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Highlights | TURN ON, TUNE IN OR MISS OUT

Early moguls build an empire; 'Damon' goes undercover; 'City' scandal; a midwife's 'Experience'

March 22, 1998|STEVEN LINAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sunday

"Hollywoodism: Jews, Movies and the American Dream" / 6 and 10 p.m. A&E

Based on former film critic Neal Gabler's book "An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood," this two-hour special chronicles the rise and fall of movie moguls Adolph Zukor, Carl Laemmle, Louis B. Mayer, William Fox, Harry Cohn and the Warner brothers. The documentary features home movies, archival footage and interviews with descendants of the fabled studio chiefs as well as commentary from film historians, critics and producers.

****

"Escape: Human Cargo" / 8 p.m. Showtime

Treat Williams stars as a Houston contractor who lands in a Saudi Arabian prison while working on a multimillion-dollar project. The cable drama is based on an autobiography by John McDonald, a businessman whose visa and passport were confiscated in 1978 by two unethical associates. After his release from jail, the dispirited McDonald decided his only way out of the country was to build a shipping crate whose cargo was none other than himself. Stephen Lang co-stars as an American oil rigger who lent a hand.

****

"Damon" / 8:30 p.m. Fox

Damon Wayans returns to the network that made him a star on "In Living Color." In this brash sitcom, he's a self-assured Chicago undercover cop relying on dreadful disguises to bring in the baddies. He's also reunited with his "Men on Film" castmate David Alan Grier, who plays older brother Bernard, a hapless rent-a-cop separated from his wife. At the "Barney Miller"-type precinct, Wayans reports to a hard-nosed boss ("SCTV" alum Andrea Martin, who displays her flair for farce).

****

"Blood on Her Hands" / 9 p.m. ABC

Susan Lucci lays waste to the men in her life as a mistress of manipulation in this derivative melodrama. The adulterous Isabelle (a role Lucci can play in her sleep) uses her lover (Philip Casnoff) to murder her wealthy husband (John O'Hurley, the J. Peterman of "Seinfeld"), then sets up a second paramour (Kamar de los Reyes) for another fall. The dialogue calls for rewrite ("Isabelle, you won't make a fool out of me!"), but Casnoff is a sympathetic sap and the ending may catch you off-guard.

Monday

"The Barbara Walters Special" / 9 p.m. ABC (approximate)

Oscar night brings the post-Academy Awards-themed show from Walters, who chats with Burt Reynolds, Kim Basinger and Will Smith. Reynolds and Basinger are first-time nominees (as well as Golden Globe winners) for their respective roles as a porno director and prostitute in "Boogie Nights" and "L.A. Confidential." Smith starred in the 1997 blockbuster "Men in Black." After getting word of his nomination in February, Reynolds appeared on "Today," where he said, "At a time like this, you don't have any chips left on any shoulder."

Tuesday

"City Dump: The Story of the 1951 CCNY Basketball Scandal" / 10 p.m. HBO

Though this documentary recounts a notorious incident of the past, HBO Sports producer Ross Greenburg insists it has relevance in the present. Or as he puts it, "What happened to this group of young men nearly a half-century ago continues to occur time and again because of the big-business nature of college basketball." The one-hour program focuses on seven members of the City College of New York basketball team who conspired with gamblers to fix games over two seasons (1949-51).

Wednesday

"The American Experience" / 9 p.m. KCET

To understand 18th-century America through the eyes of a woman, historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich spent eight years poring over the cyptic diary of Martha Ballard, a midwife, mother and healer in Maine, circa 1785. The result was "A Midwife's Tale," a Pulitzer Prize-winning book that inspired this documentary in which Ulrich dissects fragments from Ballard's personal entries to give us a feel for everyday existence after the American Revolution.

Friday

"Great Performances" / 9 p.m. KCET

"The Art of Singing: Golden Voices, Silver Screen" is certain to attract opera lovers. Hosted by Thomas Hampson, the PBS program surveys the film legacy of opera's most celebrated stars, from Enrico Caruso and Maria Callas to Joan Sutherland and Jon Vickers. Among the rare clips: Caruso in "My Italian Cousin" (1919); lavish musicals of the '30s with Metropolitan Opera stalwarts such as Lawrence Tibbett and Lily Pons and soprano Rosa Ponsell's MGM screen test for a "Carmen" that was never produced.

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