David Bianculli | WYPR

David Bianculli

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Movie star Al Pacino came to TV 15 years ago, delivering a marvelous performance as Roy Cohn in HBO's brilliant adaptation of Angels in America. Since then, every time Pacino has returned to TV, he has played real-life, controversial men: assisted-suicide proponent Jack Kevorkian in You Don't Know Jack and music producer Phil Spector in the TV movie Phil Spector.

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Fifty years ago Monday, when Fred Rogers showed up on national public television as the host of what then was a brand new children's show called Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, TV was a lot different. PBS wasn't even a network then — not by that name, anyway — and aside from CBS, NBC and ABC, there were only a few independent local channels to watch, if that.

Some TV genres are perennials. They've been around since the early days of television, and probably are never going away — weekly drama series featuring doctors or cops, for example.

Other TV genres are like locusts. They get buried, lying dormant, until they suddenly resurface. On prime time TV, the game show was dead for decades until Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? brought it back. And quite recently, Netflix's Godless, like HBO's Deadwood years before it, did its best to try and revive the TV Western.

Netflix usually presents its new shows one season at a time, with a dozen or so episodes available immediately, but its latest talk show is being unveiled at the unusual rate of one installment per month.

It's called My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman — and it's excellent. The program marks Letterman's return to the talk-show format and to series television, a journey he began in 1980 with his brief but brilliant daytime talk show, NBC's The David Letterman Show.

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Producer-director David Fincher is attracted to stories and characters that are dark and complex. That's certainly true of Mindhunter, his new police drama series for Netflix — though the connections that led him there are pretty straightforward.

Way back in 1995, Fincher directed Se7en, the ultraspooky serial-killer drama starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman as detectives on the trail of a murderer played by Kevin Spacey.

I loved watching Larry David last year in his recurring guest role on NBC's Saturday Night Live, where he provided a perfect impersonation of outspoken politician Bernie Sanders. But I'm even more excited to watch David, beginning this Sunday, on the return of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, where he'll play an exaggerated version of himself in a role he last portrayed on TV six years ago.

On television, Jerry Seinfeld has not only been astoundingly successful, he's also been amazingly consistent in pursuing and presenting his particular comic vision. He doesn't do big shows or specials about grand ideas and giant themes. He does narrowly focused TV programs about specific concepts — then, within those narrow confines, he finds humor, honesty and sometimes even art.

Ken Burns became a star on PBS a generation ago by telling the story of the Civil War in a huge — and hugely popular — documentary series. Since then, he and his collaborators have done invaluable work, including a lengthy and superb examination of World War II.

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The villains in comic books usually have grandiose master plans, like targeting and defeating an enemy or ruling the world. Netflix, as it's grown to become more and more of a major player in the modern TV universe, has grand plans of its own.

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The original Twin Peaks series really was original — one of the most inventive, unprecedented, sometimes thrillingly unique TV series ever presented. David Lynch directed several episodes, including the very best ones: the mood-establishing pilot and the dreamy and nightmarish third episode with the Tibetan rock toss and the dancing, backwards-talking dwarf in the Red Room.

On Friday, two different streaming services present the first seasons of new drama series. Both are based on novels written by women, both have female characters squarely at their center — and both come to TV with accomplished women producers overseeing their adaptations.

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The 1996 Coen Brothers movie Fargo was so good, and so original, that when the FX cable network announced it was making a new version for television, I expected it to be awful — especially since the creator of the adaptation was Noah Hawley, a writer-producer who hadn't really done much.

You don't need to know all about Breaking Bad, and the meth-making, drug-dealing former schoolteacher Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston, to enjoy Better Call Saul. This spinoff series more than stands on its own — and, as TV spinoffs go, is the best in the business since Cheers begat Frasier.

On Friday, the streaming service Netflix unveils the entire first season — all 13 episodes — of its newest children's series, called Julie's Greenroom. It stars Julie Andrews, who also is its executive producer along with her daughter, children's book author Emma Walton Hamilton.

Last week, when news surfaced about various meetings between the Russian ambassador and members of Donald Trump's campaign, Huffington Post editor Howard Fineman appeared on MSNBC and said, "If you think the Russian ambassador is just an ambassador, you haven't been watching The Americans."

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