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"Bette," airing on CBS-TV at 8 p.m. Wednesdays

A Good Bette

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I know she has her own prime-time sitcom now, but when I think of Bette Midler, I think of the early days, the over-the-top days right after she'd made a name for herself at the Continental Baths in New York. The homosexual men who flocked to her shows back in 1969 (the same year a bunch of drag queens at the Stonewall Inn rioted and started the gay rights movement) talked up Bette the same way they raved about Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland. It wasn't just that she could belt out a ballad or a pop hit as though the words she sang were being ripped, still searing, from her consciousness. It was also because she'd courted the audience at the baths with bawdy "in" comedy, the cutting edge of the emerging subculture's humor. That, more so than her 1966 Broadway debut in the chorus of "Fiddler on the Roof," started the buzz about Bette. The rest of the country heard about Midler when she hit the airwaves with the frenzied, evocative "Friends," from her 1973 album, "The Divine Miss M." The LP, which also included the haunting "Do You Want to Dance?" and the infectious "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," went platinum and earned her a Grammy Award for Best New Artist. Since then she's won four Golden Globe Awards, three more Grammys, two Emmys and a Tony. Midler can do anything she wants to. Now, she's got what is arguably the best new sitcom on TV this season, "Bette," airing on CBS-TV at 8 p.m. Wednesdays, in which she plays herself and satirically mocks her own ego, image and insecurities. Her die-hard fans will like the fact that she sings the opening and closing themes ("Friends" is the latter) and usually belts out at least one hit from her past per show. But despite all that and a talented supporting cast (Kevin Dunn, Joanna Gleason and James Dreyfus), "Bette" can't overcome the show's mediocre writing, even by sitcom standards. On the plus side, there's always that one golden oldie from the Divine Miss M per show. Her fans know that, regardless of how long "Bette" lasts on CBS, she'll run out of show long before she runs out of

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