Friday TV: Shakespearean King Procession

richardII-610x343“Let us sit upon the ground, and tell sad stories of the death of kings,” Richard II said in Shakespeare’s play of the same name. That’s the idea, too, behind the four history plays produced by BBC under the title “The Hollow Crown” that begins tonight on “Great Performances” (PBS, 9 p.m., check local listings).

A bigger motivation, however, may be the success of “Game of Thrones.” If TV audiences are attuned to complicated stories of ancient rulers and their armies, it’s an optimal time to introduce them to the Shakespearean histories.

Of course these are much more articulate than anything from George R.R. Martin (or practically anyone else). And by stringing together “Richard II” with “Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2,” and “Henry V,” there’s a constant narrative.

Produced by Sam Mendes, the initial offering offers a wealth of fine and often familiar actors on a picturesque and vivid British landscape. This one stars Ben Wishaw (of “Criminal Justice” and “The Hour”) as the faltering king, as well as David Morrissey (the governor from “The Walking Dead”), Patrick Stewart, James Purefoy (“Hannibal”), David Suchet (“Poirot”) and even David Bradley, who played the bloody Walder Frey in “Game of Thrones.” Jeremy Irons will play Henry IV the next couple of weeks, with Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal and Henry V.

If anything can get GoT fans interested in Shakespeare (minus the magic and sex), it’s this (because beheadings are involved).

Missing the anniversary by a week comes the better than usual period film “The Watsons Go to Birmingham” (Hallmark, 8 p.m.), about an African American family from Flint that decides to go to Alabama in the late summer of 1963, only to come face to face with one of the worst horrors of the Civil Rights era. It’s an unusually easy-going film that spends a lot of time showing warmth in the family and makes a good family viewing and important 50th anniversary history lesson at the same time. Anika Noni Rose leads a talented cast.

One network was unveiling new shows most of this week and now another starts, ABC. ¬†with new seasons of “Shark Tank” (ABC, 9 p.m.), “20/20” (ABC, 10 p.m.) and its two Friday sitcoms, “The Neighbors” (ABC, 8:30 p.m.), which may have come the closest to being canceled of the shows that survived, and “Last Man Standing” (ABC, 8 p.m.) tellingly leans on cable hits to bring the buzz, with two stars of “Duck Dynasty,” Si and Willie Robertson, guest starring.

Fox, meanwhile, which has been rolling out shows all week, pauses to repeat a couple of them, the ninth season premiere of “Bones” (Fox, 8 p.m.) and the premiere of “Sleepy Hollow” (Fox, 9 p.m.), in case you missed them.

The documentary “LT: The Life & Times” (Showtime, 8 p.m.) tells the tale of NFL star Lawrence Taylor.

Nearly canceled from network, “Community” (Comedy Central, 9 p.m.) makes its way to cable for reruns.

Why do people crave high end fashion. Magazine editor and TV personality Joe Zee aims to find out in the new series “Revealing: Extravagance” (Sundance, 9 p.m.).

Now that they’ve righted the giant sized cruise ship that’s been sitting on its side for 18 months off the coast of Italy, a special explains how they did it, “Inside Raising the Concordia” (Discovery, 10 p.m.).

Billy Crystal, Joy Behar, David Frum, Chris Hayes and director Jeremy Seifert are scheduled guests on “Real Time with Bill Maher” (HBO, 10 p.m.).

More visions of the future on Turner Classic Movies with “La Jetee” (8 p.m.), “Rollerball” (8:45 p.m.), “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” (11 p.m.) and “Total Recall” (1:45 a.m.).

Daytime Talk

Kelly & Michael: Dylan McDermott, Andre Braugher. The View: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl. The Talk: Neil Patrick Harris, Pati Jinich, the Band Perry. Ellen DeGeneres: Eric Stonestreet, Drake, Evan Ruggiero. Wendy Williams: Terry Crews.

Late Talk

David Letterman: Tim Robbins, Herm Edwards, Passion Pie (rerun). Jay Leno: Jimmy Fallon, Lior Suchard, Billy Currington. Jimmy Kimmel: Simon Cowell, Stacy Keibler, Gary Clark Jr. (rerun). Jimmy Fallon: James Spader, Kate Upton, Neal Preston, Ilan Hall. Craig Ferguson: Neil Patrick Harris. Carson Daly: Deon Cole, Kimbra (rerun). Tavis Smiley: James Cromwell. Chelsea Handler: Tim Gunn, Moshe Kasher, Chris Farah, Chris Franjola (rerun).

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