It's know-your-Downton time

As the "Downton Abbey" sequel nears (see previous story), you're forgiven for not remembering who's who and who does what.

No problem; here's a handy guide I sent to papers:


Life can get tangled inside a grand
estate in 1916 England. As the second round of PBS' “Downton Abbey”
begins, here's a guide to the characters:

The Crawleys

"Downton Abbey" brings TV elegance

You're first duty now is to watch the season-openers of the IFC (Independent Film Channel) comedies, at 10 and 10:30 p.m. tonight (Friday, Jan. 6).

They're both odd and funny; there's a preview two blogs ago. The blog that I sent after that has newsy bits about NBC's makeover.

That leaves your next duty, to catch Sunday's elegant "Downton Abbey" season-opener. Here's the story I sent to papers; later, I'll also put a handy guide to the characters:


TV in 2011: Comedy came back, Oprah struggled

Earlier, I put my TV top-10 list here (see previous blog) and promises to add an overview of the TV year. Here's the the story I sent to paper:


For TV viewers, the new year started
with a new network and new hopes.

A dance master at his peak

Imagine you're at a "Transformers" movie and you realize that America's dance master is sitting nearby.

It's possible. Bill T. Jones admits a fondness for action adventures and more. He's an amiable guy in conversation; a fiercely imposing one at work. Now he's featured in a PBS special tonight; here's the story I sent to papers:


Rich contrasts ripple through the world
of Bill T. Jones, the dance master. He's:

Bill T. Jones: Immense talent, immense contrasts

One of the best notions PBS has come up with lately has been the idea of nine straight arts-related Fridays.

The shows have differed widely -- from a deep portrait of Pearl Jam to a rather silly operetta. This week, it's a look at Bill T. Jones, who's been compelling as a dancer, a choreographer and more. Here's the story I sent to papers:


Rich contrasts ripple through the world
of Bill T. Jones, the dance master. He's:

"Prohibition": Ken Burns toms himself

Ken Burns seems to keep topping himself. "Prohibition" -- Sunday through Tuesday on PBS -- is another masterpiece. Here's the story I sent to papers:


For 14 noisy years, Americans had their
social experiment. They banned alcohol; they turned collectively

Well, not quite. Even leaders found
ways to duck the law:

Hugh Laurie -- comedy, crew, drama ... and now the blues

By now, you may have heard me lecture on the fact that "House" is TV's best drama and Hugh Laurie is the best drama actor. I do that sometimes; I also  blather about his comedy skills, which remain semi-tucked away in England.

Now there's more; he's also a bluesman who is the center of a terrific PBS special. In some markets -- including East Lansing and Cincinnati -- that airs at 9 p.m. Friday. Here's the story I sent to papers:


Placido Domingo: The first 70 years

In the midst of this week's commercial-network commotion, PBS drops in a Placido Domingo special on Friday. This varies a lot from market to market -- it airs Friday on Cincinnati, but not in Lansing -- so I'll put the story here. Check your local listings:


From his earliest moments, Placido
Domingo had music flowing into his ears.

Keeley Hawes: One of the best; not one of the best-known

Not all gifted actresses, it seems, get equal amounts of attention. I'm quite sure I've seen more about Sandra Bullock and Anjelina Jolie than I have about Keeley Hawes.

Still, let's be clear about this: Hawes -- who stars in the "Upstairs Downstairs" PBS miniseries that begins Sunday (April 10) -- is one of the best actresses around. Here's a story I sent to papers:


PBS has an endless appetite for people
who play upper-class English folks.

More good news: "Nova," "Justified," cable excess

The world seems to have an unlimited amount of television and a too-limited amount of really good television. So let's celebrate three bursts of good news -- two relating to shows tonight (Wednesday):

1) "Justified" has been renewed for a third season. This show (10 p.m. Wednesdays on FX) crackles with great characters and sharp dialog. Tonight's hour is a pretty good one, as two strong women -- a coal executive and a crime matriarch -- battle over mining rights.