Reading is fascinating; writing is boring. The act of sitting before a desk and a blank piece of paper or a typewriter or a laptop is about as solitary and unexciting as it gets. But that fact is what makes the "American Masters" (9 p.m., PBS, TV-PG) presentation of "Philip Roth Unmasked" so remarkable.
With the exception of a handful of brief clips of fellow writers, critics and old friends, "Unmasked" consists of an extended conver-
sation with the novelist, who sticks pretty much to the subject of his books and his daily routine of writing. Roth, who just turned 80, has received every conceivable
literary award, save the Nobel Prize. Since the appearance of "Goodbye, Columbus and Five Short Stories" in the late 1950s, Roth has been a regular fixture of American letters, publishing more than 30 books in the subsequent five decades.
Roth has created a series of alter egos to explore the human condition. Readers easily confuse these funny, prickly and difficult characters with the author himself. While he received literary acclaim for
"Columbus," it was the out-
rageously funny and sexually explicit "Portnoy's Complaint" that made Philip Roth a controversial household name in 1969. Rather than drown in fame or spend his time avoiding it, he created the literary character Nathan Zuckerman, who, over the course of several novels, appeared to be reacting to the infamy of that "dirty" book.
Rare for a writer so prolific, Roth has appeared to improve and mature with age. Beginning in the late 1980s, his books began to address national and international events, historical tragedies and the onset of old age and imminent death.
"Unmasked" is intimate without being self-indulgent and biographical without descending into celebrity or mere gossip.
Roth discusses his mother and father and older brother and his hometown of Newark, N.J., where so many of his novels are set. We hear about ex-wives but never learn their names -- this, despite the fact that one of them, actress Claire Bloom, wrote an unflattering book about their years together. And don't look for archival footage of Roth discussing "Portnoy's Complaint" on TV talk shows. It's not that kind of film.
It's a portrait of a writer just entering his ninth decade discussing his body of work and his failing body, roughly in that order. While more of a monologue than a two-way conversation, "Unmasked" is a rare treat for thoughtful viewers.
---The 2013 NCAA Basketball Tournament (7 p.m., CBS; 7:30 p.m., TBS).
---A nameless foe emerges on "Grimm" (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
---A stubborn proprietor won't relinquish any control to his daughter on "Kitchen Nightmares" (8 p.m., Fox, r, TV-14).
---"Happy Endings" (ABC, TV-14) returns with two new helpings: The gym faces closure (8 p.m.); Max puts on a false front (8:30 p.m.).
---A coed army battles alien insects in director Paul Verhoeven's 1997 satire "Starship Troopers" (8 p.m., BBC America), starring Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Jake Busey and Neil Patrick Harris.
---Recently discovered texts cast an alternative take on Jesus' betrayal on "The Gospel of Judas: Revealed" (8 p.m., National Geographic, TV-14).
---The guys design an aquarium that reflects Las Vegas' history on "Tanked" (9 p.m., Animal Planet, TV-PG).
---A dearth of snow makes travel impossible on "Yukon Men" (9 p.m., Discovery, TV-PG).
---Jake leads Martin to one of Teller's first patients, a man now awaiting execution, on "Touch" (9 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
---Zeke becomes his own worst enemy on "Bering Sea Gold" (10 p.m., Discovery, TV-14).
The Monkees (Peter Tork, Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Michael Nesmith) appear in the plotless experimental 1968 film "Head" (3:30 a.m., TCM), featuring appearances by Dennis Hopper, Frank Zappa and Jack Nicholson. The collaboration of producers Nicholson, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider would usher in a "New Hollywood" sensibility, with subsequent movies including "Easy Rider" and "Five Easy Pieces."
---Warm weather wear on "Fashion Star" (8 p.m., NBC).
---A mission to Paris on "Nikita" (8 p.m., CW, TV-14).
---A teen shows off her skin care line on "Shark Tank" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
---Skye reacts badly after being drugged at a fan event on "Cult" (9 p.m., CW, TV-14).
---Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Bobby Lee, Morgan Murphy and Kurt Braunohler appear on "Chelsea Lately" (11 p.m., E!, r).
---Jay Leno welcomes Chelsea Handler and Sky Blu on "The To night Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC).
---Joan Rivers, Jimmie Johnson and Kendrick Lamar appear on "Late Show With David Letter man" (12:35 a.m., CBS, r, time approximate due to basketball coverage).
---Craig Ferguson hosts Kristen Stewart and Sloane Crosley on "The Late Late Show" (1:35 a.m., CBS, r, time approximate due to basketball coverage).
Kevin McDonough can be reached at email@example.com.