TV column for Thursday, Jan. 4


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“The Four” debut, 8-10 p.m., Fox.

Fifteen years after
soaring with “American Idol,” Fox tries another music concept
that has worked in other countries. This will start cautiously –
six quick weeks, to avoid clashing with “The Voice.”

And it starts where
others end – a “final four.” The panel – Sean “Diddy”
Combs, Meghan Trainor, DJ Khaled and Charlie Walk – has chosen
those four; each week, challengers – maybe even viewers who submit
their auditions – try to replace someone. Fergie hosts, with the
winner getting a record deal.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The Good Place,” 8:30 p.m., NBC.

No show has ever
made so many U-turns so quickly. It started as a comedy about a bad
person, mistakenly sent to the good afterlife. Then we learned this
was all planned by Michael (Ted Danson), as a subtle torture for four
bad people. Then Michael flipped and became their secret friend.

Now his boss shows
up and he seems to flip yet again. In only its 20th
episode, “Good Place” keeps spinning in new (and clever)
directions; we have no idea what the 21st will bring.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Nashville” season-opener, 9 p.m., CMT, rerunning at
12:58 a.m.

In five seasons,
this has gone through all the joy and agony of a good country song.
It even killed its main character (Rayna) when Connie Britton wanted
to leave. Now Britton is gone – she was terrific in Wednesday's
“9-1-1” debut – and “Nashville” is starting its final
season.

Rayna's widower,
Deacon, deals with loneliness. Their daughter, Maddie, goes on a trip
with Scarlett – meeting a handsome and confident pop star. Also,
Juliette tries to rebound from her public meltdown.

Other choices
include:

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Now that the regular football season is over,
this will be a weekly battle – NBC's dandy comedies facing a CBS
line-up led by TV's best comedy. Tonight, Sheldon and Amy use science
to choose a best man and a maid-of-honor. Expect them to bungle it.

“Superstore,” 8
p.m., NBC. It's tough to compete with a comedy giant. Tonight, one of
the employees posts a controversial video; soon, Dina wants Cheyenne
to help her police everyone's social media.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. Who thought we needed another 8 p.m. comedy tonight? In
this rerun, Frankie gives away unneeded items, hoping to get foot in
return.

“Truth and Lies:
Waco,” 9-11 p.m., ABC. Next month will bring the 25th
anniversary of a chaotic moment: Trying to enter the Branch Davidian
compound near Waco, Texas, federal agents faced gunfire. Four agents
and six Davidians were killed; a 51-day stand-off began, ending with
the deaths of 79 of the 85 people inside. Why did things go so badly?
ABC News says it has fresh information.

“Mom,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Earlier, Bonnie learned she is no one's contact person for
medical emergencies. Now there's areminder of that low regard: When
her half-brother is arrested, he calls Adam, not her..

“Will &
Grace,” 9 p.m., NBC. When Nick Offerman was in “Parks and
Recreation,” there were wildly funny guest bits by his real-life
wife, Megan Mullally. Now he returns the favor; he plays a bisexual
chap who is dating Will AND Grace. Meanwhile, Karen (Mullally) can't
shake an annoying jingle.

“Chicago Fire,”
10 p.m., NBC. When Dawson's dad is stabbed, Brett tries a difficult
procedure to save him. Dawson struggles with how she's dealt with her
her dad. Meanwhile, Otis scrambles to get the second Molly's bar
ready to open. And Boden is emotional about the rescue of a famous
bluesman.

TV column for Wednesday, Jan. 3


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“The X-Files” season-opener, 8 p.m., Fox.

It's been two years
since the 10th “X-Files” season ended with a
world-at-risk episode. Now we start there again: Some people want to
kill the cigarette man (Mulder's father) ... some want to nab the
teen son of Mulder and Scully ... some want to end the world. All are
quite angry and tense.

Eventually, the show
will get back to its quirk-of-the-week format. (The fourth episode is
hilarious.) Meanwhile, the high-stakes episodes, including tonight's,
are a mixed blessing. Heavily serialized, with no real ending,
they're frustrating. Still, the heightened writing makes them
fascinating to watch.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “9-1-1” debut, 9 p.m., Fox.

TV has had lots of
cops, firefighters and paramedics, plus an occasional crisis-phone
person. But this mixes them together, in a busy hour that has two big
crises, plus small ones and personal stories.

The personal
problems are piled on heavily; there's Alzheimer's, alcoholism, a
fractured marriage, and more. And the loose-cannon character feels
like a cliche ... especially because he's almost identical to the one
on “S.W.A.T.” Still, the stories are compelling, with terrific
actors at the top. Angela Bassett, Peter Krause and the superb Connie
Britton breathe rich humanity into a quick-paced hour.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Grown-ish” debut, 8 and 8:30 p.m., Freeform.

As this show
starts, it feels compelled to remind us it's a “Black-ish”
spin-off. That two-minute opening, oddly, is weepy and witless; as
soon as it ends, “Grown-ish” becomes an excellent show.

A smart and popular
high school student, Zoey is starting college ... and sort of
botching it. This show is surprisingly frank about drugs and sex –
especially for a network that used to be called “ABC Family.”
It's also smart and likable; Zoey soon has a “Breakfast Club”
sort of friendship wih six others; they seem wrong for each other
(and, sometimes, for college), but they're great together.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “The Amazing Race” season-opener, 8 p.m., CBS.

Once a huge,
twice-a-year project, “Race” is down to one edition, squeezed
between “Survivor” editions. For its 30th round, the
show assembles for competitive types. There are IndyCar champions and
former pro basketball stas, plus champions of “X-Games,” eating
(really) and debating.

Others include twins
who are firefighters, two more sets of friends (models and yoga
instructors) and three more dating couples – a lifeguard duo ...
half of a classical/pop string quartet ... and former “Big Brother”
couple Cody Nickson and Jessioca Graf. Tonight, they race fron New
York to Iceland.

Other choices
include:

Movies, 4 p.m. to
midnight, FX. Here's a line-up aimed at kids on vacation. The amiable
“We Bought a Zoo” (2011) is 4 p.m., with “Goosebumps” (2015)
at 6 and “Hotel Transylvania 2” (2015) at 8 and 10.

“The Blacklist”
return, 8 p.m., NBC. Fresh from a six-week break, the show now has
Liz – widowed and shattered – trying for a new start where no one
knows her. Soon, she's fighting for her life.

“Riverdale” and
“Dynasty,” 8 and 9 p.m., CW. One show reruns its season-opener,
the other its debut, with opposite results. “Riverdale” is a
solid show, giving depth to the old Archies gang; “Dynasty” has
all the depth of a shot glass, giving us no one to like and little to
care about.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. If guys can have a “man cave,” can Claire have a
“she shed” in the yard? The neighborhood association says she
can't. Also, a family sends Cam to Mitch's therapist.

“Match Game”
season-opener, 10 p.m., ABC. Alec Baldwin has panelists mostly known
for comedy – Niecy Nash, Joel McHale, Caroline Rhea, Jason Ritter,
Mark Duplass and Constance Zimmer.

“Chicago P.D.,”
10 p.m., NBC. Partying with his girlfriend, Halstead becomes entwined
in a drug-related murder. Also, we finally learn who is the mole in
the police unit.

TV column for Tuesday, Jan. 2


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“LA to Vegas” debut, 9 p.m., Fox.

When Ronnie became a
flight attendant, she expected to see the world. Instead, she sees
the same 270-mile route, with the same needy passengers and needier
pilot.

This is a comedy
that goes for big,broad laughs, often succeeding. Former soap star
Kim Matula makes Ronnie smart and likable, confident about everything
except her own emotions. Dylan McDermott, who usually does
dead-serious roles, is surprisingly good as the shady, shaky captain.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Ellen's Game of Games,” 8 and 9 p.m., NBC.

After a likable
preview two weeks ago, this settles into its temporary, 8 p.m. slot,
adding an extra hour at 9. Ellen DeGeneres presides over offbeat
games that have worked on her daytime show,.

In a perverse
version of “musical chairs,” for instance, the contestants are
blindfolded and the chairs keep being moved. In “You Bet Your
Wife,” men bet on how many questions their wives – suspended 30
feet in the air – can answer in 30 seconds.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Major Crimes,” 9 p.m., TNT; rerunning at 10.

Let's credit G.W.
Bailey with perseverance. From “MASH” (as Sgt. Rizzo) to now,
this Texan is usually given folksy, crusty little roles. But he has
stuck with this character, Louie Provenza, for two series (“The
Closer” and “Major Crimes”), 13 seasons and 212 episodes. At
73, he plays a key role.

Sharon Raydor, the
unit's leader, has died of heart trouble. Last week (rerunning at 8),
she was mourned and buried, while the team faced another crisis:
Serial killer Philip Stroh (Billy Burke) escaped and seems to have a
bigger plan. In the series' second-to-last hour, Lt. Provenza pushes
for extra cops.

Other choices
include:

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. With a drug-running operation working out of a marina, Ellie and
Nick (Emily Wickersham and Wilmer Valderrama) go undercover as a
crime couple.

“Lethal Weapon,”
8 p.m., Fox. Teens inadvertently get tangled in a counterfeit-money
scheme. That strikes a chord with Murtaugh, who's having trouble with
his son.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. The boys ride with their dad and grandfather (John
Cullum), unaware of what's in store. And as New Year's Eve nears, Sue
isn't sure if she has a romance with Sean Donahue.

“Black-ish,” 9
p.m., ABC. As Bow's maternity leave expires, she finds it tough to
return to work. At home, her mother-in-law has shaky parenting
skills, offering the twins a scheme to skip homework.

“The Mick,” 9:30
p.m., Fox. Mick has been social-climbing lately. So when she learns
that her nephew's friend is the son of actress Jennie Garth (playing
herself), she schemes to get close.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. A deadly robbery seems to be linked to an
undercover operation by the Alcohol Tobacco Firearms unit. Percy
(Shalia Grant) must reconnect with her old ATF partner.

“Chicago Med,”
10 p.m., NBC. A young woman has HIV symptoms, but refuses to take a
test. She has no insurance, leading to an ethical debate. Meanwhile,
Noah deals with his first death as a resident.

TV column for Monday, Jan. 1


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“Tournament of Roses” parade, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET.

This is the big one,
drawing massive attention. NBC has been covering it since 1954; ABC
joined in when it took over the Rose Bowl in 1989. Both stayed, after
the game moved to ESPN.

Also joining:
Hallmark (with a preview at 10 a.m. ET and a rerun at 1 p.m.) ... RFD
(preview at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., rerun at 1:30) ... HGTV
(commercial-free, promoting its 8 p.m. “Dream Home” special) ...
and Amazon Prime, with Will Ferrell and Molly Shannon as fictional
commentators.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: Bowl games, all day.

After the parade is
done, the games begin. That peaks with the semi-finals for the
national championship, on ESPN. The Rose Bowl has Oklahoma and
Georgia, each 12-1, at 5:10 p.m. ET; the Sugar Bowl has Alabama
(11-1) and Clemson (12-1) at 8:45; the winners collide a week later.

There's more: The
Outback Bowl (noon, ESPN2) has Michigan and South Carolina, both 8-4.
The Peach Bowl (12:30, ESPN) has Central Florida, 12-0, and Auburn,
10-3. The Citrus Bowl (1 p.m., ABC) has Notre Dame and Louisiana
State, both 9-3.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Independent Lens,” 10:30 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).

Armistead Maupin
grew up in a conservative North Carolina family. Jesse Helms gave him
first real job; he volunteered for Vietnam, returned there as a
helpful civilian and then met President Nixon.

In the background
was his own secret, as a gay man. When he began writing a daily,
fictional story in the San Francisco Chronicle, gay characters became
increasingly important. That became “Tales of the City,” a
mini-series that brought PBS huge success and then conservative
attacks. This beautifully detailed documentary traces Maupin, 73,
through a life of huge personal and social changes.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE II: “The Bachelor” opener, 8-10:01 p.m., PBS.

Five yeas ago, Sean
Lowe and Arie Luyendyk Jr. were “Bachelorette” contestants,
competing for Emily Maynard. Luyendyk finished second, Lowe was third
... but later was “The Bachelor,” where he chose and married
Catherine Giudici. Now it's Luyendyk's turn; first, he meets with the
Lowes for advice.

Then it's time to
meet the 29 women, many of them familiar with the Dutch-born
professional racer. One arrives in a miniature racecar; another has a
red, vintage Mustang convertible. Another whispers Dutch words in his
ear. Eventually, eight are sent home.

Other choices
include:

“Great
Performances,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS. Here's the Vienna Philharmonic's
New Year's Day concert (which a few stations also carry live at 2:30
p.m. ET). There are lots of Strauss waltzes, including pieces that
have ballet dances at a hunting lodge and at Emperor Franz Josef's
private train station.

“Lucifer” and
“The Gifted,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox. Both shows have new episodes. We
flash back to Lucifer's arrival in Los Angeles. We also see tensions
mount among the mutant leaders

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a funny rerun from last season, two
problems pop up: Amy is temporarily leaving to teach at Princeton;
also, the guys' link with military people goes bad.

“Young Sheldon,”
8:30, 9 and 9:30 p.m., CBS. This enjoyable comedy is rarely flat-out
funny. One exception is tonight's first rerun, with hilarious moments
as the kids try to see their dad in the hospital. The second has
Sheldon discovering comic books; the third has him helping his dad
coach football.

“Better Late than
Never,” 9 and 10 p.m., NBC. Who knew that George Foreman is a major
ABBA fan? In the first hour, he meets a founding member; also, the
guys battle on a “Viking island” and try an etiquette class. In
the second, there's a detour to Lithuania, where William Shatner's
parents grew up.

“The Good Doctor,”
10:01 p.m., ABC. Here's a rerun of the first episode, smartly written
and beautifully played. Freddie Highmore is a young, autistic doctor,
with Richard Schiff as his mentor.

TV column for Sunday, Dec. 31


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“New Year's Rockin' Eve,” 8-11 p.m., 11:30 p.m. to 2:06 a.m.,
ABC.

For decades,
“Rockin' Eve” had a sly formula: Music was taped in advance, at a
pretend Eve party. Then competition got tougher abd in 2005, the show
needed a live concert; it chose Mariah Carey. When Carey returned
last year, however, the result was a mess; she blamed technical
glitches.

Now she's back for
another try. She'll be live at Times Square, as will Nick Jonas,
Camila Cabello and Sugarland. Also live: Britney Spears in Las Vegas
and Imagine Dragons in New Orleans; the taped party has Ciara, Kelly
Clarkson, Alessia Cara, Kane Btown, Bebe Rexha, Shawn Mendes and
more.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
More New Year's Eve.

Others – NBC, MTV
and more – have quit trying to match ABC. That leaves Fox as the
main competitor. It has Steve Harvey in New York from 8-10 p.m. and
11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., reportedly with Celine Dion, Macklemore, Neil
Diamond, Skylar Grey, Flo Rida and the Backstreet Boys.

There are also the
news channels. CNN (8 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. ET) again has Anderson
Cooper, this time with Andy Cohen replacing the ousted Kathy Griffin.
Fox News (10 p.m. to 1 a.m. ET) has Lisa “Kennedy” Montgomery and
Jesse Watters, with music from Andy Grammer and Lauren Alaina.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Live From Lincoln Center,” 9 p.m., PBS.

For a brief time,
the classical and pop music worlds almost intersected. That was when
Leonard Bernsein wrote the music for “West Side Story,”
“Candide,” “Wonderful Town” and “On the Town.”

Now the New York
Philharmonic – which Bernstein led for 11 years – has a night of
his music. The vocals will be from Christopher Jackson of “Hamilton,”
plus other Broadway stars – Aaron Tveit (also known from the
“Graceland” series and “Les Miserables” movie), Laura Osnes
and Annaleigh Ashford.

TODAY'S ODDITY:
Football on CBS and Fox, but not on NBC.

Each week, NBC's
“Sunday Night Football” has been a ratings-leader ... until now.
Last week, the night game was moved to Saturday, to avoid Christmas
Eve; this week, it's simply been eliminated.

The NFL arbitrarily
decided there won't be a game tonight, after all. Instead, all the
games with play-off possibilities will be at 4:25 p.m. ET, with
regional feeds. Moving there from 1 p.m. are Cincinnati-Baltimore,
Buffalo-Miami and Jacksonville-Tennessee on CBS and Carolina-Atlanta
and New Orleans-Tampa Bay on Fox. Some other key games (including
Arizona-Seattle) were already set for 4:25.

Other choices
include:

“Jurassic”
films, Spike. Steven Spielberg's terrific “Jurassic Park” (1993)
is 10 a.m., with the sequels at 1 p.m. (1997) and 4 p.m. (2001); they
rerun at 6 p.m., 9 p.m. and midnight. And to complicate things, FX
has “Jurassic World” (2015) from 5-7:30 p.m.

“Titanic”
(1997), 3 and 7:30 p.m. ET, BBC America. Like Spielberg, James
Cameron proved that blockbuster movies can also be splendidly
crafted. Here's his Oscar-winner.

“S.W.A.T.,” 8:30
p.m., CBS (8 p.m. PT). A night of CBS drama reruns starts here. Hondo
still has misgivings about the reckless Jim Street, but he lets him
go undercover to trace a car-thef ring.

“SEAL Team,”
9:30 p.m., CBS (9 p.m. PT). Terrorists have kidnapped an undercover
CIA operative, hoping to use her as a bargaining chip. Now the team
tries a rescue.

“Bull,” 10:30
p.m., CBS (10 p.m. ET). It's a double night for Christopher Jackson –
singing on PBS and acting (as Chunk, the fashion consultant for
Bull's defendants) here. Tonight, the friendship is strained when
Bull works for the accused killer of Chunk's mentor.

ALSO: There are
plenty of popcorn pleasures. Disney has its “Descendants”
musicals at 4 and 6:05 p.m. Freeform has the final five Harry Potter
films at 7 and 10:40 a.m., and at 1:50, 5:30 and 9 p.m.`And FXX has
the “Simpsons Movie” (2007) at 6 p.m., followed by a 28-hour
series marathon.