Times Staff Writer

Actor Stacy Keach, who recently returned to the United States after a six-month jail sentence in England for smuggling cocaine, will also be returning to TV as the star of "Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer," a CBS executive confirmed Tuesday.

Keach, 44, will reprise the character in a two-hour made-for-TV movie that will probably air in January, said Tony Barr, vice president for current dramatic program production. Barr said that "Mike Hammer" likely would continue as a series if the new movie does well in the ratings.

The last original episode of the series, which was in its second season, aired Jan. 12, one month after Keach began serving his sentence in England's Reading Prison. Keach pleaded guilty last Dec. 7 to charges that he smuggled 1.3 ounces of cocaine into Britain.

Barr said that CBS does not believe the actor's popularity has diminished because of the jail term. "We feel that the public's interest is only in whether or not it's a show they enjoy watching. He has paid his dues and he has been very up-front about it."

New one-hour episodes could be on the air as early as next March, Barr said.

Keach on Tuesday was in the offices of the show's co-producer, Columbia Television, at the Burbank Studios, but would not comment on the latest development in his career.

A spokesman for Keach said that the actor would not be granting interviews until after he testifies in Congress on Tuesday, when he will be the lead witness before the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse.

Jay Bernstein, executive producer of the show in association with Columbia, said Tuesday that CBS' plans represented "a victory" for Keach and the show. Bernstein had engineered a five-week tour of major cities on behalf of "Mike Hammer" in February and March.

If history repeats itself, "Mike Hammer" has a good chance of returning with all-new one-hour episodes. Keach's first appearance as the suave, womanizing detective was in a TV movie in April, 1983. The show won its time slot, as it did on its next attempt with a TV movie in January, 1984, that kicked off its first season of one-hour episodes.

"Mike Hammer" finished last season as the 61st of 96 network series aired, according to A.C. Nielsen rankings. Brought back in reruns Saturdays at 10 p.m., "Mike Hammer" generally ran second to its ABC competition, "Finder of Lost Loves."

But its last rerun episode, which aired last Saturday, squeaked into the winner's circle with a three-tenths rating point lead over NBC's "Hunter," which in turn had the same lead over "Finder."

"It's always a good sign when a show wins its time slot," Barr said.

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