Remember impeachment? It may have happened less than two years ago, but no one wants to utter the word. The timely documentary, "The Fall of Newt Gingrich" (7 p.m., PBS, check local listings) may explain why. Two summers ago, House Speaker Newt Gingrich seemed like the second most important elected official in America. He had basked in the glory of returning the Republicans to the majority in the House in 1994, and now a Republican controlled House was deciding the fate of a president caught in a rather nasty scandal. Throughout the election season of 1998, Gingrich went on record predicting that the Republicans would increase their majority in the House. And he was hardly out on a limb. In every off-year election since the Depression, the party not in the White House had gained seats. But 1998 was different. The Republicans actually lost seats. And many blamed the threat of impeachment for this historic shift.
Narrated by Blair Brown and directed by Michael Pack, the makers of "The Fall of Newt Gingrich" were given unusual access to the Speaker and his inner circle during a unique period in history. "We were often allowed in closed-door meetings where there were no other cameras," remembers Pack. "This meant that instead of merely commenting on events, we were able to portray the events themselves and let the story tell itself." And what a story it turned out to be. Obviously neither Pack nor Gingrich could have anticipated the cascade of events: the 1998 electoral setback; the House decision to impeach the President; the resignation of Gingrich from both the Speakership and the House; the ascension and quick resignation of Bob Livingston and the rise of Speaker Dennis Hastert. Interviews include Hastert, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Minority Whip David Bonior (D-Mich.) and Gingrich's then-wife, Marianne. When historians and constitutional scholars look back at the controversial and often chaotic period, they will certainly consult "The Fall of Newt Gingrich."
- Boys will be boys and play with toys. And given enough money, mechanical know-how and twisted energy, they will grow up to create the kind of killer robot-appliances that battle to the death on the new show, "BattleBots" (9:30 p.m., Comedy Central). Sporting names like Mauler, Ziggo, Nightmare and Missing Link, these freakish machines are designed with one thing in mind: to destroy everything in their path! Some wield hammers and axes, another sports a nasty circular saw, another spins at such a high speed that it disorients and damages everything it touches. Sean Salisbury and Bill Dwyer provide play-by-play and commentary with equal parts camp and testosterone. Comedic twins Randy and Jason Sklar and "Baywatch" star Donna D'Errico conduct interviews from the pit. The matches on "BattleBots" can last as long as three minutes, if there isn't a knockout. Some of tonight's contestants will go home in pieces. It would have been nice to see how some of these metal creatures are cobbled together, but that would be far too brainy for the show's prevailing mood of anarchy, noise and destruction. Highly recommended for 12-year-old boys, and guys of all ages still very much in touch with their immaturity. I loved it.
Tonight's other highlights
- Scheduled on "Dateline" (7 p.m., NBC): a profile of an overworked Texas public defense lawyer.
- A con man (Greg Kinnear) answers letters to the Almighty in the 1996 comedy, "Dear God" (8 p.m., CBS).
- Zoey attends a rowdy frat party that may embarrass her father on a repeat of "The West Wing" (8 p.m., NBC).
- Forrest Sawyer narrates "Warnings From a Small Town" (8 p.m., Discovery), a documentary look at hate groups active in three American communities.
- A bully's trail of bloody evidence on a repeat of "Law & Order" (9 p.m., NBC).
- Cameras capture life and death in a modern hospital in the six-part documentary, "Hopkins 24/7" (9 p.m., ABC).
The curdled California dream is captured in the better-than-average TV biopic, "The Beach Boys: An American Family" (7 p.m., VH1).
Time on their hands on "Big Brother" (7 p.m., CBS) ... Bobby joins the football squad to spend time with Hank on "King of the Hill" (7 p.m., Fox) ... Tiffani Thiessen guest stars on "Two Guys and a Girl" (7 p.m., ABC) ... Parker helps Ramsey catch his Unabomber-like brother on "Seven Days" (7 p.m., UPN) ... The gang head for the mountains on "Dawson's Creek" (7 p.m., WB).
Brian's terrible secret on "Family Guy" (7:30 p.m., Fox) ... Norm falls for a set-up date on "Norm" 7:30 p.m., ABC).
Gender differences on "World's Funniest!" (8 p.m., Fox) ... Wick returns on "The Drew Carey Show" (8 p.m., ABC) ... Dangerous impersonators on "Star Trek: Voyager" (8 p.m., UPN) ... Will loses his scholarship on "Young Americans" (8 p.m., WB).
NBA star Patrick Ewing guest stars on "Spin City" (8:30 p.m., ABC).
"Politically Incorrect" is a repeat ... New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani and model Laetitia Casta appear on "Late Show With David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Actor Harrison Ford, musician Busta Rhymes and sprinter Michael Johnson are Jay Leno's guests on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC).
Bill Maher's guests include actor David Spade, inmates Lorna Hudson and Tyrus Jones, and Judge Greg Mathis on "Politically Incorrect" (11:05 a.m., ABC).
Actor Jon Lovitz, actress Jane Leeves and musical guest A Perfect Circle are scheduled on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" (11:35 a.m., NBC) ... Actress Mena Suvari, actor Ian Gomez and musical guest Paul Rodgers are booked on "The Late, Late Show With Craig Kilborn" (11:37 a.m., CBS).