TV column for Thursday, Feb. 16

“The History of Comedy,” 10 p.m. ET, CNN (barring breaking news).

How tough was the
comedy business for women? Treva Silverman says she thought she had a
great interview for Johnny Carson's show ... then was told “the
guys wouldn't be comfortable” with a woman in the writers' room.
She would go on to win two Emmys with “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

Gail Parent recalls
being the only woman among 100 variety-show writers; Rosie O'Donnell
says in 1979 the stand-up circuit only had six women. This episode
(the second in a series, with reruns on Saturdays) views the female
pioneers and the shows, especially “Saturday Night Live,” that

“Scandal,” 9 p.m., ABC, and more.

ABC has already
renewed all three of its regular Thursday shows for next season, a
key step. During the time when they were missing, the night fell

All three shows are
from Shonda Rhimes, with a cinematic feel and a great sense of
character ... even when it's a tad excessive. Or A LOT excessive, in
the case of “Scandal” ... which has Olivia convinced that Cyrus
schemed the whole thing – being elected vice-president and then
having the president-elect killed on election night. Tonight, he
insists on his innocence and the team finds shocking information.

ALTERNATIVE: “MasterChef Junior,” 8 p.m., Fox; “Project Runway
Junior,” 9 p.m,, Lifetime, repeating at 10:34.

One show is just
starting, another is near its finale and both are stuffed with whiz
kids. In a charming opener last week, “MasterChef” chose eight
young cooks; now it chooses its other 12 finalists.

And “Runway”?
Recent episodes (rerunning from 6-9 p.m.) trimmed it to five teens,
14-17, preparing for next week's finale. There are three girls (two
started in fashion after watching “Runway”) and two boys (one
didn't start sewing until taking a home-ec class at 12). They're
varied – one from each coast, plus a Louisiana guy, a Michigan girl
and a headscarf-wearing Muslim girl from Mankato, Minn.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Riverdale,” 9 p.m., CW.

Small-town tragedies
can be large – murders and affairs and such – or subtle, with the
closing of a theater that's crucial to youth culture. Tonight, all of
those merge in a strong episode.

As always, this is a
mixed blessing. One character is accurately described as “a stock
character from a '90s teen movie”; another (Betty's mom) is almost
as absurd. But flaws and all, this is a solid episode. Tonight,
“Riverdale” disposes of its worst plot element and offers fresh
insights on Jughead.

Other choices

“RED” (2010) and
“RED 2” (2013), 6:30 and 9 p.m., Syfy. Bruce Willis tries to
retire to suburbia ... a life choice that's apparently not available
to former secret-agent killers. These are big, clever films, with
great support from Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker
and many more.

“Grey's Anatomy.”
8 p.m., ABC. The surgical residents want to spend their time fretting
about the next step by Eliza, the consultant who has been altering
their program. For now, however, they're tangled in a battle among
the attending physicians. Also, April has a tough first day in her
new duties.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Sheldon and Amy have a modest sex life –
once a year, on her birthday – but he still managed to talk about
it to co-workers. Now she's furious.

“Mom,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Last week, Bonnie managed to ruin her great romance with Adam.
Now she's making everyone miserable, so Christy begs him to take her

“The Blacklist,”
10 p.m., NBC. We always knew Brent Spiner – who played Data in
“Star Trek” tales – could be a master criminal. Now he plays
someone who will plan the perfect crime, for a price.

“How to Get Away
With Murder,” 10 p.m., ABC. Once fiercely potent, Annalise is
determined to take down the district attorney and assistant who
robbed her of her power.

TV column for Wednesday, Feb. 15

“Doubt” debut, 10 p.m., CBS.

If nothing else,
let's credit this show for trying hard. It surrounds its star
(Katherine Heigl) with an Oscar-nominee (Elliott Gould) and two
Emmy-nominees (Laverne Cox and Dule Hill). It's a courtroom drama
that adds smidgens of humor, romance and even a dazzling bicycle

“Doubt” will
have one ambitious case winding through the season, cable-style, but
will also settle smaller ones along the way. And that's the problem
tonight: Neither case – the short one or the start of the long one
– is terribly interesting. Heigl and other defense lawyers face,
for now, weak opposition.

II: “Nature,” 8 p.m., PBS.

The first two
chapters (available at
captured intimate, life-in-the-wild views of animal cunning and love.
Now the mid-section of a five-week series eyes friendships that go
beyond family.

Some are simple
convenience; birds groom crocodiles, fish give hippos an underwater
spa. More elaborate is a mutual-protection society, when birds
deliberately set nests alongside crocodiles. When the croc has gone
to the water, the birds protect its nest from a lizard ... but signal
when they need more help. Other stories include group efforts by
wolves and by meerkats, to find their missing young.

ALTERNATIVE: “Madiba,” 3:54 to 10 p.m., BET.

Here is the history
of Nelson Mandela in one sprawling package, filmed in South Africa by
gifted actor-turned-director Kevin Hooks. The opener concluded with
Mandela (Laurence Fishburne) acquitted after a six-yeat court case;
the second (rerunning at 6 p.m.) saw the shift to guerilla violence.

Now the third (8
p.m.) finds Mandela finally released after 27 years in prison. The
end of apartheid is coming, but so are crises, personal (his marriage
to Winnie is troubled) and political.

Other choices

“Love on the Air”
(2015) and “Candles on Bay Street” (2006), 7 and 9 p.m., Hallmark
Movies & Mysteries. No, all Hallmark films aren't identical. This
first one has a clever script about feuding radio personalities, with
Kristoffer Tabori skilfully directing Alison Sweeney and Jonathan
Scarfe. The second has a bigger “Hall of Fame” budget, with a
young woman (Alicia Silverstone) returning home.

“Lethal Weapon,”
8 p.m., Fox. Thomas Lennon, the clever writer-actor from “Reno 911”
and “The Odd Couple,” plays an ambulance-chasing lawyer linked to
the cartel. Now the cops must protect him.

“Star,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. Missy Elliott guests as a top singer/producer who shows up at a
fundraiser. Meanwhile, Alexanndra gets a tempting offer from her
mother (Naomi Campbell). And the pastor tries to repair the
relationship between trans-gender Cotton and her mother (Queen

“The 100,” 9
p.m., CW. This began darkly, with a hesitent return to an Earth that
had been destroyed by radiation a century earlier. Now it's all
happening again: As radiation consumes the planet, Clarke must
prepare a list of the 100 people who will be saved inside the ship
... unless someone comes up with a quick alternative. It's a good
episode, despite so-so detours involving the “flame” symbol of

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. At home, Jay doesn't feel needed; Gloria has hired Gary
(Peyton Manning) to coach Joe and serve as a handyman. Still, Phil
needs Jay to invest in a fix-up project.

9:31 p.m., ABC. Anthony Anderson has described growing up in Compton,
amid gang violence and police brutality. Like his character, Dre, he
got out and prospered. Now this episode sends Dre back to a funeral
in Compton, where he feels survivor's remorse.

“Chicago, P.D.,”
10 p.m., NBC. A torched house leaves little to work with. There's a
young boy and a victim who's burned beyond recognition; with few
clues, the team starts to discover secrets.

TV column for Tuesday, Feb. 14

“American Experience,” 9 p.m., PBS.

For a tense week in
1992, this story was compelling. On Ruby Ridge in Idaho, it seemed,
loners had a face-off with a near-army of federal agents; there was
gunfire, deaths and a stalemate.

Much later, people
analyzed a tangle of over-reaction; the federal government gave Randy
Weaver's family a multi-million-dollar settlement. Now that story is
richly told from all angles. We meet some of the key officials
involved and the former Green Beret who volunteered to negotiate.
Most compellingly, Weaver's eldest daughter recalls a kid's-eye
memory of a lethal nightmare.

II: Valentine's Day, everywhere.

Yes, this is the
holiday. (We can pause if you need to rush out and buy something.)
Several shows have already had special episodes, but now the others
take their turns.

In the daytime, that
includes ABC's “The Chew” and CBS' entire line-up – a singles
day on “Let's Make a Deal,” couples day on “The Price is
Sight,” Valentine themes on soaps and “The Talk.” At night,
there are holiday episodes of NBC's “This Is Us” (9 p.m.) and
comedies – Fox's “New Girl” (8 p.m.), ABC's “Ameican
Housewife” and “Fresh Off the Boat” (8:30 and 9 p.m.).

ALTERNATIVE: “Independent Lens,” 10-11:30 p.m., PBS.

A half-century ago,
a former Marine climbed the University of Texas tower and began his
sniper fire. Over the next 96 minutes, he killed 14 people and an
unborn baby, wounded 31 and spread terror.

The story has been
told before, but not like this. Ignoring the shooter, “Tower”
interviewed the people who were on the ground, including a survivor
and the hero who saved her. It turned their stories into a form of
animation, mixed with news clips. The result brings fresh humanity to
a compelling story.

Other choices:

“NCIS” and
“NCIS: New Orleans,” 8 and 10 p.m., CBS. In the first hour,
everything goes wrong for Abby's think tank; she's found with a bomb
and a theoretical terror playbook has been stolen. In the second
hour, McGee and Torres pursue the playbook in New Orleans.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. When the water pipes burst, Frankie and Mike squabble so
furiously that their kids declare an intervention.

“The Mick,” 8:30
p.m., Fox. When her attempts at discipline fail, Mick makes a drastic
decision: She'll quit being “the cool aunt.”

“You Me Her”
seson-opener, 8:30 and 11:30 p.m., Audience Network (DirecTV/AT&T).
So now it's official, with a name for it – a “throuple,” a
“polyamorous relationship”: Jack and Emma, who are married, have
added Izzy to their relationship. All is well ... except Jack quit
his job, Emma hates her job, Izzy's friend is bitter and neighbors
disapprove. Quiet humor mixes with occasional lush romace.

“This Is Us,” 9
p.m., NBC. Kevin frets about the opening of his play ... Randall has
double stress, over work and his father's ailment ... Kate shares
secrets with Toby ... And in a flashback, Valentine's Day doesn't go
as planned for their parents.

“Chicago Fire,”
10 p.m., NBC. When Boden overrides a decision by the chief of another
fire house, his people face repercussions.

stations carry the World Channel digitally; at 8 p.m., it debuts a
gorgeous “America ReFramed” profile of Edythe Boone, a
self-taught East Harlem artist who became a triumphant muralist in
San Francisco. If you don't get World? Past shows are Online at

TV column for Monday, Feb. 13

“Valentine's Day,” 8-11 p.m., Lifetime, and more.

On the eve of the
holiday, TV offers a helpful warm-up. There's a Valentine theme to
“General Hospital” (times vary, ABC) and to “Man With a Plan”
(8:30 p.m., CBS), plus this movie..

At the end of a
great career, Garry Marshall directed this film, “New Year's Eve”
and “Mother's Day,” each with a splendid cast and a sprawling,
so-so story. “Valentine's Day” ranges from Shirley MacLaine to
(briefly) Taylor Swift, plus Julia Roberts, Ashton Kutcher, Jessica
Alba, Jamie Foxx and more.

II: “24: Legacy,” 8 p.m., Fox.

OK, how does he get
out of this one? Carter needs $2 million to keep crucial info away
from terrorists; his solution last week was to break into a police
evidence room. Cops tend to get terribly possessive about that stuff;
as the hour ended, he was still in the room, facing armed resistance.

Can he get out? (It
may help that he's attached deadly devices to two cops.) Can he
deliver the money on time? “24” tends to be so crisply made that
even such absurdities keep us watching.

ALTERNATIVE: “Celebrity Apprentice” finale, 9 p.m., NBC.

OK, this time Donald
Trump was telling the truth: Since he left, the “Apprentice”
ratings really have crashed. Now-- after a helpful lead-in from “The
Wall” at 8 p.m. -- the show limps to its finish.

On one side is Boy
George, who was well-known 33 years ago. On the other is Matt Iseman,
who is known only as an “American Ninja Warrior” host. Next
Monday, “Ninja Warrior” has an all-star special ... trying to
revive an NBC night that died as soon as “Voice” took a break.

Other choices

“Crownies,” any
time, Marta
Dusseldorp seems to be all over Australian TV and this streaming
service. She stars in “A Place to Call Home,” “Jack Irish,”
“Janet King” ... and this series, which showed King's earlier
years as a chief prosecutor. Made in 2011, it reaches the U.S. now
with a flashy start: A law-office party leads to a scandalous leak of
secret documents.

“The Bachelor,”
8-10 p.m., ABC. Last week was rough on Nick Viall and the women.
Tonight, ABC claims, he walks out on them, leaving everything in

“Jane the Virgin,”
9 p.m., CW. A terrific show with dismal ratings, “Jane” keep
being renewed – and keeps making daring plot shifts. This is the
biggest one – killing Michael (Jane's true love) and jumping the
story ahead five years. Characters have mellowed, the humor has
softened and this hour is mostly an uptempo drama ... with a big
kicker of a plot twist at the end.

“APB,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. After spending a bundle for police upgrades, Gideon (Justin
Kirk) goes on a ride-along with Murphy (Natalie Martinez).They come
across a robbery that causes him to rethink things.

“Superior Donuts,”
9, CBS. One moment, this episode is making sophomoric jokes, based on
the fact that a character is named Tush; the next, it's trying a
sophisticated story about crime and guns. The two approaches don't
work well together, but “Donuts” remains mildly likable.

“Scorpion,” 10
p.m., CBS. These geniuses have faced some tough assignments that
turned them into action heroes. This one could be an easier fit:
They're undercover at a chess tournament.

Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Daryl Davis is a
boogie-woogie piano man who has worked with the greats. When not
doing music, he meets Klansmen, often becoming the only black man in
their lives. This is a fascinating story – told in a haphazard,
unedited sort of way.

TV column for Sunday, Feb. 12

Grammy awards, 8-11:30 p.m. ET, CBS (5 p.m. PT, rerunning at 8:30).

James Corden will
host, surrounded by music's best. He'll perform; so will Adele, Bruno
Mars, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Metallica, Kelsea Ballerini,
Lukas Graham, Chance the Rapper and more.

And yes, there will
be the “Grammy moment” combinations viewers love. It's new star
Maren Morris with Alicia Keys, The Weeknd with Daft Punk, John Legend
with Cynthia Ervo, Anderson Paak joining A Tribe Called Quest.
Several people will link for tributes to Prince and George Michael.
And a “Saturday Night Fever” tribute will have Demi Lovato, Andra
Day, Tori Kelly and Little Big Town.

II: “The Walking Dead” return, 9 p.m. AMC, rerunning at 11:12

This season started
with brutal murders by The Saviors. (If you must relive that, the
entire season reruns today, starting at 11:20 a.m.) Now Rick wants to
attack the Saviors – if he gets more manpower.

That might come from
Gregory and The Hilltop ... or Ezekiel and The Kingdom. This is a
strong, if mixed, hour. One scene, involving two vehicles and a
zombie horde, reaches a peak in sheer mayhem.

ALTERNATIVE: Season-openers, cable.

First, “Missing”
(8 p.m., Starz) follows the new notion of a sorta-series, with new
stories under an umbrella title. This time, a young woman says she's
the girl who disappeared 11 years ago. Two gifted British stars,
Keeley Hawes and David Morrissey, play her parents.

Then “Girls” (10
p.m., HBO) starts the final season of a sometimes-brilliant, six-year
run. Hannah has surrounded herself with overthinkers; now she falls
for an uncomplicated surfing instructor.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Mercy Street,” 8 p.m., PBS.
At its best, this
is first-rate. Two Virginia sisters are pushed in opposite directions
by the Civil War. A doctor (two-time Tony-winner Norbert Leo Butz) is
strong at everything ... except books and tests.

And at its worst?
The new commander is cartoonish. And tonight centers on a “surprise”
that viewers will detect in 4-5 seconds, tops.

Other choices

Grammy previews, 4
p.m. ET, E; 6 and 7 p.m., Fuse. Also, red-carpet coverage is 6-8 p.m.
on E and 7:30-8 on CBS ... trimming “60 Minutes” to 30 minutes.
And E has a post-Grammy show at 11:30.

“Not So
Valentine's Special,” 7 p.m.. Nickelodeon. Here's a notion that
worked at Christmas – assemble Nick stars for a holiday story.
These ae people from “Henry Danger” (Jace Norman), “School of
Rock” (Breanna Yde), “The Thundermans” (Kira Kosarin, Jack
Griffo) and “Nicky, Ricky, Dick & Dawn” (Lizzy Greene,Casey
Simpson). They find an evil cupid, determined to destroy the holiday.

“The Blind Side”
(2009), ABC, or “Fast & Furious 6” (2013), NBC, both 8-11
p.m. It's tough to compete with the Grammys and “Walking Dead,”
so two networks simply rerun popular movies.

Victoria,” 9 p.m., PBS. Last week, after some bureaucratic detours,
teenaged Queen Victoria married Prince Albert. Tonight finds them in
love and in lust ... but also finds him frustrated by his lack of a
function. Some storylines remain so-so, but this one develops

“The Weapon
Hunter” season-opener, 9 p.m., Smithsonian. When convoys were being
ambushed in Vietnam, soldiers created their own “gun trucks.”
Here, host Paul Shull works with them to re-create one ... and to
re-create an attack. The show is mildly interesting, but the vets are
instantly likable.

“Black Sails,”
9:01 p.m., rerunning at 11:03, Starz. Last week's episode (rerunning
at 11 a.m.) found pirates and peril. Edward Teach (the future
Blackbeard) was blockading the port, determined to kill Eleanor ...
whose husband Rogers was taking a fast ship, hoping to reach her
wealthy grandfather. And John Silver (the future Long John) barely
escaped capture from Max. Now the battles continue.