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‘DAG’ wastes stars (and viewers’ time)

Also, NBC moves ‘Ed’ and ‘Titans’ to new nights

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Generally — like 99 times out of 100 — the key ingredient in television comedy is the writing. Even bad actors can get laughs if the lines they're delivering are funny.

But the new NBC sitcom "DAG" is that one-in-a-hundred exception to the rule. The writing isn't all that great, but stars David Alan Grier ("In Living Color") and Delta Burke ("Designing Women") at least partially make up for the script's failings.

Grier (whose initials, you'll note, are DAG) stars as Secret Service Agent Jerome Daggett. In the opening moments of tonight's pilot episode (8:30 p.m., Ch. 5), Daggett makes a non-fatal but hugely embarrassing mistake. In an effort to protect the president (guest star David Rasche) from an assassination, he tries to jump in front of an assassin's bullet . . . but he leaps in the wrong direction.

Daggett is demoted, at the president's suggestion, to the "B" team — he's put in charge of protecting the first lady, Judith Whitman (Burke). He's not happy about it.

"I'm stuck driving Miss Daisy. It sucks!" he says.

But the first lady is no dummy. As a matter of fact, she's considerably sharper than her dim-bulb husband. And more popular.

As the first couple are greeted by a crowd and cheers erupt, the president exclaims, "They love me!"

"They love me," she says, correcting him. "You're just standing next to me."

And, indeed, as she moves away from him, the cheers stop.

Burke is wonderfully cast as the first lady who helped her husband to the top and was abandoned at some point in the climb.

"Somewhere along the way, they turned me into the wife. And he let them," she says.

And the role of the put-upon, unlucky Agent Daggett was created just for Grier, who worries that the first lady is "treating me like an errand boy instead of the trained professional that I am."

But the rest of the cast isn't exactly great. The other Secret Service agents are cartoon characters — Daggett's best friend, Morton (Mel Jackson), who replaced him as the leader of the "A" team' Pillows (Stephen Dunham), who's sort of a big oaf; and the overzealous Cole (Emmy Laybourne). The worst caricature is the first lady's secretary, Ginger Chin (Lauren Tom), whose character at least borders on an offensive Asian racial stereotype.

Oh, Rasche is fine, but he'll be appearing only occasionally as the president. And the president and first lady's daughter, Camilla (Lea Moreno Young) — a teenager who recently made the prime minister of Canada cry — has possibilities.

But the real weak link is the writing. The best that creators/executive producers/writers Jack Burditt, Eileen Conn and Andy Gordon can come up with isn't real good, and it can be real bad.

Like we're supposed to think it's funny that one of the Secret Service agents can't find his gone. And we're supposed to laugh when, upon entering the scene, another agent says, "Seriously, I'm telling you, that's where they keep Kennedy's brain."

Or when Daggett is carrying the first lady's dog, he says to the animal, "If you don't urinate on me I won't urinate on you."

Whoa — that's hilarious, isn't it?

Grier and Burke — not to mention the audience — deserve better than "DAG."

NBC CHANGES: NBC, which is off to a somewhat less-than-spectacular start to the current television season, has announced changes on three nights and the shifting of two of its new hours — "Ed" and "Titans."

(Two shows that couldn't be more different — a smart, snappy hourlong comedy and a retro-campy prime-time soap.)

Beginning the first week of December, "Ed" shifts from Sundays at 7 p.m. to Wednesdays at 7 p.m. Its ratings haven't been bad on Sundays — and its demos have been pretty good — but the return of "The Simpsons" and "Malcolm in the Middle" cut into its younger viewers.

For the moment, at least, Wednesday does look like a better spot for "Ed." And, while network programmers are given to sometimes hysterical hyperbole, it's hard to argue with NBC Entertainment President Garth Ancier, who said, "This is a show that fits perfectly with 'The West Wing' and 'Law & Order' and will provide viewers with one of the best nights of television, start-to-finish, on any network in recent memory."

The one thing to remember, however, is that this might not be such a great spot for long — there's no official word from CBS yet, but that network might put "Survivor" on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. in February.

NBC is also moving "Titans" from Wednesdays at 7 p.m. to Mondays at 7 p.m., the thinking apparently being that that's a timeslot where "Melrose Place" prospered for years.

(The network previously yanked the two shows that aired from 7-8 p.m. on Mondays off the schedule — "Daddio" is on hiatus and "Tucker" has been axed.)

On Sunday, Dec. 10, "World's Most Amazing Videos" returns to NBC's schedule at 6 p.m., and the Sunday edition of "Dateline" slides back an hour to 7 p.m.

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com