January 8, 1998 in Features

‘Ask Harriet’ Faces Question Of Its Survival

John Martin New York Times Syndicate
 

FOX’s gender-bending “Ask Harriet” makes its regular time-slot debut at 8:30. The sitcom, a bundle of old and tired ideas, has nowhere to go but up.

Anthony Tyler Quinn stars as womanizing newspaper columnist Jack Cody, who is fired one day and returns to the paper overnight disguised as a woman hired to take over a popular advice column.

Among the many people he must fool is his boss and former lover (Lisa Waltz). You’ve seen it all before, and Quinn’s portrayal of Cody and his alter ego, Sylvia Coco, would give you an upset stomach if you saw it at a dinner theater.

But bad ideas can yield entertaining results. That’s what happens tonight with the arrival of Ed Asner as the paper’s publisher, known as Old Man Russell.

When he meets Sylvia, it’s love at first sight, which Asner handles with tremendous comic flair. Jack/Sylvia’s problem is that he’s also having a fling with Russell’s sexually liberated young granddaughter Joplin (Julie Benz).

So I laughed in spite of myself. But it proves my point that it will take more than Quinn’s crude take on his dual characters to make this show click.

Maybe the producers will continue to surprise us by giving him more to do than complain about pantyhose and high heels.

Highlights

“Skating,” ABC at 8: From Philadelphia, it’s the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Tonight’s men’s long-program finals feature Todd Eldredge, Scott Davis, Michael Weiss and other contenders.

The top two finishers will represent the United States in the Olympics.

“Promised Land,” CBS at 8: Hattie (Celeste Holm) faces a crisis when her oldest friend (Elizabeth Wilson), who is dying of cancer, asks her to help end her life. This series excels by presenting well-told stories based on relevant issues.

Also, pregnant Claire (Wendy Phillips) faces a crisis.

“Friends,” NBC at 8: Phoebe’s (Lisa Kudrow) brother, Frank Jr. (Giovanni Ribisi), asks her to become a surrogate mother for him and his new bride. Monica (Courteney Cox) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) give Chandler (Matthew Perry) bedroom pointers.

“New York Undercover,” FOX at 9: A new season begins without Michael DeLorenzo in the role of Eddie, who was killed in last season’s finale.

J.C. (Malik Yoba) and Moreno (Lauren Velez) are assigned to a new undercover unit headed by rigid Lt. Malcolm Barker (Tommy Ford). Unknown to them, their first assignment is to catch Eddie’s killer (Dana Eskelson).

The cast changes hold plenty of promise, but Eskelson’s villain, a beautiful white woman who robs banks and armored cars with militant blacks, is entirely unbelievable.

“48 Hours,” CBS at 10: See an amazing story from hard-luck Roby, Texas, where 43 people pooled their resources and bought a winning lottery ticket that paid out $46 million.

“ER,” NBC at 10: Bitter cold floods the emergency room with homeless people seeking shelter.

Greene (Anthony Edwards) discovers that a former colleague (Michael Ironside) is on the board of the private company making a bid to take over the hospital.

Corday (Alex Kingston) goes over Romano’s (Paul McCrane) head and persuades a surgeon (Dennis Boutsikaris) to perform an unusual vocalcord surgery.

Cable Calls

“The New Explorers,” A&E; at 6 and 10: “Betrayal at Little Big Horn” is the latest report purporting to shed new light on the 1876 massacre of Gen. George Armstrong Custer and the men of his U.S. 7th Cavalry. It’s a good story, but there’s really no significant new information in this hour.

Talk Time

“Tonight,” NBC at 11:35: Actor Robin Williams and Tracey Ullman (“Tracey Takes On …”).

“Late Show With David Letterman,” CBS at 11:35: Actor Michael Keaton, and singer Paul Simon and a performance from his Broadway musical, “The Capeman.”

“Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher,” ABC at 12:05 a.m.: Dennis Miller, Stacy Keach, self-help guru Barbara DeAngelis and Rep. Helen Chenowith (R-Idaho).


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