Monday, April 30, 2007

Cyber Bullies

Matt Roush's Q&A column online at raised an interesting point about something that has bugged me for a while.

Namely, this whole Internet thing may not be good for the creative vision of TV producers.

To wit, many TV producers on many hit shows, such as "Lost" and "Grey's Anatomy," are reading the fan boards at various Web sites all over the place and letting the comments of fans influence how storylines develop.

On the one hand, there's nothing wrong in listening to your viewers. In pre-Internet days, people often wrote TV show producers with comments about their favorite shows. No doubt it was the fan backlash against characters like Ana Lucia last season and Nikki and Paulo this season that got them killed off "Lost." (Though in Ana Lucia's case, a great deal also was likely due to actress Michelle Rodriguez's off-the-set behavior.) If a storyline or character isn't working, producers know to change it.

On the other hand, whatever happened to the writer having a creative vision and sticking with it? Shows like "Studio 60" damaged themselves creatively because it seemed as if creator Aaron Sorkin was constantly changing the tone and structure of the show to answer critics. Characters on "Grey's Anatomy" seem to hook up or break up based on fan reaction to the various relationships (though a tremendous outpouring from the fans couldn't save ill-fated character Denny).

The Internet is becoming a far-too-influential, in my opinion (or is that IMHO), in the creative vision of TV shows. One of the reasons why a show gets picked up by a network in the first place is that a writer had a specific vision that he or she pitched and sold to the network. So why not stick with it?

I like to delude myself into thinking this blog reaches the entertainment types in Hollywood, but I wouldn't want them basing their decisions about how they go about their shows based on this and other fan Web sites. Part of the beauty of TV over movies is that the writer is in charge and has the final word. Let's hope these showrunners remember that.

MONDAY'S BEST BETS: "Heroes" (NBC, 9 p.m.) is the pick tonight, as the series goes five years into the future in which Pres. Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar) and Linderman's (Malcolm McDowell) deal with the events that stemmed from the destruction of New York City. I really dig alternate future/time travel episodes in various fantasy series, so I'm eager to watch this tonight. It's followed by the "Real Wedding Crashers," which you couldn't pay me to watch.

CBS is all-new, with "How I Met Your Mother," "New Adventures of Old Christine," "2 1/2 Men" and "King of Queens," followed by a new "CSI: Miami" at 10 p.m.

If you are tuning into Fox tonight for "Drive," you are out of luck, since the series has been canceled, and Fox is unlikely to air even the two remaining episodes; a "House" rerun airs instead at 8 p.m., followed by a new "24" at 9 p.m.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Feeling A Draft?

Back in the old days when I was a sports writer, I covered the NFL draft from the Carolina Panthers' headquarters the year the team drafted Tshimanga Biakabutuka and Muhsin Muhammed.

It was one of the most mind-numbingly boring days imaginable.

Carolina held the eighth pick overall that year, and drafted Biakabutuka, a tailback from Michigan, about three hours after the draft started. Muhammed, a second-rounder, was even later in the afternoon.

I mention this because ESPN and ESPN2 will be showing about 20 hours worth of draft coverage or so this weekend, beginning noon on Saturday.

Now, I'm all for the NFL draft interest. I want to see who is going where, when the Georgia guys get drafted, who the Falcons get, etc. But good God, every pick is a 15-minute highlight film combined with Mel Kiper Jr. commentary and insipid interviews with the guy chosen and that team's coach or general manager.

I mean, really, we pretty much know that either Calvin Johnson or JaMarcus Russell will go to Oakland at No. 1 (unless there's been a trade), since ESPN has told us so for the past month. So let Roger Goodell announce the pick, throw up some stats, then move on. It's not as if these teams need all this time to make the picks; they pretty much have mapped out their draft for a month.

The irony is, the later round picks are often flashed upon the screen when we actually could use some analysis, since most people haven't heard of a lot of those guys. Yet they are treated as an afterthought.

I'm all for the NFL draft, but just don't make me watch it.

FRIDAY'S BEST BETS: Very little is new tonight, except for CBS' lineup of "The Ghost Whisperer," "Close To Home" and "Numb3rs," while NBC presents a new "Raines" (guest-starring Cynthia Watros of "Lost") and "Law & Order."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

30 Rock-ed?

"Extra" ran a report saying "30 Rock" star Alec Baldwin has told producers he wants out of the show, in part because of his recent custody battles with ex-wife Kim Basinger.

Baldwin was in the news last week after a cell phone message, in which he berates his daughter Ireland, was leaked to the media. He just fired his agents, the uber-powerful Creative Artists Agency.

Whether the report is true or not could have a direct impact on the future of not just "30 Rock," (NBC, 9 p.m.) but "Scrubs" as well. Both shows are on the bubble at NBC, and only one is expected to be picked up for next season. "Scrubs" has the advantage of a longer run and the fact that ABC will likely pick it up if NBC drops it, since ABC's Touchstone produces the series.

"30 Rock" had the advantage of Baldwin, whose comeback performance as a network executive had merited Emmy talk. But without Baldwin, or even with him after his recent media disaster, will NBC want to continue with the show with its middling ratings?

"DRIVE" STALLS: Fox will pull the plug on "Drive," marking the fourth series with Tim Minear to get an early yank off the grid. The ratings for the Nathan Fillion-vehicle never surfaced. Fox will air "House" reruns in that Monday timeslot, and burn off the final two episodes this summer, though, this being Fox, I wouldn't count on it.

THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: In addition to new episodes of "Scrubs" and "30 Rock," NBC leads off with new installments of "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office" at 8 p.m., and wrap up with a new "ER" at 10 p.m.

ABC is also all-new, with "Ugly Betty" leading things off, followed by "Grey's Anatomy" and the perplexing "October Road," which is actually on the bubble for next year despite some of the worst reviews of the season.

CBS' all-new lineup includes a new "Survivor" at 8 p.m., a new "CSI" at 9 p.m., and a new "Shark" at 10 p.m.

The CW brings us an all-new "Smallville" at 8 p.m. and a new "Supernatural" at 9. "Supernatural" is going to have a tough time topping last week's Hollywood laugh-fest, but the good news is that Jeffrey Dean Morgan, as the late John Winchester, will definitely return for the season finale.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ring Around The Rosie

Breaking news here, Rosie O'Donnell and "The View" are done.

According to AP reports, O'Donnell and ABC couldn't agree to a new contract, so she's out in June when her current deal expires.

Let me be the first to say Huzzah! Though I never watch "The View" at all, have little interest in it, I feel like I watch it all the time because of all the outrageous stuff O'Donnell says on it that then gets reported. Denying her a national platform is a step in the right direction.

But if you are a producer of "The View," it's a glass-is-half-full kind of deal. I'm sure she was a pain to deal with on the set, and I'm sure the producers cringed at a lot of the stuff she said, but on the other hand, there's no such thing as bad publicity in show business, and she did bring in ratings and attention.

This is likely not the end of the story. ABC needs Rosie for the ratings, and she can't give up such a high-profile platform, so this will likely be nothing more than a negotiationg ploy.

But one can dream, can't they?

NEWS FROM ACROSS THE POND: A couple of great news items from the Mother country. Sci-Fi has announced Season 3 of "Doctor Who" (or Season 28 if you are counting the old way) arrives in July on the U.S. airwaves. I suppose if you have a satellite feed, you can watch it on the BBC right now, but the rest of us have to wait.

Additionally, there is a good news/bad news report out of last week's Times of London. Doing a terrific feature story on whether or not the British police need men like the fictional Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) of "Life On Mars," the paper reports that show wrapped up production after its second season (which should air on BBC America some time in late summer).

Though I'm disappointed we won't have more adventures of what was TV's coolest show after its second season airs, the good news is that BBC is already set to produce a spinoff focused on Hunt. This time, the setting is 1981, and Hunt has a female partner in London set in the early Margaret Thatcher years.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BETS: To celebrate being in a British mood, we note that tonight marks the second episode of "Hustle" (AMC, 10 p.m.), produced by the same people who make "Life On Mars."

Tonight's installment of "Lost" (ABC, 10 p.m.) focuses again on Juliet, which have made the best episodes this season. I'm totally crazy for Elizabeth Mitchell, and will shamelessly use this space to get her the Emmy nomination she so richly deserves.

"Jericho" (CBS, 8 p.m.) is new tonight. Despite strong ratings early on, this is one of the shows that is considered to be on the bubble for next season, so if you are a fan, you may want to encourage your friends to watch. It precedes a new "Criminal Minds" and "CSI: NY."

I've yet to check out "Thank God You're Here" (NBC, 8 p.m.), but Jonathan Heeter of the Bringing the Heet blog on is a big fan, which is just a huge endorsement. It's followed by new episodes of "Crossing Jordan" and "Medium." I have no idea what Heeter's feelings on those shows are.

It's also a good news/bad news deal on "American Idol" (Fox, 8 p.m.) which is continuing to raise money to fight poverty but is also knocking off a contestant.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

TV Turnoff Week

In case you didn't know, we are in the midst of something called TV Turnoff Week, brought to you by the we're-so-holier-than-thou-we're-actually-quite-smug-about-it group of concerned parents. (OK, that's not their real name.)

TV Turnoff Week is when people are urged to not watch TV for a week. The average American spends way too much time watching TV, and going cold turkey for a week is supposed to help cure them of that.

As TV pundit George Will might say, "Piffle!"

TV, like anything else in life, should be done in moderation. There is no correct number of hours or set of programs one should or shouldn't watch. If kids are watching too much TV (and most do), they should better regulated by their parents in what and how they watch.

These are the same sort of parental groups that criticize half the shows that are on the airwaves for being too violent or racy or not promoting "family values," whatever the hell that means. If you think there is a show that your kid shouldn't watch because of a sex and violence, don't let them watch. But don't try to get the show boycotted off the air.

I think "The Shield" is some of the best stuff on TV, but I wouldn't let my kids watch it (if I had kids). On the other hand, "Friday Night Lights," a show that showed some frank depictions of teens drinking and having sex, is a show I would watch with my hypothetical kids precisely because it shows a lot of the issues teens have to deal with. Yet this show drew a lot of criticism from parental groups, even though it had the single best scene I've ever seen between a fictional mother and daughter talking about teen sex.

I wonder had TV Turnoff Week happened last week during the Virginia Tech tragedy, would these groups tell us not to watch the news coverage, or would they have made an exception? And if you start making exceptions, doesn't that negate the original point in the first place?

I'm all for having quality TV on the air - I think that's been the point of this blog - as well as controlling what kids can watch.

My own kids, that is.

TUESDAY'S BEST BETS: Assuming you aren't turning your TV off this week, the aforementioned "The Shield" (FX, 10 p.m.) is back with a new episode.

Also new this week is two-thirds of CBS' lineup, "NCIS" and "The Unit."

"American Idol" (Fox, 8 p.m.) is doing a special, two-part giving back program, in which the contestants, previous "AI" stars, and well-known pop acts are performing to raise money to fight poverty. I tend to bash "AI," but I think this special can actually do quite a bit of good. It's followed by a new "House" at 9 p.m.

A new "Gilmore Girls" (CW, 8 p.m.) precedes the final "Pussycat Dolls," before the return of "Veronica Mars" next week. (Hallelujah!) Feel free to join the parents groups and turn off "Pussycat Dolls" all you want.

Monday, April 23, 2007

'Hero-ic' Return; 'Crash' And Burn


After too many weeks of "Heroes" (NBC, 9 p.m.) withdrawal, the series returns tonight with its final five episodes of the new season.

On a commercial level, it's been the network's lone new success among dramatic series in a year where shows like "The Black Donnellys" and "Studio 60" failed to deliver numbers. On a quality level, all of NBC's other attempts (e.g. "Kidnapped" and "Friday Night Lights") have delivered the critical praise, but failed to pick up the necessary numbers. Kidnapped didn't even make it a full season on the tube, while "Lights" is probably 50-50 to return next year, at best.

But back to "Heroes," which for me has been the most entertaining new show of the new season, at least in the action genre. Beyond its original concept, what has made the show work so well is creator Tim Kring has learned from the mistakes of shows like "Lost" and "The X-Files" by giving the viewers answers quickly to some of the show's mysteries, then moving on. Other shows of similar nature have often dragged out the answer process, or given half-answers that only lead to more questions.

Over the rest of the season, viewers should get a resolution over whether or not the characters can save New York, more insight into HRG's mysterious organization, and a look at the characters five years into the future.

For some still and video images of the cast at work and at the wrap party, click here

From the sublime to the ridiculous, NBC is debuting something called "The Real Life Wedding Crashers" at 10 p.m. From the producers of "Punk'd" the title is pretty self-explanatory, in which actors apparently crash weddings, rehearsal dinners, etc. and cause all sorts of hi-jinks.

I truly can't come up with a concept more appalling than trying to do practical jokes at someone's wedding (I guess a funeral would be worse), and I'm sort of glad the normally reliable NBC promotions department didn't send me an advanced copy of this.

I WAS TRUMPED: *******SPOILER ALERT******* OK, so I was half-right in "The Apprentice" finale. I said Trump would go with two picks this time out, to put a twist on things, but he only picked one, corporate attorney Stefani, whom I said deserved to win all along. As always, the final live episode was self-indulgent and boring, but at least they took a corporate litigator off the streets.

I was, however, completely stunned by the extra non-elimination round of "The Amazing Race." It's good to see Danny and Oswald hang on for one more week, and good that Eric and Danielle managed to survive despite their run of horrendous luck, although the non-elimination round did cut some of the dramatic tension away from Eric and Danielle having to wait during their 30-minute time penalty.

MONDAY'S BEST BETS: People, "How I Met Your Mother" (CBS, 8 p.m.) isn't the slam-dunk to return it ought to be, so you are hereby ordered to watch tonight's rerun, arguably the best episode of any sitcom this season - the Robin Sparkles episode. Though a rerun, it kicks off a whole new group of first-run episodes tonight on The Eye.

"Drive" (Fox, 8 p.m.) has stalled ratings-wise, but there is still time to get going on this quirky, weird "Lost"-like series, especially with the likeable Nathan Fillion in the lead role. It's followed by a new "24" at 9 p.m.

ABC continues to run its 90-minute reality shows, "Dancing With the Stars" and "The Bachelor" beginning at 8 p.m. Um, not really a whole lot more to say about them.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Who Is Fired, Who Is Hired

Sunday night marks the wrap-up for yet another season of the reality show, "The Apprentice."

In front of a live studio audience Sunday night, Trump and his kids will pick among four finalists for the right to oversee one of his many projects.

Of course, the twist this time around is that there are four finalists, rather than the normal two, and that the four were divided into teams of two for the final task. Since it's very difficult to separate the contributions of the individual team members in this tast (which was to produce a commercial for an air freshener), I'm guessing the other twist is that Trump will pick two apprentices for the first time.

That was almost the case two seasons ago, when Trump chose Randal as his apprentice, then offered him the chance to give the other finalist, Rebecca, the opportunity to take the open position Randal rejected. Randal, in his moment to be a mensch, famously said no, offering the logic "The show is called 'The Apprentice,' not 'The Apprenti.'" (It seems that the 20 degrees or whatever it was Randal had earned gave him the right to add words to the English language.)

This has been the weakest season of "The Apprentice." For one thing, Trump's kids are poor substitutes for the departed executives George and Caroline as his advisors. For another, Trump and co-creator Mark Burnett put in a lot of stupid faux twists into the show, like having the winning team's project manager keep the job until he or she lost, while having the losing teams stay in tents.

Also, this year's cast of finalists (with the exception of Stefani) is the least impressive crop Trump has produced. It's hard to imagine turning one of his projects over to the likes of Frank, for example.

Perhaps it's time for NBC to tell Trump, "You're Fired!"

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Sayonara, Sanjaya

Well, Sanjaya, you kept "American Idol" interesting, lasting far longer than anyone with your appalling lack of talent probably should have. But apparently, the voting of prepubescent girls and Howard Stern fans only goes so far.

Last week, I posted about how the skewed voting totals of Sanjaya Malakar, which knocked out far more worthy competitors, could have posed a serious problem to "AI's" future had wild-maned teen with the big grin and lacking voice had gone on to win the whole competition. Had he won, if the vote had been just one big joke thanks to Web sites like, what kind of future did that leave for the show?

But, apparently Fox's deal with the devil to have the No. 1 rated show on TV includes a Sanjaya clause, and the show is left with a half-dozen competitors of varying degrees of talent who have a better shot at a legitimate musical career.

I've already said in this blog I really don't watch much "AI," though whenever I flip through the channels, I always seem to manage to catch Sanjaya pulverising a song from an act I like, such as the Kinks, or Bonnie Raitt this week. So, for me at least, karma won out.

But Sanjaya's remarkable run to get as far as he did created a lot of buzz for "AI," and his departure may mean the show becomes a little more ordinary.

Maggie Large can give you much better insight on the remaining "AI" competitors on her music blog, Amped.

THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: In a show based on Superman, it's Wonder Woman who takes the spotlight on tonight's "Smallville." (CW, 8 p.m.) Well, sort of. Lynda Carter, TV's "Wonder Woman" from back in the 1970s, guest stars tonight as Chloe's (Allison Mack) mom, who has spent the previous several years in a mental ward. Speaking of Wonder Woman and mental illness, did anyone ever catch the Wonder Woman sketch on the old "Dr. Katz" cartoon on Comedy Central years ago? I'm sure it's on the Web somewhere, and worth a look.

A new "Supernatural" (CW, 9 p.m.) follows as the Winchester boys take a more lighthearted turn tonight on a movie set.

ABC rolls out a new night, featuring the return of "Ugly Betty" at 8 p.m., followed by "Grey's Anatomy" at 9 p.m. A new episode of "October Road," the Sanjaya of TV programs, airs at 10 p.m.

NBC is all new, with the exception of "The Office" at 8:30 p.m. CBS has new installments of "Survivor" and "Shark," sandwiching a rerun of "CSI."

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Do The 'Hustle'

First off, let me apologize for putting the tune of the '70s disco staple in your head. I'm sure you will be hearing it all day.

Tonight marks the return of one of TV's best, if most unheralded, programs. If you liked "Ocean's 11" for its sense of coolness, the big con and tongue-in-cheek flavor, then you will love "Hustle" (AMC, 10 p.m.), one of the cleverest programs on television.

Returning tonight for its fourth season, "Hustle" follows a group of con artists who specialize in the long con - which usually involves using the mark's own greed against him. This group of merry men steal from the rich and give to themselves, but they only con really bad people, so it balances out.

The team used to be led by the suave Mickey Bricks (Adrian Lester), England's top con man, but Lester is sitting this series out, so it remains to be seen how the series fares without him. However, the rest of the cast - veteran con man Albert (Robert Vaughn), the sultry Stacy (Jaime Murray), tech wiz Ash (Robert Glenister) and not-quite-as-clever-as-he-thinks Danny (Marc Warren) - is back. Tonight, they try to sell a mark (guest star Robert Wagner) the Hollywood sign. Hey, they already sold London Bridge in Season 1, so anything is possible.

"Hustle" is from the same production team that brought us to other fantastic U.K. series already much-praised in this blog, "Life On Mars" and "MI-5," so the pedigree is there. "Hustle" may be the most accessible of the three, bringing a lot of charm and humor with it.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BETS: As reported yesterday, tonight's episode of "Bones" (Fox, 8 p.m.), originally a first-run episode about the death of a college basketball star, has been yanked because of the Virginia Tech shootings. In its place, however, is a rerun of what was the series' finest episode, when Bones and Hodgins were buried alive in a car. It's followed by the "American Idol" results show, featuring a performance by Martina McBride.

Internet site is reporting "Jericho" (CBS, 8 p.m.) will be renewed for another season, though no official word from the network has come out yet. Regardless, it's new tonight.

ABC is airing new episodes of "According to Jim" and "Notes From the Underbelly" tonight beginning at 8 p.m., with a new "Lost" at 10 p.m. At 9 p.m., the network is re-running last week's terrific installment of "Lost" that featured the fabulous Elizabeth Mitchell once more. Mitchell should earn an Emmy nomination for her work this year.

New sketch show "Thank God You're Here" (NBC, 8 p.m.) settles into its regular timeslot, replacing the already-missed "Friday Night Lights." New episodes of "Crossing Jordan" and "Medium" follow; those, I can miss.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Breaking In For News

There's an article in today's Washington Post highly critical of the networks for not interrupting last night's regularly scheduled programming in lieu of the horrific Virginia Tech shootings.

On the one hand, it's an extremely important story that everyone was talking about, far more important than the entertainment shows that were broadcast.

On the other hand, as the network executives point out in the article, after the initial flow of information, all the networks would have been doing is regurgitating the same stuff over and over.

Network news, which used to be the means in delivering breaking stories for the U.S., has become somewhat obselete. With the 24-hour news channels like CNN, MSNBC and Fox delivering news on a constant basis, it's difficult for networks to compete with a mere half-hour broadcast.

There is a small portion of the country that doesn't have cable/satellite or internet access, so network news is still important for them, but as I pointed out during a previous posting on the State of the Union address, most people can access the information through other means besides the networks.

Still, not putting up some sort of news broadcast seems rather callous. NBC ran a special at 10 p.m. in lieu of "My Name Is Earl" reruns, but didn't interrupt its original, first-run episodes of the night. The other networks didn't even do that.

The Post also reported that Fox has made a concession to the shooting, pulling the first-run episode of "Bones" on Wednesday, which deals with a college shooting.

TUESDAY'S BEST BETS: As I say pretty much every Tuesday while it's on, Tuesday's top pick is, and will always be, "The Shield" (FX, 10 p.m.)

Country music star Martina McBride is the guest talent this week on "American Idol" (Fox, 8 p.m.), followed by an all-new "House" at 9 p.m.

A new "Gilmore Girls" (CW, 8 p.m.) airs tonight after lots of reruns, followed by some reality thing that isn't "Veronica Mars."

ABC runs its own reality with two hours of "Dancing With the Stars" at 8 p.m., followed by a new "Boston Legal," in which William Shatner may or may not dance.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Cleaver Fever

For those of you who are "Sopranos" fans, you should already know that Christopher's movie, "Cleaver" had its premiere. But HBO is not just limiting itself to the episode.

The network, which often goes behind the scenes for upcoming blockbusters, has put together a mockumentary looking at the making of "Cleaver" (HBO, 7:45 p.m.) Included are interviews with the fictional "Sopranos" characters who made the movie.

Speaking of "The Sopranos," last night's was a little uneven. It's funny, all of the reviews I have seen were harsh on the season premiere while praising the second and third episodes. I thought the premiere was fantastic, especially watching Tony's brother-in-law Bobby being forced to give up his soul after defending his wife's honor. Bobby has been the most likeable of the gang, a nice guy with no mob ambitions who never killed anyone until getting in a fistfight with Tony and being forced to do his boss' bidding as his penance.

Last night's episode was rather uneven, setting up various plotlines for the rest of the season. The movie stuff was pretty good, but the Johnny Sac moments seemed at first drawn out, then rushed at the end. The Peter Bogdanovich moment was sheer brilliance, however.

MONDAY'S BEST BET: "Drive" (Fox, 8 p.m.) settles into its regular slot after its 2-hour premiere Sunday night. I think it wins the "Weirdest New Show" award, but it's worth another look. It's followed by a new "24."

CBS is all new with the exception of its best show of the night, "How I Met Your Mother." ABC is also all-new with its reality shows "Dancing with the Stars" at 8 p.m. and "The Bachelor" at 9:30 p.m.

NBC gives us new "Deal or No Deal" and "Thank God Your Here" while pulling "The Black Donnellys" in favor of "My Name is Earl" reruns at 10 p.m.

People should be aware that the networks may break into their regularly scheduled programming with news updates from the Virginia Tech tragedy.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Driving On Painkillers

For those of the more fantasy-inclined among us, a couple of new series debuting this weekend should pique some interest.

Tonight marks the debut of "Painkiller Jane," (Sci-Fi, 10 p.m.) based on the comic book series of the same name. Starring "Terminator 3" sexy cyborg Kristianna Loken, the show has been described as "Heroes" in reverse: This time, it's the lone super agent - who is completely invulnerable - working for a shadow agency who is being used to hunt down people with powers.

Though "Jane" has gotten mixed reviews thus far, Sci-Fi has a solid track record with its original programming, so it may be worth a look. (Loken herself is worth many looks).

Also hitting the air is "Drive" (Fox, Sunday, 8 p.m.), one of the weirder concepts to hit the airwaves in a while. Think the cast of "Lost" running "The Amazing Race," and you have a bit of an idea of what this show is about.

Created by the always-terrific Tim Minear ("Angel," "Firefly," "Wonderfalls"), the show involves many people who find themselves caught up in a cross-country race sponsored by a mysterious organization (is there any other type of organization on TV these days?) for a prize of $32 million. But many of the racers have other motivations to drive, such as lead star (the always-likeable Nathon Fillion), who is trying to rescue his kidnapped wife (the even-more-delightful Amy Acker).

Minear has tended to get the short end of the stick from Fox with his other series, so hopefully this one will get a chance to get some breathing room. Hopefully, Minear has taken a page from the "Heroes" playbook and will answer some of the mysteries of the show at a regular pace rather than drag it out.

WEEKEND'S BEST BETS: A pretty quiet night on Friday, filled with mostly reruns. The only new drama tonight is "Raines" (NBC, 9 p.m.)

Here is yet another pitch for "Robin Hood" (BBC America, Sat., 9 p.m.) a ripping good yarn that has a lot of fun with the famed legend.

It was disheartening to see my favorite team of Uchenna and Joyce get knocked off last week's "Amazing Race" (CBS, Sun., 8 p.m.), particularly because of an airline snafu. (Boy, teams have really taken their lumps because of the airlines this season). Hopefully, Danny and Oswald will win out.

"The Apprentice" (NBC, 9 p.m.) wraps up its season with a two-hour challenge, apparently tweaking things this time with a four-person finals. (Steffani is so ridiculously ahead of the pack, it's not even funny, but watch Trump pick James). Of course, most of the other tweaks Trump has done this season (the winning project manager keeping the job until he/she loses, having the losing team live in tents) have sucked big time, so who knows how this will turn out. At least it won't be like Season 2, in which Trump spent three hours totally screwing over a former schoolmate of mine on live TV.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

False 'Idol'

As "American Idol" watchers know full well, wild-haired, no-talent Sanjaya survived yet another vote while leggy Haley Scarnato was voted off, bringing the total of contestants left to seven. (The male patrons at the establishment where I was playing poker last night were particularly disappointed to watch that.)

The unprecendented success of Sanjaya has demonstrated a flaw in the process that has existed with "AI" since the show began, namely, the unscientific voting process makes what is supposed to be a talent show into a popularity contest.

Now, with Web sites and people like Howard Stern encouraging fans of the show to vote for the worst singer instead of the best, Sanjaya has a genuine shot at winning this thing. Imagine if fans voted during the auditions: William Hung might have won the "AI" title.

For people who hate or are indifferent to "AI," they feel the mega-popular ratings champ is getting its comeuppance. But really, it exposes a potential long-term problem for the show. If the Sanjayas of the world are advancing along instead of the more-talented singers simply because fans can artificially inflate the vote totals, then what is the point of watching?

Had this happened a few years ago, former winners-turned-superstars like Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson might not have won their seasons and thus not launched their careers. "AI" has already flirted with disaster before, when seemingly dodgy vote totals gave Ruben Studdard the title in Season 2 over Clay Aiken. It hasn't helped that Aiken has become a star while Studdard has seemingly entered the witness protection program.

The problem for producers of "AI" is that there is no easy solution to this problem. It's not like they can take the vote away from the fans - that's the basis for the show. But if the voting process continues to be skewed, it poses a real threat to "AI's" popularity.

R.I.P. ROSCOE LEE BROWNE: The veteran character-actor, who had one of the most magnificent speaking voices you'll ever hear, died Wednesday at 81 after a long bout with cancer. Browne won an Emmy for a guest stint on "The Cosby Show" in 1986.

THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: ABC launches its new comedy, "Notes From The Underbelly" at 10 p.m. tonight with back-to-back episodes. The network, which hasn't had a successful sitcom seemlingly since "Happy Days," is putting on clip shows of "Ugly Betty" and "Grey's Anatomy" ahead of "Underbelly," not exactly giving it the best launch.

"Underbelly" focuses on a couple, Andrew and Lauren (Jennifer Westfeldt, Peter Cambor) seeking to get pregnant. As they enter into this decision, they find themselves influenced by their friends. One couple is already pregnant and gung-ho about it, while Lauren's other best friend, Cooper (Rachael Harris) is dead set against the concept.

"Underbelly" has gotten mixed reviews so far; I haven't seen it, what with ABC keeping me off its screeners' list and all.

Last week's episode of "The Office" (NBC, 8:30 p.m.), in which Michael (Steve Carell) referred to getting his negotiating strategy off Wikipedia, caused that entry to get so many hits that the Webmasters had to limit how many people could add to that entry. Whether or not Michael learns his safety training off the same site is another matter, but that's what tonight's installment is built around. It's preceded by the first new "My Name Is Earl" in a while, and followed by new episodes of "30 Rock" and "Scrubs," as well as a new "ER" at 10 p.m.

CBS is also all-new, with "Survivor" at 8 p.m., followed by "CSI" and "Shark."

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Rolling the Dice-K

Every few years in baseball, there comes along a phenomenal pitcher that captures the nation's fancy.

I vaguely remember Fernando-mania in 1981, when then-rookie Fernando Valenzuela took the nation by storm, but I was caught up in the ride the young Dwight Gooden gave the Mets three years later.

The current successor to this trend is Daisuke Matsuzaka, who makes his home debut tonight (ESPN, 7 p.m.) against the Seattle Mariners. The first batter he will face? Fellow Japanese superstar Ichiro Suzuki.

After reading "Sports Illustrated's" terrific cover story and hearing of Matsuzaka's near-legendary status in his home country, I am eager to see if the man known as Dice-K is worth all of the hype. There have been many false phenoms, such as Kerry Wood of the Cubs among others, who have never lived up to their billing, but after Dice-K's 10-strikeout performance in his debut, he is looking like the real deal.

There's nothing better in baseball than when certain pitchers take the mound, and you get that sense that something special may happen when he gets the ball. Is Dice-K one of those pitchers? I can't wait to find out.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BETS: If sports isn't your cup of tea but great drama is, then I urge to tune into the season (but hopefully not series) finale of "Friday Night Lights" (NBC, 8 p.m.), TV's best-written new drama. Some viewers were turned off by the football aspect of the series, but this show has as much to do with football as "The Office" does with selling paper products. Of course, the fictional Dillon High School is going for the state title tonight, so all I can say is Go Panthers! It's followed by new episodes of "Crossing Jordan" and "Medium," which have even less to do with football.

CBS is also all-new tonight, with new installments of "Jericho," "Criminal Minds" and "CSI: NY."

"Lost" (ABC, 10 p.m.) picks up right where it left off last week, as Jack, Kate and Sayid bring Juliet to their camp. Are they going to run into a kinder, gentler Sawyer?

After continuing to burn off new episodes of its only successful new comedy "Til Death," at 8 p.m., Fox delivers the new results show on "American Idol" at 9 p.m., which will include a performance from Jennifer Lopez. For more discussion on the merits of who is left on "AI," checked out Maggie Large's music blog, Amped, on

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

MySpace? My Goodness!

It seems like I'm the only person under 40 without a MySpace page. Somehow, I'm managing to survive.

But the TV powers-that-be are embracing the new Web culture. Two of my favorite series, "Heroes" on NBC and "Bones" on Fox, are using MySpace for new promotions.

"Heroes" already has a preview page running at the site:, which apparently has clips for new episodes for the series. But NBC isn't just limiting its promotion of its most successful new drama to that Web site. It's still running full episodes of the first 18 shows at (for the time being; if you haven't caught up yet, do so now, because they are apparently taking them down soon.) In addition, "Heroes" fans can win a trip to L.A. and a tour of the set of the show by logging in at

"Bones" is getting even more interactive than "Heroes." Viewers will be able to pick up key clues and try to solve a murder before Bones and Booth do by visiting either MySpace or Fox's Web site.

In an episode that is directed by series star Emily Deschanel's father, Caleb, viewers will be able to follow the episode on the Web by visiting the characters' MySpace pages. (Who has a weirder home page, Hodgins or Zack?)

From Fox's press release on the episode: Brennan and Booth (David Boreanaz) are called in by Homeland Security to investigate potentially radioactive remains, which are emitting a green glow at the crime scene. Brennan’s team at the Jeffersonian joins her and Booth in pursuing the murder mystery, which leads them to a group of friends who are shocked to discover that one of their own is the victim. During the course of the investigation, the characters’ MySpace pages become a virtual tool for the Jeffersonian team’s search for answers.

In-depth MySpace pages on characters will include personal blogs referencing the episode’s storyline, as well as photos and videos that reveal details about the characters’ relationships and insights into their personalities. These profiles will enable viewers to immerse themselves in the characters’ world and gather clues as to the identities of both the fictional victim and the murderer.

On the one hand, I applaud the networks and the producers of both series for trying new, innovative uses of the Web to make the series more interesting. It certainly shakes things up and expands the creative visions of the writers.

On the other hand, it seems like a heck of a lot of work, especially if you don't have a high speed connection. I haven't checked out any of the MySpace Web pages, so I don't know if you have to be a member or not to look at the pages, but the danger in doing so much stuff on the Web is that less-savvy internet users are in danger of being shut out.

Still, cross-promotion between the internet and the tube is something that will be growing in the future and not a momentary trend, so get used to it.

RICHTER SCALED BACK: The final two episodes of Andy Richter's new sitcom, "Andy Barker, P.I.," will air this Saturday night from 8-9 p.m. on NBC. Low ratings, caused by a clueless public that also doomed Richter's previous show, "Andy Richter Controls the Universe," caused NBC to make the switch. "Scrubs" will appear in that Thursday timeslot, flip-flopping with "30 Rock." Though this is likely the end of the sitcom, I encourage you to catch the final two episodes.

TUESDAY'S BEST BET: From the sublime to the, well, not-so-sublime. Last week, "American Idol" (Fox, 8 p.m.) fans were treated to Tony Bennett. This week? Jennifer Lopez. At least with Tony Bennett, there was the chance I'd watch "AI," but with J-Lo, not so much. It's followed by a new "House" at 9 p.m., in which the titular anti-hero is forced to treat an outbreak of meningitis on a plane ride. Wow, being stuck with House on a plane while suffering from meningitis? Talk about torture.

Someone uses McGee's new novel as a template for murder on "NCIS," (CBS, 8 p.m.) Sharp-eyed readers of this blog will note that this plot device also appeared on "Bones" a few weeks back, but I expect "NCIS's" tongue-in-cheek approach to keep the material fresh. It's followed by a new "The Unit."

NBC gives us a "Dateline" that looks at catching car thieves, which seems way less exciting than catching online predators (though those episodes make those MySpace cross-promotions more awkward). It's followed by a bunch of new "Law & Orders."

After sacrificing two mediocre sitcom reruns to the 8 p.m. timeslot, ABC comes back at 9 p.m. with a new "Dancing With the Stars" which will eliminate a new pair. It's followed by a brand-new "Boston Legal."

Of course, why would anyone be watching "Boston Legal" when "The Shield" (FX, 10 p.m.) is airing? If you missed last week's absolutely phenomenal season-opener, well, you have no excuse because I even posted last week whilst on vacation to make certain people would know it was on. Anyway, it's new this week, it's got Forest Whitaker again, and it's the best-written show on TV right now, so watch it or I'll send the Strike Team to your address.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Thank God I'm Here

Wow, I went away for a week, and it took me three times to get the password to get into Blogger correct.

For all who haven't been able to make a TV decision over the past week because of my quasi-vacation, both of you can rest easy now. Hopefully, you were able to catch the season premieres of "The Sopranos" and "The Shield" as well as other favorites.

I realized after I left that I failed to plug The Masters all weekend, so I hope no one missed the golf tournament on account of this blog.

Anyway, the title of today's posting isn't so much that I'm happy to be back at work as it refers to the new NBC comedy show "Thank God You're Here" (NBC, 9 p.m.) Hosted by David Alan Grier ("In Living Color") and Dave Foley ("Kids In The Hall"), the show involves improvisational sketch comedy.

With pretty big names like Bryan Cranston, Jason Alexander and others, the guest comic is introduced in the comedy sketch with the line "Thank God You're Here." The comic has little clue as to his/her role in the sketch, so they have to hit the ground running. At the end of the night, Foley gives the winning comic a trophy for the best sketch. The show is getting a brief tryout in the "Heroes" timeslot on Monday before moving to Wednesdays in place of "Friday Night Lights."

MONDAY'S BEST BETS: TV's current longest-running sitcom, "The King of Queens" (CBS, 9:30 p.m.) celebrates its 200th episode tonight as the show winds down with its final few episodes before disappearing into the world of syndication permanently. It anchors a night of first-run broadcasts with "How I Met Your Mother," "New Adventures of Old Christine" and "2 1/2 Men," as well as a new "CSI: Miami" at 10 p.m.

"24" (Fox, 9 p.m.) also airs tonight. I'm trying to lay off the criticism of this show, I really am, but even most critics and die-hard fans are finding the plots to be wearing thin. Take last week. They go to all of the trouble to wake Pres. Palmer out of a coma to stop a nuclear strike; after a tense session that involves a challenge to his Presidency, which he wins, Palmer decides to go ahead with the strike anyway. Say what?!? (Never mind the fact that 10 minutes out of a coma, Palmer is able to resume his duties. My mom was once in a coma and it took her a month to get out of bed. Guess she was just lolly-gagging).

The other thing that struck me about last week's episode was that the Russian terrorist CUTS OFF HIS OWN ARM to get rid of the bug that CTU has implanted in his arm. He manages to do said act in about five minutes, then starts running around an amusement park. He does said action in order to help the other terrorists in his gang. But five minutes and countless pints of blood later, he GIVES UP the other terrorist. One would have thought he might have betrayed the other terrorist before cutting his arm off, but hey, that's just me. (BTW, my dad had his leg amputated last year and it took longer than five minutes. And my father, the big wuss, needed anaesthesia and was laid up for several weeks afterward. Evidently, my parents would make lousy "24" characters.)

Reality TV strikes in a big way on ABC, first with "Dancing With the Stars" at 8 p.m., followed by the new series of "The Bachelor" at 9:30 p.m.

"The Riches" (FX, 10 p.m.) is also new, though I have to admit, I gave up on this series last week.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Best Of The Best

For my money, frame for frame, TV's best show is "The Shield."

Never has there been a TV character wrapped in shades of gray like Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis), who constantly does the wrong thing for the right reasons. Machiavelli has nothing on Mackey.

Whether it's killing a member of his own team (who was a spy), skimming money and ripping off drug dealers so that he can pay for therapy for his autistic children, or allowing lesser drug dealers to stay in charge (so long as they answer to him) in order to keep the piece in his Farmington section of L.A., Mackey is a master manipulator and one of TV's best-ever characters.

What makes "The Shield" so great is that the rest of the cast is up to the challenge. Be it his former captain-turned-mayoral candidate (Benito Martinez), straight-laced Det. Wyms (CCH Pounder), Mackey's duplicitous right arm, Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins), or the fantastic guest stars the show has brought in, including Glenn Close, Anthony Anderson and Forest Whitaker, "The Shield" has been compelling viewing the moment it hit the airwaves.

It finally returns tonight (FX, 10 p.m.) picking up where it left off a season ago, with Internal Affairs lieutenant John Kavanaugh (Whitaker) tried to bring down Mackey and his team. The interplay between Whitaker and Chiklis was among the best on TV a season ago, and Whitaker was shamefully robbed of an Emmy nomination.

The show picks up with Mackey trying to find out who killed his teammate Lem (Kenneth Johnson), unaware that he himself unwittingly inspired Shane to do it. Of course, Kavanaugh thinks the deed was done by Mackey. With his back against the wall, that's when Vic is his most dangerous.

On a network that consistently has brought out TV's most interesting shows, "The Shield" has been the cream of the crop.

TUESDAY'S BEST BETS: Assuming you aren't in the midst of your Passover seder (the reason why God invented the VCR), you've got a pretty good slew of new stuff.

Incredibly, I'm recommending "American Idol" (Fox, 8 p.m.) for the second time in three weeks, simply because the inimitable Tony Bennett is the guest. It's followed by a new episode of "House."

CBS is airing new episodes of "NCIS" and "The Unit," while "AI" rival "Dancing With The Stars" (ABC, 9 p.m.) returns.