TV column for Wednesday, May 23

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “American Idol,”
8-10:07 p.m., Fox.

Each year at this time, huge audiences
show up to watch “Idol” name its winner. This time, it's between
Phillip Phillips, 21, who worked in the family pawn shop in Georgia, and Jessica Sanchez, 16, from San Diego (her dad is a Navy
man) who says she's been obsessing on music since she was 2.

Before the winner is announced, expect
lots of commotion. The final 12 contestants will be back and guest
stars will perform, including Rihanna and last year's winner, Scotty

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Modern Family,”
8:30 and 9 p.m., ABC.

On the final night of the season, this
dandy show has some tough moments for Phil and Claire.

First, in a rerun, they drink too much
alcohol and share too much information. Then, in a new episode, they
celebrate their younger daughter going to prom … then (with some
funny moments) are jolted by their older daughter's plans. Also,
Cameron and Mitchell continue their push to adopt a second baby, this
time bringing Gloria along as translator.

10 p.m., ABC.

This has suddenly become one of ABC's
most important shows, the one that will inherit the “Desperate
“Housewives” spot on Sundays. First, here's the season-finale.

Emily has spent the year subverting the
people (especially Conrad Grayson) who may have been responsible for
framing and killing her dad. She's on the verge of destroying them …
when there are sharp surprises.

Other choices include:

– “The Big Bang Theory” and “Two
and a Half Men,” 8-9 p.m., CBS. Next season, these shows will be
back-to-back on Thursdays – as they once were on Mondays. Here are
two reruns, to get us used to it. First, Leonard and Penny try to
hang out as friends; then Walden and Zoey have a near-death moment.

– “The Middle,” 8 p.m., ABC.
Mike's brother (Norm Macdonald) pulls another surprise: His
invitations list the Heck home as the site of his upcoming wedding.

– “X Men Origins: Wolverine,” 8
and 10:30 p.m., FX. Even with a gifted star (Hugh Jackman) and some
great action scenes, this movie is merely OK. This version has the
film's alternate ending.

– “Camp Rock” (2008), 8:30-10:30
p.m., Disney. Demi Lovato was 15, with little experience beyond
“Barney & Friends,” when she starred in this film as a
camp-worker's daughter who attracts a rock star (Joe Jonas). Here's
another look, before Lovato becomes reality-TVs youngest judge, on “X

– “Law & Order: Special
Victims Unit,” 9 and 10 p.m., NBC. First is a rerun, with brilliant
work by Cameron Monaghan (the teen “Shameless” co-star) and
Mariska Hargitay, in a hostage crisis. Then a new hour views a battle
between ongoing escort services.

– “Don't Trust the B in Apartment
23” season-finale, 9:32 p.m., ABC. Chloe's party-girl life is so
notorious that there's even a Japanese comic book about her. Now June
feels she can keep up with her.

– “Around the World in 80 Plates,”
10 pm., Bravo. The new hour takes the chefs to Spain. That follows a
rerun of last week's episode, in France.

TV column for Tuesday, May 22

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “American Idol,”
8-9 p.m., Fox.

A promising season stumbled last week,
when the immensely gifted Joshua Ledet was ousted. That leaves the
possibility of a fifth straight white-male winner – Phillip
Phillips, 21.

Standing in his way is Jessica Sanchez,
16, with an amazing voice and a subdued personality. Each will choose
one song from earlier in the season; also, producer Simon Fuller
chooses a song and the third will be a new one, planned as each
person's first single.

p.m., Fox.

Even on TV, teen-agers occasionally
finish high school.

Now it's graduation day for Kurt,
Rachel, Finn and more. That may be overdue:The actors playing those
three are, respectively, 21 (turning 22 on May 27), 24 and 30. Next
year, “Glee” juggles stories of high school in Ohio and the
grads' life at a performing-arts college in New York.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Civilization,”
8-10 p.m., PBS (check local listings); concludes next week.

Over four centuries, Niall Ferguson
says, the world transformed. Western Europe had 16 pecent of the
population in 1500; by 1913, its empires ruled half the population,
with 80 percent of the wealth.

Why? Ferguson – a Scottish-born
Harvard professor – has explanations and warnings. China had
retreated inwardly, allowing others to expand. The West had vigorous
science and technology. And the West had competition – among small
countries, businesses, even religions. When religious beliefs
dictated, he says, the East stagnated. It's a fascinating story, told
against ancient backdrops.

Other choices include:

– “Dancing With the Stars,” 8-11
p.m., ABC. First, we get a rerun of Monday's hour, when William Levy,
Katherine Jenkins and Donald Driver had their last chance to impress
voters. Then – after lots of commotion and guest performers –
we'll learn this year's winner.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. The two “NCIS” shows flip-flop their slots for tonight's
reruns. Here, the team heads to Mexico, trying to track down
hazardous material.

– “NCIS,” 9-11 p.m., CBS. After
the crash of a military plane bearing caskets, the DNA results show a
discrepancy. Soon, the team is looking for a missing Marine. In the
second half of this rerun, Gibbs and Ziva try her last known
whereabouts, in Afghanistan.

– “America's Got Talent,” 9 p.m.,
NBC. Here's a new hour of New York auditions, following an 8 p.m.
rerun of Monday's hour.

– “Dateline,” 10 p.m., NBC. Back
in March of 1992, this magazine show debuted with Jane Pauley and
Stone Phillips anchoring. Now (a couple months late) it celebrates
its 20th anniversary with clips of reports by Pauley, Tom
Brokaw, Matt Lauer, Ann Curry, Chris Hansen, Hoda Kotb and more.

– “Hollywood Treasure”
season-opener, 10 p.m., Syfy. Joe Maddalena has spent his life with
movie memories, but this tops anything so far. He might get to
auction off the ruby slippers from “Wizard of Oz” … and to
handle a huge collection that ranges from Kryptonite to Superman
costumes. Also, in a fun hour, he eyes The Riddler's cane and talks
“Lord of the Rings” with Sean Astin.

TV column for Monday, May 21

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “House” finale,
8-10 p.m., Fox.

For eight splendid seasonse, this has
offered medical mysteries and a compelling character.

Dr. Gregory House forever reflects the
pain in his leg and in his soul. He's sharp, acerbic, sometimes
cruel. Still, the writing and Hugh Laurie's perfect performance add
humor and humanity.

Now we say farewell. First, there's a
retrospective; then, at 9, the last new episode has House treating a
drug-addicted patient and reflecting on his own life

Performance at the White House,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local

Burt Bacharach and Hal David kept
pouring out hits, many of them passionate (“The Look of Love,”
“Close to You,” “Walk On By,” “What the World Needs Now”)
and some quirky (“What's New Pussycat,” “Raindrops Keep
Fallin'”). Now they get the Gershwin Prize for Popular Music.

Previous winner Stevie Wonder is
scheduled to perform. So are Sheryl Crow, Lyle Lovett, Diana Krall,
Michael Feinstein, Rumer, Shelea and Mike Meyer.

the Stars,” 8-9 p.m., ABC.

We're down to the final three now.
Katherine Jenkins is a classical soprano with a movie-star look,
William Levy is the handsome star of Spanish-language TV, Donald
Driver is an amiable football star.

Now they get their last chance to
impress, before viewers vote. On Tuesday, we'll have a winner.

Other choices include:

– “One Tree Hill,”8-10 p.m., CW.
Here's a rerun of the show's finale. People return to town for a
festival and the 10th anniversary of the Tric nightclub.

– “America's Got Talent,” 8
p.m., NBC. The summer season hasn't started yet, but this summer show

already into its second week.

– “American Ninja Warrior,” 9-11
p.m., NBC. If you missed Sunday's opener on cable'sG4 – and you
know you did – catch its rerun here. At Venice Beach, an obstacle
course is tackled by lots of young stunt men, gymnasts and such –
plus some surprises. There's a rocket scientist an environmental
engineer and a clown. There's a 53-year-old grandfather and a
61-year-old grandmother. This is slickly edited and interesting, but
it's also repetitive, with an uninteresting final obstacle.

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. All four CBS comedies are in reruns now. This one has Walden and
Alan trapped with their girlfriends by a storm; annoyances and
tempers grow.

– “The Bachelorette,” 9:01-11
p.m., ABC. Last week, Emily Maynard sent six men home. Now the 19
survivors – from an accountant to a mushroom farmer – meet
Muppets and the country group Gloriana.

– “Clash of the Commercials,”10
p.m., CBS. Viewers will see the top 10 commercials from the U.S.and
the top-10 from overseas. Then they'll pick winners in both

– “Outlaw Empires,” 10:04 p.m.,
Discovery. As the creator of the “Sons of Anarchy” series, Kurt
Sutter brought depth to bikers. In this special, he views the rise of
American biker gangs.

TV column for Sunday, May 20

Benefit of the Doubt,” 9-11 p.m., CBS.

For a few peaceful moments, this
settles into the Jesse mode. We see soft seaside settings; we hear a
quietly vague conversation. We learn that Jesse has lost his
police-chief job; we assume he's morose.

Then, in an explosive moment, we're
jolted and Jesse is employed. The rest has all the best traits of
these annual films – deep characters, vivid settings and Tom
Selleck's mastery of a character who offers deep emotions while
speaking few words.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: Billboard Music
Awards, 8-11 p.m., ABC.

After decades with Fox, this show has
moved to ABC, with two “Modern Family” stars (Ty Burrell and
Julie Bowen) as hosts.

Still, it has lots of Fox flavor, with
three “American Idol” winners performing – Kelly Clarkson,
Carrie Underwood and – in a Whitney Houston tribute with John
Legend – Jordin Sparks. Also performing are Usher, Justin Bieber,
Nelly Furtado, Linken Park, LMFAO and The Wanted.

9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

In a misguided moment, Arthur Conan
Doyle killed Sherlock Holmes in a short story. Fortunately, he later
resurrected him.

In a more-misguided moment, the
producers of this superb, modernized “Sherlock” chose to wrap up
their three-movie season with that story. As usual, this one is
brilliantly written, directed and performed; still, it has a so-so
ending that drags on way too long.

Other choices include:

– “The Pelican Brief” (1993) and
“L.A. Confidential” (1997), 6 and 9 p.m. Ion. This is a terrific
double feature. First is a smart John Grisham story about a law
student (Julia Roberts) who comes up with an accurate (and
dangerous) theory. Then is a cop film shot in a stylized, 1950s
manner. It was nominated for nine Oscars, including best picture; it
won for its script and for Kim Basinger in support.

– “America's Funniest Home Videos,”
7 p.m., ABC. Here's the annual championship, with someone winning a
lifetime pass to Disney resorts.

– “The Simpsons,” 7 and 8 p.m.,
Fox. First is a rerun of the OK 500th episode, with
Springfield banishing the Simpsons. Then a new episode has Lisa
trying to boost her lowly social status. She fails, of course –
until Lady Gaga arrives to help.

– “Smitty,” 7 p.m., GMC; reruns
at 9 and 11. A weak story – a foolish kid is sentenced to three
months in Iowa (on his grandfather's farm) – is propped up by a
classy cast. That includes two Oscar-winners (Lou Gossett Jr. and
Mira Sorvino) and an Oscar-nominee (Peter Fonda, in a mostly one-note

– “Celebrity Apprentice,” 9-11
p.m., NBC. Here's another “Idol” alumnus tonight – this one a
runner-up. Clay Aiken is one of the “Apprentice” final two, along
with Arsenio Hall. Tonight, each organizes and stars in a
fund-raiser. Then we'll learn if Aiken is, again, a runner-up.

– “American Ninja Warriors,” 9
p.m., G4; reruns at 11 p.m. and 1a.m. In an unusual step, each
episode will debut Sundays on this cable network and rerun Mondays on
NBC. This opener has obstacle-course tryouts at Venice Beach, with
competitors that include Hollywood stunt people, an actor and a
rocket scientist. The result is slickly filmed, but gets repetitious,
especially in the two-hour opener.

– “The Borgias,” 10 p.m.,
Showtime. Two of the stories here are light and charming stories. In
one,the Vatican is introduced to cigars and a panther; in another,
Lucrezia schemes in romance. Those stories, however, co-exist with a
wretched one about a brutal siege.

– “Girls,” 10:30 p.m., HBO. After
lots of frustration and failure in New York, Lena returns home to
Michigan for her parents' anniversary. It's fun episode, with
insights about different worlds.

TV column for Saturday, May 19

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

Mick Jagger seems to take his time
between “SNL” hosting gigs. This is his first one in 34 years.

He's also shown up a few times as music
guest; this time, he does it all. In the music moments, he's joined
by Jeff Beck, Arcade Fire and the Foo Fighters.

(2007), 8-11 p.m., ABC

In seven weeks, the “Spider-Man”
films will re-start, with a new director (Marc Webb) and star (Andrew
Garfield). First, here's a chance to catch the end of director Sam
Raimi's trilogy.

Peter (Tobey Maguire) turns temporarily
bad; the villain (James Franco) turns temporarily good. Also,
Spider-Man cries.

ET, Fox.

For 18 years, “Cops” and “America's
Most Wanted” were constant companions on Saturdays. That ended a
year ago when Fox canceled “Wanted” (which moved to Lifetime);
now “Cops” is going, too.

The network is dubbing this “Fox
Sports Saturday.” Baseball (with games varying) begins today; there
will also be NASCAR, martial arts and, this fall, college football.

Other choices include:

– “Harry's Law,” 8 p.m., NBC.
This won't be back next season, so we might as well enjoy it now. In
a rerun, Harry defends a rogue juror and Oliver and Cassie try to
adjust to their workplace romance. Also, another case reflects a real
life story, when a reality-show star's husband commits suicide.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
8 p.m., CBS. This rerun puts the focus on Dr. Robbins, played by the
talented Robert David Hall. His wife (Wendy Crewson) finds a naked,
dead man in their bedroom.

– Action films, 8 p.m., cable.
“Spider-Man” has lots of competition tonight, including the
amiable “Charlie's Angels” (2000) on E. Also: “Harry Potter and
the Order of the Phoenix” (2007) on ABC Family, “X-Men: First
Class” (2011) on HBO, “Independence Day” (1996) on AMC and the
second “Star Wars” prequel, “Attack of the Clones” (2002) on

– “Talladega Nights” (2006),
8:30-11 p.m., Comedy Central. Will Ferrell's comedies have been
erratic, but this is one of his better ones, profiling a NASCAR
driver. It has some dandy moments – especially the blind driving
lesson – and a supporting cast that includes John C.Reilly and
Sacha Baron Cohen.

– “Criminal Minds,” 9 p.m., CBS.
This rerun has Charles Dutton as a boxing trainer. His people are
probed after some brutal murders. Also, Hotch trains for the
triathlon and meets an attractive runner.

– “The Firm,” 9 p.m., NBC. A
young client is charged with soliciting for prostitution, but Mitch
(Josh Lucas) soon realizes she has a much bigger secret. Meanwhile,
his wife (Molly Parker) visits home in Kentucky, where a
reconciliation with her parents won't be easy.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. After being busy with the brilliant (but
canceled) “Awake,” BD Wong returned for the first time in a year,
as Dr. George Huang. It reruns tonight, with girls seeking their
sperm-donor dad. James Van Der Beek and Eric Close are guest stars.