March 11, 1996 12:00 PM

THE WORTHIEST LITTLE SITCOM IN ALL the realm is CBS’s Bonnie, but the realm hasn’t had much chance to acknowledge the fact. This quietly funny series, in which Hunt plays a TV reporter hired to do local “color” segments for a Chicago news station, made its debut last September on Fridays. The Bonnie Hunt Show, as it was then called, earned warm reviews, but the ratings stank, and only six episodes made it on the air. (Hunt’s previous sitcom, 1993’s The Building, fared no better.) Now the show, which happens to come from David Letterman’s production company, Worldwide Pants, is being given a second chance. It returns Sun., March 10, at 8:30 p.m. ET

To be honest, I missed the show the first go-round. Fool, thou! Because, having now sat through several episodes, I can report that I experienced a mild but pleasant dizziness. The show seems to take place at an altitude where the air is thin but pure.

The scripts have a comfortable—and refreshing—looseness, even lackadaisically. In a typical episode, Hunt stays up too late, then gets sleepy-tipsy—and blabby—at a lunch with a network executive (George Hamilton, who tries to amuse her by doing impersonations, all of them Cary Grant). Her boss gets upset: He thinks she may have been indiscreet about office politics. She apologizes. He sends flowers. There’s the vaguest hint of incipient romance.

The episodes are done in one taping (most sitcoms use two, which are then edited together) with a certain amount of improvisation. Hunt, who’s probably best known for playing third banana (to Charles Grodin and a Saint Bernard) in the two Beethoven movies, started out at Chicago’s Second City, and so did costars Tom Virtue, who plays a cameraman, Holly Wortell, her best friend, and Don Lake, her neighbor. The dialogue is casually mumbled and—in rapid-fire exchanges between Hunt and Wortell—blurred. It may take a moment before you realize that Hunt has just made a peculiar comment about wearing mirror contact lenses that reflect the brain.

The overall tone of Bonnie is polite diffidence. But it’s obviously the work of a confident comic mind. Hunt, who created the show and has a hand in the scripts, projects a deadpan cheerfulness that isn’t so much sunny as it is uncloudedly sane.

My one complaint is that shorter, perkier new title, which sounds like a vehicle for Bonnie Franklin.

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