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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘America’ looks at Oakland ‘fight club’

Kevin McDonough United Feature Syndicate

Reporter Charlie LeDuff spends quality time with a number of curious subcultures in the new series “Only in America” (10 p.m., Discovery Times). Of course, it depends on how you define quality time.

LeDuff’s first assignment is to become a familiar face around the East Bay Rats, an Oakland, Calif., club that sponsors a weekly “fight club.” Determined to fit in, LeDuff challenges the biggest and scariest Rat to meet him in the ring, where, presumably, he will turn LeDuff’s familiar face into strawberry jelly.

But as he prepares for his big bout, LeDuff discovers that his challenger and most of the Rats have personal complexities that run deeper than their tattoos.

As LeDuff theorizes, the Rats are children of divorce or families dissolved by drugs and alcohol. In a world where words like “honor” and “loyalty” seem like empty slogans, their allegiance to their brother club members becomes the most profound commitment in their lives.

But does LeDuff actually have to get his face pummeled to figure that out? Is this reporting or spectacle?

George Plimpton did similar things some four decades back when he suited up with the Detroit Lions and wrote “Paper Lion.” And, of course, that made George Plimpton a star.

Next week, LeDuff decamps for Oklahoma City to discover the world of gay rodeos. After that, it’s on to Amarillo, Texas, and the grueling life in the Arena Football League.

The Encore Channel celebrates the era of Ronald Reagan, the Brat Pack, big hair and shoulder pads with an 80-movie Labor Day ‘80s marathon, beginning tonight with “The Karate Kid” (8 p.m., Encore). On hand to celebrate the decade are original MTV VJs Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman and Alan Hunter.

“Dateline” (8 p.m., NBC) engages in a little nostalgia of its own, glancing back at the tabloid case of the 1990s, the notorious trial of O.J. Simpson.

And “Dateline” is not alone. “Frontline” looks back at the O.J. verdict on Oct. 4, the 10th anniversary of the Juice’s acquittal.

In many ways, the O.J. case and its marathon coverage paved the way for the reality-television era that endures to this day. Suddenly, scripted dramas did not seem as unpredictable or surreal as a white Bronco chase.

And like a good (or bad) reality series, the O.J. case produced its share of oddball characters.

In retrospect, it seems strange that Kato Kaelin was part of a real-life murder trial and not a participant on “Survivor.” With his shaggy hair, feckless manner, and clueless and effortless proximity to notorious celebrity, Kaelin was the first real “star” of reality television.

Other highlights

Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (8 p.m., CBS): a transplant of mismatched hearts; a 60-year-old undersea mystery solved.

On two episodes of “Bernie Mac” (Fox), quiet time (9:30 p.m.), and behind-the-wheel instructions (10:30 p.m.).

Spring break shenanigans unfold in the 2003 bomb “The Real Cancun” (8 p.m., UPN).

Tommy Hilfiger hosts “The Cut” (9 p.m., CBS).

On two episodes of “Arrested Development” (Fox), Ben Stiller (11 p.m.), and Ann leads a censorious boycott (11:30 p.m.).

A bus breakdown aids a prison break on “Numb3rs” (10 p.m., CBS).

Two mystery murders at Boston’s airport on “Crossing Jordan” (10 p.m., NBC).

Scheduled on “20/20” (10 p.m., ABC): Can a walk in cold weather give you a cold? John Stossel examines common assumptions.

Cult choice

A sheltered eccentric (Sissy Spacek) uses her paranormal powers against her teen tormentors (John Travolta and Amy Irving) in the 1976 shocker “Carrie” (10 p.m., AMC).

Series notes

Tired parents on “Supernanny” (8 p.m., ABC) … Luke Perry guest-stars on “What I Like About You” (8 p.m., WB) … Trace Adkins appears on “Blue Collar TV” (8:30 p.m., WB) … Faith forecasts the weather on “Hope & Faith” (9 p.m., ABC) … Reba puts Van to work on “Reba” (9 p.m., WB) … Star Jones cameos on “Less Than Perfect” (9:30 p.m., ABC) … Riley’s folks have their doubts on “Living with Fran” (9:30 p.m., WB).

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