Premieres 9 p.m. Wednesday, April 13
In early 2007, a college student at Virginia Tech University named Seung Hui Cho purchased two automatic pistols: a Glock 19 and a Walther P22. Even though Cho had a documented police and medical record of mental problems, menacing behavior and stalking by then, he bought the pistols legally, ordering them through the Internet and having them shipped to licensed gun dealers after going through all the required federal background checks and showing his ID. On April 16, 2007, Cho got up, got dressed, mailed a package containing a rambling video manifesto to NBC News, and then killed two young men in his dorm. He put the guns and over 20 fully-loaded ammunition magazines in a backpack, and then he went to Norris Hall, where he'd taken classes. Before he was done — killed by his own hand after firing over 170 shots in classrooms crowded with his fellow students — 30 people were dead, and another 25 lay wounded. Cho's rampage, which has since come to be known as The Virginia Tech Massacre, is at the center of a new documentary by award-winning filmmaker Barbara Koppel called "Gun Fight," which debuts this month on HBO. Knowing that the anti-gun side of things isn't the whole story by a long shot, the doc uses the Virginia Tech shootings as a springboard to talk about the whole issue of guns in America, speaking with Second Amendment advocates, visiting hospital emergency rooms where the victims of gun violence are sent when the shooting stops, and chatting with the loved ones of those left behind after the bullets fly. Definitely one to check out, no matter which side of the debate you're on.
NETFLIX PICK: "The Civil War" by Ken Burns
9 episodes, around 70 minutes each
April 12 marks the 150th anniversary of the first shots of the American Civil War, and that's as good a reason as any to re-immerse yourself in the remarkable experience that is Ken Burns' groundbreaking 1990 documentary "The Civil War." It's available in its entirety on Netflix Instant View. Some of the fondest memories of my teen-age years center around watching the whole, nine-part series with my history-buff father. I've been working through the early episodes in the past few weeks, and they still hold up brilliantly. Within a few minutes of booting up the first episode, you can really see why Burns' first writ-large work changed the game when it comes to historical docs and even television in general. Featuring the voices of famous actors, period music, moving Civil-War-era correspondence and diaries from soldiers in the field and their loved ones back home, the famous pan shots that brought flat, still photographs to vivid life and the perfect overall narration provided by David McCullough, it's still a work of depth, intelligence and power that pays that bloody conflict its just and terrible due.
8 p.m. Sundays
OWN (The Oprah Winfrey Network)
While country music has gotten a bit bubblegum for my own personal tastes in the last 20 years or so (I dig the oldies-but-gritties like Waylon, Willie, Hank, Loretta and Dolly when I'm in the mood for twangin' guitars), you gotta give some props to Naomi and Wynonna Judd. Though kid sister Ashley Judd's new biography, "All That Is Bitter and Sweet," is currently throwing quite a bit of water on momma Naomi's made-for-Lifetime stories of bringing up her young'uns poor, proud and happy in the backwoods of Kentucky (lots of grinding poverty, Ashley says, with abuse in its bruise-colored varieties: sexual, verbal, mental and physical). While Naomi and Wynonna can sure belt 'em out — 14 of their songs went to number one on the country charts, while another six broke into the top 10 — their career has been anything but calm, with rumors of Naomi's controlling behavior and constant infighting between the two pretty much rampant before Naomi retired due to hepatitis in 1991 and Wynonna embarked on a solo career. Now, in this new show from the Oprah Winfrey Network, they try to put the pieces of their contentious relationship back together, letting camera crews ride along on an 18-city tour that will see them sing together in public for the first time in years. I saw the debut episode, and it looks pretty much bitch-a-licious, with all the seething jealousy, catty remarks, one-upswomanship and — dare I say it? — love that you'd expect from a mother and daughter who spent 20 years trapped on a tour bus with nothing to do for hours at a stretch but get on each other's nerves. Throw in a heapin' dose of Bozo-red hair dye (does human hair come that color naturally anywhere on the planet?) and you've got what might be a winner. If the Oprahites will just let the cameras roll rather than get all touchy-feely about it — the premiere episode featured quite a few sit-down interviews in favor of the raw, one-on-one stuff that really tells the tale — this one could turn out to be something to watch.