TV critic Tom Shales called the first day of the Bork hearings "slow going and sluggish television, all the advance hype about fireworks and histrionics notwithstanding" {Style, Sept. 16}. Well, too bad. Some things are more important than ratings.

Spoiled by Ollie North's performance before Congress this summer, Shales' excito-meter budged only when Sen. Edward M. Kennedy grilled Judge Robert Bork on his past criticism of civil rights legislation. "The give-and-take was electric and instructive," Shales wrote. "This is what, it seemed, a confirmation hearing should be."

Wrong. That's what "L.A. Law" should be. In the real world, hearings are often very dull and plodding. And yes, they frequently get bogged down in legal theory that would drive many a soap opera fan to the refrigerator.

Sen. Robert Byrd was long-winded and meandering -- as are many politicians. But I'd take him any day over a lawmaker who is preoccupied only with how well he or she comes across on television.

When Sen. Orrin Hatch tried to accuse Bork opponents of watering issues down to 30-second "sound-bites," Shales must have winced as the chairman, Sen. Joseph Biden, stepped in to assure Bork he could take as much time as he wished when responding to questions.

Shales should know what happens to government when shallow, telegenic media figures take on positions of power.

"The networks were appalled," Shales wrote of the first day. Good. This is not a government "for the media, by the media," Shales' preferences notwithstanding.

Michael B. Mills