What's on TV: shows worth noting for Dec. 16-28

The following are not necessarily recommended by the Monitor. All times Eastern, check local listings.

Off Season (Showtime, 8-10 p.m.): After a little boy loses his parents, he makes up terrible stories about people. His aunt challenges him to make up a happy story, and when he looks at a gruff old man (Hume Cronyn is terrific in the role) he decides he's Santa Claus. This sweet family picture may sound gooey, but it manages to keep enough twists, turns, and realism (about kids, anyway) to hold your interest. Everybody has secrets, and some people just are not what they appear to be. Adam Arkin, Sherilyn Fenn, and young Rory Culkin star.

Merce Cunningham: A Lifetime of Dance (PBS, check local listings): The American Masters series examines the revolutionary dancer's style and influence on modern dance, of which he is a cornerstone. His work extends even to "motion capture" (computer) technology. This documentary provides a homely view of his childhood and an inspired view of his aesthetic.

'Twas the Night: A Holiday Celebration (HBO, 7:30-8 p.m.): Made by the same folks who put together the wonderful "Good Night Moon" for HBO, this charming film combines music and animation (including song stylings of Louis Armstrong, Nat "King" Cole, and Bette Midler) with interviews of kids on what the holidays mean to them. They're cute and earnest; families should enjoy the show.

Tuesday 12/18

She Says/Women in News (PBS, check local listings): Maybe the differences between men and women can be useful in reporting the news. This outstanding documentary examines the careers of important women journalists who are making a difference in positions of power. When these women started their careers, the newsroom was still mostly a male domain. They helped change that and brought with them new perspectives.

Flying Casanovas (PBS, 8-9 p.m.): It may sound like a trapeze act, but this special Nova offering is a fascinating look at bowerbirds. Sir David Attenborough, who spikes his learned observations with subtle wit, takes us to Australia and New Guinea to watch the birds build elaborate bowers and decorate them with flowers, fruit, stones, and shells to attract mates. The male bird's bowers are works of art - or superb craft, anyway.

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