Mr. Coogans Weekend Groove Tube Update 12.13.03

As Alfred Hitchcock would often say introducing his 1950s television series, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents:”

Good evening

(It’s a lot more effective when the fat Englishman does it in his deep, dark, heavy, monotone voice as he stares you down through the television )

For those unfamiliar with my previous work, let me (re-)introduce myself. I’m Steve Coogan, also a contributing columnist to the Movies section of Black’s father site, 411mania. I “got my start” in writing on movies and television about a year ago when Matthew Michaels asked me to be involved in his (then) new website, Moodspins.com. Initially, I was going to write a humor column of some kind, but instead, we settled that I would be the weekly TV/Movies columnist for the site. Here I am, close to a year later, pumping out all sorts of stuff for his site and for the 411 family as well.

For this, I have to thank Matt (and Chris) Biscuiti for getting me started and encouraging me. Also, I need thank Widro and the executive committee of 411mania for giving me the chance to write in several capacities for the site and allowing me to “get jiggy” with this weekly television column. I must say I am quite lucky and fortunate to secure this and I hope to provide an informative, respectful, and entertaining (maybe even funny too!) look at the world of television in the form of news updates, reviews, and various commentaries.

I also have to say thank you to Anika Bodroghkozy, author of the book, Groove Tube: Sixties Television and the Youth Rebellion for writing an outstanding book and providing a good idea for a title for this weekly column. I have too much respect for the medium to dismiss any news report regarding it as “The Couch Potato Update” or “The Boob Tube Update” or even worse, something regarding the “idiot box.” So, she provided a unique view of the television without reducing it to a meaningless form of entertainment that often causes drooling coupled with blank, empty stares.

Anyway if you’ll excuse the lame party song reference: LET’S GET THIS PARTY STARTED!!!

Opening Credits: Paris, Reverend Al, “Joe,” Jimmy and Ellen all say hello

Getting ratings really is “Simple”

According to the New York Post and the ratings posted on zap2it.com, Fox’s new reality series “The Simple Life,” featuring rich girls Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie living on an Arkansas farm for a month, cracked the top 25 in ratings for both airings during the week of 12/1-12/7, both getting more than 13 million viewers. I am not sure what the allure is of this show. Is it that the world wants to see how these rich prisses would do in an environment completely opposite to the ones they usually live in? Is it because the audience wants to see a couple of beautiful women on TV for a solid half-hour? Personally, I think half of people are tuning in hopes that Paris takes it all off and nails a farm boy like she nailed Shannon Doherty’s ex-boyfriend on that damn sex video flying around By the way, it’s PG-13 compared to the Tommy Lee/Pam Anderson video

The Reverend loses some followers

The December 6th “Saturday Night Live” featuring Al Sharpton as the host was blocked out by several NBC affiliates in fear they would be violating “equal time” laws providing more time to Sharpton than the other eight Democratic Presidential candidates. So, the entire state of Iowa (with their caucuses coming) and those in the Boston area (because it reaches southern New Hampshire where the first primaries take place) were left without witnessing Sharpton’s imitations of James Brown and Johnnie Cochran.

I really don’t understand this. I didn’t live in California so I may be off here. But, does this mean while the recall was going on that TV stations couldn’t show Conan the Barbarian or The Terminator (Schwarzenegger) or repeats of “Diff’rent Strokes” (Gary Coleman)? And most importantly, did hotels offering “adult entertainment” have to remove all “movies” featuring “actress” Mary Caray? OK that’s a bit of a stretch but still

Is it me or does the “equal time” provision need to be amended if more entertainers run for public office? I would say this might have been a problem when President Reagan was running for office, but didn’t his movies suck? I don’t think any TV stations would want to show them anyway.

Preparing to say god bye to our “Friends”

Filmjerk.com was the first to report the following: “A casting sheet was recently circulated to agents in Los Angeles and New York looking for an actor to play a real estate broker who would try to sell a house in the suburbs to Monica and Chandler.”

The New York Post‘s Don Kaplan confirmed Filmjerk’s report but he states that officials from the show have since scrapped that plan and are going in a direction that no one knows.

Interestingly, NBC is in a fairly precarious position because the final show is being taped at the end of January instead of March like it would be normally. Kaplan notes that because of Jennifer Aniston’s (reported) demand to have the season shortened, NBC is left in a position to have to keep one of, if not the, highest anticipated series finales in the last ten years under wraps from January until May during that sweeps period. Talk about a challenge. Cast and crew are signing contracts that state they won’t reveal how it ends. I can only imagine what those look like. I bet the lawyers putting these together are either rolling their eyes because it’s so stupid or giggling like school girls that they were the ones to put these together these “official documents.”

Friday TV’s black hole

Fox has canceled its second sit-com residing on Friday night in three months. First, it was the Luis Guzman ethnic comedy dud “Luis.” Now, Fox has gone ahead and canceled the Wanda Sykes comedy, “Wanda at Large” as it is only averaging 3.8 million viewers per week. This certainly isn’t Sykes’ fault. She has received increased exposure with her position with HBO’s “Inside the NFL” and as one of the many hosts for the 2003 Prime Time Emmy Awards. However, Fox relegated her show to Friday nights which is either the network’s way of kissing it good bye slowly and painfully or the network’s way of expecting a big talent to fulfill a big position with the network only to screw it over by canceling it instead of moving it back to a better timeslot.

Even worse, according to press material distributed by Fox (appearing on TVBarn.com), it appears the network believes the Norm McDonald sit-com, “A Minute with Stan Hooper” will fill the void left by Wanda and Luis before it. A show like “Stan Hooper” needs to be massaged and taken care of by keeping it with an established franchise like “That 70s Show” (which is where it was originally) while it establishes an audience. The show is funny and pretty well-written (all this despite McDonald’s horrible performance which is even more impressive). Sticking it on Friday night could spell disaster for this show and it could get the send-off that Luis and Wanda did before it.

Hey Fox, give Stan a chance

“Average Joe,” my ass

Well, a potentially intriguing show concept was corrupted by its’ producers attempt to make it even more intriguing. The result is confirmation that looks really do mean more than personality (and even money!) since Melina, the beautiful, ex-Kansas City Chiefs cheerleader who was supposed to pick between 15 “Average Joe’s” (i.e. nice, fun guys with great personalities, but not really all that great to look at). Well, the really ugly guys were jettisoned out pretty quickly leaving the decent looking guys. Then the twist was that as she was narrowing down her choices of the “average Joe’s,” they introduced three much better looking guys into the fray. Well, it came down to one of the “Average Joe’s” and one of the “hunks.” The result is the “hunk” won Melina’s heart and society is left to wonder if we really are superficial and only care about a people’s looks (at least dramatic media reports will consider that).

Interestingly, The New York Post reported that the show averaged more than 17 million viewers for the finale peaking in the last half-hour (obviously) with more than 19 million. Even though the concept got torched a bit, it appears there is a market for this. NBC just needs to be careful that they don’t shove this down the public’s throat (ABC, please take note with “The Bachelor”).

The wedding that no one really cares about but millions probably watched anyway

On Wednesday, December 11th, lovebirds brought together by the ABC show, “The Bachelorette,” Trista Rehn and Ryan Sutter had their wedding and the events leading up to it and directly following it televised in prime time. If your girlfriend/wife ever made you sit down and watch The Learning Channel’s “A Wedding Story” (which occupies approximately 20% of the network’s programming), then you probably have an idea what this was like. Of course, this was ten times more extravagant and twice as long as a typical episode of its TLC counterpart, so you can imagine how overdone this was. I have it on in the background as I’m writing this and I believe they are reviewing the bridesmaids’ dresses. No, I am not kidding.

Here’s a standard joke that’s making the rounds: “Well, the courtship and wedding were on TV. Does this mean the divorce will be on TV too?” Hardy har har har.

I wonder if these two really know what they’ve gotten into by letting the public into their lives this much. Everything’s happy and go-lucky now. However, what happens if they separate or divorce? God forbid, what happens if Trista or Ryan can’t partake in the child conception process for one reason or another? They do realize this is going to pasted all over the news, don’t they? I hope so .

Looks like Bill Simmons gets to keep his job.

Of course, Bill Simmons is the legendary Boston Sports Guy and ESPN.com Page 2 columnist who is now a writer for ABC’s late night talk fest “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” Since “Kimmel” was picked up for the 2004-2005 season, it looks like the Sports Guy is in the clear for another year.

This is a good decision by ABC. While there are instances where the show isn’t terribly funny and it lacks any sort of continuity because of rotating guest hosts, it’s definitely improving compared to earlier episodes. Kimmel’s deadpan style of humor where he makes silly, off-the-cuff comments under his breath is great for a live audience, especially since they are funny. The “bits” need some work compared to those on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” (which are often laugh-out-loud funny), but there is no reason to believe that they can’t perfect that part of the show. Here’s some advice though: the more Jimmy’s buddy, Adam Carolla is involved, the better.

We really do like her

Looks like Ellen DeGeneres is going to be able to settle into her daytime talk show role as the “Queen of Nice” quite ..nicely, I guess. Her show has been picked up for another season and she can pick up where that psycho hose beast Rosie O’Donnell left off with her show.

I doubt the majority of the people reading this now will even think of watching Ellen DeGeneres for an hour every day during the week, but consider this: whether you like it or not, she is a skilled comedian. She’s starred in multiple HBO stand-up shows and has been in the business of comedy for many years. Unfortunately, her track record with television work overshadows her obvious talent in making people laugh. If you won’t watch her talk show, watch some of her stand-up act next time she is on and give it a chance. She often has great, relevant material and her delivery makes her unique compared to the thousands of other comics out there.

Give her a chance she’s not repulsive like Rosie O’Donnell is

People actually care about this?

The Sci-Fi Channel is bringing back the short-lived 1978 space drama, “Battlestar Galactica” as a mini-series starring Edward James Olmos in the role originally played by Lorne Greene. Members of the fan club (apparently, there are 2,500 registered members) are outraged that some of the characters and storylines are being significantly changed for the update. I wonder if the Sci-Fi channel knows that without these 2,500 people watching, they wouldn’t have anyone else watching. Maybe they should have taken that into consideration .tsk tsk

“Angels” ratings are heavenly

Finally, the New York Post reported that more than 4.2 million tuned in to the first part of HBO’s new mini series, “Angels in America” which stars Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, and Emma Thompson and is directed by the accomplished Mike Nichols (Primary Colors). In addition, it has received rave reviews from many critics who were given advance copies. The problem is no one seems to know what the hell it’s about entirely. The acting appears to be terrific and it tells some interesting stories from the world of 1980s greed and excess. I don’t get the impression people know where the “angels” get involved though. Am I wrong here?

Bravo played the cards and came up a winner! Celebrity Poker doesn’t suck!

One of the new, popular (and cheap to produce) shows that has popped up on ESPN, ESPN2 and the Travel Channel is the World Poker Tour, which spawned from the interest in the various repeats of the World Series of Poker that appeared on ESPN. Now, these networks show hours and hours of professional poker players playing intense, high stakes games until one player cleans the rest of the table and wins the various tournaments. I like gambling, I like cards, and even more specifically, I like Poker even though I’d probably get cleaned out if I ever played at a casino table. So, I will sit and watch a few hands when I can despite not knowing too much about the players.

The problem I have with these shows is that the people who are on generally are uh, unique. To me, it’s like watching the cast of HBO’s “Carnivale” play a game of poker. Sure, I like the game enough to tune in, but the cast of characters are just tough to look at.

Enter the NBC owned Bravo network, which has decided to cash in on the nation’s new fascination with televised poker games and the continuous fascination with celebrities and brought them together with the new six week special, “Celebrity Poker Showdown.” For five weeks, five different “No Limit Texas Hold’em” poker games (what they play on the World Poker Tour) with five different celebrities will be aired with the winner of each of those games facing off in a final game with the winner securing a $250,000 donation to his/her charity of choice.

Despite the appearances by celebrities that just need to go away like David Cross (“Arrested Development”), Michael Ian Black (“Ed”), and of course, the immortal Coolio (When was the last time he released an album?), there are some other intriguing players including Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Don Cheadle (“Traffic,” “Ocean’s Eleven”), Ron Livingston (“Hello Peter .Whaaaaat’s happening?”) Scott Stapp (Creed), and compulsive gambler, Ben Affleck. In addition, several other popular television personalities are taking part including Hank Azaria (“The Simpsons” and “Friends”) and David Schwimmer (“Friends”) in this poker playing extravaganza. Overall, it’s a good cast of players and has the potential to be pretty fun.

There are two problems that producers need to get around when airing this special: 1) just using house money (as opposed to their own perhaps) and 2) playing for charity, so the real “prize” is “pride” and “appreciation” from fellow celebrities. That doesn’t exactly make for good television. Ideally, it would be nice to see each celebrity fork over two, three or five thousand dollars to get into the game and then put it all on the line with the winner getting $50-75-125,000 or so. I am sure these players would play MUCH DIFFERENTLY if they had a little more on the line. But alas, this wasn’t meant to be.

I initially believed that because of these inherent flaws, watching this program would be about as intense as a Grateful Dead concert and therefore wouldn’t be as fun. Well, watching this celebrity showdown certainly wasn’t as intense as the World Poker Tour, but the players did take it seriously, did have fun and even smiled and laughed a lot (gasp!) as they played the game. Considering the games are being played and some sort of strategy is being utilized, the laughing and obvious fun makes watching the game more fun than watching a group of unlikable no-names wearing dark clothes, obnoxious hats, and sunglasses inside. It almost becomes easy to forget the celebrities are using house money and donating any money to the charity of their choice.

Amazingly, “Celebrity Poker Showdown” merges together the intense, but fun, world of high stakes poker with the fluffy, fun world of celebrity culture with the utmost of grace and style but respectability as well. For those who are into a game of poker unfold, this is for you. If you just like watching celebrities interacting with other celebrities and doing things you normally get to see celebrities do, then this is the show for you. In fact, considering it appeals to these different groups makes me believe that this show is a winner.

Closing Credits: ‘Must See TV” Thursday isn’t dead yet

Now in it’s tenth season, “Friends” has occupied as one of the bookends to NBC’s Must See TV Thursday. For those of us on the east coast, “Friends” runs at 8:00 PM until 8:30 and “ER” runs at 10:00 until 11:00 before our late local news starts. It has been like that for close to a decade. It’s like an NBC sandwich with “Friends” and “ER” acting as old reliable, the bread that holds the sandwich together. However, amazingly, the meat inside the sandwich has changed so often (or the shows running between 8:30 and 10:00) over the years that it never really established itself as an “American favorite” the way the hamburger, hot dog or turkey sandwich did. It happened during the 1980s when “The Cosby Show” and “Cheers” had a stranglehold on Thursday nights and everyone else would have been better off just showing a movie of some kind because it would have been cheaper than making and airing programs that no one was going to watch.

Thanks to “Friends” and “ER” NBC still has some sense of that aura surrounding Thursday nights, but the other networks are catching up. CBS has it’s number one show “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and Fox has “Tru Calling” and whatever other flavor of the week they have access to airing (now it’s “The Simple Life” at least until “American Idol 3” starts).

In the mean time, NBC has shuffled that 8:30-10:00 lineup so many times, the result has merely shown how important “Friends” and “ER” are to the network as “bookends” and even if the “Friends” cast wanted $2 million per episode, it was still worth it.

Think about all the clunkers that have been thrown onto Thursday night Remember “The Single Guy?” How about the winner that was “Inside Schwartz?” This season’s latest clunker, “Coupling” just added to the long list of shows that entered Thursday nights never to be seen again. It’s not as big of a Bermuda Triangle as Friday television in general, but the idea is certainly similar.

As “Friends” ends its run and “Will & Grace” gets ready to become the most important comedy on the network, something interesting, albeit tremendously late, has developed .some potential consistency. “Scrubs,” the laugh out loud hospital comedy has found a comfy home on Thursdays and “Will & Grace” has been there for several seasons as well. It also looks like one of my personal favorites, “Good Morning, Miami” is going to be making a reappearance on Thursday nights as well. In its’ second season “Miami” has improved significantly from its first season where it focused more on the “90210”-esque love triangle type drama and less on trying to actually make people laugh. While storylines still exist, the primary focus is now good comedy and that’s definitely a positive.

So, as “Friends” comes to its long awaited, yet also long dreaded, conclusion, it won’t have to worry about being the “glue that holds Thursday night together” anymore. Ironically, just as “Friends” is ending its run as one of the main anchors, the chains supporting the anchor actually strengthened considerably.

NBC has the biggest of holes to fill for the 2004-05 season since “Friends” will be gone. The truth is the network may not be able to fully recover the stranglehold the network once had on Thursday and the network may have to concede that. Earlier in 2003, Newsweek declared the sit-come genre in general to be in deep trouble. I see the point but am not 100% sure I agree. “Will & Grace” is still funny, “Scrubs” is solid (in fact, if John C. McGinley isn’t nominated for an Emmy next year, I am going to scream!) and “Good Morning, Miami” will continue to improve. It will be hard to say good bye to a show I’ve loved since high school (I’ll be 27 on Sunday, 12/14) in “Friends” but I do think that the sit-com genre will be OK and that Thursday nights will still be “Must See TV” night on NBC

This is where I would show a preview of next week’s episode(/column), but since the world of television can often be unpredictable, I won’t bother to try. I’ll just try to recap it for you again next week

— Coogan