TV column for Tuesday, March 10

(Please note; I'm temporarily putting current columns here. That's only short-term, though. Basically, this Web site will only be for blogs and for samples of older columns.) 

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "American Idol," 8-10 p.m., Fox.
Now we're to the part of "Idol" that viewers remember. The final 13 have been chosen; it's time to eliminate one per week.
At first, that requires a full two hours on Tuesdays; gradually, "Idol" will pare down to an hour.
Each Wednesday, someone will be cut. And these first two are important; "Idol" has been taking only its final 10 on tour, giving them months of arena-sized crowds.
In the past (with 12 finalists) viewers figured they'd remember No. 11 and 12, but did they? A few (Mikaleh Gordon, Matt Rogers,last year's Amanda Overmyer) became memorable; most didn't. Don't look on the pop charts for Charles Grigsby, Lindsey Cardinale, Kevin Covais, Melissa McGhee or last year's David Hernandez.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: "WCG Ultimate Gamer," 10 p.m., Sci Fi Channel.
Forget any stereotypes about videogame players. The 12 contestants here provide a rich variety.
There are also a couple muscular athletes; there are women who are, one guy admits, "all fairly attractive." There are cheery, social people and unbudging introverts.
This slick show throws them together instantly: They must split into fours to compete in RockBand 2. Soon, they have cool names -- Pandora Rox, Pirates vs. Ninjas, Napalm in the Morning --and semi-cool images.
The game will change each week. The overall prize includes $100,000, a full electronics package and a trip to this year's World Cyber Games in China.
Other choices include:
-- "The Biggest Loser," 8-10 p.m., NBC. There's a 24-hour fitness challenge, with the winning team going to a spa. Some winners, however, might end up overindulging.
-- "NCIS," 8 p.m., CBS. A night of CBS reruns starts with this one, in which colleagues finally learn a little about Gibbs' past. A case takes them to his home town.
-- "Kingdom of the Blue Whale," 8-10 p.m., National Geographic Channel. The blue whale is truly impressive. It's up to 100 feet long (longer than a basketball court), weighs up to 200 tons (more than 25 elephants), has a heart that can weigh a ton. Hunting them is now banned, but the number has shrunk by 80 per cent. In this documentary, we see an attempt to finally photograph a calf underwater and to establish which parts of the Pacific should be avoided by boats. The film is much too long, with too many empty seascapes, but remains fairly interesting.
-- "The Mentalist," 9 p.m., CBS. When a casino owner is killed, Patrick Jane sees a chance to use his people-watching skills to solve a case AND make some money at the tables.
-- "Without a Trace," 10 p.m., CBS. The teen son of a Secret Service agent has vanished.
-- "Law & Order: Special Victims & Unit," 10 p.m., NBC. Three years ago, Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cabot (Stephanie March) was suddenly whisked off to a witness protection program. Now she surprises people by showing up at the investigation of a convicted child molester. This is the first of six episodes for March; Mariette Hartley guests as a lawyer.
-- "Trust Me," 10 p.m., TNT. Mason and Conner each have money troubles; now they search for new ad-agency jobs. Meanwhile, Sarah (Monica Potter) has trouble with her shampoo account and Tom (Mike Damus) has a romance.

TV column for Monday, March 9

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Castle," 10:02 p.m., ABC.
Amid TV's no-nonsense cops, we're getting some variety: This show joins "The Mentalist," "Bones" and others; the crimesolvers are as interesting as their cases.
Det. Kate Beckett is smart, serious and diligent. Richard Castle is merely smart; he's a crime novelist who needs to create a new character.
That's when someone starts copying murders from his books. Suddenly, these two opposites must work together. Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic are perfect and two real-life crime novelists -- James Patterson and Stephen Cannell -- briefly play themselves.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "Dancing With the Stars" opener, 8 p.m., ABC.
Two late injuries have given this edition a detour before it starts. Tonight, Jewel and Nancy O'Dell are expected to talk about why they're pulling out; then the show will announce their replacements.
In what would have been a fun twist, Jewel was going to compete agaist her husband, rodeo champ Ty Murray. That's vanished now, but there are still interestig combinations.
Chuck Wicks -- the likable new country star ("Stealing Cinderella") -- is lucky. His professional partner is also his girlfriend (and fellow country singer) Julianne Hough.
Also competing are professional dancers who are engaged to each other, Maxsim Chmerkovskiy and Katrina Smirnoff. He's with actress Denise Richards; she's with computer mogul Steve Wozniak.
Then there's Derek Hough, Julianne's brother. He's the professional dancer with singer Lil' Kim.
Derek is the show's current champion. The field also includes a previous winner (Mark Ballas, dancing with tiny gymnast Shawn Johnson) and two-time winner Cheryl Burke, with actor Giles Marini. Other celebrities include singer Belinda Carlisle, stuntman Steve-O and former football star Lawrence Taylor.
Other choices include:
-- "House," 8 p.m., Fox. A book editor suddenly starts speaking frankly and insulting everyone. Dr. House -- who does that even when he's healthy -- searches for an explanation.
-- "The Big Bang Theory," 8 p.m., CBS. On a plane ride to San Francisco, the guys are excited to spot Summer Glau, one of the "Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles" stars.
-- "The Wonder Pets Join the Circus," 8 p.m., Nickelodeon. The pleasantly adequate "Wonder Pets" show is usually confined to 10 a.m. weekdays. Here's a primetime excursion, in which the pets try circus acts. Pre-schoolers will be charmed; their parents will be undisturbed.
-- "How I Met Your Mother," 8:30 p.m., CBS. Laura Prepon ("That '70s Show") plays Ted's pompous girlfriend from his college days.
-- "Heroes," 9 p.m., NBC. Sylar finally finds his father (played by the talented John Glover), with unexpected results.
-- "Battles BC" debut, 9 p.m., History Channel. This series links intelligent military historians and a powerful computer-graphic style, the sort used in the movie "300." The opener looks at Hannibal, whose battlefield brilliance once killed 70,000 Roman soldiers in a day, in an area barely twice the size of Central Park. Coming are hours on David, Caesar, Alexander and Joshua.
-- "Rules of Engagement," 9:30 p.m., CBS. After mistreating his female assistants, Russell is required to hire a man. He soon takes advantage of that, in an episode that is both silly and funny.
-- "Saving Grace," 10 p.m., TNT. Counterfeit pills became deadly at a teen party. That leads to a moving hour that juxtaposes Grace's new partner and the link between Grace's guardian angel and a condemned criminal.
-- "Ax Men," 10 p.m., History Channel. The season's second hour focuses on human elements, including a California newcomer dismissed as a "pretty boy" by fellow loggers.

TV column for Sunday, March 8

(Please note: I'm temporarily putting current TV columns here. This is just short-term, however; this Web site will be strictly for blogs and samples of past columns.)

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Desperate Housewives," 9 p.m., ABC.
After being gone for a week, this show is back and toying with its characters' new economic troubles.
Bree promises to help Tom get a job, then stirs new trouble. Gabrielle finds herself helping Carlos' cheating boss deceive his wife.
Also, Edie starts digging deeper into Dave's troubled past.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-TRY :"Russell Brand in New York City," 10 p.m., Comedy Central.
Brand is the British comedian who drew raves in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and complaints when hosting the MTV awards. You may feel both extremes here, but stick with it; the hour keeps getting better.
Early portions -- dealing with the MTV experience -- are merely OK. At times, the humor gets jumbled in Brand's broad accent.
Then Brand gets to the part -- relating his misadventures at learning to ride a horse ... and at learning to surf ... and at having a gleeful sex life. Some of that is very R-rated (even with the constant bleeps);  much of it is quite funny.
Other choices include:
-- "Saturday Night Live: Just Game Show Parodies" (7 p.m.) and "Just Commercials" (8 p.m.), NBC. Ever since Jerry Seinfeld hosted "Community College Bowl" (which almost ended in a scoreless tie), game shows have given "SNL" some of its best moments. Here's an hour of them, followed by fake commercials.
-- "Amazing Race," 8 p.m., CBS. The two married couples were the first ones eliminated. Now the show has its first journey into Siberia.
-- "The Simpsons," 8 p.m., Fox. Homer Simpson, it turns out, is the latest home-finance victim. He overspent on his Mardi Gras party and had to put the house up for sale; now Ned Flanders is his landlord.
-- "Kingdom of the Blue Whale," 8-10 p.m., National Geographic Channel. At one hour, this might have been a good documentary. At two ... well, you spend a lot of time viewing the vast ocean, as experts search for new information on the planet's largest creatures. At least, the ocean is beautifully filmed.
-- "Celebrity Apprentice," 9-11 p.m., NBC. In last week's opener, the guys lost and Andrew Dice Clay was fired. (Hey, who knew they would be less-skilled at making and selling cupcakes?) Tonight, the object is to create a comic-book hero. Khloe Kardashian -- of rich-kid and reality-show fame -- leads the women; Scott Hamilton tries to lead the men, but finds his easy personality clashing with Tom Green's approach.
-- "Cold Case," 9 p.m., CBS. The murder of an honor student baffled police in 1976. Now a photo of her with a biker offers a fresh lead.
-- "The Unit," 10 p.m., CBS. Jonas' daughter, now considered a hero, is ordered to go on a media tour. Meanwhile, the unit initiates a new member.
-- "Breaking Bad" season-opener, 10 p.m., AMC. In its short (seven-episode) first season, this series offered a rich portrait of a mild-mannered chemistry teacher (Bryan Cranston) linking with his worst student to become a drug dealer. They're into dangerous territory; tonight, they scramble for a way to break off their dealings with Tuco.

TV column for Saturday, March 7

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Ashes to Ashes" debut, 9 p.m., BBC America.
The original "Life on Mars" had modern British cop Sam Tyler whisked to 1973, where his boss had no political correctness. The series deliberately ran only 16 episodes; now a sequel has been brilliantly conceived.
This time, the time-trekking cop is a female. She's whisked to 1981, in a time and place where women aren't taken seriously.
She's working with those same cops Tyler did -- Gene Hunt, Ray Carling, Chris Skelton. Trained in psychology, she's studied the Tyler case; it's a mental trick, she assumes -- but can she get out of it?
"Ashes to Ashes" is full of smart twists, but the best part is the casting. The old "Life on Mars" actors are back, led by Philip Glenister as Hunt. And best of all, Keeley Hawes is the star.
Hawes starred in five top-rate films that reached PBS, plus the early years of the "MI-5" series. American viewers haven't seen her in the last two years, but now she's back, leaping through emotions in a terrific opener.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" (8 p.m.) and "Without a Trace" (9 p.m.), CBS.
Here's a rerun of the episodes that linked these two shows.
A murder victim in Las Vegas matches the description of someone who disappeared in New York six years ago. Now Gil Grissom (William Petersen) and Jack Malone (Anthony LaPaglia) combine on the case.
Other choices include:
-- "School of Rock" (2003), 7-9 p.m., TBS. An irresponsible rock musician (Jack Black) wants to make some quick money by faking it as a substitute teacher. That plot like pure fluff, but there's an intelligent touch to the direction (Richard Linklater) and writing (Mike White). White -- who also plays Black's roommate -- is the guy who is currently leading "Amazing Race" with his dad.
-- "Celebrity Apprentice," 8-10 p.m., NBC. If you missed the season-opener Sunday, here's a second chance. Donald Trump gets to fire people who aren't used to taking orders, including Dennis Rodman, Andrew Dice Clay, Tom Green, Jesse James and Joan Rivers. Rivers' daughter Melissa is also there, plus Clint Black, Scott Hamiltohn and others. In this opener, they have to make and sell cupcakes.
-- "Star Wars," 8-11 p.m., Spike. Officially, this is now called "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope," with a 1997 release date. But mostly (with minor tweaks here and there), it's the 1977 "Star Wars," the classic that launched a new era of adventures for kids and grown-ups.
-- "Gone Country," 8 p.m., CMT. For the third time, John Rich (of Big & Rich) has taken mismatched people and taught them to think and sing country. Tonight, they perform and Rich picks a winner. The contestants range in age from funkmaster George Clinton, 67, to former Miss USA Tara Conner, 23. There are some steep musical talents, including singer Taylor Dayne and percussionist Sheila E. The line-up also has actor Richard Grieco, Monkees singer-drummer Mickey Dolenz and Justin Guarini, the original "American Idol" runner-up.
-- "Brothers & Sisters," 9-11 p.m., ABC. Here's a rerun of Sunday's episode, which includes a birth, a health crisis and a money crisis. Rebecca finds a problem that could destroy the Walker family business. She contacts her father, played by Ken Olin, the former "thirtysomething" star who also directed this episode and has been a key writer-director since the show started.
-- "Law & Order," 10 p.m., NBC. Husband-and-wife divorce lawyers have been killed, opening up a probe into a nasty conspiracy.
-- "Saturday Night Live," 11:29 p.m., NBC. Dwayne Johnson, also known as The Rock, hosts, with Ray LaMontagne as musical guest.

TV column for Friday, March 6

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Friday Night Lights," 9 p.m., NBC.
This show's first episode ended with a fierce injury to Jason Street, the star high school quarterback. Now, in the third “Lights” season, Street's story reaches a key point.
Paralyzed from the waist down, Street crumbled emotionally, then came back. Last week, he and three friends succeeded in their risky effort to buy and fix up a house, then sell it quickly.
Each emerged with $14,000. For Street, that's enough to try a distant dream -- going to New York, landing a job in a sports agency, then getting back together with his ex-girlfriend and their son. There are great moments here from Scott Porter as Street.
Two other stories are so-so: Tyra is torn between college applications and her rodeo-star boyfriend; Tami Taylor (the principal) tries to talk her husband (the football coach) into buying an expensive house.
The Taylors, however, are involved in another story that clicks. Their daughter is dating the team's back-up quarterback; there are fun moments, when she confronts her dad at the dinner table.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "Breaking Bad," 8 p.m. to 3 a.m., AMC.
After a terrific start, this show's first season was cut short by the writers' strike. These seven episodes, the only ones that were finished, are rerun here, setting up Sunday's season-opener.
Bryan Cranston stars as a chemistry teacher who hasn't told anyone he's dying of cancer. Running out of money and hope, he takes a desperate step.
Then things build. There are strong moments, as a mild-mannered teacher inserts himself into a violent world.
Other choices include:
-- “Ghost Whisperer,” 8 p.m., CBS. Sam does not react well to the news that he is really Melinda’s late husband Jim, inside another guy’s body.
-- “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” 8 p.m., Fox. Cameron, the heroic android, has already had her programming go bad once, turning her evil. Now the problem returns.
-- “Mistresses,” 8 and 9 p.m., BBC America; repeating at 11 p.m. and midnight and at 1 and 2 a.m. First is a rerun of last week’s hour, with Trudi going on her first date since her husband was killed in the World Trade Center attacks. Then comes a new hour, filled with powerful moments -- and well-acted -- moments. There are disturbing surprises for Trudi and for Siobhan. And Jessica -- until now savoring her busy sex life -- leaps into an affair that throws her off-kilter.
-- “20/20,” 9-11 p.m., ABC. It was 5-and-a-half years ago that the Siegfried-and-Roy magic act ended suddenly, with a tiger almost killing Roy Horn. On Saturday, the duo gave what it billed as its first and last performance since then -- a successful, eight-minute switching-places act with the same tiger. Parts of that will be shown here, plus interviews with the men.
-- "Dollhouse," 9 p.m., Fox. Echo (Eliza Dushku) is an open vessel; any personality and skills can be imprinted in her brain. But what if those were wiped out in the middle of a job? That happens here, in an hour that starts well and ends with a shrug. After working hard to set up the crisis, the episode resolves it way too simply; it also fritters time on the story of a rogue FBI agent. "Dollhouse" remains fascinating, but frustrating.
-- “Numb3rs,” 10 p.m., CBS. A smart scientist has been killed and the prime suspect is ... well, a smart computer. Charlie, the math wizard, has to crack this one.