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Building a Better TV Family

From Ozzie and Harriet to Ozzie Osbourne's foulmouthed brood, the televised family remains the bedrock of prime time. And though nothing ever seems to change on TV -- after all, how different are Ozzie Osbourne's problems from Ozzie Nelson's? -- this fall's new family shows offer a few incremental tweaks to the formula, especially when it comes to dear old dad.

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American Dreams

Sundays, 8 p.m., NBC
Theme & Variations
It's The Wonder Years set a couple of years earlier, with plenty of adolescent angst but more coverage of the old-school patriarch's consternation.
First-Night Highlight
The son quits football, the wife flirts with feminism, and the daughter (gasp!) dances on American Bandstand. All weep together for JFK at the end to the anachronistic tune of "Let It Be" (1970).

Everwood

Mondays, 9 p.m., WB
Theme & Variations
Recently widowed New York neurosurgeon (Treat Williams) relocates to Colorado with mopey kids in tow. Think Northern Exposure, but less whimsy and more baggage.
First-Night Highlight
Gothed-out teenage son instructs father to go to hell, says dad should have died instead of mother. Williams (who still talks to his dead wife) couldn't agree more.

Greetings From Tucson

Fridays, 9:30 p.m., WB
Theme & Variations
Latino sitcom treads on George Lopez Show territory with some added Hughleys-style upward-mobility humor. New twist is a mixed marriage (Mexican-Irish) and feisty live-in relatives.
First-Night Highlight
Obsessive-compulsive father beset on all sides by sharkskin-suit-wearing son, beer-swilling brother, and conventionally irreverent mother.

8 Simple Rules . . .

Tuesdays, 8 p.m., ABC
Theme & Variations
Working mom (Katey Sagal) lets dad (John Ritter) handle teen daughters. Father Knows Best leavened with very realistic teen-sex issues.
First-Night Highlight
Ritter catches himself creepily advising one daughter to wear tighter clothes: "You're starting to get a really nice figure. You're starting to develop . . . things."

Hidden Hills

Tuesdays, 9:30 p.m., NBC
Theme & Variations
Style evokes Malcolm in the Middle, but only dad -- not the whole family -- is crazy. Focus is on his sex life: real, imagined, cyber, atop washing machine . . .
First-Night Highlight
Dad has only one thing on his mind, so plot turns on long marital dry spell and fantasies about a new neighbor with her own Internet porn site.


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