"Shannon's Deal," the wonderful legal drama with no courtroom scenes, comes back to NBC tonight. Hurrah!

So does its star, Jamey Sheridan, who masterfully portrays a Philadelphia lawyer with a gambling problem! Hurrah!So why isn't Sheridan excited?

"Everybody's wondering whether we're going to get the same treatment that we got last year," Sheridan said.

That was a tough year for "Shannon's Deal." Its two-hour debut in June 1989 as NBC's "Sunday Night Movie" was the week's 10th-rated show. It came back as a midseason replacement in 1990 and the critics loved it.

Conceived by filmmaker John Sayles, who wrote and directed the first few episodes, produced by Stan Rogow of "Fame" fame, it was widely regarded as one of the best shows on TV.

The ratings, however, slipped. Pre-emptions and schedule changes didn't help. "In spite of the critical attention, we were managing to disappear," Sheridan said. "You can't help it if you're on at three different times in the space of three weeks. All my friends kept asking me, `When's the bloody thing on?' "

Then, unexpectedly, NBC pulled the show.

"All I know is they announced the fall season and we weren't on it," Sheridan said. "Then Stan (Rogow) started calling me and said we're going to go midseason. I said, `I'll believe it when I see it.' And then it happened."

They were told that they'd start this comeback season on St. Patrick's Day with a two-hour episode.

Instead, tonight's one-hour episode (9 p.m., Ch. 2) re-introduces viewers to Shannon, and co-stars Elizabeth Pena and Richard Edson. NBC had contracted to make 13 episodes of "Shannon's Deal," but cut that back to eight shows during the Gulf War. So maybe you can't blame him for being skeptical of network programmers.

Sheridan's confusion proved justified on Wednesday, when the network announced that the show would return to the air, oh, 2 1/2 weeks. As of April 9, "Shannon's Deal" will air on Tuesdays at 9 p.m..

Sheridan creates in Jack Shannon a character who's utterly believable - even if he is a Philadelphia lawyer.

"The places that I found him - well, there were several places: at Gamblers Anonymous meetings, at City Hall in Philadelphia, and I interviewed some corporate lawyers in Philadelphia," he said.

"Probably the key thing of all was what John Sayles told me - that he (Shannon) had missed the '60s," he said. "Here's a guy who listened to jazz and made his way through school playing cards. He was raised poor, the only one of several sons who was going to be a professional.

"He spent the '60s trying to succeed, as opposed to listening to rock 'n' roll and demonstrating. It's sort of like the '90s are his '60s. He was a perfect candidate for the '80s."