"I've thrown myself into this, lock, stock and barrel," said Ryan O'Neal of his work as actor and owner of a new TV sitcom called "Good Sports."

So, Ryan, what's it like working in series television after a long string of theatrical movies that ended three or four years ago?

"It's just nice to be working," he said. "I try not to cry myself to sleep. An actor not acting is not alive. I'm alive now."

On paper, there's a long list of reasons why Ryan's "Good Sports" should quietly disappear from the CBS schedule without a trace.

To start, it's on Thursday night at 9:30, opposite that NBC program juggernaut. Come to think of it, the list doesn't have to go any further than that.

On the other side of the page, there are a few reasons why it just might stick. To start, it stars Farrah Fawcett. Come to think of it, that list doesn't have to go much further, either. But it does.

She has in tow O'Neal, her housemate of 10 years and the father of her son. Theirs seems to be as oddly interesting a relationship on television as it's been in the tabloids all these years.

Fawcett has a long trail of television successes, starting with her work in "Charlie's Angels." She played the battered wife in "The Burning Bed," one of television's most successful movies ever. Most recently she had the lead in "Small Sacrifices," a miniseries about a woman convicted of killing her children. In short, she's a certified TV star.

But what steps does O'Neal bring to the dance?

It's been a long time since he did series television ("Peyton Place"), and he basically fashioned his career out of a long list of theatrical films. Some of them were quite funny ("Nickelodeon," for instance), suggesting he might find a home in comedy. And he's used to sharing the screen with strong actresses, including Barbra Streisand and his daughter, Tatum O'Neal. So maybe it will work out after all.

"I got lucky in the beginning," Ryan said. "I worked with Streisand. She's great at comedy. I came from 'Peyton Place' and 'Love Story.' It was all so heavy. And {director} Peter Bogdanovich was good at making a scene crackle. I did three pictures with him and two with Barbra. I have all the information I need for what I'm doing now."

O'Neal's life seems to inform the series. He plays Bobby Tannen, a former football star with a tattered past who has fallen on hard times. His salvation comes in the form of a job as a sportscaster, working alongside a former super-model now making her way in sports journalism.

As Tannen, O'Neal pleaded in the pilot episode, "I need this job." He said something like that in describing his real career. Indeed, when it comes to screen work, it has been a bit of a dry spell for O'Neal.

"I went from 'Barry Lyndon' to playing a a guy carrying two bloody heads" {in "Tough Guys Don't Dance"}, said O'Neal. That was three years ago. "My fortunes had changed," he said.

Things began to change for the better when a long-dormant idea for O'Neal to do television suddenly took shape.

"This came together magically," O'Neal recalled. "I had just run into {producer} Bernie Brillstein at a gym -- he's a friend -- and we got to talking and he asked if I'd be interested in doing a sitcom. They had a writer with an idea: sort of a 'Tonight Show' couple who interview people in their homes. So I went home and told Farrah."

Alan Zweibel, another of the show's producers, came up with a treatment with a cable TV sports show setting. The gimmick: Famous athletes do cameo appearances. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was in the pilot and former Redskin quarterback Doug Williams showed up last week. That trend should continue. And the fun part is that O'Neal's character is more likely to quarrel with his guests than to gush over them.

In the first nine episodes, O'Neal encounters the likes of George Steinbrenner -- "I turned on him, but I loved George Foreman. In one of the shows I have to fight Jim Brown."

Then there's the love-hate relationship with his co-anchor, Fawcett. The tone was set early when it was revealed that they had had a hot one-night stand during Tannen's playing days. This bit of history comes to the surface because Fawcett's character, Gayle Roberts, has to remind Tannen of it. Forget an evening with Farrah Fawcett? Oh, well.

They are likely to keep their distance for some time. "We're filming the 10th episode," O'Neal said, "and we're still at arms' length. We've had a couple of moments of closing the gap, but basically she doesn't care for me, doesn't respect me."

The situation is similar, of course, to the love-hate relationship that has helped make "Cheers" a long-lived, top-rated show.

But "Good Sports" does not have a favorable timeslot or the network foundation of NBC's "Cheers."

"The timeslot's not great," O'Neal said. "They {CBS} don't have any timeslots, really. Our ads say, 'Tune us in right after "Cheers."' On another network. That was Farrah's idea."

Fawcett also helped design the sets -- "I was always trying to get her to rehearse and she was conferring on the layout of the apartments."

Along with an ownership position in the show come other proprietary chores for Fawcett and O'Neal. Such as editing the show. "We own the shows, and we want them to be good," O'Neal said. "We have an editing machine, and we come together with three edited versions of the show: the director's, producer's and owners'. It's fun for us. In movies, you don't get to edit your own pictures; you just walk away."

To his credit -- and to the benefit of the show -- editor O'Neal has not relegated to the cutting room floor a number of script references that poke him squarely in the ribs. There was a mention of "Love Story" in the pilot and, speaking of ribs, early in the series he was referred to as chubby. Hmmm. Maybe it's time to get back into the gym.

O'Neal has spent a lot of time in gyms. He was an amateur boxer and has managed fighters. And he's put up his dukes in some of his films.

"I loved the canvas, still do," O'Neal said. "I promised Farrah I would take her to the Foreman-Holyfield match in April."

O'Neal will turn 50 that month. "I feel fine," he said. "A little slower than I remember. I'm still boxing. I have a racquetball court. But I don't get a chance to work out."

In addition to Fawcett's looks and spunk and O'Neal's easy charm, a prime asset of the show is Lane Smith as the owner of the show's cable sports network (which is a dead ringer for ESPN). Smith, whose familiar face became memorable when he played Richard Nixon in television's "The Final Days," here takes on an acid comic style.

"He's using a few of his Nixon licks, I think," O'Neal said. "There's something a bit demonic about him."

At the heart of the show, though, is Fawcett's enduring TV presence. O'Neal and the show's producers -- Brillstein, Zweibel and Brad Grey -- are relying on Fawcett to do more than write ad copy and arrange the furniture.

"We're counting on the fact that Farrah's well-known on television," O'Neal said. "I need this job."