The William Kennedy Smith rape trial has revealed just how much our perceptions of courtroom procedures have been distorted by decades of TV lawyer shows. There were no Perry Masonic surprise witnesses, no blurted confessions. Instead one very limited camera observed prosecutor Moira Lasch, defense attorney Roy Black and their teams waging trench warfare, digging away for minute inconsistencies and impugning the credentials of each other's expert witnesses. Reality again proved to be more tedious—and far more explicit and time-consuming—than TV could easily bear.

The long delays, conferences and minutiae about varieties of grass and meteorological conditions made for laborious viewing. CNN's daytime viewership peaked at more than 3 million during the plaintiffs testimony, though it was enough just to watch the channel's nightly recap with Bernard Shaw. Even CNN seemed to lose interest in all but the star witnesses. As a botanist droned away on the stand, trial anchor Charles Jaco quipped, "Testimony like this is why they have more than one attorney at each table: so they can keep each other awake."

CNN made a disconcerting habit of breaking away for commercials without regard to what was happening in the court—often in the middle of a line of questioning. And Jaco kept prodding the channel's two capable legal analysts, Abbe Lowell and Greta Van Susteren, to declare which side had won each encounter.

With the line between news and entertainment on TV growing increasingly nebulous, it was almost inevitable that the events in the courtroom would be judged on their theatrical value.

USA (Wed., Dec. 18, 9 P.M. ET)


Timothy (thirtysomething) Busfield and Kathleen (I Never Promised You a Rose Garden) Quinlan move to a house in the country with their baby for some peace and quiet. But the house has rats, big rats, and those are followed by cats—packs of vicious, territorial felines who want the house to themselves. The cats are lead by Monty, a gray British shorthair whose film pedigree includes Pet Sematary and Beaches. This movie, unfortunately, turns out to be a dog, a mangy horror flick utterly lacking in suspense.

Director John McPherson's idea of spooky is a lot of low-angle tracking shots to show us the cat's-eye view. The attack scenes are an absolute joke. Every time these felines "leap" onto someone's neck, you can see that the actors aren't wrestling them away—they're hugging them tightly to keep them in the shot. (Those temperamental stunt cats simply won't take direction.) The only really interesting aspect of this paw-paw patch is that the script was written by former Hardy Boy Shaun Cassidy.

MTV (Fri., Dec. 20, 8 P.M. ET)


What kind of year has it been for rock music? Don't ask. According to the video channel's authoritative annual wrap-up, concert attendance was down 25 percent and record sales were off sharply.

But MTV anchor Kurt Loder finds reason for cheer in the surging popularity of R.E.M. and in the genre-blending of acts like C&C Music Factory, Gerardo, Fishbone, Dream Warrior, EMF and London Beat.

The program is great when it sticks to music but ranges rather far a field for extraneous segments on the Gulf War and black filmmakers. Hey, you don't see CNN doing specials on the new wave of acid house music coming out of Manchester, England. Maybe MTV just ran out of Madonna footage.

HBO (Sat., Dec. 21, 10:15 P.M. ET)


Actor Kevin (Avalon) Pollak is a pretty funny guy. Much funnier than his material in this comedy special.

His gags don't have much snap, but he delivers them with irresistible energy, jumping in and out of characters like an animated cartoon on fast forward'. His masterstroke, one he makes ample use of, is a devastating imitation of Columbo.

Director David Steinberg intersperses Pollak's stand-up shtick with snippets of a backstage documentary spoof that takes off on Truth or Dare and Martin Scorsese's King of Comedy to paint Pollak as a performer with an ego run amok.

CBS (Sun., Dec. 22, 9 P.M. ET)


It boggles the mind that last season's Children of the Bride, a formulaic and forgettable movie with Golden Girl Rue McClanahan, should earn a sequel. But here it is.

In the original, McClanahan played a woman who faced the hostility of her four adult children when she decided to marry a younger man. Now she returns from her honeymoon and discovers she's pregnant, a development that is met with nothing but disbelief and disapproval from her husband (Ted Shackelford), who goes AWOL because he doesn't want to raise a family, and her four kids (Kristy McNichol, John Wesley Shipp, Anne Marie Bobby and Conor O'Farrell), all of whom have big problems of their own. (All are returnees except Shackelford and Shipp, who replace, respectively, Patrick Duffy and Jack Coleman.)

The sequel manages to be more contrived than its predecessor, no mean feat. As soon as McClanahan attends Lamaze class with pregnant daughter McNichol—gee, last time we looked, the unwed McNichol character had just come out of a convent—it's pretty obvious that the family's many conflicts will get resolved in one very crowded maternity ward. Pray the new year doesn't bring Diaper Service of the Bride.

CBS (Tuesdays, 11:30 P.M. ET)


Justin Louis plays an ex-con, now a crusading reporter for the Montreal Tribune. Let's hope CBS didn't pay a lot for this implausible, terribly acted Canadian sleeping potion.


AMID THE USUAL SPATE OF PARADES AND BOWL games accompanying the calendar rollover are a couple of worthwhile programs. In CBS's Face of a Stranger (Sun., Dec. 29, 9 P.M. ET), Gena Rowlands plays a society matron who befriends an addled homeless woman (Tyne Daly). Both actresses are good, but Rowlands's poignant performance truly deserves Emmy consideration. In This'll Take About an Hour on HBO (Sat., Jan. 4, 10 P.M. ET), comic Jake Johannsen trains his inventive and amusing paranoia on subjects such as air travel and telephone repairmen ("If you go out for five minutes, the guy will be there. I don't know how they do that. I think as soon as you call, they put your house under surveillance").