ABC (Tuesdays, 8 p.m. ET)

One of his three children calls him "the dumbest man that ever lived." His wife says he behaves like a 9-year-old. Yes, Paul Hennessy of 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter is yet another TV father who doesn't know best. But he's played by John Ritter, and ABC apparently figures that gives us reason enough to watch.

A quarter-century after he began romping through Three's Company—then considered racy—Ritter gives his all in this new but familiar sitcom as a middle-aged newspaper columnist who is shocked to discover that his 16-year-old daughter Bridget (Kaley Cuoco) wears thong underwear.

"While the boys flock to the Barbie-like Bridget—and her father sternly warns them to be perfect gentlemen—sister Kerry (Amy Davidson), 15, only pretends to be too smart to care about her relative unpopularity. Dad's so busy misunderstanding his daughters that he doesn't take time to ask why his 13-year-old son Rory (Martin Spanjers) habitually hides in the girls' closet. Paul's wife, Cate (Katey Sagal from Married...with Children), who recently returned to work as a nurse, seems to enjoy his parental ineptitude.

A lot of this material may be hackneyed, but Ritter puts it over with energy and a slathering of shtick. It's simple, really: Like him, like the show.

Bottom Line: Ritter rules routine roost

NBC (Tuesdays, 8 p.m. ET)

If I say this new series copies a movie, don't make the logical mistake of thinking it's the 1979 comedy The In-Laws. I'm talking about a picture that wasn't as good—the 2000 hit Meet the Parents.

Parents was the obvious inspiration for NBC's tacky summer reality series Meet My Folks. Now the network strip-mines the same territory in this sitcom, which premieres Sept. 24 with two episodes. Young marrieds Matt (Elon Gold) and Alex (Bonnie Somerville) move in with her parents, Victor (Dennis Farina) and Marlene (Jean Smart), even though Victor is a jerk. Does this sound harshly oversimplified? You won't think so after seeing the pilot, in which the father-in-law immediately starts scowling and snarling to show he's a Robert De Niro-style intimidator. The able Farina might be able to make this work if he were given some funny lines, but the writers seem to think hostility is a howl in itself.

Bottom Line: Stay out

CBS (Mondays, 10 p.m. ET)

Show of the Week

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As a spinoff from TV's highest-rated drama, the Las Vegas-set CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, this new series is widely seen as a likely hit. The taut and stylish pilot, airing Sept. 23, only serves to confirm that prospect.

I say this even though I didn't buy the exposition establishing that Horatio (David Caruso) supplanted Megan (Kim Delaney) as head of the Miami-Dade police forensics unit while she took extra time off to mourn her late husband. Caruso and Delaney skillfully convey the tension between their characters, regardless of its origin. Besides, you'll forget quibbles about the back story when the team locks onto the case of a corporate plane that crashed in the Everglades, raising questions of foul play and cooked books. The evidence analysis piques our curiosity, and Caruso shows he hasn't lost the quiet intensity viewers discovered nine years ago on NYPD Blue. This time he should stick with the program.

Bottom Line: Fine in the sunshine

WB (Thursdays, 8:30 p.m. ET)

When two new shows have the same premise—present-day guy transported to the '80s to relive his adolescence—there's something to be said for arriving first. This series is set to premiere Sept. 19, eight days before ABC's That Was Then, and it comes off as a standard high school sitcom save for the time-travel twist.

Joel Larsen (newcomer Penn Badgley) is a high school freshman who knows he was 34 when an electric shock threw him back 20 years. (He constantly reminds us of his self-awareness through voice-over narration.) This time around maybe he can bond with his loudmouth dad (Michael Milhoan), stand up to that bullying jock, attract that unattainable blonde who shakes her hair in slo-mo. Badgley is engaging as a teen who's smarter—or at least more experienced—than he lets on, but the writers seem to think we'll laugh if they simply tick off '80s pop-culture references.

Bottom Line: Won't bear much repetition

UPN (Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET)

Somebody's seeing dead people again. In the spirit of The Sixth Sense, this dark new drama centers on private eye Frank Taylor (Matthew Fox from Party of Five), an ex-cop who finds himself with one foot on "the other side" after suffering a near-fatal stab wound. Though Frank manages to slay his assailant, the psycho now haunts him. That's not a good thing, but other ghosts provide the detective with important crime-solving assistance. The Sept. 24 pilot is effectively atmospheric if unrelievedly grim. However the script pounds home the point that Frank feels guilty for failing to prevent the abduction of his little boy, who may be signaling from the realm of the departed.

Bottom Line: Some scares, no subtlety

FOX (Fridays, 9 p.m. ET)

A man awakens naked and glistening on a deserted island. He falls through a hole into the sea, swims who knows how far and gets picked up by some Cambodian fishermen. "You speak Khmer?" he is asked. To his surprise and theirs, the answer is yes.

The Sept. 20 premiere jumps off to an intriguing start, and John Doe only grows better when the protagonist opens his eyes in Seattle and finds he's blessed with awesomely encyclopedic knowledge—but not a clue as to his own identity. A dazzling scene has him holding forth in the public library, answering almost every question the patrons can toss at him.

Where does Doe go from there? Regrettably, to the Seattle Police Department. After feeling a strange connection to a missing girl mentioned on TV, he helps the cops investigate her abduction. Bad career move. Instead of using his brain power at the highest levels of science or government, he'll apparently be playing sleuth on the local level week after week. He also lands a gig as a pianist in a bar after an impromptu rendition of "My Funny Valentine." "You sure can bang those ivories," says the owner (William Forsythe). But what a waste of potential.

Bottom Line: Clever concept but lacks ambition

Sunday, Sept. 29 ALIAS ABC (9 p.m. ET) Sydney's mother (Lena Olin) surfaces in the second season opener of the spy vs. spy drama.

Monday, Sept. 30 STILL STANDING CBS (9:30 p.m. ET) It's the first time out for a sitcom starring Jami Gertz and Mark Addy as working-class parents.

Tuesday, Oct. 1 JUDGING AMY CBS (10 p.m. ET) Maxine (Tyne Daly) has business in daughter Amy's court as the series starts its fourth season.

Wednesday, Oct. 2 DAWSON'S CREEK WB (8 p.m. ET) Jack Osbourne (you know, Ozzy's lad) plays himself in the two-hour season premiere.

Thursday, Oct. 3 WILL & GRACE NBC (9 p.m. ET) Hey, wanna play Six Degrees? Jack stalks Kevin Bacon and becomes his personal assistant.

Friday, Oct. 4 PROVIDENCE NBC (8 p.m. ET) Syd gets a tough new boss and a marriage proposal in an eventful season premiere.

Saturday, Oct. 5 THEY SHOOT DIVAS, DON'T THEY? VH1 (9 p.m. ET) Jennifer Beals stars in this TV movie about a killer who worms her way into a rock star's retinue.

Donny Osmond

Taking over hosting responsibilities for the 29-year-old game show Pyramid this month has Donny Osmond feeling his age. "One day they were playing one of my songs in the studio," he recalls. "And this kid looked at me and said, 'Wow, I didn't know you could sing!'"

Fortunately the syndicated show also brings back fond memories for the former teen idol, who turned the wholesomely telegenic Osmonds into a quintet in the '60s and topped the charts as a solo artist in the early '70s with hits like "Go Away Little Girl" and "Puppy Love." "I used to play [Pyramid] with my brothers when we were stuck on the bus on tour," says Osmond, 44, who now lives in Provo, Utah, with wife Debbie, 43, and their five sons. The singer, whose new CD is due in November, would like to have his singing siblings come on the show as celebrity guests but says it's been an uphill battle so far. "I put in a call to Marie, but I don't know if she'll do it," he says. "She wants to be sure that she'll win!"

  • Contributors:
  • Cynthia Wang.