TV column for Monday, Dec. 19

“Mars” season-finale, 9 p.m., National Geographic.

Skillfully produced
by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, this six-week series has neatly
juggled two things – a fictional story of a Mars mission in 2033
and brief, documentary footage from nowadays. Tonight, you can catch
the three most-recent episodes from 6-9 p.m., then savor an emotional

A fierce storm has
struck, killing several people and destroying the food project.
Intermingled is the non-fiction story of the Apollo 13 near-disaster
in 1970, which left the space program in disarray.

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

Hey, nothing quite
says Christmas like a magician, a mindreader, a high-diver and The

Grace Vanderwaal,
who won this year's championship at age 12, will be there; so will
Jackie Evancho, who was the runner-up in 2010, at age 10. There are
also plenty of grown-ups, including Olae Dogs, The Clairvoyants and
Professor Splash diving into a pool of eggnog.

ALTERNATIVE: Oprah Winfrey special, 8 p.m., CBS.

A big admirer of the
Obamas before and during these past eight years, Winfrey now sits
down with Michelle Obama for her final White House interview.

And yes, this will
also be on cable's Oprah Winfrey Network. That will be at 9 p.m.

ALTERNATIVE II: “MacGyver,” 5 and 9 p.m. ET, MeTV; “Smoky
Mountains Rise,” 8 p.m. ET, GetTV.

These semi-obscure
networks are available on stations' digital platforms and elsewhere –
GetTV on DirecTV, MeTV on AT&T U-verse. They're strong on
memories ... as evidenced by MeTV bringing back the original
(1985-92) “MacGyver”; starting today, it airs at these times each

Now getTV adds a
more-recent rerun. Dolly Parton's telethon for the fire-ravaged
Smokys aired Tuesday, with music from country's Kenny Rogers, Reba
McEntire, Chris Stapleton, Alabama, Chris Young, Hank Williams Jr,
Big & Rich and more, plus Cyndi Lauper, Amy Grant and Michael W.

Other choices

Football, 2:30 p.m.
ET, ESPN. The Miami Beach Bowl has Tulsa and Central Michigan. And
yes, if you're in Michigan this winter, Miami Beach sounds like fun.

“The Great
Christmas Light Fight,” 8-10 p.m., ABC. The finale of this
three-week, six-hour series offers everything you might ask for –
hand-crafted animatronics, classic toys, a patriotic light-and-music
show and a two-acre display masterminded by a 15-year-old. Also, a
parrot sings “Jingle Bells.”

“Young Women's
Honors,” 9 p.m., CW. In the slot where her “Jane the Virgin”
usually airs, Gina Rodriguez hosts an hour honoring Olympian Simone
Biles, Paralympian Tatyana McFadden, critical-care physician Dr.
Vanessa Kerry and more.

“Man With a Plan,”
9 p.m., CBS. With his wife Andi unavailable, Adam (Matt LeBlanc) must
guide his daughter through a key time. Also, Andi has a car ride with
an annoying talking toy.

“The Wall”
debut, 10 p.m., NBC. Here's an advance episode of a game show that
steps into the 8 p.m. Tuesday spot next month. Chris Hardwick hosts
and two-person teams answer questions, unsure how much money the
giant, electroic wall will add or subtract.

“America's Next
Top Model,” 10 p.m., VH1. Last week, the show launched its new
version, with Tyra Banks staying as producer, but turning hosting
chores over to Rita Ora. It trimmed the field from 28 women to 14,
many with intriguing back stories. Tonight, they head to modeling
“boot camp.”

TV column for Sunday, Dec. 18

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

At the core is a
true story: Maria, a young orphan training to be a nun, began
teaching the children of a retired Austrian Navy captain. They
married, formed a family singing group and fled fron the Nazis.

Layered onto that
were Rodgers and Hammerstein at their songwriting peak. Before his
death (of cancer at 65), Oscar Hammerstein added the lovely
“Edelweiss” during rehearsals; it would be his last song. On
Broadway, the show won five Tonys, including best musical; the movie
won five Oscars, including best picture. It was nominated for five
more, including Julie Andrews as best actress.

“Madam Secretary,” 9:30 p.m., CBS (but 9 p.m. PT).

As anyone who's seen
“Scandal” already knows, fictional politics is even messier than
real life. In this case, the presidential election has been thrown
into the House of Representatives. That's complicated by a possible
war between Iran and Israel, so Elizabeth rushes both sides to the
negotiation table.

Meanwhile, the
president's chief of staff (played by the talented Zeljko Ivanek) has
had a heart attack. Emelyn Daly – whose dad, Tim Daly, plays
Elizabeth's husband Henry -- is back as Henry's niece.

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

Last week's “Henry
VI, Part I” was messy enough, with beheadings and stabbings and
such; it was a mere warm-up for tonight's nastiness. Henry VI is
quiet and sensitive; Queen Margaret (Sophie Okonedo) is not. Deals
are made and broken, people are butchered, often slowly and close-up.

Some viewers will be
driven away by the gore or the Shakespearean language. Still, this is
brilliantly filmed, with all the qualities of a great action movie,
plus a superb cast. Benedict Cumberbatch is often in the background,
but emerges powerfully in the final minutes, setting up next week's
“Richard III.”

Other choices

“Star Wars”
(1977), 11:41 a.m., TNT. The splendid trilogy airs here, with “The
Empire Strikes Back” (1980) at 2:23 p.m. and “The Return of the
Jedi” at 5:05. That's followed by a new “Librarians” -- a
magician dared to use real magic – at 8 and “Attack of the
Clones” (2002) at 9.

Football preview, 7
p.m. ET, and kick-off, 8:30, NBC. Using its “flex-schedule”
option, NBC has Tampa Bay – currently clinging to the final playoff
spot -- at Dallas. The Cowboys – winless against the Giants,
undefeated against the rest of the world – still have the
conference's best record.

“The Simpsons,”
8 p.m., Fox. The beauty of a cartoon is that you can burn down a city
whenever it's convenient. In this rerun, Springfield has burned and
people need Mr. Burns to rebuild it.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 8:30 p.m., CBS (8 p.m. PT). A missing Navy officer had
been working on foreigh cyber threats. Now Callen teams with Deeks
and Sam is with Anna Kolcheck, played by Russian-born actress Bar

“A Christmas to
Remember,” 9 p.m., Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Oscar-winner
Mira Sorvino plays a harsh TV personality who has amnesia after a car
crash. Naturally, a handsome chap (Cameron Matheson) helps. That's
one of two new movies; “Sleigh Bells Ring” (8 p.m., Hallmark) has
a single mom rushing to create a perfect Christmas parade ... but the
sleigh seemsto have a mind of its own.

“Last Man on
Earth,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. In this rerun, Todd feels deep remorse.
Tandy needs to tell some lies, in order to comfort him.

10:30 p.m., CBS (10 p.m. PT). Someone seems to be using Watson's
medical license to sell drugs. Now she's a suspect and must scramble
to find the real criminal.

TV column for Saturday, Dec. 17

“Saturday Night Live,” 9-11 p.m. and 11:29 p.m., NBC.

Sketch comedy fills
up much of NBC's evening. That starts with a quick rerun of “SNL
Christmas” (just three days after its previous rerun), with lots of
past bits.

Then comes a new
episode, with Casey Affleck – getting Oscar buzz for “Manchester
By the Sea” -- hosting and Chance the Rapper as music guest. This
is Affleck's first time as host ... something Ben has done five
times; they'll now join the Mannings (Peyton and Eli) as brothers who
have hosted.

Bowl games, all day.

New Year's Eve is
still two weeks away, but the bowl season starts today with six
games. Some are bowls – and teams – we've never heard of; four of
the teams have 6-6 records. Still, it's a chance to see fun and
action in warm-weather places.

ABC has games at
noon and 3:30 p.m. ET; ESPN has ones at 2, 5:30 and 9 p.m. ET.
Rounding out the line-up is the CBS Sports Network, with Central
Florida and Arkansas State at 7 p.m. ET in Orlando.

ALTERNATIVE: “A Christmas Carol” (1984), 8 p.m., AMC.

Like Hamlet and
such, Ebenezer Scrooge is one of those roles that keep attracting
great actors. Few have done it as well as George C. Scott does here;
it's a lush production that surrounds him with talented English
actors, particularly Edward Woodward as the vibrant Ghost of
Christmas Present.

That's sandwiched
between two other Christmas films. “Santa Claus: The Movie” -- a
so-so story, but great visuals – is at 5:30, with “White
Christmas” (1954) at 10:30. The latter has Bing Crosby singing
Irving Berlin tunes, including the title song ... which he debuted in
the 1942 “HolidayInn.”

II: “Frozen” (2013) and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
(2005), 9 and 11:30 p.m., Freeform.

Here are great films
for families to watch ... or, more reasonably, record.

“Frozen,” which
ABC aired last Sunday, is a gem, winning Oscars for best animated
feature and for its “Let It Go” song. “Charlie” is director
Tim Burton at his quirky best; Freeform also has Burton's production
of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993) at 1 p.m.

Other choices

More Christmas
movies, cable. At 7 and 10 p.m., Bravo has “Love Actually,” with
a scattered but clever script from Richard Curtis. At 8, Hallmark
debuts “My Christmas Love,” with a young woman trying to figure
who is sending her “12 Days of Christmas” presents. Also,
“Hallmark Movies & Mysteries” reruns this year's “Journey
Back to Christmas” and “Sound of Christmas,” at 7 and 9 p.m.

“Big Game”
(2014), 8-10 p.m., CBS. Interesting things can happen when you go
camping. In this case, Air Force One has been shot down over the
wilderness of Finland; a teen-ager must help the U.S. president
(Samuel L. Jackson) reach safety. This is a Finnish film, new to most

“I Want a Dog For
Christmas, Charlie Brown,” 8 p.m., ABC. Lucy and Linus' little
brother Rerun wants a dog. This was created in 2003, from previous
cartoon strips by the late Charles Schulz.

“A Pentatonix
Christmas Special,” 8 p.m., NBC. Here's a quick rerun of
Wednesday's show, with the a cappella group joined by Kelly Clarkso,
Reba McEntire and more.

“Ho Ho Holiday
Special,” 9 p.m., Nickelodeon. This debuted last year, as a way to
wedge all of the channel's young stars into one hour. Invited to a
party, they feel trapped by a mysterious host.

“Where Are They
Now?” 10 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. Malcolm-Jamal Warner's career
started at the top, as the “Cosby Show” son. At 46, he continues
to land good roles; this hour re-meets him, plus skater Tai Babilonia
and Johnny Gill of the singing group New Edition.

TVcolumn for Friday, Dec. 16

“Joshua Bell's Seasons of Cuba,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local

Bell, 49, is the
boyish-looking violinist who combines Indiana charm with dazzling
technique. A Grammy and Avery Fisher Prize winner, he's a logical
person for any U.S. arts delegation.

Earlier this year,
he was sent to Havana with Dave Matthews and others. Now he leads
this Lincoln Center concert, with Matthews and some of the people
they met there, including the Chamber Orchestra of Havana. The random
footage of Cuba is so-so, but the concert is splendid. “Musicians
... can communicate much more easily than the politicians,”
songwriter Carlos Varela says.

II: “Last Man Standing,” 8 p.m., ABC..

This is the sort of
week that ABC thrives on – new holiday episodes for all 10 of its
situation comedies. After four-show splashes on Tuesday and
Wednesday, the final two shows are tonight.

In this one, it's
time for the family Christmas dinner ... and for Eve to finally
introduce her boyfriend Rob. After learning a secret about him, her
dad isn't sure he likes the guy. Also, Mandy tries to get her sister
to intervene, dropping hints about what Kyle should get her for

ALTERNATIVE: “It's a Wonderful Life” (1946), 8 p.m., USA.

Sure, there are
plenty of Christmas movies out there. Tonight, they're on Lifetime,
Hallmark, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries and AMC ... plus a triple
feature on Freeform, with “Jingle All the Way” (1996) at 5:30
p.m., “Christmas Vacation” (1989) at 7:35 and “Polar Express”
(2004) at 9:45.

Still, this Frank
Capra film (starring Jimmy Steward) is in a separate category; the
American Film Institute lists it as No. 20 on its top-100 list. NBC
also airs it, with a rerun set for Christmas Eve.

ALTERNATIVE II: New shows, any time, streaming services.

Today brings the
second season of Amazon's “The Man in the High Castle,” which
imagines that the U.S. lost World War II. Tensions betweem the
victors, Germany and Japan, are mounting.

Meanwhile, Netflix
portrays the formative years of two of the planet's most powerful
people. “Barry” is a movie about Barack Obama in college; Ashley
Judd plays his mother. “Call Me Francis” is a miniseries about
the populist Pope.

Other choices

“The Hollywood
Christmas Parade,” 8-10 p.m., CW. Balloons, music and semi-famous
people will be part of the parade. The day includes actors Erik
Estrada and Dean Cain and TV personalities Montel Williams and Laura
McKenzie – who hosts travel shows and (until recent years) hosted
this parade.

“MacGyver,” 8
p.m., CBS. After disappearing. Riley seems to be hacking into the
National Security Agency. Now Mac must find her, using only a
microwave and a power strip.

“Dr. Ken,” 8:30,
ABC. Now that she works at the same clinic as her husband, Allison
wants to convince co-workers she can be fun. She invites them to
their house for the office party.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. After his niece is kidnapped, Chin risks his life to
save her; his colleagues race to Mexico to help. George Takei returns
as Chin's uncle.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. Michael Nouri plays the last person Frank – now
police commissioner – arrested when he was a detective. Meanwhile,
Frank's daughter Erin faces a big obstacle in a murder case: The
previous prosecutor is keeping the suspect hidden away until after a
podcast appearance.

“Lidia Celebrates
America,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Lidia Bastianich, a
chef, honors military people. That includes a Navy party for 250.

TV column for Thursday, Dec. 15

“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS.

From now on, it
seems, the Wolowitz baby will share a birthday with Amy Farrah Fowler
... which is, of course, the day of the annual sex between Amy and

Those two events
merge in a hilarious episode of TV's best comedy. We also learn the
baby's gender ... which Raj has known all along, via peeking at the
doctor's papers. He manages to blurt it out, often.

“iHeartRadio Jingle Ball Tour,” 8-9:30 p.m., CW.

It's time for pop
stars to assemble in a holiday mood. Ariana Grande will be there,
fresh from her terrific work in last week's “Hairspray Live.” So
will Niall Horan (of One Direction) and Justin Bieber.

There's more,
including Meghan Trainor, Charlie Puth, Ellie Goulding, Lukas
Graham, Diplo, DNCE, Daya. Fifth Harmony and the Chainsmokers.

ALTERNATIVE: “Harley and the Davidsons,” 5-11 p.m., Discovery.

If you missed this
miniseries, catch (or record) it in one big burst. It's a reminder of
the days when some blue-collar Midwesterners could jump to the top of
the manufacturing world.

Bill Harley is
portrayed as a young Milwaukee guy who had an inventive mind and the
right friends: Arthur Davidson had the schemes and ambition; his
brother Walter had some money (after being forced to sell his land)
and a daredevil spirit for racing. Starting in 1903, they would
survive patent fights and the Depression, befriending outlaw bikers
who gave the company its hardy, red-blooded image.

Other choices

“Project Runway,”
5-11:02 p.m., Lifetime. We can catch up on recent episodes at 5 p.m.,
then see the start of the two-Thursday finale, with the final four:
Roberi Perra, 32, auditioned for the show shortly after emigrating
from Venezuela .... Laurence Basse, 41, has studied in Paris ....
Erin Robertson, 29, studied in her home state of Massachusetts ....
Rik Villa, 31, began sewing at 13.

Christmas movies, 7
p.m. and beyond, cable. The night starts early with “Santa Clause”
(1994) on Freeform and “Hearts of Christmas” (2016) -- Sharon
Lawrence as a neonatal nurse, being nudged into retirement – on
Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. At 8 p.m., Hallmark has “A
Nutcracker Christmas” (2016) and AMC has “Four Christmases”
(2008), with Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon and more. At 9, Freeform
has “The Search for Santa Paws” (2010) with (really) dogs saving
an amnesiac Claus.

“Disney Prep &
Landing” and its sequel, 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC. Quick and slick,
these animated specials show us the people who prepare for each of
Santa's super-efficient landings and departures.

“The Great
Indoors,” 8:31 p.m., CBS. Jack convinces Human Resources to toss
out the rule that bans dating co-workers. He soon regrets it, when he
needs an excuse to break up with someone.

“Mom,” 9:01
p.m., CBS. Christy and Bonnie have a history of illegal activities –
during and after their drug and alcohol days. They're breaking the
law again and Bonnie's boyfriend questions their morality.

“Life in Pieces,”
9:31 p.m., CBS. It's not easy to marry into this quirky family; when
Colleen goes shopping for a wedding dress, she faces the unfiltered
views of her future mother-in-law. Also, her fiance Matt and his dad
are trying to assemble furniture, after tossing out the directions.

“Falling Water,”
10 p.m., USA. These three people – a cop, a security chief and a
trend-spotter – have all had pieces of the same dream. Now they
converge on a figure, “The Boy,” from that dream.