Tuesday TV: Kennedy Center Honors to Rescue

The one rare highbrow moment of network television programming during the desert of holiday week is the “The 34th Annual Kennedy Center Honors” (CBS, 9 p.m.). There, the event shot weeks ago in Washington provides an oasis of high art and entertainment in a landscape of reruns and bowl games.

It’s just about the only time of the year you can hear some serious jazz or classical music on network TV for minutes at a time. In this case it was to honor Sonny Rollins and Yo-Yo Ma respectively.

The honorees don’t perform, merely get to bask in others paying tribute (and occasionally elaborately gesture to the crowd and those doing the honoring, signaling thanks and love).

It’s easier with musicians and singers (Barbara Cook and Neil Diamond were also honored) because others can be lined up to do your most familiar material. But with actors, it’s a little more tough. You have to get fellow actors to say how wonderful it was to work with you, and so Robert Di Niro, Kevin Kline and Ann Hathaway do that for Meryl Streep, and Hathaway even sings a song in salute. Streep is very happy to hear all this, and sheds a tear even when others are being saluted.

For all the pretense of high art, though, the evening’s high point was doubtless Smokey Robinson singing “Sweet Caroline” with a big “So Good So Good So Good” singalong chorus from apparently imported Red Sox Nation fans. Eventually, the tune also included the voice of host Caroline Kennedy, about whom Diamond once said he wrote the song.

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