NOVA: Hunting the Hidden Dimension
Fractals—jagged geometric shapes made up of parts that resemble the whole—are all around us, from mountain ranges to blood vessels. Yet it wasn’t until the 1970s that maverick mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot discovered and described them, allowing us to solve problems of calculation—such as measuring coastlines—that were previously impossible. A lively edition of NOVA explores the ever-widening applications of fractal geometry, from designing fashion to detecting cancer. Tuesday, Oct. 28, at 8 p.m., PBS; check local listings

Independent Lens: Dinner With the President
In 2005 Pakistani filmmaker Sabiha Sumar requested a dinner with then–President Pervez Musharraf. To her surprise, he consented to two unusually candid conversations. The filmmaker also interviews religious leaders and Pakistanis from diverse social strata as she examines the ongoing struggles for democracy and women’s rights in the Muslim nation at the center of the war on terror. A Grand Jury Prize nominee at Sundance. Tuesday, Oct. 28, at 10 p.m., PBS; check local listings

Great Performances: A Celebration of Leonard Bernstein
On this season’s opening night at Carnegie Hall, opera stars Dawn Upshaw and Thomas Hampson, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and Broadway’s Christine Ebersole joined conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth. Recorded in high-def and surround sound, the program opens with Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 9 p.m., PBS; check local listings

30 Rock
Despite critical acclaim, including two consecutive Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series, 30 Rock has struggled in the ratings. But that may change in the wake of the wide exposure that creator/star Tina Fey recently has received for her impersonations of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live. In this third-season opener, Fey’s character hopes to adopt a child—but her chances may be dashed when an evaluator (guest star Megan Mullally) meets her co-workers. Thursday, Oct. 30, at 9:30 p.m., NBC

Five Years on Mars
The NASA rovers Spirit and Opportunity were expected to survive for only a few months after they landed on Mars in 2004. Yet for almost five years they have endured dust storms, deep craters, mechanical failures, and more to yield a trove of data. This documentary chronicles the doughty devices’ remarkable stories. Sunday, Nov. 2, at
8 p.m., National Geographic Channel

Other highlights

Frontline: The War Briefing
A look at the foreign policy problems facing the next president, including frayed alliances and an overextended military fighting two wars. Tuesday, Oct. 28, at 9 p.m., PBS

D.L. Hughley Breaks the News
Stand-up comedian Hughley mines humor from the week’s headlines in this new series. Saturday, Nov. 1, at 10 p.m., CNN

Show of the week
No End in Sight

This look at the Bush administration’s Iraq policies in the crucial months following the fall of Baghdad in 2003 is all the more damning for its cool, clinical tone. Drawing on interviews with military officers, diplomats, and key players such as Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, the film points to a pattern of ignoring expert advice, leading to key errors. Invading without enough troops left the country unstable. Banning all Baath party members from the new government kept the professional class from participating. Disbanding the Iraqi army helped create an insurgency. A 2008 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Feature. Monday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m., Sundance Channel

Movies on TV this week

Monday, Oct. 27
Grindhouse (2007)
Directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino pay homage to B-movie schlock in a mini–double feature: Planet Terror starring Rose McGowan, and Death Proof with Kurt Russell. 8 p.m., Encore

Alien (1979)
Essentially a haunted-house movie transplanted to outer space, director Ridley Scott’s sci-fi thriller made Sigourney Weaver Hollywood’s first feminist action heroine. 8 p.m., FMC

Scanners (1981)
From director David Cronenberg’s salad days, a low-budget but effective horror thriller about a secret race of telepaths who make people’s heads explode. 9 p.m., IFC

Dead of Night (1945)
Visitors to a lonely country estate share eerie stories in this classic horror anthology. Michael Redgrave stands out as a ventriloquist driven mad by his dummy. 8 p.m., TCM

Recount (2008)
The disputed outcome of the 2000 presidential election is grist for black comedy in this Emmy-winning TV movie. With Kevin Spacey, Denis Leary, and Laura Dern. 5 p.m., HBO

Secrets & Lies (1996)
Brenda Blethyn’s performance as a working-class woman confronted by the daughter she gave up for adoption was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. 10 p.m., Sundance

All the President’s Men (1976)
John Dean, former counsel to Richard Nixon, joins Robert Osborne for a discussion introducing the Watergate drama starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford. 8 p.m., TCM