Sunday TV: Badu Hosts Soul Train Awards


Erykah Badu gets the chance to wear all manner of eccentric headgear tonight while hosting the Soul Train Awards 2015 (BET, Centric 8 p.m.) in Las Vegas where performers include Boyz II Men, After 7, Fantasia, Brandy, R. Kelley, Lion Babe, Tevin Campbell, Jeremih, V. Bozeman, Erica Campbell,  Jazmine Sullivan and Cameo. Special awards go to Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and Jill Scott, both of whom will also be performing.

“Downton Abbey” doesn’t return until the new year, but Hugh Bonneville is enlisted to give “A Salute to Downton Abbey” (PBS, 9 p.m.), looking back at the first five seasons and looking forward to the final one. Past such specials have been packed with spoilers.

It’s New England at Denver (NBC, 8:20 p.m.) in Sunday Night Football. Earlier games include Giants at Washington (Fox, 1 p.m.) and Pittsburgh at Seattle (CBS, 4:25 p.m.).

The stripping is not the part of the ballet world Claire imagined on “Flesh and Bone” (Starz, 8 p.m.).

On the day of the big symposium, two English visitors on “Getting On” (HBO, 10 p.m.) are actually the counterparts of Dawn and Dr. James from the original UK series.

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Saturday TV: CIA ‘Spymasters’ Talk


The Central Intelligence Agency began as an international spy agency that has in recent decades become something of its own military force. The 12 living current or former directors of the CIA all are interviewed for the two hour documentary “The Spymasters: C.I.A. in the Crosshairs” (Showtime, 9 p.m.) — 13 if you count Saul Berenson of the network’s “Homeland” (Showtime, 8 p.m.).

Mandy Patinkin narrates the overview, which allows some of the directors to disagree over things that once, officials in a civilized country would have never disagreed (the use of torture) as well as the use of armed drones. Some of them continue to use the childish distinctions of “good guys” and “bad guys.”

But the film never takes a point of view or even takes them to task for their inconsistencies, lest they lose their access to officials whose main duty is to cover their backside. Most appalling is the way the film by Jules and Dedeon Naudet (who became 9/11 documentarians when they caught the first plane flying into the World Trade Center) wholly dismisses the exhaustive Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s 2014 report on the CIA’s use of torture, scarcely mentioning it. It’s a reminder that Showtime’s business has come in maintaining a strictly fictional view of the CIA.

The Colin Firth action film “Kingsman: The Secret Service” (HBO, 8 p.m.) makes its premium cable debut. Also on tonight, Cameron Diaz,Leslie Mann and Kate Upton in last year’s “The Other Woman” (Cinemax, 10 p.m.).

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Playlist 11-27-15

RadioCPRA quite long Black Friday show began with some lingering thanksgiving, then a salute to Cynthia Robinson, the trumpet player and co-founder of Sly and the Family Stone, still quite a remarkable band. Then some Nikki Lane kicked off some female singers and songwriters.

Then a big set of NRBQ, marking their appearance in town Saturday, followed by a birthday salute to Jimi Hendrix featuring work from “Axis Bold as Love” and “Electric Ladyland.”

Here’s what I played on the radio tonight:

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Friday TV: Springsteen’s ‘Ties That Bind’

SpringsteenJust as Bruce Springsteen’s 2010 project of outtakes from “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” called “The Promise,” came with its own accompanying short promotional documentary by Thom Zimmy, so does his latest boxed set due out next week that’s all about 1980′s “The River.”

“The Ties That Bind” (HBO, 9 p.m.), premiering tonight, features an extended conversation with Springsteen about his making of the album while he strums some of its anthems including “Two Hearts,” “Independence Day,” “Hungry Heart,” “Point Blank” and the title song. There are also glimpses from a live show with the E Street band at Arizona State University 35 years ago and some of the outtakes of the period, including “Stray Bullet,” “The Time That Never Was” and “Take ‘Em As They Come.” And speaking of ties that bind, it is immediately followed by “Fifty Shades of Grey” (HBO, 10 p.m.).

Andrea Bocelli sings songs from the movies, from “The Godfather” and “West Side Story” to “Love Story” and “Doctor Zhivago” on “Great Performances” (PBS, 9 p.m., check local listings) in a concert from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Ariana Grande  joins him electronically to sing “E Piu ti Penso” from “Once Upon a Time in America.” But Nicole Scherzinger is there in person to sing “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from “Evita.” John Travolta, Ali McGraw and Andy Garcia also join him on stage to talk film.

Cancelled twice already, the onetime CBS procedural “Unforgettable” (A&E, 8 p.m.) resurfaces a third time, this time on cable. Poppy Montgomery returns as the detective who remembers all; Dylan Walsh returns to a cast that has had Kathy Najimy, La La Anthony and E.J. Bonilla added to it.

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Holiday Special: Slow Train Running

real-time-train-rideAmerica is understandably slow in getting into the Slow TV racket.

I fell under the spell of the Scandinavian trend this summer while on a visit there. (I wrote about it here.)

The idea is to just have something go on and just turn the cameras on. This summer it was a boat traveling around the land of the midnight sun, capturing people on the shore who waved, or didn’t. It’s a ratings hit in Norway, partly out of national pride, but maybe out of a mesmerizing art as well. In a world of quick cuts, shouting and commercials, here were hours of soothing shots of the sea and shore.

I thought perhaps public television here would pick up on it after it announced its “Big Blue Live” this summer. It was live, had cameras trained on a Southern California bay filled with marine activity. But it also was scripted with narration, interviews, previously shot pieces, lest the audience get bored. It really wasn’t slow TV at all.

Discovery America picks up the slack today with a show that  promises five hours of landscape from a camera mounted on a train in “Railroad Alaska: Real Time Train Ride” (Destination America, 9 a.m.), a journey that, when it reaches its end, starts all over again for an instant repeat at 2 p.m.

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Also on Thursday: Parade, Dogs, Football

paradeThe Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade (NBC, CBS, 9 a.m.), that three hour cornucopia of commercialism, show biz and balloons kicks off with performers that include Mariah Carey, Jordin Sparks, Jennifer Nettles, Daughtry, Andy Grammar, Train, Trey Songz, Questlove, Panic at the Disco, Pat Benatar and Broadway casts from the shows “On Your Feet,” “School of Rock,” “The Wiz,” “The King & I,” “Finding Neverland” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” The “Today” crew of Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie and Al Roker will host NBC’s coverage at its 34th Street perch; CBS will cover it all uptown.

The turkey holiday is going to the dogs increasingly. In addition to the annual National Dog Show (NBC, noon) there is the prime time special “The All-Star Dog Rescue Celebration” (Fox, 8 p.m.), hosted by Kaley Cuoco, honors rescue dogs with celebrities like Emmy Possum, Betty White, Olivia Munn, Paula Abdul and Kathy Griffin.

Another tradition: Philadelphia at Detroit (Fox,12:30 p.m.). Other NFL action today Carolina at Dallas (CBS, 4:30 p.m.) and  Chicago at Green Bay (NBC, 8:30 p.m.).

Students from public school arts programs go to the President’s house to attend master classes on theater from the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Gloria Estefan, Andrew Lloyd Weber and Cicely Tyson in “Broadway at the White House” (TLC, 8 p.m.), hosted by Kristin Chenoweth and Matthew Morrison, with Michelle Obama popping in as well.

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Wednesday TV: Peek at ‘Wiz’ Preparations

mary-j-blige-wicked-witch-the-wiz-2015-nbcIt would seem to be a good night to stage one of those live network musicals that have been popular during holiday times. But no, NBC’s staging of “The Wiz” with Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Common and Ne-Yo won’t happen until Dec. 3. Instead, there is an hour long promotion for it, “The Making of ‘The Wiz Live!’” (NBC, 8 p.m.), that will succeed in sapping the surprise of the costuming and sets, if not the musical numbers.

A new four-episode series “Property Brothers at Home on the Ranch” (HGTV, 9 p.m.) follows renovating twins Drew and Jonathan Scott as they return to fix up a family friend’s home in Alberta near both the Canadian Rockies and the area where they grew up. Also, they’ll get to sing.

Bryan Cranston goes “Inside the Actors Studio” (Bravo, 8 p.m.) to talk about his recent interesting roles in “Trumbo,” as LBJ and before that, as Walter White.

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The Flamin’ Groovies at Rock & Roll Hotel

GrooviesIt’s one of those things that make you believe in Robert Johnson-meets-the Devil stories.

After being a fine revivalist rock band in San Francisco for a few years, a slightly altered version of the Flamin’ Groovies, 40 years ago this month, went into the studio and in a time of rock excess and soft rock slop; a time more than a decade since the first notes of the British Invasion, emerges with a startlingly out of time and yet timeless collection of yearning power pop — a kind of mix of early Beatles exuberance and intricate Byrds jangle not quite replicated before or since.

“Shake Some Action” was the best proto-British rock to come out of San Francisco since the Beau Brummels for sure, and something that would last even longer.

Nothing they did since then could match it. And they almost didn’t have to try, since they already served up the masterpiece.

After breaking up once and for all in 1992, it’s a miracle they’re back together touring after 20 years, covering their own classic LP along with other highlights of other rock and roll they’ve loved over the years.

In the intimate Rock ’n’ Roll Hotel in D.C. on a cold Monday night, they rang out again, despite all manner of sound issues.

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Theater Review: ‘Sons of the Prophet’

6It’s not easy to maintain a balance in dark comedy.

Going too dark dries up the laughter and becoming too wacky blots the underlying pain.

“Sons of the Prophet,” Stephen Karam’s play getting a regional premiere at Theater J in Washington, begins with the death of a man in a rural single car accident, trying to avoid a plastic deer decoy some prankster put in the middle of the road.

It focuses on the effect on a son, who had been training for the Olympics in Pennsylvania but has been sidelined by chronic pain. He takes a part-time job in publishing in order to snare health insurance, but when his boss learns he’s the grandson of “The Prophet” author Kahlil Gibran, she gets excited about him writing his own family history.

Then there is the lingering issue of the freak accident — should the star football player who was dared to place the deer in the road be banned from future games, endangering his future? There are serious ramifications to what starts as something depicted as a wacky death. Plus a lot of things about a Lebanese family in the Pennsylvania valley pocked with town names like Nazareth, Bethlehem, Lebanon and Egypt.

Which is a lot to throw into a stew where flavors are already fighting one another.

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Tuesday TV: Stuffing Charlie Brown Special

FRANKLIN, LINUS, SALLY, CHARLIE BROWN, PEPPERMINT PATTY, SNOOPY AND MARCIEDoubtlessly one of the lesser Peanuts holiday specials — behind Christmas and Halloween — “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” (ABC, 8 p.m.) is still something of an annual tradition. Like other TV adaptations of Charles Schulz’s work, the 1973 holiday special has long since been stitched together with the first of an eight-part miniseries from 1988, “This is America, Charlie Brown: The Mayflower Voyages” to fill out the hour.

A more serious treatment of the same material (the Mayflower part anyway) comes in Ric Burns’ film “The Pilgrims” on “American Experience” (PBS, 8 p.m., check local listings). Later, the rugged life on another English colony, Jamestown, is recounted on a new episode of “Secrets of the Dead” (PBS, 10 p.m., check local listings).

They’re generally not accepted or taken seriously until after Thanksgiving, so why would an early  prime time compendium “Greatest Holiday Commercials Countdown” (The CW, 8 p.m.) be any more acceptable?

Bindi Irwin is probable winner on the finale of “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC, 9 p.m.), due to her scores, personality and especially since she’s dancing with Derek Hough, who has won a record five times before. With all of the PenaVegas by now eliminated, the other finalists are Backstreet Boy Nick Carter and soldier on a Paris train Alek Skarlatos. Before the awarding of the tacky mirror ball trophy are performances by Chaka Khan, Andy Grammar, Elle King, Alexander Jean and Nick Carter.

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