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IT'S HARD TO LAUGH AT NBC'S LINEUP FOR ALL

NBC is a little bit like the Buffalo Bills, relying too much on one unit in the TV game and hoping a second unit will come around.

The drama unit certainly is at the top of its game, after a year in which it premiered the Emmy-winning drama "The West Wing," added another version of "Law & Order" and cloned "ER" with "Third Watch."

But last season, the comedy unit clearly didn't pull its own weight. It needs to find the next "Friends," "Frasier" and "Will & Grace."

What can you say about a network whose best new comedy last season was a routine show about a stay-at-home dad called "Daddio"?

"Will & Grace" it ain't.

The truth is there haven't been many laughs for NBC executives Scott Sassa and Garth Ancier, who spent a good deal of the summer explaining to their bosses why they didn't have a reality show like "Survivor" ready.

Desperate to show it could get in the reality game, NBC announced it had made a deal for "Chains of Love," a reality series in which a male or female is chained to several members of the opposite sex and releases them one by one before selecting a winner.

"Daddio" it ain't.

Then came late word that NBC had made a deal for "Destination Mir," another reality series in which the winner goes on a space mission.

Early signs weren't encouraging, but in a peculiar way NBC might be saved by reality television. The conventional wisdom in Hollywood is that the success of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and "Survivor" has reduced the number of sitcoms and dramas being produced, which means better writers are available.

And heaven knows, some of NBC's seven pilots need better writing.

NBC's other quick fix involves scheduling. Its move of "Will & Grace" to the 9 p.m. Thursday time slot was validated by the Emmys, which named it best comedy and also gave awards to supporting actors Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally. "Just Shoot Me" follows "Will & Grace," which means NBC doesn't have a new show that deserves that slot.

"Frasier," meanwhile, moves to 9 p.m. Tuesday, where it will serve as the lead-in to the new David Alan Grier comedy, "DAG."

The coveted Thursday slot after "Friends" is being given to "Cursed," which pretty much describes any show that has received that slot in the past few years.

We'll see if NBC will get the last laugh from its seven new series, six of which could be called comedies. Here's a quick look at the less than magnificent seven.

"Tucker," 8:30 p.m. Monday: Eli Marienthal, who played a younger brother in the film "American Pie," is a 14-year-old boy who moves with his babe of a mom (Noelle Beck) to the house of his aunt (Katey Sagal) after his parents divorce. What's on Tucker's mind? Sex.

Tucker's obsession with sex is inappropriate, especially following "Daddio." "Malcolm in the Middle" it ain't. But if "Tucker" ever passes the leering phase, it might have potential.

"Deadline," 9 p.m. Monday: Someone get me rewrite and fast. Oliver Platt is a crusading columnist and Tom Conti and Bebe Neuwirth are his bosses in this newspaper series from Dick ("Law & Order") Wolf.

The pilot is long on personality and short on reality. Platt works for a tabloid, the New York Ledger, with obvious similarities to the New York Post. The script, on the other hand, is about as believable as most stories in the National Enquirer. Platt and the racially diverse students in his journalism seminar manage to solve a murder in a few days to save a falsely accused man that the columnist helped put on Death Row. Numerous things strain credibility, not the least of which is the idea that reporters know more about solving crimes than the police.

That said, Platt is an appealing personality and things might improve when Neuwirth and Conti get more scenes.

"The Michael Richards Show," 8 p.m. Tuesday: Thanks to the Olympics and baseball playoffs, the writers will get weeks to fix the pilot, in which the man who made Kramer famous is playing a goofball private eye in Los Angeles. William Devane owns the agency and Tim Meadows ("Saturday Night Live") is a co-worker with a Peeping Tom fetish.

A few minutes of Kramer went a long way, which is why the producers have surrounded him with good people. It is written by "Seinfeld" people, who presumably know how to best use Richards' talents. We'll find out when the rewrite comes in. Judging by Richards' performance as an Emmy presenter, he certainly needs some good writers.

"DAG," 9:30 p.m. Tuesday: Grier is a bumbling Secret Service agent reassigned to guard First Lady Delta Burke after he dove away from the president when his life was threatened. She's a strong, needy woman whose agenda differs from husband and his followers.

Grier is great at physical comedy and Burke is a TV star with more comebacks than Richard Nixon. But this series will have to overcome two issues - Clinton fatigue and predictability. At one point, Grier's character tells his teammates on the so-called "B" team: "I'd love to get to know you guys. But I really don't plan to be here long." You can can say the same thing about the series.

"Titans," 8 p.m. Wednesday: This is the funniest show of the season, whether it is intentional or not. In this Aaron Spelling soap, Perry King plays a rich guy who marries a scheming younger woman (Yasmine Bleeth) who used to sleep with his son (Casper Van Dien) and doesn't want to live across the street from her husband's former wife (Victoria Principal).

Airing in the summer slot that "Survivor" owned (a reminder that anything can happen in network television), this show is billed as a guilty pleasure, which means the promotional campaign is smarter than the series. Sight unseen, I'd rather watch "Chains of Love."

"Cursed," 8:30 p.m. Thursday: Steven Weber ("Wings") stars as a successful ad executive who has a bad blind date with a woman who puts a curse on him. He seeks help from an ex-girlfriend (Amy Pietz of "Caroline in the City"), a freeloading doctor (Chris Elliott) and a co-worker (Wendell Pierce). Weber is a charming personality and his supporting cast is top rate. The premise would make a good "Saturday Night Live" skit, but a series? Its spell should be gone quickly.

"Ed," 8 p.m. Sunday: After CBS' "That's Life," this is the second most adorable new series of the season, even if it has loser written all over it. Tom Cavanaugh ("Providence") is a lawyer who leaves New York City after losing his job and his cheating wife to return to his small hometown in Ohio to pursue his dream of owning a bowling alley and a relationship with his dream girl from high school, Carol Vessey (Julie Bowen, who had a memorable guest role on "ER").

From the writer-producers of "Late Show with David Letterman," "Ed" was originally developed for CBS and has taken two years to get on the air. It is well worth the wait, too. Cavanaugh exudes a cool charm, Bowen is a dreamy Vessy and the goofball elements involving the townies make this series a gentle, reassuring remainder that you can go home again. Though casting changes actually weakened the pilot, it still is NBC's best new series. Considering all the adults who bowl in Buffalo and left our area after college and came back years later to raise families, it should play well here, too.

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