“Private Practice” (9 p.m., ABC) returns for its third season with some stomach-churning gore, flashbacks, funeral scenes and the search for a stolen newborn. Daytime soap operas, like the recently departed “Guiding Light,” may be an endangered species, but with shows as contrived and over-the-top as “Private Practice” around, the genre is still showing a healthy pulse.
Last week’s two-hour season premiere of “Grey’s Anatomy” attracted more viewers than the season openers of “CSI” and “The Mentalist.” “Grey” was picking up from a cliffhanger season ender, and it benefited from the strong debut of “FlashForward,” one of the most-watched drama debuts in years.
• How does pop culture handle hard times? Not even “The Office” (8 p.m., NBC) can escape economic difficulties as Michael’s boss brings bad news to the Scranton office.
This season has seen two new comedies, “Hank” on ABC and “Brothers” on Fox, that have used financial setback as catalysts for a comic look at a return to hometowns and simpler lives. “The Beautiful Life: TBL,” a CW soap opera set in the fashion industry, seemed particularly out of touch with the new austerity. Last week it became the first new show of the season to get the axe. You can read only so much into that. Produced by Ashton Kutcher, “The Beautiful Life” was also ridiculous and marginally comprehensible. It probably would have been canceled even in flush times.
• TCM will look back at movies reflecting life during the Great Depression every Thursday in October, including classics made during the 1930s as well as more recent movies made about the era.
The cycle opens with “Bound for Glory” (7 p.m.), director Hal Ashby’s 1976 biography of folk singer and activist Woody Guthrie (David Carradine).
Highlights also include John Ford’s “The Grapes of Wrath” (12:30 a.m.) and the 1936 documentary short “The Plow that Broke the Plains” (2:45 a.m.), about the environmental calamity known as the Dust Bowl.
Not all of the films focus on grim times. Depression-era filmgoers flocked to the cinema to escape their troubles, making the decade a golden age of escapist comedy and fantasy. Look for “Sullivan’s Travels” and “My Man Godfrey” (Oct. 8), as well as “Gold Diggers of 1933” (Oct. 22). The festival also includes the 2000 Coen brothers’ mythical, musical send-up of Depression-era movies, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (Oct. 15).
Tonight’s other highlights
• A figure linked to the worldwide blackout emerges on “FlashForward” (7 p.m., ABC).
• “Extreme Cuisine with Jeff Corwin” (8 p.m., Food) visits Peru.
• A porn producer expires on “CSI” (8 p.m., CBS).
• Explosions arrive from out of nowhere on “Fringe” (8 p.m., Fox)
• The murder of a political intern draws Jane’s attention on “The Mentalist” (9 p.m., CBS).
• On two episodes of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (FX), shantytown (9 p.m.), selling gasoline door-to-door (9:30 p.m.).
John C. Reilly talks like Elvis, sings like Roy Orbison and lives like Johnny Cash in the astounding 2007 music biography parody “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” (9 p.m., Encore). A game-supporting cast includes Jenna Fischer (“The Office”) as his long-suffering second wife.