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'American Oz' profiles the man behind the curtain

 Fiction and even fables can reveal more about national character than real events. “American Masters” (8 p.m., PBS, TV-PG, check local listings) presents “American Oz,” a profile of L. Frank Baum, the author behind “The Wizard of Oz” and its many sequels.

Filled with numerous revealing facts about Baum and his world, “Oz” begins long after his death in 1919, on the November night in 1956, when CBS first broadcast “The Wizard of Oz” in prime time. This annual televised event helped turn “Oz” into the most-watched movie in history and, moreover, the most-rewatched film as well.

Baum was born exactly a century before, in 1856. He would grow up in affluence and comfort, thanks to his father’s investments in the new oil industry. Possessing a flair for fantasy, Baum would write advertising stories touting his father’s brand of petroleum axle grease. He always was interested in the dramatic. He raised exotic show chickens before mounting a musical play in nearby Syracuse, N.Y.

After moving to South Dakota (before it was a state), he opened a fanciful gift shop, far too esoteric for his rural clientele. After it folded, he founded a town newspaper and worked as a traveling salesman. He was far from successful before penning “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” at the turn of the 20th century.

“Oz” explores the biographical roots of his famous story. New to the plains, he soon learned the destructive power of tornadoes. His wife’s mother was a part of the suffragette movement. She also espoused theosophy, a 19th-century New Age movement blending Eastern and Western spiritual attitudes. Her books earned the wrath of Christian zealots, who called her a witch. Experts suggest this planted the seeds of the notion of a “Good Witch” in Baum’s mind.

Baum was heavily influenced by his progressive mother-in-law and considered his strident wife his partner and “comrade.” There was no talk of “obedience” in their wedding vows. Some suggest this helped inspire Dorothy Gale, a female character filled with spunk, determination and self-invention.

Baum’s experiences at the Chicago Exposition of 1893, called “The White City,” at the time, presaged an “Emerald City” of illusion and enchantment.

Not all of Baum’s 19th-century writings were inspiring. In his newspaper, he called for the extermination of the nearby Lakota people standing in the way of the white man’s progress.

A best-selling author, Baum became a fixture of Hollywood in its infancy, founding his own studio to make “Oz” pictures. “Oz” concludes with the creation of the MGM musical in 1939 and its many subsequent adaptations including “The Wiz” (1975) and “Wicked” (2003).

• First streamed on Sundance Now, the Australian psychological thriller “The Secrets She Keeps” (9 p.m., AMC, TV-14) moves to cable. A glum supermarket clerk with the unlovely name of Agatha (Laura Carmichael, “Downton Abbey”) is abundantly pregnant and seemingly obsessed with Meghan (Jessica De Gouw), a woman in a similar state of infanticipation, who is beautiful, seemingly rich and happy in every way. But as events unfold, we discover there might be more than jealousy motivating Agatha.

TONIGHT’S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

• The stork arrives early on “9-1-1” (7 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

• A slam-dunk case unravels on “All Rise” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

• A car accident sparks a flashback on “9-1-1: Lone Star” (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

• A religious commune becomes a crime scene on “Pray, Obey, Kill” (8 p.m., HBO, TV-14).

• Jury selection looms large on “Bull” (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

• A rescue mission sparks a debate on “Debris” (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

• A misdiagnosis looms large on “The Good Doctor” (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14).

LATE NIGHT

Jimmy Fallon welcomes Michael Strahan and Emmy Blotnick on “The Tonight Show” (10:34 p.m., NBC) ... Catherine Zeta-Jones, Wyatt Russell and Emmanuelle Caplette visit “Late Night With Seth Meyers” (11:37 p.m., NBC).

 

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