And now, coming soon to a television set near you, it's the fifth gala National Football League players strike! Featuring:

No games, or games with training camp cuts, wandering free agents and CPAs.

Lost revenue for the league, networks and advertisers.

Mid-life crises for football fanatics and bookies.

If the NFL continues to play with makeshift teams, each network has said it will show the games -- at least at first. But what if the strike lingers on and the advertisers' expected restiveness intensifies?

Or, what if there are no games?

"We are studying all the available options to us," said Peter Tortorici, CBS Sports' vice president for program planning. "And, of course, we have experience here {because of the 57-day players strike in 1982}."

One thing everyone learned from the '82 strike: when the NFL goes down for the count, the networks go quickly for the fights. Boxing matches are only a phone call away, and any fighter is willing to cut his training period to, say, three or four hours, for the proper paycheck.

In 1982, when the three networks lost an estimated $100 million in advertising revenue during the strike, CBS ran NBA games, college football and boxing; NBC aired Canadian Football League games and boxing as substitute programming and ABC ran movies on Monday nights.

This year, the piecemeal solutions will be fairly similar. The key phrase to remember here is anthology programming. CBS likely will shift some college football to Sundays, plus add some boxing and other anthology programming. NBC likely will telecast boxing and golf and other anthology programming. ABC, on Monday nights, again will fill with movies, only because anthology programming is not an attractive prime-time bet.

This coming Sunday, CBS will show an expanded, one-hour "The NFL Today," followed by a rebroadcast of Super Bowl XXI (the Giants are favored by 10 over the Broncos). NBC will have its "NFL Live" broadcast and will announce today its other programming.

ESPN, meanwhile, can only sit back and hope that any strike is settled by Nov. 8, the day a regular season NFL game arrives on cable for the first time.

Naturally, there is a price to pay when the biggest television sport in the land pulls its own plug at peak time.

The networks will get a refund if games aren't played, and advertisers will get rebates from the networks. Even if the networks continue to show NFL games with makeshift squads, the networks will get money back (as would advertisers, if the ratings drop as expected). And if the NFL takes this week off before returning to play Oct. 3, it will cost the league considerably because of a payment the networks are scheduled to make at that time.

"The league will compensate us for losses incurred because of a strike," said Ken Schanzer, NBC Sports' senior vice president. But Schanzer declined to be more specific.

At issue is whether the networks must keep showing NFL games with makeshift teams. The league contends that the networks are contractually committed to televise those games. The networks are looking into whether they are obligated to show such games.

Even though advertisers can expect rebates, that money doesn't replace the loss of a marketing outlet such as the NFL. After all, there are tires and beer and tacos to be sold, and America might think that motor oil is just motor oil unless someone tells us otherwise. Plus, this is the new car season, for crying out loud.

"There's really not a good alternative to the NFL," said Steven Grubbs, a sports-advertising specialist at BBDO agency in New York. "Some advertisers are turning to prime-time, but there's not a lot of prime-time out there at this time. If the strike goes longer than a week or two, you'll see the baseball playoffs and World Series completely sold out quickly . . .

"The networks are pretty well protected. I have to believe after what happened five years ago, {the networks} were protecting themselves against this possibility {in the most recently signed contract with the NFL}."

The networks and league might be protected in the short term, but another strike could have devastating long-term effects.

"How long is the strike going to be? If we're talking a couple of weeks, it's no big deal," said Jon Mandel of Grey Advertising Agency in New York. "But what might hurt everyone is that if you look back to the last strike, it's remarkable what happened to fan interest and viewer interest. There was a big fallout. What if the fans don't come back again? If the ratings go down again that could have a long-term effect. It takes a long time to get those numbers back. That's the hidden cost of the strike."

So, the scene is set. Will the NFL owners play games anyway? Will we watch? If we don't watch, will we return in grand numbers when the players come back? Will ESPN be left holding the silver slipper? Will Bob Costas and Brent Musburger take the time to meet over a casual brunch 12:30 p.m. Sundays? And will Arena Football race to the rescue with an autumn network version of the popular summer cable sport?