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Top Picks: The Super Deluxe box set of 'The Velvet Underground & Nico,' this year's Annual Kennedy Center Honors broadcast, and more

'Downton Abbey' returns for a fourth season on PBS, PBS's 'American Masters' examines the life of prolific composer Marvin Hamlisch, and more top picks.

By Staff / December 20, 2013

Josh Barratt/PBS/AP

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Return to the manor

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Season 4 of the iconic Edwardian Era series Downton Abbey returns on PBS Jan. 5 with much of its beloved cast intact and new guest stars (think Paul Giamatti). The debut is a two-hour special, featuring a family just emerging from six months of mourning for Matthew Crawley. But with two new babies on board and the return of outspoken Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine), fans will have enough new intrigue and fresh storytelling to sustain them. A commemorative book, “Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey,” is chock-full of photos from all four seasons.

Ring in the New Year

Here’s a treat for those of us who would put Julie Andrews – and Johann Strauss, king of the Viennese waltz – on our list of favorite things. On Jan. 1 at 2:30 p.m. (with an encore at 8 p.m.) both are paired in PBS’s “Great Performances” From Vienna: The New Year’s Celebration 2014, under the expert baton of Daniel Barenboim from Vienna’s Musikverein. Tap your toes to Strauss’s stirring one-two-three melodies.

Science meets religion

John Templeton is well known for his investing acumen – and less well known for his investment in spiritual ideals. But a new documentary, Contrarian, weaves his two passions into a single narrative that details an impressive man who brought together theologians and scientists to explore what he called “new spiritual information.” Though he was often criticized for his interest in spirituality, the 21st century has vindicated him: The National Institutes of Health is studying his ideals in the context of warring nations. The film airs on Bloomberg TV Dec. 26 at 9 p.m.

Collector’s velvet

The late Lou Reed’s dark and magnificent rock ’n’ roll heart shines through nearly every track on The Velvet Underground & Nico 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe box set. This sumptuous, lovingly assembled edition of their groundbreaking debut features remastered stereo and mono mixes (Discs 1 and 2) that eclipse any previous versions of the album. A hardbound photo book is included, as well as four additional CDs of alternate takes, rehearsals, a 1966 live concert, and Nico’s solo album “Chelsea Girl.”

National treasures

This year’s The 36th Annual Kennedy Center Honors embraces honorees Martina Arroyo, Herbie Hancock, Billy Joel, Shirley MacLaine, and Carlos Santana with its usual string of übertalented presenters, many of whom are performers themselves. They range from Kathy Bates and Harry Belafonte to Bill O’Reilly, Snoop Dogg, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor. It airs Dec. 29 on CBS.

Keyboard genius

Marvin Hamlisch’s genius brought us hit after smash hit, including stage works such as “The Goodbye Girl” and “A Chorus Line.” He is one of only 11 EGOTs – winners of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. Find out why with Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did For Love on PBS’s “American Masters,” premièring Dec. 27 (check local listings).

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