Any movie, or in the case of "The Starter Wife" (8 p.m., USA), miniseries, that begins with a dream sequence is in trouble. And when that dream concerns "The Wizard of Oz," consider it doomed. The wife and the dreamer in this case is Molly Kagen (Debra Messing), and the great and cruel Wizard in her dream is her demanding husband, Kenny (Peter Jacobson), a Hollywood big shot who treats her like a doormat.
Molly has grown used to the perks of power: the welcoming glances at exclusive restaurants, the ability to bestow favors, the fancy gyms and private school for her children.
Within short order, and without explanation, Kenny dumps Molly for a younger woman, and Molly soon discovers what it's like to be on the other side of the Hollywood divide. Her friends grow distant, bistros refuse her, and her gym empties her locker and shows her the door.
Will Molly find herself while camped out at the beach house of her best pal, Joan (Judy Davis), who is secretly in rehab while Molly thinks she's vacationing in France? Will Molly fall for the mysterious dog walker on the beach? Or make a play for Lou (Joe Mantegna), the mysterious and flirty mogul who happens to be Kenny's boss?
Why should we care?
"The Starter Wife" is a two-hour movie bloated to become a six-hour TV event, unfolding over several weeks. It is padded with needless subplots about rival directors and hanky-panky with Russian maids, a security guard's landlord troubles (something about a dog) and Joan's belabored therapy sessions.
Messing makes the most of her role, which is to look good and show off the skin-care products that sponsor "Starter." We all know from "Will & Grace" that's she's adept at delivering a good punch line, but her opportunities here are few.
As a glossy and fairly expensive-looking Hollywood production (shot, by the way, in Australia), "Starter" suffers in comparison with some pretty cheap and dirty competition. Just this week, we've seen the launch of "The Ex-Wives Club" on ABC and "Sunset Tan" (7:30 p.m., E!). Neither of these series is in line for a Peabody Award, but they both deliver the same celebrity voyeurism and pity-party emotions as "Starter." And they do it with much less muss and fuss. It's hard for scripted melodramas to compete.
Tonight's other highlights
¢ Sixteen contestants compete for buried treasure on the new reality game "Pirate Master" (7 p.m., CBS). Cameron Daddo hosts.
¢ Kids compete on the 2007 Scripps National Spelling Bee (7 p.m., ABC).
¢ "Man-Made" (7 p.m., National Geographic) looks at the invention of the flashlight.
¢ Jack appears in a comedy sketch on "30 Rock" (7:30 p.m., NBC).
¢ A Pakistani woman challenges her culture's mores in the documentary "Shame" (8 p.m., Showtime).
¢ Jordan ends up in the emergency room on "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" (9 p.m., NBC).
¢ Siblings go under the knife on "Grey's Anatomy" (9 p.m., ABC).