TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 20

“This is Us” debut, 10 p.m., NBC.

Here is one of the
best pilot films in years ... but we don't want to reveal too much.
You'll meet some wonderfully mismatched people. There's a
sweet-spirited couple, awaiting childbirth ... a handsome TV star in
an awful show ... a rich man probing his roots ... a woman despairing
her weight and her life. Savor some great moments – especially from
Gerald McRaney as a kindly doctor – and see how it fits together.
We're not sure where it can go, but it's a great start.

“Bull.” 9 p.m., CBS.

Long before he
became Dr. Phil the advice-giver, Phil McGraw was a consultant,
telling lawyers how to choose and work a jury. So now CBS has created
a character a lot like him; it cast former “NCIS” star Michael
Weatherly, then wedged the show between the two “NCIS” hours.
That seems logical.

But somewhere in
there, any warmth or humanity was squeezed out. A fun guy in “NCIS,”
Weatherly plays a cold figure here. “Bull” has lots of high-tech
devices, but little sense of human inhabitants.

ALTERNATIVE: “Defying the Nazis,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local

Like many people,
Waitstill and Martha Sharp spoke out against evil; he was a Unitarian
minister, decrying the rise of Nazi Germany. And unlike most people,
they did something about it. Using codes and cover-ups, they managed
to help hundreds of Jewish children reach freedom.

They left their home
(and children) for long stretches, while doing risky spy work. It's a
great story of regular people triumphing; beautifully by Artemis
Joukowsky (the Sharps' grandson) and Ken Burns.

Other choices

“Dancing With the
Stars,” 8-10 p.m., ABC. It's time for the season's first ouster.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. The ratings-champion opens its 14th season with a
reworked cast. Now that Michael Weatherly is gone, Duane Henry
becomes a regular and there are new roles for Jennifer Esposito and
for Wilmer Valderrama ... who plays a guy who disappeared when
working undercover.

Nine-Nine,” 8 p.m., Fox. The first two seasons have been mixed –
praise, two Golden Globes, an Emmy and so-so ratings. The third
starts with Jake and Captain Holt in Witness Protection in Florida.
Their only contact is a federal marshal (Maya Rudolph) ... until a
video goes viral.

“New Girl,” 8:30
p.m., Fox. Last season ended with big laughs and big plot moves –
Schmidt and Cece married, Winston and police colleague Aly started a
long-distance relationship and Nick plunged into a romance ... just
as Jess realized (again) that she wanted him. Now Nick is back,
Winston is adjusting and the newlyweds are having trouble finding
their first home.

“Scream Queens,”
9 p.m., Fox. A disappointment (in quality and ratings) last year,
“Scream” was given a second chance to try again, with the same
characters in a different setting. Jumping ahead years, the dean
(Jamie Lee Curtis) starts a hospital with hunky doctors (John Stamos
and Taylor Lautner) and many of her old students (Emma Roberts,
Abigail Breslin, Lea Michele, Keke Palmer).

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. Vanessa Ferlito joins the cast as a special
agent who's here (at first) to investigate the team. It has other
concerns, with a sniper targeting crowds.

“Agents of
SHIELD,” 10 p.m., ABC. Hydra has been defeated, SHIELD is
legitimate ... but the world thinks Coulson is dead. He has to go
back to field work (paired with Henry Simmons), with the team waiting
for a new boss.Also, May (Ming-Na Wen) trains strike teams.

TV column for Monday, Sept. 19

“The Good Place” debut, 10 and 10:30 p.m., NBC.

Eleanor (Kristen
Bell) has been richly rewarded for her good deeds. Her afterlife is
in the good place, carefully designed by Michael (Ted Danson), a
novice planner.

Alas, Michael made a
bureaucratic mistake: She's not a good person. Now she must admit she
doesn't belong here ... or quickly learn (or fake) goodness. The
result is filled with wonderfully imaginative touches. It debus in
this great slot after the “Voice” opener ... then goes to
Thursdays, a bad place.

“Kevin Can Wait” debut, 8:30 p.m., CBS.

CBS has pushed hard
to convince us – and maybe itself – that this is the next big
thing and Kevin James is “the king of comedy.” It's not, he's not
... but the show is fairly pleasant and well-constructed.

James plays a cop
who is newly retired, with lots of energy and extra time. He figures
he'll party with his pals, who are also retired cops. Then his
daughter drops out of school and brings her boyfriend, who has a
computer project. Life changes ... in moderately amusing ways.

ALTERNATIVE: “Gotham” season-opener, 8 p.m., Fox.

It's a night of DC
domination. One network (CW) has two more reruns of “Supergirl”
reruns, which starts its season Oct. 10. Another (Fox) has more DC
Comics characters, via “Lucifer” andd this one.

Jim Gordon – an
honest cop in the past, the police commissioner in the future – is
now working as a bounty hunter. Gotham is overrun with monsters and
the escapees from the Indian Hills asylum are being killed by their
own powers. Also, young Bruce Wayne has a double roaming the streets.

Other choices

“Capital,” any
time, Fresh from
showing Toby Jones in a difficult period piece (“The Secret
Agent”), this streaming service now has him in a lighter, modern
tale. Everyone on the street gets a postcard saying, “We want what
you have.” Rachael Stirling and Gemma Jones also star.

“The Voice,”
8-10 p.m., NBC. The season starts with Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys
joining Blake Shelton and Adam Levine as judges. A sampling showed
that Cyrus brings a lively counterpoint.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Last season ended hilariously, with an
unexpected tryst involving Leonard's dad (Judd Hirsch) and Sheldon's
mom (Laurie Metcalf). They're both back, as a wedding also brings
Penny's family from Nebraska; there's her dad (Keith Carradine), her
anxiety-ridden mom (Katey Sagal) and her drug-dealing brother (Jack

“The Case of
JonBenet Ramsey” conclusion, 9-11 p.m., CBS. Here's the second half
of the four-hour docudrama, as experts re-examine the 20-year-old
murder case.

“Lucifer,” 9
p.m., Fox. Wouldn't you have trouble focusing on work, if you'd just
learned that your mother had escaped from Hell. That happens to
Lucifer tonight; Mom is played by Tricia Helfer, known to fantasy
fans as the sexy “Battlestar Galactica” villain.

“Match Game,” 10
p.m., ABC. With the new “Conviction” series still two weeks away,
ABC fills the void with a stray episode of its Alec Baldwin game

“Erin Brockovich”
(2000), 10:30 p.m., AMC. Give her a so-so story – such as “Pretty
Woman” (1990), at 8 p.m. -- and Julia Roberts can be terrific. Give
her a great story and she's even better. Now AMC has her
Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning roles, back-to-back.

TV column for Sunday, Sept. 18

Emmy awards, 8-11 p.m., ABC.

Amid a ton of
trophies, there should be laughs. Jimmy Kimmel hosts; his presenters
include clever types - James Corden, Chris Rock, Andy Samberg, Aziz
Ansari, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and more.

FX's “People vs.
O.J. Simpson” should grab many of the awards. For drama series, the
final year of “Downton Abbey” and the first of “Mr. Robot”
compete with “Homeland,” “Game of Thrones,” “House of
Cards” and “The Americans.” For comedies, ABC's “Modern
Family” and “Black-ish” face cable's “Veep,”
“Trtansparent,” “Silicon Valley” and “Unbreakable Kimmy

JonBenet Ramsey films, CBS and Investigation Discovery.

While the O.J.
Simpson mini-series dominates praise and Emmys, other networks look
at another high-interest mystery. That involves the 1996 murder of
6-year-old JonBenet.

From 1-4 p.m., ID
reruns its scripted series. Then CBS launches what it calls a
docuseries, From 8:30-10:30 p.m. Sunday (8-10 p.m. PT) and 9-11 p.m.
Monday, it has experts re-examine the case.

ALTERNATIVE: “Royal Wives at War,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local

In 1967, the former
King Edward reluctantly returned to England, to celebrate a plaque to
his late mother. For the first time in decades, his wife (Wallis
Simpson, a twice-divorced American) met his sister-in-law (Elizabeth,
the Queen Mother), who despised her.

This film dramatizes
monologs by both women, plus re-enactments, news footage and comments
from historians and others. The settings are elegant; the words are
often harsh and abrasive.

Other choices

“Snow White and
the Seven Dwarves,” 2:30 p.m., Freeform. This all-time classic is
at the center of an animated marathon. It's “Horton Hears a Who”
at 8 a.m., “Gnomeo and Juliet” at 10, “Tarzan” at 12:15 p.m.,
“Wreck-It Ralph” at 4:45, “The Incredibles” at 7 and
“Aladdin” at 9:45.

Emmy previews.
Cable's E channel has a preview at 4:30 p.m. ET, then works the red
carpet from 6-8 p.m.; ABC adds its own red-carpet preview at 7.

(2015), 8 p.m., HBO. It's a busy night for Fey and Poehler. They star
in this so-so comedy and will be presenters at the Emmys, after
winning the comedy-guest prize in the preliminary ceremony.

Football, 8:30 p.m.
ET, with preview at 7. The Vikings' billion-dollar stadium has its
first regular-season game. Appropriately, it's against the rival
Packers; both teams won their openers.

“Masterpiece,” 9
and 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Two lush series share the
night. First is a preview of “Poldark,” which starts its season
next week. At 10, “Indian Summers” finds Aafrin saving a friend
and paying steeply for it.

“Last Man on
Earth,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. For a while, at least, Phil (Will Forte)
gets closer to the older, smarter brother (Jason Sudeikis) he used to
compete with.

“The Strain,” 10
p.m., FX. As the epidemic reaches a new stage, Fet wants to
celebrate. The others fear – correctly, perhaps – that there's
much more work ahead.


TV column for Saturday, Sept. 17

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

When Tracy Morgan
was injured in a car-truck crash, people feared his career was over.
Some 16 months later, he returned to host this “SNL,” with Demi
Lovato as music guest.

His old “30 Rock”
colleagues –Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Jane Krakowski and Jack
McBrayer – showed up. Morgan revived his “Safari Planet”
character and was nominated for a comedy-guest Emmy. He didn't win –
Fey and Amy Poehler did, for a different episode – but it was a
cheery comeback.

II: “Documentary Now,” 10:45 a.m. ET, IFC.

Ben Herndon's entire
political platform is basic: There's only one candidate for governor
and he feels there should be two. But now a high-octane Southerner
and a cute little Greek guy run his campaign.

Here is a dandy
take-off on “The War Room,” with Bill Hader and Fred Armisen as
variations on James Carville and George Stephanopoulos. This debuted
Wednesday, getting the second “Now” season off to a great start;
it reruns here, with the entire first season from 7:15 to 10:45. Then
Armisen's “Portlandia” reruns from 11:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.; both
are nominated in the same Emmy category.

ALTERNATIVE: Creative Arts Emmys, 9 p.m., FXX, rerunning at 11:30.

The main Emmys will
be Sunday, but here's an edited version of two preliminary
ceremonies. To avoid spoilers, skip the next paragraph.

Even in these
exiled-to-cable categories, you'll see some familiar people and
shows. In addition to Fey and Poehler, winners include RuPaul, Peter
Scolari, Hank Azaria, Margo Martindale, Keith David, Seth MacFarlane
and the “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” choreographer.. Winning shows
include “Archer,” “Shark Tank,” “Making of a Murderer,”
“Grease: Live,” “Born This Way” and the “Carpool Karaoke”

ALTERNATIVE II: “Sister Cities,” 8-10 p.m., Lifetime.

Mary lived a
far-flung life, traveling the worls as a young dancer. She emerged
with four daughter, each with a different father and geophraphical
name. There's Carolina (Stana Katic), Dallas (Michelle Trachtenberg),
Baltimore (Troian Bellisario) and Austin (Jess Weixler).

As her daughters
gather after her death, feuds re-surface and a secret emerges.
“Sister Cities” started as a play, then became this independent
movie, bought by Lifetime after reaching a film festival.

Other choices

Football, all day.
Three of the big-four networks have primetime games, mostly with
nationally ranked teams. At 7:30 p.m. ET, it's Ohio State (No. 3) at
Oklahoma (No. 14) on Fox and Michigan State (No. 12) at Notre Dame
(No. 18) on NBC. At 8, ABC has Southern California at Stanford (No.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 8 p.m., CBS. In Africa, someone has found elaborate
surveillance footage of Sam's family. He and Callen fly there, hoping
to learn who's responsible and why.

“The Revenant”
(2015), 8 p.m., HBO. This gruellingly great film won Oscars for
Leonardo DiCaprio, director Alejandro Inarritu and its
cinematography, and was nominated for best picture. It leads a strong
movie night that includes “Back to the Future” (1985) at 7:30
p.m. on AMC, “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012) at 8 p.m. on TNT
and “Some Like It Hot” (1959) at 9:30 p.m. ET on Turner Classic

“How to Tell
You're a Douchebag” (2015), 8 p.m., BET. As his relationships
crumble, a blogger contends that black women are mean to black men.
Then again, the film doesn't offer a lot of reasons to be nice to
him. This has its moments, but lacks the sharp focus its catchy title

“Gabriel Iglesias:
Aloha Fluffy,” 8:50 p.m., Comedy Central, repeating at 11:30. It's
an all-Iglesias night, including this 2013 special in Hawaii. The
2007 “Hot and Fluffy” is at 7:30 p.m.; the 2009 “I'm Not Fat
... I'm Fluffy” is 10:30 p.m. and 1:15 a.m.

“Where Are They
Now,” 10 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. It's been 49 years since
“Gilligan's Island” ended. Dawn Wells has returned to being Mary
Ann – the wholesome one in short shorts – in three movies and a
cartoon series, and has done othere scattered roles. Here are updates
on her, Angie Everhart, David Faustino (of “Married With Children”)
and the En Vogue singing group.

TV column for Friday, Sept. 16

“Last Man Standing” and “Dr. Ken,” 8 and 8:31 p.m., ABC.

Ever since the Brady
Bunch arrived in 1969, ABC has known that weekends should start with
family comedies. There have been gaps, but mostly this has gone from
Webster and Urkel to “Full House” and beyond. The shows have
rarely been great (“Benson” was an exception), but often are

Now, after a summer
of laughless Fridays, these comedies return with reruns tonight and
new episodes next week. Tonight, Ed asks Kyle to secretly get an
engagement ring fitted; Mike sees him and jumps to the wrong
conclusion. Then Ken tries stand-up comedy, with shaky results.

II: “Z Nation” season-opener and “Dark Matter” finale, 8 and
10 p.m., Syfy.

Here is the one
network that keeps shoveling new, scripted networks into a Friday
landscape littered with reality and reruns. Along the way, it offers
some quirks.

“Z Nation” is
your standard zombie-overrun tale, but it adds occasional humor and
oddities; the oddest touch is starting this season with a two-hour
flashback, an untold tale from last season. “Dark Matter” began
with strangers waking up on a ship with no idea who they are; in
tonight's season-finale, they must save a space station and then
prevent corporate warfare.

ALTERNATIVE: Movies, cable.

It's family fun
night, including two movies that mix humor and great visuals. AMC has
“Ghostbusters” (1984) at 8 p.m.; “Freeform” has “Wall-E”
(2008) at 6:15 and “Willy Wonka” (1971) at 8:30.,

If you prefer sharp
dialog and clever plot twists, George Clooney's “Michael Clayton”
(2007) is 8 p.m. on HBO. And for whiz-bang action? “Star Wars: The
Force Awakens” (2015) is disappointing by “Star Wars”
standards, but first-rate by action-epic standards.

Other choices

Fleabag,” any
time, Amazon Prime. Self-loathing has never been quite this much fun.
Adapting her own play – and often talking directly to the audience
-- Phoebe Waller-Bridge gives her view of single life in London. The
result is often quite raunchy and often very funny.

“Star Trek,” 4
and 11 p.m. ET, BBC America. Don't you hate it when someone comes
aboard and steals the best brain you have? That happens here, with an
alien woman swiping Spock's brain. It's the opener of the show's
third and final season. The next five episodes also rerun, from 5:10
to 11 p.m.

“MasterChef,” 8
p.m., Fox. If you missed Wednesday's finale, you can catch this quick
rerun. Going for the $250,000 prize are two Las Vegas guys – Shaun
O'Neale, 33, a DJ, and David Williams, 36, a poker player – and
Brandi Mudd, 27, a grade-school teacher from small-town Kentucky.

“American Ninja
Warrior,” 8-10 p.m., NBC. Here's another finale, as people try to
conquer the extreme obstacle couse.

“Big Brother,” 8
p.m., CBS. With the finale still coming up on Wednesday, CBS adds
this extra episode, which may include reflections on what's happened
so far.

“Art in the Twenty
First Century,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Changing its
format, “Art” has two two-hour Fridays, divided by city –
Chicago, Los Angeles, Mexico City and Vancouver. Top directors --
Stanley Nelson (“Freedom Riders”), Deborah Dickson and Pamela
Mason Wagner – are in charge.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. To fight the meth epidemic, the cops pose as pilots in
this rerun. But when McGarrett is seriously wounded, Danny must blow
his cover.

“Blue Bloods, 10
p.m., CBS. Serial killer Thomas Wilder gets personal in this rerun:
With his latest victim, he attaches a note to Danny ... who is not