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Saturday, April 7, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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John Voorhees

O'toole, CBS' `Crossing To Freedom' Are Just Respectable

Peter O'Toole makes one of his rare TV appearances as the star of ``Crossing to Freedom,'' a new TV movie CBS will air at 9 p.m. tomorrow on KIRO-TV.

Mare Winningham co-stars and although a capable actress, she's a little tough to believe as a young French woman who becomes involved with O'Toole and a passel of widely divergent youngsters they're trying to spirit out of France in the summer of 1940, just after the Nazis have marched into Paris.

This film is actually a remake of a 1942 movie, ``The Pied Piper.'' Both are based on a novel by Neville Shute. The first movie was a lot more powerful in 1942, shortly after America joined World War II, and the first movie was a lot more fun because the Englishman who gets stuck playing tour guide to these young refugees was played by the acerbic Monty Woolley. He gave the character as much fondness for children as W.C. Fields, which meant a great deal of the fun came in watching this old curmudgeon crumble under the onslaught of the children's problems, need to be loved - and their charm.

O'Toole plays it more matter-of-factly and turns it into a standard adventure yarn. ``Crossing to Freedom'' is a respectable effort - but will have tough competition from ABC's incessantly hyped ``Twin Peaks'' (at 9 on KOMO-TV) and NBC's repeat of the first three hours of Zeffirelli's ``Jesus of Nazareth,'' which begins at 8 p.m. tomorrow on KING-TV.

High rollers: Fox's ``Cops'' continues to be the best TV show about policework, in which truth is nearly always more frightening and often more entertaining than fiction. It's also the show that makes you most aware of what police work is truly like.

Fox has another notable hour-long ``Cops'' special at 8 tonight on KCPQ-TV, this one shot in Las Vegas. Some of the segments reflect that locale; others are the same kind of dismal and dangerous situations that exist in all cities - an abusive husband, an attempted rape, a street robbery, a drunk and disorderly charge. The highlight is a prostitution sting operation that you wouldn't believe if you saw it on ``America's Funniest Home Videos,'' where it would be right at home, as would another segment about a driverless car going in circles.

Competing comedians: With Fox moving ``The Tracey Ullman Show'' to 9:30 p.m. Saturdays, starting tonight on KCPQ-TV, the same time NBC airs its new ``Carol & Company'' show on KING-TV, the only answer, since both shows are similar in format, is to combine them - Ullman and Burnett would make a wonderful pair together.

In fact, both shows tonight have sketches about high school sweethearts reuniting! Stockard Channing is the guest on Ullman's show; Swoosie Kurtz the guest on Burnett's show.

Video notes: Thomas Hoving, editor of Connoisseur magazine and former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is the guest on ``Upon Reflection'' at 12:30 a.m. tomorrow on KCTS-TV. . . . This week's excellent ``National Geographic'' special, ``Voices of Leningrad,'' is repeated on KCTS-TV at 8 tonight and 3 a.m. Monday and on KTPS-TV at 8 p.m. tomorrow. . . . ``Witness to Survival,'' a new syndicated half-hour series ``depicting ordinary people overcoming extraordinary circumstances,'' focuses on the triumph of former press secretary Jim Brady in the premiere episode, airing at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow on KTZZ-TV. . . . KCTS-TV begins a new ``Spotlight Series'' of mini-performances at 7:50 tonight, leading off with the lively cowgirl quartet, Ranch Romance. . . . Cable's Nashville Network channel airs live the 12-hour ``Farm Aid IV'' concert, hosted by Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young, starting at 9 a.m. today. . . . At 10 a.m. today KSTW-TV airs live the Daffodil Festival Parade. ``The Second Annual Aspen Comedy Fest,'' in which host Jerry Seinfeld provides the funniest moments; Bobby Slayton is the guest this week on HBO's ``One Night Stand'' - and proves a truly tasteless and aggressive boor. . . . Cable's Arts & Entertainment channel repeats the new BBC production of Ibsen's ``The Master Builder'' at noon tomorrow. . . . South African archbishop Desmond Tutu is the guest on Bill Moyers' ``World of Ideas'' at 5 p.m. tomorrow on KTPS-TV. . . . PBS' ``Nature'' offers a new film by Wolfgang Bayer, ``Yellowstone on Fire,'' at 8 p.m. tomorrow on KCTS-TV. . . . Cable's Learning Channel, seen on Channel 27 on weekends, contines with its ``Techniques of the Masters'' professional photography series at 6 p.m. tomorrow with an appearance by photographer Duane Michals.

John Voorhees' column appears daily in The Times.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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