TV column for Wednesday, Nov. 16

“Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.

ABC thrives on
building a four-comedy night around a holiday. Now it's
Thanksgiving's turn, with “Modern Family” -- the five-time winner
of the best-comedy Emmy – at the core.

In one home, Cameron
is doing (overdoing?) plans for a “Thanksgiving jamboree.” In
another, Phil is crushed that his daughter would rather be with
weatherman Rainer Shine (Nathan Fillion). In the third, Gloria is
trying to convince young Joe that animals are our friends.

II: “Empire,” 9 p.m., Fox.

Music people, it
seems, can have the same problems as politicians: Someone steals
their E-mails and shows them to the world. That's what happens to the
Lyons tonight: As their messages – from personal attacks to
Cookie's naked selfie – hit the world, an empire quakes.

That's a quick,
slick story, but stick around for more. In the final minutes, there's
a stark crisis and then a big-deal surprise. “Empire” works on
every level – music, mystery and emotion.

ALTERNATIVE: “Soundbreaking,” 10 p.m., PBS.

As soon as you
finish Fox's fictional hour about music, switch to some terrific
non-fiction. This hour, the third of eight. focuses on the part we
think we understand – the human voice.

It's not just about
hitting the right notes, Bonnie Raitt says. “Recording is a really
personal matter. We want to dig deep and be naked.” This hour
traces people who could do that, from Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles
to Aretha Franklin, Amy Winehouse and the current master: What makes
Adele unique, says producer Oliver Wang, is “her ability to project
emotion on a grand scale.”

Other choices

“The Art of More,”
any time, Crackle. The first season had a tough ex-soldier wedge his
way into the big-money art-auction world, facing people who were born
into money (Cary Elwes, Kate Bosworth) and a tough-talking outsider
(Dennis Quaid). Here's the full, 10-episode second season.

“Survivor,” 8
p.m., CBS. The merged tribe is now equally divided between the two
original tribes. That came with the third straight “Millennial”
ouster – Michelle Schubert, 28, a missionary recruiter.

“The Goldbergs,”
8 p.m., ABC. For a while on the holiday, Murray bonds with his

“Polar Bear Town”
debut, 8 and 11 p.m., Smithsonian. In a frigid part of Canada is
Churchill, a town of 800; it's a quiet place ... usually. Once a
year, however, it's invaded by 1,000 polar bears, plus 10,000
tourists who want to see them. This could be a good reality show
sometime, but not now. After a maiming last year, officials cracked
down, nudging bears to the outskirts. Smithsonian is left with a
moderately interesting look at the guides who take people in search
of the giant creatures.

“Nova,” 9 p.m.,
PBS. Wrapping up the three-part “Treasures of the Earth,” this is
a sweeping look at power sources, both fossil fuel – still
providing 80 per cent of the world's power – and alternatives.
China leads in air pollution (causing 1.6 million deaths a year), it
says, and in creating other routes.

9:31 p.m., ABC. Family feuds seem to thrive during TV's
Thanksgivings. Now Pops' sister (Lorraine Toussaint) arrives,
re-igniting her feud with his ex-wife (Jenifer Lewis).

“Code Black,” 10
p.m., CBS. It's action-adventure time again for Dr. Willis (Rob
Lowe), the Army officer working at the hospital. He and Dr. Campbell
(Boris Kodjoe) are dropped onto a Russian submarine, where a sailor
has been wounded.

TV column for Tuesday, Nov. 15

“Soundbreaking,” 10 p.m., PBS.

How much studio time
does it take to make a record? The Beatles first album (that's 14
songs) took 12 hours, we're told here; The Beach Boys' “Good
Vibrations” (one song) took 90 hours.

And now some
perfectionists spend even longer, searching for just the right riff.
This second chapter in a terrific, eight-part series traces the
history of extreme production. It goes back to Les Paul creating
multi-tracks, turning his wife into a 20-voice chorus. It visits the
triumphs – “Sgt. Pepper,” “Pet Sounds” -- and lets Lindsey
Buckingham gamely defend the excesses of Fleetwood Mac's “Tusk.”

II: “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” 8 p.m., Fox.

Here is an episode
as fast and frantic as its mission: Prepare an ambitious wedding in
14 hours. Adrian Pimento is suddenly back and in love and/or lust
with Rosa; now Amy must plan the rest.

There are lots of
roadblocks ahead, from a burned-down pawn shop to a debate about
balloon arches. Some of this is silly and much of it is very funny.

ALTERNATIVE: “Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise,” 8-10
p.m., PBS.

Henry Louis Gates
may be the perfect person to recap a half-century of black history.
Growing up in a pleasant, working-class world in West Virginia, he
was startled at what he saw on TV. He went to Yale, where two early
beneficiaries of affirmative action became lifelong friends: Sheila
Jackson Lee has just been elected to her 12th term in
Congress; Gates, 66, is a renowned author and Harvard professor.

In this first half
of a two-Tuesday documentary, he takes us through the rise of Martin
Luther King, Mallcolm X and beyond, while asking: “How did we go so
far – and yet have so far to go?”

ALTERNATIVE II: “Shooter” debut, 10 p.m., USA.

This series has one
thing in common with USA's “Mr. Robot” -- a sharp opening scene
that establishes a unique character and his distinctive sense of
justice. Then, alas, it becomes more ordinary.

Bob Lee Swagger
(Ryan Phillippe, taking a role Mark Wahlberg filled in the 2007
movie) is a former military sniper, now seeking rural peace with his
wife and daughter. Then a friend tugs him back in. Some portions
seeem unlikely and some merely seem ordinary, after the show's strong

Other choices

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. Here's the episode that was scheduled earlier, then delayed.
Torres (Wilmer Valderrama) breaks protocol when he learns that a key
witness is sought by U.S. Immigration.

“The Voice,” 8
p.m., NBC. Fresh from his fifth Entertainer of the Year award from
the Country Music Association, Garth Brooks is expected to have his
second straight night on “Voice.”

“New Girl,” 8:30
p.m., Fox. Maybe Jess should wear a caution sign. She's returning to
the dating scene ... and posing physical danger to the guy she
chooses. There are some good sight gags here, to highlight an
inconsistent but funny episode.

“Good Behavior,”
9 and 10 p.m., TNT. Michelle Dockery is far from her “Downton
Abbey” turf. Now she plays an addict and ex-con; it's tough to
adjust to the former Lady Mary having drunken sex with a stranger ...
and tougher to see her cleaning a toilet bowl. Dockery is terrific,
but this takes cable's anti-hero obsession to an extreme: She's
self-destructive, linked to a hit man; it's hard to root for anyone.

“David Blaine:
Beyond Magic,” 10 p.m., ABC. Blaine thrives on close-up illusions,
filmed in a documentary style. Here, the people he fools include
Arnold Schhwarzenegger, David Beckham, Johnny Depp, Dave Chappelle,
Drake, Stephen Curry, Emma Stone and John Travolta.

“Continent 7:
Antarctica” opener, 10 p.m., National Geographic. In size and
ferocity Antarctica is stunning. It's a “5.4-million-mile desert,”
this series says; one island is bigger than France. Its average
winter temperature is 29-below; its record is 135.8-below. Visually
and emotionally, this is a great place to set a series; the opener,
however, follows some relatively mundane scientific missions.

TV column for Monday, Nov. 14

“Mars” debut. 9 p.m., National Geographic; rerunning aat 12:01

Here is epic
storytelling, merging fact, fiction and two time frames. The core is
in 2033, with an international mission to Mars. Supplies have been
dropped there; now people must land and find them.

This is a solidly
crafted story, with strong drama and believable characters. As a
bonus, “Mars” often flashes back to 2016; authors, astronauts and
scientists explain the reality behind a compelling drama.

II: “Conviction,” 10:01 p.m., ABC.

At a time of
re-fractured race relations, we need hours like this – an
always-emotional, often-intelligent view of the divide. The team
re-opens the case of a black protestor, accused of shooting a white
cop. Some clues are too easy and some strain credibility; still, the
ideas and passions are potent.

In particular, they
bombard Maxine Bohen, a black cop who keeps facing assumptions on
both sides. She's played by Merrin Dungey, whose sister Channing runs
ABC. (Don't assume any nepotism; Merrin has been busy on every
network.) It's a perfectly modulated performance in a tough but
worthy hour.

ALTERNATIVE: “The Voice,” 8-10:01 p.m., NBC.

In a quick-paced
episode last week, “Voice” trimmed from 20 people to 12. Now -- with Garth Brooks visiting today and Tuesday-- the
pace eases a bit: Tonight, they'll sing and viewers will vote; on
Tuesday, one person will be sent home.

The line-up includes
five women and seven men – two of them familiar. Billy Gilman, 28,
was the youngest person to reach Billboard's country chart, back when
he was 11. Sundance Head, 37 (the son of singer Roy Head) finished
13th on “American Idol” in 2007, when the show was at
its peak.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Soundbreaking” debut, 10 p.m., PBS.

After hearing the
voices on NBC, switch to the start of this brilliant look at the
people who mold the records. This sprawls over eight weekdays
(through Nov. 23), but the opener is a perfect summary.

Here are record
producers as opposites (classically trained George Martin with the
Beatles, Sam Phillips with early black greats) or despots (Phil
Spector creating the “wall of sound”). And here are the
performers – Joni Mitchell, Sly Stone, Dr. Dre – as their own
producers. It's a dizzying journey.

AND YET MORE (in a great night): “Explorer,”10:01 p.m., National Geographic,
rerunning at 1:01 a.m.

For 35 years (with
pauses), this has brought global documentaries. Tonight, it launches
a new format and a clever host, Richard Bacon; he interviews Erin
Brockovich and introduces segments.

There's a story
about an Indonesian area where the dead are kept at home for years;
there's also a panel – including comedian Larry Wilmore and
undertaker Amy Cunningham – on death. Also: Profiles of people who
clean up nuclear waste and a librarian who protected books and
artifacts from the al-Qaida.

Other choices

“Close to the
Enemy,” any time,
The setting is a once-splendid hotel. After World War II, a British
officer must charm a German scientist into co-operating; that won't
be easy, since the scientist and his daughter were rudely snatched
from their beds. This is an odd and interesting character piece from
Stephen Poliakoff (“The Lost Prince”), with Alfred Molina, Angela
Bassett and more.

"Tucker Carlson Tonight," 7 p.m., Fox News. Carlson takes over the former Greta Van Susteren spot; Brit Hume had been filling in temporarily.

“Dancing With the
Stars,” 8-10:01 p.m., ABC. It is possible, apparently, for Derek
Hough to not be near the top. Last week, he and Marilu Henner were
ousted; the sixth place finish matched the worst ever for Hough,
whose previous 15 times included six championships and 13 times in
the top four.


“Gotham,” 8
p.m., Fox. After all the worthy crimesolving he's done – here and
on other shows – Michael Chiklis has suddenly gone wild; he plays
an infected cop who bypasses the law and executes crooks. In a solid
episode, Jim Gordon tries to stop him; also, Ivy leads Bruce and
Selina into danger.

“2 Broke Girls,”
9 p.m., CBS. French Stewart guests as a bartending instructor.
Caroline must scramble to pass the test alone, after Max comes down
with chicken pox.

“The Odd Couple,”
9:30, CBS. The show finds two reasons for batches of odd people:
Dani, newly promoted, must hire her own replacement; also, Felix
tries to help Emily, who misses England.

10:01 p.m., NBC. Now the team chases Flynn to Nixon-era Washington at
the time of Watergate. It starts to get hints of Flynn's motivation;
also, Wyatt's tragic past erupts.

TV column for Sunday, Nov. 13

“Madam Secretary,” 9 p.m., CBS.

Matt Mahoney,
Elizabeth's speechwriter, is often overlooked; tonight, he's at the
core of a strong story. Matt is half-Pakistani on his mother's side
(as is Geoffrey Arend, who plays him); when a terrorist turns out to
be from his mosque, he faces scrutiny.

This is an involving
story, well-played; so are two others: In one, Elizabeth confronts a
Saudi official whose cousin is linked to the bombing; in another, her
husband (Tim Daly) tries to help the despondent young Russian whom he
pressured into becoming a spy.

“Son of Zorn,” 8:30 p.m., Fox.

TV comedies love
Thanksgiving, a time when they can lump together some mismatched
people. Here's the first one of the season – complete with the
consummate mismatch.

Zorn never really
got along with his mother-in-law – possibly because he impregnated
her daughter, who then left college ... or possibly because he's
shirtless, a cartoon and has anger issues, throwing her car into
space. Now he's divorced, but wedges his way to Thanksgiving dinner.
In a sometimes-funny episode, he tries to make a better impression;
he even wears a shirt and makes a stab at adding pants..

ALTERNATIVE: “Expedition Mars,” 9 p.m., National Geographic,
rerunning at 11.

For a time in the
1990s, this documentary says, NASA and its Mars mission were
floundering. Then they were rescued by two space rovers.

The Spirit and
Opportunity reached Mars in 2004 and worked for six years, exceeding

focuses on them ... and sets up a mega-project: On Monday, the
channel will launch “Mars,” a six-week epic that skillfully mixes
a fictional story (in 2033) and current experts.

Other choices

Football preview, 7
p.m., and kick-off, 8:20, NBC. Two years ago, this was the Super Bowl
match-up, with Tom Brady's New England Patriots edging Russell
Wilson's Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks slipped slightly last year,
but now they have a 5-2-1 record; they visit the Patriots, who are

Durrells in Corfu,” 8 p.m., PBS. The stuffy relatives arrive and
don't seem to understand the pleasures of living in a house with lots
of creatures and no electricity or toilets. That part follows the
standard stuffy-folks stereotypes; the delightful parts come when
Louisa tries to take charge. And setting up next week's
season-finale, romances take big steps forward and backward.

“The Simpsons,”
8 p.m., Fox. Other shows have Cuban episodes; now “The Simpsons”
can have one without all the expense of going there. The family takes
Grandpa there, in search of free medical care.

“Secrets and
Lies,” 9 p.m., ABC. At first, Eric was the prime suspect in his
wife's murder. But now the secret sins of his brother put the whole
family and its business in jeopardy. Also, there's a deadly surprise
about their father. And Detective Cornell has her own personal

“The Walking
Dead,” 9-10:25 p.m., AMC, rerunning at 11:25. In the previous two
episodes (rerunning at 6:55 and 8 p.m., some of the people found a
sort-of safe community. Tonight, the others try to hold out in
Alexandria, then receive as sobering visit.

“Quantico,” 10
p.m., ABC. In the CIA training, Owen teaches enhanced interrogation,
with the students using him as their target. And in the future, a
president is sworn in and Miranda faces a decision.

“Elementary,” 10
p.m., CBS. Sherlock's relationship with Fiona is at a crossroads.
Meanwhile, he's probing a mass murder that involved snake venom at a
tasting party.

TV column for Saturday, Nov. 12

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

With the
election-fueled ratings soaring, “SNL” is front-loading. This is
its sixth new episode in seven weeks (compared to five in seven weeks
last fall), a large chunk of the 21-episode season.

And there's a
big-draw host -- Dave Chappelle, who walked away from his cable show
and from multi-million-dollar pleas from Comedy Central, a decade
ago. A Tribe Called Quest is the music guest.

“The Killing Season” debut, 9 and 10:01 p.m., A&E.

intriguing and revolting, this eight-part film examines a case that
began when 10 bodies (mostly women) were found in Long Island in
2011. Some were neatly wrapped in burlap, others were dismembered.
Reporters re-probe the case, in a style that's sometimes overwrought,
yet intriguing.

Along the way,
questions arise: Was this one killer or two? Do these murders relate
to the ones in Atlantic City and Daytona Beach? Has prostitution
become too easy in the Internet age? And do some police tend to put
less effort into cases in which the victims are prostitutes?

ALTERNATIVE: “Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency,” 9 p.m.,
BBC America.

If you missed the
first three chapters of this eight-parter, don't fret. It's a wild
tale from novels by Douglas Adams (“Hitchhiker's Guide”), best
savored with a detached sense of whimsy.

Todd (the terrific
Elijah Wood) discovered the murder of millionaire Patrick Spring and
the kidnapping of Spring's daughter; he also met Dirk and his intense
protector Farah. Now Todd and his sister would like to return to
normal life – which isn't going to happen. Tonight includes a
hilarious FBI imposter, plus such phrases as “death maze” and
“electric ghost rhino.” It's always odd and sometimes great fun.

Other choices

“Iron Man”
movies, all day, FX. The first, fun movie (2008) is at 2:30 p.m.,
with others at 5:30 (2010) and 8 p.m. (2013). They'll also run
Sunday, at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 and 5 p.m.

“Finding Nemo”
(2003), 5:55 p.m., Freeform. This is a good night for families to
find animated films. “Nemo” is followed by “How to Train Your
Dragon” (2010) at 8:20; also,the clever “Wreck-it Ralph” (2012)
is at 6:40 p.m. on Disney.

Football, 7:30 p.m.
ET, Fox. Washington (ranged No. 5) hosts Southern California. Also,
Michigan (No. 3) visits Iowa at 8 p.m., with much more on cable.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun from last December, Deeks has
been arrested and charged with killing his partner. His colleagues
scramble for a way to clear him.

(2007), 8-11 p.m., USA. On Tuesday, USA will finally launch the
“Shooter” series; once set for July 19, it was delayed twice
after a shooting. Before the series starts, here's the original
movie, with Mark Wahlberg as a former sniper, called back to prevent
a presidential assassination. Wahlberg is one of the producers of the
series, which has Ryan Phillippe in his role.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. This reruns finds the team tracing stolen
TNT and finding much more – a warehouse for cocaine, operated by a
ring led by agent Sonja Percy's childhood friend.

“Where Are They
Now?” 10 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. Karolyn Grimes' acting career
peaked when she was 6 and 7, in the Christmas classics “It's a
Wonderful Life” and “The Bishop's Wife.” It ended when she was
14, after her parents died; now we meet her at 76. Others include Sue
Orman, Alan Ruck and Kevin Eubanks ... plus Paul Marcarelli, the
pitchman who went from Sprint to Verizon.