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"40th ANNUAL TONY AWARDS," 9 p.m. Sunday (2)(8) (Illustrated on cover)--Forty years already? It seems like only last year that it was 39.

This is also the 20th year that the annual Tony Awards have been televised nationally. This ceremony honoring the best of Broadway is perhaps TV's most unique awards show. Traditionally, it's one of the few major awards bashes that does not linger past its announced closing. Also, in contrast to the Emmys, Oscars and Grammys, for example, relatively few Americans are familiar with the nominees for the American Theater Wing's Antoinette Perry Awards.

In a way, that adds to the allure and mystery, although not always to the ratings. It also adds to the burden of writer/producer Hildy Parks and executive producer Alexander H. Cohen (who are husband and wife, shown on the cover) as they attempt to shape a program that appeals to the TV masses.

A centerpiece for this year's program will be a tribute to four decades of Tony Award-winning musicals and plays,with 40 stars taking part on stage at the Minskoff Theatre in New York City. Among those listed on the program are Lee Remick, Bernadette Peters, Chita Rivera, John Rubinstein, Ben Vereen, Debbie Allen, Beatrice Arthur, Helen Hayes, Sandy Duncan, Jose Ferrer, Tony Randall, Phyllis Frelich, Agnes De Mille, Lily Tomlin and Leslie Uggams.

And who are among the nominees?

Nominated for best musical are "Big Deal," "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," "Song & Dance" and "Tango Argentino," while the best play nominees are "Benefactors," "Blood Knot," "The House of Blue Leaves" and "I'm Not Rappaport."

Best actor nominees (in a play) are Hume Cronyn, Ed Harris, Judd Hirsch and Jack Lemmon; (in a musical) Don Correia, Cleavant Derricks, Maurice Hinesand George Rose. The best actress nominees (in a play) are Rosemary Harris, Mary Beth Hurt, Jessica Tandy, Lily Tomlin; (in a musical) Debbie Allen, Cleo Laine, Bernadette Peters, Chita Rivera.

Of course, there will be all those acceptance speeches. So, break a . . . lip.

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