Twenty-five years after the event, "The Plot to Kill: Ronald Reagan" (10 p.m., History Channel) recalls John Hinckley's peculiar odyssey from mixed-up kid to would-be assassin.
Using dramatic re-enactments and interviews with therapists, experts and authors, "Plot" describes a young man who showed signs of mental illness from his first years in high school. Like many worried parents, the Hinckleys hoped that their dreamy, friendless and isolated son would snap out of it one day and find a girl, a job and a purpose in life.
The title of this special is a misnomer, since "Plot" does not map out some grand conspiracy, but the sad and meandering route Hinckley took to his moment of infamy. It's closer to Hinckley's "True Hollywood Story" than historical documentary.
We never learn what Hinckley did to support himself or pay for all of the trips he took all over the country in pursuit of Jodi Foster, the child star of "Taxi Driver" who became the focus of his obsessions and ultimately the reason he took his fateful shots at Reagan.
The film also fails to put Hinckley's actions in any social or cultural context. Coming just months after John Lennon's murder, the Reagan shooting demonstrated how entertainment had eclipsed politics as the central focus of American society's obsessions and psychoses. Ironies within ironies abound. Reagan, a former movie star, was shot not because he was president, but because a deranged young man wanted to impress another, younger movie star. This trend was predicted by director Robert Altman's 1975 masterpiece "Nashville," a film that concludes with the shattering scene of singer celebrity being shot down by a would-be political assassin.
Tonight's other highlights
¢ Jeff Probst hosts "Survivor Panama: Exile Island" (7 p.m., CBS).
¢ A surprise wedding on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" (7 p.m., ABC).
¢ The casting calls continue on "American Inventor" (8 p.m., ABC).
¢ One confession too many roils a high-profile trial on "CSI" (8 p.m., CBS).
¢ On "My Name is Earl" (NBC), Giovanni Ribisi (7:30 p.m.), Earl confronts a child's fears (8 p.m.).
¢ Julie announces her intentions on "The O.C." (8 p.m., Fox).
¢ Michael treats the staff to an ice-skating party on "The Office" (8:30 p.m., NBC).
¢ A bike messenger wanders off course on "Without a Trace" (9 p.m., CBS).
¢ A car accident results in two injured teens on "ER" (9 p.m., NBC).
¢ Scheduled on "Primetime" (9 p.m., ABC): false confessions.