Top Picks: 'Downton' returns, a celebration of the funny women of the small screen, and more

Writer Gretchen Rubin studies how to be 'Happier At Home,' National Geographic ranks the best trips to take in the coming year, and more.

PBS
PBS
Betty White

Making them laugh

Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Betty White, Mary Tyler Moore, Marla Gibbs, Joan Rivers, and more – these are the Funny Ladies of the small screen that PBS profiles in "Pioneers of Television." Some, such as Ms. Moore and Ms. Burnett and even Ms. Rivers, initially saw themselves as serious actresses. But producers (Carl Reiner, for instance) saw them differently, and collectively these women helped write the history of early TV. Tune in Jan. 15 at 8 p.m. to see how these women influenced later performers such as Phyllis Diller.

Downton mania

If you are not one of the fans who are already dotty over Downton Abbey – and you know who you are – now is the time to jump on board. The sudsy period drama set sail for its third season on PBS in the United States on Jan. 6. If you are still running to catch up, you can either drop the dollars for a DVD combo pack of the first and second seasons or head over to YouTube and watch a five-minute recap of the first two seasons at http://bit.ly/DowntonRecap. And if you want to race ahead, the complete third season will be available on DVD and Blu-ray Jan. 29.

Home and happy

Gretchen Rubin, author of "The Happiness Project," turns her attention to being more content in her abode in her book "Happier at Home." Ms. Rubin focuses on realizing how much she has to be grateful for in her house already, as well as making it easier to feel satisfied there. One step: Get rid of clutter. "In many cases, my possessions blocked my view and weighed me down," she wrote. "I wanted to feel more in control of stuff." Check out her book if you're craving some ideas to help you make a fresh start in your own home.

Pack your bags

Looking to plan a getaway for the coming year? National Geographic has you covered with its ranking of the best trips to take in 2013, whether you want to catch a glimpse of the rare white Kermode spirit bears in the Great Bear Rainforest of Canada or enjoy the sand and crystalline waters of Grenada. Check out the full list of recommended destinations at http://bit.ly/besttrips.

Word play

It's nice to see an iPhone word game that isn't essentially a rip-off of Boggle or Scrabble. Wordogram adds an underused wrinkle in word games: logic. At the beginning of a match, the game chooses a four- or five-letter mystery word for players to uncover. You take turns guessing words, and the computer tells you how many letters in each word are also in the secret word. Can you deduce the word in 15 guesses? Ten? Fewer?

They fought slavery

PBS has timed its new three-part series, The Abolitionists, perfectly. As Steven Spielberg's film "Lincoln" climbs the list of potential Academy Award nominees, this PBS documentary is an in-depth look at the men and women who laid down their careers and, in some cases, their lives to destroy the institution of slavery in the US. Check local listings.

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