It's sad to see a cable channel lose its way. The History Channel was always so dependable. After a hard day, Tony Soprano could take refuge in a quart of ice cream and watch a documentary about Rommel and the Afrika Corps. OK, some people ridiculed it as "The Hitler Channel," a place where World War II seemed to go on forever, playing on an endless loop.
Perhaps I'm showing my age, but I've reached a point where I prefer predictable to flaky. And lately, The History Channel has gone off the deep end. Programmers have beaten "The Da Vinci Code" to death. I never heard of a "Codex" before I read that far-fetched drugstore page-turner. Now they're everywhere. Speculative mountebanks spouting apocalypse theories have been given endless airtime. When did The History Channel become the end-of-the-world channel?
Truth be told, the network's two-hour special "Life After People" was pretty well done and, more to the point, it did very well for History. It was the most-watched program on cable during the final week of January, with more than 5 million viewers. But here's a quibble: It had nothing to do with history.
With historical scholarship having gone the way of apocalyptic speculation, it hardly surprises me that the network launches "UFO Hunters" (9 p.m., History), a weekly series dedicated to searching for evidence related to legendary sightings.
"UFO Hunters" unfolds much like "Ghost Hunters" on Sci Fi but without the fun and colorful characters. It's basically a bunch of guys with fancy gear and quasiacademic credentials who use a lot of pseudoscientific jargon to justify a TV snipe hunt. Bill Birnes, publisher of something called "UFO Magazine," rattles around rather nervously. He has all of the scholarly gravitas of Dan Aykroyd in "Ghostbusters."
As someone who enjoys and respects history, I found the show depressing. As someone who reviews television, I found the show boring. It actually put me to sleep, something those musty old reels about Stalingrad and Tarawa never did.
¢ Real history unfolds on "African-American Lives 2" (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings). Professor Louis Gates hears family stories from a variety of notable people, including poet Maya Angelou, actor Don Cheadle, radio host Tom Joyner and comic Chris Rock, and then traces their family trees and their genetic histories back beyond the slave years and back to Africa.
This is an inspiring and eye-opening series and an invitation to viewers of every race and background to discover the stories and the echoes of history in their own family's roots.
¢ Isn't it odd that Mark L. Walberg hosts both "The Moment of Truth" (8 p.m., Fox) and "Antiques Roadshow" on PBS? One is boring, dumb and sleazy, and the other is informative, smart and fun. It does not reflect well on "Roadshow."
Tonight's other highlights
¢ The good, the bad and the ugly appear on "American Idol" (7 p.m., Fox).
¢ A doormat and a brat make a trade on "Wife Swap" (7 p.m., ABC).
¢ A glance back at past competitions on "America's Next Top Model" (7 p.m., CW). I'm the last person to know or care, but have any of the winners of this show ever become "top" models?
¢ Goren goes undercover in a mental ward on "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (8 p.m., NBC).
¢ "Mythbusters" (8 p.m., Discovery) test-drives James Bond gadgets.
¢ A vehicle involved in a hit-and-run homicide is loaded with cash on "Law & Order" (9 p.m., NBC).
¢ Designers must rely on lady wrestlers for inspiration on "Project Runway" (9 p.m., Bravo).