Preview: With work, 'Belle's' could be better

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Editor's note: TV One planned to debut "Belle's" Monday night but as TV Week was about to go to press the network shifted the premiere to 10 p.m. Feb. 1.

TV One has become the alternative African-American cable network to BET and this upstart deserves kudos for making an effort at more sophisticated programming that's likely to appeal to an older audience. But even noble efforts have their growing pains as evidenced in TV One's new sitcom, "Belle's (10 p.m. Monday).

'Belle's'

When: 10 p.m. Feb. 1, TV One.

Starring: Keith David, above.

The show is set in a restaurant, which brings to mind the late, great 1987-88 CBS sitcom "Frank's Place," but that's where any comparisons begin and end.

"Belle's" has a low-budget look and one really bad conceit: Pam (Nadja Alaya), teen daughter of restaurant owner Bill (Keith David), narrates the show with direct address to the camera. These scenes feel like a high school production.

Once the direct address is done, "Belle's" improves. The premiere introduces an assortment of characters and a plot that telegraphs a twist but doesn't ruin the episode because of the characters' entertaining reactions.

Although ostensibly a sitcom (there's no laugh track), "Belle's" is more of a dramedy, sprinkled with moments of pathos (the restaurant is named for Bill's late wife).

The premiere was written and directed by Ed Weinberger, a creator of "The Cosby Show," "Amen" and "Taxi." "Belle's" pales compared to those standouts. But it's also better and smarter than much of what passed for black-targeted programming on The WB and UPN ("Homeboys in Outer Space," anyone?).

At one point Bill complains about the state of his business after his daughter tells him not to blame President Obama.

"First black president in history and my gross is down 18 percent. Figure that out!" he says. It's not a line you'd expect in a "black" TV series and demonstrates a commitment on the part of Mr. Weinberger to defy expectations and stereotypes. More of that (and less narration) and "Belle's" might become an appetizing viewing option.

TV One can be found on Comcast (Channel 865HD or 173 or 150 in SD), Verizon's FiOS TV (271) and DirecTV (328). Armstrong and Dish Network do not carry TV One.

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