There's always a danger in calling something unprecedented, especially when you're talking about something so esoteric (and, let's face it, unimportant) that no accurate records are kept by anyone. But if I'm correct, what's happening tonight marks the first time that edited and unedited versions of the same TV series have competed directly against one another in prime time.
The series in question is "Tales From the Crypt," and an unedited repeat episode on HBO is scheduled against one of two slightly tamer repeats on Fox. Is this what the 500-channel superhighway has in mind? Lots of networks showing the same show at the same time? The question is playful, but the answer is "Crypt"-ic.
* "The X-Files" (8-9 p.m., WBFF, Channel 45) -- Sabotage aboard the space-shuttle program is the plot of this "X-Files" repeat, which, like most other installments of this series, takes an incredible premise and pursues it quite credibly. David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson star. Fox.
* "Tales From the Crypt" (9-10 p.m., WBFF, Channel 45) -- I haven't seen the "softer" versions of these "Tales," so I don't know how, or how much, they've been altered. In the HBO version, though, part of the impact of the first story, about a gorgeous gold digger who follows a gypsy's advice and marries a repugnant fat man, came from the cartoonish excess of its violence and the revolting rawness of its sex scenes and language. At any rate, hindsight allows us to enjoy the leading performers, both of whom have attained a higher profile since this "Tales" was produced. Demi Moore, as the cold-hearted opportunist, is a major movie star now, and Jeffrey Tambor, who dives into his ugly makeup and padded suits with enthusiasm, has established himself in the more svelte role of Hank Kingsley on another HBO series, "The Larry Sanders Show." The second episode, starring William Hickey and Kelly Preston, is less effective, but is notable because it marks the directorial debut of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Fox.
* "20/20" (10-11 p.m., WJZ, Channel 13) -- Here's an odd bit of unintentional counter-programming. Hugh Downs does a story on heart transplants tonight on ABC's "20/20" . . .
* "Picket Fences" (10-11 p.m., Channel 11) -- . . . while tonight's "Picket Fences" does a story on the same thing. CBS.
* "Tales From the Crypt" (9:30-10 p.m., HBO) -- Here's a chance to see an unedited "Crypt," with a plot about a frat-house prank that ends bloodily. The language is rough, but there's no real gore in this episode -- and the Crypt-Keeper's closing remarks, about college costing "an arm and a leg," are ghoulishly witty. Kevin Dillon stars.