Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Trick Or Treat

There are a few choices on the dial tonight for people who finish up early with their trick-or-treating.

AMC is running a marathon of the "Halloween" series all day and all night long. BET has "Leprechaun: Back 2 the Hood" beginning at 8 p.m. The Disney Channel is running "Twitches" also at 8 p.m., while Sci-Fi offers "Jeepers Creepers" and "Jeepers Creepers 2" starting at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., respectively. Turner Classic is running a marathon of Vincent Price movies, beginning with "Masque of the Red Death" at 8 p.m.

On the reality/documentary side, Bravo is running "Even Scarier Movie Moments" at 8 and 9 p.m., while the History Channel offers to teach you about exorcisms at 8 p.m. E! offers the delightfully-titled "20 Most Horrifying Celebrity Murders," also at 8 p.m.

The best picks of the horror genre are "Red Dragon" (USA, 9 p.m.), the last of the Hannibal Lecter series starring Anthony Hopkins and Edward Norton. It's also a remake of the 1986 movie "Manhunter," starring William L. Petersen and Brian Cox and directed by Michael Mann.

Viewers should also try to catch "The Sixth Sense" (ABC Family, 8 p.m.) starring Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment. I asked a producer at the Austin Film Festival, who insisted on being pitched every detail of a script, if he would have wanted to know about the twist in "The Sixth Sense" before reading it. "Good point," he said. "I don't know. That'd be up to the writer."

TUESDAY'S BEST BETS: No doubt there will be plenty of Halloween themes playing out on the regular Tuesday offerings. Both "Standoff" (Fox, 8 p.m.) and "House" (Fox, 9 p.m.) return after baseball-related breaks, but in flip-flopped timeslots. Viewers who missed "Friday Night Lights" (NBC, 8 p.m.) in its Monday trial timeslot can catch the rerun tonight here.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Not So Amazing Race

I've got to say, I've been pretty disappointed with the current installment of "The Amazing Race." (CBS, Sunday, 8 p.m.)

Perhaps it's just that there really isn't anyone to root for on this edition; perhaps it's just that the concept has become a bit tired.

In previous editions, even when teams I didn't like won the big money (anyone remember whiny Flo, who left all the work up to her saintly boyfriend, Zach?) there were usually enough teams I was pulling for to keep my interest. And there have been plenty of teams where I pulled for them at the start (Chip and Kim, Uchetta and Joyce) and they wound up winning.

I've got no horse in the current race. The brothers are the closest to a nice-guy team, but I can't pull for anyone who uses idiotic strategy, such as anchoring themselves down with two weaker teams. My parents think they are doing this to keep the weaker teams around as long as possible, an interesting theory that I feel gives the brothers too much credit in terms of being able to come up with a strategy.

The only other team I'm vaguely pulling for is the beauty queens, frankly because they are hot and they seem to be enjoying themselves.

The rest of the lot? That arguing cutesy couple? No way. Too mean. Alabama moms? Way too mean. Male models? Sort of meanish, though not as bad as the other previous two couples. Coalminer and wife? Only nasty to each other, and living on borrowed time, having come in last during both non-elimination checkpoints.

Plus, in previous incarnations of the race, teams have been all over the world — Europe, Asia, South America, Africa. This race, they finally just left Asia.

Perhaps that's the biggest curse of so-called reality shows. There's only so many times you can hear "The Tribe has spoken" or "You're Fired!" before redundancy sets in, especially when the team or individual you pull for loses to some jerk.

MONDAY'S BEST BET: ALERT!!! Friday Night Lights (NBC, 10 p.m.) is getting a brief try in the post-"Heroes" spot currently occupied by "Studio 60." In case you miss it, however, tonight's episode will be repeated in the show's normal timeslot (Tuesday, 8 p.m.)

This is what you get, NBC, for putting "supersize" bandaids on your problems instead of trying to come up with suitable replacements for years for shows like "Friends," "ER" and "West Wing." When you finally do come up with a crop of high-concept, well-executed shows ("Heroes," "Studio 60," "Kidnapped," "Friday Night Lights" et. al.) there's no one left to watch.

Also on tonight is a new, two-hour movie version of "Cracker" (BBC-America, 9 p.m.) Once again, the incomparable Robbie Coltrane returns as Fitz, the criminal-psychologist who is stupendous at his job but horrible at every other aspect of his life. Of all the British TV imports over the years, "Cracker" is No. 1 on my all-time list.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Austin 5: Saving The Best For Last

I overslept the final day of the Austin Film Festival after days of not sleeping caught up with me. Turned out to be the best move I made.

I had wanted to catch Chris McQuarrie's lecture, since he is one of my favorite writers. ("The Usual Suspects") But because I slept late, I missed the first lecture and was scheduled to miss the second. On a lark, I went to the second lecture, which was in a tiny little room in the Driskill Hotel. It turned out to be the best session of the conference, and this was after I missed the first hour.

It turns out, like me, McQuarrie has a passion for writing historical dramas (the only difference being, his are really good). He was telling us about his John Wilkes Booth script, a pitch that was so good that you could have heard a pin drop as he told it. A half-hour later, when he finished, we burst into applause. It was such a good script that I felt like I should have paid $7.50 to the writer after his presentation, because I could see the whole movie in my head.

Sadly, that's probably the only place I will see it. McQuarrie told us of the various problems he had trying to get the script made with himself attached as director. This, from an Oscar-nominated writer.

He also told us of two other scripts he worked on, "Operation Valkyrie," about the plot by German generals to assassinate Hitler in 1944, another drama he was having trouble getting made, and his script for Alexander the Great, which got shelved when that hack Oliver Stone got his crappy version with Colin Farrell made first.

After hearing about McQuarrie's Alexander script, set to star Leo DiCaprio, the tragedy of Stone's script being the one to see the light of day was two-fold. Once again, McQuarrie held us spellbound as he told us of monsoons in India and Alexander's horse.

McQuarrie was so good I regretting missing the first part of his talk, when he went into details about his roller-coaster relationship with director Bryan Singer and how miserable the latter had made himself trying to finish "Superman Returns" (and how it cost the two of them the chance of remaking "Logan's Run.")

Meeting McQuarrie reminding me of everything I loved about writing and made me frustrated, because if this guy couldn't get his genius work made, what chance did little ole me have?

FRIDAY'S BEST BET: The St. Louis Cardinals have a chance to wrap up the World Series tonight (Fox, 8 p.m.) only because they got to face a New York Mets team in the NLCS that was missing two of its top three starters.

One of TV's all-time classics, "It's the great pumpkin, Charlie Brown," (ABC, 8 p.m.) has its 40th anniversary tonight.

My all-time favorite Doctor Who villains, the Cybermen, make their first appearance on the current series (Sci-Fi, 8 p.m.) in a two-part tale. As much as I liked the Chris Eccleston version of the Doctor, the David Tennant series has surpassed it.

The human race may have left New Caprica, but the effects of being under Cylon occupation still linger on "Battlestar Galactica" (Sci-Fi, 9 p.m.)

WEEKEND'S BEST BETS: Masochistic Georgia fans can prolong their suffering in the annual bloodfest versus Florida (CBS, Saturday, 3:30 p.m.), a perfect cap to what's been an otherwise miserable week for me.

I'll continue to plug "Kidnapped," (NBC, Saturday, 9 p.m.) for the remaining eight weeks its on the air.

Hugh Laurie ("House") is the guest host for "Saturday Night Live." (NBC, Saturday, 11:30 p.m.)

For those into marathon airings, the TV Guide Channel will air the first four episodes of the Fox series "Standoff" from 3-7 p.m. on Sunday.

In addition, BBC America will re-air the series "Hex" all day Sunday, beginning at noon. "Hex" was supposed to be a British version of "Buffy," though the quality was not there early on. I was originally going to give up on this series until they killed off the lead character and replaced her, totally turning the series on its head. Now I eagerly await the second series, set to air on BBC America next summer.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Austin 4: Saints and Party Girls

There were a lot of people at the Austin Film Festival, but not so many that you didn't start making friends and seeing some of the same people over and over.

I made friends with an actress/writer/director named Suzanne, a very nice woman living in Austin who writes very different styles of scripts than I do. But that was part of the fun of the conference, finding different perspectives to things.

Saturday night we went to see "A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints" starring Robert Downey Jr., Shia LaBoeuf, Dianne Wiest, Chazz Palmentieri and others. It's not the sort of movie I'd really have gone to see normally, but Suzanne had wanted to go and it was free (if you count a $300-plus badge to the conference as free).

Movies like "Saints" are the reason why I hate independent, Sundance-style films. I find that most of these movies are extremely personalized, appealing to the narrowest audience possible, and fully of characters that are made too deliberately quirky.

There's no other way of saying it, but "Saints" was terrible. Excruciating, really. With a cast as good as the one it had, I expected a little more, frankly. The actors did fine, but they had little material to work with. The story is the autobiography of writer/director Dito Montiel; if you're the type of person that loves sitting through other people's family photos, then this was the movie for you.

First off, considering the guy was directing his own life story, no one seemed to know how to pronounce his name. Half the time, it was DEE-to, half the time it was "ditto." That was a bit annoying. Second, the story seems to spend 90 percent of the time setting up the characters rather than have them do anything. The "payoff," for want of a better word, occurs in the span of about 10 minutes. And the payoff as such is the main character realizing, "Oh, maybe I shouldn't have left New York all those years ago. Oops."

After the movie, we went to the closing night party held at a local Austin gallery. I've never been a huge modern art fan, but there were plenty of free drinks and beautiful women, so it was worth the jaunt. Of course, walking up to a beautiful woman and saying, "Well, darling, I'm a screenwriter," doesn't really work if the party is at a conference for screenwriters, most of whom are more successful at it than I am.

Plus, the art was really disturbing. It was various paintings of these naked women in quasi-erotic poses. The artist, however, was trying to make a statement on how young women mutilate themselves to conform to society's standards. As I was trying to not stare at the artwork, one of the volunteers came up to me.

"What do you think of the art?" she asked.
"Well, normally, like any other red-blooded male, I wouldn't mind pictures of young, beautiful naked women, but these are kind of freaking me out," I replied.
"Yeah, when we rented the gallery, none of this was on the wall. We were a little surprised when we started to set things up here today," she told me.

Anyway, the gallery eventually closed and everyone headed back to continue the party at the famed Driskill Hotel, the center for Festival.

THURSDAY'S BEST BET: New episodes of "Ugly Betty" (ABC, 8 p.m.), "Smallville" (CW, 8 p.m.) and "Supernatural" (CW, 9 p.m.), but reruns are starting to creep in, thanks to the World Series (Fox, 8 p.m.)

Viewers who missed the season premieres of "My Name is Earl" and "The Office" (NBC, 8-9 p.m.) get a second chance. This installment of "The Office" is a good example of why it's TV's best comedy, as Michael Scott (Steve Carell) accidently outs a gay employee in the most cringe-worthy way imaginable.

Viewers who missed the pilot for "Shark" (CBS, 10 p.m.) also get a second shot. The show has been picked up for the full season.

Embattled NBC will be making over its Thursday nights starting Nov. 30, when "Scrubs" and "30 Rock" occupy the 9-10 p.m. slots, replacing "Deal or No Deal," which is on pretty much every other night of the week. It's actually a pretty smart move for a network that has made a lot of bone-headed ones of late, giving NBC arguably the best two-hour comedy block on TV.

Fans who can't wait for Fox's "The O.C." to debut next week can find the pilot on Myspace.com, beginning tonight. For the rest of the world who can wait, "The O.C." debuts Nov. 2 at 8 p.m.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Austin 3: Back in Black

Robert Rodriguez (blurry guy in center) introduces "Payback."

Writer/director Brian Helgeland (another blurry guy in the center) takes questions.

Shane Black, right, takes questions.

One of the best aspects of attending the Austin Film Festival was getting to see films with their filmmakers in attendance, then ask questions afterward.

Friday night at one of the theaters, I got to do this twice.

When "Payback" came out in 1997, I was bitterly disappointed in what I saw onscreen. What I thought was going to be this noirish, gritty thriller about revenge was in fact a rather lightweight film that couldn't decide if it was an action film or a comedy. Much of that was because Paramount and star Mel Gibson didn't want to ruin Gibson's likeable image on film at the time. (My, how times have changed).

So, when the festival was going to show writer/director Brian Helgeland's ("L.A. Confidential") director's cut, I was skeptical. How much could he have possibly changed from what was originally shown in theaters?

Quite a lot, it turns out. Much as everyone else in the audience, including Harry Knowles of Aint-it-cool-news fame, I was completely blown away by this new version of "Payback." Gone were some of the comic elements; this version was grittier and even more volent. This version was more streamlined, without the meandering kidnapping plot. And Gibson's Porter is a lot less likeable, much closer in spirit to the character from the books "Payback" was based upon.

After the movie was finished, Helgeland talked about his experience. The day after he won his Oscar for "Confidential," he was fired by Paramount for "Payback." He told us how he needed to get Gibson's permission to re-cut the movie.

Odds are, "Payback" will only get a limited re-release in theaters, but the director's cut should be available on DVD real soon. I highly recommend this version of the movie.

After "Payback" was finished, the theater showed "The Long Kiss Goodnight," written by Shane Black and directed by Renny Harlin.

Let me say right up front I've never been much of a Black fan. "Lethal Weapon," which he wrote in his 20s while working as a struggling actor, kind of launched that late 80s/early 90s action genre which I always found to be needlessly loud and ridiculously excessive in its action sequences.

But Black made quite a career of it with the original "Weapon" and "The Last Boy Scout," another movie I hated. A little history on "Kiss," Black sold it for $4 million, the highest sale ever for a screenplay.

(A friend of mine, Gray Beverly, who used to work at The Telegraph and is now in parts unknown, almost sank that deal, by the way. Gray worked as an assistant with the agency handling Black back then, came into the room with a speakerphone still on, not realizing that the agents were still driving the price of the script upwards when he started to tell them that papers for the deal were already signed. Black's deal still went through, but he did say to me "I'll have to find that guy and kick that $%#$%#'s ass!" when I told him the story.)

I had heard Black on a panel with the lovely Jessica Bendinger ("Bring it on") earlier that day about how they got into the business, and found him to be a pretty frank and engaging speaker, and since I hadn't seen "Kiss" in the 10 years it's been out, I decided to stick around.

Well, the movie was everything I thought it was going to be - loud, unrealistic, farcical. These weren't just my opinions, though. They were also Shane Black's. It turns out he hates the 90s action genre as well, even though it was his bread and butter for most of his career. When all these sycophantic fan boys in the audience kept telling him how much they loved "Kiss" and his other movies, Black would let them know how bad their taste was.

As you can see, by the way, I finally got some pictures up. You can check out Monday's post for a picture I added of Jake Kasdan.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BET: Honestly, any of you who are watching "Criminal Minds" (CBS, 9 p.m.) ahead of "Lost" (ABC, 9 p.m.) are really on the wrong Web site here. I'm not going to berate you like Shane Black would and tell you that you lack taste. It would just be pointless.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Austin 2: Life's a Pitch And Then You Die

The worst part of the process of trying to get a script sold or a movie made, at least for me, is the pitch.

That's when you go in front of an executive or group of executives and try to explain in the span of a couple of minutes why they should buy your movie or TV script.

Some people are great at it. Anthony Zuiker, who was a nobody in Hollywood, sold a TV series he created largely on these amazing pitch sessions, which became sort of legendary around town because he would jump all over the room, over furniture, etc. in his excitement. The series, by the way, was "CSI."

I'm no Anthony Zuiker. The few times I pitched something to executives in Hollywood, they were 1-on-1 meetings over coffee, kind of low-pressure situations.

I went to the Austin Film Festival because my script, "Nightstrike," finished in the Top 10 percent of the drama competition and I got a discount on my conference badge. (And because my parents were generous to fit the bill; thanks mom and dad.) I decided to enter the pitch competition as well.

The pitch competition involves you standing up in a room full of other writer wanna-be's and pitching your script in 90 seconds to a couple of judges, who then score you and critique you. My session's judges were a producer who I had spent two days building a relationship with and a former Austin Film Festival winner for best script.

I figured with my natural, Cary Grant-like charm, I'd at least be competitive. Um, not so much.

Most of the people in front of me bombed. My confidence swelled as I figured I could win simply by not screwing up. Then the person scheduled to go in front of me got criticized for using notecards. Uh oh. I hadn't written my pitch out word for word, but I had a notebook with prompts that I was going to use to help my pitch along. Suddenly, I was self-conscious for bringing up the notebook.

So I told myself "Don't break eye contact! Don't break eye contact!" Ten seconds into the pitch, I looked down at the notebook for the prompt. "You broke eye contact, moron!" the voice inside my head screamed. I quickly looked back to the judges - without having looked at the prompt I had written down. So I look down again. "You just did it again, idiot!" the voice screamed.

So, with 80-plus seconds left in the pitch, I'm now completely discombobulated. I have no idea what I'm saying or where I am or how much time is left. I have an out-of-body experience in which I'm floating above my struggling self - it's like quicksand, the more you struggle, the deeper you sink - and the voice is saying, "What? Did you hit your head or something?" Somehow, the pitch finally ends - within 90 seconds, by the way - and the judges have these sort of frozen expressions over the car wreck they just witnessed.

The thing is, if I had any sort of level of competence, the contest was mine to lose. David, the exec I had been talking with all weekend, gave me a 15 on a 1-15 point scale for "quality of idea." I got 4s in both "performance" and "execution."

Bill, the writer serving as a judge, said to me (I'm not making this bit up), "You know, a lot of people had been talking about Nightstrike and I was really curious to read it. But after hearing your pitch, I'm not sure I'd want to read it after that."

There were other criticisms, though they are a bit irrelevent now. I scored a 50 total on the 90-point scale, the lowest total in the room. The only person I beat was the person who didn't show up. The two writers who won from my particular session absolutely deserved it. One was also an actor, and he gave a great performance in describing his horror script. The judges' nitpick was that his presentation was "too rehearsed." (Afterwards, he said to me, "Of course it was, I rehearsed it 600 times!") The other writer wrote a comedy that had the judges laughing the entire time.

The only other person whose pitch was any good was a writer named Isadora Deese, who attended FPD and now works at MIT. So at least one Maconite did the city proud.

After it was done, and I discovered a new level of self-loathing beyond my normal one, the pitch coordinator, a lovely young woman named Monica, offered me another shot at pitching that afternoon. I passed, since my self-confidence was already shot enough for one day.

Next time, I'll just hire an actor to do it for me.

TONIGHT'S BEST BET: I was told that some of the cast and crew for "Friday Night Lights," (NBC, 8 p.m.), which films not too far from Austin, was hanging around at the festival, but I missed running into them.

Anyway, "Lights" will air a new episode tonight, then switch to Mondays at 10 p.m. after "Heroes" for next week since NBC is no longer running dramas or comedies in the 8 p.m. hour, a rather short-sighted move and a band-aid, at best, for the network's problems.

The problem isn't the people buying and developing pilots; this is the network that this year alone has produced "Heroes," "Lights," "Studio 60," and "Kidnapped," the last three of which are doing lousy ratings not because of quality, but because of timeslots. "Lights" opened up against shows like "House" and "Gilmore Girls;" "Studio 60" has to go against "CSI: Miami."

Anyway, NBC has ordered a full order of 22 scripts from "Lights" producers; how many of them end up getting shot is anybody's guess.

Game 3 of the World Series (Fox, 8 p.m.) airs tonight. See if you can spot any illegal substances on the pitchers' hands.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Austin Part 1: The Apple Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree

Writer/Director Jake Kasdan meets his fans after the showing of "The TV Set" at Austin's historic Paramount Theatre.

I've been at the Austin Film Festival since last Thursday and just got back, so this week will be spent mostly reviewing my adventures there. Fear not, I'll figure out a way to tie in TV somehow, though most of the weekend was spent on movies. I also took pictures, which I will try to upload later today.

The festival's opening feature film was "The TV Set," written and directed by one of my favorites, Jake Kasdan. "The TV Set" revolves around a TV writer/producer (David Duchovny), who is desperately trying to get his pilot on the air of a Fox-like network that mostly puts on reality crap. Duchovny has allies in his pregnant wife (Justin Bateman, "Family Ties"), his not-so-supportive agent (Judy Greer, "Arrested Development") and a former BBC producer (Ioan Gruffud, "Fantastic Four") who has been brought into the network to help find projects with some class.

Duchovny, however, finds trouble at every turn, from the miscast lead of his sitcom to the studio executive who is a blithering idiot but thinks she knows everything (Sigourney Weaver in a movie-stealing performance). Sadly, based on what I learned at the Screenwriter's Conference at the Festival, Weaver's character is less of a caricature than you might think.

Kasdan, the son of writing legend Lawrence Kasdan ("The Big Chill," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Body Heat," "The Empire Strikes Back," et. al.) inherited much of his dad's talent, but may have even more of a knack for biting satire. His debut feature, "The Zero Effect," a modern retelling of Sherlock Holmes starring Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller, was one of the cleverest films of that year. Kasdan got his break into the business directing TV, including much of the series "Freaks & Geeks" (a classic, seriously, get the DVD) and "Undeclared," both the brainchildren of his buddy, Judd Apatow.

Jake is a terrific guy with a lot of charm. He took a lot of questions after the filmed was shown, and both the movie and the session were among the highlights of the festival. I won't say "The TV Set" is the best comedy/satire I've seen this year - that honor still goes to "Thank You For Smoking" - but that I mention the two films in the same sentence shows how much I enjoyed it.

SAD NEWS: R.I.P. Jane Wyatt, who died Friday. Wyatt is best known for her role on "Father Knows Best," but she will always be Spock's human mom to me.

MONDAY'S BEST BET: I got to see a lot of TV talent at the festival, though I was disappointed in not being able to engage them more.

I spoke briefly with Michael Ian Black ("Ed") but wasn't able to get in on his poker game, which was a disappointment on two fronts. America Ferrera ("Ugly Betty") won't be in Austin until this Saturday, apparently. And William Fichtner ("Prison Break") walked by me on the way to the elevator, so I didn't get a chance to talk to him and find out about what's up next.

"PB" (Fox, 8 p.m.) returns to the air tonight after a brief hiatus because of the baseball playoffs. We last left Michael and crew being betrayed by his old cell mate, Sucre; meanwhile, Fichtner's FBI agent murdered another escapee, Tweener.

I enjoy the thrill ride aspect of "Prison Break," even though it crosses the line of unrealism much of the time. I'm willing to look past it because when the writers do cross that line, they manage to keep the story entertaining and don't do it so outrageously to make the story unenjoyable, a' la "24."

I read a report last week that creator Paul Scheuring wants to end the show this year instead of dragging out the story forever, while Fox wants to keep the hit on the air, naturally. I'm hoping Scheuring wins out even if it means the end of the show, because nothing is worse than a show being dragged out past its prime.

Viewers should also note that "Justice" (Fox, 9 p.m.) airs in its new timeslot tonight, replacing the awful "Vanished."

TV fans may also want to check out guest star Jane Seymour tonight on "How I Met Your Mother," (CBS, 8 p.m.) And don't forget TV's best block of programming, "Heroes" (NBC, 9 p.m.) and "Studio 60" (NBC, 10 p.m.)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Just Don't Say Anything To Me About The Mets, OK?

It's been best of times, it's been the worst of times, at least over the past 24 hours.

I got to see the premiere of Jake Kasdan's new film, "The TV Set" Thursday night, then met the writer-director himself after the screening. More on that in tomorrow's posting.

Then I went to a bar and watched a baseball game. The less said, the better.

I'm having a good couple of days, spending a lot of time with other socially inept, self-obsessed screenwriters, so that's been a blast.

But then I check my e-mail today to find that NBC is no longer going to be scheduling original dramas and sitcoms in the 8 p.m. timeslot, instead going with game shows and cheap reality programming. I blame society in general; if more people would watch what I tell them to watch, this wouldn't be happening.

Check back in over the weekend for words and pictures (gasp!) from the Austin Film Festival.

WEEKEND'S BEST BETS: "Kidnapped" (NBC, 9 p.m.) returns to the air on Saturday, so this is your chance to send NBC a message and let them know there is still a place for high-quality drama. You have 10 episodes to do it in before the show is yanked.

The wankers at A&E have finally gotten around to showing "MI-5" once more. There is an all-day marathon beginning at 11 a.m. and running eight episodes. Sorry, I shouldn't say wankers. I meant to say bloody stupid wankers. Anyway, what these programming geniuses at the most inaccurately named network on the dial fail to realize is that "MI-5" is TV's best and most realistic spy show. My recommendation is to enjoy the ride.

Finally, Game 1 of the World Series (Fox, 8 p.m.) throws its first pitch Saturday night. I won't be watching.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Keeping Up With My Streak of Blogposts, Even When I Don't Have A Lot To Say

The Mets' Game 5 loss has left me in a crummy mood, so it's going to be a small update for today. Besides, based on TV ratings, no one listens to me much anyway.

Game 6 of the NLCS (Fox, 8 p.m.) goes tonight, assuming more cooperation from Mother Nature. Maybe tonight, Mets pitchers will get to throw into the same strike zone as Cardinals pitchers. Just a thought.

The good folks at Fox ordered three more episodes each of "Happy Hour" and "Til Death" for reasons passing understanding.

They also sent me an e-mail to let you the viewer know that apsiring filmmakers can earn their chance to work with Steven Spielberg on the upcoming reality series, "The Lot." Visit thelot.com for information on how to send in your submissions.

There isn't a whole lot of love given to reality shows on this site, but "The Lot" has some passing interest for me because of my unhealthy waste-of-time obsession with the movie industry. However, I doubt "Lot" producers Spielberg and Mark Burnett ("Survivor") will be able to surpass "Project Greenlight," a marvelous series about how bad movies get made in bad ways that failed to draw viewership on either HBO or Bravo. No word, but it seems unlikely that producers Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Chris Moore will go to the well a fourth time. Incidentally, the third Greenlight movie, "Feast," should be hitting the DVD shelves any time now.

Incidentally, the winner of "The Lot" gets a $1 million development deal at Dreamworks.

Elswhwere on the dial, Justin Timberlake with be the musical guest for the new Victoria's Secret special that airs on CBS Dec. 5 at 10 p.m. If I watch, it will be with the mute button on.

Over at the CW, "Veronica Mars" co-Executive Producer Diane Ruggiero has announced a new superhero pilot for the network. Focused on super-powered women, it's described by The Hollywood Reporter as "Sex & The City" meets "Batman." (Thanks for that image, guys.) These days, I'm sticking with superhero shows that have either Japanese time-traveling office geeks or Erica Durrence in them, but hey, who knows, I may mellow in a few months.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BET: Should I even bother to do these best bets anymore? You, the viewers, allowed "Criminal Minds" (CBS, 9 p.m.) to virtually tie (sorry for the split infinitive) "Lost" (ABC, 9 p.m.) in that timeslot. Seriously, what are you people thinking? Why give CBS more license to produce more criminal procedurals? Why no love for one of TV's top three shows all of a sudden?

If you aren't watching "Lost," then you are definitely not watching "The Nine," (ABC, 10 p.m.) so maybe I shouldn't bother telling you that you are missing one of TV's best new shows.

I'll be spotty the rest of the week with my blogging, since I am out of the office. But check out the Web site anyway (and tell your friends) because I need the hits.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


This is what writers do when they can't think of anything to write about. We come up with lists.

Zodin2008 posted a comment on Monday's blog about how "Heroes" was his favorite new show of the season. It's mine, too, probably the one I would be most upset about if I missed an episode for some reason. Anyway, here's my Top 5 new shows:

1. Heroes
2. Studio 60
3. Ugly Betty
4. Friday Night Lights
5. The Nine

Three of those shows will probably be gone by the end of the year, if not sooner, which kind of sucks. No. 6 on that list, "Kidnapped," will definitely gone by the end of the year, with NBC only ordering 13 episodes and burning them off on Saturday nights.

Still, a third of the new shows making the cut isn't bad, and there are other new shows further down the list, such as "Justice" and "Standoff" on Fox and "Shark" on CBS that should make it. Of course, there are new shows such as "Brothers and Sisters," which just got renewed this week, that will also survive, for which there is no rational explanation.

"Heroes" continued its strong run last night with yet another kick-in-the-pants twist that compels you to see what happens next, while "Studio 60" rebounded with a very good episode over what I thought (but apparently no one else who likes the show) was a weak offering the week before.

By the way, for a great interview with "Heroes'" breakout star Masi Oka, go here: http://www.superherohype.com/news/featuresnews.php?id=4807

TUESDAY'S BEST BET: NLCS Game 5, take two (Fox, 8 p.m.) Let's see if Mother Nature cooperates.

If she doesn't, here is one final plea for "Friday Night Lights" (NBC, 8 p.m.) Honestly, free will is highly over-rated; you should just watch my TV picks instead.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Why Can't You People Watch Better TV? Seriously

So my brother sends me an article over the weekend from that bastionof journalism, the New York Post, which says no one is watching "Studio 60" because it's too smart.

This is why I weep for the future of television. I wrote last week (or maybe the week before, I can't remember, I'm getting old) about how this could be considered a "golden age" of TV because of the quality shows currently on the air.

Yet for the most part, ratings remain same-old, same-old. Three "CSIs" are in the top 10. Only two new shows, ABC's "Ugly Betty" (No. 12) and CBS' "Shark" (No. 18) are in the top 20.

Remember when NBC used to be on top of the television world? When it had a lineup that included "Friends," "ER," "Seinfeld" and "Frasier?" Not counting the Sunday night NFL game, the Peacock only has one show - "ER" (No. 14) - in the top 20.

It isn't for lack of quality. There are positive things you can say about most of NBC's new fall slate, which includes "Heroes," "Studio 60," "Friday Night Lights" and "30 Rock," smartly written, well-produced TV. (Yes, I gave a negative review to "30 Rock" and I stand by it, but the show has a couple of good points about it - which I previously mentioned - and other people seem to like it.) But among those shows, only "Heroes" has been renewed for the rest of the season. "Kidnapped," one of NBC's best new shows, will be canceled after 13 episodes and has been shifted to the graveyard that is Saturday nights.

Of all of them, "Studio 60" seems the biggest disappointment ratings-wise. Is it because it's too smart? I'll admit, much as the writer in the Post pointed out, jokes about Moliere aren't going to connect with a lot of audience members, but as Aaron Sorkin pointed out in another of his shows, TV shouldn't be looking to reach the lowest common denominator, it should be looking to raise it.

I think a lot of people thought "Studio 60" would be a comedy because it's about a "Saturday Night Live"-styled show, so maybe they are disappointed by the drama. I think the biggest thing is that there no longer is patience among the audience anymore. Sorkin is taking his time getting into the backgrounds of his characters each week, since there are so many, and perhaps the viewers want some sort of payoff to that.

NBC isn't the only one suffering. ABC has two of the best new shows on the airwaves, "Ugly Betty" and "The Nine," but only the former seems to have the staying power to last the season. CBS has already canceled "Smith," which had a lot of potential and a good cast.

I'm not really sure there is any sort of solution. Taste is up to the individual, even if it's bad taste, and if the general population prefers "Survivor" to "Studio 60," there's really not much that can be done. I just hope the networks don't give up on smart TV.

TREEHOUSE OF HORRORS: "The Simpsons" will be airing its annual Halloween-fest in early November, and viewers have a chance to write the promo for it. Go to www.thesimpsons.com/treehouse. The winner will get a chance to go to L.A. for the show's 400th episode party, set for May of 2007.

COOL CASTING: Nathan Fillion ("Firefly," "Buffy") will appear in the Nov. 8 episode of "Lost" as someone from Kate's past. Also, Lucinda Jenney appears on "Battlestar Galactica" as Apollo's mom in a flashback episode later this season. Beginning Nov. 2, Salma Hayek, an executive producer of "Ugly Betty," appears in front of the camera in several episodes.

MONDAY'S BEST BET: For regular readers of this column, it should be obvious to both of you that Monday's best bet is always going to be "Heroes" and "Studio 60," so I'm really not going to point that out anymore.

Game 5 of the NLCS (Fox, 8 p.m.) will also take place, though heavy rain is forecasted.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Game Show Schadenfreude

I was always the guy who rooted against people on game shows who didn't quit and take the money.

Take "Wheel of Fortune," for example. You'd get a puzzle that read "W_at time is it?" and some greedy twerp contestant would spin the wheel one more time so he or she could get the extra money for guessing "H" even though they knew the answer already. Inevitably, that person always landed on "Bankrupt" and I'd cheer because greed got the better of them.

I'm not a fan of "Deal or No Deal" (NBC, various times of the week), but the principal is the same. Some dufus has something like six suitcases left to guess with, gets an offer of $140,000 or something that represents three years salary for that person, and inevitably, the person doesn't take the money and instead picks the one wrong briefcase that knocks the next offer down to $21,000. I usually cheer at that as well.

I should give my own game show history at this point, brief though it is. I've taken the "Jeopardy!" test twice - once in Atlanta, once in L.A. - and passed it twice, and neither year did I get the call. Inevitably, they choose a woman who collects ornate cat collars or some such. (You're dead to me, Trebek!) So, maybe it's a bitter pill for me and game shows, since I'm now past my prime.

I got a DVD of the pilot for "1 vs. 100," (NBC, 9 p.m.) and it has all the elements of game shows I both love and hate. Like pretty much every other game show on TV these days, it's ripped off from a European game show idea and Americanized. Hopefully, it won't be overplayed on the air like "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" or "The Weakest Link" were.

Bob Saget serves as host. The contestant faces off against the "Mob," a group of 100 players that includes MENSA members, teachers and "Jeopardy!" all-time champ Ken Jennings. The point values of each clue raises with each question the contestant gets right. He or she gets money every time members of the Mob miss it. Once the rest of the Mob is eliminated, the contestant gets $1 million. On the other hand, if the contestant misses a question, the surviving members of the Mob split whatever the contestant has won to that point.

Contestants can walk away at any time, hence the greed factor, although I can say that neither of the first two contestants are guilty of this.

It's actually not a bad game show, except that the questions were ridiculously easy, and the contestant has three choices and two lifelines in which he or she can ask the Mob for help.

FRIDAY'S BEST BET: Tonight's episode of "Doctor Who" (Sci Fi, 8 p.m.) was one of the most anticipated episodes of Season 2 when it aired in England earlier this year. Anthony Stewart Head ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") appears as the headmaster of a boarding school where strange things are afoot, while two of the Doctor's companions from earlier versions of the series that ran in the '70s, Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) and the robotic dog K-9 (voiced by John Leeson) also appear. This episode proved so popular that the BBC and "Doctor Who" producer Russell T. Davies are in the early planning stages of a Sarah Jane spinoff.

Also, because of Wednesday's NLCS rainout, the baseball playoffs are amended slightly. Game 3 of the ALCS is supposed to air at 4:30 p.m. on Fox, while Game 2 of the NLCS begins tonight at 8 p.m. on Fox.

By the time you are reading this, it's probably already too late, but Bravo is re-airing all of Season 3 of "Project Greenlight" in the morning and afternoon. The series has always made for better television than the movies that have come out of the contest, but if you want some real insight on the filmmaking process, it's a fascinating show.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Too Much TV For My Own Good

As the TV critic for the people (or at least the five or so that read this blog) I try to watch as many programs as I can to steer you toward good shows and away from bad ones. (At least in my taste, which is the only one that counts).

Unless it's something that I have a serious interest in, it's usually one-and-done, such as with "20 Good Years."

But every so often, there comes along a show that I have no prior interest in, but manages to hook me. This year, there are two.

I finally got to see the first two episodes of "Ugly Betty," (ABC, 8 p.m.) and I can easily see why critics fell in love with this show over the summer. It has charm and wit. I can't think of a subject I'm less interested in than fashion magazines, yet I feel compelled to tune in.

That's great credit to the cast, most notably America Ferrera as the title heroine, and the clever writing. The scene where Betty tries to dress for success for her first day of work and what she chooses was laugh-out-loud funny.

The other show that grabbed my attention after I watched it was "Friday Night Lights." (NBC, Tuesday, 8 p.m.) While the show does have some holes to it, it rings true with anyone who has ever had ties to high school football, and the writing has been clever enough to leave every episode open-ended, so you feel compelled to tune in next week to see what's next. (Also a trend with NBC's "Heroes.")

I have had people comment about both shows, liking them well enough and wondering about their sustainability (particularly "Lights" - what are they going to do when the football season ends but the school year continues?), but you can make that argument about any show. Right now, I'm just enjoying the ride.

MCNIGHTMARE: In case you "Grey's Anatomy" (ABC, 9 p.m.) fans hadn't heard, stars Isiah Washington and Patrick Dempsey got into an on-set scuffle earlier this week. Washington reportedly grabbed Dempsey by the throat and shoved him during a heated exchange. Washington probably heard the phrase "McDreamy" one too many times and finally snapped.

DVD PICKS OF THE WEEK: This is a shout-out to my brother, Alex, who is a big fan of two series that are being released this week, neither of which I watch myself.

Coming out is the first season of "Everybody Loves Chris" a UPN show that survived the merger and now runs on the CW. It's the semi-true adventures of a young Chris Rock. The other show, which also had its debut season, was "Big Love" from HBO, starring Bill Paxton as a man with three wives.

I never watched "Chris," because of its timeslot, and I gave up on "Big Love" midway through the first episode. I find HBO shows to be a bit hit or miss. Some shows, like "The Sopranos," "Six Feet Under" and "Rome," are terrific. But some of their other offerings I've never really gotten into.

Also out is "South Park: The Hits: Volume 1," in which show creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone select their 10 favorite episodes of the Comedy Central hit. Also included is the original short that launched the phenomenon, "The Spirit of Christmas."

I try to stick with TV on DVD here, but I do want to mention that my favorite movie of 2006, "Thank You For Smoking," came out last week. Writer/director Jason Reitman is perfect in his adaptation of Christopher Buckley's satirical novel, and Aaron Eckhart deserves an Oscar nomination for his note-perfect performance as Nick Naylor, the spokesman for big tobacco.

THURSDAY'S BEST BET: If you haven't given "Ugly Betty" a try, now might be the time. Also, "Supernatural," (CW, 9 p.m.) has built on a strong freshman season. And, for those into guest appearances, Green Arrow makes his first appearance on "Smallville" (CW, 8 p.m.), a week after his alter ego, Oliver Queen, was introduced.

Also, the Mets and Cardinals try again in Game 1 of the NLCS (Fox, 8 p.m.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Where Have You Gone, Jerry Seinfeld?

It's hard to say any network has had a better history with comedies than NBC.

"Cosby," "Family Ties" and "Cheers" in the '80s. "Friends," "Seinfeld" and "Frasier" in the '90s. "The Office" and "Scrubs" today. It's not just that these comedies were funny; they were also innovative.

NBC's two newest sitcoms, "30 Rock" (8 p.m.) and "20 Good Years" (8:30 p.m.) won't be joining that august list.

Let's start with "30 Rock," which I had high hopes for because it was being done by Tina Fey. But all of the edgy writing Fey is known for is absent here. While the pilot had a few clever one-liners mixed it, the overall plot was bland and the show itself couldn't decide whether it was going for traditional sitcom or hip and edgy. It's neither.

I will say some around the office liked it better than I did, so watch for yourself and decide. The two stars that shine are Alec Baldwin as a somewhat clueless (or is he?) network executive who tries to shake up a "Saturday Night Live"-style show. Baldwin has always shown a knack for good comic timing, and he does well with the part here. Jane Krakowski ("Ally McBeal") genuinely shines as the show's extremely neurotic lead actress.

The rest of the cast is hit and miss. Fey hasn't really written herself a great part that could display all of her talents. I found Tracy Morgan, who plays a Martin Lawrence-type superstar who joins the show, to be annoying mostly. The big scene in which he rescues the fake show in the pilot fell flat for me and didn't deliver any laughs.

"30 Rock" is the second of NBC's "SNL"-type, behind-the-scenes series after "Studio 60," and even though both shows are completely different in their presentation, the former suffers in comparison to the latter. (Though the NBC promo of Baldwin talking to Fey and believing he was on "Studio 60" were brilliant.)

Meanwhile, "20 Good Years" were 22 excruciating minutes to watch. John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor play a surgeon and a judge, respectively, who come to figure they have 20 good years left on Earth to do all the things they wanted to do. The show is grating and painfully unfunny. It may not make it past the pilot. There's a reason why NBC flip-flopped the two sitcoms earlier this fall.

"30 Rock" has at least enough talent to improve down the road; "20 Good Years" is a lost cause.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BET: The New York Mets continue their run to glory with the first game of the National League Championship Series (Fox, 8 p.m.), battling the St. Louis Cardinals. While the Mets' starting pitching has kind of limped along because of injuries, the bullpen and the offense have been brilliant.

Game 2 of the ALCS airs on FX at 8 p.m.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Non-functioning Unit

When I first heard over a year ago that CBS was going to be airing "The Unit," (CBS, 9 p.m.) I was eager with anticipation. Not only did the cast include Dennis Haysbert ("24"), but it was being produced by two giants in the industry, David Mamet ("The Untouchables" and many other movies) and Shawn Ryan (creator of "The Shield").

No one writes better dialogue than Mamet, and Ryan re-defined the genre when "The Shield" debuted.

So I watched the pilot when "The Unit" made its debut last year as a midseason replacement, and it fell well short of expectations. Not to worry, I thought, so they stumbled out of the gate. Surely, with the talent associated with the show, it will pick up over the next few weeks.

It didn't.

It wasn't that "The Unit" is a terrible show; it's that it's so ... average. Ordinary.

I look at it this way. I've been known to tackle a screenplay or two, and for someone who has never made a dime off it, I still have a little game. The screenplays that impress me most are the ones I know I never could have written in a lifetime, no matter how much help I got. I never could have created "The Shield." The concept may be simple enough, but the execution is flawless. Nothing I've written is remotely in the same hemisphere as Mamet.

"The Unit" feels like something I could have done. The military stuff on the show seems trite, and the civilian stuff involving the soldiers' wives gets positively annoying. After last season's ludicrous finale, in which the team gets targeted for assassination at a celebration dinner, I gave up. I have yet to catch an episode this season.

Obviously, I'm in the minority, since the ratings have been good enough for CBS to give the show its full season renewal already. It's a little irritating, because "The Unit" plays it safe while new shows that have a real edge to them, shows like "The Nine" and "Studio 60," struggle to find an audience (though last night's "Studio 60" misfired a lot).

It's not as if I wish "The Unit" were canceled; I'm sure the cast and crew puts in a sufficient effort in making it. Maybe it's my fault for having such high expectations. Maybe all that talent will yet jell. I just won't be around to see it. With "Veronica Mars" and "House" in the same timeslot once the World Series is over, there's too much well-produced options out there.

OURTUBE: Google is in the process of buying YouTube, the Web site devoted to unaired pilots and other TV oddities. YouTube has been something of a revelation in the TV industry. The series "Nobody's Watching," which never aired on broadcast television after the late WB decided not to pick up the pilot, got so many hits on YouTube that the cast and crew are re-assembling to create new episodes. "Nobody's Watching" was created by Bill Lawrence ("Scrubs") and tells of two slackers who are given their own reality show on a network.

When the deal finally goes through, YouTube's influence will only increase.

TUESDAY'S BEST BET: The Oakland A's and the Detroit Tigers square off for Game 1 of the American League Championship Series (Fox, 8 p.m.). Considering the starting pitching of both teams, this should actually be a pretty good matchup. Hopefully, one of these teams will be losing in the World Series to the Mets sometime beginning next week.

Monday, October 09, 2006

A Golden Age?

Television gets a lot of deserved criticism. Lots of new shows come out that seem like ripoffs or variations of old shows. How many new cop dramas, legal dramas, medical dramas do we really need?

Maybe it was the sudden surge in quality cable programming, or maybe Hollywood producer types have finally started to see the light, but these past couple of years have had about as good amount of quality shows as any time period I can remember. When people are having arguments about whether "Lost" or "Grey's Anatomy" or "Battlestar Galactica" or new shows like "Studio 60" and "Ugly Betty" is the best, you know you've got a lot of strong competition.

Honestly, there isn't an empty hour for me on every night except Saturdays. Shows I was only going to give a cursory look because of this blog, like "Ugly Betty" and "Friday Night Lights," are compelling enough to make me tune in every week. New shows like "Studio 60" and "The Nine" have met the expectations I've had for them. Even shows that miss in the ratings, like "Kidnapped," aren't doing so because of a lack of quality, but rather not finding the right audience.

That's not to say every new series has been great. We've gotten our usual share of stinkers, like Fox's "Kidnapped," which likely won't be around much longer. But the ratio of two or three good shows to one bad one is a ratio I'll take any day.

Tonight brings the third episode of "Heroes" and the fourth of "Studio 60." "Heroes" is the first new show of the season to get a full order by a network, which makes me happy because I think it's my favorite new show. The writers are hitting the right notes in terms of pacing and exposition, and have managed to introduce a plot twist each week that knocks your socks off. And the twists themselves aren't gimmicky; each week, if you reflect back, you can see the little clues the writers left to tip you off.

TV NEWS: CBS' "Smith" has gotten yanked from the lineup. The crime drama, starring Ray Liotta and Virginia Madsen, wasn't bad, but failed to bring in any sort of consistent viewership.

"House," on Fox, will move back to its traditional timeslot of 9 p.m. on Tuesdays once it returns after the World Series.

Don't forget, "How I Met Your Mother" (CBS, 8 p.m.) is moving up a half-hour, flip-flopping with "The Class." Also, CBS gave "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (CBS, 9:30 p.m.) a full-season order.

MONDAY'S BEST BET: Yet another plug for "Heroes." (NBC, 9 p.m.) The final shot in the final scene will be one of TV's most indelible images for years to come. If you missed last week's episode, Sci-Fi always repeats them on Fridays at 7 p.m. and is repeating it tonight at 7 p.m. as well.

Who is your favorite of the "Heroes," or even your favorite superhero? If you could have one set of powers, which would it be? (Hiro is my favorite on the show, but I'd have a working Green Lantern ring.) Post your replies on the Comments board.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Friday, Part II: About Frakkin' Time

I'll admit it. I was a little skeptical when I heard that Sci-Fi was doing a re-imagining of the cult favorite "Battlestar Galactica" as a miniseries a couple of years ago.

As an 8-year-old kid, I was thrilled by the original series, although today it comes off as a little cheesy. Still, I thought, are there no new ideas? What's next, a remake of "Jason of Star Command?"

It took all of about 15 minutes to realize how good the new "Battlestar Galactica" really was. The concept itself wasn't too re-imagined, but all of the characters definitely were. What made this series really stand out, however, was the post-9/11 tone of the writing.

"BSG" is simply the smartest show on TV, bar none. Yes, I even include "Lost" when I say that. Whereas "Lost" challenges its viewers by creating puzzles around the events on the island, "BSG" paints all of its characters in shades of gray. The Cylons, the machine villains who blew up the human world of Caprica, are evil from our point of view. But from their perspective, they are doing "God's will." And the humans, who we empathize with because we see ourselves in them, aren't exactly the best of the good guys. There's petty fighting, political intrigue, jealousy, selfishness and lots of other negative feelings as the last 50,000 or so human refugees board a few spaceships and travel toward a mythical planet called Earth.

Unlike the original series, "BSG" gives off a more realistic tone. The characters speak and dress like we might. They use guns that fire bullets, not lasers. There are no goofy looking aliens. It's about as un-sci fi as science fiction can get.

What makes the series so compelling is how well the main characters are portrayed. In my Emmy posting, I said Mary McDonnell should have won Best Actress for her portrayal of President Laura Roslin. It's one of the best characterizations I can ever recall as we see the overwhelmed Roslin, a glorified schoolteacher who is the Secretary of Education, take over the government as its last surviving member. Trying to protect humanities last survivors, she is constantly challenged by her personal beliefs versus what is best for the humans.

A proponent of being pro-choice, for example, Roslin outlaws abortion because she realizes humanity needs babies if it is to survive. She hides the hybrid human/Cylon baby of Galactica officers Helo and Boomer (a Cylon double agent, played by Grace Park), convincing the parents the baby died while secretly hiding it with a human mother.

Challenged by her vice president, Dr. Baltar (James Callis), a traitor who unwittingly helped the Cylons destroy Caprica and continues as their pawn, Roslin even tries to fix the election rather than see Baltar take power and lead humanity on a disastrous path toward a new home on desolate New Caprica.

The Cylons have a number of human-looking agents, most notably Boomer and Number Six (Tricia Helfer). Since Cylons download their memories into duplicate bodies after they die, we see various versions of the different humanoid Cylons running around. Number Six is my favorite; as portrayed by the ridiculously beautiful Helfer, she has had three notable versions: the unit that genuinely loves Baltar, the ruthless version that appears as a vision to manipulate Baltar, and a spiritually broken version that was captured and brutalized by the crew of the Battlestar Pegasus. Helfer brings subtle differences to each version of the character.

Season 3 (Sci-Fi, 9 p.m.) kicks off tonight with a two-hour episode that picks up from last season's cliffhanger. Baltar has assumed the presidency and relocated humanity to the desolate New Caprica. Chaos has ensued on the planet over the period of a year as the humans starve and exist in the most meager sense as Baltar has degenerated into a Nero-like ruler. With the Colonial fleet, led by Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) and his son, Lee "Apollo" Adama (Jamie Bamber), in a shambles after most of the crew has moved to the planet, humans can barely defend themselves. The two Battlestars are forced to flee after the Cylons appear because they are in no condition to fight.

The Cylons finally do find New Caprica and force Baltar to surrender. Most of the key Galactica crewmen, including Starbuck (Katee Sackoff), Chief Tyrol (Aaron Douglas) and Col. Tigh (Michael Hogan) living on the planet organize an underground resistance to fight the Cylons. You can catch the 10 Webisodes that follow the resistance on SciFi.com to bridge between last season and this one, though it isn't essential.

"BSG" has been called the best show on television by the likes of Time magazine and Rolling Stone. People turned off because they remember the cheesy original should take note that really, both shows are similar in name only.

Friday, Part I: News and Stuff

It was both a good week and bad week for TV.

The best news of the week comes from NBC, which announced Thursday that "Heroes" (Mondays, 9 p.m.) would get a full season run of 22 episodes, the first new show of the season to get that commitment. I plan on posting a bit more on "Heroes" in Monday's blog. "Heroes" has been kicking butt in the 18-49 demographic that advertisers so crave.

Fans of the Sci-Fi Channel show "Eureka" will be happy to learn the series was renewed this week for a second season. I tried the first few episodes of "Eureka" but didn't find it all that enjoyable. It tried a little too hard to be quirky.

The bad news is that other shows don't appear to be as lucky. "Kidnapped" will end after 13 episodes, and NBC is shifting the show from Wednesdays (where it had a terrible lead-in with "The Biggest Loser") to the TV Wasteland that is Saturday nights. The news isn't all bad, though. The producers will be able to at least wrap up "Kidnapped's" storyline.

Additionally, "The Nine" (ABC, Wednesdays, 10 p.m.) lost a big chunk of viewership from its "Lost" lead-in. It's a bit puzzling, since ABC did a good job of promoting the show and the pilot was A-plus. "The Nine" has enormous potential so long as the writers give out the right amount of information about the robbery each week, not too little and not too much. I'm hoping positive word-of-mouth reviews will help this show along.

DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: "Nowhere Man" was one of the coolest series ever to debut on network TV. As part of UPN's original lineup and running as a companion show to "Star Trek: Voyager," the series was about a photographer who has lost his memory and may or may not have shot a picture that could compromise a lot of secretive types.

Bruce Greenwood starred as the title character and Megan Gallagher was his wife (or was she?), at least until the memory loss. The spirit of "Nowhere Man" was very similar in tone to "The Prisoner." Unfortunately, like most UPN shows, "Nowhere Man" never found an audience and was canceled after the first season, leaving the viewers with a terrific puzzle of a cliffhanger that was never solved.

FRIDAY'S BEST BET: See Part II, in a separate posting.

WEEKEND'S BEST BET: Hopefully, we will see the Mets clinch their NLDS on Saturday, though for this area, Georgia's annual war with Tennessee (ESPN, 7:45 p.m.) is the big sporting event of the weekend. Georgia will be without kicker Brandon Coutu, who is injured for the rest of the year, another reason why I'm not optimistic about this game.

Non sports fans may want to give "Masterpiece Theatre" (PBS, Sunday, 9 p.m.) a look. Airing this week is the BBC miniseries "Casanova," starring Peter O'Toole and written by "Doctor Who" executive producer Russell T. Davies. The newest Doctor Who himself, David Tennant, plays the younger version of the title character.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A&E: The Ultimate Misnomer

Dear A&E:

You guys suck. Seriously.

First of all, have you seen your network lineup lately? Where is the "Art?" Where is the "Entertainment?" Between a glut of reality shows like "Dog, the incarcerated bounty hunter" and re-runs of "CSI: Miami," there is virtually nothing left worth watching on your network.

I say "virtually" because you had started to run "MI-5" once again. You put it in just about the worst time slot imaginable - Friday nights at 11 - to ensure the show would have no audience, then pull it after just two episodes for a rerun of, you guessed it, "CSI: Miami."

So, being both a loyal fan and watchful TV critic, I call your network. No live person seems to actually work there (perhaps they've become too embarrassed). After going through your voicemail system THREE TIMES, I finally give up and leave an emphatic message. (If a live person ever did show up to check the voicemail, that was me on the phone, pal.)

So I try to e-mail you to see what the deal was. I get a generic reply saying, "Thanks for e-mailing A&E. No live people with intelligence seem to work here anymore, so try not to grow old waiting for a response to your specific question." (I'm paraphrasing here.)

Desperate to find out what happened to TV's best spy show, I e-mailed TV Guide's Matt Roush, who, despite the mountains of e-mails he gets daily, found the time to respond more quickly than A&E's non-live person network. Roush told me that A&E plans to run a marathon of all the "MI-5s" for this season on Oct. 21. It's not that I don't believe Roush, but knowing A&E, I'm not going to hold my breath, since the network (I use that word in its loosest possible sense) tends to advertise one thing in the paper, then air something else.

I used to love watching A&E. They used to run all the shows PBS used to run, just with commercials. I didn't mind the commercials, I knew they paid the bills. But slowly, A&E started to get away from the quality stuff it used to air, and started to run network re-runs of "Crossing Jordan" and the like, and so-called reality shows about tattoo parlors and airlines. Fortunately, BBC America has come in to pick up the slack, so all is not lost. If A&E would give BBC America the rights to "MI-5," I would no longer even have to check the former on the schedule.

I'd wrap this up by saying that after Oct. 20, A&E will have permanently have one less viewer, but no living person at the network would seem to care anyway.

SCHEDULING CHANGES: CBS is flipping "The Class" with "How I Met Your Mother" since the former shows ratings haven't been great while the latter show is surpassing last year's numbers. Fine with me, "The Class" has been very uneven in its three airings.

Meanwhile, over on Fox, "Justice" will switch to the post "Prison Break" time slot of Mondays at 9 p.m. once the baseball playoffs end, while waste-of-airwaves "Vanished" is exiled to the Siberia of TV, Friday nights. (Thanks to the TV Guy's brother - http://community.tvguide.com/forum.jspa?forumID=700002898&start=0 - for that news).

I had this great posting all ready and waiting in anticipation of the debut of "Knights of Prosperity," which was set to come on next Thursday, but ABC has pushed the show back to January. Considering the run ABC has had between its new shows like "Ugly Betty" and "The Nine" and returning shows like "Grey's Anatomy" and "Lost," it's hard to bet against them right now even if they do leave me off their media list.

***EDIT: The CW also announced Thursday that it was flip-flopping its Sunday and Monday lineups. Monday nights will see "Everybody Hates Chris," "All of Us," "Girlfriends" and "The Game" run from 8-10 p.m. beginning Oct. 9. Oct. 15 will see the new Sunday lineup, beginning with an encore edition of "America's Next Top Model" and followed by episodes of "7th Heaven" and the new series "Runaway," running from 7-10 p.m.

THURSDAY'S BEST BET: I didn't catch the pilot for "Ugly Betty," (ABC, 8 p.m.) but my parents said it was great. (Talking about TV with us is a real family affair.) The ratings were through the roof, and no new show this season has generated more positive buzz from the critics.

Of course, the real drama tonight is whether the New York Mets can go up 2-0 on the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of the NLDS (Fox, 8 p.m.) Wednesday's double play at home plate has to be the play of the year.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Nine Lives

In previous postings, I mentioned that there were three new shows that I was looking forward to more than any other.

Both "Heroes" and "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" have met, and in certain moments exceeded, my expectations, and make up perhaps my favorite two-hour block from a single network.

The third show, "The Nine" (ABC, 10 p.m.) makes its debut tonight. The show revolves around nine bank customers who were hostages in a 52-hour crisis when a bank robbery goes awry. The show mixes in the past lives of the characters, scenes from the robbery (we're not meant to see the whole crime at once; it unfolds during the season) and the post-crisis impact it has on the characters' lives.

The cast includes Tim Daly ("Wings"), Kim Raver ("24") and Scott Wolf ("Party of Five").

Of course, it would be nice to tell you whether or not the pilot lived up to the hype, but ABC refuses to include me on its screener list.

But, if "The Nine" does prove to be a hit, combined with its lead-in "Lost" (9 p.m.), it might knock off NBC's Monday night duo as my favorite network programming block.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BET: Honestly, did you think this would be anything other than "Lost?" The third-season premiere opens with a ton of new questions: What will happen to Jack, Sawyer and Kate? What exactly happened when Desmond turned the key? Why does the statue have only four toes? And so forth...

"Lost" was one of those rare shows that didn't lose much momentum after its strong first season. With the glut of new characters joining the original survivors, viewers might have been overwhelmed by all of the various plotlines and mysteries to follow, but the writers did a good job of juggling it.

"Lost" will run for six episodes, then give way to Taye Diggs' new series, after which it will return for the rest of its run beginning in January.

If "The Nine" doesn't prove to be your cup of tea, I urge you to give "Kidnapped" (NBC, 10 p.m.) one more chance. Ratings haven't been strong, most likely because of Fox's awful "Vanished" that came out first and sapped viewers away. Also, if you missed the "Friday Night Lights" debut on Tuesday, NBC is re-running the pilot at 8 p.m.

For me, I will be catching the Mets as they face the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLDS series (ESPN, 4 p.m.).

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Tuesday Night Lights

As a former sports writer, this is a bit embarrassing for me to admit: I've never read "Friday Night Lights."

Because I've never read the book, I've also never seen the movie.

So it was pretty much with an open mind that I popped in the first two episodes of the new "Friday Night Lights" TV series (NBC, 8 p.m.)

To tell you the truth, it's a little odd to review it. On the one hand, I pretty much saw the direction every single plot point was heading in the pilot, not really a good sign for a TV series.

But at the same time, there was something oddly compelling about the show. Kyle Chandler ("Homefront," "Early Edition") is well-cast as a first-year high school football coach in a football-obsessedTexas town that offers little else. Equally strong is Connie Britton ("24," "Spin City") as his wife.

I found the high school kids to be drawn a little too two-dimensionally early on, the All-American quarterback, his head cheerleader girlfriend, the overly cocky tailback, etc., but the actors in those roles hit all the right notes.

Having covered high school football for the past dozen years or so, what rang most true was the portrayal of the townfolk, hundreds of Monday Morning Quarterbacks and would-be coaches themselves, opining on every single aspect of the team to the coach whether he asked their opinions or not. (Most of the time, he didn't). The pressure that the coach and the kids feel is very, very real.

Also, each episode is structured that the viewer wants to see what happens next - not really a cliffhanger, per se, but more of an open-ended story. I found myself eagerly wanting find out what's going to happen next.

The series could be one of the best NBC is debuting this fall, but the network isn't doing the show any favors by putting it in a timeslot that includes "NCIS," "House," "Dancing with the Stars" and "Gilmore Girls." In addition, the debut comes during the same night as baseball's postseason begins on Fox, which will likely draw away some viewers. However, NBC is re-airing the pilot on Wednesday at 8 p.m., pushing the debuts of "30 Rock" and "20 Good Years" back a week.

TV NEWS: Fans of the TV series "Blade" (me and three other people) are out of luck, as Spike has canceled the show after its only season, citing low ratings. It's a shame; the show was done much better than I thought it was going to be, taking the time to tell its story over a season and developing the supporting characters as much (or perhaps even better than) as the title hero.

Fans of Fox's struggling series "Justice" will get a brief stay of execution. The network has reportedly ordered three more episodes and the series will likely move to a new timeslot after the playoffs are over. I found "Justice" to be a bit repetitive early on, but there is enough interest there to stick with it for a little while at least.

TUESDAY'S BEST BET: "Veronica Mars" begins its third season tonight (CW, 9 p.m.) with the title heroine beginning her first year at college.

I enjoy this series, though not as much as others do. It's one of those things that's been called underrated so long that it's a bit overrated. The first-season mystery was too easy; I solved it with four or five episodes left. Last season's mystery was extremely contrived, with clues placed so irregularly that the big reveal was a bit of a disappointment.

"Mars" gets compared most often to "Buffy, The Vampire Slayer" because the shows are somewhat similarly structured around a supercool teenaged girl and her gang of friends.

But I prefer "Buffy," not for its supernatural themes (although they were a big plus), but for the way it developed the supporting cast. You could have a Willow-centric or Giles-centric episode, and the show didn't lose anything. On "Mars," there are some good supporting characters, but with the exception of Veronica's dad Keith (Enrico Colatoni), none of them have been fleshed out enough to have warranted more screentime. You won't see that Logan-centric or Weevil-centric episode unless Veronica (Kristin Bell) herself is directly involved in their case.

Also premiering tonight is "The Street" (BBC-America, 9 p.m.), a show about the intertwining lives of Londoners. I don't know much about it, but it's written by Jimmy McGovern ("Cracker"), in my mind one of the best writers in the history of television, so it's worth a gander.

Also, viewers may want to check out the synopsis of "Battlestar Galactica," running several times on the Sci-Fi Channel before Friday night's 2-hour debut. This is one of TV's best shows, period, and the recap is a perfect opportunity for old fans to catch up and new fans to summarize the previous two seasons. If you've heard the buzz about "BSG" and haven't had the chance to catch up, now you have no excuse.