No fewer than three new films made for TV and airing this week deal with parents coping with the loss of their children.
In the three-hour Surviving (ABC on Sunday at 8 p.m.), Ellen Burstyn and Marsha Mason play close friends rebuilding their lives after their alienated teen-age children (Zach Galligan, Molly Ringwald) die in a suicide pact. Len Cariou and Paul Sorvino are Burstyn's and Mason's husbands, and Waris Hussein directed this "ABC Theater" presentation from Joyce Eliason's script.
The Atlanta Child Murders, a five-hour miniseries on that reign of terror that gripped Atlanta's black community for two years, occupies the CBS 8 p.m. movie slots Sunday and Tuesday. (Illustrated on cover; see Show of the Week.)
In Two Fathers' Justice (NBC on Monday at 9 p.m.), Robert Conrad and George Hamilton, the first playing a steelworker, the other an executive, join forces in a quest for their children's killers.
On a far lighter note is Poison Ivy (NBC on Sunday at 9 p.m.), a comedy set at a summer boys' camp. Michael J. Fox, Nancy McKeon, Robert Klein, Caren Kaye and Adam Baldwin star.
Yet another new TV movie is Obsessed With a Married Woman (ABC on Monday at 9 p.m.) in which Tim Matheson as a writer finds himself cast as the Other Man when he becomes involved with his editor, Jane Seymour, who is married.
The week's major theatrical film debut is director George Roy Hill and writer Steve Tesich's caring, skillful adaptation of John Irving's sprawling, surreal The World According to Garp (CBS on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.). They hew to the novel's heart, and so their film cherishes the fragility of life and illuminates the anything-but-simple life of novelist T. S. Garp (a sweetly randy Robin Williams) and his simplest joys--his work, his wife (Mary Beth Hurt) and his children. For all its ambitiousness and craftsmanship, this film may not come to life for everyone, its people remaining too much like literary conceits. But there's no denying the excellence of the performances, starting with the bemused Williams and the puckishly intelligent Hurt, and including Glenn Close as his no-nonsense mother who becomes an unexpected feminist heroine, and especially John Lithgow, who's dignified, poignant and funny as a transsexual who once played tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Since Walter Hill's 1980 Western The Long Riders (Channel 5 Wednesday at 8 p.m.), which has a memorable Ry Cooder score and a great look, hasn't anything new to reveal about the James boys and their pals, it by default seems merely an excuse to restage that Northfield raid in as bloody a way as possible. The gimmick here is that actual brothers play brothers: Stacy and James Keach (who also had a hand in the script) as Jesse and Frank James; David, Keith and Robert Carradine as Cole, Jim and Bob Younger; Dennis and Randy Quaid as Ed and Clell Miller, and Nicholas and Christopher Guest as the treacherous Charlie and Bob Ford. But it's Pamela Reed's earthy and direct Belle Starr that sticks in your memory.
Triathlon (ABC on Thursday at 8 p.m.), still another new TV movie, stars Penny Marshall as a woman who manages to put her personal problems behind her to compete in the Hawaii Ironman Competition.
Butch and Sundance: The Early Years (Channel 5 Thursday at 8 p.m.), the 1979 "prequel" to "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," is a resolutely lighthearted Western with a strong emphasis on comedy. It's fortunate that Tom Berenger and William Katt, cast as the youthful Butch and Sundance, are likable guys and their director is the deft Richard Lester, because the film proceeds amiably from one vignette to another without building up much steam.
Kojak: The Belarus File (CBS on Saturday at 9 p.m.) is a new TV movie that brings back Telly Savalas as the tough New York City detective he portrayed for five seasons (1973-78). This time out he's investigating the deaths of several elderly Russian emigres when he encounters a federal roadblock: the dead men's immigration records are classified. In the ensuing mystery, he's aided by State Department employee Suzanne Pleshette. Meanwhile, his old friend Max Von Sydow may become the next victim.
Paul Bartel's Death Race 2000 (Channel 9 Saturday at 10 p.m.) is a swift, lively little 1975 exploitation picture--and now near cult film--that envisions a "1984-ish" future, complete with a Big Brother, in which our national sport, designed to satisfy a love of violence and lust for winning, is a ferocious annual transcontinental road race whose contestants are tomorrow's equivalents of Roman gladiators. In the year 2000 there are five veteran contestants, each of whom is as gimmicky as a TV wrestler and each of whom drives a wildly customized car. The contestants are played by David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone, Mary Woronov, Roberta Collins and Martin Kove.
Some pay/cable evening attractions: The Party (SelecTV on Sunday at 9), La Truite (Cinemax on Sunday at 10:15), Stella Dallas with Barbara Stanwyck (Cinemax on Monday at 6), Murder at the Vanities (Z on Monday at 6), One Wild Moment (Z on Monday at 7:30), Heat Wave (SelecTV on Tuesday at 6:30), The Assassination Bureau (WTBS on Tuesday at 7), When a Stranger Calls (Movie Channel on Tuesday at 8), King of Hearts (Movie Channel on Thursday at 6), St. Valentine's Day Massacre (Thursday, WTBS at 7:20, WGN at 9:30), Hands Across the Table (Z on Thursday at 7:30), All Night Long (Movie Channel on Thursday at 8), Purple Haze (Cinemax on Thursday at 10), The River Niger (Z on Friday at 7), Pulp (Movie Channel on Friday at 8), Say Amen, Somebody (Cinemax on Saturday at 6) and Bells Are Ringing (Movie Channel on Saturday at 6:30).
Opinions in this column are based on the original-release version of the films. Checks for the logs are based on Leonard Maltin's "TV Movies" book and other sources. Pay TV movies without checks have not been reviewed by The Times.