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3RD TNT TRY IS THE CHARM - `JOSEPH' IS A WINNER

The third time has proven to be the charm for TNT.

After producing and presenting two deadly dull biblical dramas, the cable network has finally come up with a winner. The two-part, four-hour "Joseph" may well be the most entertaining movie based on the Old Testament since "The Ten Commandments" way back in 1956."Joseph" isn't on that grand a scale, of course. They don't make movies like that anymore.

But it is a spectacle. And a very good spectacle.

Which is more than a little surprising considering TNT's track record with this genre. Both "Abraham" and "Jacob" were as dry and dull as the dust the characters spent so much time tramping through.

The action in "Joseph" is straight from the book of Genesis, and Hollywood scriptwriters could never come up with a story like this - intrigue, family feuds, deceit, depravity, adultery, slavery and the eventual triumph of a pious man over all adversity.

Paul Mercurio ("Strictly Ballroom") stars as the title character - the grown-up version of the title character - Joseph, the son of Jacob. Joseph and his coat of many colors, and his jealous, spiteful brothers who sell him into slavery.

As the two-part, four-hour movie opens, Joseph is being purchased by Potiphar (Oscar-winner Ben Kingsley), the Pharoah's chief steward and a very powerful man in his own right. Although his master quickly realizes just how valuable a servant he is, Joseph has other problems - Potiphar's lascivious wife (Lesley Ann Down), who has designs on him.

It's only after Joseph is accused of attempting to rape the woman that he retells the first part of the story, at which point the movie flashes back to the whole story of Jacob (Oscar-winner Martin Landau) and all the trouble with those sons of his.

But Lionel Chetwynd's script uses the flashback device to his advantage (unlike so many other TV movies). As a matter of fact, the entire script flows well, and under Roger Young's direction the action builds well and holds up over the four-hour cablecast.

Both Kingsley and Landau demonstrate just how much they deserved their Oscars, and Down breaths life into what could have been nothing more than a stereotype.

Mercurio is nowhere near as experienced as an actor, and that shows. But he's more than adequate - and considerably less wooden than, say, Charlton Heston was a Moses.

"Joseph" is an altogether satisfying TV movie, and the fact that it follows two less-than-satisfying biblical movies on TNT makes it even moreso.

Part 1 of "Joseph" can be seen Sunday at 6, 8 and 10 p.m. on TNT. Part 2 is scheduled for Monday at 6, 8 and 10 p.m.

HOW'S THAT AGAIN? ABC has scheduled yet another celebrity-driven hour for Tuesday, April 25 - "The Barbara Walters Special: The Price of Fame."

According to the network, in the special Babs "shines the spotlight on the underside of stardom."

Funny, but I thought part of the price of fame - as well as the underside of stardom - was being interviewed by Barbara Walters.

IT HAD TO HAPPEN: Cable's CNBC debuted a new, weekly, hour-long show last Saturday titled simply "The O.J. Simpsons Trial."

Heaven help us.