I'VE THUS FAR AVOIDED COMMENTING on the flap over government funding for public broadcasting, because from the very start this argument has taken on overtones of politics and class—and no one has ever accused me of having either. But I would like to make one point: if all PBS did was provide imaginative, values-intensive children's programming, it would be well worth its annual stipend. It's just so typical of the lunacy in Washington that, surrounded on all sides by obscene overspending, our elected officials would unerringly fix on eliminating one program that provides value to taxpayers.

Family Chan. (Sun., Feb. 12. 7 p.m. ET)

B

son, 7-year-old Tad (Bug Hall).

The high jinks of this happy hellion make him a bull calf in the White House china shop. He races around disrupting the Cabinet meetings of Dad (Kris Kristofferson) as well as the tea parties of Mom Jane Curtin). Then affairs of state and personal tragedies intrude.

This is a purposefully puerile project, clumsy but sweet. Its best feature is Kristofferson's plangent portrait of melancholy Abe as a devoted, indulgent father.

ABC (Sun., Feb. 12, 9 p.m. ET)

B+

Yeeha! It's a big old gaudy Lone Star State true-crime miniseries. Break out the pork rinds!

Peter Strauss plays T. Cullen Davis, an oil-bidness baron from Fort Worth who, in 1976, finds himself wearying of his crass, sexy second wife (Heather Locklear). During their bitter separation, a gunman breaks into Locklear's mansion, wounding her while killing her daughter from a previous marriage as well as a male companion. Locklear and a second witness swear the intruder was Strauss, but he evades conviction with the help of colorful Texas attorney Richard "Racehorse" Haynes (Dennis Franz).

When the film concludes the following night, Strauss is back in court, this time for soliciting the murder of a nettlesome divorce-court judge. (According to the FBI, he had a whole wish list of people he wanted dead.) Once again, Racehorse gallops to the rescue.

It's a delicious, decadent whopper of a tale, though it could be told with greater economy. Chris Mulkey and Susan Walters costar.

ABC (Mondays, 8:30 p.m. ET)

C

Corbin Bernsen plays a slugger for the Milwaukee Brewers who takes a job as a sportscaster for a local station. Our hunky, conceited renegade doesn't get along with the station's prissy general manager (Julia Campbell). In fact during their first encounter she avers, "May I just say that you are truly one of the most disgusting creatures I have ever met." Got a little Sam-and-Diane thing going on here, right? Well, Bernsen holds up his end of the bargain. But Campbell, who was also on last fall's rapidly canceled sitcom Blue Skies, is rather shrill. Stephen Tobolowsky, Richard Kind and John O'Hurley costar.

Unfortunately the jokes hit about .213. That's a little light to stick around in the majors for long.

UPN (Tuesdays, 8 p.m. ET)

B-

No TV season is complete without one new series set in Hawaii Marker satisfies this year's aloha quota, and it also serves a more valuable purpose—returning Richard Grieco (21 Jump Street) and his ferocious sideburns to prime time. Grieco plays Richard DeMorra, a blue-collar New Jersey guy who travels to Hawaii to settle his father's estate. He inherits assets (including a surfside grotto) but also debts. His father, it seems, had issued markers to legions of Hawaiians that they could redeem down the road for help of any kind.

So Richie becomes a modern knight errant—you know, the kind who chases people in his four-wheel-drive vehicle. Everyone describes him as a man of principle. When one supplicant remarks on how rare that is nowadays, Grieco says, "Come to Jersey. The place is lousy with them." (I'm guessing he's from the Parsippany area.) The narrative keeps getting gummed up with flashback scenes of Grieco's childhood, shot in a grainy, Courtship of Eddie's Father style.

This is the kind of escapist adventure series whose quality will fluctuate from week to week depending on the sturdiness of the scripts. So far they've been softer than poi. But the show does have Grieco, the Steve McQueen of the small screen. And hey, that tropical splendor don't hurt either.

Gates McFadden (Star Trek: The Next Generation's Dr. Beverly Crusher) plays Grieco's testy stepmother. Andy Bumatai plays a Polynesian surfer bum known as Pipeline who becomes his comical sidekick.

CBS (Tues., Feb. 14, 9 p.m. ET)

B

Another Melrose Place star, another fact-based movie set in the '70s. Grant Show stars as Steve Collura, a neighborhood guy from Brooklyn who is recruited by the police to infiltrate the mob. Cloris Leachman (yikes!) plays Show's Italian mama. While undercover, Show falls for a young woman (Maria Pitillo) who turns out to be the cherished live-in god-daughter of New York City's capo-ditutti-capi-tutti-frutti, Carlo Gambino (Robert Loggia). The romance makes Show's job go like, well, gangbusters. But the subterfuge irritates his conscience.

It's a flavorful film (all right, that flavor is marinara). But it can't surmount Show's drab performance. He plays his role with a thick-tongued, slightly doltish air that recalls Sasha Mitchell's Cody character on the TGIF sitcom Step By Step (yikes again).

>TUBE: Heather Locklear and Peter Strauss form a deadly union in Texas Justice; Hawaii is the setting for Marker, Richard Grieco's return to series TV

SCREEN: As a road movie, Boys on the Side has too many bumps; Ladybird, Ladybird powerfully conveys the story of a complex woman; fans of dark comedy will dig Shallow Graves

SONG: Siouxsie and the Banshees haunt; The King still rules over love songs; Hank Williams Jr. goes Hog Wild

PAGES: Love is in the air—and on the shelves: From 50 Ways to Meet Your Lover to Marry Me!, here's our romance roundup; P.D. James tries to find the roots of evil in Original Sin

>Paula Zahn

FROM THE HALLS OF MONTEZUMA

IT'S A SWEEPS MONTH, WHEN TV personalities pull outlandish stunts to entice viewers. Paula Zahn, the congenial cohost of CBS This Morning, went above and beyond the call of duty, volunteering for a week of Marine boot camp at Parris Island in South Carolina.

Recruit Zahn, she insists, got no preferential treatment from the drill instructors. "You see me get ripped apart," she says. "When they start barking within 1/8 inch of your eardrum, it's really intimidating. You can see me cowering and my lip quivering.' Segments on the rigorous training air all week (Feb. 13-17).

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the time Paula spent among the few and the proud is that she enjoyed the cuisine. "It's the same stuff I eat at the CBS cafeteria every day," she maintains. (Wait until Letterman gets wind of this.) She even brought home some field rations to snack on. "I actually like them," she says. "Of course you're talking to someone who's not very talented in the kitchen."

That's not all she brought back from Parris Island. She has a whole new language. "I don't go to the bathroom anymore, I make a head call," she says. "I don't go to sleep anymore, I hit the rack. I answer everyone, 'Aye, Sir!' It's driving everyone around me crazy."