TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 2

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” 9 p.m., NBC.

In a splendid start
to the Christmas season, we've had the two greatest specials in three
days. It was Charlie Brown on Monday on ABC (it will return on
Christmas Eve) and the Grinch now.

Each has the perfect
mix of sentiment and humor, with dandy music sprinkled in. “Grinch”
started with the witty Dr. Seuss tale, then added great work from
animator Chuck Jones, narrator Boris Karloff and Thurl Ravenscroft
(the voice of Tony the Tiger) singing that he's a mean one, Mr.

II: “Empire” mid-season finale, 9 p.m., Fox.

To pull off its
ambitious blend of music and drama, “Empire” only has 18 episodes
a season. Now it's already to No. 10; after this, we'll have to wait
until March.

Tonight, Lucious
pushes his risky effort to buy a streaming service and Cookie
organizes a concert at the prison where she spent 17 years. Then,
Fox promises, there will be a big closing jolt.

ALTERNATIVE: “Top Chef” season-opener, 10-11:15 p.m., Bravo;
repeats at 11:45.

One of TV's best
reality shows gets off to a zesty start, with three quick challenges.
The second requires three people to work consecutively ... without
knowing what the previous one did; one person never notices that
there's a chicken in the oven.

Then comes the big
one – 17 chefs, each preparing a dish for an outdoor event with 200
food writers. These are likable and varied contestants. Angelina
Bastides is the youngest, a Miami chef at 25; Grayson Schmitz, 32, is
a veteran who competed four years ago. Frances Tariga-Weshnak, 33, is
a Philippines native, hesitant with English; Garrett Fleming uses
phrases like “culinary manifestation.”

ALTERNATIVE II: “Racing Extinction,” 9 p.m., Discovery, Animal
Planet, Science and Discovery Life; repeats at 10:36 on all but
Discovery Life.

It's logical,
scientists say, for some species to go extinct; now, however, that's
happening at 1,000 times the natural rate. Humans are to blame,
directly (poaching) or indirectly (upsetting the eco-balance).

This richly detailed
documentary – nominated for the Sundance Film Festival's grand jury
prize – tackles both problems. The ecology questions are tough,
including the immense impact of beef production; the poaching is
tackled with a bold combination of hidden cameras and protests.

Other choices

“Christmas at
Rockefeller Center,” 8 p.m., NBC. The tree-lighting is preceded by
the Rockettes and lots of music. That includes James Taylor (backed
by trumpeter Chris Botti), Mary J. Blige, Andrea Bocelli, Carly Rae
Jepson and Andy Grammer, plus The Band Perry and The Band of

“Frank Sinatra: A
Man and His Music,” 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. This 1965
special is followed by three Sinatra musicals -- “Guys and Dolls”
(1955) at 9 p.m. ET, “Pal Joey” (1957) at 11:45 p.m. and
“Can-Can” (1960) at 1:45 a.m.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. When Gloria wins a free seminar on “cleaning out the
junk drawer” of emotions, reactions vary: Phil and Claire get
competitive; Cam and Mitchell try for a low profile.

“A Saturday Night
Live Christmas,” 9:30-11 p.m., NBC. An all-Christmas prime time
concludes with this collection of past sketches.

“Code Black,” 10
p.m., CBS. One key character is Jesse (Luis Guzman), the nurse who –
with Dr. Leanne Rorish – seems to run the place. Now he has a major
heart attack and she's shattered.

“You're the
Worst,” 10:30 p.m., FXX. With two episodes left this season,
“Worst” has taken a dark turn. Gretchen sinks into despondency
while sometimes-lover Jimmy is with someone she calls a guy's ideal –
a beautiful ski champion who owns a bar. There are funny moments
early ... and key changes ahead.

TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 1

“The Flash,” 8 p.m., CW.

For now, this
mini-network is mostly a youth-fantasy place. On Jan. 21, it will
debut “Legends of Tomorrow,” return “The 100” and nudge its
Thursday fantasy shows to Fridays.

Here's the first
step, introducing three “Legends” characters in a story that
continues on Wednesday's “Arrow.” Tonight, Cisco's girlfriend
Kendra -- unaware she's the new Hawkgirl -- is attacked by Vandal
Savage. She's taken to the “Arrow” turf for protection; also,
Hawkman zooms in.

II: “The Polar Express” (2004) and “How the Grinch Stole
Christmas” (2000), 7 and 9 p.m., ABC Family.

Back in 1996, this
network introduced its “25 Days of Christmas.” In the years
ahead, it would offer new movies – some, including “Snowglobe”
and “Snow,” excellent – and holiday episodes of series.

Now the channel has
such a huge backload that it's adding zero originals this year;
still, a busy line-up begins today. Cartoons start at 1 p.m., with
these movies – both of which will repeat often – at night.
“Polar” is visually impressive, but short on story; “Grinch”
is the Jim Carrey movie version.

ALTERNATIVE:“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” 8 p.m., CBS.

OK, there are times
when you don't need cable to see Christmas classics. CBS still holds
onto this one, which it's been showing since 1964.

We still think it's
overrated – bland animation and a so-so story that was was extended
to fill an hour – but that doesn't seem to matter. It's December
now and viewers will welcome Rudolph back.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and
“Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce” season-openers, 9 and 10 p.m.,

In the first hour,
we see that the rich and beautiful can have real problems. Kyle
Richards frets about her sister (Kim, a former child star) in rehab
... Yolanda Foster faces an overwhelming illness ... Eileen Davidson
mourns her late father-in-law (Dick Van Patton). On a much lighter
note, Lisa VanderPump must throw the opening pitch at a Dodgers game;
she knows nothing about pitching ... or baseball.

Then we see the
exaggerated woes of “Girlfriends.” Abby is torn between her
good-guy estranged husband and her young-and-handsome boyfriend. In
an overblown scene, that gets decided for her.

Other choices

“The Muppets,” 8
p.m., ABC. Dave Grohl has had plenty of rock triumphs, drumming for
Nirvana and other groups and being guitarist and frontman for the Foo
Fighters. Now he faces the ultimate challenge – a drum-off with
Miss Piggy. Also, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a duet with Miss Piggy.

'Scream Queens,” 9
p.m., Fox. TV has plenty of holiday episodes, but here's one about
these characters' favorite – Black Friday. They celebrate it,
despite Thanksgiving horrors.

“Chicago Med,” 9
p.m., NBC. When Dr. Rhodes treats a family friend, he meets his
sister and confronts his own troubled past.

\World AIDS Day, 9
p.m., HBO, and 11:35 p.m., ABC. A “Vice” report views research,
talks to George W. Bush about global efforts and follows Bono to
Rwanda. Bono also shows up on ABC, where Jimmy Kimmel has a
“shopathon” fundraiser with Scarlett Johansson, Olivia Wilde, The
Killers and more.

9:01 p.m., CBS. Shifting its Tuesday shows around this week, CBS
reruns the second episode of this new show. Brian has a new job with
the FBI ... and promptly disobeys orders.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10:01 p.m., CBS. In a rerun from last March, a new murder
is linked to two unsolved cases. All three victims' names are on a
mural, in a dilapitated part of town.

TV column for Monday, Nov. 30

“A Charlie Brown Christmas,” 9 p.m., ABC, with preview at 8.

One of TV's great
moments is re-visited at length. It became a classic, partly because
a tight deadline kept the network from interfering. The result broke
traditions, offering a jazzy score, primitive animation and a Bible
verse. Rounding out the hour are vignettes adapted from “Peanuts”

That's preceded at 8
p.m. by a 50th-anniversary special (nine days early).
Kristin Chenoweth does a song from her Tony-winning role in “You're
a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” There's a new song by Matthew Morrison
and more music by Sarah McLachlan, Boyz II Men, Pentatonix and David

II: “Superstore” debut, 10 p.m., NBC.

For a while, we
thought NBC (the “Seinfeld”/”Friends”/”Office” network)
had lost the ability to nurture comedy. But this one – from former
“Office” producer Justin Spitzer – grows on you.

Jonah (Ben Feldman
of “A to Z”) is the newcomer in a big-box store, meeting Amy
(America Ferrera), who has spent most of her adulthood there. Garrett
is the voice of reason; Cheyenne, 17 and pregnant, is the voice of
confusion. Other characters are harsh at first, but they'll mellow.
After tonight, “Superstore” will wait until January, then will
help restore situation comedy to Mondays.

ALTERNATIVE: “Fargo,” 10 p.m., FX.

Last week, the
showignored its best characters – Ed and Peggy Blomquist,
small-town butcher and stylist – until the final minute. That's
when Ed phoned a mobster. “I've got Dodd Gerhardt in the trunk of
my car,” he said. “You want him?”

He does. So does the
lethal American Indian who works for Dodd. And the state trooper and
his father-in-law, a sheriff. And some of the Gerhardts. In the
drolly brilliant eighth part of a 10-part mini-series, forces start
to converge on a rural cabin.

Other choices

Ex-Girlfriend,” 8 p.m., CW. Rebecca's mom (Tovah Feldshuh) has been
mainly a disapproving phone voice, a continent away. Now she visits
and Rebecca tries to maintain the lies she's told her.

“Supergirl,” 8
p.m., CBS. Kara, who seems so pleasant, shows her rage during a
training exercise. Cat (Calista Flockhard), who seems so tough,
crumbles when her mother visits.

mid-season finale, 8 p.m., Fox. Always lush visually, sometimes nasty
in story, “Gotham” has remained interesting. Now Fox says there
will be big events tonight, before the show takes a three-month
break. Bruce Wayne has been kidnapped' Detective Gordon must try a
dangerous alliance.

“Minority Report,”
9 p.m., Fox. This is the “season finale,” Fox says, but let's
assume it's the series finale. Facing micro-ratings, the network
trimmed it from 13 episodes to 10; tonight, a chemical attack is
being planned and Detective Vega desperately needs the “precogs”
who can anticipate crime.

“The Making of
Trump,” 9-11:03 p.m., History. This documentary views Donald
Trump's life.

“McFarland, USA”
(2015), 9:40 p.m., Starz. Jim White was a long-time teacher in
McFarland, Cal., when he decided to revive the cross-country team. It
was tough; at times, teens would work 12 hours in the field, then run
in 100-degree heat. This movie version heightened that by making
White (Kevin Costner) a McFarland newcomer who'd been frequently
fired. It's a quietly involving story.

“The Great Holiday
Baking Show” debut, 10 p.m., ABC. Over four Mondays, we'll see six
amateur bakers trimmed to one winner. Tonight's first two rounds are
so-so, but the third – create a gingerbread scene in five hours –
brings dandy variety. Nia Vardalos and Ian Gomez – whose marriage
was depicted in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” -- host, with Gomez
adding some wry humor.

TV column for Sunday, Nov. 29

“Breakthrough,” 9 p.m., National Geographic.

In 115 years, we're
told, our life expectancy has gone from 50 to almost 80. That
progress has been piecemeal, a scientist says: “We are really good
at treating diseases, not so good at treating aging.”

Now researchers are
looking for the bigger picture – the genes that influence how
quickly we age. Ron Howard, who crafted this hour beautifully, shows
us his own aging – from Opie to Richie to a balding, 61-year-old,
Oscar-winning director. He includes moving portraits of researchers
and patients; combine this with an 8 p.m. rerun (Brett Ratner
studying research of the brain) and it's a compelling night.

“Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas,” 8:30 p.m., Fox.

Overeager to help,
Sid (voiced by John Leguizamo) causes trouble. When he breaks a
favorite ornament, he's told by Manny (Ray Romano) that Santa (Billy
Gardell, of course) put him on the naughty list. Now he heads to the
North Pole, accidentally destroying Santa's workshop.

That's the
mid-section of three animated reruns. In the “Simpsons”
season-opener (8 p.m.), Homer is separated from Marge and dates a
20-something; Lena Dunham and her “Girls” co-stars are guests.
And in the 250th “Family Guy,” Peter insists he could
beat Liam Neeson in a fight.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Walking Dead,” 9 p.m., AMC.

At the end of this
episode, “Dead” will be at the mid-point of its 16-episode season
and will take a break. To prepare us, the entire first half of the
season reruns from 1-10 p.m. That starts with Rick (and viewers)
reeling from the deaths of Reg and Pete; it ends with people enjoying
some brief peace inside Alexandria ... and then facing what could be
an unbeatable threat.

At 10, “Into the
Badlands” sees two fierce barons – Quinn and The Widow – at
war; also, Sunny starts training young M.K. Next week, “Badlands”
reruns its first three hours, borrowing the “Dead” slot.

Other choices

Soul Train Awards, 8
and 11 p.m., BET. There are special awards tonight for Jill Scott and
Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. Both perform; so do Brandy,
Fantasia,Tyrese, R. Kelly, Boyz II Men, Tevin Campbell, Cameo,
Jazmine Sullivan, Lion Babe, Tasha Cobbs and more.

Football, 8:30 p.m.
ET, NBC, with pre-game at 7. Tom Brady's Patriots (10-0) visit Peyton
Manning's Broncos (8-2). The catch: Manning is fighting an injury;
Brock Osweiler, who eked out a win last year, will start.

“Madam Secretary,”
8:30 p.m., CBS. Last week ended with a jolt, when the president –
convinced it was the Russians who hacked his plane – ordered a
cyber-hit that blacked out Moscow's power grid. Now Elizabeth
prepares to speak to the United Nations ... then receives key news
from her husband.

“Blood & Oil,”
9 p.m., ABC. Trimmed to 10 episodes, this show returns (after a
two-week break) with No. 8. Annie (Lolita Davidovich) goes into
business with Billy, whose lies are catching up with him. Briggs Oil
tries for a lavish 30-year celebration, while investigators zero in
on it.

“The Good Wife,”
9:30 p.m., CBS. Alicia and Louis Canning (Michael J. Fox) link to
defend a Web site accused of racial profiling. Meanwhile, her
husband's campaign people worry about her growing relationship with
her firm's detective (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).

“Last Man on
Earth,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. In a rerun of the funny season-opener, Phil
and Carol leave Tucson and start a long – and quite lonely – trek
across the continent, looking for a new home.

“Quantico,” 10
p.m., ABC. After taking a week off for the American Music Awards,
this ratings success is back. Anne Heche plays an expert profiler,
lecturing the FBI trainees; flashing to the future, Alex (Priyanka
Chopra) faces some skilled FBI interrogation.

TV column for Saturday, Nov. 28

“Frosty the Snowman,” 8 p.m., CBS.

So who needs to wait
for December? Now the broadcast networks join the Christmas rush.
Friday had cartoons on ABC (which has the “Charlie Brown” classic
on Monday) and CW; now it's CBS' turn.

“Frosty” is an
amiable-enough, 1969 cartoon, boosted by the buoyant song. “Frosty
Returns,” a 1992 disappointment, is at 8:31, with the 1996 “The
Story of Santa Claus” at 9: Ed Asner and Betty White – old “Mary
Tyler Moore Show” colleagues – voice the Clauses, with Tim Curry
as an evil elf.

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

Just 16 months after
an auto accident that nearly ended his career, Tracy Morgan hosted
this episode, stuffed with good (but not great) moments.

Many of those
included Morgan. He dusted off his animal-show and astronaut
characters, guested on “Family Feud” and had an opening monolog
that brought back “30 Rock” friends Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Jane
Krakowski and Jack McBrayer. Baldwin also showed up in the fairly
good opening debate sketch, which had Larry David as Bernie Sanders;
Demi Lovato was the music guest.

ALTERNATIVE: “A Christmas Detour,” 8-10 p.m., Hallmark.

The face of
Christmas – a pleasant one – seems to be Candace Cameron Bure.
She stars in four mildly enjoyable movies tonight, each with a
Christmas setting and (sorry to spoil this) a happy ending.

In “Christmas
Under Wraps” (2014) at 6 p.m., she's an ambitious doctor, whisked
to an Alaskan town not on the map. In the new “Detour,” she faces
transportation snarls, en route to meet her future in-laws. In “Let
It Snow” (2013) at 10, she oversees the closing of a charming
resort. And in “Moonlight and Mistletoe” (2008) at midnight, she
returns to the Santa-centric town where she grew up.

Other choices

Football, all day.
It's the last regular-season game for many teams. Fox has Notre Dame
(ranked No. 4) at Stanford (11) at 7:30 p.m. ET; ABC has Oklahoma (7)
at Oklahoma State (6) at 8. Earlier, ABC has Ohio State (No. 3) at
Michigan (No. 12) at noon; both lost to Michigan State on the final
play; today's winner only reaches the Big Ten championship game if
Penn State beats MSU (9) at 3:30 on ESPN.

“Game of Lions,”
6 p.m., NatGeo Wild. “Big Cat Week” assembles NatGeo's past
films. This one, by master filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert, is
one of many on lions. Also, “Cougars Undercover” -- beautifully
filmed in the Rockies – is at 4 p.m. and “Leopard: Ultimate
Survivor” is at 8.

“The Incredibles”
(2004) and “Wreck-It Ralph” (2012), 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., ABC
Family. Two clever scripts take us inside the souls of a retired
superhero and a sheepish videogame villain.

More movies. Three
epics collide at 8 p.m. -- “The Avengers” (2012) on FX, “Oz the
Great and Powerful” (2013) on E and “Kingsman” (2015) on HBO.
And at 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies has “To Kill a Mockingbird”
(1962), No. 25 on the American Film Institute's list of best American

Demons,” 8 p.m., Starz. The “Monster of Italy” has been
captured, but there's still danger.

“Doctor Who,” 9
p.m., BBC America. This starts a two-parter in which the Doctor is
alone as he faces his greatest challenge.

“Rocky” (1976),
10 p.m., Spike. With “Creed” now in theaters, people can see
where this all began, almost 40 years ago. A spare film propelled by
John Avildsen's sharp direction and Bill Conti's stirring score,
“Rocky” won the Academy Award for best picture.