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These guys don't go over big

Back in the day — yesterday — the four actors in ABC's new "Big Shots" were likable. Dylan McDermott was recalled fondly for his righteous anger and integrity on "The Practice." Joshua Malina was the indelible dork — not just an actor in dork’s clothing — from "Sports Night" and "The West Wing." Michael Vartan, he of the impossible chin dimple, still wore his saintly ‘‘Alias’’ glow. And Christopher Titus had cred as a kind of West Coast Denis Leary.

But tomorrow, each of them is likely to experience a brutal spike on

"Big Shots," which premieres tonight at 10 on Channel 5, is an extremely unflattering showcase for these actors, particularly McDermott, whose overacting as the show’s bad boy puts the mug in smug. Without a hint of dramatic honesty, the series seems to have been manufactured solely for demographic purposes, as a sort of "Desperate Husbands" to pick up the largely female viewership of its lead-in, "Grey’s Anatomy." However the show's creators, including Jon Harmon Feldman, might not have made the shrewdest decision when they built a series for women around men who ooze contempt for women.

When McDermott’s Duncan delivers the show’s big tagline — "Men — we're the new women" — I don’t think he’s saying it’s a good thing.

In "Big Shots," four wealthy New York businessmen can’t buy romantic happiness, and so they vent to one another at various locations around their country club — on the golf course, around the pool, in the steam room. As Brody — it rhymes with grody — Titus is henpecked and desperate not to upset his wife. Malina’s Karl may be a geek, but he has both a pretty wife and a smokin' mistress, both of whom he accompanies to the same couples therapist. James, played by Vartan with excessive wimpiness, was fooled by his duplicitous wife, who was carrying on with his boss.

Self-made CEO Duncan is the alpha male of the group, and he conducts a press interview while playing provocatively with two golf balls in his hand. We first meet him when he is having sex with his ex-wife, Lisbeth (Paige Turco), in the club’s wine storage room. Duncan owns a hugely successful cosmetics company, but that doesn’t mean he knows women, which becomes obvious in one of tonight’s many silly plot twists involving a transvestite hooker. His 19-year-old daughter, Cameron (Peyton List), has a wellspring of hostility toward him, and she hands him the line I wish I’d coined as my "Big Shots" tagline: "This has been fun in a really not fun kind of way," she says about their lunch date.

Sometimes, networks provide audiences with a handful of lead characters, hoping that if you don’t want to follow one, you’ll want to follow another. For instance, some may watch "Desperate Housewives" solely for Marcia Cross’s Bree. But not one of these men or their hackneyed predicaments spoke to me. And as an ensemble of buddies, they don't exude much chemistry. They bat around cliches about marriage and women and the rigors of being a dude, but they seem to want to be with one another about as little as we want to be with them.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at For more on TV, visit

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