Are we ready for 'Modern Family: Empty Nest'?

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By Kevin McDonough

Vanessa Williams guest-stars on "Modern Family" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14). Now in its ninth season, this sitcom has the difficult job of sustaining itself now that all but two of the children have reached the age where they can leave the nest.

The series was notable in many ways when it debuted. While the faux documentary-style had been used rather self-consciously in cult hits like NBC's "The Office," "Modern" blended the convention seamlessly into its presentation and became a bona fide hit.

The show has allowed us to watch its juvenile cast members grow up before our eyes. Many classic series wrapped up when the "cute" kid from the first season hit adolescence. The stars of "Leave It to Beaver" and "Malcolm in the Middle" were very different people by the time those shows ended. To watch little Opie from "The Andy Griffith Show" grow up, you'd have to stick around for "Happy Days."

Are we ready to watch the precocious Manny face his freshman year in college? You know his roommates will look forward to his mother's visits. When is it time to say goodbye? The kids on "The Middle" have reached a similar age and that series has entered its final season. I, for one, don't think I can bear watching Haley enter middle age, should I live that long.

"Frontline" (10 p.m., PBS, TV-PG, check local listings) enters its 36th season with a profile of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Engaged in a bellicose war of words with the West, he remains a mystery.

This hourlong documentary examines the homicidal lengths he has gone to consolidate power, including allegations that he ordered the assassination of his own brother.

"Expedition Unknown: Hunt for Extraterrestrials" (9 p.m., Travel) presents dispatches from a 50,000-mile trip to examine sites purported to have been visited by aliens. The show also travels to places where NASA and other space agencies keep their eyes on the skies. Josh Gates hosts.

For those keeping score, this less-than-serious series debuts on the 60th anniversary of the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik, the first man-made object to orbit the Earth, an event that sparked the Space Race.

• Those searching for intelligent life in the universe will probably draw a blank when confronted with "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" (9 p.m., Bravo, TV-14), now entering its eighth season.

• Nothing tugs at the heart strings like baby animal videos, or tales of orphaned youth. "Nature" (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings) enters its 36th season with a profile of Naledi, a baby elephant who lost her mother shortly after being born in an animal sanctuary in Botswana.

TONIGHT'S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

• Forest Whitaker guest-stars on "Empire" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

• Ryan Seacrest hosts the "iHeartradio Music Festival Night 1" (8 p.m., CW, TV-14).

• October baseball gets going in the National League Wild Card Game (8 p.m., TBS).

• On "NOVA" (9 p.m., PBS, TV-PG, check local listings), engineers examine medieval suits of armor and speculate on how they were manufactured in a pre-industrial era.

• The rescue of an infant from a sweltering SUV leads to the discovery that her mother has vanished on the ninth season premiere of "Unusual Suspects: Deadly Intent" (9 p.m., ID, TV-14).

• Chaos at a street fair on "Chicago P.D." (10 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

• Hannah has Lloyd in her sights on "Designated Survivor" (10 p.m., ABC, TV-14).

CULT CHOICE

Director Stanley Kubrick put the emphasis on visual opulence in his 1975 adaptation of Thackeray's novel "Barry Lyndon" (10:15 p.m., TCM), starring Ryan O'Neal and Marisa Berenson.

SERIES NOTES

Wild banshees on "Survivor" (8 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) * The team targets a rich art thief on "The Blacklist" (8 p.m., NBC, TV-14) * Fact and fiction on "The Goldbergs" (8 p.m., ABC) * Maya makes new demands on "Speechless" (8:30 p.m., ABC, TV-14) * Syrian civilians face danger on "SEAL Team" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14) * A victim's story unravels on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14) * A new label head makes harsh demands on "Star" (9 p.m., Fox, TV-14) * The social swing on "American Housewife" (9:30 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) * A creep packs victims in luggage on "Criminal Minds" (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

LATE NIGHT

John Hodgman appears on "The Daily Show With Trevor Noah" (11 p.m., Comedy Central) * Lukas Nelson is booked on "Conan" (11 p.m., TBS) * Expect Kerry Washington, Russell Brand and St. Vincent on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" (11:35 p.m., CBS) * Jimmy Fallon welcomes Hillary Clinton and Miley Cyrus on "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC) * Tina Fey, Kevin Millar, Sean Casey, Matt Goldich and Gene Hoglan visit "Late Night With Seth Meyers" (12:35 a.m., NBC) * Cheryl Hines and Mark Feuerstein appear on "The Late Late Show With James Corden" (12:35 a.m., CBS).

© 2017, United Feature Syndicate