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Highlights | TURN ON, TUNE IN OR MISS OUT

All 'Rhodes' lead to Africa and diamonds; starting on the right 'Foot'; Bill Cosby doubles up with laughter.

January 04, 1998|STEVEN LINAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sunday

"Babylon 5: In the Beginning" / 5 and 9:30 p.m. TNT

The science-fiction series moves from syndication to cable with this two-hour prequel explaining how the futuristic space station came to be. Almost too ponderous for words, the inert tale is told from the perspective of Centauri Emperor Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik), who talks of such principals as Lt. Commander Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) and Ambassador Delenn (Mira Furlan). Only the biggest "Babylon" fans will be drawn to this underwhelming adventure, whose new season begins Jan. 21.

****

"Ask Harriet" / 8:30 p.m.

If you ask us, this new comedy is a drag. Following in the footsteps of "Bosom Buddies" and "Tootsie," it's about a smug New York sports columnist who masquerades as a woman to write an advice column. Anthony Tyler Quinn plays Jack Cody, an arrogant sexist abruptly fired by his boss and former lover (Lisa Waltz). Predictably, Jack learns something about the opposite sex while walking in their tight outfits and spiked heels. Ever the jerk, he gripes, "This is not what I mean when I say I want to get in a woman's pants." "Harriet" moves to its regular time slot Thursday at 8:30 p.m.

****

"Scattering Dad" / 9 p.m. CBS

You might say Olympia Dukakis is ghoststruck. In this new TV movie, the Oscar winner plays Dotty, an agorphobic whose fear of leaving home is tested by the specter of her late husband (Andy Griffith). At issue is a promise she once made to spread his ashes in the New Mexico desert. When Dotty's daughters realize she is gone, they embark on a search, which leads to interaction that brings the trio together after years of unspoken angst.

****

"Blackout Effect" / 9 p.m. NBC

An air-traffic controller (Charles Martin Smith) loses track of two planes, resulting in a disastrous midair collision that claims hundreds of lives. Enter National Transportation Safety Board investigator John Dantley (Eric Stoltz), whose efforts to determine the cause of the catastrophe are blocked by the FAA. The persecuted controller subsequently jeopardizes planes in the air and on the ground during the holidays.

****

"Masterpiece Theatre" / 9 p.m. KCET through Tuesday

Filmed on location, the six-hour series "Rhodes" chronicles the ambitions of the legendary diamond king and empire builder of colonial Africa. Cecil Rhodes (played at different ages by Martin Shaw and his son Joe) was a vicar's son from England who cornered the world's diamond market in the 1880s. His story is told in flashbacks by a Russian princess (Frances Barber) who dreamed of marriage in spite of his misogyny. Instead, she blackmailed him.

Monday

"Style & Substance" / 9:30 p.m. CBS

Unfortunately, you won't find either quality from the title in this new comedy. Jean Smart of "Designing Women" fame plays Chelsea Stevens, a domestic diva (yes, think Martha Stewart) who once went so far as to install plumbing in a gingerbread house. Haughty on the outside and wounded on the inside, the divorced Chelsea works with eager, single producer Jane (Nancy McKeon). In the premiere, Chelsea meddles in Jane's personal life.

Wednesday

"Foot Soldier" / 7 and 11 p.m. A&E

Behind every great man, there is a loyal supporter. He's the valiant, unsung hero in the trenches who turns the tide for legions of kings, generals and presidents. This cable series narrated by "Home Improvement" sidekick Richard Karn throws a spotlight on such hard workers of the ages. The first episode focuses on fierce Egyptians who conquered nations.

Friday

"Kids Say the Darndest Things" / 8 p.m. CBS

And CBS got the darndest ratings when it aired this precocious new series as a special back in May and November. The premise is simple, as host Bill Cosby engages in cute, supposedly unscripted conversations with fresh-faced youngsters, just as Art Linkletter did on his long-running "House Party" of old. No one knows what's coming out of the mouths of these babes, which sparks the spontaneity. The premiere of "Kids" yields new slots for "The Gregory Hines Show" (8:30 p.m.) and "Family Matters," which moves to 9 p.m.

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