Fox (Mondays, 9:30 p.m. ET)

D

It is neither necessary nor desirable to quote punch lines from this new sitcom, which stars Pauly Shore as a spoiled slacker who initially mistakes his rich father's fiancée (Charlotte Ross) for a hooker because, well, she looks like one. Just consider these straight lines spoken by the hot babe:

"Can you lift my chest?"

"Are you going to give it to me, or do I have to take it out myself?"

"In this situation, I think I have a leg up."

Now, complete each joke with the first crude thought that comes to mind.

This sort of humor is Shore's forte. But David Dukes has too much class for the role of love-struck dad. Sure, he played a cross-dresser on Sisters, but this is undignified.

ABC (Tuesdays, 10 p.m. ET)

B+

Writer-producer David E. Kelley has created some dedicated professionals for Chicago Hope and Picket Fences. But Bobby Donnell (Dylan McDermott), the central character in Kelley's new lawyer series, is a certifiable workaholic. Every midnight, Bobby's burning that oil. He sleeps in his humble Boston office, surrounded by dirty laundry. Some will say he's like the show—taking on too much, trying too hard.

In the premiere on Mar. 4, it appears that the Donnell firm has a burdensome caseload (including an indecent-exposure matter we could do without). But the main plot lines are immediately involving: Bobby's defense of an innocent woman on a drug charge and a liability suit that pits Lindsay Dole (Kelli Williams), a rookie Donnell associate, against her old Harvard mentor, Anderson Pearson (guest star Edward Herrmann), who represents a tobacco company.

Bobby has a tendency toward self-dramatization and a slightly overconfident courtroom demeanor, but he's blessed with the ability to talk convincingly and at length. In a Kelley series, words count. And that's a compliment, even if we wish someone would take a breath occasionally.

CBS (Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET)

B-

As executive producer, Dick Wolf essentially takes his Law & Order concept to a higher level of government in this series, as New York City federal prosecutors and FBI agents join to fight crime. There are differences: The conferences are more crowded with guys in uniform—dark suit, white or blue shirt, understated tie (shoulder holster optional)—and each episode tracks more than a single case. In the series' premiere on Mar. 5 at least, more amounts to less.

A black assistant U.S. attorney (Regina Taylor) must try a black cop for beating a skinhead who taunted him with a racial epithet. Provocative situation, muddled conclusion. Another prosecutor (Adrian Pasdar) wants to tie an airline crash to the pilot's preflight boozing. Lacking solid proof, he pulls an implausible courtroom trick. An ongoing story line involves a third fed (John Slattery) out to nail the Mafioso (George Dicenzo) who ordered the murder of his wife and children. The prosecutor's anguish seems real; the gangster is a cartoon.

The regular cast is strong, topped by Blair Brown as the U.S. attorney. Let's hope she'll have more to do than restrain her assistants' zeal.

NBC (Sun., March 9, 9 p.m. ET)

B

Last fall the ABC movie Talk to Me effectively satirized trashy talk shows but left room for another film to handle the subject with a little more style and impact. Now comes this drama, which has abundant style and the impact of a bludgeon.

David Morse plays Frank McGrath, the embittered father of a young woman who appeared on The Pia Postman Show as part of a panel of man haters and was ambushed by a surprise guest who identified her as a rape victim. Frank's daughter committed suicide, but Pia (Marg Helgenberger) plans to milk the tragedy for one more sensational program. Enraged, Frank plants a bomb in Pia's studio, slips into the audience with a detonating device and handgun and hijacks the live telecast, demanding justice and threatening to execute the host. (Memo to Pia: Next time, pre-tape.)

Director Roger Spottiswoode skillfully captures the surface details of the Jenny/Ricki/Sally Jessy genre. Helgenberger's Pia is a perfect combination of phony empathy and exploitative instinct, and Morse manages not to sound like a broken record as Frank filibusters. But the focus shifts needlessly to policeman Clay Maloney (Peter Horton), a hostage negotiator carrying an irrelevant load of guilt. As co-executive producer of the TV movie and co-author of the story, Horton may have had his thumb on the creative scale.

>UNLIKE HER FATHER, WALTER, ELEANOR Mondale knows how to stage a comeback. After 14 years as a reporter for shows like Rock and Roll Evening News and Great American TV Poll that fizzled and go-nowhere guest shots on programs such as Three's Company and Dynasty, the daughter of the former Vice President now holds down not one but two TV jobs. "My schedule is crazy, but I'm pretty damn happy," she says.

Since November, Mondale, 37, has been grilling newsmakers like Jane Fonda and Debbie Reynolds as entertainment contributor on CBS News's This Morning. "She has great contacts," says Jim Murphy, the show's executive producer. "She does the gamut from serious to light." It's been an eye-opening experience for Mondale, who reports from L.A. "A car picks me up at 3:30 a.m., I'm ready [to go on air] at 5:30 and finished by 6," she says. Then it's over to E! Entertainment Television, where since November '95 she's been going one-on-one with Spago regulars like Mel, Jodie and Antonio as host of her weekly series, Uncut.

Now auditioning for sitcoms, Mondale has hired an acting coach. "I have more self-confidence than I did when I was in my 20s," she says. "There was a point when I almost gave up. I couldn't feed myself. I couldn't feed my pets."

These days, Mondale lives with her well-fed dogs Marci and Fiona in her Hollywood Hills home. Unattached after two failed marriages (to former Chicago Bears tackle Keith Van Home and disc jockey Greg "Thunder" Malban), she remains close with her dad, who is again practicing law after serving as U.S. Ambassador to Japan, and with mom Joan, a board member of many cultural institutions. "They're my biggest fans," Mondale says.

  • Contributors:
  • Marc Ballon.