ESPN continues to blow out candles on its 30th birthday cake. Tonight begins the “30 for 30” project, an ambitious slate of 30 sports documentaries made by well-known directors.
Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”) directs “Kings Ransom” (7 p.m., ESPN), an hour-long look at one of the most controversial trades in sports history. Known as “The Great One,” Wayne Gretzky had led the Edmonton Oilers to their third NHL Stanley Cup in four years when he was peddled to the Los Angeles Kings for $15 million and a raft of young talent.
“Ransom” looks at the trade from Gretzky’s point of view and from the vantage point of the Oilers’ owner and documents the outrage of the fans in Edmonton and throughout Canada when they heard that their beloved local hero — considered nothing less than the greatest player in the history of hockey — was leaving for Hollywood.
Separated by two decades from the emotions of the time, Gretzky tells Berg that he has no regrets about the move and observes that he has made a home in Los Angeles. But he’s also rather wistful when he reflects that he could have won a few more Stanley Cups with the Oilers, something he never did with the Kings.
The shock to the Oiler fan base has to be compared to the departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles, or the morning that Baltimore citizens woke up to find their beloved Colts had moved to Indianapolis. Next Tuesday, Barry Levinson (“Diner”) presents “The Band That Wouldn’t Die,” about the endurance of the Colts Marching Band nearly a quarter century after the heartbreaking news.
• As ESPN enters the documentary business, “Nova” (7 p.m., PBS, check local listings) presents its first scripted dramatic feature. “Darwin’s Darkest Hour” stars Henry Ian Cusick (“Lost”) as naturalist Charles Darwin as he anguishes over whether to publish his “On the Origin of Species” in 1859. Darwin fully expected that the book would be seen as a great shock and a challenge to orthodox religious beliefs about the origins of life on earth — beliefs held rather strongly by Darwin’s own wife, Emma (Frances O’Connor).
Darwin relents when he discovers that a rival scientist is on the verge of releasing a similar work, beating him to the evolutionary punch and relegating his years of work, research, exploration and experimentation to obscurity.
A co-production with National Geographic Television, “Darwin” was written by John Goldsmith (“David Copperfield”).
Tonight’s other highlights
• An armed drone aircraft goes missing on “NCIS: Los Angeles” (8 p.m., CBS).
• An eviction notice arrives on “Dancing with the Stars” (8 p.m., ABC).
• Mike Rowe hosts “Dirty Jobs” (8 p.m., Discovery) as it enters its fifth season.
• Tracy Morgan hosts a new season of “Scare Tactics” (8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., SyFy).
• A murder case takes Alicia back to familiar territory on “The Good Wife” (9 p.m., CBS).
• Charming’s small-town virtues leave it vulnerable on “Sons of Anarchy” (9 p.m., FX).
• The infractions fly on a new season of “Parking Wars” (9 p.m., A&E;).
• “Ghost Lab” (9 p.m., Discovery) examines reports of a haunted auditorium in Shreveport, La.