Team sports can bring out the best in people. But locker rooms also can be cauldrons of conformity, where the pressure to follow the herd can prove corrosive. Based on history, "CodeBreakers" (8 p.m. today, ESPN) recalls a cheating scandal that rocked not only football, but also the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
In the fall of 1951, Army football was on the verge of its third consecutive undefeated season under coach Earl "Red" Blaik (Scott Glenn) and assistant coach Vince Lombardi (Richard Zeppieri). Under pressure to pass West Point's tough curriculum of math, science and engineering courses, a number of players developed a system for stealing questions and answers to exams.
"CodeBreakers" is a competent period piece, re-creating the atmosphere at West Point during one of its most difficult eras, when every graduate faced the prospect of joining the bloody war in Korea. But it does a superb job in the more intimate scenes in which individual players wrestle with their consciences and attempt to balance their loyalty to their teammates with their obligation to the academy's honor code.
¢ Many scientists think the chances of a bird flu pandemic are more a matter of when than if. Fears of avian flu inspire two Sunday-night specials. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is host on "Killer Flu: A Breath Away" (9 p.m. Sunday, CNN). He travels to Thailand and Indonesia, where bird flu already has claimed human victims, to explain how the virus, named H5N1, kills its human hosts.
"Race Against the Killer Flu" (8 p.m. Sunday, National Geographic) also explains the emergence of H5N1 and shows how victims may be killed by their own immune system. Both specials draw comparisons to the deadly outbreak of the Spanish flu following World War I, an epidemic that left more than 50 million dead worldwide.
¢ Jimmy Stewart stars in the 1946 holiday fantasy "It's a Wonderful Life" (7 p.m., NBC).
¢ Scheduled on "48 Hours Mystery" (9 p.m., CBS): A family lives in fear after a mother's disappearance.
¢ A winner emerges on the three-hour finale of "Survivor: Guatemala" (7 p.m., CBS).
¢ Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammer) resurfaces on "The Simpsons" (7 p.m., Fox).