Final 'New York' documentary a must-see

Ric Burns' epic "New York: A Documentary Film" concludes with its eighth installment, "The Center of the World," on "American Experience" (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings). "Center" offers a tribute and an elegy to the World Trade Center towers.

Conceived in the mid-1940s, constructed in the early 1970s and destroyed in the opening year of the 21st century, the towers were always more than mere steel, concrete and glass. The proponents of the Trade Center saw them as symbol of renewal and a means of revitalizing the economy of New York's downtown district. Others would come to see the buildings as towers of triumph and even hubris, a metaphor for New York's and America's place at the center of a global economy. Certainly, the terrorists who bombed the buildings in 1993 and toppled them in 2001 were transfixed by their symbolic power.

French acrobat Philippe Petit, interviewed extensively here about his 1974 high-wire walk between the towers, fell in love with the buildings at a time when many New Yorkers, who had longstanding affection for the Empire State Building, still had mixed feelings about the upstart skyscrapers. "They were alive," recalls Petit, "they were vibrating with the passage of a cloud over the sun..."

Petit is hardly alone in his eloquence. Burns has a knack for finding the poetic in his subject and inspiring his talking heads to flights of rhetoric. The second half, devoted to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the city's response, includes interviews with writer Pete Hamill and former political rivals Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo. Hamill pays special tribute to the stoic language of former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who, when asked that day about his estimate of the number of casualties, simply replied that it would be "more than we can bear."

TV critics rarely get to use words like beauty and poetry, intelligence and eloquence in their reviews, but "Center of the World" is worthy of such lofty praise. Don't miss it.

  • As documentaries go, "The Reality of Reality" (8 p.m., Bravo) is hardly earth-shattering. Are we really supposed to be stunned that the events on shows like "Big Brother" and "Joe Millionaire" are not what they seem? Shocking! According to this expose, the majority of reality-TV fans think the shows are faked, and -- big surprise -- they don't really seem to care.

Still, it's fun to hear "stars" of the genre discuss their plight. Paige, "the virgin" from "For Love or Money," describes the weirdness of sharing her first kiss with Rob with a camera crew in the room. "Survivor" veterans discuss trading favors and information with the show's camera crew, and other participants complain how their words and actions are edited out of context.

  • The "Real World" meets the grand rounds on the 13-part medical reality series "Resident Life" (8 p.m., TLC). "Life" follows 13 doctors in training at Nashville's Vanderbilt Medical Center as they cope with long hours, sleepless nights and life-and-death scenarios. "Life" features a score and incidental music by pop band They Might Be Giants, who also perform the theme to "Malcolm in the Middle."

Tonight's other highlights

  • Jim Belushi is host to the "Blunderful World of Sports" (7 p.m., ABC).
  • The Philadelphia Eagles welcome the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on "Monday Night Football" (8 p.m., ABC).
  • Ray throws a pathetic bachelor party for Robert on "Everybody Loves Raymond" (8 p.m., CBS).

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