Roaring Tigers tamed a burning city

The roaring Tigers tamed a burning city

If you really want to learn history, glance back at the sports pages. In the past few TV seasons, HBO has presented outstanding documentaries about Jackie Robinson and the integration of baseball and America; a look at the divisive 1971 Ali-Frazier fight; and a film about the reawakening of the Cold War at the 1980 Winter Olympics. A few years back, ABC also aired a fine movie examining the feminist movement through the prism of the Bobby Riggs / Billie Jean King tennis bout.

"A City on Fire: The Story of the '68 Detroit Tigers" (9 p.m., HBO) revisits the summers of 1967 and 1968, when Americans were dying in Vietnam and hundreds of American cities exploded in riots, looting and racial unrest.

Starting July 23, 1967, Detroit endured the worst riots of all, resulting in the devastation of entire neighborhoods. Forty-three people were dead by the time President Lyndon Johnson sent in troops to quell the disturbance. "City" examines the racially charged riots from the perspective of the Detroit Tigers, the team's fans and the reporters who covered the team.

After failing to win the 1967 pennant on the very last game of the year, the Tigers began the 1968 season with a new enthusiasm. The team dominated the American League and went on to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in a dramatic seven-game World Series. And, according to this film, the team helped unite a divided city for a few brief months.

While its central argument may be a bit of stretch, "City" does a great job recalling a time when something as simple as singing the National Anthem could prove divisive. The film includes a clip of pop and jazz singer Jose Feliciano's soulful rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" at the 1968 World Series. His performance was hailed by some as a triumph and condemned by traditionalists as disrespectful. Interviews include Hall-of-Famers Al Kaline and St. Louis Cardinal ace Bob Gibson, Tiger announcer Ernie Harwell, Cardinal catcher and broadcaster Tim McCarver, U.S. congressman John Conyers, guitarist and Detroit native Ted Nugent and Motown legend Martha Reeves.

� Viewers used to the backbiting and dysfunction found in "Behind the Music" episodes will probably be disappointed in the "Biography" (7 p.m., A&E;) of Graham Nash. The one-hour profile paints the British-born singer as a genuinely nice guy, the mature center of the ego-driven quartet of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Fellow musicians Carole King, David Crosby and Art Garfunkel have nothing but kind things to say. Unfortunately, there is no feedback here from Nash's former lover Joni Mitchell, or businessman David Geffen, who at age 26 paved the way for the 1969 merger of Crosby, Stills & Nash.

Tonight's other highlights

� Dr. Crane hoists a few with his old "Cheers" buddies (Rhea Perlman, John Ratzenberger and George Wendt) on a repeat of "Frasier" (8 p.m., NBC).

� The seven remaining contestants sing to survive on "American Idol: The Search for a Superstar" (8 p.m., FOX).

� Only three players remain on "The Mole II: The Next Betrayal" (8 p.m., ABC).

� John Stossel hosts "The War on Drugs, A War with Ourselves" (9 p.m., ABC).

� "Sweet Old Song" on "P.O.V." (9 p.m., PBS) profiles 91-year-old singer Howard "Louie Bluie" Armstrong and his collaboration with artist Barbara Ward.

Cult choice

� Clarence Williams III stars as the mortician host of the 1995 anthology "Tales From the Hood" (8 p.m., Sci-Fi), a surprising film that uses the horror movie genre to make powerful points about racism, gangs, drugs, gunplay and urban chaos.

Series notes

� Bud stands trial for negligence on "JAG" (7 p.m., CBS) ... Ali Landry hosts back-to-back episodes of "Spy TV" (7 p.m., NBC).

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