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A BUFFALO TIE FOR ALLY'S NEW GUY; CH. 17 PLEDGES ARE FALLING SHORT OF GOAL

Nobody asked me, but: Ally McBeal is romancing a Buffalo man. Jesse L. Martin plays Dr. Greg Butters, a client of Ally's who flirted with Calista Flockhart's character in last week's episode. Martin is a graduate of Buffalo's Performing Arts (now known as Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts). In the previews for the next original episode, to air on April 6, Martin's character was shown kissing Ally.

Martin previously appeared on the short-lived Fox series "413 Hope Street," playing a teacher. A Fox representative said he'll be in three or four "McBeal" episodes but he won't be around long enough to be kissing and telling. That's because Martin is currently in London as a member of the tour group performing "Rent." He originated the role of Tom Collins in the Broadway and off-Broadway productions of the Tony Award-winning musical. He received his acting training at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.

Martin's success doesn't surprise Fortunato Pezzimenti, who taught and directed Martin at Performing Arts.

"If there was one student you'd think would make it, it would be Jesse," said Pezzimenti. "He had purpose, talent and focus from his sophomore year."

Martin and Flockhart have Western New York in common. Her parents lived in Orchard Park for a while.

By the way, Fox is carrying a "McBeal" repeat at 8 p.m. April 8, apparently aimed at helping "Significant Others" get a larger audience at 9 p.m.

Diane English plays a nurse in the finale of "Murphy Brown," which airs May 18 on CBS. English, the creator of the show, wrote the finale. Among the guest stars: Bette Midler, Frances Bergen (mother of Candice Bergen, who plays Murphy's mom), Mike Wallace, Robert Pastorelli (Eldin), a silent George Clooney and Alan King as God.

How well is the abbreviated 18-day March pledge drive instituted by Channel 17's new president, Donald Boswell, doing? Well, with five pledge days left, public broadcasting had about $300,000 in pledges, which isn't half its $800,000 goal. But Boswell says he is going to be true to his word, which means there are no plans to extend the drive when it ends this weekend. However, if the local PBS stations can't make up the shortfall in other ways before the fiscal year ends in June, Boswell says he may add pledge days in that month.

"A Father for Brittany," the movie about former Cheektowaga salesman Keith Lussier's court battle to keep his adopted daughter after the death of his wife, was a ratings winner. It finished at No. 14 for the week ending March 15, airing on the same night as the Kathleen Willey interview on "60 Minutes." The CBS newsmagazine finished No. 1 for the week, but that victory should come with an asterisk. All the NBC Thursday shows, which normally would have battled for the top spot, aired reruns that week that received lower ratings than usual.

No surprise here, ABC has renewed "The Wonderful World of Disney," which has improved its Sunday night ratings.

A & E's "Biography" is planning a two-hour June special, "Ozzie & Harriet: The Adventures of America's Favorite Family." The network is billing it as the original "show about nothing."

King World has made Channel 4's life easier by canceling "American Journal." WIVB planned to drop it anyway. Also on the cancellation front: "The Keenen Ivory Wayans Show" has been canceled by its syndicators. WB 49 had sent it to 1 a.m. several weeks ago, a sign that it was in trouble.

Tim Russert, moderator of "Meet the Press," expects that independent counsel Kenneth Starr will have to either indict or immunize Monica Lewinsky within the next two weeks.

The site of the proposed new building that will house the six Sinclair radio stations as well as Channel 29 is a piece of property near Crawdaddy's on the waterfront.

Among the possible fall programs that CBS is considering is a new drama from Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson, "Family Brood."

Inquiring minds want to know: What's with Michelle Forbes, who plays the coroner, Julianna Cox, on "Homicide"? She exited the show a few weeks ago, with Cox leaving the department after refusing to lie about a case. An NBC spokesman said her contract was up.

ABC reports that Monday's Oscar telecast had titanic ratings and was the most-watched in television history.

Channel 7 General Manager Bill Ransom reports that ABC has canceled "Nothing Sacred." Apparently the addition of Jennifer Beals to the cast didn't give it a ratings bump.

It's official. On May 4, Kevin Newman will replace Charles Gibson as co-host of ABC's "Good Morning, America." He was a familiar face to Western New Yorkers even before he began working for ABC, having spent six years at Canada's CBC.

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