TV column for Saturday, April 4

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: Basketball, 6 p.m., CBS.
The noise, the passion and the energy are about to reach overload. It's time for the final four to collide in the NCAA tournament.
On a converted football field (Ford Field in Detroit) where nothing interesting has happened in the past year, great teams collide.
First are Michigan State University and Connecticut, with tip-off at about 6:07 p.m.; then -- 40 minutes after that concludes -- Villanova faces North Carolina. The winners meet Monday, for the national championship.
TODAY'S ALTERNATIVE: Janette Oke films, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., Hallmark Channel.
Over six years, Hallmark has turned Janette Oke novels into eight movies, spanning three generations on the frontier.
It has even offered some future starpower. "Love Come Softly" (2003, 9 a.m.) starred Katherine Heigl as a widow in a marriage of convenience. "Love's Enduring Promise" (2004, 11 a.m.) has Heigl again, plus January Jones as her step-daughter Missie. Those two would find stardom in "Grey's Anatomy" and "Mad Men."
Erin Cottrell took over the role of Missie in the next films, which air today at 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 p.m.; the final film in the series debuts next Saturday.
First, catch the new "Love Takes Wing" (9 p.m.). This time, we see Missie only briefly, writing to her adopted daughter Belinda (Sarah Jones). Belinda is a doctor now, stepping into a Missouri town gripped by cholera and fear. The mayor (Patrick Duffy) hesitates, while townspeople range from heroics (Cloris Leachman, Jordan Bridges) to hatred (Lou Diamond Phillips, who also directed this movie).
This film lacks the open-air beauty of the early ones. It gives us the dark side of a gritty era; it also oversimplifies things, as the young doc grabs medical breakthroughs.
Still, these are likable people in an uplifting story. Hallmark has done a solid, diligent job.
Other choices include:
-- "Special Agent Oso" debut, 8 and 8:30 a.m., Disney Channel. A cute teddy bear takes secret-agent missions, in this animated series for pre-schoolers. These two half-hours combine for four mini-tales.
-- "ER," 8-10 p.m., NBC. If you missed the series finale Thursday, here's a second chance. On one level, it's just another busy day for the current characters; Gates has a difficult patient and plans a surprise for Sam. On another, this is a reunion: Dr. John Carter (Noah Wyle) is opening a clinic in Chicago; gathering are many of the people who worked with him when "ER" was new and popular.
-- "Yours, Mine and Ours" (2005), 8-10 p.m., ABC. The original, 1968 movie was loosely based on a real-life couple that married, merging 18 kids. This remake is based (even more loosely) on them; Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo star.
-- "High Noon," 9-11 p.m., Lifetime. No, this isn't the classic western. It's the third in a series of four new movies based on Nora Roberts novels. Emilie de Ravin (Claire on "Lost") plays a hostage negotiator; Ivan Sergei (from "Jack & Jill" and "Crossing Jordan") is a bar owner. Their romance is complicated when a serial killer targets her.
-- "Law & Order," 10 p.m., NBC. Robert Iler, 24, is still known mainly as Tony's son in "The Sopranos." In this rerun, he's a shaky witness for the prosecution, in a case involving the murder of a trucking-company owner.
-- "Saturday Night Live," 11:29 p.m., NBC. Seth Rogen hosts, with music by Phoenix.  

TV column for Friday, April 3

TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: Returning dramas, 8-11 p.m., CBS.
For two Fridays, the night's three ratings-leaders were on the bench, while CBS aired basketball. Now all three are back, two of them with reruns.
"Ghost Whisperer" (8 p.m.) sees Melinda visit her old high school classmates, after one of them is killed. Rachael Leigh Cook guest-stars.
"Flashpoint" (9 p.m.) has the only new episode of the three. Distraught when economic woes force his friend's family to move, a teen holds up a food store. A hostage crisis soon grows.
In "Numb3rs" (10 p.m.), eight people -- including two cops -- are killed in a coffee shop. Don's team soon finds corruption and romance; Jonathan Silverman guests.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE II: "Stargate: Continuum," 9-11 p.m., Sci Fi Channel.
Why didn't he think of this sooner? The evil Ba'al goes back in time, to prevent the Stargate program from starting.
Reality is being re-arranged. The team must find a way to set things right.
This movie re-unites many of the original series stars -- Richard Dean Anderson, Amanda Tapping, Michael Shanks and more -- plus such later arrivals as Ben Browder, Claudia Black and Beau Bridges. Also, Sci Fi promises some scenes shot on Arctic ice, the furthest North that any movie has filmed.
Other choices include:
-- "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," 8 p.m., Fox. As he tries to rescue a Skynet victim, John closes in on Weaver. Meanwhile, Weaver has learned the secret kept by Ellison, who is now linking with John's mom, Sarah.
-- "Mistresses," 8 and 9 p.m., BBC America. If you missed last week's episode, catch the rerun at 8 p.m., It was a strong one, wrapping up stories for all four women. In particular, Trudi finally confronted her husband, who had let the world believe he was killed in the World Trade Center attacks. In the show's British run, that hour ended the first season; the first episode of the second season is at 9 p.m.; it jumps ahead one year.
-- "Friday Night Lights," 9 p.m., NBC. As the state title game looms, personal problems dominate. Last week, Joe McCoy -- the wealthy beer distributor -- attacked his son, the starting quarterback; Coach Taylor and his wife intervened. Now there's a rift between the families. Meanwhile, Buddy Garrity tries to mend his relationship with his daughter Lyla. And Landry helps Tyra apply for college, hoping their romance can revive.
-- "The Incredibles" (2004), 9 p.m., Disney Channel. It's a good night for cartoon movies; "Ice Age 2" (2006) airs at 8 p.m. on FX.
-- "Dollhouse," 9:01 p.m., Fox. The company's scheme only works because the "actives" have had their memories wiped clean. Now, however, three wake up with most of their original memories intact. They hatch an escape plan.
-- "Dogtown," 10 p.m., National Geographic Channel. While helping in his homeland of Ethiopia, a doctor found stray dogs that had been confined to a pit. He rescued two and flew them to the U.S. Now -- in an episode strong on warmth and idealism -- we see staffers mend dogs that may have never known human kindness.

TV column for Thursday, April 2

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "ER" finale, 9-11 p.m., NBC; preceded by a retrospective at 8.
When "ER" began in 1994, Dr. John Carter (Noah Wyle) was a nervous resident, needing the nurses' help for a simple procedure. Michael Crichton had recalled his own med-school days when creating the character.
The show soared quickly, finishing second to "Seinfeld" in the annual Nielsen ratings. It would have three seasons at No. 1 and two more at No. 2.
The show has outlived Crichton and now wraps up its 15th and final season. Among dramas, that's topped only by "Gunsmoke," "Lassie" and "Law & Order."
Appropriately, Carter is here for the finish. He opens a Chicago clinic for the underprivileged; he also works with a young mother who gives birth to twins.
NBC promises that some of his old colleagues will be back. Meanwhile, the current cast is busy: Gates (John Stamos) helps a teen who has alcohol poisoning; he also helps surprise his girlfriend Sam (Linda Cardellini).
Guest stars include former "Gilmore Girls" star Alexis Bledel, 27, and Oscar-winner Ernest Borgnine, 92.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: "In the Motherhood," 8 p.m., ABC.
Here's the episode ABC scheduled for last week's debut, then switched.
The subject is vacations: Emily (Jessica St.Clair) plans a stay-at-home one with her husband and kids. Her sister Jane (Cheryl Hines) does the same, spending the week with her baby.That gives her nanny (Horatio Sanz) a vacation; Rosemary (Megan Mullally) pushes for other nannies to get similar benefits.
As in the first week, the Rosemary story is lame, the Emily one is so-so, but the Jane one has great moments. Her problems build in broadly funny ways.
Other choices include:
-- "Survivor," 8 p.m., CBS. Hunger becomes a factor. Also, someone has created a fake idol.
-- "Victoria Silvstedt: My Perfect Life" debut, 8 p.m., E. Maybe it helps to be perfect-looking. Silvstedt has ranged from Miss Sweden to the 1997 Playmate of the Year and co-hosting an international "Wheel of Fortune." This show follow her jet-set life.
-- "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," 9 p.m., CBS. William Friedkin won an Academy Award for directing "The French Connection" and a nomination for "The Exorcist." Now he's directed this episode, the show's 200th. When a former student is killed, Langston (Laurence Fishburne) probes Mexican wrestling.
 -- "The Entrepreneurs," 9 p.m., CNBC. On a trip to Argentina, Blake Mycoskie was struck by the number of people who need shoes and by the availability of low-cost shoes. He created a business (Tom's Shoes) that sells shoes and has given away 115,000 pair. That story is told here, along with the development of Frontera Foods and Frontera Grill.
-- "Treasure Quest" season finale, 10 p.m. Discovery. On a routine treasure-searching mission in the Atlantic, Odyssey Marine Exploration had a historic find -- 17 tons of coins, worth an estimated $500 million. Spain insists it has rights to the coins, because they were on a Spanish frigate blown up during war, in 1804; Odyssey says this isn't certain and the issue lingers in court. Meanwhile, a documentary crew was there from the moment of discovery. It's a fascinating hour, even though it lacks a finish.

TV column for Wednesday, April 1

(Please note: Temporarily, I'm putting current TV columns here. That's just short-term, though; long-range, this Web site will be strictly for blogs and for samples of older columns.)


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Lost" (9 p.m.); then "Life on Mars" series finale (10:02 p.m.), both ABC.
Time-twisting has been fierce on these shows. Now "Lost" continues and "Mars" has its final twist.
On "Lost," the startled survivors are back on the island -- but in the 1970s. Sawyer has maneuvered his way into being security chief; others keep a low profile.
Or they did, until Sayid was captured and escaped, apparently killing Jin and shooting a boyhood version of Ben.
Now Jack (a doctor in his other life) refuses to save Ben; Kate tries. Meanwhile, all of the survivors are suspected of freeing Sayid.
Then "Mars" perplexes us further. It started with a cop being whisked from modern times to 1973; he adjusted, solving crimes the old way.
Now an anonymous caller says there's a way for him to get back to the present. Producers promise this is one fantasy show that will have a solid ending.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "Reno 911" season-opener, 10:30 p.m., Comedy Central.
Two terrific characters join this clever show. There is Ian Roberts as a beefy, by-the-books sergeant. And there's Jo Lo Truglio as a former big-city cop who has had a lot of jobs and no recommendations. The show continues to be written by Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant and Kerri Kenney-Silver, who created it and star, bringing droll wit. A prime example comes early, as the squad debates proper procedure when the ice cream truck comes by.  
Other choices include:
-- "I Get That a Lot," 8 p.m., CBS. What would you do if you were sure Jessica Simpson was working at the computer-repair shop? Or Jeff Probst was your grocery clerk, Heidi Klum was at the counter of a pizza place, Ice-T was selling athletic shoes? And what if you spotted Mario Lopez -- who seems to be everywhere -- selling hot dogs? Those things are done to trick people, in this April Fool's Day special.
-- "The Chopping Block," 8 p.m., NBC. First, the chefs are told to use ingredients that are considered aphrodisiacs. Then the two restaurants prepare romantic evenings for couples on blind dates.
-- "Pedro," 8-10 p.m., MTV. "The Real World" was a cultural phenomenon in 1994, when its third season began. One of its roommates was Pedro Zamora, a handsome Cuban native who was still in high school when he learned he was HIV-positive. Viewers saw his romance grow and his health deteriorate; he died at 22, the day after the final episode aired. Now that story is told by a mix of newcomers and much-honored talent. Paris Barclay, a two-time Emmy-winner for directing "NYPD Blue," produced and wrote the story; Dustin Lance Black, an Oscar-winner for "Milk," wrote the script.
-- "Better Off Ted," 8:30 p.m., ABC. This is the episode -- a pretty good one -- that ABC scheduled last week and then changed in a late switch. Ted brings his daughter to work, where she bonds with his creepy boss.
-- "American Idol," 9 p.m., Fox. The nine survivors face possible elimination tonight. (Last week, Michael Sarver -- the Texas oil-field worker -- was ousted.) Also, Lady Gaga sings "Poker Face" and last year's winner, David Cook, is back to sing "Come Back to Me."
-- "Jerusalem: Center of the World," 9-11 p.m., PBS (check local listings). In three of the world's great religions, this documentary says, key people centered on Jerusalem. Jews say this is where David began to re-unite the tribes, Muslims say it's where Mohammed ascended, Christians say its where Jesus was buried, prior to his ascension. It is a world of stunning history and monuments; in a workmanlike film, Ray Suarez takes viewers through its passionate (and often violent) history.
-- "Damages" season finale, 10 p.m., FX; reruns at 11:31 p.m. At the same time that "Life on Mars" concludes, "Damages" wraps up its season-long story, with great characters in crisis. Glenn Close is Patty, the brilliant and unscrupulous lawyer. Rose Byrne is Ellen, the employee working undercover to trap her boss for the FBI. And William Hurt is the secretive scientist who is their client.

TV column for Tuesday, March 31

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Cupid" debut, 10:02 p.m., ABC.
A no-nonsense therapist (Sarah Paulson) is not happy with her new patient (Bobby Cannavale). He insists he's Cupid, banned from Mount Olympus until he can make 100 perfect matches.
She's a pragmatist with a wounded love life; he's raving about love at first sight.
Yes, this may sound familiar. The original "Cupid" -- same story, network and writer-producer -- aired a decade ago. It had fine stars (Jeremy Piven, now an Emmy-winner, and Paula Marshall) and an awful time slot.
This new version has a lighter feel, thanks to director Bharat Nalluri and the buoyant stars. As in "Harvey" or "Miracle on 34th Street," it doesn't matter whether this guy is crazy; you root for the joy of possibilities.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "Frontline: Sick Around America," 9 p.m., PBS (check local listings).
The extremes in a patchwork health-care system are boggling.
We meet a fortunate family. Its insurer picked up all the bills -- between $500,000 and $1 million -- for its premature baby.
We see one woman whose insurer rescinded her policy, leaving her with $160,000 in cancer debts. And another who couldn't get care to control her lupus; she racked up $900,000 in unpaid bills during her final months.
Five states flatly require insurers to accept anyone, this impressive documentary says. Healthy people resist insurance, sick people take it and rates triple.
One state (Massachusetts) requires everyone to have insurance. We see a family of four struggling to pay $12,000 a year -- almost one-fifth of its income.
Other choices include:
-- "American Idol," 8-9:20 p.m., Fox. With fewer contestants, the show starts to recede. It gets 80 minutes tonight, 61 next week, when "Fringe" returns.
-- "The Biggest Loser," 8-10 p.m., NBC. Alison Sweeney departs for maternity leave. (This show is taped in advance; her daughter was born in January.) Now two previous winners, Ali Vincent and Michelle Aguilar, fill in as hosts. Also, people who departed previously return, possibly for a second chance.
-- "NCIS," 8 p.m., CBS. Trent Kort, a shady CIA agent, is back. Now Gibbs must work with him, to catch a crook.
-- "The Penguins of Madagascar," 8 p.m., Nickelodeon. This animated delight has new episodes each weekday, through April 10. Scheduled for tonight is a good one in which King Julien proclaims his own holiday.
-- "The Mentalist," 9 p.m., CBS. A hypnotist is instructing people to kill.
-- "Osbournes: Reloaded" debut, 9:20 p.m., Fox. In real life, Ozzy Osbourne and his family are thoroughly likable. If a sampling of clips from this variety show is representative, however, "Reloaded" is loud, blunt, dim-witted and desperate.
-- "Jim Gaffigan: King Baby" (10 p.m., Comedy Central) and "My Boys" season-opener (10:30 p.m., TBS). Gaffigan is a drolly brilliant comedian. Catch the first half of his stand-up routine at 10; then switch to the situation-comedy at 10:30. The latter is mostly a serious episode, starting on the eve of Bobby's wedding; there are also some laughs, mostly centering on Gaffigan as Andy.