TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 25


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “How the Grinch
Stole Christmas,” 8 p.m., ABC.

For ABC, today brings pure Americana –
a parade, basketball and then a cartoon classic.

That's the great “Grinch.” It
started with Dr. Seuss' funny-yet-warm story, then was brilliantly
animated by Chuck Jones;.he hired Boris Karloff to narrate, Thurl
Ravenscroft to sing and June Foray as Cindy Lou Who. A masterpiece
had the voices of Frankenstein's monster, Tony the Tiger and Rocky
Squirrel.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Leverage,”
10 p.m., TNT.

At its best, this drama has been smart,
passionate and relentless. Bitter about the insurance company that
let his son die, Nate (Timothy Hutton) has led a clever crew to cheat
cheaters.

At its worst, the plots gets
far-fetched. Still, we'd bet this is one of the good ones. Producers
assume it will be the final new hour after a five-year run; they've
scheduled what can function as the finale, with going back to the
people who doomed his son.

TODAY'S ALTERNATIVE: “Christmas Day
Parade,” 10 a.m. to noon, ABC (check local listings).

For 29 years, this special has offered
an upbeat backdrop for post-Santa families. Cheery parade scenes are
sandwiched between pre-recorded music numbers.

Two of the top country acts (Lady
Antebellum and Brad Paisley) perform, plus Christian-music people
(Yolanda Adams, TobyMac) and lots of pop people.There's Colbie
Caillat, the Backstreet Boys, “American Idol” winner Phillip
Phillips and “Austin & Ally” star Ross Lynch.

Other choices include:

– Jim Carrey overload. Carrey starts
and ends this holiday as two of its most famous villains. That's in
“A Christmas Carol” (2009) at 7 a.m. on ABC Family and “How the
Grinch Stole Christmas” movie (2000), at 9 p.m. on ABC. In between?
“Carol” reruns at 5 p.m. on ABC Family; also, Carrey voices the
title role in “Horton Hears a Who” 2008, at 8 p.m. on NBC.

– More movies, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.,
ABC Family. The final day of “25 Days of Christmas” has Tim
Allen's “Santa Clause” trilogy at 11 a.m. (1994) 1 p.m. (2002)
and 3 p.m. (2006). That's followed by; Carrey's “Carol” at 5
p.m., “Home Alone” (1990) at 7 p.m. and “ChristmasVacation”
(1989) at 9.

– Basketball, all day. By switching
channels, the obsessed can catch five games with the NBA's top teams.
ESPN has Celtics-Nets at noon, Rockets-Bulls at 8 p.m. and
Nuggets-Clippers at 10:30. ABC has Knicks-Lakers at 3 p.m. and
Thunder-Heat (which sounds like a weather warning) at 5:30.

– “New Girl,” 8-10 p.m., Fox. The
first two reruns involve Schmidt's office party and a holiday-party
overload. The third has Schmidt on strike from chores; in the fourth,
Jess faces a school bully.

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun
from last December, the team races on Christmas Eve to find and
protect the pregnant woman whose companion, a Navy captain, was
killed.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. This rerun has two imposing and important tasks: Sam seeks a
tough-to-find Christmas gift for his daughter; the team seeks a
device that could destroy Los Angeles.

– “Vegas,” 10 p.m., CBS. This
starts an arc of episodes with a Chicago mobster (Jonathan Banks of
“Breaking Bad”) who gives Savino (Michael Chiklis) fresh fears.

– “Blake Shelton's Not-So-Family
Christmas,” 10 p.m., NBC. This rerun links Shelton with strong
female voices – Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera, Reba McEntire
and his wife, Miranda Lambert.

TV column for Monday, Dec. 24


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “A Christmas
Story” (1983), 8 p.m., 10 p.m, midnight and beyond, TBS.

On a night stuffed with Christmas
classics, this 24-hour marathon stands out. Don't expect sweetness;
it's Jean Shepherd's darkly funny account of the holiday in the
1940s.

All the pitfalls are here – the scary
Santa, the ditzy dad, the playground kids daring you to stick your
tongue on a cold pole. And, of course, parents insisting “you'll
shoot your eye out” with a BB gun.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: “Raising
Hope,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

Fox's Tuesday comedies have been slick,
smart and ignored. Now each has a mini-marathon this week.

That starts with a “Wonderful Life”
take-off, showing what Jimmy would be like if he hadn't met Hope's
serial-killer mom. At 8:30, his mom frets about the end of the world.
At 9 is the two-parter in which his grandma (Cloris Leachman) is
taken by a social worker; the family schemes to break her out.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “It's a
Wonderful Life” (1946), 8-11 p.m., NBC.

This started as a 24-page story Philip
Stern sent to friends at Christmas, about the impact one man can
have. Great writers – including Clifford Odets, Dalton Trumbo and
Dorothy Parker – tried adapting it.

Then it clicked with director Frank
Capra and star Jimmy Stewart. The result, Frank Thompson wrote in
“Great Christmas Movies” (Taylor Publishing, 1998), “is perhaps
the ultimate Christmas film.”

Other choices include:

– Movies, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., ABC
Family. The 24th day of this network's “25 Days of
Christmas” starts a six-movie string with the excellent “Willy
Wonka” (1971). Then is “Polar Express” (2004) at 1 p.m., the
“Santa Clause” film at 3 (1994), 5 (2002) and 7 p.m. (2006) and
“Home Alone” (1990) at 9.

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8 and
8:30, CBS. The first rerun has Ted trying to make amends with a
girlfriend he cheated on long ago. The second introduces Quinn,
played by Becki Newton of “Ugly Betty”; she's Barney's blind date
on Valentine's Day.

– “Prep & Landing,” 8 p.m.,
ABC. This sharp cartoon catches Santa's high-tech advance crew.

– Football, 8 p.m., ESPN. On any
wintry day, it's fun to watch people bask in Honolulu warmth. So
here's the Hawaii Bowl, with Fresno State (9-3) and Southern
Methodist (6-6)

– “Shrek the Halls” and “Shrek
the Third” (2007), 8:30 and 9-11 p.m., ABC. Neither of these – a
Christmas special and a movie sequel – captures the quality of the
original “Shriek.” Still, both could keep kids from overobsessing
on Santa.

– “2 Broke Girls,” 9 p.m., CBS.
Caroline has never before been broke at Christmas time. To make
money, she and Max works as department-store Santas.

– “Mike & Molly,” 9:30 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun from last December, Molly's in a holiday funk because
she didn't get the promotion she'd expected.

– “Hawaii Five-0,” 10 p.m., CBS.
A murder victim, dressed as a long-ago Hawaiian warrior, is found
near a war-reenactment site. This reruns includes two athletes –
baseball's Shane Victorino as a business executive on retreat and
Olympic skater Apolo Ohno as a historian.

– Christmas services, 11:35 p.m., NBC
and CBS. NBC has live coverage at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome; CBS
is at Hope Lutheran Church in Reading, Pa.

TV column for Sunday, Dec. 23


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “The Good Wife,”
about 9 p.m., CBS.

The season started amid swirling
troubles. The law firm faced bankruptcy; Kalinda faced Nick, her
ex-husband, who wanted to love and/or kill her.

That brought this strong rerun, with
Marc Warren as an intense Nick and Nathan Lane as a deceptively
clever financial trustee. Then there's the main story, with Alicia's
son stopped by an overzealous highway cop; like the other plot lines,
that comes with neat surprises.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “The Sound of
Music,” 7-11 p.m., ABC.

You can say a lot about this film's
flaws, including a so-so (albeit true) plot. Still, it has soaring
Rodgers-and-Hammerstein songs, a lovely setting and a superb star.

That's Julie Andrews as a nun-to-be who
becomes governess for the children of the widowed Captain Von Trapp.
The film won five Oscars, including best picture and director (Robert
Wise). Andrews – who won the previous year for “Mary Poppins” –
lost to Julie Christie in “Darling.”

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: “E.T.”
(1983), 6 and 8:30 p.m., TV Guide; “Lord of the Rings” trilogy
(2001, 2002, 2003), 11:40 a.m., 3:20 and 7 p.m., TNT.

Few movies have it all – a great
action filmmaker and a warm, intelligent story. These films do.

“E.T.” (1982) starts with Melissa
Mathison's spare story about a boy and his alien. Director Steven
Spielberg provided rich emotion and then stirring adventure.

“Lord of the Rings” started with
much more – J.R.R. Tolkein's imposing novels. Filming in his native
New Zealand, Peter Jackson got great visuals. The final movie goes
overboard with about seven endings, but is still a worthy finish to a
great epic.

Other choices include:

– “Miracle on 34th
Street” (1994), all day, AMC. The remake of this Christmas classic
features pretty pictures and likable stars. Richard Attenborough and
young Mara Wilson step into roles originated by Edmund Gwenn and
Natalie Wood. It's at 6:30, 8:45and 11 a.m., at 1:15, 3:30, 5:45, 8
and 10:30 p.m., then late-night at 1 and 3:15 a.m.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” about 8
p.m., CBS. In a transplanted rerun, the team heads to Mexico,
searching for hazardous material.

– “Christmas at Luther,” 8 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). This new music special has more than 500
voices and an orchestra at Luther College in Iowa.

– “The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox. In
a rerun, Lisa is sneaking off to secret meetings. Meanwhile, her mom
startles people by saying she might want a fourth child.

– Football, 8:20 p.m., NBC. In a
“flex schedule” shift, NBC replaces the Chargers-Jets game with
one featuring two hot teams. The San Francisco 49ers – 10-3-1 and a
blink away from cinching the division title – visit the Seattle
Mariners, 9-5, who have won their last two games by a combined 108-17.

– “The Mentalist,” about 10 p.m.,
CBS. On the night his “E.T.” airs twice, Henry Thomas guests in
this rerun. He plays Lisbon's brother, a bounty-hunter she meets when
probing the murder of a police chief.

TV column for Saturday, Dec. 22


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Movies, TNT or
Turner Classic Movies.

Deep in Turner vaults are some of the
great moments in movie history. Here are two.

For families, “The Wizard of Oz”
(1939) is at 7 and 9:15 p.m. on TNT. Here's that ideal blend of
whimsy and intelligence, plus a talented star (Judy Garland) and
great music.

For grown-ups (and bitter teens),
“Rebel Without a Cause” (1955) is at 8 p.m. on Turner Classic
Movies. A teen-angst tale adds rich depth, thanks to director
Nicholas Ray and his gifted young stars, led by James Dean, Natalie
Wood, Sal Mineo, Dennis Hopper and Nick Adams.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Made in
Jersey,” 8 and 9 p.m., CBS.

Yanked from the air after two episodes,
this show has been sitting on a CBS shelf. Now it's scheduled for
four new hours on the next two Saturdays.

Janet Montgomery plays your TV version
of a New Jersey woman, with big hair, quick mind and quicker mouth.
She's been elevated to doing murder cases at an upscale Manhattan law
firm.

In the first, she's suspicious of the
account of a jewelry-store heist gone bad. In the second, a nightclub
owner is accused of killing his friend and business partner.

TODAY'S ALTERNATIVE: Cartoons, 7 a.m.
to noon, ABC Family.

On a day stuffed with Christmas
specials, all the best are before noon.

At 7 and 8:30 a.m. are “Mickey's Once
Upon a Christmas” (1999) and “Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas”
(2004). Each is a made-for-video trilogy using classic characters.

That's followed by the two “Prep &
Landing” half-hours at 10 (one reruns at 8 p.m. on ABC), the
gorgeous “Mickey's Christmas Carol” at 11 and “Winnie the Pooh
and Christmas Too” at 11:30.

Other choices include:

– Football, noon and 3:30 p.m., ESPN.
At least these bowl games don't have silly titles; each is named
after a fun city. The New Orleans Bowl has East Carolina (8-4) and
Louisiana-Lafayette (7-4); the Las Vegas Bowl has Boise State (10-2)
and Washington (7-5).

– Chipmunk choice, everywhere. Want
the 1981 cartoon “A Chipmunk Christmas”? It's at noon on ABC
Family and at 8:30 p.m. on ABC. Prefer a live-action (mostly) mix of
Jason Lee and animation? FX has “Alvin and the Chipmunks” (2007)
at 8 p.m. and its sequel (2009) at 10.

– “Santa Clause” trilogy, 6, 8
and 10 p.m., ABC Family. The clever original (1994) airs at 6,
followed by the OK sequesls at 8 (2002) and 10 (2006).

– “CMA Country Christmas,” 9-11
p.m., ABC. This rerun has great moments from host Jennifer Nettles
(eight months pregnant when this was taped), John Legend, Little Big
Town, Martina McBride, the Band Perry and more. There are also
memories, some light (as kids, the Perrys got a horse and carriage
for Christmas) and not. “I really took a crazy, dark, twisting road
to get here,” Keith Urban admits.

– “Saturday Night Live,”10 p.m.,
NBC. Here's a shortened version of last week's episode. In a nod to
the school shooting the previous day, it opened with a lovely “Silent
Night” by a children's choir. Then Martin Short had a vibrant
opening number and (later) a hilarious sketch as a Palace official,
lecturing Kate Middleton's gynecologist. Paul McCartney is the music
guest.

– “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29
p.m., NBC. Bruno Mars doubles as host and music guest in this rerun.

TV column for Friday, Dec. 21


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Christmas music,
8p.m., NBC and TNT.

NBC reruns Michael Buble's special,
with Blake Shelton, Carly Rae Jepsen, Rod Stewart and Elmo. TNT
counters with “Christmas in Washington,” a classy, annual event.

This year's concert is strong on
reality-show people – “American Idol” winner Scotty McReery,
“Voice” finalist Chris Mann and “X Factor” judge Demi
Lovato. Conan O'Brien hosts and also has Megan Hilty of “Smash”
and Diana Ross; Psy closes the show with, of course, “Gangnam
Style.”

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: “Back to the
Beginning, with Christiane Amanpour,” 9-11 p.m., ABC.

Amanpour often finds herself covering
wars that, she wrote, have “something to do with religion.”

Her own life is the opposite of that
anger, with a Christian mother, Shi'ite Muslim father and Jewish
husband. “The blood of three great peoples runs through the veins
of my son,” she wrote.

So Amanpour spent a year in the Holy
Land and the Heartland, studying the stories and the impact of
Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus.

TONIGHT'S ALTERNATIVE: End-of-the-world
specials, cable.

This is the final day (Dec.21, 2012) of
the Mayan calendar, causing some people to assume the world is
ending. Naturally, cable steps in.

CNBC has “Apocalypse 2012” at 8
p.m. National Geographic has “Evacuate Earth” at 8 and “The
Mayan Apocalypse 2012” from 9-11; it repeats these from 11 p.m. to
2 a.m. …when, we assume, Mayans somewhere can start hurriedly
making a new calendar.

But the biggest splash is “2012:
(2009), at 8 and 11:30p.m. on FX. John Cusack tries to keep his
family safe as the planet crumbles from volcanoes, earthquakes,
tsunamis and more.

Other choices include:

– Football, 7:30 p.m., ESPN. Bowl
season gains speed, even if the games have non-prestigious names.
This is the Beef 'O' Brady Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla., Central
Florida (9-4) and Ball State (9-3).

– “The Happy Elf,” 8 p.m., CW. An
ordinary story is propelled by terrific music, with Harry Connick Jr.
as narrator, singer and music director. It's followed at 9 by
“Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.”

– “Last Man Standing,” 8 p.m.,
ABC. In a rerun, Boyd's kindergarten has banned volleyball. Mike (Tim
Allen) starts a sort of underground, after-school league.

– “Malibu Country,” 8:30 p.m.,
ABC. In a rerun of a pilot film, a country music star has been
cheating. His wife (Reba McEntire) moves the kids and her mother
(Lily Tomlin) to his former love nest in Malibu, setting up culture
clashes. It's all too broad, but does have some good moments.

– “Christmas With the Mormon
Tabernacle Choir,” 9 p.m., PBS. A musical night has baritone Nathan
Gunn as guest. That's followed at 10 by Laura Bell Bundy
hosting“Christmas at Belmont.”

– “A White House Christmas” (NBC)
or “White House Christmas 2012” (HGTV), 9 p.m. Similar specials
occupy the same hour. NBC's is an instant rerun from Thursday,
interviewing five First Ladies.

– “CSI: NY,” 9 p.m., CBS. In a
rerun, the investigation of a home invasion becomes more complicated
when police learn what a troubled family this is.

– “Blue Bloods,” 10 p.m., CBS.
This rerun finds Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) obsessing on finding the
killer of an undercover cop who was a family friend.