Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Catch Me on Twist

For an on-air version of Must-Hear TV, catch me in two radio appearances this week:

In my regular Wednesday slot on The Frank DeCaro Show, on Sirius' OutQ station, channel 109. 1:15 PM Eastern, 10:15 AM Pacific!

And this weekend, I'll be talking TV on Twist, the fabulous gay music and entertainment countdown airing on local stations in New York, L.A., Washington, San Francisco, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Albuquerque and Indianapolis. Check their web site, http://www.radiowithatwist.com/ for local stations and showtimes --and other fun goodies from hosts Dennis Hensley, Ben Harvey and Melissa Carter.

See you on the air!

Welcome to Darling Tower

Want a glimpse into how the Darling Family made all their Dirty, Sexy Money? Take a virtual tour of their latest venture, the Manhattan skyscraper Darling Tower.

Well appointed like the glossiest of New York pads, the Tower features amenities such as valet, private wine cellar, full-service Wellness Spa, and rooftop Zen garden. It was even designed by apparently world-famous architect Nico Egroeg (who must be Nick George's backwards Dutch cousin.)

Considering buying with some filthy cash of your own? There's just one problem: Darling Tower doesn't really exist. And as slick and realistic as its web site may be, it's really just a clever "viral" tool to promote the upcoming second season of Dirty Sexy Money, which premieres this Wednesday, October 1 at 10 PM Eastern on ABC.

From Patrick 'Tripp' Darling's "Vision" page:

"When I start a new venture, I base it on hard research and analysis. With Darling Tower, I saw an opportunity to give new life to an otherwise faltering urban area -- a clean-up-the-dirt endeavor, so to speak. Adding in some much needed sex appeal to create something unique and beautiful. I consider it money well spent."

Dirty Sexy Money
Season 2
Premieres Wednesday, October 1
10 PM Eastern

Monday, September 29, 2008

Behind the Scenes at... The Amazing Race

Season 13

Now it can be told.

I went along, as a journalist, on the first leg of this season's Amazing Race. This is the show's 13th season -- and I admit, I'm a latecomer to Race fever. But having watched a few iterations before pitching the editor-in-chief of CBS' Watch! magazine on covering the behind-the-scenes of the show, I became an instant fan.

As you probably know from watching last night's season 13 opener, the 11 teams opened their envelopes at LA's Olympic Stadium, and headed off to Salvador, Brazil -- with me close behind. I'd never been to South America before, but had always dreamed of it. And Salvador did not disappoint -- it's gorgeous, a little bit Boston, with its version of colonial architecture, and a lot Miami, with spicy Latin food and glorious beaches.

My first-person diary piece about traveling with the show will hit newsstands in early November -- please do check it out. Meanwhile, here on my blog, I thought I'd do something different and post some of the photos I took (and a few courtesy of CBS' photography dept.) along the way. I'm sure this will be fun stuff for those of you always looking for tidbits on how this huge organization comes together so efficiently. Believe me -- this show truly is "Amazing!"

4/23/08, late AM: Waiting for our connecting flight to Salvador -- which was late -- in Rio de Janeiro's airport. When things like this happen, producers whip out their cell phones and alert those already waiting for us on the ground to push things back.

The teams' first task in Salvador: to steer these rickety pushcarts, loaded with a gum brand called Blong!, into the elevator which links the commercial district to the old-city section of Pelourinho, atop the cliff. Once there, they have to look for the show's trademark red-and-yellow flag on a candy vendor's cart to receive their next envelope. (Luckily, the envelope says they're done for the day.)

The teams may have been done for the day, but I wasn't. Instead, I was invited to "test" the two stunts they'd have to choose from the next day at the Detour box. I refused to do the cargo net climb (see photos below), but crawling up the church stairs was a piece of cake -- despite how everyone else seemed to think it was the tougher challenge.

The plaque says that this church, O Pagador do Promessas (Payer of Promises) was the setting of a 1962 film which won the Palme D'Or at Cannes.

That night, I got to stay at the posh Pestana Bahia hotel. The teams were not so lucky -- they stayed pressed up against each other in these two-man mosquito nets in the incredibly humid jungle. It had just rained, so the ground was covered in several inches of mud, and there were bugs the size of Volkswagens. Still want to audition?

4/24/08, 8 AM: The first stop is the Detour box, located in the forecourt of the Third Church of Sao Francisco. Which of course is located next to the First and Second Churches of Sao Francisco, just to be confusing. At about 10:30, we get word from roving scouts that contestants are on their way, so we duck into the doorway of the post office across the street. When they do come, they're so focused on finding the box that they blow right past and don't notice us. Most of them blow right past the box, too, and enter the church before realizing their mistake.

My incredible simulation of opening the envelope at the Detour Box. Photo by Robert Voets.

The Detour box offered two options: "The Hard Way Up," which is crawling up the church stairs, or "The Soft Way Down," which involves climbing down a cargo net strung over the tower of the Elevador Lacerda which climbs up the cliff. That's 240 feet high, people -- are you insane? But 10 of the 11 teams choose the net, partly due to the deliberately misleading name "Soft Way Down."

Terence and Sarah finish and disconnect from the net. The next step is to grab the envelope which has the Pit Stop location (the finishing line for this leg.) Nick and Starr have already beaten them to it.

Kelli and Christy finish on the net.

From the base of the net (the Elevador Lacerda tower is the skinny white structure in the center of the photo, behind the white boat), it's just a run down this dock to catch a boat to the Pit Stop: a fortress several hundred yards out in the Bay of All Saints.

A short but scenic boat ride. We tried to duck out of sight while waiting for the boat in case teams came, because we didn't want to clue them in that they were in the right place. And we also couldn't hog either of the two boats going back and forth, for fear of delaying a team. But it turns out, we'd picked a lull between teams and shot right out to the fort.

Walking up the entry gangplank to the stone fortress.

This is the view facing right once you walk in the front gate of the fort. In the back is a ramp, which leads up to the cannons on the roof. That right side ramp was the one Production used; there's a symmetrical one on the left side which the teams used. They couldn't see us to the right because of a barrier the show constructed.

The ramp up to the top...

...Where it's nearly 100 degrees, in blazing sunshine. (Remember, this is the tropics in early autumn.) When host Phil Keoghan is not interviewing finishing teams on the mat, he's often filming "stand-ups" where he explains the rules and challenges to the camera. This is a rare break, hiding from the oppressive sun with the show's publicist Mitch Graham.

The famous Amazing Race mat.

4/25/08: The teams left this morning for city #2.

Me, I half wish I could go with them and observe, but I'm quite happy here on the beach at Barra...

...As are my tired feet in their new Havaiianas, made right here in Brazil. From this beachside bar, I walked back all along the peninsula that makes up the city to the Pestana Bahia hotel -- all the while hoping I'll get to come back here someday. With or without 22 crazed adrenaline junkies racing each other for a shot at the cash.

Click HERE to check out the full episode on CBS.com

The Amazing Race
Season 13
Sundays at 8 PM Eastern, starting September 28

Sunday, September 28, 2008

TONIGHT! Don't miss "The Amazing Race!"

TONIGHT at 8 PM Eastern/Pacific, don't miss the season 13 premiere of CBS' reality competition show, The Amazing Race. Then tomorrow, check back here for some behind-the-scenes scoop on tonight's episode!

Season 13 Premiere
Sunday, September 28
8 PM Eastern

Friday, September 26, 2008

NEW -- "Follow" Must-Hear TV!

As those of you familiar with RSS and Blogger undoubtedly already know, now there are quite a few ways you can keep getting daily helpings of Must-Hear TV dinners, delivered directly to your screen.

1) Near the upper right hand corner of the Must-Hear TV blog, you'll find a box titled Followers of Must-Hear TV. If you're a Blogger member, just click on the "Follow" link, and new posts from Must-Hear TV will be automatically mixed in to the news you receive on Blogger and/or Google Reader.

2) Directly under the Followers box is another way to subscribe to Must-Hear TV. In the box titled Get Blog Feed Subscription, simply click to subscribe to RSS feeds. The cool thing here is, you can also click to have post Comments mixed in to your news as well.

3) And if you'd prefer to receive your Must-Hear TV delivered via email (usually just after midnight), there's a box titled Get Email Subscription to Must-Hear TV where you can type in your email address. You'll be asked to verify a word image, and then will receive an email containing an activation link.

Join me for some daily fun, and let's talk... Must-Hear TV!

And Now, a Word From...

Steve Dildarian
Creator/Executive Producer/Actor, HBO's The Life and Times of Tim

The first thing I noticed about Steve Dildarian is how modest he is. After all, the guy just landed the Holy Grail gig of television: his own half-hour series on HBO! Dildarian comes from an advertising background, having conceived, written and produced quite a few innovative Super Bowl spots for Budweiser. Now, his newest TV creation, The Life & Times of Tim, debuts this Sunday at 11 PM on the premium cable network.

On the night of the show’s debut at the New York Television Festival last week, I sat down for a one-on-one talk with TV’s newest animation impresario. He’s a man who could end up being the next Seth MacFarlane – in fact, before HBO came into the picture, Tim was first developed to accompany MacFarlane’s Sunday night lineup on Fox – but he reminds me much more of a young Ray Romano.

Dildarian voices the lead character of Tim himself, and so as I then sat down with the preview DVD HBO provided of the show’s first three (hilarious) episodes, I thought back to something the show’s publicist had said: it’s funny to realize that I have met the real man behind a voice which will undoubtedly soon be famous.

Must-Hear TV: How did Tim come about? When you were working in advertising, were you itching all that time to get into animation?

Steve Dildarian: No, actually -- I couldn’t have had less to do with animation. I worked in advertising for 12 years, in New York at BBDO and Cliff Freeman and Partners, and then I moved out to San Francisco to work for Goodby, Silverstein and Partners. And a lot of little opportunities came up that eventually led to the Tim short. I was lucky enough to work on Budweiser which gives you opportunities to do a lot of different things that are not commercials per se but just entertainment. A lot of what they do is just fun character development. So it was kind of a perfect scenario, if you have TV In the back of your head, to work on Budweiser. You’re really doing the same thing in a lot of ways. So we did some animated things for their website.

MHTV: Like the famous Super Bowl commercial with the Budweiser frogs?

SD: I wouldn’t even consider that animation, even though it’s animatronics. But that gave me half the experience I needed to learn about creating voice tracks. It was all very improv driven, and I learned over a good four to five year period how to work on that and let it be disciplined and quick, and hit the beats of the joke, but still be loose. And then we did some other projects, like the “Budweiser rejected ads” and a few things that never saw the air, and I did a voice for a donkey commercial that I wrote for the Super Bowl. So you put all these things together and suddenly, although I started out as a guy who just wrote TV commercials, then I was also a guy who can draw, and who can do voice-overs, and to do animation. It gave me the three things you need.

MHTV: In addition to being a writer, were you always a visual artist as well?

SD: Before [the time I was developing Tim], I had never drawn in my whole life or done anything visual. I just wrote. But I think it was simmering in the back of my head. My dad was a painter, so maybe it’s in the blood a little bit. And I started doing oil paintings painting myself about seven years ago. It slowly built up to be a pretty big part of my life, and I began selling [my work] in different stores in San Francisco. For the first time ever, I took things I created visually somewhat seriously even if they were silly and na├»ve and ridiculous. And that is what really led to this show. This is all based on my original drawings even though I don’t draw it anymore. Advertising and painting and all these little things I picked up along the way added up to a whole new career, I guess you could say.

MHTV: Where did the idea for The Life & Times of Tim come from?

SD: I had the idea for a short film that seemed funny: you get caught with a hooker and how do you explain your way out of it? That’s what this is all based on, and the version of that story you’ll see in the pilot was reinvented. The original film didn’t have the family -- just the girlfriend busting in, and it was half the length.

MHTV: That wasn’t based on any personal experience, I hope!

SD: (laughing) No, hopefully not! That’s the first question everyone asks. All the stories in this show, people ask if that happened to me. So, I wrote the short, and I was going to shoot it live action to be honest, but I couldn’t figure that out. So then started animating it [instead], and learned the hard way really, in iMovie.

MHTV: Backing up, you’d worked in advertising, creating 30-second spots. What made you want to invest your time into writing a “short,” which for you would be a longer form?

SD: I don’t know if it was even a conscious decision. I had doing advertising for a while and doing fairly well at it. At some point, you’ve had a bunch of Super Bowl commercials on, and when you’ve done something like the [Budweiser spot with the] lizards, it’s hard to top that in popularity. In some ways, I felt like I’d kind of done it. I’d gotten into a little bit of a rut. So I started looking to new things to challenge myself, and the short film was one of probably five things I was doing at the time. And this one just happened to gain more momentum.

MHTV: How did the short film morph into something for TV?

SD: We made this short and submitted it to festivals, and won best animated short at the comedy festival in Aspen in 2006. I was simultaneously making short film #2 and #3, and writing what became a draft of a pilot script with the same characters, just to see where it could possibly go. And, getting an agent at Endeavor, who hit the ground running the first time he saw it. He said, “This is going to be a TV show, I promise you,” just from seeing the first short. He said it was perfect, totally of the moment and what people want now, and fresh and original. Then, we sold it to Fox, and spent a whole year making it for them. But it didn’t work out in the end.

MHTV: How far did the process get? Did Fox have you make the pilot, only to decide not to pick up the show when they announced their fall schedule at their upfront that May?

SD: Exactly. Fox liked it quite a bit from what I know, and everyone was happy. But it’s hard to take a project like this and visualize it coming on after Family Guy. It’s just a whole different vibe, and I almost don’t blame them for in the end saying, “It’s not us.”

MHTV: But HBO is not exactly known for animation. So how did Tim then end up there?

SD: It’s amazing. I didn’t think it would ever end up there for whatever reason. But as soon as I talked to HBO and heard why they liked it and what they wanted to do with it, it was just a fundamentally different approach to how they wanted to develop it. Everyone at the networks had said, “Here’s what we have to change. Here’s what is wrong with that that can’t be a TV show.” And HBO said almost nothing along those lines. They just said, “It’s great. We loved it. Go back to where you started and make more of those.” It was total purity of vision and voice, and that’s what I think has built their network as far as I can tell. They really respect the creator’s voice for the show.

MHTV: How long does Tim’s production process take?

SD: It depends on how you stagger the production. If you’re just making one of them, you can do it in about a month or so. You write it, and once you have a script the illustrators can crank out all the background and character drawings in less than a week. Part of that is because of the simplicity of the animation, and part of it is also the way we edit it. If you have a scene that can go for three minutes and have a bunch of different shots and different animations within that, it’s usually based on one drawing. How long can that ever take? A few hours? The artists draw straight into Photoshop. And the shots are wide and mediums and close-ups, and you edit it the way you would edit a film or live action.

MHTV: What is it like doing double duty, doing the voice of Tim?

SD: The voice part is actually the most fun. Just spending two days where we’re just goofing around, because it’s really not a structured, disciplined thing. We’re all together in one room, because that’s the heart and soul of the style. We improv a lot, and for any given scene we might do a dozen takes, where each one is very different. We give the actors a lot of freedom to make it their own.

MHTV: Who are the other actors on the show?

SD: It was great because half of the regulars are just my friends from San Francisco who really don’t do this for a living. Especially MJ, who plays Tim’s girlfriend Amy. She’s never done a voice-over in her life. She’s just a friend where I said, “Hop in and read it,” and she just so happened to nail it. She does have a natural confidence and ease behind a microphone which a lot of people don’t have. And she went in to test at Fox, HBO, everywhere – and no one’s ever even hinted at recasting. Fox did make me recast other characters a good amount, so we undid a little of that when we went to HBO.

We’ve supplemented that with a lot of great people from LA. Now it’s a great combination of friends goofing off, and some really talented stand-ups from LA. Nick Kroll has been a big part of the show, playing Stu. And Peter Giles is playing the boss, and he’s put whole different spin on it. We made the character black, kind of based on his performance, and it just turned into something it never was on paper. Then we have people like Jamie Denbo, Lizzie Caplan, Eddie Pepitone – people who are fantastic but I would never have thought of. And we’ve gotten some big names [as guest stars.] Bob Saget, Jeff Garlin, Cheri Oteri.

MHTV: What have you learned so far as writer and actor from your experience doing Tim?

SD: The big thing I think I’ve learned so far is how to give freedom to the actors. A lot of writers get an idea in their head and they try to force it upon actors. And I think you have to steer the ship as a writer or director, but in the end, it’s the actors who are the characters. It has to be made their own. If you don’t give them the freedom to make it their own, you’re not creating something that will come across as real. So in the best cases, I’ve learned to let the actor in some cases rethink the entire character. The Stu character, and same with the boss – those two actors took their characters somewhere different, and I ran with it. Hey, if it works it works, and you’re making it funnier than it was. There’s no place for ego in that case. Good ideas can come from anywhere.

The Life and Times of Tim
Series Premiere
Sunday, September 28
11 PM Eastern

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Welcome to Little Britain, USA

Welcome to Little Britain!

This Sunday night, September 28, HBO premieres Little Britain USA, an American version of Matt Lucas and David Walliams' monster hit from across the pond.

From its airings on BBC America, the show has garnered a devoted cult audience of fans in the US as well -- many of them celebs admiring the show's uniquely British combination of high wit and lowball, often scatological humor. (And of course, its trademark drag -- which, Walliams has explained, was never intended as a joke in and of itself, but merely a way for him and Lucas to portray a fuller range of the citizenry.)

In a preview video on HBO's web site for the show, Rosie O'Donnell recounts how her agent called to tell her she'd received for Rosie a script to appear in a really rude sketch about a weight loss group, where the leader would pick on her for being fat and be disgusted for her lesbianism. Luckily, Rosie recognized her agent's description of Marjorie Dawes and her vicious leadership of the "Fat Fighters." "Is it Little Britain?!" Rosie recalls asking excitedly.

"Rosie was fantastic, because obviously there are some pretty outrageous things in there, and she didn't ask us to change a word. So that just showed what a brilliant sport she was," Walliams recalled as the two men appeared at a July appearance in front of the TV critics' convention in Beverly Hills. And so, Rosie appears in a hilarious sketch in this first of hopefully many seasons of Little Britain USA; she's joined in other episodes by both British and Yank celebs, like Sting, Paul Rudd and Robert Vaughn, who as fans begged to be included on screen this time around, and David Schwimmer, who signed on to direct many of the new show's segments.

"There's a lot of cruelty in the show," Walliams added. And of course, that's what makes it so brilliant! The duo haven't pulled their punches for America, if Marjorie's assessment of Rosie is any indication.

"The material is all new," Lucas explained. "So if you have already seen the show, you can sort of approach it as Series 4. But if you haven't, which is what we imagine it will be [because] the majority of our audience here will be new, this is very much Series 1."

And so, Marjorie is joined once again by many of the show's other beloved and equally biting characters, like incomprehensible and attitudinal teen Vicky Pollard (now in boot camp in Utah); bitchy and obese Bubbles deVere; unconvincing cross-dresser Emily Howard; self-repressing gay Daffyd Thomas; and supposedly wheelchair-bound Lou and his caretaker Andy, now on holiday in Mississippi. Add to all that new characters, like homoerotic bodybuilders Mark and Tom and, in a change inspired by the Larry Craig scandal, a sexually shamed senator (a revision of Little Britain's similarly apologetic MP) -- and you have what Lucas and Walliams hope will be something uniquely American.

To get their impressions of us down perfectly, the two traveled around the U.S., and saw more of its weirdness than probably have most Americans. They shot sketches on both the East Coast and in California. They went to Dolly's Dixie Stampede in Branson, Missouri, and marveled at a sign in town that read "Welcome to Christian Country." ("We don't have anything like that in England," said Walliams.) And at a rifle range in Wilmington, North Carolina, they met a sheriff who so enjoyed handling his guns that he inspired a new character, who literally gets turned on by the release of his firearm.

Now, as the show gets set to debute here (it will air also in the UK), Lucas and Walliams have returned to their native England -- for now. "We're bi," Lucas answered cheekily when asked in which country the two plan to be spending their time in the foreseeable future. "We seem to be about half the year in the States and half in Britain, which kind of suits us really."

"Obviously it was really great to spend as much time to... get inspiration... because we wanted to do some American characters in the show. We wanted to refresh it, even just for ourselves creatively," Walliams chimed in. Then, in a comedically pointed note to HBO president Sue Naegle, he added, "We're obviously hoping if we get picked up for a second season -- please -- then we'll be spending more time here."

Little Britain USA
Series Premiere
Sunday, September 28
10:30 PM Eastern

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cloris Leachman: Still Crazy After All These Years

Back in 2002, I attended the Emmys for the first time, courtesy of Frank and The Daily Show. As we entered the security screening area at the Shrine Auditorium, I noticed the woman in front of me in line, in a flowing red dress. Looking way younger than her then 76 years, it was Cloris Leachman.

In 2004, I got to go to the Emmys again -- held on my birthday -- courtesy of TV Guide. As I sat inside the magazine's party, I watched coverage on the video monitors inside of party arrivals in front of the magazine's red carpet backdrop. Cloris Leachman looked fabulous. "She's 78 and has the legs of a showgirl," I remember saying to someone, who undoubtedly took me for the gayest person ever. Knowing I should quit before they take me to be too much of a gerontophile (this was 2 years before my Golden Girls book came out!), I stopped myself before revealing my knowledge that Cloris was, after all, a former Miss Chicago.

In the fall of 2006, I finally had the opportunity to meet Cloris; we were scheduled to do a long-form interview together, face to face, at a hotel in Los Angeles. Of course, Cloris has been an icon for so long, there was so much I wanted to talk about. Where to begin? Her Oscar win for 1971's The Last Picture Show? Her iconic sitcom role as Phyllis Lindstrom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and her own spinoff, Phyllis? Her absolutely brilliant comedic roles in Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein and High Anxiety, the latter of which, Nurse Diesel, Frank and I still imitate on an almost daily basis?

And then there are the campier pleasures: playing Ellen's mom on her second sitcom on CBS, or Beverly on The Facts of Life, or undead secretary Ellen Blunt in the cheesy telefilm Haunts of the Very Rich. And then there was Grandma Ida on Malcolm in the Middle, a role that earned Cloris her eighth primetime Emmy, setting a new record for the most wins.

Unfortunately, there wasn't time for most of that. Not just because Cloris has had such an amazing, long career -- but because when the woman finally showed up, she was almost four hours late. She was barefoot. And she was, even in person, the way she has appeared recently on TV: wacky, fun, jumpy and downright crazy.

It's obviously working. Cloris is everywhere lately. On Oprah's MTM show reunion (where she practically couch-jumped a la Tom Cruise and threatened to steal the show). In the just-released remake of The Women. In a filthy-mouthed appearance on the Comedy Central roast of Bob Saget, where her quip "For the love of God, would somebody please punch me in the face so I can see some stars" landed her in Entertainment Weekly's Sound Bites column.

At 82, is anyone else -- other than Cloris' former MTM costar, 86-year-old Betty White -- more gainfully employed in Hollywood? And does anyone else look as good as Cloris does, in the below clip from last night's Dancing with the Stars? Heck, would any other octogenarian even get cast on a show where one might be in danger of breaking a hip -- and then go on, as in the clip below, to attempt to sway the judges with an upraised leg or some down-tilted cleavage?

Cloris, I love you. Stay crazy!

So about those Emmys...

I'm not going to get into how much everyone's saying that, with some notable exceptions like Ricky Gervais and Don Rickles, the telecast sucked. Or how this 60th anniversary show, which should have been more celebratory about TV, notched the Emmys' lowest ratings in history -- even lower than the previous record-holding year, 1990.

What I want to ask is, did anyone else notice a disturbing misogynist note to the whole affair? First the script called for several males to rip the outfit off of their sole female cohost, Heidi Klum. Later in the evening, another bit called for poor Tom Bergeron, a genuine nice guy, to drop her to the floor. And then there was that moment -- again, pre-planned! -- with Craig Ferguson's hand supposedly on Brooke Shields' ass. (Have I missed any more?)

Did we really need to stoop to that? To take Brooke Shields, a smart, accomplished, beautiful woman on a hit show, and turn her into a 6-foot cheesecake model to be groped for a joke? Do we men, now that our economy is a mess and our banks are failing, suddenly need to reassert our "power" and dominance over our women to make ourselves feel better? And do it on national TV, as an example for the next generation?

All I can say is, thank god nobody trivialized or objectified my girl Tina Fey -- at least that I could see on camera. Nobody puts multiple-Emmy winning genius Tina in a corner!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sam Page Goes "Mad"

If you were watching last night's Emmy Awards, you must have realized that AMC smartly held off on airing a new episode of Mad Men, pushing the show's schedule back by one week so as to avoid head-to-head competition with the awards show -- on which Mad Men ended up winning the top prize for best drama.

And if you watched Mad Men the week before, you must also have noticed the adorable actor playing Joan's fiance, Dr. Greg Harris, and wondered why he looks familiar. Back when Sam Page was a regular during the first season of the now-cancelled James Woods procedural Shark on CBS, I had the chance to interview him over lunch for CBS' Watch magazine. Click here for a link to the story, for some more info on this cute new guy to whom my fave secretary Joan is betrothed.

Sundays at 10 PM Eastern

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Today in TV History: Will & Grace

On this date in 1998, Will & Grace debuted on NBC.

The first network comedy created with a gay lead character, Will & Grace took the mantle from Ellen, the ABC sitcom which had broadcast its final episode just months earlier. Ellen DeGeneres' title character Ellen Morgan had famously come out the year before, in 1997's codenamed "The Puppy Episode," and spent her fifth and final season on the air in a midlife search for lesbian love and acceptance. Now, in the fall of 1998, the road had been paved through primetime for two new iconic gay regular characters: Will Truman, a somewhat conservative gay lawyer, and Jack McFarland, his much more flamboyant actor friend and confidant.

Over the course of its eight seasons, Will & Grace would go on to win 16 Emmys, including awards for each of its four lead actors -- a feat previously accomplished only by All In the Family and The Golden Girls. Back in July, I attended a panel at the Television Critics Association conference in Los Angeles for W&G star Debra Messing's new series The Starter Wife, which premieres on the USA Network on Friday, October 10. Is there any hope, I asked her, for a Will-and-Grace-and-Jack-and-Karen reunion? "I
would be game," Messing said. But, she noted, "it's a little tricky because the finale
played with time, and they showed what happened 25 years
ahead. So it's a little difficult to see how that
would be possible."

When I interviewed her for my book, Will & Grace: Fabulously Uncensored (see photo below), I remembered Messing rhapsodizing about how much she misses living in New York City. It sounded at the time like she planned to head back East the moment Will & Grace took its final curtain call. But The Starter Wife miniseries was shot in Australia, and now the series version will be headquartered in L.A. So, I asked her, what happened?

"You know, life unfolds the way it's going to unfold. This was here, and so [New York] will just be postponed for a little bit," the actress explained. "I do still want to get back on stage, and I can't fathom the future without envisioning spending a significant amount of time in New York, because it really does feel like my home," she added. And so while now, at the time of the tenth anniversary of this hilarious show's debut, it sounds like there may never be another gathering of Will & Grace's four groundbreaking gays and gals, at least there will probably be a time in the near future when real-life New York City will get its Grace back.

At the Barnes & Noble Union Square, New York for a signing of my book, Will & Grace: Fabulously Uncensored, September 2004.

Photo by Scott Kahn.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Today In TV History: The Cosby Show

On this date in 1984, The Cosby Show premiered on NBC, and changed America's feelings about the sitcom in general. Before Cosby, the network was already airing quality (but largely unsung) half-hours like Cheers and Family Ties; but only after Cliff and Clair Huxtable and their Brooklyn brood became immediate sensations did NBC build a Thursday night lineup which would come to be called "Must-See TV."

Last fall, I had the opportunity to sit down for an interview with Phylicia Rashad, aka the Huxtable family mom, Clair, for the Archive of American Television. Here, in this six-minute excerpt, Ms. Rashad talks about The Cosby Show, its popularity and especially its impact.

Friday, September 19, 2008

In Honor of The Emmys

In honor of the 60th Annual Emmy Awards Telecast, which airs Sunday at 8 PM on ABC, I thought I'd drag out a fun clip from the archive -- The Archive of American Television, to be exact -- of a true TV pioneer.

After having grown up in Illinois and then LA, Betty White got her start in local TV, and was quite literally in front of the camera when they first turned it on in the 1940s. She won her first Emmy for her 1952 sitcom Life With Elizabeth, and in a vintage '70s clip in the video below, wins her second 22 years later for her role as the Happy Homemaker/Neighborhood Nymphomaniac Sue Ann Nivens on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. (She would go on to win two more -- one for playing Rose Nylund The Golden Girls, and another for playing herself playing Rose Nylund on an episode of The John Larroquette Show.) My favorite part? How Betty refers to Zsa Zsa Gabor chummily as "Zsazh." Is Hollywood a small town or what?

Emmy Archive: Betty White
Emmy Archive: Betty White

The 60th Annual Emmy Awards
Sunday, September 21
8 PM Eastern