Thursday, June 30, 2011

Was MSNBC Right to Suspend Mark Halperin for his Remarks about the President?

President Obama was tough with Republicans during yesterday's White House news conference.  He said they "need to do their job" to make a deal on the budget and that they have to agree to end tax breaks for the oil and gas companies, hedge funds and others.  He also challenged them to delay their Fourth of July break in order to get the job done.

Hours later, at the start of Morning Joe on MSNBC, the discussion about the president's remarks got right to the point.

Joe Scarborough asked Mark Halperin from Time Magazine for his opinion on whether the president was using showmanship.

Halperin smirked and asked if he could be candid. Was the seven second delay in place?

Scarborough, seizing the opportunity for a hot discussion, challenged Halperin: "Take a chance."

His co-host, Mike Brzezinski said, "We have it.  Can we use it?  Alex? (asking the producer) Let's see what happens?"

So Mark Halperin, very deliberately, called the president of the United States a bad word used for the male anatomy.  You can see the whole clip here. 

The response from the hosts was shock.

Scarborough: "What are you doing?  I was joking.  Don't do that.  Did we delay that?"

Producer:  "I hit it.  I hope it worked."

Scarborough: "I'm not shocked by much, but I'm shocked.  You can't shock me!  My mother's watching.  We'll soon find out."

I don't think Halperin realized the repercussions right away because the discussion continued along  normal lines.  But later on there was contrition all around.  Halperin apologized to the president, to the office and to viewers.  Scarborough and Brzezinksi apologized as well and took responsibility for goading their guest and for assuring him he would be bleeped, which he wasn't.

Later, MSNBC suspended Halperin, a regular contributor to the network, indefinitely.

Should they have been so harsh?

No.  Halperin should have been suspended for a week because he did say something wrong, but it was minor and he clearly believed his remarks would not make it to air.

A larger point has been made about the tenor of the political discourse and how it has devolved.

That is certainly true and adjustments should be made by politicians and commentators alike.  The verbal blows have become too severe all around.

But I have been watching Mark Halperin for a long time as a regular "Morning Joe" viewer and I've witnessed that he is generally very collegial in his comments and in his manner. 

Anyone in broadcasting knows that you should never say anything untoward in a studio where microphones could be live at any time.  That was a big mistake and it's shocking that people on TV daily don't adhere to this decades old dictum.

And, certainly, political salvos from both sides of the aisle have become too strong and it is beyond time that politicians and commentators return to civility, but I don't think Mark Halperin is to blame and I don't think his punishment should be as serious as it is.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Rookie Blue: Is it Baywatch, The Rookies or Hill Street Blues? Definitely Not the Latter

This may be a gross exaggeration, but Rookie Blue on ABC reminds me of Baywatch.  The cast of this cop drama is made up of young, beautiful people and focuses on their relationships with each other. 

The plots sound serious, but they're mere smoke screen for the camera, which is trained on the pretty faces and toned bodies.  The only difference between this and that California beach show from the 90's is that the cast members here are mostly clothed (though there seem to be a lot of locker room and getting-ready-for-work scenes that are an excuse for skin).

The drama on Rookie Blue is based on scenarios for 20-somethings - a murder at a concert, drugs at a club, a young cop’s distress at her father’s alcoholism and a party with underage drinking that ends in death.  Of course, there is a great deal of romance among the police officers who work together on the same cases and in the same squad.

I can't say the program isn't good.  It's okay, but it lacks interesting dialogue, humor and emotion that isn't robotic.

The actors are nice looking, as stated, but have marginal abilities as thespians.  I don't recognize a single face from other programs, though the credits say Missy Peregrym (Andy McNally), Gregory Smith (Dov Epstein) and Eric Johnson (Luke Callaghan) were on Heroes, Everwood and Smallville, respectively.

It's even hard to tell which city is the backdrop, though ABC's Web site does reveal that it's Toronto, which explains some of the blandness.

Contrast Rookie Blue against one of the great cop dramas of all time, Hill Street Blues, and it comes up completely empty.  Hill Street had awesome writing, a colorful and highly professional acting company and more drama in one minute than Rookie Blue has in 43 minutes.  And there was a lot of comedy within the tragedy.

If Rookie Blue is like Baywatch, then it's worth noting that the latter did have a lot of viewers.  It stayed on the air for 12 years, first on NBC and then in syndication, so Rookie Blue may do the same.  Don't count on it, though.  This one may last as long as The Rookies, another ABC entry that aired in the 70's and lasted four seasons.

In the meantime, the program does make for some easy on the eyes viewing.

Monday, June 27, 2011


ABC announced the following Fall premiere dates for the 2011-2012 season today. All times listed are eastern.

Friday, September 16
10:00-11:00 p.m.    20/20

Monday, September 19
8:00-10:00 p.m.      Dancing with the Stars
10:00-11:00 p.m.    Castle

Tuesday, September 20
9:00-10:00 p.m.      Dancing with the Stars the Results Show
10:00-11:00 p.m.    Body of Proof
Wednesday, September 21
8:00-9:00 p.m.       The Middle (special one-hour premiere)
9:00-10:00 p.m.     Modern Family (special one-hour premiere)
10:00-11:00 p.m.   Revenge 
Thursday, September 22
8:00-9:00 p.m.      Charlie's Angels
9:00-11:00 p.m.    Grey's Anatomy (special two-hour premiere)

Sunday, September 25
7:00-9:00 p.m.      Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (special two-hour premiere)
9:00-10:00 p.m.     Desperate Housewives
10:00-11:00 p.m.   Pan Am
Wednesday, September 28
8:30-9:00 p.m.      Suburgatory
9:30-10:00 p.m.    Happy Endings

Thursday, September 29
10:00-11:00 p.m.   Private Practice

Sunday, October 2
7:00-8:00 p.m.     America's Funniest Home Videos

Tuesday, October 11
8:00- 9:00 p.m.     Last Man Standing (special one-hour premiere)

Tuesday, October 18
8:30-9:00 p.m.     Man Up!

Friday, October 21
8:00-10:00 p.m. - Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (time period premiere)

Sunday, October 23
8:00-9:00 p.m. -  Once Upon a Time

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Being HGTV’d is Like Being Ambushed: Sometimes Free isn’t So Easy

I never thought I’d say it, but I think I’m almost done with home makeover network, HGTV.

The channel has been promoting its newest design show, HGTV’d for what seems likes months.  With all the hype they could muster, they made it seem like the program was actually different, bigger, bolder than any of the other shows.

Now that it’s here, I can tell you it’s not.

HGTV’d is just another program for which homeowners write letters asking for rooms to be redesigned.  Supposedly without notice, a team in a big red tractor-trailer shows up with one of the channel’s “hottest designers” in the cargo area.  The door is opened and there’s a big scene revealing said designer.

Woo hoo.   

In the episode I watched last night, John Gidding from Curb Appeal: The Block, an architect and designer, showed up to redo the first floor of a Denver couple’s home.  He crowded an already small space with so much stuff and dark colors that he made it look smaller, even cave-like.

He also had the audacity to create and brag about a moveable dining room table which, when put into place, blocked the only passageway from one side of the main floor to the other.  Crazy.

I’ve now seen at least three of Gidding’s programs where the homeowners insist throughout the program that they don’t like his ideas.  It was the same with this episode.  He would only smile, make a few jokes and proceed to make his changes.

Hey guys, it’s their house!  You might not agree, but the homeowners should decide what happens under their roof.

I’ve seen the same sort of thing on Holmes on Holmes and on Design to Sell

Of course, in the end, the couple says they love the redesign.  But I remember reading a piece in The New York Times a few years ago in which Times reporter Andrew Postman recounts his and his wife’s experience with an HGTV makeover.  They didn’t like the changes either and felt they were coerced into going along with it all while being coached by producers to smile, show appreciation and use words like “amazing” and “incredible."
I can’t help but think this goes on more than viewers realize and that HGTV is too full of itself.   The network says of HGTV’d, “HGTV stars will arrive at the home of a viewer, surprising them with jaw-dropping makeovers and over-the-top transformations.”  Presumably they get a free makeover.  Free or not, my jaw would drop all right if someone did something to my house that I didn’t like.  And the process might tempt me to do something unpleasant to someone else’s jaw.  Somehow I don’t think I’d like to be HGTV’d.  And more and more I think I don’t want to watch the process anymore either.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Updates on Summer TV Fare

Just a few notes now that the summer season is underway...

After the second episode, it's for sure, Fran Drescher's Happily Divorced really is sad and awful.

CHAOS, the CIA comedy/drama on CBS on Saturday nights, is full of sarcasm and witty dialogue; I like it.

Master Chef has a few interesting and talented contestants and Gordon Ramsey, perhaps because he's accompanied by two of his esteemed colleagues (Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot), is not as crass and low rent as he is on Hell's Kitchen.
Cake Boss is delightful but repetitive.

Cake Boss Buddy Valastro is as delightful as ever, but the program is too repetitive: conceive of a cake, make a cake, fight with family members at the bakery, make all Italians look bad, deliver a cake.

Keith Olbermann is back and he's as annoying and angry as he was on MSNBC.  Now on Current TV with Countown, Olbermann hasn't changed one bit.  (I've only watched clips because full episodes are not available online and Cablevision does not carry Current TV.)

Poor Ashley Herbert, the latest Bachelorette on ABC.  She's clearly in over her head.  A seemingly nice and pretty young woman, but with poor self esteem, she's too worried about what the jerky, lunkhead bachelors think of her.  She's even pining for Bentley, the guy who left after telling America how he was not attracted to her.  Note to ABC: you guys will do anything for ratings and should be ashamed at how you've allowed this woman to be embarrassed.

And a few programming reminders: Damages returns on Wednesday, July 13th; Entourage begins an eight episode arc on Sunday, July 24th.  Burn Notice is back tonight, June 23rd.  Royal Pains debuts Wednesday, June 29th.  The Closer and Rescue Me begin Monday, July 11th and Tuesday, July 12th respectively.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Finalists for Philbin's Job: Seacrest, Cohen, Consuelos?

Please ABC, don’t make Ryan Seacrest the new Regis Philbin.

The Hollywood Reporter is saying the search for Philbin’s replacement on Live! has been narrowed down to three: Seacrest, Andy Cohen of Bravo and Mark Consuelos, an actor and co-host Kelly Ripa’s husband.

Candidates Cohen, Seacrest and Consuelos.
The ubiquitous Seacrest is dull as a post.  I fast forward through his time on American Idol.  Besides, he’s everywhere already  – disc jockey on KIIS-FM in LA, host of E! News, host of American Top 40, producer, etc.  As South Carolina radio comedy writer Jim Crossan told me, “On various radio and TV shows, Seacrest has replaced Rick Dees, Casey Kasem and Dick Clark; does he need ALL the jobs?”

I’m not a big fan of Andy Cohen, either.  I have found him to be extremely full of himself, even obnoxious, but I’ve spoken with others who disagree.  A friend and colleague, Eileen Conley, said she’s watched him on a number of outings subbing for Regis.  She thinks there’s great chemistry between Ripa and Cohen and that, together, they’re very funny.

There’s no question about the chemistry between Consuelos and Ripa.  They are cute together and have a good on-air rapport.  But maybe they’re too close for comfort.  Would they get boring after awhile?  I can’t imagine that a married couple who spend a good deal of time together already would find something new to bring to the table morning after morning.  Any married person knows there is potential for dull moments. 

And, what about those mornings when they’re not pleased with each other?  Perhaps those days would make for good entertainment – and gossip column fodder.  But maybe not.  Viewing a couple’s personal life up close could become uncomfortable, even smarmy.  Remember Kathy Lee Gifford and her, “Cody, Cody, Cody diatribes?"

So who does that leave?  Anderson Cooper has been great as a fill-in, but he’s getting his own talk show.  Others have suggested Jeff Probst, but he’s great on Survivor.  Now that Michael E. Knight is out of a job as Tad Martin on All My Children, he might be a good candidate (he’s also been a sub for Reege).

It will probably, however, be Andy Cohen.  But, Regis is a tough act to follow, even at 79 years old.  ABC should not be safe; it should search until it finds the perfect person.  The show has been pretty high caliber for its more than 25-year run and Philbin doesn't leave until November.  Careful selection is both warranted and reasonable within the time frame.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Fran Drescher's Happily Divorced: Don't Get too Close; Splitsville is Likely

There are many good one-liners in Fran Drescher’s new TV Land sitcom, Happily Divorced, but it’s a one-joke show that doesn’t veer far from “I married a gay man and why didn’t I notice during those first 18 years?”  

It’s funny, but how many times can you refer surprisingly to the personality traits of the ex-husband, Peter (John Michael Higgins)?  He loves show music, interior design, skin creams and he’s a hypochondriac.

There’s a lot about this program that reminds me of the far more original Will and Grace, but Happily Divorced does not have that very strong cast and the writers are about half as good – from what I’ve seen, so far.

The pilot begins six months in the past when Higgins’ character announces he’s gay.  Fran takes it incredibly well, which I find hard to believe.  Drescher lived this scenario in real life (with ex-hubby Peter Marc Jacobson); how can it be so funny to her?  

It’s also a little pathetic that when the plot returns to the present, hubby is still under the same roof where the two live as roommates visited often by her parents (Rita Moreno and Robert Walden), her assistant in the floral business run from the garage (Valente Rodriguez) and a friend (Tichina Arnold).  Neither has moved on, attributed to the fact that Peter isn’t making any money as a real estate broker.

And, I can't figure out how, though the show is set in Los Angeles, they all sound like they're from Queens.

Still, Fran Drescher (despite her still-alarming voice) is funny.   There is chemistry (for what it’s worth) between she and Higgins (who is straight) and the cast is full of seasoned veterans.  In fact, Rita Moreno gets in one of the best lines: "Sweetheart, don't throw away a good marriage over nothing."

It’s not The Nanny, but the one great thing Happily Divorced has going for it is that it follows Hot in Cleveland, which airs immediately before it at 10:00 p.m. on WednesdaysTaken together, the two programs are good for a laugh.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Neil Patrick Harris Makes The Tony Awards

The Tony Awards broadcast last night on CBS, dominated by the winning musical, “The Book of Mormon,” was wonderful all around, but special credit goes to Neil Patrick Harris who is the best all-around entertainer of his generation.

The guy is a joy at comedy.  He’s a good actor.  He can sing and dance.  And he does everything with unbridled, cheerful enthusiasm.  What a prize.

For your entertainment, here are some of the best segments:

Harris’ introductory number with Stephen Colbert, Brooke Shields, Bobby  Cannavale:

His competitive duet with Hugh Jackman, former host of the Tony’s,“Anything You Can Do…”

Other highlights of the show were Chris Rock’s stand-up, the musical number from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying with Daniel Radcliffe, Sean Hayes as Spiderman and Robin Williams’ brief appearance (hysterical).

Overall, the Tony Awards presentation was phenomenal.  As reported during the broadcast, this past season was one of Broadway’s most successful ever.  As an aficionado of Broadway I, like Harris in his closing rap number, advise you to “Go See a MF Broadway Show” to keep this national treasure alive.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Love Bites is Love American Style for the 21st Century - and it's not half bad

I stumbled upon a cute program the other night and was pleasantly surprised.  On NBC on Thursdays at 10, Love Bites is Love American Style for the 21st century. (Some will remember Love American Style from the 70’s, a whacky series of love stories and vignettes that were racy for the time, but outrageously funny.)

Love Bites is different in that it has three regular characters, but an otherwise rotating cast.  It’s described as an hour-long romantic comedy anthology series featuring three loosely connected modern stories of love, sex, marriage and dating with an irreverent twist.
Anchoring the series and appearing in each episode are the very talented Becki Newton (Amanda from Ugly Betty) as Annie Matopoulos, a single New York City girl looking for "Mr. Right Now"; and Constance Zimmer (the studio exec on Entourage) and Greg Grunberg (Heroes, Felicity) as Colleen and Judd Rouscher, a happily married Venice Beach couple.  He owns a tattoo parlor.

The episode I saw was the second in the series.  It revolved mostly around the main couple, Colleen and Judd, and his fascination with the advice of a TV sex therapist, a Dr. Phil look-a-like played by Jeffrey Tambor.  Funnier though was the guest segment about a gay couple visited by one of the guy’s parents.  It featured the usual political incorrectness on the part of the parents, the son’s indignation, and a couple of misunderstandings that added up to some good comedy.  One gag about the son’s insistence on hanging a suggestive painting in their living room, the Mom’s recognition of a familiar site therein, and the ensuing drama, was very good.  In both stories, the writers pushed the envelope a bit on the sex side, but seemed careful not to dive over the edge.

Guest stars for the pilot episode included Jennifer Love Hewitt (Ghost Whisperer), Craig Robinson (The Office), Kyle Howard (My Boys), Steve Howey (Bride Wars), Lindsay Price (Eastwick), Larry Wilmore (The Daily Show), Guillermo Diaz (Mercy), Krysten Ritter (Breaking Bad), David Giuntoli (Privileged), and Charlyne Yi (Knocked Up).  Let’s hope that level of talent continues for the remaining run.

Emmy Award-winning producer/director Marc Buckland (My Name Is Earl) is a director and executive producer.  Other executive producers are Tracy Poust and Jon Kinnally (Will & Grace, Ugly Betty).   Emmy Award-winning writer/producer Cindy Chupack (Sex And The City) is the creator and consulting producer.

That’s a pretty great assembly of talent and from what I saw this show holds promise.  Love Bites is worth keeping an eye on.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Summer Reviews: White Collar, Covert Affairs, Franklin and Bash

White Collar
As we rejoin White Collar for this summer's new season, Vincent Adler (Andrew McCarthy), Neal's (Matt Bomer) nemesis has been blown up and the warehouse full of precious Nazi artwork he'd been hoarding is in a plane with Neal and Mozzie (Willie Garson) on a runway.   They appear to be trying to escape with a vast fortune that doesn't belong to them.

The trust that Peter (Tim DeKay) has come to have for Neal over the past couple of seasons has eroded; the FBI agent no longer has faith in the art thief he enlisted to help him con
the con men.

In short, the writers have decided that the bro-mance that's been forming between the two men is too close to consummation, which would snuff the flame that usually ruins a TV show when the two stars get too cozy.  Realized romance between two leads is almost always lethal.

The audience, too, is left guessing as to whether Neal is good guy, bad guy or something in between.  It is the perfect set-up for another bunch of episodes of this finely written, acted and produced show with its great Manhattan backdrop.

The reset is a good thing.  It brings back the tension and the need to keep watching.  This show has a lot of life left in it and its great summer entertainment.  There's nothing like a caper drama with wit, style and good-looking, well-coiffed people.

Covert Affairs 

Starring Piper Perabo, Covert Affairs is a spy show that follows CIA agent Annie Walker (a Valerie Plame lookalike).  The new episodes pick up at a U.S Naval Hospital in Guam where her boyfriend, another operative named Ben Mercer, is recovering from the operation that almost got them both killed at the end of last season, a mission that reunited the two after a long separation.

The danger does not stop at the naval hospital, surprising since it's heavily guarded, but the action does move back to Washington, D.C. where Annie is reacquainted with the rest of this pretty good cast - the always stellar Peter Gallagher, Kari Matchett as his wife/underling and Christopher Gorham, as a blind agent.

More drama ensues, there are a few twists and turns with professional tennis as the backdrop, and then near tragedy.

I like this show.  It's straightforward, yet smart.  There's mystery and spy stuff, but it's easy enough to follow without rapt concentration, a good trait for a 10 o'clock show.  Covert Affairs is highly recommended for summer viewing.  It's fun, colorful and smart without being too heavy.

Franklin and Bash
This new program with the delightful Mark Paul Gossellaar (who will always be Zach from Saved by the Bell to me), and Breckin Meyer is pretty thin.  About a couple of ambulance-chasing, low-life attorneys who hook up with Malcom McDowell's white shoe law firm, it's supposed to be a fish-out-of-water tale with the two young guys thumbing their noses at the seemingly classier, yet equally sleazy, lawyers at the new firm.

It works, but not well enough and the premise is stale.  I've read a couple of reviews that say the series gets better in the next couple of episodes, but I'd be very surprised if it did. 

The characters are not likeable enough and the writing tries too hard.  Gossellaar's character has no class.  During a party scene where everyone is clothed, he gets out of a hot tub and walks around naked (yes, even to the camera).  Still, he tries to woo his ex-girlfriend, an assistant district attorney, who is out of his bowling league.  In court, both he and his partner use completely outlandish antics that wouldn't fly in any courtroom - fictional or otherwise. 

Franklin and Bash is one to watch, but only if you're desperate.

Monday, June 6, 2011

New Katie Couric Talk Show to Replace General Hospital? Sadly, but Probably.

It is with a heavy heart that I write of the likely demise of one of the longest running television programs in history – General Hospital.

ABC announced today that a new Katie Couric talk show will be featured in the 3 p.m. weekday time slot on many ABC stations, beginning a year from September.  The show, to be produced by former NBC titan Jeff Zucker, does not yet have a title, format or focus. 

But, according to a statement by Anne Sweeney, president of the Disney/ABC Television Group, “Katie Couric is one of television’s iconic figures and we are thrilled to have forged such an exciting partnership with her.  We look forward to having Katie join the best news team in the business and to working with her to create a dynamic and successful talk show franchise.”  (Katie will also become part of the news division – look out Diane Sawyer.)

ABC did not say General Hospital was canceled.  It did say the following: "the network is set to return the last hour of its daytime network block to affiliates no earlier than September 2012 but continues to support General Hospital.”

Responding to a question by the Hollywood Reporter, an ABC spokesperson said, "The announcement does not mean the inevitable cancellation of General Hospital. Rather, it means that in September 2012, we will program our daytime block with our three strongest shows."

Translation: RIP, Luke and Laura.  Goodbye, Sonny and Carly.  So long, Jason and Brenda.  See ya, Lucky and Elizabeth.  It is sad, but General Hospital, which debuted in 1963, has probably run its course and will be replaced by more endless chatter. 

No one is watching the soaps anymore.  They’re too slow, repetitive and divorced from reality.  Reality TV has done them in.

I haven’t watched GH in awhile, but I do know that the storylines now revolve around a bunch of younger players who don’t have the chops of their predecessors.  Laura Wright (Carly), Bradford Anderson (Spinelli), Carolyn Hennesy (Diane) and Dominic Zamprogna (Dante) are no match for Tristan Rogers (Robert Scorpio), Emma Samms (Holly Scorpio) and Anthony Geary (Luke).  The writing is not what it used to be.  And, let’s face it.  The world has changed.  Viewers want more action and more drama related to the real world.

But GH has been a leader of the genre and has featured some of its best writers and actors.  When the other stops languished with stale writing, Bob Guza and Claire Labine before him were ahead of the pack.  The team continuously won the most Emmy’s in the Daytime competition. 

There is still a chance that GH will live on, if the two talk programs debuting in January 2012 to replace All My Children and One Life to Live, do worse than the soap does in the ratings.  Seriously, how could both The Chew (about food) and The Revolution (about health) do all that well?

Personally, I question the idea of bringing more talk to network TV.  Who needs more piled upon the proliferation we already have?  If Katie Couric will, as predicted, focus on the usual mix of lifestyle, health, celebrity and entertainment news, I hardly think what she brings will make a difference.  Her ratings may be better than the aforementioned Chew and Revolution, but they will hardly blow others out of the water.  As evidence, note that in the past year, The Talk on CBS and The View on ABC have ratings pretty much in line with The Young & The Restless.  Further, see ratings for the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.