Letters to Santa provide heart-warming stories

Who knew a trip to the dead-letter office could be so heartwarming? Jim Belushi is host of "Dear Santa" (8 p.m., ABC), a glance at the thousands of letters children send to St. Nick every year. "Santa" focuses on just six of these missives, and sets about trying to fulfill each child's wish. And these kids aren't just asking for a new Playstation.

Kedra, 9, wants Santa to help her find her long-lost grandfather whom her mother has been trying to locate for the past 20 years. A child with leukemia requests a trip to Elvis' Graceland mansion, and one child hopes Santa can make it snow in Arizona in time for Christmas. Ten-year-old Manny has a simpler request -- he wants Santa to help his mother look nice, smell good and be happy. I bet she'll be thrilled to hear about that letter.

  • Dave Attell stays up all night so you won't have to. Now in its third season, "Insomniac with Dave Attell" (9:30 p.m., Comedy Central) follows the stand-up comic on all-night crawls in various cities as he scours streets, bars, tattoo parlors and other curious spots in search of very-late-night excitement. Fans who wish to catch up with shenanigans from the first two seasons can catch "Best of Insomniac" (8:30 p.m., Comedy Central).

Tonight's installment takes him to Myrtle Beach, S.C., during "Bike Week," when thousands of motorcyclists descend on the beach. "Insomniac" becomes more interesting after even the most diehard bars announce their last calls. With no drunks or raunchy tourists left to interview, Attell visits workers on the night shift at Myrtle Beach airport and helps feed the critters at Alligator Adventure, the largest reptile park in the world. With his hangdog looks and sardonic, self-deprecating wit, Attell is the perfect tour guide to America's freaky demimondes.

  • What do James Cameron, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Sylvester Stallone, Jonathan Demme, Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson, William Shatner, Bruce Dern and Nancy Sinatra have in common? They all made movies with B-movie legend Roger Corman, profiled tonight on "The Directors" (6 p.m., Encore).

A veteran of hundreds of cheap, quickly made films like "Attack of the Crab Monsters," Corman taught two generations of actors, producers and directors to make entertaining movies that were completed on schedule and under budget. Corman made the 1960 classic "Little Shop of Horrors" in just two days, "borrowing" sets, costumes and props from the just-finished $50,000 feature "Bucket of Blood."

Interviewed here, directors Demme, Howard, Cameron and Scorsese look back fondly at their Corman experience. But while they appreciate the fact that he gave them their big break, none would probably return to his style of filmmaking. As Ron Howard recalls, "Roger told me that if I did a good job on (the 1977 action comedy) 'Grand Theft Auto,' I'd never have to work for him again."

Tonight's other highlights

  • Tom Everett Scott ("ER") stars in the 1998 comedy "Dead Man on Campus" (7 p.m., Fox).
  • Uncle Bill's old pal (Johnny Whitaker, star of the original "Affair") plays Santa on "Family Affair" (7 p.m., WB).
  • British comedy team Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French parody J.R.R. Tolkien's fabled trilogy in the one-hour comedy special "French & Saunders: Lord of the Rings" (7 p.m., BBC America).
  • A taxicab accident is not what it seems on "CSI" (8 p.m., CBS).
  • Elton John guest stars on "Will & Grace" (8 p.m., NBC).
  • Abby squabbles with her mother (Sally Field) over her brother's treatment on "ER" (9 p.m., NBC).
  • Scheduled on "PrimeTime" (9 p.m., ABC): an interview with the man who confessed to a brutal 1989 attack on a jogger in New York's Central Park.

Series notes

Eviction number 11 on "Survivor" (7 p.m., CBS) : Ross and Mike (Paul Rudd) spend some uneasy moments on "Friends" (7 p.m., NBC) : A mad scientist schemes to wipe out the island's Stegosaurus population on "Dinotopia" (7 p.m., ABC).

J.D.'s moods swing on "Scrubs" (7:30 p.m., NBC) : Ben Stein guest stars on "Do Over" (7:30 p.m., WB).

Jake meets Dylan's mother on "Good Morning, Miami" (8:30 p.m., NBC) : Back-to-back improvisation on "Jamie Kennedy Experiment" (8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., WB) : An 11-year-old disappears in a subway station on "Without a Trace" (9 p.m., CBS).

Late night

Jennifer Love Hewitt, Diving Dogs and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers appear on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) : Jay Leno greets Billy Crystal, Denise Richards and Alanis Morissette on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC).

Look for Jackie Chan, Marlo Thomas and Ricky Jay on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" (11:35 p.m., NBC).

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