THE VAMPIRE DIARIES. 8 tonight, Channel 57.

IT'S ONLY appropriate that "The Vampire Diaries" should be premiering tonight on the CW, whose programming strategy appears rooted in the belief that nothing is ever really dead.

Though the new "Melrose Place," which debuted Tuesday to some 2.3 million viewers, is looking a little green around the gills, despite the touting of its second-place finish among women 18-34 in the preliminary Nielsens. (Before anyone gets excited, just 7 percent of those from the demo who were watching TV were tuned to "Melrose.")

It's tempting to give the network that dug up not one, but two, past Fox hits for its Tuesday nights, a hard time for jumping on the "Twilight" bandwagon for Thursdays - where "Supernatural" begins its fifth season tonight. But the L.J. Smith book series that inspired "The Vampire Diaries" predates Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" by more than a decade.

Still, the CW's version, the pilot of which was co-written by "Dawson's Creek" creator Kevin Williamson, comes on the heels of the hype for "Twilight," as well as for HBO's more adult-oriented "True Blood."

Before this latest outbreak of vamp fever is over, we'll no doubt have a bloodsucking series for every demo and genre.

Maybe even an undead edition of ABC's "The Bachelor."

In "Vampire Diaries," Paul Wesley stars as Stefan, a teenage vampire who remembers the Civil War well enough to set his high-school teacher straight on the specifics of a local battle, and who, in the best tradition of vamp heartthrobs, no longer feeds on people. Squirrels might want to steer clear, though.

Nina Dobrev is Elena, a classmate who recently lost her parents (her brother, Jeremy, is played by Steven R. McQueen, a grandson of the late "Bullitt" star). Her resemblance to Stefan's first love causes him to follow her into a foggy graveyard (although it wasn't actually foggy before he arrived).

I'm not clear on why the vamps of "Diaries" travel with their own dry ice, but it's a nice distraction from the dialogue, which tends toward the clunky. (Fans of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" would be better off curling up with their old DVDs.)

The pace picks up - a little - upon the arrival of Damon ("Lost's" Ian Somerhalder), the bad-boy brother whom Stefan hasn't seen in 15 years.

Yes, he's a vampire, too, and a fashion critic, to boot.

"I couldn't take another day of the '90s," he complains. "That horrible grunge look? Did not suit you. Remember, Stefan - it's important to stay away from fads."

If only the CW would listen.

These Hills heading out

After 13 seasons, Fox's "King of the Hill" says goodbye Sunday in two back-to-back episodes (8 and 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Channel 29) that focus on what may be the show's essential relationship: the one between propane salesman Hank (voiced by co-creator Mike Judge) and Bobby (Pamela Adlon), the son Hank has never quite understood.

The first, "The Boy Can't Help It," finds Bobby succumbing to feminine wiles as a disapproving Hank looks on.

But it's the second, "To Sirloin With Love," that had me winking back a tear or two as father and son finally come together over their shared love for beef.

It's not an episode likely to warm the hearts of PETA followers, but for those who, like me, may have wandered away from the Hills in recent years, it's a satisfying send-off to a series that deserves, at least, to be remembered fondly. *

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