Well, yet another "Cheers" veteran makes an appearance on "Frasier" tonight.

Yes, Ted Danson - whose midlife crisis brought an end to "Cheers" a couple of years back - steps back into the shoes of Sam Malone once again in tonight's installment of "Frasier" (8 p.m., Ch. 2).Unfortunately, it's not that big a deal. Oh, it's not a bad "Frasier" episode. But it's not one of the best, either.

And it's nowhere near as good as the installments that featured "Cheers" veteran Bebe Neuwirth as Frasier's ex-wife, Lilith.

The premise for tonight's episode has Sam showing up suddenly in Seattle with a story about how he's interviewing for a position with the Seattle Mariners. Of course, it's a lie.

It seems that Sam has left a fiancee at the altar, and comes to Frasier looking for advice.

Frasier does his best, but this situation is complicated when he learns that he has a rather intimate knowledge of Sam's intended.

There are some very funny moments here. The update on what's become of the "Cheers" regulars is priceless.

But Danson's performance is strangely lethargic. For someone who has lobbied for a year and a half to make an appearance on "Frasier," the actor seems to be on autopilot as he steps back into the role he played for 11 seasons.

There's something sort of sad and pathetic about the return of the womanizing Sam. This is a character whose time has passed.

The contrast of the old and tired Sam against the fresh and funny Niles (David Hyde Pierce) is striking. And, as usual, it's Niles who has some of the episode's funniest moments.

At this point, Danson should rest on the laurels of "Cheers" and not try to revive the character of Sam again.

FALSE ADVERTISING: NBC, not surprisingly, is promoting the heck out of tonight's episode of "Frasier."

Unfortunately, the network also seems to have gone out of its way to deceive the viewing public.

The spots that are running to promote "Home Malone Tuesday" flash the news - in big letters - that there's a full hour of "Frasier" scheduled. The obvious impression these ads leave is that the installment featuring Ted Danson as Sam Malone is a 60-minute episode.

Not true. Not at all.

That half-hour episode at 8 p.m. is followed by a repeat episode at 8:30 p.m.

While the commercial spots are careful not to say anything that's not true, what they do say is misleading.

NBC should be ashamed.

SMOOTHING THE WAY: NBC last week dropped its legal battle against Fox.

Which, in all likelihood, will smooth the way for NBC to sell its controlling interest in KUTV-Ch. 2 to CBS/Group W.

The Peacock challenged the fourth network in two areas - its right to own television stations because of foreign ownership of the company that owns Fox, and its right to control as many TV stations as it was in the process of either buying them outright or controlling through subsidiaries.

But NBC has basically kissed and made up with its competitor.

NBC says that it dropped its challenges because the FCC has agreed to review its rules. But many observers believe that the real reasons were somewhat different:

First, NBC saw that it wasn't going to win this battle when the Republican-controlled Congress seems intent on deregulating the industry.

And, second, NBC has been in business with Fox and its parent, the Australian-based News Corp., for years - and the battle between the two networks has hurt business.

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Not coincidentally, at the same time NBC dropped its challenge, the News Corp. agreed to carry NBC Super Channel and CNBC on satellite systems it owns that are based in Hong Kong.

While this might all seem very far away, there are local ramifications. With NBC no longer challenging Fox's attempts to buy several stations, Fox is not expected to strike back at NBC on several deals that network has in the works.

Including the sale of the CBS-owned station in Philadelphia to NBC.

And, once the road is cleared for that deal, it also means the sale of NBC's 88 percent of KUTV-Ch. 2 to a partnership of Group W and CBS will be facilitated.

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