TV column for Monday, Sept. 12


TONIGHT'S MUST-TRY:
“Dancing With the Stars” opener. 8-10:01 p.m., ABC.

If nothing else,
“Stars” has real diversity. It's contestants range in size from
retired football star Calvin Johnson (6-foot-5) to actress Terra Jole
(4-foot-2); they range in age from gymnast Laurie Hernandez, 16, to
actresses Maureen McCormick and Marilu Henner, 60 and 62, and former
Gov. Rick Perry, 65.

There are more
athletes (swimmer Ryan Lochte, driver James Hinchcliffe), plus
singers (Jana Kramer, “Babyface” Edmonds), actor Jake T. Austin,
rapper Vanilla Ice and model/designer Amber Rose.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“So You Think You Can Dance” finale, 8-10 p.m., Fox.

While older dancers
(and others) compete for a disco-ball trophy on ABC, younger ones on
Fox have a shot at winning the championship and $250,000.

J.T. Church, whose
specialty is jazz, was 10 when this season began; Kida Burns (hip
hop) was 14. In between are Emma Hellenkamp (tap), 11, and Tate McRae
(contemporary and ballet), 13. Last week, viewers had their final
vote. Tonight, all 10 finalists perform and we'll have a winner.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “CBS Fall Preview,” 8:31 p.m., CBS.

When the season
starts next Monday, CBS insists, it will have wonderful shows.
Mostly, alas, it doesn't.

One comedy (“The
Great Indoors”) is quite clever, but the others (“Kevin Can
Wait,” “Man With a Plan”) are oddly ordinary. An adventure show
(“MacGyver”) has reworked its opener. And two dramas (“Bull”
and “Pure Genius”) share a mix that's high in technology and low
in human warmth.

Other choices
include:

“The Secret
Agent,” any time, www.acorn.tv.
More than a century ago, Joseph Conrad wrote this complex tale of a
British shopkeeper who works as an informant for the Russians ...
then is asked to create a hideous bombing that can be blamed on the
anarchists. It's a tough story to follow or like, despite Toby Jones
in the lead. A better bet are the third and fourth episodes of “800
Words.”

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 and 9:01 p.m., CBS. The first rerun, a terrific one, has
Sheldon reveal a personal secret when his laptop breaks. The second
has more secrets, during a cabin retreat.

“AFI Life
Achievement,” 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. First ia a rerun of
a terrific tribute to composer John Williams. At 9:15, we get an
example of his immense impact -- “Jaws” (1975), the Steve
Spielberg classic that has Williams' music as one of its characters.

“Mom,” 9:31
p.m., CBS. Bonnie has approximately zero experience as a
disciplinarian. In this rerun, she has to do that, when Christy is
distracted by the financial woes of trying to get to law school.

“Running Wild With
Bear Grylls,” 10 p.m., NBC. Some people remember Marshawn Lynch's
refusal to talk to reporters before the Super Bowl. But now he chats
with Grylls, during the quiet moments of a Corsican adventure in
which they confront a wild hog and the French Foreign Legion.

“The $100,000
Pyramid,” 10 p.m., ABC. Two of the show's sharpest contestants,
Rosie O'Donnell and Kathy Najimy, have a rematch in the
season-finale. The other round has comedian Jon Lovitz and
football-baseball star Deion Sanders.

“POV,” 10 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). For five years, this diligent and
involving film followed two men from tough Chicago neighborhoods to
college campuses. The colleges – Lake Forest in Illinois, Fisk in
Nashville – differ sharply; so do the men and their approaches.

TV column for Sunday, Sept. 11


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“BrainDead” finale, 9 and 10 p.m., CBS.

The summer's best
show ends tonight, with the fate of the nation at stake. At first,
Laurel (a Senate aide) could convince no one that alien bugs were
infecting the brains of our leaders. Now her brother (a senator) and
Gareth (the aide to infected Sen. Red Wheatus) both know. But can
they stop it?

Laurel's steps
tonight range from a sit-in to a debugging scheme she tries first on
her father. Chances are, this will be executed cleverly by the lively
brains behind “BrainDead.”

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Masterpiece: Churchill's Secret,” 8-10 p.m., PBS (check
local listings).

It's 1953 and
Winston Churchill is back in power at age 78. As a stroke pushes him
near death, his children argue. So do his political colleagues; some
want to replace him, others want to keep it secret.

Michael Gambon is
perfect as Churchill, ranging from bluster to sweetness. Lindsay
Duncan has the one-note (mostly) role as his wife, but many of the
best moments come from others. There's Matthew Macfadyen as
Churchill's son – drinking heavily, complaining loudly, grieving
inwardly. And there's Romola Garai as a nurse, suddenly surrounded by
the giants of her era.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Son of Zorn” debut, 8 p.m, Fox.

This was a mixed
marriage,filled with complications. She's slim, blondish, from
suburbia; he's huge, shirtless, from an island where he's a warrior
king. Also, he's a cartoon; she's not.

They're divorced
now, but Zorn returns for his son's 17th birthday. It's a
great comedy concept, executed adequately. As the first new show of
the broadcast season (eight days befor the season officially starts),
“Son of Zorn” has some terrific moments, but they're scattered
and inconsistent.

Other choices
include:

Documentaries, all
day, cable. The 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks
includes reruns of previous films; that's 7:30 a.m. to 4:02 a.m. on
History and noon to 6 a.m. on National Geographic. CNN has a new
documentary movie at 8 p.m. ET; Geographic has a new special at 9,
repeating at 10 and midnight.

“Celebrity Family
Feud,” 8 p.m., ABC. Alfonso Ribeiro has already danced with Michael
Jackson, co-starred on Broadway and TV and won “Dancing With the
Stars.” Now his family faces the family of Garrett Morris. The
other battle has singer Sara Evans and annoying reality-show figure
Todd Chrisley.

Football, 8:20 p.m.
ET, NBC. For the second time in four days, NBC has key teams from
last season ... with a quarterback is missing. On Thursday, it was
the Broncos' Peyton Manning, who retired; now the Patriots' Tom Brady
is suspended and Jimmy Garoppolo faces the Cardinals. After a good
back-up year in 2014, his entire 2015 season consisted of four passes
and a six-yard completion.

Miss America, 9
p.m., ABC. In a way, this will feel a tad like a sports event. Sage
Steele of ESPN will host (with Chris Harrison); Mavericks owner Mark
Cuban and Olympic champion Gabrielle Douglas will be judges. Then
again, few sports include swimsuit and evening-gown categories.

“The Last Ship”
season-finale, 9 p.m., TNT. The battle for America concludes, with
the life of Captain Chandler (Eric Dane) in jeopardy.

“Indian Summers”
season-opener, 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). The first season
had a brilliant start and a so-so finish. Now we jump ahead three
years, with Aafrin secretly pushing independence.

“Neighborhood
Sessions,” 10 p.m., TNT. This is the third special with a hometown
performance by a star. Dave Matthews – born in South Africa, raised
in three countries – has had many homes, but this concert is in
Charlottesville, Va., where he started his band 25 years ago.

TV column for Saturday, Sept. 10


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE:
“Aquarius” finale, 9 and 10 p.m., NBC.

Ever since
“Aquarius” arrived last summer, we've known this was inevitable:
In tonight's second hour, Charles Manson sends his followers
(including Emma) to the home being rented by Sharon Tate.

That's in the second
hour, which concludes the season ... and, presumably, the series.
It's a dark way to end things; fortunately, there's also a fictional
story to root for: In the first hour, Hodiak (David Duchovny) goes to
extremes to confront the serial killer. That leads to Hodiak's
“retirement”; in the second hour, he pursues the case without the
advantages of being a cop.

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE
II: “15 Septembers Later,” 8 p.m., History; and more.

Sunday will mark the
15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. First, History
reruns its specials.

At 8 p.m. (rerunning
at 12:02 a.m.) is the recent “15 Septembers”; it uses photos
declassified this year, plus information from the 9/11 commission and
interviews with photographers and first-responders. At 10:02 p.m.
(rerunning at 2:04 a.m.) is “9/11: The Days After”; a
10th-anniversary report, it views the emotional
after-effects, including hate crimes and lingering illnesses.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: Football, 8 p.m. ET, ABC.

Here is supertsized
Americana, aiming for the biggest crowd in college history. Virginia
Tech has a big stadium (66,235), Tennessee has a giant one (102,455)
... but neither can match the115,169 when Michigan hosted Notre Dame
in 2013.

The solution? The
Bristol Motor Speedway (along the Tennessee-Virginia border) is being
altered for football, holding about 150,000. The game could be OK --
Tennessee was ranked No. 9 before the season, but needed an overtime
to beat Appalachian State – and the crowd could be terrific.

Other choices
include:

More football, all
day. While ABC has what's billed as a “border battle,” Fox
counters with an intra-state fight; it's Brigham Young at Utah, at
7:30 p.m. ET. There are plenty of other games, starting at noon ET on
ABC (Central Florida at Michigan) and at least nine cable channels.

“America's Got
Talent” rerun, 8 p.m., NBC. In a rerun from Wednesday, we learn the
second half of the final 10. Their final performances are Tuesday,
with a winner named Wednesday.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, a seaman was killed before testifying at a grand
jury. The probe find the resurgence of a human-trafficking ring.

“Criminal Minds,”
9 p.m., CBS. This reruns the first of two episodes with Frances
Fisher as a convicted serial killer. A package intercepted by prison
officials raises the possibility that she knows the whereabouts of
two boys who were kidnapped yearsa ago.

“Star Wars: The
Force Awakens” (2015), 9 p.m., Starz. Here is the film that fans
semi-patiently waited 32 years for – finally continuing the story
after “Return of the Jedi.” Skillfully directed by J.J. Abrams,

it is superb
visually and OK story-wise. It makes OK use of the original stars and
adds new ones that are terrific (Daisy Ridley, John Boyaga) and so-so
(Adam Driver).

“Where Are They
Now?” 10 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. After taking a week off, the
show returns to look at the Boyz II Men music group. It also meets
Marla Gibbs of “The Jeffersons” and the real-life food guy who
was fictionalized on “Seinfeld” as the “Soup Nazi.”

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Here's the rerun that had been annunced for
last week, with Ryan Gosling hosting and Leon Bridges as music guest.

TV column for Friday, Sept. 9


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
“ACM Honors,” 9-11 p.m., CBS.

Many of country's
top stars – including Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban,
Luke Bryan, Toby Keith and hosts Lady Antebellum – will perform, in
a night honoring stars past and present.

Lambert, Urban,
Carrie Underwood and Little Big Town will also get awards, but this
is more about previous generations. Honors will go to Glen Campbell,
Tanya Tucker, Crystal Gayle, the Statler Brothers, Jimmy Webb and
(poshumously) Eddie Rabbit and Jeff Walker, plus studio musicans and
a songwriter. Also performing: Alicia Keys, Jason Aldean, Emmylou
Harris, Martina McBride and more.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Stand Up to Cancer,” 8 p.m. on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, 30-plus
English-language cable stations and many Spanish-language ones.

Even before the ACM
show at 9 p.m., country fans can catch Keith Urban, Dierks Bentley
and Little Big Town. They'll perform, as will Celine Dion, in an hour
stuffed with stars.

Airing on alternate
years, this will include co-founder Katie Couric, who was widowed by
cancer, and others. They include Ben Affleck, John Hamm, Viola Davis,
Kristen Wiig, Zach Galifianakis, Matthew McConaughey, Ken Jeong,
Terry Crews, Emma Stone, Anna Kendrick, Eric Stonestreet, Josh Gad,
Matt Bomer and more. Bradley Cooper, whose father died of lung
cancer, is an executive producer.

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Live from Lincoln Center,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local
listings).

This isn't live and
isn't from Lincoln Center. Still, it should have elegant music and
videos.

In the first road
trip of the show's 40 years, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln
Center visits Shaker Village, nestled in 3,000 acres of Kentucky
countryside. It focuses mainly on American composers, includng Aaron
Copland's “Appalachian Spring,” which includes the Shaker melody
“Simple Gifts.”

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “One Mississippi” debut, any time, Amazon Prime..

TV's quietest
revolution centers on Louis C.K. His own show is on hold , but he's
producing two gems in his droll, dry style -- “Better Things” (10
p.m. Thursdays on FX) with Pamela Adlon and this one.

The story compresses
events from Tig Notaro's real life: Recovering from cancer, a double
masectomy and an intestinal ailment, she returns home to catch her
mother's final moments. Surprisingly, this is mostly a comedy. Like
C.K. and Adlon, Notaro has a sharp eye for the humor in life's
details.

Other choices
include:

Marathons, all day.
BBC America continues its 50th-anniversary celebration of
the original “Star Trek,” with original episodes until 3 a.m.
Also, USA has “Modern Family” reruns from 7-11 p.m., then gives
“Stand Up to Cancer” a delayed run at 11.

“Masters of
Illusion,” 8 p.m., CW. In the lone commercial-broadcast alternative
to the cancer special, we see magicians Jonathan Pendragon, Greg
Gleason, Chris Korn, Jen Kramer, Barry & Stuart and Jarrett &
Raga. That's followed by reruns of “Masters” at 8:30 and “Penn
& Teller: Fool Us” at 9.

“True Grit”
(2010), 8 p.m., AMC. If you overlook a downer moment at the end, this
is a first-rate cowboy remake of a cowboy classic, with Jeff Bridges
and Matt Damon.

More movies, 8 p.m.,
cable. Leading the line-up is the middle film (2002) in the terrific
“Lord of the Rings” trilogy, on TNT; the third one is Saturday.
Families might try “The Descendants” (2015) on Disney. Other
films include “Fast and Furious 6” (2013) on FX, “The Time
Traveler's Wife” (2009) on Pop and Julia Roberts' so-so “My Best
Friend's Wedding” (1997) on CMT.

“MasterChef,” 9
p.m., Fox. This reruns the second half of Wednesday's episode. The
four cooks work with duck or halibut. The losing team has a pork
face-off, setting up next Wednesday's finale.

“Dark Matter,”
10 and 11 p.m., Syfy. Here are two straight new episodes, setting up
next week's finale.

TV column for Thursday, Sept. 8


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE:
Pro football season-opener. 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC.

Each year, the NFL
gets its season off to a flashy start. It has a pre-game show with
music –this time, Dierks Bentley and OneRepublic – and then a
major match-up.

This one has the
Super Bowl teams – with a major exception. The Carolina Panthers –
who had lost only one game before dtropping the Super Bowl – are
back, again with Cam Newton at quarterback. Denver is also back, but
Peyton Manning has retired. Champions are led by Trevor Siemian, who
was the 250th man chosen in the 2015 draft, then had
exactly one play (a kneel-down) all season.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE
II: “Better Things” debut, 10 p.m., FX; reruns at 11:06 p.m. and
2:09 a.m.

Louis C.K.'s “Louie”
is a revelation – a set of wonderfully understated slices from the
life of a single dad with two daughters and a show-business career.
Now Pamela Adlon, his co-writer, has her own quiet gem, with C.K. as
her co-producer and co-writer.

We see a single mom
with three daughters and a career as an actress and cartoon voice.
That fits Adlon, who voiced Bobby on “King of the Hill.” She
finds humor in big moments – a teen asks her mom to buy pot – and
small. There's something funny about two people alternately
demanding: “What?”

TONIGHT'S
ALTERNATIVE: “Star Trek,” 8:30 p.m. ET, BBC America.

At 8:30 p.m. on
Sept. 8, 1966, NBC hesitently debuted the long-shot “Trek”
series. So exactly 50 years later, BBC reruns that first episode.
Then – one per 70 minutes (to allow for increased commercials and
promos these days) – it shows the others in order.

That continues –
pausing only from 3-6 a.m. daily – until 3 a.m. Monday. Flashing
before us is a classic that was often limited by a shortage of money,
but never by a shortage of imagination.

Other choices
include:

“Star Trek”
movies, all day, Syfy. “Generations” (1994) -- the OK movie that
linked the old and new “Trek” casts – airs at 8 a.m. and 3 and
11 p.m. “First Contact” (1996) -- with Alice Krige as the
powerful Borg Queen – is 10:30 a.m., 6 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. “Star
Trek IV” (1986) – the lightest and brightest of the films – is
at 1 and 8:30 p.m.

“Building Star
Trek,” 6-8 p.m., Smithsonian. Here's a reruns of a delightful
documentary, jumping between preparations for “Trek” exhibits and
scientists trying to match the show's fictional feats.

“$100,000
Pyramid,” 8-10 p.m., ABC. Here are reruns of four battles. It's
actor Alfonso Ribeiro and chef Mario Batali, “Shark Tank”
financiers Barbara Corcoran and Damond Johns, actors Steve Schirripa
(of “Sopranos”) and Melissa Peterman and actors Teri Polo and
Zachary Levi.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. After tonight, “Big Bang” will be in
exile for a while, moving to Mondays to make room for five football
games. So enjoy this fairly good episode, with Howard having second
thoughts about the business arrangement and Raj having confusion
about his girlfriends.

“Beauty and the
Beast,” 9 p.m., CW. Next Thursday, this emotional show ends its
four-season run. For now, as usual, there's a crisis. Vincent is
being secretly interrogated about an impending attack and may be near
the breaking point; next week, he and/or Cat may have to pay the
ultimate price.

“Code Back,”
9:59 p.m., CBS. Last week, the show reran the episode introducing
Boris Kodjoe as the ER and OR chief who's supposed to keep an eye on
the budget. Tonight, he surprises Grace by asking her out; also,
Christa must set aside her feelings about Grace, when they treat a
troubled teen.

“Queen of the
South,” 10 p.m., USA. With the season-finale coming next Thursday,
we see Camila take more steps to take over Epifanio's drug empire.
Also, Teresa and Brenda try some daring extortion.