Is there anything that can make the Emmy Awards look good? Yes: the ACE Awards, which the cable industry gives to itself. "The 10th Annual ACE Awards" show was carried recently on ten different basic cable networks at once. They wanted to make it hard to avoid.

Any amount of effort to avoid this horrible show, however, is worth it.Cable TV contributes some original programming of merit every year, but not enough to justify an entire awards show. The point of the thing is really just to make sure every cable channel wins something. So the ACE for best director of a comedy series went to "The New Leave It to Beaver" on Ted Turner's WTBS, the cable "superstation."

When lifeless tripe like "Beaver" wins an award, you know you're on squishy ground, and sinking fast. But that's nothing. On the night before the televised Aces, others were handed out at a private dinner, and one actually went to "The 9th Annual ACE Awards" show. Talk about unmitigated gall.

As they did last year, muddle-headed ACE judges gave the best comedy series award not to "It's Garry Shandling's Show," which is the best comedy series on cable, but to "Black Adder III," a stupid British costume farce that nobody watches. In a clip from the series, three British actors in silly outfits performed an old clobbering routine that Abbott and Costello did much better 40 years ago.

"Oh, I can't even win a cable award," moaned Garry Shandling, jokingly, when called upon to be a presenter. "By last tally, I haven't won crap, have I?"

Many winners were deserving. Home Box Office, which continually takes the biggest risks and attempts the most arresting innovations in the industry, won more Aces than any other cable channel. Several went to "Vietnam War Story," a superb anthology drama series.

Fred Fuchs, executive producer of "Vietnam War Story," said his was "a series that could only have been made with the freedom of cable television," putting his finger on one of the few good things about cable TV.

Larry King, who certainly is the best interviewer on cable, won an ACE for that, and a worthy CNN colleague, Bernard Shaw, won as best anchor. The Emmy Awards, for entertainment and news are given separately; it was awkward for Shaw to have to accept his prize amid the hoopla of Hollywood hype.

This incongruity started early-during the announcer's opening recitation, in alphabetical order, of "stars" appearing on the show: "Blair Brown! Hodding Carter! Dabney Coleman!" Hodding Carter? He's a dumpy, rumpled journalist, rarely on the same bill with Billy Crystal and Whoppi Goldberg.

Of course there was the predictable blather about how much cable contributes to American television. It taketh away more than it giveth. On the USA Network, the ACE awards show was preceded by promos for "Miami Vice," "Murder, She Wrote," and "The Law and Harry McGraw," all old network reruns bought by USA for another trot around the block.

If they want to give awards to cable, they should try another approach altogether. How about an award for the cable system-and there must be one somewhere-that actually answers the telephone when subscribers call in to complain.

How about an award for a cable system that is as eager to improve its lousy service as it is to collect a cable bill that's two days' late?

How about an award for a cable system that manages to keep all its channels in working order, with no unscheduled blackouts, for 24 hours straight? They don't give awards for these things because hardly any cable system seems able to accomplish them.

Now that some cable shows are eligible for Emmy awards, the ACES's seem more trivially gratuitous than ever.

The ACE award itself is a big metal paperweight in the shape of an ace of spades.

TNT, the wonderful cable network that plays old movies from MGM, RKO and Warner Bros., followed the ACE awards with an old Robert Benchley featurette called "How to Sleep." Such counsel was unnecessary by that point. "The 10th Annual ACE Awards" was one long lullabye.