PBS (Tues., July 24, 10 p.m. ET)

Show of the week
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Statistics, whether rosy or grim, usually dominate in analyses of welfare reform. This documentary opens with a 1998 sound bite from New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani, bragging about a reduction of 460,000 in his city's welfare population. But Emily Abt's worthwhile Take It from Me goes behind the numbers for a close-up look at individual New Yorkers struggling with poverty and the loss of public assistance.

Here are scenes with more emotional impact than a dozen government reports: A little boy wails as he's torn from his young single mother and handed over to a foster parent. A woman in her 40s, nearing a welfare cutoff, tries pathetically hard to ace an interview for a waitressing job at a fancy restaurant. A middle-aged recovering addict and mother of three—fighting to get by as a $5.50-an-hour pot washer after 28 years on welfare—fervently tells her old drug-rehab group, "I love myself to death today 'cause I made it."

The film sometimes leaves us frustratingly short of hard facts about the characters' lives. But the feelings here always seem true.

Bottom Line: Take it seriously

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

After an advance look at the July 24 pilot of this series—which boasts Steve Martin among its seven executive producers—I was about ready to proclaim it the Laugh-In of the 21st century. By the end of episode 2, it .was starting to seem old hat.

The subject matter, as explained in the premiere, is "your everyday cares and worries." The half-hour format mixes snippets of average-citizen interviews with brief skits performed by a troupe that includes Mary Lynn Rajskub (The Larry Sanders Show), Wanda Sykes (The Chris Rock Show), Jeff B. Davis and Lance Krall. The opener gets high mileage out of familiar peeves like drivers who yak on cell phones and businesses that put callers on hold. Impassive guest star Steven Wright is a stitch as the long-waiting customer. But the second outing finds Wright in a similar bit, and several more segments involve some recycling. Tolerant viewers could see the problem as inevitable on a fast-paced show that consumes so much material.

Bottom Line: Laughs that may not last

Nickelodeon (Sat., July 21, 8 p.m.)

This animated series has already spawned two feature films, so a one-hour special doesn't seem like such a big deal. But the significance of All Growed Up is that it marks Rugrats' 10th anniversary on Nickelodeon—high time to picture perennial toddlers Tommy and Chuckie as preteens. The time-travel plot—less funny than a 1992 episode in which the tots imagined themselves as adult wage slaves—finds dark-haired Tommy and carrot-topped worrywart Chuckie (now burdened with braces on his teeth) eagerly awaiting a pop star's concert. It takes too long to resolve complications caused by the social-climbing Angelica, but Grandpa Lou's undiminished vigor is an inspiration.

Bottom Line: Semispecial

USA (Tues., July 24, 9 p.m. ET)

This is more than a cheesy disaster movie. Well, a little more. Along with pedestrian performances and garden-variety suspense, it offers a bit of commentary on the exploitative tendencies of television news.

Fire breaks out in a financially troubled Las Vegas hotel-casino, trapping 13 people on the upper floors. Among them are the embattled owner (Parker Stevenson), the overworked building engineer (Meat Loaf) and an ambitious TV reporter (William McNamara) who sticks his camera into all the intense conversations. It's a warmed-over Towering Inferno slightly freshened with Survivor references, but you may stay tuned to see what the newshound is up to.

Bottom Line: Mostly smoke

>Sunday, July 22 KRISTI YAMAGUCHI'S A GOLDEN MOMENT Fox Family Channel (6 p.m. ET) Kristi cuts a few figures with the likes of Brian Boitano, with live music by Peabo Bryson and others.

Monday, July 23 LAS VEGAS: BUILDING A DESERT OF DREAMS Travel Channel (8 p.m. ET) An hour on hotel construction starts five nights of Sin City specials.

Tuesday, July 24 MURDER IN SMALL TOWN X FOX (8:30 p.m. ET) Ten average folks play sleuth in the premiere of this mystery-reality show.

Wednesday, July 25 SALOONS History Channel (10 p.m. ET) Learn how the Old Westerners wet their whistles.

Thursday, July 26 TO HEAL A HEART PBS (10 p.m. ET) Walter Cronkite narrates a special on a pioneering, nonsurgical treatment for coronary disease.

Friday, July 27 DIANA: STORY OF A PRINCESS TLC (9 p.m. ET) A two-night documentary (ending Saturday) recounts royal-family warfare.

Saturday, July 28 REAL TEENS, REAL TIMES NBC (8 p.m. ET) An hour-long package of repeat Dateline stories explores teen attitudes on sex, plastic surgery, etc.

>Brian A. Green

If fans thought working on the hormonally charged hit Beverly Hills, 90210 was a walk on the beach, they were mistaken. "We had so many rules," says Brian A. Green, who played precocious teen David Silver during the show's 10-year run. "No earrings. No facial hair. No extreme hair changes. I got notes every day that said, 'Aaron [Spelling] wants you to shave today.' " Not easy demands to obey for a guy with a penchant for trendy transformations. "I'd shave my head and grow a beard, then have a goatee and dreads."

These days Green, 28, no longer feels the need to rebel against pesky tonsorial tenets. As a new cast member of Showtime's Resurrection Blvd. (Tuesdays, 10 p.m. ET), currently in its second season, he plays a cop turned law student with a dark past in this drama about a Latino family in L.A. "The writers are so open to my ideas," says Green. And now that he has successfully made the transition from teen dream to adult actor, would he consider making a trip back to his old zip code for a reunion? Maybe, "if there were 100,000 people with signs that said, 'We want David,' " he says with a laugh. "It would definitely take some sort of mass hysteria for me to do it."

  • Contributors:
  • Ericka Souter.