The Television Critics Association fired back at the Emmy Awards, honoring a show and a woman long overlooked by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

"Homicide: Life on the Street" - which has yet to receive even an Emmy nomination for outstanding drama series - received the TCA Awards for both drama and as the program of the year.And Angela Lansbury, oft-nominated for an Emmy but never a winner, received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

"To quote Angela Lansbury, (expletive deleted) the Emmys," said Tom Fontana, "Homicide's" executive producer, in accepting the first of the show's two awards.

Not that Lansbury seemed to object to Fontana's crudeness. In accepting her award, she closed with, "And Tom Fontana said it all."

The TCA Awards are voted on by the 160 members of the Television Critics Association and were presented at the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, Calif.

"Homicide" was the big winner of the night, both because it won two awards and because it was such a public repudiation of the Emmys, which announced its nominations just days earlier.

"We are here tonight, literally, because of you . . . You have stood by us through thick and certainly through thin - the second season," Fontana said. "You have kept us honest and all I would ask is that you keep us honest.

"Thank you very much for this. Especially this week, it means so much to us."

And the award also obviously meant something to Lansbury, who flew in from Ireland to accept it - and received an extended standing ovation from a group of critics that isn't prone to such public displays.

"This is a pretty incredible moment for me," Lansbury said. "I feel extraordinarly honored and proud that you should give me this award tonight."

It was a bit of a bittersweet moment for Lansbury, however, and not just because of the Emmy situation. She's still more than a bit unhappy about the fact that her show lost its Sunday-night time slot last season.

"I don't think (CBS) realized what they had," she said. "The only people who really knew what our show was about was our audience - an extraordinary, huge chunk of America and, eventually, the world - who seemed to take this woman, Jessica Fletcher, to their hearts. And who felt somehow comforted by the simplicity of our little stories that we managed to produce every Sunday evening. I was sorry, in the end, that it started to fritter away due to some very bad planning on the part of the network."

The other winners included a couple of repeat performers. "Frasier" won the top comedy award for the third consecutive year - every year the show has been on the air.

And, in the category of news and information, PBS's "Frontline" took the award for the second year in a row and the fourth time overall.

PBS also came up a winner in the children's programming category with the series "Wishbone."

And two awards went to cable programming. ESPN's "Sports-Center" was named the outstanding sports program, and A&E's miniseries "Pride and Prejudice" was the winner in the specials category.

SHE'LL BE BACK: Even though "Murder, She Wrote" is no longer in production as a weekly series, we haven't seen the last of Angela Lansbury on television. She'll be back, and not just in the occasional made-for-TV "Murder" movie that will show up on CBS.

"As far as weekly television, certainly I don't think I'll be attempting that in the immediate future," Lansbury said. "But don't count me out, because I've got a million plans. It's the most exciting thing in the world for me."

First up is a musical TV movie, "Mrs. Santa Claus" - an original production with songs by Jerry Herman (whose credits include "Mame" and "Hello, Dolly").

"I'm singing up a storm and it's like I'm 16 again," Lansbury said. "Isn't life great and aren't I lucky?"

BERGEN AND TOMLIN: At a time of year when casting announcements for new and returning TV series become almost routine, this one made critics sit up and take notice - Lily Tomlin is joining "Murphy Brown" as Murphy's new boss.

(Grant Shaud, who spent eight seasons as Miles Silverberg, left the show to pursue other roles.)

"We wanted to create a character that would be a perfect foil for Murphy Brown," said Moonves. He went on to describe Tomlin's character as "a total jerk" who comes in "and tries to fix an existing hit series."

Bergin herself is reportedly enthusiastic about the change.

"Candice was one of the people who embraced this idea, first and foremost," Moonves said. "I think Candice, throughout the run of `Murphy Brown,' has really cared about the show ahead of herself. I think Candice wants the show to be as strong as possible."

Should "Murphy" go beyond the current season, Tomlin will remain with the show. But should Bergen decide to call it quits, CBS already has a deal with Tomlin to create a new sitcom for her at that point.

What exactly the future holds for "Murphy" is entirely up to Bergen herself.

"Her stance right now is exactly what it was a year ago. This may be the last year. Probably the last year," Moonves said. "But we're hoping, come January, she's having such a good time that we come back and announce yet another year of `Murphy Brown."'

LETTERMAN REMAINS: Rumors notwithstanding, David Letterman isn't retiring anytime soon.

CBS has just completed a contract extension that will keep him on the "Late Show" for six more years - through the end of the 2001-2002 season.

Letterman is midway though his original six-year contract with the network. This adds three additional years to his deal.

"I couldn't be happier to be extending my relationship with CBS," said Letterman in a statement. "I'm having a great time and I'd like to continue at CBS for as long as it takes to make Lesley Stahl my wife."

The announcement comes at a time when Letterman has been making somewhat of a comeback. His ratings are up 20 percent from three months ago, he still leads Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" among younger viewers (18-34) and has narrowed the gap in viewers 18-49 - a category Letterman has won the past couple of weeks - and in households.