Report by Judy Sloane
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Every January and July television journalists from all over the States converge at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Pasadena, California, to attend days of press conferences where the networks and cable channels reveal their new programs. Here are a few of the best shows for this upcoming season:

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The Education of Max Bickford (CBS):

Academy Award winner, Richard Dreyfuss, stars in his first TV series as a college history professor, Max Bickford, going through a mid-life crisis. The teacher is forced to face many challenges, including

being passed over for a promotion by one of his former students; being a single father to an 11 year old son, Lester, and a teenage daughter, Nell; and coping with the fact that his best friend and fellow teacher Steve has returned to the college, after a sex change operation, as Erica!

Dreyfuss, who has been approached about doing a television series in the past, admits that the success of the political drama The West Wing persuaded him that the medium has risen to a new level of excellence.

"When I realized that one could write about subjects like that, and that the quality could remain that high, my fear went down. (This series) talks about the education of Max Bickford. This isn't going to be just about him teaching, but about him learning. The show is going to force him to bounce back and forth on the known and unknown feelings he has about children, wives, ex-wives, ex-girlfriends, etc. And, on the other level, it's going to be about a man who cherishes academia, and brings a passion to it. Those two elements together will be what this show is about."

Max Bickford and the women in his life

The women in Max's life, played by Marcia Gay Harden, Helen Shaver, Regina Taylor & Katee Sackhoff.

For the tricky role of Erica (formally Steve), the producers have enlisted the talents of actress Helen Shaver. "She's beautiful and a total professional," Dreyfuss comments. "She's someone who will be immensely creative in this strange role. She's a very strong-featured woman, and she's completely and utterly woman, and yet you can make that leap with her."

If he were not an actor, Dreyfuss concedes that he would be a teacher. "This is my fantasy," he says with genuine feeling. "If I was going to teach a class right now I would probably teach it about the American Civil War or the Revolution or the 20th Century, or modern European history and Roman history!"

Richard Dreyfuss as Max Bickford
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The Education of Max Bickford premieres this fall on Sundays (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Cliff Lipson/CBS ©2001 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. Text by Judy Sloane © Visual Imagination 2001. Not for reproduction.