'Nine' illuminates childhood trauma


On The Weekend Watch:

CAREFREE CHILDHOOD? -- Talk show host Oprah Winfrey hosts a gloomy exploration of the stresses faced by children in America these days in "Nine," an hour-long special at 8 p.m. Friday on Channel 2. Divorce, homelessness, crime and parental abuse are among the ills examined.

STEINBECK REVISITED -- It may be America's greatest literary achieve-ment, as well as a major icon in the art of film. Thus "The Grapes of Wrath," as staged last year by Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company, makes for Friday night's most compelling television offering. It's on the PBS series "American Playhouse" at 9 p.m. (channels 22 and 67). Gary Sinise is Tom Joad in director Frank Galati's Tony-winning adaptation of Steinbeck's 1940 tale of migrant farmers in search of the American dream.

THE MOVIE MARQUEE -- A trio of seasonal goodies hits the small screen in the coming days. First, with opening day barely two weeks off, baseball is in the air. At 8 tonight, for example, Channel 54 is screening "Long Gone," a delightful 1987 made-for-cable movie about minor league ball. It will be diluted somewhat by rough-language deletions but still captures the dusty essence of the sport, at least as well as the better-known (and somewhat similar) theatrical movie "Bull Durham." On Maryland Public Television Friday (at 11:30 p.m., channels 22 and 67), "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" from 1949 offers Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly as vaudevillian ballplayers. As for this season's other big theme, ABC on Sunday (7 p.m. Channel 13) is screening "The Ten Commandments," the big 1956 Cecil B. DeMille treatment in which Charlton Heston (as Moses) gains white hair and beard.

THE SPORTS SCENE -- Regarding the real sporting world, you can take your pick from basketball, baseball, football, soccer and even made-up sports. Weekend two of the "NCAA Basketball Tourney" continues on CBS with games tonight, Friday and on Saturday and Sunday afternoons (on Channel 11; check listings for details). The Orioles take on the Royals in a spring training game from Florida, at 1 p.m. Saturday on Channel 2. The new World League of American Football debuts on cable's USA network at 8 p.m. Saturday, and another game can be seen at 1 p.m. Sunday on ABC (Channel 13). The made-up game is on "ABC's Wide World of Sports" at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, the finals in the annual Superstars competition. And as for soccer, the Baltimore Blast, still seeking a playoff spot in the Major Soccer League, take on the St. Louis Stars in a live game from the Baltimore Arena at 1 p.m. Sunday on Channel 45.

MASTERPIECE MEMORIES -- Capping its 20th anniversary celebration, the best-known PBS drama series offers a special "Backstage at Masterpiece Theatre" edition at 9 p.m. Sunday on MPT. Alistair Cooke hosts interviews with some of the series' memorable stars.

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