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Be sure to check out the WB

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The hardest question for a TV critic to answer - at least for yours truly - is, "What's your favorite TV show?"

The not-so-simple answer is, I like a lot of TV shows. A whole lot of TV shows.There isn't enough time in an average week for me to watch all of the TV shows I like. And that's on network television only.

(Heck, I could spend hours watching nothing but the Game Show Network. Or sports. Or the History Channel. Or reruns of some sci-fi series.)

Part of the problem is that there's so much I have to watch, there isn't enough time left to see everything I want to watch. It would be a lot more fun to watch something like "Dharma & Greg" or "NewsRadio" or "Law & Order" or "Fantasy Island" than watching preview tapes of the latest crummy TV movie from the USA cable network. Or some low-intelligence miniseries from NBC.

(It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.)

There are only a few shows that I absolutely, positively watch every week. Or tape and watch later. Shows like "Ally McBeal," "Babylon 5," "ER," "Frasier," "Friends," "Party of Five," "The Practice," "Will & Grace" and the two "Star Treks" - "Deep Space Nine" and "Voyager."

And, while I sometimes gets calls or letters accusing me of hating everything, there are a lot of other shows I'll catch if time permits - including "Buddy Faro," "Chicago Hope," "Cupid," "Early Edition," "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Fantasy Island," "Homicide: Life on the Street," "JAG," "Just Shoot Me," "King of the Hill," "Mad About You," "Maggie Winters," "Martial Law," "NYPD Blue," "The Pretender," "Seven Days," "7th Heaven," "The Simpsons," "Spin City," "Sports Night," "Touched by an Angel" and the ones mentioned above as preferable to USA movies.

(I haven't entirely figured out where "L.A. Docs," "To Have and to Hold" and "Legacy" fit in yet.)

Running down this list, something suddenly stunned even me - four of the shows I make a point to see every week (barring some sort of VCR operator error) are "Hyperion Bay," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Felicity" and "Dawson's Creek." And they're all on upstart network the WB.

That's as compared to two shows on Fox, one on ABC, one on UPN, one in syndication, one on cable - and none on CBS.

There are also four NBC shows on my must-see list, but three of those are sitcoms - meaning 2 1/2 hours of must-see NBC to four hours of must-see WB.

Surprised? I certainly was.

We're talking about a network that isn't really quite a network yet. A network that only programs 11 hours a week. A network that, a couple of years ago, seemed a less than even bet to survive this long.

These four shows are all aimed at young viewers but hold appeal for older viewers. "Hyperion Bay" is a smart continuing drama about twentysomethings. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is a surprisingly smart, funny, scary hour.

"Felicity" is a charming, smart and engrossing look at a college freshman starting her journey in life. And "Dawson's Creek" is about a bunch of teenagers who are too smart for their own good.

But those four are great shows. They're a cut above most of what's out there. They're stylish, distinctive and entertaining.

Better still, you don't have to worry about these shows going away anytime soon. Coming into the season, the WB ordered 22 episodes (a full season's worth) of both "Buffy" and "Dawson's."

("7th Heaven" - a show I highly recommend, even though I don't get a chance to see every episode - is also secure for the season.)

And WB executives have issued "back nine" orders for "Hyperion" and "Felicity," expanding their original 13-episode orders to 22.

(The network-wannabe has done the same for "Charmed," a show of more questionable quality.)

Is everything on the WB worth watching? Of course not. In particular, the network has had a terrible time coming up with quality half-hour comedies.

Some of them are totally awful, including "The Army Show," "Unhappily Ever After" and "The Wayans Bros." Some are on the bad side of mediocre, including "Jamie Foxx," "Steve Harvey" and "Smart Guy."

And, apparently unable to come up with enough bad sitcoms on its own, the WB has picked up a couple cast off by other networks - "For Your Love" (from NBC) and "Sister, Sister" (from ABC).

But four must-see shows and one see-if-you-can show on the WB? The WB?!? It boggles the mind.

Take if from someone who has seen every series on every network. If you haven't checked out these WB offerings out, do so.

WB programming is seen in Utah on KUWB-Ch. 30. "Hyperion Bay" airs on Mondays at 8 p.m.; "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" on Tuesdays at 7 p.m.; "Felicity" on Tuesdays at 8 p.m.; "Dawson's Creek" on Wednesdays at 7 p.m.; and "7th Heaven" on Mondays at 7 p.m. (with reruns from last season on Sundays at 6 p.m.)

BOFFO "BUFFY": Trying to explain "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" to someone who's never seen the show is almost impossible. Yes, it's about a high school girl who runs around slaying vampires. But it's much, much better than it sounds.

Tonight's episode (7 p.m., Ch. 30), for example, is fabulous. Not only is someone out there killing people while it's Oz's (Seth Green) time of the month to turn into a werewolf, but there's the sudden reappearance of Angel (David Boreanaz), Buffy's (Sarah Michelle Gellar) vampire boyfriend whom she was forced to send to hell at the end of last season.

Told you it would sound stupid. But it's not. It's fun, funny, slightly scary and rather surprising.

"Buffy" fans won't want to miss it. As for the rest of you, you really must tune in and see for yourselves what this is all about.