A tale of personal heartache, individual triumph and the lingering legacy of Cold War politics, “Escape from Havana: An American Story” (8 p.m., CNBC) recalls the curious history of Operation Peter Pan. Between 1962 and 1964, more than 14,000 children, the offspring of anti-Castro Cubans and former supporters who had fallen out of favor with the bearded dictator, were evacuated to the United States. Believing Castro’s fall was imminent, their families assumed that the separation would be brief. Five decades later, many of these Peter Pans remain in an emotional Never-Never Land.
Many of the children would thrive in America. Their numbers include the mayor of Miami, a Yale professor, an acclaimed singer and a wealthy entrepreneur. While they have lived the American dream, their hearts remain in Cuba, and many of those who have reconnected with their loved ones have found the experience bittersweet.
One “Pan” spends hours looking at his old neighborhood on an Internet satellite site. He spent decades denying his memories, until the 2000 media coverage of the Elian Gonzalez saga forced them to the surface. Another former refugee is grateful for her life in America, but not for the sexual abuse she endured in her foster home.
A thoughtful one-hour special, “Havana” touches on many hot-button topics, most notably, the contentious issue of normalizing relations with Cuba, a subject that continues to divide many Cuban immigrants including the Peter Pans.
• Combining our shared love of cop shows and shopping, “Mall Cops: Mall of America” (9 p.m., TLC) follows the officers who patrol the Mall of America, Minnesota’s super emporium of consumerism.
• “Gulf Oil Spill” (9 p.m., National Geographic) offers never-before-seen footage of the April 20 fire and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig, as well as interviews with survivors. “Spill” focuses on the first 36 hours of the disaster and response, not the subsequent environmental catastrophe.
Tonight’s other highlights
• “So You Think You Can Dance” (7 p.m., Fox) returns for a seventh season.
• The world awaits the big day on the series finale of “FlashForward” (7 p.m., ABC). Annabeth Gish guest stars.
• “The Media Project” (7 p.m., IFC) uses coverage of the Haitian earthquake as an example of the news’ fixation on foreign disasters.
• A woman submits to a dating service’s questionnaire in the first episode of the six-episode sitcom series “100 Questions” (7:30 p.m., NBC).
• An actress’s fatal accident doesn’t add up on “CSI” (8 p.m., CBS).
• On two episodes of “The Office” (NBC), Michael dates Pam’s mother (8 p.m.), a dismal double date (9 p.m.).
• An actor, not to the manor Bourne, receives accolades on “Hollywood Salutes Matt Damon” (8 p.m., ABC). Jimmy Kimmel hosts this 24th American Cinematheque Award.
• Jack’s rival returns on “30 Rock” (8:30 p.m., NBC).
• A mayor’s aide stands trial on “The Mentalist” (9 p.m., CBS).
• Six patients with severe obsessive-compulsive behavior share a “Real World” experience under the care of a doctor on “The OCD Project” (9 p.m., VH1).
Pioneering documentary director Robert Flaherty follows an Eskimo family in the 1922 silent “Nanook of the North” (7 p.m., TCM).