Listen to cable news, talk radio and popular televangelists, and you frequently hear criticism of the courts. This is hardly new. As "The Supreme Court" (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings, concludes next Wednesday) makes clear, battles over the power and influence of Supreme Court decisions have been going on since the days of the founding fathers.
"Supreme" offers a thoughtful survey history of more than two centuries of constitutional law and history, from the precedent-setting conflicts between John Marshall and presidents Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson to the Dred Scott debacle; the court's use of the 14th amendment to protect property rights during the Gilded Age to the Civil Rights era of the mid-20th century and the Rehnquist Court of the past three decades.
"Supreme" artfully blends talking-head commentary with period art, historic re-creations and photomontages to present an attractive visual accompaniment to thought-provoking history and commentary. In addition to legal experts, constitutional scholars and biographers of justices, "Supreme" features observations by retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and current Chief Justice John G. Roberts.
Says Roberts, "The legitimacy and the acceptance of what the Court does depends upon how people view the institution. The Court is always vulnerable and has been throughout its history. And I think justices, myself and others, should view ourselves as trustees of an extremely valuable institution that has built up over the centuries and has served the country very well in ensuring the rule of law and has the ability to reach unpopular decisions that will nonetheless be followed."
¢ Bravo offers "Top Design" (10 p.m., Bravo), a blatant new clone of "Project Runway."
Set in the world of interior design, "Top" features famous designer Todd Oldham as host. As you can expect, the show invites 12 designers from all over the country to share a posh Los Angeles barracks and compete with each other to please picky clients and face elimination rounds.
The creative gulf between "Top" and "Runway" emerges almost immediately. On "Runway," designers are given a modest amount of money to buy fabric so they can create original outfits. In their very first assignment, the "Top" designers are given $50,000 and sent to a fancy design center to buy furniture and accessories for a relaxation center for a mystery client.
There is a vast difference between creating stuff and buying stuff. "Runway" is not without its product placements, but "Top" seems like one long product placement, featuring more than its share of annoying personalities.
Tonight's other highlights
¢ Tensions mount as the playoffs approach on "Friday Night Lights" (7 p.m., NBC).
¢ A serial killer targets the team on "Bones" (7 p.m., Fox).
¢ San Antonio talent auditions for "American Idol" (8 p.m., Fox). The eyes of Texas are upon you.
¢ Kid Rock (guest starring as himself) becomes a suspect in his chauffeur's murder on "CSI: NY" (9 p.m., CBS).
¢ A demon doll appears to be urging its young owner to evil deeds on "Medium" (9 p.m., NBC).
¢ Scheduled on "Primetime" (9 p.m., ABC): medical mysteries.