Skip to main content

The boomers have landed. They say someone turns 60 every eight seconds in America, and it's happening here too, on a commensurately smaller scale. The 60-and-uppers represent the fastest-growing demographic in North America today -- and not all of them are going quietly into their golden years.

And they're not just cranky old people. The Boomer Century: 1946-2046 (PBS, 9 p.m.) is a thorough primer for those viewers born after the Second World War, and before 1964. Unlike their parents, who suffered through the hard times of the Great Depression, the boomers shaped culture and witnessed wondrous change. They changed the world, or at least watched it change.

Produced and hosted by Ken Dychtwald -- a noted gerontologist, licensed psychologist and "age consultant" -- the documentary goes to great lengths to demonstrate that the boomers truly are the greatest generation. They lived through the most eventful half-century in modern history.

Boomers witnessed the birth of television, rock 'n' roll, women's liberation and equal rights, starting with Rosa Parks. They survived McCarthyism, the Cold War, the assassination of JFK and Martin Luther King. The Sixties were a blur: the Beatles, pop art, Twiggy, hippies, yippies, the Summer of Love, man on the moon.

The program interviews several notable sixtysomething celebrities, including novelist Erica Jong and film directors Rob Reiner and Oliver Stone, who speak eloquently and with some degree of rebel-ish pride regarding those heady days. Back then, boomers made their own reasons to believe in a cause.

When a good number of them marched against the war in Vietnam, the protests resulted in a withdrawal of troops, eventually. And when the American president was caught in a lie, he was removed from office, eventually, courtesy of the U.S. Constitution.

The boomers took it all in. But the Summer of Love was 40 years ago. Now, the boomers are turning 60 and the critical years are just around the corner.

The program details the looming health-care crisis facing the boomer generation. Even though medical advances have pushed life expectancies back a few years, there are still more than 80 million boomer-age citizens out there who aren't getting any younger.

Over the next two decades, their health will gradually decline, and the system won't be able to cope with an influx of very old people requiring care and housing. It's already happening in some corners of the United States.

Scarier still, some boomers have not properly prepared for their retirement. Living on credit for decades has taken its toll, and the company pension plan doesn't go as far as it used to. Many boomers are now forced to work past the once-standard retirement age of 65. They have no choice. The situation is doubly ominous in the U.S., where the social security system appears on the brink of collapse.

The Boomer Century paints a bleak picture for anyone turning 60. Dychtwald, who is 56, likens the boomer timeline to that of a pig passing through a python, an unpleasant but probably accurate metaphor.

Boomers are slowly being digested by the world they created, and grinding their way toward oblivion. Their best years are behind them, and they face an uncertain future. But man, do they have memories.

Also tonight, Assault on Waco (Discovery, 8 p.m.) recalls a tragedy from recent history. The U.S. government made mistakes before Waco, but this time the whole world was watching.

The grim documentary brings back sharply the events of April 19, 1993. Millions of viewers watched the live coverage as a raging fire tore through the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Tex.

The horrific blaze, which killed 85 people, including 25 children, was the end to a 51-day standoff between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and his followers, who had barricaded themselves within the compound, guns locked and loaded. To most people watching that day, the blame lay directly with the government agents who initiated the siege.

There's more to the story, though. Running two hours, the film deconstructs the events leading up to the tragedy of Waco. There are tapes and transcripts of FBI negotiations with those in the compound, and previously unreleased surveillance footage.

And amazingly, the program includes recent interviews with Branch Davidian survivors who escaped the compound that day. There were nine of them, all told.

In lighter news, Glutton for Punishment (Food Network, 10 p.m.) marks the TV return of Bob Blumer, formerly known as the Surreal Gourmet.

On that show, the wild-haired Blumer wheeled around in his hulking "Toastermobile," cooking impromptu meals for people along the way. He is on the road again in the new series, but this time there's more purpose to his travels.

On Glutton for Punishment, Blumer merges his grand passion for food into a weekly competition in which he's the only contestant. The only stipulation: Each task must take place in the food or beverage industry.

In the first show, Blumer assumes the position of waiter at a busy New York brasserie. He receives a quick lesson in classic French-waitering basics and is immediately set to work serving fussy Big Apple customers, which isn't an easy job in the swelter of mid-summer.

In weeks to come, Blumer learns how to juggle large knives while training to work as a chef at a Japanese restaurant and spends five days picking grapes in a German vineyard. He also competes in an oyster-shucking competition -- a very messy business. The man loves a challenge.

Dates and times may vary across the country. Check local listings.

John Doyle returns on April 3.

Interact with The Globe