The thing about cable television is its unpredictability. You can be pleasantly surprised by something you stumble across while browsing through the channels or disappointed by things which sound pretty promising.
Unfortunately, the latter is the case with a pair of premieres on basic service tonight:
* You need only know the star/co-producer of "Silhouette" to raise your expectations. Oscar winner Faye Dunaway is at the center of this latest USA Network world premiere film promoted as a Hitchcock-like suspense thriller (at 9 o'clock, with repeats Dec. 2 and 9).
Alas, it doesn't take long for those expectations to come crashing down. This comes across as an irritatingly formulaic melodrama, with perhaps a faint touch of the "Twin Peaks" treatment.
Dunaway plays a classy architect whose Mercedes is sideswiped by a big truck as she is returning from a business trip. Driving into the nearby town of Hazelton, she discovers it will take at least overnight to fix the smashed windshield, and she must check into a rundown hotel to wait.
The irritation starts early. This is said to be Texas, but there is no sense of place whatever. Instead, we merely get Hollywood's standard treatment of small towns as places full of fat gasoline station slobs, surly bar patrons and shadowy characters resentful of all outsiders, especially classy dames in Mercedeses.
Naturally, Dunaway witnesses a murder in the apartment across the way and promptly loses her brains: She runs into the street in her silk jammies so the killer can get a good look at her, the necessary ingredient for any future suspense. She can identify the killer only by his shadowy profile in silhouette.
Naturally, the local cops, including David ("Sledge Hammer") Rasche, pooh-pooh her story, at least until the body turns up. And naturally, the killer will be after not only Dunaway but her daughter, whom she phones to come help.
* The Lifetime channel aspires to be cable's service for women, so it is no surprise its first foray into the genre of stand-up comedy features female comics. But tonight's "Six Ladies Laughing" (at 9 o'clock, with repeats Dec. 1, 7, 12, 15, 21 and 25) might be subtitled ". . . And The Home Audience Occasionally Smiling."
Hosted by the talented Andrea Martin ("SCTV"), the hour includes not particularly memorable routines from Victoria Jackson ("Saturday Night Live"), Stephanie Hodge, Kim Coles ("In Living Color"), Henriette Mantel and Sue Kalinsky.
The best bits are Jackson's rhymed lament as a neglected Mrs. Santa Claus and Coles' deft dialects of rude holiday shopping clerks from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.