ABC TV has a tradition of preceding each year's telecast of the Academy Awards with a Truly Awful musicial-variety special, and whoever headlines it gets to ride into Nielsen Heaven on Oscar's coattails. This year the lucky pair are, to quote the official billing, "John Denver With His Special Guest George Burns: Two of a Kind," at 9 on Channel 7.

Perhaps in the future these two pandering cut-ups can restrict their reunions to private quarters, since co-starring in the comedy film "Oh, God!" they've become tediously palsywalsy. Denver treats Burns like a spoiled child on the brink of tantrum: there's lots of twinklesome, demeaning deference, which Burns unfortunately laps up.

Reduced to the level of Cute Old Pet, Burns ambles through his painfully familiar material once more, making lots of jokes about his seniority: "I'd go out with women my age, but there are no women my age." What tattered shtick this is! Denver's young constituency, to judge from audience reactions on the special, think of Burns as some sort of funny new ornament bobbing up and down on a dashboard. The spectacle is not appealing from any angle.

Denver, of course, is the kind of performer who responds to applause by saying, "I love you too, thank you," to the audience. In the evening's most rigorously mortifying jaunt, Denver and Burns do one of those show-biz medleys about show biz, "Standing Ovation," in which they compare themselves to Jolson, Durante, Cohan, Garland and others. It's the kind oof self-aggrandizing slur on legitimate sentimentality that could make even the corniest cornball cringe.

The hour mixes concert segments taped at the Universal Amphitheater with a wraparound in which Burns and Denver trade praise in a near-empty studio. Denver sings songs he's already done on past specials: "You Fill Up My Senses." Thank God I'm a Country Boy," and the definitively icky "Calypso." Burns mumbles his way through "It's the Only Way to Go" and "I Wish I Was 18 Again." On these numbers, one can see the kernel of charm that each man possesses, but the special tries to pop that up into something monumental; they become a pair of nagging, smothering bores.

As produced by Bob Finkel and directed by Stan Harris, though, it is a relatively ungimmicked hour. There isn't a lot of a video flotsam getting in the way of the performers' jetsam (this might be one occasion when you wish something would get in the way). Why are John and George "Two of a Kind"? Perhaps because they each have wide horizontal mouths hinged like a puppet's; they both bear passing resemblances to Kermit the Frog.

Somehow, it isn't enough.