RON Howard has come a long way since he played the all-American Ritchie opposite Henry Winkler's gum-chewing The Fonz in Happy Days. He still wears the baseball cap, but these days does so with the confidence of an accomplished director. While Winkler struggled to maintain his star status with roles in formula brain-numbers such as Night Shift, Howard went out and made Splash, a quiet little film about a mermaid that became an instant hit and gave an actor called Tom Hanks a break. Howard followed it with Willow (Pearl, 9.30pm), which is not as good as Splash, but which is still not bad. It takes time to get going, but when it eventually splutters to life it becomes an enjoyable fantasy romp with all the usual ingredients; a sorcerer, a magic child and a wicked queen. Willow does not break any new ground, but Howard has always left that kind of thing to David Lynch and Francis Ford Coppola. He lacks their vision, but with films such as Parenthood, Backdraft, Cocoon and Splash has always done what his country has expected of him. Next up is The Paper a comedy-drama about a tabloid newspaper, starring Glenn Close and Michael Keaton. Nevertheless, Willow is still a ripping yarn, at least for the second half, with some eye-popping special effects. The evil Queen Bavmorda - and here the story takes on explicitly Biblical connotations - learns by prophecy that a child will be born who will bring about her downfall. She orders all pregnant women to be seized and imprisoned, but one manages to deliver her baby secretly and save it by floating it down the river in a reed basket. The basket is discovered by Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) one of the diminutive and peace-loving Nelwyns. He agrees to take the magical child to the safety of a castle, but the journey is a difficult one, made even more arduous by a two-headed, fire-breathing creature called Erbersisk. Val Kilmer, last seen in The Real McCoy with Kim Basinger, is the swash-buckling warrior who helps them. THE war drama Massacre In Rome (World, 9.30pm) is also a ripping yarn, but a chilling one. Richard Burton is a Gestapo chief who must execute 330 Italian hostages as revenge for a bomb attack in which 33 Nazi soldiers were killed. One dead German equalled 10 dead Italians, according to Hitler. Marcello Mastroianni is the priest who has the tough job of persuading Burton to change his mind. IN the streetwise cop drama NYPD Blue (Pearl, 8.30pm), Kelly and Sipowitz have lunch with a fellow detective who lost half his savings on a bad real estate investment and is blowing the other half on elaborate practical jokes. For one joke he coerces an elderly man into explaining in front of an audience of policeman how he was raped at gunpoint by two women, which does not sound like much of a joke. New Yorkers, especially those in the constabulary, have a strange sense of humour. Not surprisingly, the detective is urged to get psychiatric help. Police work was never like this for Dixon of Dock Green. ALL of us who work at computers will empathise with Raul Julia in the ''this-is-the-near-future'' thriller Overdrawn At The Memory Bank (World, 1.00am). He gets so bored that he accesses restricted files of classic movies from the 40s and spends many hours watching them. He gets caught and in the midst of his punishment becomes trapped inside the master computer where he lives out his dreams and fantasies, until his dreams and fantasies become as boring as everything else in his life. FORMER James Bond Timothy Dalton seems to have much more fun in the nature documentary Timothy Dalton - Wolves (World, 8.30 pm) than he ever did brandishing his licence to kill and sleeping with Maryam D'Abo in The Living Daylights. This is the first in a series which gives famous temporarily-unemployed actors (Anthony Hopkins is next with Lions) a licence to make a film about their favourite animals. Wolves, like Donald Trump, have an image problem. It can be blamed on Europeans, who in their literature and their drawings have depicted the animals as slightly crazed, salivating and wild-eyed. In the early 18th century prospectors killed around two million wolves in the United States, leaving only a handful behind to fight for survival as man encroached on their natural habitat. But wolves are shy animals and avoid humans at all cost. Dalton eventually catches sight of some in Alaska. His enthusiasm for the wild is infective. Wolves is the kind of programme we could do with more of.