Helen Thomas, the dean of the White House press corps, specializes in asking uncomfortable questions. Thank You, Mr. President: Helen Thomas at the White House (Thursday, 8 p.m., and Sunday, 9:30 a.m., HBO) begins with one such question she asked President George W. Bush: "Your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, and every reason given has turned out not to be true. My question is, why did you really want to go to war?" Bush offered his spin, but Thomas wouldn't drop it. So he dropped her, shutting her out in future press conferences.
It's all in a day's work for this dogged reporter, who's been covering the presidency since John F. Kennedy. Thomas was the peculiarly inquisitive daughter of illiterate Syrian immigrants, and she became a pioneering female White House correspondent for UPI. The documentary itself is journalistically suspect, using Thomas as its only source. But it's still fascinating to get her idealistic take on the press: "You can't have a democracy without an informed people. If we don't ask the questions, they don't get asked."
Thomas isn't even afraid of asking uncomfortable questions of herself. She wonders why she didn't uncover Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal rather than reporters from outside the White House press corps. She wonders if she went easy on any of the presidents after being charmed or flattered by them.
I live in fear that Thomas will ask uncomfortable questions about this blurb.
On the Other Hand, Death: A Donald Strachey Mystery
here! (On Demand)
The gay network here! is available On Demand, and this program is well worth demanding. It's as good as any other mystery series on TV, but it has one thing they don't: a gay private investigator. The roguish Donald Strachey (Chad Allen) helps out a lesbian guidance counselor (Margot Kidder) who suffers harassment in a small town. He attends a school board meeting overrun with homophobic protesters, who brandish signs reading "Adam and Eve, Not Adam and Steve."
After watching this refreshing mystery, I feel like making a sign that reads "Adam and Steve, Not Adam and Eve."
Sunday, 6 pm (NBC)
It's time for the grand finale of the Beijing Olympics. The Chinese hosts honor two weeks' worth of international cooperation, raise a toast to high ideals, and round up the last batch of protesters.
Democratic National Convention
The media have been doing saturation coverage of the 2008 presidential race since, like, 2002. I know I should be excited that the conventions are starting, but my brain melted down somewhere between the flag-pin debate and the fist-bump debacle.
My official position is that I'm watching the start of convention coverage on Sunday, and I urge you to do the right thing and join me. I wouldn't even think about switching over to Colossal Squid on the Discovery Channel. Not in a million years.
America's Toughest Jobs Monday, 8 pm (NBC)
This reality series invites contestants to leave behind their comfortable jobs for dangerous blue-collar work on Alaskan crab boats or Texas oil rigs. They're judged by their new co-workers, with one employee eliminated every week. The winner walks home with $250,000.
I know you read that paragraph and thought, "I'm not watching this crap." Well, I don't have that luxury. I not only have to watch it, but also to think about its contribution to the decline of American culture.
Oil rigger? Give me a break. America's Toughest Job is TV critic.
The Daily Show: Indecision 2008
Tuesday, 10 pm (Comedy Central)
Jon Stewart told The New York Times that Barack Obama is a disaster for political satirists. Given Obama's intelligence and cool sophistication, there's just not much to make fun of.
That might have spelled disaster for The Daily Show's on-location coverage of the Democratic National Convention. But luckily the rest of the Democratic Party will be on hand, so there should be laughs aplenty.
Tabatha's Salon Takeover
Thursday, 9 pm (Bravo)
There's a serious problem in our country that's been underreported in the press. Hair salons are not operating up to snuff. Thank heavens Bravo is on the case, premiering a reality series with a mean British star named Tabatha. As ominous music hums on the soundtrack, Tabatha sends spies into American salons for haircuts. One spy asks for an inch taken off and winds up with - I kid you not - three inches.
Tabatha gravely shakes her head. "The stakes on this are really high," she sighs.
Are you as disgusted as I am that, after nearly eight years in office, the Bush administration has done next to nothing on this issue?