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NEW 'OUTER LIMITS' IS CHILLING; 'X FILES,' 'MELROSE' SCORE HERE

Airwaves: If you're a Showtime pay-cable subscriber, get prepared for a big chill Sunday (8 p.m.) in the 90-minute premiere of the revival of the 1960s anthology, science fiction series, "The Outer Limits."

If nothing else, you may remember the opening of the series, which ran on ABC for two seasons when "The Twilight Zone" was on CBS.

"There is nothing wrong with your TV set. We are controlling transmission . . . You are watching from the inner mind to . . . The Outer Limits."

Beau Bridges; his son, Dylan; his father, Lloyd, and Helen Shaver star in this chilling, thrilling and fulfilling opener, "Sandkings." Beau gets the obsessive mad scientist act down to perfection. He plays Dr. Simon Kress, a top-level research scientist working on a project involving alien life forms from Mars that the government wants to shut down.

Simon says no, steals some sand and restarts the project in the family barn. He is hoping to get his father's respect -- and a Nobel Prize. He gets more than he bargained for from the smart, hungry little devils -- who look like miniature lobsters -- he created.

"Sandkings" is not only frightening, it is funny. Dr. Kress enjoys playing god, especially when the creatures he created separate in two directions when he enters their sandy home. Dr. Simon then tells a very famous actor to eat his heart out. Revealing the actor might spoil the fun.

If the rest of the 43 weekly episodes commissioned by Showtime are as involving and creepy as this one, HBO will be eating its heart out. Next week's episode in the series' regular 10 p.m. Friday time slot co-stars Western New York's Bill Sadler. Rating: 4 1/2 stars out of 5. . . .

Channel 29, the local Fox affiliate, didn't have one show in the Top 20 in household audience during the February sweeps. But the local ratings should come with an asterisk when it comes to Fox. Network researchers concede that Fox affiliates in non-metered markets such as Buffalo are typically under reported by Nielsen by 10 percent or more because meters are better at recording younger viewership.

Only two Fox shows earned double-digit household ratings on Channel 29. "The X Files" on Friday had a 10 rating and 16 share and "Melrose Place" on Monday had a 10 rating and 14 share. "The Simpsons" and "Beverly Hills, 90210" had 8 ratings. Many of Fox's shows had anemic 2 and 3 ratings, including the Tuesday movie.

Of course, stations sell demographics and not household ratings so don't cry for Channel 29. "Melrose" is No. 1 in its time period among male viewers age 18-34 and age 18-49, suggesting that Heather Locklear, Daphne Zuniga, Josie Bisset and Courtney Thorne-Smith are big draws. The struggling "Party of Five" only draws a 3 household rating. It appeals to six times as many women as men age 18-49, which means only Heather probably could have saved it. "Party" ended its season March 15 with its second-highest national rating. Fox won't make its renewal decision until May. That means it is in a similar boat as the wonderful ABC family drama, "My So-Called Life." Both would see their chances of returning improved if the shows that take their time slot flop. The action-adventure series "Extreme" has been doing about as well as "Life " in its time slot. The promising sci-fi series "Sliders" just took "The Party of Five" time slot. . . .

ABC has decided against premiering the new situation comedy, "Bringing Up Jack," Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. After seeing the pilot for this lame excuse for a family comedy, I understand why. "Coach," which has been dying on Mondays, gets the 9:30 p.m. Wednesday slot after "Grace Under Fire.". . .

Lou St. James, once a Channel 7 weekend weathercaster, is now doing backup weekend weather and weather cut-ins for Channel 2 during the "Today" show. . . .

Oh, no, CBS reportedly is considering Howard Stern for a Saturday late-night show that it plans to slot opposite NBC's ailing "Saturday Night Live." "SNL," which remains a huge money-maker for NBC, still gets decent ratings locally and nationally despite the fact it hasn't been funny all year. Locally, it gets a 7 rating and 39 share of the 11:30 p.m. Saturday audience on Channel 2, only down from an 8 rating and a 36 share last November. . . .

Channel 4 has quietly replaced early morning runs of Jerry Springer's talk show with paid programming. I've had a few calls of complaint. But paid programming is preferable to Springer's show. . . .

Remember Glen Walker of Channel 4? You can catch him periodically in prime time when Empire carries "Press Box," a Prime Network sports highlights show.

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