'Defense Rests' but violence continues


Here's a pair of ironies to savor. In the wake of the Senate Commerce Committee discussions about televised violence, tonight's TV programming offers two unapologetically violent pieces of entertainment. One is the season premiere of "Picket Fences," which opens with a cold-blooded murder; the other is an all-night marathon of Three Stooges shorts.

* "The Defense Rests: A Tribute to Raymond Burr" (8-9 p.m., WMAR, Channel 2) -- This one-hour tribute to Mr. Burr covers the actor's entire career, including "Ironside" and his cinematic turns as the good guy in "Godzilla" and the bad guy in "Rear Window." The stress, though, is on his triumphant portrayal of Perry Mason, one of TV's most durable cultural icons. NBC.

* "The Adventures of Brisco County Jr." (8-9 p.m., WBFF, Channel 45) -- Meanwhile, the competing "Brisco County" offers a visit to another courtroom as Brisco (William Campbell) represents a friend in court and becomes County for the defense. Fox.

* "Perry Mason: The Case of the Telltale Talk Show Host" (9-11 p.m., WMAR, Channel 2) -- Regis Philbin dies in prime time, but not the way you might expect, in this repeat "Perry Mason" television movie from last season. The final installment in the series to star Mr. Burr will air next month. NBC.

* "Good Advice" (9-9:30 p.m., WBAL, Channel 11) -- I'm uncertain how "Good" this new "Advice" is, because its reworked preview was unavailable at press time. What's interesting, though, is that Shelley Long has recruited an equally strong, sporadically successful female co-star: Teri Garr, whose last sitcom, "Good & Evil," in 1991 lasted one month. CBS.

* "Bob" (9:30-10 p.m., WBAL, Channel 11) -- Here, though, is a reworked show that works just fine. For this revamped Bob Newhart sitcom, Mr. Newhart has kept his nuclear TV family intact (Carlene Watkins as his wife and Cynthia Stevenson as his daughter), but jettisoned the comic-book workplace and returned to his former employer, a greeting-card manufacturer. The new co-stars at the company: Betty White and, from "Dear John," Jere Burns. This first show is delightful. Love that "Bob." CBS.

* "Picket Fences" (10-11 p.m., WBAL, Channel 11) -- VCR Alert: Not since "St. Elsewhere" turned some of its regular cast members into killers and rapists has a show pulled this sort of shocker with a regular character. Before the credits are over in this second-season opener, writer-producer David E. Kelley has the town mayor (played by Michael Keenan) shoot a would-be assailant right in the head. The rest of the hour explores the ramifications of his act, and the reactions of various locals to it -- and all those who argue violence has no place on television ought to watch this challenging, disturbing show before saying another word. Context is everything, and this particular "Picket Fences" is brilliant, disturbing and unforgettable. CBS.


* "Three Stooges Marathon" (8:05 p.m.-6:30 a.m., TBS) -- Yes, violence abounds in this all-night Stooges marathon, but to those accepting of these real-life cartoons, dat don't mean nuttin.

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