'Charlie Brown Christmas' is the best


The best Christmas special ever made for TV is on tonight -- for the 26th time, but still as watchable and delightful as ever. Also on tap: a memory-stirring (or, if you're a bit younger, merely stirring) documentary about, and titled, "1968."

* "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (8-8:30 p.m., WBAL, Channel 11) -- Right up there with "The Wizard of Oz," this 1967 animated special, based on the beloved Charles Schulz cartoons, is an annual TV tradition: viewers who watched it as kids, with their parents, now are parents watching it with THEIR kids. Personally, I adore Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy" theme the most (you'll know it when you hear it), along with the scrawny tree, and Linus' lecture about "the true meaning of Christmas." Out of the mouths of cartoon babes . . . CBS.

* "American Playhouse: 'Hallelujah' " (8-9:30 p.m., WMPT, channels 22 and 67) -- There's a paucity of holiday specials from minority viewpoints, so this new drama, starring Dennis Haysbert and featuring James Earl Jones and Phylicia Rashad, deserves credit for filling a void. Given the cast, though, it could have filled that void with something better than this, which is watchable but neither inspired nor inspirational. PBS.

* "CBS Reports: '1968' " (9-10 p.m., WBAL, Channel 11) -- Mike Wallace, who serves as correspondent, co-wrote this "CBS Reports" documentary with Maurice Murad, and their approach in revisiting that watershed year is to go heavy on the history, and on what historian James Burke would call the "connections" between seemingly disconnected events -- like the Democratic Convention demonstrations in Chicago and the women's liberation demonstration at Atlantic City. CBS.

* "Great Performances: 'On the Town in Concert' " (9:30-11 p.m., WMPT, channels 22 and 67, and WETA, Channel 26) -- Here's a strange TV quandary: This concert version of "On the Town" works best not when the singers are on stage, but during the instrumental passages, when the orchestral music is complemented by period film footage of New York City. Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who collaborated on the musical with Leonard Bernstein, narrate this operatic concert version, which was taped in London. Tyne Daly is Hildy, Frederica von Stade is Claire, and Thomas Hampson is Gabey. Jerome Robbins' choreography is missing, and is missed. The show-stopper: Cleo Laine, shoehorned in as Cleo Laine. PBS.

* "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" (10-11 p.m., Channel 13) -- Part 1 of 2. TV does this with movies all the time, and ABC even did it once when presenting the TV premiere of one of the "Superman" movies. But adding formerly cut footage from the pilot of a TV series, turning a 105-minute television movie into two one-hour installments? Far as I know, that's a new one. But that's what's happening tonight and next week, as ABC adds a total of 21 minutes of footage to its "Lois & Clark" pilot. Apparently, the first episode was written and filmed as a two-hour premiere, then trimmed back so that ABC could present an inane special called "How I Spent My Summer Vacation." Adding the discarded footage gives "Lois & Clark" fans a reason to watch again, while the Wednesday-night slot gives others a chance to check it out for the first time. Please do: It's a delight. Teri Hatcher, Dean Cain star. ABC.


* "Children of Fate" (8-9:25 p.m., MAX) -- Like an Italian "28 Up," this documentary visits and revisits residents of the slums of Palermo, Sicily, in an unblinking study that earned a grand prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

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