ABC (Wednesdays, 10 p.m. ET)
HORROR

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As someone who still hasn't recovered from Rose Red, Stephen King's monumentally tedious 2002 miniseries about a haunted Seattle mansion, I wasn't eager to plunge into this new King thing about a ghost-ridden hospital in Maine. But there are enough positive signs in the two-hour premiere (March 3 at 9 p.m.) that I'll probably take a look March 10 when the series moves to its regular time period.

King adapted Kingdom Hospital from a Danish miniseries by Lars von Trier (Breaking the Waves), adding a powerfully personal touch: In the premiere, famous artist Peter Rickman (Jack Coleman) goes out for a run and is hit by a van, just as King was in 1999. The critically injured Rickman is unable to move or speak, but we hear his black-humorous thoughts in voice-over. His mental awareness makes his physical helplessness even more frightening.

But this is a Stephen King tale, so it gets much weirder. A talking, anteater-like animal appears to Rickman, along with a silent, spectral girl who may have died in a fire on the hospital site in 1869. The artist's neurosurgeon is the brazenly unconventional Dr. Hook (Andrew McCarthy), who appears to have watched too many M*A*S*H reruns, and the patient list includes a psychic (Diane Ladd) who quickly diagnoses the hospital as haunted—in case we haven't guessed by the way it shakes. If King piles on the horrors, at least we can enjoy Ed Begley Jr. as the hospital's fatuous administrator.

ABC (Mon., March 1, 8 p.m. ET)
DRAMA

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This Hollywood biopic may answer some questions about how Natalie Wood drowned in 1981, but at least one mystery remains: Why does the film have to run three hours?

Though the story is told mostly through dramatization, with Justine Waddell (Dracula 2000) adequate but unmemorable in the title role, director Peter Bogdanovich includes numerous snippets of interviews with people who knew Wood. Except for her sister Lana, none of them says anything interesting. The witness parade only pads the film; archival photos and newspaper headlines are enough to give it a faux-documentary feeling.

The villain of the teleplay is Wood's relentless Russian mother (Alice Krige), who pushes her into child stardom and keeps filling her head with fears. Every time you think Wood has freed herself from Mama's clutches, the nag is back and the battle resumes. As for Wood's two marriages to Robert Wagner (Michael Weatherly of Navy NCIS; see page 99), we see too much of his jealousy and not enough of whatever drew them together.

The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin
DOCUMENTARY
TCM (Wed., March 3, 8 p.m. ET)

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When directing a film, Charlie Chaplin liked to show his fellow actors what he had in mind rather than merely tell them. Writer-producer-director Richard Schickel takes a similar approach in this well-crafted documentary.

There are plenty of experts on hand to discuss Chaplin's career—Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Milos Forman—but the talking points assume human shape in expertly edited clips from the subject's work. We hear that Chaplin was under enormous pressure during the making of The Circus, then we see him in that 1928 film trying to walk a tightrope while harassed by monkeys. Ah, that's how he felt.

Charlie can be frustrating. Why include Robert Downey Jr. if he doesn't talk about playing the great man in 1992's Chaplin? Still, this is a worthy study of a film giant.

Comedy Central (Mondays through March 8, 10 p.m. ET)
COMEDY

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In this enjoyable takeoff on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, four proudly unrefined comedians—Billy Merritt, Rob Riggle, Curtis Gwinn and Kyle Grooms—teach gay men how to "play it straight" by being sloppier, cruder and less sensitive. The stereo type-based humor gradually wears thin, but in view of the show's short run (Feb. 23-March 8) it can't be accused of overstaying its welcome. Though I'm not excusing Straight Plan's over worked double entendres, I'm still chuckling at the way Merritt—the funniest and flabbiest of the make over crew—recommends the pajama-like comfort of sweatpants for all-day, all-night wear.

HOLLYWOOD GOLD RUSH

Academy Awards (ABC, Feb. 29, 8:30 p.m. ET) In Oscar's 76th annual outing, Billy Crystal hosts for the eighth time, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King leads the chase with 11 nods.

LADY'S CHOICE

Average Joe: Hawaii (NBC, March 1, 10 p.m. ET) Larissa has the field down to two suitors in the big finale, and we certainly hope she bears in mind that handsomeness fades but homeliness is forever.

UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS

The Help (WB, March 5, 9:30 p.m. ET) Class warfare rages between the servants (including The Facts of Life's Mindy Cohn) and the wealthy family they work for in this sitcom's premiere.

TOPS IN TWANG

Nashville Star (USA, March 6, 10 p.m. ET) Last year's winner, Buddy Jewell, receives a gold record for his debut single as the country talent search starts its second season.

  • Contributors:
  • Terry Kelleher.