It's all about the Benjamin

What if America's finest diplomat was also its leading scientist? And what if that man also published one of our best-selling magazines, wrote humorous verses and self-help books, cultivated a reputation as a scandalous ladies' man and helped craft a new and revolutionary form of government? Then he would just begin to approach the remarkable accomplishments of "Benjamin Franklin," whose biography unfolds over the next two nights on PBS.

Tony-winning Broadway actor Richard Easton portrays Franklin and leads a large cast in historic re-enactments of key scenes from the founding father's life. Part one (8 p.m.) explores Franklin's rise from relative poverty. The 15th son of a Boston candlemaker, he became one of the colonies' leading publishers and richest men. Franklin "retired" at age 42 to dedicate his life to scientific experiments. Many of his inventions - including the Franklin stove, bifocals and lightning rods - are still in use today.

Part two (9 p.m.) covers Franklin's role as a diplomat for the colonies in the decades before the revolution. Part three (8 p.m. Wednesday) looks at Franklin's diplomatic efforts to enlist French aid during the war for independence and his role in shaping America's constitution.

l If Benjamin Franklin had his way, America's national bird would have been the turkey, not the bald eagle. Instead, we eat the turkey. According to "Turkey Secrets" (7 p.m., Animal Planet), the homely bird is much smarter, faster and funnier than most people imagine. But why is it always so dry?

Tonight's other highlights

  • The world's most beautiful city is also the most endangered. "Sinking City of Venice" on "Nova" (7 p.m., PBS) looks at controversial plans to protect the former "Serene Republic" from rising tides.
  • Niles' health scare precipitates flashbacks on "Frasier" (8 p.m., NBC).
  • Jack uncovers key evidence on "24" (8 p.m., Fox).
  • Claude's parents (Cindy Williams and Martin Mull) visit on "Less Than Perfect" (8:30 p.m., ABC).
  • A high school prank may have international repercussions on "Judging Amy" (9 p.m., CBS).
  • Scheduled on "Dateline" (9 p.m., NBC): an interview with the McCaughey septuplets and their parents.
  • Sipowicz and Clark search for a murderer in their ranks on "NYPD Blue" (9 p.m., ABC).

Series notes

Singer may be expecting on "JAG" (7 p.m., CBS) : Vicki's ex-husband returns on "Just Shoot Me" (7 p.m., NBC) : On back-to-back episodes of "That '70s Show" (Fox), college plans (7 p.m.); a reunion (7:30 p.m.) : A test of wills on "8 Simple Rules" (7 p.m., ABC) : Spike returns to bad form on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (7 p.m., UPN) : Richard pulls strings for Rory at her Yale interview on "Gilmore Girls" (7 p.m., WB) : A day at the track on "The In-Laws" (7:30 p.m., NBC) : Jim and the new preacher (Chris Elliott) share some painful history on "According to Jim" (7:30 p.m., ABC).

Lulu defends a couple accused of killing their child on "The Guardian" (8 p.m., CBS) : A tacky weatherman (David Duchovny) plugs his new soap gig on "Life with Bonnie" (8 p.m., ABC) : Toni works on her looks on "Girlfriends" (8 p.m., UPN) : Clark tries to save Lana from a two-timer (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) on "Smallville" (8 p.m., WB).

Competitive soccer coaching on "Hidden Hills" (8:30 p.m., NBC) : Mona flips when Dee Dee flirts with Spencer on "Half & Half" (8:30 p.m., UPN).


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