In this first week of the new year, CBS takes a nostalgic look back to America of the late 1800s -- and indirectly to television of the 1970s and '80s -- to a time when pioneers were building little sod houses on the Plains.

"Beyond the Prairie: The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder," Sunday at 9, stars Meredith Monroe as Laura, who later wrote the "Little House on the Prairie" books, which spawned a long-running TV series of the same title. Richard Thomas and Lindsay Crouse play her parents, Charles and Caroline Ingalls, and Walton Goggins is Almanzo Wilder.

The movie begins in 1944 as Laura Ingalls Wilder, in a speech to the South Dakota Historical Society, recalls her life in 1881.

Growing up with her parents and three sisters, Laura sees life as an adventure -- as does her father. Then into her life comes Almanzo Wilder, who plans to settle a nearby claim with his brother. Laura is set to become a teacher at a school 30 miles away for at least two terms. Still, their mutual attraction survives: When her teaching obligation ends and he proposes, she accepts -- then finds that settling down to life as a farmer's wife is more difficult than she imagined.

JAMES THURBER:

THE LIFE AND

HARD TIMES

Sunday at 10 on WETA

Adam and Charlotte Van Doren's film, the first major documentary film on James Thurber's life and work, looks at the humorist's accomplishments as a journalist, playwright, cartoonist and social critic.

Thurber (1894-1961) was born in Columbus, Ohio, but headed East and became part of the sophisticated Algonquin Roundtable of writers and wits. For three decades, he created drawings for The New Yorker magazine gently satirizing modern life. Sightless in one eye since childhood, he was legally blind for the last 20 years of his life.

George Plimpton narrates the hour-long film, with remarks from Edward Albee, John Updike, Fran Lebowitz, Alistair Cooke, Rosemary Thurber, Roger Angell and Roy Blount Jr., among others.

Producer-director Adam Van Doren is the grandson of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mark Van Doren, who met Thurber in 1941 and remained a close friend.

A theatrical remake of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," starring Jim Carrey and based on a Thurber story, is in the works.

MOST FASCINATING WOMEN

Monday at 10 on CBS

Roma Downey hosts this special honoring women chosen by the Ladies' Home Journal editors as 1999's most noteworthy: actresses Jodie Foster, Susan Sarandon and Lisa Kudrow; singers Aretha Franklin and Christina Aguilera; soccer star Mia Hamm; J.K. Rowling, author of the "Harry Potter" books; prospective first ladies Tipper Gore, Ernestine Bradley, Laura Bush and Cindy McCain; and Linda Armstrong, mother of Lance Armstrong, winner of the Tour de France bicycle race and cancer survivor.

INSIDE THE ANIMAL MIND

Tuesday at 8 on PBS

Do animals have the same emotions we do? Can they reason the same way? Are they aware of the same things we are? In short, how human-like are animals?

This three-part "Nature" miniseries exploring animal intelligence, emotions and self-awareness is narrated by Steve Kroft, with an introduction by longtime "Nature" host George Page. Page also has written a companion book of the same title. This is the series' 18th season.

GREED: THE SERIES

Wednesday at 9 on Fox

The game show gets a Friday-at-9 p.m. slot as a series, but appears this week on Wednesday and Thursday as well, both at 9 p.m.

Potentially the richest game show ever, "Greed" offers a possible prize of more than $2 million to each team of contestants. The game starts with six players who begin with a qualifying question that not only determines the team captain, but also disqualifies one member. The remaining five players together attempt to climb the "Tower of Greed" ($25,000 to $50,000 to $75,000 to $100,000 to $200,000 to $500,000 to $1 million to $2 million or more).

WINNING LINES

Saturday at 8 on CBS

Dick Clark, executive producer of "Greed," will host this one, in which 49 contestants begin by answering general knowledge questions that have numerical answers. In the fast-paced "Wonderwall" segment, one finalist gets three minutes to answer 20 questions, with answers displayed across three giant screens. Players can win up to $1 million. CBS is giving "Winning Lines" an initial run of six installments.