There’s a reason they’re not calling this movie "Inspiration."

Actually, the desperation is all ABC’s, which is desperately hoping to attract anyone at all away from the penultimate episode of American Idol. The strategy: lean on longtime horror-story collaborator Stephen King, who has given ABC some of his best (It, The Stand, The Shining) and worst (Kingdom Hospital, Rose Red). Desperation (Tuesday, May 23, at 8 pm/ET) falls somewhere in between.

The first hour is promisingly, amusingly creepy, as innocents stray into the seemingly empty Nevada desert mining town of Desperation, where wild animals line the highway like eerie sentinels. It all seems very Twilight Zone as characters ask, “Where is everybody?” — the title of a classic episode, in fact.

A young couple (Annabeth Gish and, all grown up from E.T., Henry Thomas) is pulled over by a psychotic cop (the terrific Ron Perlman), who grinningly growls: “I see you’re an organ donor. You think that’s wise?” Things get much nastier quickly.

But as often happens in this genre, the more you learn about the lurking evil (a demonic spirit named Tak that possesses human bodies as hosts), the less scary it gets. It doesn’t help that the characters are mostly underdeveloped, except for two walking clichés: a famous novelist seeking redemption (Tom Skerritt) and one of King’s patented visionary children (Shane Haboucha), who may be able to save the world with his faith in God.

At three hours, Desperation runs out of steam long before the end. Which is why I’m more hopeful about TNT’s summer anthology of King short stories, Nightmares & Dreamscapes. Less is more, and in King’s twisted universe can often be much spookier .

In Memoriam
“Everybody had a camera” in Lima Company, a reserve Marine unit stationed in the Iraq War for seven fateful months in 2005, during which time it suffered more losses than any other single unit. In the timely and wrenching Memorial Day documentary Combat Diary: The Marines of Lima Company (May 25 at 9 pm/ET on A&E), their story is told through intimate, raw video footage and emotionally unsparing interviews with Marines and families, and it finds honor through memory. Which is, after all, what Memorial Day is about.