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'E-Ring,' 'Minds,' 'Instinct' all stink

Among the most surprising new shows of the year is NBC's "E-Ring." Surprisingly bad, that is.

It's shocking that producer Jerry Bruckheimer, whose TV shows include "CSI," "Without a Trace" and "Amazing Race," could put out something this bad. That actors like Benjamin Bratt ("Law & Order") and Dennis Hopper could look this foolish.

But they do.

Bratt stars as Major Jim (J.T.) Tinewski (apparently because he looks so Polish), the new guy at the Pentagon whose job it is to solve big problems. He's earnest and true, and he'll do anything to do the right thing. In the premiere, that means getting a Chinese woman who's an American operative out of the country, no matter the risk.

But he runs up against the bureaucracy, and his boss, tough guy Col. Bob McNulty (Dennis Hopper), who's little more than a cartoon.

It's not that the plot of "E-Ring" is so awful. The spy stuff has the making of a good story.

But not one character rings true. And those characters are forced to speak hackneyed, unbelievable dialogue.

In one scene, Tinewski delivers a heartfelt speech that turns the American government around. Really. In another, McNulty hugs a subordinate in a scene that's laugh-aloud ludicrous.

Taylor Hackford, whose reputation went up when he was nominated for an Oscar for directing "Ray," directed this pilot. And he ought to be hoping nobody watches this, or his reputation will take a huge hit.

NBC moved "West Wing" to Sundays to make room for this piece of junk?

CRIMINAL MINDS (Thursday, 9 p.m., Ch. 2) is not only one crime-drama too many for CBS, but it's the most reprehensible show of the year. Gross, gratuitous violence makes this nothing short of stomach-churning exploitation.

It's about a group of FBI "mind hunters," who piece together portraits of horrific killers. (The cast includes Mandy Patinkin of "Chicago Hope," Thomas Gibson of "Dharma & Greg" and Shemar Moore of "The Young & the Restless.")

Thursday's premiere is excessive in its portrayal of a woman who's been kidnapped and held in a cage. But that's nothing compared to the second episode (which airs in "Mind's" regular time slot on Wednesday, Sept. 21, at 8 p.m.) that's nothing short of horrific in its repeated footage of people being burned to death.

Again, the most applicable word here is reprehensible.

KILLER INSTINCT (Friday, 8 p.m., Ch. 13) is somewhat less disgusting than "Criminal Minds" but no more entertaining.

Hey, this is a show on Fox set inside the San Francisco Police Department's deviant-crime unit. See — you pretty much know what to expect.

Johnny Messner stars as detective Jack Hale, who (cliche warning!) is back on the job after his partner died in the line of duty. He's got a boss (Chi McBride) he fights with and a new partner (Kristin Lehman) who doesn't trust him. And in the premiere, they deal with a guy who's using spiders to immobilize and rape women before they die.

Yes, still more women in jeopardy. And this is still more bad TV.