TV column for Tuesday, Oct. 16

“The Rookie” debut, 10 p.m., ABC.

John Nolan is your
average guy – middle-aged, middle-income, with an uneventful,
small-town life. Then comes a random act of heroism and a leap: At
40, he becomes a Los Angeles cop.

That's possible; LA
has no age limit and this fictional story began with a true one about
a middle-aged rookie. Nathan Fillion, 47, makes it work. Along the
way, ABC gets what it needs – a show that knows how to mix action,
humor and drama, while wrapping up its key stories each hour.

II: “The Kids Are Alright” debut, 8:31 p.m., ABC.

Tim Doyle wrote
other people's comedies -- from “Roseanne” to “Last Man
Standing” -- for 24 years. Now he has his own, a delight based on
growing up in a Catholic family that was stuffed with boys.

There are eight of
them here, from a toddler to a seminarian; only Timmy wants to be in
musicals. His parents could been cliches, but they're well-written
and well-played by the always-good Mary McCormack and Michael
Cudlitz. We see two smart, weary people, making a habit of

ALTERNATIVE: “American Experience,” 9-11 p.m., PBS.

A century ago,
leaders urged eugenics – improving the human stock via genetics.
The Carnegie Institute financed its study, Alexander Graham Bell
chaired the Eugenics Record Office, W.H. Kellogg led forums. “Society
has no business allowing degenerates” to reproduce, Theodore
Roosevelt said.

States approved
involuntary sterilization; Congress sharply reduced immigration. “Can
we build a wall huge enough around this country so as to keep out
these cheaper races?” asked the ERO founder. His idea would fade
after scientific doubts and Nazi extremes; here's a compelling look
at its history.

QUESTION: “The Conners” debut, 8 p.m., ABC.

Yes, this is ABC's
big night, with the best new drama (“Rookie”) and comedy
(“Alright”) of the broadcast networks' fall season. Still, its
success depends on this revision-of-a-reboot.

Last season's
“Roseanne” was a gem, with the smart humor we expect from
Roseanne Barr. Then she sent a not-smart, latenight tweet; she was
fired and the show was renamed. Now the Roseanne character is dead
and her daughter-in-law, a military lieutenant, is back from

Other choices

“The Great
American Read,” 8 p.m., PBS.A week before the finale, revealing
Americans' favorite novel, this hour looks mostly at fantasy. We also
see humble beginnings: “Dune” was rejected by more than 20
publishers ... “The Martian” was a series of blog chapters –
then spent 19 weeks at as the top-selling paperback ... “The Shack”
was self-published as a gift for 15 people – then sold 23 million.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Did Gibbs really think he would have a quiet cabin vacation?
He's interrupted by a visit from Fornell and Capt. Brooks ... and by
the news that a robber is hiding in the nearby woods.

“This Is Us,” 9
p.m., NBC. Flashbacks take Jack back to his Vietnam time.

“Black Lightning,”
9 p.m., CW. When his school was in trouble, the principal did the
logical thing – arriving in his Black Lightning disguise to save
the day. But now he's losing his principal job ... for being absent
during a crisis. It's a tough hour, boosted by action and a great
scene near the end.

season-opener, 9 p.m., ABC. Junior decides he needs a “gap year”
before college. It's an OK episode, dragged down by a lame sub-plot
involving the twins.

“Splitting Up
Together” season-opener, 9:31 p.m., ABC. So far, divorce has been
good for Lena and Marty; they're back together romantically. It's a
fairly good episode that ends with a fresh crisis.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. Investigating a murder, the team finds a
secret in a tight-knit fishing community. Also, LaSalle waits for
results of the tax-fraud probe of his family's company.