Into the Mojave with Bruce Dern; PBS offers 'Carmen' and comedy; the 'Magnificent' 7 return

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sunday

"Mojave Adventure" / 6 p.m. TBS

Bruce Dern gives voice to a desert tortoise named Mojave Max in this new wildlife documentary pointing out the people, animals and plants that have adapted to one of the harshest environments in North America. The humans include a cattle rancher whose livelihood is endangered and another man trying to rejuvenate a mining town named Cerro Gordo. A sidewinder snake, kangaroo rat and the yucca moth are among the creatures.

****

"The Sunshine Boys" / 9 p.m. CBS

No wonder this Neil Simon-scripted TV movie based on his play has been sitting on a shelf since 1995. It's a thoroughly exasperating film devoid of humor or pathos about estranged comics Lewis (Woody Allen) and Clark (Peter Falk), who are reunited by Clark's agent and niece (Sarah Jessica Parker) eight years after a bitter breakup. Falk is especially trying as the stubborn, spiteful half of the team. Best to avoid these "Boys," whose brand of sunshine can only bring you gloom.

Monday

"The Metropolitan Opera Presents" / 8 p.m. KCET

Georges Bizet's "Carmen," one of the most frequently performed works in the Met repertoire, was not an instant success at its 1875 premiere in Paris. Clearly, it took audiences time to accept the title character's brazen sexuality, but eventually it was seen around the world. James Levine conducts this performance with Waltraud Meier as the lusty, liberated gypsy and Placido Domingo as the obsessive Don Jose.

Wednesday

"Great Performances" / 10 p.m. KCET

Veteran Alan King breaks down the boundaries of humor on "The College of Comedy," a PBS program taped at Harvard University. With help from Tim Conway, Buddy Hackett, Paul Rodriguez and Judy Gold, King explains the basics of physical shtick, blue humor and politically incorrect gags. Asked if he would be hurt by a Hispanic jibe, Rodriguez says: "If it's funny, no. If it's not funny, it's offensive in itself."

****

"When New Year's Eve Attacks!"/ 11 p.m. Fox

"Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve '98" / 11:35 p.m. ABC

"After New Year's Eve With David Sanborn" / 1:05 a.m. ABC

Fox gets its annual half-hour jump on the late-night revelry with music and comedy from Las Vegas, where the musical guests are Third Eye Blind, Chumbawamba and Sugar Ray. On ABC, Clark ushers in 1998 from his customary Times Square perch in New York. Hanson, the Spice Girls and Shawn Colvin provide the music. Afterward, sax man Sanborn heads up an hour with Lou Reed, Isaac Hayes and Boz Scaggs.

Thursday

"1998 Tournament of Roses Parade" / 8 a.m. CBS, NBC, ABC, KTLA, KMEX

Carol Burnett is a swell choice as grand marshal of the 109th procession in Pasadena, where the theme will be "Havin' Fun." Burnett, whose variety series ran for 12 seasons on CBS (1967-79), is the eighth woman to serve in that role. KTLA, with hosts Bob Eubanks and Stephanie Edwards, and Spanish station KMEX will carry uninterrupted coverage of the parade, which is seen by about 550 million people in 100 countries.

Saturday

"The Magnificent Seven" / 8 p.m. CBS

In the wild and woolly frontier that is prime-time TV, westerns are rare as 40 shares. So as Saturday night alternatives go, perhaps that bodes well for this new series inspired by the splendid 1960 shoot-'em-up. In place of the magnificent Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn & Co. is a cast consisting of Michael Biehn ("The Terminator"), Ron Perlman ("Beauty and the Beast"), Eric Close ("Dark Skies") and Dale Midkiff ("Time Trax"). And, yes, CBS has retained the triumphant theme song, which is a good start.

****

"A Celebration of America's Music" / 9 p.m. ABC

Aretha Franklin, Nancy Wilson, Clark Terry, Herbie Hancock, Al Jarreau and George Benson perform on this all-star special spotlighting the importance of jazz in the country's pop culture. Bill Cosby is host of the hour, which includes tributes to Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and other greats. Debbie Allen, Frank Foster and Sheila E. also appear on the show, taped Oct. 26 in Washington, D.C.

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