As the summer rolls on I feel my most important job is keeping an eye out for the best of the reruns. About 80 percent of viewers - usually more - weren’t watching the first time around anyway.
The good stuff is hard enough to find. It’s mixed in with mind-numbing sitcoms and redundant, exploitive movies-of-the-week that fill the regular season. It’s easy to overlook some of television’s best offerings.
“Lion: Africa’s King of the Beasts” (ABC at 8), which first ran in 1994 during the week between Christmas and New Year, is a rare jewel we’re fortunate to see return for an encore.
This “ABC World of Discovery” special chronicles a year in the life of a pride of lions inhabiting Tanzania’s pristine Ngorongoro Crater region.
You won’t see a finer nature documentary, as the camera reveals an intimate look at the lions’ daily struggles to mate, rear young, hunt prey and survive the elements - including a devastating 7-month dry season.
The hour, filmed in 1992 and ‘93, shows the pride’s unique structure. It is dominated by a senior male and a female. The male is the pride’s chief protector; the female is the main hunter. But in many ways, these big cats are similar to everyday house cats. Sometimes that is strikingly obvious as they are seen playing, lounging and sleeping.
“World of Discovery” has won dozens of awards, including eight Emmys, since its 1990 debut. This is another winner.
“Mad TV,” FOX at 8: Among the skits, “Action Jackson” finds Michael Jackson (Phil LaMarr) transformed from the “King of Pop” into the “King of Cops.”
“Fired Up,” NBC at 8:30: Kelsey Grammer guest stars as a potential client in this repeat from April. Terry (Leah Remini) coerces Gwen (Sharon Lawrence) into posing as her secretary in order to close the deal.
“Cybill,” CBS at 9: There are plenty of laughs as Cybill (Cybill Shepherd) goes through “the change” at the same time that Ira’s (Alan Rosenberg) visiting mother (Florence Stanley) shows that she’s a swinger in her ‘60s. As usual, there’s a message: This one is that you’re only as old as you feel. Repeat.
“Family Pictures” (1993), ABC at 9: The two-part movie comes to a merciful conclusion. It should have been called “All in the Dysfunctional Family,” because the Eberlins are a collective mess: Sam Neill plays a know-it-all psychiatrist who can’t communicate.
Anjelica Huston, as his wife, is a sullen boozer with a martyr complex. Their trouble supposedly began with the birth of an autistic son. The other kids - at least the two most seen, played by Dermot Mulroney and Kyra Sedgwick - seem to have inherited an aversion to intimacy.
The unfortunate thing is that Huston’s impassioned performance goes almost for naught in the maudlin adaptation of Sue Miller’s novel. Too bad the TV-movie doesn’t shed much light on how to resolve the maladaptive behaviors.
“Figure It Out,” NIK at 6: What do you get when you add Nickelodeon’s infamous slime to the classic quiz show “I’ve Got a Secret”? Fun, that’s what. A kids panel tries to guess what’s special about guests. The new series will air Monday through Friday for two weeks before moving to 6 o’clock Saturdays and Sundays starting July 25.
“High Stakes” (1997), LIFE at 9: Cynthia Gibb plays a gambling addict in this made-for-cable melodrama that is pure formula. Gibb is strong as a wife and mother who bottoms out before seeing the light. But her performance isn’t enough to overcome a cliche-ridden and totally predictable script.
“Tonight,” NBC at 11:35: French Stewart (“3rd Rock from the Sun”).
“Late Show With David Letterman,” CBS at 11:35: Talk-show host/actress Rosie O’Donnell, actress Heather Matarazzo and music group Cracker. Repeat.
“Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher,” ABC at 12:35 a.m.: TBA.
“Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” NBC at 12:35 a.m.: Actress Sherry Stringfield and singer Kenny Rogers. Repeat.
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