'Homicide' gets the nod over 'Fences'


A lot of programs are taking a breather tonight after straining to offer so many first-run episodes during the February sweeps. "Picket Fences"? A repeat. "The X-Files"? A repeat. "Homicide: Life on the Street"? An original -- which makes tonight's best bet an easy call.

* "M.A.N.T.I.S." (8-9 p.m., WBFF, Channel 45) -- Apparently, not even a praying "M.A.N.T.I.S." could save this series from hiatus, and probable cancellation. Beginning next week, its place will be taken by a new Fox series, "VR.5," that is a much more compatible fit with "The X-Files." Starting next week, plan to begin your Friday viewing an hour earlier, so that you can catch "VR.5." Fox.

* "On Our Own." (8:30-9 p.m., WMAR, Channel 2) -- It worked for "Party of Five" on Fox, so why not bring back this series with the same basic gimmick? So ABC does just that, and revives "On Our Own" by beginning with an episode in which the oldest brother, played here by Ralph Louis Harris, gains official custody of his younger siblings. ABC.

* "The X-Files." (9-10 p.m., WBFF, Channel 45) -- Even though this is a repeat, it's one of the "X-Files" episodes that can be seen at least twice. In fact, it's one of the show's very best first-season episodes: The one that takes place in the Arctic, with Scully and Mulder (Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny) encountering some very agitated scientists. And for good reason. Fox repeat.

* "Homicide: Life on the Street." (10-11 p.m., WBAL, Channel 11) -- Every time "Homicide" runs a first-run episode and "Picket Fences" doesn't, I root for this series to pick up a few more viewers. Last week, "Homicide" outrated "Picket Fences" for the first time in their Friday-night history. That's the good news. The bad news, I guess, is that now I have to start rooting just as heavily for "Picket Fences" to do as well when "Homicide" is in reruns, because TV would be a lot poorer if either of these shows bit the dust. NBC.

* "Picket Fences." (10-11 p.m., WJZ, channel 13) -- As with "The X-Files," this is an episode that easily can be enjoyed twice. Marlee Matlin guest stars as a charismatic Robin Hood type. CBS repeat.


* "9 1/2 Weeks." (1:30-3:45 a.m., TNT) -- The next time Ted Turner talks about how his networks show only wholesome family fare, remind him that on this date, even at this late hour, one of his networks presented THIS film.

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