Athletes have been doing commercial endorsements since before the days of Burma Shave. But never has one class of jock so dominated the TV advertising landscape the way professional basketball players do today. Everywhere you look, another handsomely rewarded hoopster is hawking product. That situation will only intensify this week as NBC begins broadcasting the NBA finals. Some athletes fare better than others in the commercial climate. Charles Barkley of the Phoenix Suns, for instance, is an extremely effective spokesman for Nike whether the tone is humorous (going one-on-one with Godzilla) or serious ("I am not a role model. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn't mean I should raise your kids"). On the other hand, Orlando's Rookie of the Year, Shaquille O'Neal, has been a bust. He comes across as a menacing oaf in those Pepsi spots, and his Reebok campaign is a recurring nightmare. Other players who have been caught flat-footed in ads include Chicago's Scottie Pippen (Nike) and Detroit's Isiah Thomas (Minute Maid Orange Soda). Don't blame the ballplayers. It's up to the ad agencies to coax natural performances out of these fast-action heroes. Often they fail. Consider the up-and-down commercial career of Michael Jordan. Most of the Bulls star's innumerable ad campaigns have been uninspired. But Jordan has also appeared in the best spot yet devised for NBA stars: his long-range shootout with Larry Bird for McDonald's ("Off the expressway, over the river, off the billboard...nothing but net"). Conspicuously absent from this endorsement gold rush lately is Magic Johnson. The former Laker was once Madison Avenue's favorite son. But since his HIV announcement, admen won't touch him with Manute Bol, Shawn Bradley or any other nearly eight-foot pole.

Fox (Fri, June 11, 9 p.m. ET)


There are two types of people in the world: those who have had quite enough of hearing about the machinations of the British royal family, thank you very much, and those who find the topic endlessly fascinating. This special is designed for the latter. And this being Fox, the Animal House of networks, you can be pretty sure they're going to come down firmly on the Disaster side of the proposition.

The program is a breathless rehash of stale scandal. Lively editing makes it eye-catching, but the content is quite common. The nadir comes with murky re-enactments of Squidgygate and Camillagate (the intimate, taped telephone conversations of Diana and Charles). And talk about tawdry: The actor playing Charles is picking his nose as he talks dirty on the phone. (On Fox it's a thin line between Al Bundy and the Prince of Wales.)

In a fittingly trashy bit of irony, the special is hosted by Catherine Oxenberg, who has played Di twice in movies on CBS and ABC and whose biggest acting credit remains a soap opera entitled Dynasty.

TNT (Sun., June 13, 8 p.m. ET)


The monster in this remake of Mary Shelley's gothic fable looks like a veiny, mottled turnip having an exceedingly bad hair day. Thank God for special effects, because it's hard to credit him with superhuman physical powers. Instead of looking like the Shaquille O'Neal of the test-tube set. this anemic creature more resembles Handy Quaid (who in fact is the actor beneath all the heavy makeup).

The plot borrows heavily from the 1935 film sequel, Bride of Frankenstein. There's a kind, blind hermit (Sir John Mills) with whom the monster finds sanctuary. And frenzied Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Patrick Bergin) is forced to cook up a mate for his lonely, misunderstood creation.

Slow and stagy, the movie also suffers the fate that greets singers interpreting Beatles tunes: The original version with Boris Karloff is such an indelible archetype that any imitation is doomed.

PBS (Mondays, 10 p.m. ET)


This eight-week British travel series stays well off the trampled tourist trails. In Taiwan, for instance, it checks into a karaoke hotel where friends rent a room to sing along to music videos while munching on such delicacies as fried pig ears, chicken feet and duck tongues. In Indonesia there's a visit to a crowded transvestite nightclub.

The young hosts (Magenta DeVine, Sankha Guha and Rajan Datar) are impossibly smug. But the camera and soundtrack are jumping around like they're on loan from MTV. And the series' restless, inquisitive approach captures more local flavor than its conventional cousins.

Syndicated (Check local listings)


Watch out, David Frost. Slay on your toes, Leeza Gibbons. The newest twist in TV is celebrities interviewing celebrities. Burt Reynolds has done a series of small-talk specials for CBS. Today recently introduced its "Take Two" segment. The concept makes perfect sense. The famous just seem to feel more comfortable schmoozing with their own kind.

Now former tennis great Chris Evert enters the chat arena with the first in a quarterly series. Adopting the Barbara Walters format, she sits down with three stars: Gloria Estefan, Eddie Murphy and Jane Seymour. Well-coached on her subjects' lives, Evert keeps the dialogue moving smoothly if blandly. In her new career, Evert is still strong on serve and volley.