TV column for Friday, Jan. 4


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Football, 8 p.m.
ET, Fox.

The bowl season has plenty of odd-named
games, airing on cable .Here's an exception on both counts.

The network is Fox and the game is the
Cotton Bowl, which has been around since 1937. Texas A & M and
Oklahoma each have 10-2 records; they're ranked No. 9 and 11
respectively in one national poll, No. 10 and 12 in the other.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS.

This solid show keeps finding ways to
mix crime stories with family drama. Here's a prime example.

Danny (the excellent Donnie Wahlberg)
has a big case, involving a sniper has killed two drivers of
gas-guzzler cars. Then Danny's son – out biking with an aunt and a
teen sister – is hit by a car.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Great
Performances,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

It all started when someone gave Paul
Simon an obscure South African tape, “Accordion Jive Hits.” Soon,
he says here, it was his favorite album.”

He traveled to South Africa to jam with
great musicians, then brought them to London and New York. The
result, “Graceland,” sold 14 million albums, won the
album-of-the-year Grammy and launched a mega-tours. It also brought a
backlash, because Simon had ignored a cultural boycott.

This documentary recalls all of that
while following Simon to a 25th-year “Graceland.” It could have
used more music and less verbal repetition, but is still fascinating.

TONIGHT'S ODDITY: “True Justice”
season-opener, 8 p.m. ET, Reelz.

“In case you haven't notice,” a
deputy sheriff says, “Kane isn't the talkative type.”

We noticed and we're grateful. Steven
Seagal, who also produces the show, plays Kane mid-way between stoic
and catatonic; he barely mumbles the the lines.

Fortunately, that's rarely an issue.
Before the opening credits, he's said six words and several people
(with the help of flashbacks) are shot or maimed. It's an episode
that sends the series in a fresh direction – while continuing its
fierce violence and wooden drama.

Other choices include:

– “Merlin,” 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.,
then 10 p.m., rerunning at 11, Syfy. First, the show's entire fourth
season (minus one episode) reruns. Then – after a wrestling break –
the final season begins with the start of a two-parter.” Sir
Percival and Sir Gwaine are captured by Morgana; Arthur and Merlin
try a rescue.

– “Raiders of the Lost Ark”
(1981) and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”(1984), 7 and
9:30 p.m., Spike. First is a truly great movie adventure. George
Lucas' idea was sharply written by Lawrence Kasdan; Steven Spielberg
directed it beautifully, with great help from composer John Williams
and star Harrison Ford. Then is the sequel, which is fairly good.

– “Go On,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC.
Ever since his wife's death, Ryan (Matthew Perry) seems to be burying
his grief. In the first rerun, he's channeling the pain into
compulsive eating. In the second, people try to liven his birthday
with a scavenger hunt.

– “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993),
8 and 10 p.m., Bravo. Already a successful screenwriter, Nora Ehpron
added directing. This is her second film and her first success, a
nimble drama-comedy with Meg Ryan as a radio personality and Tom
Hanks as the lonely widower who phones her show.

– “Shark Tank.” 9 p.m., ABC. One
guy has created miniature tents to go on the picnic table, keeping
each plate bug-free. Two others have combined to make Arkeg, which
conveniently puts a refrigerated beer keg alongside an arcade-type
video machine. There's much more in a fairly interesting hour; one
idea even gets a million-dollar offer.

– “CSI: NY,” 9 p.m., CBS. Two
victims are linked to the same unusual weapon.

– “Portlandia”season-opener, 10
and 10:30 p.m., IFC (Independent Film Channel). Watching TV for the
first time in years, Spyke is shocked to see that his beloved MTV
showing reality shows instead of videos..He and Iris gather past MTV
stars (Kurt Loder, Tabitha Soren) for a takeover. That provides a
clever start for the return of this witty show, starring its
creators, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein.

TV column for Thursday, Jan. 3


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Scandal,” 9
and 10 p.m., ABC.

The first rerun is a strong hour –
written by Shonda Rhimes, the “Grey's Anatomy” and “Scandal”
creator – that pushed “Scandal” in fresh directions.

Fitz, the president, has been shot and
Olivia returns to the White House. Soon, we see flashbacks to their
affair and to the betrayal that left Vice-President Langston (Kate
Burton) bitter at Fitz.

The second rerun finds Olivia leading a
search for the shooter, while hesitantly linking with Langston, who
is now the acting president.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “The Big Bang
Factor” and “Two and a Half Men,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., CBS.

Others networks are in their rerun
mode, but CBS has an all-new night. That starts with the neatly
off-kilter notion of Sheldon being accused of sexual harassment;
soon, the controversy encompasses Leonard, Raj and Howard.

Then “Men” continues a story that
has Walden pretending to be poor, to see if Kate likes him for
himself. That leaves Alan pretending – not reluctantly – to he's
the rich guy with the Malibu beach house; tonight, he invests
Walden's money in Kate's fashion line.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: Football, 8:30
p.m. ET, ESPN.

There's an odd-duck appeal to the
Oregon Ducks, drawing fan appeal. The name and the uniforms are
quirky; the hurry-up offense is fresh, frenzied and effective, the
fourth best in national statistics.

That makes football fun. Tonight, the
Fiesta Bowl has Oregon and Kansas State, each with an 11-1 record.
Oregon is ranked No. 3 in one national poll, No. 5 in the other;
Kansas State is No. 6 and 7.

Other choices include:

– “Nashville,” 8 p.m., ABC. “Last
Resort” gets one more week off, before returning for its final
three episodes. Meanwhile, here's a fresh chance to see the
“Nashville” pilot, with its deeply layered portrait of two
country singers – one (Hayden Panettiere) young and soaring, the
other (Connie Britton) hanging on. There's great music along the way,
especially by a newcomer in the final minutes.

– “30 Rock,” 8 p.m., NBC. Here's
a rerun, four weeks before the series finale. After running into her
old boyfriend Dennis Duffy, Liz is ready to take drastic measures to
start a family.

– “Up All Night,” 8:30 p.m., NBC.
It's wild-party time – Chris with an obnoxious roommate from his
college days, Reagan with her brother, who's organizing a sleepover
for his son.

– “Mr. Cao Goes to Washington,” 9
p.m., PBS (check local listings). Joseph Cao's election defied most
political rules. The first Vietnamese-American congressman, he was a
Republican, elected in 2008 when his district gave Barack Obama 75
percent of its votes. This excellent film follows him through
controversies – health care, oil spill – and into a tough
re-election campaign.

– “Rock Center,” 10 p.m., NBC.
For the second straight week, this news magazine plans a rerun. This
includes Meredith Vieira's interview with Mimi Alford, who says she
was a 19-year-old White House intern when she began an 18-month
affair with President John Kennedy.

– “Elementary,” 10 p.m., CBS. At
an upscale hotel, the manager's body has been found in a washing
machine. Sherlock Holmes seeks clues … and a way to keep Dr. Watson
around.

– “What Not to Wear,” 10 p.m.,
TLC. This show opened one season by finding a new look for Mayim
Bialik. Now it turns to another former teen star, Tiffany.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 2


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Nashville,” 10
p.m., ABC.

Over its first eight episodes, this
well-crafted show has tried to do everything. There's drama, romance
and politics, all backed by a terrific modern-country soundtrack.

Layered dramas like this are tough to
follow if you've missed a few episodes, but now it's time to catch
up: Tonight offers highlights from the first eight episodes; at 8
p.m. Thursday, the pilot film will rerun.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Mike &
Molly,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., CBS.

While waiting for “Survivor” to
return, CBS is filling this hour with reruns. Tonight, this fun show
is boosted by a couple of side characters.

In the first episode, it's Christina
(Holly Robinson Peete); Carl considers her way out of his league. In
the second, it's Mike's mom (Rondi Reed); she's nudged into the work
force.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Willy Wonka
and the Chocolate Factory” (1971) and “Charlie and the Chocolate
Factory” (2005), 6 and 8:30 p.m., ABC Family.

At a time when family films were kind
of bland, “Willy Wonka” was a delight. Roald Dahl adapted his
book about greedy kids and a quirky adult; there was a talented star
(Gene Wilder) and zesty music.

The surprise is that its remake is even
better. Three brilliant talents – director Tim Burton, actor Johnny
Depp and composer Danny Elfman – combined for a film that's sharp,
clever and visually gorgeous.

Other choices include:

– “Mobbed,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox.
This trend – using social media to create instant “flash mobs”
– is interesting, but not something to turn into a TV show. Fox
will air four new episodes over the next two nights, when they should
be easy to ignore.

– Football, 8:30 p.m., ESPN. It's
time for the Sugar Bowl, one of the bigger ones. Florida is 11-1 and
ranked fourth in both national polls; it faces Louisville (10-2),
rated 18th in one and 22nd in the other.

– “Nova,” 9-11 p.m., PBS (check
local listings). In 2010, a volcano in Iceland created international
crises. Now – with the potential for bigger Icelandic blasts –
these hours look at what could happen and what can be done to prepare
for it.

– ”Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Yard sales should help people get rid of things, it doesn't work that
way in this rerun. Phil buys something he doesn't want; Manny learns
a secret about his mom.

--”Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 9 p.m., NBC. Back in 2008, Denis O'Hare played a priest who
heard a key death-bed confession. Now he's back as the same
character, this time brutally beaten; Tutuola's former brother-in-law
has been arrested.

– The Hour, 9 p.m., BBC America. The
six-episode season of this smart British drama ends with big-time
crises. The nightclub has been raided and Cilenti has been arrested
for murder. The news show is eager to report about it, but there's a
catch: Word gets out that its star anchor (Dominic West) has been
nabbed in the raid and was accused by Kiki of beating her.

– “CSI: Crime Scene
Investigation,”10 p.m., CBS. Trouble seems to follow the CSI
people. In this rerun, they go to their favorite diner and find eight
people have been killed.

TV column for Tuesday, Jan. 1 (all times ET)


TODAY'S MUST-SEE: Rose Bowl parade, 11
a.m. to 1 p.m., five channels.

The new year starts with
hangover-friendly fun, including 42 floats, 21 horse units and 23
bands.

For tradition, there's NBC, which has
been televising the parade since1954 and started radio coverage in
1927. Al Roker hosts for the 16th time, this time with
Alison Sweeney.

For a commercial-free telecast, there's
HGTV . Others choices are RFD, ABC and Hallmark.

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

After lots of minor games, ESPN has
three mega-bowls, starting at 1p.m. with the Outback Bowl; South
Carolina (10-2) faces Michigan (8-4). The Rose Bowl, at 5, has
Stanford (11-2) and Wisconsin (8-5); the Orange Bowl, at 8:30, has
Northern Illinois (12-1) and Florida State (11-2).

There's more: At noon, the Gator Bowl,
on ESPN2, has Northwestern (9-3) and Mississippi State (8-4); the
Heart of Dallas Bowl, on ESPNU, has Purdue (6-6) and Oklahoma State
(7-5). At 1 p.m., the Capital One Bowl on ABC has Georgia (11-2) and
Nebraska (10-3).

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Great
Performances,” 9:30-11 p.m., PBS.

During Broadway's golden era, experts
say here, virtually every great composer was Jewish. The exception
was Cole Porter … who floundered until he focused on capturing the
Jewish style.

Their musicals – “Oklahoma” and
“Carousel” and such – were often mid-American, but themes of
bigotry appeared in “Showboat,” “South Pacific” and more.
Finally, the 1964 “Fiddler on the Roof” directly addressed the
Jewish experience. This is a big tale, filled with great clips and
stories.

Other choices include:

– More “Great Performances,” 8-9:30 p.m., PBS. Here's the annual New Year's
Day concert from Vienna, with waltzes by the Strausses and dancers
from the Vienna Ballet.

– “Dream Home,” 7 p.m., HGTV. In
it annual tradition, HGTV follows the parade with lots of specials
showing exotic homes, swimming pools and recreational vehicles. That
peaks with the first look at the South Carolina island home that one
viewer will win.

-- More “Great Performances,” 8-9:30 p.m., PBS. Here's the annual New Year's
Day concert from Vienna, with waltzes by the Strausses and dancers
from the Vienna Ballet.

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. Last
season ended when Harper Dearing's bomb ripped through the NCIS
headquarters. Here's a rerun of the season-opener, as the search for
Dearing intensifies

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Sam disappears during a dangerous mission to Sudan.

– “Nashville,” 10 p.m., ABC. As
an actress married to a country-music star (Brad Paisley) Kimberly
Williams-Paisley neatly fits this show. Here's a rerun of the episode
that introduced her as someone from the shaky past of Rayna's
husband, the mayoral candidate.

TV column for Monday, Dec. 31 (all timesET)


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “New Year's
Rockin' Eve,” 8-11 p.m., 11:30 to 2:12 a.m., ABC.

The plan that Dick Clark created in
1972 still works: Tape a party in advance in California, then
intercut it neatly with live coverage from Times Square in New York.

Now it's grown to six hours, with live
music from New York, with Taylor Swift, Carly Rae Jepsen, Neon Trees
and Psy. The first two hours celebrate the life of Clark, who died in
April at 82.

Ryan Seacrest hosts and does the
countdown, with Jenny McCarthy working the crowd; Fergie hosts the
California party, with Pitbull, Karmin, Brandy, One Republic, Greyson
Chance and Flo Rida.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “New Year's
Eve,” 10-11 p.m., 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., NBC.

Carson Daly has become an Eve veteran –
first at MTV and now on NBC … where he takes advantage of his
strength as host of “The Voice.”

That show's new winner, Cassadee Pope,
will perform in New York; so will Train. And the “Voice” judges
will comment about the year; so will Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon, Amy
Poehler and Donald Trump.

Angela Kinsey (“The Office”) will
be on Times Square and Daly will lhave clips of the year in music,
from Madonna at the Super Bowl to the .Spice Girls at the Olympics
and Psy everywhere.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “Enchanted”
(2007), 8-10 p.m., NBC.

Life is full of tough transitions, but
few this extreme: A cartoon princess becomes a live-action person.

The brief cartoon portions are a
delight and the rest is fun, with Amy Adams and three Oscar-nominated
songs. Ironically, all three lost to “Falling Slowly,” from
“Once.”

Other choices include:

– Football, noon, 3:30 p.m. and 7:30
p.m., ESPN. The Music City Bowl in Nashville has home-town Vanderbilt
(8-4) and North Carolina Stage (7-5). Then the Liberty Bowl in
Memphis has Tulsa (10-3) and Iowa State (6-6). At night, the
Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta has LSU and Clemson, each 10-2.

– More football, 2 p.m., CBS. In an
odd twist, a team with a losing record has a bowl game. That's
Georgia Tech, 6-7; if faces Southern Cal, 7-5, in the Sun Bowl, in El
Paso.

– “Live From Lincoln Center,” 8
p.m., PBS (check local listings). Marvin Hamlisch thrived as a
composer for Broadway (“A Chorus Line,” “They're Playing Our
Song”) and movies (“The Sting,” “The Way We Were”) and as a
conductor. Now, after his death in April at 68, his music is done by
the New York Philharmonic, plus Josh Groban, Michael Feinstein, Megan
Hilty, Kelli O'Hara and more.

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8 and
8:30 p.m., CBS. A night of CBS reruns starts with Barney planning to
move in with Quinn (Becki Newton); his friends vow to break them up.
Then Ted finally meets the woman he's obsessed on since seeing her in
a “slutty pumpkin” costume; she's played by Katie Holmes.

– “2 Broke Girls,” 9 p.m., CBS.
Having barely opened their cupcake shop, Max and Caroline already
have trouble paying the rent. They link with some suspicious
customers.

– “The Walking Dead,” 9 p.m. to
5:08 p.m., AMC. There's nothing quite like spending New Year's Eve
with some zombies. Here's the entire, eight-episode portion from this
first half of the season.

– “Hawaii Five-0,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Gov. Denning is firing one of the team's members.

– More New Year's Eve. Fox is in Las
Vegas from 11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., with Lifehouse, Phillip Phillips
and Carmen Electra. And in a late addtion, CNN is in New York from 10
p.m. to 1 a.m., with Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin.