March 28, 2005 12:00 PM

DRAMA

USA (Fri., March 25, 9 p.m. ET)

In the ’70s series on CBS, Theo Kojak was played by Greek-American Telly Savalas. Now USA is reviving the concept, and African-American Ving Rhames takes over the title character. Race and ethnicity matter less in this case than the power of the brand: Kojak still stands for Tough New York Cop.

Rhames is just fine in the role, wearing jauntily angled hats over his shaved head, sucking on Kojak’s Spring Break Shark Attack trademark lollipops with panache and proving equally adept at terrifying bad guys and charming innocent children. The lieutenant bends the rules, of course, but his captain (Chazz Palminteri) is an old pal with a “do what you have to do” attitude.

Before moving to the Sunday-at-10 spot on April 3, the series has a two-hour premiere that concerns a serial killer who preys on prostitutes in a gratuitously gruesome manner. Unfortunately, a plot twist leads Kojak to make a decision so morally dubious that he’s going to be harder to respect in the weeks ahead.

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