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TV'S BEST NIGHT...IDEAL LINEUPS OFFER MIX OF FUN, SMARTS.

Byline: David Kronke TV Critic

NBC touts Thursday nights as ``Must-See TV,'' but Thursday is actually one of the weaker evenings of television this fall when measured for consistency and competitiveness.

So what nights should you be glued to the tube, editors of the Daily News wanted to know?

There's no night for television quite like Tuesday for a mix of fun, intelligence and drama.

Tuesday night wins thanks to a particularly strong assist from the WB, which airs its biggest cult favorites, ``Buffy, the Vampire Slayer'' and ``Angel,'' a full evening's worth of sexy paranormal fun. Even without those shows to sink your teeth into, Tuesday still boasts the most variety of any evening.

Intelligent family drama comes courtesy of ``Once and Again,'' featuring Sela Ward and Billy Campbell as the couple with the best chemistry on TV, and ``Judging Amy,'' featuring Amy Brenneman and Dan Futterman as another couple with chemistry, except they play siblings. And, in January, ``NYPD Blue,'' the best cop show of the '90s, returns.

There's also action and courtroom drama in ``JAG,'' smart comedy in ``Will & Grace'' and ``Sports Night,'' more mainstream comedy in ``Spin City,'' and broader and odder comedy in ``3rd Rock From the Sun,'' ``That '70s Show'' and ``It's Like, You Know. . .''

With Tuesday No. 1, here's how we rank the rest of the week:

2. MONDAY: Thanks to TV's biggest quandary - what to watch or, more challengingly, what three shows not to watch, on Monday at 9 p.m. - this evening ranks second. Just look at your choices:

``Everybody Loves Raymond,'' a classic dysfunctional-family sitcom, competes with Emmy winner ``Ally McBeal,'' the comically bittersweet ode to twentysomething angst; ``Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,'' a grim but compelling police procedural; and ``Monday Night Football,'' which hasn't been the same since Howard Cosell and Don Meredith departed.

Monday will get better in January when ``Freaks and Geeks'' and ``Once and Again'' join the lineup, as will second-tier show ``Third Watch,'' though it will lose ``Special Victims Unit''.

Cable bonus: On the Food Network, ``Two Fat Ladies''.

3. SUNDAY: The night the Fox network shines, with its paranoid paranormal phenomenon, ``The X-Files,'' following ``King of the Hill,'' ``The Simpsons'' and ``Futurama.'' Rounding the evening off with David E. Kelley's Emmy-winning ``The Practice'' makes for a perfect night of TV.

``Touched by an Angel'' provides an earnest spiritual uplift, ``Third Watch'' is an undemanding redo of ``ER,'' and ``Felicity'' offers teens plenty of comic romantic travails.

Cable bonuses: The USA Network airs 2-week-old episodes of ``Law & Order: Special Victims Unit'' and ``G vs. E,'' kind of an supernatural version of ``Starsky and Hutch.'' HBO offers ``Sex and the City,'' which would be pretty annoying if it were guys.

4. WEDNESDAY: The week's other big logjam occurs at 9 p.m. when ``The West Wing,'' NBC's smart, brisk new drama set in the White House, competes with such disparate offerings as ``The Drew Carey Show,'' a blue-collar sitcom, and ``Roswell,'' the winsome teen incarnation of ``The X-Files.''

NBC nails the night, teaming ``West Wing'' with the original ``Law & Order,'' while ABC gets bonus points for putting the smartly dumb ``Norm'' next to ``Drew.''

Cable bonuses: Comedy Central offers ``South Park,'' which has some spin left, and ``The Man Show,'' which caters to the worst impulses of the prototypical alpha male.

5. THURSDAY: Were it not for NBC's Murderer's Row lineup of ``Frasier,'' ``ER'' and ``Friends,'' this night wouldn't even rank this high. ``Diagnosis Murder,'' ``Chicago Hope'' and ``Whose Line Is It Anyway?'' provide second-tier entertainment.

Cable bonus: MTV's ``The Tom Green Show'' is kind of reminiscent of Edward R. Murrow - if Murrow had dedicated his career to juvenile pranks.

6. FRIDAY: Stay-at-home types can find decent family entertainment in ``Sabrina, the Teenage Witch,'' ``The Hughleys'' and ``Providence.'' Quirky action comedy comes courtesy of ``Now and Again,'' network TV's oddest genre hybrid.

Cable bonuses: Cartoon Network's silly and surreal ``Space Ghost Coast to Coast'' and HBO's brash and brilliant ``The Chris Rock Show'' render the talk format in a far more interesting fashion than anywhere else.

7. SATURDAY: NBC's ``Freaks and Geeks,'' about the travails of attending high school in the 1980s, is the only consistently high-quality series this night - and it's moving to Mondays in January. ``Early Edition,'' ``Martial Law'' and ``The Pretender'' are OK if you're easily amused.

Cable bonuses: Lifetime offers ``Any Day Now,'' a thoughtful comedy-drama while Showtime offers ``Beggars and Choosers,'' a parody of Hollywood.

That's the week. Tuesday's the best.

CAPTION(S):

photo, box

Photo: no caption (TV show stars)

Bradford Mar/Daily News

Box: 1. Tuesday - WB's ``Angel''

2. Monday - Fox's ``Ally McBeal''

3. Sunday - Fox's ``The X-Files''

4. Wednesday - NBC's ``The West Wing''

5.Thursday - NBC's ``ER''

6. Friday - NBC's ``Providence''

7. Saturday - NBC's ``Freeks and Geeks''
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Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Television Program Review
Date:Dec 8, 1999
Words:799
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