TV column for Monday, Dec. 5


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Showtime at the Apollo,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

For 82 years, the
Apollo Theatre in Harlem has been a centerpoint for black stars. It's
had the great bands (Ellington, Basie, Gillespie) and dancers (Bill
Robinson, Nicholas Brothers); it's had comics, from Stepin Fetchit to
Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor and Steve Harvey ... who hosts this
special.

It's had Jimi
Hendrix and the top singers, from Billie Holliday to Ray Charles,
Mariah Carey and most of Motown. This special will have various
performers pop in ... and will also view the theater's “amateur
night,” when audiences might voice disapproval and the act is
abruptly whisked away.

TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“The Great Christmas Light Fight” season-opener, 8 and 9 p.m.,
ABC.

In the wrong hands,
Christmas lights can be a lot of wasted wattage; in the right hands,
they bring awe and wonder. This show tends to find families who know
what they're doing – good-hearted folks who also have a sense of
artistry. We'll see four each hour, with one winning $50,000.

One family tonight
has 250,000 lights ; another has train rides through acres of
decorations. There are Christmas emojis, a 20-foot “Frozen”
castle and what ABC calls “America's tallest and brightest
Nativity” scene. We'll try it ...even though the original Nativity
was neither tall nor well-lit.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Mars,” 9 p.m., National Geographic, and more.

Fact and fiction
blend beautifully in two outer-space projects from Ron Howard and
Brian Grazer. They produced (and Howard directed) “Apollo 13”
(1995), the Oscar-nominated film that's at 9 p.m. and midnight on WGN
America. And they produced “Mars,” a richly crafted, six-week
mini-series.

From 6-9 p.m. today,
you can catch the first half of the mini; it skillfully jumps between
current documentary footage (SpaceX, Scott Kelly, etc.) and a 2033
mission. At 9, the non-fiction includes a Mars-like facility in
Anarctica; the fiction finds a fierce storm heading toward the
outstation.

Other choices
include:

“The Brokenwood
Mysteries: The Black Widower” any time, www.acorn.tv.
New Zealand provided the splendid backdrop for the “Lord of the
Rings” movies; now the barkeep in this little town – far from the
real settings – offers a phony tour. This starts with humor, ends
with a clever mystery, sags some in between. It's the first of four
“Brokenwood” movies, one on each Monday in December.

“The Voice,”
8-10:01 p.m., NBC. Last week was rough on the oft-victorious Blake
Shelton: Two of his three singers were ousted, while Miley Cyrus'
Aaron Gibson got his third straight instant-save. Now Shelton has
only Sundance Head (the former “American Idol” contestant),
compared to three people with Adam Levine and two apiece with Alicia
Keys and Cyrus.

“Supergirl,” 8
and 9 p.m., CW. Here are reruns of the season's first two episodes.
Those are the ones with Kara visited by her cousin Superman (Tyler
Hoechlin) ... and getting a new boss. The terrific Calista Flockhart
steps aside and Ian Gomez (who also co-hosts ABC's baking show) takes
over.

“Scrooged”
(1988), 9 p.m., Freeform. Bill Murray plays a soulless TV executive,
in this clever “Christmas Carol” take-off. Also at 9, Starz has
“The Rainmaker,” a strong convergence of talent – novelist John
Grisham, director-screenwriter Francis Coppola and then-newcomer Matt
Damon.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 9:30 p.m., CBS. For its 200th episode,
rerunning here, the show brought in lots of its people. That includes
Leonard's mom and ex-girlfriend (Christine Baranski, Sara Gilbert),
Wil Wheaton and – as a birthday surprise for Sheldon -- ex-Batman
Adam West.

“Victoria's Secret
Fashion Show,” 10 p.m., CBS. Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars and The Weeknd
will perform. Also, slender women will display lingerie.

“Timeless,”
10:01 p.m., NBC. To learn what Flynn is up to in the 1930s South, the
team must get on the good side of Bonnie and Clyde ... while avoiding
being arrested.

TV column for Sunday, Dec. 4


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Secrets and Lies” finale, 9-11 p.m., ABC

Over eight hours,
we've seen Eric Warner's world crumble. A newlywed from a warm
family, he was moving to the top of his dad's business. Then his wife
was killed and he became a suspect.

Since then, he's
learned secrets about her and his brother Patrick, who was arrested
last week. That still leaves the murder to be solved tonight; along
the way are revelations for Eric and Detective Cornell.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Royals” season-opener, 10 p.m., E.

“This place is
weird,” two people separately announce tonight. You think? King
Simon was murdered and his killer was slain by a mob. His eldest son
Robert (the heir to the throne) is missing; his other kids, Liam and
Eleanor, are fragile ... in a young-and-sexy way, of course.

Simon's brother
Cyrus says he's king; the widowed Queen Helena says he's a “hideous
little back-stabber.” Cyrus also questions the kids' legitimacy,
which is hard to prove: Simon's body is missing and Cyrus has encased
himself in a plastic bubble. This place is weird, excessive and
modestly interesting.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Westworld” season finale, 9-10:30 p.m., HBO.

With lush production
values and thickly layered stories, this has left viewers both
intrigued and perplexed. Jonathan Nolan (“The Dark Knight,”
“Person of Interest”) reworked the notion of a violent, old-West
theme park, with the robotic characters starting to realize who they
are and aren't.

Now viewers know
that Arnold and Bernard are the same; they suspect that William
(Jimmi Simpson) is another version of the Man in Black (Ed Harris).
Tonight, Dolores begins to accept her fate, Maeve (Thandie Newton)
plans her liberation ... and the creator (Anthony Hopkins) plans a
new narrative.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “Hearts of Christmas” (Hallmark Movies &
Mysteries) or “Cinderella's Christmas” (Ion), both 9-11 p.m.

Far from the tangled
worlds of royals and cowboys, there are holiday movies. “Hearts”
is set at a hospital, where a supervisor (Sharon Lawrence) was nudged
into retirement. Her young colleague plans to turns the Christmas
party into a tribute ... but the money guy (Kristoffer Polaha) has
other ideas.

“Cinderella's
Christmas” also focuses on a holiday party. It's a masquerade and
an oft-overlooked woman dtaws attention .,. but must leave before
people learnwho she is.

Other choices
include:

More new Christmas
movies. At 7 p.m. (rerunning at 9), UP's “Girlfriends of Christmas
Past” has women plot revenge. At 8, Hallmark's “Christmas Carol”
has Anne Heche obsess on her kids' pageant.

“Once Upon a
Time,” 8 p.m., ABC. Now that the heroes have a weapon that could
defeat her, the Evil Queen strikes back by stealingAladdin's magic
lamp. David tries to confine her to Storybrooke.

“Madam Secretary,”
9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun of the season-opener, Elizabeth fights for
new approaches to climate change and foreign policy; also, she fears
that her family is being stalked.

“The Lost Tapes:
Pearl Harbor,” 9 p.m., Smithsonian, rerunning at midnight. Three
days before the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor
attack, we get this richly researched account – no narration, no
talking heads, but lots of old film, some of it unseen in decades.
This deflects the notion of a total surprise; we see and hear of
preparations for a possible attack. We also see the attack and the
massive reaction.

“Last Man on
Earth,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. Melissa has vanished, leaving a mysterious
goodbye note.

“Elementary,” 10
p.m., CBS. In a rerun from a year ago, Watson fumes when her
stepfather (John Heard) writes a crime novel based on her cases.

TV column for Saturday, Dec. 3


TODAY'S MUST-SEE:
College football championships, all day.

A fierce pile-up of
conference championships peaks at 8 p.m. ET: Fox has the Big Ten,
with Wisconsin (ranked No. 6) and Penn State (No. 7); ABC has the
ACC's Clemson (No. 4) and Virginia Tech. Earlier, CBS has the SEC at
4 p.m. ET, with top-ranked Alabama and Florida (No. 23).

And yes, there are
more conference championships: At noon ET, ABC has Navy (No. 25) and
Temple; ESPN has Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech. At 4 p.m.,
Alcorn State and Grambling are on ESPNU. And at 7:45, ESPN has San
Diego State and Wyoming.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC.

So far, “SNL”
has continued its hot ratings streak throughout the election and in
the first two episodes afterward. Now it has its eighth new episode
in 10 weeks, this time with a youthful look.

Emma Stone, 28, has
her third time as host; “La La Land,” her movie musical, will
open Dec. 16. And Shawn Mendes, 18, makes his “SNL” debut as
music guest.

TODAY'S ALTERNATIVE:
“Enlighten Us” (8 and 9:55 p.m. ET) and “Holy Hell” (11:50
p.m.), CNN.

As a warm-up, catch
the series opener of Leah Remini's “Scientology and the Aftermath,”
rerunning at 4 p.m. on A&E. Then settle in for these documentary
movies. Remini's film is poorly crafted, the others are beautifully
done, but they all remind us that unfettered power can be scary.

In “Holy Hell,”
we see a messiah figure in Speedo and sunglasses; in “Scientology,”
a former follower describes violence and a detention camp. And in
“Enlighten” -- scheduled for Thursday, then delayed -- we see
James Arthur Ray pushing his followers to risk more; three of them
died in his sweat lodge.

Other choices
include:

“Mickey's Once
Upon a Christmas” and “Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas,” 7-10
a.m., Freeform. The annual “25 Days of Christmas” marathon
started Thursday, but peaks on weekends. Today, it greets
early-risers (kids, one assumes) with these two packages, totalling
eight separate cartoons.

“Charlie and the
Chocolate Factory” (2005), 2:05 p.m., Freeform. After a couple
lesser films -- “Richie Rich's Christmas Wish” (1998) and the Jim
Carrey “Christmas Carol” (2009) -- Freeform gives us a Tim Burton
masterpiece. That's followed by two good-enough films -- “Polar
Express” (2004) at 4:40 p.m., “Arthur Christmas” (2011) at 6:45
-- and Will Ferrell's delightful “Elf” (2003) at 8:50.

“Hunger Games”
and its sequel (2012 and 2013), 5 and 8 p.m., TNT. Yes, there are
movies unrelated to Christmas. Others include “Avengers: Age of
Ultron” (2015) at 6:35 p.m. on Starz, “Ghostbusters” films
(1984 and 1989) are 7 and 9:30 on Sundance and “Finding Nemo”
(2003) at 8 p.m. on Disney.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, the death of a Navy master diver
may be linked to plans for an attack on New Orleans.

“It's a Wonderful
Life” (1946), 8-11 p.m., NBC. Here's a Christmas classic. If you
prefer new holiday films, go to UP at 7 p.m. (rerunning at 11),
Lifetime (directed by Michael Landon Jr., a master of warm films) at
8, Hallmark at 8 or Ion at 9.

“Criminal Minds,”
9 p.m., CBS. Here's a rerun of the season-opener, adding Adam
Rodriguez as Luke Alvez. He joins the search for a killer who escaped
with 13 other convicts.

“Where Are They
Now?” 10 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. In the early years of
“Dancing With the Stars,” Cheryl Burke was the one to dance with;
she won the second and third championships, with Drew Lachey and
Emmit Smith. Since then, she's been second twice (Gilles Marini, Rob
Kardashian) and third three times. Here's an update on her, rapper
Chuck D and gospel great Shirley Caesar.

TV column for Friday, Dec. 2


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“I Love Lucy Christmas Special,” 8-9 p.m., CBS.

Each December, CBS
gives us a pair of “Lucy” episodes, with color added by computer.
One is always the same – a Christmas episode, with multiple Santas;
before the pay-off, it's a bit slow and stiff.

The other, however,
changes each year, giving us some classic Lucy moments. Tonight, she
finally gets a chance to be in a Hollywood musical. That, however,
requires descending stairs wearing a towering headdress; after some
mega-mishaps, the director makes a major change.

TODAY'S MUST-RECORD:
“November Christmas” (2010) and more, Hallmark Movies &
Mysteries.

Clearly, all of TV's
Christmas movies are NOT created equal. Here's a string of four films
that debuted under the classy “Hallmark Hall of Fame” banner.
Each is well-acted and visually splendid; two of them have fairly
good stories, the other two are deeply moving.

Best of all is
“November” (11 a.m.), beautifully directed by Robert Harmon, with
quiet perfection from John Corbett and Sam Elliott. The other gem has
Carla Gugino in “A Season for Miracles” (1999) at 3 p.m. The
fairly good ones are “Fallen Angel” (2003) at 1 p.m. and “Silver
Bells” (2005) at 5.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Tim Allen comedies, everywhere.

For today, at least,
Allen is an all-purpose star. He has two clever movies -- “Galaxy
Quest” (1999), 6:30 p.m., Syfy and “The Santa Clause” (1994),
7:20 p.m., Freeform – alongside his regular series.

That's “Last Man
Standing,” a fairly funny show at 8 p.m. on ABC. Tonight, he's
ready to be a graduation speaker ... then is told the talk must be
politically correct and free of “micro-aggression.” Also, his
daughter Eve hears stories of all the fun she's missing by not being
in college.

Other choices
include:

Football conference
championships, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2; 9 p.m. ET, Fox. Saturday will be
packed with championship games, but here's a warm-up. First is the
Mid-American Conference; Western Michigan, undefeated and ranked No.
21, faces Ohio, 8-4. Then – with a preview at 8 p.m. -- is the
Pac-12; Washington (No. 5), with an 11-1 record, faces Colorado, (No.
9), 10-2.

“Savage Kingdom,”
7-11 p.m., NatGeo Wild. First is a rerun of last week's hours.
They're beautifully filmed, following competing lion clans in Africa;
Charles Dance adds narration with dry-and-deadly intensity. The
craftsmanship is stunning ... but the brutality of nature hardly
makes for a fun Friday. Then the next hours debut at 9; Hyenas –
their clan forced into exile by the lions – prepare to strike.

“Vampire Diaries,”
8 p.m., CW. Caroline takes strong action, when she learns her
children may be the focus of the Siren's latest plan.

“Dr. Ken,” 8:31
p.m., ABC. After overhearing his daughter-in-law complain, Ken's
divorced dad decides he's overstayed his welcome. Now he'll move in
with his girlfriend.

“Crazy
Ex-Girlfriend,” 9 p.m., CW. Is a girls-night-out possible, if the
women are total opposites? We'll find out when self-centered Rebecca
organizes a night with self-sacrificing Paula, skeptical Heather and
the formerly shallow Valencia.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. Melanie Griffith returns as Danny's mother, being
questioned by the FBI. Also in this rerun, McGarrett works with an
autistic man who may have murder information.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. While Frank (Tom Selleck) battles a City Council leader
(Whoopi Goldberg), his family has other crises. His daughter worries
about a judge who's been unfair since the death of his wife; his
son's wife wants help for a co-worker who has an angry ex-husband.

TV column for Thursday, Dec. 1


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“A Charlie Brown Christmas,” 8 p.m., ABC.

Back in 1965, CBS
wanted a “Peanuts” special for Christmas. Time was tight; there
was no chance to meddle and make it bland. Charles Schulz and
director Bill Melendez could create greatness.

They chose a spare
style, with simple artwork and gentle, jazzy piano music. They used
real kids for the voices. They even mocked commercialism and added a
speck of Scripture. The result ranks with “Grinch” as two of TV's
finest moments. A seven-minute “Prep & Landing” rounds out
the hour.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“25 Days of Christmas” start, 3:30 p.m. to 2 a.m., Freeform.

Twenty years ago,
cable's Family Channel launched this holiday tradition. The channel
has changed its name three times, but the concept persists. It has
only one new show this year, but lots of fun reruns.

A few things –
including “Willy Wonka” (1971) at 3:30 – don't have much to do
with Christmas, but most do. Tonight has a cartoon (“The Year
Without a Santa Claus”) at 6, then two entertaining films -- Chevy
Chase's “Christmas Vacation” (1989) at 7:05, Tim Allen's “Santa
Clause” (1994) at 9:15. Also: “The Nightmare Before Christmas”
(1993) at 11:30 p.m., “Rudolph's Shiny New Year” at 12:55 a.m.

TONIGHT'S
NON-ALTERNATIVE: Documentary, cable.

We had suggested “Enlighten Us,” a fascinating documentary that was supposed to make its TV debut at 9 and 10:55 p.m. ET. Alas, CNN is pondering a belated decision to delay it until Saturday.

At least, you can see it then (maybe). And if you get the Ovation channel, try "Picasso: A Museum Reborn" at 7 p.m. It views the re-opening of the Paris museum that owns more than 5,000 Pablo Picasso pieces; an intriguing portrait of the artis will air next Thursday.

Other choices
include:

 

“The Legends of
Tomorrow,” 8 p.m., CW. The all-star team is in place now, facing a
fierce opponent. Over the past three nights, The Flash has assembled
Supergirl, Green Arrow and the Legends team, to face the Dominators.
Stein has a plan to stop them ... but is distracted by an abberation
he created.

“A Heavenly
Christmas,” 8-10 p.m., Hallmark. Here's a rerun of Saturday's film
from the prestigious Hallmark Hall of Fame. When a self-centered
woman (Kristin Davis) dies, a mentor (Shirley MacLaine) tries to
teach her to be a guardian angel for a single dad (Eric McCormack).

“The Great
Indoors,” 8:30 p.m., CBS. Jack has no idea how to help when Eddie,
his one real friend, is going through a divorce. Brooke must step in
as Eddie's interim best friend.

“Mom,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Now that they know that 12-year-old Roscoe is using drugs and
alcohol, the women (both recovering addicts) take opposite
approaches. Christy, his mom, is overprotective; Bonnie, his
grandmother, is in the unfamiliar position of being the calm one.

“The Great
American Baking Show” season-opener, 9 and 10 p.m., ABC. Based on a
British show – and even borrowing its judge, Mary Berry – this
short-run competition is hosted by Nia Vardalos (“My Big Fat Greek
Wedding) and her husband Ian Gomez. Johnny Luzzini judges with Berry.

“Falling Water,”
10 p.m., USA. A blackout brings together Taka and Tess, who havebeen
sharing parts of the same dream. Also, Burton finally learns that the
Woman in Red exists outside his dreams.