For many of us, life without coffee is unthinkable. The special "Coffee: Beans to Buzz" (8 p.m., National Geographic) presents a fact-filled survey history of the popular stimulant. "Buzz" does a particularly good job of explaining how coffee and culture converge.
Europeans were introduced to the brew by Arab armies laying siege to Vienna. Most agree that coffee has ancient origins in Ethiopia. "Buzz" shows how Italians came up with espresso and cappuccino and how coffee stimulated both the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Apparently, when writers and thinkers substitute coffee for gallons of wine, they are much more productive.
While coffee flourished in Paris, Italy and Vienna, the drink earned an unwholesome reputation in England. Women, or at least wives, were banned from British coffee house. But many had brothels available right upstairs. For this reason, among others, tea became the respectable, domestic beverage of choice. Americans embraced coffee after the famous Boston Tea Party, when the consumption of that highly taxed item became a sign of Tory sympathies.
"Buzz" also presents short stories about corporate coffee giants like Maxwell House, Folgers and the coining of the phrase "Good to the Last Drop." Apparently, advertising and technology conspired to make Americans drink billions of gallons of horrible coffee (much of it instant) in the decades after World War II. Blame it on Juan Valdez! Much is made of Starbucks and its enthusiasts and critics, and recent efforts to promote fair-trade coffee.
¢ "The Final 24" (9 p.m., Biography) takes a moment-by-moment approach to the final day of a person's life. This is hardly a new idea. Decades ago, writer Jim Bishop had best sellers named "The Day Christ Died" and "The Day Kennedy Was Shot." But "The Final 24" takes a lurid "True Hollywood Story" approach.
The series debuts with the "Final 24" hours of John Belushi's life. We see re-enactments of the comic actor as he drives through Los Angeles and takes a meeting at Paramount on his last day on earth. Producer and manager Bernie Brillstein, who was at that meeting, appears here in an interview, as does Belushi's friend Dan Aykroyd, who discusses his death in detail for the very first time. Subsequent "Final" subjects will be River Phoenix and Sid Vicious, who both died of overdoses.
Tonight's other highlights
¢ On two episodes of "CSI" (CBS), a grim prediction from a professional prognosticator (7 p.m.), Catharine and Nick take a road trip (8 p.m.).
¢ The gang see themselves on "Cops" on "My Name is Earl" (7 p.m., NBC).
¢ Jody plays Cinderella to some spoiled, swag-obsessed stepsisters on "Ugly Betty" (7 p.m., ABC).
¢ Michael tries desperately to retain his vacation vibrations on "The Office" (7:30 p.m., NBC).
¢ Kenny's pal Larry has a big announcement on "The War at Home" (7:30 p.m., Fox).
¢ On two episodes of "Grey's Anatomy" (ABC), vehicular chaos (8 p.m.), teamwork (9 p.m.).
¢ A case against an explosives dealer gets rough on "Shark" (9 p.m., CBS).
¢ A wrong prescription proves fatal on "ER" (9 p.m., NBC).