Originally created 05/03/04

TV Lookout: highlights (and lowlights) for the week

When does "smart" become "brilliant"?

When Pentagon planners pour billions of dollars into a new breed of weaponry systems that seem more akin to science fiction and video arcades than real-life battlefields. At least, that's the plan.

In a new documentary, "Battle Plan Under Fire," PBS' "NOVA" examines the rapidly evolving science of war as the U.S. military scrambles to keep its high-tech advantage in the face of unconventional warfare.

New electronic networks linking personnel thousands of miles apart, plus other emerging technologies, have given birth to a new doctrine of waging war called "transformation." It's a theory now being given trial-by-fire as this age of terrorism forces new ways of fighting back - notably in Iraq.

In "Battle Plan Under Fire," military planners and defense contractors tell how "smart" weapons became "brilliant" - sometimes "piloted" from a continent away and accurate to within two meters of their targets.

But will this amazing hardware fall prey to insufficient human-level understanding of the enemy?

"In the confusion of war, do even the most advanced weapons make victory certain?" That's a question the film poses, then looks for answers. It airs 8 p.m. EDT Tuesday (check local listings).

Other shows to look out for:

- "The Book of Ruth" is a peculiar TV film. It's not a docudrama; it's not a biopic. It resonates with a Southern gothic flavor - even though the tale takes place in a small, Midwestern town. The action is by turns amusingly quirky and dreadful. Christine Lahti stars as the embittered, oppressive mother. Nicholle Tom ("The Princess Diaries") is impressive as her damaged, love-starved daughter. The film, which CBS airs 9 p.m. Sunday, is based on the 1989 novel by Jane Hamilton, which later became an Oprah Book Club selection.

- If you've ever seen PBS' "American Experience" series, you can probably envision what its program about the Golden Gate Bridge would be: beautiful imagery of that masterpiece, along with archival footage, poetic language, sonorous music, a heroic yarn and larger-than-life characters. All that is here. Airing 9 p.m. Monday (check local listings), the one-hour film chronicles the Golden Gate as the life mission of Joseph Strauss, a Chicago bridge builder who had never before designed a suspension bridge. Even so, his obsession overcame the logistical nightmares and financial obstacles that had led many to say such a bridge was impossible. Work began in January 1933, and the bridge opened with much fanfare on May 27, 1937. But there's much more to the story and this film tells it beautifully, with the most breathtaking shot saved for last, accompanied by the observation that the bridge "celebrates in a mysterious way ... the joy and wonder of being on this planet."

- In case you didn't get the memo, "Friends" ends its 10-year run with an hourlong finale airing 9 p.m. Thursday. Will Ross wed Rachel? Will Monica and Chandler move to the 'burbs? Will NBC milk this farewell for all it's worth? The answer to the last question is self-evident. So - no surprise - a one-hour "Friends" retrospective will precede the finale. As if you won't be reliving those "Friends" moments in reruns for the next 20 years.

- Meanwhile, as part of its own salute, cable's TV Land will close for business, with its staffers on-camera referring all viewers to NBC during the 60 minutes of the "Friends" finale. (The last time TV Land pre-empted programming to pay tribute to a series was in 1998 to salute the finale of "Seinfeld.") From 6 to 9 p.m., the network will showcase programming that features each of the six cast members in roles "Before They Were Friends" including: Jennifer Aniston in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"; Lisa Kudrow in "Cheers"; Courteney Cox in "Family Ties"; Matthew Perry in "Who's the Boss?"; David Schwimmer in "The Wonder Years" and Matt LeBlanc in "Just the 10 of Us."


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