Four showbiz old-timers—Jonathan Winters, Alan King, Uncle Tom's Cabin and Ludwig van Beethoven—give us a not-half-bad week on TV, considering it's rerun season.

PBS (Wed., June 10, 9 p.m. ET)


Mozart had his day with Amadeus. Now it's Beethoven's turn to get his due. And get his due he does with this super bio narrated by Peter Ustinov at his classiest and written by Israela Margalit, one of the many musicians who add just the right amount of wonderful music to these two hours. The bio is properly respectful of Beethoven's genius and answers all the necessary curiosities about his life—his childhood, his meetings with Goethe, Haydn and Salieri and his 14-year decline into deafness. But it also gives us a breathing Beethoven, telling us about his typical days, his sloppy homes and lousy personal hygiene, his trouble with women, his progressive politics, his ego. "He mourned the deaths of just two people," Ustinov says, "his mother and, oh, himself."

Showtime (Fri., June 12, 9 p.m. ET)


Jonathan Winters, that giant imp, does the impossible: He silences Robin Williams. Robin, that manic imp, appears on Winters' show but doesn't try to steal it. He just stands there, in awe of his idol. I wish I were so awe-inspired. Don't get me wrong: Winters is still a master of delight, an all-time favorite. But here he does something that may be braver than it is wise. He improvises an entire show. He and guest stars Williams, Martin Mull, Milton Berle, Mort Sahl, Susan Anton and Phyllis Diller have no script, no rehearsal, no second takes. They're real but raw. Without prepared material, Winters relies on some old—very old—standards like imitations of Cagney and Bogart. And many—most—of the skits end up looking pointless. But Winters still has his moments, and it is great to see him have them on TV again.

Showtime (Sun., June 14, 8 p.m. ET)


In this, the first modern movie rendition of the long-ignored novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, the black characters are fully drawn and warm; they're not weak and subservient in their souls; they're not stereotypes—they are not, in other words, Uncle Toms. Instead, in this show, it's the white characters who are made to look wimpy, twinkie or dumb, just shallow stick figures. Now there's justice for you. Harriet Beecher Stowe's influential 1851 novel tells two stories: Phylicia (Cosby) Rashad runs away from her plantation to save her son from sadistic slave trader Frank Converse. But her fellow slave, Avery (Spenser: For Hire) Brooks in a fine performance as Uncle Tom himself, is sold to Converse, then to Bruce Dern and finally to the utterly evil Edward (The Equalizer) Woodward as Simon Legree. The production does a surprisingly good job of portraying the meanness of slavery and a better job of letting its victims show strength in the midst of their suffering. But Uncle Tom's Cabin is still a melodrama, carrying with it all the flimsy, cardboard baggage the word implies. The women swoon. The men strut. The plot takes more sudden, dizzying turns than a West Virginia highway. And the kid characters—Little Eva, Topsy and Christopher—are insufferable twits who deserve to be spanked. Other than that, this Uncle Tom's Cabin isn't as bad as the book's reputation would lead you to expect.

PBS (Mon., June 15, 9 p.m. ET)


Having trouble sleeping? Restless on these hot, sticky summer nights? Sick of sheep? Well, we have the cure for you: Watch Waiting for the Moon for just five minutes and you will be comatose. I, because I am paid to stay awake while watching, was merely catatonic. Moon gives us six fictional days in the lives of two real women: author Gertrude Stein and her roomie Alice B. Toklas. But nothing happens. Linda Hunt as Toklas and Linda Bassett as Stein just sit and talk about, well, nothing. They look as if they're in some bad parody of a Pinter play. If you make it to the end you will find, to paraphrase Ms. Stein, that when you get there, there isn't any there there.

HBO (Mon., June 15, 2:15 a.m.)


Like Jonathan Winters, Alan King starts off relying on old stuff: "What happened to Broadway.... I've seen so many changes since I was a kid...." Bitter nostalgia. But then suddenly King gets current, he gets mad and he gets good. He complains about idiotic decisions in American industry. He attacks business for its scandals: "Bankers are robbing the banks now." He sneers at the stock market's new records: "Go tell it to the people sleeping in the streets.... The market is not bullish. It's bull----." He whines about airline mergers and crowded restaurants. He is a kvetch with a conscience.