When the ratings for tonight's TV are tabulated on Thursday, there's little doubt what will top the charts — and it won't be the doings in Charlotte on the second night of the Democratic National Convention. (It won't be Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, either, for which civilization can breathe a sigh of relief.)
One of TV's biggest draws returns with the official NFL Kickoff 2012 on NBC (coverage starts at 7:30/6:30c), with the opening game of the season a rematch of the Giants and Cowboys. Their last encounter — the regular-season finale of last year's Sunday Night Football, in which the Giants clinched the NFC East title — averaged 27.6 million viewers, the most ever for the NBC franchise and the most-watched regular-season prime-time game on any network in 15 years. (NBC really likes providing stats when they're this good. We're not likely to see these kinds of numbers when we start discussing their new entertainment schedule over the next few weeks.)
If you'd rather see combatants performing daring leaps and kicks and more lyrical contortions, Fox's Emmy-nominated So You Think You Can Dance (8/7c) is happy to oblige. We're down to the Top 6 — Will, you'll be missed — and according to his Twitter feed, second-season champ Benji Schwimmer will be on hand to swing a partner around as one of tonight's All-Stars. By the end of the show, two more will be eliminated, and we'll be left with the Top 4 from which the most popular guy and girl will be chosen as "America's Favorite Dancers" after next week's final performance show (moved to Tuesdays the final two weeks to make room for The X Factor). ... In other reality-competition news, the remaining Top Chef Masters (Bravo, 10/9c) duke it out in a boxing ring, as Sugar Ray Leonard joins the judges.
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Glenn Close may be the headliner as Patty Hewes on Damages, which airs its next-to-last episode (ever!) on DirecTV (9/8c), but Rose Byrne's out-for-payback protégée Ellen Parsons has clearly learned from the master. In a gripping episode titled "I Like Your Chair" (Ellen metaphorically eyeing Patty's throne), Ellen is as badass as she's ever been, basking in good publicity — which prompts Patty to warn with a malicious grin: "The taste of success can be tricky. It makes failure that much more painful." Failure is not an option for Ellen, whether preparing for her trial against her devious mentor, or taking decisive and surprising action against the stalker who once tried to kill her. And when her mom turns to her to help ward off abusive attacks from her husband — NYPD Blue veterans Debra Monk and Gordon Clapp are Ellen's estranged parents — Ellen is anything but a docile daughter.
Also stepping up in this penultimate episode: John Hannah, electrifying as Rutger Simon, the increasingly frustrated and desperate right-hand man to Internet lightning-rod Channing McClaren (Ryan Phillippe). Squirming under Patty's interrogation, trying to play multiple sides against each other, Rutger and his machinations lead us to more truths (and at least a few untruths) regarding the fatal leak that started all of this legal brouhaha. Lots of ground to cover before next week's series finale.
Fans of timeless drama can't do better than Turner Classic Movies, which begins a month-long salute (on Wednesday nights through September) to TCM's "Star of the Month" Lauren Bacall, starting with a night of her noir collaborations with her legendary leading man (on and off camera) Humphrey Bogart. Whistle while you watch their first movie together (and her first movie role ever), the sultry To Have and Have Not (8/7c), followed by The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, one of my faves Key Largo, and in the wee hours, two documentaries: Bacall on Bogart from 1988, and the 1996 Bogart: The Untold Story.
Here's looking at them, kids. It never gets old.
Also: Syfy's Ghost Hunters (10/9c) resumes its eighth season without paranormal investigator Grant Wilson. The rest of the TAPS team heads south for a string of episodes, bypassing Charlotte for Charleston, S.C. (winner of the show's "America's Hometown Ghost Hunt" contest), where they skulk around the Old City Jail for psychic signs of America's first female serial killer, who was executed in 1820. ... And from the in-case-you-missed-it file: ABC's The Middle (8/7c) repeats the very funny episode in which Poor Sue (Eden Sher, once again robbed of Emmy attention this year) meets her alter ego in the high school's milquetoast guidance counselor, nicely played by Whoopi Goldberg.