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A Father’s Choice

Two young L.A. girls witness the shooting murder of their mother and are sent to live with their macho, cowboy dad on a ranch in the CBS telepic "A Father's Choice." Here's a quick quiz to see if you can predict the outcome: (a) Dad deserts his girls to stalk Shania Twain; (b) older daughter becomes a Jenny Craig spokesperson; (c) After a rocky period of adjustment, dad gives up his dream of being a rodeo star and the three learn to get along.

With:
Charlie............Peter Strauss Susan..............Mary McDonnell Kelly..............Michelle Trachtenberg Chris..............Yvonne Zima Gayle..............Susan Hogan Detective Ross.......Roger R. Cross Detective Cortez......Eddie Velez With: Barbara Duncan, Joe-Norman Shaw, J.W. Carroll, Georgie Collins, Dan Willmott, Rod Padmos, Judith Mazie.

Two young L.A. girls witness the shooting murder of their mother and are sent to live with their macho, cowboy dad on a ranch in the CBS telepic “A Father’s Choice.” Here’s a quick quiz to see if you can predict the outcome: (a) Dad deserts his girls to stalk Shania Twain around the country; (b) older daughter leaves the ranch to become a Jenny Craig spokesperson; (c) After a rocky period of adjustment, dad gives up his dream of becoming a rodeo star and the three learn to get along, despite their differences. If you picked (c), you’ve been watching too many of these by-the-numbers telepics.

Richard Leder’s script, which is inspired by real events, smoothly takes viewers from the moment the daughters witness the crime through their tough period of adjustment, and helmer Christopher Cain gets believable performances from the solid cast. Yet despite the efforts of everyone involved, there’s a stale air of predictability blowing through this little house on the prairie.

Actor Peter Strauss, who has made a career out of playing strong, silent types, does a decent job of portraying Charlie, a typical Marlboro man who is faced with re-acquainting himself with the daughters he left behind.

The wonderful Mary McDonnell, on the other hand, is wasted in a role that requires her only to smile sympathetically or glow like an eel. As a dedicated counselor whose job it is to keeps an eye on the cowboy and his new family, the actress is forced to deliver gems such as “They’re not cowboys, they’re girls from Los Angeles!”

Predictably, there’s a bitter aunt in the picture (Susan Hogan), who hates Cal because of his poor social status, and does everything in her power to win the girls’ custody.

We also have the requisite annoying L.A. cops, who question the younger daughter about the killer’s identity, to add some dramatic tension now and then.

And yes, you can bet that there’s a barroom fight scene and a weepy birth-of-a-colt-on-the-farm sequence.

The two young actresses, Michelle Trachtenberg and the sad-eyed Yvonne Zima, are quite effective in their roles. They both get to do a lot of complaining about their horrible new quarters and their once-absent father, or storming their faces with heartfelt tears at the drop of a hat.

Tech credits are solid. The Canuck farm setting isn’t exactly Montana in “The Horse Whisperer,” but this is TV after all.

A Father's Choice

CBS; Wed. Jan. 12, 9 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Calgary, Alberta, produced by Bernard Sofronski Prods. and Nasser Group, in association with Columbia TriStar; exec producers, Bernard Sofronski, Jack Nasser, Joseph Nasser; director, Christopher Cain; producer, Eda Lishman; co-producer, Richard Leder; writer, Richard Leder.

Cast: Charlie............Peter Strauss Susan..............Mary McDonnell Kelly..............Michelle Trachtenberg Chris..............Yvonne Zima Gayle..............Susan Hogan Detective Ross.......Roger R. Cross Detective Cortez......Eddie Velez With: Barbara Duncan, Joe-Norman Shaw, J.W. Carroll, Georgie Collins, Dan Willmott, Rod Padmos, Judith Mazie.Director of photography, William Wages, A.S.C., production designer, Yvonne Hurst; editor, Michael Brown, A.C.E., music, Stephen Dorff; costumes, Wendy Partridge; production sound mixer, Shane Conelly). Running Time: 120 MINS.

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