How Machines Work
Discovery, 7 p.m. ET, 8 p.m. AT, 4 p.m. PT
Sometimes the simplest TV concepts are still the best ones. As the title suggests, this Discovery Channel show takes viewers inside the inner workings of machines that most of us either see or use every day. The most impressive aspect of the series is the volume of mechanical science covered, with at least four machines featured in every half-hour program. Two episodes air tonight. The first goes inside a coal-fired power plant and a bowling alley and shows how a roller coaster stays on its tracks. The second show explains the mechanics behind a solar-power plant, a hydrogen-powered bicycle and the common escalator. Ever wonder what happens when the basement fills up with stairs? Watch and learn.
The Nature of Things
CBC, 8 p.m.
For those who missed seeing The Nature of Things last season ? possibly because they were transfixed by U.S. reality fare like The Biggest Loser or Dancing with the Stars ? CBC-TV is running the best recent episodes in this Thursday timeslot all summer. Tonight's episode documents the ongoing efforts of wildlife filmmaker Jeff Turner, who has devoted the last two decades of his life to documenting grizzly bear activity in Canada, Alaska and Russia. Strangely, Turner has never once spotted a grizzly in his home mountains of the Northern Cascades of British Columbia. Until now.
CBS, Global, 9 p.m.
Back tonight for its ? egad ? 13th season, this unscripted series is based on a Dutch TV concept that has been franchised to more than 70 countries around the world. As before, the format monitors a group of total strangers cohabitating in a house outfitted with dozens of cameras and microphones to record their every move. One houseguest is jettisoned each week via viewer voting and the last one standing collects the grand prize of $500,000 (U.S.). Following tonight's debut, Big Brother will air three times weekly, on Sunday, Wednesday and the live Thursday-night eviction show. CBS fixture Julie Chen returns as the ad hoc house mother.
The President's Book of Secrets
History, 10 p.m., ET/PT, 11 p.m. AT
Every good presidency has its own secrets. First shown on the U.S. History Channel, this program tries to affix ominous mystery and intrigue to the Oval Office. In lurid fashion, the program promises to reveal the details of the secrets that are allegedly handed down from the outgoing president to the administration of each new president-elect. Mostly, the film is a breakneck collection of interviews with Washington insiders, including former director of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, ex-CIA director Michael Hayden and, heaven help us, former vice-president Dan Quayle.
Vision, midnight ET, 1 a.m. AT, 9 p.m. PT
Although she's spent most of her career playing harridans (Fatal Attraction, The Paper) or hard cases (Damages), Glenn Close is a very capable comic actress. In this madcap 1985 comedy, she's perfectly cast as Jan, a prim secretary who moves into a San Francisco apartment with her husband Nick (Mandy Patinkin). In short order she's possessed by the spirit of a free-spirited twenties flapper named Maxie, and suddenly the strait-laced Jan is swilling gin and doing the Charleston with abandon. Watch for one of the final screen appearances of Ruth Gordon as the couple's dotty landlady.