FINALLY, A November sweeps series that has a don't-miss-it tag.
Stephen King's best-selling 1986 novel "It" has been transformed into a terrific two-part ABC novel for television (9 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday, Channel 7).
This monster movie could be dubbed "Stand By Me" Meets "The Big Chill." The likeness to "Stand By Me" should be no surprise, because that Rob Reiner movie about childhood friends was based on a novella by King.
In "It," seven misfit children are being scared out of their wits by a deadly, amorphous creature that lives in a sewer and transforms itself into the kids' worst nightmare.
In the summer of 1960, "It" kills several children in the small town of Derry, Maine, until this band of misfits joins hands and apparently kills it. However, "It" hungers for more 30 years later and the now fortysomething band must play an encore.
Richard Thomas, John Ritter, Harry Anderson, Annette O'Toole, Dennis Christopher, Tim Reid and Richard Masur form an appealing adult cast, but the young actors who play them as children almost steal the show.
Part 1 introduces us to the seven adult members of the so-called Loser's Club and then uses flashbacks to recall their youth when they were harassed by some greasers and "It," which frequently appears as a clown carrying balloons.
As children, they all have problems and prejudices to overcome. Bill is a stutterer who feels partly responsible for his younger brother's death
n with limited gore
at the hands of "It." Ben is abused for being fat, Beverly is abused by her father, Stan and Mike take abuse for being members of minority groups. Eddie is the victim of an overly protective mother and Richie compensates for his insecurities by being a comedian.
We met them one by one as they meet "It," which appears to all as a clown named Pennywise (Tim Curry, whose face is never revealed).
The opening two hours does an excellent job of making us care for the Lucky Seven characters and has the "Stand By Me" quality.
Part 2 has more little chills and a "Big Chill" quality. They gather for a warm homecoming 30 years later because "It" is heating things up in Derry again.
Seemingly, they all have overcome their insecurities and childhoods and become successful. Bill has become a best-selling horror novelist. Thomas, with a very un-John Boyish ponytail, has been cast as this King-like character. Ritter, who first worked with Thomas on "The Waltons," plays
former Fat Boy Ben, who has become a successful architect. Anderson is Richie, who has become a successful comedian.
Dennis Christopher, whom you may remember from "Breaking Away," plays sickly Eddie, who runs a limousine service. Masur, who is a very busy TV actor, plays Stan, an Atlanta businessman. Reid, who shaved his mustache, plays Mike, who stayed in Derry as a librarian. O'Toole, who most recently played Rose Kennedy in "The Kennedys of Massachusetts," is Beverly, a successful designer whose choice of men follows an unfortunate pattern.
Perhaps because almost all of these actors have familiar names or faces, it is easy to identify and feel for them as their characters attempt to face their fears.
The character development also is key here, because television doesn't allow as much gore as the movies when it comes to transforming King's novels to the screen. Blood comes out of the sink, heads pop out of a refrigerator, and there are a couple of decent shower scenes. There also is a Chinese dinner that may keep you from opening your next fortune cookie. But remember: This is TV.
It is generally agreed that the movies haven't done justice to King's novels.
The ending is a big disappointment. But overall, TV has done a bloody good job with "It."
Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
"Against the Law," which has been dying on Sunday nights on Fox, has its first crack at a Friday case at 9 this evening on Channel 29.
Michael O'Keefe ("The Great Santini") stars as an unconventional, divorced Boston attorney named Simon MacHeath. In other words, this is "Shannon's Deal" without the Philadelphia backdrop and the strong scripts.
In tonight's timely episode, called "Contempt," MacHeath defends a Lenny Bruce-style comedian in an obscenity case that is before a difficult judge. Fox sent critics the episode with the comic's curse words intact, but promises to delete them. Even with the words intact, his routine is tame by modern comedy club standards.
The episode has a stylish, preachy and -- unfortunately -- extremely improbable ending.
It was written by producer Michael Butler, whose parents were both victims of blacklisting during the McCarthy era.
Rating: 2 1/2 stars.