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Advertising lauds its own

If Kelsey Grammer doesn't watch out, he may become Billy Crystal.

The Fraiser star seems to be positioning himself as the next great awards show host, appearing on both Saturday's Comedy Hall of Fame and tonight's Clio Awards.

What are the Clios, you ask? They honor the part of television most viewers love to hate: commercials.

Admit it: You rolled with the "Where's the Beef?" lady and doubled over when the Medic Alert woman fell and couldn't get up. These days, folks are ogling the bare-chested Diet Coke construction worker and channel surfing for Cindy Crawford's next Pepsi ad. And who hasn't been wondering what's going to happen to the Taster's Choice couple?

For 35 years, the Clios have applauded accomplishments in international advertising. This year's contest featured more than 9,000 entries, from Denmark to Detroit.

The best of the best are obvious: Little Caesar's has been consistently bizarre as a way to sell its pizza-pizza. A nation of beer drinkers has wanted to trade lives with Bud Lite's Dr. Galazkiewicz. And who can forget the onslaught of gutbusting Super Bowl ads, which cost up to $1-million for 30 seconds?

But by far, the greatest thing about the Clios is the opportunity to view foreign commercials _ which are sexier and more irreverent than American ads. Sure, the punchlines can get lost in the translation, but the style and the finesse of these commercials are universal.

Like any awards show, the celebrity presenters can be a bore (namely, the awkward Gabrielle Carteris, from Beverly Hills 90210). But in keeping with Fox tradition, the funky set and tone speed the show along, and Grammer nails more than a few zingers.

As a result, the Clios are well worth the hour. Plus, there's bound to be at least a few good commercials on in between.

TV notebook

MIKE'S BACK: TNT will tip off its NBA season with a two-hour tribute to the great retired one, Michael Jordan, on Tuesday. The program will feature highlights from his college and professional career, and will see Jordan's famed No. 23 jersey hung from the rafters at Chicago's new United Center....ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST: Thunder Alley, ABC's Wednesday night sitcom starring Ed Asner as a retired stock-car racer, is "temporarily leaving" after this week's episode to return in March in a new time period. It'll be replaced by Sister, Sister, a sitcom about reunited twin girls that aired briefly last spring.... KUDOS TO CABLE: Two women-oriented projects are among the five finalists for the Golden Cable ACE Awards, the industry's highest honor for community contributions. The finalists include: C-SPAN's School Bus, an educational motor coach that travels the nation; the Discovery Channel's Watergate miniseries; Home Shopping Club Inc.'s Bring Them Home America special about missing children; Lifetime's public awareness campaign, Picture What Women Do; and TBS' six-hour program A Century of Women. The winner will be named in January.... ED SULLIVAN A LA MTV: Comedian and veejay Bill Bellamy will launch a variety show on MTV Nov. 23.

_ Information from Times wires was used in this report.


Clio Awards

Tonight at 9, Ch. 28 (Fox). Grade: B+