EmptyEyewitness to Murder: The King Assassination
(CNN) 6 and 9 p.m. Thursday
In America, for every great historical tragedy there is at least one conspiracy theory. I'm not sure when this strain of civic paranoia took hold, but I wouldn't be surprised if the rumor mill was once rife with reports that John Wilkes Booth was just the fall guy.
CNN and Soledad O'Brien mark the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. with a thorough and admirable two-hour examination of whether James Earl Ray was the lone killer. O'Brien carefully lays out the sequence and context of events before the fatal rifle shot was fired in Memphis and then looks meticulously at the evidence that Ray did and didn't do it.
To her credit, O'Brien plays it absolutely straight. She acknowledges weaknesses in the official version but points out huge holes in the conspiracy theories. That King's own family rejected Ray as the killer a decade ago and King associate Andrew Young has his doubts still seems bewildering.
The special is the first of three two-hour programs CNN will present under the "Black in America" umbrella. The other two, also reported by O'Brien, look at the present and historic experiences of black men (June 18) and black women (June 19).
Step It Up & Dance
(Bravo) 11 p.m. Thursday
Oh yes, that's just what we need. Another unscripted dance series. Must be at least, what, five minutes since we had one. But here is the main problem with Bravo's "Step It Up & Dance": It's really stupid. Not just a little stupid but World Class Idiotic.
Not only that, but the title keeps begging me to call the show "Shut Up & Dance!" And, golly, did Bravo go to the ends of the Earth to find its host or what? It nabbed Elizabeth Berkley of "Showgirls" pole-dancing fame. There's a coup for ya. Moreover, Berkley seems to have had more knife time than a sushi chef, boasting one of those impossibly thin physiques paired with a significant booty out back, a la Mariah Carey. She looks great in that a-little-too-great sort of way. Then we have the contestants in this dance competition, none of whom seem terribly — I dunno — smart. If you placed their collective IQ points inside a thimble, you'd still have enough room left over for the collective sincerity of the judges,
Mind you, I really wanted to like "Step It Up" given my genuine respect for its producers, Jane Lipsitz and Dan Cutforth of Magical Elves fame. But it was not to be. The idea here is to teach 12 finalists who make the cut what it might be like to try to make it in the "cutthroat" dance industry. The dancers, ages 18-31, compete in weekly challenges covering all sorts of dance styles under the watchful eye of three judges (one of whom choreographed "Hannah Montana" and the High School Musical Tour). One will get a chance to become "the ultimate dancer" and win $100,000 (c'mon, this is cable).
In the opener, the feeling is rather like that of watching a bunch of grown-ups with neurological issues being told to follow the music and do whatever feels right. It isn't pretty. But if it serves to help take down the out-of-control genre that is dance television, it will have served a valuable purpose, indeed.