TV column for Thursday, Sept. 10

Football opener, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC; with pre-game at 7:30.

It took judicial
intervention, but NBC now launches the pro season properly – with a
showdown between top quarterbacks. Tom Brady – spared by the courts
(at least for now) from his suspension – leads the Super Bowl
champion Patriots, hosting Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh

The season-opener
tends to have a party atmosphere, including a concert during the
pre-game show. This year, however, the NFL is already pointing its
season-finale: Tonight's concert (with Train and Ellie Goulding) will
be in San Francisco, which will be the site of the 50th
Super Bowl.

II: “Under the Dome” finale, 10 p.m., CBS.

For three seasons,
“Dome” has delivered something unexpected – a big-budget,
Steven Spielberg production in the summertime. Now it ends with the
dome finally crumbling.

That causes new
problems, though. Our heroes – Dale “Barbie” Barbara, Julie and
Big Jim – scramble to keep those infected by the aliens from
getting loose. That includes Junior (Big Jim's son), Joe and Dawn –
the spawn of Barbie and alien Eva, suddenly full-grown and heralded
as the new queen.

ALTERNATIVE: “Longmire” season-opener, any time, Netflix.

For three steady
seasons, Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) trudged ahead as a quiet
Wyoming sheriff. He solved cases, alongside his talkative deputy
(Katee Sackhoff), his friend (Lou Diamond Phillips) and his
daughter, a lawyer. Ratings were high, reviews were favorable ... but
the average viewer was old.

So the A&E
network dumped its most-watched show. Fortunately, this streaming
service stepped in, at a pivotal point: Finally knowing who's
responsible for his wife's death, Walt eyes revenge.

Other choices

“Beauty and the
Beast,” 8 p.m., CW. Liam wants to expose the fact that Vincent is
The Beast; Vincent and Cat try to destroy him first.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. After tonight, football will nudge “Big
Bang” to Mondays. This rerun has the first meeting of the guys'
mismatched moms: Sheldon's (Laurie Metcalf) is a religious
conservtive; Leonard's (Christine Baranski) is a cooly distant
psychiatrist and author.

“Mom,” 8:31
p.m., CBS. Just before this show begins its two-month break, let's
re-savor the episode that wrapped up a great season. Christy's son
wants to live with his dad; naturally, she blames her mom.

“The Civil War,”
9-11 p.m., PBS. On the fourth night of this five-night masterpiece,
Sherman advances on Atlanta. We also get profiles of the two
commanders – Ulysses Grant and Robert E. Lee.

“Elephant Queen,”
9 p.m., NatGeo Wild. Here's a rerun of the excellent Aug. 30
documentary, which traced an elephant's dangerous, 200-mile trek
through the Kalahari desert, leading her family to water.

“Craig Ferguson:
Just Being Honest,” 10 p.m., Epix. Fifteen years ago, when Ferguson
was unknown to many Americans, he wrote the movie “Saving Grace.”
It would draw praise, leading to a series (“Doc Martin”) ... and
to a chance to write a script with Mick Jagger. Ferguson recalls the
experience with wit and detail. What started as a so-so comedy
special ends as a delight.

“Married,” 10:30
p.m., FX. Billed as a comedy, this episode is surprisingly short on
laughs, but strong on well-crafted drama. Russ and Lena ponder who
would take their kids if they died; they soon realize that their
friends are having trouble.

TV column for Wednesday, Sept. 9

“Last Comic Standing” finale, 10 p.m., NBC.

For three strange
summers, this show disappeared; NBC simply didn't renew it. When it
finally returned last summer, it proved that there are a lot of
clever comedians out there.

Now it's shown that
again. The comments by the judges (Roseanne Barr, Norm Macdonald,
Keenen Ivory Wayans) don't add much, but the host (Anthony Jeselnik)
is dryly clever and the contestants are terrific. We're down to the
final five now, with one of them about to be named champion.

II: “Home Free” finale, 9 p.m., Fox.

No, all reality
shows aren't created equal. “Home” has a smart host (Mike
Holmes), worthy contestants and a great concept: Each week, people
rehab a house; one duo is dismissed and the others remain in the
running for a dream home ... unaware that the “losers” won the
home they were just working on.

Now we're down to
three duos -- perky twins trying to win a house for their parents ...
a couple who lost their first home because of recession and drought
... and a lesbian couple that has faced barriers and setbacks.
Tonight, one will win big ... but all will be winners.

ALTERNATIVE: “You're the Worst” season-opener, 10:30 p.m., FXX.

These two people
couldn shatter any relationships. They're cynical, skeptical,
self-centered and outspoken; they're wrong for anyone ... except,
maybe, for each other.

As the second season
begins (moving from sister channel FX), Jimmy and Gretchen are living
together and begrudgingly admit that they like each other. They will
not admit, however, that they their 30-somethig bodies need an
occasional break from sex, drugs and alcohol. They struggle with that
in this funny (but uneven) opener,, while their roommate Edgar
struggles with his unspoken love for Lindsay.

Other choices

“America's Got
Talent,” 8 p.m., NBC. Tonight, theshow's top 10 will be complete.

“Young &
Hungry” and “Kevin From Work,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC Family. One
guy (Elliot) wants a big party, but his friends forgot to plan one;
the other (Kevin) doesn't want a party, but his sister is planning a
big one. Also in the oft-overwrought “Young,” Gabi falls for her
friend's brother; in the clever “Work,” Kevin is weary of being
the office problem-solver.

season-finale, 9-11 p.m., CBS. Now the human race is in jeopardy. In
the first hour, Lucy makes a dangerous move against the humans; in
the second, Molly (Halle Berry) and JD scramble to prevent disaster.
Also, in the first hour, Molly reveals disturbing details about
Shepherd's death.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. Alex, the diligent student, doesn't want to take part in
the “senior ditch day” custom. In this rerun, her dad and
siblings force her to.

“The Carmichael
Show,” 9 and 9:30 p.m., NBC. This wraps up the three-week,
six-episode trial run of a show that has strong topics, plus some
talented veterans (David Alan Grier, Loretta Devine) to spark the
verbal fireworks. Tonight's first hour involves religion; the second
involves guns.

“The League”
season-opener, 10 p.m., FXX. The final season starts with Marshawn
Lynch and a cute take-off on his team's failed Super Bowl decision to
pass on the one-yard-line. Then it deteriorates into its usual stuff.
To savor this, you have to feel that friends-hazing-friends is
terribly humorous.

“Suddenly Royal”
debut, 10:01 p.m., TLC. Back in 2007, a Maryland mechanic said
genealogy revealed he's king of the Isle of Man. It would be another
seven years before he actually visited Man, a self-governing British
protectorate of about 84,000 people, near England and Ireland. This
reality show follows him, with his wife and daughter, as they visit
and get coaching on royal behavior.

TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 8

“The Late Show Wiih Stephen Colbert” debut, 11:35 p.m., CBS.

For the first time
in 22 years, CBS has a new guy in its key latenight slot. It chose
someone viewers have only seen as a fictional guy on cable; what can
we expect from Colbert now?

He's scuttling the
fake guy, but keeping the habit of interviewing non-entertainers. It
will be Jeb Bush tonight, Joe Biden on Wednesday, Stephen King on
Friday and the leaders of Uber (Wednesday) and Tesla (Thursday).
Tonight also has George Clooney and Colbert's bandleader, Jon
Batiste. And a sample indicates Colbert may continue the
Fallon/Corden habit of elaborate, filmed comedy.

“America's Got Talent” and “Hollywood Game Night,” 8-11 p.m.,

It's another fun
summer night for NBC. “Talent” (8 p.m.) offers the second half of
the 24 semi-finalists; on Wednesday, we'll see 10 acts advance to the

And “Game Night”
(10:01 p.m.) has a fun crowd. Musical people (Pete Wentz, Mel B.)
link with actress Ming Na Wen and comedy people Kevin Nealon, Niecy
Nash and Cedric the Entertainer.

ALTERNATIVE: “Zoo,” 9-11 p.m., CBS.

Don't you hate it
when you're injured while trying to stop a global outbreak of animal
attacks and when friends take you to the hospital it's overrun by
angry animals?

That happens tonight
to Jackson (James Wolk) in Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, Mitch and Jamie
(Billy Burke and Kristen Connolly) scramble to find an overall cure.
Then a shock sets up next week's finale.

Other choices

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Mimi Rogers plays a CIA agent in this rerun, as several agencies
link to find a terrorist group that's been using the Internet to
recruit American kids.

“Are You Smarter
Than a 5th Grader?” 8 p.m., Fox. The season-fnale sees a physician
struggle with grade-school questions.

“In Their Own
Words,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Muhammad Ali is

“The Civil War,”
9-11 p.m., PBS. The second chapter of this masterful documentary
finds a million Americans at war, stretched from Virginia to
Missouri. Lincoln fidges at the caution of Gen. George McClellan and
hears of the bold approach of Ulysses Grant. Also, navy battles
become important.

“Agents of
SHIELD,” 9 p.m., ABC. In a late move, ABC put up a patchwork night,
with this action show – a season-finale showdown, with losses and
jolts – sandwiched by reality shows. It's “Shark Tank” at 8
p.m. and “Extreme Weight Loss” at 10.

“The Last Man on
Earth,” 9:30 p.m., CBS. Already married to Phil, Carol now wants to
go a step further: She actually wants to move in with him.

“Public Morals,”
10 p.m., TNT. The wake for Mrs. O'Bannon draws both sides – the
mobsters and Muldoon (Edward Burns), a cop. Patton and his son are
ready to take over O'Bannon's bookie operation ... which has an
enforcer who's ready to make war.

TV column for Monday, Sept. 7

“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS.

For the second
straight year, TV's best comedy is spending two months in exile. CBS'
early-season football games will take over seven Thursdays; “Big
Bang” slides to Mondays, then returns to Thursdays – alongside
some well-rested shows – in November.

There's still a “Big
Bang” rerun this Thursday, but CBS decided to start the Monday move
early. In tonight's rerun, someone arrives claiming to be Wolowitz's

II: “Empire,” noon to midnight, FX.

Just as some people
were ignoring the broadcast networks last year, “Empire” soared.
It jumped to the top of the Nielsen ratings and got quick honors. The
Television Critics Association named it program of the year; Taraji
Henson received awards (Critics Choice, BET) and nominations (Emmy,

Now here's a chance
to see (or record) the 12-hour first season, before the second starts
Sept. 23.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Civil War” debut, 9-11 p.m., PBS.

It was on Sept. 23,
1990 – 25 years ago, minus a couple weeks – that PBS had a
breakthrough moment, debuting this series. Ken Burns had been doing
splendid documentaries for a decade, but nothing like this, a
sprawling, 10-hour epic that still captured deeply intimate emotions.

Burns has returned
with more gems on subjects light (jazz, baseball) and heavy (the Dust
Bowl, Prohibition, World War II), elevating PBS' profile. Now, in
this 150th-anniversary year of the war's end, the network
replays the film over five nights. It opens with a look at why it all

ALTERNATIVE II: “So You Think You Can Dance,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

Last week, viewers
ousted Megz Alfonso, a hip hop dancer, and Jim Nowakowski, an
impressive ballet star. Now the final four will each do three numbers
– one solo, one with another finalist and one with an “all-star”
from the past. Viewers will vote and a champion will be named next

The “Team Stage”
finalists are from places that are steady sources of great dance --
Miami (Gaby Diaz, 19) and Utah (Hailee Payne, 20). “Team Street”
has finalists who have already soared: Virgil Gadson, 28, had a year
on Broadway; Jaja Vankova, 23, was in an “America's Best Dance
Crew” champion.

Other choices

“Real Housewives
of Orange County,” 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Bravo. In a change, Bravo has
a rerun marathon. That leads to a new episode at 9 p.m. (the
aftermath of Tamra's sex party) and to the “Ladies of London”
season-opener at 10 (the aftermath of Annabelle's accident).

“Z Nation,” 1
p.m. to 2 a.m., Syfy. Lest we feel there just aren't enough zombies
on TV, Syfy gives us this entire first season, setting up the
second-season debut Friday.

“American Ninja
Warrior,” 8-10:01 p.m., NBC. The two-Monday finale begins in Las

Football, 8 p.m. ET,
ESPN. Last year, the only blemish on Ohio State's championship season
was a loss to Virginia Tech, as its back-up quarterback was breaking
in. Now here's a shot at revenge, at Tech.

“CBS Fall
Preview,” 8:30 p.m., CBS. Jane Lynch hosts this special, which may
claim that CBS' new shows are very good. Surprisingly, some
(especially “Code Black” and “Life in Pieces”) really are.

“Bachelor in
Paradise” finale, 9 p.m., ABC. Couples get their final chance to
try the overnight “fantasy suites.” With “The Whispers”
concluded, this show and its “After Paradise” follow-up (10:01
p.m.) were nudged back an hour; a “Shark Tank” rerun taks the 10
p.m. slot.

“Running Wild With
Bear Grylls,” 10:01 p.m., NBC. Football star Drew Brees tries the
Panama jungle.

TV column for Sunday, Sept. 6

“Masterpiece: Arthur & George,” 8 p.m., PBS (check local

Getting an early
jump on the season, PBS offers an involving blend of fact and

In 1903, George
Edalji – then a a lawyer and a vicar's son -- was convicted of
maiming a pony. Convinced this reflected small-town bias against
someone with Indian roots, Arthur Conan Doyle -- the Sherlock Holmes
creator – pushed for a pardon. Based on a novel, this three-week
tale gives the true story enough fictional twists to hold our
interest. Martin Clunes (“Doc Martin”) plays Doyle.

“Castle,” 10:01 p.m., ABC.

It was a tough
summer for this well-made show, as ABC fiddled with its Sunday
line-up. Now – while waiting for its Sept. 21 season opener --
“Castle” gets one chance to rerun the seventh-season finale.

A death in the woods
reminds Rick Castle of a childhood crisis; he soon obsesses, hoping
to answer questions from decades ago. That happens while Kate Beckett
is at a personal crossroads.

ALTERNATIVE: Movies, all day, cable.

You can catch the
dandy “Back to the Future” trilogy today on Syfy; that's at 4
p.m. (1985), 6:30 p.m. (1989) and 9 p.m. (1990). Or try the
“Gremlins” films on CMT, at 5:30 (1984) and 8 p.m. (1990).

There happen be an
abundance of good 8 p.m. choices: Families can try “Descendants”
(2015) on Disney. Others might prefer James Bond's “Casino Royale”
(2006) on BBC America .... early Tom Cruise in “Risky Business”
(1983) on Reelz ... or the epic, Oscar-winning “Titanic” (1997)
on HBO.

Other choices

Animation, all day,
ABC Family. A three-day marathon concludes with great choices.
There's “Tarzan” (1999) at 7:30 a.m., the “Cars” films at
9:30 a.m. (2006) and 12:15 p.m. (2011), “Ratatouille” (2007) at
2:45, “Tangled” (2010) at 5:15, “Finding Nemo” (2003) at 7:30
and “Mulan” (1998) at 10.

“Fear the Walking
Dead,” 6 and 7:20 p.m., AMC. Even zombies take a holiday break, it
seems. Tonight, AMC simply reruns its first two episodes, both of
them subtle and well-crafted; they also run at 8:30 and 9:59 p.m. and
at 11 p.m. and 12:29 a.m.

“Bachelor Pad,”
8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Ashley I. figures she has the solution to her iffy
romance with Jared: She whisks him away for an overnight date in a
luxury hotel. Guys tend to like that idea.

Sherlock,” 9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Alongside its
new film about Sherlock Holmes' creator, PBS will air reruns from the
2014 season. This one is “The Empty Hearse”; Sherlock's brother
calls him back to London to probe a terrorist group.

“The Last Man on
Earth,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. This rerun brings another setback for Phil:
The four survivors on the cul de sac decide to have a new vote for
president of the United States.

“The Strain,” 10
p.m., FX. With AMC in reruns tonight, some viewers will feel a
zombie/vanpire gap. Not to worry; here's a new hour, with Justine
battling a surprise invasion and Eph and Setrakian facing an old foe.
And at 1 p.m. Monday, Syfy will rerun the first season of “Z

“Vicious,” 10:30
p.m., PBS (check local listings). The gang tries ballroom dancing,
leading to the usual – lots of sniping, lots of jokes that would be
way too broad, if they weren't handled by such gifted pros. And stick
around, because the half-hour ends with a surprisingly warm, pivotal