Adapted by Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice, Bridget Jones’s Diary) from the novel by Sarah Waters, Tipping the Velvet wants to tell us all about lesbianism in the 1890s, but without scaring the horses. Nan will join Kitty onstage; Kitty will throw her over for what she believes is a safer marriage to a man (John Bowe); Nan will descend to prostitution on the streets and then be kept by the decadent widow Diana Lethaby (Anna Chancellor) till she is reacquainted with the idealistic social worker Florence Banner (Jodhi May) and her tongue-tied socialist brother, Ralph (Hugh Bonneville). All this, wonderfully, is much more like an MGM musical than like The Well of Loneliness.
• Razing Appalachia (May 20; midnight to 1 a.m.; Channel 13) tells the story of how one small town in West Virginia did battle with a coal company that would have strip-mined it out of existence, the same town where more than 50 years ago the U.S. government actually dropped bombs on a union.
• The Kid Stays in the Picture (May 22; 9 to 10:35 p.m.; HBO) is everything you ever wanted to know about Hollywood producer Robert Evans, and then of course more.
• Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy (May 22 and 29; June 5, 12, and 19; 10 to 11 p.m.; Channel 13) is Daniel Yergin’s look at globalization, which is slightly more cynical than many of the people he interviews, including Dick Cheney and Lee Kuan Yew of hot-to-trot Singapore.
• Our Town (May 24; 8 to 10 p.m.; Showtime) is the Thornton Wilder warhorse, directed by James Naughton and starring Paul Newman as the Stage Manager, that briefly wowed Broadway. No attempt here to make a movie; it’s filmed stage business and will show up on public television in the fall. Not bad at all if you really have to see it again.
• Russia: Land of the Tsars (May 26 and 27; 9 to 11 p.m.; the History Channel) leads us by the enthralled eye from Prince Vladimir in the tenth century to the advent of Lenin in the twentieth, with slave labor and secret police and Siberian exile even before there were Communists, not to mention Mongols on horseback and palaces like cotton candy.