggie should consider relocating to a major metropolis and breaking into the media. But bring Mom along. She deserves a change of scene.

Bottom Line: Strong-starting sitcom now seems off stride