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Andre Braugher won't steal hearts in 'Thief'

With Andre Braugher ("Homicide") as the lead, FX's new six-week drama, "Thief" (10 tonight, basic cable), is the biggest disappointment of TV's version of March Madness.

When an actor of Braugher's ability is in the cast, you tend to expect so much more. Not even he can salvage a thinly veiled attempt to copy "The Sopranos" blueprint of centering a series on a group of bad guys who have family problems just like the rest of us.

Set in New Orleans, "Thief" is a stylish mess that never steals your heart and follows characters who are difficult to care about. The complicated plot can be confusing at times, but that also might be because the PG-13 script isn't involving enough to make you care about what's going on.

Braugher stars as Nick Atwater, who leads a gang of thieves from his automobile body shop. He has a wife, Wanda (Dina Meyer), and a problem 14-year-old stepdaughter, Tammi (Mae Whitman). Tammi is more annoying than Kim Bauer on "24," and her problems come up at the most awkward times. Nick takes his family responsibilities seriously, as evidenced by his decision to take a frantic cell phone call from his wife in the middle of one of his multimillion dollar burglaries. It's a priceless moment to say the least, unintentionally funnier that anything in the pilot of NBC's lighter heist series, "Heist."

Nick's gang includes other criminals with personal issues. Elmo (Malik Yoba) is a family man; Gabo (Yancey Arias) is a ladies man; Jack (Clifton Collins Jr.) is a religious man. Unfortunately, one of the heists the gang pulls off results in their unknowingly taking Chinese mob money. A Chinese assassin, Vincent (Will Yun Lee), is out to recover it. Linda Hamilton also is on board as Roz, who helps finance Nick's adventures.

In keeping with this year's noticeable trend, people die unexpectedly. Unfortunately in the case of "Thief," we don't get to know them well enough to care, even if they are tortured.

In the first three episodes made for review, it's hard to care about much of anything. Once labeled the best actor on television, Braugher's intensity can't salvage this messy plot. Perhaps it takes a thief with more of a sympathetic edge to play the awkward, emotional scenes with his unhappy stepdaughter -- including one in which he says "we have to pull together as a family." Those scenes just don't fly.

The most disappointing thing about the series is how forced the personal scenes involving all the angry criminal characters seem to be. After watching three mostly humorless, tortuous episodes, I determined that "Thief" isn't worth catching.

On the other hand, you don't expect much from a comedy with the generic title of "Teachers" (9:30 tonight, WGRZ-TV). And you get even less. The latest loser on NBC's schedule follows around some goofball members of a New Jersey high school faculty. At the center is an English teacher, Jeff (Justin Bartha of "National Treasure"), who doesn't want anyone to know he cares deeply about his profession and everyone to know how much he cares about a pretty British teacher, Alice (Sarah Alexander of the British version of "Coupling").

His best friend, Calvin (Deon Richmond), has his own romantic issues. There's also a veteran burned-out teacher, a nerdy teacher, a female principal frightened of making a mistake and a beautiful substitute teacher who dresses inappropriately.

The first two episodes made available for review fail miserably to provide laughs. "Teachers" plays like a series that was uncovered in a time capsule that was buried 10 or 20 years ago.

Rating: "Thief," 2 stars out of 4; "Teachers," 1 star

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WGRZ-TV has had to make some unusual adjustments to this Sunday's schedule because of the presidential election between Arnie Vinick (Alan Alda) and Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) on "The West Wing." General Manager Jim Toellner said the Kids Escaping Drugs Telethon will air as scheduled from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. "The West Wing" will air at 8 p.m., with cut-ins for the telethon airing during commercial breaks. At 9 p.m., it will be back to the telethon, which will end at either 11 p.m. or 11:30 p.m. The NBC series, "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" and "Crossing Jordan," which will be repeats, will air in late-night, so get your VCR or DVRs ready.

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On April 11, UPN is moving "Veronica Mars" back to 9 p.m. Tuesday, where the competition isn't much easier than it has been at 9 p.m. Wednesday. UPN plans to air repeats in that Wednesday slot for at least two weeks.

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"American Idol" Update: Through 10 weeks, it is averaging a 22.3 rating on WUTV, which is 23 percent higher than the Fox average from metered markets and 11 percent higher than last season on WUTV.

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In case you wondered: The name of the local modeling and talent agency that helped launch the careers of Chad Michael Murray ("One Tree Hill") and Teddy Van Deusen (MTV's "8th and Ocean") is Launch model/talent. Channel 2's Jodi Johnston was one of the founder's first discoveries.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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