TV column for Sunday, Dec.20

Miss Universe, 7-10 p.m., Fox.

Back in July, the
Miss USA pageant proceeded amid chaos. NBC co-owned the pageant (and
Miss Universe) with Donald Trump, but refused to air it after his
immigration comments. It ended up on Reelz; where few people saw
Olivia Jordan – a 5-foot-11 actress from Tulsa -- crowned.

Now the pageants
have been sold to WME-IMG and are ready for a fresh start; Jordan is
one of 80 contestants in Las Vegas. Steve Harvey hosts; Seal, Charlie
Puth and The Band Perry perform.

II: “The Sound of Music” (1965) sing-along, 7-11 p.m., ABC.

A half-century ago,
Hollywood had almost forgotten Broadway musicals. Then this arrived
with a so-so story, but the right star (Julie Andrews, fresh from her
“Mary Poppins” Oscar), gorgeous backdrops and the soaring
Rodgers-and-Hammerstein songs.

It won five Academy
Awards (including best picture), was nominated for five more
(including Andrews) and keeps return. This time, we can sing along,
with the words on the screen.

ALTERNATIVE: James Bond films, cable.

Even at
Christmastime, people love Bond. Tonight, we can choose between the
Daniel Craig version (tougher, more intense, less charming) and the
Pierce Brosnan one (more fun).
Brosnan's “The World is Not
Enough” (1999) is 5 p.m. and 2 a.m. on BBC America; try to forgive
the casting of Denise Richards as a nuclear physicis in hotpants.
Craig's first Bond, “Casino Royale” (2006), is 8 and 11 p.m. on
BBC America; it overcomes an overwrought opener and a so-so poker
scene; his third, “Skyfall” (2012) is 6-9 p.m. on Syfy.

Other choices

Football preview, 7
p.m. ET, and game, 8:20 , NBC. Using its “flex-schedule” option,
NBC dumped the Bengal-49ers game, which was moved to 4:25 p.m. ET on
CBS. Instead, it has Arizona at Philadelphia. The Cardinals (11-2)
could cinch their division title today; the Eagles are only 6-7, but
they've won two straight and are tied for first in their division.

(1984), 7:25 p.m., Comedy Central. This one is always fun for kids or
grown-ups, mixing sight gags with the droll wit of Bill Murray and
Dan Aykroyd.

“Undercover Boss”
season-opener, 8:30 p.m. (or later, with football overrun), CBS. The
“sauce king of Cincinnati” -- with 66 Buffalo Wings & Rings
sites – goes undercover. There will be two more Sunday episodes,
before “Boss” takes a temporary spot on Fridays.

“Madam Secretary,”
9:30 (or later), CBS. This reruns a strong episode from last March,
with Elizabeth flying to Iran, hoping to prevent a coup.

“Into the
Badlands,” 10 p.m., AMC. The brief first season of this visually
impressive (albeit violent) series concludes, with Sunny and his
protege trying to escape the baron's grip. There were only five
previous hours and you can catch them all, starting at 5 p.m.

“CSI: Cyber,”
10:30 (or later), CBS. A cyber-Robin Hood steals from banks and gives
to the poor.

Christmas Carol,” 11:30 p.m., ABC Family. Record this half-hour gem
and watch it during a mellow moment. There are few laughs for the
kids, but the visuals are gorgeous. This follows the zillionth run of
two good comedies -- “Christmas Vacation” (1989) at 7 p.m. and
“Elf” (2003) at 9:15.

TV column for Saturday, Dec. 19

“Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC.

Let's think of this
as superstar Saturday. And we mean real superstars, not just people
with reality shows and magazine covers. Other shows (see below) have
Mariah Carey, Steven Tyler and more.

And “SNL”? Bruce
Springsteen is the music guest, for only the third time in 23 years.
For the host, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler combine ... just as they did
(very well, mostly) at the Golden Globes and on the “Weekend
Update” desk; we'll hope they invade “Update” tonight.

“Imagine: John Lennon 75th Birthday Concert,” 9-11
p.m., AMC.

With his classic
song, John Lennon told us to imagine a world as it should be. Now
we'll imagine one in which he wasn't slain 35 years ago. Stars
belatedly (by two months) celebrate his birthday.

The line-up has
people from country (Willie Nelson, Eric Church, Chris Stapleton,
Kris Kristofferson), rock and pop. There's John Fogerty, Sheryl Crow,
Peter Frampton, Juanes, Aloe Blacc, Tyler, The Roots, Pat Monahan of
Train, Brandan Flowers of The Killers and Tom Morello of Rage Against
the Machine, plus Yoko Ono and (by video) Paul McCartney and Ringo

ALTERNATIVE: “The Wizard of Oz” (1939). 7 and 9:20 p.m., TNT;
and/or “The Wiz,” 8-11 p.m., NBC.

A great story gets
two very different treatments. TNT has the classic version, with
heart, brains, Judy Garland and a song soaring over the rainbow; NBC
reruns its recent, live producton.

This was the stuffed
with ambition, rhythm-and-blues music and stars -- Queen Latifah,
Mary J. Blige, Ne-Yo, Common, Elijay Kelley, David Alan Grier, teen
newcomer Shanice Williams and more. It revived the live-musical
notion that had faded last year with “Peter Pan.”

Bowl games, all day.

This is the first
day of the bowl season, but don't look for the Rose, Orange or
Cotton. We're in a new, 40-bowl world that inludes odd names (Belk
Bowl, Foster Farms Bowl) and losing teams. At 7 p.m. ET, for
instance, the Cure Bowl (CBS Sports) has San Jose State (5-7) and
Georgia State (6-6).

Also: Alcorn State
and North Carolina A&T , Celebration Bowl, noon ET, ABC; Arizona
(6-6) and New Mexico (7-5), New Mexico Bowl, 2 p.m., ESPN; Utah and
BYU (both 9-3), Las Vegas Bowl, 3:30, ABC; Ohio (8-4) and Appalachia
State (9-2), 5:30, ESPN; Louisiana Tech (8-4) and Arkansas State
(9-3), New Orleans Bowl, 9 p.m.. ESPN.

Other choices

“Saving Private
Ryan” (1998), 5 and 9 p.m., IFC. Like “Oz” -- but in a
different way, filled with wartime death and despair – this is one
of the all-time great films.

Fight night (Fox)
and Democratic presidential debate (ABC), both 8 p.m. ET. It's Dos
Anjos vs. Cerrone and Clinton vs. Sanders. The former one is expected
to have rules that are clearly enforced.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, a Marine is found dead, clutching a photo of a
student now at the military academy he attended. Tony, who also went
to the school, goes there to investigate.

“A Christmas
Melody,” 8-10 p.m., Hallmark. Mariah Carey has conquered music with
18 No. 1 singles, but has had little success with movies. Now she
tries anew as director and co-star. Lacey Chabert plays a talented
fashion designer; divorced, she closes her Manhattan boutique and
moves with her daughter to her home town ... where her long-ago
nemesis (Carey) still reigns.

“Criminal Minds,”
9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, someone is killing people who are big on
social media.

Vacation” (1989), 9:45 p.m., ABC Family. Here's a fun holiday film,
with wit and Chevy Chase. It wraps an ABC Family day that includes
Christmas cartoons from 12:30 p.m. to 5:15 p.m.

TV column for Friday, Dec. 18

“Live From Lincoln Center,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local

For the second time
this month, we get an all-star show, stuffed with songs that have
been sung by Frank Sinatra. Both mark the 100th
anniversary of Sinatra's birth; which was Feb. 12.

Since this one is in
New York and is on PBS, it has plenty of people with Broadway
experience. That includes Benradette Peters, Sting, Fantasia and
two-time Tony-winner Sutton Foster. Also performing are Christina
Aguilera, host Seth MacFarlane, trumpeter Chris Botti and the New
York Philharmonic.

“ A Home for the Holidays,” 9-10 p.m., CBS.

Aguilera competes
with herself tonight, singing on this show and the PBS one.

“Home” is an
annual tribute to adoption, each year introducing passionate films
about real-life families. LL Cool J hosts this year, with music by Ed
Sheeran, Jason DeRulo, Rascal Flatts and Aguilera.

ALTERNATIVE: “Billboard Women in Music,” 8-10 p.m., Lifetime.

A night stuffed with
music will peak, perhaps, when we see Lady Gaga receive the Woman of
the Year award and sing “Til It Happens to You.”

The ceremonty was
taped last Friday, with several of the other honorees performing;
they included Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Tori Kelly, Kelsea
Ballerini, Brittany Howard (of Alabama Shakes) and Fifth Harmony.
Also honored: Missy Elliott, Loretta Lynn and Lana Del Rey.

ALTERNATIVE II: Cartoon overload, 8-9 p.m., everywhere.

Suddenly, the big
networks are clogged with Christmas cartoons. The best may be the
amiable “Frosty the Snowman” (8 p.m., CBS), but the worst may be
“Frosty Returns” (8:30, CBS).

The CW counters with
“Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” from 8-9 p.m. ABC does
rerun the non-cartoon “Last Man Standing” at 8 (Kristin feels
undermined when opening the new grill), but follows with the “Yes,
Virginia” cartoon at 8:31.

Other choices

Junior,” 8-9 p.m., Fox. First, kids cook for grandmothers. (Isn't
it usually the other way around?) Then – after only a blind tasting
– they try to match something Gordon Ramsay made.

“A Christmas
Carol,” 8 p.m., TNT (1999) and 9:30 p.m., AMC (1984). Two great
actors offer blistering versions of Scrooge in lush productions. It's
Patrick Stewart on TNT, George C. Scott on AMC.

“Kingsman: The
Secret Service” (2015), 8 p.m., HBO. Colin Firth is a master of all
things British, from kings to commoners, so why not also have him
play an unflappable secret agent? Skillfully mixing humor, action and
style, this entertaining film compared well to this year's stiff “Man
From Uncle.”

Funniest,” 9 p.m., Fox. Here's the season finale for a show that
celebrates Internet failure.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, Erin finds that someone has broken into her
apartment and has assaulted her co-worker. Meanwhile, her brother
Jamie finds a pipe bomb in an old woman's apartment; their dad, the
police commissioner, probes someone collecting money for the police.

“Just in Time for
Christmas,” 10 p.m., Hallmark. If you haven't seen this TV movie
yet, catch it now. Its plot – a chance to see a path not taken –
is copycat, but it has a terrific star (Eloise Mumford) and the rich
production values we expect from every “Hall of Fame” movie.

TV column for Thursday, Dec. 17

“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS.

TV's best comedy
offers perhaps its best episode ... one that many viewers never
thought would happen: Sheldon – perplexed about all people and
(especially) women – ponders intimacy with Amy.

“Big Bang” has
always treated its characters with love and amusement. It spotlights
their flaws –big, gaping ones – while making them thoroughly
likable. Jim Parsons (who already has four Emmys for this role) and
Mayim Bialik (who deserves one now) bring warmth and humor. And
there's fun around them, including the “Star Wars” opening and
Bob Newhart as the ghost of Professor Proton.

“Running Wild With Bear Grylls,” 10 p.m., NBC.

This summer, viewers
saw Grylls plunge into the wilderness with intereting people, from
Drew Brees to Kate Hudson. Now we see a different sort of celebrity –
President Obama.

They're in Alaska
(with Secret Service people nearby, off-camera) walking a dense
forest and a glacial outwash. Along the way, they discuss global
warming and munch on salmon that Grylls found (after a bear had
chomped on it) and cooked. It's not exactly a White House dinner.

ALTERNATIVE: “How Murray Saved Christmas,” 8-9 p.m., NBC.

Mike Reiss writes
and produces “The Simpsons,” but he also wrote a book stuffed
with Seuss-quality wit and rhymes. Now he's turned it into the best
Christmas special since the Grinch and Charlie Brown.

The town of Stinky
Cigar (named to discourage tourism) is home to holiday figures, from
Santa to Cupid. Then disaster strikes; only Murray (Jerry Stiller),
the crabby deli guy, can save the day.

Other choices

“Disney Prep &
Landing” and its sequel, 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC. Christmas cartoons
collide, when NBC's “Murray” faces these two. Quick, slick and
fairly amusing, they show us Santa's high-tech team.

“iHeart Radio
Jingle Ball,” 8-9:30 p.m., CW. Christmas music gets a youthful feel
here, with Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, Nick Jonas, 5 Seconds of
Summer, Calvin Harris, The Weeknd and more.

“American Country
Countdown's Top 10 Stories of 2015,” 8-9 p.m., Fox. While pop music
bounces around CW, Fox counters with country. Darius Rucker hosts and
includes concert performances by Carrie Underwood, Jason Aldean ad
Little Big Town.

“Blake Shelton's
Not So Family Christmas,” 9 p.m, NBC. This was sort of a family
Christmas in 2012, with music from Shelton and then-wife Miranda
Lambert; they divorced this year. Also in this rerun are Kelly
Clarkson, Christina Aguilera, Reba McEntire and comedians Jay Leno
and Larry the Cable Guy.

“Mom,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Octavia Spencer (an Oscar-winner for “The Help”) is back as
Regina. When she insists she's not an alcoholic, Christy and Bonnie
try to be supportive.

season-opener, 9-11:45 p.m., BBC America. Seething with intensity,
this series has already brought Idris Elba a Golden Globe plus three
more Globe nominations and three Emmy nominations. Now it returns,
with Luther on leave from his police job ... until a cannibalistic
killer emerges.

“The 10 Most
Fascinating People of 2015,” 9:30-11 p.m., ABC. Barbara Walters
includes some movie/TV people (Amy Schumer, Bradley Cooper, Tracy
Morgan), but also has ballerina Misty Copeland, fighter Ronda Rousey,
designer Dona Karan, politician Bernie Sanders and surprises.

TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 16

“Survivor” finale, 8 p.m., CBS, with reunion at 10.

This “second
chance” edition has been dominated by people with recent “Survivor”
experience. Nine contestants were from editions 28 through 30; five
of them -- Spencer Bledsoe, Jeremy Collins, Tasha Fox, Keith Nale and
Kelley Wentworth – are in the running for the million-dollar prize.

And the 11
contestants who were in earlier editions? Only Kimmi Kappenberg has
survived; she's 43, a Long Island bartender who finished 12th
in the second one, some 14 years ago.

“Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas,” 8-9 p.m., NBC.

In a burst of
holiday ambition, NBC launched two animated musicals last year. One
-- “How Murray Saved Christmas,” rerunning Thursday – was
brilliant; this one is merely OK.

It starts with the
songs from the “Broadway” version of the “Elf” movie; the
opener is zesty, but the others are easy to ignore. It adds a new
script that's lame, but there's a good cast, led by Jim Parsons.

ALTERNATIVE: “Childhood's End” finale and “The Magicians,” 8
and 10 p.m., Syfy.

If you've seen the
first two chapters (rerunning at 4 and 6 p.m.), you're probably
hooked. Now this 1953 Arthur C. Clarke tale concludes, as we learn
what the alien overlords have planned.

Then comes an
advance hour of a series set for January. Based on the Lev Grossman
novels, “Magicians” is like Harry Potter meets “Catcher in the
Rye” ... but not always in a good way. The setting – a university
for people who do real magic – is fascinating, but the characters
(especially the central one) often seem to share the same weary soul,
making the story quite monotone.

Other choices

“Star Trek Into
Darkness” (2013), 7-10 p.m., FX. Two days before his “Star Wars”
movie opens to mega-crowds, we can see J.J. Abrams' previous epic.
Film fans can also try HBO at 8 p.m.; “Gone Girl” (2014) has a
brilliant plot, plus superb, Oscar-nominated work by Rosamund Pike.

“Empire,” 8
p.m., Fox. This rerun of the season-opener finds Lucious in prison,
while his ex-wife plans a mega-concert in support. Despite a few
flaws (including an absurd prosecutor), it's a strong hour.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. A string of comedy reruns starts with Frankie taking a
drastic step to simplify Christmas: She'll have a minimalist tree.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. Phil may have misjudged his father-in-law. He figures an
ultra-modern outdoor grill would be the perfect birthday present.

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. Things are rarely easy for
Rollins. In this rerun, her mother (Virginia Madsen) throws her a
bridal shower, but that soon becomes entwined in a rape case and in
the return of Rollins' sister, who's a fugitive.

9:31 p.m., ABC. In addition to being chubby and cheery, Santa Claus
tends to be white. Now Dre hopes to change that, taking over the
Santa spot usually held by the head of human resources.

“Nashville on the
Road,” 10 p.m., ABC. A previous “Nashville” special had great
concert performances and bland interviews. Now a new one includes
glimpses and interviews about life on concert tours.