Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Eddie Albert

Part of my love of movies comes from television; as a kid, although I saw some things in theaters, I ran across far more movies on TV -- especially in the glory days of things like NBC's ''Saturday Night at the Movies.''
It was somewhere on TV that I encountered ''Captain Newman, M.D.,'' a feature about traumatized GI's getting treatment. Gregory Peck starred, and Bobby Darin was very good as one of the patients, but I also remember it for Eddie Albert as another patient, and one whose fate was powerfully sad.
Eddie Albert has died at the age of 99, and the descriptions of his career tend to showcase light comedy and ''Green Acres,'' the oddball sitcom he starred in.
Don't get me wrong. I like ''Green Acres.'' It was unapologetically absurd, taking place in a world as bizarre as anything David Lynch ever imagined.
Albert -- playing a city big-shot who decided that rural life was more appealing -- seemed to be the lone normal man in a community full of loons. In that respect, he superficially resembled ''The Beverly Hillbillies' '' Buddy Ebsen, a serene and calm figure surrounded by eccentrics (Jethro, Granny, Drysdale among them). But Albert was pointedly not serene; he was constantly blowing his top. And just a look at the horrors of the farm he bought demonstrated that his vision of a peaceful farm life was blurred to the point of delusion, that his idealism had made him the rube.
Still, in trying to sum up Albert with ''Green Acres,'' or in dismissing him as merely a comic actor, we risk overlooking that the guy had serious moves.
Shortly before he died, I watched the original version of ''The Longest Yard'' again in anticipation of seeing the update. Haven't gotten to the update yet, but oh, did I enjoy the original. It was funny, it was dramatic, it was loaded with good performances. But it doesn't work without Albert as the warden, the nemesis of the ex-football star played by Burt Reynolds, because Albert is both Reynolds's opposite and a reflection of Reynolds' worst instincts.
Both men, after all, are superficially charming but capable of a mean-as-a-snake twist. (Think of Reynolds before he goes to jail.) At the same time, though, Reynolds is all about daring, impulse, physicality, while Albert is about cunning, craft, caution. You could easily see Albert shaving points the way Reynolds did, if he could figure out a way not to get caught; but to shave points, he would have to get on the field, and Reynolds notes in the movie that Albert isn't made for that.
I could go on, but it would just be a longer argument that Albert is central to the appeal of the original ''Longest Yard,'' and that he is important because he brought a nice-guy surface to a style that suggested something much darker. ''Green Acres'' said the same thing in a much gentler way. And then there's ''Captain Newman.'' When I remember Eddie Albert, it won't be as a light comedian. He was more, and better, than that -- even when he was helping people to laugh.

Planning ahead

The 2005-06 season will be the last for ''Will & Grace'' and Megan Mullally -- who plays Karen -- already has another job lined up. Here's an NBC release:
NBC Universal Television Distribution has signed Emmy Award-winning "Will & Grace" star Megan Mullally to an exclusive deal to host a nationally syndicated talk show, it was announced today by Jeff Zucker, President NBC Universal Television Group, Frederick Huntsberry, Executive Vice President, NBC Universal Television Distribution and Barry Wallach, President, NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution.
Mullally's daily, one-hour show will be sold to local TV stations for a fall 2006 debut and originate from Los Angeles, Ca.
"Megan is a fantastic performer. A great actor and a great communicator, as all of her fans know," says Zucker. "Those skills will make her a great new addition to the daytime playing field. And I could not be more excited to have Megan still on the team."
(I'm going to skip over more quotes about how great she is.) ...
"I'm hosting a what?" said Mullally. "Oh, okay. Well,if I am, I want it to be different and I want the viewers to play an active role and actually get something out of watching it. I think it will be fun. Jeff Zucker is going to play drums in the band.''

CNN at 25...

Over the weekend, while going through a box of papers, I came across a copy of a story I wrote for the Beacon Journal in 2000 about CNN's 20th anniversary.
The story caught my eye because the network marks its 25th anniversary on Wednesday and has made sizable on-air plans for the occasion. (Among them: CNN founder and Cincinnati native R.E. ''Ted'' Turner is scheduled for Wolf Blitzer's show at 5 p.m. today.)
Not that recent times have been all that great for CNN, which has seen Fox News Channel become more buzzed about -- and better connected to the current political elite.
Newsgathering in general has been under fire, thanks to the scandals that regularly generate material for Jim Romenesko's journalism Web site. (Here's a link: http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=45 ). While CNN has been trying to project a more serious air, it does so in a world where where serious news has to wait through an update on the Runaway Bride.
And when big issues do arise, viewers' judgment of coverage is often less about What Do You Know? than Whose Side Are You On?
But the battle over what news is made of is not a new one. In fact, in that 2000 story, I dredged up a quote from Turner in 1998:
''We're under pressure to keep our circulation up and our readership up and
our viewership up. And there's a lot of trivialization, a lot of overemphasis
of Princess Diana's death and Monica Lewinsky. . . . There's less
international news, less environmental news.''
My story also noted another change that would affect CNN and other presenters of the news.
``Its place as a first stop for news-seekers has also been hurt by the rise
of more rapidly available Internet news,'' I said at the time. And that's even more true now.
I used to be one of those folks who turned on a cable-news network or a morning show to get the day's headline. Now I do that online, when I make my morning check of my e-mail.
Of course, that online news comes from established organizations that have simply found another way to deliver information.
There are other places that news circulates, such as on Web sites and in message boards. But my visits to some of them have also found errors, rumors and wildly garbled versions of fact and rumor. We're going to have to rely on brand names that we trust -- whether it's CNN or Fox News or the Associated Press or something else.
CNN's challenge is to keep an audience that believes in its brand.
The smartest and sturdiest brands will then simply morph into something that reaches out to the current audience. Some of us will find those changes unacceptable, and somewhere or other you'll see lamentations about the glorious days of Edward R. Murrow.
To be sure, Murrow -- also mentioned in my DVD posting earlier today -- represents a golden era in broadcast news. But, as has been pointed out more than once, he also represents the contradictions in news that we see today.
He was a reporter and a commentator (and played his biggest role in American politics through the latter function). He could step out of the way of the camera for some stories -- but he was also a celebrity, someone who made news. He liked the hard-hitting account (''See It Now,'' his World War II radio reports), but he was also a cozy on-air chum of stars (via ''Person to Person'').
His heyday was half a century ago. But he embodied all the battles CNN and other news organizations fight today.

New DVDs of note

More years ago than I like to admit, I sat in a conference room in Hollywood and listened to Cybill Shepherd talking about this new show she had called ''Moonlighting.'' But I, and many of the other people at the press conference, were more curious about her absent co-star, a then-little-known actor named Bruce Willis.
''Moonlighting'' was the first place most people saw Willis, and his wisecracking, motor-mouthed character helped get him a movie career that continues to this day. And, unlike some TV stars gone big-screen, he's willing to acknowledge his roots, joining in the special features on the new DVD release ''Moonlighting: Seasons One and Two.''
Not that he remembers his rise with complete happiness; in a making-of segment on the DVD, he makes a passing reference to Shepherd that suggests he hasn't forgotten their reported conflicts on the show. (Shepherd also took part in the DVD extras, although she appears apart from Willis.)
The package includes 23 episodes along with the TV-movie premiere, as well as extras.
For more than a decade I've happily held onto a VHS collection about the great newsman Edward R. Murrow. There's now a DVD collection, although it differs somewhat from the VHS set.
The VHS ''Edward R. Murrow Television Collection'' released by Fox Video in 1992 included four tapes: ''The Best of 'See It Now','' ''The Best of 'Person to Person,' ''The McCarthy Years'' and the full-length documentary ''Harvest of Shame.''
The DVD set, ''The Edward R. Murrow Collection,'' from Docurama, includes three of the VHS items: ''Harvest of Shame,'' ''The McCarthy Years'' and ''The Best of 'See It Now.' '' It replaces the ''Person to Person'' video with ''This Reporter,'' a 1990 documentary about Murrow for PBS's ''American Masters'' series.
''This Reporter'' is a good enough documentary and a reminder of what TV news was once upon a time. But I miss the ''Person to Person'' segments, which had Murrow interviewing celebrities and offered a counterpoint to his more hard-hitting news efforts. So while I'm happy to have the DVD, I won't be giving up my VHS set.
Also out of TV's past is ''This Is Your Life: The Ultimate Collection, Volume 1,'' an 18-episode sampler from the show's long run on NBC and in syndication.
For those of you tuning in late, ''This Is Your Life'' host Ralph Edwards would tell the story of a celebrity's life to the celebrity, with the account punctuated by visits by people from the star's past. Making this even more uncomfortable for the star was the ambush aspect of the show; stars would think they had been summoned to a meeting, a rehearsal or some other event and then find out they were the focus of ''This Is Your Life.''
As you can tell from that description, the show was a precursor to what we now call reality television -- and you can more often than not see celebrities were less than delighted to have Edwards and his associates spilling their lives on TV. But it is even more entertaining because of that.
The package includes segments on Laurel & Hardy, Lou Costello, Bobby Darin, Johnny Cash, Bette Davis, Jayne Mansfield athlete Jesse Owens and others. A companion booklet features not only synopses of the episodes but suggested links to Web sites associated with the stars.

Back to the Blog

Well, I'm finally emerging from a break to take care of some family business and expect to have some new postings later today. There's the passing of Eddie Albert to talk about, and the 25th anniversary of CNN (and the changing nature of news), and some new DVD releases that I didn't get to in a column last week. Thank you to everyone who has been stopping by here, even though there was nothing new to see.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

''Idol,'' ''Lost''

The Clay-Ruben season of ''American Idol'' showed it was possible to have more than one winner in the real world no matter how the vote went; the same thing probably happened tonight.
Carrie got the title. Fine. I didn't really care who won. But, as I said in an earlier posting, she seemed much more in keeping with the ''Idol'' style than Bo, and I think she can bring a greater level of sincerity than Bo to the icky songs winners get stuck with.
I also hope that she shows some of the spine that was evident as she made her way to the championship; she did not let the judges pigeon-hole her as just a country singer, and I'd like to think there will be days when she balks at the things the producers want her to do in the studio. If not, well, some day she'll be done with ''Idol'' and able to set her own course.
As for Bo, I've already written that he had reason to be worried about the consequences of success -- that winning ''American Idol'' would likely lead to a reshaping of his music and his style by the image-makers behind the show.
Finishing second, therefore, is probably a good thing for him. There's less pressure to make an all-things-to-all-people CD, for starters. To be sure, it may not sell all that well, either. But he has a much better chance now of getting back together with his band and playing the music he loves as soon as his ''Idol'' obligations are over. (But first: The tour. The costumes. The horror.)
I basically caught the end of ''Idol'' -- and went back to some of the beginning -- after watching ''Lost.''
I was fully prepared going in to come to the ending and say, ''Is that it? Is that all you've got?'' And I would feel perfectly justified in doing so. A friend, after all, has been referring to ''Rich episodes'' -- meaning ones that little seems to have been resolved, which all too often were the ones I watched closely. And, in many ways, the season finale of ''Lost'' was a ''Rich episode.''
But it's probably the greatest ''Rich episode'' ever made. I got to the end, fumed briefly over the closing shot and then had to remind myself that I had had a good time. I finally felt close to the characters, close enough to watch them even when they weren't really going anywhere. I had laughed, I had discussed the upcoming plot twists and I got to the end thinking, ''OK, give me next season.''

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The comfortable bubble of satellite radio

John Lennon once wrote (and sang) that life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans. So life found me on an unexpected family errand that involved driving to and from New Jersey in the wee hours of Monday morning and through the rest of the day, the first part of it alone in the car.
I like night driving, especially when I'm tired. The car lights flashing through the darkness, the images in the shadows alongside the road -- they make me concentrate in a way that's much more difficult when daylight shows nothing but a long ribbon of road ahead.
Still, I'm not so foolish as to avoid any effort to keep my concentration sharp. Caffeine intake increased sharply. And the radio was on.
XM Satellite Radio, that is. I could have brought CDs, but I wanted talk -- voices, conversation, ideas bouncing through the night. But I don't usually find much interesting on talk radio -- although I did spend one late-fall trip restlessly flipping through stations in search of football scores, because that was a weekend where just about every game had Playoff Implications.
And for long stretches, radio reception wasn't great anyway. (For that matter, I'd lose the satellite connection at times.)
So I began flipping through XM channels and, even there, I couldn't find much. Then I came across a couple of channels devoted to comedy -- one standup routine after another, many of them vulgar, more than a few not funny. It was just what I needed -- something that kept me alert without distracting.
Now, there are those who will tell you that satellite radio is bad, that it is killing local stations, that it puts us in a world where we are cut off from the immediate important events right around us. I won't argue that satellite radio will leave regular radio unchanged; we've seen what cable tv has done to regular over-the-air television. But on that long night's journey, satellite radio gave me something I would not have found on regular radio under the best circumstances, and it was the companion I needed most.

Friday, May 20, 2005

If you're missing...

I've been thinking about doing a column offering viewing suggestions for this summer -- on TV or on DVD -- to compensate for the lack of new episodes of shows. Not sure when I'll get to doing the story for the paper, but I thought I'd do some occasional postings here until then.
So, for starters, if you're missing ''The Office'' (either US or UK versions), give a try to ''Knowing Me, Knowing You'' at 11 p.m. Saturday on BBC America.
BBC America has acquired a package of programs involving Alan Partridge, a self-absorbed and obnoxious TV personality played with great skill by Steve Coogan. (And, if you get to like Coogan, check out the movie ''24 Hour Party People'' on DVD.) ''Knowing Me, Knowing You'' is the name of the fictional talk show where Partridge struggles to make the nation accept his catchphrase (one of the lousiest ever), is unaware of his utter lack of charm, is mocked by his guests and steers ever closer to disaster. Subsequent programs follow Partridge's declining fortunes following the talk show.
It is bitter, it is brutal and it is every bit as hilarious as ''The Office.'' The British have a real knack not only for portraying horrible characters but for never letting them show any redeeming qualities. But somehow, we as viewers every now and then feel a bit of sympathy for these guys, if only because no one should be this clueless. And we're were not feeling sympathetic, we can enjoy the ridicule.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Fox lineup

Computer problems kept me from posting last night (although there was nothing very surprising about ''American Idol'' to write about). But things seem to be better this morning, so let's start the day with Fox's lineups for the 2005-06 season. The first is for the fall, the second (which includes the return of ''American Idol'' and ''24'') for January. Note that Fox plans to move ''House'' around, for reasons that elude me. ''Arrested Development'' is listed only for half a season but a top Fox executive said this morning that there will be additional episodes for use somewhere in the schedule in 2006.FOX PRIMETIME SCHEDULE: FALL 2005
(All Times ET/PT)

MONDAY
8:00-8:30 PM ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT
8:30-9:00 PM KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL (new, comedy based on Anthony Bourdain's book)
9:00-10:00 PM PRISON BREAK (new, drama about a man who goes to prison to help break out his soon-to-be-executed brother)


TUESDAY
8:00-9:00 PM BONES (new, drama about a forensic anthropologist helping to solve crimes)
9:00-10:00 PM HOUSE


WEDNESDAY
8:00-8:30 PM THAT ‘70s SHOW
8:30-9:00 PM STACKED
9:00-10:00 PM HEAD CASES (new, drama about a lawyer coming back from a breakdown)


THURSDAY
8:00-9:00 PM THE O.C.
9:00-10:00 PM REUNION (new, drama following friends over 20 years -- one year per episode)


FRIDAY
8:00-8:30 PM THE BERNIE MAC SHOW
8:30-9:00 PM MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE
9:00-10:00 THE GATE (working title) (new, investigators focusing on deviant crimes)


SATURDAY
8:00-8:30 PM COPS
8:30-9:00 PM COPS
9:00-10:00 PM AMERICA’S MOST WANTED


SUNDAY
7:00-7:30 PM Animated Encores
7:30-8:00 PM KING OF THE HILL
8:00-8:30 PM THE SIMPSONS
8:30-9:00 PM THE WAR AT HOME (new, family comedy with Michael Rapaport)
9:00-9:30 PM FAMILY GUY
9:30-10:00 PM AMERICAN DAD




FOX PRIMETIME SCHEDULE: BEGINNING JANUARY 2006
(All Times ET/PT)

MONDAY
8:00-9:00 PM HOUSE
9:00-10:00 PM 24


TUESDAY
8:00-9:00 PM AMERICAN IDOL
9:00-10:00 PM BONES


WEDNESDAY
8:00-8:30 PM THAT ‘70s SHOW
8:30-9:00 PM STACKED
9:00-9:30 PM AMERICAN IDOL
9:30-10:00 PM THE LOOP (new, comedy about young men deciding to grow up or goof off)


THURSDAY
8:00-9:00 PM THE O.C.
9:00-10:00 PM REUNION


FRIDAY
8:00-8:30 PM THE BERNIE MAC SHOW
8:30-9:00 PM MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE
9:00-10:00 THE GATE (working title)


SATURDAY
8:00-8:30 PM COPS
8:30-9:00 PM COPS
9:00-10:00 PM AMERICA’S MOST WANTED

SUNDAY
7:00-7:30 PM Animated Encores
7:30-8:00 PM KING OF THE HILL
8:00-8:30 PM THE SIMPSONS
8:30-9:00 PM THE WAR AT HOME
9:00-9:30 PM FAMILY GUY
9:30-10:00 PM AMERICAN DAD

UPN's schedule

MONDAY
8 PM ONE ON ONE
8:30 PM ALL OF US
9 PM GIRLFRIENDS
9:30 PM HALF & HALF
TUESDAY
8 PM AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL (R)
9 PM SEX, LIES & SECRETS (New, with Denise Richards as part of a group of twentysomethings in a hip Hollywood neighborhood)

WEDNESDAY
8 PM AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL
9 PM VERONICA MARS
THURSDAY
8 PM EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS (New, based on the life of Chris Rock as a teen)
8:30 PM EVE
9 PM CUTS
9:30 PM LOVE, INC. (New, with Shannen Doherty as a dating consultant hoping for love of her own)
FRIDAY
8:00-10:00 PM WWE SMACKDOWN!

Missing Hollie Strano?

This announcement from WKYC (Channel 3) may provide some relief:

“Chat with Hollie” begins this Friday, May 20 at 9:45 a.m. Listen in as WKYC morning meteorologist Betsy Kling talks with WKYC morning meteorologist Hollie Strano -- who is on maternity leave.
Viewers who are wondering what Hollie is up to can email her through <http://www.wkyc.com/chat/> and then stick around to hear her answers. Hopefully, Chat with Hollie will take place every Friday until Hollie returns in the fall.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

R.I.P., Frank Gorshin

If you're of a certain age -- and I am -- you'll fondly remember Frank Gorshin as a great, funny impressionist on TV variety shows, and as the Riddler on the old ''Batman'' TV series. If you watch the two-hour ''CSI'' season finale tomorrow night, you'll see Gorshin in one scene, playing himself in a casual conversation with Tony Curtis (also playing himself). I had just finished writing about ''CSI'' for tomorrow's paper when word came that Gorshin had died. Here's a link to an obit:
http://www.cnn.com/2005/SHOWBIZ/TV/05/18/obit.gorshin.ap/index.html

CBS checks in: ''Joan,'' ''Judging Amy'' check out...

Here is CBS's lineup for the fall, and it doesn't include ''Joan of Arcadia'' or ''Judging Amy.'' NT means new time. ''CrimeTime Saturday'' refers to reruns of CBS crime shows.
MONDAY
8 P.M. -- THE KING OF QUEENS (NT)
8:30 -- HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER (new, romantic comedy told from the future, through flashbacks, with Neil Patrick Harris and Alyson Hannigan)
9 -- TWO AND A HALF MEN (NT)
9:30 -- OUT OF PRACTICE (new, comedy about a family of physicians)
10 -- CSI: MIAMI

TUESDAY
8 -- NCIS
9 -- THE AMAZING RACE
10 -- CLOSE TO HOME (new, legal drama about crimes in suburbia)

WEDNESDAY
8 -- STILL STANDING (NT)
8:30 -- YES, DEAR (NT)
9:00 -- CRIMINAL MINDS (new, drama about FBI profilers, with Mandy Patinkin)
10:00 -- CSI: NY

THURSDAY
8 -- SURVIVOR: GUATEMALA
9 -- CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION
10 -- WITHOUT A TRACE

FRIDAY
8 -- GHOST WHISPERER (new, thriller with Jennifer Love Hewitt as a woman who talks to the dead)
9 -- THRESHOLD (new, thriller with experts investigating an extraterrestrial landing, with Brent Spiner, who knows a little about extraterrestrials)
10 -- NUMB3RS

SATURDAY
8:00 -- CRIMETIME SATURDAY
9 -- CRIMETIME SATURDAY
10 -- 48 HOURS MYSTERY

SUNDAY
7:00 -- 60 MINUTES
8:00 -- COLD CASE
9:00 -- CBS SUNDAY MOVIE

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

''Idol'' Down to the Wire

Do you think the ''American Idol'' producers went more than a little berserk tonight when Ryan briefly muffed the phone numbers for Vonzell?
When he did, the cynic in me had already begun calculating where they might fit in a do-over show and still keep next week's big finish inside the May sweeps. But they did such a thorough on-air clarification after a commercial that they probably eased any concerns about voter confusion.
As for the show overall, my scorecard had it Carrie, Bo and then Vonzell, with not a lot of room between them.
Where Carrie was in first place on my card in two of the three rounds and Bo was in third on two, it was a very close competition. And I have to give Bo credit for the craftiest move of the night -- doing ''In a Dream'' by Badlands without accompaniment.
The decision was certainly good for Bo, showing the audience that he doesn't need the backing vocals and heavy instrumental backing that all too often obscures the actual singing on the show. It helped maintain his image as a guy outside the expected ''Idol'' mold, and he sang pretty well. Bo's move was also bad for Carrie, who followed Bo with a performance that was just about everything the show would have wanted from an ''Idol'' winner -- but which looked overproduced and even a little artificial after Bo's stripped-down performance.
To be sure, the ''Idol'' machine is pushing Bo. (Paula, who in the early going refused to say one singer is better than another, is so on the Bo bandwagon that she basically said that Vonzell and Carrie are fighting it out for the other spot in the final two.)
They're pushing so hard that I hope Bo realizes it's not good news for him that Simon is talking up Bo as a big-ballad, Elton John-type singer instead of as a rocker.
With that comment you can imagine the marketers figuring out how to tweak Bo's image. How to allow him one song per album in the forgettable manner of his cover of ''Satisfaction'' tonight. How to push him ever more toward those Diane Warren-y inspirational songs that the show can mass-market. Next up in that scenario: Vegas and one of those outlandish late-period Elvis suits.
Anyway, the show had three rounds. In the first, Clive Davis, already calculating how he's going to sell each of these singers, picked the songs.
Vonzell got Dionne Warwick's ''I Know I'll Never Love This Way Again.'' Bo had Elton's ''Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me.'' Carrie got the Roy Orbison/k.d. lang ''Crying.'' Vonzell was good, Bo serviceable (while getting raves from the judges) and Carrie offering the closest I've had to a goosebumps moment on this series of ''Idol.'' (I admit to an irrational fondness for the song.) Rank: Carrie, Vonzell, Bo.
Next, the contestants picked their own songs. Vonzell's ''Chain of Fools'' and Carrie's cover of Air Supply's ''Making Love Out of Nothing At All'' bookended Bo's acappella work. Vonzell is certainly not going away, and Carrie was good, but I had to give the round to Bo if only for his strategy; Carrie and Vonzell were pretty much a tie for second behind him.
Then the judges' picks. Simon gave Vonzell the Donna Summer chestnut ''On the Radio.'' Good job, lots of verve. Paula gave Bo the Stones' ''Satisfaction.'' He's probably sung it a thousand times in bars, and it felt like a professional but utterly uninspired bar-band rendition. Randy gave Carrie a bit of Shania Twain -- ''Man, I Feel Like a Woman'' -- and she was good enough to top my card, followed by Vonzell and then Bo.
All this makes it feel like a Bo and Carrie final, but I'm not predicting anything. This is still ''Idol,'' where weird things can happen. And any way the vote goes, both of the final two will be pretty good -- and will be ready to leave nothing out when they go for the championship.

Next: The WB Fall 2005

Here's the network's new lineup, with new series in all capital letters. Note the changing nights for several returning shows. (I already have the giggles about the network picking up shows starring Don Johnson and his ex, Melanie Griffith. Probably more giggles than I'll get from her sitcom.)

Sunday
7:00-7:30 p.m. "Reba" (encore presentation)
7:30-8:00 p.m. "Reba" (encore presentation)
8:00-9:00 p.m. "Charmed"
9:00-10:00 p.m. "Blue Collar TV"

Monday
8:00-9:00 p.m. "7th Heaven"
9:00-10:00 p.m. "JUST LEGAL" (drama with ''Million Dollar Baby's'' Jay Baruchel as a legal prodigy and Don Johnson as his down-but-not-out boss).

Tuesday
8:00-9:00 p.m. "Gilmore Girls"
9:00-10:00 p.m. "SUPERNATURAL" (drama starring ''Gilmore's'' Jared Padalecki as a man searching for his father and fighting evil forces)

Wednesday
8:00-9:00 p.m. "One Tree Hill"
9:00-10:00 p.m. "RELATED" (drama about the turbulent relationships among four sisters)

Thursday
8:00-9:00 p.m. "Smallville"
9:00-10:00 p.m. "Everwood"

Friday
8:00-8:30 p.m. "What I Like About You"
8:30-9:00 p.m. "TWINS" (comedy with Melanie Griffith as the mother of non-identical twins who are about to take over the family's underwear business, from the creators of ''Will & Grace'')
9:00-9:30 p.m. "Reba"
9:30-10:00 p.m. "Living With Fran"

ABC Fall 2005 lineup

Here's a snapshot of the network's plans.
In addition to what's listed here, ABC picked up ''Less Than Perfect'' as a mid-season show.


DAY TIME SERIES

MONDAY:
8:00 p.m. “Wife Swap” (through January. New night and time)
9:00 p.m. “Monday Night Football” (through January)

(the following will premiere after MNF)

8:00 p.m. “The Bachelor” (new time)
9:00 p.m. “Emily’s Reasons Why Not” (new, comedy based on the novel of the same name, with Heather Graham)
9:30 p.m. “Jake in Progress” (new night and time)
10:00 p.m. “What About Brian” (new drama, with Barry Watson as a bachelor hoping to find love)

TUESDAY:
8:00 p.m. “According to Jim” (new time)
8:30 p.m. “Rodney” (new time)
9:00 p.m. “Commander-in-Chief” (new drama, with Geena Davis as the first woman president)
10:00 p.m. “Boston Legal” (new night)

WEDNESDAY:
8:00 p.m. “George Lopez” (new night and time)
8:30 p.m. “Freddie” (new comedy, with Freddie Prinze Jr. as a bachelor chef living with his sister, sister-in-law, niece and grandmother)
9:00 p.m. “Lost” (new time)
10:00 p.m. “Invasion” (new drama, about extraterrestrials among us -- and up to no good)

THURSDAY:
8:00 p.m. “Alias” (new night and time)
9:00 p.m. “The Night Stalker” (new drama, updating the Darren McGavin thriller, with Stuart Townsend now playing Kolchak)
10:00 p.m. “Primetime Live”

FRIDAY:
8:00 p.m. “Supernanny” (new night and time)
9:00 p.m. “Hope & Faith”
9:30 p.m. “Hot Properties” (new comedy, about women in a Manhattan real-estate office)
10:00 p.m. “20/20”

SATURDAY:
8:00 p.m. “ABC Movie of the Week”

SUNDAY:
7:00 p.m. “America’s Funniest Home Videos”
8:00 p.m. “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”
9:00 p.m. “Desperate Housewives”
10:00 p.m. “Grey’s Anatomy”

Monday, May 16, 2005

''Raymond'': Not What It Might Have Been

They tried to have it both ways on ''Everybody Loves Raymond'' tonight, and I think they only got it about half right.
On the plus side was the scene at the end, with all the family bantering around the kitchen table, the message clear that the lives of the Barones were going on whether we watched them or not.
But there was also the labored attempt to remind us that the Barones, for all their arguing, very much love each other. The means: Raymond getting his adenoids removed, having a problem coming out of the anesthesia and -- for a moment -- the family fearing that Ray was gone.
The moment passed, of course, and the rest of the show involved the attempts to keep Ray and his mother Marie from knowing there had been a crisis. Said attempt failed, of course. But there was that message of love again, especially in the way Debra looked at Ray after fearing she had lost him.
I laughed here and there, but not as much as I had hoped.
There have been other ''Raymonds'' that have tried for a little sweetness -- the flashback to Ray and Debra's first meeting comes to mind -- but this one felt forced. (And, after sitting through a couple of long commercial breaks early on, I wondered if the episode itself was going to last about 12 minutes.)
So I'm declaring that the season actually ended a couple of weeks ago, with the episode where Ray tried to outsmart Debra in the bedroom. It was funny, it was confident and it underscored their good relationship without hitting us on the head as hard as last night's episode did.

More good news: ''Arrested Development'' returns

Fox decided not to save this news for its Fall 2005 announcement later this week. Fresh from the e-mail:

FOX gets ARRESTED again. The network has ordered a third full season of the Emmy Award-winning comedy series ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, it was announced today by Peter Liguori, President, Entertainment for Fox Broadcasting Company.

“ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT is one of the best comedies on television. The decision to order another season becomes easy when you consider its amazing cast, creative brilliance, critical acclaim and advertiser appeal," said Liguori. "It's my first official pick-up since taking the job, and I think it's a great way to start."

''The Office'' survives!

NBC has released its schedule for Fall 2005 and the best news on it is that ''The Office'' will be back for another season.
The show didn't catch on with viewers, but it was a wonderful adaptation of the British series of the same name, and I'm looking forward to a second season.
More good news: ''Fear Factor'' has been bumped from the fall lineup to ''some point next season.''
Not so good news, at least if you're a ''Scrubs'' fan: It, too, will air ''at some point next season.''
Those of you who planned Wednesday nights around ''The West Wing'' are either going to have to change your plans or record and save episodes; it's moving to Sundays at 8 p.m.
Yes, that's the old ''American Dreams'' time slot. As feared, it's not on NBC's lineup for the fall.
Neither is ''Law & Order: Trial by Jury,'' a rare flop for the ''L&0'' franchise.
The network is making changes on six of seven nights, not surprising when you consider that its ratings fell into a crater this year.
Here's a quick rundown of NBC's fall plans:
MONDAY
8 p.m. -- ''Fathom'' (drama about people trying to figure out a new form of sea life appearing all over the earth)
9 p.m. - ''Las Vegas''
10 p.m. -- ''Medium''
TUESDAY
8 -- ''The Biggest Loser''
9 -- ''My Name Is Earl'' (comedy about a small-time crook who decides to right all his life's wrongs after hitting the lottery)
9:30 -- ''The Office''
10 -- ''Law & Order: Special Victims Unit''
WEDNESDAY
8 -- ''The Apprentice: Martha Stewart'' (the previously announced companion to the Donald Trump series)
9 -- ''E-Ring'' (Drama about Pentagon efforts to protect America, with Benjamin Bratt and Dennis Hopper)
10 -- ''Law & Order''
THURSDAY
8 -- ''Joey''
8:30 -- ''Will & Grace''
9 -- ''The Apprentice''
10 -- ''ER''
FRIDAY
8 -- ''Three Wishes'' (reality show where experts help grant the wishes of folks in a small town; hosted by Amy Grant)
9 -- ''Dateline NBC''
10 -- ''Inconceivable'' (ensemble drama about doctors in a fertility clinic)
SATURDAY
8 -- Movie
SUNDAY
7 -- ''Dateline NBC''
8 -- ''The West Wing''
9 -- ''Law & Order: Criminal Intent''
10 -- ''Crossing Jordan''

This is the first in a series of announcements this week by the major networks of their fall lineups.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

When the good guys win...

All right, so I still wish there was a way that Stephenie could have won ''Survivor: Palau,'' and I'm hoping we'll get another round of ''Survivor All-Stars'' sometime soon. Then she'll either have another chance to win it all, or to contend for one of a Rubert Boneham Consolation Prize.
That said, I was happy enough to see Tom get the top prize. He played at full strength, and he played well. Even when he was scheming, I never felt as if he was being dishonorable. He was playing the game, but with a sense of what was the game and what was a personal violation -- as he made very clear when he though Ian had crossed the line.
In contrast, Ian too often had that kid-with-the-cookie-jar look, gulping his way through falsehoods that were transparent to everyone else. As much as he wanted to be a player, there was always something too naive about Ian. His sacrificing a shot at the finals in order to re-establish his friendship with Tom was touching, even inspiring. But cynics in the audience will probably stack it next to Colby's taking Tina to the finals on ''Survivor: The Australian Outback'' as an example of being upright at exactly the wrong moment.
Still, I should have relaxed as soon as it was clear that Tom went to the jury against Katie, who kept trying to downplay her own meanness by calling it her ''sense of humor.'' But ''Survivor'' has had enough twists over its long history that I keep looking for them where there aren't any, trying to figure out a way the votes could add up to a shocker.
Yet the sentimentalist in me was glad not to be shocked. I hear fairly often from people who think all reality shows are trashy and lacking in quality. And yes, there have been some that have showcased nastiness, including ''Survivor.'' But when you look at ''The Amazing Race 7'' and at ''Survivor: Palau,'' you have a couple of shows that work very well as old-fashioned entertainment: There were happy endings, and the good guys won.

TV's Small World and Other Notes from the Road

Another weekend, another road trip, this time to New Jersey and New York City to visit family. But thoughts about TV and show business were never far away, and not just because I knew that I'd be watching and writing about ''Survivor: Palau'' tonight.
A few notes:
-- Ohio didn't seem far off, since ''Good Morning America'' on both Saturday and Sunday morning had stories with Northeast Ohio connections.
It doesn't matter what the stories were. They simply brought me a piece of my day-to-day world even when I was not physically in it.
And that's TV does for all of us, all the time. We are taken to places we might never be if it weren't for the images on the TV screen. And when we travel we are reminded by TV of what we left behind.
Even something as simple as a weather map can create an emotional connection -- envying what we're missing, loving what we're returning to, worrying about what our loved ones are returning to.
-- Saturday evening, we settled down to relax, have a pizza -- and watch an ''America's Next Top Model'' marathon on VH1.
One of my favorite things about cable is watching the marathons that channels use to fill hours of time. It's an easy way to catch up on what I've missed or to revisit something I've enjoyed.
Marathons are at their best when they don't feature a challenging show or one that requires much concentration. Then you can do other things, exchange wisecracks with other watchers and still let the hours float entertainingly by.
''Top Model'' was perfect for that. It is not heavy lifting, but it does have a passable amount of entertainment. And it flows by more easily in marathon form, since you're not faced with the weekly decision whether to watch or not, especially when there might be something really important on at the same time.
Of course, with a DVR or VCR, I could have recorded each week's episode and had my own at-home marathon, but that would have required a commitment of time and energy that seems more than ''Top Model'' would call for most weeks.
But it was fun to sit and watch, even if the marathon was an extended trailer for the upcoming season finale of the show.
In fact, the promotional spots for the season finale took some fun out of the marathon because the promos told who the show's three finalists are; that shrank the suspense in individual episodes, since you know where it's all going.
On the other hand, contestants' declarations of their wish to win were amusingly undercut by our knowledge that they would be gone soon. And the marathon was successful with at least one viewer: My wife is now curious about the finale, having invested all those hours in the events leading up to it.
-- My 21-year-old son gave my 16-year-old son the book ''Silent Bob Speaks: The Collected Writings of Kevin Smith,'' showcasing the director of ''Clerks,'' ''Dogma,'' ''Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back'' and other movies.
(An aside: We went into Forbidden Planet, a comic book/fantasy store in NYC and I, carrying the Smith book, asked if I had to check it. The clerk said no, and asked if the book was any good. I explained it was the sons' gift, and I hadn't read it. He seemed surprised. ''You looked like the type,'' he said. I leave it to wiser souls to figure out what that means.)
Anyway, the book includes an interview with Ben Affleck, a friend of Smith and frequent actor in his movies. In it, Affleck talks some about his latest romance, whom Smith considers ''the love of his life.''
Affleck recognizes that some people are more cynical about the relationship and says, ''It may take a minimum of ten years of marriage and a couple kids, but sooner or later, people will get that we're in love.''
Do I need to point out that he's talking about Jennifer Lopez?
Of course, that did not work out, and Affleck is now with Jennifer Garner, and there have been reports they are expecting a baby.
When you read something like that, can you begin to understand why some actors and other celebrities are reluctant to talk about their personal lives?
If they do, they may put into the public record declarations of love and devotion that may in the long run come back to bite them. Affleck is far from alone in doing such a thing. But it makes me think sometimes that the smartest performers are those who keep their private lives private.

Friday, May 13, 2005

What I Didn't Watch

There are tapes (or, more commonly, DVDs) that sit in my review piles and make me feel guilty. The last hour of ''Star Trek: Enterprise,'' airing tonight, is one. The recent series finale of ''Third Watch'' was another.
With a lot of things that come in, it's a no-brainer whether to watch and write about it. The ending of a hugely popular series? Definitely. Local angle? For sure. A cable special of no distinction, without any actors of note? Not likely.
But there are others, like ''Enterprise'' and ''Third Watch,'' where I keep thinking that I should watch, even if I don't really want to.
''Third Watch'' hasn't interested me in years, with the level of melodrama too high for me to bear. But I remember when it was a good series, even a very good one, and that made me think at one point that its departure merited attention.
''Enterprise'' is another show that hasn't interested me much, even if there is a local connection via Brannon Braga. I know all about the way its demise is being treated as the latest sign of the collapse of the ''Star Trek'' franchise, with the usual speculation about how ''Star Trek'' can be reinvented for -- you'll excuse the expression -- the next generation. But ''Star Trek'' had become a marginal, cult-level pleasure long before ''Enterprise,'' and I wasn't going to have a fresh contribution to the discussion.
Besides, there's the whole issue of whether life is long and lush enough that I can take an hour or two to watch these shows.
Even if one or the other proved interesting, I have to figure out where the time and print space will come from, with all the other things I do every week -- the mailbag column (and the additional online questions), the time-consuming DVD column, the Channels cover piece, the entries in this blog (my favorite activity at the moment) and other ventures. For one, I have a column in Sunday's paper about the end of ''Everybody Loves Raymond,'' which has both a local connection (Patricia Heaton) and a very large audience.
I know that some viewers are passionate about ''Enterprise'' and ''Third Watch,'' much the way just about every show has at least a few fiercely loyal viewers. Still, I can't write about everything because, as you all know, there's too much of everything to fit into one life.
So I decided to pass on ''Enterprise'' and ''Third Watch.'' I felt guilty about doing it, but that comes with the job. In any given week, there will be something that I might have had fun watching -- and just couldn't get to.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

'"Survivor'': Did Caryn's Palau-ver Cost Her?

Northeast Ohio's representatives on reality shows must be starting to feel like sports teams in recent decades. They can hope to get close to the title, but not win it all.
Last week, Scott Savol of Shaker Heights finished his ''American Idol'' run with fifth place. Tonight, Caryn Groedel of Solon finished fifth on ''Survivor: Palau.'' For Groedel, the ouster must have been tough -- and not just because she has looked horrible on the challenges.
First, the final four on ''Survivor'' was a big deal because all four go to the season's biggest episode, the finale on Sunday night.
Second, Caryn had to wonder if she talked herself off the show with that let's-air-all-the-dirty-laundry monologue during tribal council.
My guess -- and it's purely a guess -- is that the talking didn't cost her much.
She didn't make friends, to be sure. She may have swung Jenn's vote against her with the scorched-earth talk, but that would still have left her at the short end of a 3-2 vote instead of 4-1.
It's likely that Katie would have turned on Caryn under any circumstances. We saw a week ago that Katie will forget old deals whenever a new deal looks better. (And Caryn's jury vote looks pretty interesting, since she has been betrayed right and left -- and may just have to decide who betrayed her the most.)
Besides, Tom or Ian figures to dominate the remaining immunity challenges, so even if Katie worked with Caryn and Jenn in taking out Ian, they had to face the prospect of turning on each other in a week if Tom won immunity again.
This way, she at least has a shot at staying close to Tom and Ian and going to the top three. Then, if I'm Tom or Ian, I want to take Katie with me to the finals, since the jurors may look at me as a good game-player and Katie as just plain nasty.
So at this point, Katie remains pretty smart when it comes to self-preservation. And since Jenn also turned against Caryn, any attempt at a women's alliance looks way too fragile.
But why can't women's alliances work on this show? One that was firmly in control of ''Survivor: Vanuatu'' collapsed so thoroughly that a man ended up winning. The women on ''Palau'' have had two obvious chances to take control of the game and have sacrificed one of their own each time.
You can look at ''The Apprentice'' and see that the final two contestants are both women. On ''American Idol,'' two of the last three contenders are women -- in a season where, when it was six men and six women, it looked as if the men were collectively much stronger than the women.
Yes, I know those are different kinds of games. But they're demonstrating some women power, while ''Survivor'' is still about every woman -- and man -- for himself.

Has ''Lost'' gotten lost?

I don't watch ''Lost'' every week. I am married to someone who does, and I keep up on plot twists that way. Still, I have checked on the show from time to time, including Wednesday's episode.
And that leads me to say: Get to the point.
What a wandering, inconclusive hour that was. I know that ''Lost'' has a big mystery behind it, and that we're supposed to get a lot of answers before the season ends, but that doesn't mean that we should have to spend an hour watching clues thrown at us with hardly anything being resolved. And was there anyone who couldn't figure out the basics of the poisoned-water plot?
It's not the first time I've come away from ''Lost'' with the feeling that I had been had, and by a fairly transparent con at that.
Compare this to ''Veronica Mars'' -- which, I know, I have been talking about too much lately -- where the mystery provided the arc from episode to episode but there were also good nuggets along the way. Clever dialogue, good character portraits, nice little plot twists. They made you think not only about what was coming the following week, but what you had enjoyed in that week.
''Lost'' doesn't offer the same level of satisfaction. It may get better (or, barring that, it may just get entertainingly goofy again). And I will keep tabs on where it's going. But if I had tuned into the show just once, and that once was Wednesday, I doubt that I would have come back.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

''Idol'':Then there were three

I said in last night's posting that the final four on ''American Idol'' were all pretty evenly matched on the performance show. So I wouldn't have been surprised by anything tonight.
And it seemed as if we were being set up for a surprise when Ryan all but demanded that Simon say Carrie still had a chance to win -- as if Ryan could then say ''A-HAAAA'' when it turned out Carrie had been voted off.
But no such surprise awaited. Instead, Anthony was voted off and we can all go, ''OK. What else have you got?''
Well, what we've got is the final three (Bo, Carrie, Vonzell) and memories of another agonizingly drawn-out results show. A group sing of ''Islands in the Stream.'' A nostalgic stroll through the final four's original auditions. (Well, their original auditions for the judges, anyway; in Cleveland, you had to jump a couple of hurdles to get to that stage.) A reminder through those auditions that these folks have all gotten major hair and makeup help since then.
Then a lineup where Bo is safe, and Carrie is safe, and it's down to Vonzell and Anthony and ... Anthony gets the boot.
No more miracle boy. OK. What else...

A Surprise Encounter

So I'm talking to an HBO publicist about ''Carnivale'' see below, and she also mentions that she was on the set of ''The Sopranos'' recently, which is good news to anyone eager for even a hint about the show. Then, after we've talked ''Carnivale,'' she mentions that she has a ''Sopranos'' star in her office and puts me on the phone with Dominic Chianese, better known as Uncle Junior.
Chianese doesn't give up any ''Sopranos'' secrets; asked what's coming up, he says, ''I wish I knew.'' We chat a little more -- he asks about the weather in Ohio, I ask about his singing career (which includes weekly gigs in NYC). Then he's saying goodbye. And I am thinking, once again, that I have such a strange and nifty job.

Alas, ''Carnivale''

HBO has officially canceled the thriller, which will no doubt leave many fans (myself included) wondering how that battle between ultimate good and ultimate evil turned out.
In a statement, the network said: ''We have decided not to renew 'Carnivale.' We feel the two seasons we had on the air told the story very well, and we're proud of what everyone associated with the show has accomplished.''
Of course, they didn't accomplish enough in audience size to get a third season on HBO. That's even more of a shame given that the second season was even better than the first.
If nothing else, I'd like to see a two-hour movie wrapping up the story, since the second-season finale left many questions open.

And this is why networks make things like ''Amazing Race''

A release from CBS today:

AN AMAZING FINISH TO "THE AMAZING RACE"



A Record Audience of 16 Million Viewers Watch Uchenna

and Joyce Cross The Finish Line First



"The Amazing Race 7" Concludes as the Highest Rated Edition in Key Demographics

and Most Watched



The Two-Hour "The Amazing Race 7" Finale Gives CBS Its Best Tuesday 9:00-11:00 Delivery in Adults 18-49 and Adults 18-34 Since November 2001



THE AMAZING RACE 7 crossed the finish line in amazing fashion as a record audience of 16 million viewers watched Uchenna and Joyce win the race, according to Nielsen preliminary affiliate ratings for Tuesday, May 10.



The two-hour THE AMAZING RACE 7 season finale led its 9:00-11:00pm time period in households (9.6/15), viewers (15.99m), adults 18-34 (5.8/16), adults 18-49 (6.7/16) and adults 25-54 (7.6/17).



This is the best delivery ever for any episode of THE AMAZING RACE in households, viewers, adults 18-49, adults 25-54 and second best delivery in adults 18-34 (-0.1 behind the 3/20/02 broadcast which ran after an episode of SURVIVOR).



THE AMAZING RACE 7 beat NBC and ABC combined in adults 18-34 (5.8/16 vs. 5.0/14, +16%), adults 18-49 (6.7/16 vs. 6.3/15, +6%) and adults 25-54 (7.6/17 vs. 7.5/17, +1%).



This is CBS's best delivery in households, viewers and adults 25-54 since 11/9/04 (CMA's) and in adults 18-49 and adults 18-34 since 11/13/01 ("Michael Jackson's 30th Anniversary Special").



The 7th edition of THE AMAZING RACE concludes as the most watched and highest rated in households (8.0/12), viewers (13.03m), adults 18-34 (4.6/13), adults 18-49 (5.3/13) and adults 25-54 (6.1/14) to date.



* * *

''Veronica Mars'': Sins of the Parents

After finishing my posts here last night, I thought about watching the season finale of ''Veronica Mars.'' But one of the few lessons I've learned in life is that it's better to go to bed and then wake up early than to stay up late; the first course assures you of some sleep, while the second runs the risk of keeping you awake way too long.
Still, for some time I was lying there, wondering what had become of Veronica, who was her father, who the killer, who the bad guys. After all, the previous week's episode had underscored the awfulness of the people in Veronica's old social circle. So first thing this morning, the dust barely out of my eyes, I was watching ''Veronica'' -- and loving almost every minute of it. I've got a ballot for the Television Critics Association awards sitting around, and I was mentally compiling a list of the categories I'd put ''Veronica'' in.
Yes, there were a couple of clunky scenes, including that who's-in-the-car cliche. And the killer's identity was not as stunning as it might have been. But any show that can make me choke up two or three times in an hour -- an hour loaded with some thrilling action, no less -- is a success.
One of the things that was good about the season finale was the way it reminded us once again that the troubled young people in the show come from parents with flaws which have caused a lot of the pain in their children's lives. An even better thing is that we also see the origins of the young people's virtues in their parents' behavior.
The shorthand for all that was the news about who is Veronica's father, but even there we had some ambiguity; Veronica, after all, is also the daughter of a terribly flawed woman, and we were reminded of that in the finale, too.
As we go into a second season, we have to be asking, now what? The finale teased us some, notably with the question of who Veronica wanted to see at the door. But I worry that, in its second season, the show could become ''Joan of Arcadia,'' the boldness of the first season lost as the writers face the ''now what'' of the second season. Still, ''Veronica'' has given us a wonderful first-season ride, and I expect to be there for the start of the second.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

''Idol:'' No Runaway?

If I could have one job on ''American Idol,'' it would be as the song-credibility analyst. If the theme was country music, I would be the guy who decided whether songs actually qualified as country, and I'd be a strict constructionist. None of this big-tent approach that lets limited-range contestants find something that works for them, or considers a song country just because someone with a Southern accent sang it.
But that's a dream for another time, because ''Idol'' wants to keep things broad enough in the final four that the contestants can all sound relatively good. That will keep the audience entertained and spur CD sales down the road.
On Tuesday night, the producers may have gotten their wish, because at the end of the night, the singers seemed remarkably evenly matched, each having had ups and downs.
Country was indeed the first song topic of the night, although the only one to offer up hard-core country was Carrie, who's been the show's country girl since the season started. Still, she showed some brass in picking not only a Dixie Chicks song but ''Sin Wagon,'' one that once again puts some spin on her image. And she was good.
Bo came in with some Travis Tritt, and I began to wonder if he was suffering a little from Justin Guarini Syndrome, figuring he could coast to the championship on his charm and reputation. And he was noticeably not good.
Then I have no idea what happened with Vonzell, who was shaky while working through a booming ballad so cliched I'm too tired to mention it by name -- but which was considered country because Trisha Yearwood has done it. The show actually tried to save her poor performance with outpourings of sympathy from Paula and Ryan, though it offered no explanation of what had upset her so much.
Finally, Anthony, who seems ready to assume that Clay II mantle for real; he's not as electrifying as Aiken, but he's certainly picking up his game. In fact, I thought he and Carrie gave the best performances of the first round, followed by a tie between Bo and Vonzell.
But things did not hold in the second round, with Gamble-Huff songs as the topic. Both Carrie and Anthony tried to take on ''If You Don't Know Me By Now,'' and neither really had a handle on it -- they went smooth when that's a song that's best served rough. Any advantage they had in the first round slipped away, especially since their lesser performances came later in the show.
Bo, though, rebounded nicely with the O'Jays' ''For the Love of Money.'' (And what is this with ''Idol'' using songs associated with other networks' shows?) He got the biggest ovation of the night, more than I might have given him, but he was effective onstage.
Vonzell also fought back with an energetic ''Don't Leave Me This Way,'' so I found myself ranking the second round a Bo/Vonzell tie, followed by Carrie/Anthony.
Which meant that at the end of the hour, I was looking at a scorecard that found Bo and Vonzell tied, with Carrie a close third and Anthony not far behind. I don't know if the vote will be as close as the performances seemed to be, but it's a lot more interesting to watch something that feels like a fair fight.

This Is Why I Love ''Amazing Race''

Well, this is the second time I've tried to post and I hope it works. I'll keep trying because I'm thoroughly wired by Uchenna & Joyce winning ''Amazing Race 7.''
I cheered when they approached the finish line, and not just because they were beating Rob & Amber (who finished second, with Ron & Kelly third). Sure, that made the win sweeter. But I was cheering for more than that.
I like Uchenna & Joyce. I like the way they played the game with determination and optimism, even when they were far behind and seemed to be facing total defeat. I like the way they treated the people they met along the way. I like the respect they had for each other as well as for the people they competed against. Think of Uchenna helping Meredith & Gretchen when he gained nothing from it but a sense that he had done right.
Then contrast that with Rob & Amber, who viewed deception, trickery and mockery as tools of the trade. Yes, that stuff works on ''Survivor,'' and I don't mind seeing it there. But I've always wanted to believe that ''Amazing Race'' is a show with room for honor and respect, a show that makes you admire the people who win for something other than cunning. Chip & Kim, who won ''Amazing Race 5,'' were good people, and you felt good for them. Same thing with Uchenna & Joyce. Their victory, then, is also a victory for the show.

Is it ''live'' or ...

I was talking to a friend today who was very excited about tonight's season finale of ''Veronica Mars.'' He also likes ''House'' and ''Amazing Race,'' which air opposite ''Veronica,'' but gave ''Veronica'' the ultimate accolade: ''I'm going to watch it live!''
Of course, he'll have recorders going for the other shows. And I've mentioned in earlier postings both the way that some time slots set video recorders humming to collect all the desired shows, and the ease with which many people watch shows at times they weren't intended for.
But that conversation reminded me that there's also something special about sitting down and watching a TV show in real time when you know the same event is happening in millions of other homes. And we really do give a program special priority when we decide to watch it while recording something else; after all, we may never get around to the recorded show. (I am so far behind on ''Deadwood'' at this point, I may never catch up.)
I'm pretty sure that I'll be watching ''American Idol'' and ''Amazing Race'' in real time tonight, if only because those are shows my wife and I watch together. But I'm going to be wondering what's happening with ''Veronica Mars'' and may get to it either late tonight or early tomorrow. (I'm very curious about whether the show can be even more twisted than it was in last week's episode.) As a result, I don't know when I'll be posting here about the shows; one of the drawbacks to writing about TV is that it takes time away from watching TV.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Missing ''Curb''?

For those of you longing for a bit of ''Curb Your Enthusiasm,'' check out star Larry David's new blog for the online Huffington Post. Here's a link:
Huffingtonpost.com

The entry I saw, with David commenting on embattled John Bolton, was very ''Curb''-like.

More "Runaway Bride''

I've been amused by the fascination with the ''runaway bride'' saga, a sideshow if there ever was one. But other people, obviously, take it very seriously, as you can see through this link to The Smoking Gun:
http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/0509051wilbanks1.html

The Web site gained access to letters people wrote to the town of Duluth, Ga., about how to deal with the runaway. Beware of raw language and some spectacular insults.
At least one letter commented on the bride's place in modern media, contending that she ''is acting out scenes from several Julia Roberts movies,'' followed by specific references to the different movies.
''There are a lot of women out there that all they have to do is see something on TV, in the movies, in a music video or read in a celebrity magazine and then they decide to create and act out their own Hollywood drama version of it at the expense of others,'' the letter continued.

In case you wondering... (modified)

On ''Saturday Night Live,'' Weekend Update hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler paid tribute to Herb Sargent, with Fey saying, ''We wouldn't be here without you.''
Here's a link to an obituary for Sargent:
http://tv.zap2it.com/tveditorial/tve_main/1,1002,271951891,00.html

Here's a description of Sargent in ''Saturday Night,'' the fine book about ''SNL,'' by Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad:
''He was the only member of the writing staff over forty. He was also the only writer who'd had experience in live TV. ...
''Sargent was a bearlike, silver-haired New York City liberal who had worked for a variety of, as he put it, losing political causes. He was famous for his acerbic wit and taciturn manner; people who'd worked with him often noticed that if more than two people congregated in a room Sargent was in, he tended to slip quietly out the door. Sargent was not the type to throw his weight around, and he would serve as a reassuring, fatherly presence for many of the younger members of the staff, including, some thought, Lorne [Michaels].''

Does it matter what time slot shows are made for?

Before coming to the office this morning I spent the better part of an hour watching ''The New Asylums,'' a ''Frontline'' report airing Tuesday night. I had gotten the tape of the show on Friday but did not watch it over the weekend, when it was too nice to sit in the house -- and by the time each evening came, I was too tired to concentrate on a documentary about the way prisons deal with inmates who are mentally ill. What little TV I watched consisted of ''Meet the Fockers'' and some sitcoms.
So there I sat, on a Monday morning, watching a very powerful program that was designed for showing in prime time, when people are at the end of their days, not the beginnings. But this was not as disorienting as it might sound.
For one thing, many of us have for years bent TV's schedule to our own. VCRs long ago made it possible to record a show when it aired and watch it on our own time; DVRs have made that even easier. It's not uncommon for me to be talking to co-workers about something that aired on TV only to be warned, ''Don't tell me what happened! I recorded it but haven't watched yet!''
Over time, I have tried to be conscious of previewing shows in a different manner than you get to see them, by watching copies that don't have the commercials built in. But commercial-skip devices have made that possible at home, too, and I'm seeing signs in productions that they are aware of the need to create a more seamless transition in scenes before and after an ad; Sunday's telecast of ''The Simpsons'' continued a scene after a commercial as if there had not been any break at all.
That said, my job still involves watching shows in one way that you don't. I get a fair number of rough cuts, versions of shows that may not have the final music, where special effects have not yet been added (or are visible only in a crude form), where even the picture still needs some tweaking. It can make reviewing a challenge (especially when something is being touted for its effects, but they aren't all there yet) but it also makes me focus more on the writing and the acting.

Friday, May 06, 2005

More on Paula Abdul

This statement arrived in the e-mail today:

STATEMENT OF PAULA ABDUL

Firstly, let me express my deepest appreciation to the thousands of people throughout the world who have written, e-mailed, and called to express their support for me. Words cannot express how grateful I am and will always be.

All my life, I have been taught to take the high road, and never to dignify salacious or false accusations. And I have been taught never, never to lie. Not only do I never lie, I never respond to lies, no matter how vicious, no matter how hurtful.

I do trust my fans who can see through attempts at character assassination, and I do trust the essential fairness of the American public.

Moving On ...

You can find my post-''Idol'' interview with Scott Savol online today at www.ohio.com But the singer is not the only moving on. The anti-Savol Web site votefortheworst.com is back online and has taken aim at Anthony Fedorov. (Warning: The site contains harsh language.)

Stuck on ''Survivor''

Because of some obligations at home, I ended up watching Thursday's episode of ''Survivor: Palau'' piecemeal -- the beginning and end last night, and the middle this morning. But even in that disjointed fashion, when I saw Katie turn on Gregg in tribal council, I let up a cheer.
I don't know that I was cheering for Katie exactly. Tom and Ian seem to be the class acts of this group (although both are also showing a lot of relish for mind games now that it's no longer tribe-against-tribe). And I try to keep an eye on Caryn because she is from Northeast Ohio, although she has often seemed out of the center of the action -- until last night, at least.
I was cheering for Katie more because she made such a bold tactical move -- not only turning on her new allies but breaking up a potential Rob-Amber II alliance, and in that shift trying to put herself back with the winners for the long haul.
Of course, she may have made her move too late, since she is coming back to Tom-Ian-and-new-pal-Caryn at a point where they don't need a fourth vote. They already have three out of the remaining five. But at least she played the game hard, and that's what ''Survivor'' can be about.
I'm still holding out on declaring this the best ''Survivor'' ever. The first one was very good, after all, and set the tone for everything that has followed. And I want to go back and look at the second season -- which is now out on DVD -- to refresh my memory of how well it played out.
Still, I'm really enjoying the current season, since everyone is playing hard and scheming harder while remembering that it's a game. Even under these conditions, games are supposed to be fun, and you can see the enjoyment in this group; think of the joking-but-not-joking dialogue during and after Thursday's reward challenge.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

A Song in My Heart (and Job)

On Wednesday I went down to WAPS (91.3-FM) to tape a segment of its ''Life & Lyrics'' show, where folks come in and play some of their favorite songs. You can hear my selections on May 25 at 7:30 p.m.
I've been a music fan most of my life, and have written about it from time to time for the Beacon Journal, so coming up with a list of about half a dozen favorites was sheer torture. Still, there were certain things I knew I wanted to include, among them at least one song about television. It's my meal ticket, of course, and there have been some nifty songs tied to it.
I settled for a real oldie, Dinah Washington's ''TV is the Thing This Year,'' and -- if I had had a little more time -- was going to add Steve Goodman's ''Door No. 3.''
The latter is a country-style homage to love and ''Let's Make a Deal,'' co-written by Goodman and Jimmy Buffett, which makes me smile every time I hear it. (If you come across it, don't miss its bow to Bob Dylan.)
If I had gone all-TV, I would have considered John Mayall's ''Television Eye'' as a counterpoint to Dinah Washington; she uses TV as a sexual metaphor, while Mayall says of TV that ''It's hard to turn you off even though you never turn me on.'' I could also have gone for Springsteen's ''57 Channels'' or Little Charlie & The Nightcat's bluesy ''TV Crazy.''
Then there's John Prine's ''Spanish Pipedream,'' with its urging to ''blow up your TV.'' (Another of Prine's songs, ''Illegal Smile,'' ended up on TV as the theme for a nice but short-lived series called ''The Texas Wheelers,'' which co-starred Gary Busey and Mark Hamill. But I'm trying to stick to songs that actually have TV in them.)
I might have stretched enough for Randy Newman's ''Rednecks,'' with its opening line about seeing Lester Maddox on TV. And what about Prince's ''Kiss''? Wasn't there a line that ''you don't have to watch 'Dynasty' to have an attitude?''
I'm sure there are other songs. I may post some as I think of them. And if you have any to add, use the ''comments'' bar below.

More "Idol"

I watched the rest of ABC's attempt to torpedo ''American Idol'' via allegations from Corey Clark, the 2003 contestant claiming he had an affair with judge Paula Abdul. I think he's a publicity hound trying to take advantage one last time of his only claim to fame -- being on ''Idol.'' I thought a lot of the ABC report was slimy, including the way that Clark's claim was presented to other former contestants in a dragged-out segment that seemed like a blend of one of "Idol's" after-the-break teasers and a reveal from ''Trading Spaces.'' Yes, the phone records bother me. But I'm still more inclined to look for alternate explanations than to accept what Clark is saying. Time could prove me wrong, but that's where I am right now.
Also on the "Idol" front, here's a release from Fox that landed in my e-mail this morning:


STATEMENT FROM THE PRODUCERS OF “AMERICAN IDOL,” FREMANTLEMEDIA, 19 ENTERTAINMENT AND FOX BROADCASTING
We have concerns about the motives behind last night’s purported news special, as much of it was filled with rumor, speculation and assertions from a disqualified contestant who admitted during the special to telling lies. Regardless, we are absolutely committed to the fairness of this competition. We take any accusations of this nature very seriously, no matter their source, and we have already begun looking into them.
Despite documented procedures and multiple opportunities, as well as contractual requirements for contestants to raise any concerns, we were never notified or contacted by Mr. Clark or any other individual, nor presented any evidence concerning these claims.
Upon recently hearing rumors of Mr. Clark’s claims, we contacted him and requested that he detail his accusations to us. That has yet to happen.
It should also be noted that the ultimate decision on which contestants move forward on “American Idol” has always been determined by the voting public. We have gone to great lengths and great expense to create a voting system that is fair and reliable. Judges may offer opinions, but viewers vote using their own subjective criteria; and it is the voters who ultimately determine each season’s American Idol.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

''American Idol'' -- Did They Kill Scott With Kindness?

I said in a blog yesterday that my predictions are usually bad, and last night sure proved it. Most of the day I was convinced either Anthony (who was at the bottom of my Tuesday rankings) or Vonzell would be gone from ''Idol.'' Then, when I was making notes for a column for Thursday, I began writing as if Scott was gone. Naw, I thought, not this week. He was better than usual this week. So I started writing as if he had won and Anthony was getting voted off. Shows how smart I am.
I know that there is a considerable amount of screaming going on right now from Scott's fans and foes. As I have said here before, I had several other singers I preferred over him. And since those singers are also gone, I'm not terribly interested in who wins or loses. So there's no point in rehashing whether Scott was good enough to win or not.
Still, looking back at Tuesday night, I did think once again about the way ''Idol'' can change audience perceptions. (To me, that's a lot more interesting than anything Corey Clark is claiming on ''PrimeTime Live'' right now. I have the interview on while I'm writing this and I'm already skeptical; anyone who attaches significance to Paula's looking flirtatiously at a contestant has not seen the zillion or so other contestants she has given the same look.)
Scott had become a lightning rod on the show, both the victim and the beneficiary of his blue-collar looks, his troubled past and the on-air sniping from Simon. All those things can create enormous sympathy for a contestant, and maybe even keep one around longer than a musical judgment alone would suggest. A week ago, Scott went Top Three after Simon told him to pack his bags, and that comment alone could have galvanized a lot of voters on Scott's behalf.
This week, the show portrayed Scott in much more glowing terms. Sure, he sang better, but that doesn't always mean much to the judges. The kind comments did keep Scott from seeming like a victim -- and he may have miscalculated when he was defiant to Simon when Simon was treating him relatively gently. Add to that the damage Scott's regular-guy image takes when he starts talking about his fashion coordinator.
And is it also possible that, by singing better, Scott hurt himself? I don't think that votefortheworst.com stuff helped him much (and I haven't even been able to access that site tonight), but when Scott is not terrible, it's harder to get pranksters to say, "Yeah, he stinks, let's vote for him.''
All that may just be wild theorizing, I know. But one of the attractions of ''Idol'' from the beginning has been trying to figure out why some contestants stay and some go -- what quirk of personality overwhelmed a good singing voice, what looks made a bad voice more appealing, what do the producers want, what special-interest groups are putting their votes behind a given contestant. So I'm happy to spin theories about Scott -- and it passes the time while waiting for one of the remaining singers gives a goosebumps-raising performance.

Correction Department

My column in today's Beacon Journal says that ''The O.C.'' is airing tonight. That's a mistake, It will air on Thursday. And thanks to the reader who caught the mistake.

Joan and Elaine

My apologies to the actress Elaine Hendrix.
For a couple of years, I have thought she was someone else.
You'll know Hendrix as the science teacher on ''Joan of Arcadia,'' and if you've watched much, you know she's a lot of fun. I haven't seen a teacher this amusing in prime time since Diane Delano on ''Popular.''
But I kept wondering if Hendrix was Joan Prather, the actress from ''Eight Is Enough.'' There's just enough resemblance to make that plausible, and I only recently got around to looking it up.
Of course, I'm not alone in making these connections of actors across television. My mailbag columns have included a number of such inquiries, sometimes correct (yes, that was Madchen Amick on both ''Joey'' and ''ER'') and sometimes not. (The actress Sherry Jackson is not the mother of ''JAG's'' Catherine Bell, although in photographs you can see what some might consider a family resemblance.)
But I think we tangle all these images in our memories because TV is such a mix of images, old shows, new shows, movie blockbusters, forgotten films and commercials. If we see two unrelated people in close proximity on TV, we may think there's more of a relationship than scheduling coincidence. And sometimes we remember an actor more as a character, creating another kind of connection; when I saw Delano on ''Popular,'' my first thought was, ''Oh, it's that officer I liked on 'Northern Exposure.' '' (No, I didn't remember her name. I can't remember everything. That's why I keep reference books handy, and get shaky when I can't access the Internet.)
So, I'm sorry that I thought Elaine Hendrix was Joan Prather. And the next time I see Hendrix in something, I'll try to put the right name with the face.

More "Grey's" Days Ahead

I was talking TV with some folks this morning and one declared that ''Grey's Anatomy'' is the best show on TV right now. There's good news for that viewer and others (including my wife, another ''Grey's'' fan): The show has been officially picked up for a second season.
What follows is ABC's announcement of the renewal.

“Grey’s Anatomy,” the new hit midseason drama, has been added to the ABC Television Network’s growing list of early pick-ups for the 2005-06 season, the network announced today.

Ranking a dominant No. 1 in its time period, “Grey’s Anatomy” leads its closest competition by 7.2 million viewers (17.8 million vs. 10.6 million - CBS) and beats the combined delivery of CBS and NBC by 22% among Adults 18-49 (7.7/19 vs. 6.3/15). Along with delivering ABC’s best audience retention yet coming out of “Desperate Housewives,” the new show is also producing ABC’s strongest series performance in the hour in more than four years. “Grey’s Anatomy” qualifies as the most-watched new midseason drama on all of television in 12 years (since CBS’ “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” in 1993) and in 13 years among Adults 18-49 (since ABC’s “Indiana Jones Chronicles” in 1992).

“Grey’s Anatomy” stars Ellen Pompeo as Meredith Grey, Patrick Dempsey as Derek Shepherd, Sandra Oh as Cristina Yang, Isaiah Washington as Preston Burke, Katherine Heigl as Isobel “Izzie” Stevens, Justin Chambers as Alex Karev, T.R. Knight as George O’Malley, Chandra Wilson as Miranda Bailey and James Pickens, Jr. as Richard Webber.

Shonda Rhimes is creator and executive producer of the series. Mark Gordon, Betsy Beers and Jim Parriott are executive producers. Peter Horton is co-executive producer. “Grey’s Anatomy” is a Touchstone Television Production.

As previously announced, already renewed for next season are “According to Jim,” “Alias,” “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” “Boston Legal,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and “Lost.”

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

''Amazing Race'': Youth Must Be Served

Stop the madness! Rob & Amber are back in first place at the end of tonight's episode, heading into the final competition ahead of Ron & Kelly and Uchenna & Joyce. It's finally bye-bye time for Meredith & Gretchen, who lasted remarkably long given their knack for error and miscalculation. And I was ready to sacrifice them if that kept Uchenna & Joyce in the race. At the risk of jinxing them the way I have jinxed so many other players on reality shows, they're the ones I want to win.
That said, Rob & Amber did play the game well tonight, learning from their error on the last telecast and searching for the best possible flight to London, which was not the most obvious one. (Bizarre that Uchenna & Joyce in particular, who were very savvy about flight-shopping on the previous leg, settled for a flight without searching more thoroughly.) On the other hand, Rob & Amber grabbed onto yet another friendly local to help them along, not only by guiding them to locations but by helping them decipher clues.
Should we hope that Rob & Amber have been taking the names of all their helpers, to share the prize with them if they win? I don't think so.
Big drama in the episode: The ongoing meltdown of Ron & Kelly's relationship, which includes some sexist babble from Ron about things like teaching women to drive, and yet another round of Kelly acting as if Ron had gone all Jonathan-and-Victoria on her. I'm finding myself in one of those positions where I'd like Ron to win, but only if somehow Kelly couldn't share the prize.
I'd also have liked Ron to take that pile of travel money they won last week and say, ''Here's your half, babe. Have a nice trip.''
So even if I didn't like Uchenna & Joyce all that much, they'd be my favorites by default. But I like them, I like the way they play the game, I like the way they enjoy the trip. Now I'd just like to see them win.

"Idol": Twice the Tunes

With the field down to five, ''American Idol'' managed to squeeze in two songs by each performer, once again using categories that offered the singers plenty of options. Once again, we're at the point where any of the singers could end up winning, and the show wants to boost as many singers as it can.
To cut to the chase, current ''Idol'' lightning rod Scott Savol was better than usual and may have won himself a place in the final four. He was also unusually confident -- maybe too much so, since he started talking smack to Simon at one point before the judge had even begun evaluating him. Scott is clearly ignoring all that votefortheworst.com stuff and taking the fan support to heart.
I'll have more ... after the break.
Break: For those of you curious about ''PrimeTime Live's'' expose on ''American Idol,'' here's a link to an ABC piece hyping it:
http://abcnews.go.com/Primetime/Entertainment/story?id=701186&page=2
And now back to the show. Category the first: Songs by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the rock and R&B icons. Anthony led off with ''Poison Ivy.'' Blah. Scott next with ''On Broadway'' with a pretaped claim that he picked it in response to Simon's telling him to pack his bags a week ago, because of the line about ''I won't quit till I'm a star/on Broadway.'' Not bad. But an eerie note from Paula: she only knows the song from the George Benson version. What, no Drifters in her music collection?
Vonzell reached into the Elvis catalog for ''Treat Me Nice,'' although the arrangement bears no resemblance to the original, Randy and Paula love it -- and probably don't know the original here, either -- but Simon calls it ''a bit of a mess.'' I'm with Simon.
Bo reaches out to the audience with ''Stand By Me'' but never seems to kick it up beyond a safe, background-music rendition. Judges rave. Carrie goes for Elvis's ''Trouble,'' and she's very good. Judges think so, too. In the positioning and the comments, we're seeing the judges longing for a Bo/Carrie finish.
My ranking: Carrie first, then a tie between Bo and Scott, then a tie between Vonzell and Anthony.
Category the second: Try this for a softball -- any song from any Billboard chart this week. Anthony tackles the Backstreet Boys' ''Incomplete.'' Blah for me, and the judges go in an odd direction -- Simon's giving it a thumbs up while the other two are unimpressed. There seems to be a lot of let's-not-cause-too-much-backlash in the judging.
Scott once again tries to be the Big Bowl of Soul with a Brian McKnight tune. Praise from Randy and Paula; Simon rightly says he was better on the first song. Vonzell tries a bold move, taking a tune from the current CD by the Idol contestants; it's a treacly song but she does it very nicely. Randy calls it perfect while Simon warns that she's vulnerable.
Bo tries for points with Los Lonely Boys but I'm still not impressed. Carrie's in tune with Rascal Flatts. Not as good as the first time. My ranking: Vonzell, then Carrie, then a three-way tie between Bo, Scott and Anthony.
Compiling the scribbles on my sheet, I get a final ranking of Carrie, Vonzell, a tie between Scott and Bo, then Anthony.
I'm not predicting anything because, well, my predictions are usually bad -- and I don't know how to factor in things like Bo's recent appearance on The Smoking Gun Web site. But that's how it sounded to me.
Still, I've been waiting for the goosebumps we're supposed to get as the competitors go for the big win, but they weren't there tonight. I got closest with Carrie in the first round and Vonzell in the second. But, with my faves all gone, I don't have a huge emotional investment in any of them -- no matter how many times Ryan begs me to vote.

Since someone asked...

Here's what will become of the shows that were pre-empted by President Bush's press conference last week:
ABC will air ''Sweet Home Alabama'' on Thursday.
CBS will air the skipped episode of ''Without a Trace'' at 9 p.m. Wednesday.
Fox will catch up ''The O.C.'' with two hours of episodes beginning at 8 p.m. Thursday.
NBC will run the skipped episodes of ''Joey'' and ''Will & Grace'' at 8 and 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
Information is the best available at this writing. I will update it if there are changes.

The long coat-tails of ''Star Wars''

The final installment of the ''Star Wars'' saga is expected to draw hordes of theater-goers when it opens in a couple of weeks. So, of course, everyone is trying to find a way to take advantage of the interest. TV Guide is peddling commemorative ''Star Wars'' covers -- and it's supposed to be a magazine about television!
But one of the funniest attempts to tie into ''Star Wars'' may be the one touted in this press release:

''The Force is with Animal Planet! The premiere of its latest special, ANIMAL ICONS: STAR WARS CREATURES on Wednesday, May 18 from 9-10 PM, gives viewers a glimpse into stories behind the unique and quirky creatures that define these epic films. From Ewoks to Wookees to Boga, Star Wars movies have given us some of the world’s most memorable fantasy creatures – aliens so vivid, they almost seem real.''

The announcement went on from there. But just the idea that Animal Planet would do a special about CREATURES THAT DON'T EXIST got a laugh from my colleague, film critic George Thomas. I And, since the release also says this is the kind of programming Animal Planet wants to do more, I have to think that even they know that there are limits to how much people will watch the Crocodile Hunter.

Monday, May 02, 2005

The Last Temptation of Mitch (and Rich)

Mitch Albom is back on the job after getting his wrist slapped for making up information in a column. Since there's been plenty of (justified) criticism of Albom, I'm going to fight the urge to join the pile here. But I am pretty sure that part of Albom's problem was that he sold his soul to the Deadline Devil.
Whether you're a best-selling author and radio/TV personality like Albom or a guy trying to write for a blog, you run up against deadlines.
A lot of newspaper writing is done on the fly. An event happens one night and as soon as it's done -- sometimes before it's done -- you have to start crafting something that will make sense about the event for the next day's paper. It happens in news, in sports and in entertainment -- including TV.
I've written many times under those conditions, about TV coverage of baseball playoffs, presidential speeches, big-time series finales that have not been made available for preview, reality-show conclusions -- and regular reality-show episodes. As long as local singer Scott Savol is on ''American Idol,'' I know that on Wednesday night I have to come up with a column for the next day's newspaper about what and how he did.
Now, this is a bit different than Albom's transgression. He wrote on a Friday for Sunday publication, and described a Saturday event that hadn't happened yet -- and, it turned out, did not turn out the way he described it.
But the conditions are similar. You have to write something for the next day, and most of the time you cannot wait until the last minute to start crafting the piece. The newspaper is expecting your copy ASAP, after all.
So you start filling in details of the early part of the event before you get to the end. With ''American Idol,'' my column about the Wednesday results show also includes a recap of what happened on Tuesday's performance show. (I have been writing same-night postings about the Tuesday shows for this blog, but not for the paper.) That tells people who missed Tuesday's show what set up the results on Wednesday -- and it's something that I can write well before the results are announced. Then I just need to top it off with the results and maybe a note or two about them.
Similarly, when ''The Bachelorette'' finished its last round, I began by writing up some of the background and information from earlier part of the telecast. That gave me a foundation. Then I could just cap it with the actual results.
Here's where it gets tricky. Sometimes you think you can anticipate the results. On an earlier ''Idol,'' I expected that Scott would survive and that Anwar would get the boot, so I roughed out a column that way.
But -- since I knew I was guessing -- I waited until I had seen the actual results before sending the piece on for publication.
You have to remember when something's a guess. Last week, I guessed that Scott would survive and that Vonzell would be eliminated, and roughed that out. Then it turned out that Vonzell was sticking around. Hasty rewriting ensued, followed by more rewriting to add that it was Constantine who had been voted off.
One of the most unnerving cases of this came with ''The Bachelorette.''
Jen, you will recall, rejected one of the two finalists relatively early in the show. That made it appear she was picking the other guy. This was important, because my deadline was very near the end of the show. So I started writing that she had picked the other guy, and everything seemed to point to that conclusion. When the show presented a song the guy had written for Jen, it looked as if we were headed toward the big romantic clinch.
Remember what happened then?
She didn't pick that guy, either. Jen decided to take none of the above. And my nice, tidy piece about Jen finding love needed a major overhaul.
Still, having a column in place that needs fixing is often better than starting from scratch shortly before an editor is looking for your copy. So writers try to take shortcuts.
But the crucial thing when you do that is to never think you're smart enough to predict the future. You guess, sure. But you don't file your story until you've actually seen what happens.
See, you can even learn things from ''The Bachelorette.''

Peter Jennings update

ABC sent out a message from Peter Jennings on Friday. It was also posted on abcnews.com and, according to ABC, portions were read on the air on Friday night. Here's what he had to say:

Yesterday I decided to go to the office; I live only a few blocks away. I got as far as the bedroom door. Chemo strikes.
Do I detect a knowing but sympathetic smile on many of your faces? You knew this was coming.
Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania wrote me a note to say that the only way to get through chemo is to “work your way through it.” He’s a tougher man than I am.

I assume there are a few others out there who, like me, are going with the flow until the day gets better.
Incidentally, Hamilton Jordan, former Chief of Staff in the Carter Administration, sent me his book No Such Thing as a Bad Day. He’s had cancer four times. He tells me, as have many others, that when it gets really bad, it will get better. Phew!

Thousands of you have spoiled me rotten with your attention in the last couple of weeks. Whether you have a cancer connection or not, your anecdotes, mementos, home recipes, and general all-purpose guidance and concern have all been so deeply appreciated. I hope you know.
So many experiences have meant something special. A woman in my building, who is a cancer survivor, showed up at our front door so that we could see that bald really is beautiful. She’s right.
I won’t soon forget an encounter as I was leaving the hospital. A middle-aged couple was going into the building and as they passed me, I heard my name and turned. The woman stepped right into my face and said, “Me too. Lung cancer.” Instinctively, immediately, we gave each other a hug…a real hug…and went on our respective ways knowing that we had been strengthened by the connection.
So thank you for all of the connections. And finally, if you would, add a friend of mine to your prayers. The jazz legend Percy Heath, whose bass anchored the Modern Jazz Quartet for four decades, died of bone cancer on Sunday. He was 81 and we will sure miss him.
As always,
Peter


(I know that many of you are keeping a good thought for Jennings. But, as I said when his diagnosis was announced, let's not forget that there are plenty of people closer to home who are dealing with their own troubles. They can use your love and support, too, and you're in a position to help them directly.)

(Not Quite A) TV Getaway

I've been away from the blog for a few days for some rest, relaxation and a family gathering in Pittsburgh. I was busy enough not to spend much time in front of the TV set, except briefly in the morning and as a wind-down at night. (I didn't see a newspaper for a couple of days, either.) But I never felt very far away from TV.
It isn't just that we've all become used to seeing TV sets in bars, some restaurants and hotel lobbies. It was also walking into a shopping mall in Monroeville, Pa., and encountering a play area based on ''Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.'' (Fred Rogers and his show were based in Pittsburgh.)
And, during a visit to the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, I came across an exhibit of video works by artist Dara Birnbaum. Birnbaum is noted for reconfiguring pieces from regular television (the Carnegie shows included short works from the late '70s involving ''Wonder Woman'' and ''Hollywood Squares'') in ways that make you rethink the images before you.
Or, as one Birnbaum-admiring Web site put it: ''She used rigorous tactics of deconstruction and appropriation to dismantle television's codes of representation. Among the first artists to apply these strategies to subvert the language of television texts, she turned its vocabulary back on itself in a powerful critique.''
OK ...
I just thought it was interesting to see television presented not as art but as the raw material for art.
It also echoed in the viewing I did on Sunday morning, a little channel-flipping while packing. I saw story after story about the so-called ''runaway bride'' but very little about the latest troubles in Iraq. TV was using its own images to provide a specific view of the world. Do you suppose that means the news channels are also video artists?