Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"Smart" TV?

So, checking through the schedule grid, I saw the latest reality offering from Fox.

"Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" (Fox, 9:30 p.m.) hits the air tonight, with host Jeff Foxworthy probing the minds of adult Americans to see how much knowledge they have compared to the average fifth grader. (I'm guessing not a lot).

"Fifth Grader" has the benefit of debuting after "American Idol," giving it the best lead-in a show could ask for, ratings-wise.

I could use this space to rail against Fox and the reality programming unleashed on the American public by Mike Darnell over the years, but why waste my breath? No doubt "Fifth Grader" will get big numbers tonight because of "AI," and Fox will instantly proclaim it "the newest hit of the fall season!"

Even though I'm not an "AI" fan, I can at least understand the compulsion among the people who follow it, and it has launched the careers of many singers. I'm not really sure of what value shows like "Fifth Grader" give us, but people will watch what they watch.

VOTE ON YOUR FAVORITE COP OR FIREMAN: Speaking of Fox reality shows, one of the most enduring has been "America's Most Wanted," which at least has some use to society in that it has helped track down hundreds of criminals over the years. The show is launching a contest on its Web site, amw.com, where you can vote for the first-response worker you think is the best at his or her job in the "AMW All-Star Contest."

The winner will be presented with a $10,000 check by host John Walsh at the NASCAR Nextel Cup Challenge at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Nominations run through the beginning of April, and voting by the public begins after that.

MONDAY RECAP: I was in a bad mood yesterday, but last night's installments of "How I Met Your Mother" and "Heroes" helped alleviate it.

"HIMYM" continues to hit the comic high notes every week, and may be my second-favorite sitcom on network TV right now (after "The Office"), thanks to the fun the writers are having with the characters right now. Any time a show's dialogue works its way into the public consciousness ("slap bets," "Suit up!"), you know it's something special.

"Heroes" came through with yet another strong effort, this time giving the backstory of HRG (and, in doing so, the backstory of Claude as well). While answering some questions, it raised others, such as how Hiro's father is connected to everything. It's been fun watching this show continue to evolve.

Now that people have gotten to see the premiere of "The Black Donnellys," I'm curious to hear your thoughts on the show. I was underwhelmed by it all, especially considering the talent of creators Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco, but there was enough there in the pilot to make me give it another chance next week.

TUESDAY'S BEST BETS: As "American Idol" continues to dominate the night by whittling down its semifinalists, the other networks have backed off the original episodes to some extent on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Still, CBS will original episodes of "NCIS" at 8 p.m., followed by "The Unit" at 9 p.m. On the CW, "Gilmore Girls" and "Veronica Mars" are both new, as are the dual "Law & Orders" on NBC.

The best bet of the night might be "Frontline" (PBS, 10 p.m.), which examines traditional media versus new media. Hopefully, it will give some insight as to why my industry has shot itself in the collective foot over the past decade and how newspapers have gotten screwed over by Wall Street analysts.

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Healthy Helping of Haggis

There really isn't a hotter screenwriting team in Hollywood than Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco. The pair won consecutive Oscars for their screenplays of "Crash" and "Million Dollar Baby." Haggis also got credit as a script doctor this past year on such films as "Casino Royale" and Oscar-nominee "Letters From Iwo Jima."

Haggis himself came up through the TV ranks. It's hard to imagine, but he began his distinguished career writing for the likes of "The Love Boat" and "Different Strokes" before moving into slighly better fare such as "The Tracey Ullman Show" and "thirtysomething." Later on, he created the much-praised, but ratings-challenged, "Due South" and "EZ Streets."

So it's quite the pedigree behind the new series "The Black Donnellys" (NBC, 10 p.m.), which makes its debut tonight. Centered on the lives of four Irish brothers who are on the wrong side of the law, the show is being marketed as the next "Sopranos."

Having seen the pilot, it's got a way to go to make it into "The Sopranos'" stratosphere.

The style of the series, which is based partly on Moresco's neighborhood growing up, is undoubtedly that of Haggis, who has a way of writing so distinctive the sharp eyed viewer can detect it. (Similar to other TV auteurs like Aaron Sorkin or Joss Whedon).

Most of the story is told via flashback in a prison cell, as low-level hood Joey Ice Cream (Keith Nobbs) tells the cops the story of the Donnelly brothers: Tommy (Jonathan Tucker), the eldest and the one who has to get the others out of trouble; Jimmy (Tom Guiry), the hothead who usually causes trouble; Kevin (Tom Lush), a gambler who constantly loses; and Sean (Michael Stahl-David), the youngest and a ladies' man.

Though amusing, the tale spun is somewhat difficult to follow as the viewer is introduced to a ton of characters very quickly. The tone then shifts from somewhat light to very dark very quickly as the narration disappears for a while.

Jimmy, trying to help Kevin get some money to cover their debts, loses a bunch of shirts in a truck he stole. To make up for it, the younger three brothers kidnap a low-level mob man. Tommy is called upon to come up with some sort of solution before the situation escalates into a war. But the situation goes bad quickly and Tommy is forced to make a choice: to stay on the straight and narrow, or protect the family.

What Haggis and Moresco lay out in the last 10 minutes of the show make up for the uneven pilot and is enough to make the show worth another look, though it has far to go to reach the level of "The Sopranos" and other crime dramas.

Though we care about Tommy, the other three brothers are so useless that you spend most of the hour wondering why Tommy goes through all the trouble of trying to help them out. (We find out why towards the end). We don't see Tommy going through the angst that Tony Soprano does, and we don't really care about the rest of the cast the way we do about the extended Soprano family.

NBC pushed the premiere of "The Black Donnellys" up a week to make up for the ailing "Studio 60," but one wonders what the rush was for. Still, there is enough potential there that the capable Haggis-Moresco team could make it worth it.

OSCAR RECAP: The TV Guy finished second in the Oscar pool, which in this case really was the first loser (as my pal Jonathan Heeter of the Bringing The Heet blog likes to put it), since only the winner got any money (if money was actually exchanged, because that's gambling, and gambling is wrong).

I got 11 of 14 categories, missing out on Best Picture (I picked "Babel," forgetting the unwritten Oscar rule that Best Picture and Best Director usually come from the same film); Best Foreign Language (picked "Pan's Labyrinth," the only one of the five I'd even heard of); and Best Animated (picked "Cars," overestimated the power of Pixar at the Oscars, underestimated the damn penguins).

I caught bits of the broadcast here and there. Ellen DeGeneres seemed capable enough though the jokes seemed rather milquetoast. The broadcast seemed to run way longer than it had in recent years, as most of the major awards are stuffed into the final 20 minutes so that they ensure viewers will know who won in Best Sound Editing.

MONDAY'S BEST BETS: Mr. Bennet, aka "Horned-Rim Glasses" or "HRG" has become one of the most interesting characters on "Heroes" (NBC, 9 p.m.), and tonight we get much of his origin story as Matt and Nuclear Man hold him hostage.

Michael and Lincoln continue to try to clear their name as C-Note switches sids on "Prison Break" (Fox, 8 p.m.) followed by the return of Charles Logan on "24" at 9 p.m.

Marshall's beloved car dies on "How I Met Your Mother" (CBS, 8 p.m.) while Nicole chooses her man on "The Class" at 8:30 p.m. ABC is running its second Oprah Winfrey special in less than a week, this one about her leadership academy, at 10 p.m.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Rolling Out The Red Carpet

The media frenzy hasn't quite reached Super Bowl proportions yet, but it feels like it's starting to get there.

The festivities kicked off Thursday night with an Oprah Winfrey Oscar special on ABC, and will continue on Sunday with the TV Guide Channel running their red-carpet special starring Joan and Melissa Rivers, in which they spend two hours criticizing who is wearing what, followed by the broadcast itself (8 p.m., ABC), three-plus hours of the most interminable television imaginable.

In Britain, they held the equivalent of the Oscars last week called the BAFTAs, and that broadcast by comparison was crisp and precise. No musical numbers, no pontificating, none of the stuff that makes the Oscars excruciating to watch.

To think, the Oscars used to actually be a lot worse, when stars saw the awards show as their two-minute platforms to criticize some aspect of the world they didn't like and felt like they had to share with the rest of us. Not to mention the terrible musical revues they would do with the show, nor the fact that the show often ran well past the time it was supposed to end.

Ellen DeGeneres is back as the host of the show, and I think she's a pretty good choice in what has to be one of the most thankless tasks in Hollywood. I thought Jon Stewart did a very respectable job last year as host, yet he got lambasted by the critics.

Anyway, it's a very long process to find out whether or not I won the office Oscar pool.

(By the way, I recant everything above if I ever sell a script that gets nominated for an Oscar.)

For more Oscar coverage, Reel Fanatic blogger Keith Demko and I talk about the Best Picture nominees via podcast on macon.com with Webmaster Ryan Gilchrest, and in Sunday's edition of The Telegraph, I give my predictions while Keith lists some of the bigger oversights and bad choices made by the Academy.

Among my personal oversights: Aaron Eckhardt for "Thank You For Smoking," Jason Reitman for Best Adapted Screenplay for the same movie, Gretchen Mol for "The Notorious Bettie Page," and Michael Sheen as Best Supporting Actor for "The Queen."

WEEKEND'S WORST BET: Notice I said "worst." TNT is re-running the 1999 movie "Payback," starring Mel Gibson. This was a mediocre effort when it came out originally, and I thought little more of it until I saw writer/director Brian Helgeland's re-cut of the movie at the Austin Film Festival, and it blew me away. It's a shame that Gibson and the studio made the changes they did. Do yourselves a favor and find the director's cut of the movie and forget the version that TNT shows.

WEEKEND'S BEST BETS: Mostly new episodes among the usual Friday fare, so if you watch TV on Friday nights, you are in luck.

On Saturday, the conclusion to the terrific miniseries "The State Within" (BBC America, 9 p.m.) airs. If you missed the first two episodes, the network is re-running them beginning with Part I at 3 p.m. The series revolves around America and Britain's response after a terrorist act is committed in Washington, D.C.

Sunday will be pretty quiet because of the Oscars, but new episodes of "Grease: You're The One That I Want" (NBC, 8 p.m.) and "The Amazing Race (CBS, 8 p.m.) will air, as will new installments of "The Dresden Files" (Sci-Fi, 9 p.m.) and "Battlestar Galactica" (Sci-Fi, 10 p.m.)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Truth In Advertising

The great writer Douglas Adams was able to calculate the average population of the universe as zero. Adams wrote that we know there are an infinite number of planets out there, but only a finite number were inhabited. Any finite number divided by infinity works out statistically as zero, so any person you actually meet, Adams wrote, is likely the product of the imagination of a demented bee.

I bring this up because my brother sent me an e-mail with a link to a Washington Post story, saying "You have to blog about this!" (Yes, I do requests).

The story, from the Post's TV critic Lisa de Moraes, takes CBS to task for its promos. You've likely seen The Eye tout "CSI" as TV's top-rated drama, or "Shark" as the No. 1 new show on the air.

And, technically, they are. Just not in a way any other person measures.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how the Nielsens came about and how they have become rather useless for today's TV viewer. What CBS does is count the cumulative number of viewers for its shows and touts those ratings, rather than the average number of viewers per individual new episode, which is how the rest of the human race measures viewership.

So, "CSI" gets a very strong 20.6 million average viewership per episode, not exactly chopped liver. But that comes nowhere close to Fox's "American Idol," which draws in an average of 35.3 million. However, if you add up the 20 episodes of "CSI" that have been show this season, you get 412 million viewers. "AI," by contrast, has broadcast just four episodes, according to the article, adding up to about 141 million.

As The Post points out, NBC's "Heroes" regularly beats "Shark" among the new shows, with an average of 14.5 million viewers compared to the latter's 13.4 million. However, "Shark" has aired 20 episodes compared to 15 from "Heroes," meaning the CBS legal drama has netted 267 million viewers for the season, compared to 217 million for "Heroes."

(And The Post didn't even factor in the fact that "Shark" is dropping nearly seven million viewers weekly from its "CSI" lead-in, or in CBS math, 140 million viewers over the season.)

The CBS math, while technically accurate, is dead wrong in terms of advertising, since the 412 million viewers for "CSI" aren't 412 million individuals. It's the same 20.6 million that tune in every week.

Of course, in the age of DVRs and so forth, ratings themselves have become somewhat meaningless. NBC likes to tout "Studio 60" as the top recorded program on the dial, meaning that if you factored in the recorded ratings to the actual ones, the audience numbers increase 10 percent. If "Studio 60" had those numbers compared to its actual ones, it wouldn't be facing likely cancellation at the end of the season.

But Hollywood is notorious for fudgy math, and it's likely all of the networks will continue to trot out whatever numbers they want to in order to promote a show or bury it.

AMERICAN IDOL FOLLOW: TV viewers who want to chat about who shined and who didn't on "American Idol" now that they are into the finals stages should go over to our music blog, Amped, on macon.com.

THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: CBS' ratings should go way up tonight with a lineup of all-new episodes of "Survivor" beginning at 8 p.m., followed by the previously mentioned "CSI" and "Shark."

ABC is running two full hours of "Grey's Anatomy" beginning at 8 p.m., followed by Oprah Winfrey's Oscar special at 10 p.m. NBC gives us a full night of comedy from 8-10, followed by a new "ER."

Fox airs the final episode of "The OC" tonight, beginning at 9 p.m. I should probably say something about this brief cultural phenomenon, but honestly, I never watched a minute of it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Lost Numbers

So, ABC's success in killing off what was once its most popular franchise seems to be nearly complete, as "Lost" drew just 12.8 million viewers last week in what was a pretty cool Desmond-centric episode.

The good news for network is that "Lost" (ABC, 10 p.m.) won its timeslot handily; the bad news is, with a show done the way it is with very detailed character and plot arcs, it's very difficult for viewers who drop the show for a week to join back in.

"Lost" isn't in danger of being canceled, but to watch ABC's treatment of the show this season - airing just six episodes in the fall before pulling it for the dreadful "Daybreak" - is frustrating to any fan of the series.

ABC executives may not care, however, thanks to a couple of other pieces of news that broke this week. The first, announced Wednesday, is that "Grey's Anatomy" will produce a spinoff centered around Kate Walsh's character, with the pilot likely airing in May. (Thanks to TV Guide for that news).

The second news is the network's answer to Fox's "American Idol," the even-more-grating "Dancing With The Stars" announced the new contestants, which include: Heather Mills, Laila Ali, Ian Ziering, Billy Ray Cyrus, Joey Fatone, Miss USA 2004 Shandi Finnessey, Leeza Gibbons, Paulina Porizkova, Olympian Apolo Anton Ohno, former NBA star Clyde Drexler and "Sopranos" actor Vincent Pastore.

Perhaps the ABC powers-that-be feel with these two new shows, "Lost" is no longer a priority. Let's hope they wake up from that delusion.

RIP SHERIFF DON LAMB: The sheriff of Neptune, Calif., a frequent nemesis of both Veronica Mars and her dad, Keith, was one of the most irritating characters on the dial - and I mean that in a good way. His snide comments and lax attitude made his character a lot of fun, and he'll be missed after meeting his unfortunate demise from a baseball bat wielded by Richard Grieco.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BETS: "Jericho" (CBS, 8 p.m.), which got the "Lost" treatment of going three months between original episodes, finally returns to the air tonight, followed by new episodes of "Criminal Minds" and "CSI: NY."

One of TV's best shows, "Friday Night Lights" (NBC, 8 p.m.) is also original tonight. Matt and Julie consider losing their virginity; not that I'm advocating teen sex, but is there a couple on the air right now that you want to pull for more than Matt and Julie?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Spare Us The Rob & Amber, Already

Sorry for the long break between postings.

I caught the premiere of "Amazing Race All-Stars" on Sunday. Andy Warhol once said, "In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes." Warhol obviously never met Rob and Amber Mariano of "Survivor"/"Amazing Race"/reality TV fame.

With the exception of Paris Hilton, it's hard to imagine anyone who continues to benefit off their faux celebrity more than Rob and Amber. Each was a contestant on "Survivor" (different editions), then re-upped for the all-star "Survivor." After winning on that, they were signed up to do "The Amazing Race" as a couple, simply because of their "Survivor" fame. (Perhaps they have compromising photos of a CBS executive).

After finishing second in that, they did a live TV wedding, in which everything was paid for by sponsors. Then they got their own reality show coming out this year. Now, they are back in the all-star edition of "The Amazing Race."

Enough already. Seriously.

I pretty much hate these "all-star" editions of reality shows anyway, as if you could get worse than standard reality shows. All of the couples on "Amazing Race" had their shot at $1 million. Why not give some new couples a shot?

*******SPOILER ALERT FROM SUNDAY'S PREMIERE (Don't read this graph if you have "Amazing Race" on tape and haven't seen it yet): Watching Rob & Amber win and get yet another free, fantastic vacation was even more grating, especially since one of the couples I was rooting for, John Vito & Jill, was knocked out.

***OK, START READING AGAIN. That said, any of seven of the 11 couples racing could win and I wouldn't mind. I'm pretty much pulling for anyone except the teams of Rob-Amber, Dave-Mary, Team Guido, and Mirna-Charla, simply because all of the those teams were pretty rude when they raced originally. Any of the remaining teams were pretty nice the first time around and had some aspect about them that I liked.

So, which team are you pulling for?

WEEKEND/MONDAY REVISITED: A 14-hour drive this weekend prevented me from hitting all the highlights, and there were plenty.

I hope you loyal dozens managed to catch "The State Within" on BBC America this past Saturday and Sunday. Part 3 airs this upcoming Saturday. I'm sure the network will be re-running the entire series at some point.

"How I Met Your Mother" brought back one of the best running gags ever for a sitcom, the slap bet.

"Heroes" introduced a new hero to the mix, Hana, who has the ability to access any telecommunications system with her mind. Rumor is, she checks out "The TV Guy" blog at least twice a day. (Question for Webmaster Ryan: Do those hits count if she doesn't actually use a computer?)

"Studio 60" ran its last episode for the next couple of months, since it will be replaced by "The Black Donnellys" from "Crash" writers Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco next Monday. Though there has been a lot of speculation about "Studio 60's" fate, I'm betting NBC will air the remaining episodes after May sweeps end, but probably won't renew the series beyond that.

TUESDAY'S BEST BETS: "American Idol" (Fox, 8 p..m.) moves into the semifinals phase with the 12 male competitors squaring off tonight, meaning "House" is pre-empted. Frakkin' "American Idol!"

"NCIS" and "The Unit," however, are new on CBS, while ABC delivers a new episode of "Boston Legal." On NBC, "Dateline" goes after sexual predators yet again, followed by new episodes of various "Law & Orders."

"Veronica Mars" is also new (CW, 9 p.m.) I'm not saying Veronica is bad luck, but her freshman year of college and the school's dean and head basketball coach are murdered, not to mention all of the campus rapes. Come to think of it, maybe she is bad luck. It's preceded by a new "Gilmore Girls."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Writers vs. Directors

When it comes to the above groups, TV gets it more right than movies.

In movies, the director rules the roost and gets the proprietary credit of the film, which is why movies always have the line "A film by Steven Spielberg" or whichever director is in charge. Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, et. al. are just as big stars as the actors they cast in roles, bringing in people to the theatres because of the strength of their previous work.

Most people couldn't name five writers in Hollywood if their lives depended on it, and if they could, it would be the likes of Quentin Tarantino or Woody Allen, the auteurs who direct their own scripts.

When writers and directors are in synch on a movie, the result is usually gold. When they aren't, it's almost always the writer who gets the short end of the stick and has his or her script drastically altered.

It's all different in TV. The writers serve as the producers of the show, plotting out whole seasons of how a certain series will develop. Since everything starts with the script - in movies or TV - this arrangement seems to make the most sense. The producer/writers of a series will then hire a director for individual episodes.

Sometimes, the writers assume directing duties themselves, such as J.J. Abrams on his series "Lost" and "Alias." On occasion, the director also has a role in creating the series, such as Tom Schlamme on "Studio 60."

I'm not really sure why I am bringing this up except for the fact that tonight's schedule has a couple of notable directors. "Buffy" and "Angel" creator Joss Whedon, in my mind TV's best writer, directs tonight's installment of "The Office" (NBC, 8:30 p.m.) For me, "The Office" remains one of TV's most fascinating shows behind the scenes, since most of the cast has written episodes in the past and several serve as producers of the show.

Meanwhile, on "Smallville" (CW, 8 p.m.), Michael Rosenbaum makes his directorial debut while also serving as the series' Lex Luthor. He follows castmate Tom Welling, the show's Clark Kent, who directed an episode earlier this season. TV provides an outlet for actors to broaden their horizons in this regard, something movies do far less often.

THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: "Grey's Anatomy" (ABC, 9 p.m.) continues its multi-part arc of a ferry disaster that has the hospital swamped with casaulties - including some of the doctors. It's preceded by "Ugly Betty," guest starring Lucy Liu. "Men in Trees" (ABC, 10 p.m.) also delivers a new installment.

Over on NBC, it's a full lineup of new comedies which sandwich "The Office." I'm hopeful for a better "Scrubs" (NBC, 9 p.m.) tonight; I found last week's extremely disappointing and depressing. A new "ER" will run at 10 p.m.

CBS has a full night with "Survivor: Fiji" kicking things off at 8 p.m., followed by a new "CSI" and a new "Shark."

A new "Supernatural" (CW, 9 p.m.) follows "Smallville," while one of the last remaining "The O.C." episodes airs tonight (Fox, 9 p.m.)

WEEKEND'S BEST BETS: I'm going to try to slip in an update over the weekend or Monday, but since I probably can't, viewers of intrigue should check out "The State Within," a three-part miniseries on BBC America which debuts Saturday night at 9 p.m. (Parts 2 and 3 air Feb. 18 and 24, respectively). Starring Jason Isaacs and Sharon Gless, it's a tale of intrigue involving both U.S. and U.K. diplomats set very much in the backdrop of the post-9/11 world.

Fox will run a new lineup of its animated comedy block Sunday night, beginning with "The Simpsons" at 8 p.m. ABC's night is highlighted by a new "Desperate Housewives" at 9 p.m., while NBC has a reality run with "Grease" and "The Apprentice." CBS delivers a new "Cold Case" at 9 p.m., set to the music of Bob Dylan, followed by "Without a Trace."

Also, the new "Amazing Race: All-Stars" (CBS, Sun., 8 p.m.) begins Sunday night. I pretty much hate the all-star formats of reality shows, but plan on writing about this next week after I watch the premiere before I judge it.

Finally, I tend not to mention repeats, but "Masterpiece Theatre" is re-airing "Prime Suspect 6" (PBS, Sunday, 9 p.m.), so that automatically gets a nod.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Value of Repeats

Back in the old days, before cable TV got so big, networks spend half the year - literally - airing reruns of their prime time programs. You'd have 22 weeks of original programming, 22 repeats and the remaining weeks would be either special events - the Grammys, the World Series, etc. - or more reruns.

Cable TV killed all of that, because it gave viewers a lot more quality options. And that's generally been a good thing. Why watch a rerun of a show you've already seen when you can flip over to FX and watch something like "The Shield" instead?

However, the strategy by the networks does have its disadvantages as well, as one can see tonight. Take CBS, which has one of the few breakout hits this season with "Jericho." The show is part of a recent trend of television that uses season-long, multi-episode arcs, meaning that if you miss one, it's very difficult for the average viewer to catch up. "Heroes," "Lost," "Grey's Anatomy" and others are in the same boat.

Not only that, but when a show is a breakout hit, viewers that didn't catch it from the beginning may want to check it out and see what the fuss is about.

But CBS elected not to air reruns of "Jericho" during the show's hiatus that began at the end of November. So there's been no opportunity for new viewers to catch up with the show, and with a three-month-plus long break, even committed viewers may have trouble remembering where they left off.

So CBS is taking a page out of "Lost's" playbook and running an hour-long recap show at 8 p.m., boiling the first half of the season down to an hour of clips that will supposedly catch people up.

I'm not a "Jericho" viewer, so I can't say one way or the other if the recap show will be adequate enough to fill in the blanks, but in "Lost's" case, I don't think showing a bunch of clips in lieu of full episodes has done the series justice. A lot of the nuances of "Lost," (ABC, 10 p.m.) which is what makes it so great, are missing.

That's not to say I'm a fan of reruns. But I think NBC had the right idea with "Heroes." Knowing it had a huge hit on its hands, the network re-ran episodes on its sister network, the Sci-Fi Channel, as well as on the traditional dead air of Saturday nights. That way, fans of the show got to watch it again if they so wished, and it allowed new viewers to catch up.

"Jericho" did run a few reruns on Saturday nights, but I don't think CBS ran all of them (I could be wrong, I didn't follow it), so viewers trying to catch up probably couldn't do so.

Of course, now the networks are re-running a lot of episodes on their Web sites (ABC is probably the best when it comes to this), but for most TV viewers, there isn't that synergy yet with the Internet where the average viewer will take the time to download a missed episode.

With the networks all owning various cable properties, it should be relatively easy to air reruns on something like ABC Family or FX. Hopefully, more networks will adapt NBC's strategy of airing the reruns (while not taking up valuable prime-time space) and not go with the capsule shows.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BETS: Speaking of re-runs, ABC is rebroadcasting last week's "Lost" at 9 p.m. before showing the newest installment at 10 p.m., probably not the worst strategy when facing "American Idol" (Fox, 9 p.m.), especially with the judges making their final cuts tonight. A new episode of "Bones" precedes "AI."

If you want to count "Jericho" as new tonight, CBS has a full lineup that includes "Criminal Minds" and "CSI: NY."

TV's best show of the night not involving castaways on an island or prospective pop singers gives us a new episode when the black players continue their protest on "Friday Night Lights" (NBC, 8 p.m.)

And, in what I think is the perfect fitting tribute to Valentine's Day, check out "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre" (History Channel, 8 p.m.), which details the worst mob assassination in U.S. history, which pretty much sums up my feelings about this particular holiday.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Couple of More Reasons For Me To Live

So, Monday didn't suck in terms of TV watching. In addition to being the strongest night of the week for programs on the tube, there were two good pieces of news.

The first was I finally got my complete 40th Anniversary DVD set of "The Prisoner," complete with fold-out map of The Village and an episode guide among its extras. Many happy returns to me, indeed.

The second was the news TV Guide broke on its Web site yesterday, that "Battlestar Galactica" would be renewed for another season. One of TV's best and most critically acclaimed shows has always battled low ratings, but its encouraging to see the Sci-Fi Channel stick with it.

Actually, "BSG" had a rare mis-step this past Sunday in an episode that involved the Sagittarons, a rather radical religious sect among the colonies that refuses to use modern science and medicine. The episode involved a ruthless physician (Bruce Davison) who ended up killing members of the sect in order to preserve medicine for the rest of the fleet.

It wasn't so much a mis-step as it was a missed opportunity. The episode was re-written rather late in the game because other episodes involving Sagittarons had been changed and that aspect of the story didn't appear.

"BSG" is at its best when in mirrors the attitudes of our post 9/11 society and forces us to question how we as Americans would act in the face of a massive disaster. For example, an episode involving whether or not people had the right to abortions when the human race was down to its last 40,000 or so people was, for me, a high mark in the series.

This past episode had a chance to examine religious culture in our society and how prejudice like anti-Semitism or anti-Muslim feelings can dictate the actions of what might otherwise be decent citizens. The episode ended up floating the ideas but not really tackling them.

Still, considering the e-mails and other Web postings about the episode that were generated, even mediocre "BSG" makes for compelling TV, and we will get at least one more season of it now.

"24" BIZARRO FACTS OF THE WEEK: Wow, two hours of "24" last night really did provide lots of fodder.

--The show's streak of bad cabinets continue. Three hours after an attack on U.S. soil, the best plan these guys can come up with is a coup d'etat by assassinating the President. Um, yeah.
--Of course, maybe something needs to be done about Wayne Palmer. He tells a terrorist last night that "if a second nuke goes off, war is inevitable." So, that means, the first nuke is free? It's OK to nuke the U.S. once, because we'll let that pass, but nuke us twice and we really get pissed? Seriously?
--I really thought Jack's sister-in-law (Rena Sofer) was going to do the right thing and tell Jack of the set-up, what with Phillip Bauer (James Cromwell) obviously being off his gourd nuts. But, of course, she says nothing, which is absolutely the stupidest thing imaginable. She knows Phillip has just confessed murder to her and is threatening her son. What does she think he will do after he kills his other son in an obvious trap? Let her and the kid walk away? Jack's the one guy who can save the kid, so of course, keep him in the dark.
--I might concede that anyone getting tortured like Morris might eventually give in to the terrorists, but in this case, Morris KNOWS Jack is coming because of the fire alarms. All he has to do is stall for an extra couple of minutes, which shouldn't be a problem since the device he is fixing is highly technical and apparently he's the only engineer in L.A. that can fix it. So what does he do? He fixes the device, knowing what it will be used for, then acts shocked when the terrorists are about to kill him. What does Chloe see in the guy?
--Bill calls Jack to the carpet for killing his brother. Seriously, now? Jack's been killing, maiming and torturing suspects for six years now, and this is the first time CTU seeks to discipline him?

Stay tuned.

TUESDAY'S BEST BETS: Two of reality's best hit the air tonight with "American Idol" (Fox, 8 p.m.) squaring off with "Dateline: To Catch a Predator" (NBC, 8 p.m.) If there were a way to combine these shows, maybe I'd watch then.

Two hours of various "Law & Orders" run on NBC from 9-11 p.m., while "House" (Fox, 9 p.m.) is also new. Girl power reigns on the CW with "Gilmore Girls" and "Veronica Mars."

CBS has a full lineup of new stuff tonight with "NCIS," "The Unit" and "Without A Trace."

I've never understood the appeal of dog shows, but the "131st Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show" runs for three hours tonight (USA, 8 p.m.) Enjoy.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Studio 60: Good, Bad or Indifferent?

I had originally intended to post this entry last week, but got sidetracked by a murder trial. (If I had a nickel for every time I used that excuse...)

When the pilot for "Studio 60" (NBC, 10 p.m.) came out, I lavished it with praise, and I still stand by that review. The question is, has the show built upon that early promise?

Reviews, like the ratings, have been mixed. I still find "Studio 60" to be generally enjoyable and most of the characters have been pretty well done.

But the show has also been wildly uneven, with characters finding themselves in pretty preposterous situations (trapped on a rooftop, trapped in Utah) that seem to be more lazy writing than genuinely good ideas.

I suppose I am in the minority on some of this, but the relationships on the show haven't really worked either. I don't like the Matt-Harriet stuff and find it rather grating. I do enjoy the Danny-Jordan blossoming romance (except when trapped upon rooftops) but many viewers were turned off by it, feeling that Danny crossed the line into stalker territory. I don't believe that myself - I think the writers were trying to show the lengths Danny was willing to go to in order to woo Jordan - but I can see how viewers might take it the wrong way.

Some of the complaints over the show I find to be a little odd. Some viewers complain about the lack of comedy sketches each week (or that we see only portions of them), even though the show is all about the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on at a weekly TV series, not the series itself.

Others have criticized co-creator Aaron Sorkin for being to preachy and political with the show. Hello, it's an Aaron Sorkin show, people. When is his series and movies not preachy and political?

The problems with "Studio 60" (which does show flashes of brilliance) are plentiful. The two most interesting characters are the network executives, Jack and Jordan, and they both spend way too much time with this one particular show on the network. In reality, Jack and Jordan might bump into Matt and Danny once a year, and they'd never spend so much time rubbing elbows with the cast.

I find the character of Harriet to be rather shrill and irritating, and we keep getting told of Matt's writing genius, though rarely we are shown it. (Not to mention the fact that they are trying to produce a weekly variety show with just four writers, two of whom have yet to contribute a sketch).

Bradley Whitford, Matthew Perry and D.L. Hughley have all been underused in comparison to their relative talents, as has Amanda Peet, whose Jordan McDeere character showed so much promise in the pilot. We only see brief bursts of the potential all of these characters have as played by these talented actors.

Only Tom (Nate Corddry) has really fulfilled his potential as a character, though the current storyline of his breaking a date with Lucy to chaperone the daughter of a Chinese industrialist fell into the worst kind of sitcom plotline. Jack (Steven Weber) has been the character that has improved the most (and has become my favorite), but it almost seems like he should be in a different show. Also, the recent addition of Mark McKinney as one of the fictional show's writers was a positive addition.

The ratings have been a disappointment for the most part (especially with the smash hit "Heroes" preceding it), and the critics have indulged in their own schadenfreude at the prospect of a Sorkin show failing so early on. NBC will pull "Studio 60" next month temporarily in favor of "The Black Donnellys," a crime drama from two-time Oscar winner Paul Haggis, arguably the top screenwriter in Hollywood currently.

Hopefully, the time off will allow the writers of "Studio 60" to get their sea legs back. There is still time to right the ship.

MONDAY'S BEST BETS: Tonight, we get a double helping of "24" (Fox, 8 p.m.) You know what that means - Tuesday's blog will have double the amount of "24" Bizarro facts in it! In tonight's episode, Jack will no doubt have to shoot and maim a lot of people to rescue Morris from terrorists before he is forced to arm the remaining nukes.

"Heroes" (NBC, 9 p.m.) continues with last week's fallout of revealing who Claire's real father is, and another superpowered person is revealed tonight. So far, the additions of Christopher Eccleston and Jessalyn Gilsig have been positive ones, so I'm just going to continue enjoy the ride.

CBS has a lineup of new episodes of its comedies, beginning with "How I Met Your Mother" at 8 p.m. in what is easily TV's most improved show from Season 1 to Season 2.

And, just so as not to draw criticism, "What About Brian" (ABC, 10 p.m.) is new tonight, and preceded by two reality shows that don't really deserve mention.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Extra-good Fun

I recently e-mailed my brother an article from the L.A. Times about shows in their sophomore season, and that how the networks that showed patience through low ratings were now being rewarded with some success.

"Supernatural" was one show mentioned; "Close to Home" (CBS, 9 p.m.) was another.

For me, however, the show that has improved the most over its second season has been "Extras" (HBO, Sunday, 10 p.m.), which went from a pretty nice sitcom from "The Office" creator/star Ricky Gervais to what may be the funniest show on TV.

You read that right. In a season with the likes of the American "Office," "Scrubs" and "How I Met Your Mother," (and believe me, I'm not dissing those shows at all) "Extras" has totally blown me away this season.

"Extras" follows the mis-adventures of longtime background player Andy Melman (Gervais) and his best friend Maggie ("Ugly Betty's" Ashley Jensen). Andy, trying for his big break, created a sitcom that he sold to the BBC at the end of the first season. Andy's original concept was a clever, well-written comedy, but the network powers have reduced it to a silly, mindless sitcom that is drawing big ratings in spite of itself. Andy has had to wrestle success with the idea of selling out. He gets no help from his agent (series co-creator Stephen Merchant), possibly the worst agent in the history of TV.

What makes "Extras" so brilliant has been the guest stars, real-life movie and TV stars portraying caricature versions of themselves. So we have gotten an overly narcissistic Orlando Bloom, who can't conceive that Maggie doesn't find him the sexiest man alive, and Daniel Radclyffe, who is overcome by his hormones (and who gives us the funniest sight gag of the season involving a condom and Dame Diana Rigg).

If you like the humor of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," in which the protagonist manages to shoot himself in the foot constantly, you'll love "Extras." There are only two episodes left this season (and for the series, which Gervais has decided to end), but since it's not TV, it's HBO, you'll have plenty of chances to catch up with the entire show.

R.I.P. ANNA NICOLE SMITH: One thing you can say, she was never dull. I don't understand, however, why it was necessary for CNN to broadcast stuff about her death for something like 16 hours. This wasn't Jackie Kennedy who died, after all.

FRIDAY'S BEST BETS: "20/20" (ABC, 9 p.m.) has two hours of political misconduct to expose. CBS has a full night of new shows, including "Numb3rs" at 10 p.m. NBC is also completely new, and while Fox is trotting out new episodes of "Nanny 911" and "Trading Spouses," it makes me weep for TV.

WEEKEND'S BEST BETS: Natalie Portman lends her voice to a new episode of "The Simpsons" (Fox, Sunday, 8 p.m.), kicking off a full night of new animation offerings.

Before you jump on the "Extras" bandwagon, make sure you check out "Rome" (HBO, 9 p.m.) as well.

The most interesting prospect of the night might be "Masterpiece Theatre" (PBS, 9 p.m.), which presents a new version of the old classic "Dracula," with Marc Warren ("Hustle") as the Count.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

In Praise of the Villains

In an introduction to the first book of the hardcover graphic novel "Justice," writer Jim Krueger gives a perfect summation of how the best villains are done.

In their minds, they are the heroes.

I had this in mind because right now, we've got a great group of villains on TV.

That was re-iterated last night with the return of "Lost," in which we see that the series' villains, The Others, think of themselves as the good guys using Machiavellan means to achieve goals that will ultimately benefit mankind. (Last night, they did so with a bus in one of the best visuals of the TV season. I have to say, I didn't see that coming - neither, apparently, did Ed.)

Tonight, one of my favorite TV villains is on, and it's the guy who inspired Krueger to write the introduction and the book itself: Lex Luthor.

In six years of "Smallville," (CW, 8 p.m.), Lex, as portrayed by Michael Rosenbaum, has always been the best-written character of the series, because he honestly believes he is the hero of the piece. Yes, he does bad things to people and is something of a megalomaniac, but it's really only because of the way he was reared and because he honestly believes only he can handle the power and the wealth in his possession.

In the comics, Lex has evolved from a one-dimensional evil scientist to a guy who believes he has genuine reason to fear Superman and his ilk, that they will render mankind obselete. In "Justice," Lex even goes so far as to band the world's villains together and solve problems like famine and disease, then accuses Superman and the other heroes of being the real villains since they do nothing with their powers to solve the day-to-day problems facing mankind.

It's a fascinating take on decades-old characters, and it's an idea that "Smallville's" producers have tapped into. They aren't the only ones, though.

In addition to the Others, we have the Cylons on "Battlestar Galactica," who believe they are doing God's work; we have Sylar on "Heroes," who believes himself to be chosen to a higher calling; and so forth.

Perhaps that's why I've grown tired of "Prison Break" and "24," shows which use more two-dimensional villains who do evil things apparently in evil's name. There's no gray area, no sympathy for them. When Graeme Bauer was being tortured by his brother Monday night, he told Jack he did everything because he "loved America" but we never see how that was the case or how his actions benefitted this country at all.

So, who are some of your favorite TV villains and why?

THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: "Survivor" (CBS, 8 p.m.) kicks off a new season tonight in Fiji, but I'm paralyzed by blinding indifference, which is why I won't be tuning into William L. Petersen's return to "CSI" at 9 p.m. either. I will, however, catch "Shark" at 10 p.m.

I will, however, check out my buddy Lex Luthor in tonight's "Smallville," followed by a new installment of "Supernatural" (CW, 9 p.m.)

Speaking of great villains, I've been loving Wilhelmina on "Ugly Betty" (ABC, 8 p.m.) all season long, and the addition of Alexis Mead (Rebecca Romijn) has only added to the mix. It's followed by what is being described as a big event on "Grey's Anatomy" with a big ferry fire that will encompass several episodes.

NBC gives us another full night of comedy, highlighted by Phyllis' wedding on "The Office" (NBC, 9 p.m.) and a new episode of "ER" at 10 p.m.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Has ABC 'Lost' Its Viewers?

Tonight marks the long, long-awaited return of "Lost" (ABC, 9-11 p.m.) after a three-month hiatus. The question remains, though, whether or not ABC has permanently harmed what was once its go-to franchise.

ABC aired the first six episodes of 'Lost' at the start of fall. Just when the momentum was picking up in a major way - killing off the popular Mr. Eko and giving viewers insight into the mysterious Others - ABC yanked the show in favor of rather awful "Daybreak," which was supposed to run in the 13-week interval the network created between "Lost's" fall and winter seasons.

But the latter show died after six weeks and ABC was left with a lot of egg on its face and a gigantic gap in the schedule. Worse, it has risked some of the most loyal viewership on the air by not only creating the gap in the season but pushing "Lost's" timeslot back an hour to 10 p.m. so that it doesn't compete head-to-head with Fox's American Idol at 9 p.m.

ABC continues to compound its mistakes with the show by not re-airing the previous episodes from this season, making the viewers strain their memories to remember where we left off. Instead, ABC is running a clip show tonight at 9 p.m. that encapsulates the first three seasons.

When we finally do get the new "Lost" episode, it picks up immediately where the last episode left off, with Jack holding Henry Gale's life in his hands as Sawyer and Kate try to escape. We also get Juliet's backstory tonight.

The ratings for tonight's show will be critical in seeing how many viewers ABC has cost the show with its antics and poor planning. Hopefully, not too much, since "Lost" remains one of TV's most imaginative hours.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BETS: Fox has given us a lot of Laurie and is now giving us a bit of Fry. Comic/actor Stephen Fry, who had a lot of success with "House" star Hugh Laurie in England as a comic team ("A Bit of Fry & Laurie," "Jeeves & Wooster"), appears as Booth's shrink on tonight's episode of "Bones" (Fox, 8 p.m.) It's Fry's second big guest spot of the week, having appeared as himself on "Extras" this past Sunday.

Racism threatens to divide the Dillon Panthers during their playoff run on "Friday Night Lights" (NBC, 8 p.m.), the best show on TV that nobody is watching. I urge people once again to jump on the bandwagon.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Catching Up

Sorry for the missed day yesterday, but I was tied up with a murder trial pretty much all day.

Anyway, a few thoughts on the Super Bowl. Crappily played game, didn't care who won or lost, good slate of commercials - especially those from Bud Light and the Letterman/Oprah spot - and a solid halftime show by Prince, even though I'm not a Prince fan by any stretch. (I also hate medleys, but I guess there's only so much you can do in a 10-minute slot.) Anyway, for better insight into Prince's show, check out Maggie Large's blog, Amped, at macon.com.

Yesterday's blog was going to be devoted to "Studio 60," but I think I'll wait until next Monday for that one.

24 BIZARRO FUN FACT OF THE WEEK: Hmm, more tough choices. Is there a Palmer family gene that causes the Presidents to pick treacherous vice presidents and disloyal cabinet members? I mean, really, you'd have thought Wayne would have learned his lessons as a member of David's cabinet, but, oh well.

That's not the winner, however. Who is dumber, Milo or Chloe? So, CTU gets the memo about Morris' supposedly dying brother. Morris is working on THE critical piece of evidence in finding the terrorists. Of course, Chloe has to tell Morris right then and there that his brother may be dying, even though Milo asked her to wait basically 20 minutes.

On the other hand, Milo pretty much had to know that Chloe wouldn't listen to him, since she doesn't listen to anybody except Jack. So instead of waiting until Morris had finished the file, he seems compelled to tell Chloe then and there this critical bit about Morris' brother, then asks her not to tell Morris. Please, "24," don't telegraph your punches.

OH, BROTHERS WARNER, THOU ART KILLING ME: After nearly destroying the comics-to-movies universe with duds like "Catwoman," Superman III-IV, and any "Batman" movie directed by Joel Schumacher, I really thought Warner Brothers had righted the ship.

It did a phenomenal job with "Batman Begins" and a solid job with "Superman Returns," and the upcoming "300" adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel looks fabulous.

So, it was with a heavy heart this weekend I read two pieces of disconcerting news. The first is that "Buffy" creator Joss Whedon is off the big-screen version of "Wonder Woman" because of creative differences with producer Joel Silver.

Good move, guys - take one of the top writers in Hollywood (and arguably the best in creating strong roles for women) off the project. At least, it frees up Whedon's time to return to TV.

The second was losing David Goyer off "The Flash," for essentially the same reasons. Goyer co-wrote "Batman Begins" and the "Blade" franchise, yet the studio elected to go with the guy who directed "Night at the Museum" instead. Good call guys, let me know how that works out for you.

On the bright side, Goyer has a copy of my superhero screenplay and is now free to work on that.

FOR EAGLE-EYED VIEWERS: Thanks to my brother's friend, Mac, for pointing out that George Takei's license plate on last night's "Heroes" was NCC-1701, the same as the USS Enterprise's registry on "Star Trek." (Though one could point out that more correctly they should have used NX-2000, the registry of USS Excelsior, Captain Sulu's own ship.)

TONIGHT'S BEST BETS: "American Idol" (Fox, 8 p.m.) visits my one-time quasi-hometown of San Antonio, so I definitely won't be watching more so than usual. "House," (Fox, 9 p.m.) however, gets my full attention.

CBS presents an all-new "NCIS" at 8 p.m. with something of an homage to "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," since series regular David McCallum must go undercover in a spy scenario. It's followed by two hours of "The Unit."

New installments of "Gilmore Girls" and "Veronica Mars" highlight the CW's week, while ABC has a bunch of reality shows and cap it with "Boston Legal" at 10 p.m.

"Dateline" (NBC, 8 p.m.) seeks to catch even more online predators, making you wonder how dumb these creeps really are at this point. I suppose it's much better to have stupid online predators than clever ones, so go Dateline! Two brands of "Law & Order," Criminal Intent and SVU, follow.

Friday, February 02, 2007

It's Super, Thanks For Asking

Welcome to the most boring weekend in TV.

The country tends to stop during Super Bowl (CBS, 6 p.m.) weekend, which is great for the parties and stuff associated with this unofficial holiday, but for the TV viewer, there are very few options if you aren't into the big game.

CBS will begin its broadcast early in the day, meaning hours upon hours of heartwrenching stories about the backup punter or some such in addition to the oodles of breakdown analysis of the two teams, which we've already heard ad nauseum the whole week.

If you want to watch the game and don't have a cool party, you can go to one of many local sports bars around Middle Georgia. In addition, the Cox Capitol Theatre is showing the game and serving pizza.

If you want to watch something else, well, good luck. Most of the networks are re-running their reality programing like NBC's "Grease, You're the One That I Want." Fox may have the best option with "X-Men 2."

Cable is also offering a few choice reruns. TBS will begin a marathon of all the episodes this season of "My Boys" beginning at 5 p.m. (That one's for Rose of the Macon Love blog). TNT is running episodes of "The Closer" while USA is countering with "Monk" reruns.

FRIDAY'S BEST BETS: Speaking of "Monk," (USA, 9 p.m.), Tony Shalhoub is re-united with "Wings" co-star Steven Weber ("Studio 60") in tonight's installment.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Better 'Late' Than Never

Tonight, David Letterman celebrates his 25th anniversary on television (CBS, 11:35 p.m.)

I've always been a Letterman fan more than a Jay Leno one. It's not meant as a knock at Leno; I just find his stuff to be too pedestrian. Letterman is much more of a risk-taker, which is probably why late-night fans are more divided as to whether they love him or hate him.

But the fact is, Letterman has provided some of the most memorable moments of the last quarter-century on both "Late Night" and "The Late Show." Almost anyone who watches late night TV can point out their favorite or most memorable Letterman moment - Andy Kauffman vs. Jerry Lawler, the post 9/11 show, the various Cher appearances, etc. - whereas the only notable Leno moment I can think of is the famous interview with Hugh Grant after the latter's arrest some years ago.

Without Letterman expanding the concept of what you could do on late night TV, you don't get Conan O'Brien.

Finally, what I like most about Letterman is his class. For some reason, some people don't like Letterman because they think he's a jerk, when it's the opposite that's true. When ABC was set to cancel "Nightline" because of low ratings, Letterman came out in defense of the show even though it was his direct competition. When every other comedian was using Marv Albert's private life as a punchline, Letterman didn't at all, and continued to have his friend as a guest on the show.

By the way, Letterman's inaugural guest on both shows, the always-entertaining Bill Murray, is his guest tonight.

Here's hoping for 25 more great years, Dave.

THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: Lots and lots of new stuff, all across the dial. A full slate of NBC comedies and a new "ER." ABC counters with new installments of "Ugly Betty," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Men in Trees." The CW gives us a new "Smallville" and "Supernatural." Fox is also completely new. CBS is running a "CSI" rerun at 8 p.m., but gives a new one at 9 p.m., followed by a new "Shark" at 10 p.m.

Also new tonight is the debut of Sarah Silverman's new show, "The Sarah Silverman Program" on Comedy Central at 10:30 p.m. Described as a rather absurdist take on sitcoms, the show has gotten mixed buzz, but decide for yourselves.