TV column for Monday, Dec.21

“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., CBS.

Fresh from its
pivotal (and hilarious) episode -- with Sheldon and Amy finally
having sex -- “Big Bang” visits its old night. It brings two
exceptionally good reruns.

The first has
big-laugh moments, when Leonard and Howard see an experiment site
contaminated; they call Raj for help. The second has Raj scheming,
when his parents cut him off financially; it also has a solid piece
of drama, when Leonard delivers a heartfelt commencement speech.

“Superstore” and “Telenovela,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC.

Can two opposites
co-exist in one hour? We'll see next month, when these comedies
temporarily share this hour; first, they each rerun their pilot

“Superstore” is
quiet and subtle, an ordinary-folks comedy about co-workers; it grows
on you slowly, as the actors (led by America Ferrera and Ben Feldman)
bring their characters to life. “Telenovela” is bright and
flashy, grabbing our attention with Eva Longoria as the fretting star
of a Spanish-language soap opera. The first is more clever, the
second is more fun.

ALTERNATIVE: “A Place to Call Home” season-opener, any time,

Amid the sweeping
beauty of rural Australia, viewers met Sarah Adams. An earnest nurse
in the 1950s, she had returned – for the first time in 20 years –
to a town dominated by the wealthy Blighs. She stuck with her husband
Rene through his post-war mental collapse, but fell for George Bligh.

Last season ended
mid-crisis – George shot, the scheming Regina wrestling Rene for
the rifle. Some people have compared this to “Downton Abbey,”
which is pointing too high; like ABC's Thursday dramas, this plunges
skillful actors into stark, soapy stories. You can sample three
episodes today.

Other choices

(2007), 4:30-6:30 p.m., ABC Family. In the avalanche of Christmas
movies, there are occasional gems. That includes this one,
beautifully written and directed, with a clever concept. A young
woman (the luminous Christina Milian) finds herself in a perfect
world, inside a snowglobe.

Christmas animation,
7:30 to 10 p.m., Disney. Last year's fairly good “Toy Story That
Time Forgot” is followed by the 1974 “Year Without a Santa Claus”
and 1976 “Rudolph's Shiny New Year,” at 8 and 9.

“Gotham,” 8
p.m., Fox. The old war between the Wayne family and the Galavans
resurfaces in this rerun. Now Galavan and Penguin link with a
dangerous bunch; Gordon tries to maintain order.

“A Saturday Night
Live Christmas,” 9-11 p.m., NBC. Here are sketches – some of them
quite funny – from four decades. They range from Dan Aykroyd as a
heartless toy mogul to Fred Armisen as head elf.

“Supergirl,” 9
p.m., CBS. In a rerun, we see the return of Helen Slater – star of
the “Supergirl” movie, back in 1984. She was introduced in the
pilot as Kara's stepmother; now she arrives for Thanksgiving and may
disapprove of the new public-hero status. Also, a new villain,
Livewire, emerges.

“Scorpion,” 10
p.m., CBS. Running an hour later than usual (as does “Supergirl”),
this reruns last year's Christmas episode. The team scrambles to
rescue a young boy trapped in a seaside cave.

“The Great Holiday
Baking Show” finale, 10 p.m., ABC. We're down to the final three
bakers. That's preceded by two more hours of the glittery “Great
Christmas Light Fight.”

TV column for Sunday, Dec.20

Miss Universe, 7-10 p.m., Fox.

Back in July, the
Miss USA pageant proceeded amid chaos. NBC co-owned the pageant (and
Miss Universe) with Donald Trump, but refused to air it after his
immigration comments. It ended up on Reelz; where few people saw
Olivia Jordan – a 5-foot-11 actress from Tulsa -- crowned.

Now the pageants
have been sold to WME-IMG and are ready for a fresh start; Jordan is
one of 80 contestants in Las Vegas. Steve Harvey hosts; Seal, Charlie
Puth and The Band Perry perform.

II: “The Sound of Music” (1965) sing-along, 7-11 p.m., ABC.

A half-century ago,
Hollywood had almost forgotten Broadway musicals. Then this arrived
with a so-so story, but the right star (Julie Andrews, fresh from her
“Mary Poppins” Oscar), gorgeous backdrops and the soaring
Rodgers-and-Hammerstein songs.

It won five Academy
Awards (including best picture), was nominated for five more
(including Andrews) and keeps return. This time, we can sing along,
with the words on the screen.

ALTERNATIVE: James Bond films, cable.

Even at
Christmastime, people love Bond. Tonight, we can choose between the
Daniel Craig version (tougher, more intense, less charming) and the
Pierce Brosnan one (more fun).
Brosnan's “The World is Not
Enough” (1999) is 5 p.m. and 2 a.m. on BBC America; try to forgive
the casting of Denise Richards as a nuclear physicis in hotpants.
Craig's first Bond, “Casino Royale” (2006), is 8 and 11 p.m. on
BBC America; it overcomes an overwrought opener and a so-so poker
scene; his third, “Skyfall” (2012) is 6-9 p.m. on Syfy.

Other choices

Football preview, 7
p.m. ET, and game, 8:20 , NBC. Using its “flex-schedule” option,
NBC dumped the Bengal-49ers game, which was moved to 4:25 p.m. ET on
CBS. Instead, it has Arizona at Philadelphia. The Cardinals (11-2)
could cinch their division title today; the Eagles are only 6-7, but
they've won two straight and are tied for first in their division.

(1984), 7:25 p.m., Comedy Central. This one is always fun for kids or
grown-ups, mixing sight gags with the droll wit of Bill Murray and
Dan Aykroyd.

“Undercover Boss”
season-opener, 8:30 p.m. (or later, with football overrun), CBS. The
“sauce king of Cincinnati” -- with 66 Buffalo Wings & Rings
sites – goes undercover. There will be two more Sunday episodes,
before “Boss” takes a temporary spot on Fridays.

“Madam Secretary,”
9:30 (or later), CBS. This reruns a strong episode from last March,
with Elizabeth flying to Iran, hoping to prevent a coup.

“Into the
Badlands,” 10 p.m., AMC. The brief first season of this visually
impressive (albeit violent) series concludes, with Sunny and his
protege trying to escape the baron's grip. There were only five
previous hours and you can catch them all, starting at 5 p.m.

“CSI: Cyber,”
10:30 (or later), CBS. A cyber-Robin Hood steals from banks and gives
to the poor.

Christmas Carol,” 11:30 p.m., ABC Family. Record this half-hour gem
and watch it during a mellow moment. There are few laughs for the
kids, but the visuals are gorgeous. This follows the zillionth run of
two good comedies -- “Christmas Vacation” (1989) at 7 p.m. and
“Elf” (2003) at 9:15.

TV column for Saturday, Dec. 19

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

Let's think of this
as superstar Saturday. And we mean real superstars, not just people
with reality shows and magazine covers. Other shows (see below) have
Mariah Carey, Steven Tyler and more.

And “SNL”? Bruce
Springsteen is the music guest, for only the third time in 23 years.
For the host, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler combine ... just as they did
(very well, mostly) at the Golden Globes and on the “Weekend
Update” desk; we'll hope they invade “Update” tonight.

“Imagine: John Lennon 75th Birthday Concert,” 9-11
p.m., AMC.

With his classic
song, John Lennon told us to imagine a world as it should be. Now
we'll imagine one in which he wasn't slain 35 years ago. Stars
belatedly (by two months) celebrate his birthday.

The line-up has
people from country (Willie Nelson, Eric Church, Chris Stapleton,
Kris Kristofferson), rock and pop. There's John Fogerty, Sheryl Crow,
Peter Frampton, Juanes, Aloe Blacc, Tyler, The Roots, Pat Monahan of
Train, Brandan Flowers of The Killers and Tom Morello of Rage Against
the Machine, plus Yoko Ono and (by video) Paul McCartney and Ringo

ALTERNATIVE: “The Wizard of Oz” (1939). 7 and 9:20 p.m., TNT;
and/or “The Wiz,” 8-11 p.m., NBC.

A great story gets
two very different treatments. TNT has the classic version, with
heart, brains, Judy Garland and a song soaring over the rainbow; NBC
reruns its recent, live producton.

This was the stuffed
with ambition, rhythm-and-blues music and stars -- Queen Latifah,
Mary J. Blige, Ne-Yo, Common, Elijay Kelley, David Alan Grier, teen
newcomer Shanice Williams and more. It revived the live-musical
notion that had faded last year with “Peter Pan.”

Bowl games, all day.

This is the first
day of the bowl season, but don't look for the Rose, Orange or
Cotton. We're in a new, 40-bowl world that inludes odd names (Belk
Bowl, Foster Farms Bowl) and losing teams. At 7 p.m. ET, for
instance, the Cure Bowl (CBS Sports) has San Jose State (5-7) and
Georgia State (6-6).

Also: Alcorn State
and North Carolina A&T , Celebration Bowl, noon ET, ABC; Arizona
(6-6) and New Mexico (7-5), New Mexico Bowl, 2 p.m., ESPN; Utah and
BYU (both 9-3), Las Vegas Bowl, 3:30, ABC; Ohio (8-4) and Appalachia
State (9-2), 5:30, ESPN; Louisiana Tech (8-4) and Arkansas State
(9-3), New Orleans Bowl, 9 p.m.. ESPN.

Other choices

“Saving Private
Ryan” (1998), 5 and 9 p.m., IFC. Like “Oz” -- but in a
different way, filled with wartime death and despair – this is one
of the all-time great films.

Fight night (Fox)
and Democratic presidential debate (ABC), both 8 p.m. ET. It's Dos
Anjos vs. Cerrone and Clinton vs. Sanders. The former one is expected
to have rules that are clearly enforced.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, a Marine is found dead, clutching a photo of a
student now at the military academy he attended. Tony, who also went
to the school, goes there to investigate.

“A Christmas
Melody,” 8-10 p.m., Hallmark. Mariah Carey has conquered music with
18 No. 1 singles, but has had little success with movies. Now she
tries anew as director and co-star. Lacey Chabert plays a talented
fashion designer; divorced, she closes her Manhattan boutique and
moves with her daughter to her home town ... where her long-ago
nemesis (Carey) still reigns.

“Criminal Minds,”
9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, someone is killing people who are big on
social media.

Vacation” (1989), 9:45 p.m., ABC Family. Here's a fun holiday film,
with wit and Chevy Chase. It wraps an ABC Family day that includes
Christmas cartoons from 12:30 p.m. to 5:15 p.m.

TV column for Friday, Dec. 18

“Live From Lincoln Center,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local

For the second time
this month, we get an all-star show, stuffed with songs that have
been sung by Frank Sinatra. Both mark the 100th
anniversary of Sinatra's birth; which was Feb. 12.

Since this one is in
New York and is on PBS, it has plenty of people with Broadway
experience. That includes Benradette Peters, Sting, Fantasia and
two-time Tony-winner Sutton Foster. Also performing are Christina
Aguilera, host Seth MacFarlane, trumpeter Chris Botti and the New
York Philharmonic.

“ A Home for the Holidays,” 9-10 p.m., CBS.

Aguilera competes
with herself tonight, singing on this show and the PBS one.

“Home” is an
annual tribute to adoption, each year introducing passionate films
about real-life families. LL Cool J hosts this year, with music by Ed
Sheeran, Jason DeRulo, Rascal Flatts and Aguilera.

ALTERNATIVE: “Billboard Women in Music,” 8-10 p.m., Lifetime.

A night stuffed with
music will peak, perhaps, when we see Lady Gaga receive the Woman of
the Year award and sing “Til It Happens to You.”

The ceremonty was
taped last Friday, with several of the other honorees performing;
they included Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Tori Kelly, Kelsea
Ballerini, Brittany Howard (of Alabama Shakes) and Fifth Harmony.
Also honored: Missy Elliott, Loretta Lynn and Lana Del Rey.

ALTERNATIVE II: Cartoon overload, 8-9 p.m., everywhere.

Suddenly, the big
networks are clogged with Christmas cartoons. The best may be the
amiable “Frosty the Snowman” (8 p.m., CBS), but the worst may be
“Frosty Returns” (8:30, CBS).

The CW counters with
“Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” from 8-9 p.m. ABC does
rerun the non-cartoon “Last Man Standing” at 8 (Kristin feels
undermined when opening the new grill), but follows with the “Yes,
Virginia” cartoon at 8:31.

Other choices

Junior,” 8-9 p.m., Fox. First, kids cook for grandmothers. (Isn't
it usually the other way around?) Then – after only a blind tasting
– they try to match something Gordon Ramsay made.

“A Christmas
Carol,” 8 p.m., TNT (1999) and 9:30 p.m., AMC (1984). Two great
actors offer blistering versions of Scrooge in lush productions. It's
Patrick Stewart on TNT, George C. Scott on AMC.

“Kingsman: The
Secret Service” (2015), 8 p.m., HBO. Colin Firth is a master of all
things British, from kings to commoners, so why not also have him
play an unflappable secret agent? Skillfully mixing humor, action and
style, this entertaining film compared well to this year's stiff “Man
From Uncle.”

Funniest,” 9 p.m., Fox. Here's the season finale for a show that
celebrates Internet failure.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, Erin finds that someone has broken into her
apartment and has assaulted her co-worker. Meanwhile, her brother
Jamie finds a pipe bomb in an old woman's apartment; their dad, the
police commissioner, probes someone collecting money for the police.

“Just in Time for
Christmas,” 10 p.m., Hallmark. If you haven't seen this TV movie
yet, catch it now. Its plot – a chance to see a path not taken –
is copycat, but it has a terrific star (Eloise Mumford) and the rich
production values we expect from every “Hall of Fame” movie.

TV column for Thursday, Dec. 17

“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS.

TV's best comedy
offers perhaps its best episode ... one that many viewers never
thought would happen: Sheldon – perplexed about all people and
(especially) women – ponders intimacy with Amy.

“Big Bang” has
always treated its characters with love and amusement. It spotlights
their flaws –big, gaping ones – while making them thoroughly
likable. Jim Parsons (who already has four Emmys for this role) and
Mayim Bialik (who deserves one now) bring warmth and humor. And
there's fun around them, including the “Star Wars” opening and
Bob Newhart as the ghost of Professor Proton.

“Running Wild With Bear Grylls,” 10 p.m., NBC.

This summer, viewers
saw Grylls plunge into the wilderness with intereting people, from
Drew Brees to Kate Hudson. Now we see a different sort of celebrity –
President Obama.

They're in Alaska
(with Secret Service people nearby, off-camera) walking a dense
forest and a glacial outwash. Along the way, they discuss global
warming and munch on salmon that Grylls found (after a bear had
chomped on it) and cooked. It's not exactly a White House dinner.

ALTERNATIVE: “How Murray Saved Christmas,” 8-9 p.m., NBC.

Mike Reiss writes
and produces “The Simpsons,” but he also wrote a book stuffed
with Seuss-quality wit and rhymes. Now he's turned it into the best
Christmas special since the Grinch and Charlie Brown.

The town of Stinky
Cigar (named to discourage tourism) is home to holiday figures, from
Santa to Cupid. Then disaster strikes; only Murray (Jerry Stiller),
the crabby deli guy, can save the day.

Other choices

“Disney Prep &
Landing” and its sequel, 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC. Christmas cartoons
collide, when NBC's “Murray” faces these two. Quick, slick and
fairly amusing, they show us Santa's high-tech team.

“iHeart Radio
Jingle Ball,” 8-9:30 p.m., CW. Christmas music gets a youthful feel
here, with Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, Nick Jonas, 5 Seconds of
Summer, Calvin Harris, The Weeknd and more.

“American Country
Countdown's Top 10 Stories of 2015,” 8-9 p.m., Fox. While pop music
bounces around CW, Fox counters with country. Darius Rucker hosts and
includes concert performances by Carrie Underwood, Jason Aldean ad
Little Big Town.

“Blake Shelton's
Not So Family Christmas,” 9 p.m, NBC. This was sort of a family
Christmas in 2012, with music from Shelton and then-wife Miranda
Lambert; they divorced this year. Also in this rerun are Kelly
Clarkson, Christina Aguilera, Reba McEntire and comedians Jay Leno
and Larry the Cable Guy.

“Mom,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Octavia Spencer (an Oscar-winner for “The Help”) is back as
Regina. When she insists she's not an alcoholic, Christy and Bonnie
try to be supportive.

season-opener, 9-11:45 p.m., BBC America. Seething with intensity,
this series has already brought Idris Elba a Golden Globe plus three
more Globe nominations and three Emmy nominations. Now it returns,
with Luther on leave from his police job ... until a cannibalistic
killer emerges.

“The 10 Most
Fascinating People of 2015,” 9:30-11 p.m., ABC. Barbara Walters
includes some movie/TV people (Amy Schumer, Bradley Cooper, Tracy
Morgan), but also has ballerina Misty Copeland, fighter Ronda Rousey,
designer Dona Karan, politician Bernie Sanders and surprises.