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Thursday, December 15, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Beyond The Networks -- Here's A Look At 20 Syndicated Shows, Some Good, Some Forgettable

Syndicated shows are the little guys of TV. They don't have the publicity mills of ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox behind them. And let's face it. Nobody stands around the water cooler talking about what's happening on "Robin's Hoods" or quoting jokes from "Thunder in Paradise."

Yet there are nearly as many entertainment series produced for syndication as for the networks - and some of them are likely to become a great deal more familiar come spring, when high-profile KIRO-TV loses its affiliation with the CBS network and becomes an independent station.

In order to fill up its prime-time hours, Channel 7's programmers might try to buy some of the syndicated programs now on KSTW-TV, which will become a CBS affiliate, or other syndicated shows now seen on KCPQ-TV or KTZZ-TV. Or other shows not seen in this market, or still in development.

A look at some 20 syndicated hour-long dramas shows that some are thoroughly enjoyable while others are . . . well, a struggle to sit through.

The world of syndication has enormous appeal to program producers. If you sell your program to individual stations, you needn't share profits with a network. There are no network censors telling you what you can and can't do. Your program belongs to you, not a network - you can keep rerunning it as long as you can keep selling it. And legislators and watchdog groups concerned about programming are much more interested in what the networks are showing than in any individual producer.

The lure of the foreign market is also a key factor in syndication. That's why you'll find a lot more action shows in syndication than anything else: They travel well. What is "Baywatch," after all, but lots of bodacious babes, hunky guys and beach scenes? No translation needed.

Seven new series premiered in syndication this fall. While none is challenging "Star Trek" or "Baywatch" in the ratings, some are well done and reasonably entertaining. "Hawkeye" and "Lonesome Dove" are two of the better ones.

"Hawkeye," at 7 p.m. Saturdays on KTZZ-TV, is produced by Stephen J. Cannell, whose throwing-paper-in-the-air logo is familiar to all TV viewers. "Hawkeye" was loosely inspired by James Fenimore Cooper's "Last of the Mohicans" (and the success of the recent movie). The series, set in New England during the French and Indian Wars, stars Lynda Carter as a frontier woman whose husband was captured by the French. Helping her try to get him back is Hawkeye, the quintessential frontiersman, played by Lee Horsley. Not exactly the greatest star power here, but "Hawkeye" is at least something different from dramas built around cops and drug busts. The anachronisms that creep into the dialogue from time to time are kept to a reasonable minimum. Filmed in Canada.

"Lonesome Dove: The Series" (10 p.m. Sundays on KCPQ-TV) claims to be "partly inspired by Larry McMurtry's characters he created for `Lonesome Dove.' " But outside of Scott Bairstow as Newt, who keeps reminding us he's Capt. Woodrow Call's son, this series has only the most tenuous connection with the original "Lonesome Dove" miniseries. What it does have is a likable cast, including Paul LeMat and Diahann Carroll, guest stars like Robert Culp and Dennis Weaver and handsome production values. It, too, is filmed in Canada.

"Sirens," at 1:35 a.m. Mondays on KSTW-TV, a lively series about three policewomen (Liza Snyder, Jayne Heitmeyer and Adrienne-Joi Johnson), was created by Ann Lewis Hamilton, who worked for several seasons on "thirtysomething." In fact, "Sirens," set in Pittsburgh but filmed in Canada, began as an ABC series in March 1993, but never got picked up. It's a respectable effort; its only problem is that viewers already have "Homicide," "Law & Order" and "NYPD Blue." The market is overcrowded.

"Heaven Help Us" and "Robin's Hoods," at 8 and 9 p.m. Fridays on KSTW-TV, are from Aaron Spelling. Neither is a strong contender. "Heaven Help Us" stars John Schneider and Melinda Clarke in the old "Topper" concept: They're dead but can't get into heaven until they've earned their wings by doing good. Ricardo Montalban plays their "Super Angel" boss. Schneider and Clarke are surprisingly good together. The show doesn't have much pizzazz - though it's more fun than CBS' "Touched by an Angel" - and is scheduled to be replaced in January.

"Robin's Hoods" wastes Linda Purl, playing a former assistant D.A. who inherits a nightclub where all the employees are first-time offenders on parole. All the young people are cool and attractive in a California way and they run around solving crimes using the skills that got them in trouble in the first place. A filler show.

"High Tide," 11:35 p.m. Sundays on KSTW-TV, features former rock singer/soap star Rick Springfield with Canadian actor Yannick Bisson as two cool brothers who work for George Segal, who has an international detective business. The duo solve crimes, although their real goal is to surf, hang out at the beach and ogle babes. It's so lightweight it threatens to fly away.

"Space Precinct," at 6 p.m. Sundays and midnight Saturdays on KTZZ-TV, rates nothing but boos from Trekkers and snores from everyone else. It's sad to see Ted Shackelford ("Knots Landing") wasting his time on junk like this.

Two syndicated series that appeared last season as part of "Action Pack," a series of two-hour movies, are due to become weekly series in January - and they're both promising enough that KIRO-TV should consider latching onto them immediately if they're available.

"Vanishing Son" stars Russell Wong as a refugee from China who fled here with his brother. Wong plays a good guy - he's a violinist who hopes for a career in music; his brother wanted to get rich immediately and fell in with scoundrels. Eventually he was killed but now appears as a kind of ghost to counsel his brother. Wong has real star quality and there's a welcome freshness about a Chinese hero.

"Hercules" is thoroughly entertaining, partly because Kevin Sorbo, who plays Hercules, has a sense of comedy and the scripts play that up. While there's plenty of action, no one takes it too seriously and there's just enough contemporary humor to give the show an edge.

The hero devoted to combatting evil is a staple of syndicated dramas. "Highlander," at 9 p.m. Sundays on KSTW-TV, has a hero, played by Adrian Paul, who is immortal (as are many of his enemies), and there's a lot of swordwork. It's silly but smoothly done.

"Forever Knight," at 1:30 a.m. Sundays on KSTW-TV, is all about a vampire, played rather glumly by Geraint Wyn Davies. Given the vampire trend in entertainment, it may find viewers - but I won't be one of them.

"Renegade," 5 p.m. Sundays on KSTW-TV, is filled with action, most of it instigated by Lorenzo Lamas, late of "Falcon Crest." He rides around on a motorcycle, has a great deal of hair and always seems to be having a bad hair day. Nubile young maidens are forever swooning over him - but the Renegade must move on.

More action in "Thunder in Paradise," 8 p.m. Thursdays on KSTW-TV, which is mindless fun centering on a high-powered superboat manned by Chris Lemmon and Hulk Hogan, who make an odd but compatible couple. When they're not rescuing people, Lemmon has fun cracking jokes in the style of his father Jack, while Hogan has fun portraying the gentle, muscle-bound giant. It's another of those shows with a babes-and-beach-scene setting.

"Silk Stalkings," 10 p.m. Mondays (with repeats at 10 and 11 p.m. Sundays) on USA cable channel, also emphasizes its Palm Beach setting. Rob Estes and Mitzi Kapture play a team of detectives solving crimes among the rich and famous. It's fun to time the show to see how long it takes each week before somebody's clothes come off.

Many of the syndicated shows ask for a huge suspension of disbelief, including "Time Trax," at 4 p.m. Sundays on KSTW-TV. Filmed in Australia, it stars Dale Midkiff as someone living both now and in the future. He's always going back and forth between the centuries, with the help of a computer played by a woman - she's a kind of computerized Miss Moneypenny, James Bond's assistant.

"Time Trax" can have its entertaining moments but, as with "Babylon 5," at 8 p.m. Wednesdays on KSTW-TV, they are too little, too late. To me, "Babylon 5" looks every bit as good as the "Star Trek" episodes, but true Trekkers inform me otherwise. It isn't that they dislike "Babylon 5," they just feel it's extraneous. Bruce Boxleitner has been added to give the show some star quality, but I'm not sure it will help.

"Robocop" and "Kung Fu" (9 p.m. Thursdays and 9 p.m. Wednesdays, respectively, on KSTW-TV) are beyond help. The former is based on the hit movie of the same name but has none of its humor or class. "Kung Fu" still stars David Carrdine (who always seems to be having a really bad hair day), who now has a son who's a policeman. It's all too predictable. If the bad guys aren't being blown up, they're being devastated by karate.

"Kung Fu" and "Robocop" share a trait all too prevalent in the bulk of the syndicated action shows: Their heroes are always proclaiming how peaceful they are - but spend most of their time involved in violence. Thus syndicated or network, TV's fight against crime continues. What would TV do if the world ever went wholly peaceful?

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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