PBS documentary presents WWII in living color

Martin Sheen narrates "The Perilous Fight: America's World War II in Color" (9 p.m., PBS, check local listings). Unlike virtually every other documentary you've ever watched about WWII, this two-part, four-hour film includes no still photographs or grainy black and white stock. It consists entirely of color footage shot by professional filmmakers, including director John Ford and journeymen camera operators working for Uncle Sam, and basic home movies made by GIs and their families.

The results are spectacular. I've spent probably a good year of my life watching old World War II movies and documentaries. While I've never had a problem watching black-and-white films, I have to admit that this all-color production brings the period alive in ways that I hadn't expected. For starters, most of this material has never been screened on television before. And the home movies capture soldiers, sweethearts, service women and female factory workers in the ripeness of their youth. More than a historical document, "Perilous" is a very powerful emotional experience.

Part one, "Infamy," recounts the years between the end of World War I and the aftermath of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The film from 1919 is among the earliest color footage ever captured. Hour two, "Battlefronts," spans the years between 1942 and 1944, when America mobilized its economy and created a mammoth arsenal to take on the Axis powers. The hour also concentrates on the social dislocation of the period, covering racism in the armed forces, home front strikes and race riots, and the controversial decision to intern Japanese Americans.

Next Wednesday's two installments, "Wrath" and "Triumph," cover battles and victory in the European and Pacific theaters and concludes with color films of the tumultuous victory celebrations in New York City.

Tonight's other highlights

  • The voters speak on "American Idol" (7:30 p.m., Fox, TV-G).
  • Scheduled on "60 Minutes II" (8 p.m., CBS): "Tourists" who travel to Switzerland to commit suicide.
  • Bartlet mulls military action on "The West Wing" (8 p.m., NBC).
  • Trista's castoffs share their thoughts in a studio setting on "The Bachelorette" (9 p.m., ABC).
  • The game wraps up on "Celebrity Mole Hawaii" (9 p.m., ABC).

Series notes

Bob Barker welcomes "Price is Right Million Dollar Spectacular" (7 p.m., CBS) ... Eric and Donna get domestic on "That '70s Show" (7 p.m., Fox) ... Locked in a store on "Dawson's Creek" (7 p.m., WB).

Carmen's jilted ex starts a nasty rumor on "The George Lopez Show" (7:30 p.m., ABC).

Jordan dabbles in magic on "The Bernie Mac Show" (8 p.m., Fox) ... A teacher can read her student's auras on "The Twilight Zone" (8 p.m., UPN) ... The gang scours the world for a lost soul on "Angel" (8 p.m., WB).

Late night

Jay Leno welcomes Ben Affleck, Dave Chappelle and Lionel Ritchie on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC).

Goran Visnjic and Heidi Klum are scheduled on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" (11:35 p.m., NBC) ... Actress Katey Sagal and Chris Jericho appear on "The Late, Late Show with Craig Kilborn" (11:37 p.m., CBS).


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