THE CLOSER. 9 tonight, TNT.

MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE. 10 tonight, TNT.

CABLE SCHEDULES seem like a law unto themselves, but the return tonight of TNT's "The Closer" for the final third of its sixth season shouldn't be as unexpected as it once was.

"The way I look at it is, it's for the fans, like five more episodes gets them through until next summer," "Closer" star Kyra Sedgwick said, laughing, in a recent phone interview.

And though there was no break in production between the show's summer episodes and its winter ones, "often they're sort of the darkest episodes in some ways," she said.

"James [Duff, "The Closer" creator] has a thing about making Christmas just so dark," she said, promising "lots of murder" in the final episode of the season, a two-parter.

In tonight's, Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson (Sedgwick) will be dealing with an attack on a member of her squad and the possibility she may be up for her boss' (J.K. Simmons) job while trying to suss out the motives of the ever-enigmatic Capt. Raydor (Mary McDonnell), a recurring character whose relationship with Brenda has become one of the show's highlights.

Was McDonnell's character, an internal affairs supervisor, ever meant to be on the show this long?

"That's the wonderful thing about TV, right?" Sedgwick said. "It's so amorphous. It can, like, change all the time. I think we were so incredibly lucky and happy to have her, and so we sort of thought if she ever wants to do more, we'll make that a possibility for her.

"And we love the relationship" between the two women, which started out entirely antagonistic and changed over time.

"I was thrilled" with the transition to the more complicated dynamic between them, Sedgwick said. "First of all, I love Mary, she's lovely. And we both felt . . . 'Oh, God, can't we just show women actually supporting women?' And you know, it goes back and forth. It's not clean."

How much longer will she be "The Closer"? Don't even bother asking. "I'm not going to answer that question," she said.

"We had our biggest numbers ever this summer, which is insane. . . . We haven't gone stale, that's for sure."

'Men' of a certain smarts

TNT's "Men of a Certain Age" also returns tonight, and when I say not a great deal happens in the six episodes of Season 2 that I've seen so far, I mean it in the nicest possible way.

Traveling at the so-called speed of life has long been reserved for family dramas and chick shows, the talky kind that supposedly make male viewers roll their eyes - or fast-forward to the point where someone takes off her top - before resuming their search for explosions.

"Men of a Certain Age," a gentle dramedy that "Everybody Loves Raymond" star Ray Romano created with Mike Royce, dared, in its first season, to suggest that men, too, are capable of genuine friendship, not merely parallel play, and that on occasion they may even be able to use their words.

Romano, Andre Braugher and Scott Bakula play college buddies who've managed to stay close despite diverging paths, a feat that becomes a little easier as Bakula's character, Terry, a failed actor, goes to work selling cars for the dealership Braugher's Owen is now running.

Braugher, a two-time Emmy winner, received a sixth nomination this year for his work as a fortysomething with diabetes and a difficult father.

I don't think I've ever seen Braugher in anything I didn't love him in, but it was Romano as Joe, a divorcing father of two who owns a party store and dreams of playing on the PGA's senior tour, who really stood out in his depiction of a man in the grips of anxieties and compulsions he can't control.

This season, as Joe tries to leave one of his problems behind, it's hard not to wonder how much of himself Romano's poured into a character who's reached a point in his life where he's looking for much more than just a laugh.

'Bad' from the beginning

What a difference a day makes.

On Thursday, the Inquirer's Jonathan Storm and I fielded a question during our weekly chat from a reader who'd heard some good things about "Breaking Bad" and was wondering if AMC would ever rerun it from the first season.

Couldn't do much more then than point to Netflix, but on Friday, AMC announced a three-season marathon, with two episodes airing back to back to begin this Wednesday and running through March.

Technically, the marathon really begins in the wee hours of Thursday, AMC having scheduled the episodes to follow its "Action Pack" movie programming block, so set your DVRs accordingly.

This week, shows the "Breaking Bad" pilot starting at 12:30 a.m. *

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