Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bring "Morning Joe" to CBS; It will Easily Compete Against GMA and "Today"

If you're watching “Good Morning America” or the “Today” show (you can’t be a CBS “Early Show” viewer - no one is), it's time to try something new. 

Those shows have minimal news and politics and way too much emphasis on movies (produced by the networks’ parent companies), interviews with celebs from the same movies, cooking segments and icky human interest/tug-at-the-heartstrings stories about people in the midst of unfathomable tragedy.

I suggest an alternative – “Morning Joe” on MSNBC with Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski and Willie Geist.  With their rotating band of intellectual contributors from the worlds of journalism and politics, this program is head and shoulders above the competition.  A friend and colleague recently remarked to me that “Morning Joe” is the best show on television, period.  He may be right.

There have been rumors that CBS is, indeed, trying to woo the group for a move to that network, perhaps for the morning drive period.  That would be wonderful.  More viewers than those available on cable should be exposed to this unique program.

The show features free form dialogue about national and world events directed by Scarborough (a former Congressman) and Brzezinski, but Scarborough mostly dominates.  Willie Geist adds humorous observation and commentary.  Other regulars are the mercurial Mike Barnicle and the amazing, yet conservative, Pat Buchanan who is a walking encyclopedia of American politics in the 20th century.

Tomorrow’s “Morning Joe” lineup, for instance, includes Buchanan, Barnicle, Tina Brown, the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, Michel Gabaudan, president of Refugees International, Howard Schultz of Starbucks, education reformer Geoffrey Canada, Randi Weingarten, CNBC’s Erin Burnett and Charles Best.   

Celebrities like Sara Jessica Parker and Oprah Winfrey have been on as guests and say they are regular viewers.

What's best is that the conversation is for adults, those who can respect and understand both sides of an issue without being insulting or insulted.  It also lacks the conventions of typical talk shows where segments are tightly timed and where the jokes are puns giggled between anchorpersons.  Here, there’s genuine, unscripted humor and sarcasm.

On MSNBC, “Morning Joe” beats CNN and HLN in the morning.   For the first quarter of 2011, it had 449,000 viewers to “American Morning’s” 322,000 and “Morning Express with Robin Meade’s” 316,000, topping “American Morning” for the fifth consecutive quarter.  This quarter marks the best total viewer delivery for “Morning Joe” since the last quarter of 2008, one year after its debut.  Compared to 1Q10, “Morning Joe” is the only cable morning news program with growth in every ratings category this quarter, including a 26% increase among total viewers and 23% growth in the 25 to 54 age group.

That’s great for cable (though it doesn’t beat Fox), but “Morning Joe” could have a far bigger audience and much more influence on broadcast television.   Joe Scarborough told the New York Post's Page Six earlier this month that he and Mika Brzezinski are not considering going to another network, despite rumors that they were looking for a syndication deal and that CBS is interested in them.

I hope that’s not the case, though I will continue to be a regular viewer no matter where they show up.  Next month, the team heads to London to cover the royal wedding for the week leading up to the big event on Friday, April 29th.  With all the serious news in the world, their coverage of the Prince William/Kate Middleton affair should be a nice break and it will have an interesting take compared to what will air on CBS, NBC and ABC.  I’m looking forward to it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"The Good Wife" is Getting Good

The "Good Wife" is getting much better, and it was pretty good to start with.

If you missed last night's episode, it was revealed that Kalinda, the dastardly investigator at Lockhart Gardner, once slept with Peter (Chris Noth) in return for political favors.  This is especially intriguing since Kalinda and Alicia are becoming closer and closer friends.

We also learned that Will has a questionable past.  At a former firm, he seems to have stolen something.  We don't know what or how, but he says "I paid my debt." Maybe, but I know a loose end when I see one.

At the law firm, there is further trouble.  Since the sinister Derrick Bond left, the firm must keep every client or risk the likelihood that all will flee.   The fact that Lemond Bishop, the one who's a drug kingpin, seems to have killed his wife could prove damaging.

This show keeps getting better.  It's more intriguing, more entertaining and even much more humorous than it was.

The directors have loosened up the character of Alicia.

They introduced her brother, who is a hoot.

And they're letting the Florrick children act like real kids; they're more than the usual prop children.  They interact with adults on a normal level and use their own wiles.  The scenes with Grace, Zach and Eli Gould (the chameleon, Alan Cumming) are especially funny. I loved it when he shrieked, "You kids are evil!"

The writers are graceful in the way they dance around political correctness with dialogue about black versus white, and whom Peter, the candidate, can be seen with, depending on whether he's courting liberals or conservatives.

I have complained about "The Good Wife" in the past because of some plot devices that were smarmy, like missed phone calls and deleted voice mail messages.

But I now have high hopes for what's to come, especially during May sweeps when the heat gets turned up in all shows.

Will Alicia turn to Will when she finds out about Kalinda and Peter? Will Will's secrets return to wound him?  Will Lockhart Gardner go up in flames?  Probably yes (temporarily), yes (but not fatally) and no (there has be another season).

Either way "The Good Wife" will be fun to watch.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Should "House" Have Gone the Musical Route?

I’m not a regular viewer of “House,” but not because I don’t think it’s a great program.  Hugh Laurie is immensely talented as is the rest of the cast.  The writing is superb and the premise and situations are as unique and sophisticated as any television program in the 21st century can be.  I just don’t like hospitals.

However, a recent episode that had a musical interlude was brought to my attention.

When Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), House’s boss/girlfriend, is set to undergo surgery for what is thought to be cancer, the man in her life starts to check out.  Emotionally, he can’t handle the pressure until he self prescribes Vicodin.  She responds to his instability by breaking up with him.

What happens during her surgery, though, is what I’d like to address…the introduction of a musical segment disguised as a dream sequence.

Is “House” jumping the shark?  Or is it just that Fox is capitalizing on the popularity of Glee by imposing production numbers on all its programs?

Many will remember when a past Fox hit, “Ally McBeal” resorted to such devices.  The show went downhill fast.

While Dr. House has always had a vivid imagination, I think the introduction of song and dance is a bit overboard.  A show based on supposed grit and realism should not veer into the absurd.

Yes, it was creative and the segment itself was colorful and well-directed, but it was out of character for the program.  In addition, there seems to be a setback for the title character.  He’s going backward instead of forward by returning to drugs.  That’s not unusual for an addict, but a TV program that gets stuck is one that gets closer to cancellation. 

Perhaps “House” has run its course, but feedback from viewers shows there are still tons of viewers.  At the end of last season the show was number 19 in the ratings, down from its top ten status, but popular nonetheless.   During the week of March 13, 2011 “House” was number three among all prime time broadcast programs, probably because of the “special” episode during sweeps.

I hope the loyal audience is not disappointed by writers and producers whose creativity may be stalled in season seven.  There are still a great many people rooting for House and Cuddy - who doesn’t have cancer, by the way.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Katie Couric's Replacement: Harry Smith? CBS Can Do Better

Richard Huff writes in today’s Daily News that it doesn’t matter much who takes over for Katie Couric if her contract at the CBS Evening News is not renewed, that a canteloupe could replace her and ratings would not change precipitously.

He lists a number of potential ho-hum replacements like Harry Smith (zzzzz), Jeff Glor and Lara Logan.

I say a stand-out replacement could put CBS ahead of the pack.  CBS News could really benefit from an individual who could bring something new to the anchor desk besides the typical good looks, news reading and occasional location reports and big interviews.

Anderson Cooper would be huge.  He could bring the world to people’s living rooms.  With his intrepid style and his single-minded devotion to his job, Cooper would be the anchorperson of the 21st century.  Plus, he's already a contributor to "60 Minutes."

George Stephanopoulos isn’t as adventurous, but he does know everyone and has the requisite insider’s knowledge of national and world situations.  I’ll bet he’s itching to get away from the cooking segments and movie promotion required for his current gig at ABC’s Good Morning America.

Christiane Amanpour is another candidate with muscle.  She has the international chops, but she’s less well known and is probably less likely to be welcomed by a mass audience due to her foreign accent developed during her childhood in Iran and schooling in England.  On the other hand, she’s fluent in Persian and French, which gives her some gravitas. 

And how about Joe Scarborough, the former Republican Congressman who is now the moderate host of his own political talk show, “Morning Joe” on MSNBC?  In his few years at the program, Scarborough has proven his knowledge of events and issues and seems to move from topic to topic with ease.  The list of people in his circle of influence has grown exponentially and he also would bring a new dimension to the role because he’s not afraid to discard old conventions and start something new.  “Morning Joe” is the most novel talk show on television because it's free form yet intellectual.

My first choice would be Cooper, by far, but I think the list mentioned by Huff is not ambitious enough for a news operation with the history of CBS News.  The program needs someone with oomph.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

ABC and "The Bachelor" Have Some 'Splainin' to Do

The producers of “The Bachelor” and the ABC Television Network should really look at the franchise and consider pulling it.  They should also be called on the carpet for the way they produce this program.  Not since Ricky Ricardo has there been such a hothead on TV - and this time the hottie wasn’t trying to be funny.

ABC has now made at least two major mistakes picking “bachelors.”

Last night, it was abundantly clear that the latest candidate, Brad Womack, has an anger management problem.  During the final fiancĂ©-picking episode, there was a conversation with Emily over her five-year-old daughter.

Rationally, Emily tells Brad he should think long and hard about what it will mean to be with her, to be an instant parent and to make a serious commitment; there’s good and bad that goes with parenting.

He nearly has a breakdown and starts hyperventilating, complaining that she confronted him. 

Emily should have run for the door at that point. (But she says they're engaged.)

Instead of reassuring her that he would do his best, he attacked her for calling him out.

What a loser.

Last season, Jake Pavelka displayed similar tendencies toward Vienna, his chosen, but long gone intended.  They had a fight on television that would have made Desi Arnaz look laid back.

What is wrong with these guys?  Don’t they know the cameras are on?  Don’t they see the cameras in the room with them?

Even if they are stupid enough to act poorly in private, shouldn’t they have enough brains to “act” when tape is rolling?

For some reason, the women who have been “Bachelorettes” do not seem as crazy.  Maybe it’s coincidental, but so far none have been too out there and two are still with the guys they chose.

My recommendation to ABC would be to keep “The Bachelorette,” but do away with “The Bachelor.”

It’s like presidential candidates.  Those who run - with today’s media spotlight and fundraising necessities - have such big egos that they are among those least suited to be leaders, with few exceptions.   Likewise, single men who need to put themselves on TV to find women will likely be the least suitable husbands.  I would say I feel sorry for those poor, starving, blondes who compete to be contestants.  But I really don’t.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The New American Idol is Okay

I knocked the “new” American Idol when it debuted with Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, but I take it back.

While the two new judges have a great deal of trouble being critical, they’ve taken the show to a new, if not higher level.

Tyler is a mess, but he’s fun to watch and he seems to have a passion for the music - and even for the idea of helping the young wannabes.

J-Lo is a diva with a heart.  She’s clearly obsessed with her hair and her dresses (for which she is too old), but gushes at the contestants and seems to be their biggest fan.

The most surprising part of the new dynamic is Randy Jackson.  He’s the a reincarnated Simon Cowell, left to be an actual judge and offer the critiques that the others eschew.  On last week’s programs it was Jackson who had to say, “Wait a minute, are you guys in the same studio?  Did you hear how many notes he missed?”  This happened on a number of occasions when the performers were off their game.  While Tyler and Lopez offered accolades, only Jackson heard the shortcomings.

I suspect this will change as time goes on and the two newbies settle into their role.  Surely, they’re reading the reviews and will catch on to the idea that they have to offer more than compliments.  And, let’s face it, everyone gets tired of being nice all the time.

In the meantime, there’s a great crop of young idols in the competition and there is the star quality that Lopez and Tyler bring to the table.  I’m loving the new season and recommend it.   The only drawback for me is Ryan Seacrest who has not changed his act since day one ten years ago.