NEW YORK -- On paper, it is just another depressingly sordid New York trial: Three Harlem youths charged with the attempted murder, rape and sodomy of a 29-year-old woman in the spring of 1989.

But the Central Park jogger case could turn into a national extravaganza if two cable-television stations and a local network affiliate are allowed to televise portions of the trial. Jury selection is to begin this week.

Cable News Network wants to carry some of the testimony live. A new network called American Lawyer Media, in partnership with Time Warner, has asked permission to carry the entire trial. WCBS-TV here also plans limited live coverage.

In a surprise move Thursday, prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer joined defense lawyers in urging that television cameras be barred from the trial, saying "lewd and scandalous" matters are involved.

Lederer told Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Thomas B. Galligan that some witnesses "would be nervous and anxious about being televised," especially the defendants' neighbors, who are "afraid of some type of retaliation from the community." Galligan said he had "serious misgivings" about the cameras but reserved decision until Monday.

Steven Brill, president of American Lawyer Media, contended that live coverage would "de-sensationalize the case" by allowing viewers to see the conflicting factors that produce the verdict. "It would provide a substitute for fist-shaking outside the courtroom and New York Post headlines," he said.

"If these kids get off, most people are going to believe . . . it proves the system doesn't work. But it may be because there isn't very good proof. This is not an open-and-shut case. The people on trial are the first ones the cops caught. They have no physical evidence that these kids are the ones."

The racially charged case is filled with dramatic elements. There will be testimony about how 33 black and Hispanic youths went on a "wilding" spree in Central Park and videotaped confessions in which defendants describe the assault in brutally graphic terms.

The victim, who has never spoken publicly, may take the witness stand. A Pennsylvania native left bloodied and near death, the woman has made a remarkable recovery and has rejoined Salomon Brothers as a vice president. Prosecutors say she has no recollection of the attack.

Lederer expressed concern that the woman's name would be revealed if live coverage were allowed. But television executives said that their cameras would not show the jogger and that they would use a 10-second delay to delete mention of her name.

Until now, the most sensational televised trial here has been that of Joel Steinberg, whose conviction in the beating death of his daughter, Lisa, 6, drew national attention to the issue of child abuse.

The Central Park defendants are Antron McCray, 15, Raymond Santana, 15, and Yusef Salaam, 16. They are the first of six youths charged with attempted murder and rape to stand trial in the case.

McCray, in a written statement to police, admitted raping, punching and kicking the jogger but later said he only simulated the rape "so everyone {would} just know I did it."

Salaam denied raping the woman but admitted hitting her over the head with a metal bar and called the attack "fun." Santana admitted fondling her while someone else raped her, but another defendant described Santana as leader of the "wilding" pack.

Prosecutors say some DNA tests of semen samples were inconclusive, while others indicate that at least one other person not charged in the case participated in the rape.

"We have said consistently that the backbone of the case are the statements made by the defendants," said Gerald McKelvey, spokesman for the Manhattan district attorney. "We believe those statements, in conjunction with the physical evidence, will lead to the conviction of these three people."

Michael Joseph, McCray's attorney, said prosecutors "were hoping to be able to solidify their case through some sort of physical evidence. I believe the evidence turns out to be exculpatory." Joseph said the case would turn on whether jurors will consider defense arguments that the confessions were "induced and directed" by police.

Since testimony by one codefendant cannot be used against another, Galligan has directed that names of other accused persons be deleted from each defendant's written and videotaped statements. Defense lawyers have complained that jurors will draw negative inferences anyway.