TV highlights for the week of Dec. 22-28. All times are Eastern; check local listings.


Nissan Presents a Celebration of America's Music

Saturday, Dec. 28, 10-11 p.m. (ABC)

SUNDAY - 12/22

How Do You Spell God? (HBO, 7:30-8 p.m.): This special for kids is based on the book of the same name by Rabbi Marc Gellman and Monsignor Thomas Hartman. Children offer opinions on the existence of God, miracles, and why good and bad things happen. Their responses are thoughtful and touching. Some are patients at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Between the interviews, animated segments of varying quality highlight the perspectives of several religions and the works of writers Maya Angelou and A.A. Milne.

Cats! (A&E, 8-10 p.m.): If a cat is your pet of choice, this program offers everything you ever wanted to know and more: feline history, cat shows (with every breed of fur ball imaginable), and kitties in pop culture. The shots of the narrator with his pet are a bit hokey, but the information relayed is generally fun and fascinating.

The Christmas Tree (ABC, 9-11 p.m.): The recipe for this seasonal program is a nun's special tree and the Rockefeller Center gardener who tries to get her to part with it so he can use it for a big Christmas display. Sally Field directs and Andrew McCarthy and Julie Harris star in this Disney-sponsored drama based on the currently best-selling book by Julie Salamon.

Timepiece (CBS, 9-11 p.m.): Racism and disease are odd choices for holiday fare. But best-selling author Richard Paul Evans, who penned the book behind last year's popular teleplay "The Christmas Box" (see Wednesday, 12/25) is going for yet another Christmas weeper. This prequel, set in the 1940s, is a lugubrious tale centering around a good-hearted factory owner (Kevin Kilner) and his English secretary (Naomi Watts). They fall in love, get married, and are so sweet and happy you just know something awful is going to happen to them (this is a TV movie, after all). James Earl Jones and Ellen Burstyn try to add a little dignity to the proceedings, but even they can't save this melodramatic fare.


Trumpet of Conscience (TBS, 6:05-6:50 a.m.): A regular in the TBS holiday lineup, this decade-old special pays tribute to the Christmas Eve 1967 sermon of Martin Luther King Jr. in which he described his hope for peace in the world. Love and social change through nonviolence were two of his themes. The program blends audio and visual elements, like gospel music and film clips from around the globe, with Dr. King's words. It will air without commercials.

Blue-Grey All-Star Classic (ABC, 12 noon-3:30 p.m.): College football's top seniors gather in Montgomery, Ala., for the annual showdown between North and South.

A Christmas Story (TBS, 8:05-10:05 p.m.): A young boy's (Peter Billingsley) obsessive quest for the Holy Grail of Christmas gifts, a Red Ryder BB gun, is the premise for this wonderful 1983 movie about growing up in the Midwest in the 1940s. Based on Jean Shepherd's book, "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash." Also stars Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin.

NBA Basketball (NBC, 8:05-10:05 p.m.): The annual Christmas double-header promises plenty of treats for basketball fans. First, Shaquille O'Neal and the rest of the L.A. Lakers take on the Phoenix Suns. Then Michael Jordan and company host the Detroit Pistons.

The Christmas Box (CBS, 9-11 p.m.): Both this special and the best-selling book it is based on were released last year. And both are back, as is a prequel, "Timepiece" (see Sunday, 12/22). Maureen O'Hara and Richard Thomas star in the tear-jerk tale of a family that learns the true meaning of Christmas when they discover a special box full of love letters.

THURSDAY - 12/26

Bringing Up Baby (AMC, 8-10 p.m.): This 1938 classic screwball comedy has madcap heiress Katharine Hepburn gleefully wrecking zoologist Cary Grant's life. For the uninitiated, Baby is Hepburn's pet leopard.

Hook (ABC, 8-10 p.m.): Steven Spielberg's 1991 film posits the question: What if the boy who never wanted to grow up, did? Robin Williams is a natural as Peter Pan, Dustin Hoffman delicious as Captain Hook - the titular villain of the piece. But despite gorgeous sets and costumes, the movie can't capture the wonder of J.M. Barrie's classic tale.

Kennedy Center Honors (CBS, 9-11 p.m.): Walter Cronkite hosts this tribute to five of entertainment's finest: playwright Edward Albee, jazz star Benny Carter, singer Johnny Cash, actor Jack Lemmon, and ballerina Maria Tallchief. Among those speaking about the honorees are Kenneth Branagh, Wynton Marsalis, and Goldie Hawn; performers include Lyle Lovett and saxophonist David Sanborn.

SATURDAY - 12/28

Nissan Presents a Celebration of America's Music (ABC, 10-11 p.m.): With the lengthy list of stars appearing in this gala, including Natalie Cole, Stevie Wonder, Sinbad, Grover Washington Jr., and k.d. lang, it's not one to miss. Hosted by the ever-popular Bill Cosby, it honors the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in Washington.

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