TV column for Thursday, Dec. 25


TODAY'S MIGHT SEE: "Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade," 10 a.m. to noon ET, ABC (9-11 a.m. CT,MT and PT).
By mid-morning, families might already need some flash and diversion. This annual Disney special tends to offer lots of spectacle, hype and music.
This one will be stuffed with people from ABC's sister network, the Disney Channel. That includes Miley and Billy Ray Cyrus from "Hannah Montana," the Jonas Brothers from "Camp Rock," Corbin Bleu from "High School Musical" and the "Imagination Movers" crew.
Also performing: "American Idol" winner David Cook, Sarah Brightman and the cast of Broadway's "Mary Poppins."
TODAY'S MIGHT-SEE II: "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," 9 p.m., CBS.
Chuck Lorre has been a writer and producer for comedies starring Roseanne Barr, Brett Butler and Cybill Shepherd. So when he was given a chance to co-write a "CSI" episode, his mind went in a logical direction: A strong-minded and angry woman, the star of a TV comedy, is murdered.
The crime-story part of this hour is merely OK, but there's fun in seeing Katey Sagal as the star-turned corpse. For Lorre, this was just a brief diversion; he has two of TV's best comedies, CBS' "Big Bang Theory" and "Two and a Half Men."
Other choices include:
-- Marathons. "A Christmas Story" (1983), the dark and witty recollection of a 1940s holiday, continues its 24-hour marathon on TBS; that's every two hours, with the final one from 6-8 p.m. The animated "Ice Age 2: Meltdown" (2006) pauses briefly for infomercials, then continues every two hours on FX, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
-- "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (1965), 9:30 a.m., Turner Classic Movies. On this Christmas Day, three sprawling films focus on Jesus. "Greatest Story" is followed by ""King of Kings" (1961) at 1 p.m. and "Ben-Hur" (1959) at 4. Then the theme changes, with the Humphrey Bogart classics "Casablanca" (1942) at 8 and "The Big Sleep" (1946) at 10.
-- "Hot Ice, Cool Sounds," 3-5 p.m., NBC. Brian Boitano's specials use music and lighting to accent great skating. This one has the Cleveland Pops Orchestra and Peter Cetera, backing the skating of Boitano, Sasha Cohen, Yuka Sato, Michael Weiss, Todd Eldridge and the gold-medal duo of Jamie Sale and David Pelletier.
-- "Deal or No Deal," 8-10 p.m., NBC. On a night of reruns, "Deal" offers a new show aiming for a feel-good, holiday theme. One contestant is a father of 13 who alternates rounds with a son and daughter; another is a newly married war veteran and Silver Star winner.
-- "Without a Trace," 8 p.m., CBS. This transplanted rerun has a store Santa vanishing.
-- "Grey's Anatomy," 9 p.m., ABC. Bailey leads complex "domino surgery," in which each procedure must lead perfectly into the next, Also, Derek gets sole credit for the research project he shared with Meredith.
-- "The Office," 10 and 10:30 p.m., NBC. In the first rerun, Michael is taking a business trip to Canada with Andy and Oscar; in the second, he's upset when a personnel decision is made without him. 

TV column for Wednesday, Dec. 24


TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE: Family movies, 8 p.m., everywhere.
While kids fidget on Christmas Eve, families can settle in for a bedtime film.
ABC has "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (2005); it's a huge fantasy epic, limited only by its episodic, stop-and-go nature. NBC counters with the classic "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946).
Cable channels add more. It's the delightful "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Family" (1971) on AMC, "The Santa Clause 2" (2002) on Disney and the "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" movie (2000) on ABC Family. Also, TBS launches its 24-hour marathon of "A Christmas Story" (1983), with its darkly nostalgic look at a 1940s holiday.
TONIGHT'S MIGHT-SEE II: Cartoons all day.
ABC Family starts its marathon at 1 p.m. Don't expect anything great at first (it starts with "Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July"), but this wraps up with "The Year Without a Santa Claus" at 6 p.m. and its fun new sequel, "A Miser Brothers' Christmas," at 7.
Then switch channels. CW has the new Finnish cartoon "The Flight Before Christmas" at 8 and "The Story of Santa Claus" at 9; Andy Griffth and Ed Asner, respectively, are the voices of Santa. FX counters by starting a marathon of "Ice Age 2: The Meltdown" (2006).
Other choices include:
-- "A Season for Miracles" (1999), 7-9 p.m., Hallmark Channel. Trying to rescue her niece and nephew, a young woman (Carla Gugino) ends up in a strange town with the kids. Then surprises happen. That may sound contrived, but this is a former "Hallmark Hall of Fame" film, beautifully written, directed and acted.
-- "Merry Christmas, Drake and Josh" (2008), 7-9 p.m., Nickelodeon. The guys are court-ordered to give a little girl her best Christmas ever. The humor here is so broad that only the most forgiving young viewers will stick with it. Providing counterpoint is a guest appearance by Miranda Cosgrove in her former "Drake and Josh" role as the droll Megan. Her response when the naked Drake and Josh are on her doorstep: "Either put some clothes on or join a gym."
-- "Spider-Man" (2002), 7 and 9:30 p.m., TNT. OK, everything doesn't have to be about Christmas. Here's a first-rate action film, with some warm moments from Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst.
-- "The New Adventures of Old Christine," 8 p.m., CBS. Christine ponders plastic surgery, after Mr. Harris admires a young waitress.
-- "Bones," 8 and 9 p.m., Fox. The first rerun involves the death of a guy a lot like Santa; the second involves the death of a key donor to the Jeffersonian. Also, Brennan visits her dad (Ryan O'Neal) in the first and dates an FBI agent in the second.
-- "Voices of Christmas," 11:35 p.m., CBS. Here are holiday songs from different faiths.
-- "Christmas Eve at St. Peter's Basilica," 11:35 p.m., NBC. This includes the Christmas message of Pope Benedict XVI.

TV column for Tuesday, Dec. 23


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," 8-9 p.m., ABC.
Here's yet another chance to see this cartoon classic from 1966.
It was brilliantly written by Dr. Seuss and directed by Chuck Jones. To round out the hour, there's a making-of documentary.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "A Home for the Holidays," 8 p.m., CBS.
Each year, this special offers a warm mixture of music and personal stories about adoption.
That becomes even more involving when some of the celebrities are adoptees themselves. This year, that's true of Faith Hill, who hosts and sings, and Jamie Foxx, another of the performers.
Tim McGraw, Hill's husband, also performs. So do Melissa Etheridge and Gavin Rossdale.
There will be films about real-life people, including Frederick Millner, who was in the foster-care system until he was 18, without finding adoptive parents. Now he and his wife have adopted a son.
Other choices include:
-- "Babes in Toyland" (1986), 8-10 p.m., My Network. Drew Barrymore was 11 when she starred in this remake, as a kid who doesn't have time to play -- until she enters a magical land. The result had bright colors, broad scope and a then-unknown Keanu Reeves. It was also way too long; this version, chopping out one-third of it, should be better.
-- "Mulan" (1988, Disney Channel) or "Ice Age" (2002, FX), both 8 p.m. On the night before the night before Christmas, kids can be diverted with a good animated movie. Take your choice here: "Ice Age" mixes broad humor with occasional warmth, as a mammoth and a sloth care for a baby human; "Mulan" has a gorgeous art style, as a girl disguises and takes her dad's place in the army.
-- "Law & Order," 8 p.m., NBC. This reruns the episode that introduced Anthony Anderson's character. He's an internal affairs officer, investigating Green.
-- Football, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN. Sure, it will be good to see Boise State and Texas Christian University. Still, couldn't there be a more-macho name than the Poinsettia Bowl? What's next, the Pansy Bowl?
-- "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," 9 and 10 p.m., NBC. In the first rerun, Benson goes undercover in prison; in the second, Robin Williams plays someone using phone deceit to talk people into doing bad things.
-- "NCIS" and "The Mentalist," 9 and 10 p.m., CBS. Each rerun nudges back an hour, to make room for "Home for the Holidays." In the first, Gibbs helps a friend of his late daughter; in the second, a banker has been killed inside his safe room.
-- "Rediscovered," 9 p.m., ABC. Back when he was casting director for the new edition of the "Mickey Mouse Club," Matt Cassella spotted Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Christine Aguilera, Keri Russell, Ryan Gosling and JC Chasez. Now he goes back over the people who were rejected and gives them a second chance; some turn out to be quite good. He also shows old audition tapes, including Britney displaying a big voice, bad teeth and a great smile.
-- "The List," 10 p.m., ABC. Here are lots of pop-culture lists for the year ending and the one coming up.

TV column for Monday, Dec. 22


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Shrek the Halls," 8 p.m., and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (2005), 8:30-11 p.m., ABC.
This is like the long-ago days, when theaters showed a cartoon and then a family movie.
The opener has Shrek -- who knows nothing about Christmas -- trying to master it for his wife and kids. The story is so-so, but this has quickly become an audience favorite.
That's followed by a great films. Roald Dahl's story of a poor lad and a candy king had already been made into one good movie, the 1971 "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." This version adds the stunning visual touch of director Tim Burton, plus the Johnny Depp as Wonka. It's a classic.
TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE II: "House," 8 p.m., Fox.
The medical mystery in this rerun is fascinating: All the organ recipients from one donor have died -- with one exception. What killed them? What could save that last person?
On top of that is another dandy story: Dr. House has hired a private detective to learn more about the people involved; he hires him to find out what Wilson is up to.
As played by Michael Weston, the detective provides a great, temporary addition to a superb show.
Other choices include:
-- Christmas music, all night. From 8-10 p.m., MyNetwork reruns "The Spirit of Christmas," with music by Natalie Cole, Al Jarreau, Brian McKnight, Bo Bice, Tiffany, the Greater Los Angeles Gospel Choir and more. At 10, many PBS stations have "Christmas at Luther," a concert taped at Luther College in Iowa.
-- "Today Looks Back att 2008," 8-9 p.m., NBC. The morning-show people view the year's top news stories and people.
-- "Big Bang Theory," 8 p.m., CBS. A night of CBS reruns starts with Penny having a clumsy date with Leonard, then turning to Sheldon -- no expert on such matters -- for advice.
-- "How I Met Your Mother," 8:30 p.m., CBS. Marshall and Lily have their first Thanksgiving as a married couple. That part works well; there's also a poor sub-plot, involving Barney and a "slap bet."
-- "Two and a Half Men," 9 p.m., CBS. Alan dates a woman who gossips about his ex-wife's sex life.
-- "Momma's Boys," 9 p.m., NBC. Last Tuesday's opener was toxic television, focusing on Khalood Bojanowski, who declared that her son should not choose anyone who is black, Jewish, Asian or divorced. We haven't seen the second episode, except for a sampling of the elimination process. It's truly painful, with some women being rejected threefold.
-- "Jesus in India," 9 p.m., Sundance Channel. It's fun to chase a legend, even if it can't be proved or disproved. In this documentary, author Edward Martin follows rumors that Jesus spent years in India and nearby countries. That would explain many questions: Why does the Bible have this huge gap, from age 12-30? Why were Jesus' gentle teachings so similar to Far East philosophy -- and so different from the harshness in his own world? And why have there been so many rumors of Jesus' time in India? Martin ranges from the Vatican to the Himalayan mountains; he finds no proof, but has an interesting story to spin.

TV column for Sunday, Dec. 21


TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: "Cold Case," 9 p.m., CBS.
It's time to pause and admire how much life has changed in the past half-century.
In 1960, this story says, stewardesses had to be single, sexy and younger than 32. Passengers gawked; pilots groped. One young woman complained, then disappeared.
The crimesolving part is so-so, but this hour is enriched by classic Frank Sinatra songs.
TODAY'S MIGHT-SEE: Cartoons, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., ABC Family.
After a weak start, this marathon has "The Year Without a Santa Claus" at 11 a.m. and its enjoyable sequel, "A Miser Brothers' Christmas," at noon.
Then it alternates two immensely popular Pixar movies, "The Incredibles" (2004) is at 1 p.m., "Cars" (2006) at 3:30, "Incredibles" at 6 and "Cars" at 8:30.
Other choices include:
-- "The Wizard of Oz" (1939), 5:45 p.m., TNT. Here's another family favorite.
-- "Million Dollar Password," 8 p.m., CBS. After one Thursday outing, this well-made game show settles into its Sunday spot. Competing are hosts of two CBS reality shows, Phil Keoghan ("Amazing Race") and Julie Chen ("Big Brother").
-- "The Simpsons," 8 p.m., Fox. Here's a rerun of this year's Halloween show. There's a clever little opening in which a machine keeps subverting Homer's vote. The three tales that follow are fairly good, sparked by a fresh take on "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown."
-- "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," 8:30 p.m., Cartoon Network. The 1966 classic, one of the great half-hours in TV history, reruns.
-- "In the Womb," 9 p.m., National Geographic Channel. Even "identical" twins, this film says, can be different in size, temperament and sexuality. Scientists still don't have all the answers, but this documentary skillfully uses advanced photography and graphics to illustrate development. 
-- "Desperate Housewives," 10 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Susan's ex-husband Mike finally meets her young lover.
-- "Skins," 10 p.m., BBC America. This series views the sometimes-chaotic lives of teens in modern London. Now the season ends with some strong moments: Friends want to give Chris a funeral he would have liked; his father doesn't even want them there. Meanwhile, the kids struggle with the pain of final grades and final goodbyes, as new lives begin. There's a wonderfully funny car chase here, plus some richly moving moments.