Donny. Marie. Deal with it.

The Osmond-family singing duo--she, a little bit country; he, a little bit rock 'n' roll--that left their toothy stamp on 1970s television with their once top-rated prime-time variety series is back, rested and presumably ready to enter the increasingly competitive daytime talk show field. Yes, coming to a TV near you in fall 1998: Donny & Marie. And if we're really good, the show may be ready to roll in syndication by next summer. (Please hold your applause until the end of the story.)

"This show is unlike anything else on television right now," said Barry Thurston, president of Columbia TriStar Television Distribution, in a statement announcing the program. Since neither Oprah, nor Rosie, has an onscreen older brother with whom they can trade witticisms ("Cute, Marie. Real cute."), Thurston's hype has the ring of truth to it.

The all-new (improved?) Donny and Marie TV venture is described as a variety show, with celebrity interviews and comedy sketches. Also, don't be surprised (or frightened) if the brother-sister combo raises their voices in song on occasion. (Take that, Oprah.) None other than Mr. TV, Dick Clark, has been charged with the producer's responsibility of making this baby fly.

Donny & Marie is designed as an hour-long, Monday-Friday show best viewed during late-morning or afternoon time slots. As talk shows go, it's light, entertainment fare in the Rosie O'Donnell mold. Unfortunately for the Osmonds, that's going to be a popular look in 1998. Already, celebrity-oriented shows starring Howie Mandel and Roseanne are set to enter the daytime-TV fray next year.

Unlike Mandel and Roseanne, the Osmonds, at least, do have a track record in variety TV. From 1976-79, the pair was front and center in sequined bell-bottoms as hosts of their own ABC prime-time series. At ages 18 (Donny) and 16 (Marie), upon their debut, they were the youngest such hosts ever. By next fall, Donny will be 40; Marie, 38. That won't make them anything special at all. (Just thought we'd add that age thing to freak you out.)

The pair's new show has already been snapped up by Fox-owned TV stations in five markets, including the three biggies: New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

"Stations', as well as advertisers', response has been tremendous," said Steve Mosko, another Columbia Tri-Star TV executive.

This is in marked contrast to reports earlier this summer that the suits were so skittish as to how Donny and Marie would play in the 1990s that their test shows were taped on a hush-hush, top-secret basis.

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