TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 28

“MacGyver,” 9 p.m., CBS.

In a week filled
with reruns, CBS is making sure everyone sees this first-season
ratings success. It repeats three episodes, each time with Mac
creating quick inventions.

On Sunday, he fixed
a train, using only an armrest, a curtain rod and a toothpick.
Tonight, he has to defuse a bomb at the United Nations, using a
wrench and a rope. And at 8 p.m. Friday, he must engineer a prison
break, using only batteries and salt. This guy really needs to get a
better tool belt.

II: “North by Northwest” (1959), 5:30 p.m. ET, Turner Classic

This is a weak day
for TV shows, but a strong one for classic movies. TCM shows “Citizen
Kane” (1941) at 3:15 p.m. and this one at 5:30; the American Film
Institute puts them at No. 1 and 55 all-time.

When Alfred
Hitchcock was 6, his dad taught him a lesson by jailing him. It
turned out to be for five minutes, but it led to a lifetime of films
about the falsely accused. For “The Wrong Man” (1956), which TCM
has at 11 a.m., Hitchcock had a dark view and a true story. For
“North by Northwest,” he crafted a fun romp: A wrongly accused
Cary Grant eludes a plane and even climbs Mount Rushmore.

Bowl games, all day.

Go figure this: Of
all the 40 bowl games this year, exactly one will get a primetime
spot on a broadcast network. A super-big bowl? No, it's the Foster
Farms Bowl, which has Utah (8-4 and ranked No. 19) and Indiana, which
is 6-6 (4-5 in conference play) and hasn't won a bowl game since

That's 8:30 p.m. ET
on Fox, alongside an ESPN triple-header. At 2 p.m. ET, the Pinstripe
Bowl has Pittsburgh (8-4, No. 23) and Northwestern (6-6). At 5:30,
the Russell Athletic Bowl has West Virginia (10-2, No. 16) and Miami
(8-4). At 9, the Texas Bowl has Kansas State and Texas A&M; both
are 8-4.

Other choices

“Rambo” trilogy,
1:45 (1982), 3:45 (1985) and 5:45 p.m. ET (1988), BBC America,
rerunning at 8 and 10 p.m. and midnight. This starts with the
well-made but disturbing “First Blood,” then turns crowdpleaser
with two sequels. For more action, there's “The Fast and the
Furious” (2001) at 7:30 pm. and two 8 p.m. films -- “Speed”
(1994) on CMT and “Taken” (2008) on Lifetime.

“Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit,” 8 and 9 p.m., NBC. In a change, NBC has
back-to-back reruns. In the first, an athlete is the victim of a
sexual assault, but her secret double life complicates the case. In
the second, Wyclef Jean plays a record mogul, accused of an assault
on a transgender student.

Unknown,” 9 p.m., Travel Chanel. All week (through Saturday), this
channel is helpfully reminding us that things are much colder
somewhere else. Tonight, Josh Gates heads to the North Pole, South
Korea and Siberia, in search of DNA from a wooly mammoth.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. When Luke and Manny compete for senior-class president,
their parents get overinvolved. Also in this rerun, Martin Short
plays a promotion whiz who mentors Haley.

9:31, ABC. This rerun finds the family going to Disney World.

“Match Game,” 10
p.m., ABC. With “Designated Survivor” waiting until March, Alec
Baldwin's show gets a fine time slot. New shows start next weekend;
first is a rerun with mostly comedy people; it has Leslie Jones, Jack
McBrayer, Leah Remini, Ike Barinholtz, Cheryl Hines and Josh Charles.

“Chicago P.D.,”
10 p.m., NBC. In a rerun, Platt is attacked after visiting her
father. Investigating the case, police soon find an even-more-brutal

TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 27

“Kennedy Center Honors,” 9-11 p.m., CBS.

Each year, this
offers a spendid mixture of tributes, biographies and performances.
This time, the honorees are James Taylor, Mavis Staples, Al Pacino,
pianist Martha Argerich and the Eagles.

The night peaks when
great music blends with idealism – in Staples' freedom songs and in
a John Kennedy mini-tribute that has Tony-winner Cynthia Erivo
singing a stunning “Impossible Dream.” There's more music,
including Garth Brooks, Bonnie Raitt, Vince Gill, Bob Seger, Sheryl
Crow, Darius Rucker, Kings of Leon, Andra Day, pianist Yuja Wang
and an Izhak Perlman-Yefin Bronfman duet.

II: “American Masters,” 8 p.m., PBS.

At first, a report
of St. Louis' 1947 design-competition winner was in error. People
assumed it was Eliel Saarinen, the noted Finnish architect; instead,
his son Eero had designed the now-famed Gateway Arch.

That was the start
of a spectacular stretch for Eero. In a quick burst (before his death
at 51 in 1961), he would create gorgeous designs for furniture,
airports, office buildings and more. This superb hour visits many of
his creations, from a hockey rink in Yale to a chapel at MIT. It also
views his complex marriages to two talented women, Lilian (a
sculptor) and Aline (an art critic and TV commentator).

ALTERNATIVE: “This Is Us,” 9 p.m., NBC.

Just 10 episodes
into its existence, this passionate show is already piling up praise.
The Golden Globes and the Critics Choice Awards nominated it as best
drama; the American Film Institute picked it as one of the year's 10
best. Three of its stars drew Golden Globe or Screen Actors Guild

Now late-comers can
catch up. Two weeks before the second half of the season starts,
here's a rerun of the pilot film. We meet five interesting people,
with no idea how they entwine. In the final minutes, with great work
from Gerald McRaney as a folksy doctor, the series propels forward.

Other choices

Bowl games, all day,
ESPN. There are four of them today, at noon, 3:30, 7 and 10:15 p.m.
ET. The most attention may be on the 7 p.m. game: Minnesota – whose
players briefly boycotted while demanding an explanation of 10
suspensions – faces Washintong State in the Holiday Bowl.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. The focus shifts to Abby in this rerun. On a private plane, the
passengers and crew were lethally poisoned. Her brother, the plane's
chef, is the prime suspect.

“New Girl,” 8:30
p.m., Fox. In a funny rerun, Nick and Jess are in charge of the
engagement party for Schmidt and Cece. Jess promptly invites Cece's
mom, stirring fresh complications.

“Bones,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. A week before the show launches its 12th and final
season, here's a rerun of last season's finale. It's a grisly and
jolting one, involving the serial killer called “The Puppeteer.”

“No Tomorrow,” 9
p.m., CW. On the big-five networks, this is the only series tonight
that does NOT have a rerun. Evie nudges Xavier to resolve issues with
his dad; while he's gone, she uses the time to re-connect with her
ex-boyfriend ... who's been impressed by her new, carefree lifestyle.

9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings). News footage has shown the
massive immigration crisis in Europe. Now “Frontline” has given
cameras and smartphones to some immigrants from Syria, Gambia and
Afghanistan, so they can tell their stories. “Anyone can become a
refugee,” a former English teacher in Damascus says. “It's not
something you choose.”

“The Real
O'Neals,” 9:30-11 p.m., ABC. The first rerun is on National Coming
Out Day: Kenny starts a gay student club, draws exactly one person
... and complicates her life. The second is on Halloween, which he
calls “the gay Super Bowl”; his mother reluctantly lets him have
a party at his house. The third, with his mom obsessing on the
Christmas choir competition, offers a chance for romance.

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