TV column for Monday, May 4

“David Letterman: A Life on Television,” 9:30-11 p.m., CBS.

Back in 1982, NBC
gave its late-late spot to David Letterman, 34. He'd been a
weatherman, a game-show player, a regular on Mary Tyler Moore's
variety show; he'd also had a failed daytime show.

But latenight was
perfect for a quiet eccentric. Letterman did 11 years on NBC, then
turned a wasteland (CBS' 11:35 p.m. spot) into, for a time, the
center of the late-night universe. The show has faded lately, but
remains a key part of TV history. He'll retire May 20, after 33
latenight years and 6,028 episodes. Ray Romano hosts this special,
filled with clips of guests, top-10 lists, “stupid pet tricks”
and more.

“The Voice,” 8-10:01 p.m., NBC.

In one swoop last
week, Blake Shelton went from top to bottom. He had been the leader
with three finalists, but viewers sent two of them – Hannah Kirby
and Corey Kent White – home.

Now Shelton and Adam
Levine – who have had a combined six winners in seven editions –
have only one contestant apiece, Meghan Linsey and Joshua Davis
respectively. Christina Aguilera has India Carney (saved by Twitter
votes last week) and Kimberly Nichole; Pharrell Williams has Sawyer
Fredericks and Koryn Hawthorne.

ALTERNATIVE: “Kurt Cobain: Montge of Heck,” 9-11:15 p.m., HBO.

Cobain's life almost
ended before the fame began. As an early teen, he weighted himself
down on a railroad track and watched a train streak toward him. It
turned out to be on the other track.

A quick and
compelling life followed, captured here with honesty and detail.
Authorized by his estate and co-produced by his daughter (an artist),
this is stuffed with Cobain's own journals, artwork and recordings,
supplemented by new animation, interviews and more. The result is a
rich and complex portrait of a life that ended way too soon (in 1994,
at 27), but made a big impact.

Other choices

Mysteries,” any time, A big-city cop – frumpy,
smart, multi-divorced – helps a small New Zealand town probe a
murder. This opener has a fairly good story, tangled up in
tough-to-follow accents. Next week's story, with a more-direct plot,
is much easier to follow.

“Dancin With the
Stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC. Last week, viewers were perplexed when
the show postponed its double-elimination for a week ... and when the
one person ousted was Willow Shields, a judges' favorite. Now two
people are supposed to be ousted Tuesday; Robert Heravec and Chris
Soules (with low judge scores) are prime prospects ... but nothing is
for sure.

“Gotham,” 8
p.m., Fox. Two great villains, Fish and Penguin, are at war. That's
the season-finale; also, switch around for the season's
second-to-last “Jane the Virgin” (9 p.m., CW) and Castle (10:01,

“2 Broke Girls,”
8 p.m., CBS. Nash's modeling career halts when his mom arrives.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 9 p.m., CBS. This reruns a mostly fun episode – the
comic-book store is re-opening – that turns serious in the final
minutes, when Howard gets news about his mother.

“Bates Motel,” 9
p.m., A&E. Norman has a remarkable encounter with someone from
his past. Meanwhile, his mom is desperate, after foolishly giving the
flashdrive (her only way to get any leverage) to the sheriff. It's a
strong hour, setting up next week's season-finale.

Lens,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). As teens perform
Hawaiian traditions, this moderately involving film meets two key
people – the teacher (transgendered, now female) and the only girl
in the all-boy troupe.

TV column for Sunday, May 3

“Secrets and Lies” finale, 9 p.m., ABC.

For nine compelling
episodes, Ben (Ryan Phillippe) has seen his life implode. That
started when he reported finding a neighbor boy's body in the woods;
soon, he was the prime murder suspect.

Last week, we
learned this is the second child-death for the mother, who ignores
her bipolar-disorder medication. Meanwhile, the police detective has
her own suspect. Tonight, we learn who the killer is.

“Masterpiece,” 9 and 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

First is “Mr.
Selfridge,” two weeks from its season-finale. Lord Loxley's nasty
schemes ensnare Harry.

Then, a week from
its finale, the well-crafted “Wolf Hall” finds King Henry VIII
teetering. Finally married to the complicated Anne Boleyn, he's drawn
to the gently uncomplicated Jane Seymour. Behind the throne, Thomas
Cromwell has discoveries that leave him shaking (literally).

ALTERNATIVE: “Penny Dreadful” season-opener, 10 p.m., Showtime.

Already overstuffed
with top dramas, Sunday adds one more. Amid the rich settings of
Victorian London, gifted actors play people confronting a creepy,
supernatural world.

Vanessa (Eva Green)
is stalked by demons, with Ethan and Sir Malcolm (Josh Harnett and
Timothy Dalton) feeling helpless. Also, Dr. Frankenstein's creature
insists he re-animate Brona as a companion. The doctor, alas, is also
drawn to her; she's played by the terrific Billie Piper, so that's

Other choices

“The Avengers”
(2012), 6 p.m., FX, followed by “Thor” (2011) at 9 and 11:30 p.m.
A Marvel-stuffed weekend -- timed to the opening of the second
“Avengers” movie -- concludes.

“Madam Secretary”
season-finale, 8 p.m. Sunday, CBS. Last week's episode rippled with
mixed emotions for Elizabeth. She completed a nuclear treaty with the
Iranians ... then doubted they could be trusted; she reluctantly
joined a plan to kill her former friend Juliet. That failed, but
Juliet soon surrendered. Now Elizabeth must handle the interrogation.

“Game of Thrones,”
9 p.m., HBO. Alonsgside some in-between moments – a captive Tyrion
heading toward home, Jaime launching his daring rescue mission, Jon
Snow facing temptation – there are some massive ones: The High
Sparrow's extremists attack fiercely.

“Nurse Jackie”
and “Happyish,” 9 and 9:30 p.m., Showtime. The “Jackie”
episode has some strong, pivotal moments ... and then an odd ending.
“Happyish” has great workplace satire; its at-home stuff is
mostly just gloomy, except for the brilliant notion of a Jewish “Dora
the Explorer.”

Odyssey,” 10 p.m., NBC. Finally escaping captivity – after being
declared dead by officials -- an American soldier (Anna Friel) was
freed at the end of last week's hour. But who can she trust and where
is freedom? The schemes are tangled, at home and abroad, in a
perplexing but involving hour.

“Battle Creek,”
10 p.m., CBS. It's another good episode, this time with a cop facing
doubts, when he insists he spotted a key fugitive in this small-ish

“Veep,” 10:30
p.m., HBO. A terrific season hits a new high when the president
(Julia Louis-Dreyfus) find sudden chaos. She's excited about freeing
a journalist in Iran ... except it's kind of her fault he was there
so long. Now her tired staff fails spectacularly at home and abroad.


TV column for Saturday, May 2


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

After pausing for
reruns, “SNL” is ready to wrap its season with a string of new
episodes. That starts with Scarlett Johansson hosting ... at the same
time that her second “Avengers” film (she plays Black Widow)
films reaches theaters; her first one (2012) is 8 p.m. today and 6
p.m. Sunday on FX.

Wiz Khalifa is
tonight's music guest. Coming up are Reese Witherspoon on May 9, with
Florence and the Machine; and Louis CK on May 16, with Rihanna.

“Cleveland Abduction,” 8 p.m. Saturday, Lifetime, repeating at
12:02 a.m.

Taryn Manning, a
subtly gifted actress, steps into a real-life role. She plays
Michelle Knight, who was 21 when Ariel Castro abducted her and 33
when she escaped with her 6-year-old daughter.

Raymond Cruz (a
good-guy cop in “The Closer” and “Major Crimes”) plays
Castro, who also abducted two teens; Joe Morton and Pam Grier are in
support. The movie – scheduled for last week, then delayed – is
followed by a “Behind the Headlines” look at the story, at 10:02
p.m. and 2:04 a.m.

ALTERNATIVE: “Murder She Baked,” 9 p.m., Hallmark Movies &

Now for an opposite
movie, one that – murders and all – is sunny and sweet-spirited.
Joanne Fluke has written 20 novels that reflect her
smalltown-Minnesota roots. In fictional Eden Lake, Hannah (Allison
Sweeney) has a bakery restaurant, lots of friends, little romance and
an instinct for crimesolving.

It's the third
series of movies this channel has launched, each with a blonde
crimesolver; the others rerun at 7 and 11 p.m. today. All three are
pleasant-but-bland, but there's hope: Sweeney makes Hannah immensely
likable; also, a much better movie (“Gourmet Detective”) debuts
on May 16.

Other choicers

“Dirty Harry”
(1971) and its sequels. 3 p.m. to 2 a.m,, AMC. The original film
benefited from two masters of sleek, no-nonsense filmmaking – Clint
Eastwood and director Don Siegel. That's followed by “Magnum Force”
(1973) at 5:15 p.m., “The Enforcer” (1976) at 7:45, “Sudden
Impact” (1983) at 9:45 and “The Dead Pool” (1988) at midnight.

“Shrek the Third”
(2007), 8-10 p.m., ABC. The king has died and his son-in-law Shrek is
supposed to assume the throne. Not really wanting the job, the ogre
(Mike Myers) launches a mission with his friends (Eddie Murphy,
Antonio Banderas) to find the only heir.

“Backstrom,” 8
p.m., Fox. This rerun finds Backstrom investigating a hit-and-run
accident, while being badgered (quite correctly) by his doctor and
his ex-fiancee, because of his awful health habits.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, a rescue in Syria brings hints that an American was
involved in the abduction. Joe Spano and Marisol Nichols return, as
FBI and ATF agents.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. This reruns finds Sam and Callen posing as
food-truck operators in Mexico, while trying to prevent an anthrax

“Orphan Black,”
9 p.m., BBC America. Tatiana Maslany, a 29-year-old Canadian, is a
superb actress. She's perfect as a younger version of Helen Mirren in
the gripping movie “Woman in Gold” and she's amazing here
(already winner of a Television Critics Association award) as vastly
varied clones. In tonight's episode – and last week's, rerunnig at
8 – two groups scramble to get original DNA.

“Tatau,” 10
p.m., BBC America. A vacation to the Cook Islands plunged Kyle into a
mystery steeped in the mystical culture. Now, after a hallucination,
he tries to convince people he's telling the truth.

TV column for Friday, May 1

“Blue Bloods” season-finale, 10 p.m., CBS.

“Blue” is at its
best when someone personal – a family member or a fellow cop – is
at risk. And this hour, wrapping up a two-parter, has both.

A cop was shot and
Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) put his entire police force on the case.
Then someone pressured an orderly to shoot a patient; Frank's
daughter-in-law, a nurse, jumped in and took the bullet. Now Danny
Reagan (Donnie Wahlberg) rushes to learn who's responsible for his
wife being shot.

II: “Hawaii Five-0,” 9 p.m., CBS.

Here's an episode
designed to take advantage of the Hawaiian setting: Kono (Grace Park)
-- a native of the island and a champion surfer -- is honoring her
mother with a solo trip on an outrigger. Then the weather goes bad
and she must scramble to save her life.

Also, cops meet
someone who says he was forced to cook meth because his son's life
was threatened.

ALTERNATIVE: “El Poeta,” 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

In the nine years of
Mexico's war on drugs, this powerful documentary says, the
aftershocks have been fierce. Cartels split into smaller gangs;
100,000 people have been killed or simply disappeared.

Officials insisted
that it was a case of bad guys killing each other. Then came the 2011
death of Juan Sicilia, a 24-year-old idealist. “It's insanity,”
said his father, esteemed poet Javier Sicilia. “It's almost like
we're living in a state of siege.” This film follows his efforts to
build a victims' movement.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Bitten,” 9 p.m., Syfy.

As this intense hour
begins, people are trying to find the compound where Aleister and his
cult hold captives. Logan seeks Rachel, who's pregnant ... The
witches seek young Savannah ... And the werewolves seek Elena (the
terrific Laura Vandervoort), who is the key to it all.

She is, after all,
the only female werewolf; Aleister needs a sample of her blood ...
but not until she transforms. Steel wills collide, in a well-made

Other choices

“Taken” (2008),
8-10 p.m., Fox. When his teen daughter is kidnapped, a former CIA man
(Liam Neeson) uses all his old skills. The result became an action
hit that's had two sequels.

“The Amazing
Race,” 8 p.m., CBS. Two weeks from the finale, the “blind daters”
are clearly doing better. They still have three of their original
five duos; the pre-existing couples only have two of six ... and
those two were at the bottom last week. Michael Dombrowski and
Rochelle Nevedal were fourth; Matt Cucolo and Ashley Gordon were
fifth, surviving only because it wasn't an elimination week.

“Cedric's Barber
Battle,” 8 p.m., CW. In a pleasant-enough Los Angeles episode,
barbers create cuts based on superheroes and soccer balls. Really.

“Citizen Kane”
(1941), 8-10:15 ET, Turner Classic Movies. Here's one to record. The
American Film Institute has voted twice (in 1998 and 2007), both
times choosing “Kane” as the best movie ever.

“Beyond the Tank”
debut, 9 p.m., ABC. Al “Bubba” Baker had 13 pro-football seasons,
peaking with 37 sacks from 1983-85 for the St. Louis Cardinals. Much
tougher is launching his business. In this follow-up to “Shark
Tank” (which moves to 8 p.m.), investor Daymond John wants changes
in Baker's restaurant; also, Robert Herjavec eyes his “Tipsy Elves”
clothing-line investment.

“The Messengers,”
9 p.m., CW. Last week's debut found five strangers suddenly enlisted
in something large and mystical. Vera, the brainy astronomer, is
reluctant ... until she discovers her special gift.

“Lost Girl,” 10
p.m., Syfy. There are death threats facing a Japanese warrior (who's
protected by Bo and Tamsin) and Lauren.

TV column for Thursday, April 30

“Grey's Anatomy,” 8 and 9 p.m., ABC.

OK, now this show
has our attention again. Last week, it stunned viewers by killing
Derek (Patrick Dempsey), after he rushed to help accident victims.
Now his wife Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) could be considered the only
person who has been a central character from the start of the show.

“Anatomy” takes
up two hours tonight; “Scandal” will return May 7 and 14, when
both shows wrap up their seasons. For tonight, April makes a decision
that baffles Jackson. Also, Bailey and Ben disagree and Callie's
policeman patient is back.

II: “Mom” season-finale, 9:01 p.m., CBS.

A terrific second
season has seen Christy (Anna Faris) on the move. Her gambling debts
led to eviction and to moving around, before her mom Bonnie (Allison
Janney) got a job as an apartment supervisor.

But Bonnie lost her
sobriety, the two keep fighting .. and now Christy is moving again,
this time alone. That leads to a mixture of broad humor, quiet warmth
and the sort of dark jabs that two skilled actresses handle

ALTERNATIVE: “Backstrom” season-finale, 9 p.m., Fox.

A murder case
sprawls into an Indian reservation, giving Backstrom three problems:
He has no authority there ... his ex-fiance's new lover (Adam Beach)
has full authority ... and Backsrom's domineering dad (Robert
Forster) is the local sheriff.

The case itself gets
a quick and disappointing treatment. That gives more time for some
solid character moments – important for what is likely to be the
show's last episode.

Other choices

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 and 9:30 p.m., CBS. There's a new episode at 8 and then
a rerun, with friends rallying to defend Leonard and Sheldon from an
Internet attack on their science paper.

“Casual Vacancy”
conclusion, 8 p.m., HBO. J.K. Rowling's novel centers on a council
vacancy that will decide if the village keeps its community-services
building. Surrounding that are intriguing characters like Krystal,
desperately trying to tame her drug-addicted mother and raise her
brother. It's a richly crafted story, but be warned: Rowling treats
her people harshly, making this a rough ride.

“The Odd Couple,”
8:31 p.m., CBS. Felix reveals a secret about himself.

“The Blacklist,”
9 p.m., NBC. The bodies of Chinese-American women are being smuggled
out of the country. As the team investigates, Red decodes information
embeded in The Fulcrum. That follows an 8 p.m. rerun in which he
faces a new villain, Lord Baltimore.

“American Crime,”
10 p.m., ABC. With public pressure building, Carter's court date is
pushed up. Also, his girlfriend's incendiary statement stirs

“The Comedians,”
10 p.m., FX. With their show delayed, the two stars (playing perverse
versions of themselves) grasp for outside help. Billy Crystal has
some fairly good scenes with Mel Brooks, but the highlight comes when
Josh Gad gets the “Frozen” songwriters to create a hilarious
song. He closes the show with it ... leading into an
even-odder-than-usual “Louie” at 10:30.

“The Red Road,”
10 p.m., Sundance. For Rachel, a cop's teen daughter, troubles build.
Fearing she inherited mental problems, she overdosed on her mom's
pills; also, her boyfriend Junior may be out to kill Levi. Meanwhile,
Rachel's mom ditches the pills and says her own dad may have key