From the June 22nd Entertainment Weekly:

WEIRD,
WILD STUFF

The Chronicle Sci Fi Channel, premieres July 14, 9 p.m.
In this darkly comic series, all of those Weekly World News-esque tales of alien visitations and Elvis sightings are the stuff that Pulitzers are made of—at least they would be if the Man weren't keeping a lid on them. Explains creator Silvio Horta (Urban Legends), "We'd seen the X-Files routine done many times, and I thought, 'We've established that the truth is out there, so let's have some fun with it.'" In keeping with that sci-fi standby, The Chronicle's reporters include a skeptic named Tucker Burns (Chad Willett) and dyed-in-the-wool believer Grace Hall (Ed's Rena Sofer), while the huffy editor in chief (Jon Polito) and the snout-nosed archivist "Pig Boy" (Revenge of the Nerds vet Curtis Armstrong) provide the comic relief. Among The Chronicle's future stories: "I See Dead Fat People," about a house built on the ashes of a weight-loss clinic, and "What Gobbles Beneath," featuring a "tumor monster" that kills cell-phone users. The show's very un-tabloidy choice thus far has been to avoid celebrity-based plotlines, but, says Horta, "you never know. Britney Spears is not human, so..." —Mike Flaherty

Insomniac Comedy Central, premieres Aug. 5, midnight
For those of you early-to-bed, early-to-rise types who have always wondered how the other, sun-phobic half lives, let comedian Dave Attell (the "Ugly American" commentator on The Daily Show) be your tour guide. Each week Attell explores the bizarre overnight life (12 a.m. to 6 a.m.) of America's big cities, in a show inspired by his own experiences as a road comic where "I do the show, I go drinking, and usually don't hook up—because I'm Dave Attell, not Dave Matthews. And then I'm basically killing time until I have to do early-morning radio." He'll talk to night- shifters at work (like riding with a mortuary pickup service) and at play (cruising with a gay biker gang in San Francisco and seeing a cockfight training camp in Tijuana). But Attell swears that whatever he does see, he won't judge. "Nothing creeps me out," he says. "It doesn't matter what you do—as long as you don't do it behind an animal." —Josh Wolk

Unwrapped Food Network, premieres July 17, 10:30 p.m.
Behind the Music goes to the supermarket in this new series that documents the origin, manufacturing, and marketing of classic American munchies. Some episodes are devoted to a specific foodstuff (bubble gum, beer, peanut butter), while others center on a gastronomic theme (lunch-box treats, movie candy, "crazy drinks"). "The idea is [to feature] really fun, memory-evoking food," says Food Network VP of programming Kathleen Finch. "Pop-culture icons as opposed to staples." About as healthful as things get is an installment on breakfast cereal, in which we learn that it takes 20 million pounds of marshmallows each year to keep Lucky Charms magically delicious, as well as which athlete has made the most appearances on the Wheaties box (18-timer Michael Jordan). More typical of Unwrapped's junk food fare is an episode on "I dare you" candies, those confections "that turn your mouth blue or make your eyes water," explains Finch, adding "I think you have to be under a certain age to not find that kind of stuff disgusting." Mmmmm...count us in. —MF

Leap Years Showtime, premieres July 29, 10 p.m.
Two men—one responsible (Bruno Campos) and one romantic (David Julian Hirsh)—want the same woman, a brunet schoolteacher named Beth (Nina Garbiras). So who gets her? In the time-warp universe of Leap Years, they both do—in the same episode, but different decades. Each hour of the Showtime drama, you see, covers 15 years in the lives of five friends. "In the beginning we'll be fairly linear," says executive producer Tony Jonas, who originally developed the drama at the request of NBC execs looking for an hour-long version of Friends. "We want our audience to be able to...understand what happened. Then, by episode 9 or 10, we're really going to throw some curveballs—jump backwards and forwards." In between spinning yarns about infidelity and marijuana and showcasing hairstyles through the ages, Leap Years producers are hoping to give the series an existential feel. Explains Jonas, "We're emphasizing how over the years, people's lives change and, in the same breath, how your life doesn't change at all." —Caroline Kepnes

Animal Precinct Animal Planet, premieres June 26, 10 p.m.
Bad pet owners, bad pet owners, whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do when they come for you? "It's kinda like the COPS of the animal world," explains narrator Michael Madsen (Big Apple) of Animal Precinct, a docuseries following agents from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals who handle cases of critter abuse in New York City. "It's definitely reality TV."
     From saving half-starved dogs on Staten Island to busting up cockfighting rings in the Bronx, the officers of the ASPCA Law Enforcement Unit are granted full police powers and even pack nine-millimeter semiautomatic Glocks. "Every day I'm amazed at the way people think of their animals—or don't think of their animals," says special investigator Annemarie Lucas.
     Precinct may air on Animal Planet, but there's nothing warm and fuzzy about it, including Madsen's growling voice-overs. What are his qualifications for the job? "I'm an animal lover," he reports. "I've got a houseful of pets—two dogs, a bearded-dragon lizard, two king snakes, a toucan, two parrots, and four parakeets. It's a zoo." Plus, the guy did costar in Reservoir Dogs. —Bruce Fretts

STAR
GAZING

Primetime Glick Comedy Central, premieres June 20, 10:30 p.m.
Catherine Bell in JAG was also born on your birthday," Jiminy Glick informs guest Steve Martin. "Do you think women should be allowed in the military?" Martin's deadpan response: "What's JAG?" Such stunningly funny non sequiturs are stock-in-trade for Glick, a clueless celebrity interviewer played by Martin Short under a fat suit. "I've done 4,000 junkets in my life," Short explains of his inspiration for the character. "There are always those guys who take showbiz really, really seriously and are more into themselves than you."
     Glick first appeared in skits on Short's short-lived syndicated talk show in 1999, but now he's got his own mock chatfest, complete with a bandleader—Spinal Tap's Michael McKean as overly tanned harpist Adrien Van Voorhees. Primetime Glick's guest list includes such comedic heavy hitters as Conan O'Brien, Janeane Garofalo, and Jerry Seinfeld (who aptly terms the host "a barnacle on the hull of show business"). If the sketches (e.g., a Tom Green parody) aren't quite as fresh as Jiminy's improvised interviews, it still beats watching reruns of JAG. —BF

AJ After Hours E!, Thursdays, 10 p.m.
Leno and Letterman may have the fancy green rooms and the big ratings, but A.J. Benza has this come-on for any A-listers hesitant to appear on his new talk show: It may be cable, but man, can you get hammered! "We blew out our alcohol budget on the second night," says the gossip gleaner-turned-party host, whose weekly AJ After Hours has more blonds and booze than a Kid Rock kegger. Set in a swank Manhattan loft populated with such guests as Dan Rather, Al Sharpton, and George Hamilton, the show has a vibe that is "somewhere between Playboy After Dark and Mike Douglas," says Benza. In addition to his couch chores, the host profiles his favorite New York City nightclubs and will also take part in some comedy sketches. And while the ex-muckraker—whose stints with the Daily News and E!'s The Gossip Show irked all the right people—is playing nice for now, Benza's not above a ratings-grabbing catfight: "I am dying for someone to come on to rip me a new a--hole for something I wrote about them." —Brian M. Raftery

Small Shots TNN, August
Attention, all Larry Oliviers: Your shot at movie stardom might be as simple as spotting the two crazy guys in an RV yelling through bullhorns. That's how the cattle calls work on Small Shots, a reality show about the making of four-minute movie spoofs starring John Q. Public. "We're working with real people in towns, far removed from the cynicism of Hollywood," says Chris Cox, who directs the mini-movies with Matt Sloan. "We're welcome in these towns so they truly try to accommodate us." Well, not always. Despite their dropping reams of fliers over Pennsylvania farms for The Amish Matrix, not one straw-hat-wearin' soul showed up for the auditions. At least the residents of a Newark, Del., nursing home were psyched to do The Great Great Godfather, which asks: What if Don Corleone were still alive at 110? "We've been pleased by every cast member we've gotten," says Sloan. "It proves real people are entertaining." —Lynette Rice

Becoming MTV, Tuesdays, 10:30 p.m.
Do you go to sleep each night desperately hoping to wake up as a Backstreet Boy? Do you secretly wonder if you've got what it takes to be Britney? Of course you don't. But that takes nothing away from the pleasure of watching other people realize their celebrity dreams. Becoming allows ordinary fans with extraordinary passion to experience the high lives of musicians like Limp Bizkit and Destiny's Child. Over 48 hours, they mimic their heroes' every groove, down to the lavish hotels, tattoos, and screaming fans. (Sorry, groupie sex-capades aren't included.) The fantasy culminates with wannabes re-creating one of the stars' videos, and gosh darn it if these kids don't occasionally pull it off. Take the Backstreet episode: "They so became the Backstreet Boys," notes MTV senior VP Lois Curren, "that after the shoot, a bunch of female extras followed the limo to their hotel and stood on the street, sobbing and begging for autographs." Now, that's the sign of a really good show...or downright delusion. —Dan Snierson

LADIES
FIRST

Witchblade TNT, Tuesdays, 9 p.m.
Yancy Butler is no stranger to action. She started her career in 1992 as a take-no-prisoners android on the short-lived NBC series Mann & Machine, and later went hunting with Jean-Claude Van Damme (1993's Hard Target) and skydiving with Wesley Snipes (1994's Drop Zone). But nothing could prepare the actress for her role in TNT's comic-book adaptation series Witchblade.
     "I opened up this comic book," says Butler on her introduction to the part, "and I was like, 'What did I get myself into?'" The answer is playing Sara Pezzini, a New York City detective and keeper of a mysterious ancient weapon (think of it as a high-tech version of Freddy Krueger's claw) that turns her right arm into a ballistic demolition tool. Though the actress also has legions of comic-book purists to please, there's one aspect of the original character she won't be adapting for the small screen. "In the comic book, I don't know how she does it," says Butler, "but to wear a metal bra and stiletto heels is not my idea of comfort." —Dalton Ross

Women Docs Lifetime, premieres Aug. 11, 10 p.m.
Two purposes in doing this show," says executive producer Glenda Hersh, speaking in clipped sentences that match Docs' rapid-fire editing. "One: Lots of absorbing medical cases, all handled by phenomenally talented doctors who happen to be women. Two: cool role models for girls." The show takes place in seven hospitals across the country; in the New York-based pilot, we meet an OB-GYN in a Chinatown clinic who handles difficult C-sections with a calm smile and a helluva yank on the forceps, as well as one of the only two dozen African-American plastic surgeons in the U.S. "Do you realize that more than 50 percent of students now in medical schools are women?" asks Hersh. "There are scores of stories we want to tell; our viewers are going to be moved, touched, scared, and assured." Don't worry: Every patient signs a consent form. "No patient comes off looking foolish," says Hersh. "But if the doctor screws up, we'll show it." —Ken Tucker

Braceface Fox Family Channel, Saturdays, 9 a.m.
Oh, yes, Alicia Silverstone knows what it's like to be picked on: As a 12-year-old, the future actress incurred the wrath of her preteen clique by sporting long, straight hair that fell in her face. "They thought I was conceited," she recalls. Now Silverstone wants to enlighten the clueless about how perilous adolescence can be with the animated series Braceface. She's the voice of Sharon Spitz, a middle schooler who considers her new orthodontic accessories the equivalent of Armaggedon (like, will her crush still take her to the school dance?). "It's my hope that young people will watch this show and say, 'Oh, I can commiserate with you! Sharon's going through the same thing I'm going through!'" says Silverstone, who's also executive-producing the series. "This is not about me getting payback to those old friends." Besides, those tressed-obsessed girls got their comeuppance anyway. "Three months later, they were wearing their hair just like mine," says Silverstone. "I'm like, 'Uh, huh.'" —LR

So Little Time Fox Family Channel, Saturdays, noon
If you've been waiting your entire life for someone to combine the twin-tastic coolness of Sweet Valley High with the high school kookiness of Saved by the Bell, rest assured: Fourteen-year-old TV tycoons Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have done just that with their third series, So Little Time. They play Riley and Chloe, two rockin' teens living in sunny Malibu, Calif. "Our characters are really different," explains Mary-Kate. "Mine has curly hair and she's into nature and saving the world. Ashley's is the mommy's girl, really high-strung." Add to that, their dad (Eric Lutes) hangs around though he's separated from their mom (Clare Carey). By addressing parental woes and school high jinks with the same spunky optimism, the Olsens hope to attract tweens, teens, and, yes, even grown-ups. "Did you ever see Coyote Ugly?" explains Ashley. "You know when they're dancing on the tables? That's what we do in one of our episodes. We're putting chocolate sauce all over the place and dancing. It's a really cute scene." Excuse us, we need to go lie down now. —CK

A FEW
GOOD MEN

Samurai Jack Cartoon Network, premieres Aug. 10, 7 p.m.
I've watched cartoons all my life and I've never been satisfied that they have enough action," says 31-year-old artist Genndy Tartakovsky. "That's the inspiration for Samurai Jack." The titular hero is an ancient warrior sent into the future by his nemesis, a formidable shape-shifting demon named Aku. "The show is all about a bleak, apocalyptic future time," adds Tartakovsky, "and how Jack becomes the hope of downtrodden people." Hey—action, samurai swordplay, an all-powerful villain, and some of the coolest, semiabstract, stylized animation out there: We're hooked. Tartakovsky, who also gave us Dexter's Laboratory, is producing 36 half-hour Jacks, and he promises a star who's "a young, Asian Clint Eastwood" (voiced by actor Phil LaMarr). "I want this show to be something that kids and adults have to figure out as they go along," says the creator. "Like, if we have a simple plot—say, five assassins are sent to kill Jack—we'll tell the story backwards, to keep the viewer off-balance." Maybe they can call that episode "Jack Samurai." —KT

Little Bill Nickelodeon, weekdays, 11:30 a.m.
A Fat Albert for generation Z, Little Bill proves that while Bill Cosby may no longer be the king of sitcoms, he still stands tall among the small set. Since the Nick Jr. cartoon (inspired by Cosby's everyday childhood experiences) also began to air on CBS Saturday mornings, it's taken off as the No. 1 network show among viewers ages 2 to 5 years old. Cosby "remembers what it's like to be a kid," says coexecutive producer Janice Burgess. "That spirit of understanding is what makes him so appealing—along with being a comic genius."
     Little Bill offers plenty for parents to dig as well, including a gorgeously rich look (created on desktop computers by executive producer Robert Scull), a swinging jazz score (Cosby cowrote the theme song with trumpeter Jon Faddis and saxman Don Braden), and an all-star vocal cast (Gregory Hines and longtime Cosby crony Phylicia Rashad provide the pipes for Little Bill's parents). The title character's endearingly raspy voice is supplied by Xavier Pritchett, whom Burgess describes as "a talented New York City actor who just happens to be seven and a half." Hey, hey, hey! —BF

Going to California Showtime, premieres Aug. 9, 10 p.m.
Picture a twentysomething odd couple hitting I-70, and you've got the premise for this hour-long road show. Space (Sam Trammell) and Ungalow (Brad Henke) are in search of a buddy who split from their New England hometown after his girlfriend dumped him. On the cross-country journey—shot on location in cities like Miami, Memphis, and New Orleans—the pair encounters a menagerie of weirdos including a disfigured kid dubbed Rhino Boy, and a harmonica player and his 6-foot-3-inch transvestite sidekick (played by legendary New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor). "What I appreciate the most [about the show] is that we're not tethered to a police station or a magazine office," says creator and producer Scott Rosenberg (High Fidelity), who based California on his own experiences as a truck driver. Plus, he adds, Space and Ungalow are the only regular characters: "It's like having my own talk show with new guests every week." —Tricia Johnson

Reel Classics ESPN Classic, Sundays, 9 p.m.
The cinematic images are everlasting: Danny Noonan sinking the winnng putt at Bushwood, the misfit Cutters cycling to glory, Meadowlark Lemon throwing a no-look pass to an Apache chief for a breakaway dunk...say whaaa? If you can place that last one, you're likely a fan of Reel Classics, the sports-film showcase where long-forgotten flops like The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh get equal playing time alongside hits like Caddyshack and Breaking Away. Hosts Jeff Cesario and Norman Chad conduct a sort of Mystery Science Theater 3000 for sports nuts, offering insight and insults during breaks. And the suckier the source, the better the banter. "We got supplies of bile you wouldn't believe," says Cesario. "So we're just ready to fire out on something like The Bad News Bears Go to Japan." But even this camp counselor realizes that bad taste has its limits. "I just previewed The Main Event [the 1979 Barbra Streisand-Ryan O'Neal boxing comedy], and it's difficult to not want to get up and walk out—in your own house!" —DR

AGGRESSION
THERAPY

Maximum Exposure Syndicated, check local listings
Somewhere between America's Funniest Home Videos and Faces of Death lies this ripsnorting grab bag of caught-on-tape mishaps and oddities. We're talking everything from a waterskiing squirrel to an angry wife attacking her spouse with not one, but two butcher knives. And explosions. Lots of explosions. With episode titles like "That's Gotta Hurt" and "Too Drunk for TV," Exposure heightens the laffs with daft, irreverent voice-overs. (A sample from "Awesome Explosions": "When good old Yankee know-how don't know nothing, it blows!") "People have seen enough reality TV that the novelty has worn off," says exec producer Mack Anderson. "We're trying to put that—and a lot of attitude—back in." Said attitude, which takes particular glee in mocking foreigners and mullet-wearers, is designed to ape the viewing experience. "We make the same comments you're probably making," says Anderson of the narration. "We write it, and write it, and write it until we get it just stupid enough." —MF

WWF Tough Enough MTV, premieres June 21, 10 p.m.
With its ability to weave effortlessly between fact and fiction (while only occasionally observing the fourth wall), the World Wrestling Federation is the granddaddy of reality TV. It's no wonder, then, that their first official entry in the genre gets it so painfully—dare we say, poignantly—right. Equal parts Scared Straight, The Real World, and Enter the Dragon, Tough winnows 5,000-plus applicants down to 13 (eight males and five females), shacks them up in a Connecticut house, and under the tutelage of WWF superstars, subjects them to a grueling 13-week regimen of browbeating and body slamming. At the end of the ordeal, two winners will land contracts to compete professionally for the WWF. Says Al Snow, a WWF grappler and one of Tough's dojo masters: "The training is like the costar of the show, and the actual star is their dealing with the reality [of becoming a wrestler] as opposed to the fantasy." In other words, don't even think of calling this wrestling show fake. —MF

Junkyard Wars The Learning Channel, Mondays, 8 p.m.
Where can you find the dirtiest show on TV? HBO? Showtime? We'll give you three little hints: T-L-C. On the cheeky Brit import Junkyard Wars, a pair of time-pressed teams rummage through heaps of garbage, salvage the necessary materials, and then build complex contraptions like missile launchers and hovercrafts. Forget that these gearheads are playing for nothing but pride: This cult game show is full of edutaining riches—and some serious trash talking. "There definitely is the techie, armchair-critic way of watching it: 'I can't believe they're using that centrifugal pump where I would've gone for a piston pump,'" says Wars cohost-cocreator Cathy Rogers. "But watching the process of creation is really satisfying. It's like being a kid again and having your first stic-o-brics." While the wacky wasteland has enticed contestants from NASA employees to car mechanics, don't count on a star-studded edition. "Celebrities are rubbish at doing anything useful," Rogers scoffs. "They can hardly clean their own house, let alone build a dragster." —DS


I really wish there were a tumor monster to gobble those rude cell phone users who feel the need to inflict their conversations upon me.


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