A great night for history, current events


If you're interested in history and current events, tonight's TV offers a don't-miss trifecta, and you can watch all three sequentially by flipping channels. Start with NBC's superb, inventive and highly original "World War II: When Lions Roared" miniseries, which dramatizes the speeches, conversations and strategies of three world leaders: Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. When that's over, switch to MTV, where Bill Clinton holds forth on violence. When that's over, switch to ABC, where Ted Koppel is host of a "Viewpoint" on Whitewater and the media.

* "World War II: When Lions Roared" (8-10 p.m., WMAR, Channel 2) -- First of two parts. Before applauding the actors in this captivating miniseries, let's start with writer David Rintels and director Joseph Sargent, two old TV hands whose work here is astoundingly, impressively complex. Mr. Rintels has found a way to merge public and private comments of world leaders and weave them together (with vintage newsreel footage) in a way that cuts out the fat, eliminating almost all other characters and events while showing how World War II was engaged, fought and won. Mr. Sargent, using high-definition video and a very deliberate use of multiple split-screen editing (think of Brian De Palma's early movies), directs his leading players in a way that elicits both terrific performances and the type of framing that indicates a painstaking amount of advance planning. As for those performances: Bob Hoskins as Churchill, Michael Caine as Stalin and John Lithgow as Roosevelt are revelatory. Having split the screen in "When Lions Roared," they might well end up splitting Emmys. NBC.

* "Viewpoint" (11:35 p.m.-conclusion, WJZ, Channel 13) -- How have the media played or misplayed Whitewater? That's the topic at hand tonight, in this live discussion program from Des Moines, Iowa. Mr. Koppel moderates, and panelists are scheduled to include ABC's Brit Hume, Clinton adviser James Carville and, in what could make for the biggest late-night sparks since Madonna visited David Letterman, Rush Limbaugh. ABC.


* "President Clinton Forum on Violence" (10-11:30 p.m., MTV) -- During the election campaign, Clinton won a lot of points, and probably a lot of votes, by appearing on MTV and taking that network and its young audience seriously. He returns there in this program to address the issue of violence in America.

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