Life goes on in the A.C. (after Carson) epoch. Jay Leno may never have Johnny's suave ability to charm people and the camera. But Jay has been delivering sharp, politically charged monologues. I like Branford Marsalis's band, especially guitarist Kevin Eubanks and pianist Kenny Kirkland. By staying on the hip tip, playing everything from Led Zeppelin to Miles Davis, they make Doc Severinsen and the gang seem like Jack Teagarden and his orchestra. The pace of The Tonight Show has certainly been turned up a notch or two. You have to be jumping pretty fast to fit Emilio Estevez, Joe Pesci, Paula Poundstone and the Black Crowes into one hour, as Leno did one night during his first week. Two small problems: Those taped comedy skits that follow the monologues have been weak, and the new theme song is totally punchless. The transition in hosts has been pretty smooth, but there is a noticeable difference in style. Leno is like a man hustling around a tennis court: You can actually see him working. Johnny always seemed to be involved in a relaxed game of backyard badminton.

Fox (Saturdays, 9:30 P.M. ET)

D

Last spring, Fox introduced a crass, vile, short-lived sitcom, Top of the Heap, starring Joseph Bologna and Mali LeBlanc as a father and son pair of no-class gold diggers. After retooling, the show is back for a six-week summer run and, incredibly, it's more repulsive than ever.

The Verduccis' Chicago apartment, which makes the Kramdens' look opulent, is the same. But the father figure, Bologna, is gone without explanation, and a new roommate (Robert Torti) is even more vain and doltish than LeBlanc, a truly revoltin' development. They're construction workers with great hair and...well, that just about exhausts their attributes.

Joey Adams returns as the neighbor who has the hots for LeBlanc. She's not alone. Apparently there isn't a woman alive who can contain herself around these musclehead mannequins.

I don't know if the idea of their irresistible magnetism is more insulting to men or women. Actually, I guess the whole species can be offended by a show in which a fat man emerging from the bathroom saying, "Hey, guys, where's the plunger?" is a real zinger.

CBS (Mondays, 9:30 P.M. ET)

B-

In this offbeat new series, Jonathan Penner plays a Miami restaurant owner, Lynn Clark plays his girlfriend, a cruise-line executive, and Steven Eckholdt is his brother, a sportscaster. The first time we meet them, they are confiding to the camera how they lost their virginity. How's that for instant intimacy?

Each episode has a title like "The Katie and Adam Story" and details the romantic entanglements of some of their friends, all impossibly good-looking people who talk suggestively about their sexual experiences.

The stories are told in quick-cut style as the three stars, their lovers and assorted others shuffle their lines of dialogue. Rarely does anyone get to speak more than two sentences before it's on to the next witness in the show's Huey-Dewey-and-Louie expository style. With its ostensibly naughty, self-conscious tone, Grapevine is like watching a Victoria's Secret catalog come to life. It's frisky and flippant, yes, but also plastic and glib. The show's six-week run should be just about enough.

PBS (Mon., June 15, 10 P.M. ET)

B

Recently, archconservative groups have been crying that taxpayer money should be withheld from the Public Broadcasting System because of the supposed liberal, "elitist" slant of its content. (PBS currently relies on government grants for 16 percent of its budget.)

P.O.V., the highly subjective series of independently produced nonfiction films, is exactly the kind of loose-cannon series that rattles conservative cages. The season opener is this opinionated study by filmmaker Marlon Riggs (Tongues Untied) of how blacks have been presented over the years on prime-time television.

Riggs is mainly interested in the disparity between social realities seen in the fractious images of newsclips and the warped but soothing portraits of blacks seen on entertainment series. But his film was completed before the most recent irony: The final episode of The Cosby Show aired on the same night as the apex of the L.A. riots. Essentially, Riggs attacks TV series for presenting blacks as either minstrel-style buffoons (from Amos 'n' Andy in the '50s to J.J. on Good Times in the '70s) or Caucasian clones (from Diahann Carroll's Julia to Bill Cosby's Huxtables). Interestingly, the one show praised for its realism is CBS's short-lived Frank's Place, the 1987 dramedy which starred Tim and Daphne Maxwell Reid.

Of course, prime-time TV, escapist and anachronistic as it is, presents a distorted view of all parts of society. Still, Riggs's provocative if repetitive examination of the medium effectively points out just how racially polarized the American experience has been—and still is.

>DAYTIME'S HARDIEST PERENNIAL

CBS'S AFTERNOON SERIAL GUIDING Light gets to stay up late on Friday (June 12, 9 RM. ET). Well, it is a special occasion. The soap is marking 40 years on television with Guiding Light: The Primetime Special, a cornucopia of clips arranged thematically. Newlyweds Hampton and Gilly (Vince Williams and Amelia Marshall) introduce a segment on weddings. Hot couple Harley and Mallet (Beth Killers and Mark Derwin) handle the topic of romance. Billy Dee Williams and other GL alumni will drop by. There's also a tribute to Charita Bauer, the show's matriarch for 35 years, until her death in 1985. Before Guiding Light joined CBS in 1952 as a 15-minute program, it had been a radio serial for 15 years. This show has sold a lot of soap.

>ARE YOU TOO OLD TO WATCH TV?

DURING THE LAST COMMERCIAL, while you were in the kitchen fixing a snack, they changed TV. In fact, if you're old enough to remember Woodstock, the powers that program would rather you didn't even come back in the room. Just send in your kids. Network TV is on a youth quest.

Suddenly there's an explosion of shows aimed at the post-baby-boom viewer. In addition to this week's debut of Grapevine (see review), CBS will roll out two other sub-adult summer dramas: Freshman Dorm and 2000 Malibu Road, which is about four people, including Drew Barrymore, sharing a beach house.

Fox, which has gotten fat by catering to a young audience, gives us Vinnie and Bobby (see review) and will shortly unveil the Beverly Hills, 90210 spin-off, Melrose Place, and two juvenile sitcoms, Down the Shore and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures. Come fall, the tilt toward youth will grow even more pronounced.

Like everything in TV, this trend is market-driven. Big Nielsen numbers are fine, but the networks know that the real money comes from luring in the under-35 demographics that advertisers covet. Madison Avenue loves people in this age group. They spend freely, and their buying habits are not entrenched, so they can be swayed by commercials.

Of course, if advertisers decided tomorrow that they'd pay a premium to reach Polish ballroom dancers, the networks would soon be showing us nothing but Lawrence Welk reruns.