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'WRIGHT' NOT SO 'WREVOLUTIONARY'; GUMBEL HBO SHOW HAS ATTITUDE

During the second episode of "The Wright Verdicts" (9 tonight, Channel 4) a female investigator asks a criminalist, "Do you have anything that is out of the ordinary?"

Many viewers ask me the same question about new series. In the case of "The Wright Verdicts," the answer is a misleading "Yes."

The show's star, former Oscar nominee Tom Conti, has a British accent, which is out of the ordinary. Regular Margaret Colin is always a welcome addition, and regular Aida Turturro is from the ubiquitous Turturro acting family.

But two of the early scripts are hardly as "wrevolutionary" as the CBS "Wright" promos claim. If our court system moved at the same pace as prolific producer Dick Wolf ("Law & Order," "New York Undercover"), then justice might be served more often.

Wolf's new show arrives a few weeks after Fox pulled "The Great Defender" after only one decent and low-rated episode. Save Conti's accent and Wolf's attempt to show how lawyers and judges interact away from court, "Verdicts" looks as musty as many of the courts in New York City, where it is set.

Conti is Charles Wright, a high-principled, shaggy-haired attorney who talks things over with his gambling, pool-playing investigator, Sandy (Colin), his no-nonsense assistant Lydia (Turturro) and himself. His humorous solo discussions are in preparation for confrontations with lawyers, judges and suspects.

Naturally, he has a good command of the language, though he does use the word "bloody" a few too many times.

The show has some Western New York angles. Fred Keller is one of four staff directors and Christine Estabrook plays a cop in tonight's premiere. In the opener, Wright defends a young woman accused of murdering her rich older lover after he put her in his will. The other suspects: the victim's former wife and his daughter.

The script fails to give enough clues to allow viewers to speculate a la the old "Perry Mason" shows. The April 14 episode has an obvious -- and tedious -- link to the O.J. Simpson case. A district attorney is accused of killing her husband and Wright is named special prosecutor.

The suspect has a lousy marriage and a weak alibi, her blood is at the scene, and she stands to inherit millions.

Unfortunately, the script is almost as weak as the alibi. And the hour ends in old Mason style with a surprise on the witness stand. I was bloody bored by the whole thing. But if you like old-fashioned television and English accents, this show may be your cup of tea.

Rating: 2 1/2 stars out of 5.

The correspondents in the new HBO magazine show "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel" (10 p.m. Sunday) spend considerable time explaining that key players declined to be interviewed for their stories. Presumably, that's because this show doesn't pull its punches.

A hard-hitting piece on baseball's "The Uncivil War" by Sonja Steptoe hits the anti-
labor owners right between the eyes with a fastball. Even if you believe that owners deserve to be called "an arrogant cartel" and that they "bribe" senators by giving their states expansion teams to keep their anti-trust exemption (and I do believe they deserve it), the tone of the piece is startling.

The title of a well-written piece by Frank Deford about the dictators who run the Masters golf tournament says it all: "America's Singapore." Deford calls the Masters "cold, sanctimonious and even selfish."

Less exciting: A Jim Lamp-
ley piece about Dennis Rodman and a memorabilia humor piece by Billy Crystal. Crystal scores with Wilt Chamberlain and Darryl Strawberry jokes, but he should realize we need a moratorium on Simpson jokes. Gumbel ends the show with an optimistic commentary on boxer Mike Tyson that runs counter to the show's attitude. Hmm. And boxing is one of the few sports that HBO carries.

Still, "Real Sports" -- which will have four airings in 1995 -- looks like a winner merely because it has a refreshingly pointed and unique television attitude about sports.

Rating: 4 stars.

Was it David Letterman or "Forrest Gump's" performance that led to the Oscar's best ratings in 12 years? From an informal survey, Letterman's performance had as many detractors as supporters. Some detractors thought some jokes were too mean-spirited. And that's exactly why I thought he was so good after his slow opening monologue.

Because Letterman is an insecure man who always thinks his show is lousy even when it's terrific, you have to wonder about his willingness to return next year.

The negative reaction he received may make him pass next season. Or he may return just because of that reaction. Only his shrink knows for sure.

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