'L.A. Law' is a victim of 'Homicide'


So sue them. Just when "L.A. Law" appeared to be winning on appeal, NBC programmers are putting the rejuvenated series on the back docket until February.

The principal beneficiary is "Homicide: Life on the Street," a critically acclaimed police series that had a fling last spring. Four new episodes of "Homicide," the first one guest-starring Robin Williams on Jan. 6, will pre-empt "L.A. Law" throughout the month.

Mr. Williams plays a straight dramatic role as a tourist whose family is "tragically victimized" while vacationing in Baltimore. "Homicide's" executive producer, "Homicide's" returning regulars include Ned Beatty, Daniel Baldwin, Richard Belzer and Yaphet Kotto.

By the time "L.A. Law" returns, on Feb. 3, it will be pitted against potent Winter Olympics coverage on CBS. It also will have been pre-empted for eight of the previous 10 weeks. NBC showed a Mariah Carey special in place of "L.A. Law" on Thanksgiving night and had a "Laugh-In" Christmas special this week. "L.A. Law" is scheduled to air Dec. 9 and 16 before giving way to two more holiday season pre-emptions and the four "Homicide" episodes.

The layoff comes in otherwise prosperous times for "L.A. Law." Fueled by a major NBC promotional push -- "It's good again" -- the series has restored its standing among critics and improved its ratings from last season's. So why stop it in its tracks at the same time CBS is launching a new soap, "Second Chances," on Thursdays at 10 p.m.?

Brian Robinette, NBC's publicist for "L.A. Law," says the layoff will give the series a chance to air a string of new episodes from February "all the way through May."

"L.A. Law," in its eighth season, is still a strong candidate for next fall's schedule, he said.

Whatever "L.A. Law's" fate, "Homicide" at best will be hit and run. NBC has ordered only the four January episodes.

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