Only one American journalist could go before the cameras for a 90-minute-long, prime-time special about herself.
But Barbara Walters does it tonight with disarming style and with fascinating results. “Barbara Walters: 20 Years at ABC” (ABC at 9:30) offers a perspective crossing three decades of interviews with world leaders, politicians, newsmakers and celebrities.
This is history as she made it. And let’s give her credit: She’s in a class by herself.
Introducing the telecast, Walters promises, “Some of the best and the worst moments … people you’ve forgotten and some you’ll never forget.”
Did I say disarming? Walters makes repeated fun of her own images in the clip-filled telecast.
She draws attention to her hairstyles and some rather hideous clothes. Near the end, she talks about the future.
“With the grace of God and a good lighting director,” she says, “I plan to stick around for a long time.”
If Walters has an agenda here, it is to remind viewers that she’s spent a lot of her career at the center of world news. Clips feature moments with Anwar Sadat, Yasser Arafat, Fidel Castro, the Shah of Iran, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter.
The telecast has its share of clips with movie stars, including Walters mugging for the camera with George Burns, dancing with Al Pacino and getting a striptease lesson from Demi Moore. But the celebrity interviews seem played down.
This is Walters as she prefers to be remembered. On the whole, she can be proud of it all.
“Mysteries of the Millennium,” CBS at 8: Will the world end with a cosmic collision? Will thinking, feeling computers someday rule over humans? Theories abound in this far-out half-hour.
“JAG,” NBC at 8: Harm (David James Elliott) investigates the possible sabotage of a space shuttle mission and finds that the suspect (Mark Rolston) is a rival pilot from his past. But he can’t prove anything before the man he fears is responsible lifts off in the spacecraft.
“Live From Lincoln Center,” KSPS at 7: Living legend Luciano Pavarotti is joined by guest performers for works of Verdi, Puccini, Mozart, Rossini and others performed at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall.
“The Silence of the Lambs” (1991), CBS at 8:30: Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster are brilliant in this terrifying thriller. A well-deserved Oscar winner for Best Picture, it’s spellbinding even in its edited-for-TV form.
“Grace Under Fire,” ABC at 9: In a wild and poignant episode, Grace (Brett Butler) passes out after inhaling toxic fumes at the refinery. In a dream, she’s visited by her late father (Darren McGavin). Hey, I thought he was Murphy Brown’s dad.
“Law & Order,” NBC at 10: Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) and Curtis’ (Benjamin Bratt) probe of a college coed’s murder uncovers a prostitution ring run by a student “madam” (Cara Buono). More shocking is that the student’s father (James Naughton) has been supplying the girls’ clients.
The deceased apparently was killed because she wanted to quit. Kincaid (Jill Hennessy) and McCoy (Sam Waterston) have to determine who did it - the madam or her father.
“The White Tower” (1950), AMC at 5 p.m. and 12:15 a.m.: This white-knuckle adventure stars Glenn Ford, Claude Rains, Cedrick Hardwicke and Lloyd Bridges as mountain climbers, each with a different reason for taking on a killer mountain. It’s not great, but the French Alps location shooting makes it a scenic melodrama.
“The Jerk” (1979), TBS at 11: Steve Martin probably won’t be watching this box-office flop in which he plays an unbelievably dumb guy. After all these years, it looks more like an ill-advised “Saturday Night Live” skit than a feature film.
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