The Ascent of Money
“Money is built on mutual trust,” historian Niall Ferguson points out—and the current global credit crisis proves that when trust breaks down, the results can be dire. Based on his new book of the same title, Ferguson’s lively two-hour look at the history of money includes interviews with multibillionaire investor George Soros and former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, who will head President-elect Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. Tuesday, Jan. 13, at 9 p.m., PBS; check local listings

Make ’Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America
Billy Crystal hosts this three-week, six-part retrospective of American comedy, featuring interviews with more than 90 comedians, writers, producers, and historians. Episode 1 looks at “nerds, jerks, and oddballs, “from Harold Lloyd to Andy Kaufman, while Episode 2 focuses on the domestic sitcom, from The Honeymooners to The Simpsons. Amy Sedaris narrates. Wednesdays, Jan. 14–28, at 8 p.m. & 9 p.m., PBS; check local listings

The Beast
In this new police drama, Patrick Swayze stars as a veteran FBI agent who uses unorthodox and borderline-cruel methods to teach a callow rookie (Travis Fimmel) how to go undercover. The show gives a venerable formula some surprise twists, and a vigorous Swayze plays the lead role with authority. Thursday, Jan. 15, at 10 p.m., A&E

Treasure Quest
This new documentary series follows Odyssey Marine Exploration, a publicly traded company of real-life treasure hunters, deep into the world’s oceans. In the first of 11 episodes, Odyssey’s 8-ton ZEUS robot plunges into murky waters in search of the sunken 17th-century treasure ship Merchant Royal and a potential billion-dollar payoff—if the French navy doesn’t get in the way. Thursday, Jan. 15, at 10 p.m., Discovery

Masterpiece: Wuthering Heights
This new, two-part Masterpiece production of Emily Brontë’s classic romance generates more heat than most versions do, thanks to its attractive young leads. Up-and-coming British actor Tom Hardy supplies charisma and more than a touch of menace as Heathcliff, while newcomer Charlotte Riley captures Catherine’s wild streak. Sundays, Jan. 18–25, at 9 p.m., PBS; check local listings

Other highlights

Friday Night Lights
The award-winning drama about a small Texas town and its high school football team begins its third season. Friday, Jan. 16, at 9 p.m., NBC

Big Love
Utah polygamist Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) woos a prospective fourth wife as this offbeat drama returns. Sunday, Jan. 18, at 9 p.m., HBO

Flight of the Conchords
New Zealand’s Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie return for a second season of deadpan comedy and clever musical parodies. Sunday, Jan. 18, at 10 p.m., HBO