Much of Sunday’s normally competitive schedule has been overrun by reality. The “characters” may come and go on “Amazing Race” (7 p.m., CBS), but the show maintains a remarkable level of production wizardry, closer to Olympics coverage than your average cheap-o unscripted time-waster. No wonder it has won (and deserved) so many Emmys for the genre.
On the other hand, “Secret Millionaire”(7 p.m., ABC) seems a lot like a show that used to be on Fox. That’s because it is the exact same show that used to be on Fox. Much like CBS’s “Undercover Boss” (8 p.m., CBS,), “Millionaire” puts the accent on uplift and profiles the haves helping the have-nots. Both are feel-good shows airing during hard times, but if you look just past the veneer, they are both basically product placements for rich people. When times get tough, the wealthy promote themselves.
But no network does product placement quite as blatantly as NBC. Their new series “America’s Next Great Restaurant” (7 p.m., NBC) got off to a rather rocky start when it got clobbered by the surprisingly large audience for “Secret Millionaire.” “Restaurant” also has a feel-good theme. It’s far more like ABC’s returning “Shark Tank” (8 p.m., ABC) than Gordon Ramsay’s fiery theaters of cruelty. Each contestant fights for the attention of potential investors for his or her restaurant chain idea. But before these fledgling notions can take hold, we are bludgeoned by endless advertising for existing franchises. As on tonight’s “Restaurant,” when the contestants must toil in a Chipolte’s outlet. All day long. You can’t buy that kind of publicity. And on NBC, apparently you don’t have to.
The less-than-stellar debut for “Restaurant” and the ever-stale atmosphere of “The Apprentice” are yet another indication that NBC has yet to climb out of a ditch. To make matters worse, NFL football has ground to a halt based on a game of contract chicken. CBS faces a nightmare because Charlie Sheen blew up “Two and a Half Men.” But they have other hit shows. “Sunday Night Football” was NBC’s one ratings winner. And now that’s in jeopardy.
• Speaking of fiascos, TLC airs “Charlie Sheen: On the Brink” (9 p.m., TLC) as if there hasn’t been enough said about him on mass and social media. This hour-long expose offers some insights from MacKenzie Phillips, who apparently knows about the private costs of public fame.
• Having failed to light up the world on Tuesdays, “Detroit 1-8-7” (9 p.m., ABC) airs its season finale on a different night. That’s a pretty sure sign that this Motor City production is deader than the DeLorean.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (6 p.m., CBS): updates from Japan; a profile of New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan.
• Death stops twice on a delivery truck’s route on “CSI: Miami” (9 p.m., CBS).
• Robert Knepper reprises his T-Bag role from “Prison Break” on “Breakout Kings” (9 p.m., A&E;).