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Hepburn: That says it all

The unexpected highlight tonight is an old-fashioned Christmas drama in every sense of the word: It's set in the past, it goes for honest emotion, and, in the end, it manages to be sentimentally effective. Plus, it has Katharine Hepburn.

* "Melrose Place" (8 p.m.-9 p.m., Channel 45) -- Perhaps it's too much of a stretch to call any "Melrose Place" plot line "inspired," but it certainly is a good idea to have Bruce (Stanley Kamel), the executive who just killed himself because of Amanda's corporate gamesmanship, be her ethereal guide on Amanda's flu-induced "Christmas Carol"-type adventure. Fox.

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* "One Christmas" (9 p.m.-11 p.m., Channel 2) -- Katharine Hepburn plays the crusty aunt of a socialite (Swoosie Kurtz) who's prey to the charms of a New Orleans con man (Henry Winkler). The man's visiting young son, played by T. J. Lowther, is named Buddy -- the same Buddy who figured in "A Christmas Memory" and "Thanksgiving Visitor," two other holiday stories that, like this one, were based on semi-autobiographical tales by Truman Capote. Ms. Hepburn isn't on screen that much, but when Buddy asks her, "Are you really as mean as you sound?" few actresses but Ms. Hepburn could put as much true grit into her reply line: "Absolutely. I'm worse." And Mr. Winkler, in the show's finale, more than carries the drama's trickiest scene. NBC.

* "American Masters: Tennessee Williams" (10 p.m.-11:30 p.m., channels 22, 67) -- Like the recent "American Masters" profile of Will Rogers, this study is a wonderful introduction, but a frustrating intermediate course. It's impossible, for example, to laud a study of this playwright that never bothers to compare his work with that of, say, Eugene O'Neill. PBS.

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* "90210 Christmas" (9 p.m.-10 p.m., Channel 45) -- Bah, humbug. Fox.

* "The Best of Taxi" (9:30 p.m.-11 p.m., Channel 11) -- I'd be very excited about this special, if only Nick at Nite hadn't stolen CBS' thunder by pulling a terrific "Taxi" marathon recently. And the host this time is Marilu Henner, whose chores as host on her own show have been less than delightful. A lot less. CBS.

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* "Lilies of the Field" (8 p.m.-10 p.m., TNT) -- Sidney Poitier won an Oscar for his dignified role in this 1963 drama, which holds up beautifully.


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