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FRIDAY American Playhouse (PBS, 9-11:30 p.m.): The Steppenwolf Theatre Company's 1990-Tony-winning stage production of "The Grapes of Wrath" gets its TV premi 143>re with the original 35-member cast intact. Gary Sinise is Tom Joad in this version of John Steinbeck's classic novel about an Oklahoma dust-bowl family's fight for survival - economic and social - in Depression-era America.


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The Oscars (ABC, 9 p.m. to conclusion, E.T.): "Dances With Wolves" enters the arena as the nominations winner - with 12 - in this glitteriest and perhaps most clich 142>d of all the media contests. The 63rd Annual Academy Awards airs live from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, with Billy Crystal as host for the second year.

Great Performances (PBS, 9-11 p.m.): "The Mahabharata" offers an epic of India in epic takes - three two-hour shows aired on consecutive nights. Adapted in English from a 90,000-stanza Sanscrit text that is 2,000-years old, Peter Brook's film version of his own massive stage work deals with a sacred Hindu tale. In a way, it tells the whole story of the human race through the passionate, sometimes horrifying history of two royal families. The cast is from some 60 countries and Mr. Brook himself hosts.


Nova (PBS, 8-9 p.m.): You have to be a world-class chess player to beat the best computers these days. This show pits the computer champion against the present human title-holder. Who wins? That would spoil the viewing.

Please check local listings for all programs, especially on PBS.

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