Acclaimed film director Barry Levinson ("Rain Man," "The Natural," "Good Morning, Vietnam") is credited as a creator/executive producer on the UPN police show "The Beat," just as he was on NBC's long-running "Homicide: Life on the Street." But exactly what his role was and is on those shows remains an open question.

It seems clear that, since directing the pilots of both shows, Levinson acts more or less as a consultant, and executive producer/creator Tom Fontana does most of the day-to-day work.

"I'll say this — the great thing about having Barry as a partner is that he always comes at everything with a completely fresh point of view," Fontana said. "And so he reads the scripts. He looks at the cuts. He's not there day-to-day, but on the other hand, it's great to have somebody who has a little bit more of a distance from it so that when we get stuck with something Barry usually has at least a directional sign that can head us in a better direction."

And Levinson did little to dispel the talk that he's not much of a factor in the TV shows.

"I wouldn't have been involved in 'Homicide' as time went on as much as in the beginning with Tom because we were finding our way and finding the language of the show and the characters," he said. "It's natural evolution, which we would have meetings on."

IT'S ON UPN: "The Beat," which airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. on UPN/Ch. 14, " marks the first time Fontana and Levinson have worked for UPN, but they insist they weren't asked to try to make their show more compatible with the network-wannabe's most popular programming, "WWF Smackdown." "I mean, the intention wasn't — oh, let's appeal to the same people who watch wrestling, although I'm sure they're very nice people, also," Fontana said.

OPPOSITES ATTRACT: Apparently, "Beat" stars Mark Ruffalo and Derek Cecil are not a lot like the characters they play — although each is a lot like the character his co-star plays.

Ruffalo plays a guy who's not quite ready to settle down, to put it mildly. And Cecil's character is engaged and building a relationship.

"I'm like him," Cecil said.

"I'm like him and he's like me," Ruffalo added.

In other words, their personal lives and their characters' lives are sort of reversed.

"Well, I'm the one who actually has a fiancee and is about to be getting married," Ruffalo said. "And most of my wild times are probably behind me, although that remains to be seen. And Derek is out of his mind."

"We realized by like the third episode that my life is a lot more like his character, so we're actually playing the opposite," Cecil said.