MONDAY DECEMBER 29
Le Cirque: A Table in Heaven is a smart glimpse into the well-garnished lives of restaurateurs Sirio Maccioni and his three sons, Mario, Marco, and Mauro. The filmmakers document the closing of the landmark eatery in 2004 and preparations for its grand reopening in 2006. Says the New York Times: “These people appear to be absolutely miserable, and yet they do their jobs with admirable skill. It makes for great theater.” Even better than Top Chef. (8 p.m.)
PBS’s season 3 premiere of Great Performances at the Met features the John Adams opera “Doctor Atomic,” set around the 1945 testing of the first atomic bomb. It ain’t over till the mushroom cloud blooms. (9 p.m.)
Some redheaded child stars turn into Danny Bonaduce. Others become Ron Howard. TCM celebrates the latter with Ron Howard: 50 Years in Film. (8 p.m.)
Just in time for New Year’s resolutions, The History Channel kicks off its Seven Deadly Sins series with everyone’s favorite, “Lust.” Learn about Gnostic Christian orgies and those wacky Puritans. (9 p.m.)
TUESDAY DECEMBER 30
Nothing goes to plan after Liev Schreiber recruits Iraqi film student Muthana Mohmed—whose school was destroyed by American bombs—to work on a Hollywood movie. PBS’s Independent Lens documents the mayhem: “On set, idealistic expectations and cultural misunderstandings collide, launching Mohmed on a journey more complicated than either he or his American benefactors ever anticipated.” (10 p.m.)
Morgan Freeman, George Jones, Barbra Streisand, Twyla Tharp, Pete Townshend, and Roger Daltrey are the honorees at the 31st Annual Kennedy Center Honors. Caroline Kennedy hosts (and no one objects); musical guests and luminaries include Beyonce, Glenn Close, Clint Eastwood, B.B. King, Queen Latifah, Lily Tomlin, and Denzel Washington. (CBS, 9 p.m.)
WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 31
New Year’s Eve finds a bevy of marathons, from Law & Order to I Love Lucy, as well as football bowl after bowl, including the Chick-Fil-A Bowl pitting LSU against Georgia Tech. Rolls off the tongue, dunnit? (ESPN, 7:30 p.m.).
As the clock counts down, you can ring in the New Year with class—PBS’s Live from Lincoln Center offers the New York Philharmonic New Year’s Eve Gala Concert. (10 p.m.)
CNN brings Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin together again, covering New Year’s festivities in Times Square and around the globe. Performers include Lil Wayne, Lynyrd Skynyrd, My Morning Jacket, Coolio, and Kathy making jokes about unzipping Anderson’s pants. (11 p.m.)
FOX rings in 2009 from Las Vegas, with performances by David Cook, Daughtry, Scott Weiland, more Lynyrd-flippin’-Skynyrd, plus behind-the-scene glimpses of Cirque du Soleil, a death-defying motorcycle leap by Robbie Knievel, and coverage of the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square. (Did we mention host Mark Thompson also hosted Hole in the Wall?) (11 p.m.)
Fox News brings back its “ UParty” with hosts Bill Hemmer and Megyn Kelly, and invites musical guests O.A.R., Locash Cowboys, Chuck Wicks & Band, and more. (10 p.m.)
BET’s festivities include in-studio performances by Brandy, Jazmine Sullivan, Ray J. Plies, Jim Hones, Juelz Santana, and Jadakiss. (11 p.m.)
MTV allows teen sensation Miley Cyrus to actually invade a fan’s home—as the press release promises: “We're talking total takeover here”—in “FNMTV Presents A Miley-Sized Surprise…New Year’s Eve 2009.” Musical guests include All Time Low, The Academy Is…, Kevin Rudolf, and The Veronicas, two hot Australian twins who will attempt to interview guests. (8 p.m., with an encore and live countdown beginning at 10:30 p.m.)
MSNBC replays Countdown with Keith Olbermann’s “Favorite People 2008” at 10 p.m., followed by the adorable Rachel Maddow’s “Award for Excellence in Categories To Be Determined.” After that, the network will simulcast NBC’s New Year’s Eve with Carson Daly, with Ludacris, T.I., Katy “I Kissed a Girl” Perry, and Elton John via appearing satellite. Broadcast on NBC first in primetime (10 p.m.), then with the ball drop at 11:35 p.m.
Last but not least, ABC brings both a primetime and late-night version of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve With Ryan Seacrest. Fergie will host “West Coast party portions” with performances by Fallout Boy, Ne-Yo, Natasha Bedingfield, Will.i.am and more, while Kellie Pickler reports from Times Square. Maybe Lionel Richie will help her keep Taylor Swift and her ex-Jonas Brother apart. (Performances kick off at 10 p.m., ball drop countdown begins at 11:35)
THURSDAY JANUARY 1
Who says Dancing with the Stars is career suicide? Cloris Leachman shimmies on (gracefully, dammit) as grand marshall of the 120th Tournament of Roses Parade. (ABC, 11 a.m.)
The Bowl games play on, with Penn State vs. South California’s Rose Bowl face-off (ABC, 5 p.m.) and Virginia Tech squaring off against Cincinnati in the Orange Bowl (FOX, 8:30 p.m.).
PBS explores Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood, recounting the experiences of “Jews who took refuge in Hollywood after Adolf Hitler banned them from the German movie industry in 1933.” Hedy Lamarr, Fritz Lang and Billy Wilder get props, along with clips of their earlier films like “Blue Angel” and “Metropolis.” (9:30 p.m.)
FRIDAY JANUARY 2
20/20 takes a look at “extreme motherhood,” exploring home birthing, pretend babies, serial surrogacy, extended breast-feeding and pleasurable childbirth. Juju Chang, Deborah Roberts and Elizabeth Vargas report, while John Stossel apparently gets the hell outta there. Sure to fire up the mommy-blog message boards. (ABC, 10 p.m.)
Utah faces off with Alabama for the first time in the New Orleans Sugar Bowl. (Fox, 8:15 pm)
Watch Howie Mandel tempt a female race car driver with a $1 million prize on Deal or No Deal (8 pm, NBC), then find out why he won’t shake hands with contestants on E!’s True Hollywood Story: Howie Mandel. (9 p.m.).
SATURDAY JANUARY 3
Ashton Kutcher does more than Nikon commercials and Demi Moore: he’s exec-producing CBS’s latest offering, Game Show in My Head, in which players are instructed via earpiece to perform ridiculous tasks in public. In what neighborhood would you disrobe for $50,000? Hosted by Joe Rogan from Fear Factor. (Premiere at 8 p.m., second episode 8:30 p.m.)
If you missed Paul Rudd’s pixilated crotch on SNL, check out the delicious repeat tonight. He manages to make the show edgy, uncomfortable and funny. Plus, the Fosse-inspired dance stylings of Beyonce. (NBC, 11:30 p.m.)
SUNDAY DECEMBER 28
Awake from your Christmas cookie coma with Obama advisor David Axelrod, who will Face the Nation (CBS, 10:30 a.m.) and Meet the Press. (NBC, 9 a.m.) Incoming White House Press Secretary Robert Gibb appears on This Week, (ABC, 10:30 a.m.) and Laura Bush drops by Fox News Sunday. (9 a.m.)
Globe Trekker takes a tour of “Deep South USA” to examine the historical influence of America’s slightly-frightening-to-Northerners region. (11 p.m.)
And don’t miss the first-season conclusion of this year’s sleeper hit, Summer Heights High. Will Mr. G’s musical wow its critics as well? (HBO, 10:30 p.m.)
Nicole Ankowski just earned her MFA in Creative Writing and has been published in Beeswax literary journal. She is unable to resist good writing or bad TV.