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When "Babe Ruth," a made-for-TV movie that airs Sunday on NBC, was originally announced, John Goodman was to play the title role.

That was two years ago. And Goodman, who co-stars on the hit show "Roseanne," does not appear in the telemovie (which will air at 8 p.m. on Ch. 2)."Along the way, John Goodman's career changed," said Lawrence A. Lyttle, the movie's executive producer. "And feature films had become an integral part of his hiatus period (from `Roseanne')."

So about six months before NBC officially picked up the TV movie of Ruth's life, "I received a call from Goodman's agent, who informed me that Universal Pictures had a Babe Ruth script. . . . And that they (Goodman) had received an extraordinary offer and financial terms. Substantially more than we were paying him.

"And, see you later. And to put it mildly, we went ballistic."

The theatrical film won't be out for several months, so it's impossible to judge which is better. But from seeing the TV version, chances are that Goodman made the right decision in backing out of "Babe Ruth."

Not that the movie is terrible. But it's shallow, unconvincing and cliche-ridden.

"Well, we're first," Lyttle said petulantly.

But that's perhaps the best thing that can be said about his project.

Ruth is portrayed as a big jerk who couldn't control his appetite for food, booze and women. He cheated continually on his poor wife, ignored his adopted daughter, threw his considerable weight around in an attempt to bully his manager, teammates and the rest of baseball - then ended up a sad and disappointed man when people refused to believe he'd changed later in his career. Quite the hero.

Instead of Goodman, the producers hired Stephen Lang, a New York stage actor who also appeared in the series "Crime Story." Lang does his best with the material he's given, but he's called upon to chew the scenery time and time again.

"It seemed to me that the central metaphor for Ruth's whole life was something he said. He said, `I swing big, I hit big or I miss big and that's the way I live my life, as big as I can,' " Lang said.

"I tried to approach the role that way. I acted big."

Maybe too big. In scenes that portray the latter part of Ruth's career, Lang is padded around the middle and has some sometimes ridiculous-looking prosthetic jowls attached to his face.

Lang spent time with Hall of Famer Rod Carew learning how to bat like the Babe so he could recreate homer after homer after homer. (From this movie, you'd come to believe that Ruth never hit a single, double or triple in his life.) But it doesn't add much to the final product.

The movie also pulls an absolutely stupid, publicity-grabbing stunt by casting baseball outlaw Pete Rose as Ty Cobb. Rose is no actor, and having a man who's been banned for life from the game of baseball in this movie seems almost an insult to the game itself.

But the producers still have time to be petty over Goodman's defection. Lyttle said the recasting of Lang in Goodman's part prompted no script changes.

"The only difference was, I read in the paper, Goodman had to drop 65 (pounds). Lang had to gain 35. So it's a 100-pound swing," Lyttle said.

"I also understand from our wardrobe people that Goodman did the entire (Universal) movie at a size-48 waist," said producer Frank Pace. "And Babe was never above a size 43 in his life."

So, nyah to you, John Goodman - even though you're laughing all the way to the bank.OUT OF THE NIGHT: ABC has not only given up on its ill-fated "Into the Night," but has given up on late-night entertainment period for the time being.

"Into the Night" bites the dust Nov. 14, just two days short of its first anniversary. The low-rated and critically panned show began with disc jockey Rick Dees as its host, but he was dumped in July. ABC has tried various guest hosts since then, to no avail.

The network officially blames the poor economic climate for the decision, but ABC executives have been openly unhappy with the quality of the show since it began. And many ABC affiliates have refused to air the program.

The network will continue to air "Nightline" Monday-Friday and its "In Concert '91" on Fridays.