Television is usually in semi-hibernation between Thanksgiving and the start of the new year, but prior to that we get the November sweeps. The need to boost ratings on behalf of local affiliates means we get a couple of high-profile awards shows, big name guest stars, and virtually no repeats outside the Saturday night dead zone. Here's a rundown of some of the big events planned for the three weeks ahead, in chronological order.
November 6: Avatar (HBO, 8 p.m.): The cable premiere of the most successful movie of all time, though if you don't have a large 3-D screen, you might not get the full motion-sickening effect.
November 8: House (Fox, 8 p.m.): If you're missing Olivia Wilde and thinking that House needs another young woman to pick up the slack, you'll be pleased to learn that Amber Tamblyn begins a run on this episode, playing a medical student whose brilliance conceals some issues. House should make her feel right at home.
November 9: The Rules of Engagement (CBS, 8:30 p.m.): If you were thinking of possibilities for a guest starring role as the mother of David Spade's character, how far down would you have to go before you got to the name of Joan Collins? Into the millions?
November 8: Conan (TBS, 11 p.m.): Not exactly a sweeps special because it's going to be a permanent run, but the man who began this year still the host of The Tonight Show starts his new adventure on TBS, albeit with a show that's a lot like the one we're used to from him. Seth Rogen, Lea Michele, and Jack White are the first guests.
November 9: The Good Wife (CBS, 10 p.m.): Unfortunately, Michael J. Fox isn't able to work as much as he used to, but he should be a treat to watch here playing a disabled attorney up against Alicia (Julianna Margulies) in a class-action suit.
November 10: CMA Awards (ABC, 8 p.m.): Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley are the hosts for this big night of country, which will hopefully feature lots of wins for the matchless Miranda Lambert. Nashville fans tend to take their genre seriously, so I have no idea why ABC is so heavily promoting Gwyneth Paltrow's live debut as a country singer. Anyone who survived her karaoke singing in Duets is still eligible for pain-and-suffering payments.
November 11: The Apprentice (NBC, 10 p.m.): This series is more entertaining this season than it's been since the early days, though still not back to where it was before Donald Trump made it a total showcase for his family. Noted business leader Kim Kardashian appears this week, as the challenge involves advertising for a perfume.
November 13: Tracy Morgan: Black and Blue (HBO, 10 p.m.): Hard to believe this is the first HBO special for the very strange 30 Rock star, who has a raunchy persona anyway but won't have to hold anything back on pay cable. This performance was taped at the Apollo Theater.
November 15: How I Met Your Mother (CBS, 8 p.m.): The first appearance of "Robin Sparkles" was one of the most memorable sitcom episodes of the 2000s; her second time around was ... uh ... less memorable. Expect more of this show's weird appreciation of Canadian culture, and a parody of some aspect of '80s-ness.
November 15: The Big C (Showtime, 10:30 p.m.): Some have found this series smug, precious, and totally unrealistic about the cancer experience, but it's been a success. The first season finale finds Cathy (Laura Linney) coming to a crossroads in her treatment, though not to such an extent that we won't be seeing more of this show in 2011 (hope that last part isn't too big a spoiler).
November 16: The Good Wife (CBS, 10 p.m.): First we had Justin Bieber on CSI; now it's Miranda Cosgrove guest starring here as a teen star being accused of an alcohol-related killing. What is it with these kids using the CBS procedurals geared to their grandparents to prove that they have dramatic range? What's next, Willow Smith turning up on Criminal Minds as a serial killer who strangles victims with her hair?
November 21: American Music Awards (ABC, 8 p.m.): Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Ke$ha, and Usher are among the major nominees and potential performers this year, as if we needed another reminder of what a horrific year in music it's been.
November 23: Glee (Fox, 8 p.m.): I've been increasingly skeptical of its new emphasis on theme episodes and stunt casting, but this might work: Carol Burnett guest stars as the mother of Jane Lynch's Sue Sylvester. Producers promise we'll learn what made Sue the woman she is today. That's what Glee has needed to balance out the singing: a good Tarzan yell.
November 23: Dancing With the Stars (ABC, 9 p.m.): The Mirror Ball Trophy is handed out in the season finale. As of this writing, Bristol Palin is still in contention, and if she makes it this far, I assume some combination of true believers and pranksters will make her the champion. For some reason, I'm reminded of the time my alma mater elected a cow as the homecoming queen.