Of the major awards shows that are considered the leading honor in their artistic field, the Tonys have always been the unloved stepchild. It is always aired in early June following the conclusion of the television season, because it is not considered a strong draw for a viewing public that is largely ignorant of what's current on Broadway. CBS never ceases trying to spark new interest in the Tonys though, generally by calling on familiar figures from TV to host the show, such as Rosie O'Donnell.
The 2009 Tonys (Sunday, CBS 8 p.m.) have tapped Neil Patrick Harris as host, and given his popularity, charm, and familiarity with Broadway, there's no reason why he shouldn't become a perennial on the task. As has been usual in recent years, many of the nominated actors (Jane Fonda, James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels) and even nominated plays (Shrek the Musical, Billy Elliot) are famous for their non-theater associations. But there's nothing wrong with using big names to attract attention, especially in an economic environment where the arts can use all the help they can get.
Also this week:
Monday: I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! (NBC, 8 p.m.): The first U.S. edition of this show, which aired on ABC in 2003, is best remembered for giving J. Lo ex Cris Judd a last moment of renown. This revival has the same format: ten celebrities (most of them from other reality shows) live for three weeks in the Costa Rican jungle, while viewers evaluate their (mis)behavior and vote out those they don't like. How long can Spencer and Heidi really last in a popularity contest?
Tuesday: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (NBC, 10 p.m.): Another season of especially heinous cases ends with the futures of stars Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay still up in the air due to contract issues. A tourist's body is discovered in Central Park with a message scrawled on her face, and the ensuing investigation leads Munch (Richard Belzer) to seek help from his ex-wife (Carol Kane).
Wednesday: The Cougar (TV Land, 10 p.m.): Title character Stacey seems to have a little bit on the ball, even if her attitude towards dating men her own age is hopelessly superficial. And no, I'm not taking it personally, why do you ask? The finale finds Stacey introducing the final two boytoys to her children, and then receiving a proposal when it's time to make her final choice.
Thursday: The Listener (NBC, 9 p.m.): Two shows that once shared the same timeslot, Third Watch and Medium, have been combined in this summer series about paramedic Toby Logan (Craig Olejnik), who has the power of telepathy. In the premiere, Toby works the scene of an accident and uses his powers to deduce that a boy has been taken from the accident scene.
Friday: Whale Wars (Animal Planet, 9 p.m.): This controversial series, which holds the save-the-whales side up to more scrutiny than one might expect from an Animal Planet show, is back for a second year. Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd crew heads back to Antarctica in a continuation of their strategy of directly confronting Japanese whaling vessels, but lousy weather may slow them down.
Saturday: Game Show Awards (GSN, 8 p.m.): How has society made it this far without a game show awards? And see how I phrased that in the form of a question? Howie Mandel hosts this salute to game shows of both the past and present, with legendary hosts Bob Barker and Monty Hall, as well as producer Mark Goodson, singled out for special honors.