Archive for the ‘Adam Buckman’ Category

Nothing huge, just a small thing about HBO . . .

April 1, 2012

TRAGEDY and COMEDY:  Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones,” left) and Warwick Davis (“Life’s Too Short”) have ’em covered for HBO. (Photos: HBO)

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, April 1, 2012 — Who else but your humble TV Howl correspondent would notice that, as one dwarf actor leaves the “stage” at HBO, another arrives to take his place?

The two little people in question: Warwick Davis — 42, 3’6″ star of “Life’s Too Short,” the seven-episode comedy from Ricky Gervais that ended its first season last Sunday on HBO; and Peter Dinklage, also 42, 4’5″ star of “Game of Thrones,” the drama about warring factions in something resembling England in the Middle Ages that returns for its second season this Sunday night (April 1) on HBO.

Why point out this unique and no doubt coincidental “changing of the guard” (as it were)?  No reason except that it gives me a chance to give “Life’s Too Short” some ink here.  And, to a lesser extent, “Game of Thrones” too.

I have no idea how many people tuned in for all seven episodes of “Life’s Too Short,” but I did and I loved every jaw-dropping moment of it.  This show was so “wrong” in its political incorrectness that I found myself wondering if Gervais had merely proposed it to HBO almost as a joke to see if they would say yes, simply because the folks at HBO like being in business with him.

And then the joke was on him because they did say yes.   So he and Stephen Merchant then had to actually produce this thing.  What they made was a “reality” spoof that had Davis starring as himself in a mock documentary about his life as a dwarf actor who had appeared in a number of movies with famous titles (parts of “Star Wars” and the “Harry Potter” series, to name two of them).

But in the show, he was seen struggling to find work despite those credits, while also trying to make his way in a world configured for bigger people.  If you missed this show, you missed incredible cameo appearances by Liam Neeson, Helena Bonham Carter, Sting (especially him) and Johnny Depp (especially him too).  (What are you waiting for?  Go watch it on On Demand.)

And you missed Warwick — a dwarf,  mind you, who’s making fun of what it’s like to be a dwarf — doing the kind of slapstick, physical comedy that hasn’t been seen since the silent era: Stumbling out of his SUV, climbing a bookcase to reach a trophy in one unforgettable scene, falling backward in his chair onto the floor of a restaurant and taking the tablecloth and dishes with him.

Much of “Life’s Too Short” was so painful to watch that you just sat there and thought, How on earth are they getting away with this?  In the season’s final scene, Warwick, penniless and homeless, was seen bunking in a friend’s dresser drawer.  I can’t wait for season two — if there is one.

Meanwhile, along comes Dinklage, who steals every scene in which he appears in “Game of Thrones.”  I’m a latecomer to this baffling, sprawling series about various factions of warriors and their kings who are all maneuvering into clashes with one another like some giant chess game.

But in the season premiere airing Sunday — which I got to see in advance the other day — Dinklage emerged as the most riveting character in the whole thing.  And that’s saying a lot because this is the kind of series that’s well-populated with serious actors — the kind of people whose bearing and voices suggest some sort of classical training on the British stage.

Not Dinklage, though.  He’s from New Jersey.

OK, so HBO has two dwarf actors appearing in consecutive series.  Does this mean anything?  How should I know?

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

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Derailed: ‘Community’ run over by Subway

March 29, 2012

Joel McHale (Photo: NBC)

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, March 29, 2012 — You’ve heard of a subway hijacking (at least in the movies)?  Well, in this case, the shoe’s on the other foot: Subway has hijacked “Community.”

Or maybe “hijacked” is too strong a word because this wasn’t exactly a hostile takeover.  It was a business deal, with NBC agreeing to give the omnipresent sandwich chain an omnipresence in tonight’s episode of the Joel McHale sitcom.

It’s one of the most grandiose “product-placement” arrangements ever staged.  This one is so long, and so sustained — establishing a presence, and a plotline, for Subway throughout the entire half-hour — that it actually goes way beyond categorization as a mere “product placement.”

If that’s all it was, maybe we’d see a student or two in the Greendale Community College cafeteria tucking into a couple of foot-longs.  But in this Subway hijacking, the sandwich chain opens a shop smack dab in the middle of the cafeteria.  And the “owner/manager” is a guy who legally changed his name to Subway.

That way, the sandwich shop’s name — already visible on a huge sign stretching across half the cafeteria — can be mentioned in practically every scene.  And when the Subway name isn’t being uttered, various characters are fondly fist-bumping each other and wryly reciting the two-word slogan for Subway, “Eat fresh.”

While Subway dominates the episode, two other corporations get on-air script mentions as well —  Bed Bath &  Beyond, and Brita, the water filter company.

On the latter “opportunity”: This one was probably inevitable because it plays on a character’s name, Britta, played by Gillian Jacobs.

Subway is emerging this season as a kind of champion of in-show advertising.  In January, three characters in “Hawaii Five-0” on CBS took a break from police work to have a lengthy conversation about the health benefits of Subway sandwiches.  This Subway scene stopped the episode in its tracks, though it’s reasonable to assume that CBS made a lot of money on it.

And a friend mentioned the other day that Subway also had an in-show presence on Tuesday night’s “Biggest Loser” on NBC (though this kind of sponsorship has long been a staple of unscripted shows — from “Project Runway” to “The Apprentice”).

But this Subway hijacking of “Community” is the most blatant such thing I’ve seen.

When these things arise, the question always is: So what’s wrong with it?

It really comes down to this: TV is already overrun by commercials that come in ever-greater quantities and with increased frequency these days.  With so many commercials to deal with already, do we really have to have them within the shows too?  I mean — really?

This episode of “Community” airs at 8 p.m. eastern, Thursday (March 29) on NBC.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

‘Mad Men’ new-season shocker: It’s boring

March 20, 2012

‘Mad’ men (l-r): Don Draper (Jon Hamm), Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), Roger Sterling (John Slattery), Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) (Photos: AMC)

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, March 20, 2012 — Here’s a surprise about this Sunday’s season premiere of “Mad Men” that might spoil the show for you: It’s terrible.

Yes, I know — it’s a shocker.  It might even be the first time any critic anywhere has ever used the word “terrible” to describe “Mad Men,” but there it is.  Sorry.

I hate to spoil a viewing experience for anyone, especially for a show whose return (after more than 18 months away) seems so highly anticipated.  But I can’t help myself: For the first time in my own personal history with this show, stretching back to its glorious beginnings in summer 2007, I was bored stiff watching the two-hour premiere that AMC sent over for preview.

The DVD came with a “letter” from the show’s creator and executive producer, Matthew Weiner, who requested, politely, that critics who view the preview DVD please refrain from revealing various plot points and other developments that might spoil the experience for the show’s fans.  Well, Matt, your secrets are safe with me because nothing much happens in these two hours anyway.

I’ll tell you what happened to me when I was watching it, though:  Some time during a lengthy party sequence (yes, there’s a party in the show — I hope that revelation doesn’t spoil the “experience” for anyone), I realized that I couldn’t have been more bored, and have rarely been so bored, in the process of watching a TV show.  And since it was “Mad Men,” which once upon a time was one of the finest, most electrifying TV series ever produced, this surprising onset of extreme ennui came as a huge shock.

I was so disappointed in what happened to this show that I started contemplating some of the words I might eventually use to describe it in this blogpost.  And besides “terrible” and “boring,” another one came to mind that is even worse: “Disaster.”

Before continuing, here’s a caveat: By all means, watch the two-hour premiere (it starts at 9/8c on Sunday, March 25, on AMC).  And you are more than welcome to enjoy it too.  You just might love it.  But I have a feeling many will not.

And that’s where the word “disaster” comes in.  The last thing an arty TV series like this needs is to come back on the air after an 18-plus-month absence and then bore its core audience to death.  However, that outcome is a distinct possibility.

Why? Well, to delve fully into those reasons might involve revealing details and plot points that Matthew Weiner might not want divulged.  So I’ll try and work around them.

Generally speaking, the whole thing seemed listless, sloppy and predictable.

In the listless department, the aforementioned party is exhibit A.  At just about the time I looked at my watch for the first time ever in the viewing of “Mad Men,” I realized that this party had begun to resemble an old Dutch still-life, with the guests standing or sitting around doing nothing.  At such times, you rely on a literate series such as “Mad Men” to entertain you with dialogue.  That didn’t happen either in this scene or any other in the two-hour show.

The party took place at a new Manhattan apartment apparently purchased between seasons Four and Five by Don Draper (Jon Hamm).  And at this point in this blog post, I was tempted to reveal what happened with Don and his new love, Megan (Jessica Paré).  Remember her?  She was a secretary in the ad agency in Season Four.  As that season came to a close way back on Oct. 17, 2010, she and Don were in love and he asked her to marry him.  (Forgot about that?  That’s understandable since it was 18-1/4 months ago.)  In his letter to critics, Matthew Weiner asked that we not divulge what happened there.  And like the good sport I am, I humbly acquiesce.

Anyway, like so many of the settings in this marathon “Mad Men” fifth-season premiere, Don’s new digs look more like a stage set than a New York apartment.  And so does the office of the ad agency, Sterling Cooper Draper and Pryce.  It’s immaculate, like it’s a display at Ikea or one of those Design Within Reach stores, where they sell knockoffs of iconic mid-century furniture designs.  One thing it doesn’t look like: A Manhattan office where work is performed.

It doesn’t sound like one either.  If you watch the show, try and observe the sound made when people walk around — most notably in the SCDP offices.  Even petite Elisabeth Moss (who plays Peggy Olson) can be heard clomping around like she’s wearing army boots.  That’s because the floors give off a sound like they’re hollow, like a stage set, but not at all like the floors in a Manhattan office building.  They’re usually concrete.

Speaking of architecture, one character refers to an architectural feature in one of the SCDP offices as a “beam” when it is actually a column.  That’s sloppy writing.  Rule of thumb: Beams go across ceilings; columns are those things that go up and down.

And as far as this show’s predictability goes, that can be a problem when a series such as this — one that is about 95 percent character development and about 5 percent plot — has been around for four seasons and is starting its fifth.  We already know so much about the personalities of the principal characters — warts and all — that everything they do in this two-hour premiere seems old hat.

In his “letter” to critics, Matthew Weiner implored us not to divulge plot points that could ruin any surprises for those tuning in on Sunday to herald “Mad Men’s” return.  The thing is: The only surprise I experienced in the season premiere was my own disappointment.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

‘Luck’ creator has uneven track record at HBO

March 18, 2012

Kevin Dunn in HBO’s “Luck” (Photo: HBO)

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, March 18, 2012 — Is David Milch out of luck?

Well, HBO keeps going back to him, despite the pay-cable channel’s uneven track record with the critically acclaimed producer/writer of TV shows people either love or hate.

Milch’s latest creation, the HBO horse-racing series “Luck,” made television history last week when it was abruptly cancelled due to the deaths of three horses during the filming of the show.  The latest, an accident in which a horse fatally injured itself while being walked back to its stall (it was euthanized), happened last Tuesday.

A day later, HBO made the stunning announcement: Production on “Luck” was being shut down for good.

The show was in the midst of filming one of the early episodes in its second season, even as the first season was still underway.  “Luck,” airing Sunday nights at 9 on HBO, has its second-to-last episode on Sunday (March 18) and its final, first-season episode — now its last episode ever — the following weekend (March 25).  Only nine episodes were made for the first season, and HBO was so excited about the show (for, among other reasons, it had succeeded in luring Dustin Hoffman to star in his first TV show) that the cable channel renewed it for a second season almost immediately after the very first episode aired back in late January.

Now, that’s not going to happen as “Luck” goes into the history books as the first TV series ever cancelled due to the deaths of animals used in its production.

In the wake of this week’s cancellation announcement, two subjects to contemplate: (1) Will “Luck” be missed?  And (2) what of David Milch, the bard of Buffalo (the New York city where he was raised), for whom “Luck” was his fourth go-round with HBO (that we know of)?

First, on the merits of “Luck”: Like Milch’s other shows, this one was an acquired taste.  And according to at least one report we read the other day, “Luck” drew more than a million viewers for its premiere and then, eventually, the audience fell to about half that.  The story even suggested HBO was seeking an excuse to cancel “Luck,” and the unlucky horses provided the reason the channel needed to pull the plug.  That’s just conjecture, but my take is: That’s not a far-fetched scenario at all.

Why’d so many people abandon the show?  For the love/hate reason suggested above.  The thing people love about Milch’s shows, primarily, is the intriguing, highly literate dialogue he writes for his characters.  Lovers of great writing appreciate when his characters engage in his trademark verbal sparring, even when they go off on irrelevant tangents, such as last week’s out-of-left-field conversation in which two characters debated the details of the Three Stooges’ “Niagara Falls” comedy bit.

The unusual tone and tempo of the dialogue is also why millions get turned off by Milch.  For one thing, it’s not what they’re used to hearing on TV shows.  For another, his shows often suffer from an action deficit.  Often, you go entire episodes without much happening.  Instead, the hour is sucked up by dialogues that, yes, are very creative, but also stultifying.

That was the thing with “Luck”: The acting was great, for the most part  (Hoffman, Michael Gambon, Jason Gedrick, Joan Allen, Dennis Farina, Jill Hennessy and all the rest), the horse-racing scenes were electrifying, and the cinematography was beautiful.  Still, not much happened.  And that’s a turn-off for many.  (Why include the phrase “for the most part” above?  Because the one cast member I didn’t care for was Nick Nolte, who played a gravel-voiced horse trainer.)

As for Milch, his track record with HBO is fascinating: First, there was “Deadwood,” everyone’s favorite Western series and the one that changed forever our perceptions of how the Old West should be portrayed from here on out.  Well, that series got cancelled suddenly before Milch had planned to end it, and fans howled in protest.  HBO promised some future “Deadwood” TV movies, but no one believed that, and indeed, they never happened.

Then there was Milch’s one-season series about a dysfunctional family of southern California surfers and their interactions with a godlike alien – “John From Cincinnati.”    For most people, that show was even less accessible than “Luck.”  (But again, like with all Milch shows, opinions vary widely.  I happened to love “John From Cincinnati” and consider it to be one of the finest TV shows ever produced.  Go figure.)

He then tried his hand at another cop show (he’d long been associated with “NYPD Blue” on ABC) called “Last of the Ninth” (referring to the Ninth Precinct of the NYPD).  He produced a pilot for HBO, but the network declined.  Then they said yes to “Luck” and that show bit the dust because of dead animals.

Will HBO take up any new business with Milch after all of this?  Well, it’s not his fault the horses died, but on this question, as with all Milch questions, there are two camps: Those who love him hope HBO will try again with him.  Those who can’t stand his shows won’t mourn the passing of “Luck.”

If you’ve been following “Luck” up to this point, I suggest you carry it through to the end, even though the March 25 finale does not serve as a series ender.  Truth is, you only really have to expend two more hours with this star-crossed show.  And then it’s good-bye and good luck to “Luck.”

“Luck” airs Sunday nights at 9/8c on HBO (for two more weeks, alas).

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

In HBO’s ‘Game Change,’ Palin’s a blithering idiot

March 10, 2012

Ed Harris as John McCain and Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin in HBO’s “Game Change.” (Photo: HBO)

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, March 10, 2012 — Let’s try and set the record straight on this HBO Sarah Palin movie called “Game Change,” which you’ve no doubt been reading about lately.

TV critics are hailing the movie, in which Julianne Moore plays Palin, in much the same way that they reacted to a previous HBO movie about another presidential campaign — the 2008 made-for-TV movie called “Recount” about the Bush-Gore Florida debacle of 2000.  Both movies were written by Danny Strong and directed by Jay Roach.  Then, as now, the critics are enthusiastic about “Game Change” and, in particular, Moore’s performance.

Of course, any TV movie that purports to portray Sarah Palin will come to TV laden with controversy.  And that rule of thumb certainly applies to “Game Change,” which premieres on HBO on Saturday night (March 10) at 9/8c.

As with any TV dramatization adapted from real events (or, as in this case, a non-fiction book about real events), your enjoyment of “Game Change” might depend on whether or not you accept its portrayal of Sarah Palin.  And this movie’s depiction of Palin is downright brutal.

It’s the Sarah Palin of summer and fall 2008, when she skyrocketed to instant fame as John McCain’s surprise pick to join his ticket as the Republican candidate for vice president.  The movie focuses primarily on three characters — McCain (played by Ed Harris), Palin, and McCain campaign advisor Steve Schmidt (played by Woody Harrelson with his usual intensity).

In the movie, which I watched the other day on a preview DVD provided by HBO, Harris puts his own usual intensity on hold to portray McCain as an F-word spewing candidate who seems to prefer that his staff do most of the heavy lifting in the management of his own presidential campaign.

Harris doesn’t really try for out-and-out mimickry in his portrayal of McCain, but that wasn’t the case with Moore.  She nails Palin in all the crucial areas — her voice, her body language, her hair, makeup and wardrobe.  Moore’s portrayal of Palin is the great performance of this movie, and the primary reason to watch it in the first place.  She’s almost certain to be nominated for an Emmy and she’ll probably win it.

Her transformation into Palin was so complete that I couldn’t help but think of Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.”  That was a richer role, but the two challenges were essentially the same: How to become another person so completely that you forget about the actress.  Among many great moments in “Game Change,” one of our favorites was when Moore, costumed as Palin, watched Tina Fey on “Saturday Night Live” playing Palin.  It is a great moment in television.

Having said all that, the portrayal is savage.  This movie posits that Palin the candidate was an uneducated, inarticulate, head-strong egomaniac who knew next to nothing about history, geography, international relations or domestic affairs.  Moreover, according to the movie, when the pressures of running for national office mounted, she caved emotionally.  Basically, the movie depicts Palin as a blithering idiot who couldn’t take the heat.

Is the portrayal true?  Well, it is based on a book – “Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime” by journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin — and it’s the kind of book you assume is factual.

The book was about the Democratic and Republican campaigns that ended with Barack Obama’s victory — and all the people involved in the many dramas that took place that year.  And yet, the movie focuses only on the Palin/McCain drama.

“That book had several movies in it,” says executive producer Gary Goetzman in a video HBO produced to promote the movie.  “So we picked a piece of the book to make this movie.”   You can interpret that statement in any of two ways (or possibly more): (1) For the sake of producing a tightly focused two-hour telemovie, the producers had to pick one of the book’s many stories and restrict the movie to telling that tale, or (2) the producers have it in for Palin.  I suspect there’s more to item (1) than item (2) here, but just the same, both interpretations are probably valid.

Sarah Palin herself has said recently that she hasn’t seen the movie and doesn’t plan on watching it (though I expect she won’t be able to resist giving it at least a wee peek Saturday night, assuming she subscribes to HBO).

Love it or hate it, this movie is too fascinating to dismiss, or miss.

Remember when . . . Sarah Palin became a reality TV star on TLC?  I loved writing about “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” so much that I made 18 columns out of it.  Relive the experience HERE, with all 18 of those columns collected in one special place — only on TVHowl.com.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Billy Crystal ‘blackface’ controversy is baloney

February 28, 2012

Billy Crystal (left) and Sammy Davis Jr.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Feb. 28, 2012 — Billy Crystal is being criticized for appearing in costume as Sammy Davis Jr. in the elaborate pre-produced bit that opened the Oscar telecast Sunday night on ABC.

What are the critics complaining about?  His face — specifically, the dark makeup Billy used to complete his impersonation of Sammy.

In the aftermath of the Oscars, the makeup is producing accusations that Billy was doing a racist, “blackface” impersonation of the late, legendary entertainer, who was African-American (and also Jewish).

The Hollywood Reporter has a rundown — here — of the “controversy” and the handful of critics whose Tweets appear to have ignited this mini-firestorm.

For example, a blog identified as “Feministing” declared, “Blackface is not okay, ever.”  And from this thin gruel are “controversies” made these days.

My own opinion is that this “firestorm” doesn’t hold water, but more on that in a moment.

First, the background: Billy turned up in costume as Sammy Davis in the portion of that opening bit that spoofed the Woody Allen movie “Midnight in Paris.”  “Sammy” appeared in a vintage limousine with Justin Bieber (the real one).

The choice was apparently made to include Billy’s “Sammy” character simply because it’s a character he was famous for doing on “Saturday Night Live” when he was a cast member in 1984-85.  Back then, as now, the characterization required dark makeup.  (It’s also worth noting that Billy impersonated Muhammad Ali and Prince on “SNL”; in fact, it was his impression of Ali that made him famous as a young comedian in the 1970s.)

In the wake of Sunday’s “Sammy” appearance on the Oscar show, these “critics” have dealt Billy the “blackface” card.  “Blackface” refers to a practice with roots in 19th-century forms of popular entertainment in which white stage performers blackened their faces with burnt cork or shoe polish to portray African-Americans in ways that often weren’t exactly flattering (and if that’s an understatement, then unlike the Twitterers, I admit right up front I’m not an expert on this subject, though there are plenty of places to learn about it in books and on the Internet).

The “blackface” practice probably reached its zenith when Al Jolson, considered by many to be one of the most electrifying entertainers who ever lived, donned the dark makeup in the early decades of the 20th century to sing songs such as “Mammy,” which certainly wouldn’t fly today.

Cut to the present day: And now, Billy Crystal is being accused of racist “blackfacing” as if he’s been caught barnstorming the country in a minstrel show.

I happen to think this mini-controversy is baloney for several reasons.  For one thing, Billy Crystal has never demonstrated any sort of bias against African-Americans or anyone else, as far I can recall.  In addition, when it comes to Sammy Davis Jr. in particular, he seems to have adored the man — as I learned earlier this month when Billy talked at length about Sammy on Showtime’s “Inside Comedy,” the show on which David Steinberg interviews top comedians about their craft.

Billy told an incredibly affectionate story about Sammy from the days when Billy opened for Sammy in Lake Tahoe (and probably other places).  You could tell that Billy had nothing but love and respect for Sammy.  Certainly, how Sammy felt about Billy’s impersonation of him on “SNL” remains an open question (one biography of Sammy that I own – “In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis Jr.” by Wil Haygood – doesn’t report on Sammy’s reaction but speculates that he may have felt forced to accept it because of his own history of doing impersonations; Davis died in 1990).

The last thing I’ll say about this is: I think the people criticizing Billy for “blackfacing” are being awfully selective here.  I’m pretty sure Fred Armisen has to tint his face a bit to play Barack Obama on “SNL” (and, in a recent sketch, Prince), but we haven’t seen any “blackface” accusations thrown his way.

In addition, Robert Downey Jr. was criticized by some for applying dark-face makeup for the 2008 movie “Tropic Thunder.”  But that “controversy” died down and was soon forgotten.

My prediction: The same thing will happen with this Crystal controversy too.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

And the winner is: Reliable Billy Crystal

February 26, 2012

Billy Crystal at the Oscars Sunday.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Feb. 26, 2012 — There’s something to be said for reliability.  And that’s what Billy Crystal brought to the Oscars Sunday night when he hosted the show for the ninth time.

What’s so great about reliability as opposed to, say, unpredictability?  The main thing is this: In the hours and days after the telecast, few will complain about the host this year — even those who don’t particularly care for Billy Crystal.  A year ago, the majority of the post-Oscar talk was all about how Anne Hathaway and James Franco flopped (especially him).  And in other years, “unpredictable” hosts such as David Letterman and Chris Rock were panned too.

But with Billy Crystal, you get a guy who takes on one of the hardest jobs in show business and then makes it look easy.  He’s a consummate entertainer — he sings (not perfectly, but good enough for a comic), he dances (sort of) and he knows how to get off jokes and one-liners that are neither too soft nor too sharp.  Instead, Billy tends to bowl ’em right down the middle, which is what this telecast demands and, seemingly, only he can deliver.

And deliver he did for a ninth time, starting with one of his trademark, pre-produced bits — an epic retrospective that opened the show, in which Billy turned up in scenes from all nine of the Best Picture nominees.  The most memorable moment in this bit: When George Clooney kissed him tenderly on the lips in a spoof scene from “The Descendants.”

After his grand entrance, which also included an elaborate song-and-dance routine in which Billy sang lyrics poking fun at all the nominated movies, he appeared at various times throughout the evening, got off a joke or two and then made himself scarce.  That’s also a talent he possesses: Knowing when to get on and off stage before the audience tires of him.

I loved his constant jabs at the theater the telecast was coming from — the former Kodak Theatre that no longer carries the name because the revered company is bankrupt.  I counted at least three references to Kodak’s plight when Billy renamed the venue “the Chapter 11 Theater,” “the Your Name Here Theater” and “the Flomax Theater.”

And I loved the way this veteran comic delivered his jokes.  “So, tonight enjoy yourselves,” he said near the beginning of the show, “because nothing can take the sting out of the world’s economic problems like watching millionaires present each other with golden statues!”

Later, he introduced presenter Christian Bale this way: “A dark knight, an American psycho, a charismatic crack addict [referring to some of Bale’s best-known roles] . . .   You’ll get to choose one on super Tuesday!”

And after a soaring performance by Cirque du Soleil (which really was mind-blowing), Billy said, “Wow, I pulled a hamstring just watching that!  Now it’s a party!  We got puppets, acrobats, we’re a pony away from being a bar mitzvah!”

As for the non-Billy moments, my favorite was the pre-produced bit with the 1939 “focus group” that critiqued “The Wizard of Oz.”  That bit’s participants included Bob Balaban, Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge and Catherine O’Hara — the tightknit group of comic actors from Guest’s movies such as “A Mighty Wind,” “Best in Show” and “Waiting for Guffman.”  That was a great surprise.

In the moments before the telecast began, ABC’s Robin Roberts caught up with Natalie Portman on the way into the theater.  And Portman, last year’s Best Actress winner for “Black Swan,” probably spoke for many of us when she told Roberts she was looking forward to the Oscar show because Billy Crystal had returned.

“We’re in good hands,” Portman said.  And she was right.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Here comes the judge: Howard Stern on ‘AGT’

December 15, 2011

Howard Stern on NBC? Yes, it’s happening.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Dec. 15, 2011 — NBC finally made it official Thursday morning: Howard Stern’s been hired as the third judge on “America’s Got Talent,” replacing the departed Piers Morgan.  Stern will be seen on the show starting next summer.

There are likely many people who are scratching their heads over this hire, people who don’t see how on earth Howard Stern, the notorious radio personality whose conversations with guests on his Sirius XM radio show are often X-rated, will now be seen on one of our biggest TV networks in a show that, if nothing else, is suitable for the whole family.

Sure, on the face of it, he doesn’t seem compatible with this show at all.  But, in fact, he’s a great choice.  Here’s why and how it happened:

1) Stern’s adaptable: One thing many people other than his most ardent fans fail to realize — Howard Stern is a very gifted broadcaster.  Whether you enjoy the subject matter of his conversations on the radio or not, he is still one of the best there is at talking, which, believe it or not, is a skill that only a few have.  And among his skills is this: Putting the potty talk on hold when it’s necessary to do so — on late-night shows, for example, and also when he used to voice commercials for sponsors of his radio show; those commercials were second-to-none.  On “AGT,” Stern will clean up his act accordingly because, while I know this is difficult for many to believe, the guy is a consummate professional.  Yes, it’s true.

2) NBC needed him: How badly?  Enough to move heaven and earth — and the show from L.A. to New York — to get him.  And it will be worth it too — Stern will not only be very entertaining week after week, but the man is an electro-magnet for media attention.  His utterings on the show will be widely covered, at least initially, and “AGT” will reap the benefits in publicity.  In fact, with Stern on board, there’s little reason, other than timing, why this show shouldn’t air during the regular season on NBC, instead of the summer.  It would certainly do better than “The Sing-Off” or “The Biggest Loser,” competition shows that NBC had on its fall lineup this season that performed terribly in the ratings.

3) Stern “needed” this gig: Not in the sense that one “needs” a job in order to make money to support his family.  Stern’s rich enough to never have to work, but I suspect that an offer like this was irresistible to Stern, if it could be arranged.  Ever since he left terrestrial radio for Sirius, Stern has not been nearly the center of attention he once was in the heyday of his national morning show on old-fashioned broadcast radio.  With this “AGT” gig, he gets an opportunity for exposure in what is probably the most mainstream environment of his career — a G-rated talent show on one of our major TV networks.  Plus, he gets to feel relevant again, a media personality who still has the clout to get a network to roll out the red carpet for him, even though his history on television is mixed at best, and at worst, dismal.

Howard Stern on “America’s Got Talent”?  Our prediction: “AGT” is now poised to become the most talked-about TV show of 2012.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Inside the origins of ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’

December 7, 2011

Downtrodden Charlie Brown searches for the true meaning of Christmas in the revered holiday special “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (Photo: ABC).

CBS EXECS HATED SHOW, PREDICTED IT WOULD FLOP

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Dec. 7, 2011 — It went on to become the most popular and beloved of all of TV’s Christmas specials, but when CBS executives first laid eyes on “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in 1965, they didn’t care for it.

“They just didn’t like the show when I brought it to them” for the first time, recalled one of the show’s producers, Lee Mendelson, 78, in a recent phone interview from California.  Mendelson was executive producer of the special, along with “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz, who died in 2000, and the late Bill Melendez.

“They just didn’t, for whatever reason, like the show,” he said.   “The first thing they said was, ‘Well, it’s going to go on next week.  There’s nothing we can do about it,’ but I remember them saying it will probably be the first and last Charlie Brown show.  . . .  They thought it was too slow, they didn’t like the jazz music so much on a Christmas show – in other words, these were all creative things that they didn’t like.”

In fact, Mendelson and Melendez thought they’d “missed the boat” too.  It was their first network special with Schulz and his Peanuts characters and it was shaping up to be their last.  “When we finished the show, Bill and I were very discouraged,” Mendelson said.  “In fact, Bill thought we had really missed the boat [and] I remember one of the animators stood up in the back and said, ‘You guys are crazy.  This is gonna run for a hundred years!’  We thought he was crazy.”

Mendelson also shed light on a popular misconception about “A Charlie Brown Christmas” – namely, that the CBS execs objected to the special’s Christian content.  “They had no problem with the [show’s] religious aspects,” Mendelson said.

In the show’s famous “biblical verse” scene – unique in the annals of holiday TV specials – an anguished Charlie Brown vents his frustration over the commercialism that has overtaken the holiday.  “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” he asks.

Linus then strides to center stage and asks that the lights be dimmed.  He then recites the Bible passage – from the gospel according to Luke, verses 8-14.  “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night,” he says.  “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them . . .  And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  . . . ”

If anyone had reservations about the Bible verses, it was Mendelson and Melendez, but not Schulz because it was Schulz’s idea.  Recalled Mendelson, “I remember when we were drawing up the show, Schulz said, ‘We’re going to have [Linus] read from the Bible.’  And Bill and I looked at each other and Bill said, ‘You know, I don’t think animated characters have probably ever read from the Bible.  And I remember Schulz’s response.  He said, ‘Bill, if we don’t do it, who will?’ ”

Despite everyone’s reservations about the special, it was a smash – watched by about half the country (on Dec. 9, 1965).  Among other things, the jazz music – by the Vince Guaraldi Trio – that the CBS execs disliked became world famous.  And it was far from the last Peanuts special produced by the triumvirate of Schulz, Mendelson and Melendez.  They made dozens of others in a collaboration that lasted about 30 years.

This year, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is airing on network TV for its 47th consecutive holiday season.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Joan Rivers’ own tragic history on ‘The Simpsons’

December 5, 2011

Krusty the Clown and agent Annie Dubinsky (Joan Rivers) in last Sunday’s episode of “The Simpsons” on Fox (Photos: Fox)

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Dec. 5, 2011 — “The Simpsons” crammed a ton of TV history into that new episode seen this past Sunday night on Fox — not only spoofing Ralph Kramden and “The Honeymooners” and other iconic shows — but also featuring a storyline for guest-star Joan Rivers that cut close to the bone.

It was a story about a top comedy talent headlining a network TV show and the show’s headstrong producer, with whom the comedian has a close personal relationship.  In the episode, the producer — played by Rivers — threw her weight around so much on the set that network execs ordered the comedian, Krusty the Clown, to fire her, or else they would.

The story, no doubt devised with Rivers’ approval and possibly with her input, mirrored her own personal history — with Fox, no less — back in 1987.  That’s when she starred in a late-night show on the then-fledgling network — “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers” — while her husband, Edgar Rosenberg, acted as executive producer.  When Fox execs ordered her to fire Edgar, she refused and they were both canned.  Three months later, he committed suicide — the worst tragedy of Rivers’ life.

And yet, there she was on “The Simpsons” spoofing her own tragic history — something only a comedian of her stature and experience would attempt.

In the episode, Krusty’s kids show got cancelled because he was so sadly behind the times (even referring in a meeting with network executives to “Percy Dovetonsils,” a character not seen on TV since the late Ernie Kovacs played him in the 1950s).  So Krusty linked up with Annie Dubinsky (Rivers), who was once his agent and girlfriend in the 1960s until he dumped her.  This past Sunday, she engineered his comeback after the cancellation.  But then, he had to fire her.

The whole episode dealt with the history of television, starting out with a Simpson family outing to the Springfield Museum of Television, which was closing and holding a memorabilia fire sale because no one apparently cared anymore about the early history of TV.  And, as Homer lamented, you don’t need to visit a museum anymore to see clips of old shows when you have the Internet.

At the museum, the family encountered an exhibit devoted to an old — and fictional — black-and-white show from the ’50s called “Fatso Flanagan,” which bore more than a resemblance to the old “Honeymooners.”  Homer and Marge even mimicked the famed “Baby, you’re the greatest!” scenes from “The Honeymooners” as Homer described how almost every comedy ever made for TV was based somehow on “The Honeymooners.”

It was an incredibly rich episode, and one that ought to put to rest, at least for now, rumblings from some critics lately that “The Simpsons” ought to be put out to pasture.  All we can say to that is this: Not yet, Fox — not yet.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

How’d Herman Cain do on ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’?

November 9, 2011

The many faces of Herman Cain — four of ’em, at least! — as he appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” Monday night.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Nov. 9, 2011 — Jimmy Kimmel made the most of a guest who was a rarity for him and his ABC late-night show — an exclusive appearance by a prominent newsmaker and leading candidate for president who just that very morning had been accused for the fourth time of sexual harassment.

The appearance was no less of a triumph for the candidate himself — Herman Cain — who demonstrated strength and great humor in the face of adversity and, in the process, probably gained support — at least among the roughly 1.5 million who watch “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

Why we admired Jimmy’s performance: He handled the candidate with just the right combination of seriousness and humor.  These kinds of guests are a challenge for late-night hosts, who feel much more comfortable kidding around with showpeople such as actors or fellow comedians.

But when a guest appears from outside the world of showbiz, some late-night hosts — such as David Letterman and Jay Leno, for example — tend to put a brake on the comedy and the segments have a way of falling flat.

Not so with Jimmy Monday night.  Even with Cain waiting backstage, Jimmy spent about half his monologue talking about the latest sexual harassment allegations leveled by Sharon Bialek with help from publicity-hound attorney Gloria Allred — probably because Jimmy knew the audience had to be well-informed on the topic before he could talk about it with his guest.

And that’s exactly what he did.  “So how was your day?” Jimmy asked Cain casually to start the segment.  “All things considered, I’m still alive,” Cain said with a smile.

“Have you considered hiring Gloria Allred as your attorney?” Jimmy asked.  “Let me put it to you this say,” Cain fired back, “I can’t think of anything that I would hire her for, OK?!”

Why Cain gets an A-plus from us: Sure, Jimmy Kimmel’s not a hard-nosed journalist, so some might say Cain got off easy with this opportunity to answer questions on national TV from a comedian who’s not a newsman.  But Jimmy pitched him all the relevant questions and Cain knocked them out of the park.  Plus, we give Cain props for showing up in the first place.  Under the circumstances, we were betting he wouldn’t.

For those of us who hadn’t really paid attention to Cain, the performance was very impressive.  He flatly and forcefully denied this latest sexual harassment charge, told Jimmy that his own wife instantly disbelieved it, and then found more than one opportunity to hammer home the goal of his campaign — to fix the economy.

He laughed at all the appropriate moments too.  In other words, his appearance didn’t have the effect of deadening the whole show, as these things often have on the late-night shows.

“I know to you, it’s a distraction,” Jimmy said of the sexual harassment accusations.  “But to me, it’s my life!”

And Herman Cain just laughed and laughed.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

‘Entourage’ series finale: A Hollywood ending

September 12, 2011

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’: Adrian Grenier in “Entourage” (Photo: HBO)

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Sept. 12, 2011 — That was a dirty trick – ending the final episode of “Entourage” with “Going to California,” Led Zeppelin’s iconic song about the lure and promise of southern Cal.

The song framed a finish full of elaborate happy endings for the show’s principal characters – four of whom were once boys from New York who followed their dreams to California and, by the looks of it Sunday night on HBO, attained them.

The Led Zeppelin song came as they were gathered in an airplane hangar preparing to take two separate private jets on trips abroad – and at least three of the five were embarking on new lives representing a newfound maturity that was not much in evidence in this fun-loving, free-wheeling show’s previous seasons and episodes.

Why was the Zeppelin song a dirty trick?  Because it happens to be a beautiful song, and thus elevated a series that was never long on sentiment to something with meaning – at least for its final moments.

Of course, the neat tying up of all the show’s loose ends in one 35-minute final episode was as much of a fantasy as the way the show’s various storylines were wrapped up for each of the characters:

Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier): After one 24-hour date with the new love of his life – the journalist Sophia Lear (Alice Eve) – Vince declared they would marry that very evening in Paris, bought a ring for more than a million dollars and lined up a private jet to whisk everyone abroad.

Eric “E” Murphy (Kevin Connolly): Thanks to Vince’s largesse – not to mention his charismatic powers of persuasion – Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui) agreed to meet E at the airport for their own private jet flight anywhere in the world.  With Sloan already pregnant with their child, we’re left to assume they will live happily ever after.

Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven): Ari did the unthinkable: He threw over his job as co-owner of the most powerful talent agency in Hollywood – the occupation that always seemed as vital to his survival as the blood coursing through his veins – in order to reconcile with Mrs. Ari (Perrey Reeves).  With the help of a young trio of Italian opera singers, the gambit worked and Mr. and Mrs. Ari joined the group for the trip to Paris.

Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) and Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon): There were no marriages or new loves for these two – their happy endings were sealed a week earlier, with Drama getting the TV-movie role of his dreams and Turtle becoming a multimillionaire thanks to Vince’s safe-keeping of Turtle’s investment in the tequila company.

Lloyd (Rex Lee): We were glad to see that a consideration of Lloyd’s future was included in the “Entourage” finale.  He was a great character and, in the end, when he fretted about what he would do at the agency without Ari to guide him, Ari told him, rightfully, that he possesses all the tools now to go in there and make his mark in the firm – and not as an Ari clone either, but as his own man.

“Standing on a hill in my mountain of dreams . . . ”  “Going to California”?  Why not?  I wrote back when “Entourage” began in 2004 that, at its heart, it was a series about California – specifically, southern California (by which we mean L.A. and Hollywood) – about the fantasy and the reality of the place, and how the two are sometimes difficult to distinguish.

As for the series finale, whether you buy into the neat and tidy happy endings that creator Doug Ellin and his team conjured for the episode, as a time capsule of life in La La Land in the years 2004-2011, “Entourage” got it right.  And we’ll miss it.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

‘Rescue Me’ finale: Leary series goes out on top

September 8, 2011

R.I.P. Lt. Lou Shea: John Scurti in “Rescue Me” — his character was eulogized, hilariously, on the series finale Wednesday (Photo: FX)

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, Sept. 8, 2011 — Tommy Gavin didn’t die.  Instead, it was Lou, his best friend and perhaps the most likable of all the characters on “Rescue Me.”

A tragedy to end the firefighters’ series run?  Yes, but not completely.  Though Lou’s death was certainly tragic, leaving all of his surviving colleagues to question their futures in the New York City Fire Department, most of the one-hour series finale seen on FX Wednesday night played like a comedy.

That happened to be this show’s signature: Premiering in July 2004 and ending its run this week as the nation prepares to mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, “Rescue Me” at its heart was a drama about one New York firefighter’s reaction to the loss of 343 FDNY brethren in the collapse of the Twin Towers that day in 2001.  That’s a weighty subject, to be sure, but since that firefighter, Tommy, was played by comedian Denis Leary (who also co-created, co-wrote and co-produced the series), much of the series was given over to Leary’s dark sense of humor.

Such was the case in the finale Wednesday night titled “Ashes.”  The ashes in the title were all that remained of sweet Lou (played to perfection for all seven seasons by John Scurti) after he was killed a week earlier in a warehouse fire (the location recognizable to all who ride the New York subway system’s elevated No. 7 train through Long Island City in Queens).  The collapse of that building left the survival of any of the firefighters in question leading into the finale.

And as the final episode began, it seemed as if at least five of them had succumbed.  But no — it was a dream conjured by Gavin, a dream in which Lou was seen eulogizing the five men with a rousing speech about the nature of firefighting — a grand piece of screen-writing, by the way, as was much of this final episode.

Certainly, it had been speculated that Tommy himself would be among the dead — a novel and striking way to end a series: Having the all-important main character, who’d been seen in virtually every scene of the show for seven years, get killed off.

But it was Lou who died, and his sendoff was a masterpiece, particularly in the choreography of the sequence in which two windows in Tommy’s SUV were opened simultaneously — because Tommy ordered Franco and Black Shawn to toss out their chewing gum — and the sudden cross-ventilation caused Lou’s ashes to suddenly explode out of their box, covering driver, passengers and the entire interior of the vehicle with his earthly remains.

Then, in a perfectly balanced combination of sentiment and black comedy, Tommy poignantly read a letter left to him by Lou (in case of Lou’s death), and then tossed his “ashes” — actually a box of Betty Crocker cake mix that Lou’s brethren bought at the 11th hour to stand in for his ashes — over a cliff and into the sea (it looked like Long Island Sound).

Other scenes were laden with comedy too, such as the scene where Tommy, contemplating life as an FDNY retiree, battles with a group of parents at a politically correct playground (filmed in lower Manhattan’s Battery Park City, about half a block from the World Trade Center site) over the sharing of kids’ toys in the sandbox.  Forget about “Rescue Me” — that was like a scene out of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” only better.

In the end, Tommy didn’t retire, but nor did he assume Lou’s lieutenant’s role, which was his right as senior firefighter in the house.  Instead, he let the promotion go to the gung-ho Franco.

As the episode came to a close, Franco and Tommy were seen exhorting a group of new FDNY recruits on the meaning of belonging to a select group of people of run toward and into burning buildings when everyone else is running out and away from them.

In the show’s touching last scene, Tommy was seen behind the wheel of his SUV having a jovial conversation with an old friend seated in the passenger seat — the ghost of Lou.

This episode was one of the best-written episodes of any single TV show seen in years.  Our hope for Leary and his team is that they get recognized for it.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Last coconut phone call for Sherwood Schwartz

July 13, 2011

Sherwood Schwartz (right) and the character he created, Gilligan, played by Bob Denver.

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, July 13, 2011 — Spend enough years as a journalist on the same beat and it’s inevitable that many of the people you met along the way will die eventually.

And if you’ve been around as long as I have, you run the risk of beginning to sound like that scene in “The Sunshine Boys” where the only subject the elderly former comedy partners Lewis and Clark (George Burns and Walter Matthau in the 1975 movie) seem to talk about is the death of someone they knew.  Maybe you remember this pointless conversation — it went something like this: “Where’d he die?”  “In Variety.”

So I try and avoid these kinds of blog posts, but when Sherwood Schwartz died the other day at age 94, I somehow retrieved a dim memory of having lunch with him.  And since cobwebs were forming here on TV Howl (my last post was a while ago), I decided it was time to make a new contribution.

I’m pretty sure it was in May 2000 or thereabouts — at the Waldorf Astoria, in the ballroom, where many a TV industry event is held in New York.  Nick at Nite (or maybe it was TV Land) was putting on some sort of presentation of its then-new lineup of old shows.  The only record I possess of this event is a photo taken backstage of Mr. T and me.

One of the only other memories of this event: Tina Yothers, formerly of “Family Ties,” singing in a rock band.

Somehow, I was assigned to the same table as Sherwood Schwartz and his wife.  I dimly recall engaging him in conversation by asking him about his various shows — “Gilligan’s Island,” “The Brady Bunch,” “Dusty’s Trail.”  I was particularly interested in how he arrived at the number of characters for these shows — seven for both “Gilligan” and “Dusty’s Trail” and nine for “Brady Bunch.”

I don’t recall the details, but his answer indicated that those numbers were shrewdly chosen for their versatility and potential for myriad storylines.  For that’s one of the problems the producers of TV shows always come up against: Dreaming up enough stories to sustain the scenario they created through an entire season (which, in the days of “Gilligan’s Island,” was 36 episodes) or multiple seasons.

Judging by his age when he died, Schwartz must have been 82 or 83 when I met him that day.  He was an energetic guy — a funny little old man.  At one point during the presentation that was underway on-stage after lunch had been served and eaten, a “phone” made of coconut halves — like something the Professor would have devised on “Gilligan’s Island” — was delivered to our table.

A single spotlight then cut through the darkened ballroom and shone on Sherwood as the ringing of a phone was suddenly heard.  That was apparently Sherwood’s cue to answer this “phone” and speak into it.   And since the phone had a hidden microphone, Sherwood’s voice was heard over the ballroom’s speaker system saying something about “The Brady Bunch.”

I was delighted to have witnessed this “performance” from the chair right beside him.  All in all, it was a great day, having my photo taken with Mr. T and then sitting beside the creator of “Gilligan’s Island” as he took a call on a coconut telephone.  What more could a TV columnist ask for?

May he rest in peace.

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

Katie in the afternoon: You be the judge

June 11, 2011

Katie Couric’s coming to daytime but no one knows how she’ll do (Photo: Disney/ABC)

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, June 11, 2011 — A lot of people want to know lately: How will Katie Couric do on daytime TV?

My answer?  I have no idea.  It’s not because I’m at a loss for words or can’t quite generate an opinion.  I’ve never had those problems.  Just on the face of it, I think that generally speaking, the odds don’t favor her making a big splash with a daytime talk show.  There are just too many variables afflicting daytime television these days to state with certainty that she’s a slamdunk to emerge with a hit talk show on her hands.

Not that it’s impossible, but this is a time of day that is seriously in flux nowadays as far as television is concerned.  Based on everything that’s going on now in daytime, this new Katie Couric talk show is a huge gamble that could go either way.

Here are the factors at play, in no particular order, as Couric prepares to enter the daytime arena about 15 months from now:

1) What exactly is daytime television?  One thing it’s not: A place where any former network news anchor has ever set up shop and succeeded.  A personality with Couric’s news background might be expected to attract newsmakers as guests, for conversations about stories or subjects in the news.  The problem with that: No one’s ever attempted that in a syndicated afternoon talk show.

2) The cable news channels own that kind of news/talk on weekday afternoons.  They’ve owned it ever since the 1990s, when the O.J. Simpson trials, the Clinton impeachment, and stories such as the Elian Gonzalez saga and the 2000 presidential election recount riveted viewers in afternoons.  Broadcast networks began to notice: These “real-life” soap operas were stealing their audiences.

3) So maybe there’s an opportunity for Couric, a newsperson, to siphon off some of the audience for news/talk in the afternoon.  Maybe, but is that audience really big enough to sustain her show?  That’s doubtful.  It should be noted that Anderson Cooper is poised to do the same thing — start an afternoon talk show.  So it’s clear some people in the TV business think the afternoon is ripe for this kind of thing.

4) But is the afternoon audience ripe for it, whoever they are?  Sure, everybody’s focusing on Oprah Winfrey leaving daytime, and then, theoretically, leaving an opportunity for someone like Couric to come in and grab the “serious” afternoon TV viewer.  But are there really enough of them?  Take a look at daytime TV — Oprah was an exception.  Most of the shows on daytime are low-rent judge shows and talk shows like “Maury” and “Jerry Springer” (and yes, Ellen Degeneres holds on somehow, with ratings are that pretty low, but apparently just enough to keep her show profitable).  Will the audience for all these other shows suddenly flock to Katie Couric?  Probably not.

5) Katie’s no Oprah.  And that’s the crux of the matter.  Even Oprah’s audience was in decline, and she’s Oprah.  That’s probably why she decided to leave daytime syndication and stake her future on cable TV.  Judge Judy was beating her in the ratings and she knew it.  The question is: Do people like Katie Couric?  Once upon a time she was America’s sweetheart at “The Today Show.”  Then, something happened — I don’t know what it was, but nowadays she doesn’t seem as beloved as she once was.  In fact, that’s an understatement.  In some quarters, Couric is so polarizing a personality that she’s on par with Sarah Palin in the kinds of reactions she draws from readers of blog posts like this one.

6) Daytime is so unpredictable these days that even the traditional soap operas — the long-time backbone of daytime TV — are on life-support.  Under the circumstances, it’s just too chaotic to figure out whether Katie Couric can come along and plant her flag on this shaky ground.  Fact is, she’s a very capable broadcaster, but the savior of daytime TV?  Who came up with that idea?

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com

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

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

Kimmel vs. Fallon: A tale of two Jimmies

April 20, 2011

Jimmy Fallon

By ADAM BUCKMAN

NEW YORK, April 20, 2011 — Someday, all late-night hosts will be named Jimmy.  But until then, we’ll settle for the two we have now – Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon, who just happen to be doing the brightest shows in late-night.

And we can’t help but be fascinated that both of these guys are named Jimmy, which is pretty incredible when you consider that there aren’t that many late-night hosts to begin with.

How many?  Let’s count ’em off: Dave, Jay, Conan, Craig (Ferguson), George (Lopez), Jimmy (Fallon) and Jimmy (Kimmel).  That’s seven male late-night personalities hosting “traditional” late-night shows (which is why we’re leaving out Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert) and two of them are named Jimmy.  Or, to put it another way, nearly 29 percent (more than a quarter, almost a third!) of all male late-night hosts are named Jimmy.

Moreover, the two Jimmies compete against each other, but only for 25 minutes – which means that, when you’re deciding between the two, it comes down to choosing (roughly) the first half of “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” on NBC (12:35-1:35 a.m./11:35-12:35c) over the second half of “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on ABC (midnight-1 a.m./11c-midnight).

Jimmy Kimmel

Adding to the vexation: The two Jimmies are eerily similar and yet, at the same time, they’re so so different!

Did you know that both Jimmies were born in Brooklyn?

Kimmel, a Scorpio born on Nov. 13, 1967, is 43.  He and his family moved to Las Vegas when he was nine.  Fallon, a Virgo, is 36.  He was born on Sept. 19, 1974.  He and his family moved to the town of Saugerties in upstate New York when he was little.  And get this: The fathers of both Jimmies worked for IBM (according to Wikipedia).  Coincidence?!  Probably.

Of course, both Jimmies grew up to become late-night talk-show hosts.  And, while Kimmel’s been at it longer, both Jimmies got their late-night gigs at around the same age.  Kimmel was 35 when he got his show in 2003 after ABC enticed him away from “The Man Show” on Comedy Central.  Fallon became host of NBC’s “Late Night” at age 34 in March 2009 after Conan O’Brien left to take over “The Tonight Show.”

Here in the present day, the two Jimmies are scoring very similar ratings.  In the most recent late-night ratings report – for the week of April 4-8, Kimmel had a slight lead, attracting an average of 1.789 million viewers each night, compared to Fallon’s average of 1.675 million.  One reason Kimmel was out ahead: His lead-in, “Nightline,” beat Fallon’s lead-in, “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” that week in the nightly total-viewer count.

But that’s where the similarities seem to end.  Kimmel’s rise in show business differed markedly from Fallon’s.  Before co-hosting “The Man Show” with Adam Carolla, Kimmel was Ben Stein’s sidekick on the old Comedy Central quiz show “Win Ben Stein’s Money.”  Fallon, of course, came up via “Saturday Night Live,” where he appeared from 1998 to 2004, then left NBC to star in a string of movies.

The two Jimmies have both coasts covered.  Kimmel’s doing “Jimmy Kimmel Live” from the heart of Hollywood.  His greatest talent – other than affecting a relaxed, unruffled and slightly disheveled demeanor every night – is his ability for making A-list friends in Hollywood and then recruiting them to participate in his most elaborate bits (“The Handsome Mens Club,” “Hottie Body Hump Club,” “The King’s Speech” spoof he did on Oscar night with Mike Tyson, and many others).

Fallon’s hosting NBC’s “Late Night” from the heart of Manhattan – at NBC’s storied headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.  He possesses basic performing skills that Kimmel lacks – most notably Fallon’s musical ability and a talent for impersonation (though possessing these skills has never been a requirement for hosting a late-night show).  It’s a matter of individual taste, but we happen to think Fallon’s extremely likable.  And we love the bits he and his writers have developed – “Thank You Notes,” “Robert Pattinson Is Bothered” and many others.  And we love Fallon’s band, The Roots.

So who’s the best Jimmy in late-night?  We reported, now you decide!

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?

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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!

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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?

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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?

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‘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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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‘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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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


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