Archive for July, 2005

Ever the Playboy

BEVERLY HILLS _ Who would have thought that a girl from Galt would grow up to be the No. 2 girlfriend of Playboy patriarch Hugh Hefner.

The session for “The Girls Next Door,” which premieres in August, was a fitting end to the wacky cable portion of the summer TV critics press tour.

Hefner, who turns 80 next month, looked decades younger as he strolled up to the stage with his three blonde, amply endowed girlfriends Holly Madison, Kendra Wilkinson and Galt’s Bridget Marquardt.

This reality series goes inside this unconventional relationship. Bridget, 31, says her family loves Hef. In fact, her younger sister is down visiting the Playboy mansion.
Yeah. That sounds like a father’s dream.

P. Diddy doesn’t have the kind of security this girl has.

After the session, Hef and his trio of trophies marched out to the waiting limo, with a lone reporter invading a weak spot to grab a quick interview.

Bridget says that she attended Lodi High School for two years before the family moved to Galt, where she graduated. She moved down to L.A. with the intentions of becoming a Playboy Playmate. Instead, Hef fell for her, and she’s been in the top-three girlfriend tier ever since.

She says she’s happy, but it still seemed a bit creepy to see a man who is old enough to be her grandfather yanking her around like a puppy on a short leash.

“Boondocks” headed for small screen

Earlier in the day, outspoken newspaper cartoonist Aaron McGruder took the stage to promote his newest venture, a TV series for The Cartoon Network named after his comic strip “The Boondocks.”

The strip, which runs in this newspaper, is set around an African-American grandfather who moves his grandchildren from the inner city to the suburbs. The kid characters are a self-appointed revolutionary, Huey Freeman (named after Black Panther Huey P. Newton), his younger gangsta brother Riley Freeman and their outspoken, bi-racial buddy Jazmine DuBois.

The first episode, which airs in October, is titled “The Trial of R. Klly,” which makes quite a comment on celebrity trials.

McGruder hasn’t been shy when it comes to making his opinions known, from knocking the first film in the final “Star Wars” trilogy to calling Condoleeza Rice a murderer.
So he prefers to avoid talking to his targets if possible.

“I have a rule where I don’t actually talk to people within a week or two after I put them in the paper because they’re still really upset and then I have a rule of forgetting about them afterward so that I just never have the conversation,” McGruder says. “Then there’s when you bump into them, and that’s particularly unpleasant because normally people are incredibly nice and incredibly gracious, and then you just feel like a big jerk.”

And for those people wondering about the rumors that he’s going to stop doing the comic strip, McGruder says, “I’m just not ready to walk away yet.”

Give this woman some carbs

Kyra Sedgewick’s character on the fantastic new TNT show “The Closer” has an obsession with junk food.

Seems like the doughnut doesn’t fall far from the carb tree.

After her session, she raced past me like a running back avoiding a tackle so she could get to the snack table to grab a croissant. Don’t tell me those skinny actresses don’t like butter-filled treats.

Earlier, Sedgwick said in the session she couldn’t be happier with the new attention she’s been getting from the show, especially the offer from Playboy for a centerfold.

“At 39, I was thrilled,” says the vivacious actress, who turns 40 next month.
But alas. She reveals sadly, “I was forced into saying no by my agent.”

I know. Again with the Playboy.

Ask a question for CBS executives, who’ll be in the hotseat this week, by e-mailing me at

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Some jolly ol’ Brits

It was almost like being in jolly Old England when the double decker bus pulled up to the Beverly Hills Hilton Thursday night to take the TV critics over to the BBC party at the Museum of Television & Radio down the street.

Of course, you can

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Some bloated Bob Dylan

PBS says Bob Dylan songs are the most bootlegged tunes in history, which is why security was so tight around the screening of the Martin Scorsese documentary “No Direction Home: Bob Dylan.” And why these people love titles with colons is beyond me. Critics can’t watch it for review unless they buy the DVD, which goes on
sale a week before the film airs on PBS.

So after a day of back-to-back
sessions, critics boarded the shuttles to go to the Fox studios to watch the three-and-a-half hour film. It’s magical walking around the sound stages once inhabited by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe – even the hedges have the drama/comedy masks cut into them.

Sitting through a bloated film? Not so magical. Scorsese spends way too much time inflating the concert footage of Dylan playing in Newcastle, England, where people piled into a theater only to heckle Dylan for leaving his protest-song roots. After your seat has lost all feeling, as fellow critic Ellen Gray says, you want to yell “We get it. Electric instruments bad, acoustical good.”

No one would argue that Public Enemy co-founder Chuck D. is a serious guy. But what makes him such a fan of PBS? After a session on the PBS documentary, “Get Up, Stand Up: The Story of Pop and Protest,”Chuck D. expressed surprise that people might find it difficult to believe that he’s a PBS groupie.

“My mind is not geared toward the frivolous,” he says in a massive understatement. “I have to watch it, it’s the only thing on TV you can watch without losing your mind.” Which explains why TV critics seem like they’ve slipped a few brain gears.

To hear what Chuck D. thought about a recent awards show on BET, in which Beyonce did a lap dance on Magic Johnson with her dad in the audience, click here. Audio - MP3

To hear Sean “Puffy” Combs talking about changing his priorities in life, clickhere. Audio - MP3

Bob Newhart does deadpan like no other. So you can’t quite get the real feeling for his exquisite comic timing unless you hear him say it. In one, Newhart is praising the unique comic timing of Hollywood great Jack Benny,Audio - MP3 while in the other he sounds rather astonished at Oscar-winner George C. Scott’s Audio - MP3“Patton” assessment of his comic skills.

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Rapper Chuck D to the rescue

BEVERLY HILLS _ Public Enemy turns out to be public TV’s friend.
Rapper Chuck D, formerly of the hard core rap group Public Enemy, popped up at press tour this week for a PBS panel on the September documentary “Get Up, Stand up: The Story of Pop and Protest.”

Part of the two-hour film chronicles the history of politics and protest in black music, from the civil rights movement and pacifism to black separatism, gangsta rap and the L.A. riots.
In the film, Chuck D says “when we heard `Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud’ by James Brown, we turned from colored to black and black was beautiful.”

And he didn’t mince words with critics gathered here for the annual summer tour about his dedication to public broadcasting.

“PBS is my favorite network. I don’t think Viacom (CBS, MTV, VH-1, etc.) is my favorite network. MTV you spell MTV E-M-P-T-Y-V. And they turned BET into the bootie and thug network,” the outspoken artist told critics. “BET is such a bad mark on black folks in this country.
“PBS and Viacom are diametrically opposed, and we need to figure out more ways to get the documentaries and public broadcasts into the schools and into society.”

Chuck D says he knows that cable and broadcast networks draw in many more people than PBS, with their sensational news to exploitative series programming.
He says that TV outlets other than PBS have no interest in the good work he and others have been doing.

“But let it be known that I walked out of a gas station with a Reese’s bar and said I wasn’t paying for it, then my news would be splashed all over,” he says. “So we know that the worst of us gets around like gas. Of course you’re going to pick up an audience, but the question is, what audience? Do you measure the quality of an audience or the quantity of an audience?”

Chuck D says he’d rather be part of a quality program on PBS than a show like “Survivor” that garners millions of viewers.

“To me, that’s Pavlovic, people come in front of the TV slobbering; PBS, to me, it fights some of that off,” Chuck D says. “We need balance in television programming. So I’m the balance to (former Public Enemy bandmate) Flavor Flav’s ‘Surreal Life.’ ”

Bob Newart to get “Desperate”

Comic legend Bob Newhart came in to promote “American Masters: Bob Newhart: Unbuttoned,” which airs Wednesday July 20 on PBS (9 p.m. on KQED-Channel 9).

A late bloomer, Newhart was a 30-year-old accountant still living at home with his parents when he exploded on the comedy scene. He starred in two self-titled sitcom staples and appeared in 16 movies. Most recently, Newhart co-starred with Will Ferrell in “Elf” and guest-starred on “Desperate Housewives” as the boyfriend of Susan’s mom.
Keeping him grounded is Virginia, his wife of 42 years and mother of their four children.

“My wife will say, ‘Oh, the garbage guys are coming by tomorrow, so you want to take this out and put it in the recyclables,’ ” Newhart says. “I’ll say to her, ‘Well, do you think Joanne Woodward asks Paul Newman to take out the recyclables?’ and she said, ‘If you were Paul Newman, I wouldn’t ask you to take them out.’ ”

Newhart says he likes to hang out with comics, because they are always good for a laugh.

“I was out with Tim Conway the other night and we were having dinner. I don’t know, the subject of Viagra came up,” Newhart deadpans. “Tim said, ‘You know, they say if you get an erection for more than four hours you should call a doctor. If I get an erection longer than four hours, I’m calling everybody I know.’ “

Although he says he’s not interested in doing a series again, Newhart is looking forward to more appearances on “Desperate Housewives” next season.

“I don’t know if I’ll be doing two or eight. It’s whenever they feel like writing me in,” he says, adding that it was a compliment to be asked to do the multi-Emmy-nominated series. “I think if they’d gone to Schwarzenegger, he would have given up the governorship and accepted a recurring role.”

Check back on the blog to hear more from Newhart and Chuck D, as well as an early assessment of Martin Scorcese’s new 3 1/2-hour documentary on Bob Dylan. PBS claims that the chance of bootlegging this baby is so high, they won’t be able to ship it out in time for critics to review it before it airs in September.

The ambitious piece uses previously unreleased footage from Dylan’s live concerts. And for those out there unfamiliar with the man, he’s the cadaverous guy singing in the Victoria’s Secret ad and father of twentysomething couple-of-hits wonder Jakob Dylan. Oh yes, and a hugely important folk-rock pioneer.
PBS bids a fond adieu to the critics, making way for cable networks to present their wares.

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PBS is positively boring

Ah, the lazy, hazy days of summer.

And in L.A., the haze isn’t just a line from a song.

Welcome to the kick-off of the annual summer TV critics press tour being held this year at the Beverly Hills Hilton. Well, kick-off is a bit more active than the subject matter would suggest.

PBS was the first up in an almost three-week long parade of TV people here to pitch their shows, and Day 1 that proved to be an acronym for Pretty Boring Stuff, with the major exception being a panel of TV primetime old-timers.

That’s not the way it was supposed to be. This promised to be an exciting interaction between the press and the PBS higher-ups. The appearance of PBS president and CEO Pat Mitchell came on the heels of a half-year of controversy, from pulling an episode of the children’s show “Postcards from Buster” that featured a lesbian couple to the Corporation for Public Broadcast chair Ken Tomlinson spending public funds to investigate PBS.

This is more than you probably want to know, but CPB gets the federal money, or about 15 percent of the total PBS budget, and dispenses it. CPB, in the words of Mitchell, “was set up to be a heat shield between that money and any content that was produced for PBS or for local stations.”

CPB funds and commissions programs but cannot produce programs.

Tomlinson hired Republican lobbyists to determine PBS’ fairness and balance. So how much of a heat shield is that?

“We did not call for (Tomlinson’s) resignation. Some people have,” Mitchell said. “I think this Inspector General’s reports about the surveys and the use of taxpayer dollars are obviously big issues. But it will be up to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s board to make that decision about whether he’s asked to step down or not.”

While the government bucks are nice, PBS still relies on tin cup-manship to fund most of its programs. With Exxon-Mobile backing out of funding “Masterpiece Theatre,” you’ll see fewer programs.

“It’s about resources, it’s not about desire,” Mitchell said of the cutback. “It’s funded for two seasons. It’s worrisome (that we haven’t yet found a sponsor).”

Today, members of the Senate will vote on restoring the $400 million in federal funds to the CPB. Some senators have stated that they will approve it if PBS restores some balance in terms of bias and political perspective. In short, they want a more conservative viewpoint on PBS, which traditionally leans more to the left.

Mitchell took a convoluted route to explain that PBS does offer balance in its programming.

As for the episode of “Postcards,” Mitchell said the decision was already made to allow local stations to decide when, or if, they would air the program before a nasty letter was sent by the Department of Education.

“We made the right decision given that we are a membership organization accountable to those stations,” Mitchell said.

So what was the real highlight of the day?

Spending a couple of hours with some TV legends.

Sid Caesar, Red Buttons, Rose Marie, Carl Reiner and Mickey Rooney took the stage to discuss the PBS program “Pioneers of Primetime.”

Caesar looked the most frail among the stars, but he could still spit out the zingers. He said that the remote control is the biggest single technology to change our society.

“If you wanted to change the station, you got up and you had to walk across the room. And while you were there, several people said, `Could you make it a little brighter? Could you turn it down? No, there’s too much red. Stomp your feet. That’s it! The color is coming, keep stomping, Caesar said.

“The remote control took over the timing of the world, that’s why you have road rage, you have people who have no patience because (the remote gave you) immediate gratification.”

Emmy and Oscar winner Buttons was the star of the panel _ and the oldest at 86. He played the room with one snappy line after another. He talked about how his writers, including Neil Simon, left “The Red Buttons Show” to work on Caesar’s brilliant “Your Show of Shows,” which is now available on DVD.

Finally, he said, to the laughs of the audience, even he wanted to leave his show to work with Caesar.

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Off to the TCA summer press tour

Here’s a puzzle for you: The number of stories that come out during the three-week annual TV critics summer press tour? Unlimited.

Space in the newspaper? Very limited.

Space on the Internet? Unlimited.

I think you can sense a theme here.

During the July press tour, which begins Tuesday and ends July 29, you can’t move without bumping into a who’s who of celebrities. Al Gore, Simon Cowell, Freddie Prinz Jr., Michael Douglas, Kirk Douglas, Dennis Hopper, Geena Davis, Tom Selleck, Melanie Griffith. As you can see, it’s a virtual TV and movie star feast.

They all turn out to promote their new shows. PBS takes over for the first two days, with highlights being a panel on veteran performers from Sid Caesar to Mickey Rooney. And filmmaker Martin Scorcese will unveil his latest masterpiece on Bob Dylan.

Next up are the cable presentations, from HGTV to HBO, and then the broadcast networks. Critics will tour sets, including HBO’s “Deadwood” and Steven Bochco’s (“NYPD Blue”) new wartime drama “Over There.”

Actors love talking about themselves and others, while producers and writers like chatting about the travails of getting their projects made.

So, to give you every last drop of gab that goes on during hurried hallway chats and alcohol-lubed party blabs, I’ll again be directing you to my newly improved TV blog, Unscripted, which I’ll also continue writing for after TCA ends.

It’s easy: Just log on to our Web site,, and click on the logo for Unscripted.

And, now you can participate, too. The blog will allow comments from visitors, so when Paris Hilton drops her purse and spills the contents (yes, that actually happened), you’ll hear all about it and be able to pop off what you think to boot.

Don’t worry, we’ll still print my columns in this space detailing, for example, the network heads’ stumbling explanations for why they canceled, say, “Joan of Arcadia” so they could make room for some new series that doesn’t look half as good.

Also new this year: You can e-mail me your questions about TV, and I’ll do my best to answer them on the blog. Think of me as your representative down south in the big bad world of television.

We’ve also updated the blog. Now blog entries will be categorized, so you can quickly find what interests you. The choices will range from network news to party time chatter. You even might discover a few online surprises.

So I’m off to Beverly Hills. Putting in those 12-hour days. Talking to the celebs.

Yeah, I know. No sympathy.

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