Bricks and mortar make an interesting mix with intrigue and cruelty in the special "Rome: Engineering an Empire" (8 p.m., History). Rome was not the first, or last, military force to employ superior technology to intimidate an enemy with "shock and awe." A decade before Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, he had his engineers build a bridge over the troubled waters of the Rhine, separating Roman Gaul from hostile Germanic tribes.
"Engineering an Empire" uses special effects to demonstrate how Caesar's men used sophisticated pilings to erect a bridge more than 1,000 feet long and strong enough to support tens of thousands of Roman legions. Caesar estimated that there were hundreds of thousands of Germans on the other side. But he guessed correctly that the mere sight of the bridge and his advancing troops would make the Germans scatter. What "Engineering" cannot convey is the mind-boggling fact that Caesar's men built the bridge in only 10 days.
Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, the Romans built a series of roads connecting cities throughout Italy and beyond. A series of aqueducts brought fresh water to the capital as well as to provincial cities. In fact, it took until 1985 for New York City to secure a bigger water-supply system than ancient Rome's.
A stimulating and visually dazzling special, "Engineering an Empire" is a perfect companion to the HBO series "Rome."
¢ "Precinct Hollywood" (9 p.m., AMC) offers a provocative roundup of the police movies of the past three decades. The special theorizes that the modern cop hero did not emerge until the early 1970s, when Harry Callaghan ("Dirty Harry") and "Popeye" Doyle ("The French Connection") began to express audiences' frustrations with civil unrest and rampant crime.
"Precinct" follows the genre's devolution into the cop comedies of the 1980s ("Beverly Hills Cop") and the return of the gritty drama ("Training Day") in more recent years. "Precinct" discusses how cop movies influenced modern TV cops, but ignores the influence of TV cops (from "Dragnet" to "Homicide") on big-screen dramas. This seems odd, particularly since some of the talent featured here, most notably Clint Eastwood ("Dirty Harry") and Sidney Lumet ("Serpico"), began their careers in television.
Tonight's other highlights
¢ Florida State plays host to Miami in college football action (7 p.m., ABC).
¢ Deadline pressures begin to weigh on Michael on "Prison Break" (8 p.m., Fox).
¢ "The Closer" (8 p.m., TNT), starring Kyra Sedgewick, ends its first season with an extended 70-minute finale.
D.L. Hughley and Jamie Oliver chat on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno is host to Brad Garrett, Kathy Griffin and Phil Vassar on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC) ... Kathy Griffin, Dr. Drew Pinsky and Reliant K appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (11:05 p.m., ABC).