Archive for the ‘Adam Buckman’ Category

Business as usual at CBS News as Pelley era begins

June 11, 2011

THE NEW GUY: Scott Pelley takes over as anchorman on “The CBS Evening News” (Photo: CBS News).

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, June 11, 2011 — Scott Pelley didn’t mark his debut as the new anchor of “The CBS Evening News” in any special way Monday evening.  Instead, he chose to anchor the broadcast as if his first day was nothing special.

He made no self-referential remarks, made no speeches about what he’ll do or how the newscast might change in the Pelley era or how honored he is to be installed as only the fifth CBS evening-news anchor since 1948.

The approach was refreshing actually.  It was also unexpected since we’re not accustomed to TV personalities refraining from talking about themselves, especially on days that are very special to them personally.  Certainly, Monday must have been such a day in the life of Scott Pelley, a 53-year-old CBS newsman who had reached the pinnacle of his field, which happens to be one of the most competitive in the world.

And yet, Pelley didn’t mention it.  Instead, he anchored the news – introducing stories (10 of them) and, on occasion, exchanging a few remarks with CBS correspondents.  Perhaps the approach was deliberate.  Maybe it was meant to convey the idea, without Pelley having to spell it out, that he didn’t intend to rock the boat as the broadcast’s new anchor.

Or maybe he’s saving the boat-rocking for some future newscasts.  Whatever he was thinking, he didn’t let us in on it.  Instead, he read his copy flawlessly and, when it was time to end the show, he said simply, “For all of us at CBS News all around the world, good night.”

The Pelley era was under way, and as the week wore on, Pelley continued to underplay his own role in the broadcast.

Personally, I happen to love the old-fashioned CBS approach to news — the attention to detail, the flawless reading of the copy, the care and professionalism with which the stories are presented.  It’s all so fastidious, but in today’s world, do news viewers look for fastidiousness and attention to detail in their TV newscasts?  Other than me, does anyone really care about these qualities anymore?

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Advertisements

Oprah’s farewell: Long good-bye takes three days

May 26, 2011

HASTA LA VISTA, BABY: Oprah Winfrey waves good-bye. (Photo: (c) 2011 Harpo, Inc./George Burns)

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, May 26, 2011 — The final “Oprah Winfrey Show” Wednesday consisted of little more than Oprah standing on her stage and talking.

For her millions of loyal fans, this must have been heavenly.  For the rest of us, who tuned in to her final show (the 4,561st, as Oprah herself pointed out) expecting a bit more excitement – perhaps some fireworks, a big cake, a brass band – the show was a bit of a letdown.

On the other hand, as Oprah said repeatedly, this particular show wasn’t really for those of us who didn’t regularly ride the Oprah train to inspiration, validation and self-fulfillment over the last 25 years.  This show was for those who did ride along with Oprah on this “journey” (her word) that began back in 1986.

With the Paul Simon song “10 Years” (the one he converted to “25 Years” in her honor earlier this season) playing as a theme in and out of the show’s commercial breaks, Oprah took her stage at Harpo Studios in Chicago for the last time.  Dressed in a simple pink dress, she stood for the whole hour (though a white chair was there in case she needed it) and spoke to the audience.

“This last hour is really about me saying thank you,” she said when she took the stage.  “It is my love letter to you.”

“I wanted to spend this last hour telling you what you’ve meant to me,” she said, one of many times she would thank her viewers in the course of this hour-long speech (some might call it a sermon), in which she shared details from her life story (as she’s done many times before), imparted various life lessons, and even preached about the meaning of God.  “God is love and God is life!” she exclaimed. “And your life is always speaking to you, first in whispers . . .”

And so it went.  There were no celebrity guests, though Tyler Perry was recognized from his seat in the audience because of his participation in a show earlier this season about men who had been sexually abused in boyhood.  Oprah’s fourth-grade teacher was in the audience too – the one who Oprah still calls “Mrs. Duncan” – and who apparently had a profound impact on the young Oprah.

If there was any central theme to this show, it was nothing less than the meaning of life, which is a lot for any one person to take on.  And yet, Oprah doesn’t shy away from such challenges.  She advised her viewers to “use your life to serve the world.”  She talked about the Golden Rule and the importance of “validation.”

“There is a common thread that runs through all our pain and suffering and that is unworthiness,” she preached, advising viewers to “validate” the ones they love.  Tell them: “What you say matters to me!” Oprah beseeched.

Toward the end of the hour, the commercial breaks came more frequently.  After all, television is a business and the breaks near the end of this particular show were valuable indeed.  Finally, after one last break, the end was near and Oprah said her final words.

“I thank you for sharing this yellow brick road of blessings,” she said.  “I thank you for tuning in everyday . . .  I thank you for being as much of a sweet inspiration for me as I’ve tried to be for you.  I won’t say good-bye.  I’ll just say, Until we meet again.  To God be the glory.”

She then strolled out of the studio, stopping briefly for a few hugs and greetings, then continued walking down a narrow corridor lined with members of her staff.  At the end of this gauntlet, she encountered her small dog Sadie.  Lifting the dog into the air, Oprah declared: “Sadie, we did it! We did it, Sade! We did it!”

And then Oprah, with Sadie under her right arm, disappeared behind a pillar and was gone.  Until we meet again.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Read my list: The greatest sitcom lineups ever

January 31, 2011

WHICH LINEUP WAS NO. 1? Here’s a hint: “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” — with Moore and Ted Knight — was a big part of it.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Jan. 31, 2011 — What makes a sitcom lineup great?  It’s a question I’ve set out to answer now that NBC has taken the unusual step of cramming six comedies on to the air in a single night on Thursdays – starting with “Community” at 8/7c, followed by the new “Perfect Couples,” “The Office,” “Parks & Recreation,” “30 Rock” (at 10/9c) and “Outsourced.”

So what are the best comedy blocks ever assembled?  I established my own subjective criteria: For my informal study, a lineup had to have at least four comedies in a row to qualify (before 1962, comedies were not strung together in any number greater than three); preferably, the lineup would remain more or less consistent for at least two seasons; and the shows had to be either high-rated or at least well-remembered, if not beloved.  Here’s what we came up with:

Runners-up: Before I get to my Top 10, some honorable mentions – Fall 1964, Thursdays on ABC: “The Flintstones,” “The Donna Reed Show,” “My Three Sons,” “Bewitched”; Fall 1965, Wednesdays on CBS: “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Green Acres,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show”; and Thursdays on CBS: “The Munsters,” “Gilligan’s Island,” “My Three Sons”; Fall 1987, Mondays on CBS: “Frank’s Place,” “Kate & Allie,” “Newhart,” “Designing Women.”  Incredible, isn’t it?  “The Munsters” and “Gilligan” back-to-back on a single night?  Who wouldn’t love that?

And now, my Top 10:

No. 10: Fall 1986, Saturdays on NBC: “The Facts of Life,” “227,” “Golden Girls,” “Amen.”  Marla Gibbs, Sherman Hemsley, the “Golden” gals, plus “Mrs. Garrett” all in one night?  That’s TV heaven.

No. 9: Fall 1985, Fridays on ABC: Speaking of incredible TV pairings, how about Emmanuel Lewis and Gary Coleman on the same network on the same night: “Webster,” “Mr. Belvedere,” “Diff’rent Strokes,” “Benson.”

No. 8: Fall 1978, Thursdays on ABC: Another great lineup – future comedy greats Robin Williams (“Mork & Mindy”) and Billy Crystal (“Soap”), plus the beloved characters of “What’s Happening” and the legendary ensemble of “Barney Miller.”

No. 7: Fall 2007, Sundays on Fox: Talk about staying power – it had never been done, or even tried, before Fox strung together these animated powerhouses: “The Simpsons,” “King of the Hill,” “Family Guy,” “American Dad.”

No. 6: Fall 1975, Monday on CBS:  Of these four sitcoms, three were spinoffs: “Rhoda” and “Phyllis” (from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”), and “Maude” (from “All in the Family,” which preceded “Maude” at 9 p.m.).

No. 5: Fall 1978, Tuesdays on ABC: “Happy Days,” “Laverne & Shirley,” “Three’s Company,” “Taxi.”  ABC definitely had a comedy winning streak going on in fall 1978 (see No. 8, above).  What can you say about a Tuesday lineup that included Richie Cunningham (future director Ron Howard) and The Fonz; Laverne, Shirley, Lenny and Squiggy; John Ritter and Suzanne Somers (plus Norman Fell and Don Knotts); and the whole gang from “Taxi”?  It seems impossible, but all that talent was available on free network TV in a single evening way back when.

No. 4: Fall 1991, Tuesdays on ABC: Many seasons later, ABC struck gold again on Tuesday nights with one of the highest-rated comedy lineups of all time – “Full House,” “Home Improvement,” “Roseanne,” “Coach.”

No. 3: Fall 1984, Thursdays on NBC: This is the comedy lineup that ushered in an era of comedy dominance for NBC that lasted into the early 2000s.  Behold: “The Cosby Show,” “Family Ties,” “Cheers,” “Night Court.”

No. 2: Fall 1993, Thursdays on NBC: Some might quibble with this lineup’s inclusion of “Wings,” but that series emerges as the best of all the sitcoms NBC tried at 8:30/7:30c on Thursdays.  And what can you say about a lineup that also boasts “Mad About You,” “Seinfeld” and “Frasier”?

And the No. 1 TV comedy lineup of all time is: Fall 1973, Saturdays on CBS: Few will argue with our choice for No. 1, particularly those old enough to have watched this incredible, never-to-be-duplicated collection of legendary megahits, four of the most critically acclaimed comedies of all time, followed by the most uproarious variety show ever made – “All in the Family,” “M*A*S*H,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “The Carol Burnett Show.”  All I can say is, Wow.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Sarah Palin is God’s gift to a TV columnist

December 12, 2010

LOCKED AND LOADED: The TLC reality star stalks her prey in the infamous caribou-hunting episode of ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska.’ Photo: Gilles Mingasson

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Dec. 12, 2010 — By popular demand!  YOU asked for it, and here it is: All in one place — the entire archive of my posts for “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” the most talked-about series on TV this season:

Finale recap: Shocking cliffhanger ending for ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’ leaves key questions unanswered

Two questions remained unanswered as “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” came to an end Sunday night on TLC: Will the show ever have a second season?  And, will Sarah Palin run for president in 2012?

The first question on a followup season was not addressed at all, but the second one – about Palin’s presidential aspirations (if any) – was teased throughout the second hour of Sunday’s two-hour finale, with Sarah being asked by an Anchorage morning radio personality if she’ll run in 2012.  You saw her on a cellphone being asked the question in several “teases” during the show designed to keep you tuned in until the end, at which time Sarah gave a disappointing non-answer.

“It’s still an unanswered question,” she said, evading it completely.  She did promise that if she ever announces that she’s running, she’ll announce it first on this Anchorage morning show – apparently the “The Bob and Mark Show” on KWHL-FM, “K-Whale.”

There are those who believe that the decision to produce a second season of her TV show and the decision to launch a campaign for president are mutually exclusive – that Palin can’t possibly say yes to both.  One pundit, writing on TheAtlantic.com, believes a second season of her TV show “would prevent a serious campaign from materializing.”   He also writes that production on her show would be “inconvenient” because it would disrupt her ability to travel the country making stump speeches.

We happen to disagree.  If Sarah Palin wanted to do a second season of “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” the shows could be produced this coming summer, with plenty of time left over for Palin to dive into campaigning for 2012.  After all, candidates crave exposure on TV, especially TV they can control.  A prime-time TV show like this is a rare opportunity for a political candidate.  We happen to think she’d be crazy not to give a second season a go.

Meanwhile, what happened on the final night of “Sarah Palin’s Alaska”?  Nothing too unusual, especially for those of us who stuck with this weekly Alaska travelogue through the preceding seven episodes.  There was more prospecting for gold (something we’d already seen a couple of episodes ago) – this time on a beach on the Bering Sea.  And there were more encounters with animals, both wild and domesticated (musk ox, reindeer, a moose) – though none of them lost their lives.

Indeed, affection took the place of violence in these meetings between Palin and beast, though Sarah declined to participate in the Alaskan pastime of “moose-kissing” (the name given to the mouth-to-mouth feeding of a banana to a domesticated moose).

Sarah and family went kayaking on a glacial lake, four-wheeling (again), and blueberry picking.  Throughout Sunday’s two hours (as she has throughout this entire series), Sarah repeatedly asserted how dangerous and risky these activities could be.  “Anything could go wrong at any time,” she stated more than once, when setting foot on a glacier or watching her brother prepare to dive for gold.  She makes it sound like she’s risking life and limb every time she steps outdoors, but nothing ever happened.

In Sunday’s second hour – a bonus episode, you might call it – Sarah and family reviewed some of the highlights of the season, from the controversial caribou hunt to the aborted camping trip with Kate Gosselin.  Sarah and her dad conceded the caribou hunt was “controversial,” but were dismissive of the criticism the hunt received after that episode aired.

Sarah and her family packed a lot of activities into nine hours of television.  The question is: If she comes back for another season, what is there left to show us about life in Sarah Palin’s Alaska?

____

Sarah boards the Nome mobile for a two-hour golden finale on TLC

It’s been nearly two weeks since we’ve seen “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” but on Sunday, America’s First Lady of the Tundra comes roaring back to TLC for a fun-filled two-hour finale of her rootin’, tootin’ reality series from the Alaska wilderness.

In the first half of Sunday night’s Palin double-header – starting at 8 p.m./7c – Sarah embarks on her own personal gold rush, trekking to Nome to pan for the alluring yellow ore.  It’s the second time in the eight-episode series that she’s gone a-prospectin’ – but, according to TLC, this time she’s hoping to collect enough of the yellow stuff to make her mom a glittering anniversary present.

Then, in search of more adventures in the wild, Sarah’s off to Valdez, where she’ll kayak on a glacier that is said to have once been part of the Great Alaskan Gold Route during the original gold rush of the 1890s.  How she’ll kayak on a glacier is anybody’s guess, which means we’ll all have to tune in to find out how it’s done.

As if all that wasn’t enough, TLC is tacking on a ninth hour at 9/8c.  Titled “Follow Me There” – after her show’s famed theme song of the same name by Georgia Christian rockers Third Day – this second hour is described as a “showcase [of] some of the best scenes from the series and [will] feature never-before-seen moments.”

It sounds like a bonanza for the 3.3 million people on average who have followed “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” through seven incredible episodes as she’s fished, hunted, felled trees and camped with Kate Gosselin (or at least tried to!), all while maintaining a firm grip on her Blackberry.

It’s hard to believe that all the excitement generated by this unique, historic reality series will soon be over, unless TLC and Sarah – along with producer Mark Burnett – can get together on an agreement on a second season.  On that subject, TLC remains tight-lipped.

Stay tuned!

____

Sarah Palin saw some bears and didn’t even shoot them!

Sarah Palin saw some wild animals and didn’t even shoot them.  That was just one of the highlights of Sunday night’s episode of “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” on TLC.

They were Kodiak bears, and Sarah, husband Todd and their eye-rolling 16-year-old daughter, Willow, went to observe them frolicking in the water from the safety of a hillside on Alaska’s Kodiak Island.   Despite the fact that these bears appeared to pose no threat whatsoever, nervous Sarah expressed concern that none of their party was armed, though their guide assured her he was equipped with some sort of “bear spray.”

Elsewhere in the episode, the three Palins spent a couple of days in a remote logging camp, played “Eskimo bingo” (it’s a regular bingo game but played under a time limit imposed by a 10-minute timer), and went to a stock-car track in Kodiak.  The episode was so rural in character you half expected Sarah to start drinking moonshine from one of those jugs with a cork stopper and “XXX” written on the side of it.

A few other things we observed on this, the seventh episode of “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” (the eighth and final episode airs Sunday, Jan. 9, skipping Jan. 2):

Sarah’s a little thin-skinned: She twice went on the defensive in the face of criticism.  The first was the attention paid to her coining of the word “refudiate” in a Tweet she posted at around the time this episode was being filmed.  She first defended it as just a typo (substituting the “f” for a “p” by accident), and then quipped that it was her contribution to the evolution of the English language.  (And she seemed to coin a new word in Sunday night’s show, when she tried to say the word “genuine” and it came out like “genu-waiian,” like a combination of “genuine” and “Hawaiian.”)  She also attacked those who criticize her for supporting the Alaska timber industry.  “They write me these nasty letters using their pretty little pencils on their pretty little stationery!” she said.  “Where do you think your pencil and your paper come from, people?”

Alaska’s a little threadbare: Has anyone else noticed this?  Sure, the natural scenery of Alaska is vast and it certainly is beautiful, but when you watch “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” closely, you get the impression that Alaska is a backward state where all the houses are built of rough, weathered plywood and all the roads are dirt.

Manly yes, but Sarah likes it too: This week’s manly pursuits undertaken by Sarah included cutting down trees with a chainsaw and also operating a crane-like “shovel logger” with which she lifted and loaded one of the great logs on a flatbed truck.

Mama Grizzly and her cub: Throughout the episode, Sarah harped on her efforts to engage daughter Willow’s attention in the outdoors activities Sarah loves, but Willow paid more attention to checking texts on her cellphone.  Eventually, Sarah persuaded Willow to help the logging camp’s cook prepare lunch and Willow was seen half-heartedly chopping lettuce.  Well, you would have thought Willow had brought home a straight-A report card from the way Sarah cheered over this lettuce-chopping breakthrough.

And now, just one more episode of “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” is left, unless Sarah and TLC can get together on a deal for a second season.  We’ve loved covering this show so much that it should go without saying that second season has our vote.  What about you?

____

Oprah likes Sarah’s show, but as president?  Oprah thinks not!

Oprah Winfrey thinks Sarah Palin is “very likable,” but when it comes to Palin’s possible presidential aspirations, Oprah loses her attraction to the lightning-rod ex-governor of Alaska.

That’s the interpretation you can make after reading an interview with Oprah in Parade magazine this Sunday.  She’s on the cover – part of her current publicity campaign in advance of the launch of her new cable channel, OWN, on New Year’s Day.

Asked what she thinks generally of Palin, Oprah was upbeat.  “I don’t know her, so I can’t speak to [whether or not she’ll be a candidate],” said Oprah, who then offered a rave review of Palin’s show, “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” (though it bears mentioning that Palin’s network, TLC, is owned by Discovery Networks, the same company that’s partnering with Oprah for the launch of OWN).  “I would say that America’s going to fall in love with her [after watching “Sarah Palin’s Alaska”].  When I saw that first episode, I went, ‘Whoa! She is charming and very likable’.”

However, Oprah’s attitude toward Palin changed when Oprah was asked if the thought of Palin running for president “scared her.”  In her answer, Oprah revealed that she’s not keen on the prospect of a Palin presidency.  Her answer also implied that she doesn’t think too highly of those who would vote for Palin either.  Said Oprah of a Palin presidential run, “It does not scare me because I believe in the intelligence of the American public.”

Well.  Oprah evidently believes intelligent people won’t support Palin.  What do you think?

____

‘Alaska’ Week 7 Preview: No trees are safe as ‘Chainsaw’ Sarah escalates her war on nature

Look out, trees!  Here comes Sarah Palin and she’s got a chainsaw!

It’s all in pursuit of new adventures in Alaska as the ex-gov and husband Todd pay a visit to a logging camp this Sunday night on “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” (9/8c on TLC).

TLC offers a small sample of the action in a new preview clip posted on its Web site.  “This really could be potentially deadly work I’m engaged in,” says Sarah, who dons a yellow hard hat and Day-Glo orange vest for this “deadly” work.  Yeah – deadly for the trees!

Look, in much the same way that we all comprehend that animals such as cattle, pigs and chickens must die in order for us to have food, we also understand that the commercial logging industry must fell trees if we are to have paper and all the other products made from them.  Still, when thinking about “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” one can’t help but wonder why nearly every episode of this show has to have Sarah mounting some sort of an assault on the natural world – clubbing halibut, netting salmon, fatally shooting a caribou, cutting down trees.  Can’t she just go and merely look at all the nature for a change without harming any of it?

This weekend’s episode is the series’ seventh of eight, with the final episode scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 9 – a special two-hour finale starting at 8/7c on TLC.   And that means this much talked-about series is almost over.  However, it’s doing well enough in the ratings – averaging 3.3 million viewers each week after six episodes – that there’s talk now of a possible second season, though TLC’s reps all say that’s premature.

Popeater.com churned up rumors the other day that negotiations are under way between Palin and TLC, with Palin looking for a significant raise.  Reports peg her fee for Season One at $250,000 per episode of “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” but that figure might be as reliable as the story that she’s negotiating for Season Two.  The rumors were flatly denied the other day by a rep for Palin, Rebecca Mansour, who Tweeted: “Rule of thumb: anything ‘PopEater’ reports about Sarah Palin is completely made up – as in fabricated out of thin air.”  Ouch.

Still, based on the ratings and all the buzz about the show, it stands to reason that TLC would be interested in pursuing a second season.  They’d be crazy not to.

If you ask us, a second season for “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” would be just fine.  As the first reality series to star a potential candidate for president, the show is historic.  And we’ve enjoyed writing about it and reading the reactions of the Fancast community.  So, how about it?  Should Sarah go for Season Two?

____

No first lady is gonna lecture Sarah Palin about dessert — No, sirree, Bob!

Recreation in the scenic wilds of Alaska took center stage Sunday on “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.”

As the Palins trekked away from their Wasilla home for white-water rafting, back-country four-wheeling and Iditarod-style dog-sledding, viewers got to meet some colorful Alaskans.  These included a mullet-haired rafting guide named Mudflap and a wizened gold prospector named Bones.

We also got to hear Sarah’s views on a number of issues, including child-rearing, abortion, and First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to rein in childhood obesity.  Sarah raised the abortion issue in a comment about her young son, Trig.

“People are jerks about Trig being born with Down syndrome,” she said.  “Eighty-five to 90 percent of babies are aborted with Down syndrome.  They can have their opinion, but we have ours.”  She never explained who these “jerks” were who bad-mouthed her son, or what they said about him.

She later took a shot at unnamed “idiots and bloggers” who apparently bedevil the Palins with their on-line commentary.  “It’s nice to get the heck away from idiots and bloggers who do not like our family,” Sarah said, before she mounted an ATV for some wet-and-wild careening down muddy dirt roads toward the mining camp where Bones lived (sadly, he died since the making of Sunday’s episode).  “Four-wheeling is freedom,” Sarah declared.

And Michelle Obama’s name came up as Sarah looked inside a cupboard in her family’s bus-sized RV in search of ingredients to make s’mores.  “This is in honor of Michelle Obama, who said the other day we should not have dessert,” Sarah said.  Look, we all know Sarah Palin differs politically with President Obama.  But you wonder at moments like these why Palin chooses to mount an attack such as this, on a first lady who is speaking out in favor of juvenile health.  Aren’t we all in favor of that?

After six weeks, it’s become apparent that “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” can be viewed, at least in part, as a kind of “authorized biography” of Sarah Palin in which she controls the narrative.  Each week, she reveals aspects of her personal history, such as this past Sunday’s recounting of how she met her husband Todd in the gym at Wasilla High School when they were teens.  She also told how she worked her way through college by waitressing – a story of self-reliance and independence that plays into the image she wishes to project in her political life.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that – indeed, Palin is shrewdly getting everything she can out of this free weekly hour of prime-time television in which she gets to showcase herself and her family.

This past Sunday, she was just like any other mother of a 16-year-old when she wrestled with daughter Willow over whether her boyfriend could join the family on an overnight camping trip.  Sarah eventually said yes, but only if the boy pitched in with chores.

“We give our kids a lot of freedom because we trust our kids,” Sarah said at one point, instantly causing a viewer to think of the freedom she granted to daughter Bristol and boyfriend Levi Johnston a few years back when Bristol was 16 and she became pregnant.   “We’ve all made mistakes,” said Sarah (who never mentioned Bristol by name).  “I feel sorry for my kids because some of their mistakes are played out on the front page of the National Enquirer, which really sucks for them.”

Unfortunately, that kind of exposure is the price one pays for choosing to live a public life, as Sarah Palin has done in agreeing to star, along with her family, in her own TV show.

____

Sarah takes aim at Aaron Sorkin as she shoots from the lip

Sarah Palin finally responded publicly Friday to “West Wing” producer Aaron Sorkin’s harsh criticism of her televised takedown of a caribou earlier this month on her TLC series “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.”

Palin called Sorkin’s comments about her “appalling” right after she claimed she didn’t know his first name was Aaron.  “Is his name Alan?  I’ve been calling him Alan,” she said with a smile in an interview conducted at her home in Wasilla, Alaska, by Robin Roberts.  Their chat was seen on ABC’s “Good Morning America” in three parts Friday morning.

In a blog post for HuffingtonPost.com earlier this month, Sorkin nicknamed Palin “Cruella,” called her a “phony pioneer girl” and said the caribou-hunting episode of her show was a “snuff film.”

“His comment on [the show] I thought was pretty appalling,” Palin said.  “He suggested, ‘I could see her doing that if it were for fashion or if it were for . . .  something.’  And I’m like, ‘For fashion?  You mean go kill an animal just for the fur?’  I couldn’t believe that that came out of him.  I thought that certainly he wouldn’t be that hypocritical.”

Palin’s comment was an interpretation of this passage from Sorkin’s diatribe:  “I don’t watch snuff films and you make them,” he wrote.  “You weren’t killing that animal for food or shelter or even fashion – you were killing it for fun. You enjoy killing animals.”

The ex-governor of Alaska – whose TLC series will have its sixth episode (of eight) this Sunday night at 9/8c – was dismissive of criticism from Sorkin and others about her hunting expedition.  “We eat, therefore, we hunt and I am thankful that I get to feed my kids organic food,” she told Roberts, who nevertheless asked Palin if she thought she could have used a less-powerful rifle for the hunt, one that might have seemed more reasonable to the average, non-hunting TV viewer.  To which Palin replied: “We can’t bring down an animal with a BB gun.”

Curiously, Palin also took a shot at Sorkin by referring to what she perceives as the prevalence of gunplay in his TV shows and movies.  “I think he’s got some of those high-powered rifles in his movies and TV shows though and I think those are aimed at human beings,” she said.  “Mine is aimed at dinner.”

But a look at Sorkin’s list of credits on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com) – where his most recent credit is the Facebook movie “The Social Network,” which he wrote – reveals very few, if any, productions where action sequences involving guns would be prevalent.

____

Rough-and-ready Sarah proves she’s tougher than Kate Gosselin — Was there really any doubt?

No living creature on land or sea died in the making of Sunday night’s episode of ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’ as Sarah and family took Kate Gosselin and her eight children on a wet and wild camping trip.

It was a “first” for the former Alaska governor’s TLC reality series, which drew howls of protest a week earlier for its frank depiction of a hunting trip in which rough-and-ready Sarah fatally shot a caribou.  In previous episodes, she was seen hauling in halibut, which she clubbed to death, and salmon, which she participated in gutting and beheading.

In the episode Sunday night, however, you might say the only “victim” of Sarah’s lust for the great outdoors was Kate Gosselin, who crabbed continuously about the chilly, wet environment of the remote, riverbank campsite the Palins chose for their planned one-night stay.  Kate’s children didn’t seem to mind the adverse conditions, though, as they scurried about the site collecting rocks, attempting to fish (none were caught, a “reprieve” for the animal kingdom that is rare for this series), toasting marshmallows and taking in the flora and fauna under the tutelage of Sarah’s father, Chuck, and brother, Chuck Jr.

Meanwhile, Kate was seen huddled under a tarp shivering.  “Sorry I’m miserable,” she said, “but somebody’s gotta be.  . . .  This is cruel and unusual punishment.”

“Why would you pretend to be homeless?” she said at one point, revealing what she really thinks about camping out.

After a lunch of hamburgers and hot dogs grilled outdoors (of course, these happened to be moose hot dogs, as if Alaskans have no access to regular franks), Kate decreed that it was time for the Gosselins to return to the dry, warm shelter of civilization and they decamped before getting a chance to sleep over.  That left only the Palins, who gathered around their roaring campfire and seemed to enjoy themselves even more after Kate left.  When it was time to turn in and the Palins were snug in their various tents, they were heard saying good-night to each other in such a way that you couldn’t help but be reminded of ‘The Waltons,’ which was probably the whole point.

Though no creatures were shot or clubbed, guns and dead animals remained front and center on ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska.’  Husband Todd told Kate Gosselin that the bearskin rug on his living room floor used to be a bear until it was killed by Sarah’s dad.  And Chuck Sr.’s house was like a museum of wildlife, with its animal skulls and stuffed animals.  There was even a sculptural stack of bleached antlers about 20 feet high in the backyard.

And though they never had to fire on any wildlife, nearly the entire first half of the one-hour episode was devoted to Sarah and Kate receiving instruction in how to defend their broods from bears, which were supposedly numerous in the area in which they were due to camp (though none were seen).

The anti-bear prep program included a trip to a gun shop (which Sarah called her father’s “second home”) and a lesson with an expert in bear defense who had the ladies firing various shotguns at bear targets.  Sarah loved this activity; predictably, Kate did not.

“Out in this territory, anything can happen, but it’s nothing my shotgun can’t handle,” said Sarah, sounding like some kind of Annie Oakley figure from the period in history in which “territories” preceded “states.”  (For the record, Alaska became a state – the 49th – in January 1959.)

Next week on ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska,’ the Palins pack a ton of outdoor fun into one hour – racing ATVs, firing guns, whitewater rafting and “mushing” (that’s sledding with a team of dogs).   And now, there are only three episodes to go in ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska.’  Can you believe it’s almost over?

____

‘Cruella’ Sarah blasted by TV scribe Aaron Sorkin

TV and movie scribe Aaron Sorkin is taking aim and firing away at Sarah Palin for last Sunday’s episode of ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’ on TLC in which she hunted a caribou.

Sorkin – best known as the creator ‘The West Wing’ and, more recently, the screenwriter on the Facebook movie, ‘The Social Network’ – also blogs at HuffingtonPost.com, where he blasted Palin and her cable network.  He called Palin’s reality series “truly awful” and renamed TLC “the-Now-Hilariously-Titled Learning Channel.”

“Like 95 percent of the people I know, I don’t have a visceral problem eating meat or wearing a belt,” Sorkin wrote, in a blog post addressed directly to Palin.  “But like absolutely everybody I know, I don’t relish the idea of torturing animals.  I don’t enjoy the fact that they’re dead and . . .  if I were picked to be the one to kill them in some kind of Lottery-from-Hell, I wouldn’t do a little dance of joy while I was slicing the animal apart.”

Sorkin was apparently inspired to write the piece when he got wind of the statement Palin issued Sunday hours before the hunting episode aired.  Anticipating the criticism she was likely to face after the show aired, she Tweeted: “Tonight’s hunting episode ‘controversial’?  Really? Unless you’ve never worn leather shoes, sat upon a leather couch or eaten a piece of meat, save your condemnation.”

Sorkin called the statement “snotty” and labeled the show “a snuff film.”  “You enjoy killing animals,” he wrote accusingly, adding later, “That was the first moose ever murdered for political gain.”  (Yes, he wrote “moose,” where earlier in the piece he wrote “caribou”; the change in nomenclature was not explained.)

For her part, Palin has not issued any statements in the aftermath of Sunday’s show, which was the most controversial to date of the four episodes – out of eight – of ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’ that have aired so far.  TLC had no comment on Sorkin’s criticism of the network.

____

Animal activists up in arms over Sarah’s caribou kill

A graphic hunting scene in ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska,’ in which the firebrand former governor and vice presidential candidate was seen fatally shooting a caribou, is angering animal-rights groups.

The most vocal of them – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – was quick to issue a statement on Monday condemning the show, which aired Sunday night on TLC.  “Sarah seems to think that resorting to violence and blood and guts may lure people into watching her boring show,” said the statement from PETA Vice President Dan Mathews.  “But the ratings remain as dead as the poor animals she shoots.”

On the show – the fourth episode in the eight-part reality series – gung-ho Sarah explained that such hunts are a common method for putting up food for the winter that is essential for the survival of “most Alaskans.”

“Hunting is something most Alaskans do to fill their freezer with meat for the winter,” she said on her TLC reality series, before embarking on a two-day hunting expedition in the north of Alaska with her father, Chuck, and a family friend.  Really, Sarah?  “Most” Alaskans?  Meaning more than half of them?  Hey, maybe it’s true – it’s just a difficult concept to contemplate for those of us who live in the lower 48 where grocery stores are plentiful, well-stocked, conveniently located and open 24 hours.

Sarah even spoke in terms that must have sounded familiar to anthropologists and others who study primitive cultures.  Explaining why her husband, Todd, would not be joining her on this excursion, Sarah said, “This year, Todd and I split the hunting and gathering responsibilities.”  “Hunting and gathering”?   What is this – ‘The Flintstones’?

She even rationalized the hunt by informing viewers that the family meat supplies had dwindled down to only a handful of packages of “caribou sausage and moose pepperoni,” regional delicacies which must make for some interesting pizzas in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Wasilla.

And so, Sarah and company packed tents, sandwiches, guns and ammo into a tiny plane and took off for a remote camp to stalk caribou, which Sarah said number in the hundreds of thousands in Alaska’s wilderness.  Meanwhile, we viewers saw about three of them on this two-day hunt, two of which were fatally shot – the first by family friend Steve Becker and the second by Mama Rambo herself – Sarah – decked out in headband and camouflage.

In the show’s most controversial scene, we got to see Sarah get ready, aim and fire at a caribou, bagging the beast on her fifth shot (after switching to a more powerful rifle with a more accurate sight).  And unlike most of the hunting shows that have aired for years on various ESPN channels and the old Outdoor Life Network (among others), we got to witness the moment the animal got hit and then collapsed heavily on the ground.  In fact, the scene was preceded by a viewer advisory.

Standing around the lifeless animal, Sarah solemnly quoted one of America’s legendary outdoorsmen.  “In the words of Ted Nugent,” she said, “We thank that mighty animal for living a good life and now sustaining a nice family.”

We then got a close-up lesson in butchering in the field as the hunters set to the task of quartering the caribou and bundling the various cuts of meat for transport back to Wasilla.  There, on the Palins’ kitchen island, the pieces were trimmed and made ready for the freezer, but not before Steve Becker displayed the caribou’s heart for the edification of Sarah’s 9-year-old daughter, Piper.

To hear Sarah tell it, few pursuits in life are more enjoyable than a successful hunting trip.  Said she, “When you see that you have a successful hit, it’s a great feeling of accomplishment.”

With this past Sunday’s show, we’re now at the halfway point in the eight-part ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska.’  Next week, in Episode Five, Sarah goes out in the wild once again, this time in the company of fellow TLC reality star Kate Gosselin and her eight children.

____

Preview: Happy huntress Sarah craves caribou

The survival of Sarah Palin’s family hangs in the balance this Sunday on ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’ when Sarah suits up like Rambo for a hunting trip 500 miles from her Alaska home in pursuit of caribou meat.

Actually, her family’s situation is not really all that dire – it just seems that way in this  clip on TLC’s Web site for this Sunday’s new episode.  In the clip, the former governor is seen taking an inventory of the family’s meat supply (five packages of moose and three of caribou) and concludes: “It’s time to go out there and go caribou huntin’!”  As Rachael Ray might exclaim: “Yummo!”

So Sarah takes rifle in hand and, accompanied by her father and a family friend, she goes out in search of caribou.  She’s even seen drawing a bead on her majestic prey while her Pa instructs her: “Go ahead, right in the neck.”

Though she would appear to have the drop on her unsuspecting target with her high-powered rifle and precision optics, Sarah nevertheless insists: “We don’t have the advantage, the animals have the advantage.”

Will Sarah bag herself a caribou and thus stave off starvation for her family?  That question isn’t answered in the clip, which means we’ll have to tune in Sunday night at 9/8c on TLC to find out.

____

Republican rival on Sarah: Her clubbing of halibut shows she’s not to be trifled with

Guess who’s been keeping up with ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’: It’s none other than Republican presidential hopeful – and possible Palin rival – Mitt Romney.

Romney, who campaigned for the Republican nomination in 2008 but wound up campaigning for John McCain and Sarah Palin, dropped a reference to Palin’s TLC reality series in a conversation with Jay Leno on ‘The Tonight Show’ Wednesday night on NBC.

The subject came up when Leno asked Romney, who was once governor of Massachusetts, to comment on Palin’s famous decision to quit as Alaska governor before her term was up.  “This is the one thing that I think really impedes Sarah Palin,” Leno said, “the fact that she quit as governor.  You were a governor of a state.  Could you ever see yourself quitting?”

“She had her reasons,” Romney said diplomatically.  “And by the way, if someone’s looking for me to say something negative about Sarah Palin, why that’s not going to come from me.  I mean, did you see what she did to the halibut the other night on her show?”

Romney was referring to the episode of ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’ on Nov. 21 in which Sarah and daughter Bristol were seen taking up billyclubs to bash in the heads of halibut that were struggling for survival on the deck of a commercial fishing boat.

Leno also asked the Republican Romney if he’s ever been offered a job on right-leaning Fox News Channel.  “A lot of republican candidates have gone to work for Fox News,” Leno said, referring to former and would-be candidates such as Palin and Mike Huckabee.  “Have they ever approached you as being a correspondent or something of that nature?” Jay asked.

“Jay,” Romney answered, “if you ever see me sign up for a gig on Fox News, it’ll be a clear indication I’ve decided to run for president!  So that’s not in the cards anytime soon.”

Romney and Leno also discussed the Obama administration (Romney called the president’s first two years a “failure”), the controversy over airport personal-search methods and the Republican agenda.

It seems that every time you turn on the TV set these days, somebody’s talking about Sarah Palin.  Who would you prefer for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 – Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin?

____

Sarah’s salmon surprise: Ratings rise for fishing show

Feisty Sarah Palin has defied the odds, as her TLC reality series took a jump up in the ratings this past Sunday after falling steeply the week before.

Last weekend, the third episode of the eight-part ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’ attracted 3.5 million viewers, according to Nielsen figures released by TLC, rising from 3 million for Episode Two a week earlier.

The show’s premiere drew 4.96 million on Nov. 14 – the highest-rated series launch in the history of TLC.  But the numbers for Week Two represented a 40 percent loss of audience, leading many observers to conclude that the bloom had quickly come off the rose for Palin and her TV show.

But the modest increase in Week Three indicates that there’s life in ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’ yet.  They’re not unheard-of, but such increases are unusual.  Generally speaking, ratings for TV shows that are just starting out don’t generally rise, fall and then rise again.  But that’s Sarah Palin for ya – she’s nothing if not surprising.

The episode set for this coming Sunday (9 p.m./8c on TLC) – titled ‘She’s a Great Shot’ – is bound to be talked about as Sarah takes rifle in hand and treks with her dad to a hunting ground near the Arctic Circle in search of caribou.  TLC’s description of the episode explains that “Sarah’s freezer is almost empty and winter is approaching.  [So] she embarks on an epic caribou hunting trip . . . in search of a caribou for food.”  We have to ask: Is that really Sarah Palin’s only option for obtaining sustenance?  Hey, Sarah, ever hear of a supermarket?

Meanwhile, a week later, on Dec. 12 – gunplay once again takes centerstage on ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’ when TLC reality star Kate Gosselin (‘Kate Plus 8’) and her brood turn up in Alaska for a hunting trip and hospitable Sarah takes them to a “bear safety class for rifle practice.”

Now that’s an episode with the potential to boost ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’ to new heights in the ratings.  Stay tuned!

____

Another Sarah Palin fish tale: This time, her victims are salmon

Our advice for fish: If you see any Palins approaching, swim the other way – fast!  As the last two episodes of ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’ demonstrate, encounters between fish and members of Sarah Palin’s family usually end fatally for the fish.

Look, many of us love to eat fresh halibut and salmon caught in the abundant waters of Alaska.  And we all know that someone somewhere has to catch, kill, gut and filet them so we can enjoy them.  Still, one can’t help noticing, and remarking on, the fact that this TLC series this past Sunday featured Sarah Palin and her relatives once again pulling vast quantities of fish from the sea and prepping them for consumption and for sale, as well as for a smokehouse, where strips of salmon were put up for winter.

This week’s fishing exercise – following the previous week’s voyage with a commercial halibut fisherman – involved capturing salmon in great nets stretched across an expanse of Alaska’s Bristol Bay.  Bristol Palin was named for the bay, Mama Sarah disclosed on the show.  It just so happens that Todd Palin, husband of the former governor of the state, enjoys the distinction of possessing the location that is said to be the best site on this bay that is home to the world’s most populous salmon run, according to Sarah.  No mention was made about whether the ex-governor helped Todd stake a claim to this site while she was still in office, but you had to wonder.

And so, thousands of pounds of salmon were caught, and the Palin family came together to clean and bone their catch.  It was all part of a July Fourth weekend celebration of daughter Willow’s 16th birthday, and she herself joined in the process of beheading the fish and yanking out the guts (she expressed particular interest in eyeballing the contents of one salmon’s stomach to see what it had eaten lately).

But the episode wasn’t all fish heads and fish guts.  Portions of the show had Sarah talking candidly, and tearing up, about her youngest son, Trig, born with Down syndrome.  She was especially touched when the family went to visit some cousins, and she got a chance to interact with Matthew, a cousin who also has Down syndrome.

Here were some other highlights from this, the third episode of eight of ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’:

Rugged, frontier-like statement of the week: A week earlier, Sarah proved her Old West bonafides when she encouraged daughter Bristol during a skeet-shooting exercise with the phrase “Don’t retreat, just reload!”  This past Sunday, Sarah made a point about family loyalty when she said: “We circle the wagons when we have to!”  Yee-ha!

Sarah’s TV preferences, Part 2: A week ago, she revealed her taste for ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Deadliest Catch.’  This week, it was ‘Cheers,’ when she set sail in an Alaska lake where mail is apparently delivered by boats like the one she was in.  “I’m the Cliff Clavin of Alaska!” she declared, referring to the hapless Boston postman on ‘Cheers’ played by John Ratzenberger.  “Do you know who Cliff Clavin is?” she asked others in the boat, including daughter Piper, 9.  “No?” said Sarah, 46.  “Never mind!”

Fireworks in daylight?!  Unfortunately for Alaskans, that’s a fact of life on July Fourth, especially if you want to get to bed early.  On ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska,’ the Palins were seen lighting fireworks by the water in what appeared to be broad daylight.  It was probably evening, though – last July Fourth, the sun didn’t set in those parts until 11:35 p.m.

The fish swimming in Alaska’s waters seem to get a reprieve in next week’s episode, as Sarah and her family turn their attention to hunting caribou, according to the preview seen at the end of the show.  All we can say to that is: Run, caribou, run!  The Palins are coming!  The Palins are coming!

____

Hapless halibut are no match for Sarah’s death blows

Sarah Palin and her daughter Bristol did some mother-daughter bonding when they went clubbing together Sunday night on ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’ – clubbing some fish to death, that is!

“We are just the average American family on the road,” said Mama Bear Sarah in the second episode of her new eight-part series on TLC that has become one of the most talked-about shows on TV.  “Average”?  Only if the “average” American family hits the road in a custom-built bus like they’re Dolly Parton.

The Palins – Sarah, hubby Todd, Willow, 16, Piper, 9, and, for the first time on the show, the family’s other superstar, ‘Dancing with the Stars’ phenom Bristol, 20, with 22-month-old Tripp – hopped on their bus for a 263-mile drive south from their home in Wasilla, Alaska, to the seaside town of Homer, Alaska’s halibut-fishing mecca.  There, the family set sail with a commercial fisherman to experience the harvesting of halibut first-hand.  “We’re going there just for the halibut!” joked fun-loving Sarah.

This included hauling the flopping fish out of the sea and then having Sarah and Bristol take turns “neutralizing” them with a knock on the noggin with a black billyclub about a foot or so long that looked like police riot gear.  Gung-ho Sarah explained it was “the most humane way to harvest these massive fish.”  The scene was preceded by a viewer warning.

What else did we learn about the Palins in this episode?  A couple of things:

The Sarah Palin Workout, Republican style: The former governer of Alaska was seen in an early morning trip to the gym wearing white ankle socks emblazoned with the GOP elephant logo.

Bristol’s ex-boyfriend, ol’ whatshisname: In referring to Bristol’s baby-daddy Levi Johnston and the tabloid scrutiny her daughter has had to endure ever since it was revealed during the 2008 presidential campaign that the teen was pregnant, Sarah couldn’t bring herself to mention Levi’s name.  The scrutiny, Sarah said, was “because of somebody she’d been associated with.”

Sarah’s rootin’ tootin’ baby shower: When she was pregnant with Piper, Sarah disclosed, Palin’s pals threw her a baby shower at a local trap-shooting range, which Sarah, Todd and Bristol visited on Sunday’s show for a family shootin’ match.

Sarah’s TV preferences: The former vice presidential candidate indicated she’s a fan of ‘Deadliest Catch’ when she was tasked to hurl a grappling hook into the water to snag a halibut line.  She said she learned how to do it from watching the Alaska-based crab-fishing show.  And we couldn’t believe our ears when Sarah let out a “‘Do’h!” in the manner of Homer Simpson when she said, “We’re goin’ to Homer – do’h!”  Sarah Palin a fan of ‘The Simpsons’?  Say, maybe she’s presidential timber after all!

How’d the episode do in the ratings?  TLC says we won’t have the audience numbers until Tuesday.

And now, there are only six episodes of ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’ left to go.  Truth be told, we wish they’d never end.

____

Sarah’s reality: Can this show propel her to the presidency?

Make no mistake: Sarah Palin’s TLC series most definitely qualifies as a “reality” show, whether she likes it or not.  But it’s also true that ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’ takes reality TV to a new and previously unimagined level: It is the first reality show to serve as a possible springboard to the presidency of the United States.

For that reason, this show occupies a category all its own within the wide world of reality television.  It’s a reality show that plays like a program-length commercial – a bit like those productions we’re accustomed to seeing on TV in the final days of a presidential campaign when a candidate buys, say, a half-hour of prime-time TV to air a self-produced “portrait” special portraying him (or her) in the best possible light.

But the big difference between ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’ and those other productions is this: Few of us watch those campaign specials, but nearly 5 million of us watched the premiere last Sunday of ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’ on TLC (9 p.m./8c).  And that was only the first of eight full hours she’s getting to strut her stuff on prime-time TV.  And she’s not buying the time either – they’re paying her and throwing in the added benefit of heavily promoting the show to ensure that people watch it.

It’s the greatest opportunity ever taken up by a potential presidential candidate to promote his or her best personal attributes (though coy Sarah habitually avoids confirming or denying her interest in the presidency).  On ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska,’ the ex-gov gets to craft an image of supreme likability in an environment she controls – her home – a place where she ceases to be the lightning rod personality who generates such strong opinions from supporters and opponents alike.

In the series premiere, she was tough and tender (you couldn’t miss the symbolism of the episode’s title, ‘Mama Grizzly’), a mom with five kids (‘Sarah Plus 5’) who juggled her professional life (preparing to be interviewed by Bill O’Reilly on Fox News Channel via satellite from her home TV studio) with her responsibilities as Mama Bear.  In the episode, these duties included baking cupcakes with daughter Piper, 9, and preventing the teen boyfriend of daughter Willow, 16, from following Willow upstairs in the Palin home.  She even demonstrated that she’s capable of laughing at herself when she was seen sitting on a rock somewhere in the Alaska wilderness and joked: “You can see Russia from here – almost!”

When she isn’t padding around the house in bare feet, gym shorts and a light-gray, zippered hoodie – as she was this past Sunday – this 46-year-old “cool” mom with “prom hair” (as one of her daughters described it) is flying around Alaska with various family members fishing, shooting, paddling a canoe, rock-climbing and wielding a chainsaw.  They’re just “normal,” everyday activities for this typical mom.  “Today we’re going to have a blast!” she said on the show.  “After I get some of my work done, we’re taking the girls and we’re heading into bear country to do some salmon fishing!”

It all came across like a lot of fresh-air fun, and you can’t help but appreciate the Palins’ gung-ho attitude when it comes to gathering up the family for these far-flung outdoor activities.

But can ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska’ help this controversial figure craft the kind of image that will convert opponents into supporters?  Or more to the point, can this reality show help propel Sarah Palin into the White House?

____

Sarah’s lament: My TV show is invading my privacy!

It’s the ultimate paradox – a celebrity agrees to appear with her entire family on a TV series, and then gripes that her life isn’t private enough.

Sarah Palin makes this complaint on the very show in which she has agreed to star: ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska,’ the eight-part series starting Sunday, Nov. 14, on TLC.

Huffington Post has a clip from the show in which Palin crabs about a journalist – author Joe McGinniss (“Fatal Vision,” “The Selling of the President”) – who has taken up residence next door to her lakeside Alaska home in order to do “research” for a Palin biography.

“Our behavior has certainly changed this summer because of this new neighbor,” Palin says.  “I think it is an intrusion, an invasion of our privacy and I don’t like it.  . . .  It’s just none of his flippin’ business.”

Adds husband Todd, “Our summer fun has kind of been taken away from us because of a new neighbor next door who is writing a hit piece on my wife. I mean life is about being productive but these people want to seek and destroy.”

Whether or not the Palins’ “summer fun” is curtailed remains debatable since the show itself is all about how much fun the family has in the wilds of Alaska – fishing, boating, rock-climbing, hiking on a glacier and other stuff.  On the other hand, the Palins have a point: There is a difference between being accosted by journalists when out in public, and having to endure a journalist who has moved next door for the express purpose of spying on you from an upstairs balcony.  In addition, it’s valid to question this author’s methods.  After all, thousands upon thousands of biographies have been researched and written successfully without their authors moving in next door to their subjects.

Still, the paradox is worth pondering every time a public figure who craves the limelight then turns around and complains that his or her privacy is being violated.  Sure, you can blame the violator (in this case, the journalist), but doesn’t some of the responsibility lie with the publicity-seeker?  Isn’t she the one who sought the limelight and brought her entire family with her?

____

Is Sarah out of touch with reality?  Answer: Yes

Is Sarah Palin out of touch with reality?  OK, that’s a cheeky, loaded question, but it’s really asking if the outspoken ex-governor of Alaska understands what we mean when we categorize a TV show as “reality TV.”

The question arises from her appearance this past weekend on “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace” in which Wallace asked her to respond to former Bush aide Karl Rove’s allegation that her upcoming reality series on TLC indicates she’s not serious enough to run for president.

Rove took aim at Palin’s show – the eight-part ‘Sarah Palin’s Alaska,’ set to premiere Nov. 14 – in an interview last week in The London Telegraph.  “With all due candor,” Rove said, “appearing on your own reality show on [TLC], I am not certain how that fits in the American calculus of ‘that helps me see you in the Oval Office’.”

“There are high standards that the American people have for [the presidency],” Rove continued, “and they require a certain level of gravitas, and they want to look at the candidate and say ‘that candidate is doing things that gives me confidence that they are up to the most demanding job in the world’.”

He also took a shot at one of Palin’s promo spots for her new show, in which she’s seen somewhere in the wilds of Alaska declaring, “I would rather be doing this than in some stuffy old political office.”  Rove suggested that the statement will lead potential voters to believe Palin can’t be trusted to sit in an office and work hard for them.

So when Wallace asked her to respond to what Rove said about the TV show, Palin played the ‘Bedtime for Bonzo’ card to make a point about the career Ronald Reagan had as a movie actor before he entered politics (though her comment made you wonder if Palin knows the difference between Bonzo, a chimp, and Bozo, a clown).

“I agree . . .  that those standards have to be high for someone who would ever want to run for president like, um, wasn’t Ronald Reagan an actor?” she said.  “Wasn’t he in ‘Bedtime for Bonzo,’ Bozo or something? Ronald Reagan was an actor.”

And here’s the part where she attempts to position her reality show as, well, not a reality series.  “Now look-it,” she lectured.  “I’m not in a reality show. I have eight episodes documenting Alaska’s resources, what it is that we can contribute to the rest of the U.S. to economically and physically secure our union, and my family comes along on the ride because I am family, family is us, and my family comes along on the ride to document these eight episodes for The Learning Channel and Discovery Channel.  . . .  So Karl is wrong right there in calling it a reality show.”

Palin’s attempt to categorize her show as something other than a “reality” show underscores the ongoing debate over what is reality and what is not on TV.   The “reality” category is pretty inclusive these days, encompassing everything from competition shows (from ‘Survivor’ to ‘Top Chef’) to all those dozens of “unscripted” series (from ‘Jersey Shore’ and ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’ all the way to ‘Pawn Stars’ and ‘Deadliest Catch’).  In fact, it’s possible Palin is striving to distance her show from the reality pack so that no one lumps her in with Snooki, Kim Kardashian or Kate Gosselin.  Still, her show seems like a “reality” show and until someone comes up with another name for it, that’s what we’re going to continue calling it.

After they viewed a short clip from the TLC show of Palin on a rock-climbing adventure, Wallace told her, “I think you’re having too much fun, I think you’re making too much money . . .  I don’t think you’re gonna run!”  To which Palin answered, “If the country needed me  . . .  I would be willing to make the sacrifices, if need be, for America.”

So how about it?  Do you think Sarah Palin can make the leap from reality TV star to the presidency?

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

And so, the Olbermann story runs its course. Alas.

November 10, 2010

KEITH RESURRECTED: Before you knew he was gone, he was already back.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Nov. 10, 2010 — Talk about glee!  Keith Olbermann was clearly happy to be back on the air Tuesday night after an “indefinite” suspension that lasted only four days.  But he was even more ecstatic – downright gleeful, you might say – about all the attention he received during his brief exile.

That was more than evident in the remarks he made about his experience, in the final segment of his MSNBC show, ‘Countdown,’ on Tuesday.  That’s the show on which Keith “counts down” the five biggest stories of the day.  And on this night, story Number One was the one about himself.

“I’d like to close tonight by discussing something that I’m sure has happened to you dozens of times in your own life,” Olbermann said, launching into one of the longest run-on sentences in the history of broadcasting.  “You know, when there’s a petition supporting you and it winds up being signed by 300,000 people and you get 21,000 tweets in a 72-hour period and then you’re invited to be on television because you aren’t on television because they want you to be the lead story on ‘Good Morning America’ and ‘Larry King’ and ‘Letterman’ and you break the traffic record on the Huffington Post and you’re on the front page of the New York Times without being dead, or in jail or Charlie Sheen or something!”   Whew!

“Well, maybe you’re used to it,” Keith went on, knowing full well we’re not used to it, that such things don’t happen to any of us mere mortals at home watching this champion of 72-hour tweets on TV.  “But for me, it was kind of a surprise,” Keith said with a huge grin.  “And all I can seriously say is I’m stunned and grateful and it still feels like a universal hug!”  Awww.

He apologized to his viewers for “having subjected you to all this unnecessary drama.”  And then he apologized, somewhat awkwardly, “for not having known by observation, since it’s not in my contract, that NBC had rules about getting permission for making political donations even though any rule like that in any company [is] probably not legal.”  Come on now, Keith – everybody knows that ignorance of the law (or corporate rules) is no excuse!

He admitted to making the campaign contributions to three Democratic candidates a few days before Election Day that resulted in his suspension last Friday.  He then played some videotape – very gleefully – of Jay Leno and Jon Stewart joking about him on ‘The Tonight Show’ and ‘The Daily Show,’ respectively.  And he thanked the many thousands who reportedly “signed” an on-line petition for his reinstatement.  “I’d like to thank all 300,000 signatories to that petition, but obviously I can’t,” he said, feigning humility and then adding this punchline: “And anyway, 99 percent of them were my relatives!”  (For the record, that would mean Olbermann, a stickler for accuracy when he criticizes his rivals at Fox News Channel, is claiming 297,000 relatives – a pretty large family.)

The cleverest part of the whole show was the opening, in which Olbermann’s empty desk was shown on screen for such a long period of time (at least by TV standards) that you couldn’t help wondering if he was going to show up at all.  Then he suddenly appeared, standing right before the camera, where he made his first remarks on the controversy.

“I need to address one thing right now,” he said.  “I read in a couple of places that this has to have been a publicity stunt.  This was not a publicity stunt!”

Well, if it wasn’t a real publicity stunt, for Olbermann it was the next best thing.  Said he, “Of course, if I had known that all this would happen, I would have done this years ago!”

Did you watch the show?  If so, what did you think of Keith’s return?  Are you glad to have him back?  Or more to the point, are you glad this whole suspension controversy is now over and done with?

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Why, you! Stooges toss pies, poke eyes on IFC

October 20, 2010

‘THREE OF THE BEST PLUMBERS WHO EVER PLUMBED A PLUMB’: Three Stooges Moe (right), Curly (center) and Larry wreak havoc in “A-Plumbing We Will Go” (1940).  Photo: IFC

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Oct. 20. 2010 — What on Earth are the Three Stooges doing on IFC?

They’re doing what they usually do: Slapping, punching, poking eyes and throwing pies.  But what we really mean is: How do the Stooges, who are now being featured in mini-marathons every Saturday on IFC, fit in with the rest of the programming on this cable channel formerly devoted exclusively to showcasing independent films?  It’s enough to make an IFC fan exclaim, “Why, you!”

Well, why not?  As the channel’s chief executive explains, IFC feels these legends of slapstick comedy conform completely with the cable net’s current tagline, “Always On. Slightly Off,” particularly the latter half of that slogan.

“These were the first guys who were ‘slightly off’,” said Jennifer Caserta, executive vice president and general manager of IFC.  “We have been moving into this alternative comedy genre in a very significant way.  And if you look back at what we’ve done, particularly over the past year – for example, we brought ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ and a lot of the Python films onto the network [and] we reunited the Kids in the Hall for a series called ‘Death Comes to Town’ – what we’re realizing is there’s something to be said about some very nostalgic properties that transcend the generations.  [The Three Stooges] were kind of the first alt-sketch comedy troupe if you really look at it like that.”

Fair enough, but there was another reason why IFC picked up the Stooges for these mini-marathons that first turned up in August and then returned this month, running every Saturday from around 9:30 a.m. ’til 2 p.m. (this Saturday’s lineup begins at 9:35 a.m./8:35c): They were easy to get their hands on since IFC’s co-owned cable channel, AMC, has owned the broadcast rights to the Stooges’ short films for about a decade and air them all over the place, mainly as 20-minute fillers between movies.  The difference: IFC’s Stooges run without commercial interruption.

The Three Stooges starred in so-called “two-reel” comedies (about 20 minutes in length) produced by Columbia Pictures from 1934 to 1959.  The team – Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard and later, Shemp Howard and Joe Besser – made about 190 shorts for Columbia, a portion of which began airing in television syndication in 1958.  They’ve been on more or less continuously ever since, entertaining generations of kids – 99 percent boys (and immature adult men).

So far, the Stooge mini-marathons running this month on IFC have been almost entirely from the Curly era, which ended in 1947 when Curly had a career-ending stroke on the set of “Half-Wits’ Holiday,” one of the shorts that happened to air last Saturday.  His older brother, Shemp, replaced him as third Stooge until Shemp’s own death in 1955.

This Saturday’s lineup of 12 consecutive Stooges classics includes the 1934 hospital comedy “Men in Black” (10:45 a.m./9:45c) – the only Stooges movie ever to be nominated for an Oscar (they lost); and the Art Deco-infused “Slippery Silks” from 1936 (1:20 p.m./12:20c), which was Moe’s personal favorite.

IFC’s Caserta admits the Stooges are definitely a guy thing.  “I have observed over the years how guys go nuts for the Stooges,” she said.  “I have yet to meet a woman who gets them.”

So how about it?   Is she right about the great Stooges gender divide?  Are there any women out there who “get” the Stooges?  And for those of you who love ’em, here’s the question that always sparks discussion among Stooge fans: Who do you like better – Curly or Shemp?

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Verbal rasslin’! Jesse Ventura blasts Sarah Palin

October 15, 2010

LITTLE GREEN MEN: Jesse Ventura takes a moment to contemplate the heavens during a UFO investigation this season on his TruTV series “Conspiracy Theory.” Photo: Hopper Stone

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Oct. 15, 2010 — There’s no conspiracy here: Just an outspoken former pro wrestler turned Minnesota governor who’s now hosting a TV series that purports to expose secrets the government doesn’t want you to know.  You got a problem with that?

He’s Jesse Ventura, once known as “The Body” in his wrestling days and now holding forth on TruTV on his show, ‘Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura,’ which starts its second season Friday (Oct. 15) at 10 p.m./9c.

The governor is passionate about conspiracies.  Last season, The Governing Body and his team investigated the persistent rumors that the U.S. government had a hand in planning the 9/11 terror attacks; that the CIA has a “Manchurian Candidate”-like program to turn ordinary citizens into assassins; and that a remote government-run facility in the wilds of Alaska is being used to develop a secret super-weapon capable of altering the weather.

In a free-wheeling phone interview from his Minnesota home, Ventura insisted that his show is turning up evidence of government wrongdoing that you can’t refute.  We also got the 59-year-old ex-gov to talk politics in this turbulent election season, and you won’t believe what this maverick of gubernatorial politics had to say about Sarah Palin and the Tea Party.

Do you consider ‘Conspiracy Theory’ to be an information show or an entertainment show? 

Gov. Ventura: It’s an entertainment show, but it is based upon facts.  Originally, when we had the concept for the show, we were going to show both sides of the conspiracy and allow the viewer to pick.  Well, when one side won’t cooperate in any way, shape or form, it makes it difficult to show their side.  And then I also felt, Hell, well, everybody knows the government’s side.  Why do we need to show that?  Let’s show the alternative side.  And I can unequivocally state this: In every conspiracy that I’ve done, the evidence seems overwhelmingly to support the conspiracy rather than the government when those two go head-to-head.

Before you became involved in the show, were you a person who was interested in the subjects that you’re now covering on the series? 

The only conspiracy that consumes me is the killing of [President] John Kennedy.  And the reason that happened was from wrestling, in a way.  Wrestling changed in the mid-’80s from us driving cars to flying in planes.  Well, if you’ve ever done a lot of plane-flying, you know that it’s so boring.  I mean, you’re in airports and planes everyday.  Well, I read.  I found a way to counteract that boredom is to read.  And so I got hooked on reading about the assassination of Jack Kennedy and every book I could get on it, I’d read on the plane.

‘Conspiracy Theory’ will tackle the JFK assassination later this season, but what can you possibly report that hasn’t been reported already about this story?

Here’s what’s new: On the episode this year, you will hear an audio, visual and written confession from a person who was involved [in the assassination plot] on his deathbed to his son.  Most people don’t lie when they’re dyin’!

On the premiere episode this Friday, about the mysterious government bio-research lab on Plum Island off the coasts of Long Island and Connecticut, you make quite an effort to go to the island by boat, even though the authorities frown on it.

I didn’t actually want to go to it.  I just wanted to get a closer look at it.  I didn’t want to set foot on this place.  There’s no telling what you’d catch.  . . .  Here’s the thing with Plum Island that irks me: It was created by a freakin’ Nazi!  [The show posits that the facility was founded in the early 1950s by a former Nazi bio-warfare scientist named Erich Traub who was recruited by the U.S. government after World War II.]  And nobody seems to care.  And this guy’s expertise was what?  Infecting ticks and mosquitos with biological weapons to unleash upon another country!

What is the aim of ‘Conspiracy Theory’?  OK, so you expose these conspiracies.  Then what?  Do you expect this exposure to effect change somehow?

I hope that it wakes people up to not sit and listen to mainstream media and our government – what I call soundbite news.  They don’t investigate nothing [sic].  And the point is, many of these stories have a lot more to them than what you get on soundbite news.  And I’m hoping to make people question it, to say, Are we being lied to?  And the other thing I want to show people is that you’re not allowed to ask the government a question and expect an answer.  Why?  Don’t we pay their salaries?  Don’t they work for us?

Let’s talk politics, governor, because it’s an election season, and a pretty dramatic one so far, due in part to the Tea Party movement.  Is it accurate to say that you still follow politics pretty avidly?

Oh, God, yes.  I have to doing this show.  I’ll put it to you this way about the Tea Party: Anybody that would put Sarah Palin to the top of their list will never get me.  She’s a quitter.

You’re not a fan of hers.  Why – because she quit her job?

You’re damn right.  She quit in the middle of her term.  That’s the contract you have with the voters.

Did you feel differently about her before she quit?

Well, I felt she was completely unqualified.  I had more qualifications than she did.  I had served as a mayor of a town [Brooklyn Park, Minn.] of 60,000 – hers [Wasilla, Alaska] was 10,000.  I had served as governor for two years when everybody wanted me to run for president in 2000, and I said I’m not prepared to be the president.  I haven’t even completed office as a governor yet.  Now, she never completed her office as governor.  She didn’t even get two years in hardly!  And she quit to get money.  Jesus, how do people not see that!  She saw greener pastures, said, Screw the people of Alaska, and went on to collect.

Maybe you can do an episode of ‘Conspiracy Theory’ about her.

I wouldn’t waste my time.

Would you ever consider a return to the political arena?

Well, you never say never.  I’ve learned that after 59 years.  Now, do I have any aspirations to do that at this moment?  No.  I’d rather do this TV show.  I feel I’m being as effective with this TV show as I would be if I ran for office because, remember, I’m an independent, so let me explain what it’s like for me in Washington.  I’m like the redheaded stepchild that shows up on the day they read the will.  That’s how welcome I am.  I now proudly state this: When I hit Washington now, people run faster from me than they do Michael Moore.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Howling wolves: Max Weinberg, HBO’s ‘Chalky’

October 10, 2010

FASCINATING INTERVIEWS!

CONAN’S LONG-TIME BANDLEADER;

TOUGH-GUY ACTOR MICHAEL KENNETH WILLIAMS

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Oct. 10, 2010 — Why did bandleader Max Weinberg decide not to follow Conan O’Brien to TBS?

Blame it on the irresistible lure of the Garden State.  In the final analysis, this lifelong Jersey boy says he just couldn’t pull up stakes in his home state at age 59 for a new life in La La Land, though he did follow Conan there for his short-lived stint as host of ‘The Tonight Show’ on NBC – a gig which abruptly came to an end last January.

The famed drummer – a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band since 1974 (since Springsteen’s third album, “Born to Run”) and a fixture in late-night TV as Conan’s musical director (and sometime comic foil) for 17 years – talked about his decision to withdraw from late-night, revealing for the first time that he underwent life-saving open-heart surgery just two weeks after the demise of Conan’s ‘Tonight Show’ last winter and how this “life-changing” experience influenced his decision to stay put on the East Coast.

The occasion for the interview was the pending premiere Thursday of a new documentary about Springsteen on HBO – ‘The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town’ (9/8c).  Weinberg, who appears often in the 90-minute film, shared his own memories of the lengthy process from which the ‘Darkness’ album was born – three years after ‘Born to Run’ turned Springsteen and his bandmates into international rock stars.

It was finally confirmed a week or so ago that you’re not joining Conan on his new TBS late-night show.  What happened there?  Will we ever see you on TV again, other than documentaries about Bruce Springsteen?

[Laughs] I’m sure you’ll see me on television again.  You won’t see me on an episodic show, that’s for sure.  I did my time.  I loved it.  It was great.  Frankly, I do prefer living in New Jersey and that was one of the problems I had.  I love playing in L.A., but my kids and my wife are back east, and we live part of the time in Italy, so it was hard to structure my life [and have a job in Los Angeles].  I can tell you – I can make a little news here, which I haven’t talked about to anybody, but on Feb. 8, I came to the end of a 26-year watchful, waiting odyssey that culminated in 12 hours of massively invasive open-heart surgery.

Was it a bypass?

[No] I had valve repair.  I found out about this 26 years ago and I knew about it and I monitored it.  At the time, there was not much they could do and it wasn’t as serious as it became.  As I got older, it got worse.  Fortunately, the protocols for dealing with it became much more advanced and I found a wonderful doctor in New York who specializes in repairing valves.  Two years ago, it became life-threatening and I had to do something about it sooner or later.  I did it two weeks after [Conan’s ‘Tonight Show’] went off the air.

I’ll tell you it was a life-changing experience emotionally and spiritually.  I owe my life to these doctors.  If you can remember back to how moved David Letterman was when he got back on the air [in February 2000] – he had quintuple bypass surgery.  [In valve-repair surgery] they stop your heart.  I was on the heart-lung bypass machine for close to seven hours.  Did it play into my decision to remain where I am?  Maybe.  I mean I had three months of very difficult recovery.  When I say it was life-changing – I’ve always been a person who smelled the roses, but everything looks a little brighter.  Everything looks a little bit more manageable.  Nothing is really that big a deal to me anymore.  I’ve never felt better.  I thought I had energy before [but] I’m a thousand percent better.  I’m playing better than I ever did.  I’m not looking backward.  I feel wonderful about where I’m at – physically, personally, professionally.

Do you have anything to add to the story of what happened to Conan?  Were you as shocked as anybody else that his ‘Tonight Show’ went south that way?

It was very dramatic.  At my age, just being in this business for as long as I’ve been, nothing really surprises me, particularly in the landscape of television.  [But] any abrupt ending to anything is shocking.  It was very weird and awkward and, of course, I felt really bad for some of the people who moved out there – over a hundred people from New York who really took the hit, people who had purchased homes.   I know of one case where the day this news broke, which I think was Jan. 5 or 6, this individual had just closed on a house and that’s a real shame.

Let’s talk about the HBO documentary about ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town.’  Why are we singling out this album for documentary treatment?  What’s so special about this one?

Of course, I have a somewhat prejudiced opinion – that all of Bruce’s albums are special.  This record, as the next project that was done after ‘Born to Run,’ to me, is extremely reflective of what was going on in music at the time in the late ’70s.  If you contrast ‘Darkness’ and its sound with the sound of ‘Born to Run,’ it’s quite different.  And I knew at the time that Bruce had begun to crystallize what it was he wanted to write about.  I always viewed my role and the rest of the musicians as: We’re colors in Bruce’s palette and I can recall on that record they wanted the drums to be very austere.  I think the best example of that is probably the title track, ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town.’  Why ‘Darkness’ now?  Well, why not?  It’s 33 years later and it’s sort of like the old Orson Welles line: ‘No wine before its time.’  There was footage that was filmed, it’s steeped in history and [so many years later], there’s a deeper resonance.

The movie traces the creation of the album and it goes into detail about the painstaking length of time that it took.  How do you remember it?  Was it satisfying, frustrating, tedious?

I remember it as a full range of emotion – definitely not tedium.  Now, I’m not the guy sitting in a room writing the songs.  Prior to actually going into the studio in, I believe, June of 1977, we rehearsed everyday at Bruce’s house – from like 2 o’clock to 7 o’clock almost everyday and we’d rehearse four or five songs and get them playable.  Then he’d come back the next day with four, five or six new songs.  That went on for two years!  Bruce had to do everything.  He had to write the songs.  He had to sing the songs.  He had to think about what he was trying to say as he was writing it. Really, to be the boss you do have to pay the cost.  And that was the cost that he did pay.

Will you watch Conan’s new show when it premieres Nov. 8 on TBS?

Absolutely.  I hope they do wonderfully well.  I’m sure they will.  I put a lot of time and effort into creating our little world over there, you know, with the band and the musical direction and what the band contributed, and I trust and I hope that the band retains the profile they had.  [Conan] is a brilliant, hard worker.  I’ve been fortunate to have people like Bruce and Conan – you don’t run into guys like that very often.

 ____

You know him as “Omar,” the toughest thug in Baltimore on “The Wire,” and now, he’s a crime figure of a different sort in “Boardwalk Empire,” HBO’s new series about Atlantic City gangsters at the dawn of the Roaring ’20s.   Meet Michael Kenneth Williams, HBO’s Chalky White.

CHALK UP ANOTHER ONE: Michael Kenneth Williams as Chalky White in “Boardwalk Empire.” Photo: Craig Blankenhorn

Chalk up another one for Michael Kenneth Williams.

He’s the Brooklyn-born actor who riveted audiences for five seasons on ‘The Wire’ in the role of Omar Little, the most-feared of all the thugs, gangsters and street toughs on that hallowed Baltimore-based HBO series.

And now, Williams is back on HBO in a series that’s shaping up to be an even bigger hit than ‘The Wire.’  It’s ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ the sprawling series from executive producers Terence Winter and Martin Scorsese about Prohibition Era gangsters in Atlantic City, N.J, at the dawn of the Roaring ’20s.   The series stars Steve Buscemi as the town’s all-powerful political boss and Williams plays dapper Chalky White, also a key local figure whose power stems from his ability to marshal the African-American vote for the city’s white political machine.

In this Sunday’s episode (9 p.m.8c on HBO), Chalky has his most important scene yet, and Williams gets to deliver an unusually long monologue that reveals a harrowing and tragic episode from Chalky’s past.

Williams, 43, talked about the scene, about Chalky, about Omar Little, and how the actor came to receive the facial scar that, for better or worse, has helped define the characters he plays.

That’s a long speech they gave you in this Sunday’s episode of ‘Boardwalk’.  How many pages of material is that?

Williams: That was actually three pages.  That was the longest speech I’ve had in my career thus far.  There was someone I’d seen do a speech [and] I always admired her performance and it was Epatha Merkerson and she did this speech in this film we did together called “Lackawanna Blues.”   And I always remember saying, God, if I had the chance to rock a speech [like that] – just the way she embodied that spirit and the character in that scene, it just blew my mind.

What was the effect you were trying to achieve in the scene, particularly as it pertains to the other participant in the scene, a Ku Klux Klan leader tied to a chair and at the mercy of your character?

It’s 1920.  It’s a whole different era.  You know, for a black man to be in a white man’s face with that type of confidence, it was a rarity.  It wasn’t like a cockiness.  It was from pain, ancestral pain, if you will.  I wanted that hardcore pain to come across in that scene.

Tell us more about the character of Chalky.  Is he a stone-cold gangster?

He’s not a stone-cold gangster.  He’s a businessman first.  But he had to learn how to have a tough skin in order to [obtain] the finer things in life.  He wanted the American dream and he had to learn how to deal in the water filled with sharks and he had to kind of become like that to achieve it.  He’s like Omar, in a sense.  He has a sense of code, he’s loyal, he’s not a backstabber – you’ll see that come out.

You pointed out how Chalky and Omar are similar.  How are they different?

You know, Omar was in it for the thrill of the hunt.  He didn’t care about the money or the fortune or the fancy house and the jewelry and the cars.  He just did it for the love of the hunt.  Chalky ain’t in it for the hunt, as long as you bring good business by his way, you ain’t got no problems outta him.  But you gonna cut him in whether you like it or not.  He’d rather just do business and keep the peace, where Omar just liked to stir the pot.

How did you come to get cast on ‘Boardwalk’?

I had worked with Martin [Scorsese] – Marty, as good friends call him [he laughs] – back in ’98 on a film called “Bring Out the Dead” with Nic Cage and Marc Anthony.  So there was a familiarity there. I’m quite sure that everybody and their father was going up for this role so [there was] a lot of competition – but I think that [producer/director] Tim Van Patten was my ace in the hole.

When all was said and done, the seemingly invincible Omar Little was fatally shot by a child while Omar was purchasing a pack of cigarettes in a convenience store.  What did you think of the ending they wrote for the character?

I mourned Omar like I lost a best friend.  He was a part of me.  It was definitely a surprise that no one expected, and it spoke to [the one weakness of] Omar, his Achilles heel.  Everybody who was trying to kill him couldn’t get to him and it took a little kid to catch him completely off guard.

How important is ‘The Wire’ to you?

‘The Wire’ changed my life, personally and professionally.  It opened me up [to a greater awareness of society’s problems].  It made me more aware of the social issues.  You know, me comin’ from East Flatbush, Brooklyn, I was exposed to just my ’hood, but there’s a “wire” in every city in this country, it opened my eyes up to that.

Would you tell us the story behind your scar?

I was 25 – my 25th birthday.  I was in Queens, N.Y.  I had been drinking.  I had that liquid courage in me and so some words got exchanged with some other guys and, you know, normally something I would have ignored, and I got jumped and one of the guys had a razor in his mouth, a straight razor in his mouth like they do in jail, and he pulled it out and he started slicin’ me.

Well, it doesn’t seem to have stopped you in the pursuit of your career.  You just did a fashion spread in the October issue of GQ (posing on the Atlantic City boardwalk in a series of designer suits. 

I don’t take too much credit for anything.  I’m just pretty fortunate.  There’s tons of talent walking around here on the streets of New York.  It wasn’t like I did anything great.  I’m just truly fortunate and grateful for my opportunities.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

‘Idol’ redo kills the very show it was meant to fix

September 23, 2010

Judge not lest ye be judged: New “American Idol” judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, with judge emeritus Randy Jackson and Ryan Seacrest.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Sept. 23, 2010 — This is just comical.

A TV show loses a couple of cast members and suddenly, the powers-that-be decide the entire show needs a redo.  And not just any show, but the most popular show on TV for the better part of a decade.

It’s “American Idol,” and it just underwent a change that is so significant that you can’t honestly call the show “American Idol” anymore.  That’s how different the show is going to feel when it returns on Fox this winter with Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler sitting in the chairs where you once saw Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul.

So now the judges are J Lo, Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson.  What happened here?  Network executives saw their panel of judges breaking up — first Paula a few years back, and then Simon last season, followed by the temporary, “pretend” judges Kara DioGuardi and Ellen Degeneres quitting or getting fired (probably the latter).  And instead of attempting to re-create the lightning-in-a-bottle chemistry of the original three judges, they went out to find two celebrities — one a rock star and the other, well, who knows what she is — singer, entrepreneur, dancer, whatever.

Think of the contrast with the original panel of judges — Randy Jackson, who apparently played bass for Journey but who no one knew; Paula Abdul, the closest thing to a celebrity that the original group had, although she was a has-been; and Simon Cowell, some Brit with a buzzcut who by some miracle turned into the biggest star on American TV.

It was the chemistry between these three that put “American Idol” on the pop-culture map and kept it there right up until the time when the act started to break up, starting with Paula’s exit.  The key thing was: The original three judges were not superstars.  And we had no way of knowing beforehand whether we liked them or not.

Now they’re bringing in J Lo, who, truth be told, is not well-liked (though this gig will give her an opportunity to become better liked).  As for Tyler, he’s an unknown quantity in this role.  The thing you have to ask is: Will any of these judges give it to the contestants straight?  Or are they there to give all of them blind encouragement, whether they deserve it or not?

Love him or hate him, Simon was the voice of show business reality — when contestants had no chance of advancing, he told them.  He was just being honest.

And what about these superstar judges?  Will they have the enthusiasm to keep coming back season after season?  Or are we entering a new era of revolving superstars whose faces will change with each new year?

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

NBC: One-word titles, shows fit for 14-year-olds

September 23, 2010

Justice is served: Jimmy Smits on the Supreme Court in NBC’s “Outlaw.” Yeah, right.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Sept. 23, 2010 — Have you noticed how two of the new NBC dramas this fall have central characters at the very pinnacle of the U.S. government?  Do you find this even remotely credible or believable?

Jimmy Smits plays a Supreme Court justice in this new series called “Outlaw.”  The title indicates that he’s kind of a rebel.  In fact, for some reason, he quits the Court because he figures he can do more good for society doing something else.  Therefore, the premise makes no sense.  Few callings on Earth give a person a better opportunity to effect change than sitting on the Supreme Court.   Whatever.

Presidential timber: Blair Underwood on NBC.

The other show is this serialized drama called “The Event,” in which Blair Underwood plays the President of the United States.  It’s one of these dramas, so in vogue on the networks these last few years, in which the future of the country, if not the entire planet, is threatened by forces no one understands for at least half the season or more.

When I was 14, this was the kind of stuff I would have liked.  Ooh, I might have said in conversations with my 14-year-old pals, Jimmy Smits is playing a Supreme Court justice and Blair Underwood is the president on NBC.

Well, for those of us who are no longer 14, these shows are not really cool-o or neat-o anymore.  I don’t know why NBC refuses to develop dramas about real people.  Presidents and Supreme  Court justices?  Memo to NBC: Nobody cares about them.  And Blair Underwood and Jimmy Smits are not believable in either role, despite their best efforts.

And the titles of these shows brings me to another thing NBC seems to have decided, in the network’s continuing efforts to simplify its programs as much as possible for the benefit of its audience.

It’s the preponderance of one-word titles.  Have you noticed this?  This season alone, we have “Outlaw,” “Undercovers,” “Chase” and “Outsourced.”  They join a lineup that already has “Chuck,” “Parenthood” and “Community.”  In previous seasons, NBC had shows such as “Trauma” and “Heroes.”

The network has plenty of titles that are almost one word, except for the word “the” — “The Office,” “The Event,” “The Apprentice.”  Thank heaven for “30 Rock,” which NBC has yet to shorten to just “Rock.”

Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com

Revisiting the good old days of racism and sexism

September 23, 2010

Women were good for jumping out of cakes, but not much else in the 1920s depicted on “Boardwalk Empire” (Photo: Abbot Genser).

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Sept. 23, 2010 — Something tells me we might be flocking to TV’s nostalgic dramas a little too enthusiastically.

At first glance, it’s easy to see why “Mad Men” and “Boardwalk Empire” have caught on.  They’re both great-looking shows.  “Mad Men” is made by a lot of people who worked on “The Sopranos,” so there’s a noticeable high quality in the way the show is filmed and lit.

“Boardwalk Empire,” depicting the luxury of the 1920s resort town of Atlantic City, has a sumptuous look that’s also easy on the eyes.  The show was apparently expensive to produce — $20 million alone, reportedly, for that premiere episode directed by Martin Scorsese — and it looks it.  Like “Mad Men” (seen on AMC), no expense seems to have been spared on “Boardwalk Empire” (seen on HBO) to reproduce the best and most authentic period clothing and furnishings.

They’re the elements that make these shows fun to watch (particularly “Mad Men,” since it’s a show about the 1960s, which plenty of people still living can still remember.  The 1920s?  Not so much).

Secretarial pool: The office gals of “Mad Men.” (AMC)

Of course, for everyone who likes “Mad Men” and “Boardwalk Empire,” there are detractors.  Some people old enough to remember the world of New York’s Madison Avenue in the 1960s have been nitpicking about some of the details on “Mad Men” — from the use of certain electric-typewriter models to aspects of the English language.

While “Mad Men” is now well into its fourth season, “Boardwalk Empire” just began, though we critics have seen the first six episodes.  For me, “Boardwalk Empire” hardly stands up to the pantheon of latter-day gangster classics that includes the first two “Godfather” movies, Scorsese’s “GoodFellas” and “Casino,” and “The Sopranos.”   But it has many of the elements most people hope for in these things — mainly, warring factions and the violence that results, in this case, between figures whose names are familiar to gangland devotees — Johnny Torrio, Arnold Rothstein, Lucky Luciano, Al Capone.

But here’s something else to consider about “Mad Men” and “Boardwalk Empire”: They both traffic casually in the racist and sexist attitudes of their times.  And it’s true that it would be difficult to depict these eras honestly if you didn’t account somehow for the second-class citizenship of groups such as women and African-Americans.

Now, the 1920s are pretty far off and relatively few people are still around who can remember them vividly.  In “Boardwalk Empire,” women have not yet won the right to vote.  And most of the women in the series are ditzy showgirls and prostitutes.

In “Mad Men,” whose era is much closer to our day, the women are housewives, executive secretaries or lower-rung executives who feel acutely that they’ll lose promotional opportunities to male competitors.  As for blacks, the only ones seen in this show are domestics and after-hours maintenance men.

And yet, “Mad Men” is celebrated for its style, with whole industries cropping up to market its dark mens’ suits, skinny ties and short, parted haircuts.   People who watch the show say they find it refreshing to see so much cigarette smoking and martini swilling.  Sure, those pursuits were fun — also unhealthy.

But something tells me that some people are nostalgic for more than just cigarettes and midday cocktails.  Sometimes it seems that the way some people have latched on to “Mad Men” — and will likely latch on to “Boardwalk Empire” — indicates a nostalgia for something else, perhaps a longing few people would admit out loud for a time when equality was not the norm and certain groups knew their place.

This element gets lost in the shuffle of acclaim that has been showered on both of these shows.  I happen to know people who can’t watch “Mad Men” because it serves as a reminder of a time when some groups lorded it over other groups.  They can’t stand the fact that people celebrate a show that seems to depict the days of racism and sexism in so favorable a light.  For these people, “Mad Men” makes them sick.

And I don’t blame them.  It’s a point of view worth thinking about.

Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com

ESPN, Lebron ‘overkill’ complaints are nonsense

July 9, 2010

ESPN’s Lebron Show: If everybody’s talking about it, how is it overkill?

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, July 9, 2010 — So many complaints about one measly TV special, you would think ESPN had committed a capitol crime.

Sure, the Lebron prime-time special — an entire hour (and more, when you consider the wall-to-wall coverage ESPN devoted to the subject before and after) — was overdone.   Yes, everyone who labeled it “overkill” was correct — it WAS overkill.

But having said that, I have to ask: What’s the harm?

The overkill complaint is the same one leveled at TV and the rest of the media every time there’s a big story that everyone seems to cover at once from a dozen different angles.  That amounts to a lot of coverage, certainly, but on behalf of the entire media (which never asked me to act as spokesman), I have to plead not guilty to the overkill accusation.

What do people expect the media to do when there’s a big story — not cover it?  I hate to inform the entire world of this, but we have a lot of media.  It’s on television, it’s on the radio, it’s in print, it’s on the Internet.  Get used to it; it’s here to stay.

The Lebron story was big news for the simple reason that a lot of people were interested in it.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t be talking about it now — complaining about the ESPN show, railing about Lebron’s lack of loyalty to Cleveland and the state of Ohio, and everything else.

At such times, if you’re a news organization and you choose to not cover the moment’s big story, or perhaps under-cover it, then you’ve made a decision to drop out of the news media.

That’s not how it works, folks — at such times, everyone covers the Big Story or no one does.   There’s no in-between.  And in the case of ESPN in particular, this network is a sports-news network — of course they’re going to cover this Lebron story like it’s the inauguration of a president.  They’d be crazy not to.

It is true that ESPN’s quickie production was subpar — for reasons having nothing to do with the story’s relative importance.  The production of this show amounted to little more than a bunch of lights in an old gymnasium.  What irked me most was the time it took to get to the announcement, which took all of five seconds for Lebron to utter.  A day before the telecast, a top-ranking ESPN exec insisted the announcement would come 10 or 15 minutes into the broadcast.  Instead, it came about 22-25 minutes into it, which only goes to teach us once again how slippery the statements of TV execs can be.

But that’s not really news, is it?  What was news was Lebron James’ plans for his future, and what effect that would have on his new team and the market in which he decided to play (in this case, Miami).

Was it overkill?  Maybe, but just for one evening.  News stories come and news stories go.  Sure, ESPN devoted an entire evening (and the better part of a day or maybe even a week) to Lebron James.

It was, for a brief time in the scheme of things, the biggest story in the world, right up until the next one came along.

Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com

Dead man talking: Tiger’s Nike spot interpreted

April 8, 2010

Tiger Woods and his father.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, April 8, 2010 — Stop wondering what Tiger Woods’ new Nike “ad” means — it’s not that complicated, though it is unusual and, to many people, downright strange.

Let’s break it down: This 30-second spot, filmed in black-and-white, consists of Tiger Woods looking straight into a camera lens which has framed him from the chest up. He has a grim, almost shell-shocked expression on his face — which is to say, he is apparently feeling “serious” as opposed to “jovial,” in which case he would presumably be smiling.

Why the grim look? Because the “commercial” presents this scenario in which a serious, perhaps contemplative Woods, is thinking about or perhaps listening to the words of his late father, Earl — words recorded long ago in some context that is not revealed, but have now been repurposed — in the ad and, by extension, in Woods’ mind — to apply directly to the situation in which Woods finds himself today.

The voice of Earl begins: “Tiger? I am more prone to be inquisitive, to promote discussion. I want to find out what your thinking was.”

In this new use of this old recording, Woods’ “thinking” refers to what he “thought” at the time when he was conducting his extramarital affairs.

“I want to find out what your feelings are.” This, of course, is now supposed to serve as an inquiry into how Woods feels now that his public image has been tarnished, his earning power weakened and his domestic life nearly destroyed.

“And did you learn anything?” This one’s easy: Has Woods learned anything from the scandal? Does he feel chastised or humbled? And will he dramatically change his behavior now and forever?

At this point in the spot, the voiceover ends while the camera moves in for a tighter shot on Woods’ face. At that moment, some lights seem to flash, perhaps representing flashes from the cameras of paparazzi, symbolizing the intense glare of the media attention now being paid to Woods for reasons other than his golf game. And suddenly, the spot ends with a glimpse of the Nike swoosh.

So, what does it mean? It’s really just this: The words voiced by Earl are meant to represent what we, the public, are all thinking. We’re all wondering: Hey, Tiger, what were you thinking? We all want to know (according to the spot): How are you feeling about it? We’re all curious to find out: Tiger, are you going to change your behavior?

Well, of course the whole thing is shrewdly calculated to get you talking about Tiger Woods. This is the kind of ad that, because of its subject matter and timing (premiering on the eve of Woods’ “comeback” at the Masters) — not to mention its eerie texture — is being featured in every morning newspaper today, and every media Web site. It was designed to go viral and get talked about and it succeeded.

It is also supposed to generate sympathy — or the beginnings of sympathy — for Woods in the way it presents this scandalized celebrity in a meditative, perhaps chastised frame of mind and engaging in an inner dialogue with his late father. Woods and his father had a famously close relationship and the commercial seems to suggest that Woods, in listening to the words of his father, realizes he has let his father down.  At the same time, his father’s inquiring tone implies that, if Tiger can summon up the courage to explain his actions and take responsibility for them, then his father — and, by extension, all of us — will then forgive him.

Cynics will say Woods and Nike are merely exploiting Woods’ dead father for an ad that represents only the first step in a shrewdly calculated corporate ad campaign whose goal is the eventual rehabilitation of Woods’ image and, hence, his effectiveness as a spokesman for Nike.  The cynics would be right.

On the other hand, many people make mistakes in their lives and after they’re caught (an often fortuitous event because it applies a much-needed brake to their behavior), they are suddenly better able to see the damage they’ve caused and then make sincere efforts to change and make amends.   Sure, it’s easy to be cynical about a corporate ad campaign.  But you can look at Tiger Woods another way too — he’s just a guy, like many others, who got swept up in behavior he’s now ashamed of.  And now he wants to find his way back.  Certainly, that is not a crime.

Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com

Shocking ‘Intervention’ story on addicted boxer

April 6, 2010

YO, ROCKY! This is former junior lightweight boxing champion Rocky Lockridge, who became a homeless crackhead on the streets of Camden, N.J., and ended up on “Intervention” last night (April 5). Photo: GRB Productions

MOST ASTONISHING EPISODE YET FOR THIS AMAZING SERIES

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, April 6, 2010 — “Intervention” has featured so many shocking stories of addiction that it might seem impossible for the show to top itself.

But last night, it did just that.  It was the story of a former two-time boxing champion who has lived for nearly 20 years on the streets of Camden, N.J., panhandling and smoking crack.  It was the most astonishing single episode of a TV show seen so far this year.

As reality shows go, this A&E series — now in its eighth season — goes deeper into the private worlds of its subjects than any other unscripted series.  And last night, the show took viewers on a harrowing  journey to one of the most forlorn locations ever seen on TV, period.

Producer David Simon’s Baltimore (“The Wire”) and producer Shawn Ryan’s Los Angeles (“The Shield”) were formerly TV’s champions of urban grit, but “Intervention” — produced by an outfit called GRB Entertainment out of Sherman Oaks, Calif. (the GRB stands for Gary R. Benz, the company’s president) — bested them both with its on-location documenting of the life of Rocky Lockridge, 51.

Champion: Rocky Lockridge in his prime in the early 1980s.

Lockridge once won two junior lightweight titles, but has been fighting a losing battle with drugs and alcohol ever since.  He was estranged from his two 25-year-old twin sons for more than 15 years;  one of them, Lamar, avoided contact with his father right up until the taping of last night’s episode.  Earlier in the show, Lamar faced a camera and admitted he “hated” his father.

On the show, Lockridge was seen begging for crack money on a littered street corner in one of Camden’s worst neighborhoods, a region of abandoned houses and broken sidewalks.  In alleys and backyards overgrown with weeds, Lockridge would turn his day’s earnings over to the crack sellers and eagerly use crack — snorting and smoking it.

And then there was the intervention, led by interventionist Cindy Finnigan.  Many of the interventions shown on the series — in which family members tearfully implore their addicted loved one to accept their offer of rehabilitation — are deeply moving.   But last night’s was the rawest yet, as Lamar and his brother Ricky vented years of frustration and anger over their father’s abandonment yet nevertheless told him they loved him and begged him through uncontrollable tears to get help.

As the episode concluded with its ending theme song, “Five Steps” by the Brooklyn-based band The Davenports, uncertainty lingered over the effectiveness of Rocky’s stint in rehab as viewers learned that Rocky left the facility after only two-and-a-half months, without completing the program and against the advice of his counselors, and is now living with another “sober” patient somewhere in Louisiana.  Long-time “Intervention” watchers may have taken that as a sign that his rehabilitation didn’t take, although the episode’s parting statement on-screen said he’s been sober since November 2009.

“Intervention,” airing Monday nights on A&E, won an Emmy last fall for best reality series.   The award was richly deserved.

MOMENT OF TRUTH — A key scene from this week’s “Intervention” on A&E: Ex-boxer Rocky Lockridge (left) agrees to go to rehab after hearing tearful pleas from his estranged twin sons, Ricky (center) and Lamar. Photo: GRB Productions

Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’: The funniest show on TV

March 31, 2010

Peek-a-boo! Debbie Reynolds guest-judging a drag-queen beauty pageant? Only RuPaul (left, with Reynolds) could make THAT happen! Photo credit: Rolling Blackouts/Logo TV

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, March 31, 2010 — The funniest show on TV is not a sitcom or a sketch show or a late-night comedy show.

It’s a reality show whose reality, paradoxically, is the art of illusion.  It’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” now nearing the conclusion of a triumphant second season on the gay-themed cable network called Logo.  (Original episodes air at 9 p.m. Mondays; the season finale is April 26.*)

The idea of watching (very) effeminate gay men who are passionate in their adoption of female alter egos might not appeal to everyone, but for those with open or even semi-open minds, watching this show is one of the most rewarding and eye-opening experiences you can have these days in front of the tube.

It’s an elimination/competition show patterned loosely on the “Project Runway” model, with RuPaul — perhaps the world’s most famous drag queen — presiding as host, chief judge and Tim Gunn-like mentor for a group of contestants all hoping to be crowned the next drag superstar.

Fierce femme: Jujubee competes on “Drag Race.” Photo credit: Logo

Few episodes of any show airing this year will likely equal the hilarity and camp quality of this past Monday’s show (March 29), in which the remaining four contestants — sweet and sour Tyra Sanchez, devious Raven, clueless Tatianna, audience favorite Jujubee and tender-hearted Pandora Boxx — were challenged to dress five aging gay men in drag and then cavort with them before a panel of judges that included special guests Debbie Reynolds and Cloris Leachman (one-time “Project Runway” contestant Santino Rice is also a judge on “Drag Race”).

At the center of it all is RuPaul, a drag impresario without equal, who handles the proceedings with drop-dead seriousness as if the stakes couldn’t be higher, all the while giving just the right faint impression that he knows deep down this whole pretend pageant is just one big lark.

Among other titles, RuPaul is the queen of the reality-show catchphrase, as when he — dressed in over-the-top drag himself — orders each week’s booted contestant to “Sashay away!”

But before he renders his final verdict, the contestants in the bottom two must compete in a lip-synch face off, a talent for mimickry that is apparently a hallmark of drag performance.  Each episode of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” achieves a kind of comedy nirvana at the moment when RuPaul adopts the most serious tone of voice he can muster to direct the bottom two to “lip-synch for your life!”   That’s when you know you’ve crossed over to a place TV has never gone before.

Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com

TV to get more cluttered with hoarders, addicts

March 12, 2010

Does this look like a television star to you? Hoarder “Augustine” was profiled on an episode of “Hoarders” on A&E. (Photo: A&E)

COPYCAT TLC WANTS A PIECE OF A&E’S ACTION

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, March 12, 2010 — You’ll know the competition between TLC and A&E has really heated up when A&E starts producing shows about dwarfs.

However, in this contest between cable networks, A&E is not the aggressor — yet.  That title goes to TLC, the Discovery-owned cable channel once known as The Learning Channel and now best known for its emphasis on super-sized families and plucky little people.

Next week, TLC invades territory formerly occupied exclusively by A&E — the world of hoarders and drug addicts.  Representatives of both groups have taken up residence Monday nights on A&E to great acclaim and open-mouthed astonishment.  No one can fail to be amazed (and also somewhat sickened and horrified) by the stories told each week on A&E’s “Intervention,” about addicts and their beleaguered loved ones, and “Hoarders,” about people who fill their homes with junk and then face eviction or condemnation from their local governments.

No rules seem to govern or prohibit the practice of copycatting in the TV business, but TLC’s launch next week of “Hoarding: Buried Alive” (Sunday, March 14, at 10 p.m.) and “Addicted” (Wednesday, March 17, at 10 p.m.) seems particularly blatant.  In fact, “blatant” is the word one A&E source used to describe TLC’s encroachment on A&E’s turf.

Officially, A&E released a statement in response to a TV Howl query about the similarities between “Hoarding” (TLC) and “Hoarders” (A&E), and “Addicted” (TLC) and “Intervention” (A&E).  “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” the A&E statement said — the usual quote companies trot out at times like these when they would rather appear gracious or sportsmanlike than annoyed or even ticked off.

Who can forget the incredible story of “huffing” addict “Allison” on A&E’s “Intervention”? Here, she loads up on the aerosol cans she used to feed her addiction to chemical inhalants. (Photo: A&E)

The real question for TLC is whether there is room on TV for more hoarders and addicts.  For many, one hour spent each week on each of these subjects might be enough.  Some- times, it’s more than enough.  Even the most hardened TV watcher (namely, me) finds it difficult at times to get through an entire hour of “Hoarders” or “Intervention,” so pathetic and upsetting are some of the stories.

“Hoarders” is particularly difficult; yes, these homes are pretty well cleaned out and reasonably cleaned up by the end of each show, but what is usually left are homes in grave states of disrepair and the homes’ residents left desolate and, it seems to a viewer, likely to begin hoarding again as soon as the show’s film crew leaves the premises.

TLC’s entry into the hoarding and addiction categories signals a new ramping up of the competition for reality subjects on cable — particularly between TLC and A&E.  A&E is known for “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” “Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels,” the new “Steven Seagal: Lawman,” “Paranormal State,” “Parking Wars” (a personal favorite) and a slew of others, including “Billy the Exterminator” (this is a TV personality on the rise, folks) and the upcoming “Kirstie Alley’s Big Life.”

TLC’s slate is equally diverse, with shows on dressing well (“Say Yes to the Dress” and “What Not to Wear”) and baking (the ubiquitous “Cake Boss”).  However, most people identify TLC with that mammoth Duggar family (“19 Kids and Counting”) or the dysfunctional Gosselins (“Jon and Kate Plus 8”), or all those little-people shows: “Little Chocolatiers,” “Little People, Big World,” “Our Little Life,” “The Little Couple” and others (the other night, there appeared a one-off about another “little” couple seeking to adopt a “little” orphan).

As I write this, there are producers and talent scouts criss-crossing the country and surfing the Internet in search of real-life personalities around which to build reality shows — mall cops, tow-truck operators, various animal “whisperers” and many, many others.  The development of these types of TV shows is becoming  (or has already become) one of the hottest corners of the TV business.    Watch out, hoarders and addicts, the next knock on your door might be a TV producer.

Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com

‘The Tiger Show’ an odd moment in TV history

February 19, 2010

Tiger Woods, the man who controlled the airwaves for 15 minutes.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Feb. 19, 2010 —  The 15-minute “Tiger Woods Show,” starring Tiger Woods, will stand as one of the oddest telecasts in television history.

Never before had a private figure been given so much valuable airtime on so many TV channels to say whatever he wanted.  He’s not a president, not a governor, not a Pope — he is basically an entertainer, a professional golfer and a ubiquitous presence on TV commercials (until recently).

And yet, he garnered airtime on CBS, Fox, ABC and NBC; MSNBC, CNN and Fox News Channel; CNBC, Bloomberg and Fox Business; ESPN 1, ESPN 2 and ESPNNews; and, of course, the Golf Channel (and here in New York, on the local cable news channel, New York 1).

And the telecast, with its two cameras, simple podium and blue velvet drapery, couldn’t have been more basic, which is when Murphy’s Law usually asserts itself — when you least expect it — and one of the cameras, the head-on camera, went on the blink and Woods was left to recite at least a third of his remarks seen from the side.  With no frontal camera shot available through which to broadcast his sincerity (if that is what it was), the impact of his carefully planned message was thereby blunted, if not ruined entirely.

On the one hand, you can’t blame all these networks for breaking into regular programming — among them “The View” and “The Price is Right” — for something so many viewers were keenly interested in watching.  On the other hand, the sports channels, the all-news cable channels and the business channels had it pretty well-covered, which means interested viewers had plenty of places they could go to find Tiger Woods.  They didn’t really need the broadcast networks to take part.

It would have been refreshing if network news executives had said no when asked to acquiesce to a celebrity’s carefully controlled plan to air a statement of apology on national TV, a plan that included near-total control over the event, and hence control over the airwaves of all of our national television networks.

Who’s next?  Charlie Sheen?  How about Jon Gosselin getting 10 minutes of daytime airtime to apologize to Kate and their eight children?  Or maybe Snooki and the others from “Jersey Shore” getting 20 minutes to apologize for their show (among other things)?  Of course not.

Still, the word is out: Celebrities, big ones, are now to be accorded the same access to the airwaves as presidents and prime ministers.  Behold: You have just witnessed another milestone in the evolution of celebrity culture in America.

Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com

Mentally ill ‘Hoarders’ out of touch with reality — Plus: TV’s original hoarder king, Fred Sanford!

December 14, 2009

A hoarder named Betty looks dazed and confused as she contemplates a clean-up of her cluttered backyard on “Hoarders.” Photo credit: A&E/Screaming Flea Productions — More photos below!

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Dec. 14, 2009 — Most of us already believe that a person would have to be nuts to say yes to appearing on a reality TV show, but what if the person really is not competent to make that decision?

I’m no expert on mental illness, but the people being showcased on “Hoarders” on A&E (Monday nights at 10) don’t seem to be in touch with reality — which would indicate they’re not likely in sound enough mind to judge whether appearing on a reality show is really such a great idea.   Who would hand such people a stack of legal paperwork and ask them to sign it?  TV producers, that’s who.

“Hoarders” might be the first reality series to put real mental patients (as opposed to other reality shows on which the participants just “seem” crazy) on display.  Have you seen this show?  This is the show that tells the story of people who hoard stuff — the type of people who can’t throw anything away and wind up living atop several feet of trash that fills every square inch of their homes and yards.

Their homes are so neglected and abused that the towns and municipalities in which they live are threatening these hoarders with eviction and condemnation.  On the show, “experts” in hoarding psychology show up at these homes with great dumptrucks and dumpsters to lead an emergency clean-up, which is usually protested by the flustered and, by all appearances, deluded hoarders who reside there.

The intensity of the hoarders — particularly in their detachment from reality — varies by degree from show to show.  At the worst end of the spectrum, a recent show had the clean-up crew discovering the corpses of dead cats inside a house — including one feline that was flatter than a pancake (and also stiff as a board) that was estimated to have died 10 years previously — buried under several feet of household refuse.

Another storyline involved a wheelchair-bound hoarder who was hoarding her soiled diapers; basically, she was just tossing them into the bathroom until they had formed a great pile, rendering the bathroom useless (not that she was using it, anyway).

Again, I’m no expert on the mentally ill, but I like to think I still have the good taste — even after watching TV professionally for most of my life — to believe that this unfortunate woman should not have been on TV and no network should have agreed to put her there.

It’s incredible how much TV has changed over the years.  Once upon a time, the only person you’d see on TV who came close to being classified as a hoarder was Fred Sanford on “Sanford and Son.”

TV’s original hoarder: Junk man Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx, right, with Demond Wilson) on “Sanford and Son.”  Compare the Sanford residence to the cluttered yards and domiciles of these hoarders on A&E, below.

What’s cookin’? Who knows? This kitchen is so cluttered that hoarder “Jill” can’t find the stove! Photo credit: A&E/Screaming Flea Productions

Dude, where’s my yard? A clean-up crewman masks his disgust at this backyard junkheap on “Hoarders.” Photo credit: A&E/Screaming Flea Productions

Tsk, tsk . . . kids today! Teens are not immune from the hoarding syndrome, as demonstrated by hoarder “Jake” on “Hoarders.” He might be half-buried in junk, but like typical teens everywhere, he keeps a tight grip on that cellphone! Photo credit: A&E/Screaming Flea Productions

Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com

On A&E: Four-fifths of the Jackson Five

December 8, 2009

BOWLER FOR DOLLARS — The Jackson Four (l-r): Jackie, Marlon, Tito (wearing his trademark bowler) and Jermaine. Photo credit: A&E

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Dec. 8, 2009 — Years ago, some clever writer of TV promos came up with a generic plot description for “The Honeymooners” that could be applied to virtually any episode of that classic 1950s sitcom.  The promo copy went something like this: “Ralph has big plans,” boomed an enthusiastic announcer, “until his friend Norton steps in!”

The same kind of description could be applied to the first two episodes of A&E’s new reality series about the Jacksons: “The Jacksons [or at least three of them] have big plans . . . until Jermaine has a tantrum or an issue or some kind of complaint!”

But like “The Honeymooners,” all parties come together in the end, although in “The Jack5ons: A Family Dynasty” — premiering with two, one-hour episodes back-to-back on Sunday, Dec. 13, starting at 9 p.m. — they come together with a group fist-bump as the Jackson Four agree nobly to put aside their differences and come together for the sake of their music and their fans.

These four, this band of singing and dancing middle-aged brothers, are four of the original Jackson Five — Jackie, Marlon, Tito and Jermaine — and they are the stars, along with their various wives and offspring, of this promised glimpse behind the scenes at the sprawling, and mildly brawling, Jackson clan.  However, nine siblings and two parents comprised the Jackson family, and five sibs — Michael, Janet, Randy, Rebbie and Latoya — and one parent — Papa Joe — are missing (as are Michael’s three children), though Janet Jackson is heard briefly in a phone conversation.

Michael’s absence is the one that is most felt, and also the most understood, since he passed away last June 25.  However, the series begins a couple of months before his sudden death, as the other four Jackson brothers were preparing to regroup to produce a Jackson Five reunion album to commemorate the act’s 40th anniversary (dating the group’s origins to 1969, the year they had their first hits).

Michael’s impending death notwithstanding, it’s not clear if he ever intended to  participate, even partially, in the reunion effort, especially since, as we now know, he was preparing for his own series of comeback concerts.  Alas, they were not to be, and at the end of the first one-hour episode of “The Jack5ons” — one of two A&E provided for preview — Michael dies without apparently participating in any filming on the reality series.

Still, Michael’s shadow hangs over the whole thing, starting with the show’s theme song, “Can You Feel It?,” a 1980 single on which Michael sings in the era when the Jackson Five were known as The Jacksons.

Episode Two, titled “The Aftermath,” deals nominally with his death and then jumps inexplicably to a month later, as the four surviving Jackson Five brothers try and come together to perform a concert that they were apparently obligated to perform (possibly with Michael, though that remains unclear) under some contract they signed before Michael’s death.

Certainly, there are millions of Jackson fans for whom any consideration of the Jacksons begins and ends with Michael.  And without him around, they might not tune in for “The Jack5ons” on A&E.  But there will likely be millions of others — be they enamored with any of the Jacksons singly or in various combinations — who will be left for A&E to capitalize mightily on the Jackson mania that made itself apparent, and appeared to be even bigger than anyone previously realized, in the aftermath of Michael’s death last summer.  In fact, this reality series, in which not much actually happens, could be the biggest one yet for A&E.

TV Howl photo gallery: Pictures from “The Jack5ons: A Family Dynasty”:

Mister Lucky’s Lounge in downtown Gary looks a little down on its luck, despite the presence of hometown hero Tito Jackson. Photo: Richard Knapp

Tito (left) and Marlon marvel at the snug, modest living room in Gary, Ind., where the Jackson Five got their start. Photo: Richard Knapp

Back in L.A., the not-so-united four Jackson brothers (l-r: Jermaine, Jackie, Marlon and Tito) rehearse before a dance studio mirror. Photo: Richard Knapp

Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com


%d bloggers like this: