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April 24, 2014

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Dial File — Steve Bornfeld: Hang on: We’re goin’ back in

Steve Bornfeld is the Sun features editor. His television column appears Fridays. Reach him at [email protected] or 259-4081.

Welcome to The Season: Part Deux.

TV types who don't dabble in French also call it "mid-season."

Either way it's the networks' second wind, after passing wind from September to December.

Genuinely hoping that '00 won't spell uh-oh for new shows, here's a look at some of the series signaling the new century:

"City of Angels": As the NAACP and the networks call a tentative truce in the racial rhetoric and agree to increase the black presence in front of the camera and behind it, CBS on Sunday unveils this Steven Bochco hospital drama with a largely black cast, headed by Blair Underwood and Vivica A. Fox (it moves to its regular 8 p.m. Wednesday slot on -- you got it -- Wednesday). The series centers around an underfunded urban hospital (shades of "St. Elsewhere").

On a TV schedule already serviced by veteran medico dramas "ER" and "Chicago Hope," these "Angels" might fall to Earth fast if not for the pedigree of Bochco and the politics of race. Expect an unusually patient CBS to nurse, nurture and coddle this series, ratings be damned.

And the odds are that it'll be worth it. With Bochco -- whose quality level ranges from the extremely sublime ("Hill Street Blues" and "NYPD Blue") to the entertainingly ridiculous ("Cop Rock" and "Capital Critters") -- as its muse and mentor, "City of Angels" is certainly must-sample TV. But heaven-sent? We'll see.

"Falcone": Originally slated for a fall berth, this violent series version of the Al Pacino/Johnny Depp mob drama "Donnie Brasco" -- with Jason Gedrick assuming the Depp role as an undercover Fed among wiseguys -- was originally bumped off the schedule because of the furor over media violence last spring, post-Columbine, as the networks were unveiling their fall schedules. (The same furor felled the season-ending "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" episode, which re-emerged in September).

No one really believed that CBS was pulling "Falcone" permanently after suffering a crisis of conscience -- just temporarily, after a crisis of public relations.

Any buzz on the original flick has faded to a faint hum, but the concept has conquered TV before -- remember Ken Wahl in Stephen J. Cannell's great and gritty "Wiseguy"? -- and could climb to capo status again.

"God, the Devil and Bob": This animated NBC series focuses on a regular Joe -- or in this case, Bob -- used as a spiritual lab rat by both The Big Guy and The Bad Guy ... in Detroit (maybe the theme song will be a Motown version of "Amazing Grace." Maybe not). Anyway, Big G and Big D settle on this schnook as the guy to stick in sticky moral situations to gauge mankind's spiritual levels.

Expect amusement -- this is from the Carsey-Warner factory that churns out "3rd Rock From the Sun" and "That '70s Show." James Garner and French Stewart provide celebrity pipes.

One, question, though: God and the devil as supporting players? Who negotiated their contracts? Well, at least the billing's in the right order.

"Grapevine": Some shows go on an extended "hiatus." In the euphemism-driven world of television, they're not canceled, mind you -- just, well, resting. Which means that "Grapevine" ought to lay off the Valium. It's been on "hiatus" for ... eight years.

The winner of this season's Rip Van Winkle Award, this CBS sitcom about frisky twentysomethings caught in the sexual undertow of sensual Miami first aired in 1992, when broadcast TV was just starting to take its carnal cue -- think "Studs" -- from racier, raunchier cable. It returns with a revamped cast headed by that other "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" -- Kristy Swanson, who originated the title role in the movie before Sarah Michelle Gellar turned her into the campy queen of TV.

Presumably, the sexual sizzle of "Grapevine" has been ratcheted up since its first incarnation, lest it be out-sexed today by "Diagnosis: Murder."

"Battery Park": In this NBC sitcom, producer Gary David Goldberg -- the man responsible for the amusing "Spin City," as well as the long-running "Family Ties" and the criminally short-lived classic "Brooklyn Bridge" -- creates what seems like an updated "Barney Miller." The focus is on a New York police precinct. The twist: The joint is run by a female top cop -- played by Elizabeth Perkins -- who has political aspirations.

Goldberg, who once threatened to quit TV after his deeply personal "Brooklyn Bridge" was botched by CBS, is a classy provider of classy shows, even in copycat mode. And "Barney Miller" is as classy as ripped-off material gets.

"The Beat": Producers known for quality (Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson of "Homicide: Life on the Street") team with a network not known for quality (UPN, purveyors of "WWF Smackdown!") for a new cop show. Given UPN's rep for juvenile junk ("Shasta McNasty," "Home Boys in Outer Space") and its apparent passion for the eyeballs of teenage boys, it doesn't seem like a match made in programming heaven.

But UPN, which seems to be perpetually on the brink of collapse, may be ready -- a k a desperate enough -- to actually up its standards, since its bottom-feeder philosophy isn't feeding the ratings. And Fontana and Levinson -- whose brilliant-but-anemically-viewed "Homicide" was constantly on cancellation watch on NBC (a "Homicide" movie Feb. 13 on NBC will tie up the remaining loose ends) -- might relish a more stable run on a network starved for a signature show on which to build its future.

OK, we'll cave in to temptation and ask: Will "The Beat" go on?

"D.C.": Five young idealists -- presumably with no stained Gap clothing in their closets -- take on the nation's capital in this WB offering from "Law & Order" guru Dick Wolf. Following the fall debut of Aaron Sorkin's mighty White House drama "The West Wing" on NBC, this series will face some frightening comparisons as a provider of inside-the-Beltway intrigue. And producer Wolf has turned in his share of turkeys. (Anyone remember "Mann and Machine"?)

But don't ever underestimate the guy who turned the famous CA-CHUNG of "Law & Order" into the CA-CHING of ratings gold.

"The Others": If you sensed that "The Sixth Sense" would inspire a series, it doesn't necessarily mean you possess a sixth sense, just a series sense -- and a keen understanding of TV's clone-the-smash-movie mentality. This NBC "supernatural thriller" offers us characters with ESP, exploring that dimension where our non-living brethren frolic.

Of course, "The Sixth Sense" featured a secret that made it such an otherworldly winner. The secret to "The Others"? Well, we probably shouldn't divulge this, but there was a psychic phenomena series starring Gary Collins on ABC 28 years ago called ... "The Sixth Sense."

Shhhh. Don't tell anyone.

Croon a Tune: "Chico, don't be discouraged; the Man he ain't so hard to understand; Chico, if you try no-o-o-o-w, I know that you can lend a helping h-a-a-a-nd; because there's good in everyone and a new day has begu-u-un; you can see the morning sun, if you try; and I know things will be better-u-ur; oh yes they will for Chico and the M-a-a-a-an; yes they will for Chico and the Man."

Who Crooned the Tune? Jose Feliciano who, long before Ricky Martin knew a damn thing about livin' la vida loca, was singin' la "Chico and the Man" theme as the era's top Latin singing star.

Croon a Tune chicos and chicas who knew the way to Sir Jose were Linda Noel, Jerry Gordon (say hey to the folks at K-News radio, Jerry), Mark Ritchie, Penelope Wells, Alex Jeanos, Tony Varchetto, Robin Skelley, LaLa, Joe Lacy, Doug Weise, Val Kolar, Shelley Bristol, Sol Rosenberg, Stanley Czapla, Ann Kaiser and Peter Green.

To Croon this week's Tune, punch in 259-4012 (we promise not to punch back). Provide your name and daytime phone number (the correct answer would also be helpful) and join the ranks of Croon-a-Tune Loons.

We meet every week, in the Padded Ballroom of the Dial File Hilton. Dress is Straightjacket Casual.

Closing Credits: Feeling "Greed"-y, are we? Sin City will welcome the greedy game show for a shoot in May. A local three-day tryout just concluded, and another will commence in mid-March. (If, in ultra-capitalistic Gordon Gekko style, you believe that "Greed" is good, call the show's voice mail/call-back line at 1-800-508-4530).

But really, folks: Greed in Vegas?

They've got us all ... HEY, I WAS WORKIN' THAT SLOT MACHINE AND IT WAS JUST ABOUT TO PAY OFF! TOUCH IT AND YOU DIE, GRANNY! ... wrong.

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