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NEW FOX OFFERINGS ARE STILL CHANGING SHAPE

When you talk about the new Fox season, the words bizarre and supernatural come to mind. And not just because it has several series with those elements.

Bizarre also applies to what has happened to the schedule since it was announced in New York City in May. At the time, Fox Chairman Sandy Grushow acknowledged that the network didn't have enough depth and variety in development and had too much of the same thing on its schedule - futuristic and dark dramas.

Since then, two series, a comedy called "Schimmel" and an anthology series, "Night Visions," have been put on hold until midseason.

A third series starring John Goodman has been rewritten, recast and retitled, "Normal, Ohio."

A fourth and fifth series, "The Lone Gunmen," from "X-Files" creator Chris Carter and an unspecified project from Michael Crichton, have also been delayed until midseason.

The pilot for the sixth series, the high school drama "Boston Public" from David E. Kelley, apparently will be toned down and several of the plots will be spread out over several episodes.

Fox, a network that had a disastrous 1999 fall that was saved by two midseason comedies, "Malcolm in the Middle" and "Titus," clearly is in its usual chaotic state. But thanks to the Olympics and the major league baseball playoffs, it has plenty of time to get its act together.

After the ouster of former programming chief Doug Herzog, the retirements of "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Party of Five," the decline in popularity of "Ally McBeal" and David Duchovny's decision to be in only half of "The X-Files" episodes, this is a critical season for Fox.

That said, the series that got the most critical attention during the television critics meetings in July was "The Tick," a comedy about a cartoon character produced by Barry Sonnenfeld and starring Patrick Warburton, who was Dave Puddy on "Seinfeld." As of now, it isn't even on the schedule.

The series getting the most promotional attention is "Dark Angel," a sci-fi drama from James Cameron that will debut Tuesday with an extravagantly produced two-hour movie that may be difficult to recreate on a weekly basis.

Now let's take a brief look at the Fox series that are scheduled to premiere before the new year.

"Boston Public," 8 p.m. Monday: Kelley's vision of teachers in Boston schools isn't a pretty one. Blackmail, sexual harassment, sex with students, physical violence and the use of firearms were par for the course in the pilot. Still, the racially diverse cast is uniformly excellent, led by Chi McBride as the principal. If reports that Kelley is going to tone the pilot down are true, this series will have a better chance of passing the reality test.

"Dark Angel," 9 p.m. Tuesday: James Cameron sure knows how to find good-looking women. His star, Jessica Alba, has to be in great shape to do all the things he has her doing in the pilot. Essentially, her character is "The Pretender" at an earlier age and much sexier. Alba stars as Max, a genetically enhanced human prototype who at the age of 9 escaped from the government lab where she was one of several children raised to be a war machine.

Max is a superwoman fugitive who is faster than a speeding bullet (in one scene) leaps tall buildings with a single bound (in another) and is more powerful than an engine running the Titanic (in several others). And she has great brown eyes and greater eyesight.

The pilot looks great - especially the action scenes. So does the pouty-faced, thick-lipped Alba. But in this day and age, somehow "Dark Angel" looks more like a syndicated series than a network series.

"Normal, Ohio," 8 p.m. Wednesday: Goodman is a gay father who moves back home to Ohio, which isn't exactly as enlightened as he'd want. This is from the producers of "3rd Rock From the Sun," who are in the process of fixing their original concept. They have time. It won't premiere until November.

"The Street," 9 p.m. Wednesday: Already beaten to the punch by TNT's new series, "Bull," this is Darren Star's ("Melrose Place," "Beverly Hills 90210") take on the stock market boom seen through the eyes of the young stars of Wall Street. It is good looking, it is sexy, it is vacuous. Like high-tech stocks, it is hard to tell if it will go boom or bust. But it certainly should appeal to those viewers who have made Star a very wealthy man.

"Freaky Links," 9 p.m. Fridays: From the creators of the most over-rated 1999 summer movie, "The Blair Witch Project," this show is shaky in more ways than one. First, there is the camera work. It also is as confusing as Chris Carter's series last season, "Harsh Realm." But at least the premise is more inviting. It centers around a guy, Derek (Ethan Embry), devoted to debunking paranormal mysteries on the Internet after he gets freaked out when he sees images of his long deceased twin brother, Adam.

This drama is long on inspiration, but short on logic. Derek spends a considerable amount of time in the pilot admitting he doesn't understand things. Asked what he is looking for, Derek reponds: "Not a clue."

Essentially it is a ghost story in which things are not as they appear to be. Children turn into adults, mirrors turn into visions and writing on the walls turns into clues. You can get more lost in the first 30 minutes than anyone in the woods did in "Blair Witch."

But it looks much better, the camera work won't make you sick to the stomach and the diverse cast is quite appealing.

Will it work for Fox on a night in which it used to have a little mysterious hit called "The X-Files?" Like Derek, I don't have a clue.

Channel 29, the local Fox affiliate, is making some changes on Monday. Starting at 10 p.m., "Seinfeld" reruns will air back-to-back in October because it will be pre-empted so often due to the baseball playoffs. It replaces "Frasier" at 10:30 p.m.

"Spin City" reruns, which Channel 29 had hoped to run at 10:30 p.m., will now air at 5:30 and 11:30 p.m. because the distributor didn't want it to air in prime time. "Suddenly Susan" reruns, which had been scheduled to air at 11:30 p.m., will now air at 5 p.m. "House Calls," which had been running at 5 p.m., will air at 9:30 a.m.

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