Christmas week is filled with special holiday programs, both new ones and repeats. Look on pages 6 and 7 for a roundup of some of them, including church services. Archbishop Desmond Tutu is scheduled to deliver the sermon at Washington National Cathedral's 9 a.m. service on Christmas Day.

Elsewhere this week, PBS's "Great Performances" showcase offers the American Ballet Theatre's swashbuckling adaptation of Byron's 1814 poem "The Corsair," starring Ethan Stiefel as Conrad and Angel Corella as Ali, his slave.

Rarely seen in the West until recently, the ballet airs Monday at 9 and includes the second-act Slave Dance, introduced by Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn and England's Royal Ballet in 1962. It also features outstanding male dancing.

The ballet, the story of a brave pirate who risks everything to liberate the woman he loves from the life of a harem slave, opens as a pirate ship manned by Conrad, his slave Ali and his friend Birbanto (Joaquin De Luz) sails with a crew of corsairs to Turkey. Upon arriving they find a lively bazaar where Lankendem (Vladimir Malakhov) is selling slave girls, one of whom -- Medora (Julie Kent) -- immediately entrances him.

The whole thing is a bit of a kick.


Wednesday at 8 on NBC

As the century -- and (some say) the millennium -- near the turning date, John Lithgow narrates National Geographic's look at the phenomenon of time, from the creation of the universe to an imagined future well into the new millennium.

Using new footage as well as clips from National Geographic's classic library of documentary films, the two-hour special takes viewers on a fast-paced exploration of the world starting with the creation of the cosmos and the evolution of early forms of life through the mysteries of the animal kingdom to the era of space travel, including the developments of ancient civilizations and fascinating cultures, daring exploration and breathtaking discoveries, wars and natural disasters, the special captures the marching of time and everything in between.

"Only the human species is obsessed with the idea of time, so we can grasp the past and invent something called the future," said its producer, Nicholas Stein.

There are looks at Robert Ballard's search for ancient Roman and Arab ships sunk below the Mediterranean Sea; Rodney Brooks's humanoid robot; Ian Baker and Ken Storm's expedition to Tibet searching for the Hidden Falls of Dorje Phagmo; the discoveries of paleoanthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey; physicist Michio Kaku's predictions; and ex-convict Arthur Bonner's work to save the Palos Verdes Blue Butterfly from extinction.

Other topics: biotechnology, African chimpanzees, the Hagahai of Papua New Guinea, a 2,500-year-old Egyptian tomb, the Maya of Central America, and people who have climbed Mount Everest.