Tube Talk: Shows to check out while everything else is in repeats

By Paula Hendrickson
Contributing Writer

As happily unexpected as it is to NBC and their advertisers, the Olympics are dominating the ratings. Several network shows are in repeats, but there are still some original programs for viewers who don’t care about ski-jumping, bobsledding, and which figure skaters can do a clean quad.

Faces of America, Wednesdays on PBS (8 p.m. on WTTW; 9 p.m. on WHA)—This four-part series, hosted by Henry Louis Gates, traces the lineage of several prominent people, from Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi to American-born Queen Noor of Jordan. Meryl Streep, Stephen Colbert, Mario Batali, Eva Longoria-Parker and cellist Yo-Yo Ma are among some of the people participating in this program. Gates presents each one with an album highlighting the struggles and successes of their ancestors who first came to the United States. Gates’ previous series, African-American Lives and African-American Lives 2 went one step further by incorporating genetic testing to reveal the participants’ precise biological heritage. But this show is still riveting as it explores the cultural and historic context of how 12 families first emigrated to America.

→ The Amazing Race and Undercover Boss, Sundays, back-to-back on CBS at 7 and 8 p.m.—Reality competition shows aren’t normally my thing, but The Amazing Race is, well, amazing. Teams of contestants travel the globe, facing difficult challenges—called Road Blocks—along the way. Most Road Blocks showcase something about the community the contestants are in. On this season’s second episode, one challenge had them on a Chilean farm hunting down the ingredients for kutchen. Yes, the German dessert. Why? That area of Chile has a large number of German descendents. It’s nice when you can learn something by watching a fast-paced reality show. It’s a vicarious thrill—for the challenges as well as the beautiful scenery.

Undercover Boss can feel really staged now and then, but who wouldn’t love to see the top boss of their company doing entry-level work alongside the employees who are the backbone of the entire company? I just hope some of the CEOs and presidents participating in the show really do make positive changes when they find problems with how they run their business. (Maybe some Rockford-area businesses could try their own covert operations and challenge their big bosses to try to hold their own alongside their lower-level employees. It couldn’t hurt, and could prove enlightening.)

→ Life Unexpected, Wednesdays on CW at 7 p.m.—Don’t ignore this new series just because it’s on the CW. The show is smart, funny and at times heartbreaking. It’s about a teen-ager named Lux, who grew up in foster care. In an effort to become an emancipated minor, she needed to find her birthparents (the hardest thing to buy about the show’s premise was that she needed their signatures for her to be emancipated—her teen-age mother had given her up for adoption, and her father never knew she’d been born). The mother assumed Lux had been adopted and was guilt-ridden to learn a health problem and subsequent surgery made the child virtually unadoptable. The fun of the show comes from the three of them forging new relationships, and the daughter realizing she’s the most level-headed one of the family. If you like Gilmore Girls or Dawson’s Creek, you’ll probably like Life Unexpected.

While everything else is in repeats, why not check out some different shows?

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Send in your suggestions to

From the Feb. 24-Mar. 2, 2010 issue

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