TV column for Saturday, Sept. 30

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

Life has been good
for “SNL” lately. Last season, it had its highest ratings in
years, then piled up eight Emmys. That included best variety/sketch
show and Emmys for one regular (Kate McKinnon) and three guests (Alec
Baldwin, Melissa McCarthy and Dave Chapelle).

Now it starts its
season with Ryan Gosling as host and Jay-Z as music guest. Three of
the regulars Bobby Moynihan, Vanessa Bayer and Sasheer Zamata -- are
gone, but the comedy continues.

“Blood Ties: The Menendez Brothers.” noon to 2 p.m.,
Investigation Discovery; and “The Murder of Laci Peterson,” 6
p.m. to 12:02 a.m., Lifetime.

TV keeps handing us
true-crime tales in two ways – long and REALLY long.

You can catch the
Menendez story as a two-hours documentary today on ID ... or as a
scripted mini-series on eight Tuesdays on NBC. The Peterson story was
a two-hour ABC film and a seven-hour A&E series. Now most of the
latter reruns on Lifetime; its final hours then re-rerun from 12:02
to 4:04 a.m.

ALTERNATIVE: “Halt and Catch Fire,” 9 p.m., AMC, rerunning at

This episode starts
with a small surprise and ends with a large, shattering jolt.

At first, it's
simply the story of five people who used to work together, now split
far apart. Joe and Gordon have one search engine (Comet); Donna
(Gordon's ex-wife) had another (Rover), until she was dumped by
Diane. Cameron, Joe's lover, secretly helped Rover, as a favor to
their friend Boz. Can anything bring these scattered pieces together?
Tonight's final minutes are beautifully crafted.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Versailles” season-opener, 10 p.m. ET, Ovation;
reruns at 2:30 a.m.

This lush series
deftly juggles genres. It's filmed in France, but in English, mostly
with British actors; it offers some soap-style bursts of fiction, but
does it against a backdrop of history.

Now that history is
at a wobbly point. King Louis XIV has built his gorgeous, suburban
palace and his gorgeous life, complete with wife and on-site
mistress. But he has perpetual wars, plus a new crisis: We are
entering what was called the “Affair of the Poisons,” a five-year
stretch filled with executions.

Other choices

“Alice in
Wonderland” (1951), 10:05 a.m., Freeform. One of the all-time
greats is the first piece of a Disney cartoon marathon. “Snow
White” (1937) is at 12:05 p.m.; after a break, there's “Cars”
(2006) at 4:50 p.m., “Mulan” (1998) at 7:30 and “Up” (2009)
at 9:30.

Football, 8 p.m. ET,
ABC and Fox. ABC again has the top match-up, this time with
second-ranked Clemson visiting Virginia Tech (No. 12); Fox counters
with Oklahoma State (No. 15) at Texas Tech. There's much more on
cable, including top-ranked Alabama hosting Mississippi at 9 p.m. ET
on ESPN.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun from last year, the murder of a petty officer is
linked to a missing British agent. Now Quinn and Bishop go to
Philadelphia to work with a British agent (Duane Henry).

“Will &
Grace,” 8 p.m., NBC. If you missed Thursday's season-opener,
definitely catch this quick rerun. It mixes slick, smart dialog with
broad sight gags ... including, perhaps, the first Oval-Office pillow
fight. It's a great episode ... and next Thursday's is even better.

8:30 p.m., NBC. Here's another quick rerun from Thursday. The
physical effects of the tornado are being repaired, but the emotional
ones linger ... including Amy and Jonah's awkward kiss.

“The Man From
U.N.C.L.E.” (2015), 9 p.m., TNT. There's a shaky line between being
cool and simply being cold and flat. Director Guy Ritchie and star
Armie Hammer pass that line, turning a fun TV show into a cardboard
movie. As an alternate choice, try two films – the jaunty
“Kingsman” (2015) at 7 p.m. on FXX or “Pitch Perfect 2”
(2015) at 7:30 on FX – before seeing their sequels. Both repeat at

TV column for Friday, Sept. 29

“Blue Bloods” season-opener, 10 p.m., CBS.

Both of the
powerhouse “Sopranos” women are back on TV now: On Tuesdays, Edie
Falco is the defense lawyer in NBC's “Menendez Murders”: tonight,
Lorraine Bracco is the new mayor.

She collides with
Frank (Tom Selleck) and threatens to fire him as police commissioner.
Meanwhile, his kids are busy: Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) considers
retiring as a police detective ... until his sister (Bridget
Moynahan) needs help on a case involving her ex-husband. Meanwhile,
their brother (Will Estes), a street cop, goes undercover; he and his
police partner (Vanessa Ray) pose as a couple.

“Hell's Kitchen” opener, 8 p.m., Fox.

For the first time
in its 17 editions, the show brings back past contestants. The
youngest is Michelle Tribble, 24, who finished third in 2015; the
oldest, Giovanni Filippone, 46, was sixth in 2009.

The other 14 chefs
all finished between third (Dana Cohen, Elise Harris, Benjamin Knack,
Ashley Nickell) and sixth. Now they get a second chance.

ALTERNATIVE: “Hawaii Five-0” season-opener, 9 p.m., CBS.

“Five-0” has
been criticized for failing to re-sign Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park.
Two of the top Asian-Americans on TV, they reportedly wanted salaries
matching Alex O'Loughlin and Scott Caan.

It was “purely a
business transaction,” CBS chief Kelly Kahl insists. Kim seemed to
agree, saying it's possible to like your job “and still maintain a
steadfast sense of your self-worth.” Now the re-casting begins with
Meaghan Rath, whose maternal roots are in India. She helps the team
pursue a diabolical hacker, played by Joey Lawrence ... whose brother
Matthew has a recurring role as Eric Russo.

ALTERNATIVE: “Inhumans” debut, 8-10 p.m., ABC.

When we stare at the
moon, we don't realize there's an alternate world burrowed inside it.
Its leader is silent (that does sound appealing), because his voice
is too powerful. The queen has red hair that's long and lethal. Her
sister has a really big dog that can instantly transporter people

Now the palace
schemes begin and heads will roll ... or, at least, hair will be cut.
Oddly, this opener was shown one weekend in Imax theaters, where
audiences could appreciate the splendid visuals. They also noticed
that the story ranges from silly to lame; the casting, especially of
the villain, is poor.

Other choices

Tom Cruise
double-feature, FX. “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”
(2011), at 5 p.m., was the fifth “M:I” film, with a sixth coming
next year. “Jack Reacher” (2012), at 8 and 11, was the first of

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. Two days after debuting its “SEAL Team” series, CBS
has an episode in which a Navy SEAL is believed to be a captive in
the Middle East. The team tries a search and rescue.

“The Brave,” 8
p.m., NBC. Eventually, this slot will have new “Blindspot”
episodes. But that won't be until Oct. 27; for now, it's a convenient
place to rerun Monday's “Brave” pilot. Like “SEAL Team” and
the upcoming “Valor,” it's a search-and-rescue tale, high-tech,
high-octane and moderately involving.

“The Exorcist,”
9 p.m., Fox. Father Tomas' skills grow, as he trains and travels with
his mentor. First, they try to help a young woman in rural Montana;
then they go to an island off Seattle, where a home for at-risk
foster children is endangered.

“Z Nation”
season-opener, 9 p.m., Syfy. Zombies used to be kind of easy to kill
(or re-kill). But now the unkillable MAD-Z'S are roaming. Our heroes
must confront them, after Roberta Warren (the former National Guard
officer) ha an apocalyptic dream of a black rainbow.

“A Star is Born”
(1976), 1:15 a.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. Barbra Streisand is
superb in this re-remake as a young star on the rise, linked to a
former star in decline. Previous versions are at 8 p.m. (1937, Janet
Gaynor) and 10 (1954, Judy Garland). A fourth one will be next year,
with Lady Gaga.

TV column for Thursday, Sept. 28

“Will & Grace” return, 9 p.m., NBC.

It's been more than
11 years since this show left the air, awash in praise and
popularity. Now it's back and we see how things have changed: Will
and Grace share an apartment ... Jack has a frenetic dating life ...
Karen works for Grace and hobnobs with her rich friends ... and ...

OK, nothing has
changed. The flash-forward in the 2006 finale is brushed aside in a
clever variation of “only a dream.” Then it's back to the usual –
same actors, same writers, same great director (James Burrows). The
humor is blitz-fast, with sharp lines going almost unnoticed; it's
good to have this back.

II: “Great News” season-opener, 9:30 p.m., NBC.

The first season was
fun, but wildly inconsistent. It sometimes leaned too heavily on
Andrea Martin's skilled work as Carol, an overwrought mom who's
working as an intern alongside her daughter.

This new season
starts with a dab of that – a goofy bit involving Carol's mistake
-- but soon adds more: There's a new boss – sharply played by Tina
Fey (the show's producer) -- and a delightful satire of noisy
news-talk shows. “Great News” is off to a great new start.

“The Vietnam War” finale, 8 p.m., PBS, rerunning at 10.

Ken Burns' masterful
film ends with waves of sorrow and rage. Already angry at presidents
Kennedy and Johnson, it sees Nixon (consumed by Watergate) abandon
promises to Vietnam and Ford botch the withdrawal. It sees the U.S.
ambassador and the South Vietnamese president paralyzed by denial.

“It was a very
messy end to a very messy war,” says a Vietnamese woman whose
family was on both sides. John Musgrave, a Vietnam vet, recalls other
anti-war activists celebrating the end, but he could only recall the
pain. When he finally visited the Vietnam memorial, “I was on my
knees sobbing.”

Other choices

“The Murder of
Laci Peterson,” 4-11:03 p.m., A&E. Here's the full documentary
series in one chunk. The second half (starting with the trial) then
reruns from 11:03 p.m. to 3:04 a.m.

“Grey's Anatomy”
season-opener, 8 and 9 p.m., ABC. As last season ended, Owen learned
that his sister is alive, after surviving a helicopter crash and
more. Now efforts to help her are key to both hours. She was
previously played in flashbacks by Bridget Regan, who's busy now with
“The Last Ship”; the role goes to Abigail Spencer, whose
“Timeless” will be back on NBC later this season.

season-opener, 8 p.m., NBC. Howie Mandel should know the retail
world; back in Toronto, he was a carpet salesman and then had his own
business. Now he guests here, as the store rebuilds from the fire and
the people rebuild their social lives.

“The Good Place,”
8:30, NBC. In the season-opener, we learned that this is an attempt
to craft an alternate version of Hell ... making Eleanor think she's
been misplaced in Heaven. She keeps figuring it out, so tonight's
wild – and sometimes very funny – episode sees new variations
being created.

“Project Runway,”
9-10:32 p.m., Lifetime. Last week, Samantha Rei was ousted, leaving
the show's top 10. Tonight, working in teams, they give female models
a look created from men's fabrics and designs.

“Chicago Fire”
season-opener, 10 p.m., NBC. The sixth season opens with one giant
blaze (continuing from last season) at the start of the hour and
another near the end. In between are romantic tangles – a blonde
beauty arrives, complicating things – and a moving moment from
Christian Stolte as Mouch.

“How to Get Away
With Murder” season-opener, 10 p.m., ABC. Last season, we learned
that the murder of Wes was paid for by the father of his girlfriend
Laurel. Now Annalise tries to change her life ... Laurel keeps
probing ... and, flashing forward, a new crime leaves everyone as a

TV column for Wednesday, Sept. 27

“Empire” and “Star” season-openers, 8 and 9 p.m., Fox.

Alternating in one
timeslot, these two have been similar – great music, mixed with
wildly heightened stories. Now they're back-to-back ... and their
stories finally intersect: Carlotta (Queen Latifah) has taken over as
manager of the “Star” trio. She guests in the “Empire”
opener; Jamal shows up on “Star.”

All of this follows
last spring's “Empire” season-finale, when an explosion rocked
Lucious' new Las Vegas nightclub. He survived, but has no memory of
his family or of his record company..

“SEAL Team” debut, 9 p.m., CBS.

This is the season
when the networks go to war. NBC's “The Brave” started Monday;
CW's “Valor” starts Oct. 9. Each involves small, sleek units,
able to make daring, high-tech operations.

This one has the
added benefit of David Boreanaz projecting a classic image – a
strong and sturdy leader who has heart, conscience and a healthy
skepticism of authority. In the opener, he wants to simultaneously do
a rescue and a capture; the result is an adequate mix of action and

ALTERNATIVE: “The Vietnam War,” 8-10 p.m., PBS.

As the war
persisted, both sides became overwrought. John Kerry, a Vietnam vet,
spoke powerfully to Congress, but his case was hurt by his emphasis
on atrocities ... and by wild protests, a few days later.

Richard Nixon
announced that the South Vietnamese troops were ready to do it alone
... then privately said: “We knew they were not that good. (We'll)
hope and pray nothing happens before 1972.” Nothing big did happen
and he breezed to re-election; big changes were ahead, covered in
Thursday's finale.

Other choices

season-opener, 8 p.m., CBS. This season has a fresh take on the
tribes: “Heroes” include (among others) a Marine, a firefighter
and two athletes .... “Healers” include a doctor, a nurse
practitioner and a physical therapist .... “Hustlers” include a
surfer, a bellhop and a celebrity assistant.

“The Blacklist”
and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” season-openers, 8 and
9 p.m., NBC. The network's top cop shows now share Wednesdays. First,
Red (James Spader) needs a scheme to make money while catching a bad
guy; then Fin (Ice T) chases a fugitive rapist to Cuba.

“Modern Family”
season-opener, 9 p.m., ABC. What did these people do during summer
vacation? Phil insisted on some family houseboat time, with shaky
results: Cam had to stay out of the sun, Mitchell met an old flame,
Phil and Claire tried an adventure and the kids' big plans crumbled.

Housewife” season-opener,” 9:31 p.m., ABC. No, this show –
sometimes too shrill and one-note – doesn't deserve a spot behind
“Modern Family.” Still, this sometimes-funny opener does a good
job of correcting some flaws; Katie suddenly realizes she's partly to
blame for her woes.

Survivor” season-opener, 10 p.m., ABC. We zip frenetically between
stories, some solid (a hostage crisis, Hannah's ongoing search for a
master terrorist) and some just silly (an annoying advisor, an
ignored author). But the hour ends well, giving us hope for the
season ahead.

“Chicago, P.D.”
season-opener, 10 p.m., NBC. It's changeover time in the precinct:
Erin (Sophia Bush) is gone, Antonio (Jon Seda) is back. But the big
change is a fresh scrutiny of Chicago cops; Wendell Pierce brings a
powerful presence as an alderman, in a fairly good episode.

“You're the
Worst,” 10 p.m., FXX. Jimmy is excited about his magazine interview.
Except he's just discovered that Gretchen – whom he proposed to,
then fled from – is living in his apartment. (They really aren't
very good at relationships.) The result is odd, but fairly funny.

TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 26

“This Is Us” season-opener, 9 p.m., NBC.

The first season
drew strong ratings and great praise, plus Emmys for Sterling K.
Brown and Gerald McRaney. It also drew worries about whether the dad
would die in the season finale. He didn't, but his drinking and
jealousy disrupted Rebecca's music dreams; she told him to move out.

That's where we
start now, with their marriage wobbling. Flashing forward, it's the
37th birthday for Randall (Brown) and his siblings. They
have ambitions, large (a Ron Howard movie) and small (starting a
singing career); he and his wife ponder his plans to quit his
big-money job and to adopt.

“The Menendez Murders” debut, 10 p.m., NBC.

Back in 1989, Jose
and Kitty Menendez were killed by shotgun blasts in their Beverly
Hills home. Their sons, 21 and 18, seemed upset ... then went on a
shopping spree, buying a Porsche, a Rolex and two restaurants.
Eventually, they faced a high-profile murder trial.

Now NBC tries to
retell the story – under its new “Law & Order: True Crime”
moniker – as an eight-part mini-series. That's in the style of FX's
O.J. Simpson mini ... but with less brilliance and (so far) only one
compelling character. That's defense lawyer Leslie Abramson, neatly
played by Edie Falco.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Vietnam War,” 8 p.m., PBS, rerunning at 10.

Early in his
presidency, this terrific documentary says, Richard Nixon was told
there was no way to win in Vietnam. His plan, one man says, involved
“surrendering without seeming like a surrender.”

Nixon said the South
Vietnamese president had told him training efforts “have been so
successful” that Americans could leave. He hadn't, but the
withdrawal began. People relaxed a little ... then were jolted by the
deaths of civilians – 504 in My Lai, four at Kent State. Opinions
raged. “We're killing our own children now,” Vietnam veteran John
Musgrave recalls thinking. “We've gone mad.”

Other choices

“Celebrity Family
Feud,” 8 p.m., ABC. The network's comedy line-up starts next
Tuesday. For tonight, “Dancing With the Stars” (9-11 p.m.) is
preceded by a “Feud” pitting regulars from “Stars” and “Shark
Tank.” The second half has Kandi Burruss and Cynthia Bailey” of
“Real Housewives of Atlanta.”

season-opener, 8 p.m., CBS. Last season ended with Gibbs and McGee
trying a dangerous rescue in a rebel-held section of the Paraguay
jungle. Now they've been missing for two months.

“Lethal Weapon”
season-opener, 8 p.m., Fox. Riggs is in Mexico, determined to avenge
his wife's death by getting Flores. Murtaugh follows him down there;
back home, they face questions from investigators and from Murtaugh's

“The Mick”
season-opener, 9 p.m., Fox. With Aunt Mickey's help, the kids have
been spending their parents' money furiously. Now their financial
advisor cuts them off, leading to some improvising.

Nine-Nine” season-opener, 9:30, Fox. As their colleagues rush to
exonerate them, these cops have opposite approaches behind bars. Jake
joins a prison gang; Rosa demands favors.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. For now, Pride is on probation because of
his rogue action against the corrupt mayor. Now, under the eye of a
by-the-book agent (Becky Ann Baker), the team secretly probes the
case of a stolen truck filled with nuclear waste.

“American Horror
Story,” 10 p.m., FX. After focusing three episodes on the crumbling
psyche of Ally (Sarah Paulson), this shifts to the villainous Kai
(Evan Peters), his sister Meadow (Leslie Grossman) and her gay
husband (Billy Eichner). As usual, it's well-made, but way too gory
for many viewers.