The King of Queens
CBS (Mondays, 8:30 p.m. ET)

Anyone remember That's Life? Not the Sinatra song, the ABC sitcom that lived briefly in early spring. The King of Queens is like that show, only better. (Okay, some will say it could hardly be worse.) On That's Life, Gerry Red Wilson was loud and obnoxious as a working-class husband in the New York City borough of Queens whose household was disrupted by an invading in-law. The King's central character is in a similar situation, but star Kevin James (formerly a semiregular on Everybody Loves Raymond, to which his new series also bears some resemblance) is comparatively polite and lots more likable. Leah Remini (Fired Up) is engaging as James's wife, in whose hands he appears to be putty, but the real lure here is Jerry Stiller as the aging, eccentric father-in-law who moves into James's house after—oops!—burning down his own. Admittedly, the role is not a great departure from his Seinfeld characterization of Jason Alexander's loony pop, but we welcome any opportunity to admire Stiller's superb comic timing.

Bottom Line: Not too original, but the cast makes this King more than a commoner

Show of the week

King Lear
PBS (Sun., Oct. 11, 9 p.m. ET)

If you've ever had the tiniest bit of trouble following Shakespeare (and who among us has not?), you may find this 272-hour Mobil Masterpiece Theatre production off-putting at first. Director Richard Eyre has his cast speaking harshly and rapidly. The red walls of Bob Crowley's austere set seem to ring with fury as old King Lear (Ian Holm, The Sweet Hereafter) rashly denies honest Cordelia (Victoria Hamilton) her share of his kingdom, then suffers double betrayal at the hands of his other daughters, the false flatterers Goneril (Barbara Flynn) and Regan (Amanda Redman). When Lear tries to outshout howling winds, and only snatches of famous passages ("Pour on—I will endure") are fully intelligible, the effect can be frustrating and somewhat intimidating. But as the king's rage gives way to a less destructive form of insanity and he stumbles through the fog toward a final state of understanding and reconciliation, you'll perceive the arc of Holm's performance—and perhaps be moved by this tragedy as never before. Yes, endurance is what matters.

Bottom Line: Powerful production that requires effort and rewards it

The Hughleys
ABC (Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m. ET)

This new series started with some heavy-handed racial humor. African-American businessman Darryl Hughley (comedian D.L. Hughley), having just moved from his old Los Angeles neighborhood to a mostly white suburb, obsessively feared losing his "blackness." The pilot made reference to The Jeffersons, but The Hughleys' roots in sitcom history go way back to when the picture was black and white. Basically, this is the familiar story of a husband and father who is less intelligent than his wife (Elise Neal) and less mature than his young children (Ashley Monique Clark and Dee Jay Daniels). "Why are you being such a baby?" Mrs. Hughley asks him in Episode 2. "Darryl, what is your problem?" she says in Episode 3. We await a good answer. Neal goes smoothly from sweet to tart as the situation demands, and Eric Allan Kramer and Marietta DePrima underplay skillfully as the Hughleys' white neighbors. But for this series to work, the main character—and the star's acting skills—must show signs of growth.

Bottom Line: Nice supporting cast, but not hugely funny

A Marriage of Convenience
CBS (Sun., Oct. 11, 9 p.m.)

You spot the title of this TV movie, note James Brolin's name at the head of the cast and think, Might Barbra Streisand sing at the wedding? Sorry, nothing so special. In this variation on the Parent Trap theme, Jane Seymour (the former Dr. Quinn) plays a single woman who has raised her late sister's illegitimate son (David Kaye) for all seven years of his life. Now the filthy-rich father (Brolin) shows up and lays claim to the lad, antagonizing Seymour. A nasty custody battle is cut short when the kid suggests—and a judge, incredibly, agrees—that Seymour and Brolin should set aside their hostility and marry posthaste for the purpose of responsible parenthood. Will they wind up falling in love? Will Christmas come on Dec. 25? It's all so predictable, yet surprisingly palatable. Conveniently for CBS, Seymour and Brolin make a mighty attractive couple.

Bottom Line: So-so script, but the stars are easy on the eyes

Encore! Encore!
NBC (Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m. ET)

After the pilot was reportedly found wanting, this much-anticipated sitcom from the Frasier creative team underwent retooling prior to its September premiere. But the central problem remains: The protagonist is a fish out of water who'd be more fun splashing around in his own ocean. The often hilarious Nathan Lane {The Birdcage) plays a washed-up bachelor opera star forced to return home to California and make himself useful around the family winery. His dull sister (Glenne Headly) wants the flamboyant Lane to "dim it down a few watts." He dutifully promises to try being "ordinary." Of course he won't succeed, but why even make the attempt? Why not heal the vocal injury that ended the character's career, turn him loose in the opera world and let him sing a song of ego and excess? This winery looks unlikely to yield vintage comedy, particularly if we're continually subjected to the sister's sour grapes. The misplaced tenor should grab his witty mother (Joan Plowright) and take off on tour.

Bottom Line: No call for bravos so far

>Sunday, Oct. 11

NOAH ABC (7 p.m. ET) Rain in the forecast? Tony Danza stars in a Wonderful World of Disney movie that updates the Ark tale.

Monday, Oct. 12

LIFE OF THE PARTY Lifetime (9 p.m. ET) Ann-Margret is the late political power hostess Pamela Harriman in this name-dropping TV movie.

Tuesday, Oct. 13

HER OWN RULES CBS (9 p.m. ET) Blarney aside, Melissa Gilbert finds love in Ireland in this TV-movie version of Barbara Taylor Bradford's novel.

Wednesday, Oct. 14

STAR TREK: VOYAGER UPN (9 p.m. ET) Still lost in Delta Quadrant, Kate Mulgrew and crew launch a new season.

Thursday, Oct. 15

FRASIER NBC (9 p.m. ET) It's must-see theater. Frasier and Niles scramble for scarce tickets to the stage event of the season.

Friday, Oct. 16

BUDDY FARO CBS (9 p.m. ET) The retro detective investigates a basketball player. Foul play ensues.

Saturday, Oct. 17

THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE HBO (8 p.m. ET) No genius, Bill Murray stumbles into a spy plot in this 1997 movie comedy.

>He wooed teenage audiences with films like 1987's Can't Buy Me Love and 199l's Mobsters, and Patrick Dempsey thinks his latest role, in a new adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky's 1866 classic novel, Crime and Punishment, will have adolescents cheering all over again. "This is probably one of those things the English teacher is going to show the class," says Dempsey, who plays tormented murderer Rodya Raskolnikov in the NBC film, airing Oct. 11. "The students will be really happy that all they have to do that day is watch a movie."

Dempsey, 32, is overjoyed simply to have survived filming Crime on location in Budapest, where, he says, "mob bombings" were occurring a block from his hotel. "As a Westerner, you don't know how fortunate you are," he says. "There was this real sense of danger just walking down the street." Now Dempsey is back home in L.A., where he has returned to a much safer—and more stylish—undertaking: testing nail polish for his live-in girlfriend, makeup artist Jillian Fink. "My fingers are clean for the moment, but I wear it occasionally," Dempsey admits. "I'm very in touch with my masculinity and my femininity."Irene Zutell