Sela Ward is "Almost Golden."

The made-for-cable movie she's starring in, however, is somewhat more tarnished.Ward, who won an Emmy last year for her role in "Sisters," proves just how talented she is in "Almost Golden: The Jessica Savitch Story" (6 and 9 p.m. Lifetime). And playing Savitch was not an easy role.

Particularly not with the script she was given.

Savitch, the former NBC newswoman who died in a car accident a dozen years ago, is portrayed as larger than life - but from two completely opposite directions.

On the one hand, she's hailed as a broadcast journalism pioneer - a woman who broke down barriers and was a trailblazer for others of her gender.

Let's just say that the case is greatly overstated.

In many ways, Savitch may have been a pioneer for a lot of what's wrong with broadcast journalism. She succeeded through looks, charm and a pleasant delivery, not because she was a good reporter.

On the other hand, "Almost Golden" portrays Savitch as a self-absorbed, monomaniacal monster who - despite limited journalism skills - clawed her way near the top. She wasn't afraid to use sex to get what she wanted, and she was downright nasty to a lot of people along the way.

And she was not only a user of people but a user of drugs as well.

It's hard - if not impossible - to feel sorry for this woman when personal and professional trials overcame her.

Ward, however, said she was able to sympathize with Savitch.

"I could identify with her and her obstacles and the pressure she put on herself to achieve. And she paid a tremendous price," Ward told TV critics. "There were a lot of sacrifices. She was a pioneer. . . . And people like that are fascinating to me - very interesting to play - because you want to learn what drives them."

Unfortunately, "Almost Golden" gives only a couple of incomplete and unsatisfactory answers. First, that she wanted to please her dead father.

And, second, that she was caught up in some sort of competition with the man who was apparently the love of her life, Ron Kershaw (Ron Silver).

Oddly enough, however, the movie downplays Kershaw's physical abuse of Savitch. But it has no compunctions about dealing with the suicide of Savitch's second husband.

The movie's producer, Bernie Sofronski, makes much of the fact that the broadcast networks had no interest in being involved in a movie about Savitch's life, adding that he was "not quite sure whether they thought she was too much of a downer or the programming department did not want to enter into the news aspect of the network."

Indeed, NBC's news executives don't come across particularly well. Even when it was obvious that Savitch was in deep need of help because of her drug abuse, her bosses looked the other way as long as she could perform.

It was only when she self-destructed in a now-infamous prime-time news update - she was rambling, incoherent and obviously under the influence of something - that the network acted.

By basically getting rid of her.

But, again, there's a strong element of what-comes-around-goes-around to "The Jessica Savitch Story." The re-creation of her off-the-air tantrum while anchoring the local news in Philadelphia - captured on tape and distributed to newsrooms across the country - clearly demonstrates that this was not a particularly nice person.

But her life does have soap-opera elements, which is the appeal here. She could almost be a rather tragic Danielle Steel heroine, if only there were anything heroic about her.

Lifetime does follow "Almost Golden" with yet another hour about Savitch's life - and this one does do its darnedest to make her an admirable figure.

But that's not particularly surprising because Savitch's younger sister, Lori, is a consulting producer on "Intimate Portrait: Jessica Savitch" (9 p.m., Lifetime).

It's full of home movies and explanations for Savitch's life and behavior, and does provide an in-ter-esting counterpoint to "Almost Golden." But "Intimate Portrait" is fatally flawed by psycho-babble and an almost palpable desire to make Savitch both better and more important than she was.

GOING BLONDE: Ward, whose dark tresses were bleached for her role as Jessica Savitch, said that blondes definitely do not have more fun.

"Absolutely not," she said with a laugh. "It's fun to find out, though."

Ward eschewed the use of a wig, opting instead to spend a lot of time at the hairdresser.

"My hair is so fried," she said. "I took me 16 hours to go that light. Can you imagine? If I'd known that, I probably wouldn't have done it."

Executive producer Sofronski said that he insisted that Ward go even blonder than she'd intended.

"I said, `Sela, it just isn't blond enough,' " Sofronski said. "She said, `Oh, no!'

"So we hopped on an airplane, we went to New York and we did it for three more hours."

One person did turn out to be pretty happy about the change, however.

"My husband loved it," Ward said. "He had a whole new wife for a couple of months."

MORE HYPE ON KSL: Ch. 5 is devoting two hours of prime time this week to a one-hour "documentary" they're calling "Watch the Birdie."

In case you've been living under a rock somewhere for the past few weeks, that's the slogan KSL is using for its Sept. 10 switch to the Peacock network, NBC.

"Birdie," which airs tonight, Wednesday and Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 11 p.m., is sort of an expanded compilation of all those commercials Ch. 5 has been running to hype the switch. You know, full of local KSL news personalities "behind the scenes" with various NBC celebrities.

It's nicely produced. And it's kind of fun in a silly sort of way.

However, some of the local personalities involved are a bit better at the silliness than others. For example, that spot with Bruce Lindsay breaking into fake laughter while sitting behind Tom Brokaw's anchor desk is just too fake to laugh with - you can only laugh at it.

Now, there's no doubt that KSL has a lot to be happy about with this switch. NBC's prime-time lineup is both much better and much stronger in the ratings than what CBS is airing these days.

But all this crowing would make you think they're joining a network whose symbol is a rooster, not a peacock.

(Or maybe your local television editor is just so sick of all the switch stuff that he's more of a curmudgeon than usual on this one.)