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Friday, January 30, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 15.0° F  Fair
Arts
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One for the ages
America falls for pro football in The Greatest Game Ever Played
on
Stunning throws, impossible catches, thrilling goal-line
stands.
Stunning throws, impossible catches, thrilling goal-line stands.

The Greatest Game Ever Played (Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN) uses archival TV footage and radio broadcasts to re-create 1958's National Football League championship game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts. Glancing at the title, you say, "No way." But ESPN emphatically answers, "Way." With its dramatic reversals, its unprecedented sudden-death overtime and its titanic players (Johnny Unitas, Rosy Grier, Alan Ameche), this was the game that made America fall in love with pro football.

In interview segments, current players from the Colts and Giants chat with survivors of the '58 game. They marvel over the differences between then and now: few red flags, goal posts right on the goal line, more mud than grass on the field, no instant replay, fans who stream out of the stands, and a dorky halftime show with cheerleaders dressed up as reindeer. But there's nothing dorky about the game itself, which pitted the Colts' irresistible offense against the Giants' immovable defense. We see stunning throws, impossible catches and thrilling goal-line stands. ESPN even brings in a forensics expert to analyze a first-down decision that's been contested for the past 50 years.

Super Bowl XLIII has its work cut out for it if it hopes to match this exciting broadcast.

It's a Wonderful Life
Saturday, 7 pm (NBC)

Once again, NBC broadcasts the 1947 movie about a small-town Job who triumphs over hardship; once again, we all cry. As if the financial crisis weren't enough, here's yet another reason to hate evil bankers.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Saturday, 8 pm (Hallmark Channel)

A beautiful single mom wastes her time with a soulless businessman (you know he's soulless because he's always taking cell phone calls). She has a lovable uncle (you know he's lovable because of his thick Brooklyn accent), who meets a free spirit in the airport (you know he's a free spirit because of his vest and stubble). The free spirit follows the uncle home for the holidays, but he perceives that Christmas isn't what it ought to be in this household (he knows because of the artificial Christmas tree). Can he set things right by...oh, I don't know, winning the mom away from the bad boyfriend, even though she initially hates his guts?

No, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year doesn't miss a single cliché. Any other time of the year I'd flatten it like a pancake, but the holidays must have put me in a forgiving mood. Henry Winkler is a lively presence as the uncle, and Brooke Burns and Warren Christie are so gorgeous as the couple-to-be that two hours pass before you know it.

I'm gonna let The Most Wonderful Time of the Year off the hook, Hallmark Channel. But don't get too smug, because after Christmas it'll be back to scathing reviews as usual.

The Year in Animals
Saturday, 9 pm (Animal Planet)

It was a great year for cats, who came when they were called. Not so much for dogs, though, who wouldn't stay off the couch or hold still for their baths.

Video Game Awards
Sunday, 8 pm (Spike)

It's time to honor the year's best first-person shooter, best RPG and best multiplayer game. My 12-year-old son deserves some kind of award himself for talking me into buying him a couple of M-rated games, which he insisted "aren't that bad."

Cat Dancers
Monday, 7 pm (HBO)

Married dancers Ron and Joy Holiday started one of showbiz's first exotic-tiger acts in the 1960s. They hired a circus guy named Chuck Lizza, who became the lover of both Ron and Joy. This documentary chronicles the unique relationship of the three entertainers with home video footage and TV interviews. Their careers were going great until a white Bengal tiger ate Chuck in 1998. Five weeks later, it ate Joy.

Bummer of an ending, unless you look at it from the tiger's perspective.

Drama High: The Making of a High School Musical
Monday, 8 pm (ABC)

ABC milks the High School Musical phenomenon with this two-hour special about a real Virginia high school mounting a production of The Wiz. We're privy to casting calls, rivalries, triumphs and disappointments - in other words, stuff that is of no interest to anyone but students from this particular school. Unless the star of the show is as charismatic as Zac Efron, it's gonna be a long two hours.

A Charlie Brown Christmas
Tuesday, 7 pm (ABC)

How can the lamest Christmas pageant of all time also be the most moving? The secret died with Charles Schulz.

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