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Cool theme song isn't enough to carry 'Secret Agent Man'

Also, WB shuffles its prime-time program schedule

The title song isn't the only thing that isn't original about UPN's new series "Secret Agent Man."

Oh, it's a great song, which originally accompanied "Secret Agent" in 1965-66. Johnny Rivers had a big hit with it in 1966 — it reached No. 3 on the Billboard charts.

And the new show, which premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. on Ch. 14, is full of repackaged old ideas. It's sort of James Bond/"Man from U.N.C.L.E." with a little bit of "Get Smart," reformatted through "Men In Black."

In other words, it's a silly hour full of spies, action and tongue-in-cheek humor that's certainly not going to help you study for your Ph.D. To enjoy it at all, you've got to disengage your brain before watching this entirely derivative hour.

(It will normally air Tuesdays at 8 p.m. but is delayed this week by KJZZ's coverage of the Jazz game.)

The "Men In Black" tie comes naturally — "Secret Agent Man" was conceived by Barry Sonnenfeld and Barry Josephson, who are two of the show's executive producers.

"When Barry and Barry first pitched the show . . . a lot of people described it as 'Men In Black' without the aliens," said Michael Duggan, another of the executive producers who is the "show-runner" — the hands-on guy guiding "Secret Agent Man." "I think that's not a bad starting-off point for a series."

But the TV show suffers from the comparison, largely because of the casting. Instead of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, we get the rather wooden Costas Mandylor ("Picket Fences") as Monk, the No. 1 agent at a top-secret agency. He's sort of a low-budget Bond (he's even wearing a suit that looks like something Sean Connery might have worn in the '60s) who's supposed to be suave and charming, but Mandylor can't quite pull it off.

Not that he's overshadowed by his co-stars. Neither Dina Meyer ("Starship Troopers") as agent Holiday or Dondre T. Whitfield ("All My Children") as agent Davis exactly lights up the screen.

"I was telling the writers the other day (to) view Monk as the guy we always wanted to be — at least I wanted to be when I was a kid," Duggan said. "You know . . . a secret-agent guy.

"Holiday is the girl we always wanted to be with. She's sexy and can handle herself. And (Davis) is us. He allows us to be with them. He's an agent in his own right, and he has all the stuff that he can do as well."

Not that there's any great effort to make the characters come alive in the show's pilot episode. The acting and the script are simply secondary to the action and the gadgets in "Secret Agent Man." Tuesday's pilot features a by-the-book bad guy who has gotten his hands on a cool gun that disrupts all electrical equipment, and he's using it to try to force the agency to turn over a turncoat agent who just happens to be the love of Monk's life. At least this week.

There's plenty of running and jumping and chasing and fighting and shooting and so on, interrupted by attempts at humor that probably looked a lot more clever on the written page than they do on the screen. It's entirely predictable — the big surprise is anything but.

Maybe all of this is overanalyzing something that's supposed to be pure entertainment. But while there's potential for a fun hour here, it hasn't been achieved, at least not in the pilot.

The big question is what the producers did with all the extra time they got when "Secret Agent Man" was yanked off UPN's schedule back in the fall and delayed for midseason. The show was completely overhauled from the original pilot/presentation, which was scrapped.

This is an improvement, but probably not enough of an improvement.

FROGGING AROUND: Next month, the WB is adding one new series, bringing back an old one and moving three others to new nights.

D.C. (premieres Sunday, April 2, at 7 p.m.) is an hourlong drama from producer Dick Wolf — but don't think "Law & Order." It's essentially a young-skewing soap about five recent college graduates looking to make careers for themselves in Washington, D.C.

It's actually a pretty darn good show — sort of a much smarter version of "Beverly Hills, 90210" (not that that's saying much).

Movie Stars (returns Sunday, April 2, at 8 p.m.) is the rather lame sitcom that drew decent ratings for the WB last summer. Harry Hamlin and Jennifer Grant play Hollywood stars who are married and raising a family.

Zoe (moves to Sundays at 8:30 p.m. on April 2) is the latest attempt to relaunch this show, which failed last year as "Zoe, Duncan, Jack & Jane" and failed earlier this year when it was relaunched on Monday nights.

Felicity (moves to Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on April 5) did quite nicely for the WB last year when it aired after "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"; it has done considerably less well on Sunday nights.

Now it will have the benefit of a decent lead-in from "Dawson's Creek," which won't hurt.

Roswell (moves to Mondays at 8 p.m. on April 10) is the WB's latest attempt to find something that works after its highest-rated show, "7th Heaven." It's very different from "7th," but it's the best thing the network has put in the time slot since it moved "Buffy" to Tuesdays a couple of years back.

The best news for viewers is that the WB is promising that, once the shows make the switches, we'll get new episodes through the end of the season. Yeah, so the season ends in May — but April is replete with reruns of most shows.