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TELEVISION: THE WATCHER
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Wives leave paper trail

By Maureen Ryan
Tribune staff reporter
Published December 22, 2004, 4:01 PM CST

Though those "Desperate Housewives" engage in their fair share of tabloid-worthy antics, when it comes to Chicago newspapers, it looks like they prefer their news from a broadsheet.

On Sunday's episode of "Desperate Housewives," it sure looked look as though Edie Britt picked up a Chicago Tribune from Mrs. Huber's porch.

When Britt, Mrs. Huber's former roommate, picked up one newspaper from a pile on the local busybody's porch, part of the top of the newspaper was visible, including a bright blue banner. The newspaper was folded, but the word "Tribune" was visible, preceded by what looked like the letters "-ago."

Perhaps the Tribune is the smoking gun in the Case of Where Is Wisteria Lane, the street on which all the housewives live. To our knowledge, the ladies' city or state of residence has never been identified on the show.

What's more, we'd swear that the headline on the paper Britt held featured the words "Marshall Field" in very large type (or at least we saw parts of those words, anyway). What says Chicago more than Marshall Field's?

We asked ABC about the shout-out to the Tribune, but no response yet.

Anyway, let's assume those housewives are somewhere in the Chicago area -- what suburb (or city neighborhood) has winding lanes and colorful Victorian houses like the ones seen on the show? We racked our brains, and came up with Riverside, though the architecture there is somewhat different than what we see on Wisteria Lane. If you have a guess as to what 'burb the wives are from, e-mail from, moryan@tribune.com.

GAPPED OUT: Can I just say that if I see a Gap ad with Sarah Jessica Parker one more time, I might just have to turn my TV off forever?

JUST KEEP TREKKIN': Last season, "Star Trek: Enterprise" hit a creative high point with the lengthy Xindi arc, and there's been just as much energy this season, which has so far featured a zingy guest stint by "Next Generation" star Brent Spiner and a swell three-parter set among battling Vulcans. Yep, there's plenty of life left in the old spaceship.

According to executive producer Manny Coto, the next upcoming mini-arc will focus on Capt. Jonathan Archer's attempts to forge an alliance among the cranky Andorians (they're the blue guys with wiggly antennae on their heads, whom the Enterprise has already met several times), the Vulcans and a species called the Tellarites, in a bid to thwart the wily Romulans.

"The Tellarites are a species who basically interact through insults. So there's some fun stuff there," Coto says. "After that, we'll be doing a two-parter with Klingons, which will begin to explain why the Klingons in the original [`Trek'] series are different than the Klingons in the later series," though the Klingon two-parter deals with much more than just the fierce race's appearance.

Coto says that at this stage, there are still no concrete plans to bring William Shatner to "Enterprise" this season, though he'd love to make that happen if possible. "I'm not sure what's happening there, it's probably a combination of money and scheduling and all that," Coto says of Shatner, who just received a Golden Globe nomination for his work on "Boston Legal."

Could Spiner return before the year is out? Coto says he wouldn't "rule it out."

Season 5 of "Enterprise," if there is one, will explore the founding of the multi-planet Federation, Coto says. But will "Enterprise" come back next year, given that fewer total viewers are tuning in to see the show now that it's been moved to Fridays?

"Enterprise's" renewal won't be decided until May, UPN head Dawn Ostroff says, but she adds that "We've gotten great feedback from fans. … The show is at a great place [creatively] and we're very happy with the ideas and execution."

Coto talks more below about where the show is now and where it's headed:

On whether having Brent Spiner on the show was partly a bid to bring "Trek" fans back to "Enterprise": "Absolutely. We had Brent coming in and that was a great opportunity to get people who hadn't tuned in a while to come back. And a lot of those people stuck around for the Vulcan arc, from what I've read on fan sites."

On feedback from UPN regarding ratings this season (on its new night, "Enterprise" has fewer total viewers than it had last season, but UPN is now getting higher ratings than it was last year on Fridays): "I don't even know the answer to that. I haven't spoken to anyone at the [ratings] performance, so I'd be talking in the dark. I don't know if they're happy or not. It's still pretty much up in the air [whether there will be a season 5]."

On his goals for the show: "We consciously set out to make this season a real prequel, to really embrace the prequel concept. We've got a great stories coming up, and I think there's a whole seasons' worth of great stuff, the founding of the federation.

"That's not something that can happen in three episodes at the end of the season – but we'll be headed toward the founding of the Federation [toward the end of season four]. I would love to make that a season-long arc, what's great about it is that it's a positive arc, instead of a story of pure conflict [like the Xindi arc]. It becomes an arc about trying to bring different cultures together.... which is a really resonant idea for our time. I would love to come back and we would do some serious research on the founding of the UN, how that came together."

On the final multi-episode arc of the season: "We'd like to bring our sights back to earth, to feature areas or landscapes of Starfleet we haven't seen, the Martian colony, the moon colony, our own solar system. The final story [of the season] will be mankind overcoming its own prejudices, to begin this process of [founding] the Federation. The last challenge will be our own solar system. The final obstacle will be ourselves."

On Trip and T'Pol's romance: "We are going to revisit that and scale it back so it won't be so prominent. I will say that they're heading toward an interesting culmination to their story this season."

On working with Jeffrey Combs, who plays Shran the Andorian (as well as several other memorable characters on various "Trek" series): "Jeff as Shran and Archer are so great together. [Shran] quickly became a favorite character on the show, so we knew we had to bring him back. [On set, Combs] has this incredible energy, he's like a pit bull with antenna."

On an upcoming "mirror universe" episode: "We're really excited about that one. It'll be as if you changed the channel to `Enterprise' and you get the mirror universe version of the show. We're even going to change the title sequence. People will be wondering, what show is this?"

Other tidbits:
  • "We'll see the return of the Orion slave girls. We're going to find out something very interesting about Orions and who rules their society. [Will this episode will include a love interest for Archer] Perhaps."
  • "The heart of the [upcoming] Klingon story features a conflict between Archer and [crew member Malcolm] Reed and the beginnings of [covert Starfleet intelligence group] Section 31."
BACK TO THE FUTURE: Ben Browder of "Farscape" fame is joining the cast of "Stargate SG-1" in the show's upcoming ninth season, and executive producers Brad Wright and Robert Cooper have already decided that Browder's character will be a military guy, part of a Stargate team viewers haven't seen yet on the Sci Fi show.

"Specifically, he's the [pilot] that led the squadron that fought [an enemy named] Anubis in Antarctica," Wright wrote in an e-mail. "He was badly injured when his fighter crashed, nearly killed but was was promised a place on SG-1 if he made it back to fighting form."

Here's my e-mail exchange with Brad:

Q: How did Ben's name come up in connection with SG-1? Was there a desire to add a character to the ninth season, and the names of various actors came up? Or was Ben the only actor that was under consideration?

A: Actually, we asked casting to generate a list as we usually do, but we've been interested in working with Ben for some time. Meeting him for the first time in San Diego at Comicon last year reinforced that interest.

Q: Did Sci Fi Channel execs or anyone at MGM suggest Ben, or was it an idea cooked up by you and Robert Cooper? Or did Ben just show up at your house and demand a part?

A: We already knew that the execs at Sci Fi were fans of Ben because of Farscape, so we were on the same page. Ben was the only actor we made an offer to.

Q: Do you have strong ideas about the character that Ben will be playing, or is his character still being developed?

A: Rob and I had talked at length about the character and he came up with a very interesting backstory. You should actually ask Rob about that, since he's writing the script introducing his character. [Ed note: I plan on doing just that.]

Q: Related to the question above, if Ben's character has already been somewhat defined -- will his character be a member of the military? A Stargate SG-1 team member? An alien? Can you talk at all about what kind of man Ben will be playing?

A: Rob will tell you this, but yes, he's a military man. Specifically, he's the F-302 pilot (our Earth-designed space fighter) that led the squadron that fought Anubis in Antarctica. He was badly injured when his fighter crashed, nearly killed but was was promised a place on SG-1 if he made it back to fighting form.

I'm not concerned with Crichton comparisons that may arise. SG-1 is a unit of the U.S. Air Force and so he should be an officer, but it's a very different show.

Q: When does filming begin for Season 9 (are you already in production for Season 9, or are you still filming Season 8)? And is Ben committed to be in the entire season, or only in a certain number of episodes? Is he committed beyond Season 9?

A: We'll start shooting Season 9 at the beginning of March. (I can't believe I just said that)

Ben will be with us for the entire season and if we keep going, he'll keep going. (I'm not so sure if I'll keep going ;)

Q: Everyone's been commenting on how similar Ben and Michael Shanks look -- is there any possibility that their characters will be related?

A: No, they won't be related but once we've shaved Ben's head it will be far easier to tell them apart ;) We'll come up with something. I'm not worried about it.

Q: Is Richard Dean Anderson coming back at all for Season 9? There was some talk of 4 appearances for Season 9, but has anything been confirmed? If he does not come back for Season 9, what happens to him at the end of Season 8?

A: O'Neill will continue to be a part of the SG-1 universe. Whether we actually SEE him is up to Rick, but the character will continue to exist on or off screen. He may appear in one or two or more episodes. But let me add this: I handed over the reins of the SG-1 to Robert in season seven because I needed a rest and wanted to spend more time with my family.

That's all Rick wants to do, and I don't blame him. I came back. The door is open for Rick to do the same.

[Next season] Claudia is going to appear in a five-episode arc in the role of Vala. She's great. You'll get to see just why we wanted to bring her back in "Prometheus Unbound," which has yet to air.

Q: Can you confirm that Claudia Black will come back during Season 9? Would having Claudia and Ben on the same episode(s) of SG-1 be a great opportunity to get Farscape fans to check out SG-1, in your mind?

A: I think Claudia and Ben should bring a few "Farscape" fans aboard, but that's not why we're doing this. They're great actors. Claudia has already proven herself on our show.

Q: Have you heard/read any feedback on Ben's casting from SG-1 fans? From "Stargate" fans? Are both camps generally happy with the news? What's the general feeling you've been getting from people?

A: As to whether or not the "camps" will be happy -- I honestly don't worry about that. We do read what is posted on the 'net but then we make our shows the way we think they should be made. We'll see.

Q: In Season 9, is there a desire to do more off-world, mythology stories? Or will they be more Earth-set?

A: Forgive me, but this question drives me nuts.

Despite the fact that I think the Earth-based stories are important to the series, it is not entirely a creative decision. Since the beginning we've done Earth-based stories to offset the costs of offworld stories. We don't have unlimited resources. It is a fact that Earth-based shows are -- generally speaking -- less expensive to produce. (Antarctica doesn't count).

Off-world stories require visual effects, matte paintings, otherworldly sets, remote locations, costumes, props and set [decoration] that all has to be constructed to our standards. I know that fans hate that answer but that's the way it is. It is NOT our inability to come up with stories that take place on other planets.

Q: Regarding Season 9, can you talk a bit about the general direction or theme of the season? Will there be any crossovers to Atlantis?

A: Season 9 will have a new beginning with a new enemy. I think once you've seen the end of Season 8 you'll understand why we're doing that. Yes, I hope there will be cross over between the two series. I have an idea but I'm still working it out.

Q: Is Don S. Davis coming back in Season 9?

A: Possibly. Nothing has been set.

Q: What do you think Ben will bring to SG-1 -- what are you personally most excited about, regarding his coming to the show?

A: I think it's going to be fun to have him around.

TOO MUCH EX: Just when I was thinking the reality genre had gone completely to heck (witness the spousal acrimony on "The Amazing Race" and the bloated debacle that was "The Apprentice" finale), along comes an unassuming unscripted offering that has completely sucked me in.

The WB's third edition of "High School Reunion," which brings several classmates from a small Florida private school to a stylin' beach house in Maui (where there's plenty of alcohol on hand, naturally), may be the best one yet.

This season I'm really rooting for Gianni, "The Basketball Star," and Loretta, "The Dream Girl," who are slowly making the kind of connection that Gianni was too shy to attempt in high school, despite his status as a popular jock. Will Loretta go for it with Gianni, despite the fact that Gianni lives in Italy and their relationship would have to be a long-distance one? Or will their budding romance be shot down by Gianni's bizarrely obsessed ex-girlfriend, Jaime, who mistakenly thinks he's still got a thing for her?

Only time will tell. I'll sure be watching on Tuesdays.

DADDY DEAREST: Fox announced that on Jan. 3, it's airing "Who's Your Daddy?no question mark?," a special on which a young woman will try to figure out which of eight men is her dad. If she guesses right, she gets $100,000; if she guesses wrong, the man she picked gets the cash.

Our first thought was, "Hey, Maury Povich has been doing daddy DNA tests on his talk show for years!" So we called the Maury folks, to see what they thought.

Their reaction? "Imitation is the sincerest form of television," said "Maury" spokesperson Gary Rosen.

THANK YOU, TV SANTA: Christmas is a time to reflect on the blessings the year has brought to us, and when it comes to the small screen, I'd like to offer my gratitude to the elves of TV-dom for the following shows:

Extreme gratitude: "Lost," "Veronica Mars," "Gilmore Girls," "Arrested Development," "The Office Special," "Without a Trace," "The Daily Show" and "Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars."

Serious gratitude: "Jack & Bobby," "Everwood," "The O.C.," "American Dreams," "Joan of Arcadia," "The 4400," "Star Trek: Enterprise," "Stargate SG-1" and the return of "Alias" (Jan. 5) and "24" (Jan. 9 and 10).

Sincere gratitude: "CSI: New York," "Judging Amy," "Survivor," "Boston Legal," "Cold Case," "Reba," "Kevin Hill," "Stargate Atlantis," "Third Watch."

Just plain old gratitude: "JAG," "High School Reunion," "Surreal Life," "Extreme Makeover," "America's Next Top Model," "Chappelle's Show."

Note: "The Apprentice" might have made this list, had its Season 2 finale not made me regret that I watched a single minute of the second season, and "The Amazing Race" would normally be in the Extremely Grateful category, but this season, the presence of the loathsome Jonathan Baker, not to mention a ridiculous "To Be Continued" at the end of Tuesday's episode, instead of the usual elimination, has forced me to put the show on probation for the moment. (By the way, I highly recommmend Andy Dehnart of Reality Blurred's terrific column on the state of "TAR," which can be found here.)

READERS WRITE: There was strong feedback to my Dec. 17 piece on the finale of "The Apprentice," in which I called the 3-hour coronation of Kelly Perdew "a bloated horror show" that was distinctly unfair to fellow finalist Jennifer M.

Here some excerpts from the e-mail I received:

S. Smith: "I will never watch `The Apprentice' again. If I want to be reminded that the good old boys network still exists, I will simply continue to get up each day and go to work. I do not consider it entertainment to watch a reality that I live with every day."

Campbell Roth: "Completely agree with your `Apprentice' summation. I set the Tivo for it so I could skip all the commercials, thank God, but even that wasn't enough to make it bearable. (But I was able to pause it while Trump's COO stumbled -- twice!! -- through his `Kelly is better than Jen' speech.) I was hugely disappointed in this three-hour Trump love-fest. Nothing terrific about it!"

"A white male" who didn't want his name used: "Personally, I think [Trump] completely missed the boat by even having Jennifer in the final 2 and should've picked Sandy to go up against Kelly. Sandy may not be as nasty or vicious as Jennifer but she has a way about her, [she's] obviously a successful small entrepreneur, won quite a few of her events and was generally likeable. She would've been great in my opinion.

"As a successful businessman myself, I was highly impressed with her - much more than Kelly. But Trump, at the end of the day, is an old school, chauvinistic sexist. He only keeps around the blonde [Carolyn] for color and to placate the PC world. That's it. He's completely calculated, manipulative and all about himself."

Rich Wagner: "I think you missed the boat on this one. Jennifer is an attorney and can argue quite well which is why she did so well in the boardroom. But when it came to completing the challenges, she was repeatedly timid at taking a leadership role. …As for your opinion about the result, there's an old saying- If the only tool you have is a hammer then you'll treat every problem like a nail. Just like if you're a feminist, you'll always blame men for all the problems. Thanking God everyday for my wonderful Y chromosome, Rich Wagner."

Cyndy Parker: "Thank you for your article on the `Apprentice' show. One of the few shows I actually like -- but the made it into a carnival and took away any ounce of intellect. I agree with your final assessment and truly hope Trump admits he made a mistake in choice of candidates."

Reactions to the last week's column on the behavior of Jonathan, who shoved his wife Victoria on "The Amazing Race":

J. Latal: "I have watched the show `The Amazing Race' for a few weeks and find it very alarming that Jonathan, knowing everything is being filmed, felt there was nothing wrong with shoving his wife when he was angry. My heart goes out to this woman. Obviously he feels comfortable to do the shoving for all to see along with the verbal abuse - what does he do when there is no audience? …

"I will now not tune into the show, I cannot continue to watch him degrade her with no intervention from the producers. Maybe more people need to do the same. Physical and verbal abuse of women does not need to be shown on prime time TV as though it is no big deal."

Bill Quigley: "Thanks for writing about the whole thing with Jonathan and Victoria on `The Amazing Race.' From the early stages of this season, I have been convinced that Jon has been abusing Victoria. Wednesday was the final proof. What is shocking is that CBS is actually allowing this sort of stuff to go on in one of their shows. I guess that nudity and bad language are bad but spousal abuse is OK in TV these days."

December 17, 2004 7:15 AM CST: 'Apprentice,' you're fired!

After Thursday's bloated horror show, I never want to enter that boardroom again.

The greatest crime of the finale was not that the program was reality TV's longest-ever death-march -- although it felt that way.

A three-hour finale wasn't warranted in the least, given the evenly matched talents of the relatively colorless finalists. But we three hours we got, whether we wanted it or not. (And by the middle of the first hour, we seriously did not want much more.)

Those three hours were stuffed with (not surprising for NBC) an inordinate number of commercial breaks. And the broadcast itself -- more than half of which was live -- was jam-packed with worthless testimonials from Trump lackeys and pals, all of whom got to weigh in things like which candidate they liked better.

All things considered, though, I really don't care what Unilever's COO thinks about anything.

And no, the most irritating part of the broadcast was not that the unctuous Regis Philbin was trotted out to make the second half seem even longer. Nor was it Trump's endless, worthless use of the word "terrific." (His various corporate pals? "Terrific." Various fired constestants? "Terrific." The refreshments in the green room? I'm going to go out on a limb here and say he thought they were "terrific.")

The fact that much of the finale, especially the last hour, was given over to rehashing the season and showing old clips? A pointless musical number by the O'Jays, who, like everyone on the show, were flogging a product (a no-doubt "terrific" new album)? The fact that corporate sponsors were also flogged – again -- and that the next "Apprentice" series, as well as Mark Burnett's upcoming boxing-reality show, got overly long plugs?

No, those were not the biggest crimes. But they were close.

The biggest crime was that Jennifer M., one of the two finalists, along with Kelly, was, in the terrifically accurate words of a former teammate, "thrown under a bus," for at least an hour of the broadcast.

Why, exactly, was in necessary to spend a large chunk of the show trotting out friends, former bosses and Trump pals to hype how great Kelly was? How much of that was actually spontaneous, given that one Trump flunky apparently couldn't read his lines from what looked like one of several teleprompters in front of the Lincoln Center audience?

Both Kelly and Jen M. appeared to execute their final tasks well. Both dealt with various hitches here and there, but the charity events that each ran appeared to go fairly smoothly.

Why was it, then, that poor Jen M. was forced to endure lavish, ridiculous praise of Kelly that seemed to go on for ever?

As if that unwarranted overkill wasn't enough, I frankly wanted to turn the television off when Trump told Jen, just before firing her, that "one of the problems was that your teammates did not really like you too much."

Huh? Was there a Kelly fan club that I missed?

Several of Kelly's teammates at various points in the season talked about how much they disliked him. Even on the finale some said they didn't care for him. But the fact that some of Jen's teammates disliked her was somehow a much bigger deal. (Jen, for more on this topic, please seek out "Survivor Vanuatu's" Twila.)

Kelly didn't deserve half the praise he got, and Jen didn't deserve much of the dissing she got. That was clear, and it just seemed mean and pointless to make Jen sit there and listen to the competent, predictable Kelly described as something approaching the Second Coming.

Beyond just demonstrating a double standard as to what kind of behavior is expected from male and female candidates, the extended festival of love for Kelly made it entirely obvious who was going to win. However boring the show was in the first hour or so, it got about four times as predictable as the third hour approached.

How much dramatic tension could there be when it was obvious that Kelly, passionless, spreadsheet-addicted robot who makes Bill Rancic look positively edgy, was the appointed winner?

The only good thing about how the show turned out is that Kelly chose to go work for Trump in New York. It might be possible to ignore him more successfully from here in the Midwest.

As for Jen, she wasn't as silly as Raj, as tough as Pamela or as bold as Bradley. It was hard, at times, to figure out what qualities she did possess, aside from a talent for boardroom smackdowns. But as the second season came to a close, she showed passion, grit, fire and even occasional thoughtfulness. Though she didn't necessarily ask to be liked.

According to the logic of Donald Trump and Mark Burnett, if you find those traits in a man, you'd have one "terrific" apprentice.


December 15, 2004 3:50 PM CST: Not so amazing

Fans of CBS' "The Amazing Race" were buzzing Wednesday about the latest incident involving the show's least-liked couple, Jonathan and Victoria.

The married couple is constantly bickering, screaming and, a couple weeks ago, Jonathan physically shoved Victoria. On Tuesday's episode, under even worse conditions -- Victoria was sobbing uncontrollably as they approached the finish-line mat, due to yet another spat -- Jonathan pushed Victoria again, hard enough to cause her to stumble.

Even host Phil Keoghan was taken aback by Jonathan's behavior. "I think you probably should go and talk to Victoria," Keoghan said, as Victoria walked off camera, sobbing.

Jonathan promptly went up to his wife and started screaming at her again: "This is a race! This isn't about compassion!"

According to one domestic violence expert, Jonathan's behavior amounts to abuse.

Vickii Coffey, executive director of the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women's Network did not see the episode in question, but she said that any time physical shoving occurs, especially in conjunction with a verbal altercation, there is a serious cause for concern.

"There's a pattern that is happening, and that's being documented by the producers of this show and it's necessary for [producers] to be aware that over time, these kinds of incidents tend to escalate and become more frequent and get more intense," Coffey says. "There's a good probability that there could be more violence than what we're seeing."

Coffey says she is disappointed that the violence was shown and that there did not appear to be any consequences for or discussions with Jonathan or Victoria. The episode ended soon after the shoving incident, and both were allowed to continue with the race.

Coffey was not just concerned for Victoria, she was also concerned about what viewers might take away from the depiction of Victoria's relationship with the explosive Jonathan.

"By televising this, what we do is say? This is OK?," Coffey says. "Because nobody is doing anything about it. Nobody is addressing it on the show. Abuse is a learned behavior. We learn to be violent because we're taught in different ways in our culture to normalize certain things."

GET YOUR GEEK ON: Ben Browder, star of "Farscape," is set to join the cast of "Stargate SG-1" when it begins its 9th season, TVGuide.com reports.

What will "Farscape" fans think? Some of them grumbled about "SG-1" for allegedly getting more attention from Sci Fi Channel when both shows were on the network.

Personally, I love both programs and am thrilled at the news. Now that Richard Dean Anderson is reducing his role on the show, Browder will be a terrific addition to the "SG-1" team.

GUESTMANIA: Martin Short will no doubt make TV's funniest half-hour even funnier when he guests as an old Bluth family friend on "Arrested Development" early next year; Liza Minelli is also set to come back as nerdy son Buster's ex-girlfriend, Lucille Austero.

"Scrubs," which has already had terrific guest stints from Julianna Margulies and Heather Graham this season, gets a special visit from Colin Farrell on Jan. 25.

And finally Mike Erwin, Colin on "Everwood," guests on Greg Berlanti's other show, "Jack & Bobby," as a love interest for Courtney, starting in February.

GET YOUR GEEK ON AGAIN: I'm sure more alert sci-fi mavens have known about these development for months, but a new "Babylon 5" feature starts filming in April, according to comingsoon.net, and filming has already begun on a new "Dr. Who" series, featuring Christopher Eccleston as the newest doctor.

No U.S. channel has yet lined up the rights to air the new Who, which will hits British TV next year, according to gallifreyone.com, which is now my main source for the latest "Who" info. The original series ran from 1963 to 1989, and as most Who fans know, Tom Baker was the best Doctor, followed by Peter Davison and Jon Pertwee.

Anyway, I hope the new series is better than the 1996 one-off "Dr. Who" movie that starred Paul McGann, an actor I otherwise like a lot. It wasn't his fault that the TV movie, an attempt perhaps to sex up the venerable British series, was mostly a mess (Eric Roberts as the villain? Never a good sign.). But I'm hoping the BBC raises the bar with Eccleston's outing as the good Doctor.

OOOOH NOOOO! Triotv.com is now offering free streaming of a 24-minute holiday film starring everyone's favorite persecuted clay figurine, Mr. Bill. But wait, that's not all! In addition to "Ho Ho Nooooooo!!! It's Mr. Bill's Christmas Special," you can also see the 3-minute "Mr. Bill's X-Mas Special" and various other "Mr. Bill" films on the site.

A warning: Younger and more sensitive viewers may be traumatized by "Ho Ho Nooooooo's" Egg Dog incident, which involves Mr. Bill's loyal pet, milk, spices and a blender.

BOBBLE DONALD: Were you as distracted as I was by the Donald Trump bobblehead doll that has loomed over the screen during "The Apprentice"? On-screen promos, or snipes, are more and more common these days (and ever more annoying), but I'd never seen a snipe pushing a product before.

The Donald bobblehead isn't the only TV-related gift you can stuff into stockings this holiday season. Here are some others we found while trolling network gift stores online:
  • Copies of various "Tru Calling" scripts ($12.95-$19.95) can be found on the Fox Web site (they must have lots lying around now that the show's on a very long hiatus).
  • A Three Stooges "Moe Jillioniare" T-shirt, marked down to $14.90 at the NBC store. Never mind that we barely remember the Fox show that the Stooges shirt mocks.
  • "The View" coffee grinder is a steal at $31.50 at the ABC store.
  • You can, according to the CBS store, "unlock the secret of stress-free holiday giving" by bestowing the $84.99 "CSI" Evidence Case on someone you love (amputated body part not included).
  • "You'll never have to worry about walking the runway with jagged toenails again" with UPN's "America's Next Top Model" pedicure set ($15).
  • "Monster Garage" offers a half-price special on its logo-ed "beanies" -- they're only $9, while quantities last. Yes, beanies. As in the headgear. No, we don't get it either.
  • What better way to show your toddler love than by getting him or her a Court TV logo-ed T-shirt ($10, available in pink or blue)?
  • HGTV offers a bobble-head doll of the channel's "Queen of Clean," Linda Cobb. And at $14.95, the Linda doll is $5 cheaper than the Donald. Donald bobble-head, you're fired!
COHEN CRISIS: Say it ain't so, Josh!

Josh Schwartz, creator of "The O.C." says rocky times are ahead for Sandy and Kirsten Cohen, my favorite TV couple (close second: Luke and Lorelai on "Gilmore Girls").

When not fielding endless questions about Marissa's upcoming lesbian gal-pal story line, Schwartz, in a Monday conference call with members of the media, talked about how the appearance of one of Sandy's old girlfriends, a liberal Berkeley type named Rebecca (Kim Delaney), will create tension aplenty to the Cohen household.

Kirsten and Sandy have been "the rock of the show, emotionally and morally for so long. … that relationship starts to get tested," Schwartz said.

As Schwartz points out, Sandy (Peter Gallagher), a crusading lefty attorney from New York City, has a far different background and worldview than his wife, Kirsten (Kelly Rowan), the WASPy scion of a wealthy California clan.

The arrival of Rebecca, which is set to occur in February, will bring those differences into stark relief, Schwartz says. Her presence "will bring up old issues. It'll test their commitment to each other. It'll be painful to watch," Schwartz said.

SPONGE WORTHY: Does anyone else find it faintly amusing that "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie," which stars that blocky yellow icon of kids' television, has been kicking the skirted behind of the sword-and-sandals epic "Alexander"? Over the last four weeks, "SpongeBob" has racked up $74 million at the box office, compared to "Alexander's" three-week take of (eeek!) $33 million.

You go, SpongeBob!

SEIN OF THE TIMES: Anyone else get the "Seinfeld" boxed sets as an early Christmas present this year? The thing that strikes me most when watching early episodes is the fact that, hmmm, how do I say this tactfully: "Seinfeld" just wasn't very funny at first.

The premiere episode has Jerry whining about how he doesn't understand women, to the point that he sounds like a male Carrie Bradshaw precursor.

And there's no Elaine in the pilot. The diner looks really different at first. But perhaps most unsettling of all, in the early days, Jason Alexander has hair. Well, slightly more hair. Not that there's anything wrong with that.


December 14, 2004 11:28 AM CST: I'll stick with Netflix

I still remember the passionate anger unleashed a year and a half ago on the Metafilter.com message boards when someone mentioned Blockbuster's rather hefty late fees.

I could practically feel my computer vibrating as it registered anger from dozens of customers who said they ended up paying as much or more in late fees as they did in rental charges.

Still, it's surprising that the company is doing away, more or less, with late fees next year. Especially when you consider that, not too long ago, business analysts estimated Blockbuster made a healthy percentage of its revenue from late fees. (The company said loss of late fees will subtract $250 million to $300 million from Blockbuster's bottom line just in 2005 – losses it hopes to offset with increased rentals.)

So now that there are no more late fees, will I start trolling the racks at Blockbuster? Probably not. I have nothing against the chain, but I find there's rarely much there that I want to rent. With much of the display space in the average Blockbuster store given over to video games and the latest Hollywood blockbusters, there's just not a ton of room on the shelves for old movies, TV-on-DVD or even more esoteric fare.

I've been a Netflix subscriber for five years now, and I'm something of an evangelist for the firm.

I can pick all the movies I want at the Netflix Web site, arranging and rearranging them in an online list (or queue) all day long. In fact, my husband and I have had more than a few heated discussions about who gets the next Netflix choice. (When he's picked the latest anime sensation as the No. 1 choice in our queue, only to see a costume-drama show up in our mailbox a few days later -- well, there is a discussion.)

But Netflix offers not just the fun of messing with your queue to your heart's content, it offers a mind-boggling collection of DVDs.

Bollywood, "Masterpiece Theater," foreign films, documentaries, art-house movies – they're all there, along with the usual Hollywood fare you'd expect. Sure, Blockbuster and even Wal-Mart now have online rental services too, and more players are expected to enter the market, but, for now anyway, I'll stick with Netflix -- especially since the company, anticipating fierce competition from bigger firms, just lowered its monthly fee from $22 to $18.

What I'm really waiting for, however, is for TiVo and Netflix to pair up. For months, rumors have indicated they'll soon announce a new service that allows customers to get movies and other Netflix fare essentially on demand. Instead of waiting for your Netflix DVD selection to arrive in your mailbox, you'll be able to download it onto a TiVo device, saving you that pesky two-day wait between mailing in one Netflix DVD and getting the next one.

And it'll save me that frigid slog to the mailbox. (Hey, it's cold outside.)

But will TiVo and Netflix even be around in five years? Who knows? Both may end up cannon fodder in the media wars over how entertainment will enter your home in the future and more importantly -- to media companies, anyway -- whom you will pay for it.

With firms like Wal-Mart and Amazon.com getting into the DVD rental game and Comcast ramping up TV-on-demand, it means we'll have more TV shows, more movies and more cool stuff available, all the time.

And fewer late fees.




Monday, Dec. 13, 2004 10:57 AM: So much for girl power

I'm so confused.

So it was okay that a couple of quite colorful swear words were repeatedly and audibly used on Sunday's "Survivor Vanuatu" finale and reunion special.

And it was okay that the ample bosoms of one contestant, Leann, were hanging well out of her shirt and were noticeably on display for the camera every time there was a shot of finalist Twila, behind whom Leann was sitting.

But one other naughty word that was used repeatedly by various Survivors was apparently not okay to broadcast, and it was muted out so many times that some sentences uttered by various contestants were almost incomprehensible.

Oh well, never mind. I'll let others try to figure out what the FCC will and won't allow these days. That sort of twisted thinking makes my head hurt.

Speaking of twisted, how messed up was it that at the last Tribal Council, where finalists Twila and Chris were grilled, all the contestants ganged up on Twila for swearing, earlier in the game, "on the life of [her] son" that she would never sell out the women's alliance (which she promptly did, of course).

Chris, the other finalist for the $1 million prize, lied so many more times to so many more supposed allies with that he may have actually set a "Survivor" record. And he still won.

Maybe the lesson here is that as he lied, Chris seemed – note I said seemed – like a nice, decent guy -- Jimmy Stewart with a ponytail. And you know what, he probably is a nice guy in real life.

Whereas Twila, in real life or on reality TV, is probably the same gruff, tough-talking, non-girlie woman who doesn't seem care if anyone else likes her (but deep down, she really does care -- but doesn't advertise it). On the show, Twila didn't join in the face-painting and brow plucking parties that the other girls loved to have. She didn't gossip and backstab with Queen Ami's court.

In the end, it seemed to me that some of the other women in the all-female alliance didn't like Twila because she just wasn't female enough for them. She wasn't a girlie girl – and she lied! I wonder which was the bigger sin, in their eyes.

So much for female solidarity.

The truth is, the other women let Chris play with their emotions and their pity all game long, but when it came to cutting Twila a break for one thoughtless slip, forget it. In that last Tribal Council they piled on her like linebackers on a sacked quarterback. I never thought I'd say this (heck, she bugged me too sometimes), but, poor Twila.

What I don't get about Chris' lies is that they often made no sense. Why not just tell Eliza that he was going to vote her off? What was the goal of making her think he was still allied with her, right up until the point that she got voted off? Telling her she was leaving would not have hurt Chris' position, and lying was only going to make her that much madder -- possibly mad enough to vote against him -- when she found out he'd played her.

Chris also lied to his fiancé, telling her that he'd been voted out halfway through the game. What was the point of that lie? She didn't find out until she watched the show on TV that Chris had been playing her too, and that he, in fact, had made it to the final two.

At least when Twila lied, it was to stay in the game and possibly make a better life for her and her son by winning a million bucks. It would have been nice to see her win and talk about quitting the three jobs she works.

But you know what, Chris did play the game well, so more power to him and I hope he has a fantastic wedding. And it is just a game. One that taught me the lesson that pointless lying beats purposeful lying every time.

Like I said, it was a confusing night.

Three other thoughts from the "Survivor" finale:

Mark Burnett, please stop making Jeff Probst do those cheesy entrances to the reunion specials. We know he didn't really hack through a tropical jungle all night long to get to a waiting plane, and while the subsequent skydive looked fun and all that, you know, who cares? This was the 85th edition of "Survivor," right? Just tell us who won and enough with the big entrances.

And another thing, why was CBS advertising a show, "Wickedly Perfect," that doesn't even begin until Jan. 6? 'Cause you know what? I'm not going to remember anything that is supposed to happen three weeks from now.

Finally, I call bogus on an ad I saw during "Survivor" finale. The announcer on the commercial for Jennifer Garner's upcoming movie, "Elektra," said it was "from the forces that brought you 'X Men.' "

Huh?

As near as I can tell from checking a few movie sources online, one guy who contributed to the story for "X2" helped write the screenplay and story for "Elektra." And one of "X2's" executive producers produced "Elektra." But the ad said it was from "the forces" that brought us "X-Men." Hmmm. "X2" is not "X-Men." Seems like a stretch to me.

But hey, lying is cool, right?


December 8, 2004 4:40 PM: Get rocked

You'll be happy to know that finally -- finally! -- the yearly rock, paper, scissors championship will be televised; you can catch highlights of the annual contest at 7 p.m. Friday on Fox Sports Net's "Best Damn Sports Show Period." The event will be repackaged as a special that will air Dec. 31.

Personally, I can't wait for freeze tag, kick the can and thumb wrestling to make it to television as well.

MINI ME: NBC will broadcast a three-hour version of Sci Fi channel's successful 2003 miniseries, "Battlestar Galactica," on Saturday, Jan. 8, to promote the new series of the name, which debuts on sister network Sci Fi on Friday, Jan 14.

That bit of sci-fi synergy leads me to wonder if "The 4400" will get the same NBC treatment next year. The alien-abductee miniseries was a summer smash for USA, and negotiations regarding a second season got hung up on whether sister network NBC would get the right to rebroadcast the top-notch sci-fi drama.

A USA Network spokesman told the trade journal Variety in October, when a second edition of "The 4400" was finally announced, that no NBC airings were planned for the program. But if season two of "The 4400" is as big a hit as season one, I woudn't be surprised to see it migrate at some point over to the Peacock network, which needs all the help it can get these days.

FINE LINE: A letter-writer to the trade journal Mediaweek had this to say about NBC's highest-profile comedy: " `Joey' is the next `AfterMASH.' " Hee.

I'M SHOCKED, SHOCKED! Brace yourself for two blinding revelations about television.

A study of "well-being" published Dec. 3 in the journal Science noted that women rank watching television high on a list of pleasurable daily activities, well above taking care of children and doing housework.

Uh, duh! It has flashes of joy and all that good stuff, but on the whole, watching kids is about as exciting as flossing. That's the whole reason soap operas and daytime talk shows were invented, after all.

The other shocking TV revelation came from the Los Angeles Times, where writer Joel Stein wrote that he'd gotten his hands on the "entertainment equivalent of the Pentagon Papers" -- a "script" for an upcoming episode of the supposedly unscripted staple "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." Stein also blew the lid off "The Simple Life," saying that the Fox series is semi-scripted.

Semi? Are you telling me that Nicole and Paris actually dream up any dialogue on their own? Now that would be a revelation.

None of this is news to reality junkies. Anyone who's ever heard one of Donald Trump's voice-overs on the "Apprentice" knows he's not always speaking spontaneously.

Next week's revelation: Pro wrestling matches are decided beforehand!

KILLER SERIALS: What do the survival drama "Lost" and sudsy soaper "Desperate Housewives" have in common? They both signal the welcome return of the serialized drama.

I just love weekly cliffhangers on shows that darn near demand that you see every single episode. The best seasons of "Angel," "24" and "Alias," as well as a whole host of sci-fi dramas, have a strong serialized component with complex plots stretching out over multiple episodes and character arcs getting loving, extended development.

I'm not a huge fan of "Desperate Housewives," but the show is undeniably skilled at getting you to tune in each week and find out what happens next. As for "Lost," I can hardly wait for each commercial break to end, let alone wait a week between episodes.

Serialized dramas have always had to fend off meddling network suits, who want purely self-contained episodes that could potentially sell better in the syndication market. But the DVD market may be changing that.

"24" and "Alias" sold very well on DVD, and those sales helped both programs stay on the air. "Lost" and "Housewives" will no doubt also rake in a ton of cash when they come out on DVD, as is almost always the case with serialized dramas, even cult fare such as "Babylon 5."

I hope the current success and future DVD earnings of both "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives embolden TV types to keep on commissioning complex, grippingly serialized storytelling. We viewers can keep up, I promise.

My highly subjective list of great seasons of serialized TV (e-mail me with yours):
  • "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (seasons 2 and 3)
  • "Angel" (seasons 3 and 4)
  • "Babylon 5" (seasons 3 and 4)
  • "24" (Seasons 1 and 2 [excluding the cougar incident])
  • "Alias" (seasons 1 and 2)
  • "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" (seasons 6 and 7)
  • "Star Trek: Enterprise" (season 3)
  • "The X-Files" (seasons 1-3)
  • "Oz" (all seasons)
MARS' RICHES: By the way, one of the best what-happens-next shows on television right now is UPN's "Veronica Mars," which has only gotten better since its terrific debut. On "Mars," creator Rob Thomas is doling out just the right number of clues each week about the murder of Veronica's best friend, and star Kristin Bell is by far my favorite new TV actress.

I'm not the only one who gives credit to the network for showing patience with "Mars" and the worthy UPN drama "Kevin Hill," despite less-than-breakout ratings. Both shows have nevertheless been picked up for full seasons, and both are making steady ratings progress in key demographics ("Mars" ratings are up 44 percent among women ages 18-34 since its premiere).

"Both of those shows provide an opportunity for long-term growth," says Tom Weeks, associate director of Starcom, a Chicago firm that places TV spots for dozens of leading advertisers. "We all know what the strength of the broadcasting platform is, and it's built on scripted shows that are well put together. If the network can get viewers to pay attention [to `Mars' and `Hill'], then they're going to have two good shows to anchor them into the 2005-06 season."

SMOKEOUT: On last week's episode of "America's Next Top Model," I wonder why they blurred out the cigarette that Eva was quite obviously smoking in one scene. Blurring the cigarette is hardly worth it if you can see the smoke coming out of her mouth, right? I asked a UPN why there was blurring, but nobody's gotten back to me.

DINO MIGHT: Faye Dunaway in a movie about a dinosaur detective? Talk about must-see TV.

Despite initial doubts about the premise, I ended up being charmed by "Anonymous Rex" (8 p.m. Thursday, Sci Fi), a dinosaur gumshoe tale based on the well-regarded mystery novels of Eric Garcia.

It helps that this unpretentious but mildly engaging adaptation doesn't take itself too seriously; then again, anyone attempting to pull off Jurassic noir has to have a sense of humor. It also helps that Sam Trammell is likable as Vince, a detective with an elaborate electronic disguise that helps him, like thousands of other dinos who craftily escaped extinction, look like a regular guy (most of the time, anyway).

What may help "Rex" the most, however, is the fact it's surprisingly easy to accept that Daniel Baldwin, who plays Vince's partner Ernie, is a hot-blooded Triceratops in disguise.

The story concerns a band of rogue dinos who want to start a war with the "apes" (their word for humans). Vince, full of laconic film-noir quips, eventually comes to have a measure of sympathy for the rebel group's desire to let their their scalier sides show.

Faye Dunaway, who plays a shadowy leader of the dino community, doesn't have much screen time, but never mind, "Rex" is full of other compensations, such as a cameo by Isaac Hayes and the revelation that the drugs of choice for these latter-day dinos are common household herbs (there's a whole subplot involving a hot shipment of tarragon).

A well-crafted, breezy B-movie is nothing to sneer at, so if you have some free time, "Rex" is not a bad guy to hang out with.

FAMILY FEEDBACK: Some favorite family friendly programs from readers:

Kathleen Daly's pick: "The show we watch as a family is 'Malcolm in the Middle.' I have four boys and they say I'm like the mom sometimes. It's funny, absurd and very entertaining. A little sexual at times but I've figured out that there is nothing that doesn't end up being sexual anymore."

Carolyn Gerwin's faves:
  • " 'Great Hotels' with Samantha Brown (Travel Channel). This show takes us to lots of different places, and while there is too much emphasis on luxury, there is an artistic appreciation of the beauty of architecture and natural settings. And everyone likes Samantha!
  • Rick Steves' shows [PBS]. Same thing as 'Great Hotels' but more actual information about the place and less emphasis on luxury. Just not as fun, though, as watching Samantha Brown bop around.
  • "Get Packing" (Travel Channel). Two contestants vie to be chosen by an eligible bachelor/ette to go on a dream date (usually a trip). The catch is that the bachelor/ette has to pick [a travel companion] based only on what the contestants pack in a suitcase on a budget of $1000. This is a time-waster in some ways and there is the occasional risqué comment by contestants with unrealistic expectations. Also, lingerie is sometimes packed. But my girls and I find it very amusing and a springboard to discussions of what kind of guys they will date someday... ."
E-mail your questions and comments to moryan@tribune.com.


December 6, 2004 2:21 PM CST: Rainbow warriors?

Oh, Ami. Can't you ever play nice?

On last Thursday's "Survivor," as she wrote out her vote -- for her former ally, Scout -- Ami said this to the camera: "Scout, you're pretty good at hiding your nasty side, but when your true colors come out, they're no part of any rainbow I've ever seen."

Sssssnap!

Both Scout and Ami are lesbians, a fact that the show, to its credit, has not gone out of its way to either exploit or downplay. Ami's reference to a "rainbow," a symbol that was adopted decades ago by the gay community, seemed to be a slap at not only Scout's perceived disloyalty, but -- who knows -- perhaps at her lack of lesbian solidarity.

Or maybe the remark was just meant as a final bit of pot-stirring from Ami, who long held the power position in the game, only to be ousted by a ragtag collection of rebels who finally made the show interesting by ending Ami's dominance.

"Drama queen to the end," the straight-talking Twila noted as she cast her vote (for Ami).

SETHISM: Despite a relative dearth of truly engaging stories so far this year on "The O.C," here are two cases in point as to why the show is still worth watching. Both of these quotes come from the mouth of the "adorkable" Seth Cohen, of course:

Seth (trying to get a co-worker to go on a date with his pal Ryan): "[Ryan's] very anti-establishment. He enjoys sunset walks on the beach, punching people and not smiling."

Seth and Ryan discuss dating: "Ryan, kids our age don't even date anymore. They hang out in groups and then they peel off to hook up."

Ryan: "You've never done that."

Seth: "No, I know, but I've read about it in the New York Times magazine."

Another bonus to last week's episode: the appearance of The Killers at Newport Beach's new rock club, the Bait Shop. Love that band.

ARRESTING COMEDY: One more reason (there are thousands) why I love "Arrested Development" so much: On Sunday's episode, they paid tribute to the best Christmas special ever, "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

On "Arrested," as a sad, slumping George Michael walked home after being dumped by his girlfriend, Vince Guaraldi Trio's memorable "Charlie Brown Christmas" music played in the background, and George Michaal passed a dog slumped on a big red doghouse and people carrying a Christmas tree.

The whole mini-tribute took about three seconds, and you might have missed it if you're not a Peanuts aficionado. The show's producers uses the Guaraldi music (and other actors mimicked Charlie Brown's sad-sack posture) elsewhere in the episode, all of which made for subtle but highly enjoyable shout-out.

The Charlie Brown tribute was almost as good as the supersized game of rock-paper-scissors that transpired in an episode earlier this season.

FAMILY FAVORITES ... OR NOT: Reader feedback to Sunday's Arts and Entertainment story on family-friendly television programs:

From Jennifer Clark in Libertyville: "My family's favorite tv show is Good Eats on the Food Network with Alton Brown. It is funny and smart and we all learn so much about cooking and chemistry and how to make good food. My two daughters (ages 4 and 7) can now converse about how yeast makes bread rise, and my husband shocked everyone on thanksgiving day when he explained the 'correct' way to cook the turkey to my sister-in-law. My husband doesn't exactly have a reputation as a cook."

From a reader named Sherry: "I enjoy watching 'Emergency Vets,' but find some of the surgery scenes, e.g., removing a puppy's damaged eye, unpleasant, and I'm well past 6, and not near 67. This is a fine show, but I have doubts about small children (or my mother) watching mangled kittens and puppies, especially as real life does not guarantee a happy ending."

Good points from both readers. Thanks to both for writing.


December 2, 2004 7:00 AM CST: Giant-killer unseated

Well, that didn't last long. Nancy Zerg, who on Tuesday finally unseated the longest running "Jeopardy!" champ in history, Ken Jennings, was unseated herself on Wednesday.

Zerg lost to a "wealth management project analyst" (what the heck is that?) from New Rochelle, N.Y., named Katie Fitzgerald.

Interestingly, all three contestants got the Final Jeopardy question wrong on Wednesday.

The clue was: "In 1790 the HMS Pandora sailed thousands of miles specifically to bring back this man, but failed."

Zerg guessed "Captain Bligh," fellow contestant Nathan Brownback guessed "Cook" (i.e., Capt. James Cook), and Fitzgerald guessed "Cooke." Though all three were wrong (the right answer was Fletcher Christian), Fitzgerald had such a commanding lead going into the final round that she emerged the winner, taking home $13,400.

Well, if Zerg the giant-killer had to be beaten, why not by a nice red-headed Irish girl?


December 1, 2004 4:03 PM CST: Don't quit your day job, Ken

Just before he ended his run on "Jeopardy!" Ken Jennings said he wasn't planning to quit his day job.

And despite racking up more than $2.5 million in winnings, he shouldn't, a tax expert says.

Russell Rosenkild, a certified tax preparer at Chicago Tax & Financial Services Ltd., said the IRS will take about 40 to 50 percent of Jennings' winnings. Jennings plans to give a substantial donation to the Mormon Church as well. So what the "Jeopardy!" champ will end up with will be a decent nest egg but probably not enough to live on for life, Rosenkild said.

"If I were to give any advice to him, it would be to seek out someone other than H&R Block for long-term financial planning," he noted.

H&R Block offered Jennings free tax preparation for life, despite the fact that he failed to give the firm's name as the correct answer to a Final Jeopardy question. While Rosenkild says H&R Block is just fine for doing yearly taxes, to protect his "Jeopardy!" nest egg, Jennings should find an independent investment and financial-planning adviser.

"And he's gonna have to keep his job," Rosenkild said.

'LOST' LOVER: One of the most pressing question questions confronting our nation is: Jack, Sawyer or Sayid?

We're talking about "Lost," of course, ABC's stranded-survivor drama, which we'd rather eat sand than miss.

Fans of the show are hotly debating whom the lovely castaway Kate (Evangeline Lilly) should end up with -- should it be the brave doctor, Jack (Matthew Fox), the rascally con man, Sawyer (Josh Holloway), or the conflicted former Iraqi Army officer, Sayid (Naveen Andrews)?

The "shipper" (as in pro-relationship) chatter on the "Lost" message boards on ABC.com is getting positively metaphysical: "I think who you root for shows something about your personality. … I think Jack and Kate are representative of old-fashioned romance. That kind where it starts as a delicate flower and it sort of blossoms with tender loving care and nurturing. … And with Kate and Sawyer, it's very tense, edgy, a possible love/hate kinda energy, unsettling, darker, but also redeeming in the sense [people] hope his soul can be saved by love," a poster named banshee006 noted.

Though they don't have as many online advocates, I see some sparks between Kate and Sayid, but overall I'd put myself in the Kate-Sawyer camp (I just can't deny Holloway's bad-boy charisma).

As for Kate and Jack ending up together, that just seems too predictable. Maybe the writers can have them yearn for each other but not get together until the second season. (And by the way, what will the writers do in the show's second season – find another island for the cast to get lost on?)

Vote for the castaway you think Kate should end up with on the poll to the left.

POST-ELECTION SLUMP: Is it weird that I miss the presidential election?

OK, that is weird. But I promise, I don't miss the negative ads and the endless media coverage.

I do miss Jon Stewart being funny.

Since the election cycle ended, Stewart and his talented crew at "The Daily Show" have been struggling to find laughs in the antics of Congressional leader Tom Delay and in the contested Ukrainian election results. These are not topics loaded with innate humor.

Hence the show, a font of gut-splitting laughs during the election cycle, isn't all that funny right now.

In fact, the Center for Excellence in Television Comedy reports that "The Daily Show" is 46 percent less funny than it was during the Democratic primaries, and a whopping 55 percent less funny than it was during the last month of the presidential contest.

OK, I made those statistics up. It only seemed right -- fake stats for a fake news show!

But I can't wait for Congress – and the funny – to return.

WEIGHTY MATTERS: Think you're a big loser - or rather, that you could be one? NBC's "The Biggest Loser" is conducting a search for contestants for the next edition of the weight-loss show in Des Moines' Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery on Thursday, Dec. 2, from 4 p.m.-7 p.m. Please, no smart comments about bottoms.

SLOW FOOD MOVEMENT: Now, don't laugh at this idea (or, at least, hold your laughter 'til I'm done). But amongst all the cooking and culinary shows on TV, why isn't there a show on dishes prepared with slow cookers (or, to use the more common trademarked name, Crock Pots)? You're laughing, I can tell. "What could be more boring than watching a slow-cooker cook?" you're thinking.

But seriously, TV chefs pop things into ovens all the time, then cut away to the magical moment when the dish is done. Why couldn't we have a show where a slow-cooker expert shares some tasty tips on how to make a great meal in those handy all-in-one-big-pot devices, skips the 8-hour cooking process, then reveals how the whole thing turned out at the end?

I'm just saying, I use my crock-pot recipe books way more than I do any books by much more famous chefs, so I think this area is ripe for TV exploitation. But if there already is a slow-cooker show out there and I'm just missing it, let me know.

SOUT' SIDERS: I'm alarmed to report that Fox is working on a version of the longrunning British nighttime soap-opera "EastEnders"; the U.S. version is going to be set in Chicago, according to The Hollywood Reporter. I'm alarmed because the 19-year old "EastEnders" is a great show but I'm not sure Fox, or any other American network, would do it justice.

The great thing about British soaps, especially "EastEnders," is that folks on them look like normal people. They're not caked in tons of makeup, toned or tweezed to death, and they live in average houses and often have normal problems (problems at work, naughty kids, etc).

Sure, there are clichéd love triangles and affairs and the like, but the acting and the writing have a surprising amount of depth. Some cast members are hotter than others, but very few people on "EastEnders" resemble the sizzling, stick-thin ladies on "Desperate Housewives," and "EastEnders" plots are much more down to earth than any American nighttime soap in recent memory.

In other words, "EastEnders" at its worst looks like "The Sopranos" compared to Fox's inane "North Shore." But the soap genre is hot again, so we're probably destined to see more of these knockoffs.

Time will tell whether this new version of "EastEnders" actually makes it on to American airwaves, and whether it turns out to be any good. Then again, I'd take almost anything over another edition of Fox's "The Swan."

RAJ-O-RAMA: I loved the Pepsi commercial that ended the Nov. 25 edition of "The Apprentice," which found the fired Andy in the back of a cab, bemoaning the fact that now he'd never find a job. "Sure you will," said his driver, who turned out to be previous fire-ee Raj. Mwah!

The clever spot made me miss Raj, that's for sure. I'll watch the 2-hour "Apprentice" finale on Dec. 16, but I don't much care who wins any more. Is it me, or has "The Apprentice" kicked out all the best people and gotten kind of lame just as "Survivor" has started getting interesting? Strange.

CHANGE IS GOOD: Just one more "The Amazing Race" item, I promise. On Tuesday's episode, they showed one team changing cash into local (in this case, Swedish) currency.

That's one thing that I've always wondered about regarding this show -- I've watched since Season Three, but that may be the first time I remember seeing a team change money. When do they have time to do it? Each team must change money in every country, but the producers rarely, if ever, show it. I wonder why that is. If you have any insight, feel free to drop me a line at moryan@tribune.com.

FAMILY FOLLOW-UP: On his September "Family First" prime -time special, Dr. Phil made the following assessment to the parents of a 9-year-old: "There are 14 characteristics of a serial killer. Your son has nine of the 14. Jeffrey Dahmer had seven."

Dr. Phil's assessment was enough to prompt outrage from director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, who called Dr. Phil's comments "incredibly irresponsible."

Despite the controversy over the Sept. 22 special, Eric's parents, who have only been identified as Brian and Stacie, visited Dr. Phil's daytime talk show last Wednesday; they say that Eric is doing much better.

No mention was made of Dr. Phil's earlier serial-killer comments, but toward the end of Brian and Stacie's segment on the show, Dr. Phil did say this: "I want to acknowledge, both of you heard some bad, hard things to hear. You know it was true but you embraced it, you acknowledged it, but both of you have been working really hard and you're seeing positive results, and we will continue this story."

AMAZINGLY IDIOTIC: The most irritating team on "The Amazing Race" has its own Web site, which, predictably, is annoying. Even more insights into Jonathan and Victoria, he of the screechy abuse and she of the incomprehensible fealty, can be found at www.jonathanbakerandvictoriafuller.com. There, you can enjoy such tidbits as the "biggest misconception" about Jonathan: "People think I just own a day spa when in reality I also work in the entertainment industry."

Huh. I would have guessed the biggest misconception about him is that he is a member of the human race.

LEGAL DECISION: How yummy is it that Lake Bell, the ineptly written Sally Heep on "Boston Legal," is leaving the show soon -- and Candice Bergen is joining the law firm of Crane, Poole & Schmidt as partner Sally Schmidt? It's very yummy. The women have been the weakest part of this show, so I can't wait to see the formidable Bergen mix it up with William Shatner and James Spader.

E-mail your comments and questions to moryan@tribune.com.


November 30, 2004 4:56 PM CST: 'Final Jeopardy' for Jennings

In the end, Ken Jennings was done in by the tax man.

The baby-faced "Jeopardy!" champ was done in by this Final Jeopardy puzzler: "Most of this firm's seasonal white-collar employees work only four months of the year."

Jennings answered: "What is FedEx?" Maybe he was thinking of all the presents he's going to have delivered to his house this Christmas season. But he was wrong.

The only opponent to have made it to the final round, California Realtor Nancy Zerg, got the question right: "What is H&R Block?"

Zerg gasped and put her hands to her mouth when she realized she'd beaten Jennings, who weeks ago became the all-time reigning "Jeopardy!" champion. "You are indeed a giant killer," host Alex Trebek said, as Jennings embraced Zerg over their lecterns and the audience rose to give Jennings a standing ovation.

Jenning's total winnings for his 75 appearances: $2,520,700. But the software engineer said on the final show (before his loss) that he loves his job and won't be quitting any time soon. "I may work fewer hours," he noted.

Jennings was done in not only by his Final Jeopardy guess but by two Daily Doubles that he failed to answer correctly.

The first was this: "On Dec. 26, 1944, Patton's forces relieved this town in Belgium's Ardennes. The Germans were driven out in January." Ken guessed Verdun; the answer was Bastogne.

The second Daily Double Ken missed was this: "The name of this often brimless hat, popular in the 1920s, is French for 'bell,' after the shape of the hat."

"What is a cloche?" is the right answer. Ken answered something that sounded like "campagne."

Given that Jennings missed both those questions, Zerg entered Final Jeopardy within striking distance of Jennings; she had $10,000 to the champ's $14,400. Jennings then lost his $5,601 Final Jeopardy bet, and just like that, his run as reigning "Jeopardy!" champ was over.

And hmmm, Jennings loss just happened to fall during the Nielsen sweeps period. And hmmm, Jennings is set to make a host of chat-show appearances this week, starting with the David Letterman show tonight.

It's almost as if the producers of "Jeopardy!" knew the answer in advance. (Which they do – game shows such as "Jeopardy!" typically tape episodes in advance, and online rumormongers had long said Jennings' final episode was taped back in September.)

It's not necessarily a bad thing that Jennings is gone. His fellow contestants often seemed like so many glazed zombies, undone by the Jennings mystique and often unable to beat the Salt Lake City native to the buzzer.

What I want to know is, how long will Zerg's run last? I'll be watching.


November 29, 2004 10:58 AM CST: 'Desperate' move

Ho hum, so one of the wives got offed on "Desperate Housewives." I was 99 percent certain it wouldn't be one of the five "main" wives -- I'd heard a bunch of rumors from reliable sources that the victim would be a recurring character, but not one of the lead actresses, and one site (love that Kristin on E!) offered a tidbit about it being Mrs. Huber weeks ago.

Which is why it was all the more irritating that ABC's promos made it seem like one of the biggies was going to go. It reminded me of those "90210" promos from years gone by: You know, the promo's all blurry and foreboding, the announcer says "there's a shooting at the school dance!" and you were led to believe that Brenda or Dylan was going to bite the bullet. Then it would turn out to be some totally random thing in the last two minutes of the show that barely involved the main cast.

The "DH" promos had a similarly cheesy feel, which is why I felt justified in not being too hysterical about a big-time death on Wisteria Lane. Not that I cared all that much anyway, 'cause I'm still not that huge a fan of the show. But that's a blog post for another day.

EATING CROW: I made a big stink last week to any work colleagues who would listen that last Thursday's "Survivor" was going to be a big bore because I could predict with perfect accuracy who would be voted off -- it was going to be Chris, the last man, and that was going to lead to an entirely predictable, entirely snoozy all-female final posse on the show.

And I was totally wrong. How awesome was it to see that look of utter disdain on Ami's face when her ruling junta was overthrown, right under her snooty-patootie nose! Finally several of the other "Survivors," unlike past crews, realized that blindly following a charismatic but selfish leader was a really stupid thing to do, and they banded together to form a new power block. Yay! Now "Survivor" isn't boring anymore!

I really hope Ami gets immunity next week too, so she can sit there at camp for another few days and realize that her power is gone, gone, gone! It's a beautiful thing, seeing that smirk wiped from her ultra-complacent face. Mwah!

AGGGHH! Can somebody tell me why my sweet, wonderful "Gilmore Girls" has been hijacked by the idiotic storyline about Luke's sister and her incredibly annoying husband? Can anyone tell me why Luke and Lorelai's lovely love story is being besmirched by this exercise in pointlessness? Somebody, please, make it stop!


November 26, 2004: Obama on `Letterman': Hawaii, Cat Stevens, Karl Rove

Senator-elect Barack Obama stops by "The Late Show With David Letterman" on Friday, and because we're psychic, we know exactly what went down between Letterman and Obama. Nah, the truth is, CBS sent us a partial transcript of Obama's appearance, which we thought was pretty entertaining. To see the whole interview, watch the show at 10:30 p.m. on WBBM-Ch. 2.

Letterman: "Welcome to the show, nice to see you. Thank you very much for being here. Right off the top here, tell me, what were the dreams from your father? What is that referencing?"

Obama: "Well, you know, I have a mixed-up background. First thing people ask me is, `Where did you get that funny name, Barack Obama?' Although, you know, you had a Top 10 List, but you missed a couple."

Letterman: "Yeah, `[Top 10] Ways to Mispronounce Barack Obama.'"

Obama: "There was `Alabama' and `Yo Mama.'" (audience laughs)

Letterman: "And as a kid, you were in Hawaii, is that right?"

Obama: "I was in Hawaii, and so I think the main reason my wife married me was I still had family in Hawaii and she figured --"

Letterman: (laughs) " -- She needs a vacation." (audience laughs)

Obama: (laughing) "Yeah, that's what I'm saying. You know, she's from Chicago. She's thinking, `I've been looking for warm weather for a while."

Letterman: " . . . Now, let's talk about -- was I right about you? You've been in the state Senate for . . . ?"

Obama: "I was in the state Senate for eight years, and then I decided to run for the United States Senate, and people's general estimation was he'd probably be the best U.S. senator, the guy's done good work, but he's got no money, he's got no organization, and nobody can pronounce his name so it's not likely he's going to win." (audience laughs)

Letterman: (laughs) "But the thing about your name, it's easy to pronounce and it's cool." (audience laughs)

Obama: "Well, that's what I think, that's what I think." "You know, there were some advisers who told me to change my name."

Letterman: "Really?"

Obama: "Yeah, and somebody suggested Cat Stevens, for example."

Letterman: (laughs) "Ah." (audience laughs, Letterman continues to laugh; audience applauds)

Obama: "I decided, I decided that wasn't going to work."

Letterman: " . . . Now was there a guy running for Senate, maybe an incumbent, maybe not, I think a Republican, and he had a problem because he and his wife would go to strip clubs and have sex."

Obama: (laughing) "Well, that was --" (audience laughs)

Letterman: "Did I dream that? Does any of this ring a bell?"

Obama: "I, uh -- there were some issues, some allegations." (audience laughs)

Letterman: (laughs) "Yeah."

Obama: "But we didn't touch that stuff."

Letterman: "I see."

Obama: "We took the high road, and --"

Letterman: "Now is this who you were running against, or he dropped out, right?"

Obama: "Yeah, he dropped out -- yeah, the Republicans, you know, they seem to have a lot of fun given all their moral values stuff." (Letterman, audience laugh) "They enjoy themselves."

Letterman: "It sounded like fun to me."

Letterman: "Have you met the president? You must know the president?"

Obama: "Well, you know, he called me. He was very gracious. After the election, he gave me a call and we both agreed that we'd married up, and then he invited me over to the White House and we had breakfast with Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, and it was a real fun time."

Letterman: (laughs) "Yeah, it sounds like . . . (audience applauds) yeah, it sounds like Mardi Gras. . . . " (audience laughs)


November 26, 2004: A messy moment on 'Oprah'

On Monday, Oprah again thrilled viewers with "Oprah's Favorite Things," a beloved yearly ritual in which an entire studio audience -- this time made up of teachers -- gets a literal truckload of free goodies.

But for some viewers, a program that aired a few days earlier showed the talk-show diva's less magnanimous side.

The Nov. 18 home makeover episode featured Kim Woodburn and Aggie MacKenzie, hosts of Lifetime's "How Clean Is Your House." Oprah's show had earlier asked its viewers to send in tapes of their messy homes, and divorced California resident Carol Gibbons was the one chosen for the free overhaul.

Despite Woodburn and MacKenzie's early high spirits, this installment of the "Oprah" show ended up being far from lighthearted. As Oprah pointed out several times, Gibbons, who sat in the studio audience, looked like any other well-groomed matron, but as footage of her condo shown on the program revealed, she lived in a very messy house.

Before Woodburn and MacKenzie and their professional cleaning team got to it, Gibbons' condo had animal feces in the bathroom, bird poop everywhere and rotting food in the kitchen.

"But wasn't that disgusting?" Oprah said after viewing "before" footage of the condo owned by Gibbons, who said her mess was the product of an ongoing depression. "I never have judgment, but I will judge you for that."

Oprah, who at one point said she was "irritated" with Gibbons, told her that she needed to get professional counseling.

"I don't have insurance, and I don't have a job," Gibbons said.

Oprah cut her off: "Don't talk back."

As a longtime watcher of "Oprah," I've seen her display understanding and compassion to many troubled people on her show over the years, therefore it was all the more shocking to see the talk-show host relentlessly grilling the fragile-seeming Gibbons.

"I was so surprised at the way she treated Carol!" a user named babytreese wrote on an Oprah.com message board devoted to the Nov. 18 program. "I have never seen her act that way toward a guest and I was really hurt for Carol."

"I understand she has poop in the house, but yelling at her to get therapy is not the way to go!! Yes she needs help, but [Oprah] was downright mean to her!!," a user going by the name pixiesrz wrote.

Other message-board posters were simply disgusted by the disorder in Gibbons' apartment, but there were also strong reactions from viewers who felt they shared Gibbons' "hoarding" disorder, and who were glad that the talk-show host cast a light on this often-hidden syndrome.

"Even though this behavior seems abnormal to you, it is a relief to me to know that I am not alone. I almost cried tears of relief while watching!!!" an Oprah.com user named mozingo5 wrote.

The program left me wondering if Gibbons was going to end up receiving counseling courtesy of the "Oprah" show; no mention of free therapy was made on the Nov. 18 broadcast, but it certainly seemed as though Gibbons needed it.

I called a spokeswoman for the "Oprah" show, who said that the program was going pay for therapy for Gibbons from Dr. David Tolin, the hoarding expert who appeared on the show. The "Oprah" program also plans to feature Gibbons in a 2005 episode that will follow up on her progress.

SUPER SAFE: So Paul McCartney is going to be the headliner for the next year's Superbowl halftime show -- now there's a suprising choice. Seriously. After the Janet Jackson brouhaha, I half-expected the NFL authorities to ask Up with People to take the stage.

If you're too young to remember Up with People, just think of them as the Polyphonic Spree with longer hair, bell-bottom jeans and deeply weird gleams in their eyes.

A READER WRITES: Several readers reacted to my Nov. 17 blog item about the "Desperate Housewives" promotion on "Monday Night Football"; many notes were similar to the one sent by reader Jim Dudzik, who said:

"When I sit down with my three sons who are 12, 9, and 6 to watch Monday night football, I don't expect to be having things like this thrown in front of my kids. I would expect something like this to be on `Desperate Housewives' or `Sex in the City,' but we don't watch those shows and therefore my kids don't see it.

"However MNF is supposed to be about football. I have a hard enough time explaining away erectile dysfunction commercials to my kids, because I think they need to be kids and worry about toys and sports, not sexual things."

Yes, Nicolette Sheridan was naked in the promo, and its suggestive tone might have been too much for families expecting to see nothing but good, clean physical conflict. I get that.

But what about all those scantily clad women on the sidelines of many NFL games? It's clear from a glimpse at the extensive selections of cheerleader photos on many team Web sites that the use of hot women to sell the NFL teams is hardly a new thing.

Well, despite the promo flap (or maybe because of it), "Housewives" was the No. 2 show the week after the MNF "scandal," according to Nielsen Media Research.

CHECKING IT TWICE: I've decided on what I want for Christmas (how considerate of me to give you four weeks to shop, right?) I'd like Ina Garten, the soothing host of the Food Network's "Barefoot Contessa," to come over to my house and make thyme popovers, roast chicken and possibly some kind of layer cake. Garten's food not only looks delish, there's something about her voice and her presence that's as calming and wholesome as warm milk. And thyme popovers, mmmmmm.

'DREAMS' ON: Anyone else out there kind of sad that there won't be any new episodes of "American Dreams" until Jan. 2? I'm a newcomer to the show but I'm already wrapped up in its well-told stories about love, race and war in the '60s. Will J.J. Pryor, who was reported missing in action days before his first child was born, ever return to his family from the jungles of Vietnam? I sure hope the answer is yes. And I'm betting the January return of the solid "Dreams" (not to mention the season premieres of "24" and "Alias") will chase those post-holiday blahs away.

SILLY SEASON: In an ongoing quest to bring your attention to the goofiest and fluffiest programs on TV, I feel duty bound to inform you that "Hey! Spring of Trivia" is a complete waste of time, in the best possible sense.

This Japanese import, which airs on the Spike channel at 9 p.m. Thursdays, features the kind of off-kilter dubbing known and loved by fans of "The Iron Chef." And if you think VH1 has a thing for irrelevant factoids, you ain't seen nothin' 'til you've seen "Hey!"

The wobbly premise has a panel of celebrity judges (all unknown here, of course) evaluate an item of trivia sent in by viewers (were certain servants in ancient Japan hired to take the blame for gas passed in the royal household?).

Points -- or "Heys!" -- are awarded based whether the trivial factoid is true, and also, seemingly, on the basis of the item's overall weirdness. But surprisingly, education isn't the goal. Regardless, the goofy "historical re-enactment" scenes, the weird cartoons and the silly narration make "Hey!" a must-see for fans of Japanese epherema and trivia lovers alike.

CREATIVITY ON THE MARCH: Some say that cable channels, especially premium cable channels, are television's deepest wellsprings of creativity. To those folks, I offer this list:
  • Kirstie Alley, a famous actress who gained a bunch of weight, is working on a Showtime program called "Fat Actress"
  • former "Friends" star Lisa Kudrow is working on a new HBO show called "Comeback," which is about "a one-time sitcom star who is trying to revive her career," according to a The Hollywood Reporter
  • HBO has a series called "Entourage," in which a bunch of up-and-coming Hollywood actors play … a bunch of Hollywood actors and agents.
Clearly, mind-blowing imaginations are at work here!

BREEDING GROUND: What's the significance of the fact that Sawyer on "Lost" is frequently seen reading a copy of the classic novel "Watership Down"? It's been a while since I read the book, but perhaps its theme of survival and friendship are meant to echo the show's own story about stranded plane-crash survivors. Or is there more to it than that? I also wonder if there's some hidden meaning behind the fact that two major characters, the former paraplegic John Locke and the new character Danielle Rousseau, share names with famous philosophers?

I actually do know what both of these things mean: They signify that "Lost" co-creators Damon Lindelof and J.J. Abrams know exactly how to fire up an Internet message board, and lovingly lard the show with enough clues and odd facts to keep online fans buzzing for months. Which is just fine by me.

ANOTHER READER WRITES: We rated our favorite "Law & Order" assistant district attorneys last week (Jill Hennessey was our fave), and one reader thought we gave Elisabeth Rohm, who plays departing ADA Serena Southerlyn, a bum rap.

"Yes, she seems to have less chemistry with Waterston, but that's why she's so good!," Jacob Schiff said via e-mail. "Finally, `L&O' episodes have ceased to be hijacked by the kind of `will they or won't they?' musings that only ever frustrate, since the show doesn't get into the characters' personal lives enough to bring something like that to fruition."

E-mail your TV comments and questions to moryan@tribune.com; though I can't necessarily guarantee a reply, I may use your questions or comments in a future column.


November 23, 2004 12:47 PM CST: TV News Titan Era ending

There's going to be a lot of punditizing in the next few days about how Dan Rather's March departure from CBS News' evening broadcast will define the end of an era -- the era of the Important TV News Anchor.

And I say the end of that era is a good thing on several fronts.

First of all, Rather is a journalist who's worked darned hard for decades, and it's probably good for him to finally get a break. Love him or hate him – and he seems to inspire polarizing emotions -- I think we all can agree he deserves the time off.

And the end of the TV News Titan Era is a good thing for news consumers . Like the dinosaurs, they're lumbering toward a twilight in which they matter less and less, and the nimble little mammals they used to effortlessly tower over -- blogs, news sites, magazines, radio talk shows and the like -- matter more and more.

I'm not the first to point out that we all have a lot more places to get information these days. Newspapers like this one and organizations like CBS News still employ hundreds of principled, hardworking people who try their best to present interesting and cogent coverage of world, national and local issues.

But we've got a lot of company now. And that's all to the good.

Because -- news flash! -- we don't know everything. As San Jose Mercury News blogger Dan Gillmor has written, "My readers know more than I do -- and this is a liberating, not threatening, fact of journalistic life."

Television news anchors and reporters are no longer treated like mini-gods by the public, because members of the public can log on to any number of news and information sites and form opinions based on a large number of sources -- sources that may not necessarily agree with one other. But readers are smart enough to digest all that information and come up with nuanced takes on the issues that matter to them.

Some might attribute Rather's early departure to the anti-Rather bloggers who held his feet to the flames over his controversial "60 Minutes" report on President Bush's military service. The "Rathergate" controversy reminded everyone in the news business that a lot of folks are paying attention to what we do, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Members of the public and citizens of the blogosphere often have fresh things to say about the issues, and they're getting used to the idea that their opinions matter more than ever. And those opinions should matter, if the news business wants to exist in 20 years' time.

The TV News Titan Era, in which we've been treated as more or less passive receptacles of information, is over. Everybody has his or her 2 cents now, and though the sheer number of voices can be overwhelming and the cacophony can be deafening, I'll take 3,000 voices over three or four.

With 3,000 voices, we all stand a bigger chance of getting at the truth.


November 18, 2004 5:22 PM CST: 'Lost' and found

How cool was it to see Mira Furlan Wednesday on "Lost"? On the island drama, Furlan played the whacked-out Danielle Rousseau, the woman who recorded the radio broadcast the castaways picked up not long after their plane crashed.

Furlan was quite possibly the best thing about the memorable sci-fi series "Babylon 5," on which she played Delenn, a priestess who tried to prevent an all-out intergalactic war. When I interviewed her a few years ago, when "B5" was still on the air, Furlan said she drew heavily on her Yugoslavian heritage to depict the struggle of a woman who'd been through so much bloodshed that she'd do anything to prevent war from coming again.

Furlan's admirable intensity and humanity were on display again Wednesday night, and I sure hope we see lots more of her on "Lost."

PHILLER: Speaking of "The Amazing Race," which kicked off its sixth season on Tuesday, host Phil Keoghan credits the online fan community, particularly the "TAR" fanatics on TelevisionWithoutPity.com, with helping save the show from cancellation several times.

But those "TAR" message boards, which show usually Keoghan so much love, can also be tough on the cool Kiwi, who hosts his own swell show, "No Opportunity Wasted," on the Discovery Channel.

When I talked to him in August, Keoghan said one particular online comment had been seared into his memory forever.

"Someone sent me a link once and [the message-board discussion] was about the sweater that I wore in Amsterdam on Season 3," Keoghan said. "The line that I always remember, which I thought was so funny, was, "[That's] the ugliest piece of clothing since Gilligan's hat.'"

Ouch.

DESPERATE EXECS: Why in the world would CBS give full-season orders to the wretched "Listen Up" and "Center of the Universe"? Perhaps the network doesn't have anything else with which it can fill those spots on the schedule. Personally, I think the network would do viewers a favor by broadcasting two half-hours of white noise in those slots instead.

MERRY SPECIAL: Hosted by "Queer Eye's" Carson Kressley, Bravo's "The Christmas Special Christmas Special" on Dec. 14 will look at very special holiday extravaganzas throughout TV history. On the program, everyone from the "South Park" gang to Judy Garland will go under the mistletoe microscope.

And what I've long suspected, the "Special" press release states, turns out to be true: "Mary Crosby, daughter of Bing Crosby, divulges [on the show] that her father had no idea who David Bowie was when the two performed their famous duet [of `The Little Drummer Boy'] during `Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas'" in 1977.

MERRY SPECIAL, PART II: CBS will broadcast "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" on Dec. 1; the network calls it the longest running Christmas special in TV history, and who am I to argue with that statement? It's certainly one of my all-time holiday favorites. Another Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass classic, "Frosty the Snowman," airs on the network on Dec. 3.

ALL TOO REAL: Every TV pundit out there is ready to sign reality-TV's death warrant these days, given that some unscripted shows have tanked and other staples, such as "The Apprentice" and "Survivor," are not getting the blockbuster ratings of years past. Though I think the reports predicting the genre's demise are premature and unwarranted, I have to admit that news of an upcoming reality show about infidelity makes me feel queasy.

According to a Nov. 16 story in The Hollywood Reporter, "Project Greenlight" producers Jane Lipsitz and Dan Cutforth are shopping a reality program "featuring stories of unfaithful spouses who have turned to a popular online matchmaking service that caters to attached people seeking extramarital affairs." Yecch.

It's bad enough that in the reality genre, entertaining fare such as "The Amazing Race," and "Regency House Party," has to be lumped in the same category as dreck such as "The Swan," but a reality show that follows cheating spouses goes well over the line into Jerry Springer territory.

The ickiest thing about shows about infidelity is that, even if they don't appear on the program, the children of these participants are going to have their lives exposed in ways that they don't deserve.

Children and reality TV are a tricky business: I actually think it's not such a bad thing for young ones to appear on shows such as Fox's "Nanny 911," which shows kids learning to act respectfully to themselves and others (and clean up their rooms in the process). It's a very different thing, however, to have everyone at your school know that your mom or dad has had an affair.

With any luck, this new infidelity show, if it does get produced, will follow in the footsteps of the Style Network's deservedly obscure "Diary of an Affair," which hasn't made much of an impression on TV viewers.

WEIRD VIBES: How weird is it that just hours after news reports appeared about a stabbing at the Monday taping of the Vibe Music Awards, UPN sent out a press release about the network's Tuesday night broadcast of the program -- a press release that said nothing about the violence at the awards show?

THIS JUST IN: What's the most interesting thing about "Without a Trace" these days? That it's usually trouncing veteran "ER" in the ratings? That finally Anthony LaPaglia's acting skills are getting much-deserved weekly screen time? No and no.

The most pertinent thing about the CBS show is that Eric Close, who plays FBI agent Martin Fitzgerald on "Trace," is the hottest man on TV right now. I'm talking sizzzling hottt.

DUB DRUB, PART II: In last week's column, I discussed the irritant of what sounds like overdubbed, or obviously scripted, lines on "The Apprentice," and reader Don Moorhead weighed in via e-mail with another take on the subject:

"Though I don't watch `The Apprentice,' I was a semi-regular viewer of the NBC sort-of-reality [show] `The Restaurant.' I noticed that in the second `season,' there seemed to be a similar overdubbing. Every time there was a scene with the owner dude (Jeffrey Chodorow), there would be a `parting line' where we wouldn't see his face, the audio quality was different, and it summed up, a little too neatly, his feelings about the Conversation-With-Rocco/Meeting-With-His-Team/Phone-Call that has just occurred.

"Also, it was always followed with a dramatic pronouncement like, `We've got to get the restaurant fixed, or there are going to be changes,' then [the show would] cut back to Jeffrey's now-silent face, then fade to commercial. It was painfully obvious that it had been overdubbed, and frankly, it's why I didn't finish watching the second season."

GATERS REJOICE: It's no surprise "Stargate SG-1" and "Stargate Atlantis" have both been renewed by the Sci Fi Channel, since both have been doing well in the ratings. More good news: "SG-1" and "Atlantis" will be joined by the new "Battlestar Galactica" series on Friday nights come January.

Sci Fi's press release mentions that when "SG-1"completes its ninth season, will it will be tied with "The X-Files" for the record of the longest-running sci-fi series on TV. But genre TV fans know that "SG-1" has already topped "The X-Files" in one category: The Sci Fi shows has certainly had more quality seasons than the wildly erratic "X-Files," which was on life support for a few years at the end of its run.

The press release doesn't say whether "SG-1" star Richard Dean Anderson, whose role has been reduced in recent seasons, is coming back. The release only says that the show's producer, MGM TV, is "currently in negotiations with the original cast for their return."

I sure hope Anderson returns. Though I love the rest of the cast, I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that without Jack O'Neill, "SG-1" would have a gaping hole right in the middle of it.

MOUTH ALMIGHTY: The latest and greatest addition to VH1's schedule is not yet another list show and mercifully has nothing to do with the '80s or '90s. "Motormouth" is a hidden-camera show in which unsuspecting drivers are filmed singing along -- sometimes dancing along, complete with elaborate choreography -- to songs by Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys, Creedence Clearwater Revival and others. "Motormouth" is about as substantial as a cream puff, and it's absolutely hilarious. For a breezy laugh, it's tough to beat.

HOLY SMOKE: Quick, name the network with a program that has featured the following: a trouble-making blond vixen, a poolside party with free-flowing alcohol and one inebriated housemate making gay slurs. Would you have said Pax? I didn't think so.

The network, which is known for conservative, family friendly fare such as "Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye," has joined the reality fray with "Cold Turkey," a new series about 10 housemates who try to give up smoking.

Despite the fact -- or maybe because of the fact -- that the program is a decided break from what Pax has done in the past, the network will air a second season of "Cold Turkey," with a new group of nicotine-kickers, in early 2005.

RENE RULES: The happiest news to come out of "Boston Legal" is not the fact that the badly written female characters have cut back on wearing ridiculously low-cut blouses to work. No, the best news about the ABC show is that Rene Auberjonois, who has had a recurring role as legal bigwig Paul Lewiston, is joining the show's regular cast.

I became a huge fan of Auberjonois when he was the strongest member of a talented cast on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine." On "Legal," he's having a high old time sparring with another "Trek" veteran, William Shatner; as blowhard Denny Crane, Shatner is the hammy ying to Auberjonois' subtle yang.

Is it too much to ask that Brent Spiner, just off a successful run on "Star Trek: Enterprise," drop in and wage a legal battle or two on "Legal"?

FIRED UP: Were you mystified, as I was, that CBS fired the producer who broke into an episode of "CSI" to have a news anchor announce that Yasser Arafat had died? That seemed a little harsh to me. I mean, that's not a crime on par with greenlighting "Listen Up."

TelevisionWithoutPity.com's snarky new poll has far better suggestions regarding CBS personnel who should get canned: Among the choices for termination are the staffers who "scheduled `The Amazing Race' opposite `Veronica Mars' "; "thought `Center of the Universe' was the right vehicle for John Goodman's sitcom comeback" and "won't make William Petersen shave his beard already."

BLOCK PARTY: ABC has confirmed that when it returns in January, "Alias" will pair up on Wednesday nights with "Lost," the hit series co-created by "Alias" mastermind J.J. Abrams. The two-hour, Season 4 premiere of "Alias" will air Wednesday, Jan. 5, and the following week, "Lost" will air in its usual 7 p.m. spot, followed by "Alias."

I'd rejoice more -- truly, this is going to be a killer night of TV -- but I'm still trying to figure out how I'm going to keep up with "Jack & Bobby," "Kevin Hill" and "Alias," all of which will be on at the same time.

WIVES' LIVES: On his blog, the Tribune's Eric Zorn wrote about the affair that Gabriella Solis (Eva Longoria) is having with her teenage gardener, a high- school student, on "Desperate Housewives" (please, let's talk about anything but that "Monday Night Football" imbroglio). "The show plays it for laughs and the occasional sexy scene, even though, horrors! Gabriella is in a position of authority over the gardener," Zorn noted.

To Zorn, there's a double standard in the fact that no TV show would ever feature an adult man having an affair with a high- school girl. That may or may not be true (doesn't that sort of thing happen on soaps?), but to me, what's delicious about Gabriella's domestic situation is that the show depicts a Hispanic family with a white gardener (and an Asian maid).

"DH" is chock-full of other witless stereotypes, but it's delightful that the show's writers are willing to blow up that irritating "Hispanics only play maids and gardeners" cliche (which, I might add, "The O.C." buys into fully).

E-mail your TV comments and questions to moryan@tribune.com; though I can't necessarily guarantee a reply, I may use your questions or comments in a future column.


Nov. 17, 2004 10:48 AM CST: Collective undies in a bunch

Expect much more "Monday Night Football"-style madness.

Emboldened by the FCC's heavy fines against CBS for Janet Jackson's infamous Superbowl breast-baring and against Fox for the tawdry antics on "Married by America," consumers are making their voices heard at the networks.

And sometimes those voices are kinda silly.

So there was a little implied hanky-panky between a football star and a "Desperate Housewives" actress on a "MNF" skit. There's lots more actual hanky panky all over the dial, and not all of it is on the saucier cable channels.

If we're talking about the mortal threat posed by shots of actors' naked backs, then step back, 'cause they're all over network TV.

A few weeks ago on "Gilmore Girls," viewers got an eyeful of actor Scott Patterson's hunky naked torso in a bedroom scene with his on-screen paramour, Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham). And speaking of ABC, "Boston Legal" showed much of actress Rhona Mitra's backside on a recent episode in which her character has a motel fling with one of the show's top lawyers.

So where were all the angry phone calls regarding those bedroom scenes? I suspect that since those shows don't have the high profile of "MNF," viewers didn't get their collective undies in a bunch. What's the fun in taking down a run-of-the-mill program, when you can take down an institution?

Given ABC's quick apology, the taste police will be that much more eager to make complaints next time they see something they don't like; it's all just part of the "Leave It to Beaver-ization" of the television dial. The networks are as nervous as a soon-to-be-sacked quarterback, and will surely be vetting every script and promo spot for the smallest sign of sexy shenanigans.

All of which will just speed the departure of millions of viewers to more adventurous cable channels, a trend that the networks have been fighting for two decades. How will the networks hold ultra-desirable young viewers with 100 percent squeaky-clean programming is beyond me, but good luck to them.

The ones who should really be worried are the writers for "Desperate Housewives." Will they be able to show Bree Van De Camp (Marcia Cross) in a sexy lingerie ensemble again? Maybe she'd better try to find a combination camisole-turtleneck.

I'm not in favor of sex scenes that are added to shows just to boost weak storylines (hello, "Boston Legal"), but when done right, they can add a lot to our knowledge of the characters we care about on TV.

For instance, that scene with the half-naked Scott Patterson on "Gilmore Girls" was one of the sweetest I've seen in many a season. It was not only emotionally nuanced and enjoyable -- it was much, much tamer than the kinds of things you see in teen sex comedies at the local multiplex.

I'd better save that episode on tape, because next time Patterson and Graham might just be holding hands.


November 11, 2004 9:19 AM CST: 'Ryan' will air in Chicago

According to this news report, some ABC affililiates have decided not to show the network's broadcast of "Saving Private Ryan" on Thursday.

WLS-Ch.7, ABC's Chicago station, will be showing the acclaimed war film. But if you're planning to watch the movie, you should be aware that it begins at 6:30 p.m, not 7 p.m. The film will be followed by ABC-7 News at 10 p.m.


November 10, 2004 2:17 PM CST: Chicago 'rebel' gets the boot


If you watched Fox's "The Rebel Billionaire" on Tuesday, you may have been stunned, as I was, that one contestant who showed real bravery, Chicagoan Tim Hudson, got the boot.

On the first episode, Hudson had to climb up the side of one giant balloon to the top via a tiny ladder, a task that appeared scary as heck. Both Hudson and another contestant made it to the top of the balloon for a "tea party" with billionaire Richard Branson. But Hudson, who had failed an earlier balloon challenge, still ended up getting cut.

Hudson, an associate at the Chicago law firm Jenner & Block, says Branson had tears in his eyes as he dismissed the young lawyer.

"I said, `Richard, it's OK; it's not a funeral,' and I hugged him," says Hudson, who says that he may go to work for the billionaire in the future (once his "13 seconds of D-list celebrity are up," the 30-year-old jokes).

Still, Hudson sounds amazed that he completed the challenge, considering he's out of shape and smokes. "Two-thirds of the way up, I was really worried that I just wasn't going to make it," he recalls. "I just couldn't get my hands to close [around the ladder] due to cramping."

But the real scoop, Hudson reveals, is that, regarding that tea party at the top of the hot-air balloon -- well, there was no tea in his cup.

"The truth is revealed," laughed Hudson, who called via cell phone after a "Jane Pauley Show" appearance with Branson. "Reality TV is not always real."

Spikey goodness: Do you need a Spike fix? No, I'm not talking about the channel, I'm talking about the undead guy. James Marsters, who played the punky vampire Spike on both "Angel" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," visits the WB's "The Mountain" on Nov. 21, but he won't be reprising his Cockney neck-biter role; he'll apparently play a fading rock 'n' roll musician.

You may want to catch the show – and Marsters – while you can; this is purely speculation on my part, but I'd bet "The Mountain" joins the ranks of ex-programs well before the TV season ends.

Model behavior: Question: Can "America's Next Top Model" get better? Answer: Yes. Taye Diggs stops by on Wednesday's episode to give the prospective mannequins acting lessons.

Maybe the appearance is a shameless plug for Digg's own UPN series, "Kevin Hill," which follows the model-fest on Wednesday nights. But while we're on the topic, did we mention that "Hill" and another new UPN drama, the terrific "Veronica Mars," have both been picked up for an entire season and, while neither is a "Lost"-style breakout hit, both have been steadily showing ratings growth?

Now that's a shameless plug.

Arresting success: Sometimes things just go right in TV-land: Witness the much-improved ratings of "Arrested Development," which premiered in a new time slot on Sunday, just after "The Simpsons." The series had an average of around 6.2 million viewers last year, but preliminary Nielsen numbers show that around 8 million folks tuned in to "Arrested's" second-season premiere. Yay!

Kojak's back: Who loves ya, baby? Ving Rhames loves ya, that's who. Rhames will star in an updated version of "Kojak" for USA Network starting in March.

All star race?: We're counting down the days over here until "The Amazing Race 6" premieres on Tuesday, and the only thing more exciting that the show's return is the prospect of an all-star version of the race.

Fans of the stellar round-the-world contest have been discussing the idea for some time, and Kelly Kahl, CBS' senior executive vice president of programming, whom I spoke to for an upcoming "TAR" story, said if fan interest in an all-star edition was great enough, "that's something we'd consider."

Name game: "Queer Eye for the Straight Girl," in which gay dudes remake a clueless straight gal, premieres on Bravo in January. But there will only be four remakers in the "Straight Girl" posse, and one of them will actually be a woman … named Honey Labrador? That sure sounded like a stage name to me, but a Bravo PR person assured me that Honey Labrador is the 100 percent female former model's real name.

Big Bird's big day: Happy birthday to "Sesame Street" which turned 35 on Wednesday.

She's not desperate: Anyone else notice that the best character on "Desperate Housewives" is neither desperate nor a housewife? The level-headed Julie Mayer (Andrea Bowen), daughter of nervous divorcee Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher), is by far the most appealing person on the hit show.

My other favorite unsung TV characters right now: Bright Abbott (Chris Pratt) on "Everwood"; Peter Lewiston (Rene Auberjonois) on "Boston Legal"; Yaya on "America's Next Top Model"; and Buster (Tony Hale), who continually slays me on "Arrested Development."

Dub flub: Moving on to "The Apprentice," it sure sounds to me as if some of the boardroom scenes in that show contain lines that are overdubbed, or recorded and inserted at a later point in time.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked an NBC PR person whether there was, in fact, any overdubbing by Donald Trump on "The Apprentice," and was categorically told no. "There must have been a portion of bad audio," NBC rep Jim Dowd said in an e-mail.

But I'm not the only one who thinks that overdubbing has been an ongoing irritant on the show. Andy Dehnart, who runs the indispensable site realityblurred.com, recently wrote a piece for MSNBC.com criticizing "The Apprentice's" distinctly odd boardroom audio.

"Are these redubbed lines scripted? Rerecorded to be smoother than the original version? If not, why is the production so bad that Trump's audio cuts out so frequently, both in the boardroom and elsewhere?" Dehnart writes. "For all Trump's bragging about having the `No. 1 show on television,' this inattention to detail feels cheap and jarring."

In last week's "Apprentice" episode, which appeared mere days after Dehnart's piece hit the Web, the odd overdubbing (or "bad audio") was completely missing in the boardroom scenes. Hmmmm.

Shafted: Hey "Lost" fans, is it me, or did the music of Drive Shaft, the former band of stranded survivor Charlie, sound a lot like the music of Oasis? Let's see, both bands are fronted by brothers, one of whom is named Liam, the brothers fight with each other a lot, and both are from Manchester. And the snippets of Drive Shaft music that aired in last week's episode of "Lost" sure sounded like "What's the Story, Morning Glory"-era Oasis.

But an ABC rep said the similarities between Drive Shaft and Oasis were pure coincidence.

Speaking of "Lost," there has been a boatload of speculation by fans and critics regarding the return of "Alias" in January. "Alias" followers are salivating at the thought that ABC is seriously considering pairing the spy show with "Lost" on Wednesdays, thus uniting both of J.J. Abrams' suspenseful programs in one block (and moving "Alias" from Sundays, where the show has struggled).

ABC won't confirm or deny anything regarding a possible move of "Alias," but all I can say is … that would be sweeeeeet.

[This item has been corrected to reflect the correct day for auditions.] Try this: Think you're funny, or that you can sing country music? Tryouts for the third season of "Nashville Star," which will be hosted by LeAnn Rimes and air early next year, will be held in Chicago on Sunday. Go to www.usanetwork.com/nashvillestar to get the details on where and when you can do your crooning.

Details have not yet emerged on where and when you can try out for "Saturday Night Live," but the Hollywood Reporter says NBC is mulling a summer reality program on which contestants would compete to be a cast member on the next season of "Saturday Night Live." Given Chicago's strong improv community and comedy history, I'll go on record as saying it'll be a crime if a Windy City type doesn't win.

Site for sore eyes: The revamped Simpsons Web site (www.thesimpsons.com) has unveiled a host of interactive elements; new features on the site allow you to "convert the heathens" in Rod Flanders' "Bible Blaster" video game, test your aim on Bart's "Sling Shot Shootout" and unleash your inner Nelson Muntz with the "Whack-A-Nerd" game. Warning: Converting heathens is harder than it sounds.

E-mail your TV comments and questions to moryan@tribune.com; though I can't necessarily guarantee a reply, I may use your questions or comments in a future column.


Nov. 1, 2004 2:31 PM CST: Debating the science of 'Star Trek'

In this review of the Oct. 29 episode of "Star Trek: Enterprise" -- the first of three episode to feature "Star Trek: The Next Generation" alum Brent Spiner, I posed the following question to readers:

By the way, the episode left me with a few questions (which may be addressed in the next two installments). It appeared that by the later time frame of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," many human diseases had been eliminated. Was that done through genetic manipulation? I'd guess not, considering how horrified Archer is at Soong's doings and at the earlier Eugenics Wars that roiled Earth and produced the memorable "Trek" movie villain Khan.

I got a few intriguing responses from readers who were kind enough to answer my question (I've slightly edited these responses for grammar, spelling and length):

One reader who goes by the email moniker Clandestiny writes:

"Interesting question; the fact is that no 'Trek' series or movie has ever explained how Earth became a disease-free zone. It's more or less all lumped together in the assumption that somehow, somewhere, by some unimaginable means sometime in the next few centuries, humans managed to come up with magical ways of eliminating practically every one of mankind's ills (except, oddly enough, the common cold, to which Dr. McCoy refers in the original series episode 'The Omega Glory' -- and, of course, courtesy of Captain Picard, we know that male-pattern baldness remains a problem).

"[The curing of many diseases] is one of those things I doubt that any 'Trek' scriptwriter will ever try to explain, for the simple reason that it can't be explained: it's just one of the basic presumptions you accept in the 'Star Trek' universe. (Which is fine by me. They never explained how Klingons suddenly got bumpy foreheads, either, but I've never found myself losing a second's worth of sleep over it.)

"One of your assumptions I can confirm, however. It's been established definitively that genetic engineering is against the law in StarTrekland, as a direct consequence of the Eugenics Wars: I refer you to the 'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine' episode, 'Dr. Bashir, I Presume?' for further information.

Reader Cooper Thomas writes:

"Throughout all the 'Trek' series, a common thread has been: genetic manipulation to improve the individual, or the species is bad! The best example of this is the character of Dr. Bashir in 'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,' who was born with a subnormal I.Q. and whose parents took him off-world to be given post-natal treatments which turned him into a genius. We got a long lecture from a Starfleet admiral on the history of restraints 'going back to Khan Singh.'

"However, as you point out, there are a lot of indications that, in terms of the degenerative diseases, enormous progress has been made. It could be that by the time of Picard they feel comfortable enough that society has evolved to wisely use genetic engineering and still not forget what it is to be a human (the most common theme in all the 'Star Trek' shows).

"Or, they may have found another means (like nanotechnology) to treat the individual without changing the species. I hope that this story arc provides a good rationale for this extreme skepticism towards genetic engineering to 'improve the species' because as bold a position to take as it is, I don't buy into it. As Artie Johnson was prone to say 'Ver-r-r-r-ry interesting....but dumb!' "

Blog entries from October (including lots of "Farscape" goodness) are here.

You can find September and August blog entries here.

Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune



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