After a string of varying artistic successes, Showtime comes a cropper with a British import that's as tawdry and tedious as TV has been in a long time, or at least since last week, when CBS's



Former teen pop star Billie Piper plays a high-priced hooker in

Secret Diary of a Call Girl

, which has its U.S. premiere Monday at 10:30 p.m. It's a big step for Piper, who was adorable, yet tough as Rose Tyler, companion to Who No. 9 and 10 on the cult fave about the doctor who travels through time in a phone booth.

The laughless

Secret Diary

is billed as a comedy, but it is hardly amusing to follow the spoiled, immoral and lazy Belle as she slinks around London doing this and that with and to a lineup of wealthy men.

She may charge a lot, but she's not much of a value. She doesn't even get naked until the third episode. Even the somewhat shy former farm boy, stimulated in a saddle while she rides on his back (ho ho), would insist that nudity is a prerequisite when you hire a whore.

The frequently complacent British press burst a gasket last fall when


premiered, complaining that it glorified prostitution. Actually, it does just the opposite.

Who could ever admire such a soulless person as this? Not to mention that she's a lackadaisical sex worker. She ditches a client when her own libido is aroused in the second episode, and the following week, she sneaks out on an overnight date. While he's left snoozing with the meter running, she cadges a few hundred extra quid from a guy she meets downstairs in the hotel bar.

The show derives from "Belle de Jour: Diary of a London Call Girl," named "Blog of the Year" by the British newspaper the Guardian in 2003, which gave rise to a couple of books.

Belle de Jour

, the name of a novel and 1967 movie (a good one, starring Catherine Deneuve), is the pseudonym of an anonymous London hooker who describes her escapades.

The whole package - blog, book and TV show - is another in the look-how-far-we've-come-baby genre of works about supposedly successful, glamorous, independent, urban women.

Sex and the City

's Samantha used to sleep around all over town. Belle does the same and gets paid for it, and how much more strong and modern is that?

However the Brits see its merits or lack thereof,


suffers from direct importation. Somebody smart once said that English is the common language that divides Britain and America, and it surely has that effect here.

While horndogs will find


visually uninspiring, especially for Showtime, those of more refined sensibilities will be frequently flummoxed trying to figure out just what the characters are saying.

Judging from what does get through, perhaps that's a blessing.

On the plus side, the wonderful


is back for its fourth season at 10 p.m. Monday, as our deliriously delightful dope dealers decamp to a beach town by the Mexican border.

As illicit activities go, they prove definitively that, on Showtime at least, a little wacky tobbacky is way more fun than the things they do in


that can't be described here.

Jonathan Storm:



Secret Diary of a Call Girl

Monday night at 10:30 on Showtime