Archive for Wednesday, March 2, 2011

PBS pledge season fit to be tie-dyed

March 2, 2011


March may come in like a lion, but on PBS it arrives like a pledge drive. And that means an onslaught of baby-boomer oldies acts and other musical specials. “American Masters” (7 p.m., PBS, check local listings) gets the red rubber ball rolling with “Troubadours: Carole King, James Taylor and the Rise of the Singer-Songwriter.”

A genial, soft-focus documentary about The Troubadour, the West Hollywood, Calif., club that launched so many careers, the film takes about two minutes to get a piece of musical history spectacularly wrong.

A resident expert gravely intones that artists like James Taylor arrived at a time when rock music was in a fallow period, when the Beatles were breaking up and the Rolling Stones were “inactive.” Inactive? The years covered here — 1968 to 1972 — were the most active and fruitful in that band’s (too)-long history. Sorry to harsh the nostalgia mellow with mere facts, but if you’re going to make a film about music history, you should get your history straight.

The remaining 88 minutes allows musicians, including David Crosby, Jackson Browne and Elton John, and comedians Steve Martin and Cheech and Chong, to look back fondly on the club as both a launching pad for talent and as a watering hole for hipsters and a celebrity scene that defined an era.

“Troubadours” does allow time for some of the music critics of the era who chastised the L.A. sound for being too smug, slick and self-satisfied. The Troubadour was, after all, the place that launched the Eagles.

• A cash crop, a cultural force and a major American export well before the nation was founded, tobacco continues to divide, addict and delight Americans and people all over the world. “Cigarette Wars” (8 p.m., CNBC) examines the centuries-long paradox. Some in the government are trying to tax its use out of existence, while others help support its export to an ever-growing international population of smokers. “Wars” visits with planters in Kentucky and smokers in Poland and examines a thriving black market in smuggled smokes that results in billions of dollars of lost tax revenues.

• “Secrets of the Tribe” (7 p.m., HBO2) looks at fractures in the anthropology community on campuses and elsewhere. The battle involves the exhaustive scientific study of the Yanomami tribe in the Amazon, an academic pursuit that some contend has done irreparable damage to the tribe’s unique culture.

Tonight’s other highlights

• The top 10 women perform on “American Idol” (7 p.m., Fox).

• “Chase” has been chased from the schedule and won’t be back. NBC will air two hours of “Minute to Win It” (7 p.m., NBC) instead of just one.

• Jay puts the old in old school on “Modern Family” (8 p.m., ABC).

• A not so apt pupil on “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior” (9 p.m., CBS).

• Requiem for a lightweight during a dead heat on a merry-go-round on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (9 p.m., NBC).

• Three brothers tumble into an old gold mine associated with dark legends on “Off the Map” (9 p.m., ABC).


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