TV column for Wednesday, Sept. 16

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “America's Got
Talent” season finale, 8-10 p.m., NBC.

Things wrap up quickly now, with none
of that slow slicing of one person per week.

On Monday, eight acts performed and
viewers voted. Tonight, one will win $1 million; it's all planned to
blend neatly into the debut of Jay Leno's show and into the start of
NBC's season.

season finale, 10 p.m., TNT.

Lt. Carter Shaw (Dylan McDermott) is a
classic character, lean and taut and unyielding. He bends rules,
breaks laws, seems battered by life; many of TV's undercover cops are
like that.

This hits an extreme tonight, when
Carter kills someone. Viewers know his explanation is a lie; so do
his colleagues, who were spying on him.

This is nine-tenths of a great episode,
flawed only by a finish that stretches believability to the extreme.
Until then, it's a great ride, beautifully acted by McDermott, Sasha
Alexander (as the investigator) and Andrea Roth – who plays the
star's estranged wife here, just as she does on “Rescue Me.”

Life: BTL” debut, 9 p.m., CW.

Here's schedule flow: After “America's
Next Top Model,” CW offers a fictional look at models.

We quickly catch a full range, from a
sweet beauty (Sara Paxton) just starting out to a troubled star
(Mischa Barton) with a secret. Elle Macpherson plays a veteran of the
business, which she is; Corbin Bleu plays some who may be a tad too
short for the runway, which he is.

There's also an Iowa farmboy, getting
an instant shot. That's a reminder that Ashton Kutcher – who went
from smalltown Iowa to the top of the modeling world – is producing
this. We haven't seen the final version, but the an early one had
enough flash and beauty to hold viewers.

Other choices include:

– “America's Next Top Model,” 8
p.m., CW. Some cable-viewers will recognize this show's guest judge
(Lauren Conrad of “The Hills”) and the setting of its photo shoot
(the Santa Anita Race Track, site of the “Jockeys” reality show).
Also, host Tyra Banks advises the models on “smiling with your

– “Live From Lincoln Center,” 8
p.m., PBS (check local listings). Alan Gilbert takes over as the New
York Philharmonic's music director, in a concert that includes a solo
by soprano Renee Fleming and a new fanfare written by Magnus
Lindberg, plus Berlioz' “Symphonie Fantastique.”

– “So You Think You Can Dance,” 8
p.m., Fox. Last week's season-opener found some spectacular dancers
in Los Angles. Tonight, things move to Phoenix.

– “Glee,” 9 p.m., Fox. Will is so
busy with his male acapella group (the Acafellas) that he ignores his
glee club – which promptly hires its own choreographer. This hour
includes guest stars who happen to be terrific singers – Victor
Garber as Will's dad and Josh Groban as himself.

– “The Jay Leno Show,” 10 p.m.,
NBC. Robin Williams is the sit-down guest and Miley Cyrus presents
“10 at 10.” Also, an Austalian duo (Hamish and Andy) reports on
“Ghosting to America.”

– “Great Performances,” 10-11:30
p.m., PBS (check local listings). There's a night theme here, as the
Vienna Philharmonic ranges from Mozart's “A Little Night Music”
to Mussorgsky's “A Night on Baldy Mountain”; guest conductor
Daniel Barenboim moves to the piano for “Nights in the Garden of
Spain.” It's all quite splendid, except for how often we see the
setting instead of the performers. Baroque Park is beautiful, but too
often we're watching it during the most dramatic parts of the music.


TV column for Tuesday, Sept. 15

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Melrose Place,”
9 p.m., CW.

Last week's opener delivered glitz and
heat. It also left lots of questions – mostly about who killed
Sydney the landlady and dumped her in the swimming pool.

So far, we only know that she had sex
that night with David – just as she did in the old “Melrose
Place” series with his dad, Michael Mancini. Tonight, fresh
information appears.

We learn of her love-hate relationship
with Augie. And of her possible link – real? bogus? – Violet.

Some characters leap to attention. Ella
(superbly played by Katie Cassidy, David's daughter) is a publicist
with high intellect and low ethics; Violet (pop star Ashlee
Simpson-Wentz) brings deceptive layers under that naïve surface.

It all nears overkill. Fortunately, two
people (Jonah and Riley) provide a smidgen of sweetness.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II “Warehouse 13,”
9 p.m., Syfy.

Leading into next week's season-finale,
this fun show gets personal. It starts with Pete chasing the evil
MacPherson (Roger Rees); soon, Myka's father (Michael Hogan of
“Battlestar Galactica”) is a target.

He's a bookseller and key artifacts are
linked to Edgar Allan Poe; tonight, be wary of pendulums and
bricked-in walls. It's an hour filled with imaginative twists and –
since Myka's parents have no idea what she does for a living – neat
dabs of humor.

Other choices include:

– “Biggest Loser” season-opener,
8-10 p.m., NBC. Always looking for emotional tugs, “Loser” calls
this a season of second chances. That includes Daniel Wright
returning, after falling from 454 pounds to 312 in a previous
edition. And Abby Rike, rebuilding her life after losing her husband
and two children in a car crash. And Shay Sorrells, a social worker
who starts at 476 pounds, replacing Wright as the show's heaviest
contestant ever.

– “More to Love” finale, 8-10
p.m., Fox. After ignoring overweight people for decades, the networks
suddenly have them featured in two-hour shows that air
simultaneously. Tonight, Luke Conley, the former 330-pound
college-football lineman, makes his choice.

– “90210,” 8 p.m., CW. Summer was
brutal on Annie, we saw last week. She drew Naomi's wrath by
reporting her party to police. People think (incorrectly) that she
slept with Naomi's boyfriend; they don't realize something much worse
– she was a hit-and-run driver. Later, she slept with a stranger;
now nude pictures are in Naomi's evil hands. There are some strong
moments tonight, fueled by Sara Foster's sleek work as Naomi's
scheming sister.

– “NCIS,” 8 p.m., CBS. In a
rerun, Ziva returns to Israel and has a tough confrontation with her
dad (Michael Nouri), the head of the Mossad.

– “Big Brother” finale, 9 p.m.,
CBS. It's time for the jury to pick a winner, between Kevin Campbell,
Jordan Lloyd and Natalie Martinez.

– “The Jay Leno Show,” 10 p.m.,
NBC. Tom Cruise is the sit-down guest in the show's second episode
and introduces a feature called “10 at 10.” Also, Leno makes “10
o'clock house calls.”

– “POV: The Pincipal Story,” 10
p.m., PBS (check local listings). This engrossing documentary follows
the effect that two passionate principals can have in schools that
were once considered underachieving. It also views the inadvertent
problems created by administrators.

TV column for Monday, Sept. 14

Show” debut, 10 p.m., NBC.

Few shows in TV history match the
impact as this one, filling five primetime hours every week.

The emphasis will be comedy. Leno start
with his monologue and tonight plans to include “Headlines,” the
oft-hilarious collection of miscues and misprints; he's had a summer
to store up material for both.

There's one sit-down guest per hour;
tonight, that's Jerry Seinfeld. And there will only be two or three
songs a week, usually with fresh combinations; tonight has Jay-Z,
Rihanna and Kanye West.

Leno also has an ever-growing batch of
comedy correspondents, plus a celebrity race-car track. Seinfeld
probably won't try it, he says, so Drew Barrymore might be the first.

Talent,” 8-10 p.m., NBC.

After being a ratings hit all summer,
this show should give Leno a boost during its last week.

Tonight, the final eight acts perform
and viewers vote. Then – after a pause Tuesday for the “Biggest
Loser” opener – the winner will be named on Wednesday's finale.

Other choices include:

– “Dreamgirls” (2006), 8-11 p.m.,
ABC. Here's that rare movie musical that works for almost everyone.
It has glitz, glamour and great music, in a pseudo-Motown style; it
also has solid drama, delivered by first-rate actors. The Dreamgirls
themselves – from Beyonce to Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson – are
terrific; so are the guys in support, including Jamie Foxx and Eddie

– “House,” 8 and 9 p.m., Fox.
Setting up next week's offbeat season-opener, here are reruns of the
last two episodes this season. In the first, House treats a fallen
ballerina; his mind is wobbling, however, amid lost sleep and guilt
over the death of Wilson's lover, Amber. In the second, a patient has
two sides of his brain, functioning separately; also, House is
plagued with an annoying patient (Carl Reiner).

– “One Tree Hill” season-opener,
8 p.m., CW. With two stars (Chad Michael Murray and Hilarie Burton)
gone, the show jumps ahead in time; little Jamie is now 7. Nathan is
in the NBA, but an accusation endangers his career. Brooke plans a
fashion line and her lover Julian plans a big movie. Newcomers
tonight include Robert Buckley as Nathan's agent and Shantel
VanSanten) as Haley's sister.

– “Gossip Girl” season-opener, 9
p.m., CW. As the summer ends, Blair and Chuck are in love. Others
return from travels with extra baggage: Serena has new secrets; Nate
has a mysterious brunette. She's played by JoAnna Garcia, who was
excellent in a show (“Privileged”) that CW canceled.

– “The Big Bang Theory,” 9:30
p.m., CBS. In a hilarious rerun, the guys prepare to spend the summer
on a research project at the North Pole.

– “Durham County,” 10 p.m., Ion.
This dark drama begins to slowly grab its viewers. In last week's
opener, a homicide detective and his wife (who is recovering from
cancer) returned to their home town. They soon found murder, a
manipulative neighbor and a rough start for their teen daughter.
Tonight, we see that the cop is holding grim secrets of his own.

TV column for Sunday, Sept. 13

season-finale, 9 p.m., HBO.

To obsess on vampires, you can start
with “Vampire Diaries”; its OK pilot film reruns at 8 p.m. on CW.
Then switch to HBO for the season-finale of what's been a great show.

Maryann (Michelle Forbes) has created
chaos in this little Lousiana town. Now she has specific plans for
sweet Sookie (Anna Paquin).

Meanwhile, Sam faces a life-and-death
decision. And Eric has instructions for handling Bill, the vampire
who's trying to behave. The all sounds messy, but “True Blood”
tends to have first-rate writing, acting and directing.

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: Finale to “There
Goes the Neighborhood” (8:59 and 9:59 p.m., CBS) or “Design Star”
(10 p.m., HGTV).

Two reality competitions wrap up their
runs, before the fall season starts .

There are three families left behind
the 20-foot-wall in “Neighborhood”; tonight, one wins $250,000.

And there are two people – extremely
different, extremely talented – left in “Design Star.” Tonight,
each designs an entire house; then one – Antonio Ballatore or Dan
Vickery – wins his own show.

Other choices include:

– “King of the Hill,” 8 and 8:30
p.m., Fox. The 13th and final season ends with a shrug.
The first episode has three older girls toying with Bobby's
affections; the second has him competing for a state championship in
meat-judging. It's sort of one joke per half-hour, a quiet way to go.

– “Masterpiece Mystery: Inspector
Lewis,” 9 p.m., PBS. “Don't be melodramatic,” Inspector Lewis
tells Sgt. Hathaway. It's too late for that; this may be the most
melodramatic tale in “Mystery” history, with bizarre touches and
unprofessional work by Hathaway. The final twist is interesting, but
it's a tough road to get there.

– “Shark Tank,” 9 p.m., ABC. The
pitches range from a barbecue sauce to a dance video. The “shark”
money people are usually in control, but for one Internet plan, they
face hardball negotiations.

– “Video Music Awards,” 9 p.m.,
MTV. This show should start big – first with the opening number (a
Michael Jackson tribute by his sister Janet) and then with the
opening lines from Russell Brand, returning to host after stirring
controversy last year. Other performers include Beyonce, Jay-Z,
Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Pink and Green Day; there will also be a
preview of the “Twilight Saga” movie and the trailer to “This
Is It,” which followed Michael Jackson's preparations for a concert

– “The Girl Who Cries Blood” (9
p.m.) and “The World's Smallest Girl” (10 p.m.), National
Geographic. Both documentaries are based on unusual medical cases
from India; both have badly written narration and end before an
explanation has been found. Still, viewers will be charmed in the
second one by Jyoti who, on her 15th birthday, stood just
under two feet tall and weighed 12 pounds.

– “Defying Gravity,” 10 p.m.,
ABC. The crew has trouble from outside the ship (a solar flare) and
from the eerie force inside.

-- "Mad Men," 10 p.m. AMC. A new Draper is born. Please see my blog about Sunday's cable shows.

– “Entourage,” 10:30 p.m., HBO.
In a good episode, sweet Lloyd is tossed around by two cruel bosses,
Ari Gold and Adam Davies. Meanwhile, the security gets obtrusive, as
people search for a possible stalker. And Eric's girlfriend, Ashley
is getting way too paranoid.

TV column for Saturday, Sept. 12

season-opener, 9 p.m., BBC America.

Last season's finale (rerunning at 8
p.m.), left things in shambles. Marian is dead, Robin has been away
and only a couple of his men remain.

Arriving is a variation of the portly
Friar Tuck we're used to. This Tuck is a sleek and worldly black man;
he soon brings Robin (and the series) back to life.

“Robin Hood” continues to require
huge suspensions of disbelief, but remains fairly entertaining.

TONIGHT'S ODDITY: “From Justin to
Kelly” (2003), 8-10 p.m., MyNetwork.

Hollywood has a tradition of creating
awful musicals for rock stars. It did that for Elvis Presley and
Frankie Avalon and more; here it did it for the first “American
Idol” winner Kelly Clarkson and runner-up Justin Guarini.

Kim Fuller, the brother of “Idol”
producer Simon Fuller, seemed determined to re-create all that was
bad about those old momies. He wrote a script in which three Texas
women head to spring break in Florida; one lies to her friend and
sabotages her romance … then is forgiven in record time.

Most of the songs are bland and the
choreography is dull. Clarkson occasionally gets to belts, but her
acting is wooden. Guarini is OK and there's talent nearby, especially
Anika Noni Rose as a good friend.

Rose would soon win a Tony in a
Broadway musical and triumph in “The No. 1 Ladies' Detective
Agency.” Musicals would be revived by some good Disney Channel
films. That leaves this as a silly artifact, the last of the awful
teen musicals.

Other choices include:

– Auto racing, 7:30 p.m., ABC, with
preview at 7. After launching its Saturday-night college football
season last week, ABC nudges it aside for a NASCAR race from
Richmond, Va. If you prefer football, switch to ESPN at 8 for
Southern California at Ohio State.

– Tennis, 8 p.m., CBS. Here are the
women's finals of the U.S. Open.

– “Law & Order: Criminal
Intent,” 8 p.m., NBC. A night of NBC reruns starts here: Seven
years ago, the prosecution botched a case and a suspected killer went
free. He got his own TV show, but now he's been killed.

– Movies, 8 p.m., cable. There are
plenty of films more worthy – much more – than “From Justin to
Kelly.” The History Channel has Clint Eastwood's “Unforgiven”
(1992), a moody cowboy classic that won the Academy Award for best
picture. The Travel Channel has Sofia Coppola's “Lost in
Translation” (2003), a gentle charmer with Bill Murray and Scarlett
Johansson. FX has “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006), a lush film
that has subtle perfection from Meryl Streep. And WGN America has
“Never Say Necer Again” (1983), which brought Sean Connery back
to his James Bonhd role.

– “Law & Order,” 9 p.m., NBC.
When three homeless men are killed, police search for a serial

– “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit,” 10 p.m., NBC. Sprague Graydon, of “Jericho” and “24,”
plays someone who wants the restraining order against her boyfriend

– “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29
p.m., NBC. Justin Timberlake hosts, with music by Ciara.