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The Globe and Mail

It just gets weirder and weirder for U.S. Thanksgiving TV

The TV gods turn stingy in times of meagre harvest.

Thursday marks the first day of American Thanksgiving - traditionally a four-day celebration involving chaotic travel, frenetic consumer spending, marathon eating and general forced family bonding - but Wednesday night's TV lineup is bereft of quality programming to mark the occasion.

Not that it should matter to us - we had our own Thanksgiving feast last month, thanks very much - but it's probably worth noting the glaring lack of broadcast attention now paid to the second-biggest holiday of the year south of our border.

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Remember in years past when U.S. networks would specifically schedule special-event programming each Thanksgiving Eve? Sometimes it would be a cornball musical tribute to America or some form of variety special with the host dressed up like a turkey. At the very least, some network would haul out The Wizard of Oz for its annual airing.

And now? The only new themed offering is the Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special (NBC, 8:30 p.m.), which appears to be a half-hour commercial for the DreamWorks movie sequel set to land in theatres next spring. One small leap for animation, another giant paycheque for Jack Black.

Blame it on the ongoing decline of American culture, or the growing popularity of Sarah Palin, but U.S. Thanksgiving isn't quite the TV occasion it once was. Like the American public, maybe the networks have simply given up.

As so often happens, tonight's only educated options surface on PBS. The President's Photographer: 50 Years in the Oval Office (PBS, 8 p.m.) has absolutely nothing to do with Thanksgiving, but it's still an hour well-spent.

In brief, the film pays homage to the images captured by official White House photographers over the last half-century. The in-house photographer tradition was initiated, curiously enough, by Lyndon B. Johnson, and each administration since has employed its own shutterbug to roam the White House corridors.

The draw here, of course, is the stream of striking photographs of American presidents, many shown for the first time. The program spends much time on the works of current photographer Pete Souza, who seems to follow Barack Obama around the clock.

The more telling images shown in the film vividly recall the administrations of ex-presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, seemingly clueless even in repose. All told, it's a smart documentary and you should probably watch it now, before President Palin moves into the Oval Office and reduces public broadcasting to a series of self-service kiosks in American airports.

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And after that, the lineup just gets bizarre. The Biggest Loser: Where Are They Now? (NBC, 9 p.m.) is a two-hour special revisiting the contestants from the last nine seasons of the freakishly popular weight-loss reality series.

As anyone could have predicted, the special catches up only with those participants who stuck to their diet and exercise regimens. There are interviews with nearly three-dozen former contestants and tears flow freely as they talk about how appearing on the show has vastly improved their lives. Several proudly announce they are now running marathons.

And to tug harder at viewer heartstrings, the cameras are there when season nine's Sam proposes to fellow contestant Stephanie at the Biggest Loser Ranch. Yes, The Biggest Loser has its own ranch.

The highlight, apparently, occurs when all the respective season winners sit down for a massive Thanksgiving dinner prepared by celebrity chef Curtis Stone. The diet presumably resumes tomorrow.

Weirdest yet: Primetime: Celebrity Plastic Surgery Gone Too Far? (ABC, 10 p.m.) totally abandons any mention of Thanksgiving in order to focus squarely on Heidi Montag's chest.

Montag, you may recall, is a former cast member of the dizzy MTV docudrama The Hills. Her fame, and her bustline, expanded exponentially last year when she chose to undergo no less than 10 cosmetic surgeries - all in the same day! When the bandages came off a few weeks later, Montag was virtually unrecognizable from the old version of herself. But she seemed happy enough at the time, as did her husband, former cast mate Spencer Pratt, and for a few months life was one big photo opportunity, usually with Heidi on the beach in a bikini.

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Now, Montag claims to be desperately unhappy with her pneumatic body. In this report, she tells reporter Cynthia McFadden that she only underwent the surgeries because the mean old tabloid press kept saying she "had a horse face and a Jay Leno chin."

The special also sits down with androgynous eighties pop star Pete Burns, formally of the band Dead or Alive, who is an outspoken proponent of cosmetic surgery, and sees himself as a canvas for plastic surgeons. In this instance, the canvas turned 51 last summer, but looks like an airbrushed teenage girl.

Toward the cause of balanced reporting, the program includes short segments on the dangers of cosmetic surgery, and speaks disparagingly about the fact that many teenagers, some as young as 14 and 15, are getting procedures.

But more screen time is devoted to ex-model turned reality host Janice Dickinson, now 55, and with a face tighter than the skin on a bongo drum. Once a striking cover girl, Dickinson admits to having undergone every cosmetic procedure available. "Everything about me is fake," she says proudly. "And I'm perfect."

For America this Thanksgiving, that's probably as real as it gets.

Check local listings.

John Doyle returns on Thursday.

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