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A Backward Glance

By Belinda Acosta

NOVEMBER 8, 1999:  I blame Richard Nixon for ending my childhood. It's not all his fault, of course, and it's not like it wasn't inevitable, but he figures prominently. My 14th year was a horrible, torturous 12 months. That physical tsunami called puberty had dulled to a rhythmic roar, and I still struggled to understand my body's machinations. I had a mad, heart-pounding crush on a junior high school teacher. I sometimes cringe when I remember my shenanigans to get his attention, and how painfully idiotic I felt when I realized that a May-December romance wasn't going to happen. There were other sobering realizations about family and friends that sucked the innocence from me so hard and fast, I was sure I was going to die. Even without the travails of puberty, it was hard to imagine a future with the Vietnam War as a constant backdrop, so when the Watergate scandal erupted, that was the final straw. My "God Bless America" attitude was irrevocably jaded and my childhood -- full of fanatically bright-eyed hope -- came to an abrupt end. It felt like the end of the world.

At 14, if someone would have told me I would live to the year 2000, I would have balked. Strangely, I didn't have visions of doom and gloom -- no extraterrestrials sucking us into the stratosphere or the spectacle of Armageddon. It was more a sense (desire?) that the world would stop. We'd reach the end of the earth and fall off the edge, one by one. The end.

But here it is, at the precipice of the year 2000, and I'm still here, with very strong intentions of being here for many more new years. But this year is like no other, as we've been reminded over and over again. It's the new millennium, and strange and wonderful things are bound to happen, whether we want them to or not.

To ease us into the year 2000, several networks have concocted documentaries to look back at the last 1000 years and speculate on the next. Some are one-time, lighthearted specials, while others are multi-episode productions with all the gaiety of a flu shot. Some of these programs began airing in October and continue through December. All deserve at least a glance or two. Here is a sampling.

On the lighthearted side, A&E offers a look at the 10 most popular toys of the century (yes, the entire century), in A&E Top Ten (11/6, 10pm, A&E). Previously, the cable network offered Biography of the Millennium: 100 People 1000 Years, naming the most influential people of the last 1,000 years. Expect more of these countdown lists from the A&E and other networks.

The role of Christianity in defining the millennium is explored in a 10-part series on Bravo, titled, Two Thousand Years. The documentary examines 2,000 years of Christian art, culture, and history, as well as exploring parallel religious and political movements in one-hour episodes that began airing October 24. Beginning with the Roman Empire, moving through the Dark Ages, into the Renaissance, and finally the 20th century, the well-crafted, if somewhat dry, series examines how a movement that began with a band of 12 disorganized disciples became one of the most powerful religions of the world. Upcoming episodes include: Out of the Desert/The Celts (11/7), The End of the Empire/The Book and the Sword (11/14), Talking to God/The End of the World (11/21), and East & West/God's Warriors (11/28). All air times are 6pm. The series continues Sundays through 12/26. For full episode descriptions, visit Bravo's Web site at http://www.bravotv.com.

CNN offers its own 10-part series on the millennium, entitled Millennium. Lavish in design and scope, each one-hour episode focuses on a single century beginning with the 11th and moving to the present. Using Felipe Fernandez-Armesto's book with the same title as a guide, the series offers an eclectic mix of great and small events that affected the world, in five vignettes from five different locations across the world. Ben Kingsley narrates the series. Future episodes are: Century of the Sail: The Fifteenth Century (11/7), Century of the Compass: The Sixteenth Century (11/14), Century of the Telescope: The Seventeenth Century (11/21), Century of the Furnace: The Eighteenth Century (11/28), Century of the Machine: The Nineteenth Century (12/5), and Century of the Globe: The Twentieth Century (12/12). All air times are 9pm. Visit the Millennium interactive Web site at http://CNN.com/1000.

Gloom, doom, and the rise of end-of-the world anxieties. Where does all this come from, and why is its appearance pronounced at the turn of the century? These questions are pondered in the PBS Frontline episode, Apocalypse! Beginning with the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, this two-hour PBS special "traces the evolution of apocalyptic ideology throughout the ages -- from its origin in the Jewish experience after the Babylonian exile to its diverse and often tumultuous expression in modern times," press materials promise. Want to brush up on end-of-the-world terminology? Need to take a quiz on Antichrists through history? Log on to the companion Web site at http://www.pbs.org/frontline. Airdate for Apocalypse! is Monday, 11/22. Check local listings for correct time.

Lighter fare comes from The History Channel and HBO in December. Dennis Miller is featured in Dennis Miller: The Millennium Special -- 1000 Years, 100 Laughs, 10 Really Good Ones. The comedy special promises Miller's trademark rants and a special appearance by Norm MacDonald. (12/4, 9pm, HBO).

The Times Capsule, narrated by Harry Smith, looks at 2,000 years of human achievement and folly, speculating on how the world would be different if, for example, a 15th-century Chinese eunuch had discovered America instead of Christopher Columbus. Tracey Ullman, Barbara Walters, Donald Trump, and Jackie Chan are a few of the celebrities who will speculate on this and other "what if ..." questions. Ultimately, the documentary follows the contraction of the real-life creation and installation of the Times Capsule at the American Museum of Natural History. (12/6, 8pm, The History Channel).

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