Documentary profiles can too often seem like premature eulogies. Or proof that a once-popular artist is decades beyond his or her best work. “Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis” (7 p.m. Saturday, Encore) labors to make viewers appreciate the genius of Jerry Lewis — particularly as a filmmaker — but neglects to ponder why so great a talent feels so unappreciated.
Now well into his 80s, Lewis appears here, in interviews and in live shows, reflecting on his life and career. A chorus of impressive Lewis fans, including Steven Spielberg, Jerry Seinfeld, Eddie Murphy, Quentin Tarantino, Carol Burnett, Alec Baldwin, Chevy Chase and others express nonstop awe at Lewis’ comic timing, his musical chops, his slapstick pratfalls and his unequalled skill for mime and dance. Actor Woody Harrelson puts it most bluntly, telling us that if you don’t like Jerry Lewis, he doesn’t want to know you.
The son of vaudevillians and burlesque performers, Lewis’ career offered a living link to the era of silent movies and variety shows. More than any talent since Buster Keaton, Lewis has sacrificed everything on the altar of the elaborate, balletic sight gag, the prank and the stunt.
Not unlike the recent “American Masters” portrait of Woody Allen, “Madness” offers an intense focus on a couple of decades and then hits the fast-forward button. Younger viewers are offered a crash course in the anarchic heyday of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin’s remarkable nightclub comedy routine and their many hit movies, a period that lasted from 1946 to 1956.
Saturday’s Christmas specials
• Jimmy Durante narrates the 1969 special “Frosty the Snowman” (7 p.m., CBS).
• A “Wipeout” (7 p.m., ABC) Christmas special.
• Billy Ray Cyrus stars in the 2011 holiday tearjerker “Christmas Comes Home to Canaan” (7 p.m., Hallmark).
• The voices of John Goodman and Jonathan Winters are featured in the animated special “Frosty Returns” (7:30 p.m., CBS).
• The voices of Ed Asner, Betty White and Tim Curry animate the 1996 special “The Story of Santa Claus” (8 p.m., CBS).
• Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland hosts “CMA Country Christmas” (8 p.m., ABC).
• John Walsh returns to Fox to hunt down 15 criminals on “America’s Most Wanted: U.S. Marshals Special Edition” (7 p.m., Fox).
• Connor vanishes on “Primeval” (8 p.m., BBC America).
• A sudden shock throws the planet off its rotation in the 2011 shocker “Earth’s Final Hours” (8 p.m., Syfy).
• Scheduled on “48 Hours Mystery” (9 p.m., CBS): A vacation ends in murder.