Football fanatics hunker down on New Year's Day for a nonstop barrage of bowl games. College basketball buffs have their feast days this Thursday and Friday (March 18 and 19) as CBS begins its coverage of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Over those two days, CBS will devote 18 head-spinning, dribble-intensive hours to 32 first-round games (noon-5 p.m. and 8 p.m.-midnight, both days). Stockpile the snack foods and unplug the phone—it's marathon time!

HBO (Sat., March 20, 8 p.m. ET)

B-

In 1988, F. Ross Johnson, then CEO of RJR Nabisco, tendered a management-led buyout offer for his food and tobacco conglomerate. That setoff a fantastic, frenzied bidding war on Wall Street, the story of which was told in wonderful detail by Bryan Bur-rough and John Helyar in their best-selling book, Barbarians at the Gate. Eventually financial titan Henry Kravis walked away with the company for the staggering sum of $25 billion.

James Garner stars as Johnson in this drab dramatization of that high-stakes corporate shoot-out. Larry Gelbart's streamlined script settles for a toothless indictment of boardroom hubris in the go-go '80s. The centerpiece brings all the principals to do-si-do together in Western garb at a costume fund-raiser. Like all the film's stabs at farce, the scene is labored.

Garner is miscast as Johnson, underselling him as a foulmouthed, one-dimensional opportunist concerned only with holding on to the lavish perks of his office. (Physically and temperamentally, the role of Johnson would have been perfect for Walking Tail's Joe Don Baker.) Jonathan Pryce is excellent as the gimlet-eyed raptor Kravis. Fred Dalton Thompson, Peter Riegert, Joanna Cassidy and Matt Clark costar.

ABC (Sun., March 21, 9 p.m. ET)

B

If nothing else, this two-parter based on Sue Miller's novel provides Anjelica Huston with the meatiest role of the TV season. Her character, a passionate and volatile mother of six, ages 35 years while blazing through highly charged scenes that range from dancing a flamenco of seductive abandon before a party of intoxicated young suburbanites to sobbing out her despair to her sleeping, autistic son.

The network is billing this story of turbulent dynamics within a large Seattle family from 1948 to 1983 as "a novel for television." In fact, the narrative style is strikingly literary. By TV standards, that makes this movie, which concludes the following night, solemn, slow, talky and quite expansive.

Sam Neill plays Huston's ill-matched husband, an introspective psychiatrist. Kyra Sedgwick and Dermot Mulroney play two of their children making troubled passages into adulthood. Though Family Pictures is slow in developing, it does reward patience. The well-acted film provides a poignant, though maddeningly self-important portrait of the often painful ties that hind us to our families.

Fox (Tuesdays, 9 P.M. ET)

B-

This new anthology drama series concerns the people in an artsy downtown Manhattan neighborhood. The recurring characters are a restaurant owner (Philip Bosco) and a mounted policeman (Joe Morton), who dispense comfort and wisdom to the locals. This saintly and selfless duo is a little too good to be true. (That, by the way, is the motto David Letterman has suggested NBC News adopt: "Too good to be true.") But the guest stars, such actors as Melanie Mayron, Eli Wallach, Stephen Lang, Richard Lewis and Peter Boyle, drive the plots. In other words, this is a prestige version of Jacks Place. In the pilot Larry Fishburne plays a flighty man who must assume the responsibilities of his older brother (Carl Lumbly), a successful banker who is killed in a mugging.

The show is attracting impressive talent. The direction is stylish and the New York City flavor piquant. But so far the scripts have been of a lofty, ponderous nature.

>Jaws dropped at TV stations around the country earlier this month when the FCC announced it was holding up license renewals for seven stations found not to be in compliance with the Children's Television Act. That law, which requires all broadcasters to carry an unspecified amount of undefined "educational" programming for children, was passed in 1990, but the FCC has shown no inclination to enforce it. In fact, some stations were so cavalier about flouting the intent of the law that they listed such cartoons as The Jetsons, The Flintstones and G.I. Joe as fulfilling their educational quota. (Everything/ know about bad Transylvanian accents I learned from Scooby Doo, and what anthropologist doesn't consider The Flintstones to be a seminal text?) Once the FCC got serious about this issue, obviously, so did local programmers. Now all the government has to do is figure out how to get kids actually to watch those bona fide educational shows.