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'Anarchy' returns, 'Masters' profiles Billie Jean King

As FX's highest-rated show returns for its sixth season Tuesday, it's playing with fire - and firepower - even more than usual.

Katey Sagal as Gemma Teller
Katey Sagal as Gemma TellerRead more

* SONS OF ANARCHY. 10 tonight, FX.


I'D SAY THAT Kurt Sutter rushes in where angels fear to tread, but I don't actually know of any angels working in television.

And I don't think the "Sons of Anarchy" creator is anyone's fool.

As FX's highest-rated show returns for its sixth season tonight, it's playing with fire - and firepower - even more than usual, with a 90-minute episode whose climax may disturb even its most bloodthirsty fans.

And not because most of the truly horrific part occurs offscreen.

There's a point to this madness, though we won't begin to get to it until next week's installment, and even then I'm not sure it's going to satisfy those who'd prefer not to be reminded of the kind of real-life insanity that inspired it.

(Yeah, I'm dancing around a spoiler here.)

I've quit watching FX's "Sons of Anarchy" more than once, mostly because I can give only so much head space to the violence that permeates the motorcycle-gang drama. When I come back, it's usually for Katey Sagal and Maggie Siff, not the boys of SAMCRO (who may pick up some other female fans, now that Charlie Hunnam - who stars as Jax Teller - has been cast as the lead in "Fifty Shades of Grey").

As intrigued as I am by Sutter's willingness to bite off something bigger than his character's tongue to tell a story about the true costs of SAMCRO's business dealings, I'm not sure this is the time, or the place.

But then there never seems to be a good time or place for this discussion. So we may as well hear what the man has to say.

Tennis legend on and off the court

Two days after Serena Williams won her fifth U.S. Open title, we're reminded of the woman at least partly responsible for the $3.6 million Williams got paid.

That would be Billie Jean King, who's the subject tonight of PBS' "American Masters," which traces her career from her native Long Beach, Calif. - where she learned to play on public courts - through her fight to make sure that the world's best female players got paid the way the men did.

It's a story that couldn't be told, of course, without talking about that long-ago match against Bobby Riggs, or King's being outed as a lesbian. The latter might not seem like a big deal now - especially with her former husband, with whom she co-founded World TeamTennis - among the interviewees. But King, who'll be 70 in November, told reporters last month that she "didn't get comfortable in my own skin until I was 51 about being gay."

Also among the talking heads: King's friend Elton John, whose "Philadelphia Freedom" was written for King's old team, the Philadelphia Freedoms.

"I think it's the best signature song a sports team has ever had," King told reporters.

"Elton used to sit on the bench and cheer for us. He said he wanted to write a song for me," said King, who figured he was joking.

"So he called [lyricist] Bernie Taupin and said, 'Bernie, I'm writing a song for Billie . . . It's called "Philadelphia Freedom." Go for it.' "

Taupin, she said, had no idea what John was talking about, but wrote the lyrics, anyway, "and the way Elton does everything with his songs is Bernie sends him the lyrics. He puts it up on the piano, and most of the songs have been written in 10 to 15 minutes, and he'll never spend over an hour on one song. And that's how he did it, and it became No. 1 and crossed over into R&B and became No. 1."

On Twitter: @elgray