At first glance, "My Life and Times" sounds like a fairly dumb idea for a television show.

Each week, 85-year-old Ben Miller (Tom Irwin) recalls - from his vantage point in the year 2035 - various incidents that shaped his life.It's a gimmick, no doubt about it. But, strangely enough, the gimmick works.

"My Life and Times" (8:30 p.m., Ch. 4) is one of the best new shows to come along this season.

It's touching, heartfelt, intelligent, warm, well-written, well-acted and funny, dramatic and thrilling by turns. "Times" comes to us from Ron Koslow, the man who created "Beauty and the Beast" - another show that sounded dumb but was beautifully executed.

Miller, born in 1950, lives in retirement in the 21st century. Each week, something triggers the memory of some event in his life.

In tonight's premiere, one of Miller's grandsons comes looking for solace after being rejected by the college of his choice. It leads Miller to reminisce about plans and life choices - and how things don't always turn out like you expect.

We're then transported back to the year 1989, just as Ben and his wife, Rebecca (Helen Hunt) are expecting their first child. Ben really wants to be a novelist, but he's taken a job writing ad copy at a San Francisco firm to make ends meet.

Helen goes into labor and Ben rushes to meet her at the hospital when, suddenly, the earthquake hits. Instead of celebrating a new life, Ben finds himself face-to-face with death.

It's touching without being maudlin and carries a message without being preachy.

It's tempting to call "Times" a half-hour drama, but that doesn't really describe the show. As a matter of fact, it's pretty much impossible to fit the program into a single category - it changes from week to week.

In one amusing episode, Ben and Helen's wedding is turned into a comedy because of interference from the in-laws. Another show tells the romantic story of Ben and the woman he loved (briefly) before he met his wife. Another week, Ben is a reporter hunting for a serial killer in what amounts to a thriller.

What they all have in common is good writing - the most important ingredient in a successful television show.

Irwin, who comes to television from the Steppenwolf Theatre, is marvelous as Ben. And Hunt, whom you may recognize from "St. Elsewhere" (she was Jack Morrison's girlfriend) as well as various TV and theatrical movies, is a delight.

This is one show that deserves a look. And, chances are, if you give it a chance you'll be hooked.