TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 2

“A Charlie Brown Christmas,” 8:30 p.m., ABC.

Back in 1965, this
show skirted TV traditions. It had child actors, primitive animation,
a jazzy score and even a tad of scripture. It was fresh and different
... and one of the best half-hours in TV history.

The only bad news is
that it's paired tonight with a rare mis-step. Ever since the
original “Toy Story” in 1995, the Pixar people have been
brilliant. Still, the new “Toy Story That Time Forgot” (8 p.m.)
is oddly grim, short on laughs and long on violence and threats.

II: “American Masters,” 8-10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

For a casual-seeming
guy, Bing Crosby covered immense scope. He was a sports buff who
co-owned a baseball team and invented pro-am golf, a technology buff
who propelled the idea of taping radio shows, an actor who made a lot
of silly movies and won an Academy Award.

Still, he's known
mainly as two things – a crooner with 41 No. 1 hits and a distant
dad (during his first marriage) who was blasted in his son's book.
All of that and more is covered in a fascinating profile.

ALTERNATIVE: “Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce” debut, 10 p.m.,

In its first
scripted series, Bravo tries to cover the entire turf in one gulp.
“Guide” is partly comedy and mostly drama, partly a West Coast
variation on “Sex and the City,” turning darker.

Lisa Edelstein
(“House”) plays a writer who tells others how to live a pleasant
life ... while her own marriage to Jake (Paul Adelstein) crumbles.
She turns to mismatched friends – a cynical little lawyer (Janeanne
Garofolo) and a flashy ex-model (Beau Garrett); the result tries
hard, sometimes succeeding.

ALTERNATIVE II: “CMT Artists of the Year,” 8-9:30 p.m., CMT and

Country music gets
another chance to celebrate itself. There will be performances by the
honorees – Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban, Jason Aldean
and Florida Georgia Line – and others.

The 90-minute
special gets a two-network play. In addition, CMT will rerun it at

Other choices

-- “NCIS” and
“NCIS: New Orleans,” 8 and 9 p.m., CBS. Gibbs (Mark Harmon) is
key to both reruns. In the first, the theft of drone secrets has him
working with former girlfriend Hollis Mann (Susanna Thompson). In the
second, Pride (Scott Bakula) needs his help, when key information is

-- “The Voice,”
8 p.m., NBC. Three people will be ousted, nudging the other five to
the semi-finals.

-- “The Flash,”
8 p.m., CW. Here's the start of a two-night crossover that blends
opposites – the bright, boyish enthusiasm of “The Flash” and
the dark urgency of “Arrow.” Tonight, the “Arrow” people
arrive in search of Captain Boomerang; on Wednesday, the “Flash”
people visit them.

-- “Agents of
SHIELD,” 9 p.m., ABC. The team rushes to find the ancient city
before Hydra does – an outcome that could be fatal. Also, Skye and
May try to get to Raina before Whitehall does.

-- “Chicago Fire,”
10 p.m., NBC. The squad has a classic rescue ... then is startled by
who takes credit.

-- “Sons of
Anarchy,” 10 p.m., FX. Often brilliant (and sometimes just
sadistic), “Sons” is now a week from its series finale. Jax knows
that his mother killed his wife and then told lies that set off a
brutal rounds of misdirected vengeance. Now she knows he knows; the
end is near.

TV column for Monday, Dec. 1


“CMA Country Christmas,” 8-10 p.m., ABC.

Each December, TV
re-discovers music. Now there will be at least one special on each of
the next five days; the first one – despite the title – isn't
confined to country.

Broadway's Idina
Menzel performs; so does pop's Lucy Hale and contemporary-Christian
star Michael W. Smith. Rock's Steven Tyler jams with Brad Pasley, a
country guy with a hot guitar. Other country people incluce Carrie
Underwood, Alan Jackson, Jennifer Nettles (who hosts), Hunter Hayes,
LeAnn Rimes, Sara Evans, Brett Eldredge, the Dan + Shay duo and the
Little Big Town group.

II: “Sleepy Hollow,” 9 p.m., Fox.

Each week, this
ambitious show tries to deliver a movie-style look and feel. After
tonight's episode – the 11th straight new one – it
will take a break before new episodes return Jan. 5.

Fox is saying little
about this hour, except that sacrifices will be made and loyalties
will be tested. It follows an 8 p.m. rerun of the lush “Gotham”
pilot, making our TV sets look like movie screens.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Normal Heart” (2014), 8 p.m., HBO; and “The
Last One” (2014), 8:30 p.m., Showtime.

On World AIDS Day,
the two pay-cable giants have films showing the desperate early
efforts to get awareness. For Showtime, that involves the history of
the AIDS quilt, which now has more than 48,000 patches ... a small
sampling of the reported 30 million people who have died from AIDS

HBO reruns the film
it made from a seething, 1985 play. “Normal Heart” suffers from
its character's counter-productive rage, but it's superbly crafted.
It won the best-movie Emmy, with nominations for Mark Ruffalo, Julia
Roberts, Albert Molina, Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer and Joe Mantello.

ALTERNATIVE II: Movies, 6 p.m. to midnight, ABC Family.

Now for something
completely different: Dec. 1 also starts the annual “25 Days of
Christmas” for ABC Family, which stockpiles many of the best
holiday shows. It starts with a dandy triple-feature.

At 6 p.m.,
“Christmas Vacation” (1989) has Chevy Chase as a dad taking it
all to excess; at 10, “The Santa Clause” (1994) has Tim Allen as
a dad suddenly drafted into North Pole duty. In between is “Elf”
(2003) at 8 p.m., with Will Ferrell – suddenly realizing he's not
an elf -- trying the real world. Its great supporting cast includes
Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, James Caan and then-newcomer Zooey Deschanel.

Other choices

“The Voice,”
8-10:01 p.m., NBC. The final eight singers perform and viewers vote.
Next week, this edition has its semi-finals, with its final five.

“Mike &
Molly,” 8-10 p.m., CBS. Next week, this show has its delayed
season-opener, bumping the cancelled “The Millers.” First, it
reruns four episodes from last season, starting with guest shots by
Oscar-winners Kathy Bates (as Peggy's childhood friend) and Susan
Sarandon (as Molly's literary hero). At 9 p.m., Molly gets a spot in
a writers' camp; at 9:30, she reluctantly agrees to see a therapist.

“Greatest Holiday
Commercials Countdown,” 9 p.m., CW. The network pauses for light
Christmas specials – a cartoon rerun (“Grandma Got Run Over by a
Reindeer”) and this now one. Don't fret; “Jane the Virgin” will
be back on the next two Mondays, before taking a mid-season break.

“Tiger's Revenge,”
9 p.m. and midnight, NatGeo Wild. With an ancient fort as the
backdrop, tiger sisters compete for control of a territory. That's
surrounded by big-cat reruns, from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m.

“State of
Affairs,” 10 p.m., NBC. The president (Alfre Woodard) gives
Charleston (Katherine Heigl) a near-impossible task: Rescue 21
kidnapped Nigerian girls, with no one knowing the U.S. was there.

“Castle,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. The star of Castle's favorite 1980s action movie has been

TV column for Sunday, Nov. 30

“One Christmas Eve,” 8-10 p.m., Hallmark.

TV can be proud of
“Hallmark Hall of Fame.” It started in 1951 with an original
opera (“Amahl and the Night Visitors”) and followed with three
Shakespearean plays and “Alice in Wonderland.” It switched to
movies – great ones, from “Promise” to “What the Deaf Man
Heard” – and has won 81 Emmys.

And TV can be
ashamed of this: After 63 great years on NBC, CBS and ABC, “Hall”
is confined to cable. As it happens, the first cable-only film is a
dandy. It starts with a puppy on a doorstep, then adds a frantic mom
(Anne Heche), her kids, strangers, pratfalls, laughs, warmth and
“Hall of Fame” quality.

“The Mentalist” season-opener, 9:30 p.m. (barring football
overrun), CBS.

The good news is
that CBS avoids reruns. “The Good Wife” and (after tonight)
“Madam Secretary” will rest until Jan. 4; “Mentalist” starts
its 13-week final season here, then slides to Wednesdays.

Also good is a mild
overhaul: The two lead characters are a couple now; Robin Tunney and
Simon Baker actually get to smile. And Josie Loren – who was good
as a gymnast in “Make It or Break It” -- arrives as a new FBI
agent. The bad news: This opening case is a weak one, straining

ALTERNATIVE: “Sleepless in America,” 8-10 p.m., National

Our ancestors simply
went to bed when the daylight faded, this compelling documentary
says. Then came lights, TV, Internet and more; Americans average two
hours less sleep than they did 50 years ago.

The impact is
immense. Lack of sleep has been considered a factor in disasters –
from Chernobyl to Exxon Valdez to bus and truck crashes; cancer,
diabetes and heart disease thrive on sleeplessness. Hardest hit are
shift-workers and high school students. “Sleepless” offers
possible solutions, both institutional (school start times, workplace
medical programs) and individual.

Other choices

“Big Cat Week,”
noon to 3 a.m., National Geographic. Amid lots of
reruns, the intriguing “Future Cat” debuts at 9 p.m., rerunning
Computer animation shows
lions and tigers
evolving into sleeker creatures that could
when the continents merge anew.

“The Walking
Dead,” 2 p.m. to midnight, AMC. First is a seven-hour rerun
marathon, to get us ready; then the season finale sees Rick trying to
make peace with a new enemy. That's at 9 p.m. and reruns at 11, after
fans ponder it all in the “Talking Dead” hour at 10:01.

Secretary,” 8:31 p.m., CBS. This ratings success will take December
off, to avoid reruns. First, Elizabeth tries to find
secret bank account of Vincent Marsh, who preceded her as secretary
of state, before dying in a
plane crash. She's soon surprised by who
has access to the account.

Newsroom,” 9 p.m., HBO. Much of this hour is Shakespearean –
meaning we know it's good, but can't always comprehend it. Then co
an amazing shift. With virtually no words (except some gorgeous
singing by newcomer Katie Boeck) the final minutes are strong,
surprising and moving.

“Killing Kennedy”
(2013), 9-11 p.m., Fox News Channel. With one exception – the lame
John-and-Jackie scenes – this is a well-crafted film, sharply
outlining Lee Harvey Oswald (Will Rothaar). It aired last year on
cable, but now Bill O'Reilly (who co-wrote the book) also anchors a
preview hour at 8.

“Revenge,” 10:01
p.m., ABC. Desperate to salvage his reputation, Nolan offers new

TV column for Saturday, Nov. 29

“Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever,” 8-10 p.m., Lifetime.

For Tardar Sauce, a
real-life cat, the last two years have been a swirl. Under the stage
name Grumpy Cat, her frowning face has been on shirts, on mugs and in
commercials; she's had two books, six million Facebook “likes”
... and now a movie that – except for overwrought villains – is
quite good.

At the core is
lonely Chrystal, played by Meghan Charpetier, a likable, 13-year-old
Canadian in her 10th year as an actress. Helping at a pet
store, she's startled to hear the cat's grumpy thoughts, drolly
voiced by Audrey Plaza. Then come plot twists that are often silly
and sometimes very clever.

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

Just when “SNL”
seemed a tad predictable, Chris Rock strode onstage with a monolog
that was fresh, funny and controversial. He joked about the Boston
Marathon bombing, 9/11, gun control and Christmas; he reminded us
that almost anything can be funny if it's done with real wit.

Rock sees irony, for
instance, in commercializing Christmas: “From what I've heard,
Jesus was the least commercial person who every roamed the Earth. No
bling.” Here's a rerun, with music from Prince.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Flight Before Christmas” and “The Story of
Santa Claus,” 8 and 9 p.m., CBS.

It's still November,
but TV has already declared Christmas. For tonight, CBS has two

“Flight” was a
Finnish movie about a reindeer who had vertigo, but was determined to
join Santa's Flying Force; in 2012 it was shortened and dubbed, with
Emma Roberts and (as an offbeat squirrel companion) Norm Macdonald.
Then a 1996 cartoon has good-hearted Nick (Ed Asner) and his wife
(Betty White) transformed by events and an elf leader (Tim Curry).

Other choices

“Big Cat Week,”
noon to 3 a.m., NatGeo Wild. Here are lots of reruns, plus the debut
of the excellent “Leopard: Ultimate Survivor” (9 p.m., rerunning
at midnight). It traces a mother and her cubs – one cautious, one
dangerously adventurous – for two years in Botswana. Some of the
scenes – including learning to catch fish – are classic.

Football, 7:45 p.m.
ESPN and 8 p. m., ABC. The two top-ranked teams appear
simultaneously. ESPN has Alabama (No. 1) hosting Auburn (No. 14),
which upset it last year on a bizarre final-play return of a blocked
field goal; ABC has Oregon (No. 2) at Oregon State.

National Dog Show,
8-10 p.m., NBC. Here's a quick rerun of the Thanksgiving event.,

“Bones,” 8 p.m.,
Fox. In a rerun, one gymnast is killed and another (played by Olympic
gold-medalist McKayla Maroney) is the prime suspect.

“SleepHollow,” 9
p.m., Fox. To rescue Ichabod's wife, he and Abbie try to resurrect a
Frankenstein-type monster created by Benjamin Franklin.

“Missing,” 9
p.m., Starz. This episode – the third of eight – has two great
actors colliding powerfully. James Nesbitt and Frances O'Connor are
the parents of Oliver, who disappeared during their vacation in
France. We bounce between the days after the abduction (Tony's past
violence is discovered) and eight years later, when the case is
re-opened. She's re-married, he's obsessing, passions are fierce.

TV column for Friday, Nov. 28

Christmas cartoons, CW and CBS.

As soon as
Thanksgiving vanishes, the networks obsess on Christmas.

CW fills its
primetime with “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” (8 p.m.),
“Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special” (9) and -- from the dandy movies
and TV series -- “Merry Madagascar” at 9:30. CBS counters with
“Frosty the Snowman” (so-so story, fine use of music) at 9 and
“Yes, Virginia” at 9:30.

II: “Kristin Chenoweth: Coming Home,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local

This sounds exotic –
Chenoweth performing in her home town of Broken Arrow, Okla.; one
envisions a little bandstand on the prairie. Actually, Broken Arrow
is a city of 100,000 people, among the million (almost) in the Tulsa
area; Chenoweth is in a lush, 1,500-seat theater built in 2009 and
named after her.

She brings a great
talent. Tiny (4-foot-11) and big-voiced, Chenoweth has gone from
gospel to opera to Broadway. She won a Tony for “You're a Good Man,
Charlie Brown,” was nominated for “Wicked” and has had a total
of four Emmy nominations for “Pushing Daisy” (winning once) and

ALTERNATIVE: “Big Cat Week,” all night, NatGeo Wild.

This is what the
National Geographic people do best – solidly made wilderness
documentaries. Now their “Wild” channel has those films until 3
a.m. daily; they start at 7 p.m. today, noon Saturday and Sunday, 7
p.m. Monday, 6 p.m. Tuesday, 5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and noon
Dec. 5.

There are plenty of
reruns, starting tonight with “Lion Army” at 7 p.m. and “Game
of Lions” at 8. Most nights have a new hour at 9 p.m., rerunning at
midnight. Tonight, that's the fairly interesting “Man v. Lion,”
with Boone Smith and a cameraman inside an acrylic box, surrounded by
jungle creatures.

Other choices

Funniest Home Videos,” 8 p.m., ABC. Here's a transplanted
collection of Christmas moments. That includes one boy weeping
because Santa ate his cookies and another suspecting there was a
mistake, because Santa put him on the “good” list.

“Jessie,” 8-9
p.m., Disney. This show links with “Liv & Maddie,” when
Jessie (Debby Ryan) and the Ross kids plan a Christmas vacation in

“Grimm” 9 p.m.,
NBC. The latest attack on Monroe and Rosalee shows Nick the
importance of getting back his Grimm powers; meanwhile, he and Hank
probe the site of an awful ritual.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
10 p.m., CBS. In a rerun of a Thanksgiving episode from last season,
McGarrett's aunt (Carol Burnett) arrives for the holiday, bearing a
family secret.

debut, 10 and 10:30 p.m., Investigation Discovery. To get us in the
mood, ID starts a 15-hour “Deadly Women” marathon at 6 a.m.,
follows with “Wives with Knives” at 9 p.m. and then has Roseanne
Barr debut two oddly entertaining true stories. First is the familiar
one (turned into a cable movie) about the Texas mom who hired a hit
man to boost her daughter's cheerleading chances. Then is a mom
convicted of embezzling a fortune, to get treatments in hopes of
having a third child.

“Russell Brand:
Messiah Complex,” 10 p.m., Epix. With his usual mix of audacity and
self-mocking, Brand discovers things he has in common with his
heroes – Jesus, Gandhi, Malcolm X and Che Guevera. He recounts a
Gandhi misdeed ... and some hilariously awful moves of his own.