With apologies to Roseanne Barr, "Babes" could only be a Fox series. Nobody at the Big Three networks has enough chutzpah to carry it off.

Like "Married ... With Children," this Fox comedy series pushes the limits. "Babes" builds an entire series around three overweight women, a concept that some will view as yet another decline in good taste on broadcast sitcoms.

But one of its stars, 22-year-old Lesley Boone, said she thought the pilot (Thursday at 8:30, right after "The Simpsons") was "hysterical" and believes the only people who find it offensive will be those without a weight problem.

The babes are three hefty sisters, Darlene, Charlene and Marlene Gilbert, who are living separately in New York City. When the senior sister leaves her philandering husband and the younger one loses her job, both move in with Charlene.

Though it's obvious that they all care about each other, the efficiency apartment becomes increasingly crowded. Together, these babes take up a bunch of room. Predictably, the couch/bed they share that first night collapses under their weight.

The eldest, Darlene (Susan Peretz), given to head-butting her opposition, is so corpulent she becomes stuck in one of those chairs with attached desks, the kind that schools use.

The middle sister (Wendie Jo Sperber) is obese, but in the opener, Ronnie (Rick Overton), proprietor of Ronnie's Chicken Wings, finds her so attractive in her gold Madonna-like bustier and harem pants that he proposes to bed and wed her. A moment into the show, he's got his belt off, and soon afterward, his pants are down around his ankles.

The youngest and prettiest (Boone) initially lacks enough self-esteem to try for a new job. Pushed by her sisters, she ends up auditioning for an advertising campaign that needs a large woman. When she begins her photo sequence for Hefty Hose, there should be little doubt that plump can still be pretty and the resulting poster, plastered on a passing bus, proves it.

All three of these babes have got humor and spirit, and fat women who need a dose of self-confidence may love them.

The question then is: Can Fox make a series out of what could be a one-joke show?

Boone thinks so, or rather she thinks it won't be a one-joke show.

"'Babes' is about three sisters and their lives and loves. You have three different perspectives: There's me, who is extremely shy and lets her weight get in the way of everything, and there's the Wendie Jo character, who has a good job and a boyfriend, and the older sister, who takes a cynical attitude toward everything.

"There's a line in the pilot where Darlene says, 'Everything is about weight.' Well, that's right: Everyone is conscious about their weight. There's not a day that I, Lesley, don't wake up and think about being overweight, that being overweight doesn't somehow come into play.

"Of course, there's still going to be 'weighty' things in the show. But I think that's what the show should not be about.

"We're hoping that what 'Golden Girls' did for senior citizens, 'Babes' will do for overweight women."

Darlene, she thinks, and husband Wilbur will probably get a divorce. Charlene will probably have more than one boyfriend. "And they told me they're looking for a boyfriend for me," she said approvingly.

"And we could really have some fun if all three of us went on diets. There's all different kinds of stories that you can do. We could all go on different diets -- a water diet, a rice diet ..."

Because Fox shows have come to be known for particularly heavyhanded humor, and because executive story editor Tracey Jackson is not a member of the overweight sorority, Boone said "the producers are very open and listen to us.

"We are the gold mines. We talk about experiences we've had in life. If there's something that bothers us in the script, we tell them. Sometimes there might be a joke written that they think is funny and we don't, and they'll do something about it.

"We all have very strong opinions," she said. "I know I would never do anything that humiliated me. I was embarrassed enough in 'Glory Days' that the entire nation saw me in that pink bridesmaid dress. There was nothing I could do -- we were in Vancouver, Canada.

"But after I came home, I felt good about that episode. I felt that I'd done the best work that I could, up to that time."

Meanwhile, Boone has been conducting a little research of her own, and if she's right, overweight women will love "Babes."

"I personally thought the pilot was hysterical, but I was too close to it, so I got a tape and I had a bunch of people over to watch it. Some were overweight, some weren't, and they were all hysterical. I've never seen those people laugh so hard.

"It's people who don't have the weight problem who think it's going to be offensive," she said. "But we don't want anyone feeling sorry for us. We're normal. We have husbands and boyfriends and jobs."

Still, not all hefties can say, like Boone, that she has "never, ever in my life" had a problem directly relating to her weight.

"When I was in elementary school, kids made fun of each other. Of course, I told boys they had cooties, too. But I was always popular. I was vice president of my high school, and I got voted Class Clown. I took what I had -- my personality -- and used it.

"I really think that this show is going to help overweight people. People let those problems get in the way of things they want to do in life. I know there's prejudice {against fat people} out there in the world and I don't let it get in the way. But I know that that happens. Society values appearance. It's unfortunate, but that's the way it is in this society."

Boone, like Sperber, is a Southern Californian who attended California State University, Northridge. After her first year there, thinking she'd like to "go back East," Boone went to San Francisco to audition for New York's Juilliard School.

"But I chickened out before I got the results because I knew if I got it there's no turning it down, and I was afraid to leave my family and go live in New York all by myself."

Instead, she spent three months in London studying drama "because I knew I could go home after three months. But my ultimate goal still is to go to Broadway."

Peretz is a New Yorker who was graduated from Forest Hills High School and the State University of New York in Buffalo.

All three have resumes that include a number of television series appearances.

Both Boone and Peretz have done bits on NBC's "L.A. Law." (Peretz played a woman who lost her job because of her weight and sued her employer for discrimination). Founder of the Third Street Theatre in Hollywood, where she still teaches, she also played Al Pacino's wife in the movie "Dog Day Afternoon."

Sperber appeared on an ABC Afterschool Special called "Dinkie Hocker Shoots Smack," which won an Emmy Award, and was a regular on four TV series, Fox's "Women in Prison," CBS's "Private Benjamin," ABC's "Bosom Buddies, and "Freestyle" on PBS. She also holds the Los Angeles Drama Critics' Award for her appearance in the theatrical production of "Let's Call Pizza Man."

Boone, who has performed in several Southern California stage musicals, had a recurring role on ABC's "Growing Pains" and most recently appeared in an episode of Fox's "Glory Days." On ABC's "Doogie Howser, M.D.," she played the cousin of Doogie's girlfriend Wanda. Those two appearances, she said, were the only ones she had ever taken based on her weight.

Usually, she said, she auditions for secondary roles, character roles and what she called "best friend" roles.

"I was never the leading lady," she said. "But in 'Babes,' we're the leading ladies."