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'Rugrats' turns 10; lively law in 'Street'

Oh, baby! It's been 10 years since those adorable tots who speak only to each other, the Rugrats, first took on the adult world. This highest-rated kids show (broadcast and cable) is Nickelodeon's gold mine (what with toys, CDs, clothes, and more). The channel is celebrating all year long beginning with a terrific new adventure Jan. 15 (8-8:30 p.m.) that caps off a six-hour marathon (2-8 p.m.) of previous shows.

In this delightful episode, little Chuckie Finster comes to realize how loved he is by his new stepmom, and his new little stepsister, Kimi - who is as rambunctious and assertive as Chuckie is quiet and shy. Naughty Angelica plants the idea in Chuckie's mind that his stepmother and sister may be wicked - just like in the fairy tales. The poor baby imagines catering to their every whim.

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But Chuckie is no "Finster-ella." And he awakens from his "daymare" to find his stepmom and his dad adopting each other's babies. So the episode is a celebration of adoption, too.

The show spawned "The Rugrats Movie," and now the celebratory "Rugrats in Paris," still playing in theaters. The original show, created by Simpsons animators Arlene Klasky and Gabor Csupo, is entertaining for both parents and children (even with all the jokes about smelly diapers) because it allays children's fears and encourages them to look for answers.

It all started when the producers asked each other what if their own babies could talk to each other? One of their best ways to come up with new ideas, in the beginning at least, was to crawl around on the floor with their own tots. The actors feel the same way.

"I think I did look back at my childhood to make it real," says actress Dionne Quan of her role as Kimi. Visually impaired, she has found a rich artistic life doing voiceovers for commercials and other cartoons. But little sister Kimi is her first big gig - and she loves it.

"I was a quiet sort of child, and Kimi isn't," Ms. Quan says. "She's so fearless and fun and energetic. It's a lot of fun to play her." The actress says that the real challenge is to make her voice sound that young.

" 'Rugrats' is the quintessential show looking at the world from a kid's point of view," says Cyma Zarghami, Nick's executive vice president and general manager.

"Our real purpose at Nickelodeon is to help kids feel good about being kids," she says.

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For the 2- to 10-year-old set, this week's interest may turn to "Rugrats," but for adults with a taste for courtroom drama, the best news this season is 100 Centre Street. This marvelous offering from writer and director Sydney Lumet ("The Verdict," "Dog Day Afternoon," "Network") brings a fresh and vigorous approach to the genre of law shows.

All law shows concern themselves with the meaning of justice, but this one focuses more deliberately on how judges think and what influences their decisions. Lumet examines the very human interpretations of the law and suggests that justice is not blind - it is ideological.

The first two episodes (Jan. 15 and Jan. 22 on A&E, 8-10 p.m.) imply that neither a conservative nor a liberal perspective may have a handle on discerning what is just.

Alan Arkin stars as the liberal judge in night court whose nickname among the prosecutors is "Let 'em go, Joe." His liberal policies land him in hot water when a suspect he has cut loose murders a cop during a robbery.

Joe's dear friend, the conservative African-American judge, Attallah Sims, played by Latanya Richardson, is nicknamed "Attallah the Hun" because she has no sympathy for the down-and-outs. Both actors have long and distinguished careers in the movies and their presence on the small screen is enough to warrant watching the show. But there's nothing missing among the rest of the cast either. They're mostly newcomers who bring tremendous psychological and moral depth to their roles as prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Maestro Lumet began his career on television in the 1950s, where he produced 250 shows (many of them live). One of the major themes of his feature film work from "12 Angry Men" to "The Verdict" concerns the problem of justice. It is not always easy to "do justly, and to love mercy," as the Bible advocates and both the meaning of justice and of mercy are disputed in Lumet's socially conscious films. The verdicts he comes to may be clear, but they're never easy.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society