Christmas Eve services and specials


It's Christmas Eve, and this year both CBS and ABC are offering televised religious services beginning at 11:35 p.m. Of the two, the NBC telecast has the biggest supporting cast and the best location: Its coverage of midnight Mass is live from St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, with Pope John Paul II. As for more secular offerings tonight, they include the following:

* "The Harry Connick Jr. Christmas Special" (9-10 p.m., WBAL, Channel 11) -- The title is refreshingly straightforward, and so,in a way, is this special. It's the kind of holiday show Bing Crosby and Andy Williams used to make -- and here, too, Mr. Connick slips into an established crooner tradition and makes it his own. There's a nice arrangement on "Sleigh Ride," and his diction provides an opportunity to finally learn all the words. Aaron Neville's "The Christmas Song" is a true highlight, which comes as no surprise. Carol Burnett also guest-stars. CBS.

* "Picket Fences" (10-11 p.m., WBAL, Channel 11) -- This repeat of last year's "Picket Fences" holiday episode has Brock (Tom Skerritt) "canceling" Christmas at home after finding his daughter Kimberly (Holly Marie Combs) in bed with her boyfriend. Kathy Baker co-stars. CBS.


* " 'Tis the Season to be Smurfy" (7:30-8 p.m., TNT) -- Do I really have to say anything?

* "Mystery Science Theater 3000 marathon" (8 p.m.-2 a.m., COM) -- VCR Alert: Think of this as one of those psychology test questions. Which of the following movies, lampooned by the wisecracking stars of "MST3K," does NOT belong with the others? The first

feature is "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians," the second is "Santa Claus," and the third is "Hell Cats."

* "The Little Troll Prince" (8-9 p.m., TNT) -- This is an unusual animated Christmas special, the message of which can be condensed as follows: "Ask not for whom the bell trolls; it trolls for thee." Thee end.

* "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" (12:30-2:15 a.m., TNT) -- This is a first. On the same night that "MST3K" makes fun of a movie, that same movie is broadcast -- WITHOUT the endless stream of heckling -- as a "real" offering on another network. As most people know by now, this movie features, as one of the children, Pia Zadora.

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