The "American Experience" (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings) profile of President George H.W. Bush concludes with a look at the first Gulf War, the end of the Cold War and the last years of his presidency, when he battled a bad economy while beset by criticism from Democrats and from Pat Buchanan and the conservative wing of his own party.
The market in presidential reputation seems to operate on a zero-sum basis. One legacy rises as another descends. Thirty years ago, Harry Truman's good name seemed to rise as historians began to re-examine John F. Kennedy's halo. And the makers of this profile seem determined to burnish Bush's image at the expense of Ronald Reagan's.
We're told at different times that Bush lived the life that Reagan could only pretend to live. Bush was a real war hero and a genuine family man, while Reagan phoned in the Hollywood version. Tonight, a historian friendly to the 41st president argues that without Bush's deft handling of the collapse of Communism and his unpopular tax-raising approach to deficit control, Reagan's aftermath would have been much messier.
The profile also makes much of Bush's troubled relationship with the Republican right. And one historian uses a less-than-kind word to describe Bush's opinion of his successor, Bill Clinton.
But Bush's relationship with the current president goes strangely unexamined.
Comment on the judgment of Bush 43 and his team comes from Bush 41 advisers James Baker, Colin Powell and Brent Scowcroft. They each discuss the criticism they took for not toppling Saddam Hussein and occupying Iraq back in 1991. And each man concludes that conversation with a near identical phrase: "Nobody asks us about that anymore."
The relationship between Bush 41 and 43 could make for a real potboiler. It's no secret that W repudiated his father when he talked of being in the Reagan tradition and claiming allegiance to a "higher" father. And it's interesting to note that both the United Nations and the CIA suffered severe collateral damage on the road to Baghdad in 2003 and that both were prominent places in Bush the elder's resume.
But there may be other relationships and surrogate parenthoods for future "American Experiences" to discuss. Sen. John McCain was quick to seek the blessing of George H.W. Bush. Both Bush 41 and McCain are known as moderates and dealmakers who have earned the distrust of the Republican right. And, most important, both are former Navy pilots. Some bonds may be thicker than blood.
¢ "Big Idea for a Small Planet" (8 p.m., Sundance) looks at new trends in the fashion business that accentuate environmental consciousness and sustainability.
Tonight's other highlights
¢ The top four compete on "American Idol" (7 p.m., Fox).
¢ "Nova" (7 p.m., PBS, check local listings) looks for records of the very first flower.
¢ Short tempers and live wires on "Deadliest Catch" (8 p.m., Discovery).
¢ A coffee tycoon falls under suspicion on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (9 p.m., NBC).
¢ Murder on frat-house row on "Women's Murder Club" (9 p.m., ABC).
Married to a much older man, a honeymooner (Gloria Swanson) swoons for a young man (Rudolph Valentino) in the 1922 silent film "Beyond the Rocks" (12 p.m., TCM).