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January 25, 1987|KEVIN THOMAS

The Dead Zone (ABC Sunday at 9 p.m.) is one of the best Stephen King adaptations, an astonishingly persuasive tale of the supernatural that emerges as a Christ parable. Christopher Walken stars as a New Englander who awakens from a five-year coma following a car accident to discover that he's acquired second sight (or precognition), a gift that paradoxically renders him pathetically vulnerable. And what if he can predict and even alter the future in addition to being able to perceive events in the past and present? Skillfully adapted by Jeffrey Boam, The Dead Zone is cult director David Cronenberg's least grisly film--and one of his best.

Ruby and Oswald (Channel 2 Sunday at 9:30 p.m.) is a splendid 1978 TV movie that re-creates the tragic events of Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas and thereafter. It actually succeeds in illuminating the characters and personalities of Jack Ruby (Michael Lerner) and Lee Harvey Oswald (Frederic Forrest) in plausible fashion. As written by John and Michael McGreevey and directed by Mel Stuart, Ruby and Oswald suggests convincingly that the two men actually were very much alike in that both were crazies acting alone. Lerner and Forrest are outstanding.

Last spring's highly publicized Return to Mayberry, an ingratiating TV movie that brought "The Andy Griffith Show" up to date, is already back, airing on NBC Sunday at 9 p.m.

Robert Blake and Barbara Harris go way, way over the top in Second Hand Hearts (Channel 9 Sunday at 8 p.m.), an overly whimsical rattletrap odyssey that has Blake playing Loyal Muke (rhymes with puke), a middle-age drifter who awakens from a binge to discover he's married Harris' widow woman Dinette Dusty, whose children are named Humanity, Iota and Sandra Dee.

At 7 p.m. "The Disney Sunday Movie" is offering a repeat of The Undergrads, in which Art Carney (in good form) enrolls in college with his grandson (Chris Makepeace).

James Arness plays Col. Jim Bowie in the new TV movie The Alamo: 13 Days to Glory (NBC Monday at 8 p.m.), yet another retelling of the valiant band of Texans who defended the fort in 1836 from thousands of Mexican soldiers. Brian Keith (as Davy Crockett), Raul Julia and Alec Baldwin co-star.

The Sacketts (Channel 5 Monday and Tuesday at 8 p.m.), a four-hour TV movie adaptation of two Louis L'Amour novels, starts out as a big, brawny, robust, romantic, old-fashioned Western, leaving no cliche unturned, but moseys to its finish in the second half. Sam Elliott, Jeff Osterhage and Tom Selleck are the Sackett brothers, making their way across New Mexico in the late 1860s.

Airing Tuesday (on Channel 13 at 8 p.m.) is that solid standby, In the Heat of the Night, in which Sidney Poitier's urbane Philadelphia police officer and Rod Steiger's redneck sheriff reluctantly join forces in solving a bizarre murder.

Tommy Lee Jones stars in the new TV movie Broken Vows (CBS Wednesday at 9 p.m.) as a parish priest who becomes involved in a murder mystery when he administers last rites to a stabbing victim who dies with surprising calmness. Annette O'Toole is the victim's fiancee. M. Emmet Walsh and Milo O'Shea co-star. Jud Taylor directed.

A Death in Canaan, that fine and urgent 1978 TV movie about a teen-ager (Paul Clemens) accused of his mother's murder, returns Thursday at 8 p.m. on Channel 13. Adapted by Thomas Thompson and Spencer Eastman with consummate skill from Joan Barthel's book and directed by Tony Richardson with understated eloquence in his TV film debut, A Death in Canaan is so oppressive, it's almost unbearable to watch, yet so captivating it's hard to turn away from it. The movie is an example of the way in which absorption in the step-by-step development of a potential tragedy can make one forget that the outcome is already known.

Walter Hill's The Long Riders (Channel 5 Friday at 8 p.m.) is a striking Western but empty as it is elegant. It is yet another demythologizing of the frontier that treats the James boys, their cousins the Youngers and their cohort brothers as a bunch of naive post-Civil War Robin Hoods who never dreamed the townspeople, once their allies, would ever turn against them. Keith and Robert Carradine (the Youngers), Stacy and James Keach (the Jameses), and Dennis and Randy Quaid (the Millers) star, but what lingers in the memory is Pamela Reed's earthy, humorous Belle Starr.

The Room Upstairs (CBS Saturday at 9 p.m.) is a new "Hallmark Hall of Fame" production starring Stockard Channing as a lonely, isolated young woman whose life is transformed when she rents a room to cellist Sam Waterston. Linda Hunt co-stars.

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