ABC (Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET)

What do you get by combining a fairly traditional family comedy with a less barbed version of The Larry Sanders Show? This interesting, if not wholly successful, hybrid.

The engaging Bonnie Hunt, co-creator of the new series, stars as Bonnie Molloy, a local TV talk show host with a doctor husband (Mark Derwin) and three kids. Home life is anything but relaxed, and Bonnie tends to arrive at the station frazzled and ill-prepared. The show-within-the-show scenes, largely improvised and variable in quality, depict the Fictive Morning Chicago as a program trying to look casual on the brink of chaos. When Hunt clowned with a couple of real-life chefs, it was the highlight of last month's pilot. When David Duchovny snickered his way through a guest-star turn as a vain weatherman in the second episode, he amused himself more than the viewer. Still, Hunt has the spark to keep this comedy energized.

Bottom Line: Flawed but lively

MDs ABC (Wednesdays, 10 p.m. ET)
Presidio Med CBS (Wednesdays, 10 p.m. ET)

They're on at the same time, and both are set at San Francisco hospitals. But there's at least a dime's worth of difference between these two new doctor shows.

MDs all too clearly aspires to be a latter-day M*A*S*H, with a pair of randy, rule-breaking surgeons (William Fichtner, John Hannah) waging a guerrilla war against hospital administrators and HMO bean counters. Presidio Med is a relatively sober, more traditional medical drama. Experienced, caring physicians (Blythe Danner, Dana Delany) behave professionally, while cockier colleagues (Sasha Alexander, Paul Blackthorne) raise the temperature from time to time.

Both series are watchable, but each is disappointing in its own way. The establishment villains are too cartoonish in MDs, and creeping sentimentality undermines the show's irreverence. Presidio Med, despite its competence, is pretty dull. You get the feeling CBS filled a prescription for generic doctors, with the exception of Alexander as a cheeky plastic surgeon. Bottom Line: Barely adequate medical coverage

CBS (Wednesdays, 10 p.m. ET)

They're on at the same time, and both are set at San Francisco hospitals. But there's at least a dime's worth of difference between these two new doctor shows.

MDs all too clearly aspires to be a latter-day M*A*S*H, with a pair of randy, rule-breaking surgeons (William Fichtner, John Hannah) waging a guerrilla war against hospital administrators and HMO bean counters. Presidio Med is a relatively sober, more traditional medical drama. Experienced, caring physicians (Blythe Danner, Dana Delany) behave professionally, while cockier colleagues (Sasha Alexander, Paul Blackthorne) raise the temperature from time to time.

Both series are watchable, but each is disappointing in its own way. The establishment villains are too cartoonish in MDs, and creeping sentimentality undermines the show's irreverence. Presidio Med, despite its competence, is pretty dull. You get the feeling CBS filled a prescription for generic doctors, with the exception of Alexander as a cheeky plastic surgeon.

Bottom Line: Barely adequate medical coverage

PBS (Sundays, Oct. 6-Nov. 17,9 p.m. ET)
Show of the week

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Every remake has to compete with a memory. This eight-hour Masterpiece Theatre miniseries, adapted from the fiction of John Galsworthy, follows in the footsteps of a 26-part dramatization that enthralled British and American viewers in the late '60s. But for those who like to curl up with a rich period piece, The Forsyte Saga is definitely worth another go.

Set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this is the multilayered tale of an English family obsessed with property and propriety. There are many Forsytes to meet, but the most fascinating is Soames (Damian Lewis from Band of Brothers), a priggish solicitor who gains the hand of the aloof and alluring Irene Heron (Gina McKee) by—to put it crudely—greasing her mother's palm. Soames learns that money can buy a wife but not her love, and he struggles unsuccessfully to contain his rising fury as Irene frustrates his desire for a son and heir. The story slows a bit as Irene enchants Soames's uncle (Corin Redgrave) and cousin (Rupert Graves), while younger Forsytes get bogged down in the Boer War. Lewis's performance, though, is a constant marvel. The actor makes Soames's emotional repression so palpable that it's hard to hate him even at his most heartless. When his humanity finally breaks through, you'll feel a surge of hope.

Bottom Line: A family treasure

CBS (Thursdays, 10 p.m. ET)

Anthony LaPaglia is a brilliant actor with an Emmy (Frasier) and a Tony (A View from the Bridge) to his credit. Judging from the first two episodes of this drama, his role as the efficient leader of an FBI missing-persons unit won't be the ideal opportunity for LaPaglia to display his talents. There are only so many ways to say "Clock's ticking—let's get out there."

But even if the clipped dialogue sometimes suggests cop-show parody, the well-constructed mysteries give Without a Trace a strong foundation. The second episode hooked me with a classic parent's nightmare—father separated from his son in a crowded subway station—then gave the plot a couple of genuinely surprising twists. Realizing that characterization is not the top priority here, I just wish the writers would give LaPaglia more to work with and drop the needless reminders that subordinates Eric Close (Now and Again) and Poppy Montgomery (Blonde) have sex appeal.

Bottom Line: Keep track of it

Sunday, Oct. 13 BANG BANG YOU'RE DEAD Showtime (8 p.m. ET) Ed's Tom Cavanagh stars in a TV movie that takes a realistic look at school violence.

Monday, Oct. 14 THE KING OF QUEENS CBS (8 p.m. ET) Doug (Kevin James) tackles the challenge of trying out for a semipro football team.

Tuesday, Oct. 15 VH1/VOGUE FASHION AWARDS VH1 (9 p.m. ET) Debra Messing of Will & Grace plays host for a parade of stars in their glad rags.

Wednesday, Oct. 16 THE TWILIGHT ZONE UPN (9 p.m. ET) A legendary guitar brings a struggling musician (Lukas Haas) fame and trouble.

Thursday, Oct. 17 WILL & GRACE NBC (9 p.m. ET) Jack and Karen come up with a half-baked plan to stop Will and Grace from feuding.

Friday, Oct. 18 CROSSROADS CMT (8 p.m. ET) Go to Carolina in your mind as James Taylor and the Dixie Chicks blend their sounds.

Saturday, Oct. 19 SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE NBC (11:30 p.m. ET) Sen. John McCain serves honorably as host, with rapper Nelly providing the music.

Brad Garrett

Brad Garrett says one thing was going through his mind when he accepted his Emmy for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series last month: "Giants don't cry. Giants don't cry." But then, recalls the towering 6'8" costar of Everybody Loves Raymond, "when I went backstage, I just wept."

Now comes another big part. Garrett, 42, will star in the CBS TV movie Gleason, airing Oct. 13. Playing the Great One was an easy fit for Garrett, a former comedian, given that "my stand-up routine was about acting acerbic, much like Gleason."

But size does matter. To make his portrayal of the 5'11" Gleason credible, Garrett's directors used a little visual trickery. "The doorways were 8 ft. high so I wouldn't have to duck like I do on Raymond," says Garrett. His costars, meanwhile, had to wear 7-in. lifts, and furniture was made larger. To simulate Gleason's hefty girth, the 250-lb. Garrett gained 13 lbs. and wore three different bodysuits.

Yet big differences remain between actor and subject. Unlike the thrice-wed Gleason, who died of colon cancer at 71 in 1987, Garrett has been happily married for three years to Jill, 38, an L.A. homemaker, with whom he has a son, Max, 4, and a daughter, Hope, 2. "I couldn't imagine a life without them," he says. "To quote Ray Romano, 'If I lose it all, I'll [still] have it all.' I love being a dad."

  • Contributors:
  • Lorenzo Benet.