TV column for Monday, Dec. 26

“Hairspray,” 8-11 p.m., NBC.

In just three years,
the notion of live musicals has grown immensely. It went rom the
safe-and-solid “Sound of Music” to the vibrant “Grease”; now
this one is (by a tad) even better.

When it opened (Dec.
7), we thought we had a ceiling view of Tracy in bed; as the backdrop
pulled away, we saw she was vertical, on a city streets. It was a
great start to a live production sprawling over a movie-studio lot.
This is visually ambitious and musically potent, with great moments
from Jennifer Hudson, Derek Hough, Kristen Chenoweth, Ephraim Sykes
and gifted newcomer Maddie Baillio.

“iHeart Radio Jingle Ball,” 8-9:30 p.m., CW.

This is a double
night for Ariana Grande, with two reruns. In “Hairspray,” she
does nifty comedy support, finally singng after the story is done.
And in this one, she and other pop stars perform.

Others include
Justin Bieber, Charlie Puth, Lukas Graham, Diplo, DNCE, Fifth
Harmony, The Chainsmokers and more, including Niall Horan of One

ALTERNATIVE: “Independent Lens,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local
listings; some stations are running this an hour later).

At 38, Ravi Patel
has had a busy acting career, including regular roles in a comedy
(“Grandfathered”) and a drama (“Past Life”). What was
missing? His family kept urging him to find romance ... preferably
with someone who shares his Indian roots.

So Patel went a step
further: On a cross-country jaunt, he confined his search to women
named Patel. He co-directed (with his sister) this documentary,
co-wrote it, was the prime focus ... and, yes, ended up in a romantic
relationship. We won't say with whom, but the search is a delight.

Other choices

Football, all day,
cable. First are three bowl games – none involving teams with
winning records. That's

11 a.m. ET on ESPN
and 2:30 and 5 p.m. on ESPN2. Then the pros have two teams with
surprisingly strong seasons: The Dallas Cowboys (12-2) host the
Dettoiyt Lions (9-5), at 8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN.

“Scientology and
the Aftermath,” 7-10 p.m., A&E. While her former co-star Kevin
James does comedy on CBS, Leah Remini has three reruns of her series.
It's a scathing look at Scientology, of which she was a long-time
follower. The third views David Miscavige, the leader after L. Ron
Hubbard's death.

“Happy New Year,
Charlie Brown,” 8 p.m., ABC. After showing some great animated
specials at Christmastime, TV lowers its standards. This adequate,
1986 tale has Charlie trying to get in a party mood, while finishing
“War and Peace.” The 1976 “Rudolph's Shiny New Year” follows
at 9.

“Kevin Can Wait,”
8 and 9 p.m., CBS. So far, this show has had fairly funny episodes
and good ratings. Now here are two reruns: First, Kevin wishes his
friends would be as much fun as his wife's book club. Then he's
caught borrowing a friend's story of police heroism; funny flashbacks
offer the truth.

“Man With a Plan,”
8:30 and 9:30, CBS. The first rerun has some fairly good moments, as
Adam (Matt LeBlanc) finds that both his wife and his brother (Kevin
Nealon) expect to get the extra Steelers ticket. In the second, he
rebels from the demands of his daughter's kindergarten teacher.

“Lucifer,” 9
p.m., Fox. In a rerun, someone is killing newcomers to Los Angeles.
Also, Maze asks Chloe to go out for drinks, but has an ulterior

“Scorpion,” 10
p.m., CBS. Sylvester isn't really suited for hard-core prison life.
In this rerun, however, he must go undercover; when things go wrong,
the others must engineer a prison break.

TV column for Sunday, Dec. 25

Disney Christmas parade, 10 a.m. to noon, ABC (check local listings).

By mid-morning on
Christmas, presents have been unwrapped and people want something
cheery on the TV screen. That's where the Disney people step in.

The brother-sister
team of Derek and Julianne Hough introduce parks parades, plus music
numbers filmed in advance. Kelly Clarkson sings “I'll Be Home for
Christmas,” Sofia Carson does “Silent Night” and recent “Voice”
champion Jordan Fisher does “The Christmas Song.” Also:
OneRepublic, Alessia Cara and Gavin DeGraw, plus solos and duets from
Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood.

“I Love Lucy” and “Dick Van Dyke Show” specials, 8 and 9
p.m., CBS. Some of the best moments of the 1950s and '60s were in
black-and-white ... and were abruptly discarded. Now computer-added
color brings them to new generations.

One “Lucy”
episode – slow by modern standards – has lots of Santas; the
other lets Lucy be a dancer in a movie musical. One hilarious Van
Dyke episode has Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) tell the world that Rob's
boss (Carl Reiner, the show's creator) is bald; the other flashes
back to when their baby was born.

ALTERNATIVE: “Great Performances,” 9 p.m., PBS.

The first two
chapters of this Shakespearan trilogy were filled with gore, rage,
madness and brilliant performances. For the finale, the gore is
finally set aside, but the madness hits overdrive.

As King Edward IV
fades, his brother Richard (brilliantly played by Benedict
Cumberbatch) schemes. To clear a path to the throne, he disposes of
two young princes and his own brother George. This leaves their
mother (Judi Dench) appalled and the widowed former-Queen Margaret
(Sophie Okonedo) filled with rage and curses. The result – superbly
filmed and acted – brings the story to a fierce finale.

Other choices

“A Christmas
Story” (1983), 6 a.m., 8 a.m., etc., TBS and TNT. Last night, this
darkly funny film began its annual marathon. It started at 8 p.m. and
re-starts ever two hours, until 8 p.m. today.

Football, 4:30 p.m.,
NFL Network and 8:30 p.m., NBC. Most of the games were on Saturday,
giving the players a Christmas break. These games, however, prevent a
football-free Sunday. First, the Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5) could
cinch their division title when they host the Baltimore Ravens (8-6).
Then the Kansas City Chiefs (10-4) could cinch a play-off spot,
hosting the Denver Broncos (9-5).

“Call the Midwife
Holiday Special,” 7:30-9 p.m., PBS (check local listings). For five
seasons, this has skillfully mixed feel-good emotions and feel-awful
situations. Deeply decent doctors, nurses and nuns have battled
wretched health crises and poverty. Now the year is 1962 and the
awfulness is amped up, as volunteers head to a clinic in rural South
Africa. Medicine is scarce, the water supply is vanishing and the
lone doctor (well-played by Sinead Cusack) is sick. It's tough and

“Beauty and the
Beast” (1991), 8-10 p.m., ABC. In the midst of a long slump, Disney
had this animated gem. It won two Oscas for its music and was
nominated for four more, including best picture.

“When Calls the
Heart Christmas,” 8-10 p.m., Hallmark. This frontier Canadian town
is deeply dependant on shipments by train. Now a derailment leaves it
without food ... and Christmas presents.

“Madam Secretary,”
9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun of the season-opener, President Dalton faces
a tough re-election bid and wants no drastic ideas; that's when
Elizabeth pushes a big change in foreign spending. Morgan Freeman,
one of the show's producers, directed the episode and plays the chief

“MacGyver,” 10
p.m., CBS. A transplanted rerun has Mac protecting a whistleblower.
First, of course, he has to fix something – in this case a train,
using only an armrest, a curtain rod and a toothpick.

TV column for Saturday, Dec. 24

“A Christmas Story” (1983), 8 p.m., 10 p.m. etc., TBS and TNT.

One of the smartest
TV traditions returns, with this movie repeated every two hours, for
24 hours. And no, it's not one of those pat-and-predictable tales;
based on Jean Shepherd's memoir of a 1940s, Midwestern childhood,
it's sometimes dark, sometimes surprising, often very funny.

Peter Billingsley
plays little Ralphie, whose only goal is to get a BB gun for
Christmas. Yes, back then kids got real weapons as presents; it was a
strange (and in this case funny) time.

“CMA Country Christmas,” 9-11 p.m., ABC.

This could be the
perfect soundtrack to your Christmas Eve – a rerun of last month's

Jennifer Nettles
hosts and sings, as part of a cascade of country stars, old (Loretta
Lynn, Dolly Parton), new (Kelsea Ballerini) and in-between (Brad
Paisley, Trisha Yearwood, Chri Young, Rascal Flatts). There are also
pop stars – Kelly Clarkson, Amy Grant, Andra Day – plus
Broadway's Idina Menzel, contemporary Christian singer Amy Grant and
recent “Voice” champion Jordan Smith.

Football, all day.

With Christmas
falling on a Sunday, pro games are on Christmas Eve – another odd
time for football. Most are at 1 p.m. ET on Fox or CBS, at 4:05 p.m.
on CBS or at 4:25 on Fox. At 8:25. cable's NFL Network has Houston
(8-6 and tied for its division lead) hosting Cincinnati (5-8-1).

That still leaves
two games for Sunday (Ravens-Steelers and Broncos-Chiefs) and one for
Monday (Lions-Cowboys). If you prefer college games played in pretty
places, the Hawaii Bowl is 8 p.m. ET today on ESPN, with Middle
Tennessee (8-4) and Hawaii (6-7).

Other choices

: Christmas
cartoons, 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Freeform. By now, the kids definitely
need distractions. The former ABC Family channel has the “Jack
Frost” cartoon at 7 a.m. and Mickey Mouse compilations at 8:05 and
9:40. That's followed by “Santa Claus is Comin' to Town” at 11:15
a.m., “The Year Without a Santa Claus” at 12:20 p.m. and a fairly
clever movie, “Arthur Christmas” (2011) at 1:25.

Yule log, 5 p.m.,
Hallmark Movies & Mystries. For 24 hours, this has a burning log
and Christmas music. If you prefer reruns of Christmas TV movies,
they're on Hallmark, Lifetime, Ion and UP.

“Surprise! Instant
Xmas Carol,” 7 p.m., TBS and TNT. In previous years, TNT had
gorgeous “Christmas in Washington” concerts. Now, instead, it has
pop-up caroling by Charles Barkley, Fred Willard, Shaquille O'Neal
and more. We're not sure this is propelling our cultural forwared.

““It's a
Wonderful Life” (1946), 8-11 p.m., NBC. This classic movie – No.
20 on the American Film Institute's all-time list – has its second
run this season on NBC, alongside a pair of cable showings.

“Prep and Landing”
and “Prep and Landing 2,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC. Slick and clever,
these animated reruns focus on the high-tech guys who prepare each of
Santa's arrivals and take-offs.

“Lethal Weapon,”
9 p.m., Fox. Yes, tonight does have some reruns of standard crime
tales. This one involves the deranged nephew of a drug lord. At 8
p.m., Fox's “Bones” probes the murder of a journalist and CBS'
“Scorpion” has the team racing to find who hacked Los Angeles'
blood supplu.

Latenight services,
NBC and CBS. At 11:30, NBC goes to St. Peter's Basilica, where Pope
Francis will celebrate midnight Mass; at 11:35, CBS has music by the
students and faculty of Berea College in Kentucky – which started
in 1855, as the only Southern college with black and white men and

TV column for Friday, Dec. 23

All night, NBC.

Things start at 8
p.m. with “How the Grinch Saved Christmas,” one of the true
greats. That's followed at 8:30 by “How Murray Saved Christmas,”
which is one of the best recent cartoons ... or was, at least, in its
original form. Originally an hour, rippling with clever songs, it's
been trimmed in half.

Then you might stay
at 9 p.m. for a rerun of “Christmas of Many Colors,” the second
movie based on Dolly Parton's childhood. Or switch around; this is a
busy night.

II: “A Home For the Holidays,” 8 p.m., CBS.

Each year, this
special offers a passionate mix of music and stories about adoption.
This time, the music is from Miranda Lambert, Alessia Cara and
Rachel Platten; the stories tell of lives changed.

Some tell of
adopting one child, some involve more. A husband and wife heard of
four siblings being bounced between seven foster homes. They took all
of them in ... and found they were taking food out of the cupboard
and hiding it in their closet, because their previous homes sometimes
didn't feed them.

ALTERNATIVE: “Shakespeare Live,” 9 p.m., PBS.

Midway through this
special, the world's classiest comedy troupe performs a brilliant
sketch. It includes Sir Ian McKellan, Dame Judi Dench, sirs-to-be
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch and more ... including Prince
Charles. In hilarious moments, they debate Hamlet's most famous

That's the peak of a
show that was performed April 23, the 400th anniversary of
Shakespeare's death. Some characters – from Juliet early in the
show to Falstaff near the end – seem overdone. But most scenes are
superb, alongside dancing and gorgeous music from Rufus Wainwright,
the Shires and more.

Other choices

“Santa Claus Is
Comin' to Town,” 4:30 p.m., Freeform. We're now in the 23rd
day of this channel's “25 Days of Christmas” and kids are getting
antsy. They might settle in for this cartoon and “The Year Without
a Santa Claus” at 5:45. That's followed by Jim Carrey's “A
Christmas Carol” (2009) at 6:45.

“Terry Crews Saves
Christmas,” 8 and 9 p.m., CW. Wrapping up a four-night, five-hour
event, Crews brings a chef and a designer to families struggling with
the holiday. One has dated decor and inedible food; another has
newlyweds who agree on everything except party-planning.

“Taraji's White
Hot Holidays,” 8 p.m., Fox. Crews is also in this rerun, as part of
a big, busy special. Taraji Henson includes two of her “Empire”
colleagues (Jussie Smollett and Taye Diggs), plus Pharrell Willians,
Alicia Keys, Smokey Robinson, Ne-Yo, Andra Day, Snoop Dogg, Missy
Elliott and more.

“Frozen” (2013),
8:30 p.m., Disney. Making a tour of Disney-owned channels, this
lovely cartoon classic has already been on ABC and Freeform; now it's
Disney's turn.

“Dr. Ken,” 8:31
p.m., ABC. This reruns the episode that launched fresh plot twists:
There's an opening at the clinic and the adminstrator thinks Ken's
wife would be ideal.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. In a rerun, the team must quickly find a Russian spy who
has a flashdrive with vital information. Also, McGarrett learns why
Catherine left ... but Chin and others still don't know what
Inspector Abby Dunn (Julie Benz) is up to.

“Blue Bloods,”
10 p.m., CBS. Fearing retaliation, a key witness has disappeared. Now
Erin and her investigator (Steve Schirripa of “The Sopranos”)
scramble to find him. Also in this rerun, her brother Danny looks
into a suspicious convenience-store robbery.

TV column for Thursday, Dec. 22

“A Charlie Brown Christmas,” 8 p.m., ABC.

In the final two
days before Christmas Eve, we can re-visit the two cartoon greats.
It's Charlie Brown tonight on ABC (which adds some “Peanuts”
vignettes to fill the hour) and “Grinch” Friday on NBC.

Each reflects a
brilliant creator (Charles Schulz, Dr. Seuss) linking with a skilled
director (Bill Melendez, Chuck Jones) and clever music. Each
remembered to include sight gags, followed by warmth and sentiment.
Each is a masterpiece.

“Life in Pieces,” 9:30-11 p.m., CBS.

Each week, this show
offers four little stories, varying thoroughly in tone, subject and
quality. Now these reruns combine to deliver a dozen stories ... and
extreme variety.

The opener – last
year's Christmas episode – is the weakest, centering on John (James
Brolin) and his tradition of dirty-Christmas-caroling with his Air
Force buddies. The next one is better, when a Thanksgiving meal
includes spoiled turkey, bad cauliflower and a dour neighbor (Martin
Mull). The third includes one of the odd tales that had Jordan Peele
as Colleen's former boyfriend.

ALTERNATIVE: “Project Runway,” 8-10:02 p.m., Lifetime, rerunning
at 12:02 a.m.

First comes the long
build-up: We see the final three episodes of “Project Runway
Junior” at 9 a.m., then eight hours of this season at noon. Then
the finale has four designers at Fashion Week.

Erin Robertson, 29,
is the youngest, facing Rik Villa, 31; Roberi
Perra, 32; and Laurence Basse, 41. Afterward, “Project Runway
Junior” has its season-opener, repeating it at 11:02.

Other choices

Cartoons, cable.
Nickelodeon has the original “Ice Age” (2002) at 2 and 8 p.m. FX
counters with “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” (2013) at 6
p.m. and “Despicable Me 2” (also 2013) at 8 and 10. And FXX has
non-stop “Simpsons,” from 8 p.m. to midnight.

Football, 7 p.m. ET,
ESPN and 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC. First is the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
which, ironically, isn't famous; it has Idaho and Colorado State.
Then the New York Giants – 10-4, with strong playoffs prospects –
visit the Philadelphia Eagles, 5-9 after a last-second, two-point try

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Launching a night of comedy reruns, this has
an escalating Sheldon-Leonard fight during a get-together, leaving
the others wary of taking sides.

“The Great
Indoors,” 8:31 p.m., CBS. Here's another chance to see the series
opener; it's a good one, with a veteran outdoorsman (Joel McHale)
nudged indoors, where he'll work with millennials he doesn't
understand. This has lots of generational cliches, but uses them

“The Great
American Baking Show,” 9 and 10 p.m., ABC. In back-to-back
episodes, we get a couple classics -- “chocolate week” and
“custards and meringue week.”
“Mom,” 9:01 p.m., CBS. In
the rerun of a good episode, Olivia (Octavia Spencer) claims she's
not really an alcoholic. And in some funny counterpoint, the women
try a sober holiday dance.

“Falling Water,”
10 p.m., USA. On a strong sci-fi night – including BBC America's
“Doctor Who” marathon – this episode finds the three people
(who share pieces of the same dream) with different tasks –
protecting “The Boy,” appeasing “The Green” and trying to
heal “The Woman in Red.”