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New Series Review: Day Break (ABC)

Taye Diggs & Moon Bloodgood: If only every day could stay this way.

Premiering: Wednesday night, Nov. 15 (8 central, 9 eastern), ABC
Starring: Taye Diggs, Moon Bloodgood, Victoria Platt, Meta Golding, Adam Baldwin, Ramon Rodriguez
Created by: Paul Zbyszewski

Groundhog Day meets The Fugitive meets 24 meets The Twilight Zone. And that's the shorthand description of ABC's Day Break, scheduled to replace Lost for the next 13 weeks unless too many viewers find themselves way too puzzled to participate.

Taye Diggs stars as detective Brett Hopper, fated to repeatedly wake up at 6:18 a.m. in bed with sumptuous girlfriend Rita Shelten (Moon Bloodgood). It's the only good part of a day in which he's mysteriously charged with murdering a Los Angeles assistant district attorney. He'd better run for his life if he can, which he does. But Hopper can't escape his daily grind -- a rewind. He's beaten, shot, betrayed and traumatized, all before he's even had a chance to have his coffee. And then he's back in the sack again, wondering what course of action to take this time around.

"I'm just trying to get control of this day," the poor guy laments.

ABC is kicking off Day Break with a furiously paced two-hour pilot replete with gun battles, chases and bloodletting. All the while, Hopper's had a cautionary warning pounded into his psyche by a thug in a nylon stocking mask. "Just remember, for every decision, there's a consequence," he's told. "Decision. Consequence. Decision. Consequence."

The upside is that all of this supposedly will be resolved within 13 episodes. That's a welcome departure from fall's onslaught of stringalong serial dramas, some of which already have been canceled. Day Break, unlike Lost, is promising a payoff in relatively short order. Still, 13 episodes can be a long pull. And if you aren't there at the starting line, you almost certainly won't be around for the finish. Weekly "Previously on Day Break" summations just aren't going to cut it on a show where whatever happens one day informs what happens on the next. It might be easier to explain Finnegans Wake to Pauly Shore.

Hopper is the only one who knows what's happened all along. Pity his poor girlfriend, Rita, who has no clue and must keep being told to trust him. He has a very good reason to be ultra-concerned with her safety. You'll know what that reason is about one-third of the way through Wednesday's opener.

Diggs is solid and empathetic in the lead role. You want him to get to the bottom of all this. Still, it's going to be tough duty to stick with him. Many viewers might opt to say, "Good luck, man, but this is just too much for me." If that's the case, Lost's scheduled February return with an uninterrupted run of 16 episodes might be too long a wait for ABC.

Prospects: Day Break likely will open the door to even further audience gains by CBS' competing Criminal Minds. Still, it should at least be able to finish second opposite NBC's The Biggest Loser. If not, the hook will be quick, with Day Break instead whiling away its days on ABC.com.

Grade: B

New Series Review: 3 Lbs. (CBS)

Stanley Tucci and Mark Feuerstein in 3 Lbs.

Premiering: Tuesday night, Nov. 14 (9 central, 10 eastern), CBS
Starring: Stanley Tucci, Mark Feuerstein, Indira Varma, Armando Riesco
Produced by: Peter Ocko, Scott Kaufer, Davis Guggenheim

Creators of broadly drawn, critically panned TV shows often defend their work with this overworked fallback position: "Hey, it's not brain surgery."

CBS' 3 Lbs. can't use that one. It's the first prime-time series to detail the ins and ins of brain surgery. Technically speaking at least, it's not mindless entertainment.

Tuesday's premiere, in place of the canceled Smith and crime reruns, plays with viewers' heads a bit via dreamscapes and recurring visions of a little girl by top doc Doug Hanson (Stanley Tucci). It's labored and slow-on-the-draw at first. By episode's end, though, you just might be willing to be a weekly outpatient.

Tucci's character is brusque, enigmatic, egocentric and easily compared to Fox's Dr. Gregory House. On the other hand he's bald and without a cane, so let's be fair.

The other principal doc is young, incoming Jonathan Seger (Mark Feuerstein), who of course is an idealistic people person. He greatly admires Dr. Hanson's skills with a scalpel but won't abide his taciturn approaches to patients. Unfortunately, Seger verbalizes his frustrations with a burst of dialogue that might make your head hurt.

If he can't get close to his patients, "then I should go take polyps off colons," Seger blurts. "Because I can't screw around in somebody's head and not know whose soul I'm bumping up against."

There's also barefootin' Dr. Adriannne Holland (Indira Varma), whose feet usually aren't bumping up against any soles. Says she: "Fear is the mind's magic trick. And you can choose to believe it or not."

Choke down these bromides if you can. 3 Lbs. doesn't make a full recovery, but it gets more engaging down the stretch. The featured patient is a young cello player named Cassie (Madeline Zima), who collapses at a concert and is diagnosed with a brain tumor. Dr. Hanson and his arch-nemesis, Dr. Jeffrey Coles (Griffin Dunne), then clash over how it should be excised while Cassie's mother fumes and frets.

A secondary case, involving an older man who gets lost all the time, pretty much goes nowhere in the first episode. But Drs. Seger and Holland look as though they're going to get to first base and beyond in future episodes.

Tucci's the main reason to watch, though. His best scene is with a young woman who went blind after he operated on her. She visits the hospital and feels her way around Dr. Hanson's hands and face. It's a touching scene on two levels.

Otherwise Dr. Hanson is fond of coldly saying that the brain is merely "wires in a box." CBS' patron saint of news, Edward R. Murrow, once made the same observation about the new medium of television. To become more than that, it had to fulfill its great promise, he said.

3 Lbs. has some promise, too. It seems worth keeping an eye on.

Prospects: Lots more engaging than Smith, it nonetheless has a tough fight opposite NBC's dominant Law & Order: SVU and ABC's still potent Boston Legal. But it's compatible with its CBS lead-in The Unit. And by next week, ABC won't have Dancing with the Stars as Tuesday's unbeatable lead-off hitter.

Grade: B-minus

New Series Review: Show Me the Money

Shat-ified man: Big Bill cashes in again on Show Me the Money

Premiering: Tuesday night, Nov. 14 (8:30 central, 9:30 eastern), ABC
Hosted by: William Shatner
Produced by: David Goldberg

This must be the equivalent of what befell Rome just before it fell.

The provocatively garbed dancing girls, their-render-unto-Caesar, red-vested master, untold riches within tempting reach and a crazed audience rising as one when the command rings out, "Ladies, let's salsa!"

Oh but we kid William Shatner and Show Me the Money. It's a new, beyond gaudy game show cleverly placed behind Tuesday's 90-minute Dancing with the Stars performance finale. Surely ABC jests with this one, although Shatner can never be discounted on these particular fronts. At age 75 he's everything that Burt Reynolds could have been -- TV's toupeed king of kitsch in times when retro-cool is hotter than a Fire Island luau.

ABC mercifully didn't send the entire 90-minute premiere to TV critics. But we get a pretty big gulp, with the show's 13 boppers first seen gyrating in silhouette before an announcer barks, "Let's give it up for the one, the only, William Shatner!"

They used to introduce Groucho Marx that way on You Bet Your Life, but who the hell remembers that? Shatner arrives in red, black and Jiffy Pop paunch, still looking pretty good for a guy who's actually five months and three days older than Regis Philbin. Reege earlier took a walk on NBC's wildside as host of America's Got Talent. But Shat happens to be a bit bolder and crazier. He commands the dancers to dance, and they do, of course. Dancing with the Starship Enterprise captain -- what a concept.

The show's first guest is a giddy guy named Matt. He's an Oklahoman carrying a merse ("my man purse") with lip balm and a Shania Twain ticket within. It doesn't take the host long to catch on.

"I don't know whether this will interest you or not," he tells Matt. "But there are 13 beautiful ladies out there."

Each carries a scroll rather than a briefcase. Unfurl one and it reveals a money amount ranging from $20,000 to $250,000. But one of the ladies has a "Killer Card" that will wipe out whatever a contestant has won via answering a succession of trivia questions. On a scale of one to 10 brain cells, this one ranks a rather heady 5. It's considerably more cerebral than NBC's new 1 vs 100. And it's positively Ensteinian when compared to NBC's Deal Or No Deal.

Let's just say that Matt climbs very high in the money tree before he starts to falter. Shatner is a bit disappointed when he puzzles over the question, "What foreign country was the first to grant marriage status to same-sex couples?"

"If you don't know this, there is no heaven," the host ripostes.

Individual games can go on for quite a while, so you need engaging contestants to supplement Shatner's recurring urges to shake his 75-year-old moneymaker. After all, that could get old in a hurry. On the other hand, Shatner still hasn't done the monkey, the frug, the watusi, the twist, the shimmy shake, etc. In a land of 1,000 dances, his possibilities are endless as long as his back holds out. If not, Jerry Springer's in the wings.

Prospects: The show moves to Wednesdays at 7 central after Tuesday's elongated sneak-preview. That's one of prime-time's least competitive hours, giving Shatner a better than even chance of dancing many more nights away.

Grade: C+

New Series Review: 1 vs 100 (NBC)

A saggier Bob Saget isn't hitchhiking. He's hosting.

Premiering: Friday night (Oct. 13), 8 central, 9 eastern, NBC
Hosted by: Bob Saget
Produced by: Scott St. John


From the producers of Deal or No Deal, here's another NBC big-money game show that really should be titled Dumb or Super-Dumb. How else to gauge the candle power required to answer the show's opening question: "The 2003 movie Seabiscuit featured what kind of animal?"

Your three choices are: One with fins or one with paws or one with hooves. So it behooves one to ask, "Is this the easiest money to be made anywhere on the planet?" Yes, it is, at least in the present. On TV's vintage You Bet Your Life, Groucho Marx used to ask questions like "What color is the yellow of an egg?" But that was just at the very end, and only of contestants who hadn't won a dime yet. Groucho liked to at least see his foils walk away with cab fare.

OK, so the real name of the newcomer is 1 vs 100, hosted by Bob Saget from Full House and America's Funniest Home Videos. Bob had been soiling his clean-cut rep for a while in the dirty joke movie The Aristocrats and as a dope-smoking prostitute monger on HBO's Entourage. But now he's got his Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval mojo working again after seeing what Deal or No Deal did for the likes of Howie Mandel. Next thing you know we'll see Andrew Dice Clay hosting Chutes and Ladders.

1 vs. 100 pits a lone contestant against "The Mob," which starts out 100 strong. The Mob's don on opening night is all-time Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings, who didn't miss that opening Seabiscuit question if you must know.

"You're a very smart man, and you intimidate me tremendously," Saget quips, even though he must know that Jennings could answer these types of elementary questions from the grave. Actually, a rutabaga might get pretty far in this game, or so you'd think. But eight members of "The Mob" actually punch in the wrong answer to the question, "What Hawaiian appetizer is often found on Asian cuisine menus?"

Their choices were pu-pu platter, ka-ka combo or du-du delight. No, seriously.

The first contestant, a bar bouncer named Brian, manages to eliminate more than half of The Mob. This causes his prize money to escalate, with Brian asked each time whether he wants to take his cash and run or bet that he'll know something that some members of The Mob won't.

Unlike Deal or No Deal, you need more than dumb luck to win big. But like Deal or No Deal, you can be dumb as a fence post and still know what comedian walked away from a $150 million deal with Comedy Central.

One of the three possible answers is not Bob Saget. No way he'd be that dumb. In an odd sort of way, that's why the poor guy's hosting this.

Prospects: It actually might have a shot on an overall weak night, particularly after moving to its regular 7 p.m. slot next Friday.

Grade: C-minus

New Series Review: I Pity the Fool (TV Land)

Sit down for a minute. Mr. T wants to talk to you, sucka.

Premiering: Wednesday night (Oct. 11), 9 central, 10 eastern, TV Land
Starring: Mr. T (real name: Lawrence Tureaud)
Concocted by: Stephen Belafonte, Ken Druckerman, Banks Tarver

This is all a sham, of course. Mr. T isn't really a "life coach." He is an enduring, arguably endearing commodity, though. So let's cool the jewelry, dress him up like Santa Claus --- in this case, in a suit --- and send him out to jack up a few schlumps.

"There's no shortage of fools that need my help," he crows with a certain amount of modesty. That said, he hits the road in TV Land's I Pity the Fool, likely to be the hottest show in the network's still relatively brief history.

Mr. T first heads to a car dealership in New York City, where the ostensible bossman, Scott Perlstein, is being beaten down by his auto-cratic father-in-law, Tom Nemet. The star of the show, wearing a red jump suit at first, gets in everybody's grill and demands they sell 20 cars in the next 48 hours. Then he switches to a "fancy car salesman suit" and seems to have little idea what he's doing. No matter. Mr. T next rails at a shyster salesman named Vince while two customers take it all in. Sure enough, this all works to a T.

I Pity the Fool is only a half-hour show, but that's a lot of time to fill these days. In a historic television first, Mr. T kills a minute or so by upbraiding anyone arriving late to his party.

"If you just tuned in, what's wrong with you, fool?" he growls. "Show me some respect and watch my show from the beginning!" Tardy viewers are then brought up to speed with a brief recap.

Mr. T otherwise is all about the love. His last task is to bring Scott and Tom together. And whaddya know, the old man melts and dishes out some praise while the kid wells up. It's then benediction time:

"If you want to polish your relationship and make it glisten, all you really have to do is learn to listen," says Mr. T.

Solid production values and Mr. T's inimitable style make I Pity the Fool a surprisingly watchable lark, a Dr. Phil for dummies if you will. Mr. T is more likeable and in much better shape, though. So if you're inclined to buy into any of this malarkey, maybe Mr. T should be your man.

"Like I always say," he says, "you can't spell success without T."

Grade: B-minus