Tuesday, February 4, 2003

NBC makes case for courtroom humor

NBC makes a federal case out of comedy tonight - and succeeds.

Scott Foley (Felicity) stars as a rookie assistant U.S. attorney in A.U.S.A. (9:30 p.m., Channels 5, 22), a broad courtroom comedy reminiscent of Harry Anderson's old Night Court.

On his first day at work, prosecutor Adam Sullivan (Foley) accidentally uses the judges' private restroom and makes a dinner date with two nurses who happen to be jurors on the case he's about to try.

"This is my courtroom," the judge scolds him. "This is not Ladies Night at Bennigan's."

As with Night Court (1984-92), this office/courtroom sitcom is filled with wacky characters - Wally (John Ross Bowie, Road Trip), an inept paralegal; a smart-mouth office secretary (Kathryn Joosten, The West Wing's Mrs. Landingham); Adam's dim-bulb roommate (Eddie McClintock, Stark Raving Mad); and Adam's love interest across the aisle, public defender Susan Rakoff (Amanda Detmer, The Majestic).

Adam's boss, no-nonsense Geoffrey Laurence (Peter Jacobson, Bull, Law & Order), isn't convinced that Adam belongs on his staff.

"You're getting all the crappy cases because you're a crappy lawyer - because all new lawyers are crappy lawyers, and we can't afford to risk cases on you," he tells Adam.

"You know, we do fire people. This isn't the Post Office."

The crazy humor has a kernel of truth to it. Creator Richard Appel, a writer for The Simpsons and King of the Hill, was an assistant U.S. attorney in Manhattan (1990-93) after graduating from Harvard Law School. The show is inspired by his experiences (and inexperience).

"It could have been called Barely Legal," he jokes. That would have been a better title for this promising comedy. A.U.S.A. replaces Hidden Hills, which was barely funny.

Blue note: Forest Park native Greg Plageman wrote today's NYPD Blue (10 p.m., Channels 9, 2) about the continuing woes of Detective John Clark Jr. (Mark-Paul Gosselaar).

The show opens with Clark in jail, pending a hearing on a felony drug charge. Police, acting on a tip, had found four ounces of heroin in his car last month.

Detective Andy Sipowicz (Emmy-winner Dennis Franz), convinced that his partner is being framed by another officer, begins his own investigation while other detectives pursue a rapist.

The best line written by the 1987 St. Xavier High School graduate comes when Sipowicz confronts a patrolman who may know something about planting the drugs: "You let a bad cop destroy a good cop, and it will destroy you, too."

Not live from LA: American Idol fans may be surprised to hear that the talent show is not live on Fox (8 p.m. today, Channels 19, 45).

The weekly Tuesday competition, upon which viewers vote for their favorite performer, is taped on Saturday, says Jason Clark, a Fox publicist. Wednesday's show announcing the winners is live.

Rap `Idol': MTV will launch an American Idol-style competition for rap artists with MC Battle on Feb. 24, USA Today says. MTV and MTV2 will air many of the auditions, as viewers vote to determine the $25,000 winner on March 1.

`Dawson's' dead: WB's Dawson's Creek will end with a two-hour episode May 14, USA Today says.

TV today: E! Entertainment profiles Cincinnati native Tara Patrick, known to the world as Baywatch star Carmen Electra and the former wife of NBA star Dennis Rodman, on a one-hour E! True Hollywood Story (8 p.m.).

The 11th annual Showtime Black Filmmaker Showcase premieres six short films (9 p.m., Showtime).

Hell Up In Hollywood (10 p.m., AMC) looks at Shaft, Superfly and other 1970s "blaxploitation" films.

Nova's "Battle of the X-Planes" shows how Lockheed Martin and Boeing have battled to win the largest contract in military history, for a new stealth fighter jet (10 p.m., Channels 48, 16).

Talk shows: Today's guests from TV Data:

Live With Regis and Kelly (9 a.m., Channel 9): Kate Hudson, Lionel Richie.

Wayne Brady (10 a.m., Channel 9): Debbie Reynolds, Tammy Faye Messner and Joshua Morrow.

The View (11a.m., Channel 9): Kelsey Grammer, Heidi Fleiss.

Caroline Rhea (3 p.m., Channel 19): Scott Foley, Andre Braugher.

E-mail jkiesewetter@enquirer.com

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