NBC (Sun., Feb. 20,9 p.m. ET)
DOCUMENTARY

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Almost from the moment Saturday Night Live was born, some people have said it ain't what it used to be. The complaint comes with the territory when you're doing a 90-minute weekly broadcast that's supposed to be filled with fresh, Grade A comedy.

Ah, but the first five years—those nights when Not Ready for Prime Time Players Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, Garrett Morris and, belatedly, Bill Murray strutted upon the stage. Everyone agrees that 1975-80 was the show's golden age, and this special documents that fertile period in two entertaining, fast-paced hours.

Sadly, the gang's not all here. Belushi and Radner died in the '80s. Murray and Curtin aren't interviewed in this film, and their absence hurts. When colleagues recall that Murray was an angry young man or that Curtin was disgusted by the wild behavior in SNL's New York offices, we wish the two would speak for themselves. Chase offers a few comments, but there's not enough here on his early exit for Hollywood, which opened a spot for Murray. Still, Aykroyd, Newman and Morris look back with fairly clear eyes, as do executive producer Lorne Michaels, writer-performer Al Franken and a bunch of behind-the-scenes talents who kept the enterprise going in an atmosphere of deadline pressure, intense intramural competition and creative insanity. "It was about trying to get away with things," says writer Neil Levy. How much of that rebellious spirit has survived? Let the argument begin.

Showtime (Sundays, 10 p.m. ET)
DRAMA

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It's slick, stylish and oh-so-sexy, but plausibility is a comparatively low priority for this second-year series about a circle of L.A. lesbians.

In the season opener Feb. 20, aspiring writer Jenny (Mia Kirshner) appears to be clinging to her provocative sexual ambivalence, while tirelessly promiscuous hairdresser Shane (Katherine Moennig) still inspires mad lust all over town. Where to take these characters? By the fourth episode Jenny and Shane are sharing a house with a creep (Eric Lively) who makes sex videos for a living—gee, think he'll respect their privacy?—and a stereotypically despotic movie producer (Camryn Manheim) impulsively hires Shane as her personal assistant.

Not all the multiple story lines are so hard to buy. Formerly self-assured museum director Bette (Jennifer Beals) comes convincingly unglued after her breakup with pregnant Tina (Laurel Holloman). The ill-timed surges of passion between marriage-bound tennis star Dana (Erin Daniels) and her friend Alice (Leisha Hailey) generate laughs and occasional heat. But often The L Word seems to arrange the characters in emotional and erotic poses rather than just let them breathe.

Discovery Channel (Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET)
REALITY

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Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman have extensive experience in special effects and prop work for films and commercials. But forget the tech background; the cohosts are a natural comedy team. That's why this show is a hoot, even if it's a little like grown-ups playing in a sandbox.

Adam and Jamie and their crew put myths, legends and Hollywood hokum to the test. How hard is it to find a needle in a haystack? (It takes all day.) Can a gunshot "blow away" the victim? (No, despite what you see in the movies.) As science geeks and merry pranksters, Adam and Jamie stop at nothing to get answers. Any project that entails blowing things up or torturing Buster, their crash-test dummy, is especially worthwhile.

A classic example of the pair's comic chemistry—Adam's mischievous enthusiasm interacting with Jamie's deadpan calm—comes in the Feb. 23 episode when they attempt to determine if a prisoner actually could have escaped from a Mexican jail cell by melting the bars with salsa.

CBS (Sun., Feb. 20, 9 p.m. ET)
DRAMA

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Virile, laconic Jesse Stone, the small-town police chief at the center of a series of Robert B. Parker mystery novels, seems like a character made to order for Tom Selleck. But Stone Cold is disappointingly tepid stuff.

Jesse's back story—former L.A. homicide detective with a drinking problem and a lingering thing for his ex-wife—is conveyed in perfunctory fashion. We know early on that a couple of idle richies (Reg Rogers and Jane Adams) are behind the serial murders in normally sleepy Paradise, Mass., so the main plot line is just a matter of Jesse outwitting the arrogant perps. The subplot, involving a high-school gang rape, would be more credible if the principal suspect's lawyer (Mimi Rogers) weren't so intent on seducing the police chief that she barely considers the interests of her client.

Days of Our Lives (NBC, Feb. 21, check local listings) Like sands through the hourglass...The time-tested soap opera marks its 10,000th episode.

Still Standing (CBS, Feb. 21, 8 p.m. ET) Bill and son Brian are only too happy to help a widow in need when the poor lady (guest star Bo Derek) turns out to be hot.

Project Runway (Bravo, Feb. 23, 9 p.m. ET) In the two-hour season finale, the three surviving designers present their lines during New York City's Fashion Week.

Joey (NBC, Feb. 24, 8 p.m. ET) The comedy's all in the family as Christina Ricci (Cursed) guest stars in the role of Joey and Gina's sister Mary Teresa.

What I Like About You (WB, Feb. 25, 8 p.m. ET) It's a Beverly Hills, 90210, mini-reunion. Luke Perry guest stars as a handsome plumber who got lucky with Val (Jennie Garth) back in high school.

The new cast of Survivor: Palau (on the right-hand side) bears a striking resemblance to another group of castaways we've come to love. See for yourself: BY CYNTHIA WANG

THE CHARISMATIC LEADER Like Matthew Fox's Jack, New York City fire-fighter Tom Westman, 41, earns respect from his fellow castaways with smarts and hard work. He's a bit older than his teammates, "but hopefully it won't work against me to look more like a chaperone."

THE MYSTERIOUS BEAUTY She's no bank robber, a la Evangeline Lilly's Kate, but Janu Tornell, 39, does have a secret of her own: She's a Vegas showgirl. While teaching some of the ladies to do kick lines in the sand, Janu is also pulling guys aside to scheme quietly under the palm trees.

THE GOOD BUDDY Every show needs an all-around mensch. Lost has Jorge Garcia's Hurley; Survivor has dolphin trainer Ian Rosenberger, 23. Need proof? Rosenberger was once voted homecoming king and student government president at Pennsylvania State University.

THE MISFIT Hello, trouble. Though not as shady as Josh Holloway's Sawyer, multipierced and tattooed bartender Angie Jakusz, 24, shakes up the island with attitude. "I'm a different kind of girl," says Jakusz. "I believe you've only got one life and you've got to make the most of it."

THE SHIFTY BALD GUY Terry O'Quinn's survivalist Locke is keeping his pre-island life a secret from the other characters. Willard Smith, 57, an attorney now posing as a postman, is hiding his life too. "I'm going back to one of my previous jobs." he says. "I can be nonthreatening that way."

  • Contributors:
  • Terry Kelleher.