TV column for Friday, Dec. 23

All night, NBC.

Things start at 8
p.m. with “How the Grinch Saved Christmas,” one of the true
greats. That's followed at 8:30 by “How Murray Saved Christmas,”
which is one of the best recent cartoons ... or was, at least, in its
original form. Originally an hour, rippling with clever songs, it's
been trimmed in half.

Then you might stay
at 9 p.m. for a rerun of “Christmas of Many Colors,” the second
movie based on Dolly Parton's childhood. Or switch around; this is a
busy night.

II: “A Home For the Holidays,” 8 p.m., CBS.

Each year, this
special offers a passionate mix of music and stories about adoption.
This time, the music is from Miranda Lambert, Alessia Cara and
Rachel Platten; the stories tell of lives changed.

Some tell of
adopting one child, some involve more. A husband and wife heard of
four siblings being bounced between seven foster homes. They took all
of them in ... and found they were taking food out of the cupboard
and hiding it in their closet, because their previous homes sometimes
didn't feed them.

ALTERNATIVE: “Shakespeare Live,” 9 p.m., PBS.

Midway through this
special, the world's classiest comedy troupe performs a brilliant
sketch. It includes Sir Ian McKellan, Dame Judi Dench, sirs-to-be
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch and more ... including Prince
Charles. In hilarious moments, they debate Hamlet's most famous

That's the peak of a
show that was performed April 23, the 400th anniversary of
Shakespeare's death. Some characters – from Juliet early in the
show to Falstaff near the end – seem overdone. But most scenes are
superb, alongside dancing and gorgeous music from Rufus Wainwright,
the Shires and more.

Other choices

“Santa Claus Is
Comin' to Town,” 4:30 p.m., Freeform. We're now in the 23rd
day of this channel's “25 Days of Christmas” and kids are getting
antsy. They might settle in for this cartoon and “The Year Without
a Santa Claus” at 5:45. That's followed by Jim Carrey's “A
Christmas Carol” (2009) at 6:45.

“Terry Crews Saves
Christmas,” 8 and 9 p.m., CW. Wrapping up a four-night, five-hour
event, Crews brings a chef and a designer to families struggling with
the holiday. One has dated decor and inedible food; another has
newlyweds who agree on everything except party-planning.

“Taraji's White
Hot Holidays,” 8 p.m., Fox. Crews is also in this rerun, as part of
a big, busy special. Taraji Henson includes two of her “Empire”
colleagues (Jussie Smollett and Taye Diggs), plus Pharrell Willians,
Alicia Keys, Smokey Robinson, Ne-Yo, Andra Day, Snoop Dogg, Missy
Elliott and more.

“Frozen” (2013),
8:30 p.m., Disney. Making a tour of Disney-owned channels, this
lovely cartoon classic has already been on ABC and Freeform; now it's
Disney's turn.

“Dr. Ken,” 8:31
p.m., ABC. This reruns the episode that launched fresh plot twists:
There's an opening at the clinic and the adminstrator thinks Ken's
wife would be ideal.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, the team must quickly find a Russian spy who
has a flashdrive with vital information. Also, McGarrett learns why
Catherine left ... but Chin and others still don't know what
Inspector Abby Dunn (Julie Benz) is up to.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. Fearing retaliation, a key witness has disappeared. Now
Erin and her investigator (Steve Schirripa of “The Sopranos”)
scramble to find him. Also in this rerun, her brother Danny looks
into a suspicious convenience-store robbery.

TV column for Thursday, Dec. 22

“A Charlie Brown Christmas,” 8 p.m., ABC.

In the final two
days before Christmas Eve, we can re-visit the two cartoon greats.
It's Charlie Brown tonight on ABC (which adds some “Peanuts”
vignettes to fill the hour) and “Grinch” Friday on NBC.

Each reflects a
brilliant creator (Charles Schulz, Dr. Seuss) linking with a skilled
director (Bill Melendez, Chuck Jones) and clever music. Each
remembered to include sight gags, followed by warmth and sentiment.
Each is a masterpiece.

“Life in Pieces,” 9:30-11 p.m., CBS.

Each week, this show
offers four little stories, varying thoroughly in tone, subject and
quality. Now these reruns combine to deliver a dozen stories ... and
extreme variety.

The opener – last
year's Christmas episode – is the weakest, centering on John (James
Brolin) and his tradition of dirty-Christmas-caroling with his Air
Force buddies. The next one is better, when a Thanksgiving meal
includes spoiled turkey, bad cauliflower and a dour neighbor (Martin
Mull). The third includes one of the odd tales that had Jordan Peele
as Colleen's former boyfriend.

ALTERNATIVE: “Project Runway,” 8-10:02 p.m., Lifetime, rerunning
at 12:02 a.m.

First comes the long
build-up: We see the final three episodes of “Project Runway
Junior” at 9 a.m., then eight hours of this season at noon. Then
the finale has four designers at Fashion Week.

Erin Robertson, 29,
is the youngest, facing Rik Villa, 31; Roberi
Perra, 32; and Laurence Basse, 41. Afterward, “Project Runway
Junior” has its season-opener, repeating it at 11:02.

Other choices

Cartoons, cable.
Nickelodeon has the original “Ice Age” (2002) at 2 and 8 p.m. FX
counters with “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” (2013) at 6
p.m. and “Despicable Me 2” (also 2013) at 8 and 10. And FXX has
non-stop “Simpsons,” from 8 p.m. to midnight.

Football, 7 p.m. ET,
ESPN and 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC. First is the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
which, ironically, isn't famous; it has Idaho and Colorado State.
Then the New York Giants – 10-4, with strong playoffs prospects –
visit the Philadelphia Eagles, 5-9 after a last-second, two-point try

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Launching a night of comedy reruns, this has
an escalating Sheldon-Leonard fight during a get-together, leaving
the others wary of taking sides.

“The Great
Indoors,” 8:31 p.m., CBS. Here's another chance to see the series
opener; it's a good one, with a veteran outdoorsman (Joel McHale)
nudged indoors, where he'll work with millennials he doesn't
understand. This has lots of generational cliches, but uses them

“The Great
American Baking Show,” 9 and 10 p.m., ABC. In back-to-back
episodes, we get a couple classics -- “chocolate week” and
“custards and meringue week.”
“Mom,” 9:01 p.m., CBS. In
the rerun of a good episode, Olivia (Octavia Spencer) claims she's
not really an alcoholic. And in some funny counterpoint, the women
try a sober holiday dance.

“Falling Water,”
10 p.m., USA. On a strong sci-fi night – including BBC America's
“Doctor Who” marathon – this episode finds the three people
(who share pieces of the same dream) with different tasks –
protecting “The Boy,” appeasing “The Green” and trying to
heal “The Woman in Red.”

TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 21

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

It's been an odd
journey for this amiable tale of a guy who exits the North Pole,
after learning he's not really an elf. First was the fun 2003 Will
Ferrell movie ... which reruns at 8:55 p.m. today on Freeform. Then
was a musical that reached Broadway for the Christmas seasons of 2010
and 2012.

And then came this
2014 cartoon, which takes most of the Broadway songs, writes a new
story and squeezes everything into an hour. There are good things
here, including a neatly offbeat animation style and a voice cast led
by Jim Parsons. The opener is terrific, but the rest of the music is
merely OK.

II: “Star,” 9 p.m., Fox.

This show – which
reruns its pilot tonight, then returns Jan. 4 -- triggers a cascade
of mixed feelings. The music is great, the characters are fascinating
... and yet there's a sameness. Unlike “Empire” (from the same
producer), this has everyone spit out slight variations of a similar,
hard-core attitude.

Jude Demorest is
terrific as Star; a survivor of the foster-care system, Star is ready
to rescue her half-sister and form a girl group with someone she met
on the Internet. Grown-ups are beautifully played (by Queen Latifah,
Benjamin Bratt and Lenny Kravitz) ... yet all seem to occupy a narrow

ALTERNATIVE: Christmas movies, cable.

The Hallmark
channels rerun some of their main new films this year, including two
with Oscar-winners: Shirley MacLaine mentors an ill-suited guardian
angel in “A Heavenly Christmas” (8 p.m., Hallmark); Mira Sorvino
has amnesia after a small-town car crash in “A Christmas to
Remember” (7 p.m., Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, followed by
“Sound of Christmas” at 9).

There's more,
including “The Santa Clause” (1994) at 6:50 p.m. on Freeform and
George C. Scott's terrific “A Christmas Carol” (1984) at 8 p.m. on AMC.

Other choices

“Undercover Boss,”
8 and 9 p.m., CBS. The eighth season (really) begins; it will borrow
the 8 p.m. slot until “Hunted” arrives Jan. 25 ... with
“Survivor” waiting until March. This opener has two female bosses
– the Build-a-Bear CEO and the mayor of Gary, Indiana.

“Lethal Weapon,”
8 p.m., Fox. The two cops sort of reverse their roles in this rerun.
Murtaugh (Damon Wayans), the cautious family guy, tries some
dangerous motorcycle stunts; Riggs (Clayne Crawford), the wild one,
becomes paternal when an 8-year-old is the only good witness to a
deadly casino heist.

“Christmas at the
White House,” 8 p.m., and Michelle Obama interview, 9 p.m., Oprah
Winfrey Network. First, Winfrey visits the Obama White House at
Christmastime; then we get a rerun of her Michelle Obama interview,
which debuted Monday on CBS.

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. This rerun has Anthony Edwards
(“ER”) as a police sergeant whose son has been accused of rape.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Jay tries to make an impression on the new
family across the street. Also, Manny tries to attract a free-thinker
and the Pritchetts take advantage of Alex's mono.

“Game Changers,”
10 p.m., ABC. Robin Roberts interviews the year's key people in
sports (LeBron James, Michael Phelps) and show-business (Chance the
Rapper, Broadway's Lin-Manuel Miranda),plus Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha,
the pediatrician who led the push to stop the water crisis in Flint,

“Surprise! Instant
Xmas Carol,” 10 p.m., TBS. Our Christmas fantasies have never
really included being serenaded by Charles Barkley, Fred Willard,
Shaquille O'Neal or Tony Sirico. That happens in this special, which
also includes musical people – Ludacris, Alfonso Ribeiro, Conan
O'Brien (a lovely Irish-tenor voice), Rashina Jones (daughter of
music man Quincy Jones), Kenny G., T-Pain and more.

TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 20

“Tony Bennett Celebrates 90,” 9-11 p.m., NBC.

Bennett actually
turned 90 four-and-a-half months ago, but there was no reason to rush
this. He'll be around approximately forever and will stay in good

He performs here, as
do other superstars – Lady Gaga (a favorite of his from his duet
album), Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel and Elton John. Also singing:
Michael Buble, Andrea Bocelli, Diana Krall, RufusWainwright, k.d.
lang and Leslie Odom Jr., who won a Tony as Aaron Burr in “Hamilton.”

Animation, cable.

With lots of
vacation days before Christmas, kids can spend time staring at the
TV. The best choices, both at 8 p.m., borrow movie characters -- “Ice
Age: A Mammoth Christmas” on Fox and “Toy Story That Time Forgot”
on ABC. Another movie spin-off, “Shrek the Halls” (8:30, ABC) is

Earlier, Freeform
has old TV cartoons -- “Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town” at 4:30
p.m. and “The Year Without a Santa Claus” at 5:35. Also, FX has
animated movies from 2012 -- “Madagascar” at 6 p.m. and “Hotel
Transylvania” at 8 and 10.

ALTERNATIVE: “Good Behavior,” 9 p.m., TNT.

At first, it was
tough to care about Letty (Michelle Dockery) the scam artist or
Javier (Juan Diego Botto) the hit man. But now – in the seventh
episode – we dig deeply into his soul.

For decades, Javier
has been estranged from everyone but his sister, who thinks he's a
personal chef. Now she's asked him to a family dinner at her new
restaurant, to mend old wounds. The result is intense, passionate and
brilliantlly acted – especially by Botto (whose real-life father
was one of the thousands who disappeared in Argentina in the 1970s)
and Daniel Faraldo as his dad.

Other choices

“Wedding Crashers”
(2006), 6:30 p.m., TNT. Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson have the title
roles, in a fun film that includes Rachel McAdams, Isla Fisher and
(briefly) Will Ferrell. Vaughn also stars with Reese Witherspoon in
the OK “Four Christmases” (2008), at 8 p.m. on AMC.

“Terry Crews Saves
Christmas” opener, 8 p.m., CW. It would be nice if good people
always made good shows. Alas, Crews – a national treasure with his
energy and good will – fails. Here, he helps a nice family improve
its Christmas party, with the aid of a chef and a designer. He shouts
lots of upbeat things, but it all becomes noisy and repetitious.
There will be four more over the next three days.

“Michael Buble
Sings and Swings,” 8 p.m., NBC. This is a concert that the Canadian
crooner taped in Manchester, England.

“New Girl,” 8:30
p.m., Fox. In a rerun from last spring, the show's 100th
episode finds Jess returning from jury duty and Reagan (Megan Fox)
moving out.

“Scream Queens,”
9 p.m., Fox. The second season -- which has stirred little attention
– concludes with the Green Meanie's revenge scheme set in motion.
Also, Hester (Lea Michele) makes a bold move and Dr. Holt (John
Stamos) tries dangerous surgery to save Dean Munsch (Jamie Lee

“The Year 2016,”
9-11 p.m., ABC. A strange, Trumpish year will apparently get the
light treatment here. A sampling sees discussions that range from
politics to celebrities to Olympic heroes and villains.

“Frontline,” 10
p.m. to midnight, PBS (check local listings). This reruns the second
half of a mini-series viewing what historians know about Christianity
in its first three centuries. Tonight, we see it grow from a small
and persecuted group to the official religion of the Roman Empire.

TV column for Monday, Dec. 19

“Mars” season-finale, 9 p.m., National Geographic.

Skillfully produced
by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, this six-week series has neatly
juggled two things – a fictional story of a Mars mission in 2033
and brief, documentary footage from nowadays. Tonight, you can catch
the three most-recent episodes from 6-9 p.m., then savor an emotional

A fierce storm has
struck, killing several people and destroying the food project.
Intermingled is the non-fiction story of the Apollo 13 near-disaster
in 1970, which left the space program in disarray.

“America's Got Talent Holiday Spectacular,” 8-10 p.m., NBC.

Hey, nothing quite
says Christmas like a magician, a mindreader, a high-diver and The

Grace Vanderwaal,
who won this year's championship at age 12, will be there; so will
Jackie Evancho, who was the runner-up in 2010, at age 10. There are
also plenty of grown-ups, including Olae Dogs, The Clairvoyants and
Professor Splash diving into a pool of eggnog.

ALTERNATIVE: Oprah Winfrey special, 8 p.m., CBS.

A big admirer of the
Obamas before and during these past eight years, Winfrey now sits
down with Michelle Obama for her final White House interview.

And yes, this will
also be on cable's Oprah Winfrey Network. That will be at 9 p.m.

ALTERNATIVE II: “MacGyver,” 5 and 9 p.m. ET, MeTV; “Smoky
Mountains Rise,” 8 p.m. ET, GetTV.

These semi-obscure
networks are available on stations' digital platforms and elsewhere –
GetTV on DirecTV, MeTV on AT&T U-verse. They're strong on
memories ... as evidenced by MeTV bringing back the original
(1985-92) “MacGyver”; starting today, it airs at these times each

Now getTV adds a
more-recent rerun. Dolly Parton's telethon for the fire-ravaged
Smokys aired Tuesday, with music from country's Kenny Rogers, Reba
McEntire, Chris Stapleton, Alabama, Chris Young, Hank Williams Jr,
Big & Rich and more, plus Cyndi Lauper, Amy Grant and Michael W.

Other choices

Football, 2:30 p.m.
ET, ESPN. The Miami Beach Bowl has Tulsa and Central Michigan. And
yes, if you're in Michigan this winter, Miami Beach sounds like fun.

“The Great
Christmas Light Fight,” 8-10 p.m., ABC. The finale of this
three-week, six-hour series offers everything you might ask for –
hand-crafted animatronics, classic toys, a patriotic light-and-music
show and a two-acre display masterminded by a 15-year-old. Also, a
parrot sings “Jingle Bells.”

“Young Women's
Honors,” 9 p.m., CW. In the slot where her “Jane the Virgin”
usually airs, Gina Rodriguez hosts an hour honoring Olympian Simone
Biles, Paralympian Tatyana McFadden, critical-care physician Dr.
Vanessa Kerry and more.

“Man With a Plan,”
9 p.m., CBS. With his wife Andi unavailable, Adam (Matt LeBlanc) must
guide his daughter through a key time. Also, Andi has a car ride with
an annoying talking toy.

“The Wall”
debut, 10 p.m., NBC. Here's an advance episode of a game show that
steps into the 8 p.m. Tuesday spot next month. Chris Hardwick hosts
and two-person teams answer questions, unsure how much money the
giant, electroic wall will add or subtract.

“America's Next
Top Model,” 10 p.m., VH1. Last week, the show launched its new
version, with Tyra Banks staying as producer, but turning hosting
chores over to Rita Ora. It trimmed the field from 28 women to 14,
many with intriguing back stories. Tonight, they head to modeling
“boot camp.”