Arriving yearly between the visits of Santa Claus and Baby New Year, the Kennedy Center Honors -- "30th Annual Kennedy Center Honors" this time -- is a reliably cheery holiday event, a star-studded celebration of past work and ongoing influence in which the people of the performing arts and the people of Washington make nice for a couple of hours.
The "Honors" selects five creative types each year and puts them in formal wear in a box with the president of the United States (his only job here is to show up). Kindred spirits recount their accomplishments; performances are offered in tribute to their particular genius. It's something like the awarding of a knighthood crossed with an episode of "This Is Your Life."
The show mixes high and pop culture in a way that seems suitably democratic. This year's honorees: Brian Wilson (hosted by Art Garfunkel), Diana Ross (Smokey Robinson), Martin Scorsese (Cameron Diaz), Steve Martin (Steve Carell, operating on a pass from the WGA) and Leon Fleisher (Yo-Yo Ma), the concert pianist who lost the use of his right hand but soldiered on with his left. Caroline Kennedy is the event host.
Ciara, Yolanda Adams and Vanessa Williams will sing in tribute to Ross; Lyle Lovett and Hootie and the Blowfish, improbably, to Wilson. The diverse talents of Ricky Jay, Bill Irwin, Martin Short, Earl Scruggs and Kristin Chenoweth will be marshaled to suggest Martin's range; and Robert De Niro and Francis Ford Coppola will blow kisses to Scorsese.
The world will seem merry and bright.
(CBS, Wed., 9 p.m.)
-- Robert Lloyd