TV column for Wednesday, Sept. 20

“America's Got Talent” finale (NBC) or others, 8-10 p.m.

Suddenly, our TV set
is overloaded with reality-show finales and big-money winners. It
will be $250,000 for Fox's “MasterChef,” $500,000 for CBS' “Big
Brother,” a million dollars for “Talent.”

The “Talent”
money may or may not have to be split up: The dance groups are epic –
nine people in Light Balance, 12 in Diavolo. Others – six singers,
a comedian and a dog act -- have only one person apiece who can keep
all the money ... unless that last one gives some of the money to the

II: “In the Heat of the Night” (1967), 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic

Some people may not
be interested in tonight's reality overload. They want a fictional
tale ... and tonight, they'll get one of the best.

Two of the all-time
great actors collide, with Rod Steiger as an ornery Southern sheriff
and Sidney Poitier as the big-city detective who's told to work with
him. “Heat” took five Oscars, including ones for best picture,
for Steiger and for Stirling Silliphant's sharply crafted script.

“The Good Place” season-opener, 10 and 10:30 p.m., NBC.

We expect shows to
discard a bad concept; we don't expect them to shed a great one.

Last season opened
with the wonderful notion that Eleannor (Kristen Bell) is a bad
person, whom an inept bureaucrat (Ted Danson) mis-assigned to the
best afterlife. Then the season-finale changed that: This is a
variation on Hell, meant to frustrate Eleanor and three others. Now
memories are erased for a second try. That starts slowly, but turns
hilarious when the towering Tehani meets her “soul mate.”

ALTERNATIVE: “The Vietnam War,” 8 p.m., PBS, rerunning at 10.

In a war that killed
more than 50,000 Americans – and more than three million soldiers
and civilians overall – it might be difficult to have one death
affect us. This episode does that powerfully.

Denton Crocker, Jr.,
was an idealistic teen who ran away from home so he could be a
soldier. Entwined with other stories – the anti-war movement, the
failed attempts to win friends in the Vietnam villages -- we see the
effect of his life and death. “I knew our family would never be the
same,” his sister says.

Other choices

finale, 8-10 p.m., Fox. This year's finish offers an interesting trio
of home cooks. Dino Angelo Luciano, 28, of Bensonhurst, is a dancer
who will sometimes do a near-pirouette in the kitchen. Eboni Henry,
33, is an addiction counselor in Chicago; Jason Wang, 34, is a high
school music teacher in Newton, Mass. Tonight, each creates a full,
three-course dinner.

“The Twilight
Saga: Eclipse” (2010, Freeform) or “Taken 3” (2014, FX), both 8
p.m. Remember when having a sequel would suffice. Now here are the
third rounds of both of these movie hits.

“Breaking2,” 8
p.m., National Geographic. Three top runners try to break the
two-hour barrier in the marathon. This documentary ranges from their
African homes to the race in Italy.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. Things get out of hand when Manny's birth father takes
him out for a graduation celebration. Now his step-dad, Jay, must
step in.

Survivor,” 10 p.m., ABC. A week before the second season starts,
here's a reminder of how the first one ended. Hannah Wells (Maggie
Q), the FBI agent, tries to stop the conspiracy from completing its
plot; also, the president (Kiefer Sutherland) orders a massive
manhunt for the leader.

season-finale, 10 p.m., CBS. This is an imposing to-do list: Our
heroes must topple an illegitimate U.S. government and prepare an ark
to leave Earth.

TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 19

“America's Got Talent,” 8-10 p.m., NBC.

The summertime
ratings leader saves everything until this final week. After 21
episodes, it still has 10 acts. Now they perform and viewers vote; on
Wednesday, we'll have a million-dollar winner.

This season has an
abundance of young singers -- Evie Claire is 13, Darci Lynne Farmer
(also a ventriloquist) is 12, Angelica Hale is 9. There are more
singers (Kechi Okwuchi, Chase Goehring and Mandy Harvey, who also
plays the ukelele), plus comedian Preacher Lawson) a dog act (Sara
and Hero) and two mega-scale dance groups (Diavolo and Light

II: “Vietnam War,” 8 p.m., PBS.

On Monday, this
superb documentary saw John Kennedy overwhelmed by Vietnam. After
secretly agreeing not to oppose a coup, he was stunned when it
included murdering the president and his family.

Now Lyndon Johnson
deals with the aftershocks – a string of new South Vietnam leaders,
some corrupt and all ineffective. In the battlefield, the Viet Cong –
now better armed via Russia and China and via weapons seized during
battle – turn to the offense. Johnson reluctantly sends ground
troops and increases bombing ... all while demanding that this be
secret from the public. A crisis keeps growing.

ALTERNATIVE: “The State,” 9-11 p.m. ET, National Geographic,
repeating at 11,

Peter Kominsky has
drawn praise for a fictional movie (“White Oleander”) and a
mini-series based on history (“Wolf Hall”). Now he's researched
true stories, then created this story of our fictional people.

In the opener
(rerrunning at 7 p.m.), they left England to join ISIS in Syria.
Tonight's conclusion sees Shakira turn down a proposal, with brutal
results. In the second, she frets as Isaac seems to be prepared for

ALTERNATIVE II: “American Horror Story,” 10 p.m., FX.

This may have an odd
place in TV history – the best-crafted show that many (MANY) people
will not want to see. It has great actresses (Sarah Paulson and
Alison Pill) encased in a cascade of terror.

Last week, Ally
(Paulson) – her nerves already shattered -- found a body in the
restaurant. Then came a black-out; panicking, she accidentally killed
a restaurant worker who was binging things to her home. Now the
backlash is fierce. Terror grows; it's powerful, well-made ... and,
for many viewers, disturbing.

Other choices

“Pickler &
Ben,” 9 a.m., CMT. On Monday, Kellie Pickler's talkshow debuted on
individual stations, with a surprise appearance by Dolly Parton. Now
it starts its cable run, on a one-day delay.

NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun of the season-finale, the guys get to be
action-adventure heroes. To find a missing SEAL, Gibbs, McGee and
Torres are dropped into a remote section of Paraguay.

“Black-ish,” 9
and 9:30 p.m., ABC. In the first rerun, Dre ponders taking paternity
leave when the new baby arrives; the best child, he figures, is Zoey,
who was born when he was unemployed. In the second, his plans for an
elaborate baby shower are detoured when Bow's pregnancy has

“The Paley Center
Salutes the Best of Will & Grace,” 10 p.m., NBC. This seems
kind of convenient: Nine days before NBC launches the revived “Will
& Grace,” the network has this special from the prestigious
Paley Center. We would grumble about the hype ... except that the
show is worthy hyping. Debuting two decades ago, at a time when
anti-gay bias was vocal, “Will & Grace” drew 83 Emmy
nominations and 16 wins, including one for best comedy. Here's a
chance to sample some hightlights.

Between,” 10 p.m., ABC. As they uncover the vast conspiracy, Laura
and Nico must race to save Serena and Danny.

“CSI: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. A rerun of the season-finale finds the team
asking Isler (the FBI assistant director) to help expose and stop
Mayor Hamilton's scheme.

TV column for Monday, Sept. 18

“Dancing With the Stars” opener, 8-10:01 p.m., ABC.

For some, this is a
chance to catch up. There's singer Nick Lachey, whose little brother
Drew was the show's second winner, back in 2006; now he gets his
chance ... competing with his wife Vanessa. And there's football's
Terrell Owens; his ex-teammate, Chad Ochocinco Johnson, finished
fourth in 2010.

Now they compete
with musicians (Debbie Gibson, Jordan Fisher, Lindsey Stirling) and
athletes (basketball's Derek Fisher, wrestler Nikki Bella,
paralympian Victoria Arlen), plus Sasha Pieterse of “Pretty Little
Liars,” Barbara Corcoran of “Shark Tank” and Drew Scott of
“Property Brothers.”

“American Ninja Warrior” (NBC) or “So You Think You Can Dance”
(Fox), both 8-10 p.m.

While one reality
show is starting its season, two others are wrapping up. For “Ninja
Warrior,” this is the finale, in Las Vegas, with a million-dollar

And for “Dance,”
the finale comes next Monday. Tonight, with no eliminations, we can
see the talented final four. Kiki Nyechek, 26, a Latin-ballroom
dancer, faces three contemporary dancers – Koine Iwasaki, 20;
Taylor Sieve, 19; and Les Ishimoto (who also does hip hop), 19.

ALTERNATIVE: “Vietnam War,” 8-9:30 p.m., PBS; repeats, 9:30-11.

Ken Burns' brilliant
documentary shows deep empathy for the men on both sides of the war
... but not for the people who sent them there. “We don't have a
prayer in Vietnam,” John Kennedy confided to a colleague, but with
elections coming up, he didn't want to pull out.

Kennedy agonized
about a war where “47 Americans have been killed.” That total
would top 50,000 ... plus an estimated 250,000 South Vietnamese
soldiers, a million Viet Cong and two million civilians.

Other choices

“Forrest Gump”
(1994), 7:45-11 p.m., Freeform; or “Sully” (2016), 8 p.m., HBO.
In any genre – from a loopy fable to a real-life story – Tom
Hanks keeps starring in top movies.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. People adjust uneasily to Raj living with
Leonard and Penny. Also in this rerun, Sheldon is interested in
Amy's research project; that's not always a good thing.

“Kevin Can Wait,”
8:30 p.m., CBS. Here's the second half of the story that brought in
Lean Remini, Kevin James' “King of Queens” co-star. She plays his
nemesis, a cop luring him out of retirement for an undercover job ...
which makes him miss the Mets' “fantasy camp.” Fans loved the

but not the result:
Next season, CBS will kill Kevin's wife (Erinn Hayes) and make Remini
a regular.

“Mom,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, Marjorie is taking a break from the group, creating
a vacuum. Suddenly, Bonnie – not usually the helpful type – has
everyone coming to her for advice.

“The State,” 9
and 10 p.m., National Geographic. After extensive research, Peter
Kominsky (“Wolf Hall”) wrote and directed a fictional story of
four people who leave England to join ISIS in Syria. These hours
rerun at 11 p.m. and midnight, and then from 7-9 p.m. Tuesday,
leading into the finale.

“Midnight, Texas”
season-finale, 10 p.m., NBC. Last week ended with Fiji being taken
away by the demon who has been tormenting her. Now friends try to
rescue her, while facing a bigger problem: All Hell has broken loose
(literally), spilling evil forces into their town.

“To Tell the
Truth,” 10 p.m., ABC. This panel brings lots of experience, anyway.
Mel Brooks and Cloris Leachman, both 91, join Nikki Glaser and
Michaela Watkins. Among others, they must decide which person is both
a kindergarten teacher and a pro wrestler.

TV column for Sunday, Sept. 17

“The Vietnam War” opener, 8 p.m., PBS; rerunning at 9:30.

Here is Ken Burns at
his finest. Ten years in the making and 10 days running (Sundays
through Thursdays), it eyes a war that, it says, “began in good
faith, by decent people” ... then was propelled by “tragic
decisions made by five American presidents from both parties.”

Even earlier, other
presidents flubbed chances to oppose French colonialism. Woodrow
Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt ignored – or were never shown – the
letters from a young radical. After using at least 70 names, he chose
Ho Chi Minh; once a fan of the U.S., he became its worst enemy.

II: Emmy awards, 8-11 p.m. ET, CBS.

This strange
political season has brought soaring ratings for Stephen Colbert and
“Saturday Night Live”; now both are key to the Emmys. Colbert
hosts and his show is up for best variety/talk, facing Samantha Bee,
John Oliver and Bill Maher. “SNL” has 22 Emmy nominations (tying
“Westworld” for the top) and has already won advance Emmys for
hosts Melissa McCarthy and Dave Chappelle.

Dramas and comedies
spots go to cable and streaming, with two exceptions -- ABC's comedy
“Black-ish” and NBC's “This Is Us,” which has 11 nominations
and an advance win for Gerald McRaney.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Orville,” 8 p.m., Fox.

There's a power
vacuum on the ship, it seems. The captain and his first officer (who
is also his ex-wife) have gone to a planet; the second officer is
sitting on an egg (don't ask). Now the young security officer
uneasily takes charge.

What follows is –
like the first episode – an uneasy mixture of drama, comedy and
adventure. The conversations seem flat or forced, but there are a few
good moments, especially in the final minutes.

Other choices

Emmy previews, E. An
overall preview is at 4:30 p.m. ET, with the red carpet at 6.

Family films, all
day, cable. Freeform has an animation marathon, including two
classics -- “Dumbo” (1941) at 7 a.m., “Frozen” (2013) at 7:25
p.m. Syfy counters at 6:30 p.m. with Tim Burton's splendid “Charlie
and the Chocolate Factory” (2005).

“Giant” (1956),
8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. This epic film is massive in scope
and in cast. George Stevens won an Oscar, directing Rock Hudson,
Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, Dennis Hopper and Sal Mineo. An
interesting documentary (6:45 and 11:30) revisits the town where it
was filmed.

Football, 8:30 p.m.
ET, with preview at 7. The Packers went into the season worrying
about a shaky defense ... then held Russell Wilson's Seahawks without
a touchdown. Now comes a bigger challenge -- visiting Atlanta, which
was last season's highest-scoring team, averaging 34 points a game.

“Funderdome,” 9
p.m., ABC. This makes what-to-wear decisions easier: An inventor
offers shoes that go quickly from high-heels to mid to flats. She
faces the creator of an indoor/outdoor pet enclosure.

“The $100,000
Pyramid,” 10 p.m., ABC. Leslie Jones of “Saturday Night Live”
faces Willie Garson of “Sex and the City.” Then it's Billy
Gardell (“Mike & Molly”) and Kate Flannery (“The Office”).

“The Strain”
series finale, 10 and 11:04 p.m., FX. A well-made (and grisly) series
concludes as Quinlan plans a final, desperate battle. Also, Ephraim
has a crisis of conscience and Fet tries a suicide mission.

TV column for Saturday, Sept. 16

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

Blended into one
clever sketch are two of the key “SNL” assets -- “Black
Jeopardy” and Tom Hanks. Yes, he plays the token white guy,
complete with a “Make America Great Again” hat; this time, there
are some hilarious detours from what you're expecting.

That's in a rerun of
the Halloween episode, which also gave Hanks his most bizarre
character – the scary (sort of) David S. Pumpkins. Lady Gaga is the
music guest.

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

On a night clogged
with reruns, NBC has somehow come up with an unseen episode of this
reality show. Grylls and Vanessa Hudgens – once a star of the “High
School Musical” films, now a “So You Think You Can Dance” judge
– reach the high Sierras via helicopter.

They soon evade a
boulder avalanche, climb a dormant volcano and come face-to-face with
a rattlesnake. They also have the sort of dinner that Hollywood
starlets rarely see.

ALTERNATIVE: “Creative Arts Emmy Awards,” 8 p.m., FXX, rerunning
at 10.

On Sunday, the Emmys
will gobble up prime time on CBS. To warm up, catch this special;
it's boiled down from two nights last weekend, with all the
categories that don't make the main show.

Both nights had
comic starts – a Rachel Bloom song, a Tom Hanks introduction. Both
had big names, even if some – Dave Chappelle and Melissa McCarthy
won for hosting “Saturday Night Live” -- didn't show up. Other
winners included Gerald McRaney (“This Is Us”), Leah Remini (for
her scientology series), Meryl Streep (for narrating), RuPaul, James
Corden (“Carpool Karaoke”) and Samantha Bee.

Other choices

Football, all day.
ABC again has a top primetime game, with Louisville hosting Clemson
at 8 p.m. ET. Fox has Texas at Southern California at 8:30. There's
much more throughout the day, including a potentially tight match-up
-- Tennessee at Florida, at 3:30 p.m. on CBS.

“Terminator 2”
(1991), 5:30 p.m., Syfy; and “Titanic” (1997), 8:30 p.m., E.
Most of all, director James Cameron is a visual master. Whether it's
shipboard romance or cyborg mayhem, he tells his stories with
cinematic precision.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. As the assistant medical examiner, Jimmy Palmer (Brian Dietzen)
rarely gets a chance to be heroic. In this episode, however, he joins
a suicidal stranger on a ledge.

“La La Land”
(2016), 8 p.m., HBO. Yes, this will be remembered as the film that
was handed the best-picture Oscar, then had it taken away. Beyond
that, however, this is fresh and original, a musical that also
creates a rich warmth for its characters, played by Emma Stone and
Ryan Gosling.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. This rerun puts Sam (LL Cool J) in crisis.
His wife (Aunjanue Ellis) has been taken; the kidnappers demand that
his nemesis, Tahir Khaled, be released from prison.

“Halt and Catch
Fire,” 9 p.m., AMC, rerunning at 10:04. Last week, Comet – the
search engine molded by Gordon and Joe -- seemed ready to dominate.
Then came a surprise breakthrough from Rover, run by Gordon's ex-wife
Donna. What happened? There were implications that Cameron – Joe's
ex-lover – had secretly helped the enemy. Tonight come the
aftershocks ... and a financial crisis for Boz.

“Oprah's Master
Class,” 10 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. Shaquille O'Neal discusses
influences in his life, especially his mother and his stepfather, a
career Army sergeant who emphasized discipline.