A guide to notable programs by Bruce Fetts

By Bruce Fretts
Updated January 14, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

NEW SERIES Here’s a question for ABC: Why title the new medical drama Birdland (Jan. 12, 10-11 p.m.), starring Brian Dennehy as an Oakland psychiatrist, when you have a similarly named midseason drama, Steven Bochco’s The Byrds of Paradise, set to air soon? Viewers are bound to confuse the shows, especially when one considers that Birdland’s Jan. 5 pilot was directed by Peter Horton, while Byrds stars fellow thirtysomething alum Timothy Busfield. What’s next-Ken Olin in a remake of Birdman of Alcatraz? CBS is trying to pull off the difficult trick of bridging the TV generation gap with burke’s law (Jan. 14, 9-10 p.m.), a revival of the 1963-65 ABC series starring Gene Barry as a suave Beverly Hills cop. In an attempt to attract younger viewers who wouldn’t remember the old show, Law has added ex- Young and the Restless stud Peton (as Barry’s son) and a pop-music soundtrack (Tom Petty, Elton John). Plus, the guest suspects aren’t just the usual Murder, She Wrote types like George Segal and Dom DeLuise. The Jan. 7 premiere also featured Poison lead singer Brett Michaels and Melrose Place’s Grant Show (whose appearance might have something to do with the fact that Law is produced by Aaron Spelling).

Sci-Fi Give Fox credit for standing behind its low-rated series The X-Files (Jan. 14, 9-10 p.m.). In addition to running X-Files in its regular Friday slot, Fox is airing two reruns on Monday, Jan. 17, from 8 to 10 p.m., including the pilot, which introduces sarcastic FBI agent Fox ”Spooky” Mulder (David Duchovny) and his skeptical sidekick, Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). On the surface, the show, with its talk of UFOs and psychic powers, may seem aimed strictly at the lunatic fringe. But stick with it, and you’ll see that it’s an intoxicatingly paradoxical combination of Twin Peaks and Law & Order-simultaneously spaced- out and down-to-earth.

Movies Meanwhile on Fridays, NBC has been pulling a fast one with its Mystery Movies. Originally billed as a rotating series of whodunits featuring Perry Mason, Hart to Hart, and new sleuths played by Larry Hagman and Kenny Rogers, the franchise has devolved into a dumping ground for any remotely mysterious TV movie. This week brings Two Fathers: Justice for the Innocent (Jan. 14, 9-11 p.m.), with Robert Conrad and George Hamilton reprising their roles from an obscure 1985 TV movie as a blue-collar/blue-blood crime-solving team. Paul Sorvino has now taken over the late Raymond Burr’s Perry Mason enterprise, but NBC has so far delivered only one Hart to Hart and one Hagman movie, and none with Rogers.

Celeb Specials Sure, homelessness is a grim topic, but do the Comic Relief fundraisers always have to be so unfunny? They’re now up to Comic Relief VI (HBO, Jan. 15, 9 p.m.-1 a.m.) and still haven’t figured out a way to make these worthy events watchable. Some of the routines have been too politically correct to be funny, though 1992’s Comic Relief V also featured a supremely un-PC TV moment: a blackfaced Billy Crystal performing a maudlin monologue as a South Central L.A. shopkeeper burned out by rioters. The sketch drew no fire at the time, but Crystal’s Comic Relief cohost, Whoopi Goldberg, recently got into hot water for participating in an analogous incident at the Friars’ Club in New York City.