TV column for Wednesday, Sept. 14

“Million Dollar Duck,” 9:01 p.m., Animal Planet, rerunning at

Here is Americana at
its best – warm, odd, human, occasionally sad and sometimes funny.
It centers on the annual contest to choose the national duck stamp
... and on the rich variety of entrants.

One artist hopes his
work can support his three young kids; another admits her blind dog
made more money as a painter (really) than she did. A
sometimes-security-guard is the only one doing sequin-studded
abstracts; he battles his nemesis, a window-painter. A young
rural-mail carrier grasps to find her life. Beautifully filmed,
“Duck” tells their stories warmly, while we wait to see who wins.

II: “America's Got Talent” (NBC) or “MasterChef” (Fox)
finale, 8-10 p.m.

On Tuesday, the
show's top 10 acts performed; half are singers, but the others
include a magician, a juggler, a contortionist, a mentalist duo and
an offbeat comedian. Tonight, one wins $1 million.

Meanwhile, three
home chefs compete for a $250,000 prize. Two are from Las Vegas –
Shaun O'Neale, 33, a DJ, and David Williams, 36, a poker player; they
compete with Brandi Mudd, 27, a folksy grade-school teacher from
Irvington, a Kentucky town of 1,181, with one restaurant and no
traffic lights.

ALTERNATIVE: “Blindspot” season-opener, 10 p.m., NBC.

In one crowded hour,
we see TV's worst trait – a despicable obsession with torture –
alongside its best recent traits: There's a strong female hero,
alongside great fight scenes and a thickly complex story.

Maybe too thick, but
that's another matter. As the story starts, Jane Doe (who still isn't
sure of her real name) has been tortured for months. Eventually,
she'll get some explanations for who she is and who the good guys are
... except that she (and we) still won't know if any of this is the

ALTERNATIVE II: “Queen Sugar,” 10 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network.

If you missed the
first two episodes, catch them at 8 and 9 p.m., before a fairly good
new one. Both were directed by Ava DuVernay (“Selma”), before
turning things over to other women; all three hours – which rerun
from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. -- were written by DuVernay and Winfrey.

After quick jolts in
the first hour, “Queen” has an easy, Southern pace. Now the
siblings open their dad's will and ponder what to do with his
troubled sugar-cane farm. They face troubles of their own –
Charley's cheating husband, Ralph Angel's parole officer and the
drug-addicted mother of his son.

Other choices

“Documentary Now,”
8:30 to noon ET, then 10 p.m. ET, IFC. First, we can catch (or
record) the first season of clever pseudo-documentaries. Then a new
season starts at 10 p.m. ET, rerunning at 1 a.m., with a terrific
political satire. Bill Hader (playing a James Carville type) and Fred
Armisen manage a guy who's only running because he feels there should
be two candidates.

 “The Goldbergs,”
8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC. Both episodes eye the relationship between Adam
and his older brother. In the first, their mom overcompensates when
Barry says she favors Adam; in the second, Adam uses his brother to
get respect from upper-classmen.

“Modern Family,”
9 and 10 p.m., ABC. In the first rerun, Manny talks people into
taking a train to his grandmother Dede's wedding. In the second,
Claire can't find the right time to fire someone.

“Nova,” 9-11
p.m., PBS. Continuing its week-long focus on education, this talks to
neuroscientists, psychologists and educators. Studying the way kids'
brains work, they ponder new techniques.

“Code Black,” 10
p.m., CBS. This rerun of the season-finale focuses on the new romance
of Christa and Neal ... neither of whom will be back in the new
season. She learns how deeply he and Grace were involved, before
Grace left for Haiti. Also, there are efforts to keep the nurses from
walking out.

“American Horror
Story” season-opener, 10 p.m., FX. In a sharp change, the show has
kept its story secret. All we know is that the season will include
scenes in Roanoke – the colony where everyone vanished in 1590 –
and the first episode will include familiar “AHS” stars: There's
Angela Bassett, Lady Gaga, Cheyenne Jackson, Evan Peters, Denis
O'Hare and Sarah Paulson – who's had four straight “AHS” Emmy
nominations ... and will probably win this time for “The People v.
O.J. Simpson.”

“You're the
Worst,” 10 p.m., FXX, rerunning at 11. Last week's episode (a good
one, rerunning at 10:30) ended with Gretchen finally openingthe mail
... and learning that Jimmy's dad had died. Now Jimmy must deal with
the loss of someone he tended to hate.

TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 13

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

The top 10
performers get one more chance to impress us; on Wednesday, one will
the winner. There are kids; singers Grace VanderWaal ad Laura Bretan
and contortionist Sofie Dossi were 12, 13 and 14 when the season
started. But there's also magician Jon Dorenbos, who is in his 14th
year a a pro-football long-snapper ... and is one of the
longest-lasting players in Philadelphia Eagle history.

There's a
Ukrainian-born juggler (Viktor Kee) and Austrian-born mentalists (the
Clairvoyants), plus the physical comedy of Tape Face and singers Sal
Valentinetti, Brian Crum ad Linkin' Bridge.

II: “New Girl,” 8:30 p.m., Fox.

A week before its
season opens, “New Girl” reminds us that that the last one ended
beautifully. It's the wedding day for Cece and Schmidt ... who's fly
across the country to retrieve her disapproving mother.

That plan is doomed
– especially when cover-up duties go to Nick, the world's worst
(and funniest) liar. Jess is in her usual state of romantic flux;
meanwhile, wedding guests include former loftmates (Megan Fox, Damon
Wayans Jr.), Schmidt's dad (Peter Gallagher) and more.

ALTERNATIVE: “Better Late than Never,” 10 p.m., NBC.

When this odd
journey began, William Shatner says, his goals were to catch a pass
from Terry Bradshaw and box with George Foreman. We see the latter
happen tonight in Thailand, as this show (a ratings success) has its
season's fourth and final episode .

Shatner, 85, and
Henry Winkler also get an un-relaxing massage, but part of the focus
is on Bradshaw's 67th birthday. He gets his first tattoo
and is serenaded at a dinner. Later, the men visit an elephant
sanctuary and meet the women and children of the long-neck tribe.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Frontline,” 9 p.m., PBS.

The problems at
for-profit schools go far beyond Trump University, it seems. Last
week, ITT Tech closed, shuttering about 130 campuses; this report
focuses on Corinthian Colleges, which once had more that 100
campuses, but closed last year.

Both were hit by
federal crackdowns. “The federal goverent is being duped, in many
instances, into subsidizing loans and education that are worthless,”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) says here. The hour adds a report on
innovative education ... which is also the subject of “TED Talks,”
at 10 p.m.

Other choices

“The Contenders,”
8 p.m., PBS (check local listings). There are eight Tuesdays before
Election Day. On each one, this will profile two past candidates;
that starts with Shirley Chisolm and John McCain.

“The Middle,” 8
and 8:30 p.m., ABC. In the first rerun, Brick wants to be
valedictorian; in the second, his song is cut from the graduation
ceremony. Also in the first, Frankie and Mike try to enforce a curfew
for Brick's college-age siblings.

“NCIS,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Here's a rerun of the season-finale, which doubles as the
farewell of Tony (Michael Weatherly). It's a fairly good episode,
continuing the search for an escaped British spy.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. In a rerun of the season-finale, the team
finds a mole ... and tries to find 900 pounds of explosives.

“Halt and Catch
Fire,” 10 p.m., AMC. Everyone – well, everyone except Ryan –
knows there's no work on the 4th of July. So Cameron and
John have a giant road trip; Donna and Gordon prepare a camp-out. The
future – of Mutiny and of Joe – wobble precariously. It's a key
episode, with Cameron remaining simultaneously a fascinating and
frustrating enigma.

“Atlanta,” 10
p.m., FX. Life is complicated when money is tight, Earn finds. Soon,
he's trying to order a kids' meal for himself ... and trying to steer
his date to the cheap side of the menu. Also, a drug deal puts his
cousin in treacherous territory, in an episode that mixes drama with
dry comedy.

TV column for Monday, Sept. 12

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

If nothing else,
“Stars” has real diversity. It's contestants range in size from
retired football star Calvin Johnson (6-foot-5) to actress Terra Jole
(4-foot-2); they range in age from gymnast Laurie Hernandez, 16, to
actresses Maureen McCormick and Marilu Henner, 60 and 62, and former
Gov. Rick Perry, 65.

There are more
athletes (swimmer Ryan Lochte, driver James Hinchcliffe), plus
singers (Jana Kramer, “Babyface” Edmonds), actor Jake T. Austin,
rapper Vanilla Ice and model/designer Amber Rose.

“So You Think You Can Dance” finale, 8-10 p.m., Fox.

While older dancers
(and others) compete for a disco-ball trophy on ABC, younger ones on
Fox have a shot at winning the championship and $250,000.

J.T. Church, whose
specialty is jazz, was 10 when this season began; Kida Burns (hip
hop) was 14. In between are Emma Hellenkamp (tap), 11, and Tate McRae
(contemporary and ballet), 13. Last week, viewers had their final
vote. Tonight, all 10 finalists perform and we'll have a winner.

ALTERNATIVE: “CBS Fall Preview,” 8:31 p.m., CBS.

When the season
starts next Monday, CBS insists, it will have wonderful shows.
Mostly, alas, it doesn't.

One comedy (“The
Great Indoors”) is quite clever, but the others (“Kevin Can
Wait,” “Man With a Plan”) are oddly ordinary. An adventure show
(“MacGyver”) has reworked its opener. And two dramas (“Bull”
and “Pure Genius”) share a mix that's high in technology and low
in human warmth.

Other choices

“The Secret
Agent,” any time,
More than a century ago, Joseph Conrad wrote this complex tale of a
British shopkeeper who works as an informant for the Russians ...
then is asked to create a hideous bombing that can be blamed on the
anarchists. It's a tough story to follow or like, despite Toby Jones
in the lead. A better bet are the third and fourth episodes of “800

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 and 9:01 p.m., CBS. The first rerun, a terrific one, has
Sheldon reveal a personal secret when his laptop breaks. The second
has more secrets, during a cabin retreat.

“AFI Life
Achievement,” 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. First ia a rerun of
a terrific tribute to composer John Williams. At 9:15, we get an
example of his immense impact -- “Jaws” (1975), the Steve
Spielberg classic that has Williams' music as one of its characters.

“Mom,” 9:31
p.m., CBS. Bonnie has approximately zero experience as a
disciplinarian. In this rerun, she has to do that, when Christy is
distracted by the financial woes of trying to get to law school.

“Running Wild With
Bear Grylls,” 10 p.m., NBC. Some people remember Marshawn Lynch's
refusal to talk to reporters before the Super Bowl. But now he chats
with Grylls, during the quiet moments of a Corsican adventure in
which they confront a wild hog and the French Foreign Legion.

“The $100,000
Pyramid,” 10 p.m., ABC. Two of the show's sharpest contestants,
Rosie O'Donnell and Kathy Najimy, have a rematch in the
season-finale. The other round has comedian Jon Lovitz and
football-baseball star Deion Sanders.

“POV,” 10 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings). For five years, this diligent and
involving film followed two men from tough Chicago neighborhoods to
college campuses. The colleges – Lake Forest in Illinois, Fisk in
Nashville – differ sharply; so do the men and their approaches.

TV column for Sunday, Sept. 11

“BrainDead” finale, 9 and 10 p.m., CBS.

The summer's best
show ends tonight, with the fate of the nation at stake. At first,
Laurel (a Senate aide) could convince no one that alien bugs were
infecting the brains of our leaders. Now her brother (a senator) and
Gareth (the aide to infected Sen. Red Wheatus) both know. But can
they stop it?

Laurel's steps
tonight range from a sit-in to a debugging scheme she tries first on
her father. Chances are, this will be executed cleverly by the lively
brains behind “BrainDead.”

II: “Masterpiece: Churchill's Secret,” 8-10 p.m., PBS (check
local listings).

It's 1953 and
Winston Churchill is back in power at age 78. As a stroke pushes him
near death, his children argue. So do his political colleagues; some
want to replace him, others want to keep it secret.

Michael Gambon is
perfect as Churchill, ranging from bluster to sweetness. Lindsay
Duncan has the one-note (mostly) role as his wife, but many of the
best moments come from others. There's Matthew Macfadyen as
Churchill's son – drinking heavily, complaining loudly, grieving
inwardly. And there's Romola Garai as a nurse, suddenly surrounded by
the giants of her era.

ALTERNATIVE: “Son of Zorn” debut, 8 p.m, Fox.

This was a mixed
marriage,filled with complications. She's slim, blondish, from
suburbia; he's huge, shirtless, from an island where he's a warrior
king. Also, he's a cartoon; she's not.

They're divorced
now, but Zorn returns for his son's 17th birthday. It's a
great comedy concept, executed adequately. As the first new show of
the broadcast season (eight days befor the season officially starts),
“Son of Zorn” has some terrific moments, but they're scattered
and inconsistent.

Other choices

Documentaries, all
day, cable. The 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks
includes reruns of previous films; that's 7:30 a.m. to 4:02 a.m. on
History and noon to 6 a.m. on National Geographic. CNN has a new
documentary movie at 8 p.m. ET; Geographic has a new special at 9,
repeating at 10 and midnight.

“Celebrity Family
Feud,” 8 p.m., ABC. Alfonso Ribeiro has already danced with Michael
Jackson, co-starred on Broadway and TV and won “Dancing With the
Stars.” Now his family faces the family of Garrett Morris. The
other battle has singer Sara Evans and annoying reality-show figure
Todd Chrisley.

Football, 8:20 p.m.
ET, NBC. For the second time in four days, NBC has key teams from
last season ... with a quarterback is missing. On Thursday, it was
the Broncos' Peyton Manning, who retired; now the Patriots' Tom Brady
is suspended and Jimmy Garoppolo faces the Cardinals. After a good
back-up year in 2014, his entire 2015 season consisted of four passes
and a six-yard completion.

Miss America, 9
p.m., ABC. In a way, this will feel a tad like a sports event. Sage
Steele of ESPN will host (with Chris Harrison); Mavericks owner Mark
Cuban and Olympic champion Gabrielle Douglas will be judges. Then
again, few sports include swimsuit and evening-gown categories.

“The Last Ship”
season-finale, 9 p.m., TNT. The battle for America concludes, with
the life of Captain Chandler (Eric Dane) in jeopardy.

“Indian Summers”
season-opener, 10 p.m., PBS (check local listings). The first season
had a brilliant start and a so-so finish. Now we jump ahead three
years, with Aafrin secretly pushing independence.

Sessions,” 10 p.m., TNT. This is the third special with a hometown
performance by a star. Dave Matthews – born in South Africa, raised
in three countries – has had many homes, but this concert is in
Charlottesville, Va., where he started his band 25 years ago.

TV column for Saturday, Sept. 10

“Aquarius” finale, 9 and 10 p.m., NBC.

Ever since
“Aquarius” arrived last summer, we've known this was inevitable:
In tonight's second hour, Charles Manson sends his followers
(including Emma) to the home being rented by Sharon Tate.

That's in the second
hour, which concludes the season ... and, presumably, the series.
It's a dark way to end things; fortunately, there's also a fictional
story to root for: In the first hour, Hodiak (David Duchovny) goes to
extremes to confront the serial killer. That leads to Hodiak's
“retirement”; in the second hour, he pursues the case without the
advantages of being a cop.

II: “15 Septembers Later,” 8 p.m., History; and more.

Sunday will mark the
15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. First, History
reruns its specials.

At 8 p.m. (rerunning
at 12:02 a.m.) is the recent “15 Septembers”; it uses photos
declassified this year, plus information from the 9/11 commission and
interviews with photographers and first-responders. At 10:02 p.m.
(rerunning at 2:04 a.m.) is “9/11: The Days After”; a
10th-anniversary report, it views the emotional
after-effects, including hate crimes and lingering illnesses.

ALTERNATIVE: Football, 8 p.m. ET, ABC.

Here is supertsized
Americana, aiming for the biggest crowd in college history. Virginia
Tech has a big stadium (66,235), Tennessee has a giant one (102,455)
... but neither can match the115,169 when Michigan hosted Notre Dame
in 2013.

The solution? The
Bristol Motor Speedway (along the Tennessee-Virginia border) is being
altered for football, holding about 150,000. The game could be OK --
Tennessee was ranked No. 9 before the season, but needed an overtime
to beat Appalachian State – and the crowd could be terrific.

Other choices

More football, all
day. While ABC has what's billed as a “border battle,” Fox
counters with an intra-state fight; it's Brigham Young at Utah, at
7:30 p.m. ET. There are plenty of other games, starting at noon ET on
ABC (Central Florida at Michigan) and at least nine cable channels.

“America's Got
Talent” rerun, 8 p.m., NBC. In a rerun from Wednesday, we learn the
second half of the final 10. Their final performances are Tuesday,
with a winner named Wednesday.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, a seaman was killed before testifying at a grand
jury. The probe find the resurgence of a human-trafficking ring.

“Criminal Minds,”
9 p.m., CBS. This reruns the first of two episodes with Frances
Fisher as a convicted serial killer. A package intercepted by prison
officials raises the possibility that she knows the whereabouts of
two boys who were kidnapped yearsa ago.

“Star Wars: The
Force Awakens” (2015), 9 p.m., Starz. Here is the film that fans
semi-patiently waited 32 years for – finally continuing the story
after “Return of the Jedi.” Skillfully directed by J.J. Abrams,

it is superb
visually and OK story-wise. It makes OK use of the original stars and
adds new ones that are terrific (Daisy Ridley, John Boyaga) and so-so
(Adam Driver).

“Where Are They
Now?” 10 p.m., Oprah Winfrey Network. After taking a week off, the
show returns to look at the Boyz II Men music group. It also meets
Marla Gibbs of “The Jeffersons” and the real-life food guy who
was fictionalized on “Seinfeld” as the “Soup Nazi.”

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Here's the rerun that had been annunced for
last week, with Ryan Gosling hosting and Leon Bridges as music guest.