Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Catch Me "Under the Pink Carpet"

Starting this past spring, fabulous and gay comic actor Leslie Jordan began touring America with a show based on his memoir, My Trip Down the Pink Carpet. I had first met Leslie back in 2004, when I was writing my book on Will & Grace, and was thrilled to get the chance to interview him about his portrayal of Karen Walker's thrillingly bitchy and impish nemesis, Beverly Leslie.

Back in April, Leslie launched his tour here in New York City, with a performance to benefit the Harvey Milk High School. At the party afterward, I was briefly interviewed for this segment of Clover Honey and Tony Sawicki's fun cable show, Under the Pink Carpet, about just what makes every character Leslie plays -- now including Brother Boy on Del Shores' campy and addictive Southern sitcom Sordid Lives, which I hope LOGO has the good sense to renew! -- so much fun to watch.



Monday, October 27, 2008

Before the Race with... Ty and Aja


Ty White & Aja Benton
5th Team eliminated,



This past April, as The Amazing Race's eleven teams prepared for their upcoming adventure, I had the opportunity to sit with each one. As I met team after team, I was often impressed by their skills and determination. Yet only one team would ultimately bring home the $1 million prize.

This past Sunday, we saw the fifth elimination of this season (following Arthur & Anita, Anthony & Stephanie, Bill & Mark and Marisa & Brooke.) Ty White and Aja Benton are college sweethearts from the University of Michigan, who have had to go it as a long-distance couple ever since Aja moved out to LA to pursue her dreams as an actress and makeup artist while banker Ty remained in Detroit. As I sat with them this past spring -- on the day the teams got their first glimpses of each other -- I observed them snuggled close, holding hands, just happy to be in the same room again together. I asked about their relationship, and just why they thought they would win The Amazing Race.


Must Hear TV: You guys have been dating for nine months but never lived together during that time. So this will be your first chance in a while to spend a good chunk of time together. Is that a good thing?

Aja Benton: It’s a good thing.
Ty White: We’re looking forward to it. We’re very positive.



MHTV: What if you find out you’re not compatible?

TW: We’re hoping that that’s not the case, but if it is, friendship is always a possibility.



MHTV: What are your strengths as a couple and as a team?

TW: We’re determined.



MHTV: Yeah, they all say they’re all determined. Come on. What else?

TW: I’m competitive. I don’t like to lose. I’m going to stick it to the other teams in order to win.



MHTV: What does that mean? Will you go as far as sabotage?

AB: Yeah!
TW: Absolutely. I’m not going to do it outright, because I don’t want to, by sabotaging one team, make nine other teams say, “Look out for them!” It will be underhandedly, and there’ll be a time and place where one team will unfortunately discover my wrath. And hopefully they won’t take it too personally. It’s all in the spirit of the game.



MHTV: What are your other strengths? You’re younger than a lot of the people on this race. And you seem physically fit.

TW: I’ve noticed that. I think that some of the older teams, they’re going to be more methodical, more calculating and maybe not have the instinct that we might have, where the impulses just kick in.



MHTV: Or the strength. This game requires a lot of running around.

TW: Yes. And I’m hoping that pays off for us. I don’t know what they have in store for us, so maybe all of that won’t really matter. Or maybe if it does, it’ll come into effect and help us out a lot, because we’ll be able to use that to our advantage.
AB: And we’re extremely intelligent too. And we work really well together. Because we’re in a long-distance relationship, we communicate in a way that isn’t as easy. Other people see each other every day, so for us, it might be easier for us to work together, because we haven’t gotten tired of each other. Or we haven’t argued as much as the other people have.



MHTV: And you’ve probably had to do a little bit more soul-searching about the relationship to keep it going.

TW: Absolutely. We have to come up with creative ways of being together and staying together. It’s easy when you see someone every day to take them for granted. And us being far apart, we have to come up with all different kinds of ways. Sleeping on the phone together, trying to get closer. Talking. She calls me all the time at work, and text messages. You wouldn’t want to see the amount of text messages we send.



MHTV: Have you traveled abroad together?

AB: We haven’t done much of that. We went to Vegas together once.



MHTV: That doesn’t count, drunken revelry. I mean hard stuff.

TW: Nothing difficult.



MHTV: Have you traveled individually a lot? What did you learn in other countries to apply here?

TW: She has, but I wouldn’t count where I’ve been – Canada and Puerto Rico.
AB: I studied abroad in Ghana for 5 months. And I know how to adapt and assimilate to a certain extent, and submerge yourself in a culture. Especially when you’re trying to accomplish tasks, you have to be careful not to offend people and not to insult their culture.
TW: I’m sure that’s going to play a role.



MHTV: Of the teams I’ve met so far, you’re the only African-Americans. Will that be an advantage or disadvantage?

AB: We’re the only people of color. I was surprised.
TW: I would say I was very surprised, but I like to put a positive spin on it. I’m a glass half full guy. I look at things and I try to figure out how that might play to our advantage, as opposed to disadvantage. And I see us being in other countries where they won’t automatically just assume that we’re American. I’m sure there is some country where we, just the way we carry ourselves, will be obvious.



MHTV: Well, you’ll be carrying around giant backpacks, and followed by a cameraman, so I think they’ll figure it out…

TW: Exactly. But I like to think that it’ll help us out. Especially I like to think somewhere in the African countries. That’ll definitely help us out and play to our advantage. It might be a disadvantage in other countries. I’m looking forward to being everywhere and I think that I’m looking at it and thinking our race may help us.



MHTV: How do your families back in Michigan feel about this?

AB: They’re excited.
TW: Mom is thrilled, my sister is thrilled, and Dad isn’t so excited.
AB: He’s a real skeptic.



MHTV: Well you’re leaving a good job to go do this, in banking.

TW: Yes, and he’s conventional. He does everything by the book, and he’s always been like, “This is my life, this is what I’m going to do.” They’ve always known me to be the one who’s eventually going to take some risk and do something crazy. This just happened to come up, and he’s like, “Rather than working, you’d like to chase this?” But I say, work will be there. I’m coming back. Maybe, hopefully, in a more advanced role. You’ve got to chase some dreams, and you’ve got to do some things to try to leave a mark somewhere.



MHTV: How did you get time out of your lives to do this?

TW: By coming up with a crazy story for work for why I had to leave. I had to tell them – it was the most ridiculous story. I was like, Mom’s sick, and I have to go help.



MHTV: What a horrible, superstitious lie to have to tell!

TW: I just had to come up with the most ridiculous thing I could tell them. And luckily my boss’ boss likes me, and so he was like take care of what you have to take care of, and just come back when you’re ready.



MHTV: So when he tunes in, will he be pissed?

TW: He’ll probably be a little peeved, but I’m going to tell him in a fashion, probably a couple of weeks before we’re on the air. When they tell us we can tell, I’m going to tell him.



MHTV: What was your audition video like?

AB: I was on the beach. It was really silly. I was talking about how I was going to swim to him if they didn’t put us on the show. How I was just going to get over there to him. And how we really needed to do [the show] so that we could spend time together.
TW: I think that’s what actually gave us a leg up on everyone else. I don’t know the dynamics of anyone else’s relationship, but I believe that us being in a long-distance relationship, I think them wanting to see us together and how we interact. I’m sure they want to see if we argue. But I’m excited about it. This whole experience has already been great and wonderful, and I wouldn’t want to spend it with anyone else.





Season 13
Sundays at 8 PM Eastern
CBS

Friday, October 24, 2008

Breaking News: NBC Rearranges the Deck Chairs

With so many of its freshman and sophomore shows in a downward ratings spiral, NBC is doing some much needed rethinking. So to rescue Life from its Friday night slot-of-death, the network is shifting it to what it's calling an "All New Crime Block Lineup" on Wednesday nights, to air between the mystifyingly-full-season-ordered Knight Rider and the soon-to-return venerable Law & Order flagship.

That might seem like a problem for Lipstick Jungle, which now inherits the Friday night berth, but the news might not be so bad; "chick shows" like Ghost Whisperer on CBS and, in years past on NBC, Providence tend to be the things that work best on the first night of the weekend.

In fact, Lipstick Jungle now unfortunately will go head-to-head with another new "chick" show I like, The Ex List. I want 'em both to make it, and I'll be rooting for Brooke Shields and Co., with their show which is fun and shot right here in NYC. But NBC, did you have to give this sexy, urbane Jungle a desert island of a lead-in, with ancient demographics, like Crusoe?

Okay, everyone -- time to go reorder your season passes on your TiVo!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NBC ANNOUNCES PRIMETIME SCHEDULE CHANGES: ‘LAW & ORDER’ PREMIERES WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 5, FOLLOWING ‘KNIGHT RIDER’ AND ‘LIFE’ IN ALL NEW CRIME BLOCK LINEUP AND ‘LIPSTICK JUNGLE’ JOINS FRIDAY LINEUP ON OCTOBER 31

‘Momma’s Boys’ Premiere Moves to Tuesday, December 16 After ‘The Biggest Loser’ Finale

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. -- NBC adds more drama to its Wednesday night schedule when an all-new season of "Law & Order" premieres Wednesday, November 5, (10-11 p.m. ET), following "Knight Rider" (8-9 p.m. ET) and "Life" (9-10 p.m. ET) in its new day and time period. Likewise, the network also re-shapes Fridays with "Lipstick Jungle" stepping in behind "Crusoe," (9-10 p.m. ET) beginning Friday, October 31 (10-11 p.m. ET).

In addition, "Momma's Boys" – from executive producers Ryan Seacrest and Andrew Glassman -- will now debut Tuesday, December 16 (10-11 p.m. ET) after the season finale of "The Biggest Loser" (8-10 p.m. ET). The alternative series will then return in its regular day and time of Mondays beginning December 22 (9-10 p.m. ET) after "Heroes" ends its current volume on December 15. ("Momma's Boys'" previously announced debut date was Wednesday, November 12).

The announcements were made by Ben Silverman and Marc Graboff, Co-Chairmen, NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios.

"These moves will play to the shows' mutual strengths and will help us to reinforce our lineup," said Silverman and Graboff. "A Wednesday night with wall-to-wall satisfying mysteries and great dramas -- paced by the return of the original 'Law & Order' to its home on Wednesdays – will provide creative continuity that night. Fridays will feature escapist drama with 'Lipstick Jungle' joining 'Crusoe.' Additionally, this strategy for 'Momma's Boys' offers the show a more favorable launch platform."

"Law & Order," the longest-running crime series and the second-longest-running drama series in the history of television, enters its 19th season with returning characters Detective Cyrus Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) and partner, Detective Kevin Bernard (Anthony Anderson), who investigate crimes and apprehend suspects under the supervision of their precinct lieutenant, Anita Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson). Chief Assistant District Attorney Michael Cutter (Linus Roache) and the Executive Assistant District Attorney Connie Rubirosa (Alana De La Garza) are back maneuvering within a complicated justice system to prosecute the accused under the guidance of District Attorney Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston). The show is a Wolf Films production in association with Universal Media Studios. Dick Wolf is creator and executive producer; Rene Balcer, Fred Berner and Peter Jankowski are the executive producers.Airing in the Wednesday 10-11 p.m. (ET) hour last season, "Law & Order" averaged a 3.3 rating, 8 share in adults 18-49 and 10.8 million viewers overall, a 22 percent increase in 18-49 and a 20 percent jump in total viewers versus its results for the prior season, when it ran on Friday nights.

The Wall Street Journal called "Life" "...a steady burn – of talent, of smart writing, of chemical reactions." The New York Daily News called it "brilliant" and "sizzling" and the Dallas Morning News called it "a new-age 'Rockford Files.'"

The New York Daily News said "Lipstick' stands alone this year as heir to the 'Sex and the City' legacy - glamorous, successful women living, losing, loving and most of all bonding in the big city." In Touch Weekly said of "Lipstick Jungle": "The sexy, stylish show hits its stride in its second season."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Update for NO on Prop 8

I just corresponded with Evan Wolfson, the brains behind the fantastic organization Freedom to Marry, asking what more can we all do to make sure to defeat the hateful Proposition 8. His main suggestion: go to the No On Prop 8 web site.

On the easy-to-use site, you can send out either a pre-written or your own customized email to friends and relatives in California, explaining just why this ballot measure has to be defeated. Please, everyone -- this is the time to explain to that elderly aunt on the West Coast why she needs to stand up for equal rights for all!

The other important things we can all do, all of which are available on the No On Prop 8 site, are of course to contribute financially, to enable the No campaign to counteract those horrible pro-Prop ads running incessantly on TV.

And also, you can volunteer to work the phone bank, reaching out to CA households.

Let's step up, all of us -- Californians or no. (And no, I'm not forgetting that anti-gay amendments are up for vote in Florida and Arizona as well!)

As Evan signed off his email to me,
"We can win -- but it's close."

Before the Race with... Marisa & Brooke

Marisa Axelrod & Brooke Jackson
4th Team eliminated,







This past April, as The Amazing Race's eleven teams prepared for their upcoming adventure, I had the opportunity to sit with each one. As I met team after team, I was often impressed by their skills and determination. Yet only one team would ultimately bring home the $1 million prize.

This past Sunday, we saw the fourth elimination of this season (following Arthur & Anita, Anthony & Stephanie, and Bill & Mark.) Marisa Axelrod and Brooke Jackson are two best friends from South Carolina, who brought to the race a blend of Southern charm and dogged determination. As I sat with them this past spring -- on the day the teams got their first glimpses of each other -- I asked about their friendship, and just why they thought they would win The Amazing Race.


Must Hear TV: How do you two know each other?

Brooke Jackson: We’ve been friends for 4 years.
Marisa Axelrod: We met at football game, where we were wearing the same outfit.



MHTV: Was it a pink outfit?

MA: No, it wasn’t pink. It was jeans and little black boots and a black top. The same exact outfit. Brooke had her hair all curled, and the same kind of makeup.



MHTV: You do look a lot alike.

MA: We get people thinking we’re sisters a lot.
BJ: You’re not going to be able to miss us. All of our outfits are hot pink. We match the whole time.



MHTV: So on the Race, you two are going to stand out and make a statement. What will that statement be?

BJ: We’re a lot rougher than we look.
MA: We are the sweet southern belles who smile and giggle, but when it gets down to it, we’re competitive. We’ll fight and do whatever.



MHTV: When you talked about outfits, will this trip require you bringing a lot of clothes and makeup that will take up a lot of space in your pack?

MA: The night before we left we spent the night together. I don’t know where I thought I was going. I had five pair of Prada shoes, Gucci perfume, makeup, everything. So we condensed it down.
BJ: We’re not going to be worried about looks.
MA: Not at all. I think that’s going to shock a lot of people too. They’re going to think Brooke and I are these two blondes.
BJ: They’re going to think the whole time we’re freaking out because we can’t get our makeup on.
MA: But they’ll be surprised. She went to Spain, and knows how to speak Spanish. I know a little Swahili, and speak a little Hebrew from going to Israel a few summers ago. So we’re not dumb.
BJ: They might think we are.



MHTV: Can you use that to your advantage? The blonde girly girl thing?

MA: Let them think that – that’s one of our strategies.
BJ: We’re a lot tougher. We’re very deceiving and aggressive. We are these sweet little girls, but this is a race and we want to win.



MHTV: Have you sized up the competition? Who will be your friends, or your enemies? How do you think you can beat them?

BJ: We did spot two guys, we think they’re younger than us. [Andrew & Dan] We think we can flirt with them and form a little alliance.
MA: I think the guy in the red [T-shirt] and his mom [Dallas & Toni]. I think the guy is hot. And his mom, she’s a sweet little mom.
BJ: And she can be our mommy on the trip. I’m sure there are people who are not going to like us. I’m not even afraid to go in the guy/girl relationships, and… [After all], there are going to be the ones who are going to be fighting.



MHTV: Are you willing to flirt with the guys on other teams in front of their Race partners?

Both: Definitely.
MA: I think that’s one of our advantages. Brooke is a graphic designer. She’ll pay very close attention to reading the clues and all the important details. As far as me, I dance and am very athletic. I am kind of the blunt one. I don’t know whether that’s a good or bad thing. I use my mouth when I shouldn’t. I’m not afraid to do things like that, and she’s not either.



MHTV: Will you use your feminine wiles to get ahead?

MA: Oh yeah.
BJ: In certain countries, they worship blondes. So we’re hoping we go to some of those countries.
MA: We’re very friendly. You’ll always see us smiling -- unless we miss a flight.
BJ: Then we’ll cry. That’s one of the weaknesses. We’ll bust out a tear in any situation.



MHTV: Have you traveled together to foreign countries before?

BJ: We’ve never been out of the country together. We came out here to California for a week together before this.
MA: We don’t live together but are pretty much together every day. We’ve never had a fight. Ever. If Brooke yelled at me I think I might start laughing.
BJ: I never fought with any other friend either.



MHTV: So what if you get freaked out by having your first fight, and get distracted? How will you resolve conflict between you?

MA: Communicating is going to be the main key for us. And encouragement. We’re definitely going to encourage each other.
BJ: We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
MA: Exactly. And I won’t have to say anything. We look at each other and know what each other is thinking.



MHTV: What do your families think about you two competing in The Amazing Race?

MA: They are so excited. I think our moms are a little nervous.
BJ: We talk to them like ten times a day, so the idea that they won’t know where in the world we are, what we’re doing, where we’re sleeping at night -- they’re kind of freaked out. But they’re really excited for us.
MA: I think we’re going to shock a lot of people who think we could never bungee jump or skydive.



MHTV: Have you practiced anything? Have you trained for the Race?

MA: We’ve been running, working out. Brooke learned how to drive stick shift. We’ve watched about five seasons of show and taken notes. We’ve definitely prepared both mentally and physically. I think this is more of a mind game. I don’t think you have to be that physically fit. It’s more about how your mind works, and thinking out of the box.



MHTV: That’s true, because in past seasons some of the older competitors have gotten very far. You’re among the youngest not only this season but ever. Will your youthful strength be one of the things that carries you to the million dollar finish?

BJ: We’re hoping that it’s our strength and energy.
MA: We have a lot of energy.



MHTV: Anything else you have to predict about the Race?

Both: Only that we’re going to be the first all-girl team to win!

Season 13
Sundays at 8 PM Eastern
CBS

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Take it from Ellen -- Please vote NO on Prop 8!

Today on her national talk show, Ellen DeGeneres wisely took to task Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin, and Palin's avowed support for a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Take a look:



Way to go, Ellen! And of course I agree: I don't see how your relationship with Portia -- or mine with Frank -- has any affect at all on the "institution" of marriage, or any individual straight couple's union. Does my getting married here in NYC suddenly make some Iowa couple's marriage certificate burst into flames?

The Constitution of the United States is a sacred document. It's right up there with the Bible in the short list of the greatest works of God or Mankind. So far, apart from that dalliance we had with Prohibition in the '20s, it has remained unsullied, an ideal for civilizations across the globe in providing and maintaining our inalienable freedoms.

What the Constitution is not is a blank canvas to be sprayed with hate graffiti. We as a nation and as a species cannot support any politician who advocates writing hate speech, writing discrimination, into this sacred text. Or, for that matter, scapegoating any particular group in order to secure power; have we learned nothing since WWII? Remember, if today it's the gays losing their rights, who's next? It could be you, via whatever ethnic or religious group to which you belong by accident of birth, or via whatever sexual identity or handicap you were assigned, as even the right-wingers who hate gays would have to admit, by God.

Forty-some years ago, the ignorant among Americans expressed concern -- or did worse -- to suppress another supposed marital sin, "miscegenation." Today, those people are the villains in our history books and in our hearts. This election season, the state of California, which recently by state supreme court decree legalized gay unions, faces a new challenge: ballot referendum "Proposition 8," which aims to override that decision, and roll back the rights of so many citizens. To those Californians inclined to support the hateful Prop 8, I implore you: don't repeat the mistakes of the past. Save your future self the shame of this misplaced suspicion and hate. Save yourself the apologies you'll have to make, to your country, to your friends, and to the scared gay members of your own family, in this generation and the next.

Sarah Palin has gone to great lengths to put forth that she has a lesbian friend -- a best friend, she says. And yet, even as she professes her love and support for her friend, Palin is ready to strip away her rights, and make her a permanent second-class citizen in the highest rule of law in the land. Professing loyalty while all the while betraying; isn't this just what Judas did? Sarah Palin is at the very least a bad friend. Let's not make her a bad VP or, God forbid, president.

But Palin aside, we must realize we are living in historic times. And for better or worse, Proposition 8 will be part of that history. We Americans -- and you in California in particular -- have the chance on November 4 to stand up for freedom, and to set this country and by example the world on the course to true peace. Please, California -- vote No on Proposition 8, and show the world why we Americans deserve to call our country the Home of the Free and the Brave.

Breaking News: Curb Your Enthusiasm to return!

For Jay, who called into my Must Hear TV segment on The Frank DeCaro Show this afternoon, asking about the return of Curb Your Enthusiasm: news hot off the Variety press says that Curb is slated to go back into production in December, to make 10 episodes which will air in 2009.
Click here for the story.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Gimme Shelter (Island)


On last night's episode of How I Met Your Mother, Ted and Stella proceed to the altar in her dream wedding locale, Shelter Island.

It wasn't the first time the island, "sheltered" in between the north and south forks of New York state's Long Island, was used as a sitcom setting. Back in 2002, the gang from Will & Grace invaded the normally peaceful place, when Will rescued Karen from certain humiliation at the hands of Beverly Leslie by providing her with a partner for their country club's annual "spotlight dance" at Valentine's Day. Then, three seasons later, they returned and integrated the place with homos, as Will danced with Jack, and two closeted lesbians played by Chita Rivera and Michele Lee dared to tango.

But if you've ever been to the actual Shelter Island, you know that both shows took some liberties and/or got some things a little bit wrong. The place has very few commercial establishments, save for a few restaurants and a supermarket in a strip at its center, and I think one small restaurant/hotel in the ritzy Heights section. So it's not too likely that there would be a hippie/vegan lodge of the sort seen on HIMYM last night, with its hellish prohibitions on meat and ale. Moreover, Ted and the other characters kept saying they were going "up" to Shelter Island, which would imply north -- but the Island is several hours due east of Manhattan. When we New Yorkers venture to Long Island, we say we're going "out" to the Hamptons, Shelter Island or Montauk, not "up."

And I think poor Robin would be a little more pissed than she seemed to be at having traveled all that way, only to be uninvited upon her arrival. Yes, she was relieved not to have to watch her ex get married. But not only did she spend 24 hours, as she said, on a flight from Japan, but then, being that she probably flew into JFK, she then also spent several hours in a car to either Greenport (on the North Fork) or North Haven (on the South Fork.) From there, she had to wait for the passenger/car ferry service (the show got this part right), which would dump her at the base of Shelter Island Heights. Then, it's a hard-to-find taxi to wherever that hippie-dippie hotel was. And then, Ted uninvites her? I was pissed for her!

Poor Ted. He never should have shlepped a funny guy like Jason Jones out to see Stella. And poor Robin. As she watched Stella and Tony hug it out, that must have been one long ferry ride home.

Friday, October 17, 2008

And Now, a Word From...


Donald Todd
Executive Producer, ABC's Samantha Who?


Back in May, ABC announced a fall 2008 primetime schedule which notably and unfortunately contained only one regularly scheduled comedy. Then, in September, a few weeks before the network’s lone laffer Samantha Who was set to make its second season debut, I caught up with the show’s head writer/showrunner Donald Todd at the New York Television Festival.

Pre-Samantha, veteran TV writer Todd had been the man in charge of the short-lived but beloved Life As We Know It, and was most recently a writer on the first season of Ugly Betty. A few days after our talk, one of Todd’s actresses, Jean Smart, would go on to win a Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Emmy for her role as Samantha’s mother. Here, Todd talks about the process of producing this star vehicle for Smart and Christina Applegate, ABC’s sole sitcom success of the season.



Must Hear TV: Now that Samantha has survived her first season of amnesia, what are some of the things we can expect from her for season 2?


Donald Todd: One of my favorite episodes is the one we’re leading with, and that came from Christina. The dance episode ["So I Think I Can Dance."] Christina said to me last year, “Wouldn’t it be funny if she forgot how to dance?” That was it. So we developed this entire story that involved ballroom dancing and a massive amount of rehearsal. And she said to me during it, “I meant in the club, if I looked like a dork.” So we added that scene, too. The whole thing took two weeks of rehearsal. And it was very emotional for Christina, because she had not danced since Sweet Charity [on Broadway, in 2005], which had been such a high. So when we did this it was a big deal. And then Jean Smart who’s not a dancer has the fear of people who aren’t dancers of looking silly, so we worked very hard, and they did a great job. Cybill Shepherd, who had also never danced before, is in this episode. Dancing is scary. It’s exposing yourself. And people don’t like to do that. That episode was an example of amnesia playing into the story, but we also have episodes coming up that have absolutely nothing to do with that – it’s just a woman who’s naïve.



MHTV: So for that dance episode, you took something specific about amnesia – people can forget how to speak French, play the piano, how to dance – and turned that into a springboard for comedy. Is that a case where you researched that those are real, possible side-effects? Can those things happen?

DT: Absolutely. Oliver Sachs has written so much about the mind, such as how people can suddenly play music that they could never play. That kind of thing is bizarre. And we had to answer a lot of questions internally, and with the studio and network. They said, “Well how can you forget how to dance?“ And even in the room we discussed it a lot – does “forget how to dance” mean you don’t have the moves? Can you re-learn the moves, or is dance in your soul? Is it about innate talent? Those are big things -- that we then dismissed. In our rooms we have a lot of discussion but then at the end of the day we say, “we decide this” and now we move on. But at least it gets discussed. We want the show to be based in a reality. It’s not a fantasy. There are people who say that the audience will allow a show or movie one “fantasy buy.” And right now our buy is that this woman has amnesia. For example, Jason O’Mara’s character in [ABC’s new time-travel cop drama] Life On Mars. He’s going to get hit in the head and have a fantasy. But if he also met an alien, then you’re out of the show.



MHTV: You mentioned Oliver Sachs’ work. Do you have any medical or technical advisors on the show?

DT: Like most shows, Wikipedia is our technical advisor. They’re footnoted, so you can at least find the stuff. Amnesia is a condition that has so many manifestations that it’s hard to be wrong with what we do.



MHTV: So you have a big playing field. But how long can amnesia last? Does it force an expiration date for Samantha Who?

DT: We do have a lot to play with, but we also stay pretty much away from amnesia as a device for the stories. The character has amnesia, and we try to get some stories from that, but primarily it defines who she is. The fact that she doesn’t know who she was and has to redefine herself – that, you can do stories about forever. That’s what most series are. The Mary Tyler Moore Show is a good example. [Mary Richards] moved to Minneapolis, but she didn’t have to learn to speak. She just had to learn Minneapolis. And once she was in Minneapolis and had friends, it was a show about a woman who had friends but was still trying to find her way in the world. Samantha has an extreme version of “moving to Minneapolis.” And that allows us to tell stories that have an energy at the top right away. We’re not in 1970 anymore. We can’t just drift through and have people enjoy the characters. You have to fire into a story much more aggressively.



MHTV: So you have to ramp up the energy these days. Is that a function of our shorter attention spans?

DT: That, and the 50 years of watching television. We can easily talk about how the internet has ruined our attention spans, but I’ve seen a lot of sitcom stories before. I’m not going to watch them all again. So where do you get to your ideas? In this particular situation, we start with a core every single week of “Samantha needs to do something that was foreign to her.” And you could do that same show by putting someone literally in a foreign land, or just say she is in a foreign land every single day. So amnesia as a condition doesn’t affect her stories every single week, but she has it no matter what. So in season 7 she won’t be saying, “You know, I have amnesia.” Hopefully we’ll know in season 7 that her desire to change herself is moving along incrementally.



MHTV: And by season 7, will she ever become the bitch she once was? Is this a progression towards becoming a bitch again, or is she forever changed?

DT: I hope it’s a progression towards integration. I think that the fun dynamic in the show is the tension between who you want to be and who you are at the core. And the question is asked all the time: can I change who I am even if I want to? I think that’s what appeals to so many people. People often say, “Oh, I would do that so differently.” Maybe you wouldn’t. Maybe your life would go exactly the same way and you have no control over it. Maybe your life is predestined. That’s a big question to ask every single week, so we try to ask it silently of ourselves. If we ask the audience that, they would not watch. But that’s essentially what’s happening every week, the most existential question of being-ness – not a good title for the show, by the way. We rejected “Existential Being-ness” as a title.



MHTV: Test audiences didn’t respond to that, huh?

DT: I’ve been around long enough to know that test audiences like to know the name of the character. Hence “Samantha Who.” This season on the show, we have Samantha in a more aggressive approach to her life. Season 1 was – I hesitate to use the word “passive,” but she was in a receiving mode. She was finding out who she was. People came up to her and said things and she didn’t know if she had done these things. But in season 2 she says, “I can’t wait around forever, so I’m just going to make some choices.” And each week she’s going to make strong choices that are uninformed by any knowledge of who she was.



MHTV: When you talk about Samantha’s life as a voyage of self-discovery, that’s something so many people can relate to – particularly gay viewers. And with others shows on ABC like Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives, the network seems to be showing quite a gay sensibility lately. Is that something you’re conscious of?

DT: Is there a gay sensibility? Yeah. Relatability, though, is what it comes down to at the end. There are shows that are fantasy escape shows, but at the end of the day the successful shows are relatable on some level. Mothers and daughters, gay men, single women – whoever it is -- have to see themselves in the show. And if our show had some wilder elements, it might have even more gay appeal. But it’s not the kind of writing that I do.










Samantha Who?
Season 2
Mondays at 9:30 PM Eastern
ABC

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fremantle Media: Speak of the Devil

Wow, Ozzy Osbourne's album titles just lend themselves perfectly to titling this post about Fremantle, the company about to produce Ozzy and family's new variety show. I went with "Speak of the Devil," but "No Rest for the Wicked" was a close runner-up.

Take a look at this latest press release from the Writers' Guild, about how Fremantle is trying to chip away at hard-won fair wages for writers across the entertainment industry -- and let me know if I made the right call on the title.


To Our Fellow Members,

Last week, you may have become aware of our ongoing dispute with Tyler Perry's production companies, which fired four writers because of their efforts to organize Perry's series, House of Payne. Pickets were up at his new studio's grand opening Saturday night in Atlanta.

Now, we write to inform you of another labor dispute.

Fox has ordered a primetime comedy-variety show featuring Ozzy Osbourne and his family, and has engaged FremantleMedia North America, the company behind American Idol, to produce it. Because they wanted to hire WGA members to write the show, Fremantle contacted the WGAW to see if we would agree to a sub-standard contract. Attempting to pay as little as possible to the writers on the show, Fremantle asked to treat it as "half-scripted" and pay greatly reduced writing fees to those writers who wrote skits, interview material, intros, and "outros." Although all of the writing on the show is of a type traditionally covered by our MBA (in such shows as The Carol Burnett Show and Laugh-In), Fremantle wanted to treat certain portions of the show as "reality content," not cover the writers who create it, and lower the compensation of the WGA-covered writers, arguing that they would only be responsible for writing part of the show.

We refused to agree to such a deal because it would drastically undermine hard-won minimums and standards. While we have covered some shows produced by Fremantle, they insist that other shows, including American Idol, The Price is Right, and Million Dollar Password, do not have writers and should not be covered by a WGA contract.

Now it is clear that Fremantle's intention is to bring their low cost, non-union business model into traditional genres – first game shows, then comedy-variety. Soon, no WGA-covered writing will be safe from their aggressive undermining of our contract. We cannot allow this encroachment to continue.

Accordingly, WGA East and West members may not write for the Osbourne variety show (working title: The Osbournes: Loud and Dangerous). Any members who perform writing services on that show do so at their own peril as they will be violating WGA Working Rule 8 and could be fined up to 100% of their compensation for that work. Both Guilds notified agents and other representatives of this development through an Action Alert issued yesterday.

The alert also reminded agents that they cannot send clients who are members of either Guild to write for Tyler Perry's production companies. The WGAW has filed unfair labor practice charges based on the unlawful discharge of the House of Payne writers and continuing bad faith bargaining. Members who accept these jobs will also be in violation of Working Rule 8.

We believe that denying Fremantle and Tyler Perry members of the Writers Guilds East and West may convince them that they will be unable to produce professional quality entertainment content and that they will see the wisdom and creative advantages of signing a WGA contract.

There is already far too much writing done in our business by men and women without WGA benefits. We cannot let writers of sitcoms and comedy-variety programming join their ranks, as we also work to reduce the amount of animation, reality, nonfiction, and other so-called "non-scripted" writing not covered by a WGA contract.

Thanks for your attention and your continued support.


Best,


Patric M. Verrone
President, WGAW

Michael Winship
President, WGAE

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Just a Late-Occurring Thought About This Week's True Blood

In case you haven't seen this past Sunday's episode (10/5) of HBO's True Blood ...



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Okay then. I know Bill was so hungry on his return home from battle that he and all his senses were concentrated on the yummy eggs and toast that the "widow" was cooking up on the hearth.

But didn't he at any point smell the three or four rotting corpses up in the loft? That must have been a pretty overwhelming stench.

Just wondering.



Oh, by the way, I just want to go on the record and say: I'm pretty sure I've figured out who the killer is (and no, I've never read any of the Sookie Stackhouse books. But if you think about the last few episodes, it's actually quite obvious!)

And did anybody notice the guest spot by William Schallert -- i.e., Patty Duke Show dad Martin Lane -- as the mayor of Bon Temps?! It's a long way (and it's been more than 4 decades) between Brooklyn Heights and Louisiana!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

And Now, a Word From...





Chris Diamantopoulos
Actor, USA's The Starter Wife


Back in July, NBC and its sister cable network USA paraded the stars of the new series The Starter Wife in front of the press at the Television Critics' Conference. I quickly cornered handsome Chris Diamantopoulos at the networks' party, to ask about his experience in this series version of the hit miniseries, where as a straight actor -- in real-life he's married to the fabulous Becki Newton of Ugly Betty -- he's taking on one of this season's highest-profile new gay characters.

As The Starter Wife goes to series, Diamantopoulos' Rodney finally has gotten his interior design business back on track. But his personal life, as always, is another story. He's got a new crush, which would be fine if Felix Jones, the hunky action movie hero, wasn't straight or Rodney's newest and biggest interior design client for that matter. I asked Chris whether maybe this time Rodney can just get the job done without losing his shirt—or his heart.


Must-Hear TV: Chris, first of all -- Becki Newton! You're married to gay favorite Amanda. Is Marc jealous?

Chris Diamantopoulos: Yes, my wife Becki is the amazing Amanda on Ugly Betty. Let us all bow down now. And as fabulous as you think she is watching her, that isn’t the one one millionth of how fabulous she is in person. She’s spectacular.


MHTV: In the promos that USA will be running for The Starter Wife, your character Rodney is right in there -- just as the voice-over says the words "coming out." What can you tell us about Rodney's upcoming life?

CD: Rodney is one of Debra Messing’s character Molly's very best friends. I’m an interior designer, and I find myself in a very clandestine affair with someone whom I can’t name. But what I can say is that if the affair were ever to come out, it would destroy this person’s high-profile career.


MHTV: Well can you tell us -- is Rodney's lover character Felix played by a high-profile actor?

CD: He's played by a wonderful actor. I’d like to think that he’s a high profile actor, but... We won’t be having Mel Gibson on the show.


MHTV: One of the criticisms gay audiences in particular often leveled at Debra's last series, Will & Grace, was that gay character Will never got any action with boyfriends. Will we see Rodney gettin' some?

CD: [On this show] I am shirtless and half naked for more than I’ve ever been in my entire life. In the miniseries, because it was so nuclear about the Molly character, Rodney could have been seen as sort of a satellite, and there wasn’t too much delving into what was going on into his life. [But now that we've gone to series,] the first item of business that Sara [Parriott] and Josie [McGibbon], the creators, worked on was creating real three dimensional characters out of these satellites, and they’ve done a wonderful job. Now, Rodney gets to be one of the girls when he’s with Joan and Molly, but you also see him in his business life, and his romantic life. What I love that they’ve done with Rodney is they’ve created this real gay character. In that yes, he’s gay, but his sexuality is only one part of who he is. That having been said, it’s not like it’s a non-existent part. We definitely see what Rodney wants, and what he wants to get.


MHTV: As far as you know, on USA are there any limits as to what Rodney can or cannot do -- for example, physically, on a date?

CD: That's a very good question. We’re pushing it. I’ll say from an actor’s perspective, they’re challenging me appropriately. They do a great job in the writing of both Debra’s romantic trysts and Rodney’s romantic trysts, and actually Joan’s romantic trysts, creating a dance that makes, I believe and I hope, the audience want to tune in and see more. Showing just enough and then maybe going over the line, and then making you expect more.


MHTV: Pre-Rodney, had you ever played a gay character before?

CD: I have. I played a gay character on Broadway and I’ve played a gay character on TV. I was in The Full Monty on Broadway.


MHTV: Actually, then I must have seen you!

CD: Then you saw all of me. That was good fun. Then in the season 2 premiere of Nip/Tuck I played a gay character.


MHTV: I've heard that even in 2008, agents will sometimes advise an actor not to play gay more than once. Did you experience any pressure like that?

CD: I could be totally wrong, but I think that that’s so passé. I think it should always come down to the writing. If it’s in the writing and you can create something that’s interesting for you as an actor to play, if you can have a good time at work, if you can say something that you feel is the right thing to be said, then that’s how you should pick the role. I forget who it was that said it’s location, paycheck and script. If you can get 2 of those, you’re in a good place. And I always look at the script first.


MHTV: That's what attracted you to The Starter Wife?

CD: Yes, that they’ve written Rodney as a real person. The first time it was a real opportunity to work with Debra, to work with Judy, to go to Australia. "This is great fun." At the time we had no idea that it was going to be a series. Then, when they came to me and said, "We’re shooting a series in LA," the first thing I thought was, “I get to say Josie’s and Sara’s lines again.” And yes, there weren’t many of them in the miniseries, but boy whatever there were were very well crafted. I knew that they weren’t going to let me down. If they were going to create this character for real, they were really going to create a lasting character, someone to whom gay audience and straight audiences could relate.


MHTV: Do you have gay friends relating to the character, or even thanking you for the portrayal?

CD: I have plenty of gay friends, and none of them thanked me for it, that’s for sure.


MHTV: Jealous actors, cursing you for getting the part they wanted?

CD: Absolutely. But they enjoyed it. I think the miniseries really served a function of entertainment. Maybe from Debra’s perspective of being the Starter Wife, there was probably some sort of therapeutic angle for women who find themselves in that sort of situation. But as far as my character, I was there to support Debra. This time around, I think there's going to be something more.




The Starter Wife
Series Premiere
Friday, October 10
9 PM Eastern
USA Network

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Little Ditty About Jack and Karen

When I logged onto AOL this morning, I saw a teaser quoting a National Enquirer story which claims that NBC is eager to put together a pilot for a potential Will & Grace spinoff, to star Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally's characters Jack McFarland and Karen Walker.

Now I'm not one to believe the Enquirer -- or AOL's shoddy news reporting, for that matter. But let's take this seriously for a moment, and realize -- it sounds like a really bad idea. For every rare hit spinoff like Frasier was from Cheers, there's a Joey or reaching back even further, a Golden Palace or an AfterM*A*S*H.

And there are some good reasons to be skeptical about this rumor. For one thing, just last week it was announced that Megan Mullally has already signed on to star in an ABC pilot, In the Motherhood, opposite Cheryl Hines and Chelsea Handler.

Plus, there's the issue of Will & Grace's terrible series finale. Back in July, I asked Debra Messing at the Television Critics' Conference if there might ever be a Will & Grace reunion. Never say never, she basically said -- but she pointed out that the series finale wrapped up the show's storyline so far in the future that any reunion would be logically problematic, if not impossible.

The same can be said for Jack and Karen. Didn't we see Jack financially forced to marry Beverly Leslie, only to be thrilled when a freak windstorm swept the little guy off their balcony? And then we saw Jack and Karen, together again, living off Beverly's estate? Jack, with touches of gray in his hair now -- and Karen, hilariously looking exactly the same?

I had very mixed feelings about the Will & Grace series finale, because in its attempt to set up a "meet cute" for Will's son Ben and Grace's daughter Lila, the episode contradicted several key facts we already knew about our titular twosome. Despite the finale's assertion to the contrary, Will and Grace had not earlier been said to have been freshman hallmates; he was even probably a year or two ahead of her. Instead, it had been established, including during the two-parter where Grace married Leo, that Will and Grace first met at a party on a New York rooftop. But I digress.

It would probably be best to let Jack and Karen rest, in whatever boozy state they're lounging around in in the TV ether. But I want to make this clear: should these spinoff rumors turn out to be true, and the show does somehow get on the air, I'll be the first one to tune in and watch. And this time, I want to write for the show. Got that, Mr. or Ms. Showrunner?

17 Years In The Life

Last night, at a cocktail gala at the Neue Gallerie on Manhattan's Upper East Side, the groundbreaking PBS gay and lesbian newsmagazine In The Life celebrated the start of its 17th season.

The affair raised $110K for In The Life -- a show which, ITL Media Executive Director Michelle Kristel explained, receives no funding for its production from the government or from PBS. But last night's tally is enough, she said, to pay for two episodes of the informative -- and for gay and lesbian teens, sometimes quite literally life-saving -- program.

In other ITL news, Kristel also announced that the show will once again return to a half-hour format, partly in order to accommodate changing media habits, such as viewing many of the show's reports individually online. And, even more noteworthy, this year, the show will produce new episodes each month, leading up to the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in June 2009.

No more endless repeats, Kristel promised -- and that was good news for the night's honoree Kate Clinton, the legendary lesbian comic and author who was the program's first host when it debuted in 1992. "I've been on LOGO more times than The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," she joked at the podium as she accepted In The Life's first annual Pioneer Award.

In her short but incredibly funny speech, Clinton -- who continues this month on her nationwide, political-themed "Hilarity Clinton" tour -- joked about the banking bailout, where "the only thing left to my bank was the free pen." "People said that gay marriage would end the world," Clinton teased. "But we didn't do this!"

But Clinton turned serious and incisive when it came to stressing the importance of In The Life and the effect the show has already had on the U.S. and the world. After last week's shameful Vice Presidential debate, when both Joe Biden and (unsurprisingly) Sarah Palin took such cowardly stands, polls in California showed a four point increase in support for that state's anti-gay marriage Proposition 8. When such hatred is "legitimized" from the top, Clinton noted, voters feel more comfortable taking bigoted stands themselves. But luckily, she enthused, there is In The Life, which has produced several videos in support of gay marriage, which in the age of the internet will spread virally and hopefully help defeat the hateful ballot measure.

Clinton's remarks were cheered by the well-heeled New York crowd, which included former ITL host Katherine Linton and the show's newest (adorable!) face, that of Sirius' OutQ's own Michael Billy (pictured with partner Matthew Argenti.) Michael makes for an amazing host both on air, and as she showed last night in emceeing the proceedings, off as well. I look forward to many more seasons of Michael and the very enlightening Life!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Nathan Petrelli for President

On tonight's episode of Heroes, oddly titled "I Am Become Death," we learned that four years into the future, Nathan Petrelli is the President of the United States -- despite having less experience even than Sarah Palin.

The elder Petrelli brother started his career as a district attorney and then a Congressional Representative from either New York's 14th district (see the show's fun fake "Vote Petrelli" web site.) Now, Nathan (Adrian Pasdar) has begun Heroes' third season with an appointment to become the junior Senator from New York. (Sorry, Hillary, but the man's got your job.) In this season's premiere episodes, New York Governor Malden (Bruce Boxleitner) spotted a news report about Nathan's miraculous recovery from his gunshot wound and subsequent pseudo-religious babble, and dispatched Tracy Strauss (Ali Larter) to woo Nathan into replacing the late Gerald Dickinson.

My question is this: how many years do we think were left on Dickinson's 6-year Senate term? Is Nathan starting near the beginning -- meaning that, in order to be president 4 years from now, he obviously eventually New Yorkers flat to pursue his political ambitions? And gets elected, despite his bizarre past, and only a few years of experience in politics? (See, Sarah? Sadly, there's hope for you yet!) Or did Dickinson have just a short while left -- again meaning that Nathan runs for Prez without having done too much time in DC.

Of course, maybe the national electorate was truly smart enough to see through Nathan's plans -- only to have the voting machines manipulated by that whiny little machine whisperer, Micah (Noah Gray-Cabey).

After all, voting machine fraud is unfortunately probably not just the stuff of science fiction.



Heroes
Season 3
Mondays at 9 PM Eastern
NBC

Friday, October 3, 2008

Tyler Perry's "The Studio That Preys"

Or maybe I should have gone with my alternate title, Tyler Perry's "Why Did I Fire My Writers?"

Just received the following press release. Although I've said on the air that I respect that Perry has become a one-man TV and film powerhouse, I certainly don't admire that he's apparently done it at the expense and exploitation of his workers. Some pretty harsh stuff here, including allegations of racism. Read on:


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 2, 2008

Writers at Tyler Perry Studio to Take Strike Action –
Will Picket Grand Opening and Ask Invited Guests Not To Attend

Los Angeles – The Writers Guild of America, West is taking on the fight for justice of writers who were fired when they tried to get a union contract with Tyler Perry’s production company, House of Payne, LLC. The Guild today filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), alleging that House of Payne unlawfully fired four writers in retaliation for their union activity. The charge also alleges that the company bargained in bad faith with the Guild, which is seeking to negotiate a contract covering the writers on Perry’s cable television series House of Payne and Meet the Browns.

The four writers, Kellie Griffin, Christopher Moore, Teri Brown-Jackson, and Lamont Ferrell, as well as supporters from the Writers Guild and the community, will be picketing during Saturday’s opening of Perry’s new studio and they’re asking invited guests to respect their picket line. Together, these writers have written over one hundred episodes of House of Payne. Since April of this year they have been involved in a union organizing campaign with the Writers Guild of America, West so that their work on that show and the upcoming Meet the Browns would be covered by a Guild contract. Despite the enormous success of House of Payne, Perry has refused to agree to a contract that would give the writers health care, pensions, and residuals. On Tuesday of this week he fired the writers, after warning them some weeks ago that they should “be careful about pushing the WGA deal or you could be replaced.”

“We’re asking all those who had planned to attend the opening of Tyler Perry’s new studio not to cross our picket line,” said writer Christopher Moore. “It’s very disheartening considering that this is a studio run by African Americans. What Tyler Perry is essentially saying to us is that ‘you’re black and there’s not a lot of
opportunities for you so you’ll take what I give you’ – whether it’s fair or not.”

“I feel like I was slapped in the face, like we were used” said writer and WGAW member Teri Brown-Jackson. “We were good enough to create over a hundred episodes, but now when it comes to reaping the benefits of the show being syndicated and having other spin-offs from it, he decides to let us go unless we accept a horrible offer.”

“Disrespected, betrayed, saddened…it’s hard to describe,” said writer and WGAW member Lamont Ferrell. “The actors and a majority of the production crew on the show were working under union contracts and they received the pay and benefits that you need to survive on in this business. But after all those episodes and success when it came time for us to get a fair contract, we’re told on a conference call ‘sorry, you’re fired.’”

The show’s head writer, Kellie Griffin, added, “A lot of people who fought for civil rights and social justice never really saw what eventually came out of their work. While I’d like to see something positive come out of this for us, if this fight helps future black writers get what they deserve, that’s a good thing.”

The writers and their supporters will be picketing at the grand opening of Tyler Perry Studios on Saturday, October 4, starting at 4 pm, and on Sunday, October 5, starting at 9 am.

The Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) is a labor union representing writers in the motion picture, broadcast, cable, and new media industries in entertainment and news. Founded in 1933, the Guild negotiates and enforces the contracts that protect the creative and economic rights of its members. It is involved in a wide range of programs that advance the interests of writers and their craft and is active in public policy and legislative matters on the local, national, and international level. For more information on the WGAW, please visit: http://www.wga.org/.



Contact:
Gregg Mitchell
Ph 323.782.4574

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The CW Makes Easy Money

Sunday is an incredibly competitive night on network and cable television -- and it's about to get even more so, with the debut this weekend of the CW's Easy Money.

When I attended the show's premiere at the New York Television Festival last month, I was impressed with the caliber of its cast, its visuals, and most importantly, its sophisticated storytelling.

I shouldn't have been surprised, because Easy Money comes to us courtesy of the writing team Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider, former scribes on Northern Exposure and later The Sopranos. And with its quirky location and a crime-tinged family business at its core, Easy Money has elements of both of those great shows.

After the screening, Frolov and Schneider took to the stage to answer critics' enthusiastic questions about the show. But it couldn't be too long an evening -- because cast and crew were due the very next day back in Albuquerque, to continue shooting the season's fifth episode. With a generous tax rebate in town, Schneider explained, many productions are popping up in the New Mexico town, including a constant stream of feature films, AMC's series Breaking Bad and USA Networks' In Plain Sight. But in truth, he adds, the writing pair chose Albuquerque as their location because, as a fast-growing Wild Western boomtown, it's perfect for this tale of a moneylending family whose business, although legal, skirts an association with an undesirable element. Even the light in the area, at Albuquerque's higher altitude, is different from the look of L.A., Schneider says. That's why the show takes such advantage of the outdoors, shooting just two days a week inside, in a converted semiconductor factory.

Frolov and Schneider were first approached with an outline for the Easy Money idea, which is based loosely on a concept that U.K. producer Hat Trick Productions is also developing for British audiences, and prepared the show first for Fox before landing it at the CW courtesy of production company Media Rights Capital. The timing, Schneider says, was perfect, because of the credit crisis now enveloping our nation, to create a show "examining people's relationship with money." And, as luck would have it, the elegant and patrician-looking Frolov, surprisingly, already had a relative in the moneylending biz. That family member, named Bobette, is not only now a technical advisor to the show, but she lent her first name to the matriarch of Easy Money's Buffkin clan, played by Laurie Metcalf (right).

After MRC signed an interim agreement with the Writers' Guild, Easy Money got a head start on producing its pilot, even while the strike waged on, last February. And now, this Sunday night, October 5, the show will be part of MRC's historic inaugural lineup for the CW; in a never-before-tried arrangement in TV, the production company has contracted with the network to be fully in charge of its entire Sunday night lineup.

Partnered with an adaptation of a Canadian documentary show, 4Real, the reality show In Harm's Way and the Greek Gods-and-Goddesses romantic-comedy Valentine, Easy Money is debuting as part of a lineup whose demographic targets seem to be all over the map. Luckily, with a pedigree like Frolov and Schneider's, this should be a show that gets its share of attention, and hopefully draws in the viewers. Because after watching the show's pilot, I can tell you -- I'd never want to borrow from the Buffkins, but I sure like watching others fall into that very trap.


Easy Money
Series Premiere
Sunday, October 5
9 PM Eastern
CW

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Good Week for Television, the Worst Week for Pants

Only two weeks into the official new season, and TV has already gone right into the toilet -- literally.

On Sunday's installment of AMC's Mad Men (titled "Six Month Leave"), Joel Murray's Freddy Rumsen, known to like to take more than just a little nip during office hours, got a little too...er... "relaxed" and made a puddle in his pants. The 1962 solution to having an alcoholic running one of your crucial accounts? Offer him six months off, paid, to dry out. I found it fascinating that, whereas those deviating from the "ideals" of race and sexuality apparently deserve no respect in the Camelot Era, Peggy and Don both make it quite clear that Freddy's problem is no laughing matter.




Not to be outdone, on the very same night that Freddy was letting loose on Madison Avenue, an unlucky Louisiana cop met the same fate on HBO's True Blood. In an episode entitled "Escape From Dragon House," the offending officer stops Sookie (Anna Paquin) and Bill (Stephen Moyer) on their drive back from vampire bar Fangtasia in Shreveport, only to end up being "glamored" by Bill into surrendering his gun. Then, as our fave mixed living/undead couple drives off for home, we see just how badly Bill has quite literally scared the piss out of him.




And then there's the matter of True Blood's Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten), Sookie's nymphomaniacal brother. After nervously downing an entire vial of "V Juice" -- aka vampire blood -- rather than the recommended two drops, Jason develops a painful penile priapism that puts pressure on his poor pants.

And lastly, there's CBS' Worst Week. As much as I loved the pilot of this show -- and want to continue to support it as a new network comedy -- I was dismayed to see the moment in this clip, from the show's second episode, "The Bird." When Sam (Kyle Bornheimer) manages to recapture his soon-to-be father-in-law's beloved pet finch (after already having accidentally killed its mate), he doesn't do the logical thing, and make himself out to be a hero. Instead, he hides the poor creature in his pants pocket, only to have it mistaken for a bulging boner when he encounters his sis-in-law-to-be in mid breast-feed. And then, going for the laugh, Worst Week has Sam smack down the bird in his pocket, killing the poor thing.

I found it so hard to watch, if it hadn't been for my partner Frank shooing me away so he could watch Fox's Fringe in the next room, I would have given up on Worst Week right there. But since I adore the show's cast and think its writing is mostly clever, I will give Worst Week a third try next week. Just remember, CBS -- there's nothing funny about animal cruelty.

Desecration of one's pants, however -- now that's a totally different story.

How I Met Your Mother and The Best Burger in New York

This past Monday night, we learned another of Marshall Eriksen's endearing quirks: he's been bedeviled (as is Regis Philbin, it turns out) by a cosmically good burger he had eight years ago, somewhere in Manhattan. The problem is, he forgot where.

It was a fun episode -- particularly if you're a New Yorker. Because unlike so many sitcoms, this is a show that quite often gets it right. Sure, Ted and Marshall live in an apartment that would be a castle by NYC standards; but at least it's not Monica and Rachel's a-little-too-nice Greenwich Village pad on Friends or Paul and Jamie's inexplicably huge flat on Mad About You. Besides, Ted and Marshall's place can't be made too small -- because as How I Met Your Mother's executive producers Carter Bays and Craig Thomas reminded me when I visited them on the set last year while reporting for CBS Watch magazine, the cameras, after all, do have to fit!

In particular, Monday's episode, "The Best Burger in New York," got it right on several fronts. We New Yorkers do bemoan the loss of the real Upper West Side stalwart bar Fez, at 85th & Broadway. (And yes, every available retail space does seem to have turned into a Goliath bank lately -- although possibly that trend is over as of this week!) And, Carter and Craig had told me, they personally mourn the recent real-life loss of Midtown pub McHale's at 47th Street & 8th Avenue; it's one of the inspirations for Maclaren's bar on the show, and was where the two guys first started writing comedy together over a beer, as they took breaks from their MTV internship during college. And finally, there's the fun moment where Marshall goes ballistic on a guy who haplessly suggests the West Village bar The Corner Bistro -- the stereotypical answer to the question "Where can you get the best burger...," even though it's tiny and always packed (and I've never had the patience to wait for a table.)



By the way, just in case you are about to visit New York and want to, like Marshall,go on a quest, here's what you have to do: go to the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. But do it soon -- it will close for the season in early December.

A very close second: somewhere new Frank and I just discovered, a place called Five Napkin Burger at 47th Street and Ninth Avenue. It's run by the owners of UWS favorite Nice Matin, and let me just say that the classic, titular burger, with its caramelized onions, soft Boursin-like French cheese and rosemary aioli, is so good that, like Barney, I want to make burger babies with it.

This week's episode not only made me laugh, but it made me hungry -- and now I'm passing it forward. Feel free to blame me at your Weight Watchers meeting.


How I Met Your Mother
Season 4
Mondays at 8:30 PM Eastern
CBS