TV column for Saturday, June 20

season-opener, 8-10 p.m., CMT.

Country music has always savored duets,
from the early Conway-Loretta days to the Waylon-and-Willie moments
and some great Reba pairings.

There hasn't been much of that lately,
but this show tries to bring it back. Judging are two people who have
been in duos, Big Kenny (Big & Rich) and Naomi Judd (the Judds);
also there is Scott Borchetta, whose label (which already has Taylor
Swift) will sign the winner.

Tonight, auditions lead to a mixture –
five pre-existing duos, plus five more molded from strangers.

p.m., ABC.

Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) is a
novelist at a crossroads. He's killed his main character and needs a
new one.

Suddenly, some real-life killings copy
ones in his books. He's a possible suspect, investigated by
no-nonsense cop Kate Beckett (Stana Katic).

This pilot film pairs two people who
have nothing in common except sharp minds and pleasant faces. It's a
fairly good hour, complete with real-life novelists James Patterson
and Stephen Cannell as Castle's pals; reruns will continue on summer
Saturdays, with new episodes this fall.

Other choices include:

– “High School Musical” (2006, 7
p.m.) and “High School Musical 2” (2007, 8:55 p.m.), Disney
Channel. Upbeat and uptempo, these movies are fun to watch. The
scripts are so-so, but the songs are joyous and director Kenny Ortega
sharply directs a talented cast, led by Zac Efron and Vanessa

– “Kings,” 8 p.m., NBC. A
citywide black-out plunges King Silas' birthday party into darkness.
That endangers the king, but offers new opportunities for his
daughter (to spend some time with David) and son (to slip off into
his secret life).

– “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006),
8 and 10 p.m., Oxygen. In a change, Oxygen is airing this delightful
film about a wobbly family that accompanies a 7-year-old to a beauty
pageant. A low-budgeter, it won two Oscars (for its script and for
Alan Arkin in support) and was nominated for best movie.

– “Harper's Island,” 9 p.m., CBS.
With 11 people killed, members of the wedding part are desperate to
get a boat and leave the island. When an explosion rocks the marina,
however, they scramble to a hiding place, where a secret is revealed.

– “Eli Stone,” 10 p.m., ABC.
There are still new episodes left of this above-average series, which
won't be back in the fall. Tonight, Eli starts a case that continues
next week; he starts with an uneasy car trip with his former
girlfriend Taylor, her new guy and Maggie, the smart young lawyer Eli
is attracted to.

– “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29
p.m., NBC. Alec Baldwin hosts, with music from the Jonas Brothers.

TV column for Friday, June 19

Block” return, 8 p.m., NBC.

The bad news is that some networks
can't be trusted to finish a reality show.

Cable people finish what they start;
the big guys don't. Fox sometimes bails out early; NBC often does,
Twice (“Last Comic Standing” and “The Restaurant”), it
dropped a show just before its final episode; “Chopping Block”
was yanked after three weeks.

And the good news? At least, NBC is
nice enough to let shows finish their runs in the summer. That's true
for scripted shows (the terrific “Kings” is at 8 p.m. Saturdays)
and for “Chopping Block.”

When this show was yanked, there were
three duos left on the black team, two on the red team. Tonight, each
team's restaurant must cater to singles looking for romance.

Among diners, there's fun and optimism;
in the kitchen, there are flashes of rage. It's a pretty good hour,
by summertime-Friday standards.

9 p.m., CBS.

A sniper with a family grudge is out to
get Ed, in this rerun. Another cop, however, gets hit.

The result carries the usual
“Flashpoint” quality – characters who are solid, caring and

Other choices include:

– “Cyberchase,” daytime (check
local listings), PBS. Matthew Broderick guest stars in this adequate
episode, timed to Father's Day weekend. He heads the dads'-day parade
– until the villain replaces him with a robot.

– “Ghost Whisperer,” 8 p.m., CBS.
In a rerun, Melinda tries to help a teen ghost, while worrying that
her abilities help no one.

– “Surviving Suburbia,” 8 p.m.,
ABC. Here's the episode that was scheduled for last week, then
delayed. Steve (Bob Saget) feels new power, when given a gun.

– “Mr. Troop Mom,” 8-10 p.m.,
Nickelodeon. This movie – about a dad nudged into chaperoning a
camping trip – offers network synergy. It stars George Lopez, whose
own show follows at 10 p.m.; it has a song from Nat and Alex Wolff,
from the amiable Saturday show, “The Naked Brothers Band.”

– “The Chronicles of Narnia: The
Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (2005), 8 p.m., Disney Channel.
Disney is airing this an hour earlier than originally scheduled. That
makes sense, because this offers an OK, family-friendly mix of
adventure and magic.

– “Samantha Who,” 9 and 9:30
p.m., ABC. Both reruns focus on Owen (James Tupper), Samantha's new
boyfriend. In the first, she learns that his ex-girlfriend is his
best friend; in the second, Sam pretends to care about the

– “Numb3rs,” 10 p.m., CBS. Two
trains collide, spilling dangerous chemicals and pinning passengers.
While rushing to rescue them, agents must also determine if this
involved sabotage or terrorism.

TV column for Thursday, June 18

p.m.), “Burn Notice” (9 p.m.) and “Royal Pains” (10 p.m.),
USA Network.

Here's a good night to sample an
all-USA line-up. Two new episodes are preceded by a terrific “House”

That's the hour that had an Antarctica
scientist needing a long-distance diagnosis from Dr. House. Two
superb actors – Mira Sorvino and Hugh Laurie – bounce off each
other beautifully … even if their characters are separated by
10,000 miles.

Then come two shows with sunny
settings. In “Burn Notice,” a former CIA agent is forced to help
with a heist. In “Royal Pains,” a former hospital doctor is
caring for rich folks in the Hamptons; tonight, a senator's son has
an odd illness.

Look,” 9 p.m., TV Land; reruns at 10.

Last week's season-opener chose 11
would-be models, ages 35 and up, many of them intriguing. There's
Raquel, 35, the former Army captain and mother of three; and Sandy,
36, the super-cute lesbian rock singer; and Shelly, 39, the Ohio
divorcee who seemed wonderfully unaware of her beauty.

And there's Laurie, 42, who flashes an
over-the-top personality and boasts of being fired from seven
corporate jobs. You'll see why tonight, in an epic meltdown; like the
opener, this is a strong hour.

Other choices include:

– “Happy Feet” (2006), 7:30-10
p.m., ABC Family. Here's a wonderfully offbeat, animated film,
complete with tap-dancing penguin.

– “Ugly Betty,” 8 p.m., ABC.
Kimmie (Lindsay Lohan) starts her troublemaking by asking Betty for
help finding a job.

– “How I Met Your Mother,” 8 and
8:30 p.m., CBS. The first rerun has Barney trying to revive his sex
life at a Victoria's Secret party. The second has Ted's friends tell
him why he shouldn't date his doctor.

– “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,”
9 p.m., CBS. This rerun offers a bad thing about fast-food
restaurants: A murder is hard to solve, because the evidence is
soaked in grease.

– “So You Think You Can Dance,” 9
p.m., Fox. Last week, two gifted dancers – Paris Torres and the
charismatic Tony Bellissimo – were eliminated. Now two more are
cut, trimming the field to 16; also, Kristinia DeBarge sings

– “The Listener,” 10 p.m., NBC.
Toby goes home with a woman he meets at a nightclub. When she's dead
the next morning, he's the prime suspect.

– “The Mentalist,” 10 p.m., CBS.
When a rich man is killed on his yacht, Patrick Jane pits two
suspects against each other.

TV column for Wednesday, June 17

10 p.m., HBO.

If you missed the season-opener Sunday,
here's a quick chance to catch up.

There are all the messy things you
expect from a vampire tale. The show starts where it ended last
season, with the discovery of a body outside Sam's bar; it soon gives
sweet Sookie two more reasons to doubt Bill, her 173-year-old vampire

Near the end of the hour, however, is a
superb confrontation between those two. “True Blood” stirs true

Performances,” 8-10:30 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

For 23 years, three men have refined
the epic musical “Chess.” Tim Rice, the lyricist, is best known
for “Evita” and “Jesus Christ Superstar”; composers Benny
Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus saw their ABBA hits become “Mamma Mia!”

They had trouble with this one, for
reasons that remain obvious: The story – set at two chess
championships – doesn't get us to care about anyone until the
second act.

Still, the music is magnificent. This
is called a “concert version,” but the staging is still
impressive – a 100-voice chorus, a 50-piece orchestra, dancers,
graphics and great voices.

Josh Groban and Adam Pascal play the
Russian and American champions. Idina Menzel and Kerry Ellis play the
love interests who (belatedly) give this story its heart.

Other choices include:

– “So You Think You Can Dance,”
8-10 p.m., Fox. The first performance night, last Wednesday, brought
spectacular work. Now the surviving 18 dancers perform.

– “The New Adventures of Old
Christine,” 8 p.m., CBS. After beating him in tennis, Christine
sees a disturbing side of her boyfriend.

– “Aliens” (1986), 8 p.m., AMC. A
decade before triumphing with “Titanic,” director James Cameron
showed his immense skill here. Sigourney Weaver battles a creature,
while protecting a child.

– “Gary Unmarried,” 8:30 p.m.,
CBS. Most TV dads seem to date their child's teacher; Gary, alas, is
dating two on the same night.

– “I Survived a Japanese Game Show”
season-opener, 9 p.m., ABC. In a change, ABC is starting this show
tonight, following another offbeat show, “Wipeout.” We meet a
dozen Americans who were transported to Japan, to try odd games.

– “Animal House: The Inside Story,”
9 p.m., Biography Channel. Then again, you could simply watch the
“Animal House” movie (1978), at 8 p.m. on Encore; it's a ragged

– “The Unusuals,” 10:02 p.m.,
ABC. Here's the finale of this eccentric cop show. Adult films are
being shot in various apartments, apparently without the tenants'
knowledge. Now Cole and Beaumont (Josh Close and Monique Gabriele
Curnan) go undercover, hoping to launch another fillm.


TV column for Tuesday, June 16

debut, 9 p.m., TNT.

We meet Christina Hawthorne, a
hospital's chief nursing officer, on the anniversary of her husband's
death. Her friend is suicidal, her teen daughter is rebelling her
workplace is chaotic.

Jada Pinkett Smith invests this
character with passion and intensity. Her relationship with her
daughter – someone she admires, even when they argue – is
particularly good. Some of the hospital people are a bit stereotyped
for now, but we'll give them time.

Breaking the Bank,” 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).

The notion of Bank of America buying
Merrill Lynch was a mismatch, people in this documentary say. It was
Holiday Inn buying The Ritz; it was Wal-Mart buying Tiffany's.

Bank of America is a North Carolina
firm that bought its name in one of its many deals. Its average pay
was one-third of that for Merrill Lynch; its chief, Ken Lewis, lacked
Ivy League ease and actually practiced his smile.

Then Lewis agreed to buy Merrill Lynch,
in a deal rushed by the federal government. He didn't have time to
realize how much money that firm was losing – or to oppose the
mega-bonuses it gave itself. This is a fascinating story, told here
by the people involved.

Other choices include:

– “House,” 8 p.m., Fox. There are
moving moments in this rerun, with Cuddy in a double position with a
young woman – as her doctor and as the adoptive mother of her
impending baby.

– “Wedding Day” debut, 8 p.m.,
TNT. Holli Munro, a beautiful cheerleading coach, was four days from
her wedding with Steve Holdwick in Saginaw, Mich.; then a car hit her
on the driver's side at 45 mph, putting her near death. Now we see
her friends and family create that wedding, a year later. “Wedding
Day” has shortcomings -- so-so hosts and a tendency to overdo
preparations. Still, it's from “Survivor” producer Mark Burnett,
with his usual qualities – sharp camerawork, crisp editing and an
eye for the human moment.

– “The Mentalist,” 9 p.m., CBS.
When a movie producer is killed, the team heads to Hollywood. The
widow is played by Rebecca Rigg, the wife (of 11 years) of series
star Simon Baker; she's

a veteran Australian actress who
previously co-starred in CBS' “L.A. Doctors” and “Michael

– “Saving Grace” season-opener,
10 p.m.,TNT. The main case, involving a slain policeman, is resolved
quickly. The real fun involves cops at play, from football rivalries
to a drunken stunt that causes trouble for Grace and Ham.

– “Cupid,” 10:02 p.m., ABC. A
good series dies young. In its final new hour, a dialect expert is
hired to determine where Trevor (who claims to be Cupid) is from.