Thursday, June 30, 2005

From Channel 23 to Position 23: News Goes On

I'll have a story about this in Friday's Beacon Journal, but here's the short version: The Akron-Canton newscast on WVPX (Channel 23) will move to Time Warner Cable's position 23 effective Monday. (''Position 23'' is basically the same as ''Cable Channel 23'' to you, but it's not technically a channel.)
Newscasts will air at 6:30 and 9 weeknights and will have the same studio and news team that the telecasts on WVPX have had. The newscast will also be available in streaming video at wkyc.com. The 6:30 news will be offered by Time Warner as an on-demand program several hours after its telecast, and kept in an on-demand archive for about two weeks after it airs.
The Akron-Canton news has been in jeopardy for the last three months, ever since WVPX's owner Paxson Communications announced it would end a joint sales agreement with the Gannett Co., owner of WKYC (Channel 3). Among other things, the deal let WKYC produce an Akron-Canton news for WVPX. The agreement officially ends today, and the newscasts will have their last airing on WVPX on Friday.
Paxson is moving in a different programming direction which makes local programs like the news less important than nationally distributed shows. Experienced TV-watchers will recall that Paxson killed an earlier Akron-Canton news when it bought Channel 23 (then WVPX) in 1996.
Even though some viewers don't get cable, most of those in the Akron-Canton area do, Time Warner said. And it expects to reach even more next year, since it will be getting additional local homes as part of the purchase of Adelphia Communications by Time Warner and Comcast.

No ''Neighborhood''

A week ago I wrote here about ''Welcome to the Neighborhood,'' the ABC reality series that was coming under fire -- sight unseen -- because it dealt with families getting to choose their newest neighbor. The heat apparently became too much for ABC, which has decided to shelve the series.
In a statement, ABC said, ''Our intention with Welcome to the Neighborhood was to show the transformative process that takes place when people are forced to confront preconceived notions of what makes a good neighbor, and we believe the series delivers exactly that. However, the fact that true change only happens over time made the episodic nature of this series challenging, and given the sensitivity of the subject matter in early episodes we have decided not to air the series at this time.''
This is unfortunate for a couple of reasons, one involving the newspaper, one involving the show.
At the Beacon Journal, we had planned to put the show on the cover of the weekly Channels supplement and now will have to scramble to get a replacement topic. As for the show itself, after seeing a couple of episodes, I thought it was compelling -- and certainly better than the advance criticism suggested.
I wasn't the only one to think so, either. In my e-mail late yesterday was this note: ''The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) today expressed mixed emotions about ABC's decision to shelve indefinitely its six-part reality series 'Welcome to the Neighborhood,' noting that behind the problematic concept lay an admirable intention to promote diversity, understanding and acceptance.''
Sadly, most people won't get to decide if the show was good or not.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Historian As Star

Lately it has seemed as if every day brings news of another TV death. I've had recent postings on Lane Smith and Paul Winchell, and could have spoken as well about John Fiedler, the fine character actor in movies and TV. Fielder's long list of credits include ''Night of the Meek,'' a Christmas-themed episode of ''The Twilight Zone'' that I watch every holiday season.
Now, Shelby Foote is gone, too.
Foote was known mainly as a historian and the author of a popular account of the Civil War. But he rose to TV prominence as one of the voices in Ken Burns's ground-breaking ''Civil War'' documentary for PBS.
He was pretty cool -- in every sense of the term. About 15 years ago, I was in Hollywood for the TV critics' press tour, and Foote was there to talk about ''The Civil War.'' A friend and I were waiting in the hotel hallway for a third friend, who was finishing up a phone call in his room. Mature people that we are, my friend and I were just sitting on the floor, gabbing and half-heartedly pitching coins against the wall. Then Foote came down the hall. We were embarrassed. He was not. He simply smiled as he went by and said, ''Carry on.''
On TV, Foote showed audiences that historians did not have to be dry relayers of ancient fact. He was in many respects an heir to Carl Sagan (''Cosmos'') and Leonard Bernstein (''Young People's Concerts''), who became known as TV personalities as much as for their academic and cultural accomplishments.
Foote even did Sagan and Bernstein one better, since they had hosted television programs, and he became a star not as a host but as part of a larger narrative.
Foote also reminded producers that a historical account became more compelling television if a strong personality could be found to move along the tale.
Burns, for one, searched for a comparable voice to drive his ''Baseball'' documentary -- and found it in former ballplayer Buck O'Neil.
Carol Berkin, a history professor at Baruch College, has been seen in many TV documentaries not only because she knows her stuff, but because she comes across vividly on camera.
As did Shelby Foote.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Name Games

This arrived from NBC in today's e-mail:
NBC's new 2005 fall drama series "Fathom" has been renamed "Surface." From NBC Universal Television Studio, "Surface" will debut on the NBC network on Mondays from 8 to 9 PM EST this September.

Created and executive produced by Josh and Jonas Pate ("Dragnet"), "Surface" is an expansive drama and undersea adventure that centers on the appearance of mysterious sea creatures in the deep ocean - and tracks the lives of four characters.
(end NBC excerpt)
I watched the pilot of ''Fathom''/''Surface'' yesterday, and the name change isn't going to make me like it any more than I did when it was called ''Fathom.'' Which wasn't much, by the way.
But in pursuit of audiences, show titles can be changed between the making of the show and its premiere as a series. A new CBS drama called ''Close to Home'' was called ''American Crime'' as a pilot. Occasionally shows even modify their titles after they have begun airing; ''Ellen'' started out as ''These Friends of Mine,'' for example, and ''Two Guys, A Girl and a Pizza Place'' shortened to ''Two Guys and a Girl'' when the pizza place was dropped from the show.
(The pizza place sued for wrongful termination, which damaged its career so much that it ended up just doing guest shots on ''The Sopranos.'')
(I'm kidding...)
But those carefully chosen titles still may not tell you much about a series. What, for example, does ''Arrested Development'' mean to someone who has not watched the show? ''Fathom'' at least indicated a connection to the sea; what would ''Surface'' suggest to an uninitiated viewer?

Monday, June 27, 2005

Same Character, Different Faces

I've been spending some of my spare time lately on light and semi-light reading, escaping from the regular world (and TV viewing) to the printed page. On the nonfiction side was a Bobby Darin biography; the fiction has included Philip Roth, a couple of Robert B. Parker's Spenser mysteries and ''The Godfather Returns.''
I have read and enjoyed the Spenser novels since long before they inspired the TV series ''Spenser: For Hire''(starring Robert Urich) and as TV movies (starring Urich and later Joe Mantegna). In stores Tuesday you can find a DVD set of four of Urich's movies, based on specific Parker novels.
Although I liked Urich as an actor, I had a hard time seeing him as Spenser. The Spenser I had seen when I first read the books more closely resembled the burly, battered-looking Parker; Urich always seemed a little too good-looking for Spenser. But now there are times when I read Parker and I hear Urich, especially when Spenser is in an extended run of wisecracking.
I know that books and movies are separate creatures, but they can still overlap in our memory banks. When I read ''The Godfather Returns,'' a revival of the Corleone saga by novelist Mark Winegardner, I heard echoes not only of original author Mario Puzo but of the Francis Coppola movies -- right down to wondering how a line would have sounded coming from, say, Al Pacino.
I didn't like the novel -- which covers years between the movies -- but it was hard to judge it on its own merits since it had such a heavy literary and cinematic past. (Reading the book, I kept wanting to go look at ''The Godfather, Part II'' instead.) Of course, if we were meant to judge it on its own merits, it wouldn't have been called ''The Godfather Returns.''

Ventriloquist Days

The obituaries for Paul Winchell tended to focus on his voice work in animated films, including as Tigger in various ''Winnie the Pooh'' productions. But those of us who grew up watching TV in the '50s and '60s also remember Winchell as a TV ventriloquist, the human companion to the mannequins Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff.
As references like ''Total Television'' indicate, Winchell had a busy TV life spread across the networks and syndication. Part of that stemmed from his genial manner and his banter with Mahoney. Part of it came from being on television at a time when ventriloquists were still an attraction.
Not just Winchell, either. ''The Ed Sullivan Show'' was a regular home to performers like Senor Wences. Commercial fans well remember Jimmy Nelson, who with his mannequins Danny O'Day and Farfel (a dog) plugged a brand of chocolate. Sing it with me: ''N-E-S-T-L-E-S...''
Before them, of course, there had been Edgar Bergen (successful as a ventriloquist on the radio, where ventriloquism was superfluous -- to the advantage of Bergen, whose onscreen performances show he wasn't very good at it). After them came the likes of Willie Tyler & Lester, Wayland Flowers & Madame and Jay Johnson (the ''Soap'' co-star). But I remember Winchell more fondly because he was part of my childhood.

Friday, June 24, 2005

More PBS

As I mentioned in a previous posting, public broadcasting made a lot of noise about feared cuts in funding. While I have some reservations about public broadcasting (mentioned in the other posting), the noise was heard and the House of Representatives restored $100 million to the funds for public broadcasting. But that, apparently, was not enough, based on a letter from PBS President Pat Mitchell posted on the www.pbs.org.
Here's the text:
After an unprecedented mobilization by supporters, parents, educators and "viewers like you," the House of Representatives has voted overwhelmingly and in a bi-partisan way, to partially restore cuts made earlier this month by a House Committee. Having spoken with many members of Congress myself, I know it was your voices that made the difference for them in this difficult budget year.

We are enormously grateful to the members of the House who supported this critical, though partial, restoration of funding for public broadcasting. We want to thank Representatives David Obey (D-WI), Nita Lowey (D-NY), Jim Leach (R-IA) and a bi-partisan group of members for their diligent efforts on our behalf. We are also delighted that our PBS member stations were able to generate the support of their communities who weighed in effectively with their members of Congress.

Despite this victory, we remain very concerned that essential federal funds were nonetheless eliminated for our Ready To Learn service which helps low-income parents and caregivers, for the interconnection system that links PBS with local stations and for the transition to digital broadcasting mandated by Congress.

With these cuts, the financial burden of maintaining these operations will fall entirely to local public television stations, decimating their ability to finance local programming, educational outreach and even to air PBS programming. In terms of the digital transition, without restoration of funds, many local PBS stations, especially those in rural areas, will be unable to complete the transition and will go dark when their analog signal goes off.

With the future of the public broadcasting system still at stake, we will continue to work with APTS and NPR to ensure that full funding will be restored as the bill moves through the U.S. Senate and to conference committee in order to ensure the future of public broadcasting, the only media devoted to editorial independence, to local community service and to educational children's and prime time programming.

We thank you for all of your efforts to preserve PBS and your PBS stations, and ask you to stay with us as we work to protect funding for public broadcasting through the end of this year's legislative process.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Trouble in the ''Neighborhood''

I received a call the other day from a woman concerned about ''Welcome to the Neighborhood,'' a new ABC reality series. She had not seen the show, which premieres July 10; in fact, she said she did not watch much TV, nor did she read the TV section of the Beacon Journal. But she had heard that fair-housing advocates were dismayed by the show and wanted to urge me to watch it (and, by extension, to criticize it).
Well, I did look at two episodes ABC sent out for preview. And I can understand the dismay. But there's often a difference between what we hear about a TV show and what we actually see on the air, and ''Neighborhood'' has a positive message to deliver, too.
''Welcome to the Neighborhood'' has three families deciding who will move into their Austin, Texas, cul de sac. Right there, you can see where people could be bothered. And I was uncomfortable with the show because I did not like the idea of people getting to vote on where I could reside.
But the show also aimed to make things uncomfortable for the people doing the choosing. The three white families -- who seem blissfully unafraid to speak their minds on camera -- have to choose a neighbor from seven families that include three of different ethnicities, a gay couple, a family with a witch, another with heavily tattooed adults and one that has a secret revealed in the second episode which should not surprise anyone paying close attention.
In sum, the couples are not the mirror images of the people living in the neighborhood, so the current residents have to decide what they will and will not accept.
They also learn, based on the first two episodes and some scenes going beyond that, that their first impressions are not the best, and that prejudices are hard to hold onto when you get to know the people embodying your fears.
In that way, ''Welcome to the Neighborhood'' actually suggests that people should be more open to diversity in their neighborhoods -- and therefore, fair-housing policies should be encouraged.
That's not to say that justice will somehow triumph at the end of the show, any more than it does in real life. But ''Welcome to the Neighborhood'' is provocatively entertaining. It shouldn't be ignored or banned; it should be watched, discussed, argued about.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Dirty ''Dancing''?

Well, Rachel Hunter had to say goodbye on ''Dancing With the Stars'' tonight, and I can't say I disagree. Even as the judges raved about her performance on tonight's telecast, I thought she wasn't that good -- that she was getting away with posing more than dancing.
But I was watching, and judging, and judging the judges. Also, dancing aside, I was fascinated by Kelly Monaco's attempts to keep dancing vigorously while trying to keep her top up after a strap went astray. (She did very well at the dancing, too, although many viewers probably weren't watching her feet.)
But I still came to the end of the show thinking that Hunter was not treated well -- that, in fact, anyone who ends up being eliminated has to feel as if a lot of time and energy has been wasted.
Hunter, like the other remaining contestants, had to train, practice and perform with the knowledge that the performance might be moot. The votes for elimination had been cast based on the previous week's effort. Anything done tonight mattered only if you lasted another week. Then, as if that wasn't cruel enough, you have to do that last little dance bit after getting the news that you're done.
I've never liked ''American Idol's'' asking just-eliminated singers to perform one more time; after all, they're reprising a song that most of the voters didn't like. The last dance on ''Dancing'' is even more cruel because it's also preceded by the bruising effort that may have been wasted. (And on tonight's show, with the field down to four couples, everyone had to dance competitively twice.)
If ABC and the producers had had more confidence in ''Dancing,'' they would have scheduled it on consecutive nights a la ''Idol,'' with the performance one night and the results the next. Barring that, if they had a little compassion for their contestants, they'd let them know who was eliminated at the beginning of the show. Only compassion takes a back seat to keeping the audience around.

Whose C List Is It Anyway?

A writer examining the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes romance recently referred to the couple as ''the A-list star and his C-list TV-star fiancée.''
You can see the contempt dripping off that ''TV-star'' reference, especially in the context of ''C-list,'' even more so given Holmes's focus on the big screen, and that ''Dawson's Creek'' ended its run two years ago.
But where Cruise is a much bigger star than Holmes, let's not forget that millions of people saw her on ''Dawson's,'' probably more than went to any one of her movies -- and I'm not exempting ''Batman Begins.''
Television still gets tagged as low-rent compared to movies, but that comparison has more to do with budget than either quality or audience size. Sure, a lot of TV is garbage. So are a lot of movies. Where would you rather see James Gandolfini -- on ''The Sopranos,'' or in ''The Last Castle,'' ''The Mexican'' or ''Surviving Christmas''?
Those last two big-screen titles are of note because they featured a couple of guys who've also been in movie-TV relationships. ''The Mexican'' co-starred Brad Pitt, also known for his now-defunct marriage to Jennifer Aniston of ''Friends.''And ''Surviving Christmas'' starred Ben Affleck, whose current relationship is with Jennifer Garner of ''Alias.''
Pitt has had pretty good success at the movies lately, but I'd still argue that Aniston's audience from ''Friends'' is on a par with whatever Pitt musters at the box office. Affleck, meanwhile, would probably have jumped for joy if the ''Alias'' crowd went to his last few movies. (For a look at stars' box-office records, see www.boxofficemojo.com.)
Now, I know I'm shading the argument a bit here by focusing on what people watch on TV and at the movies. If we start adding in the celebrity media (from magazines to supermarket tabloids to who gets to sit with Oprah), then Cruise and Pitt and Affleck are still very big stars.
Still, I'm always irked by snipes like that ''C list'' reference, because it underrates TV viewers. And a movie actor is just making product that will end up on the same video-store shelves as the DVDs of a hot TV show.

Next: The 100 Greatest Eating Scenes

Well, we've all survived the latest American Film Institute list and TV special that always accompanies it. And today the AFI Web site -- www.afi.com -- has been busy with people wanting one more look at the latest list (of great film quotes) with the AFI trying to take advantage. ''Join AFI and vote for the next AFI 100,'' the site suggests.
But what should the next 100 be? AFI has already done the greatest movies, heroes and villains, thrillers and comedies, so it's running out of big categories. And you can't have just any category, because you want one that can be made into one of those network clip-specials, and you want those clips to cross enough generations that you will get a wide audience.
But I suspect we are creeping ever closer to a really dumb AFI special. Greatest movie sunsets, maybe. Greatest movies with co-stars who hated each other. Greatest movie with an actor in a hairpiece. (Hello, Bruce Willis.)
Then again, given the willingness of people to argue about any ranking, even the silliest sounding list could get people to talk -- and watch the results on TV. Consider the ''greatest eating scenes'' I mentioned. A ridiculous topic, to be sure. But wouldn't you put ''Animal House'' on the list? ''Tom Jones''? ''Diner''?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Why Not Call It ''Extreme Fear Factor: Home Edition''?

''Fear Factor'' thinks your house is pretty scary, according to this NBC announcement:

LOS ANGELES, CA - June 20, 2005 -- Next season, NBC's "Fear Factor" is leaving Los Angeles to spread out across the U.S. and invade cities and towns in order to challenge fans to face their fears in an actual "Fear Factor" stunt on the fans' home turf - their house. "Capital One's 'Fear Factor' Home Invasion," part of a number of exciting innovations the series will add for the next season, includes a battle plan to visit 22 cities nationwide.

Fans who sit in their living room watching "Fear Factor" and yelling "I could do that" now will have the chance to appear on the series and attempt a stunt without even leaving their house. Each week, one household will participate in an actual "Fear Factor" stunt during the series weekly telecast. "Home Invasion" winners who prove that "fear is not a factor," will win a $5,000 Capital One credit card.

"Home Invasion" is just one of several changes in a massive re-launch of NBC's perennial hit during the 2005-2006 season. After 125 episodes, broadcast syndication in 98% of America and 100 different countries around the globe - from Africa to Argentina to the United Arab Emeritus - the "Fear Factor" recipe will have an all new taste and look when fresh episodes return in the 2005-2006 season.

The iconic "Fear Factor" will now pit two-person teams against each other, in exotic locations - an aircraft carrier, a South American country, The "Psycho" house from Universal's backlot -- against a variety of extreme challenges in the hope of taking home cash prizes of at least $50,000. A new stunt team with credits such as "The Matrix Revolution," "Kill Bill Vol. 2," "Minority Report" and "Ocean's 11" will provide new and even more outrageous stunts to date. Many of these will be featured in new multi-episode/multi-week competitions. The show also will continue its reputation for unpredictable fantasy prizes - such as invitations to Hollywood premieres, trips around the world, a garage stocked with new cars, and the chance to fly a fighter jet over Russia. ...

Casting directors for "Fear Factor" currently are searching the following markets for the most energetic and fearless households (families, friends, or roommates) to convert from "Fear Factor" watchers to "Fear Factor" participants. ...

...(Locations include Toledo, witn a full list at www.fearfactor.com)...


To apply, households are asked to send a recent picture of themselves, the other members of their household, and pictures of the inside and outside of their home to homeinvasion@FearFactor.com. In addition, applicants are to include a description of who lives in the house, what their relation is, all contact information, and why they feel their household is the single place in that city that should get Fear Factor to come pay them a visit. If selected, Fear Factor will invade your home and turn the place where fans WATCH the show into the place where the show takes place!

All households that think they have what it takes to roll out the welcome mat for Fear Factor into their house can get additional instructions and complete details by emailing homeinvasion@fearfactor.com or by visiting www.fearfactor.com and clicking on "Apply" at the top of the page.

You Say Potato, I Say Slouch?

I regularly check the Web site www.tvtattle.com, which collects items and links about television from critics and reporters (including my work on occasion). One nifty recent entry was this, an Associated Press report about potato farmers objecting to the term ''couch potato'':

LONDON - British potato farmers demonstrated outside Parliament on Monday to publicize their bid to remove the term "couch potato" from the Oxford English Dictionary, arguing that the description of slothful TV addicts harms the vegetable's image.

The group of about 30 farmers carried signs that read "couch potato out" and "ban the term couch potato." A similar rally took place in Oxford, central England.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term "couch potato" as "a person who spends leisure time passively or idly sitting around, especially watching television or video tapes."

The British Potato Council says the phrase makes the vegetable seem unhealthy. It wants the expression stripped from the dictionary and replaced in everyday speech with the term "couch slouch."

...

The demonstrators in London were joined by celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson, who said the vegetable was one of Britain's favorite foods.

"Not only are they healthy, they are versatile, convenient and taste great too. Life without potato is like a sandwich without a filling," he said.

...

John Simpson, chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, said the expression first appeared in the 1993 edition.

"Inclusion is based on currency of the term rather than on the basis of what people want us to put in the dictionary," he said. "When people blame words they are actually blaming the society that uses them."

Monday, June 20, 2005

What Do We Watch TV For?

There's a 1978 book called ''The Best Thing on TV: Commercials,'' and the ads in the Super Bowl are treated as a big audience magnet -- sometimes bigger than the games themselves. But I still find it odd when an ad is treated as an event -- as if ever more often the case with ads for highly anticipated movies -- and therefore something that may actually get people to tune to a show they watch. It's especially annoying when there's corporate synergy at work -- when the network showing the ad is owned by the same company that's behind the movie. But the trend may just get worse, as this announcement from NBC Universal suggests:

''NBC Universal will present an unprecedented motion picture preview "roadblock" as all ten of its networks simultaneously telecast the world premiere of the first trailer for Universal Pictures' King Kong, the dramatic adventure helmed by Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson, on Monday, June 27, from 8:59:30-9:02 PM ET. As
part of the ambitious, multi-pronged effort, the two-minute, 30-second teaser trailer will be broadcast at the same time on NBC, SCI FI, USA Network, Bravo, MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo, Mun2, TRIO and Universal HD. The trailer will be offered in high-definition on NBC and Universal HD.''
(end NBC excerpt)

Of course, the commercial may be so complete in itself that I won't feel any need to see the movie.

The Day After Father's Day

My Father's Day was in many ways very good, and in one way a little sad. Good because my family marked the occasion with a new wet/dry vac (perfect for the recently cleaned-up garage), and a chain saw we'd acquired on Saturday finally proved willing to start.
On those counts alone, I felt like an episode of ''Home Improvement,'' although that's about the only way this posting connects to television.
The biggest event of the day came when I was among several people elected new elders at our church.
Some of my oldest friends are probably doing a spit-take after reading that. I have been a regular church-goer only for about two years, after an absence that lasted about 15 years.
I never gave up my faith, and tried to pass it on to my sons, but church attendance, let alone membership, was something tied to holidays.
That changed when I met my bride, who brought me back to regular worship much the way my first wife had urged me into church before her death. Only by being part of the process have I come to realize how much I missed being part of a religious community, the benefits of collective prayer, the guidance that can come from a sermon that seems aimed directly at my troubled soul.
All of those things have happened, and all have helped get me through some personal challenges. I've been guided more than once by my pastor's thoughts about doing the right thing instead of the easy thing. When the idea of being an elder came up, I suspected it wouldn't be easy. But I knew that it would be right, and I am grateful for the opportunity.
Now, what does this have to do with Father's Day? Well, my father had been active in his church, and with my mother had seen to it that my sister and I were brought up in one. He was also an elder in his church, and in being elected to that office on Father's Day, I thought of him, and how I was carrying through something that had been important to him.
That's not the reason I did it, of course. But it's a lovely side benefit.

Should We Be Worried About Public Broadcasting?

I have received several e-mails recently from public broadcasters sounding the alarm about possible cuts in their federal funding, which could affect their programming if not their entire existence.
The broadcasters are urging people to contact their congressional representatives, to stop the cuts before they are set in stone. Here's a link to a Washington Post story about the situation:
Public Broadcasting Troubles
I mention this whole issue with considerable ambivalence, and not just because it comes up every few years and the sky never quite falls. Rather, I'm not sure that public broadcasting is really worth saving.
PBS's defenders are fond of pointing to its children's programs as a reason for survival, and there have also been other notable productions -- ''Broadway,'' the Ken Burns documentaries and the like.
But I've long felt that National Public Radio is a bastion of elitism, news and information delivered as if everyone was wearing white gloves and waiting for tea to be served.
Public television, meanwhile, has become craven in its pursuit of funds (through, among other things, interminable oldies specials) and in its bowing to conservative interests. Think of Tucker Carlson getting his own show, and of increased censorship of serious art, supposedly out of fear of the FCC, or the ''Postcards from Buster'' flap. Nor is such nervousness new; a decade ago, PBS backed away from a sequel to ''Tales of the City'' because it didn't like the heat it took for airing the series to begin with.
Any defense I'd make of public broadcasting is therefore not very passionate. It's more theoretical, admiring the idea of public broadcasting more than the actuality of it. I feel the same way about many of its programs -- intrigued by the idea of, say, a show about Freud and C.S. Lewis but not entirely willing to sit through it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Lane Smith

My friend and colleague Mark Dawidziak and I talked off and on about an all-star team of TV actors -- people you would want to get together for just about any acting project. Guys like Brian Dennehy. James Woods. Hal Holbrook. Barry Corbin. Joe Morton. Charles Durning. Ned Beatty. These folks were not for the most part big-name stars, but could give you comedy, give you drama, overplay, underplay -- you want it, you got it.
We never wrote down the list. It was more one of those things you'd talk about, and maybe a few years later you'd see someone else who belonged on the list, or you'd decide someone else wasn't all that great. But I'm sure that any time we talked about it at length, Lane Smith would come up.
Smith, who died recently, was one of the great go-to guys in TV and the movies. His resume includes a Pauly Shore movie and a memorable performance as Richard Nixon (in TV's ''The Final Days''). Not long ago, I was reminded how deft he was while watching the new DVD of ''Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,'' the Dean Cain-Teri Hatcher series where Smith zestfully played Perry White. I crossed paths with him a couple of times over the years, and found him not only approachable but a likable guy. It's too bad he's gone.
Here's a link to one obit:
Lane Smith dies.

Where there's pro football, there's Madden

When NBC made a deal for prime-time football last April, I asked in a posting here: ''How long, do you suppose, before John Madden makes a deal with NBC?''
The answer, it turns out, is ''Not long.''
The following is from an NBC announcement today:
John Madden, the most honored NFL broadcaster of all time, will join NBC Sports as the game analyst for the inaugural 2006 season of "NBC's Sunday Night Football." The announcement of Madden's six-year deal with NBC was made today by Dick Ebersol, Chairman, NBC Universal Sports & Olympics. Madden, who has won an unprecedented 14 Emmy Awards for Outstanding Sports Analyst/Personality, is renowned by football fans nationwide for his ability to analyze the details of the game with wit, candor and an inimitable style. Madden will join "NBC's Sunday Night Football" with over 25 years of broadcasting experience, most recently as the game analyst with ABC's Monday Night Football, where he will broadcast this upcoming season including Super Bowl XXL in Detroit, Mich.
"John Madden is the best analyst in the history of the National Football League and, in my opinion, the best analyst of any kind in sports television history," said Ebersol. "John is much more than a football legend, he's an American icon. He is the only sports television talent who resonates across all ages - kids grow up today playing his video game and watching him on TV, as their fathers grew up watching him on NFL sidelines every Sunday as the head coach with the best winning percentage in league history. We are extraordinarily proud to have him join 'NBC's Sunday Night Football.'
"Madden said: "I have been doing this a long time and when I went to ABC to do 'Monday Night Football,' I thought I would finish my career there. But when the NFL did this new television deal, I looked at 'NBC's Sunday Night Football' package, and I thought this really fits me well. I also look forward to the opportunity of working with Dick Ebersol."
(end NBC excerpt)
That reference to ''Super Bowl XXL,'' by the way, is straight from NBC. The correct number of the next Super Bowl is XL, or 40. Whoever put XXL may have been thinking of Madden's shirt size instead.

Everything Old is New Again

A press packet arrived today for ''Wanted,'' a TNT series starting July 31, It's summed up as ''a gritty, edgy crime thriller that follows a specialized team of law enforcement officers as they track down the city's 100 most wanted criminals.''
That sounded like ''Cain's Hundred,'' a crime show I remember seeing commercials for as a kid. I don't think I ever watched the actual show -- and it only lasted one season, 1961-62 -- but the commercials stuck in my head. So I reached for ''The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows'' and here's some of what it said about ''Cain's'':
''(Cain) was determined to ferret out and bring to prosecution the 100 men controlling the many-tentacled monster of organized crime in America. Roving about the country with a special squad of assistants...''
Now, the shows may be very different in style. But their ideas aren't wildly different, even though they're separated by more than 40 years.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Michael Jackson

I was going through some video for an upcoming column when my wife saw an online notice that a verdict was coming in the Michael Jackson case. And so, even though I'm not a big fan of circuses, we switched over to TV and watched some of the spectacle leading up to the verdict announcement.
CNN was on it, and MSNBC and Fox News and E! and Court TV. Channel 3 here had NBC coverage, Channel 5 had ABC, Channel 8 had Fox and Channel 19 offered a locally based report including its anchors, its own legal expert and cut-ins from the court announcement.
All that added up to Jackson being declared not guilty. Channel 3 cut away as soon as the verdicts were read, to get Dr. Phil on the air; Channels 5, 8 and 19, which all have news blocks at 5 p.m. anyway, stuck with verdict coverage longer. And well before 6 p.m., I had received a press release announcing that ''48 Hours'' will do a half-hour report on the Jackson case tonight, and an e-mail making a New York public-relations man available to comment on the Jackson verdict. (''The Michael Jackson brand is effectively dead,'' he said in the e-mail.)
Both the verdict and the deadpan reading of it made an interesting contrast to much of the coverage leading up to this afternoon's announcement. (You might want to take a look at Tim Rutten's media column in the Los Angeles Times, available at:
http://www.latimes.com/news/custom/showcase/cl-et-rutten11jun11.column?ctrack=1&cset=true .)
I still think Jackson is guilty of something, although accounts of the trial did not say to me that a strong case had been made. And that's not surprising. When I last did jury duty, I sat through the trial thinking that the accused was guilty -- but that the prosecution wasn't making the charge stick. And when we jurors gathered, we agreed very quickly that there wasn't enough for a guilty verdict.
Now, should we all be appalled that the Jackson case took up so much coverage time, and the verdict itself went out live over cable and broadcast? Well, I stopped what I was doing to hear the verdict, so I know that there was curiosity about it. And the history of America is loaded with ''trials of the century,'' with guilty and not-guilty verdicts, in which the actual case meant little but the sensation was enormous.
The problem, though, with sensationalism is that yesterday's sensation is just business as usual today, and the seekers of sensation have to find something even more shocking in order to get the audience to tune in another time.
As disturbing as I find the accusations in the Jackson trial, they come not long after we were dealing with the nasty details of the Scott Peterson trial.
And then there's O.J. Simpson. How could you look at the video of an auto caravan taking Michael Jackson home after the trial and NOT think of Simpson's famous Bronco chase? That PR man I mentioned earlier, Ronn Torossian, alluded to Jackson having ''O.J. Simpson syndrome: being found innocent, but popularly believed to be guilty.''
When I joined the Beacon Journal in 1994, one of the first things I wrote about was the Simpson case. When something like Jackson happens, it feels as if I'm still writing about it. And I don't believe for a second that I'm done.

Bingo antics

Here's a story of interest from the Washington Post. I'll add my own bingo adventures after:

Harvard students put their education to good use Wednesday in a rousing game of Tim Russert bingo during the "Meet the Press" moderator's Class Day speech.
Graduating seniors Max Brodsky and David Ferris told National Public Radio's Melissa Block that they had read that Russert uses at each graduation ceremony a modified version of his commencement speech about making the world a better place. The duo looked up the text, printed up bingo cards with key Russert phrases in each square and passed out the cards to 50 classmates before the event.
"We told people to mark off the square that [a particular phrase] was in," Brodsky said. "If they get five in a row, they can shout out, 'bingo!' And people did." The end note, "You have only 2,300 weeks before you'll be eligible for Social Security," was also used by Russert last month at American University.
Russert told The Post yesterday that he didn't hear about the game until the next day. "Nobody on the stage was aware of it," he said. The news anchor admits that the "basic theme" of his speeches are the same and says, "I think there is a virtue in consistency."
(end Post excerpt)
As much fun as the bingo players may have had at Harvard, it would have been more fun for other college students if the bingo had remained a private joke that trailed Russert's speeches.
Now Russert is aware of it. He can rewrite his speech -- or confront the gag directly by handing out the bingo cards himself.
You think I'm kidding? Awhile back, the TV critics press tour had its own brand of bingo, from a card containing cliches mouthed repeatedly by network executives and stars at press conferences. To make it especially challenging, once you finished a row on the card, you didn't just have to say ''bingo.'' You had to put the word in a question during the press conference. A colleague actually did it, and quite artfully.
But word of the game spread. The Washington Post reported on it. And here's how Diane Werts of Newsday described what happened next: ''CBS actually had bingo cards printed up for us with all the banalties nicely laid out and typeset in red and purple. Which, of course, took the fun out of the game completely.''
I don't think Russert bingo will be fun anymore, either.

Sunday dinner

On Sunday night, we had friends over for dinner and ''Buffy the Vampire Slayer.''
I could tell you that this was some kind of research for the new TV season. There are bunches of ''Buffy'' alumni in new shows -- Seth Green, Alyson Hannigan, David Boreanaz, Nicholas Brendon and Eric Balfour (a Sunnydale teen who went vampire early in the series). You could even throw in Freddie Prinze Jr. as a ''Buffy'' alum-by-association because of his marriage to Sarah Michelle Gellar.
But this was in fact a social occasion. We're part of a group that in the past has gotten together on a regular basis to watch ''The Sopranos'' and ''Carnivale'' when they had new episodes on the air. The hosting location would vary, everyone would kick in food and beverages, and then we could eat, watch TV and chat about what we've just seen.
Now we've decided to try watching all the episodes of ''Buffy'' and, when it enters the picture, ''Angel'' in order. The plan is to get together every couple of weeks and watch three episodes at a time. If nothing else, it will keep us amused until ''The Sopranos'' starts a new season.
Now, you hear a lot about watching television as a passive experience, as an anti-social activity. But if you have ever watched TV with a group of people, you know much better. When we're watching a new show, there's not only a shared experience but a shared emotion -- the shock at seeing, say, a key character get knocked off. And there is talking afterward about what's just happened. With a show people have seen before, like ''Buffy,'' there's more conversation during the show itself -- whether it's jokes about plot twists and makeup, or observations about the way something turns out several episodes down the road.
It's a good time either way.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

I Don't Just Watch TV, I Read It, Too

As you probably know, reviewing TV shows sometimes means working from ''rough cuts'' where the effects may not be finished, the music is temporary and other things have not been done.
You get used to it, especially since the alternative -- waiting for a finished cut -- may mean not getting a show in time to write about it.
But some cuts are rougher than others. Right now, I'm at my office watching ''Wildfire,'' an ABC Family series premiering on June 20. Several small scenes are missing from a sequence, with text displays describing them instead. As in:
''Pablo & Kris: Pablo shows Kris how to shoe a horse''
''Kris, Todd & Pablo: Todd moves out of harm's way as Kris and thermometer go to work''
''Matt & Kris: Matt jumps off tractor, & takes shirt off to cool off, Kris watches from a distance''

At the beginning of the tape, scenes of a horse race were intercut with displays saying ''High angle of racetrack/Horses race toward the finish line'' and ''After a long beat a lone horse appears, far off the pace.''
And a scene introducing the main character included subtitles saying ''Start opening credits'' (in the absence of the actual credits) and ''Continue opening credits.''
Even better: A later scene has characters staring at empty seats at a racetrack, with the word ''crowd'' superimposed on the seats. Can't wait to see what special-effects magic they work to put the crowd there.

But, as I said, you get used to it.

From ''Temptation Island'' to ''Antiques Roadshow''

If you're looking for proof that reality TV is one big tent, take a gander at this announcement:

ANTIQUES ROADSHOW producer WGBH Boston announced today that Mark L. Walberg will make his PBS debut when he becomes host of public broadcasting's top-rated series this summer. Walberg is well known to audiences for his roles as host and talent on some of America's most talked about game and reality shows. He replaces current ROADSHOW host Lara Spencer when the series begins production of its tenth anniversary season with an appraisal event June 18 in Providence, Rhode Island. Episodes featuring Walberg will be broadcast on PBS beginning January 2006.

ANTIQUES ROADSHOW and ANTIQUES ROADSHOW FYI host Lara Spencer will continue to appear on episodes broadcast in 2005. Spencer is stepping down as host of both series, citing the increased demands of her responsibilities on Paramount's The Insider.
...
Walberg has hosted and been featured in an array of popular talk, reality competition, and game shows, including home improvement competitions The Mansion and House Rules and knowledge quiz shows Test the Nation and Russian Roulette ... He also hosted the relationship challenge Temptation Island.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Life without MP3? Say it isn't so...

I thought this announcement from MTV was both funny and deeply depressing. Funny because of the way it suggested the difficulty of life without modern toys, and depressing because I remember a childhood when home tech consisted of black-and-white TVs and hi-fidelity record players.
Here's what MTV has in mind:

12 Young People Test Their Endurance of All Things '70s...In a House with No Cell Phones, No Computers, and No MP3 Music Players ...

MTV: Music Television today announced the premiere of "MTV's The '70S House," a new reality competition series where 12 young people kick their modern, 2005 coolness to the curb to live in a groovy 1970s-era house - in the hopes of winning cash and fabulous prizes.
The series premieres on Tuesday, July 5, at 10:30 pm, and will feature guest appearances by some of the biggest names from the '70s, including Erik Estrada, Deney Terrio, Jimmy Walker, Leif Garrett, and others. The show is co-hosted by "Bert and Dawn," played by stand-up comics Bil Dwyer and Natasha Leggero, who lead the housemates on this far-out journey back in time.
From 8-tracks to avocado-green appliances, rotary phones to bellbottoms, this house brings the best - and worst - of the 1970s back to life. Led through the '70s-style competitions by our hosts "Bert and Dawn," the housemates will participate in '70s-style competitions, from a roller-derby dance-off to spoofs on '70s TV game show favorites. In addition, they will be penalized for any use of modern conveniences or out-of-era slip-ups.
In the end, whoever survives the living conditions - and the harsh judgment of Bert, who directs the players through a speakerphone - will disco away with enviable prizes.... MTV'S THE '70S HOUSE will be a hilarious look at what happens when people get a surprising taste of what it was like 30 years ago.Without the things they've come to rely on - including modern slang and technology - these houseguests will be in for an eye-opening experience!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

''Survivor'' Envy? Here's a Chance to Join the Game

The following is from a CBS announcement today:

CBS is currently accepting applications for SURVIVOR 12 (working title) to be broadcast in the Spring, 2006.
Application forms for the twelfth installment of SURVIVOR are available exclusively at www.cbs.com. Applications are being accepted until June 17, 2005 at 5:00 PM PT, and must be accompanied by a three-minute videotape.
Additionally, open casting calls are being conducted across the country in order to provide hopefuls with a means to make their three-minute videotape.

(You can also find the audition locations and details at www.cbs.com.)

Did Tony Forget Jerry?

Lynne Sherwin, an editor at the Beacon Journal and someone I turn to for answers about obscure song lyrics and anything Broadway-related, has a beef with the Tony awards.
''I can't comprehend how they could have Jesse L. Martin sing ''Razzle Dazzle'' as a tribute to Fred Ebb and NOT EVEN MENTION Jerry Orbach,'' said Sherwin after watching the Tony telecast.
Nor, she said, was Orbach included in a Tony tribute to performers who had died since the last Tony show. (Orbach died in December 2004.)
Why is this what Sherwin called a ''disgraceful oversight''? Well, Orbach was a stage guy long before he became known on ''Law & Order.'' Here's the stage-credits section of his NBC biography:

Orbach’s professional acting career began in the theater. He did summer stock at the age of 16 and made his first New York stage appearance at the age of 21 in “The Threepenny Opera” as Mack the Knife. In 1960, he created the role of El Gallo in the Off-Broadway milestone, “The Fantasticks.”
Orbach made his Broadway debut in 1961 in David Merrick’s production of “Carnival” and received his first Tony Award nomination for his portrayal of Sky Masterson in the City Center revival of “Guys and Dolls.”
He won a Tony Award for his starring role in “Promises, Promises” and has also appeared in “The Cradle Will Rock,” “Scuba Duba,” “6 Rms Riv Vu” and “Chicago.” It was in this production that Orbach met his wife Elaine Cancilla, who replaced Chita Rivera as his co-star.
Orbach toured with the national company of Neil Simon’s “Chapter Two” for nine months and was last seen on Broadway in the original production of “42nd Street.” Orbach was inducted into the Broadway Hall of Fame in 1999.
(end NBC section)

So Orbach sang ''Razzle Dazzle'' on Broadway; you can still hear him on the CD of the original cast. (He's good, too.) Martin played his partner on ''Law & Order'' for about five years. Sure, some people will get the connection without having it spelled out. But Orbach deserved the spelling-out, too.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Russell Crowe & Scott Savol: Compare and Contrast

''What are the odds ... ...that Russell Crowe would be charged with the same crime as Scott Savol?'' said an e-mail from a friend, citing Crowe's latest brush with the law. This is from the Associated Press account of Crowe's incident:

NEW YORK (AP) - Russell Crowe was arrested and charged Monday for allegedly throwing a telephone at an employee of the Manhattan hotel where he was staying.
Crowe, 41, who plays a boxer in his latest film, "Cinderella Man," allegedly threw the phone at the concierge at the Mercer Hotel in SoHo, "hitting him in the face and causing a laceration and substantial pain," according to the complaint.
The Australian movie star was arraigned on charges of second-degree assault and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon - the telephone - before Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Martin Murphy. The assault charge is punishable by four years in prison. (end of AP excerpt)

AND THIS, for those of you who forget ''American Idol'' contestants as soon as they are voted off, is from The Smoking Gun's account of a 2001 case involving Savol, his former companion Michele Martin and their son Brandon. The quotes come from a Shaker Heights police report:

When Savol and his brother arrived at Martin's home, an argument ensued, with Savol calling Martin "several vulgar names." He then grabbed the woman's hand and pulled an engagement ring off her finger and "stated he was also going to take their son," cops reported. When Savol "grabbed the baby," Martin "stopped him from taking the child by telling [Savol] that she was going to call 911." At that point, according to the police report, Savol shoved Martin, pulled a phone from her hand, and then threw it at Martin, striking her in the chest. "This caused the phone to break," the report notes. ... Savol eventually took a plea to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct rap and was fined $500, placed on a year's probation, ordered to complete a domestic violence or anger management program, and sentenced to a suspended 20-day jail term.
(end of Smoking Gun excerpt)

Of course, we shouldn't be surprised to see the eerie similarity in the two men making a telephone their weapon of choice. After all, the comparisons don't end there. Savol and Crowe are both singers -- the latter having recorded with the band 30 Odd Foot of Grunts. Both like being the center of attention, Crowe in his movies, Savol in his repeated singing ''Take a look at me now.'' Both not only have tempers but a martyred quality -- Crowe via movies like ''Gladiator'' and ''A Beautiful Mind,'' Savol by discussion of his struggles on the way to ''Idol'' -- but also an aggressive side. Think of Crowe's steely stare and brawler's manner, and Savol's reactions to criticism from Simon Cowell.

Changes at CNN

Not long after marking its 25th anniversary, CNN continues to make changes in front of and behind the camera. Here are excerpts from a couple of CNN announcements today:

Miles O'Brien, co-anchor of CNN's Live From, will join American Morning as co-anchor with Soledad O'Brien starting Monday, June 20, it was announced today by Jon Klein, president of CNN/U.S. Bill Hemmer plans to leave the network to pursue other opportunities, while Jack Cafferty will join The Situation Room, a new afternoon news program, to provide commentary and insight.
"We're honing the cast of American Morning in order to focus on what the audience wants most and what CNN does best: the latest news delivered with the greatest intelligence," Klein said. "In a morning television landscape littered with mindless entertainment, there will be one name you can rely on for no-nonsense news: O'Brien."
....
Victor Neufeld, executive producer of the CBS Early Show and former senior executive producer for ABC newsmagazines including 20/20 and PrimeTime Thursday, and David Doss, former executive producer of ABC's PrimeTime Thursday, are joining CNN to run two of the network's key prime-time programs, it was announced today by Jon Klein, president of CNN/U.S.
Doss takes over senior executive producing duties for Anderson Cooper 360° while Neufeld becomes senior executive producer of Paula Zahn Now. They will join CNN in mid-June. Mark Nelson, the current senior executive producer for Paula Zahn Now, becomes senior executive producer for editorial content, reporting directly to Klein.

Looking Ahead (and Way Ahead)

Summer used to be the relaxed, rerun-heavy part of the TV season, and that wasn't such a bad thing. It's a nice time to get out of the house, especially when things don't cool off until late in the day. And at the House of Heldenfels we're trying to catch up with shows that didn't get watched much during the regular season -- because we were watching something else at the time.
But there's also new TV to watch. When the networks did embrace reruns more, cable saw an opportunity to attract viewers with new programs. And as viewers began going to cable and not coming back to broadcast in the fall, the networks realized they had to keep a hook out and started programming summer more. In addition, they learned that summer shows could become fall hits; ''Survivor'' first found an audience during the summer.
So on Sunday you could have found my review of HBO's ''Entourage'' and ''The Comeback'' and TNT's ''Into the West,'' and today I have an interview tied to the second season of TBS's ''The Real Gilligan's Island.'' I expect to have a review of Fox's ''The Inside'' in tomorrow's paper (sneak preview: very disturbing, but also uneven) and a look at the season premiere of Lifetime's''Strong Medicine'' on June 12 and at ABC Family's ''Wildfire'' on June 19. (If nothing else, I thought it was worth a mention because people have been seeing a trailer for it at ''Star Wars Episode 3'' screenings.)
And I've already gone through three new episodes of FX's ''Rescue Me,'' which is back on June 21, for a review near the premiere. I just couldn't wait. And, after seeing those three new episodes, I still love the show.
But even as the summer shows are filling time, I'm thinking about the fall.
Not long after the announcements of the fall season (which you can find in this blog's May archive), the networks send out pilots of their new shows for the fall. This is a precursor to the summer TV critics tour, when the cast and producers of the new shows will be available to talk; seeing the pilots gives us a way to ask better questions than you can from a printed description of a show.
Of course, some of those shows will bear scant resemblance to those pilots by the time they get on the air. Casts will change (in fact, some already have), concepts will be tweaked, tone adjusted. Last year, for example, ABC sent out a version of ''Desperate Housewives'' with different music than was in the telecast that fall -- with the change in the music making the show more obviously comedic than the old music had indicated.
Because of that, the copies of the shows also come with warnings not to review them yet, since the show you eventually see may not be the one I'm judging now. So for the moment I'll resist the urge to tell you which sitcoms I sat through without laughing and which dramas left me cold.
But I am at least guardedly optimistic about NBC's ''My Name Is Earl,'' UPN's ''Everybody Hates Chris'' and Fox's ''Kitchen Confidential'' -- all comedies, by the way.
I haven't dipped into the dramas much, partly because a busy weekend of garage-cleaning and the like made me want to kick back with some laughs. But also because I've put my drama-watching energy into ''Rescue Me'' and three episodes of ''The Inside.''

Friday, June 03, 2005

TCA awards

The nominations are out for the Television Critics Association awards, so I thought I'd show you the nominees and what I voted for.
In the interest of full disclosure, I've been a TCA member for more than 20 years and used to be an officer in the group. I've also been a presenter at some of the awards ceremonies.
The process works like this: I get a ballot listing the different categories and can nominate up to three items in each. My ballot goes in with everyone else who's made picks (the group has about 200 members), with the top five vote-getters ending up as formal nominees. Everyone then votes again, picking up to two items in each category. Then the winners are announced in July.
Here are the overall nominees:
PROGRAM OF THE YEAR (Award given to the best program from any category of television).
__ "Arrested Development" (Fox)
__ "The Daily Show" (Comedy Central)
__ "Deadwood" (HBO)
__ "Desperate Housewives" (ABC)
__ "Lost" (ABC)
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN COMEDY (show award)
__ "Arrested Development" (Fox)
__ "The Daily Show" (Comedy Central)
__ "Desperate Housewives" (ABC)
__ "Everybody Loves Raymond" (CBS)
__ "Gilmore Girls" (The WB)
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN DRAMA (show award)
__ "24" (Fox)
__ "Deadwood" (HBO)
__ "House" (Fox)
__ "Lost" (ABC)
__ "Rescue Me" (FX)
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN MOVIES, MINI-SERIES AND SPECIALS (show award)
__ "Lackawanna Blues" (HBO)
__ "Life and Death of Peter Sellers" (HBO)
__ "The Office Special"(BBC America)
__ "Something the Lord Made" (HBO)
__ "Sometimes in April" (HBO)
OUTSTANDING NEW PROGRAM OF THE YEAR (Award given to the best new series televised forthe first time between May 27, 2004 and May 25, 2005)
__ "Desperate Housewives" (ABC)
__ "House" (Fox)
__ "Lost" (ABC)
__ "Rescue Me" (FX)
__ "Veronica Mars" (UPN)
INDIVIDUAL ACHIEVEMENT IN COMEDY (person award)
__ Jason Bateman ("Arrested Development")
__ Marcia Cross ("Desperate Housewives")
__ Teri Hatcher ("Desperate Housewives")
__ Ray Romano ("Everybody Loves Raymond")
__ Jon Stewart ("The Daily Show")
INDIVIDUAL ACHIEVEMENT IN DRAMA (person award)
__ Kristen Bell ("Veronica Mars")
__ Matthew Fox ("Lost")
__ Hugh Laurie ("House")
__ Ian McShane ("Deadwood")
__ Kiefer Sutherland ("24")
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN CHILDREN'S PROGRAMMING (program award)
__ "DeGrassi: Next Generation" (The N)
__ "Dora the Explorer" (Nickelodeon)
__ "Nick News" (Nickelodeon)
__ "Postcards from Buster" (PBS)
__ "SpongeBob SquarePants" (Nickelodeon)
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN NEWS & INFORMATION (program award)
__ "60 Minutes" Sunday edition (CBS)
__ "The Daily Show" (Comedy Central)
__ "Frontline" (PBS)
__ "Meet the Press" (NBC)
__ "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer" (PBS)
__ "Nightline" (ABC)
HERITAGE AWARD (Award recognizes a program whose contents have had apositive impact on society and popular culture beyond the boundaries of TV.Candidate shows need to have been in production for at least five seasons OR off the air for at least five years)
__ "Frontline" (PBS)
__ "M*A*S*H" (CBS)
__ "Nightline" (ABC)
__ "Saturday Night Live" (NBC)
__ "Sesame Street" (PBS)
CAREER ACHIEVEMENT (Award given to a person whose career, in total, has made a lasting contribution to the medium)
__ Tom Brokaw
__ Bill Moyers
__ Bob Newhart
__ Aaron Spelling
__ Oprah Winfrey
Here was my nomination list:
PROGRAM OF THE YEAR
1. ''The Office'' (NBC)
2.''The Amazing Race'' (CBS)
3.''Carnivale'' (HBO)
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN COMEDY
1. ''The Office'' (NBC)
2. ''Arrested Development'' (Fox)
3. ''Everybody Loves Raymond'' (CBS)
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN DRAMA
1. ''Rescue Me'' (FX)
2. ''Veronica Mars'' (UPN)
3. ''Carnivale'' (HBO)
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN MOVIES, MINISERIES AND SPECIALS
1. ''Warm Springs'' (HBO)
2. ''Reefer Madness'' (Showtime)
3. ''The Office Special'' (BBC America)
OUTSTANDING NEW PROGRAM
1.''Veronica Mars'' (UPN)
2. ''Rescue Me'' (FX)
3. ''The Office'' (NBC)
INDIVIDUAL ACHIEVEMENT IN COMEDY
1.Steve Carell, "The Office''
2. Doris Roberts, ''Everybody Loves Raymond''
3. Jason Bateman, ''Arrested Development''
INDIVIDUAL ACHIEVEMENT IN DRAMA
1. Hugh Laurie, ''House''
2. Kristen Bell, ''Veronica Mars''
3. Glenn Close, ''The Shield''
NEWS AND INFORMATION
1. ''Unforgivable Blackness'' (PBS)
2. ''The Staircase'' (Sundance)
3. ''Nightline'' (ABC)
MOVIES, MINISERIES & SPECIALS
1. ''Warm Springs'' (HBO)
2. ''Reefer Madness'' (Showtime)
3. ''The Office Special'' (BBC America)
CHILDREN'S PROGRAMMING
1. ''Postcards From Buster''
2. ''Nick News With Linda Ellerbee''
CAREER ACHIEVEMENT
1. Larry Gelbart
2. James Garner
3. Bill Moyers
HERITAGE AWARD
1. ''Everybody Loves Raymond''
2. ''Nightline''
3.''NYPD Blue''

I know, there are a lot of differences in those lists. That neither surprises nor disappoints me. I know that other critics have their favorites, just I have mine.
There are things I have nominated over the years even though I knew they were not going to be consensus picks -- because I still thought they deserved a nod, even if it came only from me. And there are some things I did not get to the first time around that the nomination list reminds me of; for example, before I do my final ballot, I'm going to try to take a look at ''Sometimes in April.''

Channel 23 News: Technical Problem, Not the End of the Road

When WVPX (Channel 23) did not put its Akron-based newscast on the air at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, it was the result of "a defective piece of fiberoptic equipment," according to a representative of WKYC (Channel 3), which produces the newscast. The 10 p.m. news did get on as scheduled, and the station is working on replacing the equipment.
I bring this up because many of us are on edge about the future of Channel 23's newscast, including one reader who was convinced that its absence Thursday was a sign of its cancellation.
As I wrote back in March, Paxson Communications, which owns Channel 23, has told Channel 3's owner Gannett that it will end their joint sales agreement on June 30. That agreement had opened the door for the Akron newscast and its end could be trouble for the Channel 23 news. But Channel 3 is still looking at ways to keep the Channel 23 newscast on the air. The problem Thursday was not related to this bigger issue.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

''Top Model'' Loses Top Witch

There are few performers who have genuinely frightened me, and I've been in the same room as a self-described vampire. No, not a Hollywood agent. A real -- well, he said he was real -- vampire.
But one grand exception is Janice Dickinson, the model more recently famous as a judge on ''America's Next Top Model.'' You never knew what to expect from her. Nor did you want to know.
Anyway, she's giving way to a kindlier presence. (At least, I've never been frightened by Twiggy at a press conference.) Here's the announcement from UPN, with the note about Dickinson at the end:

Supermodel Twiggy has joined UPN's AMERICA'S NEXT TOP MODEL cycle 5 as a new panel judge, where she will conduct regular weekly evaluations of top model participants.
"We are thrilled to have Twiggy as a part of this cycle's judging panel; the show and participants will benefit a great deal from her vast knowledge and expertise," said Ken Mok, Executive Producer of AMERICA'S NEXT TOP MODEL. "With Twiggy and the addition of runway expert J. Alexander as judges, we're guaranteed to have some lively judging sessions."
As the first teenager to become a supermodel in the 1960's, Twiggy is still one of the most recognized names in the fashion world today. During her illustrious international modeling career, Twiggy has graced the covers of virtually every fashion magazine in the world, including, Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, McCall's, Seventeen and Newsweek.
J. Alexander began his career gracing the runway for Jean Paul Gaultier in New York City. After a modeling stint in Tokyo, he eventually decided to settle in Paris and since 1991 has found himself to be a preferred contact for casting and coaching runway models for well-known designers including Valentino, Galliano, Bill Blass, Alexander McQueen, Chanel and Nina Ricci.
The judging panel for cycle 5 will again be led by Tyra Banks and will include Twiggy, J. Alexander and renowned fashion photographer Nigel Barker. As always, special guest judges will appear to critique within his or her area of expertise.
Judge Janice Dickinson, who has been a part of AMERICA'S NEXT TOP MODEL since its onset, is leaving the show. Janice is leaving to pursue other projects including VH-1's Surreal Life. In addition, she has a television production deal and is currently working on a new book. "We would like to thank Janice for bringing her talents to the show and for everything she did to help us build 'America's Next Top Model' into its current success," said Mok. "We wish her well in all of her future endeavors."

Of Larry Brown, Deep Throat and guessing games

Trying to fend off speculation about whether he's coming to Cleveland, Detroit Pistons coach Larry Brown attacked the anonymous sources claiming he's on the move.
''Now I heard there was 'two league sources,'" Brown said, according to ESPN's Web site. "Who are the league sources? Why would somebody write that instead of being up front and saying who it is? Why would you do that? Don't just come out and throw things.''
His complaint about anonymous sources -- or, in this case, semi-anonymous sources -- is pretty interesting since it came as the all-time top anonymous source has finally been revealed.
I'm talking about Deep Throat, of course, the nicknamed source Woodward & Bernstein used in their Watergate investigation. Vanity Fair is publishing a story saying that Mark Felt, a former FBI man, has admitted to being Deep Throat, and Woodward & Bernstein have finally confirmed it.
You can argue about how much Felt had to do with breaking open Watergate. But he certainly helped make Woodward & Bernstein into stars, the sort of stars who end up going beyond reporting to wider celebrity. Their investigation became the glamorous stuff of movies,with Robert Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein (and Hal Holbrook stealing the show from both of them as Deep Throat). I've met both of them at different times, both because of TV projects. (Woodward, for one, co-wrote ''Under Siege,'' a 1986 TV-movie that anticipated what terrorism on U.S. soil might lead to.)
But beyond its impact on Watergate, the Felt revelation has already prompted at least one piece saying that Deep Throat proves the importance of anonymous sources. Although that will not comfort Larry Brown, there's some merit to it.
Sometimes you just can't get information any other way. What we have to ask is whether the information we're getting is important enough to keep the source secret -- and whether that secrecy distorts the information we're getting.
The current accounts of Felt make clear that during Watergate he was a disgruntled FBI employee -- rejected as a possible successor to J. Edgar Hoover. Would Watergate stories have been read differently if Woodward & Bernstein indicated their source had an ax to grind with Nixon? You can imagine what today's TV talkers would to with that nugget.