‘Right to offend’ explores role of Black comics |

Produced and introduced by Kevin Hart, the four-hour, two-night special “Right to Offend: The Black Comedy Revolution” (8 pm, A&E, TV-MA) explores the underestimated role of laughter in changing attitudes.

An impressive collection of contemporary comics pays homage to pioneers who paved the way, often under rough circumstances. They include, in the first hour, Redd Foxx, Moms Mabley and Dick Gregory, who entered people’s homes through the medium of talk-show television and record albums at a time when most Black people were denied even the service entrance in many white households.

The introduction also explores the origins of Black comedy in vaudeville, blackface and how some stars emerged from a generally demeaning artform.

Much of the first hour is dedicated to Gregory, who long straddled the line between activist and entertainer before leaving showbiz to work for social change full time. His appearance of him on “The Tonight Show” with Jack Paar broke boundaries, not just because he had a national platform to make comments about Kennedy and Khrushchev but because he insisted on chatting on the couch with Paar after his set of him.

It might sound remarkable now, but the fact Gregory simply discussed the humdrum details of his children and family life was a revelation to Paar’s white viewers, who flooded the show’s telephone switchboards to gush that they had never heard a “negro” talk that way.

Gregory had done nothing less than humanize an entire group of people set apart by a media caste system that relegated them to the role of members of a frightening underclass, shiftless clowns or elite athletes and entertainers, encouraged to perform but never allowed to speak their minds. . Recent attempts to muzzle outspoken athletes, or Laura Ingraham’s advice to LeBron James (“Shut up and dribble”) demonstrate the audacity of Gregory’s approach, 60 years ago.

During its four hours, “Offend” moves on with the times, showing how comics from Bill Cosby to Richard Pryor, Whoopi Goldberg and Dave Chappelle and others found new audiences and avenues of expression.

If I have to quibble, it’s the series’ singular focus on Black comics within a Black culture. I would like to hear more about the kinds of cultural cross-pollination that changed American humor. Dick Gregory emerged as a topical monologist at a time when Mort Sahl, Bob Newhart and Lenny Bruce were performing in a similar mode in nightclubs, on TV shows and on LP records. Did they influence Gregory, or was it the other way around?

TONIGHT’S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

• Long COVID and short temperatures on “Chicago Med” (7 pm, NBC, r, TV-14).

• A fire erupts at a disturbed woman’s home on “Chicago Fire” (8 pm, NBC, r, TV-14).

• Teamwork on the season finale of “The Flash” (7 pm, CW, TV-PG).

• Off-duty heroism on “Chicago PD” (9 pm, NBC, r, TV-14).

• Tool time never ends. Tim Allen, Richard Karn and April Wilkerson host “More Power” (9 pm, History), a 10-part history of tools.

Killer bees target Texas in the 1978 disaster movie thriller “The Swarm” (12 pm, TCM, TV-14), featuring a star-studded ensemble including Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, Richard Widmark, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Havilland, Ben Johnson , Lee Grant, Jose Ferrer, Patty Duke, Slim Pickens, Bradford Dillman, Henry Fonda and Fred MacMurray. The “My Three Sons” star quit acting after this film, long considered one of the worst movies ever made.

“The Price Is Right at Night” (7 pm and 8 pm, CBS, r, TV-PG) … “MasterChef” (7 pm, Fox, TV-14) … Darlene’s heartache on “The Conners” ( 7 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG) … A football fumble on “The Goldbergs” (7:30 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG) … “So You Think You Can Dance” (8 p.m. , Fox, TV-14) … Unkind words on “Abbott Elementary” (8 pm, ABC, r, TV-PG) … On two episodes of “Wellington Paranormal” (CW, TV-14): Nightmares ( 8 p.m.); noise (8:30 pm, r) … Halloween logistics on “Home Economics” (8:30 pm, ABC, r, TV-PG) … A ticking time bomb on “SWAT” (9 pm, CBS, r, TV-PG) … “Press Your Luck” (9 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG).

Rep. Adam Kinzinger and Karl Urban are booked on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” (10:35 pm, CBS) … Jimmy Fallon welcomes Gaten Matarazzo and Lauren Spencer-Smith on “The Tonight Show” (10:34 pm , NBC) … Steve Carell, Machine Gun Kelly, Ingrid Andress and Jonathan Ulman visit “Late Night With Seth Meyers” (11:37 pm, NBC) … John Boyega, Sam Smith, Minnie Driver, Lior Suchard and Cat Burns appears on “The Late Late Show With James Corden” (11:37 p.m., CBS).

— OK, that was weird. The least expected story of the week was the scandal involving Felicity Huffman (“Desperate Housewives”) and Lori Loughlin, star of “When Calls the Heart” (7 pm Sunday, Hallmark, TV-G), in a bribery/cheating plot to get their respective daughters into elite universities.

This is obviously an ongoing case, and all sides must have their say, or day, in court. But the motivation at the center of this story is worth discussing. It involves some overwhelming need to do anything to get children into elite schools. As if anything “lesser” were unthinkable.

Television plays no small role in this insecurity. I can’t remember how many times I’ve had to describe an ABC legal drama where every single character hails from only the most exclusive Ivy and spends most of the pilot bragging about it.

There was a time, not that long ago, when John Grisham wrote best-selling books about young, barely accredited lawyers from no-name institutions who took on impossible cases against massive corporations and eventually won. And he got the girl, to boot.

So, our current era’s neurotic obsession with elitism and inequality is hardly hard-wired.

If anything comes of this sordid affair, it’s an appreciation that shoddy efforts at snobbery are always essentially pathetic. Or on classic TV, comedy. Watching “Gilligan’s Island,” we identified him with Mary Ann and the Skipper, and pitied the millionaire and his wife.

— CNN launches the four-hour documentary “Tricky Dick” (8 pm, Sunday), profiling the life and times of Richard Nixon’s public career, which spanned the decades from the dawn of the Cold War to the Clinton years.

— An anxious new mother joins a group for solidarity and support, only to discover that it has darker plans on its agenda in the 2019 shocker “Mommy Group Murder” (7 pm, Lifetime, TV-14).

— The Thunder and Warriors meet in NBA action (7:30 pm, ABC).

— An old kidnapper returns to form on “Ransom” (8 pm, CBS, TV-14).

— Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (6 pm, CBS): Embassy workers in China and Cuba complain of mysterious ailments; AOL founder Steve Case and his plans to invest in the future of overlooked American small towns and cities; a visit to Monaco.

— The duels begin on “World of Dance” (7 pm, NBC, TV-PG).

— Auditions continue on “American Idol” (7 pm, ABC, TV-PG).

— Lex Luthor is on the loose on “Supergirl” (7 pm, CW, TV-PG).

— Mr. Wednesday prepares for battle on “American Gods” (7 pm, Starz, TV-MA).

— After learning about her royal lineage, an adopted 10-year-old becomes a little tyrant in the 2019 shocker “Mommy’s Little Princess” (7 pm, Lifetime, TV-14).

— A secret room holds dangers on “Charmed” (8 pm, CW, TV-14).

— Hidden secrets revealed on “The Walking Dead” (8 pm, AMC, TV-MA).

— A new trial is pursued on “The Case Against Adnan Syed” (8 pm, HBO, TV-14).

— Ax is determined to destroy Taylor on the fourth season premiere of “Billions” (8 pm, Showtime, TV-MA).

— Ulysses pursues a conspiracy theory on “Now Apocalypse” (8 pm, Starz, TV-MA).

— “Unsung” (8 pm, TVONE) profiles the Jets.

— Pacific overtures on “Madam Secretary” (9 p.m., CBS, TV-PG).

— Tensions rise on “Good Girls” (9 pm, NBC, TV-14).

— Mo’s past is revealed on “Black Monday” (9 pm, Showtime, TV-MA).

— St. Patrick’s Day inspires many traditions. Syfy offers a marathon of “Leprechaun” movies, from “Leprechaun 5: In the Hood” (4 pm Saturday, TV-14) to “Leprechaun 2” (8 pm). TCM takes the traditional approach, ladling out the Technicolor blarney of director John Ford’s 1952 romance “The Quiet Man” (7 pm Sunday, TV-PG).

“Dateline” (7 pm, NBC, TV-PG) … “NBA Countdown” (7 pm, ABC) … The kids are all right on “MasterChef” (8 pm, Fox, r, TV-PG) … “48 Hours” (9 pm, CBS) … A vintage helping of “Saturday Night Live” (9 pm, NBC, r, TV-14).

A visit from an old friend inspires Miles on “God Friended Me” (7 pm, CBS, TV-PG) … Homer can’t leave Bart’s virtual realm on “The Simpsons” (7 pm, Fox, TV-14) … Empathy for all things on “Bob’s Burgers” (7:30 pm, Fox, TV-14).

A walk down the aisle on “NCIS: Los Angeles” (8 pm, CBS, TV-14) … On two episodes of “Family Guy” (Fox, TV-14), Meg’s winter Olympics (8 pm), fighting over a dowager (8:30 pm, r) … Aches and pains on “Shark Tank” (9 pm, ABC, TV-PG).

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