MY BOYS. 10 p.m. Sunday, TBS.

JORDANA SPIRO knows how to throw a reporter a lifeline.

A few weeks ago, as we talked by phone about TBS' "My Boys," I was trying to find out what NBC's pickup of "Love Bites," a romantic anthology series that Spiro had been cast in, might mean for the future of her cable sitcom, which returns Sunday.

What Spiro probably knew then, but which I wouldn't know for another 24 hours, is that NBC, worried that TBS wasn't going to decide on the future of "My Boys" for a few months - after ratings were in for its nine-episode fourth season - was dropping Spiro from "Love Bites." (Not long after, the network moved "Bites" to midseason after another of its stars, Becki Newton, of "Ugly Betty," announced that she was pregnant, and writer Cindy Chupack stepped down as showrunner.)

So, as Spiro, who plays sportswriter PJ Franklin, tried frantically to wave me off from the Storyline of No Return, we talked a bit about changes in "My Boys," a show I happen to like a lot but seemed to have run out of questions about.

The season starts off with PJ's brother, Andy (Jim Gaffigan), out of the mix - he's said to be working in China - and with PJ and Bobby (Kyle Howard) finally getting to experience the joys and pitfalls of a somewhat settled relationship, along with their odd-couple friends Stephanie (East Norriton's Kellee Stewart) and Kenny (Michael Bunin).

(Howard also got bumped from an upcoming NBC show, "Perfect Couples," because of the uncertainty over "My Boys.")

Bobby, Spiro suggested, is struggling this season with the issue of having a girlfriend who's more successful than he is.

That, along with a change in his financial circumstances, "makes him contemplate changing his career. . . . I think that's something that a lot of people can understand and empathize with," Spiro said. "Certainly I can. I'm actually going back to school."

Ah, the lifeline.

Turns out, Spiro's been working on a master of fine arts - in directing - at Columbia University.

It's a three-year program, but "you're allowed to take leaves of absence," she said. "I'll finish when I'm 85.

"For me, it was really exciting, because I never got my undergraduate [degree], I never went to college, so for me it was something I was missing," said Spiro, who started classes last fall and said that her courses covered "everything from aesthetics to logistics."

How did she get to skip straight to grad school?

"I'm not getting my masters in astronomy," she said. "I've had some relevant work experience."

So far, her actual directing has been limited to a short film that she did for her admissions portfolio. Spiro said that she'd be interested in directing an episode of "My Boys" at some point, but that it's difficult because "I'm often in quite a bit of the episode."

This season will end, she said, "in a place where it could go either way" in terms of whether the show continues.

On Saturday, TBS will run a "My Boys" mini-marathon of six episodes from Season 3, beginning at 12:30 p.m.

'Tavis Smiley Reports'

"Tavis Smiley Reports," the latest in the PBS talk-show host's prime-time specials, tomorrow night looks at post-Katrina New Orleans.

What's so special about that?

In one sense, nothing - as the fifth anniversary of the hurricane approaches and coverage of the Gulf oil spill continues, just about everyone with access to a camera and a handheld microphone is expected to make it to New Orleans sooner or later.

But, with "Been in the Storm So Long," Smiley, who teamed with Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme ("Philadelphia"), appears to be fighting what some have dubbed the nation's Katrina fatigue by finding some of the people who've refused to give up on the city - and specifically on the Ninth Ward - and letting them talk about what has and hasn't happened to the place they love.

Smiley's better-known interviewees include musicians Ellis and Branford Marsalis and Lenny Kravitz, as well as actors Wendell Pierce and John Goodman, of HBO's "Treme"; but the most moving stories come from people like the students and teachers at a charter school that fought its way back in the face of apparent government indifference, and from others whose homing instinct also proved too strong to be denied.

And then there's Ruby Bridges, who, 50 years ago, became the first African-American child to integrate an all-white elementary school in the South and who still has hopes for the city where she grew up.

"Tavis Smiley Reports: Been in the Storm So Long" premieres nationally at 8 p.m. tomorrow, when it can be seen by those with access to Allentown's WLVT (Channel 39). Locally, WHYY (Channel 12) won't carry it on its main channel until 10:30 p.m. Sunday, though it can be seen on the station's Y Info digital channel a few times before that, beginning at 9 a.m. Friday.

Yes, 9 a.m. *

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