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What's the best new show on television? It depends on who you're asking. Our critic weighs in with his picks.

1999 Critics Choice: Personal Best


It depends.

That's the only logical answer to "What's the best new show on TV this season?"

It depends on who you are demographically and psychographically — your age, your sex, your taste, your interests, your education, everything that goes into making up who you are.

I'm not you, and you're not me, and neither one of us is the guy next door, or your significant other, or your boss, or your cat's vet. It all depends on whose ox is being gored. (Now there's an idea: "Celebrity Ox Goring with Regis Philbin." It could happen.)

So as the end of the year draws nigh, I'll tell you what my favorite shows are. And then I'll tell you what yours are — if you're "average" (and we're all keeping in mind that nobody is actually "average"). Then, if you're of a mind to, you can write a letter telling me how you're so not average.

My favorite new show of the season is NBC's "The West Wing." Yours is ABC's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."

Mine is a show about politics at the highest level (speaking of ox goring) with layered, taut and compelling stories, and an ensemble cast that knows how to do justice to the series' finely honed dialogue.

Yours is about sweaty palms, envy and greed.

During the week of Nov. 15, my favorite didn't even make it into the top 20 network shows, according to the Nielsen ratings. Yours was No. 2 through 5, and 7, 8 and 14. It took an old standard, "E.R.," to push "Millionaire" out of the top spot.

My second favorite among the new shows is "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." No surprise there, since the original "Law & Order" is still high on my list. Rounding out my new favorites: "Now and Again," "Action," "Judging Amy," "Snoops" and "Family Law."

Your list differs considerably. None of the season's new shows made it onto your list of the top 20, again according to the Nielsen folks.

ABC's new "Once and Again," from the guys who gave us "thirtysomething," started strong on your list but has begun to slip. On my list, CBS's "Now and Again" started slow, but seems to be building. Or maybe we're all confused by the similarity in titles.

Two more on my list, "Judging Amy" and "Family Law," weren't expected to do much, according to the buzz back in September. Both have surprised their creators and the networks with their ability to hang on and win an audience.

There is one prime-time network show that we seem to agree on, you and I. It's helped by the fact that it precedes a popular Sunday-night show, "The Practice." And "Snoops" may well be a touchstone of sorts. While it's a private-eye series, that doesn't begin to tell the story. "Snoops" is all about style and color, architecture and image — much like "Miami Vice" was in its day. Viewers, you and I both, seemed to be confused by "Snoops" at first, much as we were by Don Johnson and his alligator. "Snoops" didn't seem to fit a mold — because, in fact, it didn't — and it surely isn't like anything else David Kelley ("The Practice" and "Ally McBeal") has given us. But it's finding an audience and may even, like "Miami Vice," start to extend its effect beyond its one-hour time slot.

The big question, however, is which among these new series will be around next year this time. Will more of mine succeed, or will your favorites be the winners? It all depends.

So we're right back where we started.

I'll tell you what. You check with your significant other and your boss. I'll check with my cat's vet and my next door neighbor.

And we'll meet back here next December and talk

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