ABC offers 'Truth and Lies: The Tonya Harding Story'

Posted 1/11/18

By Kevin McDonough

If you want to bring up serious issues, talk about sports. Athletics used to be a "safe" subject, something you discussed when you wanted to avoid heated matters like politics, religion, gender, race and class. Now sports pages …

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ABC offers 'Truth and Lies: The Tonya Harding Story'

Posted

By Kevin McDonough

If you want to bring up serious issues, talk about sports. Athletics used to be a "safe" subject, something you discussed when you wanted to avoid heated matters like politics, religion, gender, race and class. Now sports pages have become the arena for hot-button issues.

This past NFL season has been overshadowed by protests by players and the contrived mischaracterizations of those protests. According to some very dubious theories, even the ratings for football games are said to be affected by political perceptions of players' actions.

This blending of politics and sport didn't begin this season. In 2016, there were two excellent limited series about the O.J. Simpson trial seen through the prism of America's racial divide. ESPN's excellent "30 for 30" series of documentaries has often looked at sporting events, legends and history from a broader perspective, offering insights into American society.

Tonight, "Truth and Lies: The Tonya Harding Story" (9 p.m., ABC) revisits the 1994 scandal that rocked the Winter Olympics, sparked a media firestorm and resulted in the most-watched sporting event of the decade.

Airing in the wake of the acclaimed new movie "I, Tonya," this ABC News special includes an interview with Tonya Harding, who talks about her upbringing, her mother (portrayed by Allison Janney in the film) and her notorious ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly. For those who don't remember, Gillooly organized an attack on Nancy Kerrigan, Harding's rival on the U.S. women's figure skating team.

The "feud" between Harding and Kerrigan was custom-made for tabloid culture and seemed like something out of a tawdry novel. Kerrigan was portrayed as "classy" and serene, while Harding was seen as an inelegant striver from the wrong side of the tracks. The Kerrigan-Harding story also unfolded less than two years after a presidential election between Bill Clinton, portrayed as an overachieving Arkansas "bubba," and George H.W. Bush, a pedigreed New Englander seen by some as "the preppy president."

Americans are known for denying the existence of any class distinctions, but they couldn't get enough of the contrasts between these two ice skaters.

The 1994 women's figure skating finals resulted in a silver medal for Kerrigan and a gold for Ukrainian Oksana Baiul. The CBS broadcast received a 48.5 rating with a 64 share, making it the third-highest-rated sports event in television history at that time. More than 126 million people watched. Only a handful of Super Bowl games have topped that figure.

Harding eventually pleaded guilty to hindering the prosecution of her husband and his confederates. She went on to dubious celebrity, appearing on the Fox reality television spectacle "Celebrity Boxing," which put her in the ring with Clinton accuser Paula Jones.

TONIGHT'S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

• Challengers want a seat at the competition on "The Four: Battle for Stardom" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

• Olivia Munn hosts the 23rd Annual Critics' Choice Awards (8 p.m., CW), honoring the best in film and television.

• The designers put together a runway show with a post-apocalyptic look on "Project Runway All Stars" (9 p.m., Lifetime, TV-PG).

• Rioting prisoners take hostages on "S.W.A.T." (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

• Painkillers loom large on "Chicago Fire" (10 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

CULT CHOICE

An eccentric socialite (Katharine Hepburn) with a pet leopard rattles a repressed scientist (Cary Grant) in director Howard Hawks' 1938 "Bringing Up Baby" (6 p.m., TCM). Long considered a classic of the screwball comedy genre, "Baby" was a box-office dud that only grew in popularity when it aired decades later on television.

SERIES NOTES

Penny mentors Sheldon on "The Big Bang Theory" (8 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) * Amy celebrates on "Superstore" (8 p.m., NBC, TV-PG) * Fred Savage hosts "Child Support" (8 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG) * Comparative religions on "Young Sheldon" (8:30 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) * Michael creates a new scheme on "The Good Place" (8:30 p.m., NBC, TV-PG) * Christy plays the field on "Mom" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14) * Driven to distraction on "Will & Grace" (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14) * Best laid plans on "Life in Pieces" (9:30 p.m., CBS, TV-14) * A tycoon sues the show on "Great News" (9:30 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).

LATE NIGHT

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is booked on "The Daily Show With Trevor Noah" (11 p.m., Comedy Central) * Josh Hutcherson, Daveed Diggs, Talib Kweli and Anderson.Paak appear on "Conan" (11 p.m., TBS, r) * Jimmy Fallon welcomes Sam Rockwell, Tig Notaro, Alan Walker and Noah Cyrus on "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC) * Annette Bening, Paul Thomas Anderson and Sylvan Esso appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (11:35 p.m., ABC) * Matt Ingebretson, Jake Weisman and Allison Miller visit "Late Night With Seth Meyers" (12:35 a.m., NBC) * Tyra Banks appears on "The Late Late Show With James Corden" (12:35 a.m., CBS).

© 2018, United Feature Syndicate