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Archive for Thursday, August 13, 2009

Boy meets big, untamed cat

August 13, 2009

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Can you get too close to nature? The folks who turned “Grizzly Man” into a weekly series now bring us “Into the Pride” (7 p.m., Animal Planet), a tale of a dedicated — if not obsessive — naturalist who spends six months alone with a community of threatened jungle cats in Africa.

The five-part series follows Canadian zoologist Dave Salmoni as he enters the world of antisocial lions in order to better understand their problems and to help them from being eradicated by authorities who accuse them of devouring local livestock and attacking humans.

Like Timothy Treadwell, posthumous host of “Grizzly Man,” Salmoni takes on a kind of messianic zeal, promising to connect with the big cats, or die trying.

“Pride” follows the template of many similar nature series, assigning names and personalities to animal “stars,” from Brutus, the dominant male, to Rough and Tumble, the youngest lion cubs. It also projects an air of improbable intimacy between Dave and his critter community as he strives to establish a bond of trust. Just how alone is he with the Pride? And how often does a camera crew intrude on the bonding sessions?

• “Christiane Amanpour Reports: Generation Islam” (7 p.m., CNN) takes a two-hour look at the growing number of poor children in Pakistan and Afghanistan who have become easy prey for radicals who would turn them into suicide bombers. She visits prisons, schools and mountain villages to show the seductive allure of the Taliban for children with no one to care for them and nothing to lose.

She also interviews children in Palestine with similar stories and cites a grim survey indicating a high percentage of children who hope to become “martyrs.”

“Generation” makes the strong, if unstated, case that religious fanatics who target such vulnerable youth are the worst kind of child predators.

On the other hand, it includes uplifting stories of American and Western volunteers establishing schools and program to counter those run by religious radicals. But some viewers may recall very similar stories from conflicts past, ones where we were assured that just enough resources matched with good will would pull the “hearts and minds” of a troubled population in our direction.

• A veteran of elite teams in both the Army and Air Force, Will Willis hosts “Special Ops Mission” (9 p.m., Military Channel), presenting a series of near-impossible simulated missions. Tonight: Willis must infiltrate a compound where terrorists are holding hostages and demanding ransom.

Tonight’s other highlights

• Forest Whitaker won a Best Actor Oscar for a memorable performance of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the 2006 drama “The Last King of Scotland” (7 p.m., MyNetwork).

• Pittsburgh hosts Arizona in preseason NFL action (7 p.m., ESPN).

• Michael tackles distribution woes on “The Office” (8 p.m., NBC).

• Clues fall from the sky on “CSI” (8 p.m., CBS).

• Art collecting can be murder on “The Mentalist” (9 p.m., CBS).

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