"Sisters" is this season's most controversial new television series - and it hasn't even made it on the air yet.

NBC's hourlong drama/comedy, which debuts Saturday at 9 p.m. on Ch. 2, has already drawn the ire of various television watchdog groups because of the opening episode's opening scene. Three of the four title "sisters" are sitting around in a steam bath quite explicitly discussing their sexual experiences.It's very frank for network television, and it's intended to be humorous. And, actually, the scene has already aired - on "The Tonight Show" when one of the show's stars, Swoozie Kurtz, was chatting with Johnny Carson.

But feeling the heat of advance publicity, NBC has announced it's pulling the scene. However, the producers say they're still trying to have it reinstated.

The argument will probably continue until shortly before airtime.

NBC's decision has disappointed the cast of "Sisters," including Sela Ward, who plays Teddy.

"It just boggles my mind," Ward said in a telephone interview. "We're not talking about anything that's sexually perverted . . . I know it's something that's been taboo on television but I think it's healthy to discuss.

"I don't think it's an offensive scene. The thing that's bad is that it really sets the tone for how fun and candid the show is."

As a matter of fact, steam bath scenes are scheduled to open all seven of the episodes that have been ordered by the network.

"It's a show about relationships between women and women, women and their husbands and women and their children," Ward said. "And, yes, the sisters do sit down and dish. People do talk about sex and all sorts of things in real life."

"Sisters" revolves around four siblings: Alex (Kurtz), a wealthy doctor's wife; Teddy (Ward), a recovering alcoholic and free spirit; Frankie (Julianne Phillips), a marketing executive; and Georgie (Patricia Kalember), a level-headed real estate agent whose husband is out of work.

In the premiere, Teddy returns home after traveling about the country determined to win back her ex-husband (Ed Marinaro), only to discover he's having an affair with Frankie. And the sisters are helping their recently widowed mother (Elizabeth Hoffman) sell her house and move to an apartment.

There's no doubt that some viewers are going to be offended by that opening scene. And they'll be offended by other frank conversation that takes place during the pilot episode.

The producers of "Sisters" are pushing the limits of what network television will allow. It's certainly not full of graphic sex, but it has its steamy scenes. And the language is as strong as anything you'll find on the networks.

All that said, the show definitely has possibilities. (Although the pilot is a bit uneven.) If you like "thirtysomething," chances are you'll like this.

According to Ward, the remaining six episodes are going to lighten up considerably.

"It's very realistic, but it's also sort of a farcical comedy," she said. "I mean, it's really funny. There are times we just look at each other and break up."- TONIGHT ON THE TUBE: Father Dowling (7 p.m., Ch. 4) reruns his two-hour, 1987 pilot; Daniel Stern, who's the voice of the adult Kevin on "The Wonder Years," is the voice of the adult Bart in a "Wonder" takeoff on The Simpsons (7 p.m., Ch. 13); Cheers (8 p.m., Ch. 2) reruns its 100th episode retrospective; Knots Landing (8 p.m., Ch. 5) ends the season with cliffhangers involving a shooting, a traffic accident and some sexy videos; Kelsey does some things she may regret on L.A. Law (9 p.m., Ch. 2); an insurance agent (Jonathan Pryce of "Miss Saigon") is suspected of murdering his wife on Mystery! (9 p.m., Ch. 7); Marian Anderson (9 p.m., Ch. 11) reflects on her career; and the Walsh family may be moving away from Beverly Hills, 90210 (10:30 p.m., Ch. 13).

- LOOKING TOWARD FRIDAY: Earl looks forward to throwing his mother-in-law into the tar pits on Dinosaurs (7:30 p.m., Ch. 4); Big Business (8 p.m., Ch. 5) makes its network debut; and Barbara Walters interviews Ivana Trump in a fluffy segment of 20/20 (9 p.m., Ch. 4).

- NBA PLAYOFFS: Our local heroes try to even their series - Jazz at Trail Blazers (8 p.m., Ch. 13 and TNT.) On Friday, it's Bulls at 76ers (6 p.m., TNT) and Lakers at Warriors (8:30 p.m., TNT).