Saturday Jan. 3
The Directors: David Mamet (Encore, 11 p.m.-12 midnight, repeated throughout the month): The playwright, screenwriter, film and theater director is arguably one of the great artistic talents of our time. He often writes in iambic pentameter, giving his dialogue a heightened reality that portends much under the surface. Actors such as William H. Macy, Steve Martin, Joe Mantegna, and Rebecca Pidgeon discuss his working style.
Terry Jones' Medieval Lives (The History Channel, 7-8 p.m.): Jones, a Monty Python alum, mocks and debunks the romantic clichés about the Middle Ages. He's just as funny as he was when he pursued the Holy Grail, except here he is trying to condense hundreds of years of history into really thin slices. It's misleading to anyone who doesn't know much about the topic, but any jaunt with Terry is a joust with fun.
Sunday, Jan. 4
DNA (PBS, Sundays through Feb. 1, check local listings): From the "fingerprints" of DNA used in forensics to the foodstuffs that have been genetically engineered, DNA research is dramatically transforming the modern world. This series is heavily concerned with medical research, but it also shows how many people are concerned about the results of that work. And it doesn't help to see a scientist proclaim that there is no God and later argue for the perfectability of humans through eugenics. This documentary is a scary, cautionary tale.
The Day I Will Never Forget (Cinemax, 6:30-8 p.m.): This award-winning documentary about female genital mutilation in Africa and the Middle East follows a Somali nurse and, later, a social worker into the homes of girls who don't want it and those who have chosen it. It also documents how 16 teenage girls successfully went to court to restrain their parents from inflicting the practice on them.