CBS (Sun., Dec. 4, 9 p.m. ET)
Using an all-British cast, Hallmark sedulously adapts one of Victorian novelist Thomas Hardy's best-known books.
Beautiful but bored Eustacia Vye (Catherine Zeta-Jones
) feels trapped living with her grandfather on an unforgiving heath in southern England in 1842. This enchantress can emotionally poleax any man she chooses, a power that alarms the superstitious, benighted local folk.
Eustacia sets her grappling hooks into idealistic Clym Yeobright (Ray Stevenson), whom she deludes herself into seeing as a ticket to a more glamorous life. Their rash union leads to one of Hardy's characteristic dark twists, following a path strewn with missed opportunities, misunderstandings and mistakes.
The film is on the ponderous side even though the authentic, rustic setting and Zeta Jones's cruel allure are at times bewitching. Clive Owen, Joan Plowright and Steven MacKintosh costar.
ABC (Sun., Dec. 4, 9 p.m. ET)
You want suffering? You got suffering. Lisa Hartman Black plays a saintly South Carolina woman who loses her rapscallion husband (Lorenzo Lamas wannabe Scott McNeil) to a wanton hussy.
As a result of the divorce proceedings, Black discovers that the boy she has raised devotedly for seven years is not really her own. Just when she's getting accustomed to the fact that the hospital's maternity ward has made a little mistake, she finds out that the child has a black father.
Suddenly she's surrounded by a swirl of ambulance chasers, insensitive reporters and censorious neighbors. The whole mess finally has her so frazzled that she even keeps forgetting to take her blood-pressure medicine.
That's the setup. Now here's the twist: Black is determined not only to get back her natural son (who has been adopted), she also wants to keep the boy she's got. Her ordeal makes for maudlin melodrama. Adequate acting by Black, Bruce Davison, Whip Hubley, Ken Pogue and Louise Fletcher improve the vacuous tone, but not enough.
TNT (Mon., Dec. 5, 8 p.m. ET)
We travel now to the blasted moors of the north country to revisit Heathcliff (Ralph Fiennes) and his soulmate Cathy (Juliette Binoche). Sharp-eyed viewers will spot the bewigged Sinéad O'Connor making her acting debut as author Brontë in a brief prologue. The singer also serves as a narrator in this exquisite adaptation of the 1847 masterpiece that explores tragic romance and bitter retribution.
This remake was released theatrically in England in 1992. (The most famous film version of the novel was the 1939 production starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon.) It was Fiennes's indelible performance as the haughty, haunted Heathcliff that earned him the attention and admiration of director Steven Spielberg and resulted in the actor's being cast as Kommandant Goeth in Spielberg's Schindler's List.
The film also features Sophie Ward, Jeremy Northam, Jason Riddington and a moving score by Ryuichi Sakamoto.
CBS (Tues., Dec. 6, 9 p.m. ET)
Boy, that title is a mouthful. In fact it contains more fiber than the movie it represents. Rob Estes (Silk Stalkings) plays the fictional private eye, transplanted from New York City to Miami, with a silly, jocular edge. His Hammer is more wise guy than hard guy. This time he falls for a client (Randi Ingerman), who's looking for a deadbeat dad who disappeared 14 years before.
Other than taking Spillane's storied sleuth to a more salacious and slapsticky extreme, this is basically a middling kind of film.
It does have cameo appearances from Chuck McCann and Dr. Joyce Brothers. Mostly what it has, though, is Baywatch's voluptuous Pamela Anderson
as Hammer's secretary Velda. Hey! Come to think of it, I have a suggestion that will certainly shorten that impossibly cumbersome title and might also improve the movie's ratings. Try: Pamela Anderson
on Film. 'Nuf said.
>TUBE: It's British classics week, with new productions of Wuthering Heights and The Return of the Native; Lisa Hartman Black is a trouble-plagued mother in Someone Else's Child
SCREEN: The Pagemaster promotes reading, but in an unwitty way; Star Trek Generations doesn't really deliver two live crews
SONG: Even without their Day-Glo, TLC shine; Mary J. Blige's Life is a happy one; Aaron Tippin can't quite fill Garth's or Clint's boots
PAGES: Neal Gabler gives Walter Winchell a juicy bio; British reporter Caroline Graham exposes Camilla: The King's Mistress; John Denver delivers a once-over-lightly memoir
>HAVE GUMSHOE, WILL TRAVEL THREE TV DETECTIVES FIND OUT-OF-town adventure this week. In Spenser: The Judas Goat (Lifetime, Thurs., Dec. 1, 9 p.m. ET), Robert Urich, as the Boston P.I., ventures to Ottawa to foil an assassin, getting help from Hawk (Avery Brooks). At the same time, PBS's Mystery! launches four new Hercule Poirot puzzles beginning with "The Chocolate Box." David Suchet again stars as the dapper deducer who returns to Belgium to resolve a 20-year-old case. On A&E, Imogen Stubbs is back in Anna Lee: Stalker (Tues., Dec. 6, 9 p.m. ET). A missing person leads Anna away from London into trouble in the woods of Somerset.
>AARON, WILLIE AND BILLY CABLE HAS SOME MUSIC OF NOTE this week. On Wednesday (Nov. 30, 8 p.m. ET), the Family Channel presents Aaron Neville's Christmas in New Orleans. The singer with the body of a sandhog and the voice of an angel carols the Crescent City with help from Linda Ronstadt, Irma Thomas and others. For more relaxed music, tune into TNN the following night (Thurs., Dec. 1, 8 p.m. ET) for The Legends of Country Music. Host Willie Nelson has a hoedown on the show's intimate soundstage in Austin, Texas. Highlights include Willie's duet with Emmylou Harris on the Nanci Griffith favorite "Gulf Coast Highway" and the singing of Rodney Crowell's country standard " 'Til I Gain Control Again" by a chorus of Willie, Emmylou, Rodney and Kimmie Rhodes. Then there's Billy Joel from the River of Dreams on the Disney Channel (Sun., Dec. 4, 9 p.m. ET), with the Piano Man rocking the haus in Frankfurt. Billy looks somewhat bored, but the music is charged up, especially "Pressure" and "I Go to Extremes."
OUR DEPORTMENT THIS WEEK WILL BE decorous, refined even, as we delve into the classics: Wuthering Heights and The Return of the Native. Finally, after all these months of sleaze, sensationalism and superfluous sequels, comes some programming suitable to my exalted training and sensibilities. Now just where the hell did I put those Cliffs Notes?