Valerie Harper Valerie Harper

This is the calm before the new-season storm. A week from now, only the most advanced devices will be able to handle the crush of new (and mostly returning-hit) programming airing on Thursdays, with expanded season openers of long-running faves The Big Bang Theory, Parks and Recreation and Grey's Anatomy among the draws.

By comparison, this is a much quieter Thursday, although NBC once had high hopes that the two-hour climax of the seemingly endless and haplessly muddled Million Second Quiz (8/7c) would be something to shout, instead of yawn, about. Instead, the peacock's more anticipated headliner is Valerie's Story — A Meredith Vieira Special (10/9c), an hour-long good-news report from the former Today co-anchor chronicling Valerie Harper's unusually public battle against terminal brain cancer. Fans turned out in big numbers earlier this week to see Harper, a still robust 74, in radiant and jubilant form as she took a twirl on the Dancing With the Stars stage — "Way past my expiration date, and I'm dancing!" she crowed — earning three 7's and a standing O for her fox trot. The news special will look back at her treatments and never-give-up attitude that has been a hallmark of her struggle since being diagnosed earlier this year.

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MORE STAR POWER: Winner of an Emmy last weekend for Outstanding Informational Series, Bravo's Inside the Actors Studio makes one of its too-infrequent reappearances (8/7c) with James Lipton grilling and celebrating the career of Jake Gyllenhaal, who remembers his late Brokeback Mountain co-star Heath Ledger and says having his sexual orientation challenged in the wake of his Oscar-nominated role was "a huge compliment."

THE THURSDAY GUIDE: The Weather Channel's intrepid Jim Cantore hosts TWC's Disaster in the Rockies special (8/7c), examining the devastating flooding and mudslides ravaging communities in Colorado. ... While Fox's The X Factor continues its audition rounds (8/7c), don't be surprised if more people choose to check out ABC's Wipeout (8/7c) as it wraps its silly-summer season featuring contestants who all have "dirty jobs" and thus may not be quite as rattled by the mess of this obstacle course. ... As her dad prepares to help kick off David Letterman's premiere week next Monday, Chelsea Clinton makes a rare talk-show appearance, in advance of the ninth annual Clinton Global Initiative, on Comedy Central's Daily Show With Jon Stewart (11/10c).

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