A celebration of amateur athletics and rugged individualism, the made-for-television sports drama "Four Minutes" (6 p.m. and 8 p.m., ESPN2) recalls runner Roger Bannister (Jamie Maclachlan) and his efforts to break the four-minute mile.
"Four Minutes" is a welcome departure for the ESPN movie franchise. Written by journalist and commentator Frank Deford, it avoids many of the cliches of traditional sports yarns. A quiet and determined young medical student, Bannister became a track star almost by accident. He refused to allow a running regimen to get in the way of his studies, and this attitude earned him the scorn of British sportswriters. After failing to place in medal contention, he resolved to train with track legend Archie Mason (Christopher Plummer) and set out to conquer the four-minute mile, a feat considered the Mount Everest of track.
Like all historical sports dramas, "Four Minutes" has the difficult task of maintaining tension when the audience already knows the outcome. And while Bannister had rivals for the record, they are never seen on screen, resulting in a film that lacks both a sense of "good guys vs. bad guys" or the "triumph of the underdog" motif that has inspired so many films.
¢ "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart appears on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS). After Letterman made a tribute to Johnny Carson at the recent Emmy Awards show, Stewart took a moment to praise Letterman as the greatest influence on him and a generation of comics. It was a classy moment between talk-show rivals. David Gray also appears on "Late Show."
Tonight's other highlights
¢ Jeff Probst plays host to "Survivor: Guatemala" (7 p.m., CBS).
¢ Major League Baseball divisional play (7 p.m., Fox).
¢ Jack brings in a new man (Balthazar Getty) on "Alias" (7 p.m., ABC).
¢ A tangle with the school bully on "Everybody Hates Chris" (7 p.m., UPN).
¢ While consoling Karen, Will realizes that he too needs emotional rescue on "Will & Grace" (7:30 p.m., NBC).
¢ A killer uses mental powers to order executions on "Night Stalker" (8 p.m., ABC).
¢ A bright but troubled teen vanishes on "Without a Trace" (9 p.m., CBS).