CBS (Tuesdays, 8 p.m. ET)

With the United States at war and patriotism on the rise, it's only natural that this durable military drama would be going great guns. That's the easy explanation for JAG's decisive leadership in its Tuesday time period. I'd prefer to argue that creative excellence is the real reason for the six-year-old series' ratings momentum, but it's probably the snappy salutes and cool jargon. (Fans know not only that the show's title stands for Judge Advocate General but that the Secretary of the Navy is the "Secnav" and a "gunny" is a gunnery sergeant, not a sack.)

For those joining JAG in progress, Cmdr. "Harm" Rabb (David James Elliott) is a cocky Navy lawyer and a crack pilot. Harm and a fellow lawyer, Marine Lt. Col. "Mac" MacKenzie (Catherine Bell), have yet to resolve their just-short-of-romantic relationship. "I'm so sick of this dance," Mac said in October after Harm couldn't quite declare his love. We hear you loud and clear, Colonel.

JAG is most entertaining when Harm and Mac oppose each other in the courtroom, although Cmdr. Sturgis Turner (Scott Lawrence) is a new advocate who can give Harm a good legal battle without the sexual tension. The writers have had only mixed success at incorporating post-Sept. 11 reality into the story lines. A late-November episode suggested that sexist jerks are indispensable to the Marine Corps because their toughness is needed to defeat terrorism. Would it be unpatriotic to enter a mild dissent?

Bottom Line: Passes muster but hold the medals

PBS (Tues., Dec. 25, 8 p.m.)

Avian sex on Christmas Night? Has PBS lost its sense of propriety?

Flying Casanovas turns out to be very interesting but not shocking. British naturalist David Attenborough shows us how male bower-birds in Australia and New Guinea attract females' attention by building remarkably elaborate romantic hideaways. Using all manner of found objects—from twigs to berries to caterpillar droppings to colorful plastic junk littered by humans—the birds display a true aesthetic sense. If the environmental art puts a lady in the mood, the lovemaking takes place beyond camera range. More often, though, choosy females fly away unimpressed—or a male rival comes along and vandalizes the place. Seduction is no snap.

Attenborough may sometimes seem a stereotypical bird-watcher, panting for a peek at spectacular plumage. But his enthusiasm is contagious.

Bottom Line: Fine-feathered

CBS (Fri., Dec. 21, 8 p.m. ET)

Destiny's Child, Enrique Iglesias, Mandy Moore and Charlotte Church join headliner Mariah Carey in this third annual Home for the Holidays special. But the message is more important than the music. Between-songs segments tell touching stories of children in foster care who found permanent, loving homes through adoption.

The hour-long program—also including brief appearances by Dustin Hoffman, Patricia Heaton and skater Scott Hamilton—has a touch of the infomercial about it. Still, the cause is worthy, the pitch is affecting, and the entertainment is a pleasant bonus.

Bottom Line: Bring it home

Comedy Central (Weekdays, 7:30 p.m. ET)

Show of the week


It may be geeky to get hooked on this new game show, but if you're into pop-culture trivia—and you think irony is alive and well—you're urged to give it a try.

Playing for a "grand-prize package worth over $5,000," contestants pit their mastery of entertainment minutiae against a self-important panel of experts in movies, television, music and a specialized subject that changes from episode to episode (comic books, Star Trek, etc.). Clad in tacky gowns befitting their faux-academic eminence, these so-called geeks boast of their superior—albeit useless—knowledge while host J. Keith van Straaten mocks them for basically lacking a life. The funniest personality on the show is tube geek Paul Goebel, an unabashedly out-of-shape couch potato and stand-up comic (proud winner of TV Land's Ultimate Fan Search in 2000) who proves his prowess in the Dec. 19 episode by correctly recalling that Alyssa Milano starred as Amy Fisher in Casualties of Love: The Long Island Lolita Story. Ya gotta love it.

Bottom Line: Geeks rule

Sunday, Dec. 23 I LOVE LUCY CHRISTMAS SPECIAL TV Land (9 p.m. ET) The Ricardos reminisce in a seldom-seen episode.

Monday, Dec. 24 IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE NBC (8 p.m. ET) So you know it by heart. That's no reason not to watch Jimmy Stewart in the 1946 classic.

Tuesday, Dec. 25 WALT DISNEY WORLD CHRISTMAS PARADE ABC (10 a.m. ET) Talk show partners Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa describe the fun in Florida.

Wednesday, Dec. 26 THE KENNEDY CENTER HONORS CBS (9 p.m. ET) Julie Andrews and Jack Nicholson are among the artists being hailed.

Thursday, Dec. 27 THE METROPOLITAN OPERA PRESENTS PBS (9 p.m. ET) The Met celebrates Giuseppe Verdi with selections from past shows.

Friday, Dec. 28 SNAP DECISION Lifetime (1 p.m. ET) Mare Winningham is convincing in this TV movie as a mother falsely accused of child pornography.

Saturday, Dec. 29 NOISEMAKERS 2001 CMT (9 p.m. ET) A twangin' two-hour special reviews the year's high points in country music.