Much like General Motors and other proud institutions, “The Miss America Pageant” (8 p.m., ABC) has looked extinction in the eye and survived — for now. The pageant returns to ABC for the first time in five years after wandering in the desert of basic cable (CMT and TLC) with various elements of “reality” gimmickry added in an attempt to goose ratings. Long associated with Atlantic City, N.J., the pageant moved to Las Vegas, Nev., in 2006, a change that some think has added to the notion that Miss America has lost her soul as well as her old address. But I’m from New Jersey and therefore biased.
Once a ratings powerhouse, Miss America has faltered while glitzier competition like Donald Trump’s Miss USA and Miss Universe have grown. Many people contend that the pageant has never adjusted well to the post-feminist era and that a “beauty contest” is silly and irrelevant at a time when there are women on the Supreme Court and serious contenders for the presidency.
But that argument hardly holds water when you think of the lingering popularity of the debauched Cinderella fantasies peddled on shows like “The Bachelor.” It’s fitting that Miss America returns to ABC, home to that exercise in romantic delusion. Now, if they can get it back to the Jersey Shore, where it belongs ...
l The market for Miss America may be iffy, but the ratings for NFL football only grow. Last week’s Saturday-night game between the Jets and Colts attracted around 30 million viewers, an “American Idol”-sized number. Fox certainly hopes for similar results when Green Bay and Atlanta (7 p.m., Fox) meet.
l “Great” is not a word I use all that often. But “great” is exactly how I described “Carlos” (7 p.m., Sundance), the three-part miniseries repeating on Sundance tonight and next Saturday. Edgar Ramirez (“The Bourne Ultimatum”) stars in the title role as the world’s most hunted terrorist responsible for bombings, kidnapping and murder on several continents.
A French-American co-production, “Carlos” was filmed in Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Lebanon and Morocco. The movie’s subtitled dialogue also switches frequently from English to French, Spanish and Arabic. It’s a smart, demanding and rewarding series for a discerning viewer.
Today’s other highlights
• The four-pawed set excels at the Incredible Dog Challenge National Finals (2:30 p.m., NBC).
• The Ravens and Steelers tangle in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game (3:30 p.m., CBS).
• Deadly tree creatures on “Primeval” (8 p.m., BBC America).
• Ed Quinn stars in the 2011 shocker “Behemoth” (8 p.m., SyFy).
• Scheduled on “48 Hours Mystery” (9 p.m., CBS): a man’s deception and a woman’s disappearance.
• Keanu Reeves, Emilia Fox, Marcus Brigstocke and Imelda May appear on “The Graham Norton Show” (9 p.m., BBC America).
• Gwyneth Paltrow hosts “Saturday Night Live” (10:30 p.m., NBC), featuring musical guest Cee Lo Green.