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Winter TV preview: 56 great shows to watch

Ken Jennings starts his time as interim guest

Ken Jennings starts his time as interim guest host on "Jeopardy!" Credit: AP

First, the chilling news: Winter begins Monday, which means 12 weeks and five days (but who's counting) until spring.

Now the better news: There will be lots of TV to fill those weeks.

Despite the occasional work stoppages, Hollywood production has mostly been back to normal for months, so schedules are (or soon will be) full of original series.

Meanwhile, there will be plenty of special ones, too. This winter preview offers a guide to just a few of those.

Indeed, there is much to look forward to. Black History Month promises a bounty of originals, including a look at the oldie-goldie series "Soul!" and a profile of contralto Marian Anderson. Crowd-pleasers like "Cobra Kai" are back too: The third season launches in January, although Netflix the exact date is still TBD.

Meanwhile, "Shameless" wraps a long run and Michael Chiklis returns in a series that might (finally) remind his fans of "The Shield."

And then there's this: Edward Burns (anyone need to be reminded again that he grew up in Valley Stream?) has directed and written a new series with a real Long Island flavor. For details, read on.

DEC. 22

UNDER THE GRAPEFRUIT TREE: THE CC SABATHIA STORY (HBO, 9 p.m.)

It's not often a Yankee great gets the full HBO documentary treatment but Carsten Charles will.

DEC. 25

BRIDGERTON (Netflix)

Shonda Rhimes, the most successful ABC producer since Aaron Spelling, leaves ABC for Netflix to produce … a historical drama? Set in Regency (1810s) London? With Julie Andrews narrating? A large cast (Polly Walker, Rege-Jean Page, Ruby Barker, Jonathan Bailey, Claudia Jessie, Ruth Gemmell, Luke Thompson) in period costume? Trying their best to make viewers channel the Crawleys of "Downton Abbey?" Based on the book series of the same name by industrial-strength romance novelist Julia Quinn? Well, why not? Imagine if Rhimes had tried to get this past someone at ABC.

DEC. 27

THE MASKED DANCER (Fox, 8 p.m.)

Here's the pitch: Get celebrities to dress up in ridiculous costumes, then dance, while audiences/judges attempt to guess which celebrity is desperate enough to be part of this spin-off/rip-off of "The Masked Singer." Craig Robinson hosts; Ashley Tisdale, Brian Austin Green, Ken Jeong and Paula Abdul judge. (Moves to Wednesdays, Jan. 6).

SHAMELESS HALL OF SHAME (Showtime, 9 p.m.)

The 11th (and final) season launched early December but for fans having a really hard time letting go, there's always this. Over six episodes, "Hall of Shame" will look at the major characters and their "journey" this past decade.

DEC. 28

VERNON JORDAN: MAKE IT PLAIN (WNET/13, 10 p.m.)

The lawyer, businessman, Civil Rights activist and adviser to presidents (notably Bill Clinton) gets his close-up.

DEC. 30

YEARLY DEPARTED (Amazon Prime)

As the Year from Hell drifts (or lurches) toward closure, comedy must take note. This special offers eulogies from an all-star/all-women lineup, each of whom delivers a swift kick to "societal upheaval, plague, murder hornets and banana bread," per Amazon. Eulogists include Phoebe Robinson, Rachel Brosnahan, Tiffany Haddish, Sarah Silverman and Natasha Leggero.

JAN. 1

THE OFFICE (Peacock)

No, don't worry (at least yet). You're not hearing about an "Office" reboot here for the first time (although, really, who knows?). I just don't want anyone madly scrambling through Netflix in search of episodes on New Year's Day. They'll have migrated over to Peacock by then.

JAN. 3

CALL ME KAT (Fox, 8 p.m.)

"Call Me Kat" is about a cat lady named Kat who opens a cat cafe. Any questions? (Here's one: Will unkind critics write this off as a "Cat-astrophe" in the reviews?) This sitcom reunites Mayim Bialik (Kat) and Jim Parsons, who produces but who is not part of the cast which includes Swoosie Kurtz and Cheyenne Jackson.

ELIZABETH IS MISSING (WNET/13, 9 p.m.)

The great Glenda Jackson stars in this acclaimed "Masterpiece" mini about a woman struggling with dementia in search of a lost friend.

THE WATCH (BBC America, 8 p.m.)

From 1983 until his death in 2015, Terry Pratchett published 41 graphic novels based on "Discworld," creating a vast mythic universe until itself, and of course destined one day to become a TV series. (Discworld: A flat planet that is balanced on the back of four elephants, which are standing on top of a turtle.) This eight-parter is described as a comic crime procedural about some cops (the "watch"), and stars Wendell Pierce and Richard Dormer.

CAL FIRE (Discovery, 10)

This quick turnaround unscripted series is about the men and women who battled the most destructive forest fires in California history this past summer and fall.

JAN. 4

THE BACHELOR (ABC, 8 p.m.)

Yeah, it took 18 years, 40 seasons, countless roses, an ocean of champagne, too many hot tub scenes, endless declarations of love — maybe one or two actually sincere — but "The Bachelor" finally has an African-American bachelor: Matt James, an entrepreneur and former football standout at Wake Forest.

DISCOVERY +

This is D-Day for the Discovery Networks, which will launch its many cable networks (from HGTV to History to Planet Earth) on its new streaming channel, Discovery +. This new streamer also promises original content starting launch day including (yes, another) movie entitled "Amityville Horror House."

JAN. 5

AMERICAN PORTRAIT (WNET/13, 9 p.m.)

This series was essentially crowdsourced by average people who created "portraits" of themselves, as part of a larger tapestry of portraits designed to reveal what it means to be American in a bitterly divided, pandemic-torn country.

JAN. 6

NAME THAT TUNE (Fox, 9 p.m.)

Jane Krakowski hosts this revival, with Randy Jackson as leader of the band. With "Krak" at the helm, expect comic relief along with the tunes.

JAN. 7

COYOTE (CBS All Access)

Michael Chiklis is back, this time as a former Border Patrol agent who gets work in Mexico. Expect lots of action/violence, packed over six episodes.

THE CHASE (ABC, 9 p.m.)

The three GOATS (James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, "Jeopardy's" Greatest of All Time) alternate as contestants in this adaptation of the Brit quiz show that sounds suspiciously like another quiz show, except lots more questions (166 per hour). Each competes against teams of contestants.

THE HUSTLER (ABC, 10 p.m.)

Former late-night great Craig Ferguson hosts yet another game show, but with a twist: One member of a "pool" of contestants can win $10,000 if he or she can keep his or her identity a secret from other members of the pool.

MR. MAYOR (NBC, 8 p.m.)

Ted Danson stars as a rich guy who becomes mayor of Los Angeles. (Holly Hunter and Bobby Moynihan also star). The showrunners, however, may be the selling point here: Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, showrunners of comedy great "30 Rock."

JAN. 8

DICKINSON (Apple TV+)

Yes, Apple TV+ did have a success or two and this was one ("Servant" was another), with Hailee Steinfeld back as the Belle of Amherst. Three episodes drop today.

JAN. 10

ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL (WNET/13, 9 p.m.)

James Herriot's book series about the country vet gets a second adaptation (the first — a hit — aired more than 40 years ago). Diana Rigg, who died in September at 82, stars in one of her last roles.

THE CIRCUS: INSIDE THE GREATEST POLITICAL SHOW ON EARTH (Showtime, 8 p.m.)

Perfect timing for the sixth season, on the eve of the Georgia runoff election, and in the wake of the 2020 Presidential one, with a whole lot of circus to talk about. Jennifer Palmieri, communications chief for a couple years of the Obama presidency, joins as co-host.

JAN. 11

JEOPARDY! (WABC/7, 7 p.m.)

In one important respect, the episodes airing the week of Jan. 4 are even more important because those will be the last ones hosted by Alex Trebek, who died Nov. 8. Nevertheless, this day is the start of a new era, with Ken Jennings stepping in as interim host.

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: THE CODEBREAKER (WNET/13, 9 p.m.)

About little-known but hugely influential "cryptanalyst" Elizebeth Smith Friedman, who was a founding mother of modern code breaking.

INDEPENDENT LENS: A DAY IN THE LIFE OF AMERICA (WNET/13, 10 p.m.)

Actor-musician Jared Leto is your guide to this slice-of-America snapshot captured on a single day (July 4, 2017) by 92 film crews.

CRACK: COCAINE, CORRUPTION & CONSPIRACY (Netflix)

Preeminent filmmaker of the African-American experience, Stanley Nelson, takes an in-depth look at the crack epidemic of the '80s, along with the "ongoing marginalization of Black and Brown people trapped by the U.S. prison and health care systems."

JAN. 12

TRICKSTER (CW, 9 p.m.)

Canadian First Nations author Eden Robinson saw her "Trickster" young-adult fantasy trilogy — about a teen boy who discovers the so-called "Haisla trickster Wee'jit" — first air in Canada. Now it arrives on the CW.

JAN. 13

CALL YOUR MOTHER (ABC, 9:30 p.m.)

Kyra Sedgwick is a mom who wants back into her adult kids' lives. This is ABC's only new scripted series this winter.

NIGHT STALKER: THE HUNT FOR A SERIAL KILLER (Netflix)

For true crime fans, this one looks at how the law tracked down the serial killer who terrorized Los Angeles in the mid-'80s.

NOVA: SECRETS IN OUR DNA (WNET/13, 9 p.m.)

Timely for all sorts of reasons, this explores what happens — or could — when we turn our DNA over to private companies like 23andMe.

JAN. 15

WANDAVISION (Disney +)

Without doubt this is one of the highlights of the winter season, if only because Disney and Marvel — giddily profligate as usual — will make it so. What's intriguing about this six-episode Marvelverse entry are the historical TV touchstones — episodes in which the heroes, Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany), work their way through TV genres (the early sitcom, for example) while playing with all the TV tropes those genres have engendered. You (hopefully) don't need to know anything about Wanda, or Vision, or their place in the canon, to enjoy the weirdness of it all.

GREAT PERFORMANCES: THE MAGIC OF CALLAS (WNET/13, 10 p.m.)

The Metropolitan Opera may be silent but at least this will pay a visit with one of its greatest divas (albeit, the visit will be with her 1964 comeback performance at the Royal Opera House). Meanwhile, "Performances" profiles pianist Vladimir Horowitz Jan. 22.

JAN. 17

MISS SCARLET & THE DUKE (WNET/13, 8 p.m.)

Kate Phillips ("Peaky Blinders") stars as "the first-ever female detective" in Victorian London, suggesting a potential narrative line over one of the six episodes: Will Holmes and Watson make a professional house call?

JAN. 18

AMERICAN MASTERS: HOW IT FEELS TO BE FREE (WNET/13, 9 p.m.)

Six African-American entertainment icons get the "Masters" treatment: Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln, Nina Simone, Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson and Pam Grier.

JAN. 24

BRIDGE AND TUNNEL (EPIX)

Valley Stream's Edward Burns has created but doesn't star in this circa-1980 series about recent college grads who have left home on Long Island in pursuit of their dreams in Manhattan — notably the dreams of one Genie (Erica Hernandez) who wants to headline an all-girl punk band.

JAN. 21

WALKER (CW, 8 p.m.)

Jared Padalecki's "Supernatural" may be history, but (just like that), he's back in this "Walker: Texas Ranger" reboot in which he stars alongside spouse Genevieve Padalecki.

THE REV (USA, 10:30 p.m.)

USA gets its geography slightly askew when it says this unscripted series about Pastor Richard Hartley originates from his "Long Island, N.Y. church" when in fact the church is actually based in Far Rockaway (or Rockaway Beach). Now that we've cleared that up, this does sound good — the Rev balances family life with his work in the ministry, including as leader of its renowned choir.

JAN. 22

FATE: THE WINX SAGA (Netflix)

Show of hands — who remembers "Winx Club" on Nickelodeon from years (and years) ago? This then is for you, although now it's live action, with Abigail Cowen as fairy heroine Bloom.

PAINTING WITH JOHN (HBO, 11 p.m.)

While we're on the subjects of hands, please raise 'em if you remember "Fishing with John," that mindbender of a series starring John Lurie, who took Jim Jarmusch (among others) on a fishing trip off of Montauk in the early '90s. John's back, and I understand he's taken up painting in the interim.

THE SISTER (Hulu)

Neil Cross, who created "Luther," has adapted his novel "Burial'' into this four-parter starring Russell Tovey as Nathan, a guy who is (per program notes) "hiding a terrible secret from his past."

JAN. 26

FRONTLINE: 54 DAYS IN CHINA (WNET/13, 10 p.m.)

This could be a historic "Frontline," promising "the untold story" of the coronavirus pandemic outbreak in China, and who knew what, and when they knew it.

JAN. 27

RESIDENT ALIEN (SyFy, 10 p.m.)

The always good, always fun (and funny) Alan Tudyk gets lead billing in this adaptation of the Dark Horse comic about an alien (from outer space) who pretends he's a doctor named Harry but secretly has one mission: To end humanity as we know it. Along the way, Harry has moral dilemmas, such as "are human beings worth saving?" and epicurean ones ("Why do people fold their pizza before eating?") A winter TV highlight indeed.

JAN. 29

WE ARE: THE BROOKLYN SAINTS (Netflix)

This four-part docuseries from Rudy Valez ("The Sentence") is about a youth football program in East New York, and so much more.

JAN. 30

WENDY WILLIAMS: THE MOVIE (Lifetime, 8 p.m.)

It's Williams night on Lifetime, and the fictionalized story of her life is followed by the nonfictional story (at 10) with the promising title "The Wendy Williams Story: What a Mess!"

JAN. 31

THE LONG SONG (WNET/13, 10 p.m.)

The fine British actress Tamara Lawrance — fans of "Charles III" know her best as Prince Harry's girlfriend — stars alongside Hayley Atwell ("Agent Carter" and much else) is this adaptation of Andrea Levy's much-praised 2010 novel set in 19th century Jamaica before slavery was outlawed.

FEB. 3

NOVA: BEYOND THE ELEMENTS (WNET/13, 9 p.m.)

"Sunday Morning" tech columnist and Nova's "Making Stuff" host David Pogue are back to tell us how molecules and chemical reactions made the universe — and us.

FIREFLY LANE (Netflix)

Based on the Kristin Hannah bestseller about a pair of besties over three decades of their lives, this drama series pairs Katherine Heigl (last seen in "Suits") and Sarah Chalke (currently, "Rick and Morty").

FEB. 4

SUMMER HOUSE (Bravo, 9 p.m.)

Aka, the "COVI-19 Summer House," with the gang "quarantining in the Hamptons [while they] tackle busy work schedules, tumultuous relationships and epic parties under one roof." Question: Masked or unmasked parties?

FEB. 5

THE SNOOPY SHOW (Apple TV +)

Apple TV+ lost friends when it took over the vastly popular (and classic) Charlie Brown holiday specials, then regained friends when it allowed those to air on PBS (briefly). Now it has a chance to make more friends with this six-parter based on the world's most beloved beagle. Per Apple, "the nostalgic new series also showcases everyone's most cherished characters from Peanuts including Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Franklin, Schroeder, Peppermint Patty…"

FEB. 7

THE EQUALIZER (CBS, 10 p.m.)

In the mid-'80s, this cop show starring Edward Woodward was a CBS Hail Mary to get back into the prime-time game as it was then overwhelmed by NBC and Bill Cosby. It largely worked. Enter the inevitable reboot, with the hardly inevitable, but certainly intriguing, new lead: Queen Latifah. Also stars Chris Noth, Adam Goldberg, Lorraine Toussaint and Tory Kittles. This is CBS's post-Super Bowl tryout, so the network expects big things once again.

FEB. 11

CLARICE (CBS/10 p.m.)

Clarice, you will recall, is Clarice Starling, Jodie Foster's iconic FBI agent from "The Silence of the Lambs." In this follow-up set a couple years after, in 1993, Rebecca Breeds is Clarice, while the series also stars Kal Penn, Nick Sandow and Michael Cudlitz. Yeah, expect more serial killers who also like fava beans and a nice Chianti.

FEB. 15

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: VOICE OF FREEDOM (WNET/13, 9 p.m.)

Marian Anderson, who became the first African-American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera (in 1955) and who also became a major figure in the Civil Rights movement after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let her sing at Constitution Hall (1939), gets her close-up.

FEB. 16

THE BLACK CHURCH: THIS IS OUR STORY, THIS IS OUR SONG (WNET/13, Feb. 16-23, 9 p.m.)

Henry Louis Gates Jr. explores the "resilience, autonomy, freedom and solidarity" of the Black church in America over a 400-year span, with lots of musicians and Oprah Winfrey, too. One of the highlights of the month.

FEB. 22

INDEPENDENT LENS: MR. SOUL! (WNET/13, 10 p.m.)

"Soul!" — produced by Ellis Haizlip who died in 1991 — was a pioneering series on Black culture that aired on public TV from 1968 to '73 and set the table for "Soul Train." This retrospective promises time-capsule visits with "Earth Wind and Fire, Al Green, Patti LaBelle and Stevie Wonder, and interviews with Muhammad Ali, James Baldwin and more."

FEB. 23

SUPERMAN & LOIS (CW, 9 p.m.)

"Arrow" is over but into the void steps the not-quite-spinoff with Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) and Lois (Elizabeth Tulloch) that picks up after the crossover "Arrow" episode, "Crisis on Infinite Earths." Of note: This is set in Smallville, not Bigville (aka Metropolis). Dylan Walsh joins as Lois' dad.

FEB. 28

93RD ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBES (NBC, 8 p.m.)

Due to the pandemic, NBC pushed this back from early January to late February, but important questions still remain: Will the tables arrayed around the ballroom at the Beverly Hilton be empty? if there's no one at the party, can this still be called a "party?" Can hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler work their magic again?

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