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The Office Special *** (out of four)

9 tonight, BBCAmerica

British writer-actor Ricky Gervais is hardly a household name in most American television homes.

His TV show, "The Office," is only carried here on digital cable. And he's playing a character, David Brent, whose major claim to fame is that he is one of the stars of a "documentary" about the workplace.

It isn't much of a claim, as depicted in "The Office Special" (9 tonight, BBCAmerica), a darkly comic two-hour spoof documentary that supposedly "brings the story to a close."

One of the chief amusements is watching the maddening Brent, who doesn't seem to realize that he's about as well known in his native England as Gervais is in the States.

Gervais at least realizes there's plenty of humor in watching how pathetic a reality show star can become after his 15 minutes of fame are up.

Gervais might not be famous, but he's been much-honored. He owns a Golden Globe as outstanding lead actor and the series has a Golden Globe for outstanding comedy, a Peabody Award, four BAFTAS (the UK's version of the Emmys) and several television critics' votes for the best comedy on television.

But the series is just a minor cult hit in the States, an acquired taste for those viewers who prefer their comedy dry, subtle and smart and don't need a laugh track to tell them when something is funny.

Those who have learned to love it over its two short seasons (the Brits don't demand 22-episode seasons as American networks do) certainly should enjoy the gift-wrapped finale. And those who don't know what all the fuss is about are advised to look at it like they might if they went to a Christmas party where they don't know anybody but still can have a good time.

In the "Office Special," the original filmmakers decide to return three years after the original "documentary" aired to see where Brent, an office manager at a paper supply company, and oddball workers Gareth Keenan (MacKenzie Crook), Tim (Martin Freeman) and Dawn Tinsley (Lucy Davis) are today.

Brent, a childish manager with a silly grin who believed a good boss was always ready with a good joke, is on the outside looking in. He spent his severance package producing a laughable music video and a single and now is earning money selling cleaning supplies and humiliating himself publicly at the office where he used to lead.

He makes money on personal appearances, most of which go about as well as the dates that he gets with the aid of an online service. Gareth, the humorless yes-man who now has his job as office manager, helped him on his computer search for love.

For much of the two hours, Brent is made into such a pathetic character that you can't help but feel for him and any real-life reality TV stars who have complained that a show didn't reveal who they really are and only went for exaggerations.

It's comedy with a message as subtle as its humor. I'm not going to exaggerate how funny it is over the overlong two hours. But I will say when the Christmas party finally arrives, "The Office" turns into the kind of sweet and sappy holiday tale that many Americans can't resist.

NBC has quietly put "Hawaii" on hiatus and is replacing it at 8 p.m. Wednesday with episodes of the equally resistible Heather Locklear drama, "LAX." NBC isn't doing Heather, whose show was dying on Monday, any favors. It will compete with ABC's rookie sensation, "Lost."

NBC replaces "LAX" on Monday with a reality series, "$25 Million Hoax," that sounds like it has the spirit of Fox's "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance." In this four-week hoax, a daughter convinces her family they won the lottery.

WNYO-TV, one of two local Sinclair Broadcasting affiliates, won't be carrying the anti-John Kerry documentary tonight after all. Sinclair decided that it will only air what is calling a news special, "A POW Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media," on one station in markets where it owns two or more stations. It will air Friday on Sinclair's other local channel, Fox affiliate WUTV.

And in a a release Wednesday, Sinclair says the anti-Kerry documentary, "Stolen Honor," won't air in its entirety. It added that "at no time did Sinclair ever publicly announce that it intended to do so." The release added that the documentary will be discussed "in the context of the broader discussion" involving the use of documentaries and other media to influence voting. The decision to air portions of the documentary has led to increased scrutiny by Sinclair's shareholders and the media that appears to have further damaged its falling stock price.

According to a trade publication, Television Week, a group of Sinclair shareholders have asked the company's board to begin an independent investigation to determine if two executives and a board member engaged in insider trading prior to the decline in the company's stock.


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