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AFI Salute to Sidney Poitier (NBC, 9:30-11 p.m.): Long before Bill Cosby began carving out a new and better media image of African-Americans on his TV series, the film world had Sidney Poitier - suave, funny, faintly sardonic, his grace and intelligence only half-covering an anger just below the surface. Now the American Film Institute is saluting this ground-breaking actor for his work in movies ranging from "The Defiant Ones" through "Lilies of the Field" (Oscar for best actor) to "Guess Who's Coming t o Dinner?" and beyond. Harry Belafonte hosts an evening loaded with stars applauding Poitier, the 20th person to receive the prestigious award that has in the past gone to people like Charlie Chaplin, James Cagney, and Alfred Hitchcock. SUNDAY

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In the Company of Whales

(The Discovery Channel, 9-11 p.m.): Here's a whale show that manages to arouse a viewer's protective instincts despite media saturation on the subject. The powerful insights - conveyed with tough-mindedness combined with a kind of humane reasonableness - are those of the host-narrator, Dr. Roger Payne, one of world's preeminent whale scientists. His understanding and honesty of purpose gains your trust precisely by not idealizing the creatures. Whenever possible, viewers are plunged into the whale's doma in through impressive footage that was shot off shore on five continents. The program, part of a week-long treatment of the subject by Discovery, also serves as a status report, and not a very reassuring one, on the world's oceans.

Please check local listings for all programs, especially those on PBS.

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