For so many years, pop-culture devotees have had to nurture the objects of their veneration with sweat and ingenuity. If you were an enthusiastic follower of a particular television show, for instance, you had to pore over fan magazines or write to its network to get publicity shots of its stars; you had to poke through yellowing newspapers and old copies of TV Guide to compile a list of the series' episodes with full credits and guest stars' names; as far as maintaining a complete collection of the show itself well, all those videocassettes really pile up.
Depending on your point of view, multimedia technology has either simplified this process or drained it of all the magpie fun. Byron Preiss Multimedia is releasing what amount to fan clubs compressed onto discs with its ''authorized'' Baywatch, Frasier, Melrose Place, and Beverly Hills, 90210 CD-ROMs (for PC).
Install any one of these babies and presto! you're an instant archivist. Each disc includes an hour's worth of live-action clips from the series that you can watch like TV or convert to computer screensavers, as well as a batch of still photos of the stars. Also, you can select photos of stars or scenes on any of the discs.
Baywatch the show, of course, imbues everything it touches with an element of camp, and its companion CD-ROM is no exception. In addition to the babe-heavy pics offered for perusal, there's a priceless collection of ''Musical Montages'' those music videos within the show that are always a triumph of goofball lyricism. There's also a trivia quiz that will ask you what the initials of Pamela Anderson Lee's C.J. stand for (um, Chest of Justice?). And there's a screenful of ''Lifeguard Lingo.'' Like what, you ask? ''Buffasaurus: someone in shape and 'looking good.''' The ''Lingo'' list also helpfully defines ''Dirt Bag'' as ''bum.'' Oh.
The biggest surprise in this series of discs is that the weakest is Frasier. For one thing, the most annoying character on the show, sportscaster Bulldog (Dan Butler), guides you through the installation process with lots of irritating voice-over hectoring. For another, the disc has taken one of the most sophisticated sitcoms on the air and dumbed it down with a file called ''Eddie's Reel'' a collection of clips featuring that cute but superfluous pet dog. Real fans of Frasier don't want ''Eddie's Reel''; we want ''Niles' Reel''!
The 90210 disc serves primarily to remind you that this show is over-the-hill. Somehow, using CD-ROM technology to call up images of Luke Perry and Jason Priestley is like deploying a modem with two tin cans connected by a piece of string. The Melrose Place disc, on the other hand, is smart and funny. It opens with a cartoonish reproduction of the Melrose apartment building; to link up with the various offerings, you click onto any of six apartment doors. The scenes chosen as the series' highlights will gratify any Melrose junkie they're heavy on the gloriously overwrought emotional crises of the show, with welcome emphasis on the vehement wackiness of Kimberly (Marcia Cross).
What bothered me about these CD-ROMs upon first interacting with them was their very easiness theoretically their greatest allure. If anyone with $29.95 can become an immediate expert on the history of these TV shows, where's the challenge for diehards? As a series-approved item, each of these discs is a tidy promotional showcase, whereas true-blue fans want something more: the subtext, the implications, the beyond-trivia trivia that makes a fan a fanatic. They'll find this more obscure information on the Net, on Web pages created by like-minded souls; in the meantime, these discs offer the casual fan both information and an enthusiastic welcome. Baywatch: B+ Frasier: C+ 90210: B Melrose Place: B+