Published: Thursday, August 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 1, 2002 at 12:00 a.m.
By DAVE MASON Scripps Howard News Service Don't send a hit man after me; I'm only the messenger: You'll have to wait a few more weeks for the fourth season of "The Sopranos."
After a long wait, the Emmy-winning series about a mob boss and his family will start airing new episodes Sept. 15 on HBO.
The long absence of new "Sopranos" episodes has been good news for "The West Wing," which has competed each year with the mob drama for the lead in the Emmys race. Because no new episodes aired last season, "The Sopranos" isn't eligible for the recently announced nominations.
The return of "The Sopranos" - along with new movies on HBO and Showtime and new shows including, no kidding, a dog sitcom on the Animal Planet network - mark what's happening in a cable network industry determined to be different from the broadcast networks.
The shows vary from HGTV's "Zip Code 007," showing off the homes of "Bond girls," to Steven Spielberg's "Taken" on the Sci-Fi channel.
If you're looking for something different - maybe not necessarily better, maybe not necessarily good, but definitely something different - set your remote control on the 200-plus cable networks.
Same old, same old I've watched the pilots of the new shows on CBS, NBC, ABC and The WB, and, frankly, this season seems less promising than previous seasons. Shows on broadcast networks are falling in two categories:
  • Interesting experiments that stress innovation over good storytelling, and that's a bad thing.
  • The more-of-the-same department in sitcoms, police shows and medical dramas.
    It seems like everybody on TV is a doctor or a cop.
    Easily the best broadcast network drama I've seen so far is NBC's "American Dreams," which looks at a family coping with the changes of the 1960s. It's brilliantly acted and well written; if you plan to add just one new show to your TV viewing, make it this one. Executive producer Dick Clark has brought his sense of history to the series.
    The best sitcom I've seen is easily Amanda Bynes' "What I Like About You," which shows a return to Lucille Ball-style slapstick. It's airing on The WB.
    But a close second-place pick for best sitcom isn't on the broadcast networks. It's "That's So Raven," starring Raven (formerly Raven-Symoni) and premiering in January on The Disney Channel.
    Raven played the young Olivia on "The Cosby Show." Today Raven (kids grow up so fast!) plays a teen-ager, Raven Baxter, with the power to see into the future. Never mind the visions gimmick; the show works because of Raven's knack for delivering jokes and slapstick. She and Bynes have a lot in common.
    The biggest cable event remains the return of "The Sopranos," a critically acclaimed series that some people have called too violent and others have criticized for its portrayal of Italian-Americans. Others praise the Emmy-winning series for its acting and writing, but I'm not a fan of today's mob genre in general.
    One of its stars says "The Sopranos" works because of its surprises.
    "I never know what's coming next, and I absolutely love it that way," star Edie Falco told critics recently at a press gathering in Pasadena, Calif.
    David Chase, creator and executive producer of "The Sopranos," said this season will focus heavily on the marriage of Falco's character, Carmela, and Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini).
    Gandolfini explained why he thinks viewers like Tony, who tries to do what's right for his family while being the tough mob boss.
    "Tony's appeal is just like Ralph Kramden's appeal," Gandolfini said. "It's like this moron is trying to do the best he can, and he just keeps screwing up, although I think that is changing a bit."
    Chase said he plans to end his involvement with "The Sopranos" by the end of the fifth season, and Gandolfini and Falco agreed they won't continue without Chase.
    How will "The Sopranos" end? "Do you think it's going to have a happy ending, knowing that man (Chase)?" joked Lorraine Bracco, who plays Tony's therapist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi.
    'Galactica' returns Here are other highlights for the cable networks:
    "Battlestar Galactica" is being remade as a four-hour miniseries in 2003 on the Sci-Fi network. It's a backdoor pilot for a continuing series and marks years of efforts for a revival.
    The Sci-Fi network - I'll admit it, I'm biased; I love the channel - also plans a new series based on the movie "Tremors" for January. And the network is producing "The Children of Dune," based on the second of Frank Herbert's books.
    Reruns of "The X-Files" and "Roswell" will start airing on Sci-Fi during the coming season.
    "Steven Spielberg Presents Taken" is a 20-hour miniseries about alien abductions that spans several decades beginning in the 1940s. It will start on Dec. 1.
    Some broadcast TV stars are busy on cable networks. "Murphy Brown" star Candice Bergen continues her work on the Oxygen Network with "Candice Checks It Out," in which Bergen gets out of the studio and into the world to check out crazy topics.
    "We did a show on pet obsession where we met Mack McCullough, who freeze-dries people's pets. That was really fun and weird, but fun," Bergen said.
    "We did women in comedy, what makes women laugh, with Tina Fey - who's the head writer on 'Saturday Night Live' and does 'Weekend Update' - and Joy Behar."
    "Home Improvement" star Patricia Richardson, meanwhile, is joining the cast of "Strong Medicine" this fall on Lifetime, replacing "Northern Exposure" star Janine Turner. Richardson, who's from an Army family in real life, will play a doctor who worked in Afghanistan and belongs to a military family.
    And "Caroline in the City" star Lea Thompson stars as Chief Deputy Assistant District Attorney Camille Paris in "For the People." The courtroom drama, which also stars Debbi Morgan, "L.A. Law" star A Martinez and Cecilia Suarez, recently premiered on Lifetime, where it airs at 10 p.m. Sundays.
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