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Tuesday Night is Must-see TV, 11.20.01 ...

Tuesdays are nothing but trouble in TV land.

But that's a good thing.

There aren't many nights on the schedule with so many great shows that it causes problems in the home. Tuesday, above all, is a night when you need to be VCR savvy, have more than one or be prepared to cut something loose.

In the 8 p.m. hour -- and we're assuming that most of you know better than to watch "Dharma & Greg" -- the real battle is between "That '70s Show" on Fox, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" on UPN and "Gilmore Girls" on the WB.

"That '70s Show" hasn't lasted this long by being just a genre pick ("Ooh, remember the disco decade? How retro chic.") It has survived on good writing week in and week out. After the brilliant musical episode, "Buffy" is all the way back. But last year's most surprising new series and one of the smartest, hippest family shows you'll find anywhere is "Gilmore Girls."

Now that's a tough decision. You might cast out "Gilmore Girls" simply because you don't know much about it -- after all, it had to battle "Friends" and "Survivor" on Thursday nights last year -- so chances are slim that it's a staple in your house. But there's absolutely no question that "GG" is one of the better shows on television.

In multitelevision households -- and that's just about all of them these days -- you could tape "Gilmore Girls" and watch "Buffy," putting aside those funny retro kids on Fox. The problem? Both the other shows run one hour, so you'd have to miss that little comic gem "Undeclared" over on Fox.

Real trouble, however, arrives with the 9 p.m. slot. The season's most hyped new drama -- Fox's "24" -- is a serial. You'll want to see all 24 episodes (hour 3 airs tonight). But "24" runs into a hurdle in the established hit comedy "Frasier" on NBC. Granted, much of the winning wit of that sitcom's brightest years is missing, yet it's still funny, and viewers are loyal.

"Frasier" is followed by perhaps NBC's best new fall offering, "Scrubs." The hospital comedy has proved so successful that NBC has also tossed it on Thursdays during sweeps to shore up the flagging post-"Friends" slot of "Inside Schwartz."

ABC -- which canceled "What About Joan?" and the dreck-filled "Bob Patterson" -- reshuffled the deck, moving the very tired "Spin City" behind the played-out "Dharma." That's not much of a lead-in to former powerhouse "NYPD Blue." Now, an argument can be made that you stick with the one who brought you to the dance, but "NYPD Blue" has had nearly as many face-lifts as "Law & Order" without the pleasantly surprising results. Even accounting for Dennis Franz and cashing in on reputation, "Blue" is a bad bet.

What's to be made of the WB's "Smallville," which has whipped up a cult audience at 9 p.m.? And you can't yet count out former WB series "Roswell," now following "Buffy" on UPN. That's not to say "Roswell" is a player in this VCR scramble, but some people are stuck on the show. Frankly, "Smallville" -- the story of Superman as a teen -- has pluck but not much substance, and certainly not enough to drop "24."

The wild card is "The Guardian," one of CBS' best-performing new series. It may not be blowing doors in in major cities, but Middle America is smitten with it. That 9 p.m. slot is a real battlefield.

At 10 p.m. today, there are just three offerings, since Fox, UPN and the WB don't program that hour. It's not much to get excited about -- and the ratings prove that people haven't -- but you've got the new Steven Bochco lawyer series, "Philly" with Kim Delaney, on ABC; the other female-skewing series, "Judging Amy," on CBS; and that old-standby piece of pulp storytelling, "Dateline," on NBC.

Look, figuring out what to sacrifice earlier in the night is enough of a brain drain, why not skip 10 p.m. entirely?

But what of the rest? Any clues to better viewing? Any way to unstick the Tuesday logjam? Sure. You could buy a third VCR -- provided you have a third
Credit: San Francisco Chronicle

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