CBS (Saturdays, 8 p.m. ET)
If imitation is a form of flattery, the makers of ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire must want to tell the other networks, "Thanks, but you're way too kind."
Two of the Millionaire copies, CBS's Winning Lines and FOX's Greed, bear the fingerprints of Dick Clark. He's the host of Winning Lines, billed on its Jan. 8 premiere as "the biggest game show ever to hit prime time." You want big? It starts with 49 players in an awesome six-tiered seating arrangement. Then six contestants engage in "a cutthroat round of sudden death" before Lines finally gets down to one player going for a million bucks. After seeming listless and confused throughout the opener, Clark cited his sweaty palms as proof of the show's suspense. Maybe he was just afraid of flunking a pop quiz on the rules.
Clark is an executive producer of Greed, but the host is ex-Love Connection slickster Chuck Woolery, who outdid himself on one show by mispronouncing Madame Defarge, Madame Tussaud and Madame Bovary in the same question. Greed operates with five-person "teams" but encourages mates to knock off one another and thus increase their share of a possible $2 million prize. That, friends, is a capital sin.
Bottom Line: Neither game pays
PBS (Wed., Feb. 2, 8 p.m. ET)
Show of the week
"To be an actor who knew what he was doing all the time." That, Sidney Poitier recalls in this American Masters profile, was his goal when he embarked on a theatrical career. He went on to become a social symbol as well as a consummate professional. For a good part of the '50s and '60s, Poitier was the biggest—in box office terms, one might say the only—black movie star in America. From film to film he carried the burden of a nation's racial prejudices and aspirations. No actor has had a more difficult role.
Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light often leaves us begging for more insight and information. Poitier's thoughts and body of work simply don't fit into a one-hour frame. But director Lee Grant (who appeared with Poitier in In the Heat of the Night) does a good job of exploring his Bahamian roots, and the 72-year-old star is brimming with vitality in the interview segments—thoughtful, emotional, humorous and animated.
Bottom Line: Richly deserved tribute
VH1 (Tues., Feb.1, 9 p.m. ET)
Imagine John Lennon and Paul McCartney spent a day together in New York City in 1976. It's easy if you try. But if the former Beatles did chew the fat and air their differences for hours on end, couldn't they have come up with better dialogue than what's heard in this TV movie?
John (Jared Harris): "You were afraid of being on your own, that everyone would finally see who was the real brains behind the Beatles!" Paul (Aidan Quinn): "The real brain? Oh, that's a laugh."
It is indeed. And here's another: After his ex-partner dredges up some unhappy childhood memories, Paul actually says, "That's heavy, John."
Harris gives the late Lennon an interesting mix of arrogance and insecurity; Quinn's McCartney seems blandly well-adjusted by comparison. Paul's pop-psych advice on how to handle the hurt in life: "Face it and get past it." Sounds reasonable, but it doesn't exactly rock.
Bottom Line: Nothing to twist and shout about
The WB (Mondays, 9 p.m. ET)
As a cranky critic well past his teen years, I'm inclined to remark that The "WB needs another high school series the way suburbia needs another strip mall. But The WB has a constitutional right not to care about fogies like me. In effect, the network is saying to its young target audience: Hey, if you like Popular, here's the shorter, funnier version.
The new half-hour comedy focuses on three sophomores at Wicker H. Normall High: nervous, naive Pooh (Mike Damus, late of Teen Angel); Russell (Eddie Kaye Thomas from American Pie), a would-be stud who's not quite as cool as the image he tries to project; and intelligent Anna (Lea Moreno), who may be more mature than her sexy single mom, Gogi (Joanna Pacula). Yes, the lead characters seem vaguely familiar, and the plots aren't what you'd call groundbreaking either. In the first of two episodes on Jan. 24, Russell puts the moves on a pretty twentysomething only to discover she's his substitute teacher. The only surprise is that he's surprised.
The flights of surrealism (Russell shrinks to little-boy size; a civics teacher turns into Thomas Jefferson) are alternately clever and gratuitous, but at certain moments the writers show a commendable tendency to stress irony over high jinks.
Bottom Line: Normal or slightly above
>Sunday, Jan. 30 ROAD RUNNER VS. COYOTE: BIG GAME XXVIII Cartoon Network (1 p.m. ET) What better warm-up for Super Bowl XXXIV than four hours of championship animated action?
Monday, Jan. 31 VOLCANO ABC (8 p.m. ET) L.A. turns into Lava Land in this 1997 disaster flick with Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche.
Tuesday, Feb. 1 JAG CBS (8 p.m. ET) Mayday! Harm's trapped on a sinking ship with a sailor accused of murder.
Wednesday, Feb. 2 SPIN CITY ABC (9:30 p.m. ET) Mike organizes a raffle that goes awry, and he desperately needs 500 grand.
Thursday, Feb. 3 FRIENDS NBC (8 p.m. ET) Rachel's spendthrift sister (guest star Reese Wither-spoon) flirts with Ross.
Friday, Feb. 4 DATELINE NBC (9 p.m. ET) Sara James reports on a retired Arizona couple who adopted a party of 10 abandoned siblings.
Saturday, Feb. 5 8 MM HBO (8 p.m. ET) Nicolas Cage plays a cop plumbing the porno depths in a 1999 thriller that features The Sopranos' James Gandolfini.
FOX (Fridays, 9 p.m. ET)