Cowboys clean up at 'Hope Ranch'

Monday, September 2, 2002

Nobody watches the Animal Planet for social realism. The network home of the Crocodile Hunter and dozens of other critter keepers has become a welcome sanctuary for parents and kids looking to escape the (human) sex and violence found elsewhere on the dial. The feature length film "Hope Ranch" (7 p.m., Animal Planet) deviates from the network formula a bit, but remains focused on the redemptive qualities of nature.

Bruce Boxleitner stars as J.T. Hope. A troubled former Marine and police officer, he has no problems acting like tough guy. He has opened his ranch up to incorrigible teens in the hope that 12-hour days of roping, riding and branding cattle will allow them to shed their hardened shells and learn to get along with others. Richard Lee Jackson, J.D. Pardo and Brian Gross star as the surly, anti-social youths. Lorenzo Lamas plays Colt Webb, a simmering ex-con who has transformed himself into Hope's cowboy helper. Colt gets to strut around without a shirt quite often. Barry Corbin plays "Shorty," the crusty and wise-crackin' old cowboy who has seen quite a few tough guys come and go. Watch your back, Wilford Brimley!

As dramas go, "Hope Ranch" leaves no clich�s unturned. You know that the boys will come around after a few scuffles and crises. You can also bet that the icy police bureaucrat, June Anderson (Gail O'Grady), sent to keep an eye on Hope's experiment, will eventually warm up to Hope's cockamamie scheme. There is something oddly comforting in a movie that is so blandly predictable. When one of the teenage toughs asks him why he bothers with his ranch, Hope replies with Gary Cooper stoicism, "because I'm tired of seeing boys your age not growing up to be men my age." It's hard not to admire a movie based on such sentiments.

� The History Channel begins a weeklong examination of the events of Sept. 11, starting with "The World Trade Center: Rise and Fall of an American Icon" (8 p.m.). This film looks at the history of the planning and construction of the twin towers as well as a detailed engineering analysis of the buildings' final hours. Some of the engineers and workers seen here were interviewed only weeks before the attacks. Many did not survive.

� "The Cook & Ladder Competition" (9 p.m., Food Network) celebrates firefighter chefs and the culinary art of firehouse cooking. Nine men and one woman compete from fire companies in Rhode Island, Manhattan, and Dallas/Ft. Worth.

Tonight's other highlights

� The "24" marathon (FX) continues around the clock, concluding at midnight.

� When you care enough to watch the very worst: TNN kicks off a 12-hour marathon of "V.I.P." beginning at 8 a.m., to introduce the campy syndicated action series to its cable schedule.

� The former "Sabrina" co-star and "Hollywood Squares" regular gets her own talk show: "Caroline Rhea" (syndicated, check listings) premieres today with a taped show. Live shows start later this week.

� Ben Stiller and Cameron Diaz star in the 1998 comedy "There's Something About Mary" (7 p.m., Fox).

� Auburn and USC meet in college football action (7 p.m., ABC).

� Leonard Nimoy is host of "Art of Darkness: A Night Gallery Retrospective" (7 p.m., Starz Encore Mystery Channel) celebrating the cult anthology series created Rod Serling.

� Debra and Marie stop talking on "Everybody Loves Raymond" (8 p.m., CBS).

Series notes

All are repeats ... A gambling windfall on "King of Queens" (7 p.m., CBS) ... Joe Rogan is host of "Fear Factor" (7 p.m., NBC) ... Four is a crowd on "The Parkers" (7 p.m., UPN) ... Ann wants big changes on "7th Heaven" (7 p.m., WB) � Greg and Kim draw up their wills on "Yes, Dear" (7:30 p.m., CBS).