TV column for Thursday, March 23

Basketball, 7 and 9:30 p.m. ET, CBS. 7:15 and 9:45, TBS.

Here's a new round
of the NCAA tournament starts. That means another week without CBS'
Thursday comedies (“Big Bang” and such) and its Friday cop shows.
The soap operas, however, are safe.

Tonight's games
start with one of the surprises – Michigan (seeded No. 7 in its
16-team region) beat No. 2 Louisville; now it faces No. 3 Oregon. The
other games have the expected teams – Gonzaga (No. 1) and West
Virginia (No. 4) at 7:15 on TBS ... Kansas (No. 1) and Purdue (No. 4)
at 9:30 on CBS ... and Arizona (No. 2) and Xavier (No. 3) at 9:45 on

“Superstore,” 8 p.m., NBC.

For the second
straight week, this above-average comedy gets to escape the massive
shadow of “The Big Bang Theory.” Set in a giant store, it can
range from silly to serious.

On the light side,
Glenn is hounded by an Internet “troll”; Amy (America Ferrera)
helps him fight back. On the flip side, Mateo has a chance for a
promising transfer ... until his undocumented-immigrant status gets
in the way. Jonah and Cheyenne offer legal advice; Dina and Garrett
battle corporate.

ALTERNATIVE: “Beaches” and “Love By the 10th Date,”
8 and 10 p.m., Lifetime Movie Network.

We're accustomed to
the typical Lifetime movie, the ones with women in jeopardy or
dismay. But at times, the network aims higher. These films, which
debuted in January, are strong examples.

“Date” started
with a clever -- if very adult -- script. Guys don't fall in love
until the 10th date, we're told; these women haven't made
it to 10. “Beaches” didn't have to worry much about the story: It
uses the basics of the 1988 film, this time with Nia Long and Idina
Menzel -- who beautifully sings the songs from that movie (“Wind
Beneath My Wings,” “Glory of Love”) and the new “The Last

Other choices

(1942), 6 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. Here's a true classic. The
American Film Institute puts it at No. 3 all-time, behind only
“Citizen Kane” and “The Godfather” -- which will air Friday
on AMC, the same night that “Wizard of Oz” is on TCM. Alert your
recording device.

“Grey's Anatomy,”
8 p.m., ABC. Last month, Maggie Pierce's mother breezed in and made a
warm impression on most people – but not on her daughter; she left,
without telling her she has breast cancer. Now she's back, with
Maggie still perplexed. Also, Owen and Amelia work out their

8:30 p.m., NBC. The boss is on a witch hunt and suspects several of
his people (Danny Pudi, Ron Funches, Jennie Pierson). Meanwhile, the
good-spirited Emily (Vanessa Hudgens) tries to help Jackie ... who
doesn't seem to want to be helped.

“Scandal,” 9
p.m., ABC. After learning more about the Vargas assassination, Olivia
asks Huck to do one of his most difficult tasks.

“Planet Earth II,”
9 p.m. ET, BBC America. We visit the grasslands, where towering grass
is an advantage – even a caribou can hide – or a problem: A bird
leaps frantically, so its courting ritual can be seen. Consider this
rerun a warm-up for Saturday, when a terrific urban-animal hour

“The Catch,” 10
p.m., ABC. In the season's first two episodes, this too-slick show
was brightened by the ragged scrambling of Alice's hapless younger
brother Tommy (T.R. Knight, the former “Grey's Anatomy” star).
Then we learned he's slicker than we'd thought; he even bugged the
computers, trying to find a way to access the millions strangers put
in his account. Tonight, Alice starts to learn the truth.

“The History of
Comedy,” 10 p.m. ET, CNN. Barring another late change, this will look
at racial humor ... and at the times when comedy bridges cultural

TV column for Wednesday, March 22

“Empire” return, 9 p.m., Fox.

In tonight's final
minutes, the show reaches a bat-swinging, glass-shattering peak. It's
spectacular; in other hands, it would also be excessive. “Empire,”
however, earns its extremes with small moments.

The opening scene
also has spectacle, as Lucious introduces his new “Inferno”
project. But alongside the flashy bits are quieter scenes, especially
linking Jamal with a friend – played by Rumer Willis, the daughter
of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore – he met in rehab. Noise and all,
you'll root for these people.

“Designated Survivor,” 10 p.m., ABC.

Yes, the long
mid-season lay-off was annoying. Now, however, comes the flip side –
the show has enough new episodes to be rerun-free, through the final
day (May 24) of the season.

And it has a lot of
story to tell, as the accidental president (Kiefer Sutherland) grasps
for control. Tonight, a journalists reveals classified information
during a press briefing; Seth (Kal Penn) scrambles to limit the
damage. Also, Hannh (Maggie Q) learns more about MacLeish's role in
the conspiracy.

ALTERNATIVE: “Shots Fired” debut, 8 p.m., Fox.

This starts with a
too-familiar scene: A young man has been shot; he's unarmed, a
policeman is waving a gun, neighbors are congregating. But this time,
the cop is black and the victim is white; the governor (Helen Hunt)
promptly sends a black prosecutor and investigator (Stephan James and
Sanaa Lathan).

“Shots Fired” is
similar to ABC's “American Crime” -- a 10-episode mini-series
that tackles complex racial issues. Like ABC's show, it does it with
subtlety ... and is a slow walk through uneven turf. The characters
have solid depth, with Jill Hennessy, Stephen Moyer and Aisha Tyler
strong in support.

Other choices

“The First 100
Days,” 7 p.m. ET, Fox News. This show has been viewing the first
100 days of the Trump presidency. Now it pauses at the halfway mark,
for a town hall in Southern Pines, N.C. Martha MacCallum hosts, with
guests from the Trump (David Bossie) and Clinton (Robby Mook)

“Blindspot,” 8
p.m., NBC. In the show's first new episode in a month, Nas (Archie
Panjabi) finally helps Jane and Weller confront her source inside

“Nova” and
“Spillover,” 9 and 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). The first
rerun views the battle agains Ebola, both in the field and in labs.
The second looks at diseases – including Ebola, Zika, Nipah and
West Nile – that spill over from animals to humans.

“The 100,” 9
p.m., CW. Now the “black rain” is descending, pelting people with
deadly radiation. That provides lots of fierce action ... and way too
many super-macho scenes. But the episode's final twist is enough to
(almost) make up for the excesses that preceded it.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Cam tries to throw the perfect New Year's
Day feast. Phil isn't happy when his dad (Fred Willard) brings his
new girlfriend – who is Phil's former babysitter.

“Criminal Minds:
Beyond Borders,” 10 p.m., CBS. In Colombia, an American apparently
emptied his bank account and committed suicide. The team

“Comedy Jam”
debut, 10 p.m., Comedy Central. At least the comedians should be
having fun here, belting music onstage, sometimes with rock stars.
Tonight, Tiffany Haddish blasts “Proud Mary,” Chris Hardwick
joins Richie Sambora for “Wanted Dead or Alive” and Bobby Lee
asks the musical question, “Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?” We're hoping
he doesn't expect an answer.

TV column for Tuesday, March 21

“Trial & Error,” 9 and 9:30 p.m., NBC.

Josh isn't adjusting
well to small-town life. The bagels are bad and everyone seems to
have had an affair with a cop who's mean and married. (It's a shallow
dating pool, Josh is reminded.) There's no dry cleaner and no book
store, but four pet psychics. Also, a courtroom spectator keeps
yelling “witch.”

Now Josh represents
a murder defendant (John Lithgow) who keeps incriminating himself.
The openers, which followed the “This Is Us” season-finale last
week, were hilarious. Tonight, “Trial” moves into its regular
timeslot, with two more laugh-out-loud episodes.

“Bones” series finale (part one), 8 p.m., Fox.

Yes, it seemed like
“Bones” would go on forever. It's lasted 12 seasons – one more
than “MASH” or “Happy Days,” two more than “Friends,” 11
more than “My Mother the Car.” It's used 62 gallons of fake
blood, 165 gallons of silicone flesh and 400 feet of fake intestines.

Now the finale
begins, concluding next Tuesday. It starts poorly, including some
confusing time shifts, but slowly gains impact. Just as characters'
lives are transforming, a killer escapes.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Flash,” 8 p.m., CW.

This is the musical
crossover episode fans had pushed for, a chance for the young cast to
show its song-and-dance skills. It started Monday, with Darren Criss
reaching “Supergirl” as the evil Music Meister. Now he has Kara
and Barry (Supergirl and the Flash) in an alternate, song-and-dance

They can handle it.
Grant Gustin, who plays Barry, did seven episodes of the teen musical
“Glee” ... Melissa Benoit, who's Kara, did two seasons ... and
Criss did four seasons. Others in both casts can let loose; Jeremy
Jordan (Winn in “Supergirl”) has done four Broadway musicals plus

Other choices

“Gone Girl,” 7
p.m., FX. A great story is propelled by perfect performances,
especially by Rosamund Pike. That starts a great movie night. “Jaws”
(1994) is 6:54 p.m. on Starz; at 8 p.m., there's “Home Alone”
(1990) on CMT, “Mean Girls” (2004) on E and “As Good As It
Gets” (1997) on Pop.

Masters,” 8-10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Dorothea Lange was
a pensive kid. She had polio at 7, her dad left when she was 12; she
became contemplative, an observer ... skills she used well. During
the Depression, she mastered photography as a social force. Here's a
rerun of the film by her granddaughter, Dyanna Talor. Despite
spending too much time on exhibit preparations, it's well-made.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, the team must do temporary protection duty for a
congresswoman (Mary Stuart Masterson) who was threatened.

“Switched at
Birth,” 9 p.m., Freeform. A mysterious young woman has a link to
the late Angelo (Gilles Marini). Also, Melody (Marlee Matlin) wants
her sons to make amends before her birthday.

“Face Off” and
debut of “Cosplay Melee,” 9 and 10 p.m., Syfy. First, the
well-crafted competition show has a team challenge – create a
family of deranged, murderous mutants. Then “Cosplay” is based on
the elaborate costumes at sci-fi conventions; Yvette Nicole Brown
(“Community”) hosts.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. In this rerun, a plane crashed in the
bayou, killing three sailors.

“Frontline,” 10
p.m., PBS (check local listings). As ISIS shrinks in Iraq, this
strong documentary says, a new problem grows: The militia forces that
are winning are also brutal. “This is a place of gangs, militia and
murderers,” one person tells Ramita Navai. A militia officer is
unapologetic about handling an ISIS suspect: “He's a murderer, so
he has to be tortured and killed .... Would you wait for a trial?”

TV column for Monday, March 20

“Dancing With the Stars” opener, 8-10:01 p.m., ABC.

This sort of line-up
propels ratings. The previous edition had an Olympian (Laurie
Hernandez) who became the show's champion); this has two top Olympic
stars, Simone Biles and Nancy Kerrigan.

Other years had
quirky figures from long-ago pop culture; this has two – the
massive Mr. T, 64, and the tiny Charo, 75. It also has the recent
“Bachelor” star (Nick Viall), a “Saturday Night Live” alumnus
(Chris Kattan), two singers, an actress and three athletes, one
bringing a comeback story: A rodeo accident left Bonner Bolton
paralyzed from the neck down; now he's recovered and dancing.

“Man With a Plan,” 8:30 p.m., CBS.

After a slow start,
this has become a fairly good comedy. The early notion – dad as a
doofus – is set aside for better, slice-of-life stories. Helping
that is a broadened cast; this is the second episode with the
talented Swoosie Kurtz (an Emmy-winner and nine-time nominee) and
Stacy Keach (a Tony nominee).

Adam (Matt LeBlanc)
is appalled that his dad (Keach) doesn't go to the doctor. His mom
(Kurtz) and others push hard. It's not a great story, but it does
have some funny moments, well-handled by pros.

ALTERNATIVE: “Jane the Virgin,” 9 p.m., CW.

It's election time –
to decide who will be the room mom at school. Jane – formerly known
as the virgin, now “the hot-mess mom” -- faces Petra, formerly
evil and now oddly good.

We'll forgive the
character switches. At its core, this show is so bright and fun that
flaws are tolerable. Tonight, we fret about the police probe ... and
about Jane's mother's engagement (to Bruce, Jane's father's lawyer)
... and about Jane's grandmother's love life. Don't worry; the
narrator will explain it.

ALTERNATIVE II: All-“Taken” or all-“Psycho.”

Cable and broadcast
combine to give us two versions of characters. There's Brian Mills,
with his soldier skills: In “Taken” (2008, 8 p.m., Lifetime),
he's Liam Neeson, tearing France apart to find his daughter; in the
TV version (10 p.m., NBC), he's Clive Standen, defying orders to
rescue a girl.

And there's Marion
Crane: In the brilliant “Psycho” (1960, 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic
Movies), she's Janet Leigh, checking into a creepy motel. Now “Bates
Motel” (10 p.m., A&E) introduces her, played by Rihanna; she's
having an affair with Sam, the hardware store owner, infuriating
Norman Bates.

Other choices

“The Voice,” 8
p.m., NBC. The battle rounds begin, with two teammates dueling. The
coach chooses one; the other could be stolen by another coach. To
help, each coach adds a mentor; Blake Shelton has his former
award-show co-host, Luke Bryan; others have John Legend, DJ Khaled
and Celine Dion.

“24: Legacy,” 8
p.m., Fox. As the CTU searches for Carter, Donovan has doubts about

“APB,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. A killer seems ready to target Gideon at a technology
convention. Police try a high-tech scanning system to find and stop

“Superior Donuts,”
9 p.m., CBS. When Franco is injured, people take up a collection to
pay expenses.

Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). The pledge drives are
over and PBS' line-up is back, sometimes with intense shows like
this. We're at a last-chance high school in the Mojave desert,
rooting for students who face fierce odds. The results leave us both
encouraged and deeply depressed.

10:01 p.m., ABC. After the hostage crisis, the president assembles a
secret task force with Alex and friends from the CIA and FBI, trying
to uncover a global conspiracy.

TV column for Sunday, March 19

“American Crime,” 10 p.m., ABC.

When it comes to
quality – deeply layered portraits of interesting people – this
is first-rate, with rich subtlety to its writing and acting. But
“subtle” can go too far; at the end of this second hour, we still
don't know what the central story is.

A social worker has
a personal crisis, at the same time that she deals with a 17-year-old
prostitute. A young farmworker is drug-addicted; an older one
searches for his son. And a trailer fire has killed 15 workers. These
are potent stories; when they're weaved together – eventually --
“Crime” could be great.

“Shades of Blue,” 10 p.m., NBC.

Now for the exact
opposite of “American Crime.” Devoid of subtlety, “Blue”
crashes through each scene with noisy ferocity. It's overwrought and
overzealous ... yet does hold our attention.

Last week, Wozniak
(the cop) and Stahl (the FBI guy) had a war of hidden-camera footage.
It destroyed both men's families and ended with and Woz holding a
deadly choke on Stahl's neck. Now we learn if Stahl survived ... and
if Harlee (Jennifer Lopez) can keep her own secrets, including the
fact that she killed her daughter's father. It's an intense episode;
and, like last week, it ends with a fierce jolt.

“The Good Fight,” any time, CBS All Access.

So this is how “Good
Fight” will use the freedom available on a pay-extra streaming
service. It's not with nudity or violence or such; there are plenty
of places for that. It's with an adult approach to a serious subject
– in this case, cyber-hate, using rampant (but fictional, we hope)
examples and a brilliant guest performance by John Cameron Mitchell.

The basic plot –
top-tier lawyers, spending their time arguing the specifics of an
E-mail – is absurd. Within that, however, there are powerful
moments. Other storylines also move well and there are great moments
with Elsbeth (wonderfully played by Carrie Preston). the odd “Good
Wife” lawyer.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Weapon Hunter” season-finale, 9 p.m.,

Some weapons become
more than shooting machines; they carry human stories. As Paul Shull
tries to re-create the one-of-a-kind “stinger,” he comes across
the Tony Stein story.

Stein grew up in
Dayton, the son of Jewish immigrants. A machinist before World War
II, he managed to turn an airplane gun into a portable machine gun.
Amid the horrors of Iwo Jima, he kept using it to charge the enemy
and bring back Marines. Shull makes the gun and learns the Medal of
Honor story.

Other choices

College basketball,
noon to midnight ET. CBS limits itself to three games today (noon and
2:30 and 5 p.m. ET, handing the evening slot(7:30 p.m. ET) to TruTV.
There are also doubleheaders on TNT (6 and 8:30 p.m.) and TBS (7 and
9:30). At the end of the night, we'll have next week's “sweet 16.”

“Making History,”
8:30 p.m., Fox. It's easy to impress a girl when you have a time
machine. Now, however, Deborah Revere (Paul's daughter) is starting
to realize that Dan didn't invent the thing.

Secretary,” 9 p.m., CBS. The secretary of state is leading a
landmark, 200-nation treaty to fight climate change globally. (As you
can tell, this is set inn an alternate reality.) Then China threatens
to pull out because Elizabeth is meeting the ailing Dalai Lama.

“Time After Time,”
9 p.m., ABC. After a strong start, “Time” is sputtering. It has a
bland H.G. Wells, a so-so Jack the Ripper and the same problem as
“Timeless” -- if you can't change the past, you (and viewers) are
helpless. Those problems complicate this episode, as Wells visits a
1980 party.

“Last Man on
Earth,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. Scrambling for an answer to her illness,
the guys must dig deeply into Melissa's life before the virus
destroyed most of mankind.

“Elementary,” 10
p.m., CBS. A detection system claims to have heard a gunshot, but
police can find no evidence. Meanwhile, Shinwell (Sherlock's ex-con
colleague) is linked to an unsolved murder.