For Martin Sheen, the roots get tangled

This is the plus side of NBC's recent troubles: It's allowed room for a show like "Who Do You Think You Are?"

A well-made show that tracks people's roots, "Who" has little ratings potential. Still, on Friday its starts its third (and longest) mini-season, this time with a dozen episodes.

That starts with Martin Sheen. Here's a short story I sent to papers:


For many of his 71 years, Martin Sheen
has juggled distant backgrounds.

He's Spanish. His real name is Ramon
Estevez; his son (known as Charlie Sheen) is Carlos Estevez.

He's also Irish, but he's never learned
to speak Gaellic (“that is a very difficult language”) or
Spanish. His life has been kind of busy, with acting and a long
string of social causes and protests.

Now he's searched his roots for the
season-opener of “Who Do You Think You Are?” He promptly found
links with uncles on both sides. “Both of them had risen up against
oppression … and had suffered mightily for it,” Sheen said, “but
stuck to principles.” They were:

– Michael Fieland. He fought in the
Irish war of independence and then fought in the Irish civil war,
opposing the Irish Free State that was created in a British

– Matias Estevez. He “fought
against Franco at the onset of the (Spanish) coup and spent an awful
lot of time in jail and, in fact, received a life sentence,” Sheen

Matias was eventually paroled and later
pardoned. Sheen – who has often been arrested and jailed during
protests – feels he's a kindred spirit.

“Maybe this is some unknown quality
that I have possessed,” h said. “Not to the extent that these
gentlemen did, because they were absolutely heroic.”

Not everyone in his past was heroic.
Don Diego Francisco Suarez, born in 1713, had a wife, a mistress, six
illegitimate children and a moralistic streak.

“He was a bit of a dandy and he was a
judge … and he prosecuted a young lady for a moral crime, if you
will.” Sheen said. And that woman is on another side of Sheen's
Spanish family tree.

“So my great, great, great
grandfather prosecuted my great, great, great grandmother,” Sheen

It's the kind of surprise he found when
he could really explore his distant roots.

– “Who Do You Think You Are?” 8
p.m. Fridays, NBC

– Third season begins with Charlie
Sheen on Feb.3, Marisa Tomei on Feb. 10

– The first two seasons had only
seven and eight episodes; this one has 12

– Others include a cook (Paula Deen),
a football star (Jerome Bettis) and actors – Edie Falco, Helen
Hunt, Rashida Jones, Rob Lowe, Reba McEntire, Jason Sudeikis, Blair
Underwood and Rita Wilson.