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This winter's TV movies

This winter’s TV movies — ”Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?,” ”Sometimes They Come Back,” and more become TV movies this season

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With their inexhaustible supply of big-name writers, major stars, and stranger-than-fiction true stories, TV movies and miniseries remain television’s most consistent pot of gold. This spring, ABC and CBS are scheduling extra movie nights, and Fox’s long-awaited Monday movie is finally staggering to life; in all, the second season will offer more than 40 new films, with the most eye-catching concentrated in the ”sweeps” months of February and May.

REMAKES, UPDATES, AND SEQUELS
ABC is reupholstering two celebrated suspense thrillers: The highly anticipated revision of the 1962 Bette Davis-Joan Crawford creep show, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Feb. 17), casts Vanessa Redgrave as paralyzed Blanche Hudson and Lynn Redgrave as her depraved sister; and the remake of the 1955 thriller Night of the Hunter (May) casts miniseries king Richard Chamberlain as a murderous traveling preacher. After a storied race with Tri-Star and Warner Bros. to retell Robin Hood, Fox will air its three-hour version, starring Patrick Bergin (Mountains of the Moon), in May, a month before Kevin Costner’s movie version arrives. Fox is also preparing Omen IV — The Awakening, the first addition to the saga in 10 years.

MURDER, THEY WROTE
Blood-soaked melodramas remain indefatigably popular, and spring has plenty. CBS’ And the Sea Will Tell (Feb. 24 and 26) sends Richard Crenna, Rachel Ward, and Hart Bochner to the South Pacific for a mystery about a couple’s disappearance. NBC’s generically labeled Love, Lies and Murder (Feb. 17-18) features Sheryl Lee, the twice-slain star of Twin Peaks, as a teenager coerced into committing murder; and Elizabeth Montgomery plays a rapist’s deranged mother in CBS’ Sins of the Mother (Feb. 12).

BIOGRAPHIES
Frances Fisher and Maurice Benard, cast after a talent search unearthed no satisfactory candidates, try to fill some very big shoes in CBS’ Lucy & Desi: Before the Laughter (Feb. 10). Ted Turner’s movie-heavy TNT hopes to boost its ratings with the miniseries Young Catherine (Feb. 17-18), a drama about the Empress of Russia that stars Vanessa Redgrave, Marthe Keller, and (as Catherine) Julia Ormond. HBO’s movies include The Josephine Baker Story, starring Lynn Whitfield as the American singer who became the sensation of Europe, and The James Brady Story, with Beau Bridges as the Reagan press secretary disabled by one of John Hinckley’s bullets. Sidney Poitier plays Thurgood Marshall in ABC’s Separate but Equal (April); and Jason Robards portrays a somber Abraham Lincoln in ABC’s The Perfect Tribute (April), about the writing of the Gettysburg Address.

BEST-SELLERS
Robards also turns up in ABC’s four-hour adaptation of Dominick Dunne’s novel An Inconvenient Woman (May), about a murder among California’s idle and idolized; Jill Eikenberry, Rebecca DeMornay, and Peter Gallagher also appear. NBC, which scored lofty ratings with a pair of Danielle Steel movies last fall, makes it three with Changes (April 1), in which Cheryl Ladd will try to draw the attention of anyone who isn’t watching the NCAA basketball championship. And CBS will trade on the lure of Stephen King, whose It was last fall’s most popular miniseries, with Sometimes They Come Back, which casts Tim Matheson and Brooke Adams in an expansion of a King short story.

FOR ENQUIRING MINDS
UFOs and space monsters prove no match for intrepid Lisa Hartman in CBS’ Not of this World (Feb. 19). ABC resuscitates the long-dormant disaster genre in the hyperventilatingly named Fire! Trapped on the 37th Floor (later this month). And NBC plans a four-hour docudrama with the year’s most surefire gawk appeal: Switched at Birth, with Bonnie Bedelia and Brian Kerwin (Murphy’s Romance) in the drama of a shocking hospital mix-up. As In Living Color‘s Blaine and Antoine might put it, the title alone gets two snaps up.