Several faces from an earlier era of television return tonight. Ed Asner, star of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Lou Grant,” guest stars on “CSI: NY” (9 p.m., CBS) as a jeweler and Holocaust survivor linked to a case about a murder at an auction house.
Martin Mull guest stars on a “Law & Order: SVU” (8 p.m., NBC) from last fall as a homeopathic doctor linked to a case. Mull’s TV roles are too many to mention, but he stands out in TV history as Barth Gimble, the host of the fake talk show “Fernwood 2Night,” a groundbreaking 1977 sendup that remains one of the most influential comedies in the medium’s history. Made years before “This Is Spinal Tap,” it has a similar “mockumentary” feel and the cringeworthy appeal of watching subpar performers acting “real.”
Walter Cronkite, who resigned from his anchor chair at CBS News in 1981, returns to host “Legacy of War” (9 p.m., PBS, check local listings). This hourlong survey history recalls the steps taken and institutions founded after World War II that created the framework for economic recovery and international cooperation between the United States and Europe, and most important, between formerly belligerent neighbors Germany and France.
Cronkite, a young correspondent during and after the war, recalls his flights on B-17 bombing raids over Germany and covering such important stories as the Nuremberg war-crimes trials and the launching of the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe’s economy and infrastructure.
While informative and deeply personal, “Legacy” seems cobbled together from different sources. Parts of it feel like a valedictory travelogue by an esteemed American correspondent, while another sections seem lifted from a British-made film about the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. It’s not a seamless fit, but history buffs and viewers of a certain age should enjoy this chance to see Cronkite at work again.
• Dangerous critters, real and imagined, dominate the cable schedule. Veteran screen heavyweight Neville Brand stars as a backwoods psycho in the cult 1977 shocker “Eaten Alive” (8:30 p.m, IFC). He feeds motel guests and visitors (Mel Ferrer, Stuart Whitman, Carolyn Jones and Marilyn Burns) to his pet alligator.
For viewers who want their scary creatures on the realistic side, there are “Killer Squid” (7 p.m., Animal Planet) and “River Monsters” (8 p.m., Animal Planet).
And fans of frights of the old school can never go wrong with “The Birds” (9:45 p.m., TCM), director Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 shocker.
Tonight’s other highlights
Note: The White House has scheduled a presidential press conference for 7 p.m., so some of the programs airing between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. are subject to delay or pre-emption.
• A quintet becomes a foursome after tonight’s “American Idol” (8 p.m., Fox).
• Daniel Faraday explains his personal history with the island and with time travel on “Lost” (8 p.m., ABC).
• Beaumont’s money woes loom large on “The Unusuals” (9 p.m., ABC).
Fans of the deliriously funny “Team America: World Police” movie should not miss its inspiration, “Thunderbirds Are Go!” (2 a.m., TCM), the 1968 espionage thriller starring a cast of well-dressed marionettes and featuring tiny, perfect sets. “Thunderbirds 6” (3:45 a.m.) follows.