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Networks are forever searching for the Next Great Show that will keep people home Friday nights. It's the impossible dream. There hasn't been a TV hit on Fridays since The X-Files but that doesn't stop diligent network types from cranking out at least a dozen new offerings each and every season. Bless their greedy little souls.

So far this season, NBC has tried it with two very expensive series: First came the peculiar ecumenical drama Book of Daniel, which riled up some American churchgoers and was pulled in panic after one month. NBC capably filled the space with Law & Order reruns and the Winter Olympics before trying again more recently, and much more forcefully, with Conviction (NBC, Global, 10 p.m.). Trust me: Conviction is not the next great Friday-night show.

The glossy legal drama comes from Law & Order overseer Dick Wolf, but it's ridiculous. It's an example of just how wrong things can go when a veteran TV producer tries to imprint his style over another hit show. In Conviction, Wolf has tried to merge his heavy-handed but reliable Law & Order concept into an unholy amalgam with Grey's Anatomy, with bizarre results. There are also trace elements of Ally McBeal and L.A. Law in there, somewhere.

If you've somehow missed the show since its inauspicious midseason launch a month ago, Conviction concerns the terribly fascinating lives of seven young prosecutors working out of the Manhattan district attorney's office.

Everyone in the cast is quite attractive by usual TV standards, and in their mid- to late-twenties. There isn't a single recognizable face in the group, save for the lupine Eric Balfour, who previously played a juvenile delinquent on Six Feet Under.

The focal character of Conviction appears to be Nick (Jordan Bridges), a former corporate lawyer who wants to make a difference. He's the wide-eyed innocent among the prosecutorial staff, which includes bullish deputy D.A. James (Anson Mount) and meek assistant district attorney Christina (Julianne Nicholson). Balfour is Peluso, the resident ladies man, which is a little unsettling.

There are legal cases presented on Conviction, but mostly the storylines are about the young lawyers having sex. Lots of sex. They are the randiest group of TV solicitors in recent memory and the first four shows have brought at least two hookups between co-workers, with promises of more to come. The show is transfixed on the personal lives of its characters and barely registers as a legal drama, which is where Conviction sharply departs from Law & Order.

The only hint of Dick Wolf's normally overbearing influence occurred in the Conviction pilot, which featured an obvious cameo by grumbly Fred Dalton Thompson, appearing in his Law & Order persona of district attorney Arthur Branch. It was like a visit from the school principal, after which the raging hormones resumed. The pilot included a wildly inappropriate scene with two characters openly flirting at a colleague's funeral. You can guess the rest.

On most outings, Conviction's legal cases are weaved into the characters' lives in a clunky, contrived manner. On tonight's show, Nick is faced with prosecuting an acquaintance arrested for cocaine possession; Peluso becomes far too involved in a case in which a grandmother may go to prison covering for her drug-dealing grandson. All the solicitors on Conviction are naïve and earnest, and in a constant state of self-analysis.

Ultimately, Conviction is lost in itself, and while it shares the same Manhattan setting as Wolf's law-show successes, there's way more screen time spent in the bedroom than the courtroom. The formula works much better on Grey's Anatomy, which has soared against expectations to become one of the most-watched shows on television--sitting right up there with Desperate Housewives and Lost. By comparison, Convictio n has only registered minimal ratings in the U.S.

For whatever reason, viewers are captivated by young doctors in love, but there's something wrong with watching young lawyers doing the same.

Or it's possible that Wolf was just trying to move as far away as possible from the stinging failure of Law & Order: Trial by Jury, another Friday-night show that came and went in a blink around this time last year.

As is his wont, the bombastic producer took the failure of Trial by Jury very personally and blamed the network for lack of support. He can't make the same claim with Conviction: NBC has redoubled their usual on-air promotional push and has even been repeating the Friday-night episode on Saturday nights. This time, Dick Wolf has to take the blame.

jaryan@globeandmail.ca

John Doyle returns on March 22.

RYAN'S PICKS

MONDAY

PRISON BREAK

The show's return picks up the story of two brothers: Lincoln (Dominic Purcell), who sits on death row for a murder he did not commit, and Michael (Wentworth Miller), an intense young engineer with a nifty plan to bust out his big brother. Combined with 24, Prison Break is the most nerve-wracking block on television.

Fox, Global, 8 p.m.

WEDNESDAY

UNAN1MOUS

Even reality television is rarely this strange: Nine total strangers (among them Tarah, a 25-year-old designer, above) share a bunker, where they are told one of them will receive $1-million (U.S.). The catch: The poor saps have to reach a consensus on which person is most deserving -- and the longer it takes them, the more money is subtracted from the cash prize. The contestants are bumped off one by one in a demeaning group vote procedure. It's democracy and greed in action.

Fox, 9 p.m.

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