PBS' 'Frontline' looks into its crystal ball

There's a great old episode of "The Twilight Zone" about a newspaper that scoops the competition only because it hires a Mephistophelean typesetter (Burgess Meredith, smoking a bent cigar) who "prints" the tragic news before it happens.

Sometimes I think the folks at "Frontline" (8 p.m., PBS) have a similar agent smoking out stories before the network and cable news giants get them. This rewarding newsmagazine consistently provides viewers with intelligent background on important developments, people, ideas and breaking stories, sometimes weeks in advance of its more popular competition.

Tonight's segment is a good example. As Pakistani and American troops scour the mountainous border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan for Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda lieutenants, "Frontline" looks at the increasingly precarious rule of Pakistan's leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

A former sponsor of the Taliban, the general, who seized power in a 1999 military coup, has since allied himself with the United States in the war on terror and made gestures of peace to neighboring India, a nation that has had two major wars with Pakistan since 1948. These diplomatic pirouettes have earned him the scorn of pro-Al Quaeda elements in his own military and intelligence services, as well as radicals who accuse him of selling out the disputed province of Kashmir to placate India. Musharraf has been the subject of several recent assassination attempts.

  • It's a long way from Beverly Hills High School to the morgue. Jason Priestley ("Beverly Hills 90210") joins the cast of "Tru Calling" (7 p.m., Fox) as a job applicant with a brilliant resume but a spotty record. Priestley's character makes a bad first impression on Tru, but later, when she "rewinds" her day, he's all peaches and cream. For all of the hype, Priestly has scant moments of screen time in this hour, dominated by the return of Tru's emotionally distant and remarried father, and ugly memories of her mother's murder.
  • Last week's clip show of "The Apprentice" (8 p.m., NBC) demonstrated that episodes of even the best reality shows only bear one viewing. Tonight, The Donald hopes the sizzle of his hit series can rub off on his Atlantic City gambling empire.

The last time a reality show visited one of Trump's saloons, Nick and Jessica of "Newlyweds" fame found a dowdy, desperate geriatric scene. In one devastating sequence, a very old man in a wheelchair was shown trying to extract funds from an ATM using his Sears charge card so he could continue to gamble. Somehow, I don't think we'll be seeing that kind of behavior tonight.

Tonight's other highlights

  • The NCAA Basketball Tournament (6 p.m., CBS) continues. A second game follows at 8 p.m., time approximate.
  • Scheduled on "Hollywood Justice" (7:30 p.m., Court): the legal implications of Eminem's thuggish behavior.
  • Scheduled on "PrimeTime" (7 p.m., ABC): a profile of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
  • Will plays coy with his cop on "Will & Grace" (7:30 p.m., NBC).
  • Lewis worries about her despondent patient on "ER" (9 p.m., NBC).

Late night

Note: repeats of the Letterman and Kilborn shows will be delayed by approximately one hour due to NCAA coverage ... Jay Leno hosts Jennifer Aniston and Clay Aiken on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC) .

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