Always fun, occasionally annoying and even educational, the Kennedy Center Honors (8 p.m., CBS) return for the 35th time. As they do every year, they pay tribute to artists whose works have enriched America’s popular culture and fine arts. The list always contains a name unfamiliar to many, as well as folks so famous that you have to wonder if this national honor is simply the icing on their celebrity cake.
To be honest, I don’t know anything about prima ballerina Natalia Makarova. So I’m glad I’ll get to learn about her fabled career with the Kirov Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and other companies.
I’ve heard of Buddy Guy and know he’s a blues guitarist, but again, I’m willing to learn more.
This leaves us with the final three choices, all so famous that they have lived out their careers earning superlatives — or at least hearing them. Dustin Hoffman has been considered one of the greatest actors of his generation ever since his alienated character was seduced by Anne Bancroft’s Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate” in 1967. Led Zeppelin has been the subject of bombastic tributes since “Led Zeppelin II” blew out a million stereo speakers way back in 1969.
And then there’s David Letterman. Comics of a certain generation never tire of expressing their debt and allegiance to him. Letterman fans don’t only like “Dave,” they are heavily invested in their fandom. Almost cultlike in their devotion, such fans get a bit testy when you suggest that Letterman hasn’t been all that funny or innovative since he moved to CBS 20 years ago.
Do Letterman, Hoffman and Led Zeppelin deserve this award? Probably. But will we really learn anything new about them? It’s almost pointless to gild their lilies at this point.
Tonight’s other highlights:
• China White appears on “Arrow” (7 p.m., CW).
• A new rape case reopens a cold one on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (8 p.m., NBC).
• Luke pulls rejection out of his hat on “Modern Family” (8 p.m., ABC).
• A “NOVA” (8 p.m., PBS) from 2010 ponders the men who built the great cathedrals of Europe.
• A source’s murder intimidates Bel, but leaves Freddie more determined than ever on “The Hour” (8 p.m., BBC America).
• Rayna discovers the extent of her family’s debt on “Nashville” (9 p.m., ABC).