Feature: Watch It!

Watch It! Will Ferrell, Jack Daniels, Steve Martin, and Cosmic Brian Green

TV highlights for the week of October 31...

By , Columist

Will Ferrell wins Twain prize

Spookiness reigns tonight with Halloween creeping across the screen from sitcoms to paranormal marathons. But the big winner these days is football, kicking the new fall shows with double the viewers. If you’re seeking alternative fare on television or want to hit the record button, here are highlights to catch:

Monday, October 31

Will Ferrell: The Mark Twain Prize at 9 pm on PBS

This annual gala pays tribute to “Ron Burgundy, anchorman,” and the other kooky characters in Ferrell’s repertoire. He will be honored by Jack Black, Matthew Broderick, Conan O'Brien, John C. Reilly, Andy Samberg, Ben Stiller, and Billie Joe Armstrong.

Tuesday, November 1

Ultimate Factories at 8, 9 and 10 pm on National Geographic Channel

An insider’s view of some of the greatest one-of-a-kind factories from Ferrari to Harley-Davidson to Coca-Cola. At 9 pm visit Jack Daniels and then BMW at 10 pm.

On my recent tour of the country’s oldest distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, the understated charm of the place felt like nothing had changed since the 13-year-old Jack took over the still from a preacher whose congregation declared: It’s us or the hooch.

jack-daniels-distillery.jpg

My guide Mark showed us around the bucolic grounds, from the cave with iron-free spring water to the rickyard where the mellowing sugar-maple charcoal is created and finally the stacked barrels of Old No. 7. No tastings but we got a powerful whiff of Tennessee’s finest, since he told us “it’s aged by scent.” So I asked the classic question.

“The origin of the No. 7 on the label is the stuff of legends. What that number refers might be the batch or Jack’s seventh recipe.” Tune it to learn the secrets of “The Angel’s Share” and more about this iconic site.

This is Spinal Tap at 10 pm on VH1 Classic

Turn it up to 11! This is the ultimate mockumentary. It’s actually more like reality but that doesn’t make it less funny.

Wednesday, November 2

NOVA: The Fabric of the Cosmos at 9 pm on PBS

Why does physics attract kooks? “It’s about ideas that rock their world,” explained physicist Brian Greene, who returns with his latest science series for dummies. Tonight he investigates “expanding space.” I asked Greene if the sci-fi and fantasy craze is fueling increased interest in the field. “Just the opposite. This isn’t science fiction. It’s real. What’s at the forefront of science is exciting. And there’s an untapped hunger and increased appetite that’s taking root.”

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Which makes this stuff all the spookier. Brian Greene will show how real science has proven that matter can be in two places at once. After a stunning peek at show excerpts, I asked if high-tech advances improved the visuals. “The software makes it easier now than ten years ago with the Elegant Universe. It makes it more convincing to show abstract concepts in an imaginative way.” The outstanding metaphors are what make the show's complex ideas understandable to laymen. Green’s mother watches the show. “But she wished I’d become a doctor.”

Catch this mind-blowing show the next four Wednesdays.

Thursday, November 3

Bones at 9 pm on FOX

The premiere of the new season opens appropriately this week with “The Memories in the Shallow Grave.”

Friday, November 4

Give Me the Banjo at 10 pm on PBS

Part of the Fall Arts programming, comedian Steve Martin shares his passion for the most cornball instrument on earth. He narrates the history of the banjo and American roots music. Guests include Taj Mahal, Béla Fleck, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

steve-martin-banjo.jpg

Saturday, November 5

College football on ABC and CBS vs. There Will be Blood at 8 pm on AMC

Other movie offerings: The Wizard of Oz at 8:30 pm on TBS, Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains the Same at 7 pm on VH1, with highlights of 1973’s Madison Square Garden concerts.

Sunday, November 6

It’s wife night at 9 pm: Desperate Housewives on ABC, The Good Wife on CBS and The Real Housewives of Atlanta at 9 pm

America in Primetime at 8 pm on PBS

“To the moon, Alice!” TV fans, tonight’s episode dives into the “Man of the House,” from Ralph Kramden and The Honeymooners to the conflicted Ray Romano.

Masterpiece Contemporary at 9 pm on PBS

Ah, modern masterpieces! This venerated series joins the 21 st century with Page Eight, David Hare's spy thriller with a stellar cast: Bill Nighy, Rachel Weisz, Judy Davis, Michael Gambon, and Ralph Fiennes.

Oh yeah, and NFL Football on NBC.

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Roberta Cruger has written for Salon, The Believer, the LA Times magazine, and more. She was the founding media editor of Creem magazine and a member of MTV’s original programming team. Based in LA, she covers the green carpet for Treehugger and entertainment as US correspondent for the AFP’s RelaxNews.

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