So there's this beauty. She's a chichi society lawyer. And one night she's mistaken for another beauty by some evil nasty bad guys, who put her in a van and mar her face and roll her into a ravine. And leave her there for dead.

But there's this, er, uh, beast. Hence the title -- "Ishtar." No, actually, "Beauty and the Beast." It's a new CBS romantic fantasy drama adventure action thing, premiering tonight at 10 on Channel 9, wherein beast meets beauty, beast loses beauty, and beast climbs up the outside of beauty's apartment building to schmooze with her on the terrace.

Honest injun, ladies and gents, this is hands down and aces wild the cwaziest new show of the season.

Beast, whose first name is Vincent, lives 'neath Manhattan in a drippy creepy cavern, and he knows the subway tunnels and sewer drains like the back of his hand. And this lad has got some back of a hand. He doesn't just have hair on his head, he doesn't just have hair on his face, he has hair on his elbows and knees, too. You'd need garden shears to find his Adam's apple.

Like, the dude has hair everywhere. What a mess his drains must be. Of course, he lives in a drain, so maybe that's no problem.

For all the animalism in his visage, from deep within the tangly gnarl of ugliness there comes a sinewy sonorous voice, the kind that could do Chanel No. 5 commercials with no trouble. And sensitive? Ooooh, the beast is sensitive. He reads poetry. He has telepathic thoughts. "Your pain," he tells the beauty, "is my pain."

He's a howl.

So -- where were we? And what planet is this? Ah yes, beauty recuperates from her attack and over a period of eight months grows to understand, rather than fear, the strange shadowy figure with the Shakespearean elocution and the deep-pile complexion. They establish a psychological link before she leaves for the real world and a new career as a dedicated crusader in the DA's office.

There she quickly develops a hankering to nail some big-time no-goodniks, preferably including those who attacked her. In the process of doing that, she gets an innocent woman killed with her bungling, but we're still supposed to root for her -- and for the beast when he crashes through a wall to rescue her from the badduns at the very last minute. Or before the very last commercial, anyway.

Linda Hamilton, as the beauty, is a beauty, and threatens to impose some daft sort of credibility on these oddly artsy shenanigans. She was the pursued victim, and terrific at it, in "The Terminator." As the beast, Ron Perlman is presumably supposed to make susceptible hearts flutter. But the show is more likely to make reasonable minds titter.

"King Kong" it ain't. "The Incredible Hulk" it ain't either, until the last five minutes or so, when the incredible beast rescues his damsel in distress. For whom, one might wonder, was this show intended -- for women who love "Masters of the Universe" cartoons and "Monday Night Football," with a little Barbara Cartland thrown in?

We're supposed to encourage networks to try something different, that's true. "Beauty and the Beast" is something different. But maybe just a tad, just a touch, just a teensy-weensy itsy-bitsy bit too different. If there is an audience out there for it, you probably wouldn't want to meet them through a computer dating service, nor perhaps run into them at the wax museum, either.

Because let's face it: If you run into a fan of "Beauty and the Beast," it will probably turn out to be a CBS network executive. Oooooh, scary