What were they thinking? "Michael Jackson's Halloween" (8 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) follows Vincent (Lucas Till) and Victoria (Kiersey Clemons), who meet on Halloween night. Accompanied by Ichabod the dog, they are guided to an eerie hotel filled with mystery and adventure, culminating in a dance number featuring an animated Michael Jackson. Or is that re-animated?
The special features the voices of Christine Baranski, Alan Cumming, George Eads, Brad Garrett, Lucy Liu and Jim Parsons.
The whole idea of "Michael Jackson's Halloween" seems based on the belief that fame trumps all and that a prettified, animated dead celebrity is always ripe for "re-branding."
Michael Jackson was one of the most amazing and influential talents of his time. But if you stop to think about it, creating a children's holiday special around the image and personality of this particular deceased celebrity raises some thorny issues.
Jackson suffered a fatal overdose in 2009. He has been dead for eight years, presumably the life span of a possible viewer of this cartoon. Imagine explaining the pop star to an 8-year-old. Just how do you gloss over his penchant for Peter Pan slumber parties with underage children? These activities led to criminal charges and legal settlements involving large sums to make unsavory stories go away.
At a time when hush-money settlements from figures including Bill O'Reilly and Harvey Weinstein are erupting in nasty headlines, it's incredible that CBS would build a kids' holiday special around Michael Jackson.
Some stories are too creepy - even for Halloween.
The Jackson special reminds us how far Halloween has strayed from being a children's holiday. It has become a merchandising event.
One of the real joys of the first season of "Stranger Things" was its focus on its pre-adolescent heroes and how they banded together on their bikes and in their basements to battle forces beyond their comprehension - and ours.
- A second season of "Stranger Things" (TV-14) begins streaming on Netflix today.
- Also streaming today on Netflix, the documentary "Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold" (TV-14) profiles the acclaimed essayist and author of "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" and "The White Album."
No film can capture the exquisite joys of reading Didion's spare prose. Unfortunately, "Center" leans a little too much on gossip of both the New York publishing world and Hollywood. It's also a little sad that Didion, a rather singular voice, is discussed almost entirely in terms of her relationship with her husband, novelist and screenwriter John Gregory Dunne.
- "Blindspot" (8 p.m., NBC, TV-14) enters a new season in a new time slot, its third in three years. This FBI thriller featuring a tattooed lady almost single-handedly revived TV's reliance on amnesia. It's also part of a trend of networks other than CBS scheduling original series on Fridays, a night once consigned to repeats, "Shark Tank" and news magazines.
- Amazon Prime imports the British legal drama "Fearless," starring Helen McCrory as a human rights lawyer whose passionate defense of a murder suspect puts her in the crosshairs of several intelligence agencies.
TONIGHT'S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS
- The Houston Astros host the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 3 of the World Series (8 p.m., Fox).
- Tricks and treats on "Once Upon a Time" (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
- Tragedy strikes the royals on "Marvel's Inhumans" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
- The ex-wife of an abusive man is found murdered on "Blue Bloods" (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
- Eric Church, Lady Antebellum, Emmylou Harris, Reba McEntire, Willie Nelson and others perform on "The Life and Songs of Kris Kristofferson" (10 p.m., CMT, TV-PG).
- Dame Maggie Smith starts a YouTube channel on "Tracey Ullman's Show" (11 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).
"Psycho" (8 p.m., TCM) star Anthony Perkins plays a delusional loner who teams up with a cheerleader to embark on a killing spree in the dark, atmospheric thriller "Pretty Poison" (10:15 p.m., TCM).
Rebecca spreads fake news about Josh on "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" (8 p.m., CW, TV-14) ... Lost in the Bermuda Triangle on "MacGyver" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14) ... "Dateline" (9 p.m., NBC) ... Things with Adam move too quickly on "Jane the Virgin" (9 p.m., CW, TV-14) ... "20/20" (10 p.m., ABC).
Dr. Phil McGraw and Fleet Foxes are booked on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" (11:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jimmy Fallon welcomes Denis Leary and 2 Chainz featuring Travis Scott on "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC) ... Jennifer Hudson, Jeff Garlin, Jesmyn Ward and Gregg Bissonette visit "Late Night With Seth Meyers" (12:35 a.m., NBC, r) ... Alicia Vikander, Luke Wilson, Zach Woods and Sir Sly appear on "The Late Late Show With James Corden" (12:35 a.m., CBS, r).