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Dirty Sexy Money & r & (Wednesdays, 10pm, ABC) & r & & r & by TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & V -- the refuge of no-talent heiresses and self-absorbed politicians. If you hate the news for its addiction to such beautiful idiots, why would you ever want to watch a drama about them?

The producers of Dirty Sexy Money hope you can't look away, and they seem to have found a twist on celebrity culture that may bridge the gap between people who love Paris Hilton and the people who can't believe they have to hear about her every night.

The Darlings of Manhattan will make you feel that, as the show's catchphrase puts it, money is the root of all evil. But as it turns out, too much money can be quite entertaining.

This is prestige TV, the kind that offers a suitable home for A-list movie stars and at least tries to compete with the best HBO has to offer. And that investment in quality created a cast that includes Donald Sutherland (as the Darling clan's patriarch Tripp), Jill Clayburgh (as his troubled wife Letitia) and William Baldwin (as confused son Patrick, who nonetheless is running for president). These are vapid, annoying people, impeccably portrayed by some great actors.

But the star -- and soul -- of Dirty Sexy Money is Peter Krause, who plays Nick George, a young, idealistic lawyer who is brought in to be the Darling's in-house fixer. Krause has been great in everything he's done, from the old Sports Night to HBO's Six Feet Under, and he's just as good here. And you root for him, as he gets to personify the conscience viewers bring to the show. He handles the Darlings' excesses with an all-in-a-day's-work bemusement.

But the producers added another dimension that takes it all up a notch. Nick's dad was the Darlings' original fixer, but as the pilot episode starts, he has just died in a suspicious plane crash. As clues emerge, Nick starts to suspect his new boss, Tripp, along with a competing New York power broker, Simon Elder (played by Blair Underwood).

So as the Dallas-like soap opera storylines unfold -- the Darling twins' addiction to fame, thrice-divorced Karen Darling's backstabbing and Rev. Brian Darling's cute little blast from his past -- the mystery of what happened to Nick's dad keeps you hooked.

So at least now you have a choice: You can watch the real-life antics of Britney and Paris (boring!), or you can watch the fake philanderings of America's new first family.


Flash Gordon

Flash Gordon is the quintessential sci-fi character, dating back to 1934. Now he's back in an updated series, starring Smallville's Eric Johnson as Flash, still locked in a quest to defeat evil Emperor Ming. Bad TV, but in the so-bad-it's-good way you can sometimes be up for on a Friday night. (Friday, 10/26, 9 pm, Sci-Fi)

The Haunting Hour

Before J.K. Rowling, R.L. Stine was Scholastic Books' heavyweight with his Goosebumps series. Now his spine-chillers for children are the subject of a live-action series. The Haunting Hour is a movie that has been playing throughout October, but on Sunday you can take in a full day marathon of Goosebumps episodes leading up to it. (Sunday, 10/28, 8 pm, Cartoon Network)

Good Ol' Charles Schulz

Halloween is when one of the oddest children's cartoons of all time plays. But this year, it's the creator of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown who is the focus, as the venerable PBS series American Masters profiles Charles Schulz. And he deserves the attention: With nearly 18,000 Peanuts strips over almost 50 years, Schulz is arguably one of America's greatest artists. (Monday, 10/29, 9 pm, PBS)

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