Christopher Reeve does not want children to see his film, "Bump in the Night" (Sunday at 9 on CBS).

His own son, Matthew, who is 11, and his daughter, Alexandra, 7, will not catch Dad in this one until they've grown up.

"This is very definitely a program he will not be seeing," said Reeve. "In fact, I didn't let either of my children come to the set."

In "Bump in the Night," Christopher Reeve -- still best known for his portrayal of Superman in movies dating back to 1978 -- plays a pedophile who is a former college professor, and the charming manner in which he beguiles his intended victim is chilling because it's so effective.

But Reeve and the filmmakers, executive producers Craig Anderson and Robert Halmi and director Karen Arthur, were careful that even 9-year-old Corey Carrier, who plays the victim, was not entirely aware of the nature of the story.

"All he knew, as far as I know, was that he was being kidnapped," said Reeve. "His father was on the set the whole time. You've got to take care of the people you're working with."

On the other hand, Reeve would like all parents of young children to see the story, not only because he and co-star Meredith Baxter Birney turn in superior jobs, but because the movie turns a spotlight on a particularly offensive perversion: the abduction and defiling of young children.

Reeve himself had a brush with such a person in his youth.

"When I was about 13, I was already involved in the theater in Princeton {New Jersey, where he grew up}, and I was supposed to get some stills taken by a photographer. I came over to his house and he had a studio set up. But he wanted me to take my shirt off and then I could imagine standing there in my underwear. I went straight home and told my parents. Because nothing specifically had happened to me, there was no arrest that could be made."

Photography comes into play in "Bump in the Night," when a picture of young Jonathan Tierney is passed along, unbeknownst to his father, who had it taken, to a pedophile. The man, Lawrence Muller, arranges a call to the boy telling him that his father -- who is divorced from the boy's mother -- would like to meet him at a nearby restaurant. Dad never shows up, of course, but his "friend" does.

Meanwhile, the boy's mother, who didn't rouse herself from a stupor to see him off that morning, learns when the school calls that her son never arrived.

Meredith Baxter Birney's character is a former New York newspaper reporter with a drinking problem, but she could be any parent who prefers to sleep in or who must leave before the child goes to school. Making her a former investigative reporter gives her the aggressiveness and access to resources that she needs to set about finding her child, and provides a race-against-time element.

"Apparently pedophiles move in on children from broken homes," said Reeve. "They move in on them, they buy them candy. A lot of times a pedophile will wait months to get a child's trust before making a physical move.

"This guy has tried not to do this anymore, and a lot of times these kinds of perverts will try for a structure that will keep them from exercising their perversion.

"But once you've done time in jail ... these pedophiles are treated by other prisoners as the scum of the earth, and they're raped in prison. That's how this man has turned to violence."

Reeve's character is a former professor of literature and once the coach of his son's swim team. Understandably, he particularly appreciates young Jonathan's interest in poetry. In fact, he calls to thank the woman who gave him the photo for an ideal choice.

"A lot of these pedophiles are not disgusting types sitting on a park bench in a raincoat," he said. "A pervert comes in all shapes and sizes. They cut across all the classes. They need help. But parents need to take care of their children so they don't fall into {the seducer's clutches}."

In doing research for his part, Reeve looked at materials the New York City vice police provided him from an organization called the North American Man-Boy Love Association, and talked to psychiatrists and the police assigned to such cases.

"All these pedophiles have collections of pictures," he said. "Because they can't talk about it openly, they circulate these pictures around. That's why the police here in the {New York City} Public Morals Division try to infiltrate these rings. They're often very fastidious people, very neat. One man kept on computer a list of all the boys he had made love it by age -- they ranged from 5 to 19 years old. They had listings of about 300 names of kids he had made it with."

In "Bump in the Night," Reeve, as Lawrence Muller, never undresses or fondles 8-year-old Jonathan Tierney. Only a quick kiss on the boy's hair while the two are looking out an apartment window suggests what may occur.

But the apartment is largely unfurnished, except for a large bed surrounded by photographic lights, and even the boy understands immediately that something is wrong.

"No one lives here," he shouts, realizing too late that Reeve has locked the door.

"It's clear enough what my character wants," said Reeve.

There are also a couple of murders in the story, action that serves to underscore the unsavory world of those who deal in children and prostitution.

Reeve, who said his role was shot "all at once, in seven days," spent all of his time with young Carrier. He never watched Baxter Birney's portrayal of Martha "Red" Tierney, although he knew the second thread that runs through "Bump in the Night."

"There are two separate things here that finally connect," he said.

Baxter Birney does a commendable job as an award-winning former journalist who finally faces something that's more important to her than the bottle: Her son's life. Appearing with her are Wings Hauser as her ex-husband, a writer; Shirley Knight as Katie Leonard, an alcoholic artist-friend, and Geraldine Fitzgerald as Mrs. Beauchamp, the "cat lady" neighbor who lets Jonathan keep his kitten at her house and who is the last person to see the boy the day he is abducted.

Reeve has one other concern: He wants viewers to put aside their image of him as Superman, a part he played back in 1978, and see him as an actor in another role.

"The public needs to come with a clean slate each time," he said. "All of us have many incarnations. An actor is not the part he plays.

"And I seriously hope that parents will take control of the TV set on the Sunday night when this is on," he said. "There may be some kids out there who hear I'm in a movie. They've got to explain that just because he was Superman in one movie doesn't mean he's the same in this one. If they take the time to say an actor only pretends, that it's fun to pretend, that he doesn't really do these things ...

"This is a movie for adults to watch and not for children. One of the messages is to account for children's time. Don't let your child slip away from you."