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Roberto Deste, CBS
Michael Trevino, left, Lina Esco, Nestor Carbonell, Jimmy Smits, Paola Turbay, Eddie Matos, Rita Moreno and Hector Elizondo star in CBS drama "Cane." The show premieres tonight at 9 on Ch. 2.
It's been a long time since "Dallas" and "Dynasty" ruled the TV ratings. But there are a pair of new series that take us back to the days of prime-time soaps about the ultrarich — shows that just might make the Duques and the Darlings the Ewings and the Carringtons of the 21st century.

CANE (tonight at 9, CBS/Ch. 2) has definite echoes of "Dallas." There's a family-owned business that family members are fighting to control. And there's a feud with another powerful family that goes back decades.

This show isn't about oil, however. It's about sugar "Cane." And rum. And murder. And there's a bit of "The Godfather" thrown in for good measure.

"Cane" is about a Cuban-American family. Pancho Duque (Hector Elizondo) immigrated to Florida and built a sugar-cane empire — an empire that he expanded into an incredibly successful rum business.

As "Cane" opens, his longtime rivals offer to buy the Duques' land. The plan is supported by Pancho's biological son, Frank (Nestor Carbonell) — who has ulterior motives — and bitterly opposed by Pancho's adopted son/son-in-law, Alex Vega (Jimmy Smits). You get the feeling these two are never going to get along.

There's lots of other family drama going on in south Florida involving other family members. There's enough drama to keep this show going for years to come (if the ratings are good, of course).

It's a return to the "Dallas" and "Dynasty" days in that this is lifestyles of the very rich and somewhat famous.

Smits alone is enough to watch most series, and he's surrounded by a great cast that includes Rita Moreno, Polly Walker, Paola Turbay, Eddie Matos, Michael Trevino, Lina Esco, Samuel Carma and Alona Tal.

It's of no small significance that "Cane" brings more Hispanic actors to network TV than most networks have in total. But what's better yet is the fact that the characters being Hispanic quickly takes a back seat to the storytelling.

It remains to be seen exactly how that will play out, but the foundations for a long-running prime-time soap are laid in tonight's premiere.

DIRTY SEXY MONEY (Wednesday, 9 p.m., ABC/Ch. 4) is also a prime-time soap about an incredibly rich, powerful family and possible murder — but it's as different in tone from "Cane" as it can possibly be.

"DSM" is sort of "Dynasty" with a touch of "Soap" thrown in. It's as much comedy as it is drama.

The Darlings are loaded with old money — and they've got so many billions they can do pretty much whatever they want. And the children of Tripp (Donald Sutherland) and Letitia (Jill Clayburgh) have done just that, getting into trouble and into the headlines with alarming frequency.

Patrick (William Baldwin) is New York's attorney general, but he's hiding a transgendered girlfriend. Karen (Natalie Zea) is about to get married for the fourth time. Brian (Glenn Fitzgerald) is nasty, vindictive, he's got an illegitimate child — and he's an Episcopal priest. Juliet (Samaire Armstrong) is a talentless aspiring actress who's a bit Paris Hilton-esque. Her twin, Jeremy (Seth Gabel), seems completely lost.

The sole note of sanity in all of this is Nick George (Peter Krause). He has nothing but disdain for the Darlings — his father was the family's attorney for decades, until his recent death in a plane accident. (Or was it murder?)

Nick is a do-gooder lawyer who has no intention of following in his father's footsetps. But then Tripp offers him $10 million a year for his charity efforts — in addition to a substantial salary — and Nick signs on.

There are a lot of family secrets here involving both the Darlings and the Georges. We start getting a glimpse of those in Wednesday's premiere.

And there's some very, very funny stuff in "Dirty Sexy Money." Some of it bordering on slapstick; some of it sly (listen to the ring tones Nick's secretary programs into his cell phone); all of it hilarious.

This may well turn out to be one of the best new shows of the season.


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com