It all started to go wrong when Marilyn Monroe died. Or maybe just before she died. Or maybe just after. Anyway, it all did go wrong and that's all there is to that.

As for Monroe, she was just beginning to prove herself as an actress after years of faithful service as a sex symbol -- somehow the sexiest and the most symbolic. The last weeks of her life are recalled tonight on a compellingly poignant special called "Marilyn: Something's Got to Give," at 9 on Channel 5.

"Something's Got to Give," from the Johnny Mercer song of the same name, was to be the big romantic-comedy hit of 1962 -- Monroe, Dean Martin, Cyd Charisse and Wally Cox in a remake of "My Favorite Wife" directed by the shrewd George Cukor.

Unfortunately, Monroe's tardiness on the set, and the shortsightedness of thick-skulled studio executives, resulted in Monroe getting fired and the production shut down. They rehired her, according to this report, but before cameras could resume their rolling, Marilyn Monroe was dead.

It was thought that little footage had survived from the weeks of shooting, but Fox recently unearthed a veritable treasure trove. Not enough of it is shown in the special, largely because Fox was determined to go the sleazy route and emphasize Monroe's personal problems, allegations of an affair with John F. Kennedy and other gossipy fluff.

They even interviewed the daughter of Monroe's psychiatrist, for heaven's sake.

But in the little snippets of color film that are included, one sees Monroe aglow, frolicking with two tots cast as her children in the film; swimming seductively and nakedly in a back-yard pool; and, in the most engaging footage, bubbling over with laughter when a hired dog repeatedly misses its cue and flubs lines. It's said that Monroe was relieved to see someone other than her causing production delays.

President Kennedy did figure in her problems. She was whisked from the set to New York to sing "Happy Birthday" to JFK at his now-notorious Madison Square Garden birthday party, a tacky blot on Camelot. Producer Henry Weinstein recalls that studio bosses were furious with Monroe for this appearance, when in fact they should have had the brains to capitalize on it and use it to promote the film.

Like last week's HBO special on the "Godfather" films, in which the current Paramount management in effect trashed previous Paramount management, this film makes Spiros Skouras and others who ran Fox in the '60s look like prize goons. They clumsily tried to make an example of Monroe because they were being burned so badly by Elizabeth Taylor and the continuing fiasco of "Cleopatra," a stinky Heavens-Gater then shooting in Rome.

It is suggested, and fairly strongly, that their greedy bumbling contributed to the depression and death of the greatest sex goddess the screen has ever known.

Dour Henry Schippers, part of the so-called Fox Entertainment News crew, produced and hosts the special. He is badly photographed so as to look oddly armless, but then he has about as much business on camera as does look-alike Kurt Loder, the doleful troll of MTV. A professional narrator with a dramatically expressive voice would have been a better choice.

Anyway, the point of watching is to see that "Something's Got to Give" footage, and it's good to the last drop -- an outtake of Cox making Monroe laugh that's wasted under the closing credits. These are precious glimpses of priceless moments to be saved and savored for years to come.

'L.A. Law' David E. Kelley, executive producer of "L.A. Law," sent out a preview copy of tonight's holiday episode in the hopes it would be written about, but he accompanied it with a plea not to give away any of the plot twists or surprise developments.

The show, directed by Tom Moore, airs at 10 on Channel 4, and suffice it to say that no regular fan of the series should give even the tiniest wisp of a thought of missing it.

Suffice it also to say you'll be floored by who ends up with whom at the office Christmas party that concludes the hour. One particular tryst is a truly nifty shocker, though a certain television critic who shall remain nameless (and friendless, but that's another matter) predicted it weeks ago.

Diana Muldaur returns as Rosalind Shays, and what a pleasure to see her again, and also back from last season is Lenny Wolpe as Noah Cowan, a business whiz with Tourette's Syndrome, the nervous condition that causes him to say very rude things at very wrong times.

With Wolpe back, it was ill-advised of Kelley (who wrote the script with Stephen B. Katz) to devote one of the court cases to a doctor (well played by John Glover) with the "Elephant Man" disorder, which has caused enormous warts to erupt on his face.

Then again, it does help give the episode a theme: affliction, in its various guises, whether medical or social or emotional. Vincent Gardenia is back again as Murray Melman, subject to fits of Alzheimer's, and what happens to him and roommate Benny (Larry Drake) gives the episode its heaviest dramatic weight and also one of the most affectingly mordant punch lines in the show's history.

To the other extreme, Vanna White shows up at the Christmas party, bless her heart. And there's another development in the troubled marriage of Ann and Stuart (Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker), a marriage that only became interesting when it became troubled.

The scenes of marital fracture have brought out the best in cuddly Tucker and icy Eikenberry, but the stride that "L.A. Law" has hit brings out the best in everybody. What's airing tonight is one great episode of one great series, a pillar holding up what's left of Network Excellence.