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How The Grinch stole the budget for Christmas TV; Christmas TV Preview.

Byline: STEVE HENDRY

YOU have to wonder if The Grinch stole the budget for the latter half of the festive TV plans, as there are precious few big-name shows around.

Most of the channels seem to be opting for a lot of creaky old films and repeats. The one saving grace is the BBC, who at least seem to have made an effort.

The first programme to savour is Lenny Henry, left, in Pieces (BBC1, 9pm, Saturday, December 30). The big comedian has become more recognisable as the face of Comic Relief in recent years than for his own comic abilities, so it's good to welcome him back in this new, one-off sketch show.

Lenny gets back to his roots with new characters, including The Big Tramp, a beggar with a competitive edge, and randy West Indian OAP Donovan Bogarde. He also spoofs hi-tec action film The Matrix and ballet drama Billy Elliot.

David Copperfield (BBC1, 6.45pm, Hogmanay) is a repeat but well worth a second look. The all-star Dickens adaptation was one of the Beeb's big Christmas hits last year and rightly so. Ciaran McMenamin stars alongside Bob Hoskins, Maggie Smith, Pauline Quirke, Trevor Eve and Nicholas Lyndhurst, above, as an oily and creepy Uriah Heep.

It wouldn't be Hogmanay without Jools Holland's Hootenanny (BBC2 11.55pm) where the host tickles the ivories with his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. Superstar Lionel Richie, the Stereophonics' Kelly Jones and actress Jane Horrocks are among those performing. Craig David and Coldplay will also be in the studio.

Another staple of the Scottish New Year is Only An Excuse (BBC1, 10.45pm). Phil Differ and Jonathan Watson hit fine form with their take on the Scottish footballing year. Look out for disgraced former Dundee United chairman Jim McLean, who's likely to be as sick as a parrot after this showing.

If you like David Blaine you'll love Paul Zenon's Trick or Treat (Channel 4, 10pm) as the street magician hits Prague. Zenon specialises in the macabre, so don't expect a rabbit out of hat - more like spiders out of eye sockets.

Those who manage to open a bleary eye before the end of January 1 might catch Cast Off (BBC1, 1pm), the final instalment of Castaway. The islanders, including Padraig Nallen, above, are leaving Taransay.

The History of Top of the Pops (BBC1 3.45pm) charts the story of Britain's most enduring music show, and former presenters, including Jimmy Savile, right, and performers reveal what really went on.

If you thought nobody could feel as bad as you, check out EastEnders (BBC1, 8pm) and Coronation Street, (ITV 7.30pm). While Pat decides to tell Peggy a few home truths, Mark plans a nasty surprise for Nick Cotton. Up north in Weatherfield, meanwhile, there is chaos in the Rovers, as too many new chiefs compete to pull the best pint and Danny delivers an ultimatum to Sally.

Escaping from stress is what's on former EastEnder Michelle Collins' mind when she heads for the island of Ronansay with her best friend (former Dennis Pennis star Paul Kaye) and two children in new drama Two Thousand Acres of Sky (BBC1 8.30pm).

Billy Connolly, left, Douglas Henshall and Sarah Lancashire star in Edwardian comedy-drama Gentleman's Relish (BBC1, 9.25pm) about an artist drawn into a pornography scandal.

Less scandalous is Ken and Me (ITV, 9pm, January 2), a profile of Coronation Street's Bill Roache, who has played Ken Barlow since the soap started and is the world's longest-serving soap star.
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Title Annotation:Steve Hendry TV
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Dec 17, 2000
Words:585
Previous Article:12 shows you have to watch; Steve Hendry's top telly guide.
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