TV column for Wednesday, Oct. 7

MUST-SEE: “Empire,” 9 p.m., Fox.

“Dynasty” to “Real Housewives,” we've learned that dinner
parties are dangerous; drinks get thrown, tables get tipped. Tonight,
Cookie (Taraji Henson) tops that spectacularly,.

rage grows as her new record label struggles. At the core is Hakeem,
a gifted but unreliable rapper and producer who's trying to mold a
sexy (and dysfunctional) girl group. Her ex-husband's label (where
son Jamal is weighed down by administrative duties) has its eye on a
fiery female rapper. In the “Empire” style, strong music links
with deep drama and moments of “Dynasty”-style excess.

MIGHT-SEE: “Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

are the cartoon characters of the bird world – giant bodies, tiny
heads, a bizarre inability to fly or sing. Collectively, they're
called ratites; they range from the hard-to-see kiwi (small and
nocturnal) to the hard-to-miss ostrich (nine feet high, 300-plus
pounds, yet running 40 miles per hour).

ancestors knew how to fly, David Attenborough tells us, but when the
dinosaurs vanished, there was no incentive. They became bigger,
terrestial ... and thoroughly entertaining.

ALTERNATIVE: “American Horror Story: Hotel” debut, 10 p.m., FX'
rerims at 11:30 p.m. and 1 a.m.

going to give this place a bad review on Yelp,” a gorgeous tourist
vows. That seems fair: The hotel clerk is rude, there's no Wi-Fi and
creepy, “Shining”-type kids are in the hallways. Also, an
almost-dead guy is inside the mattress. Consider this any traveler's
worst-case scenario.

first, “Hotel” is just a series of nasty and pointless (albeit
brilliantly crafted) scenes of gore, sex and Lady Gaga. Belatedly, we
meet a cop (Wes Bentley) who's deeply decent and deeply hurt; a story
takes form. By then, some viewers will have fled; others will
consider it their favorite show ever.

choices include:

any time, Hulu. Michaela Watkins plays a therapist who feels life's
burdens; Tommy Dewey plays her brother, who doesn't. As her life
falls apart, she moves into his bachelor pad with her teen daughter.
The result has its funny moments.

8 p.m. ET, TBS. The Cubs visit the Pirates, in a one-shot fight for
the National League's wild-card spot. These teams only had the
second- and third-best records in their division. Then again, they
also had the second- and third-best records in all of baseball. It's
been a weird season.

season-opener, 8 p.m., CW. Neil McDonough has already been a chilling
villain on “Justified”; now he's this season's prime nemesis, as
Davien Darhk. That chops away at the blissful state of Oliver, who
set his Arrow persona aside, to vacation with Felicity.

9 p.m., CW. When this show began, few people would have predicted it
would reach its 11th season – one more than “Friends”
and “Murphy Brown,” two more than “Seinfeld” and “X-Files,”
10 more than “Manimal.” But here it is, with the brothers
battling the forces of darkness.

Family,” 9 p.m., ABC. This season started with Haley's parents
reluctantly nudging her back with Dylan. Now comes the next, tricky
step: Can he live with her – in the family home? Also, Mitchell
needs a job and accepts one with his dad's competitor.

10 p.m., ABC. Scarlett faces the painful question of whether to take
her mother off life-support. And with Juliette continuing to be
self-destructive, Avery is ready to file for divorce.

Black,” 10 p.m., CBS. Christa (Bonnie Somerville) has saved a
woman's life, but can she convince the by-the-books Neal (Raza
Jaffrey) to perform surgery to save the patient's reproductive
future? Also, Mario's diagnosis gets him into a fight with a hockey

TV column for Tuesday, Oct. 6

MUST-SEE: “iZombie” season-opener, 9 p.m., CW.

a while, it was easy to ignore the CW, with its so-so shows aimed at
a narrow audience. But last season started with “Jane the Virgin”
and ended with “iZombie”; both had originality and wit.

(Rose McIver) is a doctor and a reluctant zombie. Now she works in
the morgue, munches brains ... and absorbs memories, helping solve
crimes. She also absorbs attitudes; tonight, after munching a crabby
old man, this 27-year-old is grumbling about kids-these-days. We also
see aftershocks of last season's decision -- making her ex-boyfriend
a zombie. That saved his life, but he's not happy about it.

MUST-SEE II: “The Grinder,” 8:30 p.m., Fox.

the terrific opener, Dean (Rob Lowe) – fresh from playing a lawyer
on TV – returned home. He decided he could help his father and
brother (William Devane and Fred Savage) at their law office.

“Grinder” fills in the details. We see delightful clips of Dean's
old show; it was, as a newcomer helpfully tells him, cheesy and
melodramatic. We see that Dean has instantly charmed his dad and
nephew ... while the brother ponders his role in life. And we meet a
young woman lawyer who is refreshingly immune to Dean's charms;
“Grinder” has few big laughs, but is thorougly entertaining.

ALTERNATIVE: Schedule changes, 10 p.m., NBC and ABC.

TV season has barely started and two networks are already fiddling
with this timeslot. NBC's original plan was to air Neil Patrick
Harris' “Best Time Ever” at 10 p.m. for two Tuesdays, then slide
it to 8; instead, the show now has its fourth straight run at 10.

had once set “Quantico” for 10 p.m. Tuesdays. When a Sunday show
was delayed, a plan was hatched -- “Quantico” to Sundays, a
“Shark Tank” spin-off temporarily on Tuesdays. But now, for the
second straight week, ABC has a “Quantico” rerun here. On the
lam, Alex scrambles to clear her name.

choices include:

8 p.m. ET, ESPN. The play-offs begin in a classic site – Yankee
Stadium. The Yankees face the Astros, in a one-and-done series, to
see who continues Thursday in the next round.

Voice,” 8-10 p.m., NBC. The teams have been decided now, but
“Voice” will rerun audition highlights (including some new
footage) and have the judges reflect on their choices.

Flash” season-opener, 8 p.m., CW. Already a mournful man – his
mom was killed and his dad was convicted of the murder – Barry now
feels he triggered tragedies at the end of last season. Tonight's
hour spends too much time with his funk, but stick around. There are
big, pivotal moments tonight.

Off the Boat,” 8:30 p.m., ABC. This comedy is set in 1990s Orlando,
when Shaquille O'Neal was the biggest (literally) star in town. Now –
following a “Muppets” with Gonzo trying Online dating -- he has a
guest role; the episode centers on Eddie's water slide and his
parents' anniversary.

of SHIELD,” 9 p.m., ABC. An ancient monolith has swallowed Simmons.
This is not a good thing, so the team hopes an Asgardian can help.

New Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. The team must determine if a crash was
caused by pilot error or plane error. That follows an “NCIS” in
which McGee and Bishop must pose as a married couple.

10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). After the 1988 airliner bombing
that killed 259 people, investigators focused on a Swiss timing
device designed by Edwin Bollier. Then came a detour: Bollier said he
was the one who (using an alias) had correctly pointed them to
Libyans as the prime culprits. Bollier, about 77, remains an enigma.
He's questioned in the second of three hours, with Ken Dornstein
studying the bombing that killed his brother. Like the first part,
it's both fascinating and frustrating.

TV column for Monday, Oct. 5

MUST-SEE: “The Big Bang Theory” and “Life in Pieces,” 8 and
8:31 p.m., CBS.

the end of the month, CBS will scuttle its long tradition of Monday
comedy. These two shows will slide to Thursdays, once football
vacates that night. For now, however, let's enjoy the fun.

Bang” has started the year with gems about the new marriage of
Leonard and Penny; tonight, the guys take him to Mexico for a belated
bachelor party and the women ask her for the story of the elopement.
Meanwhile, “Pieces” has been witty ... albeit with an overload of
anatomical humor. Tonight, Matt coaches his girlfriend before she
meet his entire, eccentric family.

MIGHT-SEE: “Gotham,” 8 p.m., Fox.

one hand, “Gotham” is unmatched for stylish visuals, taut
emotions and jolting moments. One twist tonight (involving scheming
Galavan and a cohort) delivers a powerhouse surprise.

the other, tonight's centerpiece – a hostage situation at a charity
fundraiser – mostly feels prolonged and unsettling. A show with
this much talent can come up plots that are more clever than this.

ALTERNATIVE: “Doc Martin” season-opener, any time,

six seasons, this British show has had a vagabond existence in
America – airing at scattered times on a patchwork collection of
public-TV stations. Now this streaming service takes over.

Clunes plays a village physician, devoid of social skills. His wife
is with her mother, leaving the marriage unclear. Ready to sink into
self-pity, he instead must worry about his ditzy receptionist and a
lot of villagers who keep ignoring symptoms. Two episodes – one
very good, the next one pretty good – are available today; others
arrive each Monday, with all seven seasons available after Nov. 16.

choices include:

With the Stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC. The celebrities will do pieces
reflecting their most memorable years. That's expected to include
Nick Carter reflecting his “Backstreet Boys: days, Gary Busey
recalling his Buddy Holly film and Bindi Irwin recalling her late
father, the “crocodile hunter.”

Voice,” 8-10:01 p.m., NBC. The blind auditions conclude, setting
the teams. There will be a recap Tuesday, with the “battle rounds”
starting next week.

& Teller: Fool Us,” 8 p.m., CW. On Tuesday, the CW will finally
plnge ahead with seven season-openers in a four-night stretch. First,
we can enjoy the season-finale of a fun magic show.

9 p.m., CBS. Sylvester isn't your macho, behind-bars type. But to
save the lives of three judges, he goes undercover in a federal

Report,” 9 p.m., Fox. Once a lonely outsider, Stark may become the
analyst for a new police program. Still, there are questions about
the program's intentions.

10:01 p.m., ABC. Probing a fraternity guy's death, Rick goes
undercover as a professor.

10:01 p.m., NBC. A thief, captured during a jewel heist, bears the
same Navy SEAL tattoo that Jane has. Also, Jane gets a warning from
the man who was in her first memory.

TV column for Sunday, Oct. 4

MUST-SEE: “The Good Wife,” 9 p.m. (or later, with football
overrun), CBS.

one swoop, CBS starts the seasons for all of its classy Sunday
dramas. At the core is “Good Wife,” with 37 Emmy nominations (two
for best series) and five wins (two for Juliana Margulies).

plays Alicia, who is the governor's wife and was a big-time lawyer
... until she was caught in an election scandal. Now she's starting
over, begging for bail cases. Don't fret, though; major moments are
coming tonight for her and for her husband. It's a big start for a
srong series.

MUST-SEE II: “Home Fires” debut, 8 p.m., PBS (check local

hour later, “Masterpiece” will continue “Indian Summers,”
which is big and plush and well-made. But here's the surprise: This
smaller, simpler show is just as good.

1939 in small-town England and the men are preparing for war. For
others, the battleground is the local Women's Institute: A rich
matron (Francesca Annis) wants it closed for the duration; others
want it to propel a homefront project. Along the way, other issues
(romantic and medical) slowly emerge.

ALTERNATIVE: “Homeland” season-opener, 9 p.m., Showtime.

four seasons and two well-deserved Emmys for best actress, Claire
Danes has turned Carrie Mathison into one of TV's great characters.
As a CIA agent, she was passionate, intense, fragile and, ultimately,
broken. Now she's in Germany with her daughter, out of government and
out of danger.

is she? Suddenly, work wants to push her back into a war zone. In
many ways this is her biggest dilemma, because she could duck out.
The hour starts slowly, but gives a great character new depth.

choices include:

Secretary” season opener, 8 p.m. (or later), CBS. The first season
hurled Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord into some crucial
situations, but nothing like this: After a quick series of events,
she might have to take the oath as acting president.

Unauthorized 'Beverly Hills 90210' Story,” 8 p.m., Lifetime. Here's
a quick rerun of Saturday's movie, including (at 10 p.m.) its reunion
of the “90210” cast.

Breakers” debut, 8 p.m., Ovation. Miller Gaffney and Carol Lee
Brosseau were Baylor University sorority sisters, then became art
experts on opposite coasts. Since they also are peppy and telegenic,
they also have their own four-week reality show ... starting by
helping Mario Lopez commission a work. Many viewers will find this
pleasant; some will also consider it surface and shallow.

& Oil,” 9 p.m., ABC. Last week's debut ended explosively: A
masked Wick tried to steal from his father, setting off a blast that
almost killed both of them. Now he scrambles to hide his involvement.

the Walking Dead” (AMC) or “Leftovers” (HBO), both 9 p.m. Two
fantasy shows collide, but only this once. It's the first-season
finale for “Fear,” with unrest building as the zombie threat
grows; it's the second-season debut of “Leftovers,” now set in
the one town where no one vanisehd.

Cyber,” 10 p.m. (or later), CBS. A week after the original “CSI”
ended its 15-season run, this show starts its second-season, probing
a home burglary and homicide. D.B. Russell (Ted Danson), from the
now-departed show, moves to Washington, D.C., to become “director
of next generation forensics.”

Affair” season-opener, 10 p.m., Showtime. Here is two-sided
storytelling as an art form: We see the same events told from two
people's perspectives; differences can be tiny – the clothes
someone's wearing, the nuances of the words – to huge. All of that
is important here, in an hour that jumps between two crises for Noah
(Dominic West) – his divorce and his arrest for hit-and-run.

TV column for Saturday, Oct. 3

MUST-SEE: “Saturday Night Live” season-opener, 11:29 p.m., NBC.

phases of this presidential election have screamed for satire.
Fortunately, “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” is off to a strong
start and Seth Meyers has been terrific since starting his latenight
show behind a desk, news-style. And now “Saturday Night Live” is

sometimes-controversial Miley Cyrus hosts a show that was in its 18th
season when she was born. It's her third time hosting and her second
time doubling as the music guest.

MIGHT-SEE: “The Unauthorized 'Beverly Hills 90210' Story,” 8
p.m., Lifetime.

in 1990, Fox was still struggling. It had old movies Mondays, nothing
at all on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and lots of comedy (but little
drama) the rest of the week. Then “90210” burst in.

other Aaron Spelling shows, it had bland scripts, but good intentions
and memorable casting. Amid the blue-sky beauty of privileged teens,
it turned Luke Perry and Jason Priestley into teen idols. Its young
actresses ranged from the fiery Shannen Doherty to the sweet-spirited
Jennie Garth and Spelling's daughter Tori. There will be a cast
reunion at 10 p.m. and a movie rerun at midnight.

ALTERNATIVE: “Live From New York” (2015), 8-10 p.m., NBC.

Nguyen is a young Vietnamese-American filmmaker whose serious
documentaries often reach film festivals. But this year, the Tribeca
festival opened with a different mood – his portrait of a show that
Nguyen considers to be classic Americana.

interviews range from some of the original people (Lorne Michaels,
who's still in charge, and Dan Aykroyd) to Pete Davidson, 21. Now NBC
airs this as a prelude to the start of the show's 41st

choices include:

on the Air” (2015), 7 p.m., Hallmark. Here's another chance to see
this above-average film with a man and woman as duelling radio
personalities. It's followed at 9 by a new film, “Autumn Dreams.”

8 p.m. ET, ABC. The night's biggest game has 6th-ranked
Notre Dame at 12th-ranked Clemson. At 7:30 p.m. ET, Fox
has Arizona State (2-2 so far) at 7th-ranked UCLA

New Orleans,” 8 p.m., CBS. In this rerun, a Navy lieutenant has
been given a letal dose of poison. Now he wants the team to solve his
imminent murder.

Black,” 9 p.m., CBS. If you missed this debut Wednesday, definitely
catch it now. Marcia Gay Harden leads some new residents, in an
emergency room that hears the most serious code almost daily.

“Dr. Who,” 9 p.m. Saturday, BBC America. The Doctor and Clara
must rescue a crew that's attacked at its underwater base. That's
surrounded by last week's episode, at 8 and (after Graham Norton) 10

Talk,” 9 p.m., Starz, repeating at 10 and 11:10 p.m. Earlier, the
producer's husband (Ed Begley Jr.) was having memory problems. Now
he's missing; Walter (Patrick Stewart) joins the search.

Bastard Executioner,” 10 p.m., 12:05 a.m. and 1:20 a.m., FX. If you
haven't started this series yet, here's a chance to see (or record)
the first three episopdes. It's from the “Sons of Anarchy”
producer, with the same violent intensity ... but in a sometimes
perplexing setting of 14th-century Wales.