TV column for Sunday, March 18

“Little Big Shots” season-opener, 7 and 8 p.m., NBC.

This has become a
big ratings winner for all the right reasons. Steve Harvey is a
terrific host and the kids he introduces are remarkable.

Some of the ones in
the opener harness a specific skill; one does mega-math, one knows
presidential trivia another – a cute 4-year-old – sings a
dead-serious “My Way.” Others, however, have great acts by any
standards. A contortionist, a “bubble artist” (really) and a
gospel singer are immensely gifted.

“The Simpsons,” 8 p.m., Fox.

Right now, TV is in
a Bill Hader stretch. This weekend, Hader hosted his old show, NBC's
“Saturday Night Live”; next Sunday, he launches his new show,
HBO's “Barry.” And tonight, he voices a fairly clever take-off on
old TV detective shows.

The heist involves
Joan Mirot's 1940 painting “The Poetess.” Homer falls in love
with it (even frolicking inside it, in a fantasy scene) and is a
prime suspect when it's stolen. We get all the cliches, as a cop
mutters odd quips, flirts openly, then cracks a preposterous scheme.

ALTERNATIVE: “Instinct,” 8 p.m., CBS.

There are two key
ingredients for a TV mystery – a distinctive central character and
a clever plot; by that standard, “Instinct” is a half-success.
Its plot is one of those silly ones where the killer keeps planting
clues for the convenience of the crimesolvers; its main character,
however, is terrific.

Dylan Reinhart (Alan
Cumming) is a professor who writes about psychopathic behavior.
Beneath an academic image is a guy with lethal skill. Now he links
with a cop (Bojana Novakovic) who seems to keep shedding partners;
together, they solve murders.

Other choices

Basketball, all day.
CBS starts the NCAA tournament coverage early, with games at noon,
2:30 and 5 p.m. ET; it gives a fourth game (at 7:30) to TruTV, so
“Instinct” can get a big start. Other games are at 6 and 8:30
p.m. on TNT and 7 and 9:30 p.m. on TBS. At the end of it all, the
field will be down to 16.

Superman movies,
12:02 p.m., Syfy. This channel is obsessing on “Krypton,” the
Superman prequel it will launch Wednesday. Today, it has Christopher
Reeve's four films in reverse order – at 12:02 (1987), 2:10 (1983),
5:04 (1981) and 8 p.m. (1978). In the Hollywood tradition, alas, the
series started well and got increasingly worse with each sequel.
Cartoon movies follow at 11:39 p.m. and 1:24 a.m.

“Genius Junior,”
9 p.m., NBC. It's great to celebrate smart kids ... and prove, as one
contestant puts it: “America isn't as dumb as it seems.” Still,
this would be better as a one-shot special; as a series, it drains
our attention quickly. The kids are smart and likable – as is host
Neil Patrick Harris -- but two of the contests just involve memory;
others lack variety (wrong answers are rare) or play-along factor.

“NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9 p.m., CBS. Granger's daughter, a former spy, is in
witness protection. Now she's taken away from safety, to help find a
spy who has an arsenal of bomb materials.

“The Walking
Dead,” 9 p.m., AMC. The leaders of Hilltop face a challenge when
visitors arrive.

“Timeless,” 10
p.m., NBC. Wouldn't you hate to learn that your favorite racecar
driver worked undercover for a power-hungry agency from the future?
That happens to Wyatt tonight.

“Royals,” 10
p.m., E. While some people are rounding up potential brides for King
Robert, others are investigating him. Also, Jasper – sometimes the
royal bodyguard – goes rogue at a press conference.

TV column for Saturday, March 17

“Finian's Rainbow” (1968). 5:15 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies.

On St. Patrick's
Day, wise souls do their celebrating at home, where it's safe and
comfy. One of the best ways is this musical gem, directed with zest
and skill by Francis Coppola. Fred Astaire is Finian, with Tommy
Steele as his greedy leprechaun; Al Freeman Jr. is hilarious in

TCM fills its day
with other Irish films, most of them dead-serious. But if you prefer
evil leprechauns, you're in luck. Syfy has a marathon of them, from 8
a.m today to 6 a.m. Sunday.

II: “For the People,” 10 p.m., ABC.

There's a good
chance you missed this opener on Tuesday, when it collided with
another terrific debut (NBC's “Rise”). But next Tuesday, “Rise”
moves an hour earlier and you can see the season's best new shows,
back-to-back. To get ready, catch this rerun.

We meet six young
lawyers – three for the defense, three for the prosecution -- with
interlocking personal stories. Each is interesting; most are played
by newcomers (except for Britt Robertson as Sandra). They're
surrounded by skilled pros, including Anna Deavere Smith and Hope

ALTERNATIVE: “Saturday Night Live,” 11:29 p.m., NBC.

For eight years,
Bill Hader was a prime force on “SNL,” especially with his
bizarre Stefon. He left the show five years ago and has been back to
host once ... promptly getting an Emmy nomination.

Now, eight days
before the start of “Barry” -- a clever HBO show in which he
plays a hit man -- he hosts again. Arcade Fire is the music guest.

Other choices

Basketball, all day,
CBS and cable. The NCAA tournament field has quickly been trimmed
from 68 to 32. Now CBS has another four-game marathon, at noon, 2:30,
5 and 7:30 p.m. ET. There are also doubleheaders on TNT (6 and 8:30
p.m.) and TBS (7 and 9:30).

“Chicken Little”
(2005), 2:30 p.m., Freeform. Families that don't want to obsess on
basketball can spend the day with animation. This is followed by “The
Princess and the Frog” (2009) at 4:30 p.m. and then two of the best
-- “Toy Story” (1995) at 6:35 and “Toy Story 2” (1999) at

Junior,” 8 p.m., Fox. Last Saturday, Fox reran half of its opener,
with 20 girls competing for 12 spots; now here's a rerun of the
boys. That's followed at 9 by “Showtime at the Apollo” rerun.

“Will &
Grace,” 8 p.m., NBC. This show often has good moments when it
nudges Debra Messing into Lucy territory. It does that in this rerun,
when she and Will try a live TV commercial.

8:30 p.m., NBC. In this rerun, Mateo has been injured at work. He
doesn't want to file for compensation, for fear his immigration
status will be revealed.

“Deception,” 9
p.m., ABC. The second episode will be Sunday, so here's a last chance
to catch the fairly good opener. A magician has been dazzling
audiences, mostly due to a major secret. Now he's partly exposed,
just as the FBI forces him to help catch crooks.

“48 Hours,” 10
p.m., CBS. This true-crime hour has one of its best lead-ins (at
least in the Eastern time zones), coming right after basketball.

TV column for Friday, March 16

“Cat On a Hot Tin Roof” (1958), 6 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies.

Elizabeth Taylor
could have spent her career working with simple scripts and bland
stars; instead, she kept trying daring roles. This Tennessee Williams
story is one of her best; Taylor plays Maggie, a sizzling sex symbol
to everyone except her husband (Paul Newman).

That's preceded at
4:40 p.m. by an “Intimate Portrait” of Taylor and followed by
some more of her films. She's with Katharine Hepburn in Williams'
“Suddenly, Last Summer” (1959) at 8 p.m. and then with Marlon
Brando in the botched “Reflections of a Golden Eye” (1967) at

“Jane the Virgin,” 9 p.m., CW.

First of all, make
sure the room doesn't have any young fans of the Tooth Fairy or Santa
Claus; both are discussed frankly. Then settle in for an hour that
mixes some comedy with solid drama.

As she struggles
with writer's block, Jane is told it might help to focus on the side
characters. The show does just that, viewing Rafael's sister and
ex-wife and Jane's mom. The final minute is moving.

ALTERNATIVE: “Striking Out,” any time,,
and more.

Every Friday seems
to be big for Netflix. This time, that includes two series, one
that's fiction (“On the Block,” focusing on inner-city Los
Angeles teens) and one that's not (“Wild Wild Country,” probing
deaths in an Oregon commune). There's even a new “Benji” movie,
based on the 1974 cute-dog gem.

But tonight includes
another streaming service. On the eve of St. Patrick's Day, Acorn has
the second season of this above-average Irish series. The cases are
small and sometimes disappointing, but the main character – whose
makeshift law firm collides with a big,arrogant one – is easy to
root for.

ALTERNATIVE II: Stephen Hawking shows, 4-11 p.m., Science Channel.

In the wake of
Hawking's death (Wednesday, at 76), this channel and others have
already rerun some of his shows. Here are more – three hours of
“Into the Universe” and then “Stephen Hawking's Grand Design,”
confronting powerful issues of God and the meaning of life.

“Into the
Universe” also reruns from 8-11 p.m. Saturday on Discovery. Also,
“Theory of Everything” (2014) is on streaming services; Eddie
Remayne won an Oscar for his great work as Hawking.

Other choices

Basketball, all day.
The second full day of the NCAA tournament starts at 12:15 p.m. ET on
CBS, 12:40 on TruTV, 1:30 on TNT and 2 on TBS. Your best chances to
see a tight game (according to the seeding) are that CBS opener (Providence-Texas A&M), then
3:10 p.m. on TruTV (Butler-Arkansas), 4:30 p.m. on TBS
(Texas-Nevada), 6:50 on TNT (Creighton-Kansas State) and 9:50 on TBS
(Missouri-Florida State).

“Blindspot,” 8
p.m., NBC. For the next two Fridays, CBS' cop shows will step aside
for basketball. That makes this a logical time to try NBC's shows.
Tonight, a prisoner warns of a dangerous plot ... but the team isn't
sure this is the truth. Zapata is caught between the FBI and the CIA.

“Once Upon a
Time,” 8 p.m., ABC. Ignoring Tilly's warning, Rogers strikes a deal
with Eloise. And in a faraway realm, Hook confronts Ahab about a
talisman that could free Alice.

“Agents of
SHIELD,” 9 p.m., ABC. We've always kind of taken gravity for
granted. Now evil forces are at work; the team tries to find
gravitonium (a mythical element in Marvel tales) to save the world.

“Taken,” 9 p.m.,
NBC. A nuclear scientist has long been thought to be dead. Actually,
he's in a North Korean prison; now Bryan and Santana try to extract

“The Quad,” 10
p.m., BET. Here's a rerun of Tuesday's episode, a key one: The
trustees make it clear that they plan to merge this historically
black college with a mostly white. state-operated school.

TV column for Thursday, March 15

Basketball, everywhere.

For the next three
weeks, the NCAA tournament will seize our time and attention. Today
and Friday, it fills up CBS – no soaps, comedies (including “Big
Bang”) or cop shows – plus three cable networks.

CBS has a
doubleheader at 12:15 and 2:45 p.m. ET, pauses for news, then goes at
7:10 and 9:40. There are also four games apiece on TruTV (starting at
12:40 p.m.), TNT (1:30) and TBS (2). If you go by the seeding,
you're best chances for a close game are at 12:15 on CBS
(Oklahoma-Rhode Island), 4:30 on TBS (Seton Hall-North Carolina
State) and 9:30 on TNT (Alabama-Virginia Tech).

“Will & Grace,” 9 p.m., NBC.

Sure, there are
times when this show strains too hard. (Last week's episode, with
Jack as the world's worst TV corpse, was juvenile.) But then there
are ones like this, when all the forces align.

There's a sharp,
topical story; reversing the original controversy, a baker refuses to
make a cake for a Trump event. There's a funny guest star (Vanessa
Bayer), smart dialog that's perfectly delivered ... and even a greats
sight gag. That's verbal/visual combination is something you get when
James Burrows directs Debra Messing; it's as if Murphy Brown and Lucy
inhabit the same comic body.

ALTERNATIVE: “Scandal,” 9 p.m., ABC.

With only five
episodes left in its final season, “Scandal” views the latest
scheme of Vice-President Cyrus Beene. His plane landed successfully
and he's proclaiming himself a hero.

President Mellie
Grant strains to learn who was behind the highjacking. Meanwhile,
Olivia tries to bridge the gap with the Gladiators by offering her
theory on what Beene is really planning.

Other choices

“Grey's Anatomy,”
8 p.m., ABC. Meredith had been optimistic about getting the polymer
she needs for her research; the patent, after all, was held by Marie
Cerone, a long-ago friend of her mother. But now she's learned those
two had a falling-out; she tries to learn more about their history.

“Superstore,” 8
p.m., NBC. The employees are offered amnesty for anything they want
to confess. We'll assume they have endless possibilities.

“Butterfield 8”
(1960), 8 p.m. ET, Turner Classic Movies. Elizabeth Taylor tackled
plenty of deeply intelligent scripts, but she won an Oscar for this
glossy, soap-style tale. She won another Oscar (for the powerhouse
“Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”) and drew three other
nominations – two for films (“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and
“Suddenly Last Summer”) that will air at 6 and 8 p.m. ET Friday.

“Showtime at the
Apollo,” 9 p.m., Fox. Give this show, hosted by Steve Harvey, a
try. The first two hours have been filled with fun novelty acts and
some stunningly good singers.

9:30, NBC. In last week's disappointing opener, a gym owner suddenly
learned he has a 15-year-old son ... who's moving in with him while
studying musical theater. There's potential there, disrupted tonight
by the fact that both father and son are tough to care about.

“How To Get Away
With Murder,” 10 p.m., ABC. A death leads to a shocking arrest, ABC
says. Now Annalise and her young colleagues deal with the aftermath.

“Atlanta,” 10
p.m., FX. In a very funny opener, a distraught mom reads the words to
a Paper Boi rap. Naturally, it soon goes gold, leading to a catch:
Earn finds Atlanta is tough on a guy with money.

TV column for Wednesday, March 14

“Life Sentence,” 9 p.m., CW.

Last week's opener –
as bright and bubbly as its lead character – grabbed our attention.
Diagnosed with terminal cancer at 16, Stella (Lucy Hale) had been
living life to the fullest; then she learned she'd been cured. At 23,
she has little education and no skills; she's married to an
Englishman she barely knows.

Now she's learning
how much everyone has sacrificed for her. Her siblings are drifting;
her parents are divorcing and broke. Somehow, this is throughly
entertaining. One of tonight's final scenes – with the entire
family gathered in the yard – offers a masterful mix of humor and

II: “Speechless,” 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC.

Others can grump and
grumble about jury duty, but not Maya. This is a chance to ditch her
chaotic home, read a novel, have snacks and get paid. It's a big,
funny notion that Minnie Driver masters – even doing a
song-and-dance number. And it brings back Sarah Chalke as her enemy,

That's in the second
episode; Driver also has the best moments in the first one, as we
learn her dark family secret. J.J.'s stories – directing a horror
film and trying online dating – are fairly good; another story,
with Ray being ignored by his dad, is lame until the final couple

ALTERNATIVE: “The X-Files,” 8 p.m., Fox.

“I've always
wondered how this was going to end,” Mulder says. So have we; in 11
seasons (sprawled over 25 years) and 218 episodes, “X-Files” has
seemed eternal. But Gillian Anderson (as Scully) says she's leaving;
others may do the same, making this possibly the second-to-last
episode of a great show.

Well, a
great-but-erratic show. “X-Files” works like an anthology,
varying wildly from week to week. Two weeks ago, its near-wordless
episode was brilliant; this one is not. Fiona Vroom is terrific as a
former TV star, but the rest is a clumsy mixture of gory
organ-harvesting and thick philosophy.

ALTERNATIVE II: “Trauma,” any time, Britbox.

There are some
gifted actors and smart writers back in the Old World, it seems.
We've already learned that via PBS and the Acorn streaming service;
now Britbox adds a new stream of quality.

In this three-part
mini-series John Simm plays a grieving father whose life – at work
and home – is crumbling; he focuses his rage on a sturdy surgeon
(Adrian Lester). “Trauma” is tough to watch, but Simm is
brilliant. This is the rare character that we can simultaneously
bring fear and sympathy.

Other choices

“The Blacklist,”
8 p.m., NBC. As Liz probes a case from early in her career, she also
talks with her therapist (Martha Plimpton) about her dark side.

“Riverdale,” 8
p.m., CW. Jughead makes a major discovery about Hiram Lodge,
Veronica's scheming father. That comes just as Archie has a new
worry: Is his dad (now running for mayor) a Lodge stooge?

“9-1-1,” 9 p.m.,
Fox. Here are some supersized problems – a homeless man crushed in
a garbage truck, a mother and son in a crashed elevator and extreme
hoarders entombed in their home.

“Modern Family,”
9 p.m., ABC. In a rerun, Jay convinces everyone to vacation on a
houseboat. Also, Mitchell runs into his former love interest.

Survivor,” 10 p.m., ABC. The president faces multiple problems: A
video surfaces, showing him visiting prison; also, a demostration has
deeper ties to him than people realize.

“The Assassination
of Gianni Versace,” 10 p.m., FX, rerunning at 11:30 p.m., and 1 a
.m. A week before the finale of this well-crafted mini-series, we
view some shaping moments – Versace as an emerging designer, Andrew
Cunanan (his assassin) growing up with a brutal father.