TV column for Thursday, Dec. 24

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Christmas specials,
8 p.m. everywhere.

On a night when families obsess on
Christmas, there are plenty of diversions, all reruns.

“Disney's Prep & Landing” (ABC)
is an amiable bit of computer animation, about the high-tech elves
who prepare each house for Santa's arrival.

More choices? NBC has “It's a
Wonderful Life” (1946), the Frank Capra classic. MyNetwork shows
the Hollywood Christmas Parade. TBS starts its 24-hour marathon of “A
Christmas Story” (1983), with its wry mixture of nostalgia and dark

Still, some PBS stations (check local
listings) will have the night's best show: Faith Hill's “Soundstage”
special has a great singer backed by a lush orchestra; it also has
the best new Christmas song in decades, “A Baby Changes

Stacey Christmas Special,” 10 p.m., BBC America.

Getting started on this comedy-drama
isn't easy. The characters have working-class British accents that
befuddle Americans; they've also had two seasons of tangled

The show was created by James Corden
and Ruth Jones, who gave themselves fairly small roles – plus one
key moment, near the end of this special. They are Smithy and Nessy,
who met and mated in Wales. She's still there with their baby and her
new boyfriend; he's back in England, home of his best friend Gavin
and Gavin's sweet, Welsh wife Stacey.

Now the families converge and Gavin has
a secret. Relax and enjoy an odd hour of humor and warmth.

Other choices include:

– “Mickey's Christmas Carol,” 11
a.m., ABC Family. Subtle, brief and beautifully crafted, this
Oscar-nominated, 1983 cartoon is one of the best Christmas classics.
It's part of a cartoon marathon (7 a.m. to 11 p.m.) ranging from
excellent (“Winnie the Pooh & Christmas Too” at 11:30 a.m.)
to awful (“'Twas the Night Before Christmas” at 1 p.m. and 6:30
p.m.), concluding well from 8-11 p.m. with “Santa Claus is Comin'
to Town,” “The Year Without Santa Claus” and “A Miser
Brothers' Christmas.”

– “I Dreamed a Dream,” 7 p.m.,
and “Dirty Dancing” (1987), 8 p.m., TV Guide Network, First is a
rerun of the special featuring Susan Boyle, who caused a stir on
British TV. Then is the wonderful film that made Patrick Swayze a
star; it will rerun Friday from noon to midnight.

– “Mamma Mia” (2008), 8 p.m.,
HBO. Forget the silly plot and the casting of some guys with so-so
voices. Here's a chance to catch joyous ABBA songs in a lovely island

– “The Middle,” 8:30 p.m., ABC.
In a night of ABC reruns, Frankie (Patricia Heaton) frets about her
church solo. She's upset to find that her husband is fine at
organizing the holiday at home.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
Claire and Phil threaten to take away their kid's Christmas. Also,
Gloria wants Colombian holiday customs and Baby Lily has troubles
with the mall Santa.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
In a rerun, a mobster in the witness protection program was killed.

– “Grey's Anatomy,” 10 p.m., ABC.
In this rerun, Meredith and Lexie find that their father – who was
much too late in fighting his alcoholism – is back with a failed

– Christmas services, 11:35 p.m., NBC
and CBS. NBC is at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome; CBS is at St. Joseph
Cathedral in Sioux Falls, S.D., with Bishop Paul Swain and the South
Dakota Symphony.


TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 23

Holidays,” 8 p.m., CBS.

This is the 11th year for
this special, which mixes passionate music with warm stories about

This year, two of the performers were
adopted when they were young: Faith Hill also hosts; Michael Franti
tells of being adopted by a scholarly couple in Davis, Cal.

Other performers are Carrie Underwood,
Mary J. Blige, Reba McEntire and Shakira.

Other adoption stories? We hear of
Minuette and Josette Farmakis, now 18 and 16; they reportedly endured
years of abuse, before a family took them in as foster children and
then adopted them.

And we hear of Joe and Lisa Hostler,
who watched the show and – with their daughter heading to college –
decided to adopt. They chose Yvonne, who was 14 and never expected a
permanent home.

Grinch Stole Christmas,” 8 p.m., ABC.

Here's another chance to catch this
great film.

Savor the warm and witty story by Dr.
Seuss, narratged drolly by Boris Karloff. Catch the great Chuck Jones
animation and the devious tune sung by Thurl Ravenscroft. This is one
of TV's great shows.

Performances: La Boheme,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

All the expected elements are there --
two great singers (Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon) and
high-voltage music. But this was filmed as a movie, offering extra

Director Robert Dornhelm catches the
immense emotion of the lovers – the joy in their first night, the
agony in their last. At times, he lets them silently emote, while
their voices soar in the background. His snowy courtyard projects
rich melancholy.

Our complaints? Some of the white
sub-titles are lost in the show. Also, the plot requires a character
change that seems exaggerated, unlikely and … well, operatic.

Other choices today include:

– “Stealing Christmas” (2003, 9
a.m.) and “Snowglobe” (2007, 11 a.m.), ABC Family. The best films
in this holiday marathon come early. First, Tony Danza is a
small-time crook, hiding out; then Christina Milian longs for the
perfect world inside her Christmas globe. You could also try the
“Santa Baby' films ( 2006 and 2009) at 3 and 5 p.m and the
lush-looking “Miracle on 34th Street” remake (1994) at

– “Glee,” 8 and 9 p.m., ABC. Here
are two reruns of this terrific-but-erratic show. In the first, Kurt
decides to be a football placekicker; the football scenes strain
credibility beyond the breaking point. In the second, Kristen
Chenoweth is Will's old classmate, ready to spice up the glee club.

– “Mercy,” 8 and 9 p.m., NBC. In
the first rerun, Veronica tries to decide if the secretyromance that
began in Iraq is over. In the second, it's becoming less and less

– “The Middle,” 8:30 and 9:30
p.m., ABC. The first rerun has Frankie (Patricia Heaton) bumbling her
daughter's plan to win a school trip; it's funny, but way too dowbeat
at times. The second has a mild clean-up accident get exaggerated
when her son casually says his mom threw a beer can at him.

– “Modern Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
In this rerun, Claire finds herself having a heart-to-heart talk with
her young half-brother Manny. Meanwhile, her dad and husband
hesitantly fly a model plane.

– “Cougar Town,” 10 and 10:30
p.m., ABC. In the first rerun, Jules (Courteney Cox) has trouble in
bed; in the second, she regrets convincing her neighbor to take a
golf lesson from her ex-husband.

– “A Season for Miracles” (1999),
10:30 p.m., Hallmark. Here's one of the best of TV's Christmas films.
When two kids face a rough time, their aunt (Carla Gugino) takes them
on the lam. They stumble into a sweet town, an empty house and a
fresh start.

TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 22

Underwood: An All-Star Holiday Special,” 8-10 p.m., Fox.

Even the biggest TV stars (Bing Crosby
and Andy Williams and such) only got an hour for a Christmas special.
Now Underwood, 26, gets two hours; the result is inconsistent, but
has some dandy moments.

Some of the humor bits – Underwood
trying to set up her sister with impressionists who claim to be stars
– are just lame. Others work fairly well.

Mostly, however, this rerun is about
the music, done with zest and flair. Guests include David Cook, Brad
Paisley (doing a long-distance duet, via video screen), Dolly Parton
and Sons of Sylvia. Also, Christina Applegate and Kristen Chenoweth
join Underwood for a dandy girl-group medley.

7-9 p.m., cable.

The wonderful Dr. Seuss characters
sprawl across two networks, in cartoon form.

That starts on ABC Family with the 1971
“The Cat in the Hat” at 7 p.m., the 1973 “Dr. Seuss on the
Loose” at 7:30 and the 1983 “The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the
Hat” at 8. In particular, catch the middle one; it includes two
portraits of stubbornness – “Green Eggs and Ham” and “The
Zax” – plus “The Lorax,” a darkly brilliant tale of
development vs. ecology.

Then switch to the Cartoon Network. At
8:30, it reruns “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” which ranks
alongside “A Charlie Brown Christmas” as one of TV's greatest

Other choices include:

– “Once Upon a Christmas” (2000,
3 p.m.) and “Twice Upon a Christmas” (2001, 5 p.m.), ABC Family.
Originally made for the Pax network, these are above-average holiday
films. In the first, Santa's daughter (Kathy Ireland) must prove to
her dad that a mortal family is giving and caring. In the second,
she's in mortal turf while her greedy sister schemes to sell the
North Pole.

– “Biggest Loser: Where Are They
Now,” 8-10 p.m., NBC. Here's a rerun of a special from three weeks
ago. Mostly, it shows that former contestants tend to be thinner and

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. Here's a
rerun of last year's Christmastime episode: The team has to work
during the holiday, after learningt that its prime suspect has been
listed as dead for 17 years.

– “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. When a defense contractor is killed, there are fears that
classified material is missing. This rerun leads to someone from
Vance's past..

– “Scrubs,” 9 p.m., ABC. It's
J.D.'s last day teaching at Sacred Heart, but he still needd Turk's
approval. Meanwhile, there's more trouble among the residents, who
will get more focus when J.D. leaves: Lucy has trouble with a basic
medical procedure; Drew and the cynical Denise admit they're a

– “Better off Ted,” 9:30 p.m.,
ABC. Lem's mom – played by Khandi Alexander of “CSI: Miami” –
visits. She's a brilliant scientist who promptly intimidates her son
and has an affair with Dr. Bhamba. Meanwhile, Linda is getting too
much credit or Ted's project, a light bulb that lasts forever.

– “The Jay Leno Show,” 10 p.m.,
NBC. On a day stuffed with reruns, this show (plus the two ABC
situation comedies) is new. Dane Cook is the in-studio guest and
tries the racetrack; also, there's a “Jaywalking” segment with
the public.

– “The Good Wife,” 10 p.m., CBS.
Alicia has three days to prove the engineers weren't responsible for
a train crash. Also, she argues with her mother-in-law about the kids
visiting their dad in prison.


TV column for Monday, Dec. 21


Mother,” 8 p.m., and “The Big Bang Theory,” 9:30, CBS.

It's an all-rerun night for CBS, but
don't fret. These two are great episodes to rerun.

On “Mother,” Ted nears his first
day of teaching; he worries about everything from going to the wrong
classroom to misspelling “professor.”

On “Big Bang,” Leonard sulks when
his handsome colleague dates Penny. There are also some hilarious
moments when Sheldon tries to figure out the protocol for

finale, 8-10 p.m., NBC.

It's refreshing to see a reality show
wrap up quickly, just a week after starting.

During the first three rounds (last
Monday through Wednesday) of this OK show, judges trimmed the field
from eight groups to three, all singing a cappella. Then viewers

That leads to this live finale. After
music and commotion, we'll learn which group wins a record deal.

Wainwright: Prima Donna,” 9 p.m., Sundance.

When Rufus Wainwright began writing an
opera, people assumed it would have a pop feel. After all, he's a pop
singer and the son of two folk stars, Kate McGarrigle and Loudon
Wainwright III.

Rufus, however, is a buff of grand
opera; he even made a “Tosca” home movie in his early teens. He
wrote the “Prima Donna” opera in French (which he learned as a
boy in Montreal), using a co-librettist. This excellent film profiles
Wainwright, from his wild years – drink, drugs, temporary
blindness, sexual excess – to his opera's opening night in Milan.

Other choices include:

– “World News Tonight,” 6:30
p.m., ABC (check local listings). Diane Sawyer takes over as anchor.

– “I Want a Dog For Christmas,
Charlie Brown,” 8-9 p.m., ABC. This is one of the cartoons created
after Charles Schulz's death. It debuted in 2003 and focuses on
ReRun, stressed out by his sister Lucy. His best friend Snoopy is too
busy to play, but Snoopy's brother Spike arrives. So does trouble.

– “Find My Family,” 9 p.m., ABC.
In the final episode (for now) of this feel-good reality show, we
meet two adoptees, each raising two children. One seeks her birth
mother; another seeks the baby she gave up for adoption when she was

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.,
CBS. Jake has disappeared with the neighbor's daughter. Meanwhile,
Alan gets a hot date by driving Charlie's Mercedes.

– “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,”
9 p.m., Cartoon Network. There are still chances to catch this great
cartoon. It's on cable tonight and Tuesday, then returns to ABC on

– “Closer” season finale, 9 p.m.,
TNT. Brenda's enemy (Mary McDonnell) wants her to probe a tricky
case: A policewoman's fierce husband has been killed by another
officer. There are twists and surprises, in a typically well-crafted

– “Men of a Certain Age,” 10
p.m., TNT. Owen (Andre Braugher) tries a nice-guy approach to car
sales, slash his commission. That's a fairly interesting story, but
others are weak: Terry (Scott Bakula), the part-time actor, is hired
to fake being a home-buyer; Joe (Ray Romano) nourishes his son's


TV column for Sunday, Dec. 20

finale (8 p.m.) and reunion (10 p.m.), CBS.

Back in 2000, this show started the
reality rush on American TV. It jumped to No. 1 in that year's
ratings, then spent four more years in the top-10.

“Survivor” has remained near the
top, thanks to slick production values, an emphasis on personalities
and Jeff Probst, its smartly understated host. Now the show picks its
new million-dollar-winner; afterward, Probst questions the re-united

World of Epics,” 8 p.m., TCM (Turner Classic Movies).

For decades, Hollywood loved films that
had both size and soul. The best focused on a few passionate people,
against the sprawling backdrop of history.

Now this excellent documentary views
the ones that made a difference, from “Gone With the Wind” in
1939 to “Doctor Zhivago” (airing at 12:30 p.m.) in 1965.

The trend faded with a new generation
and with ill-will stirred by “Cleopatra” (1963) and others. The
epics died – then were reborn with “Titanic” and the “Lord of
the Rings” trilogy.

Steven Spielberg comments often, but
keeps the attention away from his own work. In particular, this film
(produced by Spielberg's company) celebrates David Lean, who proved
that epics – “Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Lawrence of Arabia”
and “Zhivago” – can have heart and brains.

Other choices include:

– More epics, Turner Classic Movies.
Before “Zhivago,” TCM has “How the West Was Won” (1962) at
9:30 a.m. Afterward, it has biblical-era epics – “Ben-Hur”
(1959) at 4 p.m., “King of Kings” (1961) at 9 and the silent
“King of Kings” (1927) at midnight.

– Animated movies, 3:30-11 p.m., ABC
Family. Here are Pixar films that won the Academy Award for best
animated movie. “The Incredibles” (2004) is at 3:30 and 8:30
p.m., sandwiching “Ratatouille” at 6.

– “The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox.
When Bart makes a new friend, Homer suspects the kid's parents are
plotting against the U.S.; he's soon spying on them.

– “The Santa Clause 3” (2006),
8-10 p.m., ABC. The best part of this movie has a guy (Tim
Allen) trying to keep his in-laws (Alan Arkin and Ann-Margret) from
knowing he's Santa Claus. The worst involves a power-hungry Jack
Frost (Martin Short). The two even out, leaving an OK comedy.

– “White House Christmas 2009,” 8
p.m., HGTV. This annual special has its first look at an Obama White
House. Some 90 volunteers put up the decorations in two days,
emphasizing natural material; the hour ranges from a gingerbread
house to the arrival from West Virginia of the Blue Room tree.

– “Christmas in Washington,” 8
p.m., TNT. George Lopez introduces a strong music line-up, including
Mary J. Blige, Sugarland, Neil Diamond, Usher, Rob Thomas and
15-year-old Justin Bieber.

– “The Nativity Story” (2006), 9
p.m., TNT. Appropriately, TNT follows its Christmas concert with this
film, with Keisha Castle-Hughes (“Whale Rider”) as Mary.

– “Desperate Housewives,” 10
p.m., ABC. This rerun comes after the attack on Julie, with people
clinging to secrets. That includes Bree's affair, Lynette's pregnancy
and Angie's life on the lam.

– “Headline Country: Year in Review
2009,” 10 p.m., GAC (Great American Country). Storme Warren leads
an overview of the year in country music.