“American Masters: Inventing David Geffen” (7 p.m., PBS) offers a brisk and entertaining history of the popular culture of the past five decades.
As a young agent and manager, David Geffen became central to the careers of musicians who defined a generation. Their names include Laura Nyro; Joni Mitchell; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Jackson Browne; the Eagles; and too many others to mention. While not much older than his clients, Geffen acted as the grown-up, making deals and allowing them to grow as artists.
He was the sober one during a very druggy period. Had Geffen’s career, or life, ended in 1975, he’d still be remembered as a giant of 20th-century popular music. But as “Geffen” chronicles, he went on to produce movies, dabble in Broadway with hits like “Cats” and “Dreamgirls,” return to the music industry to record John Lennon shortly before his murder and spend some time in the doldrums — all before nurturing a new generation of bands, including Guns N’ Roses and Nirvana.
You don’t have time to catch your breath before he emerges as a giant of AIDS research and philanthropy, co-founds DreamWorks, the first new major Hollywood studio in more than half a century, and then becomes an essential backer as well as friend and adviser to President Bill Clinton. The film argues that his public reservations about candidate Hillary Clinton all but torpedoed her campaign and paved the way for Barack Obama in 2008.
Don’t miss this “American Masters.” It’s essential pop history and a serious meditation on the commingling of entertainment and political culture. And the soundtrack isn’t too shabby.
Tonight’s other highlights:
• Jamie Lee Curtis and Rob Reiner guest-star as Jess’ divorced parents on “New Girl” (8 p.m., Fox).
• An unexpected date derails Mindy’s holiday cooking plans on “The Mindy Project” (8:30 p.m., Fox).
• Savino needs Lamb’s protection on “Vegas” (9 p.m., CBS).
• Ryan’s past is revealed on “Parenthood” (9 p.m., NBC).
• Showdown in Amsterdam on the season finale of “Covert Affairs” (9 p.m., USA).
• “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” (9 p.m., HBO) looks at a murder arranged by an NFL star.
• “Frontline” (9 p.m., PBS) looks at the recession’s impact on America’s poorest children.