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`Night Heat' moves to prime time

Night Heat CBS, tonight, 10-11 o'clock.

With this episode, ``Night Heat'' moves from its 11:30 p.m. slot to ``premi`ere'' in prime time as a weekly summer series - but it trails dark images of its former late-night period.

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The genre police drama pictures night in the city as a shadowy, exotically violent world inhabited by clich'ed TV characters - a thick-tongued drug dealer, street-smart ``narcs,'' a hard-bitten but decent police lieutenant.

Tonight's case is the kind especially troubling to any police bureau: A fellow officer is suspected of letting a woman flee the scene of a drug bust. Does he know her? Did he let her escape with the drugs because he's in love - or for money?

The production is like a rough sketch whose details and individuality are largely missing. Even the two streetwise detectives - well played by regular stars Scott Hylands and Jeff Wincott - are slightly anonymous, half-formed figures who seem vaguely to recapitulate every detective seen through the years on TV.

But the show does have something that isn't routine - a startling plot twist that lifts the story just above the ordinary. This new angle - revealed near the program's end - concerns the suspected cop, and fortunately he is played by guest star Jason Miller, whose humanity gives soul to the proceedings. His face is a wrinkled map of petty betrayals and lost hopes as the story puts him ever deeper into the mess.

This twist tends curiously to upgrade earlier scenes in a viewer's mind. There were some strong points, after all, he tells himself - like shifting, half-lit shots that build the tension before the failed drug bust. And there was electricity when the police confronted Miller with a tape recording revealing the presence of the girl at the drug bust. Even the program's overall structure of gradually emerging truth about Miller's role - production clich'es all - can be appreciated, and so can individual performances like Deborah Grover's as an outraged questioner at a hearing. But these are high points rising above a generally pedestrian background.

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