If you watch only one poultry documentary this year, make it "The Natural History of the Chicken" (8 p.m., PBS). Seriously, this just might be the best television event of the summer. Beautifully shot and edited with intelligence and whimsy, "Chicken" unfolds like a pastoral dream.
"Chicken" opens with Maine farmer Janet Bonney whose hen No. 7 wandered away during a sudden snowstorm. When she found it, the bird was frozen stiff. But when she brought it into her kitchen to put the body in a box, feathers began to stir. Sensing life in the old, cold bird, Bonney performed CPR and a little "mouth-to-beak resuscitation." Bonney's life-saving act earned her worldwide media attention. And No. 7 was finally given a name, Valerie, for valor.
Filmmaker Mark Lewis ("Cane Toads: An Unnatural History") mixes these peculiar tales with soul-stirring scenes of mechanized poultry production. Other chicken stories include that of "Miracle Mike," the rooster who survived his own beheading to become a sideshow curiosity during the 1940s. Cotton the rooster lives in the lap of tacky luxury in West Palm Beach, Fla. His mistress calls him "darling," as she shampoos and blow-dries his feathers.
"Chicken" concludes with the saga of Liza, a small but resilient mother hen who demonstrates that being a "chicken" has nothing to do with cowardice. Clearly inspired by Errol Morris's "Gates of Heaven," this film comes very close to equaling that documentary gem. A film well worth video-taping and watching again and again.
l Baseball buffs can celebrate the All-Star break with two documentaries. "Shot Heard 'Round the World" (7 p.m., HBO) chronicles the remarkable 1951 season when cross-town rivals the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants battled for the pennant. Behind by 13.5 games in mid-summer, the Giants staged one of the game's greatest comebacks to force the Brooklyn "Bums" into a post-season playoff. The film mixes memories from surviving players, including Bobby Thompson and Ralph Branca, with that of diehard fanatics, including Giant fan and current Yankee coach Joe Torre. It wasn't enough to root for your own team. You had to despise your rival. "The hating was often as important as the loving," observes one sports fanatic. Sports Illustrated editor Frank DeFord hosts "Baseball: Stories from the Press Box" (7 p.m., History Channel), a celebration of great sports writers past and present.
Tonight's other highlights
l Scheduled on "60 Minutes II" (7 p.m., CBS): U.S. athletes drugged by their coaches; an extreme sport's criminal fans; an interview with the Dixie Chicks.
l Troy Stevens (Paul Reubens) hosts "You Don't Know Jack" (7:30 p.m., ABC).
l James Garner reprises his signature role in the 1997 mystery "The Rockford Files: Murder and Misdemeanors" (8 p.m., CBS).
l A Supreme Court nomination runs into trouble on a repeat of "The West Wing" (8 p.m., NBC).
l Brian gets a job with the police on "Family Guy" (8:30 p.m., Fox). This animated satire will return to the Fox schedule in the fall.
l A former Black Panther's (Clarence Williams III) murder trial sparks new controversy on a repeat "Law & Order" (9 p.m., NBC).
l Reese is visited by his long-lost dad (Dennis Weaver, "McCloud") on "The Beast" (9 p.m., ABC).
l Janeane Garofalo and John Salley trade very small talk with Jiminy on "Primetime Glick" (9:30 p.m., Comedy Central).
l All are repeats ... A preacher (Charles Dutton) challenges his dismissal on "Ed" (7 p.m., NBC) ... Dinner with Stevie's family on "Malcolm in the Middle" (7 p.m., Fox) ... On two episodes of "The Drew Carey Show" (ABC), Easter baskets (7 p.m.) and Kate dates a new guy (8 p.m.) ... On back-to-back episodes of "Star Trek Voyager" (UPN), Borg drones dream of freedom (7 p.m.), taking on the Queen (8 p.m.).