“Pearl Harbor: 24 Hours After” (7 p.m., History) commemorates the 70th anniversary of the “date which will live in infamy” with an engaging minute-by-minute account of the day America was plunged into war.
The special does a good job of juxtaposing world-shaking events and decisions with tiny, intimate details. President Franklin Roosevelt was at work in his private office, relaxing with his beloved stamp collection, when word came of the Japanese attack on the Pacific Fleet. He had a terrific cold and sinus condition that day, an ailment that doctors most likely treated with cocaine.
We get a finely detailed account of Roosevelt as he composed his famous war declaration to be delivered the very next day. Writing and editing don’t usually make for good television, but this is an exception.
We’re also told how the Secret Service had no bulletproof car to drive Roosevelt to the Capitol to deliver his war address. So the Treasury Department commandeered a car that once belonged to Al Capone. And when the president arrived, he had to create the illusion of “walking” past both Houses of Congress, even though he had been paralyzed for 20 years.
Historians interviewed here give Roosevelt high marks for his calm and his ability to articulate the defiant resolve of a nation that had, only 24 hours before, been bitterly divided about entering World War II. And “Pearl Harbor: 24 Hours After” deserves high marks as well.
• BBC America repeats the brilliant six-part 2003 miniseries “State of Play” (8 p.m.). A complex tale of a murder, an apparent suicide, a political cover-up and evidence obtained by the press that’s kept from the police, the drama seems all the more timely given the recent scandals rocking the British press and government. A great cast includes a young Kelly Macdonald, better known now for “Boardwalk Empire.”
• Based on a novel by Richard North Patterson, “Silent Witness” (8 p.m., TNT) is anything but good. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a guilty pleasure. Dermot Mulroney stars as a hotshot lawyer dragged back to his hometown to defend an old pal and high school coach (Michael Cudlitz), who is accused of murdering the student he had been sleeping with. Add to this a backstory about the lawyer’s past as a teen jock accused of killing his cheerleader girlfriend, and you’re going to get a lot of flashbacks to the 1980s and the ominous, if obvious, use of The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” to create an atmosphere of paranoia.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Finalists sing to survive on “The X Factor” (7 p.m., Fox).
• A vet needs a good defense on “Harry’s Law” (8 p.m., NBC).
• Rushed plans for an early Christmas on “Modern Family” (8 p.m., ABC).
• A winner emerges on “America’s Next Top Model” (8 p.m., CW).
• A rancher’s murder defies explanation on “CSI” (9 p.m., CBS).
• A former NFL star (Treat Williams) is busted in a back alley on “Law & Order: SVU” (9 p.m., NBC).