ABC (Sun., March 22, 9 p.m. ET)

C

Soap fans have been watching Susan Lucci do her scheming-seductress number for 28 years on All My Children. Those who still can't get enough Lucci should enjoy watching her lead besotted men to ruin in her latest TV movie. She plays a siren who calculatedly drives her lover (Philip Casnoff from the Sinatra miniseries) so wild that he arranges the death of her rich husband (John O'Hurley, Seinfeld's]. Peter man). After reluctantly wedding the ardent Casnoff, Lucci lets him take the fall for the murder while she hops into the sack—into the bubble bath, to be exact—with his defense counsel (Kamar de los Reyes, One Life to Live), who doesn't exactly strain to gain an acquittal. (Hearing that the lawyer is known for the risky strategy of putting his clients on the witness stand, Casnoff should have immediately called Johnnie Cochran.) Despite a number of clichés (Casnoff's cross-examiner: "So you expect this jury to believe...") and a weak ending, the drama is fairly diverting, demanding nothing of the viewer but acceptance of the debatable premise that all males are putty in the hands of La Lucci.

A&E (Sun., March 22, 9 p.m. ET)

A-

This is not simply another "golden age of the silver screen" special, filled with classic clips and fond memories. Based on the book An Empire of Their Own by Neal Gabler (who comments frequently in the film), Simcha Jacobovici's documentary tells the extraordinary story of a small group of Jews of East European background—among them Louis B. Mayer, Harry Cohn and the Warner brothers—who founded the major studios and made them into great temples of a secular religion based on the "American dream" of optimism, opportunity and community. The Hollywood moguls turned out movie after movie that, as the narration puts it, "celebrated the working class while extolling middle-class values." The incredible success of their product gave them the status of potentates, but Hollywoodism asserts that their fear of stirring up anti-Semitism spurred the dream merchants to erase anything overtly Jewish from "their films, their lives and the lives of their stars" (thus did a Bernard Schwartz become a Tony Curtis). Suggesting that "Jewish concerns" slipped onto the screen in disguise, the documentary invites us to look at old movies in a new way—to see the shadow of an East European pogrom in a typical scene of violence in the American West. We might wish its perspective weren't so narrow or its generalizations so broad, but the film is fascinating and provocative, particularly in arguing that anti-Semitism animated the congressional communist-hunters who bedeviled Hollywood following World War II.

NBC (Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m. ET)

C-

This new sitcom features three attractive couples, neatly labeled. Dean (D.W. Moffett from Chicago Sons) and Sheri (Dedee Pfeiffer from Cybill) have been married for 4½ years, making them "The Veterans" (their title flashes onscreen in the March 17 pilot). Malena (Holly Robinson Peete from Hangin' with Mr. Cooper) and Mel (James Lesure) are their suburban neighbors "The Newly-weds." Mel's brother Reggie (Edafe Blackmon) is leery of sharing his city bachelor pad with girlfriend Bobbi (Tamala Jones of Veronica's Closet). The lack of commitment in their relationship marks them as—yes—"The Commitment-Phobics." Based on the two episodes we've seen, none of these characters qualify as "The Funny People." We're especially un-amused to note that Malena is another TV psychiatrist who can't handle her own problems. The dialogue does not sparkle, and the situations are straight out of Sitcom 101: Did Malena misread that home pregnancy test? Will she be crazy jealous to learn Mel once had a thing with supermodel Naomi Campbell? Luckily, the cast is appealing, or we might develop For Your Love-phobia.

ABC (Tuesdays, 9:30 p.m. ET)

C+

Don't write off this sitcom too soon—we almost did. Originally titled These Are the Days—in apparent homage to All in the Family and its opening song, "Those Were the Days"—the show concerns a fractious family in Archie Bunker's New York City borough of Queens. The comedy centers on the conflict between working-class bigmouth Mike (comedian Gerry Red Wilson) and his snooty, outspoken sister-in-law Catherine (Nadia Dajani of Ned and Stacey). Catherine and son Kieran (Michael Charles Roman) recently moved into Mike's hitherto happy home after her marriage broke up. (Gee, let's put Archie and Maude under the same roof.) As we watched the March 10 pilot and the March 24 episode, our ears couldn't help noticing how Wilson puts his stand-up experience to use by shouting his lines as if he were working a noisy nightclub. Enough already, we thought. But then we viewed a future episode in which Catholic Mike takes Kieran to Easter mass over Catherine's objections and is soon exposed as a religious hypocrite with a limited grasp of Church doctrine. The script is funny—challenging, even. Now if wife Patty (Kellie Overbey) can just get Mike to pipe down.

>Jerry Springer

SPRINGTIME FOR HITTERS

HE HAS SPOOFED HIMSELF ON MAD TV, MIGHT PLAY HIMself in a feature film, counts Madonna, Cher and Roseanne among his celebrity viewers, recently topped Oprah Winfrey in the Nielsens and has sold a half-million copies of Too Hot for TV!, a lurid video of outtakes from hair-pulling, chair-swinging fights between his dysfunctional guests on the Jerry Springer Show. Still, no one is more amazed by his meteoric rise than Springer himself.

"I think about two or three months ago, I just looked at Richard [Dominick], my producer," says Springer, 54, "and went, 'Holy s—t, we're now more than a television show. We're the subject of someone's cartoon or a reference in a political story in The Washington Post!' "

His critics, however, aren't impressed. Springer's daily, one-hour syndicated slugfest, which debuted nationally in 1992, "debases all of us," former NBC chairman Grant Tinker told industry colleagues in January. Springer, who was mayor of Cincinnati in the late '70s, shrugs. "I was hired to be the ringmaster of a wild and crazy show," he says. But there's one taboo not even Springer will touch. "Would I be a guest on my own show? Never," he says, laughing. "First, I'm a chicken. Second, I wear rented suits. And third, I believe you have your own life and you leave it at home. But that's just my opinion." One which his rabid fans—and guests—evidently don't share.

  • Contributors:
  • Craig Tomashoff.