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FAMILIES ARE IN, REALITY IS OUT IN COMING SEASON

Christine Baranski and her new TV husband, John Larroquette, can't escape their adult children in the NBC comedy "Happy Family."

Robert Klein and his new TV wife, Judith Light, still live with their two adult children, even though they are getting divorced, in the CBS comedy "The Stones."

Anthony Anderson is a struggling actor and single father who lives with his parents in the WB comedy "All About the Andersons."

One of the more obvious trends of the upcoming fall TV season is the attempt to bring down the house by exploring the inability of parents to get away from their adult children.

Last week, the six broadcast networks announced 39 new fall shows, including 20 comedies and 19 dramas. About 80 to 90 percent of them will fail and, despite extensive audience research, the networks really don't have a clue about what is going to resonate with audiences.

The year that TV's current most popular drama, "CSI," premiered, CBS had more faith in a remake of "The Fugitive." "Law & Order," the NBC series that airs its 300th episode tonight, looked like a solidly produced show in 1990, but no one expected it to actually get more popular as the years passed.

Network television, which loses NBC's megahit "Friends" after next season, needs to find the next great scripted television comedy, and it could use a few more successful dramas as well. The fall of 2002 really only produced one marginal comedy hit, ABC's "Eight Simple Rules," and two drama hits, CBS' "CSI: Miami" and "Without a Trace."

Besides the trend to emphasize families, here are other trends gleaned from reading the show descriptions:

Small Towns Rock: Small-town life is explored in David E. Kelley's ("The Practice," "Ally McBeal") new drama for CBS, "The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H.," about three brothers in New Hampshire. The Norm Macdonald comedy for Fox, "A Minute with Stan Hooper," finds the former "Saturday Night Live" star moving from New York City to Wisconsin.

And in ABC's "Back to Kansas," a married couple moves from New York to Kansas to be closer to the wife's family. Clearly, John Cougar Mellancamp can make a few bucks writing TV theme songs.

Sexy Is My Middle Name: The number of times that the words "sexy" is mentioned in a new show description is almost as startling as how many coarse words slip into prime-time scripts these days.

Fox says its new drama, "Skin," about a Romeo and Juliet romance between the son of a prosecutor and the daughter of a porn mogul, is "about sex and race -- and politics." The Fox drama, "Tru Calling," is about a "sexy" recent college graduate who works the midnight shift at the New York City morgue. One of the female leads in NBC's "Coupling," about six thirtysomethings in Chicago involved with each other, is a "sexy go-getter." The new NBC drama, "Las Vegas," about a surveillance team, is described as "a fast-paced, sexy (there's that word again) drama." ABC's "Karen Sisco" is about a "smart, sexy, tough" U.S. marshal. Is there any other kind?

Diversity: Finally, it appears the networks -- and not just the smaller ones, WB and UPN -- have gotten the message. The smaller networks remain in the forefront, but NBC has a comedy headlined by Whoopi Goldberg and another planned for midseason starring Tracy Morgan of "Saturday Night Live." Ernie Hudson is the co-star of ABC's new police series "10-8."

Fox has a comedy starring character actor Luis Guzman and it picked up a comedy that NBC passed on that features a Mexican family, "The Ortegas." It also has "Skin," which features a young romance between a Latino boy and a Westside girl.

Patriotic Games: With the war in Iraq and 9/1 1 fresh in our memories, the networks are playing the patriotic card. CBS, which has ridden "JAG," for years, premieres a spin-off, "Navy, CIS," starring Mark Harmon. In the WB series, "Fearless," Rachael Leigh Cook is a young woman with a genetic defect that helps her on her missions with an elite FBI unit. In UPN's "Jake 2.0," a computer technician has an accident that turns him into a superhero and a secret agent. In ABC's Thursday drama, "Threat Matrix," a super-secret team of agents in the Homeland Security Agency tries to keep America safe from terrorism.

Annika's Army: Golfer Annika Sorenstam really doesn't need to prove this weekend that women can compete with men. Anyone who has been watching the adventures of Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) on "Alias" knows who the tougher sex really is today. Besides the strong and smart women in "Fearless" and "Karen Sisco," there's Tru Davis of the Fox drama, "Tru Calling," who runs around New York City saving lives. Even Tarzan's old galpal, Jane, may make him feel more inferior than he already does. She is a police detective in the WB update of the classic story, "Tarzan and Jane."

Law & Order: "Law and Order" producer Dick Wolf now has a worthy adversary -- "CSI" producer Jerry Bruckheimer. They control a significant portion of network real estate. Bruckheimer adds "Cold Case," in which Kathryn Morris ("Minority Report") plays a homicide detective who uses her instincts to crack unsolved murders, to a CBS roster that includes "CSI," "CSI: Miami" and "Without a Trace." And he is producing Fox's "Skin." It is a wonder he has time to make any movies anymore. As in any year, there are several new crime-related and legal shows, the most notable being Rob Lowe playing a lawyer in a new NBC series, "The Lyon's Den," and Joe Pantoliano ("The Sopranos") playing an FBI agent who trains undercover agents in the CBS series, "The Handler."

I'm a Media Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here: In ABC's "Hope & Faith," Kelly Ripa loses her job as a soap star and flees to the suburbs to live with her sister. Macdonald plays a TV news reporter who flees New York City. Several series are set in the media world. At least "The Ortegas" stay home. They produce a talk show from their back yard.

I'm a Celebrity, Save Me From Reality TV: James Caan, Alicia Silverstone, Ryan O'Neal. Baranski, Larroquette, Goldberg, Lowe, Joe Mantegna, Mary Steenburgen, Klein, Light, Sheen, Blythe Danner, Harmon, Ron Silver, Jason Bateman, Randy Quaid and Faith Ford are among the recognizable names trying to add another hit to their resumes. The names usually help get their new shows sampled by viewers, but beyond that they don't guarantee anything. They may be able to withstand a few more failures before they land in the jungle or the center square.

Reality Takes a Vacation: We have advertisers who prefer to invest in scripted shows to thank for the absence of new reality series. But after many of the family shows and female empowerment series start tanking, the networks will be ready to quickly fill in with cheap, romantic reality shows featuring women who aren't as smart or as tough as Sydney Bristow or Karen Sisco.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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