After '24,' Hope springs eternal in new drama

The last time most TV viewers saw Leslie Hope, she was dying. The actress portrayed Jack Bauer's estranged wife on the first season of "24." According to published interviews, Hope had no idea that her character would get bumped off during the final seconds of the season finale.

Nothing so drastic occurs in the TV drama "An Unexpected Love" (8 p.m., Lifetime) -- unless you count the risk of being bored to death. Hope plays Kate Mayer, a housewife and mother of two who suddenly tells her handsome husband Jack (D.W. Moffett) that their marriage is kaput. Being perfectly reasonable people, and completely unbelievable as human beings, they don't resort to threats, tears, icy silences or tantrums. Jack merely says, "Okay, I guess I'll find my own place."

Soon, Kate is surrounded by radios playing "All By Myself." This leaves her filled with self-pity and prone to venting to strangers on the street. One passerby, the witty, warm and wise-cracking Maggie (Margo Martindale) invites her into her real estate office for a cup of coffee. Kate is hired before she has a chance to ask for a second cup. There she meets, and later falls in love with, a Realtor named McNally "Mac" Hayes. There's just one catch. Mac (Wendy Crewson) is a woman. Gasp!

Kate and Mac spend most of the rest of the film engaged in long -- make that very long -- conversations about their feelings, and the utter unexpectedness of Kate's affections. Like most formulaic lesson dramas, "Love" offers a few cringe-worthy scenes where Kate explains her new feelings to her old husband and her cranky teen-age daughter. But they soon come around to her point of view and offer neat sound-bites of acceptance and understanding. But will Kate's starchy, sherry-swilling mother overcome her religious objections to her new lifestyle? I'll never tell.

Tonight's other highlights

  • "Biography" (7 p.m., A&E;) profiles Robert Duvall.
  • Christopher Reeve guest stars as the husband of a murder suspect on "The Practice" (8 p.m., ABC).
  • The 52nd annual Miss USA Pageant (8 p.m., NBC) will be broadcast live from San Antonio, Texas. This marks the first time this contest, owned by the glitzy Donald Trump, has been broadcast on NBC.

Series notes

Backstage passions on "Boston Public" (7 p.m., Fox) ... A kidnapping in Tibet on "Veritas: The Quest" (7 p.m., ABC) ... A very special lesson about Cystic Fibrosis on "7th Heaven" (7 p.m., WB).

Off to see the Wiggles on "Yes, Dear" (7:30 p.m., CBS).

Four couples left on "Married by America" (8 p.m., Fox) ... Toni drops her standards on "Girlfriends" (8 p.m., UPN) ... Mona keeps her dim date a secret on "Half and Half" (8:30 p.m., UPN)

Paul ponders the meaning of the blood writing on "Miracles" (9 p.m., ABC) ... A street walker meets a grim fate on "CSI: Miami" (9 p.m., CBS).

Late night

Cat Power performs on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno hosts Wanda Sykes, Roger Ebert, Richard Roeper and Deana Carter on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC).

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