TV column for Sunday, Jan. 4

“Downton Abbey” season-opener, 9-10:15 p.m. PBS (check local listings).

In the first four
seasons, the Crawleys – and British life – have changed
profoundly. Now it's 1924, the Labor Party rules and Robert Crawley
(the Downton patriarch) disapproves. Tom -- former chauffeur, former
Socialist -- feels torn between the Crawleys and Sarah, an outspoken

There's wry humor,
plus a possible romance for Lady Mary (as usual) and Isobel (not so
usual). Visitors arrive, looking for art and/or lust. Lady Edith
agonizes about her missing beau and her secret daughter ... then
ignites a fresh crisis, wrapping up a terrific opener.

II: “The Good Wife,” 9 p.m., CBS.

After a five-week
break, one of TV's top shows – with new Golden Globe nominations
for best drama and for Julianna Margulies and Alan Cummings – is
back, along with CBS' other Sunday shows.

Now people realize
Cary might not be able to avoid prison for his advice to drug-dealing
clients; he hires a prison consultant. Alicia (Margulies) also has a
consultant (Chris Elliott) to prep her for debates.

ALTERNATIVE: “Life Itself,” 9 and 11 p.m. ET, CNN.

TV's master film
critics, it turns out, were opposites. Gene Siskel was at ease
socially (partying with Hugh Hefner and Playmates) and on camera;
Roger Ebert was awkward on camera and, at times, in life. For a long
stretch, friends say, he drank heavily and had the world's worst
taste in women.

But Ebert
transformed. He became a world-traveler who championed small films,
while keeping his populist appreciation of big ones. He also wrote
beautifully and married well. Director Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”)
spends too much time on Ebert's cancer ordeal, but has crafted a
great documentary.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Ultimate Survival Alaska” opener, 9 p.m.,
National Geographic.

Kids, DON'T try this
at home: To save time, two teams cross a lake on thawing ice; another
makes a novice climb a sleek glacier. That's in the first of 13
rounds for four three-person teams.

Dallas Seavey, last
year's winner (and the Iditarod record-holder) is back. His team
(including tiny newcomer Lel Tone) faces the tough military guys they
barely beat last year. An Alaskan team is back; new is a “Lower 48”
team ... including a North Carolina kayaker who says he's never seen
snow. Beautifully filmed, this is the good side of reality TV.

Other choices

“Galavant,” 8
and 8:30 p.m., ABC. Now for something completely different – an
eight-part, four Sunday comedy musical mini-series. The “Tangled”
writer and composer offer the tale of a knight trying to lure his
loved one from her husband, the king. First, John Stamos plays a
tough jousting foe.

American Princesses” opener, 8 p.m., Smithsonian. Just before
“Downton” returns, this looks at the real-life versions of Cora
Crawley – American heiresses who married into British nobility.

“The Celebrity
Apprentice” opener, 9-11 p.m., NBC. Donald Trump again has a dandy
line-up, with athletes (Johnny Damon, Terrell Owens and
gold-medalists Shawn Johnson and Jamie Anderson), reality stars (Kate
Gosselin, Kenya Moore, Brandi Glanville) and more, including a
fisherman (Sig Hansen) and a Jonas (Kevin). The opener, at pie shops,
is slickly produced, but has the show's persistent flaw: Everything
else is negated, if a team simply brings in some big-money donors.

“Thicker than
Water” season-opener, 9 p.m., Bravo. This is a mostly amiable look
at gospel star Ben Tankard and his extended family from three
marriages. Then it offers the sort of screaming match (very loud,
very absurd) that Bravo seems fond of.

“The Manners of
Downton Abbey,” 10:15-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Alastair
Bruce, the “Downey” historical advisor, offers a beautifully
crafted look at the era the show re-creates.

TV column for Saturday, Jan. 3

“Hairspray” (2007), 8-10 p.m., ABC.

It's been quite a
journey for this tale – from low-budget 1988 movie to 2002 Broadway
hit (winner of eight Tonys, including best musical) and then back to
a movie again.

At each step were
gifted people. John Waters wrote and directed the original, recalling
the early rock scene of his Baltimore boyhood. Marc Shaiman and Scott
Wittman (the “Smash” composers) wrote the zesty Broadway music.
Director Adam Shankman gave the second movie a vibrant feel. The
casting of John Travolta didn't work, but others – Zac Efron, Queen
Latifah, newcomer Nikki Blonsky – are great.

Football, 4:20 p.m. ET, ESPN, and 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC.

First is more proof
that life is not fair: While one team with a 10-6 record (the Eagles)
failed to reach the play-offs, the Carolina Panthers won their
division with a losing mark (7-8-1). That even gives them home-field
advantage against the Arizona Cardinals (11-5).

The second game has
division rivals colliding for the third time, with the Baltimore
Ravens (10-6) at Pittsburgh (11-5). The other first-round games are

ALTERNATIVE: Movies, 7 and 9 p.m., Hallmark.

Now that the
Christmas deluge is done, Hallmark has its pre-Valentine burst of
romance. That starts with a rerun of “My Boyfriends' Dogs”
(2014), an amiable oddity about a young woman (Erika Christensen) who
has trouble with guys, but not with their dogs.

Then is the new
“Surprised By Love.” Hilarie Burton plays someone with second
thoughts – about life and romance – during her parents' 40th
anniversary. Tim Conway plays her grandfather.

Other choices

“The Queen of
Versailles” (2012), 7-9 p.m., CNBC. This excellent documentary
provides a vivid portrait of a boom-and-bust economy. In Florida, a
family is building a 90,000-square-foot mansion, patterned after
Versailles. Then money problems begin.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 8 p.m., CBS. New Orleans' cemeteries generally look
creepy in movies, but in this rerun, there's more: On Halloween, the
body of a JAG officer is found there; she's in a Victorian costume,
with fang punctures on her neck.

“Bones,” 8 p.m.,
Fox. In a rerun, the team finds bad things about the murder victim
and his boss (Gil Bellows), the heads a big-time hedge fund.

“Sleepy Hollow,”
9 p.m., Fox. This rerun has Abbie and Ichabod seeking the ultimate
weapon – the Sword of Methuselah – to kill Moloch.

“Criminal Minds,”
9 p.m., CBS. There really aren't many drownings in the Las Vegas
desert. In a rerun, the team investigates some of those suspicious

“The Missing,” 9
p.m., Starz, reruns at 10:05 and 11:10. This compelling story is now
a week from its finale. In current time, the divorced Tony and Emily
get a small clue about their son. And flashing back to 2009, their
marriage wobbling three years after his disappearance, a new case
stirs their interest.

“Saturday Night
Live,” late, NBC. Woody Harrelson hosts this rerun, with music from
Kendrick Lamar. Officially, this is listed at 11:29 p.m. PT and
midnight ET; the latter could be much later, however, depending on

TV column for Friday, Jan. 2

“Hawaii Five-0” and “Blue Bloods,” 9 and 10 p.m., CBS.

It's time to wash
away that month of reruns and specials and such; beginning tonight,
CBS promises new episodes of everything. Even the reality shows,
which are between editions have their slots filled by “Undercover
Boss” (tonight) and by a move of “The Mentalist” to Wednesdays.

Both of tonight's
cop tales have sexual subtexts – the victims are an escort in
“Five-0” and adult-film stars in “Blue Bloods.” Beyond that,
“Five-0” gets help from an old-line detective (William Forsythe);
“Blue Bloods” sees Frank (Tom Selleck) try to close a case that
bedeviled his dad (Len Cariou).

“Glee,” 9 p.m., Fox.

A week before the
show returns for its final, 13-episode season, here's the logical
rerun to remind us how gleeful it's been. Club members, past and
present, are asked to re-invent their favorite numbers.

That's a way to
bring back many of the original kids (Rachel, Kurt, Artie, Santana,
Mercedes, Puck, Quinn) and still include the newer ones – Sam,
Blaine, Jake, Ryder, Marley amd more. In addition, Gwyneth Paltrow,
Kristin Chenoweth and Chace Crawford repeat their guest roles.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Gershwin Prize,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local

This Billy Joel
tribute is sort of the clumsy cousin of the brilliant “Kennedy
Center Honors,” botched in many ways. The brief bio film is awful
and Twyla Tharp's second dance number is a head-scratcher; several
Joel hits -- “We Didn't Start the Fire,” “Uptown Girl,” “Just
the Way You Are”-- are missing.

Still, you can't go
too wrong when an entire night is filled with Joel songs – some of
them performed by Joel, most of them backed by his great band.
Highlights range from John Mellencamp's passionate, unplugged
“Allentown” to Gavin DeGraw's rowdy “It's Still Rock and Roll
to Me.”

Other choices

Football, 6:45 p.m.
ET, ESPN. Kansas State (ranked No. 14) and UCLA (No. 12) collide in
the Alamo Bowl, the core to ESPN's four-bowl day. Others are at noon
(Houston-Pittsburgh), 3:20 (Iowa-Tennessee) and 10:15
(Washington-Oklahoma State).

Nine-Nine,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., Fox. Eva Longoria's two guest-star
episodes rerun. In the first, a funny one, Jake (Andy Samberg) is
attracted to her in a bar, before learning she's a lawyer defending
someone he caught. In the second, he invites her on a work trip that
includes a bed-and-breakfast.

“Last Man
Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Mike (Tim Allen) gives his
daughter business advice ... which, of course, she promptly ignores.

8:31, ABC. This rerun finds Cristela feuding with her sister, with
her brother-in-law in the unfamiliar position of being the

“Sliding Doors”
(1998), 10 p.m., TV Guide. Then-newcomer Gwyneth Paltrow drew raves
in this comedy, which shows two different outcomes, depending on
whether she caught her train.

“Alaskan Bush
People” season-opener, 10:01 p.m., Discovery. This show claims the
Browns are a “recently discovered” family living in the wild.
(That's been disputed lately, with people pointing to the fact that
there's a neighbor and a nearby pizza place ... and with indictments
for allegedly applying falsely for Alaska Permanent Fund dividends.)
Here, the Browns prepare to return to the wild.

TV column for Thursday, Jan. 1

Tournament of Roses parade, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET, six channels.

Each year, this
good-natured parade helps viewers lose any risidual fog and
hangovers. This year it has 37 floats, 18 horse units and 20 bands,
including ones from Hawaii, Mexico, Denmark and the Marines.

The theme is
“Inspiring Stories” and Louis Zamperini – subject of the movie
and book “Unbroken” -- was named grand marshal; he's still
considered marshal, despite his death in July at 97. The parade is
carried on NBC, ABC and four cable channels -- Hallmark, RFD-TV,
Univision and HGTV – which annually makes this commercial-free, to
promote an amiable new batch of series.

Bowl games, all day.

Things peak tonight
on ESPN, when two games decide who will be in the Jan. 12 national
championship game. At 5 p.m. ET, the Rose Bowl has Oregon (ranked No.
2) and Florida State (No. 3); at 8:30, the Sugar Bowl has Alabama
(No. 1) and Ohio State (No. 4).

There's more, as a
warm-up. At noon ET on ESPN2, the Outback Bowl has Wisconsin (No. 18)
and Auburn (No. 19). At 12:30 on ESPN, the Cotton Bowl has Baylor
(No. 5) and Michigan State (No. 8); at 1 on ABC, the Citrus Bowl has
Mississippi (No. 16) and Minnesota (No. 25).

Debuts, all day, HGTV.

Today, this channel
obsesses on fantasy; its five new shows view exotic homes or
settings. Debuting (each with two half-hours) are “Castle Hunters”
at 10 a.m., “Half-Price Paradise” at 2 p.m., “Living Big Sky”
at 6, “Island Life” at 7 and “Building Hawaii” at 11.

(A few of those change in the Pacific time zone, however. There, "Castle Hunters" is 7 a.m., "Half-Price Paradise" is 11 and "Living Big Sky" is 3 p.m.; the others stay the same.)

There's more to
fantasize about. At 8, HGTV introduces the “Dream Home” that one
viewer will win. This one is a sprawling, Cape Cod-style home on
Martha's Vineyard, a mile from the beach.

Other choices

“Portlandia,” 6
a.m., IFC. This wonderfully odd comedy reruns its first four seasons
until 2 a.m., then starts over to complete a 24-hour stretch. The
fifth season starts next Thursday,

Performances,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). The Vienna
Philharmonic continues its tradition of New Year's Day concerts,
filled with Strauss tunes. Zubin Mehta is the guest conductor, with
Vienna City Ballet dancers; Julie Andrews hosts.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. An all-rerun night for CBS starts with this
hilarious episode. Amy convinces a reluctant Sheldon to join Howard
and Bernadette for a trip to wine country; also, things go wrong when
Leonard and Penny are in charge of Raj's dog.

“Mom,” 8:31,
CBS. Here's the episode from last spring, with teen Violet having
her baby. Her mom and grandmother – both former teen moms – face
her wrath.

“Bad Judge,” 9
p.m., NBC. Angela Kinsey (“The Office”) guests as a friend,
getting over a divorce. Rebecca (Kate Walsh) helps her, but soon
finds that people don't always appreciate her judgments.

“Two and a Half
Men,” 9:01 p.m., CBS. This season-opener sent the show in a fresh
direction. Faced with a health scare, Walden decided to change his
life. It's fairly funny; so is the “McCarthys” that follows, with
the family trying to resist everything Jackie must give up during

10:01 p.m.., CBS. Moriariy, Holmes' former nemesis, is a consultant
on a case.

TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 31

“New Year's Rockin' Eve,” 8-11 p.m., 11:30 p.m. to 2:13 a.m.,

The simple show that
Dick Clark created in 1972 keeps growing. Now Ryan Seacrast heads a
marathon that covers almost six hours and 40 performances.

Some are live on
Times Square (Taylor Swift. Idina Menzel, Magic, Florida Georgia
Line) or via satellite (Elton John, Gavin DeGraw, Lady Antebellum).
Others are taped in advance at a Hollywood party. They include One
Direction, Iggy Azalea, Charli XCX, Brantley Gilbert, Nick Jonas,
Fergie (who hosts), Jason Derulo, Ella Henderson, Meghan Trainor,
Bastille,Rixton, Train and Nico & Vinz.

More New Year's bashes, Fox, NBC and cable.

The newcomer is
Fox's “New Year's Revolution.” From 8-10 p.m. and 11 p.m. to
12:30 a.m. in Miami, Pitbull has Enrique Iglesias, the Band Perry,
Fall Out Boy, Fifth Harmony and Becky G.

There's more. NBC
(10-11 p.m., 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.) has most of its “Voice”
people – Blake Shelton, Gwen Stefani, Pharrell Wlliams, Carson Daly
– plus Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. On cable, MTV (11 p.m. to 12:02
a,m.) is hosted by Victoria Justice and Charlamagne; BET (11 p.m. to
1 a.m.) has “106 & Party.” Also, two news channels, mentioned
below, start their specials at 9.

ALTERNATIVE: Bowl games, 12:30 p.m. to midnight ET, ESPN.

Over the next two
days, ESPN will pack the biggesty games into triple-headers.

Today, that starts
with Mississippi (ranked No. 9) and Texas Christian (No. 6) in the
Peach Bowl. At 4 p.m. ET, the Fiesta Bowl has Arizona (No. 10) and
Boise State (No. 20); at 8, the Orange Bowl has Georgia (No. 8) and
Mississippi State (No. 7).

Other choices

“Live From Lincoln
Center,” 8-10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). The New York
Philharmonic and singers Dianne Reeves and Norm Lewis offer a night
of George Gershwin songs.

“A Toast to 2014,”
8-10 p.m., NBC. Kathy Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb host a look at the
year, with lots of odd people – Weird Al Yankovic, weirder Russell
Brand, Miss Piggy – and others, including Chris Pratt, Debra
Messing and Bethenny Frankel.

“Criminal Minds,”
9 p.m., CBS. As a murder probe wraps up, a survivor's story makes
Morgan (Shemar Moore) feel there's something more. That's part of an
all-rerun CBS night, with “Blue Bloods” (Danny learns he's being
investigated) at 8 and the nasty “Stalker” pilot at 10.

More New Year's Eve,
9 p.m., news channels. Two marathons cover the celebrations. Fox News
goes to 12:30 a.m.; CNN (again pairing Kathy Griffin and Anderson
Cooper) goes to 1:05 a.m.

“A Hard Day's
Night” (1964), 9:45 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. At a time when
rock movies were mostly bland and bad, this one had style, zest and
the Beatles. In a night of giants, it's sandwiched by “Elvis on
Tour” (1973) at 8 p.m. ET and the Rolling Stones' “Gimme Shelter”
(1970) at 11:30.

“New Year's Eve at
the Rainbow Room,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). This is how
ritzy people celebrate the holiday – in a refurbished nightclub,
with stars from Broadway and clubs. They include host Michael
Feinstein, plus Kelli O'Hara, Darren Criss, Christine Eversole,
Leslie Odom and more.

“Red” (2010), 10
p.m., TNT. If you'd rather end the year with a good movie, this is
ideal. Bruce Willis plays a hit man trying to retire to suburbia; the
great supporting cast includes Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John
Malkovich and Mary-Louise Parker.