Thursday, November 11, 2010

Is the New "Conan" Really New?

I like Conan O'Brien.  I missed his show when it was pulled by NBC.  I like his TBS show.  He has a good chance of someday being compared to his idol, Johnny Carson, who had just the right combination of comedy, class, cleverness and attitude.

What I quibble with is the idea that the latest iteration, named "Conan," so "they couldn't replace me so easily," is new.

It's not.  It's the same program O'Brien produced for NBC.  There's a monologue, Andy Richter, the band (minus Max Weinberg) and guests - actors, comedians and a music act to close the show.  Sure, there's a new set with a moon in the sky that moves via remote control [Sigh!], but Conan has not yet unleashed the barrage of hard core, startling humor he has promised interviewers.  On Monday there was a bleeped "SH_T" to which O'Brien exalted, "so glad we're not on NBC anymore."  Geez.

Maybe there's no way to reinvent the wheel and maybe "Conan" is good enough as it is.

The program drew 4.2 million viewers on the first night, a lot by any broadcast or cable standard and a 435% increase over what TBS was drawing in that time slot.

And the show does stand out in the crowd because it's topical and funny without pandering to the least common denominator (Jay) or featuring a septuagenarian masquerading as a college student (Dave).  It's also not heavily political a la Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart.

I hope "Conan" continues to succeed, but that he finds a way to evolve.  If he wants to become a legend like Carson, he'll change it up a bit and bring something new to the table.  These guys always compare themselves to Johnny and to real trailblazers like Lenny Bruce, but they ultimately find it difficult to get there.  Conan O'Brien is young.  He has a chance.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Random words about the new-ish TV season.

Just a few thoughts now that the Fall season is underway.

How I Met Your Mother – ready to Jump the Shark.  The jokes are stale and the situations are lame.  Having Barney put another notch in his headboard every week is over - and let’s get on with Ted’s search for Mrs. Right.  Enough already.

Hawaii Five-O, not bad as a stand-alone, but it's a gross exaggeration to compare this to the original.  Scott Cahn is no James MacArthur.  And the other kid is not Jack Lord.

Castle – Excellent.  Nathan Fillion and Stana Katick are terrific in this show that rocks great-looking people, New York City and pretty good dialogue. But it, too, has to move it along.

NCIS - I can see why people continue to watch this Navy version of the CSI formula (consistently second in the weekly ratings.)  It’s fun and the characters are endearing.  It stands out in a crowded field.

Good Wife – This is an excellent show for its adult (not that kind of adult, just mature, as opposed to childish) subject matter and evolved characters.  But the writers used a cheap, soap opera-ish plot device at the beginning of the season that nearly ruined the show for me.  They had Alan Cumming’s character delete a cell phone message from Will to Alicia, a move that killed their fledgling relationship.  How low!

Hell’s Kitchen – You gotta love this train wreck.  Where do they find these low-life chefs?  They are the craziest, dirtiest, most filthy-mouthed food preparers anyone could ever find.  I guess no one normal could work under the tutelage of the equally low Gordon Ramsey.  But, I wouldn’t want to eat the food they’ve smoked and sweated over.  GROSS.

Modern Family & Cougar Town – Love them.  Great-looking (Cougar Town), fun characters with witty dialogue.  Silly situations, but who cares?  They’re not claiming it’s Shakespeare.

The Office & 30 Rock – Still fun, but not up to previously set standards of comedy and wit.  I’ll give both more time because they’ve been great television programs and, as friends have said, they rise and fall from week to week.

Outsourced – I stumbled onto this one, thinking it was silly, but so glad I did.  Its beauty lies in its lack of political correctness.  A breath of fresh air.

Blue Bloods – A good, solid cop/family show with wonderful actors and Tom Selleck leading the way.  You have a cast of semi-stars here – Donnie Walberg, Bridget Moynahan, Len Cariou, Nicholas Turturro and Jennifer Esposito.  I do have a bone to pick, naturally.  Like NYPD Blue, the director is stereotyping cops and their speech patterns/dialogue.  Not all cops say “dese, dem and dose.”  And, not all cops are as gung-ho as this crew.  Most I’ve known are pretty cynical.  A little more reality would be nice.

Brothers and Sisters – Still somewhat fun, but verging on the too maudlin to watch on a Sunday night when work looms.  C’mon guys, entertain us; stop making everyone the victim of unspeakable tragedy.   

Okay, now I’m exaggerating.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Will the Ladies of "The View" be Tough on President Obama? Yes

President Obama will certainly get the tough questions from the ladies of "The View."  There is no way the returning Barbara Walters will be soft and, now that Joy Behar has her own program, I believe she will assert herself as well.  Elisabeth Hasselbeck's followers will expect her to hit hard. 

With the level of visibility being given to this interview, it will be incumbent on all of the co-hosts to live up to the hype and to make news.  Expect Whoopi Goldberg to be the referee.

Unemployment, the economy, the war in Afghanistan and the troops will all be on the table, as they should be.   After those issues have been addressed, you can also expect the softball questions about the Obama's vacation plans, Michelle Obama's war on obesity and life at the White House with Sasha and Malia. 

While most "View" viewers are interested in the "inside the White House" questions, the legions of unemployed people will be watching to hear the president's answers about when they can expect to go back to work. 

The White House, no doubt, sees this interview as a major opportunity to bring his message to a large voting audience in anticipation of the midterm elections in November.  The president should not duck the hard questions; if he does there will be a wave of ensuing negative publicity during the summer when issues can drag on and the Obama administration will have itself to blame.

More commentary included in today's story in the Christian Science Monitor:

Sunday, July 25, 2010

My Boys

Yay!  "My Boys" is back tonight at 9 on TBS.  Two new episodes back to back.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Rescue Me is Back: More Smart, Clever, Raw Comedic Drama

“Rescue Me” continues to play on the tragedy of 9/11 and my opinion is that the device is played out. But there’s still a lot of greatness left in this show that ends after next season.

Season six opened this past week with Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary) having been shot by Uncle Teddy after Tommy convinced his on-the-wagon drinking buddies to chuck sobriety. Uncle Teddy’s wife killed herself behind the wheel of a car, hence a bullet to the shoulder for Gavin.

Tommy dies and goes to that place in heaven/hell/wherever where all 343 firefighters from 9/11 are still gathered. Of course, the dead cousin whose widow is Tommy’s longtime sex buddy is there to give him advice.

Denis Leary is not dead.  He wakes up, leaves the hospital and revisits all his haunts and the people he was screwing before the shooting - and no one showers him with happiness over his survival. They’re all livid.

Wife Janet, the peach who’s letting one of their daughters drink straight hooch in the house, rants.

Girlfriend Sheila (Callie Thorne) reveals that she almost pulled the plug on Tommy in the hospital. Now, to thank him for “saving” his life, he must get her son out of the fire business. She doesn’t want the kid to follow her husband to the grave, this reasoning being the only sane aspect to this really crazy woman.

The firehouse is also the doghouse for Tommy. The guys are upset with him because the house may be closed, possibly because of all the trouble he’s instigated. Typically, Gavin volunteers to take the fall, but he’s only bluffing, demonstrating the character’s complete lack thereof.

The scenes in the firehouse kitchen are generally the best in the show because the guys are hilarious and attractive as they exude complete stupidity that they perceive as brilliance. Schlumpy “Lou” (John Scurti) steals a scene when he can’t stop talking as the siren calls and calls. Daniel Sunjata (Franco), Steven Pasquale (Sean) and Larenz Tate (Shawn) also shine here.

As with other season openers, the comedy and drama are only set-ups for the future. But, the dialogue and characterizations in the presentation demonstrate that this season will be like the others – smart, clever, raw and hysterically funny. None of these individuals can get out of their own way, and I’ll be sorry when they finally do.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Will the Entourage characters ever grow up? Season 7 should tell.

Season Seven of HBO's "Entourage" opened with a whimper.  Each of the four boys is facing his own new challenges.

Vince (Adrian Grenier) is making an action picture and agrees to do one of his own stunts - a death defying car scene.

Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) is running a limo service with female drivers, who aren't Plain Janes.  But one of his chauffeur chicks can't find LAX to save her life.

Eric (Kevin Connolly) is happily getting married to Sloane.

And poor Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) is an out of work actor, once again.

The fifth Beatle, uber agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), who now owns the world's largest talent agency, finds himself putting out fires worthy of his lowly staff.  He's not managing well and Mrs. Ari (the wife without a name) is not happy.

Will Vince survive?  Will Turtle's business?  Will Eric remain hopelessly devoted?  Will Hollywood finally notice Johnny? And will Ari learn to delegate?

The first episode was just a set-up for what's to come, so who knows?

But the real question for "Entourage" is whether or not these immature LA almost-men will ever grow up.  At the close of last season Turtle had fallen in love with Jamie Lynn Sigler.  Johnny's career was taking off.  Eric took the engagement plunge.  Ari learned humility.  Even poor, pitiful Lloyd asserted himself with Ari and became a real agent.  Only Vince remained unchanged.

Note to the producers: keep it moving.  The countless playboy scenes were funny for the first six seasons, but they're stale now.  If the writers are worth what Mark Wahlberg (exec producer) is paying them, they should be able to come up with humorous situations and good writing with predicaments for grown-ups.  Hollywood can't be that boring.

"Entourage" at its best offers an inside look at the entertainment industry that even reading Variety can't provide.  Add the cameos, the self-mockery and the Ari tirades and it's wonderful.  If the situations don't change, however, and the characters don't mature, "Entourage" is just another sitcom that jumped the shark.  Let's hope sophistication overtakes slapstick for this great HBO show.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Poor Bachelorette Ali: Couldn't they Find Her a Guy with a Job

So Reality Steve, the blogger who seems to know all the dirt on reality TV, even results before they air, is reporting that current ABC Bachelorette Ali Fedotowsky remains single at the end of the program's run. She chooses neither Charleston, S.C. insurance agent, Roberto, 26, nor Chris L., 33, the landscaper from Cape Cod. The final rose ceremony has already been taped and Steve says she walks away with no one.

Is it any wonder? Only one of the seven remaining guys has a respectable job by my accounting.

Craig R. of Philadelphia is a 27-year-old lawyer, but he seems as exciting as a tree stump.

The rest are this close to being unemployed or have euphemism jobs. You know, if a guy’s mother is asked what her son does for a living, she says, “he’s a sales associate.” Translation: he works in a shoe store.

Here are the rest:

Frank, 31, Retail Manager (Translation: works at McDonald’s)
Justin, 26, Entertainment Wrestler (need I say more)
Ty, 31, Medical Sales (works at CVS)
Kirk, 27, Sales Consultant (Oh my God!)

And this girl, Ali, is an advertising exec at Facebook. Not only does she work for a real company with a real title, but she was an early employee of the fastest growing Internet company on the planet. If we can use other such companies as a guide, like Google, she could have real money. The first people who signed on to Google became millionaires and Facebook has had a similar history. The stock is through the roof.

Why would Ali go for any of these guys, unless they are absolute, stand-out individuals? I don’t get that impression. They’re all good looking, but none has told her anything I would deem special. Chris lost his mother and has a great dad. Kirk had mold poisoning. And Justin has a sprained ankle. Oh, and another spoiler, he’s the one whose girlfriend calls Ali to tell her he’s already taken (and he’s cheating on that chick).

At least Jake Pavelka, “The Bachelor” from the last season, who chose vampy Vienna and then broke up with her, is a pilot. That’s a decent job.

Good luck to Ms. Fedotowsky. Except for a mouthful of a surname, she seems to be an attractive, nice and fairly accomplished person. I’m sure she’ll find a decent guy. And if she marries him, she’ll even have a new last name.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

“Hot in Cleveland” – Will the Great Premise Carry the Show?

If nothing else, I just love the premise of “Hot in Cleveland,” TV Land’s first try at an original adult sitcom that debuted tonight.

Jane Leeves (“Frasier”), Wendy Malick (“Just Shoot Me”) and Valerie Bertinelli are stranded after a freaky plane ride en route to Paris lands them in Cleveland.  Once there, they realize Midwestern men actually consider them hot. That’s not the case in their hometown of LA where they haven’t been noticed by men in years because they’re not emaciated and 20 years old.  And the men in Cleveland are straight; they don't have to guess.

They decide to stay.

Says Jane Leeves, “These men are hitting on women their own age; we owe it to science to investigate.”

If you look closely enough (and some of you will have to put on your glasses), you’ll see that one of the guys in that scene, the blond, is John Schneider from “Dukes of Hazard.”   He looks great.

The show itself is somewhat amusing. Believe it or not, the best lines are delivered by Betty White who turns up as the cleaning lady in the house the first three rent.

Alessandra Stanley in today's New York Times said the idea for the show came from a "30 Rock" episode during which Tina Fey is in Cleveland.  Someone suggests she should "eat something" because she's so skinny.

We’ll see if the stories and the dialogue shine through after the premise is worn out. The cast is certainly a good one. These women have nothing to prove; they’re all established comediennes. Only the writers can fail at this point. There’s a target on their back if they do.

Monday, June 14, 2010

HGTV or Food Network: Which are You?

So I'm an HGTV person.  Most of my friends seem to be Food Network people.

I'm finding that TV viewers fall into one of the two groups, but usually not both.

Me?  I like interior design more than I like to cook (food addiction notwithstanding).  More than that, I take to the transformation aspect of the HGTV shows: Mike Holmes takes a completely botched construction job and rebuilds a house in an hour.  The "Design to Sell" crew makes over a hovel in 30 minutes with $2,000 while the mortified homeowners crawl under the furniture.  "Curb Appeal: the Block" features bad neighbors who become tolerable neighbors when their place no longer drags the street into the gutter (hint to house at the end of our subdivision).  And last, but not least, "Design Star" where there's design with cat-fighting.  Ah, the fun.

Food Network, not so much for me.  I can't seem to become addicted to competition over scaling fish and choosing the right garnish. (Yes, I know there's much more than that to "Top Chef" [Bravo] and Iron Chef America.)  I do admit to watching the Gordon Ramsay shows, "Kitchen Nightmares" and "Hell's Kitchen," trashy as they are.  (Where to they get the contestants for Hell's Kitchen?)

What are your thoughts?  Houses or Food?  Tell us why.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Cougar Town": The Name Detracts from a Good Show

I completely understand why the producers of "Cougar Town," the Courtney Cox sitcom on ABC, considered a new name, though the program is on next year's schedule unchanged.

The show is cute and witty with on-target younger boomer humor and a great cast, but the name is a turn-off that initially made me reticent about watching.  I thought it would be voyeuristic to watch Cox become involved with much younger men and that the cougar aspect was the sole theme.

Though there is some older woman/young stud goofiness, that's not really what the show's about.  It's more of a lite characterization of how someone goes from being married with kids and responsibilities to being single with an older, more independent child, who is now forced to be out there having fun.  They should totally have changed the name. "Re-entry"?

Cox's character is a slightly grown-up Monica, but equally entertaining.  The male lead (love interest), Josh Hopkins as Grayson Ellis, is great looking and a decent actor.  The supporting cast makes up a pretty decent ensemble - Ian Gomez from "Felicity" as the best friend's husband/next door neighbor, Brian Van Holt ("Burn Notice") as the requisite doofus ex-husband who constantly drops in unannounced, and the contrasting younger and older best friends, Busy Phillipps ("Dawson's Creek") and Christa Miller ("The Drew Carey Show").

Congratulations to Cox and her husband, David Arquette, who are co-executive producers along with Kevin Biegel from "Scrubs" and "South Park."  In fact, "Scrubs" is very well represented among the writing staff as are those from "Spin City," another great show.  Will they live up to those standards in Season 2?  I hope so.  In the meantime, I'll watch this past season's episodes over the summer since I was previously put off by a poorly named program.

Friday, May 21, 2010

CBS Fall Line-up 2010

The CBS fall schedule, announced this week, rearranges some programs, but there are only five new entries.

Two new sitcoms arrive: "Mike and Molly" about two overweight people who met at Overeaters Anonymous and "$#*! My Dad Says" with William Shatner as the cranky Dad whose real-life son has been Tweeting his unprintable musings.

Also joining the line-up are a remake of Hawaii Five-O (YES, the lead character is named Steve McGarrett) and two new dramas.  "The Defenders" is an "irreverent" law show set in Las Vegas where Jerry O'Connell and Jim Belushi defend "the little guy."  "Blue Bloods" is about a family of cops in New York City with Tom Selleck, Donnie Wahlberg and Len Cariou.  (I just hope the characters don't affect those terrible cop/New York accents done so terribly on "NYPD Blue.")

Big Bang Theory" moves to Thursday to be followed by a new sitcom; "Miami CSI" (so tired) moves to Sundays and "Survivor: Nicaragua" goes to Wednesdays.

Conspicuously absent from the CBS schedule are "Ghost Whisperer," "Cold Case,"  and "Numbers" - all cancelled (Rob Morrow already has a new ABC gig).  "Medium," "Gary Unmarried" and "New Adventures of Old Christine" should be back later in the year.

CBS Web site features classic TV

Watch classic TV shows at:

Includes: The Ed Sullivan Show, Love Boat, Hawaii Five-O and many others.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

ABC: Fall 2010

So far, the new ABC schedule seems to be the least promising of all the announced new skeds for fall, though the network has a number of new programs.
“Better Together” sounds good.  From Shana Goldberg-Meehan of “Friends,” it’s about two sisters at different stages in their romantic relationships. One is in a long-term relationship; the other gets pregnant and marries a new guy.  This show will join ABC’s already successful slate of Wednesday night comedies.

Starring Julie Benz and the appealing Tate Donovan, “No Ordinary Family” revolves around a typical American family with “special” abilities, ala “The Incredibles.”  Michael Chiklis is also in it.

“Detroit 1-8-7”
is a crime drama pilot set in Detroit.  It follows a fictional documentary crew following a homicide squad and is described as having a “humorous tone.”
A legal drama, "The Whole Truth," that the network claims presents both sides of a case equally so the viewers are the virtual jury.  Jerry Bruckheimer produces it and the cast features Rob Morrow.  Yes, there will be a verdict at the end of each hour.

In the oy vey department, ABC is finally getting into the spate of shows with dissected dead bodies.  In the aptly titled, "Body of Proof," Dana Delany ("Desperate Housewives," China Beach”) is a neurosurgeon-turned-medical examiner whose expertise helps solve murders.

For "My Generation" the gimmick is the return to a town where the high school class of 2000 was captured in a documentary.  Now, ten years later, the crew is back to capture the classmates’ return to Austin, Texas where each one (all the typical high school characters are represented – nerd, overachiever, punk, etc.) discovers that what happened to them during the previous decade wasn’t exactly what they expected when they left high school.

Finally, ABC will be airing a program that ran briefly on Fox, called "Secret Millionaire," which follows wealthy people who go undercover in economically depressed areas and give some of their money to people in need.

So, here’s the schedule:

Sunday: “Extreme Makeover: Home,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Brothers and Sisters”
Monday: “Dancing with the Stars,” “Castle”
Tuesday: “No Ordinary Family,” “Dancing with the Stars,” “Detroit 1-8-7”
Wednesday: “The Middle,” “Better Together,” “Modern Family,” “Cougar Town,” “The Whole Truth”
Thursday: “My Generation,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice”
Friday: Secret Millionaire,” “Body of Proof,” “20/20”
Saturday: Football

Fox TV's Fall Schedule 2010

The Fox Fall TV Schedule has few surprises.

A couple of new series hopefuls are the comedy entries, "Running Wilde" and "Raising Hope."  I don't know much about the latter, described as a single-camera family comedy from the producers of "My Name is Earl," but it's the lead-in to "Running Wilde," which means they're banking on it.  "Wilde" sounds better.  It's from the "Arrested Development" folks and stars Keri Russell ("Felicity") and Will Arnett ("30 Rock") as two childhood sweethearts finding their way back to each other. 

I would be excited about "The Good Guys," which stars one of my favorites, Bradley Whitford ("The West Wing"), had I not been watching the ridiculous-looking previews.  This is an action comedy with Matt Nix of "Burn Notice."  They are an old- and new-school cop who solve crimes from "irreverent angles employing non-linear storytelling."  Huh?  I guess you have to watch to understand.

The final new entry for Fox is "Lonestar," a soap set against the backdrop of big Texas oil.  "Dallas" for the new millennium?  David Keith and Jon Voight star.  I doubt the two of them combined will be as funny as Larry Hagman.

Rounding out the schedule for Fox are "House" on Mondays, followed by "Lone Star."  Tuesdays start with "Glee" and then the two new sitcoms.  Wednesdays feature the returning "Lie to Me" and "Hell's Kitchen."  "Bones" and "Fringe" return on Thursdays; Fridays are "Human Target" and "the Good Guys."

Saturdays present "Cops" and "America's Most Wanted," while there are animated features on Sundays: "The Simpsons," "The Cleveland Show," "Family Guy" and "American Dad."

Monday, May 17, 2010

NBC Fall Schedule 2010

NBC's new schedule for the fall was released today with a lot of fanfare, but little fare, at least not any that will make a huge difference in anyone's viewing habits.

Notable to me are two entries for Thursdays.

The first is a sitcom called "Outsourced" about a company that sent most of its jobs to India.

Second is a romantic comedy in the old hour-long format (remember, they have to replace five nights of the Jay Leno debacle) called "Love Bites."  It stars Jordana Spiro, late of "My Boys," who carries that great TBS show admirably (it returns in July).

The rest is unexciting - a couple of action shows on Monday nights, "The Event" and "Chase," and two hours of "The Biggest Loser" on Tuesdays, followed by "Parentwood.

Wednesdays will have a new program called "Undercovers," (a take on "Mr. & Mrs. Smith), followed by two "Law & Order" installments, SVU and the new Los Angeles iteration.

Friday nights will be "Dateline" and the new Jimmy Smits show, "Outlaw."

On Saturdays, NBC will repeat "Undercovers" and "SVU."  Sunday night is all football.

Stay tuned for the rest of the networks' announcements.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

24 this season is more like a 2

The producers are bragging that they’ve taken away Jack Bauer’s moral compass because of all the hell he’s been through.  EP Howard Gordon told “Digital Spy”: What he will have done in the last six episodes leaves him once again in a very compromised place morally, ethically and emotionally. This show is a tragedy… I’m taking people’s outrage as a measure of interest.”

Through the seasons Jack lost his wife, a couple of near-love interests and his latest flame, just seconds after an intimate interlude.

Jack, himself, has been tortured and shot so many times that he’s lost feeling in his soul.  Now, he’s on a rampage and has killed in cold blood; he’s gone completely rogue.

The writing team thinks all of this makes the show better, more dramatic.  I think the opposite.

They’ve taken the character out of the characters.  With the exception of Chloe, slowly but surely, every single stand-up individual in 24 has devolved into either complete stupidity or treason.

The worker bees at CTU are incompetent.  The bosses, virtually everyone who’s been put in charge, never know how to handle a situation.  And Jack is always the only one who can save the day.  Government officials are uniformly pompous and ineffective.  Every president of the United States portrayed has been brought down by hubris or sheer idiocy.  Only good ole reliable Chloe remains standing upright.

This season, even President Alyson Taylor (Cherry Jones), seemingly consumed by peace in the Middle East, became a sell-out sometime between hours 18 and 20.  A former president, Charles Logan, brought down in a previous season, is an outright traitor.  There was the devious Dana Walsh, a spy within the CTU ranks, and countless other shady individuals.  Once thought to be respectable, they went to the other side.

Viewers have no one to invest themselves in and that’s the biggest mistake of all.  Any book, movie or television show without a hero is doomed.  Characters can be flawed, but they must be admired, loved, or at least liked.  The drama is not worth watching if the characters are not mirrors of those we aspire to be.  The old Jack Bauer fit that description; the new one does not.  Yes, the program is a tragedy, but even Shakespearean tragedies have heroes.

I will keep watching 24, but not with the rapt attention I once had.  I don’t see how the upcoming theatrical movie can be successful under the current circumstances.  I was a lot more enthusiastic about rooting for Jack  when I admired him.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” is Edward R. Murrow to the Les Nessmans on Other Networks (If you don’t get the reference, don’t continue reading)

The New York Times wrote about “Morning Joe” on MSNBC in the Sunday Styles section this past week, but they were late to the table.

Having watched from day 1 in May 2007, I can say that the Times story missed the point about an outstanding program for grown-ups with brains.

Hosted by former Congressman Joe Scarborough and longtime broadcaster Mika Brzezinski, this wake-up-with-politics show is so much better than others in this genre.  More than the relationships among the hosts, more than the revolving cast of notables debating issues and more than extended segments, “Morning Joe” stands alone in that it doesn’t pander to “the suits” who usually demand that a program be tailored to everyone.

The never-ending dialogue is sophisticated, urbane and intelligent, but it’s also as unrestricted as the conversation you have with your close friends after the rest of the party guests have left.  You get the idea, at least, that no one’s pulling punches and being politically correct. 

There’s sarcasm, jokes that those in Peoria won’t get and a lot of inside baseball.  No one’s hiding behind a desk and pretending to be perfect.  Guests can be put on the spot and asked questions without being prepped by pre-interviews.  Ill-prepared?  Don’t do live TV.

What I love, particularly, is that there are no vomit-inducing human-interest stories, no suggestions for Mother’s Day gifts and (GAG) no cooking segments.

Celebrities who come to the set get a minute to promote and then have to demonstrate intellect or take a hike.  Tom Hanks is a recent example; he showed that he’s much more than an actor and director.  He can think.

And that’s what it’s all about: thinking.  Thank goodness there are some broadcasters out there who are still given free rein to do so and that the bosses at parent company NBC are leaving Mika, Joe and company alone. 

P.S. Note to Don Imus (whose program Morning Joe replaced): your sophomoric show was Les Nessman to their Edward R. Murrow.  (If you don’t get the reference, Morning Joe is not for you.)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Harry Connick Should Fill Simon's Shoes

If the American Idol producers are still searching for a replacement for Simon Cowell, they should look no further than this week's musical guest, Harry Connick, Jr.  (This is Cowell's last season.)

Connick is a musician's musician - a composer, arranger, pianist, singer and conductor - who's worked in many genres.  Plus, he's funny and tremendously entertaining.

The man would bring a lot to the table, like bona fide musical critique, not platitudes and gushing.  He's pleasant, but not a pushover.  I LOVED it when he admonished the judges last night to stop using the word "pitchy" to tell performers they're simply "out of tune."  (I've been yelling that at the TV for years.)  Connick has the musical chops.

Harry seemed like he was bucking for the judge's job.  During his two-night stint he coached the idols, performed, cracked jokes and conducted the orchestra.  Let's hope I'm right.  Next season could be great fun.

Pass it on!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Thwarting Terrorism in “24” vs. Real Life in Times Square

If you’re watching “24” this season, you know that midtown Manhattan, near the UN, was threatened by a radiological device. The situation was somewhat similar to the car bomb, though not radioactive, found in Times Square on Saturday.

There are many similarities, but, unfortunately, many differences. On “24,” the fictional anti-terrorism agency, CTU, has far more high tech surveillance at its disposal. Producers portray New York City as having cameras on every street, radar detectors all over the place and 3-D schematics of every building. It seems, in TV land, as if anyone can be tracked at any time.

Now, over to real life. According to today’s newspaper reports, the NYPD is only in the planning stages of a security system that would be able to read all license plates on cars traveling between 34th and 50th Streets. The system would also have chemical, biological and radiological sensors. The program is not in place and more funding is needed to complete it, probably around $50 million. Other reports speak of body-temperature scanners that can detect explosives underneath clothing; they’re reportedly available but not in wide use in NYC.

This is disappointing news to those of us who watch TV and particularly those of us who watch TV and spend time each day in midtown Manhattan, unequivocally a number one terrorism target.

It’s always been fun to fantasize about the gizmos and gadgets in fiction that we’d like to see in the real world. Calling Dick Tracy. And, some have become reality. For the sake of millions of people let’s hope government officials see the seriousness of the situation and commit the funding. It’s clearly more than fun to fantasize, it could be lifesaving.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Reality TV - Some Good, Most Awful

I'm not a fan of most Reality TV, but some programs are so distasteful they should not be seen, much less broadcast to millions.

The rancor displayed by reality contestants puts the worst aspects of human behavior on display and contributes to those who wrongly contend that American society is declining.

The culprits are, for the most part, the producers and network executives who take a bunch of strangers, force them to live together, shut them off from the world and provide liquor.

Is it any wonder that the final products feature little but sniping and catfighting?

The worst examples are "The Bachelor" and "Survivor."

On the plus side, there are a few programs that bring us together - as viewers, music lovers, champions of young people trying to make it in the world and even aspiring business magnates.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but the current run of "The Celebrity Apprentice" employs a respected group of performers and other semi-famous individuals who are showing viewers how to be effective and how to raise money for charity while remaining collegial.  Stand-outs are Holly Robinson Peete, Olympic swimmer Summer Sanders and, shockingly, Poison rocker, Bret Michaels.  What a great group!

While it's been said quite often that the current group of American Idol contestants doesn't measure up to past idols talent-wise, these young singers seem to be incredibly supportive of each other.  They're fighting for their artistic lives, but they still pat each other on the back.  The program is a further joy in that it showcases music appreciated by all generations and gives us all something to talk about the next morning.

I don't believe network programmers should eliminate all reality television, but I implore them to start weeding out that which offends.  I'd rather turn the TV off than watch programs that present people as lower life forms.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

On Deutsch, Olbermann and Biden

So MSNBC removed Donny Deutsch from its broadcasts because he named the network's own Keith Olbermann among others who are displaying intense anger during their political talk programs.  (Others were Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.)

MSNBC is correct from an HR standpoint - you can't have one of your top talkers maligned by his own colleagues - but Deutsch's thinking is right.  Who wants to watch these guys explode every day and why can't they speak reasonably?  On both sides, they're mongering fear and hate.  And, they're contributing to the divisiveness that precludes any positive action in Washington.

On "The View" today, Vice President Joe Biden was asked about the lack of decorum in politics by Joy Behar, of all people.  He recalled the late Senate Majority Leader, Mike Mansfield, who lectured to Biden as a young Senator about discourse and collegiality.  Biden noted that some of his fellow members of Congress frequently refer to former President Clinton as "Bubba."  You wonder, he said, "why kids don't respect authority."

Let's get back to discussing ideas and refrain from spewing anger - in private and on TV.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Conan signs with TBS

Conan is going to cable, in my opinion, to be able to do the comedy he couldn't do at NBC.  At TBS, he'll be free to say the things that Bill Maher, George Lopez, et al, get away with. He won't be marginalized; he'll be unleashed.
He's probably also tired of the network hierarchy and the allegiance that must be paid to network programming and movies produced by parent companies.  At Fox, he would have been forced to promote everything that came out of that company's studio.
And, yes, basic cable is the new place to be.  TBS, TNT, HBO and USA are producing comedies and dramas that are better than those of the old networks.  Programs like "My Boys," "The Closer," "Leverage" and the dearly departed "Monk" are better than anything on CBS, NBC and ABC, with few exceptions.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Superbowl Spots: Some Were good

I don't think all the Superbowl ads were a disappointment as many have been saying.  Although I do agree with Stuart Elliott of The New York Times who opined that nostalgia was front and center.

The Snickers spot with Betty White and an appearance by Abe Vigoda (long thought dead by many) was great.

I loved the kgb Sumo wrestler piece wherein a couple of skinny guys are poised to fight a couple of HUGE sumo wrestlers.  The guy who didn't use kgb to text his question (How to say "I surrender" in Japanese) gets mauled while the guy who does gets his answer and escapes safely.

The Audi ad with the "green police" was funny and drove home a number of points, not the least of which poked fun at the environmental movement.

The Jay/Oprah/Dave bit was hysterical, topical and clever, all of which are the hallmarks of a great Superbowl ad.

I'm not a big fan of the Simpsons, so the Coke spot set in Springfield was lost on me.

Others that were simply lame included Denny's, Budweiser and

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Quick Pitch for Castle and White Collar

There are two detective shows that are relatively new that are blowing me away - Castle (ABC, Mondays, 10 PM EST) and White Collar (USA, Tuesdays, 10 PM EST).

Both are clever, smart, sophisticated and feature beautiful people - and they're both set in New York City.

The mysteries are fun and easy enough to follow.  The dead bodies aren't too gory.  And the characters and dialogue are fantastic.

If you haven't watched these shows yet, I highly recommend that you try them.

Conan: I Hope He Comes Back

I keep hearing, "don't feel sorry for Conan O'Brien, he's walking away with millions."  But the fact is I do.

The guy grew up dreaming about being Johnny Carson and as soon as his wish was fulfilled, it went up in smoke.  He moved his family and staff to the West Coast to set up shop at the hallowed NBC studios in Burbank and was given only seven months to prove himself.

Sure, money and fame are great.  But suffering that kind of disappointment and embarassment is tough.

Personally, I already miss watching O'Brien at 11:30.  His monologues were getting funnier, particularly at the biting end.  And he is a smart, pleasant person to watch.  (Unfortunately, his interviewing skills are not up to par.)

I do hope Conan O'Brien is picked up by another network in late night.  The viewing alternatives   are sparse.  Jay Leno tries to appeal to the least common denominator and I don't think he's nearly as clever as Conan.  Letterman is tired.

When Conan does land in another spot, he should be advised to keep the edge that he displayed during his last NBC shows and to learn how to conduct interviews, namely by practicing the art of listening.

Good luck, Conan.