The Real Story
CBS (Sun. and Tues., Dec. 2 and 4, 9 p.m. ET)

"I'm ashamed to say that we've been telling the story wrong for many years," says the hero in this revisionist fairy tale produced by Jim Henson Television. After four long, confusing hours, his guilt is expiated and our patience is exhausted.

American mogul Jack Robinson (Matthew Modine) is a direct descendant of the English Jack who long ago grabbed the gold, cut down the beanstalk and killed the giant. Ondine (Mia Sara), a visitor from the giant's now desolate realm, helps Jack understand that his forebear was a villain whose misdeeds brought a curse on the Robinson family. So Jack climbs a new beanstalk to Ondine's world and attempts to make amends.

The two-parter takes all this much too seriously. Richard Attenborough, Vanessa Redgrave and Daryl Hannah are among the supporting players, but the only one who appears to be having fun is Jon Voight, in the role of Jack's scheming, German-accented adviser. The most personable character is the gabby goose that lays the golden eggs.

Bottom Line: Fee-fi-ho-hum

ABC (Sun., Dec. 2, 7 p.m. ET)

This Wonderful World of Disney remake of the 1971 football drama has big cleats to fill. In some ways, though, it improves on the Emmy-winning original, which starred Billy Dee Williams as Chicago Bears star Gale Sayers and James Caan as his teammate Brian Piccolo, who died of cancer in 1970 at 26.

The athletes' friendship develops more gradually here, giving Mekhi Phifer (O) and Sean Maher (The Street) a better chance to explore the characters of Gale and Brian respectively. The ravages of Brian's disease are more evident; thus his struggle is more moving. Joy Piccolo (Providence's Paula Cale) and Linda Sayers (Elise Neal of The Hughleys) step out of the background and express the wives' point of view. The new version can be careless with details—Brian explains his cough during summer training camp by saying he always gets one in the winter—but it comes through in the clutch.

Bottom Line: Worth the replay

TNT (Sun., Dec. 2, 8 p.m. ET)

Whoopi Goldberg as the next Santa Claus? That's the creative casting in this uneven TV movie, which combines elements of Miracle on 34th Street and A Christmas Carol.

Goldberg plays a crabby producer at a TV shopping network who has a Scroogean holiday attitude. Nigel Hawthorne (The Madness of King George) is a benevolent old gent who claims to be St. Nick nearing retirement. He takes a job as the network's on-air Santa so he can get close to Goldberg and persuade her to succeed him at the North Pole. Goldberg mugs too much, and the film crawls after she boards Santa's sleigh, but Hawthorne is a delight, and Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchell (Kiss Me Kate) earns laughs as Goldberg's grandly phony boss.

Bottom Line: So-so stocking stuffer

TLC (Fri., Dec. 7, 9 p.m. ET)

Show of the week

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Hell is not too strong a word. This valuable documentary says World War II in the Pacific theater was a conflict in which both sides "cast off civilized taboos," and it backs up the statement with graphic images and disturbing memories of savagery and suffering. We hear about rape and mutilation by Japanese troops, but we also see Allied soldiers casually pumping bullets into enemies who lie wounded if not already dead.

Though there are deficiencies in this two-hour account—no mention of Japanese-Americans who fought for the U.S., not enough about the devastating effect of the atomic bomb—it serves as a useful, condensed history for younger viewers who want more facts than Hollywood's Pearl Harbor provided. More important, it reminds us that "the horror of war"—even of the Good War—is not an empty cliché but a hard, cruel fact.

Bottom Line: Tough duty but recommended

HBO (Sundays, 10 p.m. ET)

Project Greenlight is a dream come true for a guy named Jones, but it looks like less of a thrill for the average viewer.

Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Chris Moore, executive producers of this documentary series, held an Internet contest last year in which about 10,000 aspiring moviemakers submitted screenplays. Prize: a chance to direct their pet project on a $1 million budget put up by Miramax Films. The winner: Pete Jones, a hitherto unknown ex-production assistant. The first two episodes (Dec. 2) hold interest by focusing on the competition and establishing Jones's everyman appeal. Unfortunately, the third and fourth are largely taken up by preproduction meetings even film buffs may find tedious. Things should pick up when the series turns to the actual shooting of Jones's Stolen Summer (due out in March 2002), but I couldn't care less when Affleck shows his clout in episode four by gaining instant telephone access to Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein.

Bottom Line: Let's cut to the chase

Sunday, Dec. 2 A MUSICAL CHRISTMAS FROM THE VATICAN PBS (9 p.m. ET) Can't beat the atmosphere for this holiday concert with Tom Jones and Dionne Warwick.

Monday, Dec. 3 LIVE BY REQUEST STARRING ELTON JOHN A&E (9 p.m. ET) The veteran Brit hit maker sings your favorites.

Tuesday, Dec. 4 BILLBOARD MUSIC AWARDS FOX (8 p.m. ET) Jennifer Lopez and Shaggy are in the Las Vegas lineup.

Wednesday, Dec. 5 OCEAN'S ELEVEN PREMIERE E!(10p.m.ET) George Clooney and his caper-flick costars walk the red carpet in L.A.

Thursday, Dec. 6 A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS ABC (8 p.m. ET) The animated classic is followed at 8:30 by a behind-the-scenes view with Whoopi Goldberg as host.

Friday, Dec. 7 SKETCH PAD HBO (midnight ET) Just for laughs, it's a half-hour special of short skits.

Saturday, Dec. 8 SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE NBC (11:30 p.m. ET) Hugh Jackman (Swordfish) is host and Mick Jagger (still getting satisfaction) makes music.