TV column for Thursday, Sept. 17

“Mat Franco's Got Magic,” 9-11 p.m., NBC.

After all the
“America's Got Talent” commotion, we're not sure what happens to
its people. One winner (Terry Fator) and one runner-up (Jackie
Evancho) have thrived, but what of the rest?

Now last year's
winner, magician Mat Franco, gets a shot. This special watches him
prepare his Las Vegas show. Guests are Neil Patrick Harris, Jason
Mraz, Penn & Teller and football's Rob Gronkowski.

II: “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” season finale, 10 p.m., FX.

This show's dark,
quirky humor has its highs (mostly) and lows, but one thing has
remained consistent: Elizabeth Gillies has been sensational,
potraying a passionate young rock star. Now the show wraps its season
with a superb song by her ... then adds a final, quirky plot twist.

Gillies plays the
daughter whom ex-rocker Johnny Rock (writer-producer Denis Leary)
never knew. She became the singer in his band and the lover of its
guitarist (John Corbett). Now, with the drummer and bass player going
rogue, they try to patch things up. The result brings good wit and
great Gillies.

ALTERNATIVE: Football, 8:25 p.m. ET, CBS, with pre-game at 7:30.

For the next seven
weeks, this is the look of CBS' Thursdays: The regular shows are gone
-- “Big Bang Theory” to Mondays, the others resting – and
football takes over. Jim Nance and Phil Simms are calling the games,
which are simulcast on cable's NFL Network.

That starts with
division rivals – the Denver Broncos (12-4 during the regular
season last year) at the Kansas City Chiefs (9-7). Both won their
openers, but Denver's Peyton Manning had a rough day.

Other choices

“Jeff Dunham:
Unhinged in Hollywood,” 8 p.m., NBC. After years of cable success,
the ventriloquist has a network special, with Brad Paisley, Chris
Parnell and Chuck Lidell as guests.

“Grey's Anatomy,”
8 p.m., ABC. A week before its strong Thursday season begins, ABC
wisely reruns last year's season-finales. This one finds the widowed
Meredith surrounded by others' crises: Will Richard and Catherine
call off their wedding? Will Jackson and April, shattered by their
child's death, split? And will Bailey get the chief-of-surgery job
she had assumed would be hers?

“Roast of Donald
Trump,” 8:30-10 p.m., Comedy Central. On the night after the
Republican debate, we get this 2011 special, filled with harsh (but
often funny) zingers. It may be the only time a future presidential
candidate was mocked by Snoop Dogg, Larry King and Mike “The
Situation” Sorrentino.

“Scandal,” 9
p.m., ABC. How packed was this season-finale? It included the
culmination of Mellie's senatorial campaign, plus a major change in
the romantic triangle with her husband (the president) and Olivia –
yet neither dominates the hour. There's also a mass murder, a firing
... and a plan to finally dispose of Olivia's dad Rowan (also known
as Eli), who has led a fierce CIA organization.

“How to Get Away
With Murder,” 10 p.m., ABC. Yes, this season-finale rerun finally
said who killed Lila and who ordered it. But it threw in another
murder and lots of questions for the new season.

“Married,” 10
p.m., FX. Feeling terribly safe and predictable, Lina is looking
forward to visiting her old college campus. As she puts it, in a
fairly good episode, she'll be partying like it's 1997.

“Streamy Awards,”
10 p.m., VH1. Here are the fifth annual awards for the best in
Internet shows. Tyler Oakley and Grace Helbig – both among the 10
Entertainer of the Year nominees – host, with music by Hailee
Steinfeld, Future, OMI, Sir Mix-A-Lot and A Great Big World.


TV column for Wednesday, Sept. 16

Finales of “MasterChef,” 8-10 p.m., Fox and/or “America's Got
Talent,” 9-11 p.m., NBC.

Tuesday's “Talent”
(rerunning in shortened form at 8 p.m. today), saw 10 acts perform.
Tonight, after lots of special performances, one of them will win $1

You can make it a
double-finale by catching “MasterChef,” which is down to three
home chefs – Derrick Peltz, 28, a drummer; Claudia Sandoval, 31, an
events manager; and Stephen Lee, 47, an urban gardener. Tonight,
they'll cook for 30 key guests; one chef will jump to the finals and
the other two will have a face-off. That sets up the final two,
creating three-course meals for the $250,000 top prize.

“Black-ish,” 9:31 p.m., ABC.

A week before they
start their new season, all four of ABC's dandy Wednesday situation
comedies rerun their season finales. That ends with this dandy

Relating family
history, Pops (Laurence Fishburne) has a tale from the speakeasy era.
There are glowing descriptions of people like everyone in the current
family ... except Ruby (Jenifer Lewis), Pops' nemesis. The stylized
flashbacks are fun, with guest roles for Sean Combs and Mary J.

II: “You're the Worst,” 10:30 p.m., FXX.

After the ABC
sitcoms end, this cable comedy starts with a hilariously inept game
of Trivial Pursuit. Then we're down to the main story, Gretchen's
strident resistance to being a grown-up.

She's living with
Jimmy now, but brought only a few things in plastic bags. Getting
more – even a toothbrush – would seem like teetering toward
middle-age. After a strong start, the rest of the episode – a
reluctant visit to the mall and Edgar's unspoken love for Lindsay –
is merely OK.

ALTERNATIVE: Debate, 8-11 p.m. ET, CNN.

The first official
Republican presidential debate drew huge ratings; now comes the
second, expanded by one. Carly Fiorina – who surged to a
seventh-place tie after post-debate polls – is now included.

Barring any late
withdrawals, that leaves 11 people in the main debate ... and leaves
only a tiny crowd for the early one (6-7:45 p.m. ET). There were
seven also-rans in the previous early debate, but Fiorina has moved
up, Jim Gilmore didn't quality and Rick Perry dropped out of the

Other choices

“Big Brother,” 8
p.m., CBS. There's one more eviction tonight, as the season nears its
conclusion. Next Wednesday (after a Sunday episode) will pick the

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. Sue frets that her graduation won't go well ... Axl
wonders about photos of his girlfriend having fun with other guys ...
and their parents worry about a plan for Axl to skip a grade.

“The Goldbergs,”
8:30 p.m., ABC. This family has real problems with the phrase “I
love you.” The dad can't say it ... the mom can't stop saying it
... and the boys botch it with their girlfriends. It's a fairly good
episode, peaking with Barry's clumsy moments as the school mascot.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. As Alex's graduation party nears, her mom worries about
a present and her dad is stuck at a business trip. Also, Mitchell
isn't telling Cam he's been laid off.

“Undrafted,” 10
p.m., CBS. As part of CBS' football deal, it gives a primetime hour
each year to the NFL Network. This time, that will be used for two
episodes of this show (which then goes to Tuesdays on cable), about
undrafted players trying to make pro teams. It comes on the eve of
the first of this season's eight games (Broncos at Chiefs) that will
be simulcast on both networks.

“The League,” 10
p.m., FX. These people love the day they draft players for fantasy
football teams, so what can go wrong? A lot, now that Andre is dating
Pete's ex-wife, with plans for a draft party in old-English motif.
Also, some funny (if borderline politically incorrect) scenes equate
it to a slave auction.

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.