A guide to notable programs by BRUCE FRETTS. (Times are Eastern standard and are subject to change.) SERIES

Absentee relatives make surprising returns, and supporting players get their own plotlines on BEVERLY HILLS, 90210 (Fox, Jan. 10, 8-9 p.m.), LOIS & CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN (ABC, Jan. 14, 8-9 p.m.), and WINGS (NBC, Jan. 16, 8-8:30 p.m.). Kelly (Jennie Garth) welcomes her vagabond dad (John Reilly) home to Beverly Hills, and the gang learns that Peach Pit proprietor Nat (Joe E. Tata) appeared in a Roger Corman film. Meanwhile, Lois (Teri Hatcher) and Clark (Dean Cain) help Jimmy Olsen (Justin Whalin) and his long-gone superspy father (James Read) track a missing computer disc. And on Wings, rival-airline owner Roy (David Schramm) gets a birthday visit from his gay son (Abraham Benrubi). It’s a rare showcase for bit player Schramm – and for Benrubi, who’s usually stuck behind the reception desk as hulking Jerry on ER.

Animals have goosed the ratings for sitcoms like Frasier and Friends, and now the dramas LAW & ORDER (NBC, Jan. 10, 10-11 p.m.) and PICKET FENCES (CBS, Jan. 12, 10-11 p.m.) are joining the nonhuman pack. Law men Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) and Curtis (Benjamin Bratt) probe the demise of one ”Mr. Wickett,” a horse who may have been offed by a serial killer. And Picket Fences aren’t strong enough to keep a bear from wreaking havoc on Rome, Wis., forcing Jimmy (Tom Skerritt) and his son Matthew (Justin Shenkarow) to take up arms in defense. Mr. Ed and Gentle Ben never had these problems.

Mary Tyler Moore’s New York News may have folded, but the other survivors of The Dick Van Dyke Show are still going strong. Van Dyke’s Diagnosis Murder is enjoying a new life on CBS, Ann Guilbert has roles in The Nanny and Grumpier Old Men, and Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie guest-star on CAROLINE IN THE CITY (NBC, Jan. 11, 9:30-10 p.m.). The ex-Buddy and Sally play married writers who sell an antique partners desk to cartoonist Caroline (Lea Thompson) and her colorist, Richard (Malcolm Gets). Yet they’re not the first Van Dyke vets to hit ”Must-See TV.” Carl Reiner won an Emmy for reviving Alan Brady on a memorable Mad About You last season.

The low-rated sitcom NED AND STACEY (Fox, Jan. 14, 9:30-10 p.m., and Jan. 15, 9-9:30 p.m.) gets double exposure with a special Sunday-night episode in addition to its regular Monday airing. From its pilot, Ned seemed like a one-joke affair, and not a very good joke at that. To advance his career, ad exec Ned (Thomas Haden Church) staged a marriage of convenience with an imperfect stranger, Stacey (Debra Messing). Setting aside the Bewitched-era sexual politics, this premise seemed paper-thin – where would the couple go from here? But the show’s writers have managed to spin the idea in numerous amusing directions. In a well-staged Halloween episode, Ned and Stacey didn’t recognize each other behind masks and mistakenly made out. And recently the duo fought over a male friend – Stacey wanted to sleep with him; Ned wanted to watch football with him. Now that Monday Night Football season’s over, maybe people will start watching Ned and Stacey.