Willie Nelson show draws Clapton, Costello

Monday, May 26, 2003

Country music's favorite outlaw and red-headed stranger celebrates his 70th birthday with the all-star concert special "Willie Nelson & Friends: Live and Kickin"' (8 p.m., USA). The veteran singer-songwriter is joined by performers and admirers from several generations and many musical genres. Eric Clapton joins Nelson for "Nightlife," followed by a solo performance of "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" by Shania Twain. Paul Simon and Nelson sing Simon's "Homeward Bound" together. Diana Krall and Elvis Costello join Nelson to warble "Crazy," a song Patsy Cline made famous. And so it goes.

Apparently, the "evil empire" didn't begin with communism. The four-hour, two-night series "Russia: Land of the Tsars" (8 p.m., History) unfolds with 10 centuries of massacres, torture, sadism, cruelty and paranoia. Featuring modest historical re-enactments, stunning location photography, period art and numerous interviews with historians and experts, "Tsars" relates Russia's dramatic history from the brutal Mongol invasions to the fall of the Romanov dynasty in 1917.

Last seen in the super-sicko "Cabin by the Lake" TV movie franchise, former brat-packer Judd Nelson returns to star in the G-rated "Cybermutt" (7 p.m., Animal Planet) as a scientist who plants a powerful computer chip in a dog's brain. Woof!

John Stewart and "The Daily Show" (9 p.m., Comedy Central) move into primetime with their special "Iraq: A Look Baq (Or, How We Learned to Stop Reporting and Love the War)," a caustic take on TV journalism and network jingoism.

Three-day weekends bring out the marathon madness in cable network programmers. Among today's extra-long features:

Fifteen hours of "Trading Spaces" (TLC) beginning at 11 a.m.

The Sci Fi Network presents 12 hours of classic "Star Trek" episodes beginning at 6 a.m. Look out for the 1968 episode "Assignment: Earth" (9 a.m.), featuring Teri Garr.

Spend Memorial Day with our monkey masters during the Encore Network's Memorial Day "Apes" marathon, beginning at 10:30 a.m., with the original 1968 version of "Planet of the Apes" followed by "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" (12:30 p.m.), "Escape From the Planet of the Apes" (2:15 p.m.), "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes" (4 p.m.) and "Battle For the Planet of the Apes" (5:30 p.m.).

Tonight's other highlights

Series notes

Food therapy on "King of Queens" (7 p.m., CBS) ... Behind the scenes on "The Making of Fear Factor" (7 p.m., NBC) ... The Rolling Stones perform on "The Simpsons" (7 p.m., Fox).

Late night

Charlize Theron, Sue Johanson, Wilco and The Minus 5 appear on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno welcomes Rosie O'Donnell, Neal McDonough and Boomkat on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC).

Alison Janney, Ryan Seacrest and Sean Paul appear on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" (11:35 p.m., NBC) ... John Cusack, Method Man and Bowling for Soup are booked to appear on "The Late, Late Show with Craig Kilborn" (11:37 p.m., CBS).