With his acclaimed four-part series “African American Lives” (premiering at 9 tonight on WETA-Channel 26 and WMPT-Channel 22) Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. offers a piercing look at some of today’s most engaging black celebrities by examining their lineage — a proud and sometimes painful past that often surprises his subjects.
Using DNA analysis and painstaking investigations, Mr. Gates reconstructs each person’s history, tracing an ancestral timeline long muddied by slavery and/or segregation.
The series’ 2006 edition traced the roots of four luminaries (music legend Quincy Jones, media giant Oprah Winfrey, comic actor Chris Tucker and Mr. Gates himself). This year’s installment (airing tonight and Feb. 13) expands the lineup to 11. On the list: author-poet Maya Angelou, author Bliss Broyard, Oscar-nominated actor Dan Cheadle, Oscar winner Morgan Freeman, noted theologian and Harvard professor Peter J. Gomes, magazine publisher Linda Johnson Rice (daughter of Jet and Ebony magazines founder John Johnson), syndicated radio personality Tom Joyner, Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee, comic actor Chris Rock, and rock and R&B legend Tina Turner.
The list also includes one lesser-known subject, college administrator Kathleen Henderson, a contest winner selected from 2,000 applicants.
“I remember when Oprah’s roots was on, a couple of older relatives said, ‘They keep doing famous people; they ought to do some regular people,’ ” Miss Henderson said. “This is the greatest gift I can give to my family, and the stories they uncovered about my ancestors absolutely surprised me.”
Among the surprising revelations in tonight’s first episode, titled “The Road Home”: the tragic account of Mr. Joyner’s great uncles, who were convicted by an all-white jury in 1915 for a crime they didn’t commit and were sent to the electric chair, and Miss Broyard’s shock that her father — New York Times’ critic Anatole Broyard — was a fair-skinned black man who chose to pass for white.
In the second episode, “A Way Out of No Way,” which immediately follows, we see Mr. Rock moved to tears when he learns the story of his maternal great-great grandfather, Julius Caesar Tingman, a black Civil War veteran who served in the Union Army and was twice elected to the South Carolina Legislature.
More ‘Truth’ on tap
Fox has ordered an additional 13 episodes of the unscripted drama, “Moment of Truth,” in which regular people face a polygraph with the truth standing as the only thing keeping them from large prizes, Zap2it.com reports.
“Truth” will continue to air on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. until March 5, when it moves into its previously scheduled 8 p.m. Wednesday time slot.
‘Super’ week for Fox
Led by the Super Bowl and its record viewership of 97.4 million, Fox had a dominating week.
The network averaged 33.6 million viewers in prime time last week. CBS led the also-rans with 6.9 million viewers, while ABC had 6.7 million and NBC had 6.4 million. The CW had 2.2 million, My Network TV had 13.3 million, and ION Television had 570,000.
Among the Spanish-language networks, Univision averaged 3.4 million viewers share), Telemundo had 1.2 million, TeleFutura had 650,000 and Azteca had 180,000.
For the week of Jan. 28 to Feb. 3, the top five shows, their networks and viewerships were: 1) Super Bowl: N.Y. Giants vs. New England, Fox, 97.4 million; 2) “Super Bowl Post Game Show,” Fox, 63.9 million; 3) “House” special, 29 million; 4) “American Idol” (Tuesday), Fox, 28.2 million; and 5) “American Idol” (Wednesday), Fox, 25.5.
Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse from staff Web and wire reports.