'Bertie' lacks historical content

"Masterpiece Theatre" (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings) celebrates Queen Elizabeth's 50th anniversary on the throne with "Bertie & Elizabeth," a historical romance about her parents, Albert, Duke of York (James Wilby, "Gosford Park") and Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon (Juliet Aubrey, "Middlemarch"). Albert, called Bertie by all, became England's reluctant King George VI after his brother David (Charles Edwards), later King Edward VIII, abdicated the throne to marry the scheming American Wallis Simpson (Amber Rose Sealey). A warning: "Bertie and Elizabeth" contains almost as many names, nicknames and titles as a Russian novel.

"Bertie" covers three decades of family drama and world conflict at a fast clip, often sacrificing credible dialogue for historical explication, and less-than-credible speech making. The "conversations" between the reluctant King and wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill (David Ryall) seem the least believable. At its best, "Bertie" portrays the small, intimate moments between the royals, and Elizabeth's efforts to help her shy husband overcome his stutter. In fact, Bertie's speech impediment spares him from the drama's weaker dialogue.

� Former CNN news analyst Greta Van Susteren launches her new series, "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren" (9 p.m., Fox News). Van Susteren the former host of CNN's "The Point.", had made a name for herself with her legal commentary during the O.J. Simpson criminal and civil trials, and the Elian Gonzalez custody battle.

Van Susteren arrives during a period of heated and well-publicized rivalry between the two news channels. CNN has recently hired ABC news correspondent Connie Chung, and last fall, it lured Fox News correspondent Paula Zahn to host its morning show. And, who can forget Fox News's recent decision to hire the notorious Geraldo Rivera?

� Comedy Central commemorates Black History Month with a new weekly five-part documentary series, "The Heroes of Black Comedy" (9 p.m.,). Hosted by Don Cheadle, "Heroes" examines the impact of contemporary black humor on popular culture. Tonight: a profile of Chris Rock. Future installments include The Original Kings of Comedy (Feb. 11); Whoopi Goldberg (Feb. 18); Hip Hop Comedy (Feb. 25) and Richard Pryor (Mar. 4).

� The sophomore comedy "Girlfriends" (8:30 p.m., UPN) mines some uncomfortable humor from the profound question: Just what does it mean to be black? Questions of racial stereotyping and patronizing attitudes arise when Lynn's white sister, Tanya (Eliza Schneider), arrives for a visit, and tries too hard to "act black." Her hip-hop slang, cornrows and cornbread stand in stark contrast to Joan's yuppie tastes and William's corporate demeanor. But, Tanya goes beyond the pale when she thinks that she can casually sing hip-hop lyrics containing the "N" word. It's a provocative departure for "Girlfriends," a smart comedy that often seems constrained by the sitcom formula.

Tonight's other highlight

� Profiled on "Intimate Portrait" (6 p.m., Lifetime): Cynthia Nixon.


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