The annual Academy Awards are still almost a week away (Monday on ABC), but the preludes have begun, as seen tonight on cable both seriously and with parody. Meanwhile, Fox is launching a sci-fi series with a movie-length premiere.
* "Sliders" (8 p.m.-10 p.m., WBFF, Channel 45) -- In a twist on the always engaging "what-if?" game, -- as most recently practiced on "Quantum Leap" -- a young Mr. Wizard (Jerry O'Connell) invents a gadget in his basement that transports him and companions into parallel universes in which familiar figures from history have taken different paths. (See David Zurawik's review on 5D.)
* "Edgar Allan Poe: Terror of the Soul" (9 p.m.-10 p.m., WMPT, Channels 22, 67) -- He lies moldering in his grave at Westminster Church in Baltimore and gets roses and a mysterious bottle of cognac delivered to his tomb every birthday. This "American Masters Special," with host Rene Auberjonois, portrays the brooding writer through readings and dramatizations. PBS.
* "PrimeTime Live" (10 p.m.-11 p.m., WMAR, Channel 2) -- Co-anchor Sam Donaldson reports the moral dilemmas of a family whose son lies in a vegetative state. When all involved decided to allow his life to end, an outside group took them to court. ABC.
* "Late Show With David Letterman" (11:35 p.m.-12:35 p.m., WJZ, Channel 13) -- Heeeere's Doc! Johnny Carson's longtime "Tonight Show" bandleader, trumpeter Doc Severinsen, is a scheduled guest, along with comedian Chris Farley and pop star Stevie Wonder. CBS.
* "Inside the Academy Awards" (8 p.m.-9 p.m., TNT) -- The network that is devoting its March lineup to Oscar films offers a retrospective, with host Robert Osborne. Included are interviews with several nominees.
* "MST3K Little Gold Statue Preview Special" (8 p.m.-8:30 p.m, Comedy Central) -- If you've ever laughed at "Mystery Science Theater 3000," you'll know this Oscar preview is not likely to be entirely respectful of the grandeur of Hollywood. Robot characters Crow and Tom Servo offer their predictions.
* "Cronkite Report: Headlines and Sound Bites: Is That the Way It Is?" (10 p.m.-11 p.m., The Discovery Channel) -- Television does not often critically study itself. But who could do it with more authority than former CBS anchor Walter Cronkite? ABC's Ted Koppel and historian Arthur Schlesinger are among the guests.