A Closer Look At Music-Related Television This Week

Fine Tuning - Weekly column highlighting music on TV during the week of Sept. 22-28, 2003.

These days, there's always lots of music on television. But rare is the week when so many quality programs featuring artists and music I feel rank above most on my personal scale.

Let's start with "The Blues." The much-talked-about seven-part PBS series executive-produced by filmmaker Martin Scorsese premieres on Sunday (Sept. 28; check local listings). Seven directors will celebrate the U.S. Congress-declared Year of the Blues with films that delve into this truly American art form.

Scorsese himself directed the first episode, "Feel Like Going Home," which explores the Delta Blues through musician Corey Harris, who encounters the music of Willie King, Taj Mahal, Otha Turner, Ali Farka Touré, Son House, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. Also featured will be Toumani Diabate, Salif Keita, Johnny Shines, Habib Koite & Bamada and Keb' Mo'.

As "Ken Burns' Jazz" and the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" bluegrass phenomenon educated a nation on those too oft overlooked musical genres, "The Blues" will school many on a music so important that some have found it worth selling their soul.

To get viewers in the mood, PBS' "American Masters" series takes on the blues theme with "American Masters - Muddy Waters: Can't Be Satisfied." The documentary traces the blues great's career and life through interviews and archival footage and recordings. Among those featured are James Cotton, Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Charlie Musselwhite, Bonnie Raitt, Keith Richards, Chuck D and Bill Wyman.

Many have applauded cable network A&E's "Live by Request" for bringing musical greats into their homes in an intimate way. This Thursday night will be no exception. Elvis Costello will take the stage, backed by his longtime collaborator, keyboardist Steve Nieve, and he'll likely perform a few selections from his new album of ballads, "North," as well as requested favorites from his storied career.

Sticking with the theme of quality, never-before-seen film of the late, great Frank Sinatra will be the focus of a "60 Minutes II" segment Wednesday night, with correspondent Charlie Rose.

But, it's CMT''s "Controversy" that may be my favorite new quality show. It examines songs in which country artists took a stand and for which they dealt with the backlash. Originally just a two-part special with a half-hour devoted each to Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue (The Angry American)" and Loretta Lynn's "The Pill," the show comes back on Friday with episodes dealing with Merle Haggard's Vietnam-era statement "Okie From Muskogee" and Steve Earle's "John Walker Blues," about the plight of American Taliban John Walker Lindh.

Ever wonder about Whitney Houston and her husband Bobby Brown? Well, so did NBC's "Dateline" and Sunday's episode will take an unauthorized look at the stars and their screwy and very public lives.

As with Whitney and Bobby, there are others who have probably made you scratch your head and say, "What were they thinking?" MTV2 and US Weekly will come to the rescue on Saturday as they aim to find out the deal behind such anomalies as Van Halen continuing on in the wake of Sammy Hagar's exit, Fiona Apple's dazed rant at the MTV Video Music Awards a few years back and Michael Jackson's... um... Well, Michael Jackson.

Other highlights of this week are "MTValbmLaunch," a five-episode series chronicling the making of the new Limp Bizkit album, sweet 16 "Hilary Duff's Island Birthday Bash," filmed in Hawaii, Wednesday on the WB and Kelly Clarkson's turn on the season premiere of "American Dreams" Sunday night on NBC.

Talk show tips: Tommy Lee with Sharon Osbourne (Monday; syndicated), David Bowie with Letterman (Monday, CBS), Outkast (Tuesday) and Emmylou Harris (Wednesday) with Regis & Kelly (syndicated), Liz Phair with Ellen (Tuesday; syndicated), Jonny Lang with Conan (Thursday, NBC) and Jack Black, Boy George and, just for kicks, Rosie O'Donnell, with Leno (Friday, NBC).

Now that's a week.