Oct. 26-27, 2017

Sunday nights seem to have lost their luster

BY KEVIN McDONOUGH
Posted 10/27/17

Perhaps a night dominated by the NFL and the World Series is the perfect time to reflect on the relative decline of Sunday nights. Broadcasters and viewers have long considered Sunday as the biggest night of the week. HBO has known for years that …

This item is available in full to subscribers

Oct. 26-27, 2017

Sunday nights seem to have lost their luster

Posted

Perhaps a night dominated by the NFL and the World Series is the perfect time to reflect on the relative decline of Sunday nights. Broadcasters and viewers have long considered Sunday as the biggest night of the week. HBO has known for years that its viewers built their schedules around "The Sopranos" or "Game of Thrones."

Even in its early years, Sunday night television was seen as nearly sacred. The 1960 musical comedy "Bye Bye Birdie" features a song about appearing on "The Ed Sullivan Show," performed with mock devotion, called "Hymn for a Sunday Evening."

I can't help feeling that Sunday nights have lost a bit of their luster. Digital streaming may be one reason. It was fun to wait until Sunday to catch "Mad Men" on AMC. Now that you can gorge on every episode on Netflix, it no longer seems so special.

We might just be up against some Sunday night duds. As expected, "The Walking Dead" saw its audience dip when it returned for an eighth season last week. I've always thought that the lurid series was a 21st-century Western, with zombies as stand-ins for the "savages" that cowboys used to dispatch without remorse or moral qualms. Lately, it's gotten talky. And nobody likes a chatty Western. The season opened with a series of orations that would not have been out of place in some compound belonging to religious zealots, political paranoids or doomsday preppers. We can hear that kind of rhetoric on "Hannity" any night of the week.

Over on HBO, "The Deuce" has slowed to a relative crawl. Did they really think we'd all get emotionally invested in a show about the birth of the porn industry? Like "Boardwalk Empire," this series features astounding sets and production values. But that only takes you so far.

The Sunday night offerings on PBS are decidedly subpar. "The Durrells in Corfu" is quirky to the point of being annoying, and "Poldark" does a poor job of disguising its cheesecake soap opera beneath historical period details. People love "Outlander" on Starz, but everything I just said about "Poldark" goes double for that time-traveling bodice-ripper.

As predicted here, ABC's "Ten Days in the Valley" has failed to excite. We can get emotionally caught up in a mother looking for her lost daughter. We just care less when that mother is a Hollywood bigshot -- even if she's played by Kyra Sedgwick. And don't get me started on "Wisdom of the Crowd," the latest series about tech know-it-alls to land with a thud. On tonight's show, there's much chatter about lawsuits, copyrights and coding! Be still my heart!

- Something to think about while (re)watching "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" (8 p.m. Sunday, ABC, TV-G). We are as far removed in time from this holiday special as Snoopy was from those World War I flying aces when he dreamed about them back in 1966.

- Lifetime departs from women-in-peril shockers to present "Flint" (8 p.m. Saturday), based on real events. An impressive cast, including Betsy Brandt ("Breaking Bad"), Marin Ireland ("Sneaky Pete") and Jill Scott ("Beauty Shop"), portray mothers, wives and activists who fight city hall in Flint, Michigan, when the local water company introduces toxic substances to the town's tap water. Queen Latifah also stars. Based on "The Toxic Tap," a cover story in Time magazine.

- "Saturday Night Live" presents "The David S. Pumpkins Animated Halloween Special" (11:30 p.m., NBC, TV-14), featuring the voices of Tom Hanks and Peter Dinklage ("Game of Thrones"). The half-hour special builds upon a popular sketch from last season. "SNL Presents: Halloween" (midnight, TV-14) follows.

- Scant days before Halloween, Hallmark begins its saccharine Christmas assault. Look for "Marry Me at Christmas" (8 p.m. Saturday), followed by "A Dream of Christmas" (10 p.m.). On Sunday, it's "The Christmas Cure" (8 p.m., TV-PG) and "A Perfect Christmas" (10 p.m.). By my reckoning, there are only 58 shopping days left!

SATURDAY'S HIGHLIGHTS

- The Houston Astros host the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 4 of the World Series (8 p.m., Fox).

- Regional coverage of college football (8 p.m., ABC), teams TBA.

- "The Wonder List With Bill Weir" (9 p.m., CNN) examines efforts to mine copper and gold beneath Alaska's wilderness that some fear could jeopardize the world's last great salmon run.

- The 2017 documentary "Black Sabbath: The End of the End" (9 p.m., Showtime) captures the heavy metal pioneers' final stage performance.

- A "small" dog tips the scales at 85 pounds on "My Big Fat Pet Makeover" (10 p.m., Animal Planet).

- Jane Fonda, Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Bryan Cranston, Matt Lucas and Niall Horan appear on "The Graham Norton Show" (10 p.m., BBC America, TV-14).

SUNDAY'S HIGHLIGHTS

- Scheduled on "60 Minutes" (7 p.m., CBS): North Korea's missiles; a forgery that saved thousands of lives; Qatar faces isolation.

- Claire remains true to her doctor's oath on "Outlander" (8 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).

- If necessary, the Houston Astros host the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 of the World Series (8 p.m., Fox).

- The Detroit Lions host the Pittsburgh Steelers in "Sunday Night Football" (8:20 p.m., NBC).

- George sets a trap on "Poldark" on "Masterpiece" (9 p.m., PBS, TV-PG, check local listings).

-- "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown" (9 p.m., CNN, TV-PG) visits Sri Lanka.

- Rick meets a familiar face on "The Walking Dead" (9 p.m., AMC, TV-MA).

- Vincent gets cold feet about Rudy's plan on "The Deuce" (9 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).

- Ray tries to arrange surgery for Smitty on the season finale of "Ray Donovan" (9 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).

- A government shutdown looms on "Madam Secretary" (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

- Jane is prepared to sacrifice her show for her daughter on "Ten Days in the Valley" (10 p.m., ABC, TV-14).

- Photographer David Bellemere prepares a calendar for Art Basel in Miami Beach in the 2017 documentary "Nude" (10 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).

- Faux pas galore on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (10 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).

- A tempting invitation on "White Famous" (10 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).

- Kevin Smith appears on "StarTalk" (11 p.m., National Geographic, TV-PG) with host Neil deGrasse Tyson.

CULT CHOICE

The 1922 Swedish-Danish silent documentary "Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages" (midnight Sunday, TCM) was banned in the United States for its graphic violence and nudity. An edited version of the film was released in 1968 with a jazz score and a voice-over from beat novelist William S. Burroughs. Both versions can be streamed on YouTube.

SATURDAY SERIES

Mole hunting on "NCIS: Los Angeles" (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) ... Two hours of "Dateline" (8 p.m., NBC) ... Escape plans on "NCIS: New Orleans" (9 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) ... "48 Hours" (10 p.m., CBS) ... A vintage helping of "Saturday Night Live" (10 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

SUNDAY SERIES

A former partner threatens a lawsuit on "Wisdom of the Crowd" (8 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) ... Undercover in the finance jungle on "NCIS: Los Angeles" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14) ... Spanx for the memories on "Shark Tank" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).