The new series “The Message” (9 p.m., TLC) makes it official. Everyone in America is looking for somebody else, hoping to unburden themselves of a huge, tragic secret and to make some emotional connection. To get there we need a private investigator. And we must appear in public — on television, no less — and conduct our most sought-after and intimate conversation in front of an audience of millions. Or at least TLC hopes it’s millions.
Christopher Bauer is the host and investigator. Not unlike the guy on “The Locator,” or the other guy on the failed ABC imitation of “The Locator,” Bauer finds a birth mother eager to find a son she gave up at 19. Another woman discovers an infant she had when she was 16, and a third woman wants to thank the family who tragically lost the daughter whose donated liver saved her baby.
You’d have to be stone, or a TV critic, not to be moved by these encounters. But I couldn’t help thinking that everyone involved not only agreed to make a remarkable gesture, but to do so in the most public way possible with a camera crew in tow. And in doing so, they crossed the fine line between real life and a kind of performance. In the case of the organ-donor family, they are making a public, even a political, statement and are clearly using their appearance to raise a certain awareness and further a cause.
Would Bauer still help these folks if they did not agree to appear on camera?
The proliferation of this and similar shows leaves this viewer a bit numbed. If people photograph or videotape an act of physical intimacy, it’s considered pornography. But when such gruesomely personal moments are captured and packaged for our entertainment, it’s called “The Message.”
• Wedding photographer Tom does some undercover detective work on “Chandon Pictures” (8 p.m., Sundance). In a second episode (8:30 p.m.), a cancer-stricken man wants to tape his last will and testament.
• Jay Leno returns to primetime to share his zest for all things automotive on “Garage Mahal” (8 p.m., DIY).
• Lyle Lovett discusses his musical roots on “Live From Abby Road” (7 p.m., Sundance).
Tonight’s other highlights
• A private investigator gumshoes from beyond the grave on “Ghost Whisperer” (7 p.m., CBS).
• Cuddy spends a day solving problems both personal and professional on “House” (7 p.m., Fox).
• A young girl from Alison’s dreams needs real-life protection on “Medium” (8 p.m., CBS).
• Ramsay revisits an Italian kitchen he saved from catastrophe on “Kitchen Nightmares” (8 p.m., Fox).
• Jamie bets a surly DJ that he can teach 1,000 people to cook for themselves on “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” (8 p.m., ABC).
• Nightmares plague the crew on “Stargate Universe” (8 p.m., Syfy).
• A restaurant gunman serves lead al fresco on “Miami Medical” (9 p.m., CBS).
• Tina Fey appears on “Friday Night With Jonathan Ross” (9 p.m., BBC America).
• Fortune smiles on Batiatus on “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” (9 p.m., Starz).
Singer Roy Orbison plays a finger-plucking Confederate spy in the 1967 musical oddity “The Fastest Guitar Alive” (2:30 a.m., TCM).