A crisis with

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a lot more than

90210 casualties

Bird flu is no laughing matter, but "Pandemic" (8 p.m., Hallmark, TV-PG, L, V) is a hoot. It may be filled with scenes of death and disease plaguing man, bird and beast, but you won't be able to take your eyes off the cast.

This is, after all, a film starring Tiffani Thiessen as Dr. Kayla Martin, an elite doctor in charge of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The former star of "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place" has to deliver a lot of very bad news when an airliner from Australia lands in Los Angeles carrying a dead surfer who appears to have died from bird flu.

Given the gravity of her tasks, can you blame her for wearing revealing tight sweaters?

Not since Lucy Lawless played the Undersecretary of Agriculture in those "Locust" movies has a U.S. government official sported more inappropriate attire.

Luckily, Martin is not alone. She's got Troy Whitlock (Vincent Spano) and Dr. Carl Ratner (French Stewart) by her side. Fresh from "Heroes," Eric Roberts plays the smarmy mayor of Los Angeles, a man who wields sunglasses like a weapon. When not browbeating the CDC, he's battling with California's Gov. Shaefer, played by Faye Dunaway, naturally.

A strangely cast thriller with a predictable plot, "Pandemic" is an oddly comforting movie. It's reassuring that they still make TV movies this bad.

If causing inappropriate gasps and giggles were a disease, this movie would have to be quarantined.

Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere and Queen Latifah star in the 2002 musical "Chicago" (8 p.m., NBC). NBA playoffs (8:30 p.m., ABC). Stephen Baldwin stars in the 2006 thriller "Dark Storm" (9 p.m., Sci Fi). Not to be confused with Daniel Baldwin, who stars in "Cleaver," the Mafia horror movie "written" by Christopher on "The Sopranos."

Eco-terrorists torch Los Angeles on "Numb3rs" (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) ... On back-to-back episodes of "Cops" (Fox, r, TV-14, D, L), pedestrian perps (8 p.m.), domestic woes (8:30 p.m.) ... Two hours of mysteries on "48 Hrs." (9 p.m., CBS) ... John Walsh hosts "America's Most Wanted" (9 p.m., Fox, TV-PG).

Kevin McDonough, a syndicated columnist who lives in Narrowsburg, can be reached at kmcdonough@unitedmedia.com.

Also worth watching

Celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of John Wayne by tuning in to TCM to watch the 1952 anti-communist drama "Big Jim McLain" at 4:15 p.m. and the 1953 family football drama "Trouble Along the Way" at 6 p.m.

WNET also honors the Duke with an airing of "Red River" at 9 p.m. Montgomery Clift plays Wayne's troublesome adopted son in the 1948 Western directed by Howard Hawks.

TCM goes ape tonight starting at 8 with the 1933 "King Kong." While the remakes in 1976 and 2005 had bigger budgets and more advanced technology, the Depression-era original about the "eighth wonder of the world" who climbs the newly built Empire State, and later suffers a fatal fall from it, for the love of a blonde (screaming Fay Wray) remains the immortal classic.

It's followed at 10 p.m. by the 1949 drama "Mighty Joe Young," pairing another ape with another blonde (Terry Moore) and co-starring "King Kong" actor Robert Armstrong. At 11:45 p.m., the 1961 British shocker "Konga" stars Michael Gough as a mad scientist who tests his growth serum on an ape.

Comedy closes out the simian film block with the 1939 Ritz Brothers/Boris Karloff romp "The Gorilla" and the 1971 teen Kurt Russell vehicle "The Barefoot Executive" about a chimp with a knack for picking winning TV series.

Dennis Sprick