By David Hiltbrand
October 16, 1995 12:00 PM


TELEVISION DEVOTES itself to two flamboyant chapters in American history this week. On Sunday (Oct. 15, 8 p.m. ET) the Discovery Channel presents P.T. Barnum, a fascinating study of the notorious showman. Narrated by Cliff Robertson, the documentary features an extraordinary collection of photographs. Phineas T. Barnum (1810-91) was a shameless huckster but also a true innovator. He assembled the country’s first public aquarium in New York City and the Greatest Show on Earth, the most extravagant circus of its day. In his own time, though, Barnum was known best for his exhibitions of “living curiosities”: bearded ladies, albinos, Siamese twins, giants and midgets, including the renowned Tom Thumb. The following night (Oct. 16, 9 p.m. ET), The American Experience on PBS presents Murder of the Century, a wonderfully evocative recounting of the 1906 shooting at Madison Square Garden’s rooftop cabaret of Stanford White, New York City’s foremost architect and social lion, by Harry K. Thaw, heir to a Pittsburgh railroad fortune. Thaw claimed he was exacting revenge for White’s corruption of Mrs. Thaw, better known as Evelyn Nesbit, a celebrated beauty. The murder and subsequent trials (the first ended in a deadlocked jury) whipped the press into a frenzy and gripped the nation. Of course, something like that could never happen today.