NETWORK TV IS FAST BECOMING A MASSIVE job-training center for actresses whose movie careers have stalled. This season we find Brooke Shields, Molly Ringwald, Justine Bateman and Lori Petty following in the footsteps of Candice Bergen, Cybill Shepherd and Kirstie Alley, trying to find the success on the small screen that has been elusive on the big screen. Alas, as the initial episodes of Suddenly Susan, Townies and Lush Life suggest, they seem more likely to follow in the footsteps of Mariel Hemingway and M├Ądchen Amick, stars whose careers have never really clicked on any screen.

In Suddenly Susan (NBC, Thursdays, 9:30 p.m. ET), Shields, veteran of many substandard films, plays a young woman hoping to find herself in the journalism business. This nod to The Mary Tyler Moore Show is not unintentional, nor is it wise. Though Shields shows some comic talent, the show's premise is absurdly flimsy, and the rest of the cast is nondescript.

Even flimsier is the premise of Lush Life (Fox, Mondays, 9:30 p.m. ET), yet another sitcom about wacky roommates, in which Petty, a cross between Susan Powter, Cyndi Lauper and Pee-wee Herman, gets to act cool. Petty, last seen in the 1995 dud Tank Girl, apparently serves some purpose, but it is anyone's guess what it is.

Ringwald, who appeared on the cover of TIME when she was just 18, will not be making a second appearance anytime soon, thanks to Townies (ABC, Wednesdays, 8:30 p.m. ET). As a waitress marooned in a New England fishing village, Ringwald is completely upstaged by Jenna Elf man, who gets the Lisa Kudrow dim-bulb role in this series and does a good job with it.

Even sadder is the fate of Justine Bateman, once a force on Family Ties, who plays second fiddle to the bookend cretins Rob Schneider and Ron Eldard in Men Behaving Badly (NBC, Wednesdays, 9:30 p.m. ET), about a sexist pig and his moron buddy. No complaints about the casting here.

Ironically, one of the most promising sitcoms of the season showcases a young woman who has just finished making a movie based on a sitcom (A Very Brady Sequel). In Party Girl (Fox, Mondays, 9 p.m. ET), the effervescent Christine Taylor plays a downtown chick by night who works as a clueless librarian by day. In fact, she plays the part so well that the producers of the lackluster TV spinoff Clueless (ABC, Fridays, 9 p.m. ET) might consider dumping Rachel Blanchard, a very poor Alicia Silverstone clone, and replacing her with Taylor. Then they could probably get Dana Delany, currently doing the voice of Lois Lane on the Warner Bros. Saturday morning cartoon Superman, to be the new Party Girl. Heck, if she's doing voice-overs on cartoons, she can probably use the work.

(Showtime, Sun., Sept. 29, 8 p.m. ET)


This is the latest in a series of films designed to pique young people's interest in the classics they are based on. Attention, kids: If the original Prisoner of Zenda had been this bad, it would never have become a classic. William Shatner plays an evil executive who kidnaps his nephew and replaces him with a perfect lookalike, who agrees to go along with the gag only because Shatner promises his dad a job. Jonathan Jackson (General Hospital) is by no means terrible in the dual role of Rudy Gatewick and Oliver Gillis, but Shatner, as is generally the case when he takes roles set in this millennium, is.

(NBC, Mon., Sept. 30, 9 p.m. ET)


Why not? You've slept with everyone else. A loving mother (Lisa Baines) promises her daughter (Tori Spelling) that she will not interfere in her personal life. But she draws the line when young Laurel falls in love with a pathological liar, credit-card scamster and murderer, played by Ivan Sergei. The film features shoddy police work, scenes in a bar and a loving mother who moves heaven and earth to find her abducted daughter after she is carried off to a cabin in the woods by the charming psychopath. The first truly hopeless made-for-TV film of the new season, Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? is most memorable because in Sergei the producers have somehow managed to find someone who is less talented than Tori Spelling.

(CBS, Tues., Oct. 1, 9 p.m. ET)


Everything seems to be falling into place for wife-beating victim Nicollette Sheridan after she and her three daughters move next door to a childless couple who seem to really love kids. But, no, Michael O'Keefe turns out to be a pathological killer and credit-card scamster who has murdered his first child and now abducts two of her kids. O'Keefe and Tracey Ellis are deliciously repellent as the creepy neighbors in a film that features shoddy police work, scenes in a bar and a loving mother who moves heaven and earth to find her abducted daughters after they are carried off to a cabin in the woods by this charming psychopath and his barmy wife. Faye Dunaway also appears in a mystifyingly inconsequential role as Sheridan's mother. Since this is the third prime-time TV movie of the week that deals with kidnapped youths, it might be wise for producers to try something a bit more original next week. Like, oh, murderous Lolitas.

(PBS, Tues., Oct. 1, 8 p.m. ET)


Nova kicks off its 23rd season with a warts-and-all biography of the most famous scientist of modern times. Andrew Sachs, best known as the incompetent Manuel of Fawlty Towers, looks pretty good in that Einstein fright wig, but this plodding affair is pure homework.