"Monk" (8 p.m., USA) is so popular and so often good it can be forgiven its frequent gimmicks. Tonight's episode will be presented in black and white at 8 p.m. and then repeated in full color (9 p.m.). Viewers will be encouraged to go to a Web site and "vote" for their favorite format. Democracy in action.
The black-and-white experiment begins with a few nods to the film noir style of the late 1940s. Monk agrees to meet a mystery man in a dark saloon. With moody jazz playing in the background, a bandaged, barely visible figure claims to be a long-missing tycoon, presumed dead after his hot-air balloon was blown off course. Hidden in dark shadows, the stranger asks Monk to intercept some embarrassing missives from a safe in his "widow's" house.
Then he reveals the reason for his seven-year absence: leprosy. Naturally, this tale of contagion causes Monk to flee the bar and take his eye off some of the details of the man's incredible story.
It would be unfair to reveal too much more of the plot, but after Monk leaves the bar, this episode ends any fidelity to the cinematic style of Hollywood's silver age. It begins to look like an average episode with the color drained away.
Adrian Monk could never have survived one aspect of the black-and-white days. It was the era when everybody smoked. This would send the defective detective running for the nearest open window. Many early TV shows were sponsored by cigarette companies, and the stars used their products with a vengeance. Watch any episode of the 1950s detective show "Peter Gunn." The action seems to take place inside a cloud of nicotine. Poor Monk would have died.
¢ Rod Stewart hosts the "8th Annual Home for the Holidays" (7 p.m., CBS), a yearly celebration of adopted children and the parents whose lives have been changed.
¢ A widower (Sam Elliott) and his daughter (Rebecca Harrell) encounter an enchanted stray in the 1989 fantasy "Prancer" (7 p.m., AMC).
¢ Ed's secret-Santa grab bag takes on a mandatory air on "Las Vegas" (8 p.m., NBC).
Tonight's other highlights
¢ A defendant's biker pals terrorize Annabeth on "Close to Home" (8 p.m., CBS).
¢ A series of power outages sparks terror fears on "Numb3rs" (9 p.m., CBS).
¢ A murder victim's photo ends up on the Internet on "Law & Order" (9 p.m., NBC).