Archive for Tuesday, May 3, 2011

History explores creation of our states’ shapes

May 3, 2011

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“Daily Show” veteran Brian Unger hosts the new series “How the States Got Their Shapes” (9 p.m., History). He serves as a jokey ringleader for a road trip about boundaries that ricochets from sea to shining sea.

The first episode explores the role water has played in creating the map of the United States. Of the 50 states, only four — Colorado, Utah, Montana and Wyoming — lack a water-defined border. We’re also told how Maine’s boundary with Canada was determined by the flow of river water.

Unger puts a human face on mere geography with quip-laden interchanges with locals. One Georgia native and avid golfer demonstrates that the state’s potential water supply is actually only a “chip shot” removed from the state line. Tennessee residents have their own reasons for concern. Unger spends time in a bar just over the Tennessee line. Should the map be redrawn, their watering hole would not only reside on Georgia soil but in a dry county. Their sentiments boil down to “take our water, but leave our beer behind.”

“Shapes” presents plenty of interesting and fun facts, but Unger seems to have been hired to slow things down and spoon-feed the information with dollops of wisecracks and person-on-the-street quizzes modeled on Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking” segments. Like too many new series on the History Channel, it seems designed not for history buffs but for viewers too busy or distracted to bother reading entertaining books like “How the States Got Their Shapes.”

• “A Film Unfinished” on “Independent Lens” (9 p.m. PBS, check local listings) presents recently rediscovered footage from a Nazi propaganda film shot in the Warsaw Ghetto in the mid-1940s. Although the movie was meant to demonstrate the benevolent rule of the Germans over the Poles and Jews they had conquered, the raw footage and outtakes, unseen for six decades, offer a horrifying look at the Nazi oppression of the Jews. Much of the footage takes on a dreamlike quality — or rather that of a nightmare. Most of the Jews captured by the German camera crews would be rounded up and sent to extermination camps shortly after these segments were shot.

Tonight’s other highlights

• “Black in Latin America” (7 p.m., PBS, check local listings) examines Brazil’s unique culture.

• Sue uses the power of journalism on “Glee” (7 p.m., Fox).

• Jamie discovers his betrayer on “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” (7 p.m., ABC).

• Derek goes undercover on “NCIS: Los Angeles” (8 p.m., CBS).

• Blind auditions continue on “The Voice” (8 p.m., NBC).

• Hurting and flirting on “Raising Hope” (8 p.m., Fox).

• A contestant goes home on “Dancing with the Stars” (8 p.m., ABC).

• “Frontline” (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings) examines the future of Al Qaeda.

• GPS tracking looms large on “Traffic Light” (8:30 p.m., Fox).

• An old rival (Martha Plimpton) needs help on “The Good Wife” (9 p.m., CBS).

• A victim reminds Megan of her late father on “Body of Proof” (9 p.m., ABC).

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