ABC, which has kept its edge with shows like "The Practice" and "NYPD Blue," is continuing in that direction with this fall's dramas - "Alias," "Philly," "Thieves" and "The Court." I've watched "Alias," "Philly" and "Thieves." The tapes were rough cuts, so I won't pass final judgment, but here's a sneak look at the fall season on ABC:
- "Thieves." John Stamos and Melissa George star as Johnny and Rita, two professional thieves. They steal diamonds and other expensive stuff. Rita has a temper and isn't afraid to blow things up or kick some you-know-what. Johnny is a pro at safecracking and detailed planning.
The federal government catches them and insists they use their skills for their country. Johnny and Rita can either go to prison or work for law enforcement, stealing in the name of truth and justice. They decide to work for Uncle Sam, but there's a problem. Johnny is attracted to Rita, who can't stand him, and their arguments get them into trouble.
This series is a cross between "It Takes A Thief," the classic Robert Wagner series, and another drama with sexual tension, "Moonlighting."
- "Alias." Of all the fall pilots I've watched so far, I've enjoyed this one the most. It's a spy drama from J.J. Abrams, creator of "Felicity," and it leaves the viewer with a genuine puzzle: Who can we trust? Who are the good guys?
Jennifer Garner stars as Sydney Bristow, a graduate student who works for SD-6, a top-secret division of the CIA. There's a cool new twist on the old spy dramas as we see Sydney trying to balance her personal life with her secret job.
I found "Alias" more unpredictable than any other new show I've previewed.
- "Philly." Former "NYPD Blue" star Kim Delaney stars as Kathleen Maguire, a tough defense lawyer, and she's working hard to find out the truth in a courthouse more concerned with shuffling cases than dispensing justice.
- "The Court." Sally Field returns to episodic TV in this drama about the U.S. Supreme Court. ABC obviously is hoping this show will be as successful as NBC's "The West Wing."
This show is a fictional treatment of the drama behind the justices' decisions and how or whether politics interferes with the rulings.
Traditionally, there hasn't been much fiction about the Supreme Court, other than to show the nine justices making a ruling in some fictional case. It will be interesting to see how viewers react to this show and how far this drama might go in suggesting cracks in an American institution.
- "According to Jim." Jim Belushi stars as a husband who gets along with his wife by nodding at everything she says and who knows the secret to raising kids: he stays a big kid himself.
- "Bob Patterson." "Seinfeld" alumnus Jason Alexander plays motivational speaker Bob Patterson, who inspires millions but is working to find his own path.
(Dave Mason is television editor of the Ventura County Star in California. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)