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'Mr. Soul!' recalls vibrant chapter in TV history

'Mr. Soul!' recalls vibrant chapter in TV history

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As television changes and improves by leaps and bounds, it’s interesting to note how much TV history is yet to be explored and rediscovered. The 2018 “Independent Lens” (9 p.m., PBS, TV-14) documentary “Mr. Soul!” recalls a remarkable series that ran on “educational” television in the years before the establishment of PBS.

After race riots convulsed American cities in the 1960s, a study conducted by the Kerner Commission concluded that America was headed “toward two societies, one Black, one white, separate and unequal.” The report specifically cited mass media’s lack of depiction of anyone of color as a contributing factor to social divisions.

In the wake of the study, New York’s educational station WNET launched “Soul!” a showcase for Black voices. Produced and hosted by Ellis Haizlip, it would welcome a variety of artists. Many made their television debuts on “Soul!” including Kool & the Gang, Ashford & Simpson and Earth, Wind & Fire. Stevie Wonder was a regular guest and performer.

In addition to pop acts, “Soul!” would dedicate an entire episode to emerging Black ballet dancers and offer a showcase for Black women poets. It would send poet Nikki Giovanni to Europe to interview author James Baldwin. Beyond offering TV visibility to unseen Black talent, it was unabashedly intellectual and consistently provocative.

The show was picked up for syndication by the fledgling Corporation for Public Broadcasting, but fell prey to pressures from the Nixon administration, which made no secret of its displeasure with a forum for Black voices, many of them radical. “Soul!” was canceled after running from 1968 to 1973.

— A small town’s dream of building a successful youth hockey program is upended by a mysterious act of violence in the new five-episode Swedish series “Beartown” (8 p.m., HBO, TV-MA). Imported from HBO Nordic and based on a novel by Swedish writer Fredrik Backman. Presented with English subtitles.

— Six Degrees of Cable Movies: Fred Savage, Christian Slater and Beau Bridges star in the 1989 film “The Wizard” (7:25 p.m., HBOF), about a brother who takes his savant sibling to clean up at a video game competition. Rather negative reviews cited its similarity to the acclaimed 1988 film “Rain Man” (7 p.m., TCM, TV-MA), starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. Two years later, Cruise would team up with Robert Duvall in the 1990 stock-car thriller “Days of Thunder” (8 p.m., StarzEncore), a commitment that would keep Duvall from reprising his Tom Hagen role in “The Godfather Part III.” This left a hole that was filled by George Hamilton, just one of the choices that made that sequel feel like more of a betrayal than a disappointment.

Director Francis Ford Coppola recently released a recut of “III” titled “Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone,” which can be streamed on CBS All Access and on demand on most popular streaming services. For those keeping score, CBS All Access becomes the Paramount+ streaming service on March 4.

Other highlights

— Emergencies never cease on “9-1-1” (7 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

— Forest fires plague the 49th state on “Alaska: The Last Frontier: The Frozen Edge” (7 p.m., Animal Planet).

— A daily contest resumes on “Street Outlaws” (7 p.m., Discovery, TV-14).

— A question of sanity on “All Rise” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-PG).

— A homemade minefield proves risky on “9-1-1: Lone Star” (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

— Jury selection looms large on “Bull” (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

— A cyberattack cripples the hospital on “The Good Doctor” (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14).

Cult choice

Gene Hackman and Will Smith star in the 1998 Jerry Bruckheimer thriller “Enemy of the State” (5 p.m., SyFy, TV-14). Many felt that the film anticipated the excesses of the national security state in the aftermath of 9/11 and the Patriot Act. The supporting cast includes Jon Voight, Lisa Bonet, Gabriel Byrne, Dan Butler, Loren Dean, Jake Busey, Barry Pepper and Regina King.

Series notes

A less-than-annual physical on “The Neighborhood” (7 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) ... Two hours of “Ellen’s Game of Games” (7 p.m., NBC, TV-PG) ... “The Bachelor” (7 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) ... A chance to unwind on “All American” (7 p.m., CW, TV-PG) ... The feels on “Bob Hearts Abishola” (7:30 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) ... Jefferson feels anxious on “Black Lightning” (8 p.m., CW, TV-14) ... “The Wall” (9 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).

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