Summer is rerun hell. You know it, and the networks know you'll sit for it. Of course, that was before dwindling audience shares and proliferating viewing choices turned the network programming game into a blood sport. Nowadays, any TV outlet that closes shop for the summer risks discovering that its clientele forgot to come back in the fall. The upshot: a summer wave of what the industry calls "original product." " Some of these series are more original than others and a few will make you long for preruns--but then no one ever looked to the tube for a perfect wave.
Norhern Exposure (CBS): Just like "Twin Peaks," this hourlong comedy/drama is set in a piney, backwater town populated by inscrutable eccentrics. Two differences: the state is Alaska rather than Washington and CBS neglected to hire David Lynch.
Rob Morrow plays a New Yawky medical-school grad obliged to hang out his shingle in a remote Alaskan hamlet to repay that state for financing his education. Uh huh, terminal culture shock. When he craves a bagel they offer him a mooseburger, and that's only minutes after the president of the chamber of commerce welcomes him with this: "When I heard we could get a crack Jew doctor from New York City, I jumped. You boys do outstanding work." For all the show's predictability, its cocreators, who gave us "St. Elsewhere," know the prescription for dark medical humor and Morrow has a nice way of making his misery laughable. Threatened by a local bully, he proclaims: "I'm not some putz just off the caribou farm. I've walked down 42nd Street at midnight. I have stiffed cabbies!"
New Attitude (ABC): Don't ask us why, but suddenly the beauty salon is doing for women what the neighborhood bar has long done for men: providing a hospitable environment for raucous, raunchy comedies. This one, based on a nationally touring play called "Beauty Shop," comes across as a kind of all-black version of "Steel Magnolias."
New Attitude is the name of a beauty salon operated by two dissimilar sisters: Vicki (Sheryl Lee Ralph) is prim and inhibited; Yvonne (Phyllis Yvonne Stickney) likes doing the wild thing. After equating a good diet with good sex, she explains: "I don't believe in putting anything in my body that won't leave when its job is done." Though some of the zingers curl rather than cut, the sitcom exudes an infectiously sassy joy. One curious twist: the salon's male hairdresser (Morris Day), flamboyantly gay in the play, is now an indefatigable womanizer. At the networks, it seems, some attitudes never go out of style.
Molloy (Fox): Let's see. Dad commutes from his hillside glitz palace in a new Mercedes. Mom is a graduate of est who can usually be found on the cellular phone making appointments for bikini waxes. Big Sis, a big snob, refuses to talk to either the gardener or the Mexican maid. Little Sis holds down your standard-issue after-school job: starring in a children's series at the local public-TV station. Oh, yes, they all live in Beverly Hills, but you already guessed that.
This sitcom is supposed to be about a street-smart Manhattan teen who moves in with her remarried father's left-coast family. What it's really about is the secret of the Fox network's success, which is, of course, to shamelessly pander to the young. Once again, the grown-ups in a Fox series come on like children (Dad likes his kids to call him "Paul"; Mom's idea of settling a family squabble is to chirp, "Hey, guys, let's play Twister!"), while the children behave like wise little adults. Fortunately, Fox has found an irresistible actress to play the transplanted teen. Mayim Bialik is as spunky as she is homely. Imagine a 13-year-old Sandra Bernhard--only with talent.
Clash (MTV): MTV's new comedy channel has finally hit on a funny idea: a game show that pits teams of natural enemies against each other. Nerds match wits with quarterbacks, nudists with fashion designers, and so on. Show host Billy Kimball, a former editor of the Harvard Lampoon, poses questions you'll never hear on "Family Feud" ("What New Year's gift did Exxon give the Atlantic Ocean on Jan. l, 1990?") and harasses contestants with a Lettermanesque flair (To a secretary: "What body part do you enjoy xeroxing the most, Becky?"). This game show's so smart--one category of questions deals with Marshall McLuhan-that it cries out for players with the heaviest intellectual credentials imaginable. How about network presidents versus TV critics?