TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 15

“America's Got Talent,” 8-10:01 p.m., NBC.

After lots of
auditions and lots of commotion, things peaks now: Tonight, 10 wildly
varied acts will perform; on Wednesday, one will become the
million-dollar champion.

How varied? The
finalists include three magicians, two comedians and two music acts,
plus a ventriloquist and a guy who balances on a free-standing
ladder. And it includes a “professional regurgitator”; we never
realized that's a profession ... or that it's worth a million

“Best Time Ever” debut, 10:01 p.m., NBC.

As soon as “Talent”
concludes, this show will do ... well, something. It will be live
and, we're told, free-form, with stunts (some taped in advance) and
humor and music and more. It will continue for seven more Tuesdays,
then step aside for something (“Chicago Med”) that's much more

This is all a bit
iffy ... except that Neil Patrick Harris is hosting. That makes it
worth trying.

ALTERNATIVE: “Walt Disney: American Experience” conclusion, 9-11
p.m., PBS.

The first half of
this superb documentary found Disney triumphing. His cartoon shorts
were beloved; his first three feature-length cartoons were daring and
praised. But the third (“Fantasia,” in 1940) was a tough sell,
the impending war drained overseas money ... and now the animators
were on strike.

In the conclusion
(following an 8 p.m. Jim Henson profile), Disney fumes, lets his
brother settle the strike ... then retaliates, even claiming
strike-leaders were Communists. He made bold films (“Bambi”) and
duds, then tinkered with a toy train. Somehow, that led to
Disneyland, transforming vacations.

ALTERNATIVE II: “The Bastard Executioner” debut, 10 p.m., FX.

In this timeslot, on
this network, producer-writer Kurt Sutter gave us seven fierce
seasons of “Sons of Anarchy.” Now he's jumped to 14th-century
Wales, but the violence continues.

A former English
knight, almost killed in battle, lives in a tiny Welsh village,
helping fight the brutal English tax collectors. Then epic events
force him to switch identities again. Stephen Moyer plays an English
leader; Katey Sagal plays a witch and/or healer, with Sutter (her
husband in real life) as her mute aide. Like “Sons,” this is
harsh, nasty and beautifully filmed; we'll need time to warm up to

Other choices

“Scary Movie”
(2000), 8-10 p.m., Fox. Next Tuesday, Fox launches its own spin on
mock-horror, with “Scream Queens.” To get us in the mood, it has
this spoof; “Scary” stars Anna Faris – who went on to something
much bigger (“Mom”) -- and many people who didn't.

“Fresh Off the
Boat,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC. A week before the second season
starts, here are the funny first and last episodes of the first
season. That's followed by another look at “Dancing With the

“Big Brother,” 8
p.m., CBS. With football taking over Thursdays, CBS has juggled the
schedule. There's the power of veto tonight, an eviction Wednesday
... and the season-finale a week later.

season-finale, 9 p.m., CBS. Jackson (James Wolk) rushes to find a
cure for the global animal uprising. Now he meets an obstacle that
may be unbeatable.

“Live Free or Die”
season-opener, 9 p.m., National Geograpic. One man spent 12 years
building a home in the Georgia swamps; then it burned, leaving him to
start over. Elsewhere in the wilderness, one guy tries to repel
bears, another nudges mules. And a husband and wife, building a
makeshift heater, find their house tipping. These are oddly likable
people, living odd but interesting lives.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. Reports say that the New Orleans port has
been breached, putting the Navy and the city in jeopardy.

TV column for Monday, Sept. 14

Finales of “So You Think You Can Dance” (Fox) and “American
Ninja Warrior” (NBC), both 8 p.m.

Two shows
demonstrate stunning skill. “Ninja” is the ratings champ, with a
million-dollar prize if its winner beats the final obstacles, but
we're awed by the “Dance” mix of artistry and athleticism.

The show's final
four includes two “street” dancers with immense charm and past
accomplishment: Virgil Gadson, 28, has danced on Broadway; Jaja
Vankova, 23, a Czech immigrant, was part of a “America's Best Dance
Crew” champion. They face gifed “stage” dancers -- Gaby Diaz,
19, trying to be the first tap-dancer to win, and Hailee Payne, 20,
part of Utah's tradition of great jazz dancers.

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

Each year, this
strange show gives us an immense variety of contestants. For a
contrast, compare Kim Zolciak Biermann (part of the party crowd in
the early years of “Real Housewives of Atlanta”) to Alek
Skarlatos (one of the soldiers who stopped a shooter on a Paris-bound

Or compare Hayes
Grier (an Internet star) and Bindi Irwin (daughter of the late
“crocodile hunter”), ages 15 and 17, to Chaka Khan, 62, Paula
Deen, 68, and the odd Gary Busey, 71. There's a husband and wife
(Carlos and Alex Penavega), a Triple Crown-winning jockey (Victor
Espinoza) and more.

ALTERNATIVE: “Walt Disney: American Experience,” 9-11 p.m., PBS.

In his shows and his
parks, Disney offered small-town warmth, gentle dads and happy kids.
Much of that, this superb documentary (concluding Tuesday) says,
required great imagination.

Disney's own dad was
stern and stoic; except for a few rural years – which Walt
idealized forever – childhood was full of toil. He retained the
work ethic, but shed the rest. Disney became a warm father and a
paternalistic boss, startled when his workers wanted raises and a
union. He plowed ahead with a glowing imagination; he took big
chances ... and had his brother Roy to make sure the finances worked.

Other choices

“Archer,” 6:18
to 11 p.m., Comedy Central. Nine episodes rerun, peaking at 7:22 p.m.
with the excellent “Heart of Archness” trilogy, which saw Archer
become king of a distant island.

“Penn &
Teller: Fool Us,” 8 p.m., CW. This amiable show introduces top
magicians, including Rick Lax, who produced the similar (and
well-made) “Wizard Wars.”

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Next Monday, the show's ninth season will
start with Leonard and Penny finally marrying. First, here's a rerun
of the season-finale; Sheldon pushes them to set a wedding date ...
then faces change in his own relationship with Amy.

“The Odd Couple,”
8:30 p.m., CBS. It's tax-audit time in this rerun, with Oscar and his
ex-wife (Matthew Perry and Lauren Graham) at war. Felix tries to

“Scorpion,” 9
p.m., CBS. This reruns the season-finale, with Walter's life hanging
in the balance.

Mother,” 9:30 p.m., CW. The series started with Nate upset to learn
that his recently separated mother is sleeping with his best friend.
Tonight, Nate tries meeting women on a dating site; things go badly,
but his mom urges him to try one more time.

America,” 10:01 p.m., ABC. After all the physical accomplishments
of “Ninja,” “Dance” and “Stars,” here's the opposite –
a contest for dance groups filled with regular folks. A sampling
indicates that the dancing is often inept and sometimes tacky.

TV column for Sunday, Sept. 13

Miss America, 9-11 p.m., ABC.

For its 95th
anniversary, this pageant is finally getting things back in order. In
recent years, it's returned to Atlantic City (after years in Las
Vegas) and to broadcast-TV (after cable mis-adventures). Now, with
Chris Harrison and Brooke Burke-Charvet as hosts, it's finally
welcoming back Vanessa Williams.

In a burst of
early-'80s prudeness, the pageant took away her title (seven weeks
before it expired), because she had once posed for nude photos. She
went on to to be a star, with individual nominations for 11 Grammys,
three Emmys and a Tony. Now, after 32 years away, she's back and is
the head judge.

II: Football, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC.

In many homes, it
will be a two-TV night – one for Miss America, the other to watch
the opening Sunday of the pro season. At 7 p.m. ET, Bob Costas and
others summarize what happened in the other games; at 8:30, Al
Michaels and Cris Collinsworth call the game, with Michele Tafoya on
the sidelines.

This one has top
quarterbacks, with Eli Manning and the New York Giants visiting Tony
Romo and the Dallas Cowboys. The Gaints are trying to bounce back
from a 6-10 season in 2014 and a 2-2 pre-season; the Cowboys were
12-4 last year, before losing in the play-offs, and 1-3 in the

ALTERNATIVE: “Wings of Life” (2011), 8 and 11 p.m. ET, NatGeo

Each April, on the
week of Earth Day, Disney debuts a beautifully crafted nature film in
theaters. Now all of those films have been sold to Wild; here's one
of the best.

Meryl Streep
narrates a gorgeous look at pollination. The hummingbird and bee
scenes are spectacular, but “Wings” is at its best with monarch
butterflies. Their massive migration – 2,000-plus miles, from the
Mexican mountains to the Northern U.S. or Canada – requires three
or more generations each way.

Other choices

-- “60 Minutes,”
7:30 p.m., CBS. This starts the annual viewer confusion over football
overruns. Tonight, CBS is simply scheduling everything a half-hour
later than usual; sometimes, that's enough.

-- “Brooklyn
Nine-Nine,” 8:30 p.m., Fox. Here's a rerun of the season-finale,
which jolted viewers by sending the captain (Emmy-winner Andre
Braugher) to a headquarters job with Gina. (They're still on the
show, but the season will start with a new captain.) Also, Jake and
Amy were nudged together.

-- “Sherlock,”
9-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local listings). Viewers will consider this
rerun to be either the best or worst (our choice) of PBS' great
“Sherlock” films. It keeps dithering over the best-man speech for
Watson's wedding, leaving less room for the story. That follows the
mid-section of the excellent “Arthur and George” (8 p.m.), based
loosely on a real story about Sherlock author Arthur Conan Doyle.

-- “Last Man on
Earth,” 9:30 p.m., Fox. A week before it's up for three Emmys
(directing, writing and star Will Forte), this show reruns its
season-finale. Phil (Forte) realizes he must repair his iffy
relationship with Carol, whom he married when they thought they were
Earth's only survivors.

-- “Madam
Secretary,” 9:30 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, there are rumors of an
attempt to assassinate the Iranian president when he arrives to sign
a nuclear treaty. Also, Elizabeth – shaken by her close call during
an overseas trip – sees a therapist (Marsha Mason).

-- “CSI: Cyber,”
10:30 p.m., CBS. In this rerun, a hacker used a Detroit power outage
to create a jewelry store robbery ... which may have been a cover for
something more.

-- “Doll & Em”
season-opener, 10:40 p.m., HBO. In the proper British style, this
show is hand-crafted by Dolly Wells and Emily Mortimer; they write
and star in it, making only six slow, subtle episodes each season.
Last year, Doll worked as Em's assistant, shattering their
friendship; now they're back together, trying to write a
semi-autobiographical play.

TV column for Saturday, Sept. 12

“Saturday Night Live” people, everywhere.

If you've ever
doubted the immense impact of “SNL,” start switching channels
tonight. There's the regular “SNL” rerun (James Franco hosts,
Nicki Minaj sings) at 11:29 p.m. on NBC and an odd Will Ferrell romp
(see “tonight's alternative”) at 10 p.m. on HBO. And there are
movies everywhere.

One of the first
“SNL” stars, Chevy Chase, has the fun “Vacation” (1983) at 8
p.m. on IFC. There's also an Adam Sandler film (“Big Daddy,”
1999, Oxygen), plus a dandy Tina Fey double-feature on Bravo: “Mean
Girls” (2004) is at 8 p.m. and “Baby Mama” (2008), with “SNL”
alumna Amy Poehler, at 10.

“Home Free,” 9 p.m., Fox.

If you haven't been
watching this feel-good reality show, jump in for this rerun of its

Mike Holmes, who
knows his stuff, has been supervising the likable duos who work on
home revamps, hoping to win a dream house. They don't realize that
each set of “losers” will actually win the house they've been
working on. Tonight, watch a two more losers ... and the dream-home

ALTERNATIVE: “Ferrell Takes the Field,” 10 p.m., HBO.

As a gimmick, some
baseball players have played all nine positions in one game. Now Will
Ferrell tops that, in a charity fundraiser -- playing 10 positions
(counting designated hitter) on 10 teams in one day.

He did that during
spring training, when some teams are bunched together in Arizona. The
result has a few moderately funny moments, copying the style of old
sports movies; mostly, though, it's merely harmless fun, amiable and

Other choices

“Rocky” (1976),
9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Ion. The original film packed a quiet wallop.
Sylvester Stallone provided a spare script and an understatedly
perfect performance; he was backed by John Avildsen's sharp direction
and Bill Conti's stirring score. The sequels, directed by Stallone,
were adequate; they run at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., then repeat at
7, 9 and 11 p.m.

“Walk the Line”
(2005) 6 p.m., and “Johnny Cash: American Rebel” (2015), 9 and 11
p.m., CMT. We can spend the night reliving Cash's fascinating life.
First is the terrific movie, focusing on his romance with June
Carter; Reese Witherspoon won a well-deserved Oscar and Juaqin
Phoenix was nominated. Then is a new documentary.

Football, 8 p.m. ET,
ABC. The second week of the college season has plenty of mismatches,
but not this one. Two top-10 teams collide, when Oregon visits
Michigan State.

“Running Wild with
Bear Grylls,” 8 p.m., NBC. On the night before he leads the New
Orleans Saints in their season-opener, we can see this rerun of
quarterback Drew Brees in Panama. He climbs a bat-infested cave,
descends a steep cavern and confronts a crocodile.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. The murder victim is a Navy lieutenant who was going to become
the first openly gay serviceman to receive the Medal of Honor.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. Trying to find the source of an impending
anthrax attack, Sam and Callen head to Mexico, going undercover as
food-truck guys.

“Blunt Talk,” 9
p.m., Starz. rerunning at 10 and 11. Walter (Patrick Stewart) tries
to bond with his 5-year-old son. That leads to some funny moments
centering on rock star Moby (playing himself), who is the private
school's music teacher.

TV column for Friday, Sept. 11

“The Civil War” conclusion, 9-11:30 p.m., PBS.

Ken Burns' masterful
documentary concludes with the Union on the move. Sherman burns
Atlanta and marches to Savannah. Robert E. Lee surrenders to Ulysses
Grant on April 9, 1865 (almost exactly four years after the first
shot), but the agony continues, including the assassination of
President Lincoln.

Then real life
resumes. Lee becomes a college president, Grant becomes U.S.
president, Jefferson Davis spends two years in jail, Lincoln becomes
an icon and a broken nation slowly heals.

II: 9/11 films, cable.

Jumping ahead 140
years from Burns' Civil War film, reruns show us more warfare horror,
with the World Trade Center attack. At 7 p.m., National Geographic
airs the four-hour “Inside 9/ll” ... At 8, Discovery Life has
“9/11 Emergency Room” ... At 9, History has “102 Minutes That
Changed America” and Smithsonian has “9/11: The Day That Changed
the World.”

In addition, two
films tell true stories of survival. “Miracle of Stairway B” (8
p.m., History) is a documentary; “World Trade Center” (8:30 p.m., ShowtimeZ) is a 2006
Oliver Stone film, with Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena.

ALTERNATIVE: “Think It Up,” 8 p.m., ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.

As the first week of
the school year concludes in many districts, this show promotes an
effort to encourage and fund kids' projects. The hour includes music
by Justin Bieber and Kacey Musgraves, plus comedy sketches and talk.

There will be
Oscar-winners (Halle Berry, Gwyneth Paltrow, J.K. Simmons, Matthew
McConaughey), comedy people (Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, Jason
Bateman, Jessica Williams) and more, including Scarlett Johansson,
Jennifer Garner, Ryan Seacrest, Kristen Bell, Julie Chen and Jeremy

Other choices

“Masters of
Illusion,” 8 p.m., CW. With all the big broadcast networks offering
the same show, CW has a chance to grab the leftovers. It has this new
round of quick magic tricks, followed by reruns of “Whose Line Is
It Anyway?” (8:30) and “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” (9-10 p.m.)

“Gotham,” 9
p.m., Fox. Milo Ventimiglia – who was the amnesiac pilot this
summer in “The Whispers” -- is the Ogre here, preparing to make
his move. Meanwhile, young Bruce exposes a corrupt employee.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. A famous bounty hunter has been killed. (Yes, Hawaii can
have a famous bounty-hunter; one in real-life is “Dog” Chapman,
who plays imself in this rerun.) Also in this hour, Danny's wife
reveals a shocking secret.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. When someone close to him is killed, the police
commissioner (Tom Selleck) orders an all-out push. Dennis Haysbert
plays the deputy chief in this rerun.

“Z Nation”
season-opener, 10 p.m., Syfy. Last season ended with Murphy
dispatching nuclear bombs. Now members of the team scatter, trying to
avoid the devastation and the zombies.

“Continuum,” 11
p.m., Syfy. This all began with a techno-glitch: Trying to stop
terrorists, Kiera was swept 65 years backward with them, to 2012. She
scammed her way into a police job, then kept saving the world. Now
the fourth and final season starts its brief, six-episode run.