TV column for Saturday, Nov. 25

“The Christmas Train,” 8-10 p.m., Hallmark and Hallmark Movies &

This has been one of
TV's finest tradition. The first “Hallmark Hall of Fame” -- an
original opera, no less – arrived 66 years ago. The “Hall”
banner has given us stage dramas (including Shakespeare) and classy
movies, winning 81 Emmys. But lately, it's been confined to two films
a year, on cable.

That makes each one
an event. Tonight, Dermot Mulroney plays a weary reporter, desperate
to get home for Christmas. That requires a cross-country train ride,
putting him near a film producer (Danny Glover), his protege
(Kimberly Williams-Paisley) and a general know-it-all (Joan Cusack).

II: “Robbie the Reindeer” and its sequel, 8 and 8:30 p.m., CBS.

Robbie is a young
slacker with two assets – a talented nose and a famous father.
(That dad seems a lot like Rudolph, but we never know for sure.) Now
he tries to follow his dad's legacy.

The result was a
drolly clever British cartoon, re-dubbed with American voices. Ben
Stiller – who did follow his father's legacy – is Robbie; his
dad, Jerry, is Old Jingle and, of course, a talking garbage bag.
Britney Spears and Leah Remini are sexy reindeer (Donner and Vixen)
and Hugh Grant is Blitzen.


OK, many people
aren't ready for Christmas tales yet. Instead, here's an action

“King Kong”
(2005), at 2 p.m., is disappointing. But it's followed by
“Transformers” (2007), which is quite clever, at 5 and by
“Ant-Man” (2015) at 8. Then get your recording device ready: The
great “Back to the Future” (1985) is at 10:31 p.m., with its
sequels at 1:01(1989) and 3:31 (1990) a.m.

Other choices

“Hatfields &
McCoys,” 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., AMC. Here's the complete mini-series
about the families that made war (and, sometimes, love). Kevin
Costner and the late Bill Paxton played the patriarchs.

Football, 8 p.m. ET,
ABC and Fox. The final week of the season has some big games, many of
them rivalries. Fox has Washington State (ranked No. 18) at
Washington (No. 14); ABC has Notre Dame (No. 8) at Stanford (No. 21).
Earlier, Fox has Ohio State (No. 9) at Michigan (No. 24) at noon and
CBS has the big one – Alabama (No. 1) at Auburn (No. 6) at 3:30.

“National Dog
Show,” 8-10 p.m., NBC. If you prefer watching dogs (not football
players) compete, here's a rerun of Thursday's event.

Christmas,” 8-10 p.m., Lifetime. A romance begins between people
unaware of their connection: She's the mall manager who is closing
his aunt's failing toy story. Tatyana Ali (“Fresh Prince of Bel
Air”) stars, with other TV names (Kim Fields, Jasmine Guy, Dan
Lauria) in support.

“The Story of
Santa Claus,” 9-10 p.m., CBS. This 1996 film tells us how Santa got
started. Ed Asner – who has played the role often, live and in
cartoons – voices Claus, with Betty White as his wife.

“A Family for
Christmas,” 10 p.m., Lifetime. This starts an interesting
experiment – an hour-long “mini-movie” after each of Lifetime's
six new Christmas films. The first one involves an elderly woman and
the young neighbor who rarely has time to talk to her.

“Saturday Night
Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC. Gal Gadot hosts this rerun, with Sam Smith
as music guest.

TV column for Friday, Nov. 24

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” 8 p.m., NBC.

It's time for a
tidal wave of Christmas cartoons. Many are OK, a few are exceptional
... and two are masterworks -- “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (next
Thursday on ABC) and “Grinch.”

Both have wit,
warmth and originality. “Grinch” started with Dr. Seuss' clever
story, then added Chuck Jones' animation and an ideal cast. The rest
of the year, we think of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster,
June Foray as Rocky Squirrel and Thurl Ravenscroft as Tony the Tiger;
here, however, they're the narrator and Cindy Lou Who and the singer
of a undeniable: “You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

II: “Great Performances,” 9-11:30 p.m., PBS.

A song-and-dance man
figures he'll buy a Connecticut farm, grow crops (bananas, maybe) and
savor the country air. Naturally, that goes wrong; the only way to
save the farm is to have his show-business friends show up during
their vacations, turning the farmhouse into a short-term inn.

That was the plot
for two Irving Berlin movies, “Holiday Inn” (1942) and “White
Christmas” (1954). Now here's the Broadway version of “Inn,”
rippling with Berlin classics. It has “Blue Skies” in the first
half, “Easter Parade” and “Cheek to Cheek” in the second,
“White Christmas” in both.

ALTERNATIVE: “Grammy's Greatest Stories,” 9-11 p.m., CBS.

As the 60th
Grammy ceremony nears, the show pauses to celebrate its own history.
Here are some of the dramatic moments -- Aretha Franklin stepping in
to do an opera aria ... LL Cool J deciding to have an opening prayer
after the death of his friend, Whitney Houston ... and more.

The special includes
comments from Franklin, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Keith
Urban, Mary J. Blige, Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran, Sting, Chris Martin,
Elton John and the U2 guys.

Other choices

“iHeartRadio Music
Festival,” 8-10 p.m., CW. Here's the second half of a special
packed with stars. Over the four-hour stretch, we get Miley Cyrus,
The Weeknd, PINK, Harry Styles, Lorde and more.

“Frosty the
Snowman” and “Frosty Returns,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., CBS. The
original arrivd in 1969, making jaunty use of its song. The sequel
came 23 years later and should have waited longer; it's lame.

“Santa Claus is
Comin' to Town,” 8-9 p.m., ABC. Fred Astaire and Mickey Rooney
starred in this 1970 cartoon, explaining Santa's roots. It's no
classic, but at least it's no “Frosty Returns.:

“Finding Santa,”
8-10 p.m., Hallmark. Grace (Jodie Sweetin of “Full House”) is in
the third generation of a tradition – running a local Christmas
parade. Now there's extra pressure, with a visit by a network-TV
morning show. This is the second of Hallmark's four straight nights
of new Christmas movies.

“Trolls Holiday,”
8:30 p.m., NBC. Poppy (Anna Kendrick) decides its time for a new
holiday. Villagers, however, aren't so sure about Ticklepalooza or
Balloon Squeal Day. This is a new, musical half-hour, with Justin
Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, James Corden, Kunal Nayyar and more.

“Z Nation,” 9
p.m., Syfy. Hey, the night can't be all sweetness and holiday light,
can it? TV always has room for a few zombies, too. Tonight, our
heroes come across an abandoned TV news station, triggering
flashbacks to Day One of the zombie takeover.

“Savage Kingdom:
Uprising” debut, 9 p.m., NatGeo Wild, rerunning at 10. Here's one
of those epic projects National Geographic sometimes tackles,
reaching 140 nations. It filmed lions in the wild, then shaped their
story into an epic, narrated with deadly earnest by Charles Dance.

TV column for Thursday, Nov. 23

Thanksgiving parade, 9 a.m. to noon, NBC and CBS.

For many people,
this is the real start of the Christmas season. It's a three-hour
flurry of bands and balloons and more, plus floats (many with
lip-syncing stars) and, finally, Santa Claus.

NBC has the “Today”
people, CBS has “Entertainment Tonight” people – and both add
extra performances, especially during the first hour. NBC has the
Broadway casts of “Anastasia,” “Once on This Island,”
“SpongeBob SquarePants” and the current Tony-winner, “Dear Evan
Hansen”; CBS has the casts of “Waitress” and “Come From
Away,” plus a performance by country star Kelsea Ballerini.

Post-parade, afternoon.

After the parade,
many viewers will stick with NBC for the National Dog Show; it tends
to be quick and fun, from noon to 2 p.m. Then NBC reruns the parade,
from 2-5.

Others jump to the
pro football tripleheader. That's 12:30 p.m. ET on Fox (Minnesota
Vikings at Detroit Lions), 4:30 p.m. on CBS (Los Angeles Chargers at
Dallas Cowboys) and 8:30 p.m. on NBC (New York Giants at Washington

Christmas shows, cable and digital.

The Hallmark Channel
usually reserves its new movies for Saturdays and Sundays, but not
this time. It debuts “The Mistletoe Inn” (with Alicia Witt)
tonight, with another new one Friday and Saturday.

Then there's
Freeform, with popular films -- “Christmas Vacation” (1989) at
11:30 a.m. and 8:50 p.m., sandwiching “Charlie and the Chocolate
Factory” (2005) at 1:35 p.m., “Home Alone” (1990) at 4:10 and
“Elf” (2003) at 6:40. Also, getTV (via digital and Dish Channel
373) has Johnny Cash's 1977 Christmas special, at 10 p.m. ET.

ALTERNATIVE: “Anne of Green Gables: The Good Stars,” 8-9:30
p.m., PBS.

Last year's “Anne
of Green Gables” (rerunning at 9:30) had a popular tale: Two
elderly siblings (Martin Sheen and Sarah Botsford) had a stark, stoic
world ... until an 11-year-old orphan arrived.

Now she's just
become a teen-ager, raising fresh doubts. “I don't care for being
13,” she announces. “It's much more complicated than I thought it
would be.” There are little problems – cooking disasters, for
instance – and bigger ones, from math tests to boys to a runaway
raft. None of this is engrossing, but all of it is entertaining, in a
good-natured, Anne kind of way.

Other choices

“Kevin (Probably)
Saves the World,” 8 p.m., ABC. After failing at almost everything,
Kevin ends up at a farmhouse with his sister (a top scientist) and
her daughter. Then he's informed that he's one of God's chosen
people. This surprises him – and us – but Jason Ritter makes it a
fairly amiable comic-drama.

“The Big Bang
Theory,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a rerun from a year ago, Sheldon and Amy
are back, describing their disastrous holiday trip to his Texas home

“Young Sheldon,”
8:31 p.m., CBS. Tonight, we can savor two generations in the same
role. On “Big Bang,” Laurie Metcalf is Sheldon's mom; on “Young
Sheldon,” Zoe Perry (Metcalf's daughter) plays her. Tonight, her
husband – the football coach – gets unexpected help from
Sheldon's statistics.

“The Good Doctor,”
9 and 10 p.m., ABC. Audiences have quickly become fond of this Monday
drama about a young, autistic doctor. Now here are two transplanted
reruns. In the first, he gets some respect from his new colleagues;
in the second, he learns his parents withheld his diagnosis.

“Mom,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Christy's law-school applications ended up costing a lot of
money. Now her mother makes the ultimate sacrifice, giving up

“S.W.A.T.,” 10
p.m., CBS. One bomber has been killed, but now the team rushes to
find his partner before their are more explosions.

TV column for Wednesday, Nov. 22

“iHeartRadio Music Festival,” 8-10 p.m., CW; concludes Friday.

On the eve of
Thanksgiving, TV starts piling up the specials. This one was taped
during two noisy nights in a Las Vegas Arena, with Ryan Seacrest
hosting. Miley Cyrus performed; so did Lorde, Pink, Harry Styles,
David Guetta, Big Sean, DJ Khaled and The Weeknd.

There was more,
including Coldplay, Kings of Leon and Thirty Seconds to Mars, plus
country's Chris Stapleton and Thomas Rhett. Now that music will fill
two nights, on both sides of the holiday.

“A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” 8-9 p.m., ABC.

Here's a tip for
holiday entertaining: Always check the chef's menu choices.

The meal has been
entrusted to Snoopy and Woodstock. Alas, they plan a feast consisting
entirely of toast and popcorn; now Charlie must save the day. That's
in a 1973 cartoon; rounding out the hour is the Pilgrims portion of
the 1988 miniseries, “This Is America, Charlie Brown.”

ALTERNATIVE: “A Saturday Night Live Thanksgiving Special,” 9-11
p.m., NBC.

The holiday has
often produced big laughs for “SNL.” That was true 41 years ago,
when Paul Simon attempted to sing “Still Crazy After All These
Years” in a turkey costume; it was true last weekend, with Pete
Davidson's hilarious explanation of why he doesn't want to visit
home for the holiday.

In between have been
other laugh-getters, from Adam Sandler's Thanksgiving song to a
bizarre sketch that had mega-balloons terrifying parade-watchers. Now
here's a collection of sketches.

Other choices

(1997), all day, AMC. Sometimes, a big, loud movie can also have deep
characters and rich craftsmanship; that's the case for this epic,
airing at 9 a.m. and 1:30, 6 and 10:30 p.m. And sometimes, a movie is
just big and loud; “King Kong” (2005) is 8-11:01 p.m. on TNT.

“Empire,” 8
p.m., Fox. In a rerun of the fairly good season-opener, Cookie has a
lot to worry about. There's Lucious, making a public appearance with
his memory gone ... and Claudia (Demi Moore), his ambitious nurse ...
and Diana DuBois (Phylicia Rashad), continuing her war against the

“Star,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. This rerun continues the link between Fox's best dramas. On
“Empire,” Carlotta met Cookie and Lucious; in this hour, she asks
their son Jamal (Jussie Smollett) for advice.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. In a rerun of last year's Thanksgiving episode, Cameron
spares no expense. Haley, however, disappoints her parents: She'd
rather spend the holiday with her much-older boyfriend, TV weatherman
Rainer Shine (Nathan Fillion).

“The Story of Us,”
9 p.m., National Geographic. Last week's hour (rerunning at 8 p.m.)
viewed power; this one meets rebels, from exiles to whistleblowers.

“20/20,” 10
p.m., ABC. This special looks at favorite holiday movies ... an
oft-visited subject. On Dec. 11 and 17, Turner Classic Movies will
rerun its 2011 film on that subject; on Dec. 20, CW has its take.

“Mr. Robot,” 10
p.m., USA. As the FBI closes in, Mr. Robot wants answers.

TV column for Tuesday, Nov. 21

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” 9:30 p.m., Fox.

episodes keep scoring, by nudging mismatched people together. And
this show's matches miss thoroughly. Amy's parents (Jimmy Smits and
Bertila Damas) are so controlling that they bring an alternate
turkey; Jake's (Brad Whitford and Katey Sagal) can't even control

There's an alternate
story that lets Andre Braugher re-live his days as a brilliant
“Homicide” interrogator. But the real joy is in a Thanksgiving
that's both bloody and hilarious.

II: “This Is Us,” 9 p.m., NBC.

How good is this
show? So good that it can create powerful drama while ignoring its
best character.

That's the adult
Randall, who doesn't even appear tonight. Neither does the adult
Kevin; their dad is only around (in flashbacks) briefly. Instead,
this is all about Kate (now and as a teen-ager) and her relationships
with her mom and Toby. Many of the strongest emotions are unspoken,
as they usually are in real life; a few are mega-spoken, in the
soaring monologs that spark some great television.

“Chicago Med” season-opener, 10:01 p.m., NBC.

Wouldn't it be nice
if great shows always led into worthy ones? Sometimes, they don't:
“The Simpsons” was followed by “Babes”; after “Friends”
came “Inside Schwartz.” We learn to use our remotes.

And “This Is Us,”
with its depth, is followed by the surface approach of “Med”;
lots of stories race past us, most of them moderately interesting.
Dr. Charles gets to comment on the insanity plea of the man who shot
him. Robin returns from brain surgery, unsure about herself. Manning
and Halstead, clearly with eyes for each other, work a demanding
case. It's all quick and slick and moderately involving.

ALTERNATIVE: “Dancing With the Stars” finale, 9-11 p.m., ABC.

On Monday, the field
was trimmed to three. Now – alongside music by Kelsea Ballerini,
Nick Lachey, Lindsey Stirling and Jordan Fisher – they each perform
two more dances and a winner is chosen.

That requires adding
several things -- judges' scores Monday and today, viewers' votes
Monday and during a five-minute window today. That last part is only
via or Facebook -- and only in the Eastern and Central time
zones. In theory, this is one vote the Russians will have to ignore.

Other choices

“NCIS,” 8 p.m.,
CBS. People's Thanksgiving plans are doubly delayed – by the search
for a murderous arms dealer and by Delilah going into labor three
weeks early.

“The Middle,” 8
p.m., ABC. Axl is stunned to learn that his footloose college friend
is acting oddly like a responsible adult. Also, Brick needs his
parents' help in his latest romance scheme.

“The Mick,” 9
p.m., Fox. We always assumed Mick's pal Jimmy had never amounted to
much. But now they go back to his home town for the retirement of his
baseball number. We also learn that Mick may have helped ruin his pro

“Legends of
Tomorrow” (CW) and “The Vietnam War” (PBS), both 9 p.m. Here
are two views of the Vietnam War, one fictional and one way too real.
On CW, an anachronism thrusts Ray, Amaya and Zari into the war; on
PBS, Ken Burns' brilliant documentary is near an end. The South
Vietnamese, fighting on their own, suffer a fierce defeat; an
agreement finally frees the prisoners of war.

“Who Killed
Tupac?” 9-11:03 p.m., A&E, rerunning at 1:03. Here are the
first two parts of a six-part series that profiles Tupac Shakur and
tries to solve his murder, 21 years ago.

“NCIS: New
Orleans,” 10 p.m., CBS. Homeless kids are murder suspects, but
Pride has doubts.

“Damnation,” 10
p.m., USA. All sorts of dark forces have converged on this
sunny-looking stretch of 1935 Iowa. There's the bank, foreclosing on
widows .... the preacher, bringing passion and violence to a farmers'
strike .... the cowboy, hired to stop him .... and now a KKK-type
group with dark hoods and dark intentions. All collide tonight, in a
nasty (but well-crafted) hour.