ABC (Dec. 18, 7 p.m. ET)
Viewers too young to have watched The Carol Burnett Show
—geez, it's been off since 1978—might not know what to make of the actress when they watch this family special, a new production of the Broadway musical that made her a star in 1959. Is she real? Even at 72, she has the exaggerated cartoonishness of a creature smuggled out of Pixar. She could be the tall companion to The Incredibles'
petite Edna Mode. She seems like a normal enough human in the current ads she's doing for prescription drug plans. But zip her into a costume and put her in a comedy, and her theatrical fierceness is unbolted. It's great camp, with the desperate power of great camp—as if she needed more air than your set allows and wanted to claw her way out.
Mattress is basically just a so-so take on The Princess and the Pea
, the joke being that the lady in question, Winnifred the Woebegone, is totally lacking in regal panache. She could probably fall asleep wedged between two peasants traveling coach in a hay wagon. Burnett initially played Winnifred onstage (and twice on TV, the last time in 1972), but now she is an evil queen, Aggravain, who hates the thought of her sheltered prince son falling for this bumpkin (Tracey Ullman). Burnett slinks around in over-the-top Bob Mackie gowns and headdresses that make her look like a Fabergé lizard. She all but flickers her tongue. These stars are really for her.
ABC (weeknights, 11:35 p.m. ET)
Ted Koppel ended his nearly 26 years' anchorship of Nightline by warning viewers to stick with the team replacing him: "If you don't, I promise you the network will just put another comedy show in this time slot. And then you'll be sorry."
Now that wise poker face beneath the great weedy clump of hair is gone, and in his stead are the smooth familiar faces of Cynthia McFadden, Terry Moran and Martin Bashir (who will forever be known as the man who got Michael Jackson to say oh so many interesting things). This triumvirate is perfectly competent—they're all seasoned. The first few nights covered everything from AIDS in India to that groundbreaking facial surgery in France. But the setup is somewhat cramped and crowded, considering the show gives the three anchors (and crew) only a half hour to present their stories.
And it's hard to avoid the feeling that Jimmy Kimmel will soon come through the door, set down his duffel bag and tell them all to get out—he's got the lease now.
Style Network (weeknights, 7 p.m. ET)
Designer Isaac Mizrahi sits in a gorgeous tangerine-colored chair and orders a macchiato from his on-set coffee brewer, Giovanni. If Giovanni is in a genial enough mood—and when isn't he?—he'll dot a smiley face in the cup's foam.
Launching his own talk show, Mizrahi sometimes has the yacky obtuseness of Jiminy Glick. Keira Knightley
comes on to promote Pride & Prejudice, and Mizrahi seems more interested in trying to remember the 1940 Greer Garson version. Isaac, come back! But the show nicely distills an endearing fashionista sensibility: energetic, silly, glowing with the excitement of just being himself. He's best here when buzzing with style tips for audience members.
NBC (Dec. 19-22, 8 p.m. ET)
Airing four nights straight, Deal kicks off as 26 beauties in tight titanium-blue dresses march in carrying briefcases. They look like fembots from Price Waterhouse. Each suitcase is numbered and, when opened, reveals a cash prize, from one penny up to $1 million. A contestant picks a suitcase—ah, but isn't allowed to find out how much money goes with it. Then begin what seem like endless rounds as other suitcases are opened and the contestant deduces how much his pick isn't worth. Meanwhile a shadowy figure named the Bank keeps phoning in cash inducements to get the contestant to bow out. There's a maniacal Dr. Seuss repetitiveness to all this. It should be hosted by the Cat in the Hat. Instead, it's Howie Mandel, and he's very congenial.
(FOX, Dec. 13, 9 p.m. ET) Cynthia Nixon guests as a patient with a history of faked illnesses, now maybe genuinely sick.
Elton John: The Red Piano
(NBC, Dec. 14, 8 p.m. ET) Pulling out all the stops in his show at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
Dare to Dream: The Story of the U.S. Women's Soccer Team
(HBO, Dec. 11, 8 p.m. ET) An inspiring documentary about the phenomenal Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain and teammates.
Saturday Night Live
(NBC, Dec. 17, 11:30 p.m. ET) That most excellent King Kong
star Jack Black hosts.
America's Tsunami: Are We Next?
(Discovery, Dec. 18, 9 p.m. ET) Happy thoughts, people! Happy thoughts!
SIMON STAYS Yesterday, there didn't seem to be a single reason to get out of bed. But now American Idol's Simon Cowell
, in addition to settling a tangled legal battle with the show's British creator, has upped for at least five more seasons with the singing contest, which premieres Jan. 17. Who could ever replace him? Maybe Desperate Housewives'
AND DONALD MOVES The fourth season of Donald Trump's Apprentice concludes Dec. 15, the fifth season is already shot, and now a sixth season has been announced with a twist: The production will head west, to L.A. Maybe they should kick things up one more notch and set it in the old West, the wild one. Losers would be shot and left in the dust.
COULDN'T GET ARRESTED It'll be a short third season for FOX's ratings-challenged Arrested Development
: 13 episodes. Why hasn't this brilliant show ever caught on, despite critical acclaim, a great cast and inspired loopiness? Theory: its dependence on voice-over narration (provided by executive producer Ron Howard). Any given episode has enough exposition to map out The Forsyte Saga.
EXTREME MAKEOVER: HOME EDITION ($29.99) You'll laugh and shed a tear watching season one with tool-belt-toting Ty Pennington and his team as they renovate homes for needy families. In seven days this crew can turn a grimy garage into a drive-in movie theater and a useless backyard into a miniature baseball field. But I could have done without the boring bloopers and banter between set designers Preston and Paul.
ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS: SEASON ONE ($39.98). In 1955 the Master of Suspense extended his sinister franchise with this classic half-hour series, given a huge boost by his own lolling, funereal appearances introducing each episode. He looks like an amoeba dressed as an undertaker. Most of the tales he merely produced, but the series has a consistent tone of clever black-heartedness. And the few he directed (including "Breakdown," about a paralyzed man mistaken for dead) are gems. The accompanying documentary is useful, if flavorless.
- Tom Gliatto,
- Laura J. Downey.