Hosted by the genial Jeff Foxworthy, "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" (8:30 p.m., Fox) pits adult contestants against a panel of grade-school students to determine just how much grown-ups have forgotten since they turned 11.
It's a funny premise for a show, and it reminded me of a funny New Yorker cartoon by Roz Chast that depicted the human memory as a kind of safety-deposit box where there was only so much room. To make space for the trivia and pop-culture ephemera of everyday life, you had to get rid of older "unused" knowledge, like state capitals and the dates of the Punic Wars.
Something tells me Foxworthy will have a natural rapport with the memory-challenged "old folks" and feign appropriate fear of the young scholars. Make no mistake about this: "Smarter" will be a ratings smash. A documentary about East German shoe production airing right after "American Idol" probably would get a 20 share. You remember East Germany, don't you?
¢ "Frontline" (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings) airs the third installment of its four-part "News War" series, "What's Happening to the News." The documentary kicks off with a clip of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" (10 p.m., Comedy Central), a lampoon of journalistic cliches that has become more trusted among young people than "real" news.
Journalists, including Ted Koppel, lament the decline of serious TV news and cite the proliferation of sensational stories. Chief among these transgressions is "Dateline" (7 p.m., NBC) and its descent into the journalistic garbage pile with its predator stories.
¢ Another journalistic scandal plays a small part in the excellent documentary "Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?" on "Independent Lens" (9 p.m., PBS, check local listings). The film covers the maverick campaign by a 29-year-old candidate for a House seat from Missouri. During his race, he discovers that the local news won't cover him or even carry candidate debates. Someone from the TV station tells his managers, "That's what commercials are for." In short, TV stations want to be rewarded with advertising money for not doing their job of covering local elections.
¢ Proof that newsgathering and news still matter to some journalists can be found on "To Iraq and Back: Bob Woodruff Reports" (9 p.m., ABC). Woodruff, then co-anchor of the network's nightly news, was wounded by a roadside bomb in January 2006.
Tonight's other highlights
¢ The manufactured tension between Ryan and Simon on "American Idol" (7 p.m., Fox) is a tiresome and needless distraction.
¢ Rory lands a dream-job interview on "Gilmore Girls" (7 p.m., CW).
¢ A reporter phones in the story of his own fatal poisoning on "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (8 p.m., NBC).
¢ In pursuit of a serial bomber in Seattle on "Criminal Minds" (9 p.m., CBS).
¢ Benson bends the rules on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (9 p.m., NBC).