Thursday, July 31, 2008

Thursday's Best Bets

Just a quick note today because I have a lot of stuff going on:

"My Boys" (TBS, 9:30 p.m.) is close to wrapping up as the gang head's to Bobby's ranch for his upcoming wedding and PJ (Jordana Spiro) decides to go out with his brother, Jack. It follows a new "Bill Engvall Show" at 9 p.m.

"Burn Notice" (USA, 10 p.m.) is all new, as are "Flashpoint" (CBS, 10 p.m.) and "Fear Itself" (NBC, 10 p.m.), which guest stars Doug Jones ("Hellboy 2") as a rancher possessed by an evil spirit.

ABC's docudrama "Hopkins" (ABC, 10 p.m.) continues its six-part run taking a look inside Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Finally, several so-called reality offerings, including the semifinals of "Last Comic Standing" (NBC, 8 p.m.) and "Big Brother" (CBS, 8 p.m.)

Also, if you have a chance to catch it this week, take a look for Bob Costas' weekly sports series on HBO. I caught some of it last night and it was an hour-long interview with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, before a live studio audience that included several Hall of Famers and celebrities. Anyone who loves the game should check it out.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Extreme Home Do-Over

By now, most of you should have heard the news about the Atlanta family who got a new house from the ABC show "Extreme Home Makeover" in 2005.

Some 1,800 people helped rebuild a house that was falling apart into a $450,000 mini-mansion, complete with new furnishings and appliances - the show's largest-ever project to that point. In addition, the family was given enough money to pay taxes on the place for the next 25 years as well as a college scholarship fund for the family's three kids.

But the feel-good story turned into a nightmare earlier this week when Atlanta news organizations found out the family squandered the money and the house on a loan for a construction business that didn't work out. The bank will foreclose on the house next week and put it up for public auction.

The family has been ripped among the message boards and in the press for squandering what should have been a windfall. To many people, this was the equivalent of winning millions in the lottery only to end up destitute a few years later. It was frustrating to the many people who donated time and money to help this particular family out, when many other families might have been more appreciative and smart.

It's frustrating to people who see someone squander a gift, when you think to yourself, "If only something that fortunate would happen for me."

From my point of view, though I don't want any family to lose their home (as millions of Americans are these days), it's a little hard to muster up sympathy for this particular family, which essentially blew the gift they were given.

It would be especially annoying if ABC or someone else bailed the family out at this point so that everyone save's face. The family made a choice and must learn to live with the consequences, IMO.

But I don't think the family should get the blame alone. I think the show's producers should have some fault here as well. Why did the family need a mansion when a new house would simply do? For $450,000, the show could have built four or five fairly nice, dependable homes, which still would have been an upgrade to this particular family, and helped out others.

While the show's producers say they encourage the families to seek out financial counseling, maybe they'd do better to either provide a counselor or make the families sign something that prevents them from using their new homes as collateral for questionable loans.

The show would do better to follow the Habitat for Humanity model of building solid, dependable, no-frills houses and spreading the wealth among many families rather than one specatular house for one.

But then, that doesn't make for exciting TV. However, maybe this will provide a cautionary tale to future home recipients.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BETS: Those fans of the new CBS reality show "Greatest American Dog" should take note that it has moved to Wednesdays at 8 p.m.

"NOVA" (PBS, 9 p.m.) has a new "Science Now."

Everything else is pretty much various reality fare, so pick one and enjoy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Has Nolan Killed The Bat-Franchise?

As "The Dark Knight" continues to shatter box office records (13 of them as of today), the title might seem like a strange question to ask.

After all, Christopher Nolan's vision of Batman has revived the character several years after director Joel Schumacher nearly killed it with the crapfests "Batman Forever" and "Batman & Robin."

There's no denying that Nolan has made a masterpiece, one that has both comics fans and mainstream media critics alike buzzing with glee and Oscar speculation. While the movie may not be perfect, it's certainly among the best films of the year and perhaps arguably the past several.

And there-in lies the problem. Nolan did such a great job with "The Dark Knight" and got such memorable perfomances out of his cast that clearing such a high bar with future sequels is virtually impossible.

So, one has to ask oneself, what will the expectations be for the next one? Nolan has yet to sign on for it (don't worry, Bat-fans, Christian Bale already has). Even though Nolan can ask and likely receive the moon from Warner Bros. and do whatever he likes, he faces a daunting task in meeting what will be ridiculously high expectations for the next one.

Often, expectations are so high among the viewing public that even good movies can seem like disappointments. For example, I liked "Indy 4" this summer, and it performed well at the box office. While admittedly it wasn't as good as "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (and how many movies are?) or even "Indy 3," it was a satisfying adventure. Yet a lot of the critics and fans lashed out against it, simply because it didn't meet the expectations of a viewing public that had waited 19 years to see Indiana Jones crack his whip one more time.

While perhaps no one is expecting future Batman installments to shatter so many box office records so quickly, from a creative standpoint, where does Nolan go from here? (And, if for some reason Nolan didn't sign on again, I can't imagine too many directors would want to step in and try to follow his success). He's used up all of the best Batman villains (Joker, Scarecrow, Two-Face, Ra's Al-Ghul) and it would be hard to build the same sort of tension with one of the gimmicky villains, such as the Penguin.

Also, there may not want to be a lot of actors who want to sign up to be a Batman villain and face the inevitable comparisons to Heath Ledger's Joker. (And really, though he hasn't gotten the same buzz for obvious reasons, Aaron Eckhart's Two-Face was just as terrifically portrayed).

Me, I try to judge each movie on its own merits and not compare it to other films, but the general public seems to only want to judge a film with comparisons to others.

That makes future installments of Batman a very tricky proposition, and I'm curious to see how Nolan (or whomever) handles it.

TUESDAY'S BEST BETS: The Sci Fi Channel brings back its original series, "Eureka," tonight at 9 p.m. and allows viewers to catch up by running an all-day marathon of the first two seasons. Hopefully, Sci Fi won't give anything away with spoilers in the promos it runs. Ahem.

The History Channel is running a new series called "Jurassic Fight Club" (History, 9 p.m.), about how dinosaurs battled each other for survival back in the day. I'd tell you more about it, but the first rule of Jurassic Fight Club is you do not talk about Jurassic Fight Club!

Randy Pausch, the cancer-stricken professor who inspired many with his final lecture, died a few days ago, and tonight, "Primetime" celebrates his life with an hour-long special (ABC, 10 p.m.)

Finally, I rarely plug reruns, but one of the top episodes of "House" (Fox, 9 p.m.), in which Mira Sorvino guest stars as an ill scientist trapped in the North Pole, airs tonight.

Monday, July 28, 2008

'Next Week On...'

Jeers to the Sci-Fi Channel.

In Friday's posting, I said that the cliffhanger on "Doctor Who" was one of the best I had ever seen.

I'll do the viewer who may not have seen it yet a service by saying skip down below the asterisks. Also, if you are watching Friday's episode on DVR, hit the stop button right when it says "To Be Continued..." on the screen.



Anyway, so watching the BBC airing through the miracle of the internet, we get the same ending of the Doctor starting to regenerate. With his face obscured by the light, you can't tell if there is a new actor about to step into the role. Then it goes to the "To Be Continued" screen, then the final credits rolled.

No next week's scenes.

On Sci-Fi, however, they fill it up with shots of David Tennant continuing in the role, totally ruining the cliffhanger viewing. All the sense of shock that the Doctor might be replaced by a new actor is completely dissolved after about five seconds.



After watching the BBC version, I was in such shock for not having any spoilers from next week's scenes that I checked around the Web for what the Brits were saying.

It's funny now having seen Part 2 already how wrong the speculation ended up being, but EVERYBODY was buzzing about it and coming up with all sorts of theories.

Which is what a good cliffhanger was supposed to do.

You don't need next week's previews to draw the viewer back; no one was going to not watch the finale after being left hanging like that.

Yet Sci-Fi felt compelled to cut together its own clips of next week's scenes, absolutely taking away any sense of shock from the viewers.

Trailers for TV and movies are kind of a necessary evil. It's fine to tease as to what is coming up with a few clips stitched together, and in the case of movies, give the viewer an idea of what it's all about.

But how many times do you watch a trailer and it's nothing like the movie it's advertising — and not in a good way. (**COUGH, 'Hancock'). Or you see a trailer for a comedy and, after leaving the movie, you say, "They used all the best lines in the trailer."

Look at the campaign for "The Dark Knight." It shows a few moments from a few of the action sequences and gives you some insight into the Joker (which is what everyone was going to be talking about anyway with the death of Heath Ledger). It's just enough to tease without giving anything away, plot-wise. And the movie has done pretty well so far.

Anyway, TV and movie promoters need to do a better job and use a little common sense in not giving away the big reveal, and trust that some people want a little surprise in their lives.

COMIC CON NEWS: Some tidbits gleaned from Comic Con (don't worry, no spoilers).

--On "Lost," it's not really a surprise to say we haven't seen the last of Locke or Jin, despite seeing them dead in last season's finale. And, there are rumors of some other dead characters who may yet be seen.

--On "Smallville," expect more Clark-Lois interaction (finally). Also, comics legend Geoff Johns is penning an episode involving the Legion of Super Heroes. Gee, wish I had thought of that; oh, wait, I did.

--On "Chuck," there are going to be a variety of guest stars, including Nicole Richie as an enemy agent. Also, we meet Capt. Awesome's parents.

--On "Pushing Daisies," creator Bryan Fuller is hoping to create a little bit of crossover by using characters from his previous series, "Wonderfalls." Of course, only six people watched that other series, so I don't really know how big that news is.

--Finally, you can catch some video of the panels from "The Office" and "Heroes" over at

MONDAY'S BEST BETS: New episodes of "The Closer" and "Saving Grace," beginning at 9 p.m. on TNT. Ditto for "The Middleman (ABC Family, 10 p.m.)

"The Mole" (ABC, 10 p.m.) also winds down with the final elimination before the season's end.

There's a documentary that looks kind of interesting called "The Recruiter" (HBO, 9 p.m.), about an Army recruiter who tries to bring in new recruits in Louisiana.

Finally, new installments as well from Showtime's "Weeds" and "Secret Diary of a Call Girl," beginning at 10 p.m.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Mad About 'Mad Men'

Welcome to Post No. 500!

It's kind of appropriate that we celebrate this milestone with a milestone of television — the debut of Season 2 of "Mad Men" (AMC, Sun., 10 p.m.) this weekend.

"Mad Men" took the TV world by storm last year as AMC's first original drama series. Created by former "Sopranos" writer Matt Weiner, it was a stylish look at the early 1960s, where sexism, prejudice and other vices reigned supreme. It provided star-making turns for most of its cast, including the likes of Jon Hamm (an Emmy nominee), January Jones, Christina Hendricks, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser and others.

The series follows the exploits of Don Draper (Hamm), a star in the world of advertising with the seemingly perfect home life. But underneath it all, Don's got a lot of problems. For one thing, he isn't really Don Draper; he took the real Draper's dog tags after getting wounded in Korea in order to get away from his miserable family. He also has a series of mistresses, a pig of a boss (Emmy nominee John Slattery, in the performance of his career) and a young rival desperately trying to steal his job (Kartheiser).

But "Mad Men" is more than Don's story. Each character, from the eager young secretary looking to further her career (Moss) to the quietly frustrated, loyal wife (Jones), it's a richly textured group of characters and subplots. "Mad Men" deftly mixes pathos and humor, and hopefully you caught up on Season 1 during AMC's marathon run last Sunday.

If you didn't, you won't be completely lost. Season 2 begins over a year after Season 1 ended, with the action moving up to 1962 and the height of Camelot in America. Considering Don's firm, Sterling Cooper, ran the Nixon campaign in 1960, that may not be a good thing.

"Mad Men" is likely the leading contender in the Emmys for Best Drama, and after its terrifically executed first season, it's easy to see why. Here's looking forward to more of the same in Season 2.

AROUND THE DIAL: Former Oscar nominee Harvey Keitel has been named the replacement for Colm Meaney on the US version of "Life on Mars." I had low expectations for this version of one of my favorite UK series, but Meaney was the one bright light for me. ... Erika Tamura (the princess on "Heroes") and Sean Patrick Thomas ("Save The Last Dance") are joining the cast of "Reaper" this season. ... "Smallville's" producers told that, in addition to the appearances of Green Arrow, Black Canary and Aquaman this season, familiar DC characters such as Plastique and Maxima will also meet the future Man of Steel.

WEEKEND'S BEST BETS: One of the best-done cliffhangers I've ever seen takes place tonight on "Doctor Who" (Sci Fi, 9 p.m.), the first of the two-part season finale in which Earth disappears and it's up to the Doctor (David Tennant) and pretty much every other guest star the series has ever had to make sure it gets back. After you see the end of the episode, my advice is to avoid the internet for the next week. It's followed by a new "Stargate: Atlantis" at 10 p.m.

"Monk" (USA, 9 p.m.) has guest star David Strathairn as a chessmaster, followed by a new "Psych" at 10 p.m.

Worried that you missed "Swingtown" last night? Don't be - it's been moved to Fridays at 10 p.m.

Gone into "Lost" withdrawal? (Yeah, me too.) Anyway, a behind-the-scenes special about the series is airing tonight at 10 p.m. on G4.

On Saturday, "Robin Hood" (BBC America, 9 p.m.) begins part one of the two-part second season finale as Robin and the gang set off to the Holy Land in search of King Richard.

On Sunday, "Masterpiece: Mystery" (PBS, 9 p.m.) wraps things up with the series finale of "Foyle's War."

Mary (Mary McCormick) has a fling with a protectee on "In Plain Sight" (USA, 10 p.m.)

Finally, a new episode of the HBO miniseries "Generation Kill" (HBO, 9 p.m.) airs.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I Want To Believe This Movie Will Be Good

Some six years after they signed off the small tube for the final time, Agents Mulder and Scully (David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson) return on the big screen when "X-Files: I Want To Believe" debuts at midnight.

As I noted a few weeks ago, "The X-Files" has been kind of out-of-sight, out-of-mind for me. As much as I enjoyed the series for its first five or six seasons, I haven't been pining away for Mulder or Scully in same way I have for Buffy or Angel, for example.

Part of it has to do with how the series unfolded over the years. When "The X-Files" first debuted, it had this wonderful underlying conspiracy revolving around the government and aliens. As Mulder and Scully uncovered one piece of the puzzle, more questions than answers would arise.

It was great TV - for a while. Eventually, creator Chris Carter felt he had to keep pushing the mystery by leading the viewer around an endless series of plot loopholes and changes that left even the most devout X-Files fan in the dark. The plot twists and conspiracies became white noise after a while because they were so endless.

One of the reasons I love "Lost" so much is that while the creators of the series introduce difficult storylines, sci-fi elements and conspiracies, they do a much better job of giving the viewer resolution to some of the questions they raise. We may not like the answers, but we get them. Knowing that "Lost" only has 48 episodes left, the creators have a definite ending point they can map themselves to; hopefully, this will mean the viewer won't feel cheated when all is said and done.

That wasn't the case with "The X-Files," which got to be meandering after a while. As a friend pointed out to me recently, Carter & Co. didn't seem to get that the heart of the series was the Mulder-Scully relationship, and that the series often worked better with the standalone and humor episodes than it did with all of the conspiracy.

With the exception of "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man," almost all of the episodes I remember fondly were the standalone episodes that displayed a lot of comedy and/or heart: "War of the Carcophages," "The Unnatural" (written by Duchovny), "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," etc. Honestly, I can't remember whose side the government or the aliens were on at this point.

Based on early reviews of the new movie, it comes off more as a standalone bit rather than a continuation of the series. Mulder and Scully, six years after leaving the FBI, are brought in to examine a case in which a defrocked priest (Billy Connolly) seems to have ESP.

Hopefully, Carter and co-writer Frank Spotnitz will focus on what made the series great in the first place: its heart.

THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: Another series in which the relationship among the main characters surpasses the weekly storylines is USA's delightful "Burn Notice" (USA, 10 p.m.), though the weekly plots are often quite witty and clever. Adding the ridiculously gorgeous and talented Tricia Helfer to the mix only makes it that much better.

CBS has flip-flopped "Flashpoint" and "Swingtown" on the schedule, meaning you'll get the SWAT-oriented "Flashpoint" (CBS, 10 p.m.) tonight instead of Friday. It doesn't matter to me - I gave up on both shows after the pilots.

Another show I gave up the ghost on: "Fear Itself" (NBC, 10 p.m.), which never lived up to its promising beginning. Most of the episodes have been plodding, not scary and so predictable that I've usually figured out the twist by the second commercial break. (Oh, for the days when "The X-Files" would scare the socks off you.) Anyway, tonight's installment stars Brandon Routh of "Superman Lives."

"My Boys" (TBS, 9:30 p.m.) winds its season down as PJ (Jordana Spiro) must decide if she will date Bobby's womanizing brother. It follows a new "Bill Engvall Show" at 9 p.m.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

One of the ways I learned how to critique something and love movies of all sorts was watching "Siskel & Ebert At the Movies" growing up.

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were two of the most famous film critics in America when someone had the bright idea of pairing them up in the mid-70s on the show "Sneak Previews" and had them argue over films.

Except that they didn't argue; they made arguments. There's a difference. Sometimes they would agree a film was great, sometimes they'd agree that a film sucked, and sometimes they disagreed on a film's merit, but there was always the underlying respect for the other's opinion even if one thought the other was bonkers for liking or disliking a certain movie.

Siskel & Ebert eventually moved on to syndication with their own show and their trademarked "Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down" approval system, and they became joined at the hip. It was impossible to think of one without the other.

And often, when I found myself in the Ebert camp, Siskel would win me over. And vice versa. What I liked about them is that they always talked about a film on its own merits, and tended to give a movie the benefit of the doubt. I try to do the same thing when I review TV shows. It says a lot about both men that each could make a compelling argument over the merits of a movie while taking opposite stances.

Jeffrey Lyons and Michael Medved took over the PBS version of "Sneak Previews," but it was a pale copy, in part because when they argued, it seemed like they were doing it for show. Also, they both seemed to come in with pre-conceived notions for a movie rather than judge it for its own merits. I remember when they panned a movie simply because it carried the words "Star Trek" in the title; Ebert and Siskel split on the same movie, but the thumbs down was a lot more mild and less mocking.

Siskel, of course, died several years ago after a long illness, and the show floundered for a bit as Ebert tried out an endless line of co-hosts before settling on fellow Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper. Roeper turned out to be a good fit filling Siskel's very large shoes.

Then, Ebert got sick a couple of years ago, and because he had surgery to his throat and was unable to speak, stopped appearing. Again, Roeper tried out a large selection of co-hosts. For a while, it seemed that A.O. Scott of the New York Times would get the gig, but eventually, it went to Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune in what has been a very natural pairing.

The "Thumbs Up" rating system quietly vanished a couple of years ago, and has been replaced by "See It/Skip It." But the show was going along smoothly (despite being shown at 4:30 a.m. Sunday mornings on WGXA in the Middle Georgia market - thank God for VCRs).

That changed this week when Roeper announced he wouldn't be renewing his contract at the same time Ebert was pulling his name off the show. Neither could reach a deal with Buena Vista Television, which produces it. So next month, Ebert, Roeper and Phillips will be gone from "At The Movies," replaced by Ben Lyons of "E!News" and Ben Mankiewicz of Turner Classic Movies.

Lyons is the son of Jeffrey Lyons, who replaced Ebert a couple of decades ago on the PBS show, while Mankiewicz is the grandson of Herman Mankiewicz, who co-wrote "Citizen Kane." No one is questioning their movie pedigrees, but one has to wonder if they can re-capture the same magic Gene and Roger brought all those years ago.

If they can't, the good news is Ebert and Roeper are looking at doing a new, similar sort of show (and Ebert owns the "Thumbs Up" copyright). Since Ebert is still too ill to do TV, I'd have to think Phillips is a natural choice to be Roeper's on-screen partner. Nothing has been made official yet, but hopefully the show will live on (and in a better timeslot, WGXA).

With print movie criticism dying off thanks to the struggles of the newspaper industry, it's nice to have an "At The Movies"-type show to fall back upon.

R.I.P. ESTELLE GETTY: The star of the "Golden Girls" was 84 when she died Tuesday of an extended illness. Getty toiled in obscurity for many years before landing a role on the hit series in her 60s, convincingly playing Bea Arthur's mother despite being only a few years older.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BETS: It's all sub-mediocre reality fare tonight. Go out and see "The Dark Knight" instead.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Dark Knight: Oscar Worthy?

For all the buzz the late Heath Ledger is generating for his performance as the Joker in the Dark Knight (well-deserved buzz, BTW), it does raise the question: does the movie itself deserve to be nominated for Best Picture?

Some would turn their noses up at the notion of any movie based on a comic book/graphic novel being up for an Oscar, conveniently forgetting that "Road To Perdition" was based upon a graphic novel and turned out pretty well.

Certainly, Oscar seems to overlook many action-oriented films that gross big numbers at the box office, yet will throw practically every gold statue that the committee has at something like "Titanic," which also generated big box office numbers.

If one classifies "Dark Knight" as a fantasy film rather than a comic book movie, it certainly has some good company in the Oscar field, being right up there with the likes of "Star Wars" and the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

Or, look at it another way: compare "Dark Knight" with last year's winner, "No Country For Old Men." Both movies center around a serial killer and the confrontation between the justice and anarchy.

The differences? Well, "No Country" was a snoozefest that robbed the viewer of the final dramatic confrontation that it had spent three hours setting up. In addition, in a film full of moral ambiguity, it doesn't end up making any sort of statement. (And plot-wise, the inciting action to get the whole movie going was so ridiculous that it made the movie pointless.)

Meanwhile, no one can say "Dark Knight" dragged at any point. It sets up perfectly the confrontation between Batman and the Joker, and later, Batman and Two-Face. It raises the questions of moral ambiguity by making us question whether Batman's actions are justifiable, and gives us an ending that attempts to answer the question while leaving the matter open for debate.

Look, in addition to Ledger being a shoo-in for a nomination (and Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent could easily have been up for one as well, but no way does the Academy give two acting nominations in the same category to "Dark Knight"), the movie will grab several other ones, most notably Wally Pfister's beautiful cinematography and the film's incredible makeup work. You could easily make a case for Christopher Nolan for Best Director, given the movie's amazing action sequences. (Nolan and his brother, Jonathan, also deserve credit for Best Adapted Screenplay).

And, even though it's July and we haven't gotten to what is considered Oscar season yet, name five films this year that are better than "Dark Knight." Good luck with that.

MONDAY'S BEST BETS: Now back to the small screen. The Emmy-popular duo of "The Closer" (TNT, 9 p.m.) and "Saving Grace" (TNT, 10 p.m.) offer new episodes.

Speaking of superheroes, "The Middleman" (ABC Family, 10 p.m.) continues its run.

Showtime presents new episodes of "Weeds" and "Secret Diary of a Call Girl" beginning at 10 p.m.

Friday, July 18, 2008

'Monk,' 'Psych' Return

A few weeks ago, I noted the passing of actor Stanley Kamel, who played Monk's shrink Dr. Kroger on "Monk." (USA, 9 p.m.)

Kamel, a veteran character actor, appeared on some of the best episodes of the series and was a delight in the role of Monk's overworked therapist.

Kamel's death from a heart attack brings a note of poignancy to tonight's season premiere, as Monk must deal with the death of the character of Kroger, who often served as Monk's security blanket.

The episode isn't that great, even with guest stars Hector Elizondo as Monk's new shrink and Brad Garrett as the guy fixing up Monk's new house; the mystery is fairly easy to solve and how Monk is rescued in the end is downright silly.

But the final scene (and the underlying theme of much of the episode) is a nice tribute to Kamel, so it's worth checking out.

It's followed by the season premiere of "Psych" (USA, 10 p.m.), which has always been a rather silly show. We meet Shawn's (James Roday) long-lost mother (guest star Cybill Shepherd) tonight, but the "case" is even sillier than usual.

REMINDER: The second part of the three-part "Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog" starring Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion hit the Web on Thursday at You can check out the finale on Saturday. After Saturday, you'll have to pay $1.99 to download it off iTunes instead of getting it for free, though it is well worth it.

WEEKEND'S BEST BETS: "Doctor Who" (Sci Fi, 9 p.m.) meets "It's a Wonderful Life" in the episode "Turn Left," as Donna (Catherine Tate) experiences a world in which she never met the Doctor (David Tennant). Want to see what life on good ole Earth would be like without the Doctor constantly saving us? Tonight provides a great example. It also provides some hints into the two-part finale, in which all of the Doctor's companions play a key role. It's followed by a new "Stargate: Atlantis" at 10 p.m.

With Robin Hood away, Marian (Lucy Griffiths) must intervene to rescue the poorfolk of Nottingham in her guise as the Night Watchman on "Robin Hood" (BBC America, Sat., 9 p.m.)

On Sunday, Foyle is back on the job on "Masterpiece: Mystery" in a new "Foyle's War" (PBS, 9 p.m.)

ESPN manages to waste a lot of time with the annual "ESPY Awards" (ESPN, 9 p.m.)

The second installment of "Generation Kill" (HBO, 9 p.m.) debuts Sunday.

Finally, missed "Mad Men" the first time around and want to catch up before Season 2 begins? AMC is running an all-day marathon of the Emmy-nominated series on Sunday beginning at noon. Now is your chance to catch up before Season 2 begins a week from Sunday. This is TV at its absolute best and worth a day of watching or at least Tivo-ing.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

2008 Emmy Nominees

Well, the list is finally out. I'll do predictions and such at a later date:

"Boston Legal," ABC
"Damages," FX
"Dexter," Showtime
"House," Fox
"Lost," ABC
"Mad Men," AMC

Thoughts: I'm glad the Emmy voters bent the rules and expanded the list to six nominees. I'm disappointed that they did so in order to include "Boston Legal." Putting that show in the same group as the other shows listed is downright laughable. It was also surprising that they left the critically acclaimed "The Wire" off this list for its final season.

"Curb Your Enthusiasm," HBO
"Entourage," HBO
"The Office," NBC
"30 Rock," NBC
"Two and a Half Men," CBS

Thoughts: No big surprises here, just disappointment that the voters didn't have the foresight to include "Pushing Daisies."

Gabriel Byrne, "In Treatment"
Bryan Cranston, "Breaking Bad"
Michael C. Hall, "Dexter"
Jon Hamm, "Mad Men"
Hugh Laurie, "House"
James Spader, "Boston Legal"

Thoughts: Again, what the hell is this obsession with "Boston Legal?" Great, great list until you get down to James Spader. If you are going to expand the nominees, why not include Kyle Chandler of "Friday Night Lights?" But I'll stomach Spader's inclusion since the voters had the foresight to include Bryan Cranston's remarkable performance.

Glenn Close, "Damages"
Sally Field, "Brothers and Sisters"
Mariska Hargitay, "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit"
Holly Hunter, "Saving Grace"
Kyra Sedgwick, "The Closer"

Thoughts: Emmy voters nearly had it perfect with "Battlestar Galactica's" Mary McDonnell making the semifinals list. Instead, the voters proffer Mariska Hargitay. Jerks.

Christina Applegate, "Samantha Who?"
America Ferrera, "Ugly Betty"
Tina Fey, "30 Rock"
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, "New Adventures of Old Christine"
Mary-Louise Parker, "Weeds"

Thoughts: Disappointed with the omission of Anna Friel of "Pushing Daisies" and a little surprised at the omission of the "Desperate Housewives" actresses.

Alec Baldwin, "30 Rock"
Steve Carell, "The Office"
Lee Pace, "Pushing Daisies"
Tony Shalhoub, "Monk"
Charlie Sheen, "Two and a Half Men"

Thoughts: No surprises here.

Jon Cryer, "Two and a Half Men"
Kevin Dillon, "Entourage"
Neil Patrick Harris, "How I Met Your Mother"
Jeremy Piven, "Entourage"
Rainn Wilson, "The Office"

Thoughts: Woo-hoo! Neil Patrick Harris! Unfortunately, Macon's own Jack McBrayer, very deserving on "30 Rock," misses the cut.

Ted Danson, "Damages"
Michael Emerson, "Lost"
Zeljko Ivanek, "Damages"
William Shatner, "Boston Legal"
John Slattery, "Mad Men"

Thoughts: You know, I love William Shatner as Capt. Kirk and in the Priceline commercials as much as the next guy, but seriously, putting him on the list is just about the biggest joke around. Meanwhile, the remaining four-way battle should be one of the most interesting of the awards show. Great list (otherwise!), Emmys.

Candice Bergen, "Boston Legal"
Rachel Griffiths, "Brothers and Sisters"
Sandra Oh, "Grey's Anatomy"
Dianne Wiest, "In Treatment"
Chandra Wilson, "Grey's Anatomy"

Thoughts: Surely the omission of "Mad Men's" Christina Hendricks, one of the breakout stars on TV this year, was a typo.

Kristin Chenoweth, "Pushing Daisies"
Amy Poehler, "Saturday Night Live"
Jean Smart, "Samantha Who?
Holland Taylor, "Two and a Half Men"
Vanessa Williams, "Ugly Betty"

Thoughts: Poehler remains a very interesting nomination choice by the voters, and the delightful Chenoweth ought to be a shoo-in to win, but this being the Emmy voters, who the hell knows?

Gazing the lists of some of the other categories, "John Adams" and "Recount" both got a tremendous amount of Emmy love, which seemed fairly logical. A few disappointments, though: both Sarah Chalke ("How I Met Your Mother") and Amy Ryan ("The Office") were left off the Best Guest Star Actress, Comedy category. And Phil Keoghan ("The Amazing Race") should have been on the list for Best Reality host.

We'll have more as the Emmys draw closer at the end of the summer, including predictions and another online poll. Which were the choices you liked and didn't like? Is there a "Boston Legal" fan out there who can explain its appeal to me?

THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: Whew, on top of all the Emmy madness is a pretty good night of TV.

Pick of the night is "VH-1 Rock Honors" which pays tribute to one of the greatest bands of all time, The Who. (VH-1, 9 p.m.)

Also highly recommended is the delightful "Burn Notice" (USA, 10 p.m.), in which you actually do get to see Tricia Helfer this time around.

"Swingtown," (CBS, 10 p.m.), which somehow missed out on the Emmys this year, airs a new episode. It's opposite "Fear Itself" (NBC, 10 p.m.), which continues to decline on a weekly basis.

Meanwhile, "My Boys" (TBS, 9:30 p.m.) continues to delight on a weekly basis. It follows a new "Bill Engvall" at 9 p.m.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

'Horrible' Is Terrific

When "Buffy" creator Joss Whedon writes out his grocery list, it's news, at least for me.

So when I hear that Whedon created a one-hour musical online called "Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog," you know I'm going to be logging in.

The problem is, so is the rest of the planet. So many people logged in to the Web site Tuesday night when it debuted that the server crashed, making it difficult to see what the fuss was about.

Eventually, though, I did, and it's brilliant. Whedon (along with his brothers) creates a love story revolved around the not-very-evil Dr. Horrible (Neal Patrick Harris), who longs to join the Evil Society of Evil and win the heart of the pretty redhead (Felicia Day, one of the slayers on "Buffy") who does laundry at the same laundrymat he does. Unfortunately, he's thwarted time and again by the city's big jerk of a superhero, Capt. Hammer (Nathan Fillion).

Whedon, who created one of the most memorable hours of TV ever with the "Buffy" musical episode, "Once More, With Feeling" shines again mixing comedy and music, and has a cast worthy of his efforts. Harris is pitch perfect as lovelorn title villain, and Fillion relishes his role as the pompous superhero. Day has a breakout role as the love interest.

"Dr. Horrible" is being shown in three, 15-minute parts. Part 2 airs Thursday and Part 3 debuts Saturday. The special, which was created during the strike and financed entirely out of Whedon's and his partners' pockets, will be free to watch this week. Afterwards, it will cost money to download it from platforms like iTunes, but it's definitely worth $1.99 if you miss it this week.

AROUND THE DIAL: William L. Petersen announced he will be leaving "CSI" — sort of. According to several sources, Petersen will depart midway through the season as a regular, but return to the show for guest spots. He will also remain on as a producer for the series. ...

In other casting news, Amy Poehler of "Saturday Night Live" will be the new lead in "The Office" spinoff for NBC this fall. ... FX announced a couple of big guest star roles for its series. Michael J. Fox will guest star on "Rescue Me" in 2009 as Janet's (Andrea Roth) new boyfriend. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease, will use a wheelchair on the show, which should be a great touch for the politically incorrect Tommy (Denis Leary). Meanwhile, Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden has signed on for "Damages" as an attorney who takes on Patti (Glenn Close). ...

The Home Run Derby on Monday set a record for such events with a 6.4 rating, meaning 6.2 million viewers tuned in to watch Josh Hamilton's sizzling performance and Justin Morneau's victory. Last year's Derby clocked in with a 5.1 rating. This Derby was the highest-rated non-NFL related programming on ESPN since the Miami-Florida State football game in 2006. ...

Stratford alum Jon Allen, a pianist who has performed with the likes of Dolly Parton, Rod Stewart and Stevie Wonder, will appear on "The Today Show" Thursday morning.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BETS: With so-called reality shows dominating the airwaves tonight ("Big Brother," "So You Think You Can Dance," "The Baby Borrowers" and "Celebrity Circus"), my advice is to check out "Dr. Horrible."

The one reality show worth noting is the season premiere of "Project Runway" (Bravo, 9 p.m.), making its last appearance on the network before moving to Lifetime next year.

Finally, as a wrap-up for All-Star weekend, ESPN is running a special on the history of Yankee Stadium at 6 p.m. as well as the Triple-A All-Star Game at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

'Clean' Start

Benjamin Bratt returns to series TV tonight, and A&E returns to scripted drama for a change with the debut of the new series "The Cleaner" (A&E, 10 p.m.)

Reportedly based on a real-life story, the series revolves around a recovering drug addict (Bratt) who, along with his team of recovering addicts, intervene with drug abusers by forcing them into rehab. But with Bratt devoting his time to his work, his family remains neglected.

I've seen mixed reviews of the series; some credit the acting and the grittiness and say it is worth your time; others think the stories are too over the top.

I've been disappointed with A&E for several years now because they abandoned their original format of quality entertainment in favor of various reality type shows such as "Dog The Bounty Hunter." Indeed, the popularity of the reality show "Intervention" on the network is getting credit for A&E's willingness to give "The Cleaner" a shot.

Fans of Bratt may want to check the series out, since he's being given credit for his best work since his "Law & Order" days. (What, the critics didn't like him in "Catwoman?")

R.I.P. - The relationship between Sarah Silverman and Jimmy Kimmel. I was rooting for those kids. But at least their dalliances with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck will live forever on YouTube.

TUESDAY'S BEST BETS: Josh Hamilton's performance in Monday's Home Run Derby should get the juices flowing for MLB's 79th All-Star Game (Fox, 8 p.m.) BTW, I did call Justin Morneau winning the contest in yesterday's posting. Yay, me.

Other networks are offering lesser forms of competitive events: ABC airs "Wipeout" and "I Survived a Japanese Game Show" from 8-10 p.m.; CBS has "Big Brother" at 9 p.m.; and NBC offers "Celebrity Family Feud" and "America's Got Talent." Yep, baseball it is.

Of course, if you want extreme reality, then the delightfully titled "Hurl" (G4, 9 p.m.) is for you as contestants battle to control their regurgitative ability. Oddly, the network elected not to show the actual spewed materials, making one wonder if they truly know their audience.

Hey, I don't create the shows, I just tell you when they are on.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Home Run Derby

Tonight marks the beginning of the fan festivities for baseball's All-Star Break, highlighted by the Home Run Derby (ESPN, 8 p.m.)

Thanks in part to the steroids scandal and the fact that some of baseball's biggest hitters don't participate, the event - at least for me - has lost a bit of its luster, especially as it gets a bit repetitive seeing batting practice home runs over and over again.

But it's still worth checking out if you are a baseball fan, especially with the All-Star Game taking place at Yankee Stadium for the final time. If it's one thing baseball does well, it's honoring its past. Who could forget the game in Fenway Park a few years ago when they gathered all of the game's living legends for one giant photo op?

Anyway, given the dimensions of Yankee Stadium, my money is on either Houston's Lance Berkman or Minnesota's Justin Morneau to win.

It's still a long way from the old "Home Run Derby" which aired in 1959 and was broadcast by Mark Scott. Those shows, which used to be broadcast on ESPN, included the likes of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and others in their primes, battling for prize money that usually equalled $2,000 a show. (Aaron ended up winning the most money at $13,500 - thank you, Wikipedia).

The game will be followed by the celebrity softball game at 10 p.m.

MONDAY'S BEST BETS: TNT returns its two most notable series with "The Closer" at 9 p.m., followed by "Saving Grace" at 10 p.m. Both Kyra Sedgwick of "The Closer" and Holly Hunter of "Saving Grace" are on the Emmy Best Actress short list, though I must confess I stopped watching both series about midway through their first seasons.

"The Mole" (ABC, 9 p.m.) returns tonight with a clips show to catch viewers up at 9 p.m., followed by the newest episode at 10 p.m.

The family hit "The Middleman" (ABC Family, 10 p.m.) airs a new episode tonight.

Finally, a couple of years ago, I highlighted a movie called "The TV Set," starring David Duchovny and Sigourney Weaver, which I saw at the Austin Film Festival. It's a dark comic look at a writer trying to get his vision of his TV show on the air, and how the network provides "helpful" notes. It's been showing all month on Showtime, and you can catch it tonight at 8:30 p.m., preceding new episodes of "Weeds" and "Secret Diary of a Call Girl" at 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Some Action This TV Weekend

A couple of action-oriented dramas make their debut this weekend.

I've screened the pilot for "Flashpoint" (CBS, 10 p.m.), in which Enrico Colantoni leads an elite squad of SWAT members both on and off the job. If this sounds a bit like the network's "The Unit," you aren't that far off. That's the vibe I got from it.

It's not a terrible show, but there wasn't a whole lot that seemed that fresh or interesting either. The pilot centers around a hostage crisis at a city plaza and the effect it has on one of the unit's snipers.

The way it's written, out of sequence, is a little confusing for the viewer, and it doesn't reach the emotional punch it's going for.

Meanwhile, the miniseries "Generation Kill" debuts on HBO this Sunday at 9 p.m. It's from David Simon and Ed Burns, who brought "The Wire" to the same network, so there's a lot of anticipation for this one.

I didn't get the pilot, so I can't tell you what's up with it, but I'm hoping it reverses the recent trend of Iraq-based movies and TV series that failed to draw an audience. Most of the movies about Iraq over the past two or three years have suffered at the box office, probably more to do with the nation being burned out by the war rather than the quality of the movies themselves.

The Steven Bochco TV series "Over There" for FX failed to generate much viewer support, though it wasn't a great series.

"Generation Kill" is based on the adventures of a journalist embedded with an American military unit, and the series will be told from the journalist's point of view.

WEEKEND'S BEST BETS: "Stargate: Atlantis" (Sci-Fi, 10 p.m.) kicks off a new season tonight, following a new episode of "Doctor Who" at 9 p.m. This week's "DW" is the weakest of the season by far, but the next three weeks are so kick-ass that it's forgiven.

Something called "Dance Machine" (ABC, 8 p.m.) airs tonight. I don't know if this is the first one or not, but apparently it revolves around a farmer and animator having a dance-off. It's a good excuse to go out tonight.

On Saturday, "Robin Hood" (BBC America, 9 p.m.) is new after taking a break last week.

On Sunday, "Masterpiece: Mystery" (PBS, 9 p.m.) kicks off a new series of the excellent "Foyle's War" as the title detective (Michael Kitchens) is called out of retirement while writing his memoirs.

From the sublime to the ridiculous: The new season of the hideous "Big Brother" (CBS, 8 p.m.) kicks off. That's the last time I plan to mention it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

'Notice:' Time To Get Burned Again

After "Mad Men," my favorite show of last summer was "Burn Notice," about a former spy who is "burned," i.e. fired by his agency.

Broke, but with an unusual skill set, Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) finds himself working as private eye, helping the helpless and trying to find out why he was burned.

He enlists his ex-girlfriend Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), a former IRA gunrunner, and another ex-spy Sam (Bruce Campbell) to help him on his cases. He must also deal with his neurotic mother (Sharon Gless).

At the end of last season, Michael was close to finding out why he was burned, but his informant is killed at the last moment.

Season 2 opens tonight (USA, 10 p.m.) with Michael under the control of a mysterious handler (Tricia Helfer), who directs him to help a computer software engineer steal data from a private defense contractor. Next week's episode sees Michael trying to bring down a drug runner while attending therapy with his mom.

"Burn Notice" works on several levels, most notably the interaction among the main characters. Donavan and Anwar have great chemistry in their on-again, off-again relationship, and who makes a better sidekick than Campbell?

In addition, the series has a lot of fun with the spy genre, as Michael takes the time to explain to viewers how spies handle various situations. True fans who watch every episode will likely be able to pull their own stings and outwit security measures if they take careful notes during each show.

It took a while for "Burn Notice" to return thanks to the WGA strike, but good things have come to those of us who waited. And for those who missed Season 1, it's actually a series that's pretty easy to get into.

THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: NBC cuts down the "Last Comic Standing" (NBC, 8 p.m.) to the final 12 with three hours of standup.

The new reality series "Greatest American Dog" (CBS, 8 p.m.) debuts tonight. My dog, Riley, would have won had he not died a couple of years ago. After a "CSI" rerun, there's a new "Swingtown" at 10 p.m.

ABC follows a rerun of "Grey's Anatomy" with the real-life "Hopkins," (ABC, 10 p.m.) in which there are no McDreamys but real-life docs at work.

Finally, TBS airs new episodes of "Bill Engvall" and "My Boys," beginning at 9 p.m.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Check Out These Webisodes

It's become chic for TV to start airing mini-episodes of different dramas and sitcoms specifically for the Internet.

Called "webisodes," they usually feature subplots involving some familiar characters, but aren't necessary to catch to enjoy the main series.

"The Office" will launch its first webisode beginning tomorrow at 3 p.m. EST at The webisodes feature regular supporting characters Kevin, Oscar, Stanley and Darryl and center on Kevin's attempts to secure a bank loan to pay off his gambling debts.

Joining "The Office" is "Heroes," which launches its first webisode Monday. Unlike "The Office," "Heroes" is using the webisodes to introduce new characters, but they play like extended commercials for season previews. The first webisode introduces a mailman with a sonic scream as his power.

AFTRA DEAL: The second-largest actors union, AFTRA, voted to ratify a new deal with the studios this week, which likely undermines the position of SAG, the larger of the two guilds which was talking about a strike. With four labor deals now in place, SAG will be hard pressed to commit to a work stoppage.

CASTING UPDATES: Kevin McKidd, late of "Journeyman" and "Rome," is reportedly Sandra Oh's new love interest on "Grey's Anatomy."

Meanwhile, two "Friday Night Lights" regulars, Gaius Charles and Scott Porter (Smash and Jason, respectively) have been dropped down to recurring status. The move makes sense from a dramatic standpoint, since both characters have graduated high school and Smash is now in college. The reduced storylines will allow the writers to narrow their focus a little bit, which should be a good thing.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BETS: Tracy Morgan ("30 Rock") hosts the new season of "Scare Tactics" (Sci Fi, 10 p.m.). It follows a new episode of "Ghost Hunters International."

Other than that, the pickings are slim unless you like "So You Think You Can Dance" (Fox, 8 p.m.)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

'Arrested Development's' Buster In Macon

A couple of things to know about actor Tony Hale.

He has both his hands. He's not a hyper-sensitive mama's boy.

And he's a down-to-Earth, genuinely nice guy.

Hale was in Macon Monday to speak to students and fans at Macon State about being a professional actor. Hale's dad, Mike, is the director of Macon State's Warner Robins campus.

Hale is best-known as the none-too-bright, overly sensitive man-child Buster Bluth on the Emmy-winning "Arrested Development," but he has had a diverse career, beginning with guest spots on "The Sopranos" and "Dawson's Creek" after working for years in commercials.

"AD" opened a lot of doors for Hale, who has gone on to appear in "Andy Barker, PI" and the Will Ferrell movie "Stranger Than Fiction." Currently, he is in the process of wrapping up several film roles, including "The Year of Getting to Know Us" with Jimmy Fallon and "The Informant," which stars Matt Damon and is directing by Steven Soderbergh. Hale is also joining the cast of NBC's "Chuck," playing the new manager of the store that Chuck works at.

So, the big question on everyone's mind is: What is the status of the proposed "Arrested Development" movie? Hale said he gets asked the question a lot, but doesn't really know the status of it. On the one hand, the series was more of a cult hit rather than a ratings giant, so it's a risky proposition for a movie studio. On the other hand, Hale pointed out, the profiles of actors Jason Bateman and Michael Cera have risen considerably since the series, which makes it easier to attract funding.

"Until we start shooting it, I'm not even going there," Hale said with a chuckle. "But if we do it, I want a bionic hand!"

Hale was asked about his favorite episodes and characters on the series. He said he loved the plotlines with his mother, Jessica Walter, and his girlfriend, Liza Minelli - both named Lucille. He said it's difficult to decide on a favorite character besides Buster.

"Everyone brought something to the table," he said.

But he did admit that he cracked up during nearly every scene he shot with GOB (Will Arnett), one of his brothers on the show.

Hale also had a lot of praise for the show's writers. When asked about co-star David Cross' penchant for improv, he said it rarely happened because of the quality of scripts.

"The scripts were so good that no one wanted to get off-page," Hale said.

Hale said even though the series was on the bubble for all three of its seasons, the cast decided to enjoy the experience of making it rather than worrying about being canceled. Of course, it didn't help that the series at one point ran in the same timeslot as "Grey's Anatomy" and "CSI."

"There wasn't too much hope for us," he said.

Hale listed his acting influences from comics like Steve Martin and Tim Conway to giants like Robert Duvall, singling out his work in "The Apostle."

Hale said it's nice to have so many gigs lined up over the next year or so, because actors often live paycheck to paycheck.

Hale made several references to the fact that he is often cast as a bumbler or as the leading man's goofy best friend. I asked if he was worried about being typecast in such roles for his career.

"I love it," he said. "I really enjoy it. It's just a fact that I'm never going to get the girl, but that's fine."

TUESDAY'S BEST BETS: It's depressing to think of how great "Arrested Development" truly was and how it constantly struggled for ratings, and then look at tonight's TV lineup.

In the land of the slightly bizarre, NBC goes promotional crazy when it pits the cast of "My Name Is Earl" against the cast of "American Gladiators" in tonight's "Celebrity Family Feud." (NBC, 8 p.m.) I'd love to come up with something witty to say about that, but I think it speaks for itself. It's followed by "America's Got Talent."

The wackiness continues on ABC with "Wipeout" and "I Survived a Japanese Game Show," followed by Primetime special "The Outsiders" at 10 p.m.

The two finalists square off in "Hell's Kitchen," (Fox, 9 p.m.), which follows a new "Moment of Truth."

Monday, July 07, 2008

Ozzy, Ozzy, Ozzy - Oy, Oy, Oy!

Welcome back, loyal dozens. Hope everyone had a good Fourth!

I was greeted with the news from Variety that Fox has greenlit a new reality, variety series starring the Ozzy Osbourne clan. If you liked "Donny and Marie" in the 1970s (I most certainly did NOT) then this might be the show for you.

According to Fox reality czar Mike Darnell, who has single-handedly put more of these horrid so-called reality shows on the air than anyone in the history of TV, there will be six episodes, starting with a Christmas special, and the show may be packaged with "American Idol."

The series would be produced by the same people who have foisted "America's Got Talent," perhaps the most mis-named progrgam on the air right now.

The series would star Ozzy, Sharon, Jack and Kelly, the four Osbournes who appeared on the eponymous MTV series a few seasons ago.

Hey, who said originality was dead in TV, anyway?

MONDAY'S BEST BETS: "The Bachelorette" (ABC, 8 p.m.) takes over the airwaves tonight with three full hours as DeAnna makes her choice, bumping "The Mole" off the schedule this week. Perhaps they should combine the concepts, make one of the "Bachelorette" guys a mole, trying to undermine the whole courting process. That's great reality TV!

NBC counters with its own reality lineup of "American Gladiators," "Nashville Star" and "Dateline."

"The Middleman" (ABC Family, 10 p.m.) continues to get good buzz as a spoof on spy series, though I haven't had a chance to catch up with it yet.

Finally, a new "Weeds" and "Secret Diary of a Call Girl" begin on Showtime at 10 p.m.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy Fourth!

Have a safe holiday. See you next week.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Macon's McBrayer Among Emmy Semifinalists

Way to go, Emmys! In a bold move I never dreamed possible, the Emmy voters have put Mary McDonnell on the list of 10 semifinalists for Lead Actress (Drama) for her role on "Battlestar Galactica."

I've been calling for this ever since the show debuted, but Emmy has been notorious for ignoring quality shows in the fantasy genre like "BSG" or "Buffy," for example.

Here's the list of the Lead Actress nominees, courtesy of
Patricia Arquette, Medium
Glenn Close, Damages
Minnie Driver, The Riches
Sally Field, Brothers & Sisters
Mariska Hargitay, Law and Order: SVU
Holly Hunter, Saving Grace
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
Mary McDonnell, Battlestar Galactica
Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer
Jeanne Tripplehorn, Big Love

Any field with Close and Field in it is going to be tough, as those two are shoe-ins to reach the finals. Moss is an interesting choice, since I feel her role is more of a supporting one. Why the Emmys love Arquette is beyond me.

Best Actor (Drama) semifinalists include:
Gabriel Byrne, In Treatment
Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Patrick Dempsey, Grey's Anatomy
Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Eddie Izzard, The Riches
Hugh Laurie, House
Denis Leary, Rescue Me
James Spader, Boston Legal

Seeing Cranston on this list is another reason for me to smile, since I think he turned in the performance of his career. Actually, except for the inexplicable love the Emmys show Spader, this is a pretty darn good list, and paring it down to five is an unenviable task.

Macon's own Jack McBrayer ("30 Rock") is among the semifinalists for Supporting Actor (Comedy):
Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men
Kevin Dillon, Entourage
Justin Kirk, Weeds
Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
John Krasinski, The Office
Jack McBrayer, 30 Rock
Tracy Morgan, 30 Rock
Jeremy Piven, Entourage
Fred Willard, Back to You
Rainn Wilson, The Office

Again, another fine list. It will be interesting to see how the Emmys thin it out with so many nominees on the same shows.

On the Supporting Actress (Comedy) side, the biggest shock is that last year's winner, Jaime Pressley of "My Name Is Earl," didn't even make the cut. Here's who did:
Kristin Chenoweth, Pushing Daisies
Conchata Ferrell, Two and a Half Men
Jenna Fischer, The Office
Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock
Judith Light, Ugly Betty
Elizabeth Perkins, Weeds
Amy Poehler, Saturday Night Live
Jean Smart, Samantha Who?
Holland Taylor, Two and a Half Men
Vanessa Williams, Ugly Betty

It's a pretty decent group, though again, "Two and a Half Men" continues to be more popular with the Emmys than it should be. Chenoweth, Fischer and Krakowski are all very good picks, and I was pleasantly surprised for the talented Poehler. One big disappointment - no Cheryl Hines of "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

Finally, Gold Derby also released the list of Best Guest Actress (Comedy):
Polly Bergen, Desperate Housewives
Edie Falco, 30 Rock
Vivica A. Fox, Curb Your Enthusiasm
Kathryn Joosten, Desperate Housewives
Annie Potts, Ugly Betty
Carrie Fisher, 30 Rock
Shirley Knight, Desperate Housewives
Jane Lynch, Two and a Half Men
Amy Ryan, The Office
Sarah Silverman, Monk
Elaine Stritch, 30 Rock

While I'm thrilled to see Amy Ryan's name on here for her terrific guest turn on "The Office," I'm disappointed that Sarah Chalke's name was omitted for her work on "How I Met Your Mother." With three actresses listed for "30 Rock," it will be interesting to see how that shakes out, though I can't imagine the voters will leave Edie Falco off their ballot.

THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: I was chided last week for not mentioning "Last Comic Standing" (NBC, 8 p.m.), so here is me mentioning it. It's followed by a new "Fear Itself," easily one of the most uneven series of the summer.

ABC continues with its documentary/reality show "Hopkins" at 10 p.m., which will air opposite a new "Swingtown" on CBS.

Finally, a full hour of comedy on TBS beginning at 9 p.m. with "The Bill Engvall Show" and followed by "My Boys" at 9:30 p.m.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

More Emmy Leaks continues to lead the media in getting out the Emmy semifinalists. They leaked three categories yesterday, including Best Supporting Actor (Drama), Supporting Actress (Drama) and Lead Actress (Comedy).

Among the semifinalists are, for Supporting Actor:
Naveen Andrews, Lost
Bruce Dern, Big Love
Christian Clemenson, Boston Legal
Ted Danson, Damages
Michael Emerson, Lost
Zeljko Ivanek, Damages
T.R. Knight, Grey's Anatomy
William Shatner, Boston Legal
John Slattery, Mad Men
Blair Underwood, In Treatment
Jake Weber, Medium

In May, I singled out Danson, Emerson and Slattery as very deserving nominees, so I'm glad to see them there. Last year's winner, Terry O'Quinn of "Lost," isn't nominated this year. Whether it was his choice or the Academy's is unknown (though I'm guessing he's not pulling a Katherine Heigl and blaming the writers for weak storylines). Why "Medium" and "Boston Legal" continue to get Emmy love will always be a mystery to me, but nice call by the voters on the always-reliable Ivanek, a longtime favorite for me since his "Homicide" days.

For Supporting Actress, Drama:
Jane Alexander, Tell Me You Love Me
Candice Bergen, Boston Legal
Rose Byrne, Damages
Jill Clayburgh, Dirty Sexy Money
Sharon Gless, Burn Notice
Rachel Griffiths, Brothers & Sisters
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
S. Epatha Merkerson, Law & Order
Sandra Oh, Grey's Anatomy
Dianne Wiest, In Treatment
Chandra Wilson, Grey's Anatomy

Connie Britton, who last year submitted herself as a lead, went the supporting actress route this year and was left off the list, which is a shame. Griffiths, Oh and Wilson aren't surprises, though it remains to be seen whether the "Grey's" actresses will be helped or hindered by the Heigl controversy. Byrne is in a tough spot; no way she submits herself against Glenn Close as a lead, but at the same time, the whole series is from her character's perspective, so she's hardly supporting, either.

Bergen, Alexander, Clayburgh, Gless and Wiest (and probably Merkerson) are long-time Academy favorites, so they may comprise the entire list of finalists. I noted Hendricks in the May blog, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

For Lead Actress, Comedy:
Christina Applegate, Samantha Who?
Marcia Cross, Desperate Housewives
America Ferrera, Ugly Betty
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Anna Friel, Pushing Daisies
Felicity Huffman, Desperate Housewives
Eva Longoria Parker, Desperate Housewives
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, New Adventures of Old Christine
Mary-Louise Parker, Weeds
Sarah Silverman, The Sarah Silverman Program

I had hoped/figured Ferrera (last year's winner), Louis-Dreyfus, Fey and Friel for nominations, so those are some good picks. The "Desperate" ladies aren't really a surprise, though Cross has been the one I think who has shined the most since the series began. I figured Applegate and Parker would get some support as well. The big surprise is Silverman, whose show is kind of a cross between sitcom and variety. Will the Emmy voters risk what she might say during a live acceptance speech?

I'll post more nominations when they are leaked.

SAG NEWS: The contract between SAG and the studios expired yesterday at midnight with no new deal in place, but we're still a long way away from a work stoppage. The studios presented SAG with a proposal, which the actors' union will take a few days to study.

But SAG is in a tough spot, since some big name actors like Tom Hanks are pushing for a deal while others like Jack Nicholson want to keep negotiating, dividing the rank and file down the middle. In addition, with deals signed by the Writers', Producers' and Directors' guilds, and a tentative deal reached with the other actors' union, AFTRA, the framework for a deal with SAG is in place, leaving not a lot of wriggle room. Hopefully, the two sides will come together soon.

R.I.P. DON S. DAVIS: The veteran character-actor, who died Monday from a heart attack, was 65. Davis was a familiar face in a lot of TV series, including "Twin Peaks," "The X-Files" and "Stargate SG-1." If you think he played a lot of military officers, there's probably a reason -- Davis served as a U.S. Army officer before becoming an actor.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BETS: "Nova" is beginning a new "ScienceNow" series (PBS, 9 p.m.) throughout the summer that looks at various new scientific issues. Tonight's installment centers on genetic profiling.

Everything else is so-called reality fare, so pick what you will.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Why? Why? Why?

In the early 1990s, Granada TV in the UK came up with "Cracker." Written by Jimmy McGovern and starring Robbie Coltrane ("Harry Potter") as Fitz, a brilliant police psychologist whose own personal life is a mess, it was one of the most ingenious TV series ever devised.

ABC ran a very poor copy of it in the late '90s, starring the late Robert Pastorelli ("Murphy Brown") as Fitz. Comparing the US version to the UK version is a bit like comparing dinner theatre to Broadway. Needless to say, fans of the original series tuned out, and no one else ever tuned in.

Not taking the hint that once you've achieved perfection, you can't really copy it, Granada has sold the "Cracker" rights to TNT, which is developing a new version of the show, probably to make it a companion series to "The Closer," which in itself is a pale imitation of the UK's much-superior "Prime Suspect."

What the network executives don't get is that Fitz was as much Coltrane's creation as it was McGovern's, and you can't just recast such an indelible role. It'd be like trying to do a version of "The Sopranos" in the UK with someone other than James Gandolfini calling himself "Tony Soprano." Fans of the original just wouldn't buy it, no matter who was cast.

It's not the first sign that Hollywood is running out of good TV ideas. ABC has a new version of "Cupid" in the works, even though the original ran on the same network for one season in the '90s. The original "Cupid" was one of the cleverest concepts ever done on TV, starring a young Jeremy Piven and Paula Marshall in the lead roles. Even though creator Rob Thomas ("Veronica Mars") is helming the remake, he'll be hard-pressed to recreate the chemistry of the original.

For every show like "The Office" that makes a successful transition across the pond, you get a lot more like "Coupling" that don't. And of you are doing a remake of an older TV series, then why not be like "Battlestar Galactica," where at least the producers put an entirely new spin on the original story, surpassing the original.

And if American TV producers love British TV so much, then why not just buy the originals? Shows like "Hustle," "MI-5" and "Doctor Who" have proven to be very successful imports when shown on American cable, both critically and commercially.

While I'm glad Hollywood recognizes how great the original "Cracker" was (one of my Top 10 best ever series), they should realize you can't make lightning strike twice in the same place.

CASTING NEWS: OK, the rant is over. Speaking of "The Office," Academy Award nominee Amy Ryan is reprising her role as Dunder Mifflin's new HR manager after a terrific guest star appearance in last season's finale. Ryan is signed on for at least five episodes (and hopefully more). She had great chemistry with Steve Carell as a possible love interest, and her character's scenes with Kevin (the result of a practical joke by the staff) was perhaps the single-most clever bit by any sitcom this past season.

'MAD' CONTEST: With the release of Season 1 of "Mad Men" on DVD this week, AMC is holding a contest that allows people to film themselves performing a scene from the series, then uploading it to the channel's Web site. The winner will get a free trip to L.A. to appear in a walk-on role in the series. For details, visit:

TUESDAY'S BEST BETS: You know, I checked out ABC's summer entries "Wipeout" and "I Survived a Japanese Game Show" during the points where Georgia was choking away the College World Series last week, and they weren't half-bad. Are either great TV? No. But are they amusing enough to whittle away the summer? Very much so. They kick off at 8 p.m.

Less amusing is Fox's reality entries "The Moment of Truth" and "Hell's Kitchen," also beginning at 8 p.m.

A new family-oriented series called "Secret Life of an American Teenager" (ABC Family, 8 p.m.) debuts tonight, starring Molly Ringwald and Ernie Hudson. It centers around a teen pregnancy. The reviews have been uneven, so I don't think we're going to be seeing another "Juno" here.