Friday, September 29, 2006

Overnight TV Ratings: "Ugly Betty" Is Beautiful

Big news for ABC: Mediaweek's Marc Berman reports that "Ugly Betty" had a terrific launch last night, virtually tying "Survivor" and proving a potent lead-in to "Grey's Anatomy." Both ABC and CBS are vying for bragging rights, while NBC -- which owned Thursday nights for almost two decades, is a distant third. Let's hope "Ugly Betty" can improve on its pilot creatively and find the right blend of telenovela silliness and real characters. The first episode wasn't quite there, but it did have a nice sweetness most shows lack.

8 p.m.
1. Survivor -- 16.6 million
2. Ugly Betty -- 16.09 million
3. My Names Is Earl -- 8.25 million/The Office -- 7.68 million
4. Til Death (two episodes) -- 5.75 mil/5.44 million
5. Smallville -- 5.04 million

9 p.m.
1. CSI -- 23.49 million
2. Grey's Anatomy -- 23.31 million
3. Deal Or No Deal -- 9.31 million
4. Celebrity Duets -- 4.02 million
5. Supernatural -- 3.81 million

10 p.m.
1. Shark -- 14.72 million
2. ER -- 14.27 million
3. Six Degrees -- 10.81 million

Regina Spektor At Town Hall

I've been seeing a lot of concerts lately and my run of luck continued with the delightful show by Regina Spektor at Town Hall. She's clearly another talent in it for the long haul. It began with her standing on stage alone, tapping the microphone for percussion and singing a song a capella. Other various touches -- clapping her hands while playing the piano or using one hand to beat out a rhythm on the piano bench, seemed awfully avant garde. I suppose anything out of the ordinary can seem shocking. When Spektor strapped on an electric guitar and sang another song, I had the giddy thought that all the instruments strewn about the stage were solely for her and that she'd play them all one by one. Sadly, that didn't happen and when the band came out she sometimes seemed a tad overwhelmed by them. (Spektor has mostly performed solo.) But her songs were witty and fun and suddenly when you least expected it she'd hit emotional paydirt. And her voice -- I didn't appreciate how terrific it is from her recordings. The audience was extremely passionate -- reinforcing my impression about how organic her development has been. Spektor has recorded four albums, toured, built a fan base, improved as a performer in confidence and songwriting, all without reams of overwhelming press attention. This is how it's supposed to work. Can't wait to hear what she does next.

Book Roundup -- Abundance, Raven's Gate and The Gallery

Plowed through some books in the last few weeks.

Abundance: A Novel Of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund -- Naslund made waves with her bestseller "Ahab's Wife," which cheekily told a backstory from "Moby Dick." After a contemporary novel that came and went, Naslund has returned to a historical setting, this time to tell the story of Marie Antoinette. She owes a great debt to Antonia Fraser's bio "Marie Antoinette: The Journey." (It's mentioned first in the acknowledgments.) Both are very sympathetic to Antoinette, with Naslund deftly working in some awareness of Marie's blindness to her actions. The chapters are short and brief, much like Marie's nimble but easily distracted mind. It does deepen a bit towards the end as the French Revolution takes over, but not so much as one might want. The book is ultimately a bit superficial, but pretty and distracting.

Raven's Gate by Anthony Horowitz -- Horowitz is the creator of my favorite TV mystery show, "Foyle's War" and the best-selling kids books "Alex Rider" (think a teenage James Bond.) "Raven's Gate" starts a new five book series about another 14 year old boy with huge responsibilities: this time, to save the world from the Old Ones, the evil that has been lurking behind closed Gates for millennia. Not much character development to sink your teeth into, though the series picks up quite a bit in book two (which I've just started). Still, there's a nice horror movie feel to the setting, with our hero in an odd little British village where everyone is naturally up to their necks in witchcraft. It's like an episode of "The Avengers" or one of those Seventies British horror films where menace can be found in placid country life.

The Gallery by John Horne Burns -- this is a keeper. It's a novel about life in Naples in 1944, published just a few years after WW II was over. I don't know what prompted me to pick it up (maybe the reference to a gay subplot - unusual in a book this old). It's a very odd duck -- chapters that serve as travelogue/essay/ memoir for Burns and what he saw alternate with nine sketches of different people in Naples, everyone from a Red Cross volunteer who can't be bothered to associate with common soldiers to the owner of a wildly popular bar who doesn't seem to realize all her clients are gay to a soldier looking for a little companionship. Sometimes Burns gets high-falutin' in his observations, but the sketches give a great feel for life during wartime. Especially memorable was the depiction of an outdoor hospital ward for soldiers with VD and other sexually transmitted diseases. The new drug penicillin meant everyone had to get shots every three hours for days and days until they'd had 60 shots in all. The setting is so fascinating you can't believe it's never been shown in movies or other books. The book certainly isn't bleak -- the characters are far too specific and alive and often self-aware for that. But there is something...pitiless in the way Burns nails these people, from that tiresome Red Cross volunteer to an incompetent major in intelligence who oversees the censoring of letters headed home. Burns is unsparing in his depictions, but just when you might start to get gloomy he allows a little possibility for joy. Just a little. And for a novel from 1947, the casual depiction of soldiers sometimes interested in other soldiers or the local men rather than the local women is eye-opening. You'll find a similar blase attitude in the books by James Jones (like "The Thin Red Line"), but since Burns was gay it's more interwoven throughout the book. There's one brief battle scene towards the end but few books paint a clearer picture of what it was actually like to be there. A lost gem.

"Washington Post" Gets Scooped Again Over Woodward

Bob Woodward is a law unto himself at the Washington Post. The argument was that his exceptional access and best-selling books brought prestige to the Post and besides they got to excerpt the highlights in their paper. But the last few times around the block (including the revelation of Deep Throat), the Post can't seem to avoid getting scooped by other papers, even when it's about the stuff they're going to print from their top reporter. Isn't that a little embarrassing? On the other hand, Woodward can reclaim a little dignity from the people claiming he is a Bush lapdog since the new book reportedly doesn't make them look good.

Moby On Courtney Love

Moby says he has hundreds of songs written for his next album, but not all of them are good. I'll buy that. At the end of this short item, he says he Courtney Love considered going with Moby as producer of her next album before sticking with the girl power of Linda Perry. "Courtney sent me a CD of demos and I thought the music was remarkably good," he says. "It reminded me of Irish protest songs or old Bob Dylan. It was just her with an acoustic guitar." Love is also filming her comeback from rehab for a reality show or documentary because nothing helps recovery like a camera crew following you around everywhere.

"Dirty Dancing" Will Not Die

A stage musical version was a huge hit in Australia and now it's tearing it up in the West End, with about $20 million in advance sales. If housewives and teenage girls are willing to go again and again and again, just like they did with the movie, this could run for ages. Yes, it will come to New York and -- again -- make "Mamma Mia" look like Shakespeare. By the way, the story casually says the "Dirty Dancing" soundtrack sold 41 million copies -- I don't think so. (That would rank it in the Top 3-selling albums of all time, I think.) "Dirty Dancing" sold 11 million copies in the US. "More Dirty Dancing" sold 4 million copies. Even lumping them together, that's 15 million copies. It seems highly unlikely they sold almost TWICE as well overseas as in the US. (Did Patrick Swayze's "She's Like The Wind" score big in France?) More lazy reporting.

BBC Gets Boldly Innovative

Yes, the BBC launches The Next Big Thing, a talent contest to discover an unsigned musical act (they must be under 18 and perform their own material). My God, what will they think of next?

Peter Jackson "Bored With Films"

This is not good news: director Peter Jackson is getting into video games and finds movies less and less interesting. I don't mind his finding other creative outlets, but he's "bored" by movies? Just when he has the power and ability to make anything he wants, from the Temeraire dragon books to "Lovely Bones?" He could at least make "The Hobbit" while Ian McKellen is still young enough and before he hangs it up for good. Besides, Jackson was just getting good, since most of his pre-LOTR movies were scattershot at best. It's not like he's so completely mastered the medium that there are no challenges left for him. Besides, I want "The Hobbit."

Spain Embraces Almodovar -- Thanks But No Thanks

Almodovar felt snubbed by the Spanish film world when they ignored his movie "Bad Education." Now they've turned around and chosen "Volvere" as the Spanish entry for Best Foreign Film (shouldn't that be changed to Best International Film?) and all is well. Too bad for Almodovar: his movie is a serious possibility for Best Picture. But with the foreign film award virtually locked up, the Oscars will be far less likely to honor him twice. That's probably what stopped "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" from winning Best Picture over the ultimate champ "Gladiator." Everyone knew it would win Best Foreign Film so some probably skipped it when choosing Best Picture. Almodovar would have been better off getting snubbed again and leaving the path wide open to the biggest Oscar of all. No foreign film has ever won Best Picture.

Oliver Stone Wakes Up

Oliver Stone claimed the "overreaction" to the attacks had wasted resources, encouraged fanatics and made him "ashamed to be an American."

He told a press conference in Spain: "From September 12 on, the incident was politicised and it has polarised the entire world. It is a shame because it is a waste of energy to see that the entire world five years later is still convulsed in the grip of 9/11."

He added: "It's a waste of energy away from things that do matter which is poverty, death, disease, the planet itself and fixing things in our own homes rather than fighting wars with others.

"Mr Bush has set America back 10 years, maybe more."
I hear the score for his next film is being done by the Dixie Chicks.

NY Fillm Festival Launches Tonight

AO Scott in the NY Times has a nice essay defending and explaining the rather unique position of the festival. I used to think it was great, until I started going to Cannes and paid attention to Sundance and Toronto and so on. Now I'm almost completely indifferent to the New York Film Festival -- nothing it does really matters. It doesn't matter what films they choose or don't choose (one of this year's notable omissions is the extremely New York-centri "Shortbus"). Scott argues they are about cineman while other festivals are crass and hungry for sensation, for markets, for discoveries. OK, but for anyone who cares, the NYFF policy of choosing a select (obvious) few means it is irrelevant. Besides, if its choices truly were the best-of-the-best from all the other festivals and its stamp of approval meant something, this might be interesting. Instead, like all festivals, the NYFF eventually becomes locked into showcasing old favorites again and again and again. My friend directorboy says I'm thinking about it all wrong: this isn't a festival for film nuts who will stand in line and go to four movies a day for two weeks. (ie students and journalists). This is a film festival for New Yorkers, for film buffs with jobs. They show their movies in the evening and people who would otherwise never be able to get within a hundred miles of these movies get a chance to see them here. It's a nice way of thinking about it, but don't some of those people go to TriBeCa screenings at night? And are they angry about all the other screenings during the day? I don't think so.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"Lost" Season Two Loses Ground In UK

Just as we get ready for season three of "Lost," season two concludes its run in the UK on Channel 4. Season One averaged 4.1 million viewers. Season Two averaged 2.7 million, with the episodes leading up to the finale falling as low as 1.9 million. "Desperate Housewives" made good at least with the critics. Can "Lost" do the same or is its plot so tied up in knots that it would take Alexander the Great to undo it.

Justin Bitchslaps Clay -- Billboard's Top 10

If only a few more housewives had made it to the record store, Clay Aiken might have unseated Justin Timberlake on Billboard's Top Albums list. Aiken was only 12,000 copies behind the total Justin sold this week. Outside the Top 10, Lupe Fiasco debuted at #12 and Elton John hit #18 with "The Captain and the Kid." Meanwhile, the media seems to be swallowing Clay Aiken's insistence that those online videos were not of him, but of a guy that looked like him and that the numerous claims by male prostitutes that they slept with Clay are totally bogus. People Magazine went in depth, but everyone else -- like CNN -- just gently alludes to it and moves on.

1. Justin Timberlake -- FutureSex/LoveSounds
2. Clay Aiken -- A Thousand Different Ways
3. Fergie -- The Dutchess
4. Kenny Chesney -- LIVE: Live Those Songs Again
5. John Mayer -- Continuum
6. Beyonce -- B'day
7. Diana Krall -- From This Moment On
8. Chingy -- Hoodstar
9. Hinder -- Extreme Behavior
10. Bob Dylan -- Modern Times

"Sony Read" Player -- E-Books Are Here

Are you ready to tote around a portable reader that can store roughly 80 books and/or PDF files and other documents? Sony has just debuted the Reader for $350, which does all that on a rechargeable battery that can last for 7500 page turns. Here's a link to the Sony page and to the Connect eBook store.

A few thoughts: someday, a portable electronic reader will be commonplace and the killer app will be newspapers and magazines. Why buy disposable newspapers when you could just download the entire print edition onto a portable lightwweight device for the same money? No bulky transportation costs for the newspaper, no bulky weight for you. Same low price. It just makes sense.

But the price of the Sony Reader needs to come down fast: $350 for the privilege of buying eBooks is too high. The player should be a loss leader to drive sales of the titles. And going to the bookstore creates all sorts of confusion, since prices range all over the map from $15 to $20 for current bestsellers and new releases to wacky in-between numbers like $5.59 and $13.56. Suddenly the uniform pricing of iTunes seems a lot more appealing. And what about people who buy a hard copy? They should get a free or extremely discounted version of the same book for online. Yes, I know audio books don't come free, but that is a whole new production, while eBooks are the same thing in a slightly different format. Should I really have to buy Nora Ephron's new title twice at full price if I want the hardcover for my home and a portable version for taking on a plane ride? No, it doesn't make sense. It would be like having to buy multiple copies of a new album -- one on CD for the home, one for my iPod, one for my car, one for my boat, etc. Until they deal with these issues and make eBooks an adjunct or bonus feature of hardcovers/paperback or at most maybe a $2 bonus feature if you can type in your receipt number for your purchase, eBooks will remaind an oddity. Book publishers are mired in sluggish sales. Don't you think offering portability via an eBook should be an added bonus of buying a hardcover, rather than an entirely new expense? If you like the author to buy a version to download onto an eBook, surely you like them enough to want a permanent copy. And if you buy a permanent copy, why should you have to pay again to get it electronically?

Overnight TV Ratings -- "Gilmore Girls" Down

Here are the overnight figures from Mediaweek's Marc Berman:

8 p.m.
1. Dancing With The Stars (ABC) -- 17.84 million
2. House (FOX) -- 14.22 million
3. NCIS -- (CBS) 13.8 million
4. Heroes (pilot repeat) -- 4.96 million
5. Gilmore Girls (CW) -- 4.56 million

9 p.m.
1. Dancing With The Stars -- 17.84 million/Help Me Help You -- 11.93 million
2. Law & Order: Criminal Intent (NBC) -- 10.44 million
3. The Unit (CBS) -- 12.03 million
4. Standoff (Fox) -- 8.11 million
5. Runaway pilot repeat (CW) -- 1.73 million

10 p.m.
1. Law & Order: SVU (NBC) -- 14.34 million
2. Boston Legal (ABC) -- 9.97 million
3. Smith (CBS) -- 9.57 million

In short, "Gilmore' opened lower than last season, Ted Danson's new sitcom "Help Me" collapsed after "Dancing Wiht The Stars" and "Standoff" is similarly wasting the massive lead-in of "House." "Smith" too is a little weak, but not painfully so. Once I've seen "Friday Night Lights," I'll rundown all the fall shows.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Did You Watch "Heroes" Last Night?

You weren't alone. The show did very well, improving on its lead-in and growing in its second half hour (always a good sign). It could be the first breakout hit of the fall. I found it a bit ponderous, but I'll tune in next week. At least it's different. Unlike so many of the other serialized shows, I'm actually looking forward to week two rather than feeling trapped. And "The Class" -- whose pilot I thought was awful, only to see everyone else praise it -- dropped hard in its second week. Maybe I was right after all.

"A Chorus Line" Still A Singular Sensation

It's playing to 97% capacity in its first week of previews. I think the curious would have waited until the show was closer to opening. So this isn't a casual event -- it's a sign that "A Chrous Line" is still a blockbuster draw. No, the audition process doesn't seem cruel and shocking and no one will gasp when one of the chorus boys comes out. If it gets good reviews, the sky is the limit.

Right-Wingers Turn On "Jesus Camp"

In short, they don't get it. They thought the movie -- a documentary about a religious summer camp -- would be a big plus. But then they found out that the things they said and did horrified most decent Americans. Now suddenly, they think the movie is left wing propoganda. The only problem is that everything in the movie is accurate and fair -- there hasn't been one accusation of the filmmakers taking anything out of context or distorting what goes on at the camp.

Beck and Puppets

Inseperable, apparently. He's also a Scientologist, not that he cares whether you know or care -- though he does care, apparently.

PBS Station Scared To Show "Marie Antoinette" Documentary Because Of Bush's FCC Fine Threats

This is what we've come to. A PBS documentary about Marie Antoinette features glimpses of 200 year old pencil sketches of nude people having sex, along with explict discussions of Louis XVI's impotency. Now I'm sure TONS of kids tune into PBS documentaries in hopes of seeing pencil sketches that will light their filthy minds on fire. But at least one PBS station -- in Denver, no less -- won't air the film because they're worried about the draconian fines the FCC might lay on them. It's now official: we are all hostage to the moral beliefs of a few thousand cranks at Focus on the Family and the American Family Association. If there's any chance these people might not like something (whether they'd seen it or not) and might email a generic complaint to the FCC, 300 million Americans are denied the chace to see something. How about adjusting the FCC system so that at least ONE PERCENT of the number of people who actually watched a show have to complain before any proceedings begin. In other words. If 2 million people watched the "Marie Antoinette" documentary, at least 20,000 complaints would have to be filed. That is setting the bar pretty darn low, don't you think? But the truth is that almost NONE of the complaints (mostly from people who admitted they never watched the shows in question) would rise to this level. Am I trying to block angry citizens? No, I'm just suggesting that if one in one hundred people AREN'T offended enough to take action, then clearly there's no reason the federal government should get involved. But what do I know. I'm just a conservative.

"Boondocks" Comic Strip Is Gone

It's now official that the "Boondocks" comic strip -- which has been on hiatus for more than a year -- won't be coming back. Creator Aaron McGruder is focusing on the very funny TV series version for Comedy Central. I broke the news that the TV series was being delayed till 2007 for the NY Post. But McGruder ALSO all but admitted that the comic strip would be indefinitely delayed at the time, but for some reason the editors downplayed that huge admission. It's one reason I left the NY Post.

Final Lemony Snicket Out October 10

Rarely have I been as jealous of someone as I am of the creator of Lemony Snicket and A Series Of Unfortunate Events, a very clever series of books -- smartly packaged and promoted -- that spun on one very clever idea of being about three orphans to whom every calamity imaginable happens. The best part of the books are their wordplay and the constant insistence that you really would be better off not to read them at all, since they're so very unpleasant. Midway through the 13 book series, they did get rather formulaic and repetitive, but still all in all a very witty group of books. Oh if ONLY I'd thought of it. The final book comes out October 10, along with a "soundtrack" tie-in from Stephen Merritt, with song titles like "Smile! No ONe Cares How You Feel" and "The World Is A Very Scary Place." Great fun.

Nellie McKay's New CD Out On Oct 31

One day after I reported in the NY Daily News that Nellie McKay's album would be out October 31 -- finally -- Billboard confirms the deal. Definitely one of the most anticipated records of the year.

Scissor Sisters Rule The World!

Or at least the UK, where they have the #1 single (again) and their album debuts at #1 as well. Also interesting to see the Killers at #2 with their new single, despite being mauled by Rolling Stone in the album review section.

Hello

In case you don't get the Sunday NY Daily News, here is my cover story on female artists performing in Manhattan over the next few weeks. You get four full profiles -- KT Tunstall, India.Arie, Michelle Branch of The Wreckers and Audra McDonald -- for the price of one.

And here are dual profiles of Chazz Palminteri and director Dito Montiel for his autobiographical film A Guide To Recognizing Yourn Saints.

Friday, September 22, 2006

And Then...South Carolina

Eight stories in three days -- I'm exhausted. Look for two small pieces on "A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints" -- Chazz Palminteri and the director Dito Montiel. Then look for a big spread on female singers coming to town in the next few weeks -- KT Tunstall, India.Arie, Audra McDonald, Michelle Branch of The Wreckers, Regina Spektor and Nellie McKay. I'm completely knackered: constant interviews, transcribing, writing and a barrage of questions from my editor from Tuesday to late Thursday. And now I'm off to help my brother move into his new home in South Carolina. See you Tuesday. (I fly back Monday afternoon.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I'm Drowning In Interview Tapes!

Had to file two stories connected to the movie "A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints" -- one on actor Chazz Palminteri and another on the director Dito Montiel, who wrote the memoir the movie is based on. Then a last minute cover story on female singer-songwriters has had me up since 7 am (the crack of dawn for me) interviewing Audra McDonald, KT Tunstall, Michelle Branch of The Wreckers and soon India.arie. Plus I have to transcribe and file it all by 6 p.m. at the absolute latest. Aaargh. So sorry for the lack of surfing today.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

TV Overnights: "Studio 60" Opens Well (Sort Of)

Mediaweek's Marc Berman has the overnight ratings:

8 p.m. Deal or No Deal (NBC) -- 15.6 mil
The Class (CBS) 10.5 mil/How I Met Your Mother -- 10.4 mil
Prison Break (Fox) -- 9.4 mil
Wife Swap (ABC) -- 7.1 mil

9 p.m. Deal or No Deal (NBC) -- 15.6 mil
Two and a Half Men (CBS) -- 15 mil/Old Christine (CBS) -- 12 mil
Wife Swap (ABC) 8.7 mil
Vanished (Fox) -- 7.4 mil

10 p.m. CSI: Miami (CBS) -- 17.2 mil
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip -- 13.3 mil
Supernanny -- 7 mil

The Class did much better than I expected anchoring the night, but let's see how it holds. "Studio 60" retained most of its lead-in, but faded in the second half hour. In other words, people weren't thrilled with what they saw. And how lame is ABC's schedule?

"Cars" -- Pixar's Latest Triumph

When the Pixar animated movie "Cars" opened, everyone yelled and screamed that its opening weekend wasn't big enough, that the movie didn't have the wide appeal of the other Pixar movies, that Disney had overpaid for Pixar and it was a questionable decision and on and on. They were wrong, of course. Remember the Popsurfing rule for judging box office: the only numbers that matter are the budget and the final gross. (And overseas gross and DVD sales and so on, but you get the picture -- the opening weekend is very important, but not as important as those other numbers.) "Cars" opened well, but a bit lower than the previous few Pixar movies. And so what if it had been a more modest hit? Not every Pixar movie can be a home run and hitting a double would not be a sign of the Apocalypse. That said, "Cars" IS another home run, which is amazing. It's grossed $242 million in the US. That's right in line with "Toy Story 2," ($245 mil), "Monsters Inc" ($255 mil) and "The Incredibles" ($261 mil). The wild card is "Finding Nemo," which grossed $339 mil. ("Toy Story" grossed $191 mil and Pixar's "flop" is "A Bug's Life" which hit $162 mil.) Overseas, "Cars" is cruising towards $200 mil and counting. In fact, worldwide the lesser appeal of "Cars" means it will come on the low end of total grosses. But DVD sales will be great and only an idiot would consider those numbers a failure.

Fox Launches Religious Movie Shingle

A day after finding out major studios kowtow to hate groups like Focus on the Family, we find out that Twentieth Century Fox is launching a religious-based shingle called FoxFaith: Movies You Can Believe In. (Love the slogan.) Frankly, it sounds pretty demeaning: 12 movies a year with micro-mini budgets of less than $5 million each. Family movies should be part of every studio's budget and they certainly shouldn't be relegated to the low-end of the movie budget. The first release -- "Love's Abiding Joy" -- only cost $2 million and is actually the fourth movie in a very popular TV movie franchise on (I believe) the Hallmark Channel. That series began with "Love Comes Softly." In other words, they're launching this franchise outreach to Christians with not a glorified TV movie but an ACTUAL TV movie. God deserves better. At the opposite end of the morality scale, LionsGate is launching a horror-themed video on demand shingle called FearNet. No word if they're reaching out to Satanists.

Showtime Renews "Brotherhood"

I feel sorry for Showtime. They've delivered some very good shows that get tons of press, shows like "Weeds" that unfortunately can't seem to get arrested when it comes to viewers. They must shake their heads and wonder what they're doing wrong. The only shows that have clicked commercially are the gay ones: "Queer As Folk" and "The L Word." Their most recent drama -- "Brotherhood" -- got exceptional reviews but no one watched it, including me. (It's hard to commit to a show you think will disappear right away.) I just got the DVD set of Season One and was wondering whether I should tackle it. Would anyone care what I thought about a cancelled series no one had watched? Happily, Showtime is sticking with it and bringing "Brotherhood" back for a second season. At the same time, HBO is cancelling its sitcom "Lucky Louie." It's the rare pay cable show that doesn't get at least two seasons (even "Carnivale" did). Now if only I could go back in time and get a renewal for "Deadwood" and NBC's "American Dreams."

Is Priv8Pete Right About Baseball?

A day after arguing with Priv8Pete about the baseball postseason, an almost identical plan to the one he outlines is in the NY Post: it calls for two wild card entries who have to face off against each other before meeting the team with the best record in their league. It all makes sense, I'll admit, except for the underlying annoyance of still MORE games being added to the schedule. Harumph, he may have a point about all the positives, though.

Derek Jacobi: Needlepoint Whiz

A fine portrait of actor Derek Jacobi as he stars in the west End revival of A Voyage Round My Father. (If only I were rich, I'd be off to London four times a year and swallow up all the theater I could.) Bedridden as a lad, Jacobi became a whiz at needlepoint and embroidery and tells of how moving it was when his father recently passed away and Jacobi found a stash of pillowcases all cross-stitched when he was ten. But the kicker is a puzzling, witty anecdote involving Noel Coward, with whom a very young Jacobi spent a charming evening at dinner and then drinks in Coward's hotel room:
It was half-past one in the morning. Green as grass, young Mr Jacobi rose to leave. "Derek," said the great man, "might I ask you a very personal question." All atremble lest the lovely evening be spoiled by a lunge, he stood his ground. "Are you circumcised?" "No, no, no," he answered. "Why do you ask?" Coward replied: "What a pity. What a great pity. You're a very fine actor, Derek, but you'll never be a great actor until you're circumcised." "Why?" he asked, edging for the door. "Freedom, dear boy," Coward explained, mystifyingly. "Freedom!" Jacobi was out the door and away.

"The History Boys" -- Nicholas Hytner Talks

Director Nicholas Hytner talks about the film adaptation of the delightful play "The History Boys." Correction, he writes about it, since everyone in the UK can act and direct and write and probably paint and quote huge swatches of poetry as well. Hytner's charming article offers up this tidbit from the show that was cut before it opened. It plays off the fact that the teacher Hector lets his students try to stump him by quoting old movies or songs that he identifies easily:
There is a scene that didn't make it beyond the first draft of the screenplay, and was even cut eventually from the play - though only in the interests of brevity and with a heavy heart, because, like so much of Alan's discarded material, it was better than most writers' highlights. In it, Rudge challenged Hector to recognise a song by the Pet Shop Boys; Hector, ignorant of all popular culture after about 1950, was completely floored. "You can't expect him to know that," said Timms. "And anyway, it's crap." "So is Gracie Fields," said Rudge, "only that's his crap. This is our crap." I feel something similar about The History Boys: I have no idea yet whether it's a good film, but it's our film.

Where Is Ealing Studios When You Need Them?

A quirky, only-in-England story of amateur thievery seems ready made for the movies. Three men -- including a graphic designer with bad eyesight, a landscape gardener turned teacher who lived with his mother and an ex-military man -- forged artworks and fobbed them off on the pros, including an expert who appears on "Antiques Roadshow" and tells people whether the artwork they have is valuable or a knockoff. What blew my mind was the claim by a former director of the Met in NYC that up to 40% of the art market is composed of forgeries.

National Board Of Review: They Make the Globes Seem Professional

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is often -- and rightly -- mocked as a bit of a scam when it comes to awards. But the National Board of Review might be even worse. I had no idea it was such a charlatan, but Roger Friedman of FoxNews lists their latest travails and mentions that the NBR is just a bunch of people who pay $600 a year so they can screen movies and meet the stars at Q&As. Who knew?

Modern Art? Not So Priceless

The Evening Standard runs a mocking article on modern art, listing the prices the Tate paid for various pieces: 400,000 pounds for a "hatstand" (though they grudgingly admit a Clotheshangar of the North was thrown in for free); 100,000 pounds for a nine minute called "How I Became A Rambling Man," a film where an artist dresses up as a cowboy and sings; and 85,000 pounds for two pieces from an artist, including one called Energy of a Potato, which features a potato connected to an electric meter. They see an outrage; I see truth in advertising. When I buy something called Energy of a Potato, I expect a tater and, yes, some indication of its energy. What's wrong with that? Philistines.

George Clooney and Elie Wiesel: Together Again For The First Time

Where to begin? The teaser on CNN's main page read "Clooney, Wiesel Call For UN Troops In Darfur." (It's gone now.) After years of everyone swearing they would never let something like Rwanda happen again, they are letting it happen again in Darfur. And how do you get media attention to a horror like genocide? By bringing in George Clooney. Good for him, but what a bizarre headline. And I bet you won't hear the far right mock Clooney for this bit of activism because they don't want to highlight the fact of Bush's moral failure to act.

Hannibal Is Back

Thomas Harris just turned in the manuscript for "Hannibal Rising," the novel that depicts the early years of the lovable cannibal. It's due out Dec. 5, a good thing since the movie version is due out in February. This was an odd project all around: Harris notoriously private and slow, but worked on the screenplay BEFORE he finished the book it was (sort of) based on. Maybe the deadline helped him? And maybe he'll overcome the sometimes angry and mocking reviews that greeted "Hannibal."

The Genius Awards

Another round of $500,000 MacArthur awards. Another year where I am overlooked. Why CAN'T you nominate yourself?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Billy Joel Smackdown

Priv8pete and I got into words over Billy Joel. They ran so long, I decided to liberate them from the comments section. It was all sparked by a passing reference I made to Billy Joel's An Innocent Man as "his best album."

PRIV8PETE: You are daft. Innocent Man is not Billy's best album. That would have to be The Stranger, although I prefer Turnstiles or Cold Spring Harbor (I know, his voice is all screwed up, but I like the songs).

ME: I'm daft? YOU'RE daft! I think Billy Joel is primarily a songwriter more than a performer, which he would probably happily agree with. I think many of his tunes will be covered for many years to come. So though he's had huge success in album sales, I don't really approach him that way. It's more one big body of work. That said, most people would agree with you that "The Stranger" is his best album. (Rolling Stone gives two Joel albums -- and his Greatest Hits -- four stars. "The Stranger" and of all things "Storm Front." Huh?) I like The Stranger a lot. I probably blasted out "Glass Houses" even more. And maybe the most-played -- thanks to a massive early lead -- is "Piano Man.' Of course, Cold Spring Harbor has some good songs but for many obvious reasons doesn't even come close as far as being a satisfying album. But song for song, "An Innocent Man" is the most complete and cohesive album. We know them so well that obviously it would be jarring --but honestly, couldn't you take the songs from "Stranger" and "52nd Street" and "Glass Houses" and put them in a bowl, mix them up and then put them randomly on three CDs and hardly tell the difference? It's not a knock on the songs; just pointing out the fact that they're not really ALBUMS so much as collections of individual songs. Not so with "An Innocent Man," which obviously harkens back to doo-wop stylistically. Those songs could ONLY appear on that album and that cohesiveness makes it hold together as a single album better than any other. And yeah, I love "Turnstiles" too.

PRIV8PETE: So, your rationale for Innocent Man as his "best album" is due to the fact that it seems more cohesive? What if instead of The Longest Time, Uptown Girl and the rest he just had an album full of yodeling? That would still fill your qualification of being more "complete and cohesive" wouldn't it?

I'm not saying that Innocent Man isn't a great album or that it doesn't completely capture the style that he was going for, but I consider it more of a tribute album (so to speak). It's not REALLY Billy Joel; it's his take on his childhood influences. The reason why you could mix up anything from Cold Spring Harbor to 52nd Street (excluding Streetlife Serenade which was a mistake and he basically acknowledges as much with the first song on Turnstiles) is because that sound IS Billy Joel.
So, is Innocent Man the most "complete and cohesive" album that he recorded? Yes. Is it the BEST Billy Joel album? No.

ME: Don't turn cohesive against me. Streetlife Serenade is cohesively bad. I meant cohesive not just in terms of sound, but in terms of the ALBUM, which is what we are discussing here: a work of music that you sit down and listen to from beginning to end and that takes you somewhere. As an ALBUM, Innocent Man is more satisfying and involving than any other Billy Joel CD. Others during his run of very good CDs with lots of good songs (Stranger, Glass Houses, 52nd St, Tunrstiles) are just as much fun to listen to and sing along with. And yes, The Stranger has that whistling at the beginning and the end so teenagers know they've listened to a work of "art" and not a random collection of songs. But they almost all are random collections of (fun, very good) songs. Many of my favorite artists are basically singles artists who don't need to defend their music as less important or lasting simply because they work in short stories rather than the novels that are Albums. Billy Joel, by and large, was a singles guy. The rare exception is An Innocent Man. And now you've got me arguing that it is the exception that proves the rule, that it's somehow different than all the other albums and only deserves to be called his best "album" because of the fine print in the contract. And that's not what I mean at all: I think it is pure Billy Joel because the music he celebrates on it is so near and dear to him and the wellspring of everything he ever wrote. You say it's less like pure Billy Joel because it's an homage. I say it's closer to his heart and therefore more emotional and satisyfing and more Billy Joel-ish than all the rest. The songs:

Easy Money
An Innocent Man
The Longest Time
This Night
Tell Her About It
Uptown Girl
Careless Talk
Christie Lee
Leave A Tender Moment Alone
Keeping The Faith

Like all his albums, one or two are weaker and which ones depends on your preference. Maybe Careless Talk or Easy Money (which you don't like but I do).

But I think it has a joy, a release from being relevant or aiming for the pop charts that he hadn't felt so strongly since Piano Man. Joel was maybe smarting from his Beatle-esque Nylon Curtain, which was a relative flop for him and only went double platinum. I think he was hoping for the critical respect he rarely got and was burned bad -- he even got lambasted for his Vietnam song, though veterans of Nam later honored it (they might have regretted that after hearing Born in the USA a few years later). His response was to say to hell with radio, to hell with the critics, I'm gonna do something for ME and he ended up delivering one of the biggest hits of his career with more top ten hits and more top twenty hits that he would ever see on one album before or since. And it was a complete shock since the nod to vintage doo-wop was hardly calculated to win over critics or deejays. An Innocent Man comes from his heart and it's in some ways his most personal album: this is what I love, he says. And it's his best.

Hollywood Asks Hate Group Focus On The Family For Movie Advice

The LA Times reports that Hollywood studios regularly reach out to the hate group Focus on the Family to promote their films. Groups like Focus on the Family -- condemned as a hate group by the non-partisan, nationally recognized Southern Poverty Law Center -- get to see early scripts and final cuts, suggesting everything from changing "Oh my God" to "Oh my gosh" and encouraged to promote the movies to their consituents. The Dove Foundation is also prominently mentioned in this article. Unlike Focus on the Family, they seem much more focused on simply highlighting movies they approve of as opposed to Focus on the Family's efforts to promote hate. But having Laura Schlesinger as a board member does give one pause. Hollywood should definitely be encouraged to make all types of movies -- including family films. But what does a hate group like Focus on the Family have to do with family values?

Will Downloading Movies Be A Big Business?

The New York Times says video available online is exploding and movies will clearly be a huge market. I say: not so fast. Let me explain why iTunes has done so well when selling music singles and TV shows. Now why was Napster such a smash hit? Because people wanted to steal music? No, because they wanted digital downloads and NO RECORD COMPANIES WOULD SELL THEM. The second iTunes came online, digital thievery slowed down and legal digital singles became a huge business. Why were people paying $1 for singles online? Because they couldn't buy them anywhere else. Record companies had basically STOPPED SELLING SINGLES. If you wanted to buy the #1 song in the country, nine times out of ten you had to pay $15 for the entire CD. Singles simply weren't available. For more obscure songs? Forget about it. This idiocy on the part of the record companies is despite the fact that singles were the backbone of the industry, a great way to break new artists and an even better way to get kids to buy music. They were forced into selling songs on iTunes and now they're going to make billions of dollars.

Now why are people buying recent TV shows on iTunes? Because those TV shows aren't available anywhere else. Just like singles, a recent TV show simply isn't available after it's aired. If you forget to watch a show or Tivo it, you can beg or borrow a copy on VHS or recordable DVD from a friend. But if no one you know taped it, you have to wait until it comes out on DVD maybe a year later. If you love sci-fi but don't own cable and want to watch "Battlestar: Galactica," you can wait until a year passes and rent or buy it on DVD. Or you can pay $2 and watch the show right away. If you like the episode, you might buy next week's too. And so on. In short, TV shows on iTunes are a success because they fill a need and offer shows right away that aren't available anywhere else. You can watch a lot of TV at $2 a pop before equalling the $90 I pay for cable. (That's equal to the entire season of four shows just in one month.)

Now, movies. Movies won't be available to download online until they're also on DVD. Would you spend $15 to spend hours to download a movie without all the extras, a copy you can only watch on your computer (and maybe a few other computers)? Or would you pay $15 for a DVD that looks much better, has tons of extras and can be watched on your computer or your TV or your portable DVD player in your car or on your boat or at your friend's house or at your parents or anywhere you damn well want? Duh. Downloadable movies (especiallly say 20 years from now when you can quickly download say any movie in history) could be a business. But it won't be a huge success the way music and TV shows are because it offers a much poorer experience with much fewer options compared to DVDs and video on demand that are available at the very same time.

Ready For The New Fall TV Season?

Not 2006 -- I'm talking about the TV season for fall of 2007. Among the shows they're developing: Spike Lee's at New Orleans post-Katrina, the first CIA class to graduate post 9-11, a show about exorcists and a series based on the tween publishing hit "Gossip Girls" (think "Dawson's Creek" with rich high school girls). And you haven't even decided whether you want to commit to Aaron Sorkin's new drama yet.

Willie Nelson Smokes Pot!

Willie and four others were arrested for drug possession after a traffic stop found one and a half pounds of pot and 2/10ths of a pound of mushrooms. I don't know what the laws are where he was arrested as far as personal use versus drug dealing, but clearly one and a half pounds of pot is personal use when it comes to Willie. That wouldn't last him two days! That's some terrific police work. How did they ever suspect?

"CSI: MIami" Is The New Baywatch

That's right, the sequel to "CSI" has always stood in the shadow of the original here in the US. But overseas, "CSI: Miami" is currently the #1 TV show in the world, seen by some 50 million viewers a week. (That's a bit low by "Baywatch" standards, I think.) That's why the season premiere begins in Brazil: Miami has an international flair, the show is a hit all over the world and they wanted to international-ize some of the action. Who knew? I bet this time David Caruso stays put until the absolute last day of the last episode. And then he'll gladly come back for a TV movie spin-off.

A New Book BY JRR Tolkien!

Do NOT get excited. Tolkien has had virtually every drib and drab he ever penned published in multi-volume sets by his son Christopher. All well and good, though as anyone who has gone from "The Lord of the Rings" to "The Silmarillion" and on to "Unfinished Tales" and the 12 volume History of Middle earth will attest, all this scholarly work helped Tolkien lay the groundwork for his masterpiece but it does NOTY make for good reading. Christopher Tolkien says he's been working on a complete version of the epic tale "The Children of Hurin" for 30 years and I'm sure he's poured his heart into it, but this will not in any way serve as some sort of satisfying addendum to LOTR. At best, it will be a far more serious, dry tale that fans can scarf up before heading back to the LOTR. Again. And truly, one of the reasons that book is so lasting is because it so completely creates the sense of a world with a deep and epic past, complex present and sad future. Hints of lore and fragments of poems and references to epic tales in passing are convincing because Tolkien took the time to work it all out. You just don't want to read that stuff. Trust me.

Ricky Gervais Returns To UK TV

His new comedy "Extras" -- which was amusing but of course a let-down after the brilliance of "The Office" -- is back on UK TV with season two of "Extras." It premiered on Saturday with 3.5 million viewers, which is substantially down from its season one debut but still very strong. It ranks as the highest rated sitcom on BBC2 of the year, so far. So, well done if not titanic in quality or viewers. The smartest thing Gervais did with this show was to insist it be on BBC2 where expectations could be lowered. He simply doesn't make blockbuster hits -- just very funny ones.

Megan Mullally On Her New Show

I'm looking forward to her new talk show. We need more Merv Griffin/Mike Douglas type talk shows in this world. You can't have too much niceness, can you? But she says two odd things. First, she thought becoming a talk show host was an exotic, almost unattainable feat, when in fact it's the birthright of almost every American. Second, she says this:
She likens the sensation of appearing as herself to an out-of-body experience where she can keep tabs on herself to keep it real. It starts even before she goes on camera.

"I lock myself in my dressing room and just look at my knee, or a spot on the wall," she confides. "You have to get out of everything for a minute, and just be an organism functioning on the globe. Otherwise, you're this entertainment robot in a dog-and-pony show and you don't have anything to offer of yourself."
Huh?

Clay Aiken Delays Tour

Will Clay Aiken also delay doing press for his new album? I still can't wait to see how he handles the inevitable questions about his sexuality. The cat's out of the bag with that dating video posted online and the guys who have come forward. Any reporter worth their salt will at least have to raise the issue. Maybe he;ll just do "Regis & Kelly" and think he can avoid the topic? I could care less if the guy is gay, but if he thinks middle-aged housewives and teenage girls wouldn't buy his album if he were out, he's very wrong. They're smarter than that and -- apparently -- smarter than him.

If You're Under 68 Inches Tall, You Could Be A Star

I always thought that being 5 feet, 6 3/4 inches made me normal in height or at least average or not shrimpy. But apparently I am Hobbit-size in height as well as girth. The BBC reports on open auditions for the London staging of the musical "The Lord of the Rings." ("The Ring! Such a beautiful thing! It makes me want to sing!") All the short people rejoice over getting to audition for a lead instead of the comic sidekick or the chorus. Hurrah for little people!

UK Music Charts

Scissor Sisters are still at #1 with their new single "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'." They are definitely superstars in Europe; here's hoping they break out in the US. But I'm most eager to hear the new Killers song "When You Were Young," which debuts at #5. On the album charts, Justin Timberlake debuts at #1, Fratellis is at #2 and reality show winner Lemar is at #3. Lionel Richie and Diana Krall (there's an unexpected combo) also appear in the Top 30.

Maria Is Still A Problem

The BBC reality show "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria" crowned a winner in their search for a new talent to star in a revival of "The Sound of Music." But the British do love their controversy; the media is acting as if it's a bait and switch to have the new Maria perform at only 6 of the 8 weekly performances of the show. Certainly ticket buyers should be told. But presumably she's skipping the matinees. Obviously, a newcomer might not have the stamina to do eight shows a week (many stars don't, either) and she's being saved for the evening shows. It's not true as producer Andrew Lloyd Webber that this is always done -- a new hit show with a name draw does in fact suffer when that person doesn't do every show. If I went to see the new "Evita" and the acclaimed female lead wasn't in it (which is one example Webber cites), I would ask to exchange my tickets for another date or get my money back. I've also never heard that Julie Andrews damaged her voice by singing too much when she was young. I thought she sang beautifully for decades until surgery on nodes went awry. (And she, by the way, didn't do every show of "Victor/Victoria" every week either.) And in this highly unusual case, it seems reasonable to give the female star a break.

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em

Warner Bros. is the latest conglomerate to make a deal with YouTube. Rather than suing the fans who make their own homemade videos for pop songs, Warner Bros. has decided to make their music videos and other vieo snippets available on YouTube. They're also making some sort of deal to "license" their music rights to YouTube so the people on it aren't breaking the law. (YouTube will also give WB the ability to check out usage of their music in case they do object to any use of it -- I'm sure they'll want to assign an intern to watch thousands of new videos every week in case some high school kid plays Madonna in the background while filming a cheerleader routine.) You can't corral video once it's out there, so you might as well partner up with the websites that bring in eyeballs.

My Delroy Lindo Profile

Here's a profile of Lindo pegged to his new NBC series "Kidnapped." Can you spot the fact error?

Speaking Of Brian DePalma....

His movie "The Black Dahlia" opened this weekend, or rather, didn't open. The New York Times insists De Palma is the center of a heated debate among film critics: nothing can spark more controversy than simply saying De Palma's name and watching the sparks fly. Maybe that was true -- 20 or so years ago. To amke their point, the NYT quotes a critic from the New York Press, another one reviewing a DVD for Salon and a series of articles at the online magazine Slant. If that constitutes a battle royal of critics, we've come a long way from Pauline Kael in The New Yorker and even Ebert & Siskel.

The simple truth is that De Palma doesn't inspire heated debate among film critics or moviegoers because most of them long ago decided De Palma simply wasn't that good a director. His most commercial hits -- "Scarface" and "The Untouchables" -- are atypical. And his best movies -- "Casualties of War," "Blow Out" -- are overshadowed by unredeemable movies like "Femme Fatale," "Snake Eyes," "Raising Cain" (though I know members of IRA who swear by that one), "The Bonfire of the Vanities," "Wise Guys" and his most embarassing Hitchcock ripoff "Body Double." One of De Palma's next projects? "The Untouchables: Capone Rising." 'Nuff said.

Weekend Box Office -- America Stays Away

The quiet weeks between summer and the GOOD movies of fall result in another slumbering week at the box office. Per Box Office Prophets, the Top Ten:

1. Gridiron Gang -- $15 mil total
2. The Black Dahlia -- $10.4 mil total
3. Everyone's Hero -- $6.2 mil total
4. The Last Kiss -- $4.7 mil total (will this have legs?)
5. The Covenant -- $4.7 mil ($15.7 mil total)
6. Invincible -- $3.9 mil ($50.9 mil total)
7. The Illusionist -- $3.8 mil ($23.3 mil total)
8. Little Miss Sunshine -- $3.4 mil ($46.4 mil total)
9. Hollywoodland -- $2.7 mil ($20.5 mil total)
10. Crank -- $2.7 mil ($24.4 mil total)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

ABC Offering Free Downloads At iTunes

In a very smart promotion, ABC is offering up to one million free downloads of LAST season's finales for "Grey's Anatomy," "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives." They'll probably broadcast these shows in the currnent timeslots right before the new season begins, but why not make them available for fans who want to remind themselves of where the shows left off? It won't interfere with DVD sales and obviously most of your online sales would have been in May when the episodes aired.

But here's what caught my attention: ABC will also offer unlimited downloads of newly created highlights episodes that feature commentary from the shows' producers...and experts from People and Entertainment Weekly. So editors at magazines supposedly covering the TV industry for their readers are appearing in promotional specials to plug the new fall season? Aren't they even going to PRETEND that they have some objectivity and are not in bed with the networks? I guess not.

Another Crunch Day With Work

And I have to swap out my DSL connection box. And I want to see "Ugetsu" at Film Forum. And then I'm seeing two concerts: Louise Setara at Joe's Pub and Jonny Lives downtown at a traveling concert series called of all things Starbucks Salon.

Race-Baiting "Survivor" Begins Tonight; Here's Why It's Good

Tonight, "Survivor" begins with the stunt of dividing up the tribes based on race. Here's a news flash for you: EVERY season of "Survivor," the tribes have been divided up based on race. So has EVERY OTHER REALITY SHOW from "The Real World" to "The Amazing Race" to "American Idol." So has EVERY DRAMA AND SITCOM OF THE PAST TEN YEARS. The only time every TV show WASN'T broken down by race was back in the day when almost every show was simply white.

Did you think it was an accident that past tribes on Survivor have so often included one or two black people, one or two Latinos and an Asian here and there? Did you think it was an accident when "Idol" finalists going to Hollywood included such a diverse cross-section of America? Did you think it was happen-stance that "The Real World" cast members included a similarly Benneton-like mix of blacks, Asians, Latinos, whites (why not) and of course the obligatory gay/lesbian/bisexual?

How about dramas and comedies? Haven't you noticed how in the past ten years black actors have so often gone from playing neutered sidekicks to playing neutered authority figures -- such as the police chief or the President? How about sitcoms where the best friend/next door neighbor is of a funny/cute/unexpected ethnicity?

The simple and not so surprising truth is that EVERY SHOW ON TV IS CAST BY RACE, whether they admit it or not. (Unless of course the show is entirely white or appearing on a weblet like the former UPN.) Sure there are lots of exceptions to this rule, great shows that have mixed casts that seem natural and unforced. But the vast majority do follow this pattern.

Yes, "Survivor" is pulling a stunt in being explicit about the casting of their show by race. But they've done it every other season and so has every other reality series. So let's see how it plays out before damning them for forcing us to acknowledge race instead of just giving us the usual UN assortment in each tribe and letting us pretend race had nothing to do with it. Besides, I'll be rooting for whomever I think is hottest, as always.

"The Wire" Begins Season Four; Renewed For Fifth And Final Season

Well, I've given HBO plenty of grief for cancelling "Deadwood" prematurely. But at least they haven't made the same mistake twice. (And for various reasons, my rule of thumb is that you can't be disappointed over the cancelling of a show if it's had three seasons cause three seasons is usually as far as any drama should go creatively and clearly it had a shot ratings-wise.) "The Wire" has just begun airing Season Four and hallelujah, HBO has already renewed the show for its fifth and final season.

The reviews for season four have been phenomenal -- and well deserved, based on the first six of twelve episodes that I've seen. It's multi-layered, complex, subtle, and takes a while to build, this series. You can't multitask while watching it. It's best to watch it with a friend because you can parse out the plot twists together or ask what a character has just mumbled (and if you can't figure it out and are watching a DVD, use the subtitle function). No, it ain't immediately accessible. It's just gripping, funny, unexpected, moving, depressing and real.

Season One dealt with a wiretap on an inner city drug ring in Baltimore. Season Two focused on the ports and unions and corruption. Season Three dealt with politics. Season Four is looking at the school system. And Season Five will look at the media. That all sounds very dry -- every season revolves around a core group of wonderful characters on every side of the law, with the principal players shifting from year to year. The lead character of one season -- say McNulty -- will become a secondary character the next year. Literally every character is fascinating, so you are always thrilled to be dealing with whomever is front and center --but at the end of a show or a season, you'll say damn, I miss McNulty. How many shows paint with such a broad canvas? Almost none.

It's the next step in smart, sophisticated television, the way "Hill Street Blues" was some 26 years ago. It's that good. In the old days, if a show like "Twin Peaks" or "24" or "St. Elsewhere" had already been on the air for a year or two, you felt like it was too late to join the bandwagon without always feeling like you were playing catch up. There was a lot of pressure back then -- if you DIDN'T watch the premiere of a new series, were you missing the next big thing? And once you'd said no, wasn't it annoying and frustrating that you couldn't change your mind a year or even six months later and enjoy the show from the start, rather than jumping in the middle? No more.

"The Wire" is available on DVD and HBO On Demand and you can probably buy episodes online somewhere. So what are you waiting for? Start with Season One. Stick with it. Pay attention. Thank me later.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Hollywood Reporter's Ray Richmond: Thank God ABC Didn't Bow To Censorship

The Hollywood Reporter's Ray Richmond saw the controversy over ABC's lie-filled "The Path To 9/11" and saw one thing: evil censorship. Yes, he says people like Madeleine Albright and Sandy Berger can moan about being shown doing things they never did and having the blood of 3000 innocent Americans on their hands thanks to cowardice and ineptitude, but that's it. Trying to stop the docudrama from being shown was going way too far.

So a massive conglomerate like ABC can play politics with 9/11, reach out to far right bloggers and right wing groups, try to cloak itself in the aura of the non-partisan 9/11 Commission Report when it knows its movie distorts and lies and often says the OPPOSITE of what that report found, and it can release this movie right before a mid-term election. But if people think this is beyond the pale and shouldn't be shown, it's the CRITICS who have gone too far.

Not the conglomerate that besmirched the name of a major American airline that lost employees on that terrible day and five years later finds itself being implicated in both their deaths and the deaths of thousands of Americans. Not the conglomerate that -- unlike every other mainstream documentary and movie and book that focused on 9-11 in a non-partisan way -- tried to turn 9/11 into a political football (why else reach out only to the far right?). Not the conglomerate that saw FBI agents quit in disgust from the project or refuse to get involved because the film was so riddled with errors, that saw Harvey Keitel refusing to stick to a script he found so distastefully misleading or inaccurate, that saw a director running around trying to figure out what was true and what wasn't, not the conglomerate that saw all of this but refused to step in and make sure some TV movie didn't damage their reputation and distort a national tragedy for ratings and profit. No, Disney/ABC behaved honorably but the people who pointed out their lies went too far.

What exactly IS someone supposed to do when they are shown a purported docudrama that claims to be an accurate depiction of the worst terrorist attack in our nation's history, which is going to distributed to school children around the country and offered for free on the Internet in the weeks leading up to an election but which they see is clearly filled with inaccuracies and lies? Wish them luck?

"The Jersey Boys" Keeps Breaking Records On Broadway

My gosh, how do they do it? Well, the show is a huge smash of course. But I discovered the real reason they can keep setting records for months at a time: they keep raising prices. Every Broadway show now offers "premium" tickets that cost an arm and a leg. (Their reasoning? Heck, the scalpers do it so why shouldn't we?) "The Producers" had a premium ticket for almost $500 during the mania surrounding Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane. But "Jersey Boys" has no stars like that, so it's taken it to a new level. I was stunned to see the list of prices at the box office. Decent seats are $111.25. Premium tickets start at $250 for matinees, then $300 for weeknight shows and then $350 for Friday and Saturday nights. Unbelievable.

Get Ready For "Borat"

Everyone I know who's seen "Borat: Cultural Leanings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" says it is truly hilarious, filled with offensive and crude and bigoted humor about gays and Jews and you name it that of course really skewers the offensive, the crude and the bigoted. As one reviewer pointed out, the camera crew that watched Sacha Cohen doing these interviews in character and saying such outrageous things without laughing truly deserve all the praise in the world. If you like "South Park" and the movies of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, this will be right up your alley.

Dave Chappelle Loves Ohio

Hye, maybe he can do something about their screwed up elections. Anyway, Chappelle introduced some musical acts and told jokes at a concert in Yellow Springs, Ohio. He's had a home there for years (in fact, a good chunk of Dave Chappelle's Block Party was filmed there) but when Chappelle says he loves the town and is staying put, this is picked up by the traditional media as some sort of new development. And now that time has passed, I have to say I feel a little more empathy for Chappelle about the demise of his show. Not in how he handled it or just disappeared without even phoning his WIFE until he was in Africa, not in his annoying "white people were laughing too much at my jokes" excuses, none of that. But seeing the truly lame, bottom of the barrel scraps that Comedy central put on the air, and watching Chappelle's old buddies feed off the carcass of those scraps for a few more bucks and few more minutes of fame, I felt angry at them too. That junk should never have seen the light of day. Chappelle was right about one thing: the new season wasn't going to measure up and he needed to pull the plug.

Bush Assassination Film Coming To US

Newmarket -- the distributor that handled Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" -- picked up "Death Of A President" at the Toronto Film Festival for a reported $1 million. They plan to release the film quickly in the next few months. (Will it be before the midterm elections?) Expect right wing outrage over the hypocrisy of the left for not condemning this film. Two problems, some Democratic politicians have indeed denounced the film. More importantly, unlike "The Path To 9/11," this is a fictional story about the aftermath of a Presidential assassination and the rights we have given up in a post 9-11 America. It doesn't distort recent history because it has nothing to do with history. Nor does it revel in the assassination of Bush. The film is primarily about the manhunt to find the killer, the tools that a complacent Congress has given to the government and the assumptions that are made (it must have been someone Arabic, etc.) about who the killer might be.

Dragons In Peter Jackson's Future?

In London, they're auditioning hobbits for the stage musical version of "The Lord of the Rings." It flopped in Toronto, closing three months early. Now it's opening early next year, with the show shortened and tightened and otherwise fiddled with.

Meanwhile, MGM says they HOPE Peter Jackson does the movie version of "The Hobbit" they want. But what project is Jackson actually developing? Along with "The Lovely Bones," (the book he optioned and is working on a screenplay with his partners on), Jackson has just optioned the Temeraire series of books by Naomi Novik. These clever books (she's written three) envision the Napoleonic Wars in a world where dragons exist. Combine dragons with naval battles and you are talking a VERY expensive movie. The books are solid fare for fantasy buffs, with the first one okay and the second two improving on the idea in every way. It's easy to see why Jackson would be interested.

Nicole Richie's Dad Releases New CD

Yes, Lionel Richie is back. The New York Times says most kids today know Richie through his daughter Nicole's appearance on reality show "The Simple Life" and then implicitly criticizes him for using that connection. "He's done little to distance himself from his daughter," they write. Uh, should he? Besides, Lionel has too much fun talking in the third person when talking to hot young music producers. “I asked them, ‘What does Lionel Richie sound like in 2006?’ ” Mr. Richie said, “And they said, ‘The same way he sounded like in 1976 — we’ll just bring you new beats.’ ” At least he's keeping his sense of humor: “I’m waiting for the Viagra people to call me and ask to use ‘All Night Long.’ ”

But in my never-ending fight against lazy use of record company hype, the New York Times claims Richie has sold more than 100 million albums (not records, which might include singles, but albums). Let's look at the facts: as a solo artist, Richie's debut sold 4 million copies in the US, "Can't Slow Down" sold 10 million and "Dancing On The Celing" sold 4 million. None of his other CDs have gone more than platinum. With the Commodores, none of their albums are certified more than platinum. Being generous, with the Commodores and as a solo artist, Richie sold 30 million albums. Assuming he did almost as good overseas, that would equal 50 million albums worldwide or at most 60 million. That's a big, impressive number, but it's not even close to 100 million albums. Where did the NYT get its figures? Probably from a record company press release. And not to kick a man when he's down, but "Can't Slow Down" won the Grammy for Best Album when a better winner would have been the Police's "Synchronicity," Billy Joel's "An Innocent Man" (his best album), or about ten other albums that weren't nominated.

"The Path To 9/11" -- Wins Monday Night With Modest Ratings

According to Mediaweek's Marc Berman, the overnight ratings for "The Path To 9/11 were almost identical to Sunday's. It scored an 8.1 rating, just a sliver behind the 8.2 overnight rating it scored for Part One. Unlike Sunday, when it was trounced by football, Monday's edition was the #1 program for the night. Except for Fox -- which had new episodes of "Prison Break" and "Vanished" -- the docudrama was facing repeats. (The new fall season begins for most networks next week.) In short, a preseason TV movie like this wouldn't be expected to score big ratings. Still, with all the hype, not a lot of people tuned in on Sunday. But everyone that did came back Monday night, so they liked what they saw. President Bush gave his speech at 9 p.m. -- and more people watched it on ABC than any other network.

In the UK, "The Path To 9/11" did poorly. On Sunday, it drew 2 million viewers to BBC2 -- falling way behind other shows like "Where The Heart Is" (6.4 mil viewers), a docudrama about the pirate Blackbeard (4.6 mil viewers) and even a rerun of the Farrelly Brothers' movie "Shallow Hal" (2.4 mil viewers). But again, the people who watched it liked what they saw. Monday's showing of Part Two on BBC2 grew to an average of 2.2 mil viewers. Still, this was far behind other shows like BBC1's "Dalziel and Pascoe" (6.6 mil viewers) and ITV's "Life Begins" (5.4 mil viewers).

Monday, September 11, 2006

"The Path To 9/11" -- Ratings Meagre

CNN headlines the ratings news for ABCs "The Path To 9/11" with "Clinton, Most Americans, Skip ABC's 9/11 Miniseries." Their figures say part one of the TV docudrama drew 13 million viewers. NBC's Sunday Night Football had far more: 20.7 million viewers. In fact, ABC's two-part movie did only slightly better than CBS's THIRD airing of its 9/11 documentary "9/11," which was seen by 10.6 million viewers. Mediaweek says the overnight ratings are even tighter: it gave NBC's football a 15.1 rating, with "The Path To 9/11" and CBS's RERUN tied at an 8.2 rating. And that was just a whisker ahead of the 18th season debut of "The Simpsons."

Putting it all in perspective: Since it was airing before the fall TV season began for most networks (Fox starts early), ratings for any TV movie right now should be lower. But clearly it was an expensive, ambitious project. And with the massive media attention, ABC should have hoped for a much higher curiosity factor. All it got were modest ratings. We'll know better tomorrow after the second night's ratings whether the people who watched Sunday were hooked or couldn't be bothered to come back for night two.

Finally, the actors and crew involved should be fonts of fun information: two former FBI agents reportedly quit after a month as advisers because they felt no one cared about accuracy, Harvey Keitel insisted on rewriting his own dialogue and wouldn't say anything he didn't believe to be true and the director was walking around with a copy of the 9/11 Commission Report to try and fact check things. I'm also intrigued by the presence of Amy Madigan as a CIA agent who is furious and ashamed in the movie when they don't kill Bin Laden. She is a major leftie and it'll be intriguing to see how she feels about the project now.

"The Path To 9/11" -- Already Spreading Lies To The New York Times

If ABC's miniseries "The Path To 9/11" hoped to sow confusion about the facts, it's certainly succeeded. Even the New York Times got their facts wrong. TV critic Alessandra Stanley was the one of the few critics who claimed the docudrama was "even-handed." Then Stanley made a huge error by claiming the movie was right to say Clinton was distracted by the Monica Lewinsky scandal and took his eye off Bin Laden -- and Stanley insisted the 9/11 Commission Report backed them up. In fact, the report says THE EXACT OPPOSITE, as anyone reading any of the dozens of stories written in major media outlets or looking online would have known. The New York Times corrected her error on Saturday, which is very quick by their standards but the least read paper of the week. The BBC also does a poor job of laying out the facts in the case, writing a "he said, she said" story when there is no debate about what the 9/11 Commission Report stated versus what the movie got wrong.

"The Hobbit" Without Peter Jackson?

In a story about the rebuilding of MGM, they mention briefly about developing "The Hobbit" which they say will be made in one or two installments and which the studio head HOPES will be directed by Peter Jackson. The rights to Tolkien's classic have been confused for years, but presumably with the stage musical by Saul Zaentz and the recent movie version by New Line, everyone agrees that MGM (which I believe made the clunky animated Ralph Bakshi version) has the rights to "The Hobbit." I'm not sure "The Hobbit" should be split up into two movies. (Where would they stop? After the Misty Mountains, when Bilbo and the dwarves and Gandalf were rescued by the Great Eagles?) The tone is very different from "The Lord of the Rings" and the tale is much simpler, with just a hint of the darkness to come. A sprightly three hours (if that's possible) seems right to me. But making it without Peter Jackson is unthinkable unless he flatly turns it down. Jackson has several other projects in the works and it's almost a no-win proposition for him. But surely the thought that someone else might make it will spur him on. And the sooner the better: Ian McKellen isn't getting any younger and he must play Gandalf.

Jackie Chan: I'm Not Just Mr. Chop-Socky

Jackie Chan is tired of being pigeonholed as a "martial arts" guy. A bit late for second thoughts, isn't it?
"When people come up to me in the street in America they say 'Ah, Jackie Chan!' and do all the action moves," he said. "No one does that to Robert De Niro."
True, but they do say, "You talkin' to me?" ad nauseum.

UK Charts -- Scissors Sisters At #1

The new single by the Scissor Sisters leaps (playfully) to #1. Maybe now they feel like dancin'? On the album chart, Beyonce debuts at #3. But what I love about the British is how even a casual appearance of an old song can inspire people to hit the stores. Surely "Make It With You" or "If" must have been used in a TV show or advert -- how else to explain why "The Sound of Bread" collection would pop in at #18?

Lunch Without Peter O'Toole

The aging and ailing actor doesn't show up for an interview about his new movie "Venus." But he dominates this charming profile. Of course, if this Oscar hopeful were about an aging man lusting after a young man instead of a young woman, it would be a tragedy a la "Death in Venice" rather than a heart-warmer. (And if the brief quote from a note by O'Toole intrigues you, do check out his feverish but engrossing memoirs.)

Spike Lee Filming New Orleans-set TV Pilot

It's called "NoLa," and the potential NBC series will focus on the post-Katrina lives of people from many backgrounds in New Orleans. Obviously, the success and satisfaction of doing HBO's "When The Levees Broke" (the most acclaimed work by Lee in many years) inspired him to do more. Most interesting of all, Lee will include some of the people in the documentary in the show playing fictionalized versions of themselves. Phyllis Montana LeBlanc -- who popped off the screen during her interviews -- is one of them. Lee also cites Italian neo-realism (the source of many a blockbuster TV show) as inspiration behind his approach. He'll be filming in New Orleans of course. "We don't have to build sets," Lee said with irony. "Things there still look like the city's been bombed out."

"All The King's Men" -- The First Reviews

The first reviews are in for "All The King's Men," the much-delayed remake of the political pot boiler about a Huey Long-like campaigner. The Hollywood Reporter thinks Sean Penn is magnificent, even if the movie he's in can barely contain his performance and is ultimately a mess. Variety just sees a mess and mocks just about every aspect of the film, including wide range of accents among the actors, the score, the costumes, etc. Sounds like a misfire.

Priest Threatens Madonna Concert With Bomb Hoax

Because nothing says "good Christian" like calling in fake bomb threats and trying to terrorize people.I must have missed that passage of the Gospels.

"Robin Hood" Robbed Blind; But Tapes Recovered

The new BBC TV series "Robin Hood" has tried to play down the theft of footage from the series for weeks now. But clearly the robbers got a serious amount of film. The premiere of the show had been pushed back and the actors admitted they'd been reshooting a number of scenes stretched out over various episodes. Now, happily, the footage has been recovered. That should make for a fun DVD extra: which version will they use for those re-shot scenes? Were the new ones better, a good possibility since they'd had time to really absorb the roles by the end of the shoot? How did they differ? Here's hoping the footage gets included as an extra.

Helen Mirren Crowned At Venice

Dame Helen moves one step closer to an Oscar nomination for "The Queen" by winning Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival. On the other hand, Ben Affleck will have to take his Best Actor win as a consolation prize for how poorly "Hollywoodland" did in its opening weekend. An Oscar nod seems doubtful, Ben, but good hunting!

The Bestseller List -- Women On Top

Anna Quindlen tops the fiction charts with her new novel "Rise and Shine" while Nora Ephron heads the nonfiction list with her humorous essays in "I Feel Bad About My Neck." Also on the nonfiction list is "Enough" at #12, a cry from the heart by senior NPR correspondent Juan Williams about the culture of failure in the black community. Read it with paperback bestseller "The Covenant With Black America."

If God Wrote TV Shows

He might make something like "Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip." Actually, Aaron Sorkin's return to TV is probably more hyped than God's foray would be: at least Sorkin has a track record in television. (God's certainly been a hit in publishing. His first and only book is the bestselling title of all time.) The big problem I see is that making a sketch comedy show doesn't carry quite the same gravitas as being President and may not stand up to the floridness of Sorkin's writing. Mind you, the same problem existed on "Sports Night," which critics loved but audiences ignored.

Meanwhile to some "The Simpsons" is God. Depressingly, creator Matt Groening doesn't see any reason why the show couldn't keep going on forever.Here's one reason: Groening's too busy. He's got "The Simpsons," their feature film debut next summer (yeah, they waited too long but it will still be huge) and then "Futurama" comes back with original episodes on Comedy Central in 2008.

Weekend Box Office -- No Winners

It was one of the slowest weekends at the box office in many years. It's probably my fault -- I wanted to see "The Covenant" (a male spin on "Charmed") but didn't. The Top Ten:

1. The Covenant -- $9 mil total
2. Hollywoodland -- $6 mil
3. Invincible -- $5.8 mil ($45.7 mil total)
4. The Protector -- $5.0 mil
5. Crank -- $4.8 mil ($19.9 mil total)
6. The Illusionist -- $4.6 mil ($18.1 mil total)
7. Little Miss Sunshine -- $4.4 mil ($41.6 mil total)
8. Wicker Man -- $4.1 mil ($17.5 mil total)
9. Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby -- $3.0 ($142.2 mil total)
10. Accepted -- $2.6 mil ($32.4 mil total)

Friday, September 08, 2006

ABC's Miniseries Will Have One Ad After All: Bush

Bush has decided to address the nation on the fifth anniversary of 9-11 and anyone who suggests this has something to do with the mid-term elections (I don't recall him addressing the nation last year in primetime) is just being churlish. This means that ABC's highly controversial documentary will air for one hour on Monday, break for a 20 minute or half hour speech from Bush and then go right back into a "docudrama" designed to downplay Bush's failings and pin blame on Clinton with lies and half-truths. ABC better hope the Republicans maintain control of the House and the Senate or they're gonna find very little welcome in DC for anything that the Disney conglomerate wants.

Current Movie Rundown

Just some thoughts on the movies out in theaters, if you're wondering what to see.

Sherrybaby -- Maggie Gylenhaal's best performance yet. She really elevates this familiar material, but there isn't quite enough there to put this in a league with Half-Nelson.

Half Nelson-- the best thing out there right now. Ryan Gosling is sensational as a crack-addicted teacher who befriends a young female student. Pure Afterschool Special, if it weren't so honest and direct. In one late scene, the student sees Gosling doing drugs and he just looks at her. Gosling could have played it angry or ashamed or devil-may-care-ish or a million other ways, but he looks at her with the slightest hint of defiance. This is who am I, he seems to insist. It would be so much easier for him to give in if she would give up on him, too, I think. A dozen other scenes are just as absorbing and -- rare for an American film -- ambiguous.

The Protector -- someone here gave me shit for not respecting the genius of "Ong-Bak" and its star Tony Jaa, the heir apparent to Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. I enjoyed "The Protector" more, though it remains defiantly, absurdly un-cinematic, maybe even post-cinematic. Sure, it's on a super low Thai budget. But you'll find scene after scene where, for example, our hero is running down a street away from bad guys and in the next cut he's in a speed boat and they're in speed boats behind him trying to catch up. Why waste time showing him finding a boat and jumping in (and perhaps tossing out the owner) and then speeding away, etc.? What you want is the CHASE and what they give you is the chase and nothing but the chase. You'll catch up. It's almost bold, though I think it's more lazy. Unlike "Ong-Bak" Jaa's every spectacular stunt isn't replayed three times in super-slo-mo, thank God. And the stunts are spectacular, though Jaa breaks so many bones in so many opponents that it too almost became comical. I also enjoyed the fact that Jaa is too-pretty and they acknowledge it with a wry comment or two. Good, silly fun.

A Cantor's Tale -- I haven't seen it but it comes highly recommended from fellow IRA-member George Robinson.

Mizoguchi at Film Forum -- apparently I'm a fool and a rube for never having seen Mizoguchi. Only a peasant would prefer Kurosawa. We'll see.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated -- Half a very entertaining documentary on the wily-nily inconsistencies of the MPAA and their bias against sex (and especially gay sex) and their perverse love of violence; the other half is a creepy stalker film where they out the secret members of the ratings board. An excessive reaction to a silly group.

Lassie -- better than you'd think; not as good as you'd hope.

The Illusionist -- not a success, but a much better failure than I appreciated, thanks to Edward Norton, a plummy Paul Giamatti and the appealing world of Victorian stage magicians.

Ellen: Bad Idea, Says Tom O'Neil

The LA Times awards show guru Tom O'Neil says Ellen Degeneres is a bad idea to host the Oscars. Why? She ain't Hollywood enough and she only got good reviews for her post-9-11 Emmys braodcast. The other times she's hosted awards, reviews have been lukewarm. True, but the reviews are wrong and Ellen is a charmer who -- like Johnny Carson -- can deflate the pomposity of the room without anyone feeling threatened or belittled. The main problem with the Oscars isn't the host anyway: it's the show as a whole. Here's hoping Ellen doesn't fill a room with comedy writers and try to create 20 minutes of fillers, skits, audience interviews and so on. The Oscars is THREE HOURS LONG -- it doesn't need comedy sketches. It needs Ellen to come out, do 6-8 minutes of humor and then politely HOST -- simply smooth things along with the occasional aside. That's ALL. Do that and people will love you, Ellen. (Also, get the producers to show substantial clips of the top acting and picture nominees, cut out banter among presenters (who should just stride quickly to the podium to show what they're wearing and then announce the nominees), have only ONE tribute (not two; they do drag and having two undercuts both) etc, etc. Anyone with half a brain could improve the Oscars dramatically, given a free hand. (Aye, there's the rub.)

Variety: ABC Might Yank Miniseries

NOTE: Mediaweek says the miniseries is still scheduled to air.

This story was first posted yesterday, so it's unclear how up-to-date it is. But Variety did report that ABC is actively considering yanking the entire 9-11 miniseries. Like many outlets, Variety is now painting this as bloggers or partisans or Clinton officials versus ABC.
But much in the same way right-wing groups mobilized to attack CBS' "The Reagans" a few years ago, Democratic partisans were doing everything they could to discredit ABC's "The Path to 9/11."
Actually, no one had to do much to discredit it -- ABC took care of that itself by making an error-riddled film it pretended was based on the 9-11 Commission Report. In fact, the outcry has come from the left and the right; it is widespread and it is consistent: ABC played fast and loose with the facts over a national tragedy that is still fresh in the minds of all Americans. That's why they are in trouble. Variety also refers to "alleged inaccuracies" when in fact they're not "alleged" at all. The inaccuracies are incontrovertible -- ABC first tried to defend them as creative license; now they are editing some of the more egregious ones out. Here's where they truly get it wrong:
At least one Hollywood producer empathized with ABC, noting the firestorm of criticism is the latest example of partisan groups attempting to use their clout to bully nets and producers into serving up noncontroversial portraits of political and social matters. Even if the Dems are right in their criticism, the producer noted, ABC should be able to air its take.

"How many miniseries have there been on the Kennedys? Did anybody complain as they dragged them through the mud?" the producer said. "Starting with 'The Reagans,' everything is now political. It's become so divisive and nasty. It's very sad."
Nice try. No one is raising an uproar because they made a film about 9-11. People are in an uproar because ABC made a film about 9-11 that distorts and lies about the fact. ABC made a film with a writer with an acknowledged right wing agenda and they knew exactly what they were doing because they reached out ONLY to right wing bloggers and Republicans. Again, there have been DOZENS of documentaries, docu-dramas, fictional films, books and even comic books depicting 9-11. The BBC just aired a documentary last night. NONE OF THEM created a firestorm of protest because they all strove to be non-partisan and get the facts right. (The lone exception: Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9-11" and only two brief moments in that film have ever been questioned on the facts. Moore spouts a lot of opinion, but the facts he presented were basically accurate and on the public record.) ABC politicized a national tragedy and they probably didn't think anyone would care because Bush has been getting away with that for the past five years.

Here are some of the works presented on 9-11 that DIDN"T create controversy:

The 9-11 Commission Report
World Trade Center
United 93
National Geographic: Inside 9-11
9-11: The Twin Towers (last night's BBC documentary)
The 9-11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon
Endless TV specials and reports

Just remember, you can cover 9-11 with a respect for the facts. When you don't (and ABC is the biggest media outlet to do so with such reckless disregard for the truth), you will pay a price.

Disney's Next Big Musical: "The Little Mermaid"

"Tarzan" is looking to keep its head up on Broadway. "Mary Poppins" (which was a hit, but not a blockbuster, in London) opens soon. But Disney is already eyeing its next Broadway stab at smash-dom. "The Little Mermaid" opens in Denver next summer. The most intriguing element: Doug Wright (author of the wonder "I Am My Own Wife") is writing the book. Disney continues to push the envelope as far as collaborators are concerned. All credit to them: instead of pushing out safe, cookie cutter material they do at least strive for something original. They don't always succeed. (Hello, "Aida.") But they do convincingly try.

The Streets -- UK's best rap artist

Like most people, I've found the new album by The Streets to be of the annoying "how difficult fame is" variety. But this interview with Mike Skinner reminds me how smart and interesting he is. And presumably others have said this before, but Skinner's comments on maintaining a long-term career are spot-on:
It’s a matter of replacing creativity with skill,” Skinner reckons. “That’s what all artists with longevity do. They start off with that initial explosion of talent, and then they gradually learn to apply the skills they’ve learnt.” This accounts for his current fascination with country music. “

In songwriting terms you can learn a lot from country music songs. People laugh at Kenny Rogers, but everyone can take something from a lyric like The Gambler or Coward of the County.”

"The Wire" -- What Are You Waiting For?

A very good LA Times article on one of the best shows on TV -- ever. And another rave review, this one from USA Today.

Star Of "Little Britain" To Marry His Partner

The only thing annoying about this friendly story is that the Evening Standard put "marry" in quotes, like it doesn't count. And if you don't know "Little Britain," it's the latest in the endless series of quirky sketch comedy shows with oddball characters a la "League of Gentlemen" and the great "Monty Python."

9-11 Film: The Reviews

Don't let your heads explode, but the New York Times' Alessandra Stanley thinks it's basically fine. The New York Post's Adam Buckman also thinks it's the best for now. But NY Post opinion columnist John Podhoretz (a longtime conservative voice who gave me some work when he was at The Weekly Standard) thinks it's a bad movie and confusing and misses the real story. The New York Daily News? No review is posted online.

More Journalists Sell Their Souls To Bush

A story in the Miami Herald broke the news that at least 10 journalists who proselytized against Castro were being paid off by Bush's government to the tune of up to $175,000. Apparently, the journalists involved are BIG names in the local Latin community. Didn't Bush promise this evil undermining of our free press was going to stop? How many other journalists are on Bush's payroll? Here's the original Miami Herald story, which includes the lame defenses of the journalists and the amazing fact that one of them confronted Castro, who turned around and demanded to know if they were on the payroll of Bush. Apparently, Castro is better informed than we are.

U2 and Green Day Recording A Duet

Green Day is the heir apparent for title of "band that matters" so this makes sense. The only problem is that U2 ain't going anywhere. U2 is also recording their new album with Rick Rubin, who SHOULD be working with Bill Withers, like I told him too.