For the first time in a decade, NBC has to try to get by without any help from its "Friends." Or from its "Frasier," for that matter.
Well, one of the "Friends" will be back, as Matt LeBlanc transitions into the spinoff "Joey." But the network that built its "Must See TV" reputation on a framework of lots and lots of sitcoms will have only four this fall.
Keep in mind that from 1984 to 2000, NBC never had fewer than 10 sitcoms on its fall schedule, peaking with 18 in 1997. For the past three years it has had eight.
So saying that "Joey" is NBC's best new sitcom isn't saying much. But it does show promise.
NBC's five new shows have a decidedly retro feel. Even the computer-animated "Father of the Pride." And while none of the shows is absolutely dreadful, none is especially great, either.
And the network is jumping the gun on the fall season, trying to use the promotional platform of the Summer Olympics to launch its new shows:
Father of the Pride (Tuesdays, 8 p.m.) looks good on the outside but is hollow on the inside. And, frankly, the idea of an animated sitcom about the animals in Seigfried and Roy's Las Vegas act became unworkable when Roy was mauled by that tiger. (Will that become a Very Special Episode during sweeps?)
This is essentially a domestic sitcom about Larry the Lion (John Goodman), his wife (Cheryl Hines), his teenage daughter and 9-year-old son, his oversexed father-in-law (Carl Reiner) and his gopher pal (Orlando Jones).
Various other animals appear, as do Seigfried and Roy (but they don't provide their own voices). It would be nice if it were funny, but it's not. And it's loaded with sexual humor that makes it inappropriate for the young kids who are going to be attracted to the cuddly, animated animals.
NBC was desperate for a CGI show and let technology go before creativity. That is a lesson in how not to make a TV show.
"Father of the Pride" premieres Tuesday, Aug. 31, at 8 p.m.
Hawaii (Wednesdays, 7 p.m.) is, not surprisingly, "Hawaii Five-O" for the 21st century — an ensemble drama about a group of cops who solve tough crimes on the Islands. All that's missing is Jack Lord. But this being 2004, "Hawaii" is considerably more violent and sexually explicit than its 1968-80 predecessor.
"Hawaii" is sort of a return to old-time cop shows, with characters who are characters — lots of wise-cracking detectives and their earnest colleagues, played by Michael Biehn ("The Terminator"), Sharif Atkins ("ER"), Ivan Sergei ("Jack & Jill") and Eric Balfour ("Six Feet Under"), among others — cars and shootouts. With, of course, some icky, "CSI"-like forensics thrown in.
It's relatively entertaining, but the content is more than a bit rough for its 7 p.m. time slot.
"Hawaii" previews Monday, Aug. 30, at 8 p.m., and moves to its regular time slot on Wednesday, Sept. 1, at 7 p.m.
LAX (Mondays, 9 p.m.) is an odd choice in this post 9/11 world — a rather light-hearted show set at an airport. In the opening scene, the guy in charge of Los Angeles International offs himself by getting in the way of a landing jetliner.
That leaves the gorgeous blond runway chief (Heather Locklear) and the suave terminal boss (Blair Underwood of "L.A. Law") to battle it out for control of the airport. And treat everything with a mixture of determination and sly wit.
In the pilot, everything from a bomb scare to an airliner crewed by drunken pilots is played for comedy. And you know they're not going for realism when Locklear steps in front of the drunken pilots' plane on the runway and screams at them to stop.
"LAX" also appears to be relatively entertaining, but you're certainly not going to grow any new brain cells watching it. And I shudder to think how some of this is going to look if (heaven forbid) there's some sort of trouble at a real-life airport.
"LAX" premieres Monday, Sept. 6, at 9 p.m.
Joey (Thursdays, 7 p.m.) arrives with a couple of heavy burdens — the expectations of "Friends" fans and the expectations of NBC. Even carrying baggage like that, however, this sitcom looks like it may just be a winner.
It doesn't hit the ground running, like "Cheers" spinoff "Frasier" did 11 years ago. But it has the makings of a sitcom that could be around for a while — thanks in large part to Matt LeBlanc, whose portrayal of good-hearted, dimwitted Joey remains winning.
Joey has moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of bigger, better things in his acting career. Which aren't going to happen anytime soon. And he's reconnected with one of his sisters, the wise-cracking Gina (Drea de Matteo of "The Sopranos"). And you've got to love when Gina's son, Michael (Paulo Costanzo) — a real-life rocket scientist — moves in with his Uncle Joey.
They're still feeling their way with this show, even recasting the part of Joey's married neighbor lady, but de Matteo is great, Costanzo is good and there are some genuine laughs in the pilot. "Joey" is not as good as "Friends" got to be — but then neither were the first few episodes of "Friends."
"Joey" premieres Thursday, Sept. 9, at 7 p.m.
Medical Investigation (Fridays, 8 p.m.) is what you get when you cross-pollinate "ER," "CSI" and "S.W.A.T." Neal McDonough ("Boomtown") and Kelli Williams ("The Practice") head a team of hotshot doctors from the National Institutes of Health who drop out of the sky (literally, via helicopters and planes) to solve Major Medical Crises.
Unlike "CSI," "Medical Investigation" also investigates the team's personal lives. Which may be a mistake, given that the big story seems to be how his work has cost team leader Dr. Stephen Connor (McDonough) his family — a cliche that's been done to death on TV.
"Medical Investigation" combines cutting-edge medical technology with superhero antics that strain credulity. It's yet another show that's mildly entertaining, if you can suspend disbelief.
"Medical Investigation" previews Thursday, Sept. 9, at 9 p.m., and moves to its regular time slot on Friday, Sept. 10 at 9 p.m.