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Wednesday, July 9, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 71.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Why Woodstock worked
It was more than just grooviness

Not as free-and-easy as it looked.
Not as free-and-easy as it looked.
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Everyone knows that 1969's Woodstock festival was three days of peace and music. As MC/cook/nurse/mascot Wavy Gravy put it at the time: "We're gonna try to be groovy, and to spread that grooviness to everyone."

Behind the grooviness, however, were hard-headed organizers. They had to manage an unprecedented half-million people, provide emergency food and medical care, and pay their bills despite the fact that the hippie hordes had crashed the gates, turning Woodstock into an unintentionally free festival. Woodstock: Now & Then (Friday, 8 p.m., VH1) is a fascinating look at the people who pulled off one of the seminal events of the 20th century. As one observer puts it, "It always seemed like a bunch of guys who said 'Let's do this thing,' then bit off way more than they could chew, and then for three and a half days in a muddy field they just made magic happen."

We learn that local hippie-haters kicked Woodstock off its original location with less than a month to go, necessitating a frantic search for a new site. In the middle of the event, New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller planned to send in 10,000 armed troops before one of the organizers talked him down. The money guy had to fly to the bank by helicopter to secure funds for paying performers, who refused to go on without their checks. After the festival, organizers faced 80 lawsuits and a million-dollar debt.

The documentary interviews musicians, filmmakers and retirement-age attendees, who speak eloquently of the event's significance in terms of gender equality, civil rights and other '60s ideals. One attendee draws a direct line to Barack Obama: "I went to the inauguration and thought, wow, it's just like Woodstock. Tens of thousands of people, and they're all happy, and we're all here to get along well. We're all in this together, one big American ball of hope."

Design Star
Sunday, 9 pm (HGTV)

Design Star is an enjoyable reality competition along the lines of Project Runway. In this case, talented interior designers tackle challenges and receive perceptive critiques from a panel of judges.

My only complaint is that HGTV tries too hard to make the series seem momentous. Rather than settling for the modest pleasure of interior designers doing their work, the new season of Design Star wants to convince us that IT WILL ROCK OUR WORLD! The music is tense and ominous, and the British host takes himself way too seriously. He insists that Design Star offers "TV's most prestigious prize!" (has he never seen American Idol?) and that "lives will be changed forever!"

Never has the choice between mauve or maroon throw pillows been so fraught with significance.

Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi
Monday, 8 pm (HBO)

This documentary tells the story of an Afghani "fixer" - a go-between who helps foreign media gain access to government officials, citizens and armed rebels. In the opening minutes, we learn that the hero, Ajmal Naqshbandi, 24, was kidnapped and murdered by the Taliban. Then we flash back six months as Naqshbandi travels through Afghanistan with an American journalist, helping him conduct interviews with bearded men. Fixer offers a rare look at the dusty corners of this troubled country, though I can't say it's much fun to hang out in the barren terrain or to eavesdrop on the journalists' tense interactions with natives.

Then again, I guess it's unreasonable to expect a rockin' good time in a documentary about Afghanistan.

Flipping Out
Monday, 9 pm (Bravo)

I deplore Bravo's overheated reality series about wealthy people having hissy fits. Flipping Out, by contrast, is underheated. House-flipper Jeff Lewis has a low-key sense of humor that might be appealing in real life but is just boring in reality life.

The season premiere is notably short on drama as Jeff deals with the downturn in the housing market. He bides his time patching cracks, trimming trees and - hold onto your hats - rewiring.

I never thought I'd say this, but I could use a hissy fit right about now.

Shaq Vs.
Tuesday, 8 pm (ABC)

This new reality series pits Shaquille O'Neal against star athletes in various sports. We know Shaq can shoot hoops, but now we'll have a chance to see how he fares against baseball slugger Albert Pujols, NFL quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, tennis champ Serena Williams, boxer Oscar de la Hoya and swimmer Michael Phelps.

At press time, it wasn't clear if O'Neal would compete against Phelps in swimming or pot-smoking.

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