Christmas comes early to TV

Christmas is upon us " at least on television. A full 12 days before Thanksgiving, the Hallmark Channel unspools "Christmas with Tony Bennett: Behind the Scenes" (7 p.m. today), the first holiday special of the year. As the title implies, the show is really a documentary about the making of a new CD, Bennett's first Christmas album since 1968.

  • Kelsey Grammer is never afraid to play the fool " as long as the fool gets to wear designer clothes, sip expensive wines and hobnob with the posh set. Grammer does not stray far from his "Frasier" form in the genial, if confused, holiday movie "Mr. St. Nick" on "The Wonderful World of Disney" (6 p.m. Sunday, ABC).

Grammer plays Crown Prince Nick St. Nicholas, the son and heir to Santa Claus (Charles Durning). He's due to inherit the family business and extensive Christmas Eve obligations, but he'd rather hang out in Miami Beach soaking up the sun and ogling bikini-clad girls.

Nick falls for a scheming TV meteorologist (Elaine Hendrix) who bamboozles him into participating in a dot-com fraud. Nick also hires a feisty Latina chef (Ana Ortiz), who seems to see through his weathergirl's fraudulent plans.

With so much going on, "Mr. St. Nick" may be the most convoluted and far-fetched Christmas movie since "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians."

  • "Inside TV Land: Taboo TV" (8 p.m. Sunday, TV Land) looks at how television has evolved, or devolved, since the squeaky-clean households of "Father's Knows Best." In television's infancy, advertisers demanded that programs adhere to a strict code of decency.

While early television characters refrained from sex and profanity, they smoked like fiends and frequently got tipsy. "Taboo" includes vintage clips from "The Dick Van Dyke Show," in which Rob and Laura praise the virtues of Kent cigarettes. On "Bewitched," Larry Tate's wife fortifies herself with martinis before telling her husband that she is expecting his baby.

  • A talented broom-flier (Daniel Radcliffe) is educated to fulfill his enchanted destiny in the 2001 fantasy "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (7 p.m. today, HBO). Scrupulously faithful to J.K. Rowling's best-selling tome, and belabored by expensive and indulgent special effects, "Potter" unfolds at a maddeningly sluggish pace. It has a two-and-a-half-hour running time, but it seems much longer.

Today's highlights

  • Southerlyn risks her life to defuse a hostage standoff on "Law & Order" (7 p.m., NBC).
  • Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment star in the 1999 supernatural drama "The Sixth Sense" (7 p.m., ABC). I see reruns.
  • Fred Dryer and Stepfanie Kramer reprise their roles in the TV movie "Hunter: Return To Justice" (8 p.m., NBC), based on the 1984-91 police drama.
  • Will Smith stars as a charismatic boxer in director Michael Mann's 2001 biography "Ali" (9 p.m., Cinemax). Style beats substance by a TKO.

Sunday's highlights

  • Scheduled on "60 Minutes" (6 p.m., CBS): an interview with journalist Bob Woodward; weapons inspections in Iraq.
  • "Anatomy of a Scene" (6:30 p.m., Sundance) looks at the making of director Todd Haynes' drama "Far From Heaven."
  • Corrupt local cops try to bribe high school players on "American Dreams" (7 p.m., NBC).
  • The two-part miniseries "Master Spy: The Robert Hanssen Story" (8 p.m., CBS), starring William Hurt, concludes.
  • The eight-part miniseries "The Forsyte Saga" concludes on "Masterpiece Theatre" (8 p.m., PBS).
  • A deadly highway accident looks like a case of insurance fraud on "Boomtown" (9 p.m., NBC).
  • Larry David's comedy of pettiness, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (9 p.m., HBO) wraps up its third season.


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