You have to give superproducer Aaron Spelling credit. He'll work a hit concept to death. This year he's been madly cloning his Beverly Hills, 90210 cash cow.

First there was Melrose Place. This week he takes the wraps off The Heights (see review). Soon he will unveil The Round Table on NBC. Different casts, different titles. But under the surface—and this is Spelling's genius—they're exactly the same show: a group of young studs and babes struggling with life and love.

Spelling certainly gives the people what they want. He just doesn't know when to stop.

CBS (Wednesdays, 9 P.M. ET)


Hold on to your hat. Here's the Cliffs Notes version of this wild and woolly five-week potboiler: Lisa Hartman Black plays a recently retired prostitute who needs to lake on roommates in her lavish beach house. She gets a burned-out lawyer (Jennifer Beals) still grieving over the death of her fiancé, a spacey would-be young actress (Drew Barrymore) and her clingy, manipulative sister, and manager (Tuesday Knight), who calls everyone "honey bunny."

Before they can even unpack, Barrymore and Beals have bagged chesty boyfriends (Brian Bloom of As the World Turns and Days of Our Lives' Michael T. Weiss). Knight makes a bid for romance too, but the network executive she comes on to responds, "I think I'm gonna puke." (He's played by Scott Bryce of As the World Turns. Must have been a special on soap actors down at central casting.)

Hartman Black, of course, has had her fill of men, but I'm willing to wager she too has a love interest by the second episode. He'd better be a lawyer, because in last weekend's two-hour pilot, Hartman Black got arrested for murder.

This is the ultimate California series—the real estate is sexier (and better lit) than the actors. The beach house, with its gauzy curtains billowing in the breeze, chandeliers, fireplaces, vaulted ceilings and shimmering pool, is opulent enough that even Aaron Spelling himself would feel comfortable here. (That's not surprising. The ubiquitous Spelling exec-produced this baby.)

The plotting and dialogue are sappy. (Hartman Black on prostitution: "I was dirt-poor and hungry. I thought I could sell my body without selling my soul too. But it doesn't work that way. So I'm getting out now while there's still enough of me left to fight for something better in my life.") And I can't remember a series in which all the main characters are so forbiddingly unsympathetic. The only possible reason to tune in each week is to marvel at the next ludicrous plot twist.

For instance, it turns out Hartman Black wasn't dirt-poor. In fact, she comes from a fabulously wealthy blue-blood family, making her the proverbial hooker with the card of gold. But who will pay her bail?

Fox (Thursdays, 8:30 P.M. ET)


Martin Lawrence, host of HBO's raucous summer stand-up comedy series Def Comedy Jam, stars in the season's first new sitcom as a Detroit radio talk show host who shoots off his macho mouth on the air and in front of his friends, then has to eat his words at home with his girlfriend (Tisha Campbell). Also included in the cast are Tommy Ford, Tichina Arnold and Carl Payne.

The comedy has the most uncompromisingly black dialogue and attitude of any series on TV. What it lacks is wit, depending instead on Lawrence to do shtick. He overacts terribly, hammily mugging for the camera. Making matters worse, Lawrence plays (and overplays) two other roles in drag: his oddball mother and his bizarre blowfly girl neighbor, Sheneneh.

Martin is a better follow-up to The Simpsons than the rank Drexell's Class was. But not by too much.

Fox (Thursdays, 9 P.M. ET)


Here is a drama about a comely bunch of guys and gals who are a struggling rock group by night and blue-collar workers by day.

There's the long-haired garage-mechanic lead singer (Shawn Thompson), who disconcertingly looks 10 years older than the rest of the group. He's supported by a sax player (Hull High's Cheryl Pollak) who works at a beer distributorship; a bass player (Alex Desert of The Flash) who works at his dad's pool hall; a drummer-plumber (Ken Garito); the obligatory rich girl (Charlotte Ross of Days of Our Lives), who strums along on acoustic guitar; and a keyboard player (Zachary Throne). Then there's the new kid, a sensitive poet and singer (James Walters) who is a produce clerk.

The drama is clumsy and over-baked and the plotting implausible. For instance, this group is supposed to be a scruffy cover band, banging around old soul tunes. Then Walters (who in real life is Drew Barrymore's boyfriend) walks in with some words scribbled on a page, and two minutes later, they're playing a polished radio-ready original tune that sounds like the work of Corey Hart or Richard Marx or some other Top 40 star.

Still, an energetic cast and the musical setting combine to make this silly show watchable.

ABC (Tuesdays, 10 P.M. ET)


From the makers of Northern Exposure comes this show about American students at a less than reputable medical school on the apocryphal Caribbean island of Jantique (actually the show is filmed in Jamaica). The series aims for the same quizzical drama-comedy mix as NoEx, with a bunch of fussy type-A personalities way out of their element, trying to adjust to Third World privations and to the natives' relaxed "no problem, mon" attitude.

Life on Jantique, as it turns out, is not as poignant, droll or charmed as it is in Cicely, Alaska. But creators Joshua Brand and John Falsey have a definite knack for creating distinctive characters and colliding them with one another. In this case the faculty, played by Charles Keating, Carl Lumbly, June Chadwick and Roy Dotrice, is appreciably more interesting than the one-dimensional students (Daniel Jenkins, Joanna Going, Robert Duncan McNeill, Andrew Lauer, Camilo Gallardo and Erika Alexander).

It took a while for Northern Exposure to hit its jaunty stride, so maybe this show will develop over time. It will certainly get the opportunity, seeing as how it has a coveted slot, batting cleanup for ABC's Tuesday night murderer's row.


IT'S A GOOD YEAR FOR TV STARS MAKING movies about baseball players, with Roseanne's John Goodman starring in The Babe and Tom (Magnum, P.I.) Selleck about to bow in Mr. Baseball. Not only that, but Saturday Night Live cast members are, thanks to Wayne's World, once more the toast of Hollywood. So all the portents are there. If ever an actor was born to play a role, it's SNL's Chris Farley in the story of John Kruk, the rough-and-tumble first baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies who has been leading the National League in hitting almost all season. Cheek out the pictures. You be the judge.


THE QUESTION TV CRITICS GET ASKED most (and usually in a skeptical tone) is: "So what's good on TV?" The obvious answer: Whatever you like to watch. After all, one person's Hunter is another's Hill Street Blues. So before the new season begins in earnest, I want to offer up a list of the dozen shows I have watched most consistently over the past year:

1. Mystery Science Theater 3000 (Comedy Channel) 2. Cheers (NBC) 3. The Simpsons (Fox) 4. James Bond Jr. (syndicated afternoon cartoon) 5. Northern Exposure (CBS) 6. Dream On (HBO) 7. Seinfeld (NBC) 8. Sweating Bullets (CBS) 9. Roseanne (ABC) 10. Coach (ABC) 11. NFL Primetime (ESPN, in season) 12. Dennis Miller (syndicated, now canceled)


I'M DECLARING A TRUCE WITH THE Emmy Awards, which will be broadcast this weekend on Fox (Sun., Aug. 30, 8 P.M. ET) with Tim Allen, Kirstie Alley and Dennis Miller as hosts. Because the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences finally saw fit to nominate Roseanne Arnold for Lead Actress in a Comedy Series after four years of ignoring her, I won't follow my usual practice of picking apart their choices. (Although I'm still trying to figure out how China Beach, which was canceled before the designated date for consideration, was granted six nominations.) Instead I'm going to list my choices for most deserving candidates in the major acting categories:

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series: Will Smith of NBC's The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air—a wonderfully natural and impish comic talent.

Outstanding lead Actor in a Drama Series: Michael Chiklis of ABC's The Commish. He carries this lame show with the most engaging prime-time cop performance since Dennis Weaver in McCload.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Special: Brian Dennehy in the syndicated To Catch a Killer. Dennehy was bone-chilling as mass murderer John Wayne Gacy.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series: Amy Aquino of CBS's Brooklyn Bridge. She has wit drier than the Sahara, and all she has to do is arch an eyebrow at one of her TV sons and I crack up.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series: Regina Taylor of NBC's I'll Fly Away—a remarkable evocation of strength and dignity.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Special: (Tie) Gena Rowlands in CBS's Face of a Stranger (in which she was brilliantly convincing as a recent widow) and Meredith Baxter in CBS's A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story (in which she was the soul of obsessive jealousy).

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Special: Jean Stapleton in CBS's Fire in the Dark. A pungent portrayal of an indomitably spunky senior citizen.

Of the eight actors I've cited, half are actually nominated in these categories. That's a remarkable concurrence. If I didn't know better, I'd swear the ATAS voters actually broke down this year and watched some TV.