TV column for Thursday, Dec. 24

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

On Christmas Eve, we
get an extra chance to savor a classic. Alongside its understated
humor, this cartoon has warmth, earnestness and a dandy, jazzy score.

Wrapping up the hour
are shorts based on “Peanuts” cartoons. At 9 p.m. (a late switch
for ABC) is a rerun of “It's Your 50th Christmas,
Charlie Brown,” with music by Sarah McLachlan, Boyz II Men, David
Benoit and Kristin Chenoweth – who won a Tony award playing
Charlie's little sister.

Movie classics, NBC and cable.

Two Christmas Eve
traditions return, when NBC reruns “It's a Wonderful Life” (1949)
from 8-11 p.m. and cable launches its marathon of the witty “A
Christmas Story” (1983).

You can choose your
time for “Story.” It starts at 7 p.m. on TNT and 8 p.m. on TBS,
then re-starts every two hours on each, for 24 hours. If you must
know what happens next, “A Christmas Story 2” (2012) – with
Ralphie as a teen, obsessing on a car -- is every hour on CMT, from
10 a.m to 2 a.m.

ALTERNATIVE: Cartoons, all day.

Many kids need to be
distracted from their Santa obsessions. Fortunately, cable helps out,
starting with ABC Family. It has older cartoons from 7-10 a.m., then
returns with brisk, modern ones – the “Prep & Landing”
tales and “Toy Story That Time Forgot” -- from 5-6:30 p.m.

By then, FXX has
joined in. It has “Simpsons” reruns (many holiday-themed) from
5-8 p.m. and the terrific “Simpsons Movie” (2007) at 8 and 10. FX
joins in with three animated movies – action in “Rise of the
Guardians” (2012) at 7 p.m., humor in “Turbo” (2013) at 9, both
in “Kung Fu Panda 2” at 11.

Other choices

Marathons, all day,
cable. While the “Doctor Who” blitz continues on BBC America, a
mega-marathon has just begun. At midnight, the Science Channel began
showing every episode of “Mythbusters” in order. That's 11 days,
248 episodes, 2,950 experiments ... and 900 explosions. That sets up
the show's final season, which will be on both Discovery and Science.

Football, noon and 8
p.m. ET, ESPN. On Christmas Eve, it can be fun to watch people in the
tropical part of the world. So today brings the Bahamas Bowl, with
Western Michigan and Middle Tennessee, each 7-5; tonight has the
Hawaii Bowl, with Cincinnati (7-5) and San Diego State (10-3). Also
at 8, the NFL Network has San Diego at Oakland.

“Pride &
Prejudice” (2005), 6:30 and 9:30 p.m., Oxygen. Here's a masterful
film, with director Joe Wright and star Keila Knightley showing you
don't need much dialog to film a classic.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. Skipping Christmas detours, CBS has reruns of
its terrific Thursday line-up. Here's a collision of opposites –
the mothers of Sheldon (Laurie Metcalf, who has three Emmys and seven
nominations) and Christine Baranski (one win, 12 nominations).

“Mom,” 9:01
p.m., CBS. In a funny episode from last February, Christy is promoted
to manager ... and promptly finds that life doesn't get any easier.

“The Great
Christmas Tree Light Fight,” 10 p.m., ABC. This amiable show has
ordinary (almost) people with spectacular displays. After three
Mondays, it gets a Thursday hour.

Church services,
11:35 p.m., two networks. NBC goes to the Vatican, for services in
St. Peter's Basilica, CBS visits an interfaith service at an
Episcopal church in San Francisco.

TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 23

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “How Murray Saved
Christmas,” 8-9 p.m., NBC.

Many people know
that “Grinch” is one of the great half-hours in TV history.
Mixing the verbal wit of Dr. Seuss and the animation brilliance of
Chuch Jones, it's a classic.

Not as many see that
“Murray” is a worthy companion piece. Mike Reiss (“The
Simpsons”) wrote a wonderful script, filled with Seuss-style
rhymes, about the home town of figures from all the holidays. As a
one-hour show, this has drawn little attention; now it's trimmed in
half, to wrap up a great hour.

II: “Adele Live in New York City,” 9 p.m., NBC.

OK, this isn't
really live; it's a rerun of a special that also wasn't live on then,
either. But it is New York City and is Adele; introducing her as “a
once-in-a-generation artist,” Jimmy Fallon is telling the truth.

There are no
gimmicks, no costume changes, just a gifted singer-songwriter. She
starts (logically) with “Hello,” ends with “Rolling in the
Deep,” the stunning song that won two of her five Grammys in 2011.
Now comes her first concert in four years ... and it's worth the

Kid shows, all day.

Kids may be getting
restless now, needing some holiday animation. ABC Family has “Santa
Claus is Comin' to Town” at 3:15 p.m., “Rudolph and Frosty's
Christmas in July” at 4:15, “Frosty's Winter Wonderland” at
6:30 and the gorgeous little “Mickey's Christmas Carol” at 7.

Then others take
over at 8. Disney reruns its “Lion King” spin-off, “The Lion
Guard”; FX mixes live-action and aniatione for “Alvin and the
Chipmunks: Chipwrecked” (2011), repeating it at 10 p.m.

ALTERNATIVE: “'I Love Lucy' Christmas Special,” 8-9 p.m., CBS.

Each year, this
offers a pair of colorized “Lucy” half-hours. The first never
changes – it's a Christmas episode, with flashbacks to great
moments, including the preparations to “calmly” go to the
hospital when Lucy says it's time for the baby; the second has a
different classic each year.

This year has her
prepare over and over to recite a Vitameatavegamin commercial,
unaware of the high alcohol content in each spoonful. In both, the
set-ups are a bit slow and stiff by modern standards, but the
pay-offs – with sight gags and verbal riffs by a comedy master –
are great fun.

Other choices

“Doctor Who,”
all day, BBC America. The “Who” marathon continues until 6 a.m.
Dec. 30. At 7 and 9 p.m. today, it has Christmas episodes from 2005
(“The Christmas Invasion”) and 2010 (a “Christmas Carol”
variation); at 8 is the episode that introduced comedy star Catherine
Tate as a runaway bride.

“Empire,” 8
p.m., Fox. In a rerun of the season's second episode, the takeover
attempt has failed, but Cookie persists. She starts a rival label,
with Hakeem trying to create a girl group.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. Frankie decides the family will stay home and watch
Christmas services on TV. That starts a string of six comedy reruns,
the first four with holiday themes.

“The Goldbergs,”
8:30, ABC. Distressed by holiday apathy, Beverly creates “Super
Hanukkah” ... which starts to look suspiciously like Christmas.

“Hawaii Five-0,”
9 p.m., CBS. This usually films on Oahu, but moved to the more-rural
Big Island for this Christmas rerun. A cowboy has been killed and Max
must work with a rival medical examiner.

“Michael Buble's
Christmas in Hollywood,” 10 p.m., NBC. Alongside comedy –with
William Shatner, Blake Shelton and more – this rerun has music by
Buble, Celine Dion, Tory Kelly and Sharon Jones. Songs range from the
new “The More You Give” to “White Christmas” ... which
probably also shows up in the 1957 “Happy Holidays with Bing and
Frank,” at 8 p.m. ET on Turner Classic Movies.

TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 22

“The Year 2015,” 9-11 p.m., ABC.

In its final months
this year seems to consist entirely of a presidential election,
terrorism and chaos in Syria. Now the ABC News people look at those
events and much more.

There was the
historic Supreme Court ruling that brought a surge of gay marriages
... The rescue of Greece's economy ... The global climate agreement
... The immense impact of Pope Francis, including his U.S. trip. And
there was celebrity news, from Caitlyn Jenner to the rush to see
“Star Wars.”

“Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas,” 8:30 p.m., Fox.

Unlike most sloths,
Sid (John Leguizamo) overdoes things. Trying to help, he destroys the
favorite holiday decorations of Manny (Ray Romano) ... who tells him
he's now on Santa's naughty list.

Then Sid races to
plead his case with Santa ... and brings the baby with; Ellie (Queen
Latifah) is not pleased. It's a good half-hour, part of a Fox night
of pre-holiday fun.

ALTERNATIVE: “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”
(2008), 7-10 p.m., Syfy; and/or “ET” (1982), 8-10:30 p.m., WGN

Steven Spielberg is,
very simply, the world's best filmmaker. He can make a lame story
good and a good story great; here are examples of both.

The “Skull”
story is so-so, as Indy (Harrison Ford) seeks an ancient artifact and
a lost city; Spielberg turns it into an entertaining adventure. “ET,”
by comparison, has a wonderful story about a boy who must avoid
officialdom to help a lost alien. Spielberg gives it warmth, humor,
drama and then the soaring visuals that make this one of the all-time
great movies.

Other choices

Muppets, 4 p.m. to
midnight, ABC and AMC. ABC slides its “Muppets” situation comedy
– this time a rerun with Nick Offerman and Christina Applegate –
to 8:30 pm.; and on cable, AMC offers a Muppet marathon. “Muppet
Treasure Island” (1996) is at 4 p.m., with “The Muppet Movie”
(1979) at 6 and 9 and a 2008 “Letters to Santa” TV special at 8
and 11.

“Hollywood Game
Night,” 8 p.m., NBC. This amiable show will borrow the “Voice”
slot on Tuesdays – first with reruns and then (starting Jan. 5)
with new hours. This one has Romano, plus tennis star Andy Riddick,
singer Gavin DeGraw and actresses Cheryl Hines, Rachel Bilson and
Brooklyn Decker.

“The Simpsons,”
8 p.m., Fox. In a take-off on the terrific “Boyhood” movie, this
rerun sees Bart's rise fron age 6 to adulthood.

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. In a rerun, Gibbs and Bishop head to Afghanistan, after the
murder of a Marine is linked to a terrorist group there.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 9 p.m., CBS. This rerun finds the team going undercover,
in hopes of retrieving a stolen missile. Also, Dr. John performs.

“Taraji and
Terrence's White-Hot Holidays,” 9 p.m., Fox. After all their
“Empire” sniping, Taraji Henson and Terrence Howard do a duet in
this rerun. Also performing are Mary J. Blige, John Legend and Jamie

Guide to Divorce,” 10 p.m., Bravo. Can Abby and Jake really
re-exist as a couple? They try to find out by having a weekend
without work, friends or family

“The Expanse,”
10 p.m., Syfy. Last week's debut ofered disputes between Earth and
its colonies – hard-scrabble ones on the asteroid belts and a
high-tech one on Mars. When the freighter Canterbury was destroyed, a
survivor sent a message blaming the Martians ... but is that correct?
Tonight's tough hour is monotone at times, brightened by
extraordinary scenes with the UN chief and her ambassador to Mars.


TV column for Monday, Dec.21

“The Big Bang Theory,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., CBS.

Fresh from its
pivotal (and hilarious) episode -- with Sheldon and Amy finally
having sex -- “Big Bang” visits its old night. It brings two
exceptionally good reruns.

The first has
big-laugh moments, when Leonard and Howard see an experiment site
contaminated; they call Raj for help. The second has Raj scheming,
when his parents cut him off financially; it also has a solid piece
of drama, when Leonard delivers a heartfelt commencement speech.

“Superstore” and “Telenovela,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., NBC.

Can two opposites
co-exist in one hour? We'll see next month, when these comedies
temporarily share this hour; first, they each rerun their pilot

“Superstore” is
quiet and subtle, an ordinary-folks comedy about co-workers; it grows
on you slowly, as the actors (led by America Ferrera and Ben Feldman)
bring their characters to life. “Telenovela” is bright and
flashy, grabbing our attention with Eva Longoria as the fretting star
of a Spanish-language soap opera. The first is more clever, the
second is more fun.

ALTERNATIVE: “A Place to Call Home” season-opener, any time,

Amid the sweeping
beauty of rural Australia, viewers met Sarah Adams. An earnest nurse
in the 1950s, she had returned – for the first time in 20 years –
to a town dominated by the wealthy Blighs. She stuck with her husband
Rene through his post-war mental collapse, but fell for George Bligh.

Last season ended
mid-crisis – George shot, the scheming Regina wrestling Rene for
the rifle. Some people have compared this to “Downton Abbey,”
which is pointing too high; like ABC's Thursday dramas, this plunges
skillful actors into stark, soapy stories. You can sample three
episodes today.

Other choices

(2007), 4:30-6:30 p.m., ABC Family. In the avalanche of Christmas
movies, there are occasional gems. That includes this one,
beautifully written and directed, with a clever concept. A young
woman (the luminous Christina Milian) finds herself in a perfect
world, inside a snowglobe.

Christmas animation,
7:30 to 10 p.m., Disney. Last year's fairly good “Toy Story That
Time Forgot” is followed by the 1974 “Year Without a Santa Claus”
and 1976 “Rudolph's Shiny New Year,” at 8 and 9.

“Gotham,” 8
p.m., Fox. The old war between the Wayne family and the Galavans
resurfaces in this rerun. Now Galavan and Penguin link with a
dangerous bunch; Gordon tries to maintain order.

“A Saturday Night
Live Christmas,” 9-11 p.m., NBC. Here are sketches – some of them
quite funny – from four decades. They range from Dan Aykroyd as a
heartless toy mogul to Fred Armisen as head elf.

“Supergirl,” 9
p.m., CBS. In a rerun, we see the return of Helen Slater – star of
the “Supergirl” movie, back in 1984. She was introduced in the
pilot as Kara's stepmother; now she arrives for Thanksgiving and may
disapprove of the new public-hero status. Also, a new villain,
Livewire, emerges.

“Scorpion,” 10
p.m., CBS. Running an hour later than usual (as does “Supergirl”),
this reruns last year's Christmas episode. The team scrambles to
rescue a young boy trapped in a seaside cave.

“The Great Holiday
Baking Show” finale, 10 p.m., ABC. We're down to the final three
bakers. That's preceded by two more hours of the glittery “Great
Christmas Light Fight.”

TV column for Sunday, Dec.20

Miss Universe, 7-10 p.m., Fox.

Back in July, the
Miss USA pageant proceeded amid chaos. NBC co-owned the pageant (and
Miss Universe) with Donald Trump, but refused to air it after his
immigration comments. It ended up on Reelz; where few people saw
Olivia Jordan – a 5-foot-11 actress from Tulsa -- crowned.

Now the pageants
have been sold to WME-IMG and are ready for a fresh start; Jordan is
one of 80 contestants in Las Vegas. Steve Harvey hosts; Seal, Charlie
Puth and The Band Perry perform.

II: “The Sound of Music” (1965) sing-along, 7-11 p.m., ABC.

A half-century ago,
Hollywood had almost forgotten Broadway musicals. Then this arrived
with a so-so story, but the right star (Julie Andrews, fresh from her
“Mary Poppins” Oscar), gorgeous backdrops and the soaring
Rodgers-and-Hammerstein songs.

It won five Academy
Awards (including best picture), was nominated for five more
(including Andrews) and keeps return. This time, we can sing along,
with the words on the screen.

ALTERNATIVE: James Bond films, cable.

Even at
Christmastime, people love Bond. Tonight, we can choose between the
Daniel Craig version (tougher, more intense, less charming) and the
Pierce Brosnan one (more fun).
Brosnan's “The World is Not
Enough” (1999) is 5 p.m. and 2 a.m. on BBC America; try to forgive
the casting of Denise Richards as a nuclear physicis in hotpants.
Craig's first Bond, “Casino Royale” (2006), is 8 and 11 p.m. on
BBC America; it overcomes an overwrought opener and a so-so poker
scene; his third, “Skyfall” (2012) is 6-9 p.m. on Syfy.

Other choices

Football preview, 7
p.m. ET, and game, 8:20 , NBC. Using its “flex-schedule” option,
NBC dumped the Bengal-49ers game, which was moved to 4:25 p.m. ET on
CBS. Instead, it has Arizona at Philadelphia. The Cardinals (11-2)
could cinch their division title today; the Eagles are only 6-7, but
they've won two straight and are tied for first in their division.

(1984), 7:25 p.m., Comedy Central. This one is always fun for kids or
grown-ups, mixing sight gags with the droll wit of Bill Murray and
Dan Aykroyd.

“Undercover Boss”
season-opener, 8:30 p.m. (or later, with football overrun), CBS. The
“sauce king of Cincinnati” -- with 66 Buffalo Wings & Rings
sites – goes undercover. There will be two more Sunday episodes,
before “Boss” takes a temporary spot on Fridays.

“Madam Secretary,”
9:30 (or later), CBS. This reruns a strong episode from last March,
with Elizabeth flying to Iran, hoping to prevent a coup.

“Into the
Badlands,” 10 p.m., AMC. The brief first season of this visually
impressive (albeit violent) series concludes, with Sunny and his
protege trying to escape the baron's grip. There were only five
previous hours and you can catch them all, starting at 5 p.m.

“CSI: Cyber,”
10:30 (or later), CBS. A cyber-Robin Hood steals from banks and gives
to the poor.

Christmas Carol,” 11:30 p.m., ABC Family. Record this half-hour gem
and watch it during a mellow moment. There are few laughs for the
kids, but the visuals are gorgeous. This follows the zillionth run of
two good comedies -- “Christmas Vacation” (1989) at 7 p.m. and
“Elf” (2003) at 9:15.