Public television stations (Sat., Aug. 2; check local listings)

B

Wynton Marsalis's Blood on the Fields won a Pulitzer Prize this year, but even admiring reviewers have noted that the three-hour oratorio on slavery could stand trimming. So how about a two-thirds slash? Sessions at West 54th, a month-old performance series, drops its usual supplementary interviews to allow for nearly an hour of highlights from Jazz at Lincoln Center's production of the epic work for big band and three vocalists. The result leaves us ambivalent: A few selections drag on, yet we feel cheated of all the music that was left out. It's as though Blood on the Fields loses part of its identity if it loses any of its grandiosity. Still, there's much to savor here, including a long Marsalis trumpet solo that proves this oratorio isn't too heavy to swing.

Showtime (Sun., Aug. 3, 8 p.m. ET)

Grade:C

Larry Gelbart (M*A*S*H) has a fine track record but seems to have gone round the bend as executive producer and writer of this series set at a stock-car speedway. Keith Carradine stars as a doctor and former race driver who takes the job of track physician despite signs that the owner (Duncan Regehr), an old romantic rival, has a criminal disregard for safety. Carradine pushes Regehr to expand the track's medical center, making the show a 600-horsepower General Hospital.

In the two-hour premiere (regular episodes start Aug. 16 at 10 p.m.), two cars crack up, a third explodes, one driver is killed, another breaks his leg, Carradine tries to resist Regehr's sexy sister (Brandy Ledford), Carradine's collie is shot, Regehr has a mild heart attack and a woman complaining of a sore wrist bares her breasts just for a thrill. Carradine is one of the most likable actors on the circuit, but this vehicle is already overheating.

Fox (Tues.-Wed., Aug. 5-6, 8 p.m. ET)

D

This adaptation of Dean Koontz's novel is not four hours of violence and exploitation. It's almost four hours of violence and exploitation, with a happy ending. Molly Parker plays a young woman haunted by memories of her horrific childhood who spends Thanksgiving with a family that is slaughtered by a deranged serial killer (John C, McGinley). She winds up a prisoner at the madman's home, where he has vicious dogs on patrol and an angelic adolescent girl (Tori Paul) locked in the basement. Intensity positively wallows in the villain's sadism. But his captives bond, giving the miniseries the requisite ounce of redeeming value.

USA (Wed., Aug. 6, 9 p.m. ET)

C-

Here is the runner-up to Fast Track for Plot of the Week. A part-time charter pilot (James Marshall) in the Pacific Northwest discovers he has a lottery ticket worth $23 million. His wife (Shannen Doherty), who has written him off as a loser, grudgingly agrees to fly to Denver with him and their 13-year-old son (Phillip Van Dyke) to claim the big prize. But his bosses (Heidi Swedberg and John Tench) have sabotaged the small plane. It crashes in the snowy wilderness, where the greedy pair is poised to steal the ticket. This TV movie would be more suspenseful if the villains weren't so foolishly inept.

>Late Night's Latest Talkers

KEENEN VS. VIBE VS. MAGIC

ENJOY THE MOMENTARY CALM, DAVE AND Jay. With the debut on Aug. 4 of Vibe and The Keenen Ivory Wayans Show, a new round of talk show wars is about to begin. Some say it's long overdue. "The audience we want is not watching late-night TV," says music mogul Quincy Jones, executive producer of the syndicated Vibe (named after his monthly magazine), of the young, black, mostly female viewers who tuned out after The Arsenio Hall Show folded in 1994.

Even the same old guests, they vow, will be delivered with a difference. "If Tom Cruise comes on," says comic Chris Spencer, Vibe's 29-year-old host, "maybe we'll set up a hoop game. I want Baby Face on the same show as Colin Powell."

Comedy is central to Wayans (creator of In Living Color), who will mix celeb chat and an all-female band but forgo a sidekick. "If you look at Letterman and Leno, their demographics are getting older," says Mort Marcus, president of Buena Vista TV, the syndicated show's distributor. "There is room for an urban-based variety talk show."

But is there room for three? We'll see early next year, when Magic Johnson takes a shot at emceeing his own as-yet-untitled syndicated show. "Keenen and Vibe will have a hip-hop slant, Magic will appeal to a wider audience," predicts one industry insider. Wayans's Marcus downplays a rivalry. "We'll be up against newscasts, Vibe and sitcom reruns," he says. "Everything is our competition."

  • Contributors:
  • Lorenzo Beket.