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If the new television lineups look familiar it's because the networks are sticking with tried-and-true formulas.

You Asked For It


It may not be true in real life, but as far as TV is concerned, most of the time, you get what you ask for. Or the biggest chunk of the audience does, anyway, and this fall's lineup of new shows makes the point.

Take the impeachment scandal, for example. Although most everybody complained that they were sick of watching it, the TV ratings spiked every time something new happened. The all-news cable channels — especially MSNBC — blanketed their airwaves with coverage, and you can bet that if nobody had been watching, that wouldn't have lasted long. The inner workings of the White House were exposed in some detail for months on end, and viewers, by all accounts, were enthralled.

Do you suppose that led in part to the creation of "The West Wing," the show that's got all the critics (including this one) who've seen previews buzzing? The all-but-certain popularity of "The West Wing" will be due, in no small part, to the fact that it's a good show - well-cast, fast-paced and beautifully acted — but the high ratings of the impeachment coverage certainly made NBC comfortable when it came time to add "The West Wing" to the fall lineup.

At least nobody has scheduled a show called "Monica's Dress." Be grateful for small favors.

"Law & Order" has long been a hit on the NBC schedule. That made it much easier for the network to take a chance on a spinoff new to the schedule this fall — "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."

PBS is no exception to the rule. Look for Cordelia Gray to return, thanks to a good reception last year, in her "Mystery" series "An Unsuitable Job for a Woman." And over on ABC-TV, look for a new series from veteran producers with a strong track record, too. "Dawson's Creek" has done well for UPN, so ABC will air "Odd Man Out" — billed as a teen-ager's look at the battle of the sexes — starting this month. (The WB lineup will air this fall on WWBT-TV; "Dawson's Creek" will air Thursday afternoons at 3 p.m.)

So here's a glimpse of what looks good for the fall season on TV — but don't be surprised if some shows strike a familiar chord. If the audience has said it likes something once, you can be sure something similar will be rolling around again.

"The West Wing" (NBC-TV, Wednesdays starting Sept. 22, 9 p.m.) — The presidency is seen through the eyes of an eclectic group of idealistic staffers, starring Martin Sheen as the president and featuring John Spencer, Allison Janney and Rob Lowe.

"Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC-TV, Mondays [start date to come], 9 p.m.) — Dann Florek returns as Captain Donald Cragen, the head of a unit charged with investigating crimes that are considered particularly heinous.

"Third Watch" (NBC-TV, Sundays starting Sept. 26, 8 p.m., with a special premiere on Sept. 23 at 10 p.m.) — From Emmy winner John Wells ("ER") comes a look at the overstressed paramedics, firemen and police who work the 3 p.m. to midnight shift.

"Odd Man Out" (ABC-TV, Fridays starting Sept. 24, 9:30 p.m.) — Erik von Detten stars as 14-year-old Andrew, who's living every teen's dream: He's the only male in a house he shares with five women. Unfortunately, the women are his mom, his aunt and his three sisters.

"Wasteland" (ABC-TV, Thursdays starting Oct. 7, 9 p.m.) — From the creator of "Dawson's Creek" comes this ensemble drama about six twentysomethings coming to terms with life after college in New York.

"Snoops" (ABC-TV, Thursdays starting Sept. 26, 9 p.m.) — Producer David Kelley ("The Practice") returns with a look at a sexy ensemble of Left Coast private investigators in El Lay.

"American Playhouse: An American Love Story" (PBS-TV, Sept. 12-16, 9 p.m.) — Called "water-cooler TV" by some, this is the story of a black man and a white woman who have struggled for more than 30 years with racial stereotypes and societal prejudices.

"Fooling with Words" (PBS-TV, Sept. 26, 9 p.m.) and "The Sound of Poetry" (PBS, Sundays, 5:30 p.m.) — Bill Moyers' new special is about poetry, and his two-hour documentary will be followed by a series of Sunday afternoon half-hours on the same topic.

"In the Wild" (PBS-TV, Sundays, 8 p.m.) — Funny people, including Whoopi Goldberg, John Cleese and Goldie Hawn interact with animals for laughs and teach the audience something about wildlife, too.

Note: CBS-TV did not respond to a request for program information in time for Style's deadline.

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