DRAMA

NBC (Thurs., March 3, 10 p.m. ET)

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"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." I never came close to sharing that bloodthirsty sentiment from Shakespeare's Henry VI until I watched the early episodes of the fourth series to carry the Law & Order brand.

Assistant District Attorney Tracey Kibre (Bebe Neuwirth) wears her intensity like a shiny badge and gets too much satisfaction out of seeing her name in the New York press. Her boss, D.A. Arthur Branch (Fred Thompson, who holds down the same role on the Wednesday Law & Order), growls lines like "Congratulations on getting that scumbag indicted" when he's not reminding the staff that he's up for reelection.

The defense attorneys come across as a virtual criminal class, though talented guest stars play them with style. In the premiere—airing the night before the show moves to Fridays at 10—a Broadway producer's high-priced mouthpiece (Annabella Sciorra) is untroubled when the louse describes how he murdered his pregnant girlfriend. In the second episode, a lubricious lawyer (Peter Coyote) plots with a stone-cold killer to make millions by suing the city for wounds the thug sustained in a shootout with police. The March 11 episode has Sopranos shrink Lorraine Bracco as a politically ambitious defender who apparently cut every law-school ethics class. Though this is supposed to be the first L&O to include the defense's point of view, it blatantly stacks the dramatic deck.

The late Jerry Orbach makes his usual vivid impression in the first two episodes as police investigator Lennie Briscoe. But Kelly Gaffney (Amy Carlson) is a standard-issue secondary prosecutor.

DRAMAUPN (Wednesdays, 8 p.m. ET)

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Though Tyra Banks created this modeling-competition series and has had a prominent on-camera role since it launched in 2003, the contestants still squeal with seeming surprise when she shows up March 2 in the premiere of the fourth cycle. "She really cared—she came!" says one.

I commend Banks for keeping up her interest level, but it gets ever harder to buy into the phony melodrama of redemption and suffering. The initial field includes a reject from the past who earned elimination by getting into a beer-throwing fight at a bar. Has she cleaned up her act? In the second episode a true fashion victim shakes and cries as her hair is bleached blonde, and Banks praises her for "pushing through the pain." Will her suffering pay off? Wake me when they hit the runway.

REALITYCBS (weeknights, 12:35 a.m.)

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Maybe it's the way he sidles onstage at the top of the show, smiling rather sheepishly and waving like a first-time political candidate who doesn't want to appear too pushy. Maybe it's the way he says "Big props to my homey Mos Def" in that charming Scottish accent. Whatever the reason, I've been liking Craig Ferguson more and more since he took over the post-David Letterman hour in early January.

Ferguson, a former BBC comedian who played the boss on The Drew Carey Show, has a quick wit and an attentive ear that serve him well in interviews. He confessed an urge to sneeze as Joe Mantegna was talking about Joan of Arcadia, and the conversation turned amusingly toward how to handle an everyday awkward moment. When American Idol judge Randy Jackson spoke of Clay Aiken's "good pipes," the host flashed on the shocking idea that the clean-cut singer could be smoking something funny. Ferguson's opening monologue is too generic—jokes about the L.A. Lakers aren't a good fit for him—and the pretaped comedy bits have been uneven. It's fair to say Late Night with Conan O'Brien is more creative, but CBS offers an engaging alternative.

TALK SHOW/COMEDYUPN (Mondays, 8:30 p.m. ET)

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An impractical business plan is the basis for this mundane spinoff. Kevin Barnes (Marques Houston), the brother of Flex Alexander's One on One character, comanages a hair salon with Tiffany Sherwood (Shannon Elizabeth), spoiled daughter of the mogul (Corbin Bernsen) who bought the place from the Barnes family. Tiffany wants it to be a day spa for gals; Kevin envisions more of a sports bar for guys. So they try to blend their disparate concepts in one shop, while Tiffany zings Kevin for being short and he points out that she's sexy but not too savvy.

The writing needs flavor, and the two principals are low on comic chemistry. But Edward "Grapevine" Fordham shows flair as beefy barber Ace.

Academy Awards (ABC, Feb. 27, 8:30 p.m. ET) Will it be The Aviator or Million Dollar Baby? Will host Chris Rock ruffle some feathers? Hollywood's biggest bash follows a half-hour red-carpet special.

Fear Factor (NBC, Feb. 28, 8 p.m. ET) Ryan Sutter, who won Trista's heart on The Bachelorette, competes against The Apprentice's Omarosa and other reality stars in a two-hour special.

The Bachelorette (ABC, Feb. 28, 8 p.m. ET) Jen Schefft has Jerry Ferris and John Paul Merritt to choose from in the two-hour season finale.

The Amazing Race 7 (CBS, March 1, 9 p.m. ET) Again scratching that itch to be on a reality series, Rob and Amber from Survivor: All-Stars join the field for the start of another million-dollar journey.

All of Us (UPN, March 1, 8 p.m. ET) American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino appears as herself on Robert's (Duane Martin) TV talk show.

LeAnn Rimes After a brief foray into pop, Rimes, 22, takes a step back to her country roots with a new CD, This Woman, land a new job: hosting USA's Nashville Star, premiering March 1.

ON HOSTING NASHVILLE STAR I was on Star Search when I was 8, so I can relate. The competition gets really tense, but that's a good thing. They have nine weeks to prepare to play in the same world as me and other [country artists]. They have to be ready.

ON STAR VS. AMERICAN IDOL With Nashville Star, they're all-around artists. They sing, write a lot of their own music, and many play their own instruments. It's not a voice or a look.

ON BEING MARRIED People say marriage is hard, but it's been great. [Dancer Dean Sheremet and I] try and do little things for each other. We have seven dogs, and at 7:30 every morning they all start barking to go out. Dean always takes 'em, but sometimes I'll sneak out of bed to do it. That's my thing that I do when I want to make him happy.

Miami Vice: Season One ($59.98)

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Its undercover cops (Don Johnson, Philip Michael Thomas) preen like male models, and Johnson's mannered cool is sometimes laughable. Still, Vice's virtues in its 1984-85 season are plentiful, including offbeat guest turns by Bruce Willis as a cocky arms dealer and Eagles lead singer Glenn Frey as a jaded mercenary pilot. Among the extras: an incisive look at composer Jan Hammer's atmospheric score, which he aptly likens to "a third major character."

Full House: The Complete First Season ($29.98)

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Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen made their TV debut as cherubic Michelle Tanner in this saccharine sitcom about three bachelors raising three girls. Eighteen years later, their smiles still make you melt. Extras include the original unaired pilot, in which Bob Saget's character was played by John Posey, and a Pop-Up Video-style episode that's interesting but awkward without sound.

  • Contributors:
  • Terry Kelleher,
  • Laura J. Downey,
  • Mike Lipton,
  • Amy Bonawitz.