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`NEXT GENERATION' RETURNS; `HARTS OF THE WEST' DEBUTS

"Star Trek: The Next Generation" returns for its seventh and final season on Sunday (5 p.m., Ch. 13).

It's gotten to the point that I can't imagine what it will be like next season when the show doesn't return.This is still one of television's finest series. Although there's more of those really cool special effects in the latest episode, as always the hardware takes a backseat to the story.

(That's a lesson the producer of "seaQuest DSV" should learn. Although "Star Trek" makes it look easy, "seaQuest" proves that science fiction is not an easy genre to bring to television.)

In last June's "Next Generation" cliffhanger (which will be repeated today at 5 p.m.), the Borg returned to menace the Enterprise. Only this time, they've acquired individual identities - and a desire to annihilate, not assimilate.

And there's a nifty surprise at the end of Part 1.

In Sunday's Part 2, Dr. Crusher must outwit the Borg and save the Enterprise, while the rest of the main characters are threatened by Data. In addition to the action, there's a great deal of food for thought and parallels to what's happening in the world today.

Once again, just the sort of thing "Star Trek" does best.

`HARTS OF THE WEST': When "Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman" became a surprise hit last spring, CBS went looking for a compatible show to air after Jane Seymour and Co.

What they've come up with is "Harts of the West," a pretty fair family comedy.

Beau Bridges stars as Dave Hart, a 41-year-old man whose heart attack puts his life in perspective. He decides to live out his childhood dream and buy a Western ranch.

This is a guy obsessed with cowboys - his three kids are named Zane Grey Hart, L'Amour Hart and John Wayne "Duke" Hart.

Unfortunately - and predictably - Dave is swindled. The Arizona spread he purchases - the Flying Tumbleweed - turns out to be more broken-down ghost town than thriving dude ranch.

Dave isn't deterred. His wife (nicely played by Harley Jane Kozack) and kids are horrified.

It's a bit like a 1990s "Green Acres."

It's also a bit like "Northern Exposure," as the Hart family runs up against a number of decidedly odd characters - not the least of which is a randy old ranch hand by the name of Jake, played by Lloyd Bridges. (Lloyd is Beau's father in real life, but not in the show.)

"Harts of the West" is also one of the new season's most pleasant shows. It's decidedly goofy, the performances are winning, and the Harts are a loving if not always happy little family.

In other words, if you're watching "Dr. Quinn," you'll probably want to stick around for "Harts of the West."

HOW'S THAT SPELLED? KSTU proudly proclaimed earlier this week that Brad Griffen is half of the station's new anchor team.

Later this week, the station sheepishly announced that his name is really Brad Giffen.