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The televisionist, June 4

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JAMES: Hopes to survive.
  • JAMES: Hopes to survive.

SPIELBERG MARATHON

Begins 8 p.m. Friday, June 5

Turner Classic Movies

Straddling the seam that runs between more art-focused filmmakers like Ingmar Bergman and the box-office obsessed blockbuster directors of the 1980s and '90s, Steven Spielberg has always been one of those love 'em or hate 'em filmmakers for a lot of folks. A look at his directorial output is pretty much a snapshot of what has fascinated, terrified and thrilled the American public for the last 30 years. In this mini-marathon, Turner Classic Movies gives us a peek into the vault at some of Spielberg's most memorable films. Included are both big-budget hits (and one of his rare flops) and the lower-budget character-driven stuff where he made his name. First up is “Spielberg on Spielberg,” a collection of interviews with the man himself. Next is 1998's pitch-perfect “Saving Private Ryan,” which brought World War II back into sharp focus just as the Greatest Generation leaves the stage. Next is the underrated classic “The Sugarland Express,” which won Goldie Hawn an Oscar, followed by Spielberg's funnier-than-you-remember-it farce “1941.”  Finally, it's the film that started it all: 1971's “Duel,” which pits a harried traveler against a big-rig-driving psychopath.

 

“JESSE JAMES IS A DEAD MAN”

9 p.m. Sunday, June 7

Spike TV

It's easy to look at motorcycle builder Jesse James and ask yourself what all the fuss is about. Only a few years ago, James was just another blue-collar guy, welding up chopper frames in his Long Beach, Calif., shop. Then, the Discovery Channel found him, and made him the focus of their fantastically successful “Motorcycle Mania” documentaries, which launched a craze for all things Jesse. These days, James is Mr. Sandra Bullock, builds bikes for the rich and famous, and is a millionaire many times over. A big part of that is due to the fact that under all his bad boy posturing, James can be charming as hell, having carefully positioned himself as the photogenic, tattooed emissary to an underground world of bikes, babes and beer (even though he hawks most of his merch at squeaky-clean Wal-Mart). In this new show from Spike TV, Jesse tries to cheat death every week, taking on viewer-submitted tasks like riding a 200-mile-per-hour nitro-methane-powered motorcycle, and jumping a custom monster truck over and into an average suburban house. As long as Spike is paying the hospital bills and James is the one getting the colostomy bag when it's all over, it looks like good, clean fun to me.

 

“THE DEADLIEST WARRIOR”

9 p.m. Tuesday, June 9

Spike TV

We know we've already mentioned Spike in connection to “Jesse James is a Dead Man,” but this show is just too cool, too goofy, too dude-friendly to pass up. In “Deadliest Warrior,” Spike takes up the argument that has filled a million stoners' afternoons: In a fight, who would win? Ninja or Green Beret? Apache or Gladiator? Pirate or Shaolin Monk? Viking vs. Navy SEAL?  Every week on the show, engineers, doctors, computer programmers and weapons experts use a variety of high tech sensors and human analogs to test the lethality of period weapons carried by the warriors of two different eras. Once they have a mound of data, they plug it all into a high-tech gaming engine that simulates 1,000 fights. Winner takes all, with the champion crowned in a Hollywood style simulation where the bullets, blades and blood flies. Yeah, it ain't for the faint of heart, but when you can finally win that $20 bar bet you've got over who is more dangerous — a terrorist from the Taliban or a terrorist from the Irish Republican Army (yes, that's an actual pairing from the show; the IRA won) — who cares about how gruesome it is?  

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