In the peak period of broadcast network premieres, cable services are offering some interesting new programs this weekend, too. Here's a sampling:
* HBO's new music series "Influences," making its debut at 10 tonight on the premium service, is undeniably intriguing -- and annoying.
It stems from a great idea: to bring together, in a spontaneous performance setting, established stars whose careers provided inspiration for another generation of performers.
Thus the first installment features godfather of soul James Brown and rapper M.C. Hammer, and it is something of a love fest.
"M.C.'s a fine young man," says Brown, and Hammer calls Brown "the man responsible for me doing what I do."
The trouble is, we don't get to see enough of what either one of them does.
A seemingly hand-held video camera captures intimacy and spontaneity in rehearsals and other candid settings. But too often, whenever one of them gets into a song or a dance, a herky-jerky edit moves to another scene.
It's as if the quick-cut MTV technique has now become obligatory in televising music. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. "Influences" is best when the camera stops moving and just lets Hammer and Brown do their things.
Still, there is potential here that offers revealing glimpses into the worlds of pop music. Up next month, for example, are country croonerGeorge Jones and relative newcomer Randy Travis.
* It may take a while, but let "Lovejoy" grow on you. The English series launches the classy Arts & Entertainment basic cable network's fall premiere week tomorrow with the clever pairing of actors Ian McShane and Linda Gray.
Fans of "Dallas," of course, know that Mr. McShane played the suave Englishman who was putting the moves on Ms. Gray's character of Sue Ellen Ewing in last season's final year of the prime-time CBS soap.
In "Lovejoy," based on the series of novels by Jonathan Gash, Mr. McShane is the title character, a suave antiques dealer with a talent for sniffing out fakery -- and perhaps indulging in it occasionally, as well.
And in Sunday's two-hour premiere, "The Black Virgin of Vladimir," Ms. Gray plays a wealthy, glamorous widow acquaintance,whose husband got taken for a half-million bucks or more by unknowingly buying fake artworks from a crooked dealer.
Meanwhile, the same dealer (Brian Blessed), has involved Lovejoy in what may be another scam: an attempt to sell to a Japanese businessman a tea bowl supposedly used by emperor Hirohito.
Can Lovejoy and Cassandra turn the tables on the cheerfully deceptive dealer?
Imagine "The Sting" set against a background of swank mansions, country cottages and London town houses. "Lovejoy" quirky and slow-moving, yet ultimately quite engaging. You may even learn something about art and antiques.
* Russian Republic President Boris Yeltsin and former Foreign Minister Eduard Schevardnadze are among the Soviet officials who offer commentary in "The Second Russian Revolution," a new six-part series premiering at 9 p.m. tomorrow on the Discovery Channel.
A co-production of Discovery with the BBC, the series begins with the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev and ends with his near downfall in the recent abortive coup attempt.
Production teams are said to have been in the Soviet Union since the remarkable August developments to update the documentary that had been in the works for 18 months. And indeed, Sergei Akhromeyev, the former chief of armed forces who committed suicide following the failed coup, is among the figures interviewed earlier for the show.