'Joan of Arcadia' twist may shock fans

Friday nights remain a toxic minefield for television programmers. This season has seen the failures of bad shows (remember "Luis"? "Wanda at Large"?) as well as good shows ("Wonderfalls" and "Boomtown"). Celebrity proved no cure at all for the Friday-night frights. Fresh from his Emmy for "The Sopranos," Joe Pantoliano tanked in "The Handler" despite CBS's endless promotions. I think it was the silly hat he wore.

Way back in September, I thought the NBC romantic comedy "Miss Match" starring Alicia Silverstone had "hit" written all over it. I was wrong, and so were most critics. And David E. Kelley's impressive resume couldn't save "Boston Public" from extinction. Reality television also failed the Friday test. Remember "Playing it Straight"? I'll bet you wish you didn't.

So what has survived? The sleeper hit of the year turns out to be about a girl who speaks to God and believes He's talking back. "Joan of Arcadia" (7 p.m., CBS) takes an odd twist tonight when Joan convinces herself that the Almighty may be asking her to sleep with her boyfriend. This turn of events may prove shocking for some "Joan" fans. On the other hand, it wouldn't be the first time that edicts from on high were lost in translation.

  • Two Friday-night favorites are hardly your average sitcom stars. And maybe that's why viewers have stuck with shows starring a former soap star and a country singer.

Kelly Ripa has found a large and steady audience with "Hope & Faith" (8 p.m., ABC). Critics, including me, were not kind to this show when it debuted, but, hey, we were the experts who told you that "Miss Match" was going to be a hit.

Ripa returns to her over-the-top soap-opera roots in tonight's hourlong season finale when her character is nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award. A bevy of soap stars, including Susan Lucci, Rebecca Budig, Susan Flannery, Eric Braeden, Cameron Mathison, Eva La Rue, John Callahan, Finola Hughes, Jacob Young, Bobbie Eakes and Ian Buchanan, make guest appearances.

With a plot that rivals most country music torch ballads for cornpone heartache, "Reba" (7 p.m., WB) has been the WB's most dependable Friday-night show for three years now. The season wraps up as Barbara Jean catches Reba and Brock in an emotional clutch and fears that the divorced couple will reunite.

Tonight's other highlights

  • The series finale of "Frasier" (7 p.m., NBC) repeats.
  • Adam Sandler stars in the 2000 comedy "Little Nicky" (7 p.m., Fox).
  • Jennifer Lopez and James Caviezel star in the 2001 mystery "Angel Eyes" (7 p.m., UPN).
  • Missing heroin on "JAG" (8 p.m., CBS).
  • A professor is suspected in a college student's murder on "Cold Case" (10 p.m., CBS).
  • Scheduled on "20/20" (9 p.m., ABC): Europe's young royals.
  • Scheduled on "On the Record with Bob Costas" (10 p.m., HBO): Dennis Hopper and George Thorogood and the Destroyers.

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