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TELEVISION\Sleaze never stops during sweeps.

Byline: Ray Richmond

So now we know how CBS is going to win back its prime-time audience. Sleaze it into submission.

It wasn't all that long ago that CBS was known as the Tiffany Network. It was a classy cut above the competition. A dignified alternative. The anti-Fox.

But you know how it is when you're in trouble. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and no one this side of the WB is more desperate than CBS.

So this is what it has come to during the current February sweeps ratings period for CBS:

"The Good Doctor: The Paul Fleiss Story," the inside tale of Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss' pediatrician father (Michael Gross) and how his unctuous daughter roped him into her money-laundering and tax-evasion scheme. I'd much rather see "The Good Customer: The Charlie Sheen Story." (Feb. 21 on CBS.)

"Co-Ed Call Girl," a Tuesday movie on CBS that stars the inexplicably popular Tori Spelling as a college student who gets roped into being a high-class hooker because, let's face it, it pays more than reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic. As if!

"The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years," which tells us more than we probably ever wanted to know about the passionate and oh-so-naughty affair between a priest (Richard Chamberlain) and his lady love (Amanda Donohoe) after their original tryst in 1983 on ABC. I think I speak for much of America when I refer to this as "The Thorn Birds: Please, No!" (Feb. 11 and 13 on CBS.)

"Gone in the Night," a CBS miniseries (running Feb. 25 and 27) that stars (gasp) Shannen Doherty and Kevin Dillon in a fact-based story about a couple who are accused of murdering their 7-year-old daughter. Yes, let us now exploit a child-killing scenario in the name of ratings.

CBS isn't exactly committed to taking the respectable path back to the Promised Land. Its road to nirvana is paved with sex, violence and emotional upheaval.

Of course, CBS - the call letters stand for Can't Be Serious - is hardly alone in this.

In fact, NBC, front-runner that it is, has taken some proper flak for the way it has taken the family out of the once-sacred family viewing hour of 8 p.m. with shows such as "Friends," "Mad About You" and "3rd Rock From the Sun," all of which incorporate adult sophistication.

A lot of folks have griped that the hourlong "Friends" episode that followed the Super Bowl was far too racy for the 7 o'clock hour, discussing, among other topics, masturbation, prostitution and cross-dressing in a highly visible post-Super Bowl time slot.

So what does NBC give us in sweeps? Here is a little sampling:

"Seduced by Madness: The Diane Borchardt Story," a two-parter in which Ann-Margret spends four hours tormenting and finally plotting the murder of her husband (Peter Coyote) with the help of three students at the high school where she teaches in Wisconsin. Call it "Bye Bye Hubby." (Feb. 25 and 26 on NBC.)

"A Secret Between Friends," in which Lynda Carter plays a mother trying to save her anorexic daughter. Yeah, like we've never seen that plot on TV before. Why don't mothers ever try to save overweight daughters? (Feb. 19 on NBC.)

And from ABC:

"A Kidnapping in the Family," airing Feb. 26, which finds a mother (Kate Jackson) accusing her daughter (Tracey Gold) of being abusive and involving herself in a destructive cult.

"No One Could Protect Her," in which Joanna Kerns (the reigning queen of the woman-in-distress telefilm) plays a rape victim who is being stalked by her attacker but finally decides to take action. You know you're in for trouble when the title needs to spell out the entire premise for fear that some people won't get it.

"Hijacked: Flight 285," which looks and sounds like a "Saturday Night Live" parody of in-flight movies that stars an entire cast of has-beens, including Anthony Michael Hall, James Brolin, Ally Sheedy and Perry King. Hall is the hijacking madman. Yeah, right. (9 tonight on ABC.)

There are some legitimate thrilling events and stunts during sweeps month, including NBC's exquisite four-hour adaptation of the Jonathan Swift literary classic "Gulliver's Travels" Sunday and Monday.

It's difficult to get more family-friendly than CBS' "A Brother's Promise: The Dan Jansen Story," about the Olympic speed skater who overcame tragedy to emerge triumphant.

There are also some fun-sounding events and premieres during sweeps, headed by NBC's much-hyped, two-part series crossover in which next Wednesday's "Law & Order" leads into next Friday's "Homicide: Life on the Street." This is what you might call a stylish and gimmicky way to confuse people.

Sweeps also brings us an "ALF" movie - starring Martin Sheen (it's a long way from "Apocalypse Now") - Feb. 17 on ABC. Just what we all needed: an ALF resurrection.

And of course, since it's mandated in the Constitution that every sweeps period have a "Rockford Files" movie, CBS trots one out on Feb. 18 - with grizzled James Garner still loping around as everyone's favorite sad sack.

My personal favorite sweeps genre is the contrived special, such as ABC's "Wow! The Most Awesome Acts on Earth," airing Monday, on which we get sword swallowers and jugglers and a contortionist placing himself into a glass box approximately 14 inches by 18 inches.

See if you can do that, ALF!



Photo (1) Michael Gross is Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss' pediatrician father in "The Good Doctor The Paul Fleiss Story," Feb. 21 on CBS. (2) "Beverly Hills, 90210" star Tori Spelling portrays a college student-turned-hooker in "Co-Ed Call Girl," 9 p.m. Tuesday on CBS. (3) Former "90210" regular Shannen Doherty teams with Kevin Dillon in "Gone in the Night" a miniseries about a couple unjustly accused of murdering their 7-year-old daughter, Feb. 25 and 27 on CBS.
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 3, 1996
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