TV column for Monday, Sept. 12


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The Closer”
summer finale, 9 p.m., TNT.

This hour starts sensationally, ends
limply. The start is worth it.

Brenda (Kyra Sedgwick) is a defendant
in court. It's a big case, but people start looking at their cell
phones and disappearing; something bigger is going on elsewhere.

The next few minutes are powerful.
Midway in its final season, “Closer” is looking strong.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: Miss Universe,
9-11 p.m., NBC.

In its 60th year, this
pageant – owned by Donald Trump – doesn't aspire to anything
cranial. It's strictly a beauty pageant, based on swimsuit, evening
gown and interview categories.

This time, there's a lush Latino feel.
It's in Sao Paolo, Brazil, home town of one of the judges, race
driver Helio Castrones. Some other judges grew up in the Phillipines
(Lea Salonga) and the Dominican Republic (Amelia Vega). Miss Universe
(Ximena Navarete) is from Mexico. One host, Natalie Morales, grew up
in Panama and Brazil; the other, Andy Cohen, is merely from St.
Louis.

TODAY'S ALTERNATIVE: The post-Oprah
shuffle, everywhere.

With no more “Oprah” to rule late
afternoons, other talk shows try to step in.

That includes “Ellen” and two from
Opah Winfrey's company – “Dr. Phil” and “Dr. Oz.” Oz has
inherited Winfrey's slot in 85 markets; today's season-opener deals
with bellyfat for women over 40.

Then there are the newcomers. The light
“America Now” is hosted by Leeza Gibbons and Bill Rancic.
“Anderson” has Anderson Cooper, who also has a show at 8 p.m.
(rerunning at 10) on CNN weekdays … but not today, when CNN has a
Republican presidential debate sponsored by the Tea Party.

Other choices include:

– “Bachelor Pad” finale, 8-10
p.m., ABC. This show started with 18 pretty people. Now eight are
left, split into four couples. Each duo tries to learn a Cirque du
Soliel routine in 24 hours; the winner chooses one other couple to
compete with for the $250,000 prize.

– “Gaga by Gaultier,” 8 p.m., CW.
Lots of people like Lady Gaga, including Frenchmen and fashion
designers. Here's a French special (in English) with designer Jean
Paul Gaultier interviewing her.

– “Rocky” (1976), 8-10:30 p.m.,
AMC; or “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937), 8:30-10:05
p.m., Disney. The world loves underdog movies and these two are
beautifully done. A broken-down boxer faces the champ; an earnest
teen-ager and some tiny old men face an evil queen.

– Two and a Half Men, 9 p.m., CBS.
Here's a rerun of the 177th and final episode taped by
Charlie Sheen. After this one – Charlie learns about Rose's
make-believe husband – production was suspended and then,
two-thirds of the way through the season. Next week, Ashton Kutcher
takes over.

– “CW Fall Preview,” 9:15 p.m.,
CW. Here's a peek at CW's season, which starts Tuesday, six days
ahead of the others. It has two promising new shows (“Secret
Circle,” “Hart of Dixie”) and two others.

'– “Hawaii Five-0,” 10 p.m., CBS.
When the season starts next week, McGarrett will be in jail. Here's
the rerun that shows us why, as Wo Fat schemes.

TV column for Sunday, Sept.11


TODAY'S MUST-SEE: Coverage of the 10th
anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The news networks expect all-day
coverage and the others will also be busy. ABC, CBS and NBC plan
morning specials from 8-11 a.m. ET; ABC's will have Katie Couric and
Christianne Amanpour join Diane Sawyer and others, with reports from
Ground Zero, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa.

There are also primetime specials,
which we'll list separately, on PBS, ABC, CBS and cable.

TODAY'S MUST-SEE II: Football, all-day.

This is the first full Sunday of the
pro season and the games boom ahead, with some 9/11 tributes –
especially at tonight's game in New York. That's where the Jets –
with an 11-5 regular-season record last year – host the Dallas
Cowboys, trying to bounce back from a 6-10 season that was shattered
by Tony Romo's injury; kick-off is 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC, with
“Football Night in America” at 7.

Earlier games are 1 p.m. on CBS and on
Fox, which has a second game – Giants-Redskins, Seahawks-49ers or
Panthers-Cardinals – at 4:15.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “The Space
Between,” 9-10:21 p.m.,, also 10:53 p.m., USA.

Amid the chaos of Sept. 11, two
strangers are stranded. A cynical stewardess (Oscar-winner Melissa
Leo) and a 10-year-old Pakistani boy (Anthony Keyvan) begin a
cross-country trip.

It's a foolish journey and the film
feels slow-paced, even at just 81 commercial-free minutes. Still,
it's beautifully filmed and acted, winning festival awards for a
surprising filmmaker.

Travis Fine was a successful actor, one
of the stars of ABC's “Young Riders.” He quit show-business,
became an airline pilot, then returned to write, produce and direct
this quietly moving film.

Other choices include:

– PBS documentaries, 4-9 p.m., PBS
(check local listings). First are four hours of reruns – “Objects
and Memories” at 4, the splendid “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero”
at 5 and “Engineering Ground Zero” at 7. Then the “PBS
Newshour” team has the new “America Remembers” at 8.

– “60 Minutes,” 7 p.m., CBS. The
full hour will focus on 9/11 themes.

– “9/11: 10 Years Later,” 8-10
p.m., CBS. A French documentary crew happened to be filming in New
York on Sept. 11, 2001. It emerged with an Emmy-winning film that's
been updated here.

– “Backstory: Lady Antebellum,” 8
p.m., Great American Country. A singer's daughter, a surgeon's son
and a dentist's son merged into a country group that soared to No. 1.
Here's an interesting profile.

– “Great Performances,” 9 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). Gustav Mahler's second symphony –
“Resurrection,” first performed in 1895 – is done by the New
York Philharmonic as a 9/11 remembrance, with chorus, soprano
Dorothea Roschmann and mezzo soprano Michelle DeYoung.

– “True Blood,” “Curb Your
Enthusiasm” and “Entourage,” 9-11:10 p.m., HBO. Two shows end
their seasons and “Entourage” ends its eight-season run. First is
Sookie vs. Marnie and the witches, then Larry vs. Michael J. Fox.
Then we see if Eric gets back with Sloan and if Ari gets back with
his wife.

– “Dinosaur Revolution,” 9-11
p.m., Discovery. Here's the second half of this well-made
documentary.

– “The Good Wife,” 10 p.m., CBS.
This rerun has Martha Plimpton as a fired attorney.

– “Twin Towers,” 10:21 p.m., USA.
Joseph Vigiano was filmed for a rescue reality show that didn't air.
When he and his brother died on Sept. 11, filmmakers crafted this
35-minute, Oscar-winning gem.

– Also: Other 9/11 specials: “Making
the 9/11 Memorial” and “102 Minutes” (8 and 9 p.m., History),
“Twins of the Twin Towers” and “From the Ground Up” (9 and
10:15 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network), “Rebirth” (9 p.m., Showtime).
Also, VH1 repeats the epic “Concert For NewYork” from 4-10 p.m.

TV column for Saturday, Sept.10


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Flight 93”
(2006), 8-10 p.m., A&E.

On Sunday, our TV's will be stuffed
with specials marking the 10th anniversary of the 9/11
attacks.

Today, several films get a head start,
including this dramatized one. We see what may have happened on the
one plane in which hijackers were overtaken; it crashed in a
Pennsylvania field.

Solidly crafted, “Flight 93” won
one Emmy(for sound editing) and was nominated for best movie and four
more, including Nevin Schreiner's script and Peter Markle's
direction.

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

This show is always at its best when
Tina Fey – a writer there for nine years – visits.

Here's a prime example: Fey hosts
(including a clever monolog) and does her Sarah Palin imitation
during a debate of unannounced Republican candidates. Ellie Goulding
is music guest.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Voices From
Inside the Towers,” 9-10:28 p.m., History.

At the core are recorded messages from
people inside the World Trade Center. In a few cases, we meet the
people themselves, who survived; in more, we meet the families of
people who died.

For either, we get a rich warmth and
humanity, plus surprising calmness and perspective.

Other choices include:

 

– “NFL Kickoff 2011: Back to
Football,” 8 p.m., NBC. Many fans missed the party Thursday in
Green Bay; NBC was covering a presidential speech and response, so it
slid part of its pre-game special to a cable channel. Now comes a
second chance; this hour will include some of Thursday's music (Kid
Rock, Lady Antebellum, Maroon 5) and some football interviews.

– “Beyond 9/11: Portraits of
Resilience” and “Terror in the Dust,” 8 and 9 p.m., CNN. The
first documentary interviews World Trade Center survivors, plus key
officials. In the second, Dr. Sanjay Gupta views health dangers to
Sept. 11 firefighters and rescuers.

– More Sept. 11 specials. In addition
to the ones listed sepaately, they include: “Flight 175: As the
World Watched” (8 p.m., TLC); “9/11: Heroes of the 88th
Floor” (9 p.m., TLC), “Portraits from Ground Zero” (10 p.m.,
A&E) and more.

– “Who Do You Think You Are?” 9
p.m., NBC. One of Lionel Richie's key influences was his grandmother,
who taught music at Tuskegee University. He traces her roots in this
rerun, finding that her father took early steps toward the civil
rights movement.

– “The Love We Make,” 9-11 p.m.,
Showtime. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, Paul McCartney joined a
fundraising concert in New York. He also asked Albert Maysles to film
preparations; 10 years later, hw had the footage edited into an oddly
interesting film. The “cinema verite” style – slow,
black-and-white, random stretches of blandness – is taxing. Still,
we see McCartney sing (“Yesterday,” “I'm Down,” “Let It
Be”), plus glimpses of Bill Clinton, Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Joel,
Elton John and more.

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. A gruesome artwork leads to discovery of a
murder … and then to questions about grown-up bullying at the
workplace.

– “Dina's Party,” 10 p.m., HGTV.
Dina Manzo is part of the noisy “Real Housewives of New Jersey”
crowd. Now we see her party-planning business, statring with a big
project: Inside a home, create a prom for grown-ups. The result is
expensive and excessive, but kind of fun.

TV column for Friday, Sept. 9


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “CSI:NY,” 9
p.m., CBS.

Sure, the “CSI” shows can
occasionally be cold and drab; not this time, though..

The hour starts with a sudden
shoot-out, filling the CSI headquarters with glass, bullets and fear.
Then, in a good hour, a personal issue builds.

In last week's rerun, Mac met his
former police partner (Peter Fonda). Some 17 years after they closed
a case, someone seem to be targeting them for revenge.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Fringe,” 9
p.m. Fox, and “Torchwood: Miracle Day,”10 p.m., Starz.

Don't you hate shows where there's not
much at stake – maybe just some petty larceny or a minor murder or
two? These two shows are the opposite, with our entire world at
stake.

“Fringe” reruns its second-to-last
episode of the season. Enraged, the alternate-world Walter has thrown
our world into danger; Olivia links with the enigmatic Sam Weiss to
try to stop him.

Then “Torchwood” wraps up its
10-week run. This started (brilliantly) with days in which no one
died. Tonight, the world might plunge into ruin; Jack and his
colleague confront the Three Families.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Mel Brooks
and Dick Cavett Together Again,” 9 p.m., HBO.

Two masters of the talk-show circuit
simply sit and swap stories.

Brooks, 85, and Cavett, 74, have plenty
of them to tell. That includes R-rated tales of Alfred Hitchcock,
Chico Marx (with Tallulah Bankhead) and even the gentlemanly Jack
Benny.

Carl Reiner is in the audience, adding
a sprightly account of how Brooks began improvising “The 2,000 Year
Old Man.” They were told it was “too Jewish” to sell as a
record; it went on to be a hit.

Other choices include:

– “Friends With Benefits,” 8 and
8:30 p.m., NBC. Out of work, Ben wants Aaron to invest in his
food-truck plan. Also, in the first episode, Sarah meets a journalism
guy who is cute (a stretch of credibility) and has physical problems
(less of a stretch). In the second, Ben decides he really likes
Sarah.

– “School of Rock” (2003), 8 and
10:30 p.m., Bravo. Mike White wrote and co-starred in this film,
which appeals to any age. Jack Black plays a musician who steals a
substitute-teaching assignment.

– “Karaoke Battle USA,” 9 p.m.,
ABC. For the first four weeks, this show trudged through out-of-town
auditions. Now it has its semi-finalists; they sing at the House of
Blues in Los Angeles, hoping to be promoted to next week's finals.

– “9/11: The Days After,” 9-10:30
p.m., History. The weekend's flurry of Sept. 11 specials starts with
this unvarnished one, weaving clips from the days after the attacks.
As rescue workers continue, we see laymen building stretchers, buying
flags, giving blood, even singing. At times – especially a montage
during a worldwide moment of silence – strong emotions are built
from stoic fragments of life.

– “Unleashed By Garo” debut, 9
p.m., Sundance. Garo is a designer who works for show-business people
and for regular (well, semi-regular) folks. Tonight's hour has two of
each – with some tough standards: One client, not in show business,
must squeeze her 28-inch waist into a 23-inch corset.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS.
The Reagans are accustomed to violence, but this is close to home:
Their neighbors have been killed; the prime suspect is the victims'
son, who had drug troubles.

TV column for Thursday, Sept. 8


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Football
season-opener celebration and game, 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC.

First comes the party. As home of the
Super Bowl champions, Green Bay, Wis. – the smallest NFL city –
gets to host the celebration, with music by Lady Antebellum, Kid Rock
and Maroon 5.

Then the battles begin, with two strong
teams. The New Orleans Saints (the previous year's champs) have added
former Heisman Trophy-winning running back Mark Ingram to an offense
led by quarterback Drew Brees; the Packers have returned running back
Ryan Grant and tight end Jermichael Finley (both injured last season)
to Aaron Rodgers'offense.

TONIGHT'S SHOULD-SEE: Presidential
speech and Republican esponse, 7 p.m. ET.

Here's a crucial speech – albeit at
an unusual time. It's been nudged around the schedule, avoiding
collision with a Republican debate and then with the pro-football
opener.

Still, this is an important moment.
Fresh from a report that showed zero job growth, President Obama will
propose job-making projects dealing schools, highways, bridges and
more. Republicans will reply that this is the wrong time to spend
more.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Futurama”
season finale, 10 p.m., Comedy Central.

The great thing about animation shows –
clever ones, anyway – is their ability to veer in odd directions.
That happens three times tonight, when the regular stories are
stuffed into different formats.

First is an old-style one – in
black-and-white, no less. Then the early days of videogames, with
blocky characters built from rectangles. And then a Japanese-style
adventure, with stiffly heroic dialog. Each brings a clever style, in
an episode surrounded by reruns at 9, 9:30 and 10:30 p.m.

Other choice include:

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, Raj tries to cure is inability to talk to women.

– “2011 Fall Preview Special,”
8:30 p.m., CBS. With the new season just 11 days a way, CBS previews
its new shows. It's a typical year for the network – few holes to
fill, only five new shows, most of them in the middle-ground. The
best is a sparkling comedy (“2 Broke Girls”); the most unique is
“Person of Interest,” a crime show with a “Lost” feel. The
others are …. well, generally adequate, CBS-style.

– “Rookie Blue,” 9 and 10 p.m.,
ABC. In a change, ABC is putting two episodes together, wrapping up
the season for this solid show (which will be back next summer). In
the first, Gail's uniform has been stolen and a criminal is
impersonating a cop. Also, Andy (Missy Peregrym) and Sam can't stay
apart – even though he's working undercover. That leads to a crisis
that peaks in the second hour.

– “Big Brother,” 9 p.m., CBS.
Last week, Shelly Moore, 41, the outdoor-industry executive, was
evicted. That leaves only five people; tonight – a week before the
finale – one more will be gone

 

– “Most Valuable Players” (2010),
9-11, Oprah Winfrey Network. In Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, high
school musicals are big; there's even an award show (televised live),
picking the best among several schools. This upbeat documentary
follows three schools – two tackling “Les Miserables.”

 – “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
When Patrick Jane is kidnapped, colleagues sift through his past
cases. Their conclusion: There are way too many suspects.

– “Wilfred” and “Louie,” 10
and 10:30 p.m., FX. Two neatly offbeat comedies wrap up their
seasons. First, Ryan finally dares to resist the advice of Wilfred;
then Louie has an airport misadventure.

– “Suits,” 10 p.m., USA. Here's
another season finale, albeit of a flawed show that sometimes turns
its cynicism into a monotone. Tonight, the super-cynical Harvey
finally tries to do the right thing, freeing a man he once helped
convict. The resolution is so-so, but the final moments could shake
next season.