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Friday, November 30, 2007

America chooses "Beauty and the Geek" winner. Let’s hope there’s no recount.

This week's pre-finale episode of "Beauty and the Geek" revealed that this season would tap into that age-old reality TV gimmick of letting "America pick the winner."

Drunk on my newfound power, I logged onto yesterday - and after downloading the 46487 components my computer needed to load the page - my giddiness was stonewalled when I realized I had no clue which couple I wanted to vote for.

With himbo "Sam" - yes, I believe that is the only way to describe the smooth-talking narcissist who starred in "Little Giants" - paired with awkward musicologist Nicole - this season’s wrench in the "Beauty" formula as the female geek, it was definitely a one-way street. Did Sam really learn anything other than that his preciously manicured looks wouldn't always help him out in the end even though they probably will because life is intolerably cruel and unfair? On the other hand, Jasmine and Dave are your typical pairing, the airhead nanny and the role-playing geek. Been there, done that. Choosing them is like picking a stereotype.

Not to break Ashton Kutcher's great "social experiment" up, but in the end, we all stick to our own. I voted for Nicole and Sam because, well, I was hoping the fourth season would finally get away from the girl beauty-guy geek formula. The pairing had its weirdness - Sam's acting background, for one - but since this season was all about radical changes, I figured why not go with the non-stereotypical choice.

OK, so you didn't get to pick the winner, but you can still watch the entire season here before Tuesday night's final finale airs on the CW at 7 p.m.

Writers Strike Update: There hasn't been a whole lot on the strike since negotiations resumed Monday, but that's probably because of the media blackout. Last night the news surfaced that there's an offer on the table from the producers to the tune of $130 million extra pay for new media distribution over three years. Talks continue Tuesday, but as suggested in this NY Times article, the writers' guild is at best lukewarm to this offer. Read the complete statements from both sides at EW, if you can stomach the industry jargon.

--Malavika Jagannathan,

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It's beginning to look a lot like Festivus

"I find your belief system fascinating."

If there's one thing that'll probably outlive every other moment from "Seinfeld" fifty years from now, it's the majestic wonder of Festivus. Frank Costanza's screwball holiday not only lends itself to any number of timeless episode quotes, but Festivus is actually celebrated in households nationwide. Maybe it's all a gag. Maybe this is a very real part of Bill O'Reilly's purported "War on Christmas." Maybe "Sein"-fans are way too eager to grapple with Grandma during the Feats of Strength.

Either way, you can actually order a Festivus pole for $38 plus shipping.

Yep. There's a 6-foot floor model for $38 and a 2-foot 8-inch table top model for $30. Both are made of aluminum (what else?) and have their own base for prime window display purposes. They're also collapsible for convenient storage. Best of all, the poles are manufactured in a city with a high strength-to-weight ratio -- Milwaukee. That's right. Beer and Festivus poles come from the same Midwestern bosom.

Wagner Companies produces the pole, and judging by the Web site photo gallery, boasts at least two celebrity customers. A lusterless pole was delivered to Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, reportedly a huge "Seinfeld" fan (and a bit of a low-talker if you ask us.) There's also a snapshot of Mark "the Maestro" Metcalf, who perhaps unbeknownst to local "Seinfeld" enthusiasts, is heavily involved in Milwaukee theater and owns a Mequon restaurant called Libby Montana. Best of all, longtime fans or first-time celebrants can buy their own pole at the Festivus Pole Lot, Dec. 7 (7-10 p.m.) and 8 (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) on the corner of Brady Street and Arlington Place in Milwaukee. Sadly, H&H will not be providing free bagels because of ongoing strike issues ...

A Festivus miracle? Hardly. Just a clever way for a Milwaukee company already producing aluminum to cash in on a pop culture craze that continues to build momentum each year (thank syndication for that!)

Need a refresher on Festivus? Sure you do! And remember: Festivus poles make a much better holiday gift than donations to the Human Fund.

History: Kramer becomes interested in resurrecting Festivus when Frank Costanza tells him how it was created as an alternative holiday in response to the commercialization of Christmas.

Frank: "Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way."
Kramer: "What happened to the doll?"
Frank: "It was destroyed. But out of that a new holiday was born: a Festivus for the rest of us!"

The pole: During Festivus, the unadorned Festivus Pole is displayed -- in direct opposition to a highly decorated Christmas tree.

Kramer: "Is there a tree?"
Frank: "No, instead, there's a pole. It requires no decoration. I find tinsel distracting."

Airing of Grievances: At the Festivus dinner, the family is gathered and lectured about their disappointing behavior during the past year.

Frank: "I got a lot of problems with you people! And now, you're gonna hear about it. You, Kruger. My son tells me your company STINKS!"
George: "Oh, God."

Feats of Strength: The final tradition observed in the celebration of Festivus. Traditionally, the head of the household challenges an individual to a wrestling match. Tradition further states that Festivus is not over until the head of the household is pinned.

Jerry (to George): "And wasn't there a Feats of Strength that always ended up with you crying?"

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,
(With convenient assistance from Wikipedia.)

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sign up these celebs for next "Dancing with the Stars''

With Season 5 of "Dancing with the Stars'' all over but the speculating -- about whether champs Helio Castroneves and Julianne Hough are or aren't (for the record, that kiss during his first "Banana Man'' routine seemed a little too unrestrained) -- here are some potential Season 6 contestants to consider:

The obligatory "90210'' star: It was "Dancing'' alum Ian Ziering who reportedly convinced Jennie Garth to sign up. So it only makes sense that Garth now talks Luke Perry into it. The potential for high drama would be much better with Shannen Doherty (Will she get mad at her partner and drop out? Will she get mad at the judges and drop one of them?), but she's basically divorced herself from the "90210'' gang now for years, so "Dancing'' would appear to be beneath her.

The sports figure: Former Packers wide receiver Desmond Howard. What better training for all that posturing and jumping around than striking the Heisman Trophy pose and doing the Lambeau Leap? And you've got to think crowd-pleasing figure skater Scott Hamilton has been on the to-get list for years.

The teen pop connection: No, not Miley Cyrus, If "Hannah Montana'' fans are nuts enough to spend $1,000 for a ticket to see her in concert, imagine what they would do to the voting lines? Plus, waaaay too many shots of Billy Ray Cyrus watching lovingly from the crowd. I'm going with a Jonas Brother, preferably the one who tripped and fell during the band's performance at the American Music Awards.

The big star: Kiefer Sutherland. With next season's "24'' a casualty of the writers' strike, Kief has nothing but time on his hands. There's good potential for a lot of rehearsal outtakes of him saying "damn it,'' just like Jack Bauer. Given his run-ins with hotel lobby Christmas trees and police officers in recent years, a rigourous training schedule might be just what Sutherland needs to stay out of trouble.

The Osmond: The show has reportedly already been courting Donny to follow in Maria's footsteps, but I'll pass on "Osmondmania'' the next time around, thanks. One Osmond forever wrecking the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up'' was enough.

The soap star: Suppose "General Hospital's'' Genie Francis and Anthony Geary would be asking for too much, huh? But can't you just see them doing the Viennese waltz to Christopher Cross' "Think of Laura''? OK, Susan Lucci it is.

The elder: William Shatner, Henry Winkler, Florence Henderson, Goldie Hawn.

The obvious: Patrick Swayze. Because what could possibly look better on the "Dirty Dancing'' star's resume than his role in "Roadhouse''? Dancing the Cha Cha in sequins on "Dancing with the Stars.''

-- Kendra Meinert,

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Can you spare a minute for a strike update? (Bowling humor!)

Really, this posting is just to kill time before "Pushing Daisies" comes on (c'mon ABC, pre-empting it an hour for "Shrek the Halls"!? That's just wrong!) But this is a bit of unsubstantiated strike news brought to us by Ain't It Cool News I thought was pretty, well, cool.

According to this article, the bookers for "Late Show with David Letterman" have contacted Howard Stern's people about an upcoming guest appearance. Which could mean CBS' head eyeball Les Moonves (or Les Moon Vest ... hello, "30 Rock" fans!) knows something we don't know about a possible reconciliation between the writers and the suits. But don't take my third-hand word for it -- check out the article and decide (and hope and pray) for yourself.

-- Adam Reinhard,

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Can you hear me now? No more product mentions.

It's not often I'll criticize one of my favorite shows, "30 Rock." But a joke that served as a promotion for Verizon Wireless a few weeks ago not only cost an undisclosed (read: exorbitant) amount of money. The lack of subtlety is growing tiresome as random attempts at "product integration" are become more prevalent in primetime.

It's not the fault of "30 Rock's" staff. They're given a direct order from NBC to find the best way to make a cheap plug work within the show - which is no doubt why Tina Fey has spoofed General Electric integration on "30 Rock" while (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) also employing real product placement. It's a necessary evil. I get that. But while Fey's direct turn to the camera asking for cash was meant to be subversive by breaking down the invisible wall, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Apparently it isn't enough that we have to sit through three Pepsi MAX and four Cadillac commercials before the trailers come on at the movie theater. Now marketing hacks are opening the checkbook so TV shows can "cleverly" integrate product mentions into targeted comedies. As detailed in this Hollywood Reporter article, the "30 Rock" joke in question revolved around a scene where Jack Donaghy tells Liz Lemon, "These Verizon Wireless phones are just so popular. I accidentally grabbed one belonging to an acquaintance." Liz responds, "Well, sure that Verizon Wireless service is just unbeatable. If I saw a phone like that on TV, I would be like, 'Where is my nearest retailer so I can get one?' " She then faces the camera and says, "Can we have our money now?"

It's upfront. It attempts to "stick it to the man" by acknowledging the promo. And maybe it'd be funny if the show hadn't already done the same thing with Snapple products back in Season One, which was a hilarious routine directly lifted from the "Motherboy XXX" episode of "Arrested Development." In the now-canceled Fox show, several characters embarrassingly fawn over Burger King, which paid the network for product placement - kind of amusing, when you consider "AD" probably had worse ratings than professional bowling on a Saturday afternoon. In fact, it's been reported that "AD" wanted to call the episode the "Tendercrisp Chicken Comedy Half-Hour." That it got changed might be an indication that open mockery of the King went TOO far. Anyway, it was a classic bit, but not something that'd hit the same mark a second or third time.

To be fair, "30 Rock" isn't the only show doing this. There's actually a top 10 list of product placement shows as charted by Nielsen, with another NBC comedy, "The Office," among those well-known for cutting major integration deals. But if you think about Staples or Chili's mentions in the first few seasons, those were blended seamlessly within the show, and more or less allowed "Scranton" to feel as authentic as the cities we might drive through every day. Even that gets old to writers though, with "Office" showrunner Greg Daniels quoted as saying his sitcom is no longer doing product integration because he "found it pretty impossible to balance the desires of the ad agencies and their clients with the creative needs of the show." Amen.

So first time, really funny. Second time, still pretty good. Third time, now I'm getting annoyed.

Am I wrong about this? Does anyone else care?

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"Heroes": Up, up and away, or down and out?

Excited for next week's finale of "Heroes"? We are, too, but for different reasons. It's not a good sign when the creator of a show admits it's been dragging under the weight of mistakes. But should we hold out hope that the finale can cure the ailments that have plagued this season or just that it ends the pain?

Channel Surfing bloggers Malavika Jagannathan and Adam Reinhard react to last night's episode ("Chapter 10: Truth and Consequences") and what it says about the future of this show.

Dreary and Disappointing: I will be doing a dance when next week's finale brings lukewarm Volume 2 to a swift end.

Last night's episode - here's a recap - was disappointingly flat and as painfully awkward as Mohinder's lame attempt to be a good "Company" man. The only worthwhile plot development was the death of one half of the wonder/moron twins. Although, who knows, with the number of presumably dead people coming back to life on the show, Alejandro may be back for more.

With cheerleader Claire mourning HRG's untimely death, a death we in the audience already know is fake, and newbie hero Monica battling gangbangers in New Orleans over a set of comic books, I was bored. Then there's the whole thing with the virus that presumably wipes out 90 percent of humanity, blah blah blah blah. Still bored.

The only thing to jolt me back from my nearly comatose state were the final seconds of the show as Hiro set up next week's showdown by attacking Peter Petrelli in the secret Texas facility housing the virus. Sweet. More evidence to suggest the show changes its name to "Hiro." But enough juice to make me hopeful the show perhaps hasn't lost its edge. Let's just hope Tim Kring can find his way around the mistakes and give us something in the finale to be excited about.

-- Malavika Jagannathan,

Just hang in there: How fitting that it would be supervillain Sylar to save "Heroes." First season's Big Bad was in fine form Monday night, playing mind games on Maya, gutting Alejandro like a pig, and holding Molly the Map Girl hostage. After not having much of anything evil to do this season but smuggle illegal immigrants, our favorite mind-sucker got his groove back.

The same can't be said for most of the rest of the episode, but there were still enough checks in the "pro" column to not go into next week's finale with a scowl on your face. If anything, we can look forward to a battle between Hiro and Peter (and possibly between Elle and Claire.) Hopefully we'll see what roles new characters Maya and Monica play (if any.) And we'll see what exactly Claire meant by "showing the world what she can do." If we're lucky, she'll get this series moving in the direction it should've taken 11 episodes ago: getting our heroes to be actual heroes, not just a bunch of post-modern whiny babies. Micah had the right idea when his backpack was stolen. He and his super-strong mom need to mount up and fight for a little truth, justice and American way.

Whaddya say, fans? Can you hold out a little longer, give "Heroes" one more chance?

-- Adam Reinhard,

Not satisfied? Here's a nice breakdown of the villains and heroes from the good folks at Entertainment Weekly.

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Classic TV: Obsessing over "Twin Peaks"

I should hardly qualify as an authority on "Twin Peaks" since my viewing only began this year - close to two decades after the show's commercial zenith. Promptness aside, I heartily endorse the recently released "Definitive Gold Box Edition," which marks the first time "Peaks" fans can get both seasons, including the rare hour-and-a-half pilot (original and European versions), in one DVD set. Best of all, there's a spectacular full-length documentary chronicling the rise and fall of the landmark series with contributions from Kyle MacLachlan (Special Agent Dale Cooper), Ray Wise (Leland Palmer), Sheryl Lee (Laura Palmer) and co-creator Mark Frost, among others. A separate feature with surrealist mastermind David Lynch, MacLachlan and Madchen Amick (Shelly Johnson) chatting over pie and coffee is also worth the relatively steep price ($99.99). Of particular note is when Lynch discusses the network-induced revelation of Laura's killer roughly midway through Season Two - largely regarded as the series' death knell - by equating it to "killing the golden goose."

It's hard to argue with the logic. Revisionist history usually rears its ugly head while discussing pop culture classics, cult or otherwise. But in the case of "Peaks," sacrificing art for commerce was - and forever will be - the wrong move. Bitterness aside, I'm thankful I never watched "Peaks" during its original run. As an ill-prepared fifth-grader, I likely would have been scarred for the rest of my life by visions of BOB or the incendiary death of a principal character in Episode 14, which will go down in TV history as one of the most disturbing, graphic scenes ever aired. Watching it this year, I was still shocked. Like, "refusing to look in mirrors and peering over my shoulder while turning out the lights" shocked. You'll never get the image out of your head.

My enjoyment also wasn't sullied by the fact that, having read critical commentary about the show years ago, I already knew the identity of Laura's killer. Coming into "Peaks" as a relatively informed newbie isn't a bad thing, and regardless, there's a heavy emotional investment still required. One, you have to embrace the bizarrely comical, particularly during the first season - which, as the documentary also notes, plays like seven mini-films as opposed to traditional, serialized TV. The progression of the Laura Palmer murder mystery is more of a MacGuffin than anything, which is why its (selfish?) resolution essentially killed the momentum of Lynch's unorthodox creation.

Knowing who killed the homecoming queen wasn't important in the broader sense of the show. Instead, her murder gave "Peaks" an eerie sense of urgency by turning a pristine logging town on its head - making suspects of everyone, and revealing dark, forbidden layers about physical and metaphysical worlds in the process. Once ABC forced Lynch to bury that connection alongside the killer (presumably for a ratings spike), the characters became disjointed - and as a result, less interesting while the series regressed without its creators' precise guidance. (Frost is a bit disingenuous about this in the documentary.) Sadly, the same soap opera conventions brilliantly parodied in Season One became the show's backbone after Episode 16, (leading to the unforgivable James storyline, amnesiac Nadine going back to high school, Donna's daddy drama and Windom Earle's over-the-top villainy.) Lynch made up for the "Days of Our Lives"-ish plot twists by taking complete control of the hypnotic Season Two finale, which it appears he knew would be "Twin Peaks'" swan song.

Despite its flaws, the series is essential viewing for fans of "The X-Files," "Lost" and perhaps even "Pushing Daisies." The new DVD set was supervised by Lynch, so the picture quality is stunning, particularly for the pilot, which was shot entirely on location in the Northwest. As standalone art, Season One is unparalleled. Even "Lost," which I'm a huge fan of, doesn't offer the same depth or, dare I say, audacity in terms of challenging the viewer with its uncompromising vision of a seemingly peaceful town rife with secrets. That cohesion and tension was missing in Season Two, and having just watched the pilot again, it's sad, even a bit hard to accept. But viewing the weaker episodes - all while knowing how the show withered from cultural phenomenon to cancelled series in such a short time - is still intrinsically captivating, if only to acknowledge the fleeting nature of art, and ultimately, the public's attention span.

* As a bonus, the Onion AV Club chose "Twin Peaks" as the first show for its new Classic TV feature. They start with a recap of the pilot on Wednesday, so if you're ambitious enough, you can watch the new DVD set along with them.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Delivering good news? With extra cheese?

News is moving fast and furious (sorry for evoking a horrible Vin Diesel movie) across the Internet about today's long delayed writers' strike bargaining sessions. Now in its fourth week, there hadn't been much to get excited about since barb-trading writers and producers couldn't even agree to meet face-to-face at the negotiating table (like Adam, they were all too busy watching "Trick My Trucker.")

Also, unless you were really searching for them, a lot of the writers' protestations stayed on the fringes of the Internet, with a few high-profile PSA's (featuring Sean Penn, David Schwimmer, the cast of "Ugly Betty," among others) getting some bigger play last week. However, this LA Times article interestingly points out how striking scribes are winning the PR smackdown through viral video, or "getting the message out about the strike through the very thing that (writers are) fighting for. The response just shows you how ingrained (the Internet is) in people's lives."

In potentially "breaking" news that might be nothing more than a game of telephone gone horribly awry, there appears to be hope for a resolution. In fact, Nikki Finke of Deadline Hollywood Daily is already claiming a well-placed source (who may or may not have been lurking in the shadows of a D.C.-area parking garage) told her that "there appears to be a deal seemingly in place between both sides."

"It's already done, basically," the "usually accurate" insider said to her. Still, she cautions that things could fall through and to not expect an agreement this week. Who knows, maybe before Christmas you'll get to enjoy some Dwight Schrute with your Grandma's fruit log? Or as a wise Magic 8 Ball once told me, "ask again later."

Finke has been on top of strike business from the start, and according to this article on, is THE only source writers, producers and media members unanimously turn to. Still, insiders love to call their shot early, so don't fire up the DVR for new "Letterman" Top Ten lists just yet.

(You can, however, go here and read what the show's writers have been up to while picketing ...)

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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Is it cold in here or is it just the Eagles on '60 Minutes'?

Did you catch that much-hyped "rare interview'' with the Eagles on "60 Minutes'' Sunday night? Brrrr. And you thought it looked cold at Soldier Field for the Broncos-Bears game that went into OT and pushed back the CBS news mag.

No wonder the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers never make the talk-show rounds and wait 28 years between studio albums. They apparently aren't BFFs.

Getting Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmit and Joe Walsh in the same room to talk about making their new album, "Long Road Out of Eden,'' didn't quite have the same effervescent quality as say getting Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Matt Damon together to chat up "Ocean's Twelve.''

There was NO joking around, and spontaneous interaction was nearly nonexistent. When Frey and Henley were asked specifically about their friendship (or lack of) by correspondent Steve Kroft, well, let's just say "Peaceful Easy Feeling'' isn't the first song that came to mind.

Frey came off as having the healthiest ego, although his ability to answer the question about the Eagles' enduring popularity by reciting seemingly every one of the group's hits was impressive. Schmit, as usual, was the quiet one. Walsh is still the "cool dude,'' but his camera time was minimal. Henley, of course, was prickly, delivering the best quote of the interview: "I'm proud of the (new) album. I'm glad we did it, and if we never make another one that'll be fine, too.''

In other words, don't hold your breath for the follow-up to "Eden,'' which has already gone platinum.

Still, it was an interview worthy of double viewing on the TiVo -- once to hear what they said and once to see what they said via body language (Henley gets the prize for being the least subtle). It was fascinating TV in that way. For all the overexposed pop tarts, fake celebs and blowhard rappers out there, there was something refreshingly honest about seeing four guys pushing 60 -- owners of the best-selling album in history -- noticeably uncomfortable in an interview and unwilling to give pat answers just for the sake of the cameras.

But the really amazing part? That four guys who can seemingly have such little chemistry together as people can make such great, great music together as a band.

-- Kendra Meinert,


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Copy that, good buddy: "Trick My Trucker" sucks

I've got nothing but respect for truck drivers. Let's get that straight first, before some long-hauler gets offended and decides to go all "Duel" on me. Truckers provide an invaluable service to our country, all while putting up with rude SUV drivers, crappy hours, and, one can only imagine, countless cases of sleeping butt. Who couldn't respect that?

Apparently the good folks at Country Music Television, if their new reality show "Trick My Trucker" is any indication. A makeover show in the spirit of weight-loss series "Biggest Loser," "Trick My Trucker" narrows its focus to, obviously, truck drivers. Chosen from submissions sent in by their families, the guys (always overweight with shaggy hair and beards, because what else do truckers look like?) are given a diet and exercise regimen, are taken on a shopping spree with a fashion expert, and are -- gasp! -- forced to shave. (Bet that sleeping butt is looking pretty good right about now, huh?) In the end, the contestants strut their newly groomed stuff in front on family and friends, and are voted on by three judges for style and most weight lost.

That's not even the most embarrassing part. No good reality show (yes it's an oxymoron) would be worth its salt without a "challenge" segment, and here's where "Trick My Trucker's" tires really leave the road. The two contestants are made to run an obstacle course, which involves such degrading tasks as riding a kid's bike and jumping a high bar. By the end, both poor shlubs are left panting and sweaty, while cocky host Bob Guiney mugs for the camera like the sad former "Bachelor" he is.

"Trucker" is a spin off of CMT's far more noble "Trick My Truck," which shamelessly rips off "Pimp My Ride," but at least gives drivers' machines needed repairs and personalized touches. That show is still unwatchably dumb, but it spares those it helps unnecessary embarrassment and gives them lasting help with their livelihood. "Trucker," on the other hand, spends a scant two weeks each episode trying to get drivers in shape and looking smooth. Anyone who has ever tried permanently losing weight knows it takes waaaaay longer than a fortnight. And once the cameras leave, do you really think these guys keep it up, or is it right back to the Mountain Dew and Funyuns?

Hey CMT, stick to tricking out the machines, and leave the men some dignity.

-- Adam Reinhard,

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Friday, November 23, 2007

"Grey's" needs better stories, less whining. Seriously.

Apparently I jumped the gun a little bit yesterday (see previous post) on renewing interest in "Grey's Anatomy." Last night's episode was the final straw in a long list of grievances with that show.

According to Nielsen's ratings, people still love "Grey's." I'm not sure who those people are, but I know it's not me.

I jumped on the bandwagon early in season 1 and stuck with it through the improbable storylines in seasons 2 and 3 - seriously, how is it possible for someone to survive two near-death experiences in the span of a year?

Last night's two-part episode began like "ER" as two ambulances crashed into each other in the bay, resulting in mayhem. In the middle of rescuing a set of dying paramedics, title character and resident whiner Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) found time to share her deep thoughts on death that had more to do with her than the paramedics, of course. The only plus in the entire episode, other than Dr. Miranda Bailey's genuine outrage when a white supremacist refuses her help, was a guest role from Austin Powers alum Seth Green as a patient with an exposed carotid artery.

Lesson here? Leave the freak accidents to "ER." What made "Grey's" unique from other hospital-themed shows were the characters, those flawed and funny people trying to figure out their soap opera lives. If viewers end up despising everyone, including the title character, you've strayed from what made the show enjoyable in the first place.

With the departure of Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh) and Preston Burke (Isaiah Washington) - two of the more grounded characters - the show's whining has reached unbearable levels. The addition of new characters like Lexie Grey (Chyler Leigh) - Meredith's half-sister - hasn't done anything except spread the self-pity around even more.

Of course, I could be wrong. About 20+ million people a week keep watching, although I guess I'm not sure why. Thoughts?

-- Malavika Jagannathan,

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

What we're thankful for in the TV universe

Expect new posts to resume tomorrow. Go watch some football and maybe "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" on FOX tonight. Grandma will love it. Happy Thanksgiving!

* "Pushing Daisies" introducing the world to Kristin Chenoweth, who seems more like a huggable cartoon character than potential love interest for Ned as pie-making ball of sunshine, Olive Snook.

* The writers' strike not affecting "The Wire's" fifth and final season set for January. With no other new shows to watch, fans of compelling cop dramas might start digging into DVD sets of HBO's grittiest show not named "The Sopranos."

* Comedy Central's "Daily Show with Jon Stewart" archive at Every "Even Ste(v)phen" with Carell and Colbert matching wits? Merry Christmas to all.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

* News that, according to Patrick Dempsey, Meredith and "McDreamy" may end their three-year hot-and-cold romance on "Grey's Anatomy," which means I may actually start watching again ... seriously.

* The fourth helping of Bravo's "Project Runway." The first challenge was sub-par, but the drama was superb.

* Eight episodes of Texas-sized drama "Friday Night Lights" left to be aired this winter, enough time for newcomers to catch up on Season 1 on DVD and start loving the good folks of Dillon.

-- Malavika Jagannathan,

* Freddy Rodriguez joining "Ugly Betty'' as Gio the sandwich guy. Love him. Love the feathered hair. And we bet Betty learns to, too.

* Helio Castroneves and Mel B. deservedly making it to the "Dancing with the Stars'' finals. (Notice the non-mention of Marie Osmond. It's a dance competition, people, not an Osmond family popularity contest!)

* Fox using the words "postponed indefinitely'' instead of "canceled'' for the questionable fate of next season's "24.'' Canceled would've been crushing, postponed is just torturous, and "24'' fans know torture.

-- Kendra Meinert,

* Kristen Bell on "Heroes." A lackluster second season (and that's being kind) has been goosed considerably by the addition of the former "Veronica Mars" star, playing a vivacious, voltaic superbaddie.

* The quick turnaround for "The Sarah Silverman Program's" second season. It's hard to believe this sassy, sacrilegious series only debuted in February, and came up with a second set of episodes so soon after the first ended.

* Every. Single. Thing. About "Pushing Daisies."

-- Adam Reinhard,

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Does no new TV really mean no new TV?

If I could play devil's advocate before turkey-induced slumber takes precedence over TV viewing (and blog posting) during the next few days, one thing the striking writers may have underestimated is how much their already abundant production could work against them.

As I prepare to watch Paul "Pee Wee" Reubens' guest appearance on "Pushing Daisies" tonight, the strike in no way has me feeling as if November sweeps month is any less, er, sweeping, than years past. Yes, a black January is right around the corner. Sure, "The Office" doesn't have any more fresh episodes. And true, "Lost" might get cut off after its episode eight bombshell is dropped next year.

But while all that bums me out, I still feel overwhelmed by the assortment of entertainment options at my fingertips. My DVR is currently stacked with unwatched B-list shows like "My Name is Earl" and "Scrubs." Food Network has been relentless in its Thanksgiving coverage - and damn, it makes me hungry, even if my cooking skills are confined to sticking Eggo waffles in the toaster. I've also yet to tackle any of the extras on my newly-opened "Twin Peaks" Gold Box DVD set, and of course, there's always the familiar, inviting glow of "Freaks and Geeks" to keep me warm and distracted as winter approaches. Essentially, it all means a dearth of fresh episodes won't leave me so incredibly desperate that I'd actually consider moving away from the TV and interacting with real people.

Most pertinent of all, I can't be the only one who is looking forward to being introduced to shows I've neglected to watch in the past. For instance, the series I'm most excited about at the moment has been out since 2002, yet I've just now completed Season One on DVD. "The Wire" is some of the most compelling television I've ever seen, and honestly, I feel ridiculous to have ignored it for this long. Having gone without a permanent commitment to HBO until this past year, I've resolved to get caught up before the fifth and final season (which thankfully, won't be affected by the strike) kicks up in January. As a result, digging deep into the richly detailed Baltimore backstory has me more fired up than anything new coming out - even "Daisies" or "Lost."

I'll eventually get around to posting about "The Wire's" unflinching depiction of urban America as I move further ahead in my viewing. But once everything goes dark, maybe this strike won't mean much to average or even rabid TV viewers because there's already a built-in excuse. A lack of new "Lost" will just mean some reheated Season Three DVD leftovers to get ready for the eventual strike compromise. Maybe longtime "Seinfeld" fans will finally stop neglecting Larry David's equally brilliant "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and revel in Season Six's impeccable ending instead of recycling the same Festivus jokes. And no more "30 Rock?" I introduce you to "Flight of the Conchords," which you've also probably never watched because a lack of premium cable got in the way.

Simply put, if you're only allowed to miss something when it's gone, can a strike's impact really be felt when previously written episodes on DVD make perfect stocking stuffers?

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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Turkey Day's perfect for couch potatoes

Looking for something to watch after you've stuffed your face with turkey tomorrow that perhaps - gasp - isn't football-related? Hours upon hours of marathon programming awaits you.

Check out this "Couch Potato's Guide" from MSNBC of all the Thanksgiving Day TV specials that range from an Alfred Hitchcock/Jimmy Stewart love fest on AMC to 39 hours of "Law and Order" spin-offs on USA Network.

Obligatory Writers Strike Update: Apparently not everyone is as overly concerned as I am (and fellow bloggers here at Channel Surfing) about the writers strike putting TV in an endless loop of reruns and reality TV.

This Washington Post's TV column reports an online study found that about 75 percent of people surveyed are OK with the lack of new episodes of their favorite shows. Oh, the horror! Apparently folks are content to watch reruns - or spend more time reading or at the movies. That's right. Reading.

-- Malavika Jagannathan,

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Classic Stewart, Colbert and Carell at your fingertips

As this Slate article points out, what's at stake in the writers strike may very well serve as the ultimate diversion while the "wrangling over residuals" (Like that alliteration? That's why writers are valuable, suckas!) drags on.

If you didn't already know it, nine years of archived "Daily Show with Jon Stewart" footage is available on the fake news program's official Web site. As a loyal viewer who once spent two hours trying to find as many Carell-Colbert "Even Ste(v)phen" clips as possible on YouTube, the searchable database provides greater insight into Viacom's (Comedy Central's parent company) copyright infringement lawsuit earlier in the year. If the Viacom suits couldn't beat YouTube, they were going to join the game by boasting the ultimate "TDS" catalog. After all, they owned the clips. Kinda makes sense.

Think about that: more than 13,000 "Daily Show" clips on demand. This could mean serious changes in viewer habits and ad streams - which is what the writers have been barking about on the picket lines. As Dana Stevens writes, "When 'The Daily Show' does come back, I may well start watching even new episodes this way: at my desk in the morning, instead of on the couch at 11 o'clock at night. Multiply that defection by the size of the show's fan base and the subsequent migration of advertising dollars from screen to Web, and the writers' demand for a piece of the online action starts to make plenty of sense."

Because of the site's search capabilities, I was able to type in "September 11" and find Stewart's teary-eyed speech from Sept. 20, 2001 - the first show that aired following the destruction of the World Trade Center. It might be my all-time favorite TV moment - a comedian struggling with the idea that it's OK to be funny, even after such unprecedented devastation, yet succumbing to the reality that nine days later, there wasn't much to laugh about. Watching Stewart as he struggles to wrap his brain around what happened is honest, gripping TV. It also mirrors the country's collective disbelief, and more than six years later, resonates (even for the most cynical among us) on multiple emotional levels.

That said, this post wasn't meant to be a downer. So here's another classic "TDS" clip that also mirrors the country's disbelief, and more appropriately, mocks executive orders for reality-based rubbish. This clip is six years old, but just think: if we're lucky, the programming heads might steal every one of these ideas ("Charlton Heston's Makeout Vault!") while writers sit on their pencils ...

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Livin' large -- and true to life -- in Texas

Friday's episode of the critically acclaimed "Friday Night Lights" was a solid reminder of why this show snagged an Emmy earlier this year for outstanding casting in a drama (although it was snubbed in nominations). "Varsity Blues," this is not.

I started watching the show because I was hoping to mock yet another attempt by the Hollywood elite to depict my home state on television ("Dallas," anyone?). Unwittingly, I got caught up in the lives of the tight-knit community of Dillon, Texas that revolves around the football team's highs and lows. Plus, FNL does a great job of representing the Lone Star state without resorting to stereotypes about rich oilmen in Cowboy hats -- it's shot around Austin and heavily features the music of Austin-based instrumental indie rockers Explosions in the Sky.

Even though it was low on the edge-of-your-seat sports action that normally bookend the show, Friday's episode was high on the character relationships that helped defy expectations on a show about high school football. In a TV world full of criminal procedurals, horny doctors and dramas featuring the lifestyles of the rich and beautiful, it's sometimes just nice to see normally flawed people.

Props go out to Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton who play Coach and wife duo Eric and Tami Taylor with believable simplicity. But there are also those larger-than-life characters like running back "Smash" Williams whose attempt to wheel and deal with college recruiters has serious potential this season (as seen on Friday when he and his mother disagree on his focus on an athletic scholarship over an academic experience at a historically black college).

Oh, and there's football - some of the best on-field action that isn't on ESPN, which even the big screen sometimes falls short on. If you don't believe me, rent "We Are Marshall." So, if you're not watching right now, pick up Season 1 on DVD, then catch new episodes on any given Friday at 8 p.m. on NBC.

Writers strike update: If you're wondering when your favorite show will be off the air, here's an ongoing list from Entertainment Weekly and the editors of TV Guide. There's also some hope in the news at the end of last week that negotiations between producers and writers will resume on Nov. 26. But the threat of a reality TV takeover seems imminent (More "Making Menudo," please?).

-- Malavika Jagannathan,

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Mobisodes? Webisodes? Who cares, it's new "Lost"!

Because we weren't anticipating that February "Lost" premiere date enough, the sadistic bastards at ABC decided to whet our appetites even further by unleashing a series of shorts, entitled "Lost: Missing Pieces." The two-minute "mobisodes" (so-called because they first air on Verizon mobile phones; hence, "mobile episodes") are intended to give hardcore fans extra insight into plotlines and character arcs. The webisodes (which they are also so-called because they also air on -- seriously, marketing dudes, just call them "quickies") feature cast regulars and are scripted by regular series writers like Carlton Cuse and Adam Horowitz.

Whoa, red flag there, guys! I know the "Lost" castaways are cut off from civilization, but don't "Lost" writers know there's a strike goin' on? Over internet residuals, no less? Have the writers gone all Young Ben, joining the Others across the picket lines and killing off the Dharma bums?

Well, no, not really. The scripts for all 13 mobwebisodes were knocked out before the strike struck, and according to this article at, the Hawaii production team is still at work. So not only are half the webimobiquickisodes already shot, the rest should soon follow. Phew!

Airing each Monday, there have only been two "Missing Pieces" released so far, with the intent to post one each week until the HIGHLY anticipated season four premiere. Like I said, the shorts are meant to flesh out previously explored stories, and as such don't make for the most exciting viewing.

Episode 1 features Jack and his father, Christian, shortly before Jack's wedding. Christian gives Jack a wristwatch. That's about it. No smoke monster or Jacob's ghost or nothin'. Well, there's actually a touching bit where Christian asks Jack to be a better father than he had been, which I doubt makes up for his epic levels of jerkitude, but Jack seemed to appreciate it, so who am I to judge? (A fan, damn it -- a fan!)

The second short is better, mostly by virtue of starring Hurley. Our rotund hero is in search of wine to take on his Season 2 picnic with Libby (who might even have been getting shot during these two minutes) when he is confronted by another islander, nicknamed Frogurt. Frogurt is played by that actor who looks and sounds like Steve Buscemi's kid brother. I think he was in a DiGiornio's pizza ad once. Anyway, Frogurt's all, "Hey man, are you gonna make a move on Libby, or are you gonna let a real man have a chance?" And Hurley's all, "Oh no, you didn't! I'm going on a picnic with her right now, bee-yotch!" And Frogurt's like, "Oh yeah?" And Hurley's like, "Yeah!"

And that's it.

Like I said, nothing mind-blowing or controversial. But if they help pass the time until we get back to the island, I'll even refer to them as "mobisodes" if they want me to. Head over to to check them out for yourself.

-- Adam Reinhard,

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Oscar just keeps it real, yo

As someone who has watched enough of "Barney" and "The Wiggles" to be freaked-out as an adult, this fascinating New York Times article on early "Sesame Street" episodes being too gritty for children of 2007 is both hilarious and heartbreaking.

Though I grew up on a steady diet of Nickelodeon staples like "Pinwheel" and "Today's Special" (remember Jeff and his magic hat?), my two older brothers were closer to the original "Sesame Street" generation. Now with young kids, they were both understandably giddy when the first "Old School" DVD (1969-1974) was released last year. The second one (1974-1979) came out earlier this month, and while I suspect a lack of sheen won't prevent most 30-and-40-something parents from exposing their children to the early exploits of Super Grover, it's interesting to note that there's an "adults only" warning on the DVD sets.

With tongue-firmly-in-cheek, Virginia Heffernan writes, "Back then - as on the very first episode, which aired on PBS Nov. 10, 1969 - a pretty, lonely girl like Sally might find herself befriended by an older male stranger who held her hand and took her home. Granted, Gordon just wanted Sally to meet his wife and have some milk and cookies, but ... well, he could have wanted anything. As it was, he fed her milk and cookies. The milk looks dangerously whole."

Yikes. I can only imagine what the "Schoolhouse Rock" bill would say about water boarding in 2007 ...

Heffernan continues: "I asked Carol-Lynn Parente, the executive producer of 'Sesame Street,' how exactly the first episodes were unsuitable for toddlers in 2007. She told me about Alistair Cookie and the parody 'Monsterpiece Theater.' Alistair Cookie, played by Cookie Monster, used to appear with a pipe, which he later gobbled. According to Parente, 'That modeled the wrong behavior' - smoking, eating pipes - 'so we reshot those scenes without the pipe, and then we dropped the parody altogether.'

Also worth noting: Oscar's depression is untreated. Big Bird's hallucinations about Snuffleupagus (he's visible to everyone now) are Sid and Marty Krofft-style creepy. Bert and Ernie are obviously in the closet. And of course, Cookie Monster is the model for child obesity thanks to his googly-eyed gluttony.

Heffernan is clearly having a little fun with the advisory label. But overzealous adults are known for literal (perhaps insane) interpretations of children's programming, lest we forget that "SpongeBob SquarePants" and "Teletubbies" have also been attacked for promoting "unhealthy" agendas.

It's always alarming to me when history is re-written. Games of tag being banned from schools appeared to be the first salvo. Now "Sesame Street" keeps it too real for today's youth?

I've encountered more Oscars than Elmos in my 28 years on this planet. I've eaten too many chocolate chip cookies to count. And god knows what reprehensible thoughts would be running through my head if I hadn't blocked them out by memorizing the lyrics to "Rubber Duckie (You're the One)" instead.

But that's how we rolled in the hard-knock '70s and '80s. Our TV puppets were raw.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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At least someone fell hard for American Music Awards

Ahhh, the American Music Awards, gotta love 'em. OK, actually not so much. Mostly you just have to endure them.

The three-hour broadcast on Sunday -- a night on ABC we're more accustomed to enjoying a little weirdness on Wysteria Lane or some weepiness with the Walkers than an endless parade of "American Idol'' alums and that helmet of black meringue Gene Simmons calls hair -- was a sleeper.

"One of the hottest bands in the world ... '' Maroon 5. Zzzz.
"Christina ...'' Aguilera? Nope. Applegate. Figures.
"America's busiest host ...'' Ryan Seacrest. Gag.

And if there's any doubt that there's a writers' strike in Hollywood -- beyond host Jimmy Kimmel's painful lack of jokes -- check out this intro for James Blunt: "A British singer/songwriter who has many hits.'' (Not only pedestrian, but incorrect, since the "hits'' pretty much started and stopped with the ultra-annoying "You're Beautiful.'')

In the spectrum of awards shows, the AMAs are one Kid Rock/Snoop Dogg appearance above the People's Choice Awards. Not exactly the pinnacle of prestige. Awards are handed out based on sales and radio airplay, which explains why it felt like "Groundhog Day'' at the podium: Daughtry, Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, Underwood, Daughtry, Underwood. And look, there's Kellie Pickler on her feet in the crowd cheering on her "Idol'' family!

Underwood, who got plenty of practice perfecting the art of the insincere acceptance speech at the Country Music Association Awards earlier this month, at least looked less uptight and worried about winning this time around. After thanking "MY people'' and "MY entourage'' earlier, she accepted the award for Country Album from members of Velvet Revolver: "If anybody would've told me that Scott Weiland and Slash would ever have presented me an award, I really don't know what I would have thought about that.'' Thud.

During his acceptance speech for Breakthrough Artist, Daughtry said, "I want to thank my wife ... for doing the real work at home,'' at which point the camera showed a close-up of his wife's very-there cleavage in the audience. Nice bit of unintentional humor.

It was almost as good as when Joe Jonas took a major header at the start of the Jonas Brothers' performance. (See it here.) Speaking of 'tweener power, "High School Musical 2'' beat out "Dreamgirls'' and "Hairspray'' for Favorite Soundtrack. There's a shocker. Miley Cyrus showed up to present, and somehow managed to shake her dad long enough to do it all by herself. Now that was a shocker.

Poor Duran Duran must've felt like the designated '80s dinosaurs of the night. But the "do do do do do do do dodo dododo dodo'' of "Hungry Like the Wolf'' at least was a welcome infusion of fun. For as awkward as Beyonce's collaboration with Sugarland was (the much-hyped "appearance everyone will be talking about''), performances by Alicia Keys, Lenny Kravitz and Chris Brown (who should hire himself out as a professional awards show perker-upper) managed to give the show some cred.

Of course, not as much as "one of the hottest bands in the world'' and the guy with "many hits.''

-- Kendra Meinert,


Saturday, November 17, 2007

A trifecta of perfection on TCM

Turner Classic Movies has long been one of my favorite channels. Not only can you see some of the greatest movies ever made, but also sans commercials and in their original aspect ratio (none of that "formatted to fit your screen" crap.) Plus you get insight into each movie before and after it shows from cuddly film historian Robert Osbourne. You do need to have a high tolerance for black and white, but what serious film lover doesn't?

Anyway, I bring this up because while TCM will often show movies I have no interest in seeing, every so often they will show two or three classics right in a row, making for some amazing old-school movie-viewing action. And Sunday night is one of those times.

Tune in to TCM (Time Warner channel 63) starting at 9 p.m. to see, and I can't stress this enough, three of the GREATEST MOTION PICTURES EVER TO GRACE THE PLANET. In a row. Without commercials. Drool.

Starting at 9 o'clock you get Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart in The Philadelphia Story. The 1940 comedy of high society and low blows single-handedly resurrected Hepburn's then-flagging movie career. Basically, without this movie, Cate Blanchett would still be Oscar-less.

After that at 11, you get the mack daddy of them all, the most perfect movie ever made, Casablanca. If the Packers happen to fall prey to the Panthers tomorrow afternoon, take solace in Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman outwitting Nazis, falling in and out of love, and asking Sam to play a certain song. Pure film bliss.

And to finish it off at 1 a.m., strap yourself in for Alfred Hitchcock's most flat-out enjoyable movie, North By Northwest. Mama's boy Cary Grant is mistaken for a government agent, chased across Mount Rushmore, and ends up taking a highly suggestive train ride with Eva Marie Saint.

Keep an eye on TCM's listings and you'll be rewarded with some great film watching. You can always click it here for this month's schedule at TCM's Web site.

-- Adam Reinhard,


Friday, November 16, 2007

Your favorite show is going dark in 3, 2, 1...

Good news, "Cavemen" fans! While the lights have already gone dark at "The Office," and "Two and a Half Men" will soon become "No Men Whatsoever," there's still plenty of life left in the Geico ad spinoff (if there was any life in that dreck to begin with), despite the ongoing TV writer's strike. "Cavemen" is one of a handful of shows with more than two months worth of episodes ready for airing, according to this blog posting at Entertainment Weekly's Web site.

Fans of "Everybody Hates Chris" come out the best, according to the list. The Chris Rock-produced CW sitcom has a hardy 15 episodes in the can. On the other end, "My Name Is Earl," "Private Practice," "The Unit" and "Two and a Half Men" are all down to their final two.

Enjoy them while they last, because if that YouTube clip Tom posted is any indication, we're in for a long, dry winter.

-- Adam Reinhard,


Winter of our dissed content

Fans of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" will want to check out the below You Tube clip from the frontlines in the war against corporate greed. Online and DVD revenue needs to be shared! And promises of softer pencil grips and cushier mouse pads aren't cutting it in contract talks anymore!

(Hey, come to think of it, where are my residuals for these last few "online" blog posts? Hmmm ...)

I kid the writers. In fact, I feel their pain as an underappreciated scribe who continually makes snarky jokes at the expense of those who have more money than me (Mr. Belushi, I apologize for that "According to Jim" crack a few posts ago. Now go back to being horribly, horribly unfunny. I look forward to your cameo in "Blues Brothers 2010.")

The pros do it about a million times better, as proven by this "Daily Show" writer who assumes the Royal Throne o' Stewart and does a darn good job of being the main funnyman. Also, how awesome is John Oliver's cameo as John J. Viacom Jr. III? Indubitably!

So to recap: Witty writers want a bigger piece of the pie. Greedy media fat cats suddenly have no idea what the Internet is and how it can be used to make money. Walking in a straight line while holding a sign with big, bold letters makes people feel like they're accomplishing a lot.

And yeah, I miss "The Daily Show."

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bored at work? Play "The Office: The Video Game"

With "The Office" on indefinite hiatus (do you think Michael Scott would walk the picket lines with the TV writers, or just deliver them some of that crummy pizza from Pizza By Alfredo?) how are you going to fill the time without your weekly doses of Dunder Mifflin? In the true spirit of the Scranton branch, whatever you do can't be in any way productive. In that case, I may have just the ticket.

Presenting "The Office: The Video Game."

No, Dwight, this isn't a prank. In the most inexplicable TV/video game tie-in since "Gilligan's Island," NBC turned over the rights for an "Office" video game to "casual" online game developer MumboJumbo.

Before you get your hopes up for a "Halo" parody featuring Michael as Sarge, blasting little Toby-shaped alien mutants, "The Office" game is more like "Root Beer Tapper." Or, in a reference that'll make me seem less like an old man, "Diner Dash."

You play as Jim, doing very uncharacteristic Jim things, such as working hard and trying to please his boss. The object of the game is to rush around the office, delivering files to coworkers, making copies and mailing shipments. You compete against other characters, such as Dwight, Andy, Angela and Michael. You get occasional help from Pam, who will provide you with pranks to pull on your opponents. But don't expect anything funnier than callbacks to old jokes, such as Dwight beating up a pinata, or Kelly talking Ryan to death. The designers likely noticed the lack of comedy, and to make up for it provided a laugh track for every successful prank. (A laugh track? This is supposed to be an "Office" game, not "According to Jim.")

Hardcore fans will pick up on every gag, but if you don't get one the first time, just hang in there, because the game will repeat it ad nauseum before it's over. If the designers' point was to make a repetitive, annoying experience similar to a real office, hooray! they succeeded. But all griping aside, it's still such a bizarre kick to be playing an "Office" video game at all. The gameplay is enjoyable enough for what it is, and at least for the free hour demo, there's fun to be had in manuevering a bobblehead Jim around the familiar layout of Dunder Mifflin, interacting with other creepy little bobblehead characters. It's a pale substitute for the show, but I'll take what I can get.

... That's what she said.

-- Adam Reinhard,

The game is available to download here for $20, or for a free hour trial.

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Everything's coming up "Daisies"

Not a day goes by where I don't read an anonymous Web site comment justifying a lack of sympathy for striking writers because "all of TV sucks." Whatever side of the fence you fall on as the stalemate continues, it's ridiculous to paint striking writers with the same broad brushstroke. Yeah, "According to Jim" isn't in the same class as "30 Rock." "According to Jim" isn't even in the same class as watching a guy make armpit noises for a half hour. But even if it's just one or two shows that you end up caring about each season, there's a lot of original and entertaining programming in TV land.

Which brings me to a show I care deeply about, and hope I'll continue to care deeply about as the deliciously demented plot thickens. The freshness of "Pushing Daisies" continues to amaze me each week. I wrote in Thursday's WEEKEND section that the folks who write (er, used to write) "Daisies" must be mainlining Pixy Stix while penning scripts. Every week, you get sumptuous slices of pie and Olive Snook's (Kristin Chenoweth is sunshine personified) sugar-coated smile greeting you at 7 p.m. And if you're lucky, there's a They Might Be Giants sing-a-long tossed in for good measure.

If you like the twisted humor of "Twin Peaks," you should be watching this show. If you like Tim Burton's fanciful creations, you should be watching this show. If you like wickedly fun plot developments and well-written, rapid-fire dialogue that you actually have to pay attention to, you should be watching this show.

Consider that in last night's episode, the following happened: a polygamist dog breeder (played by "The Soup's" Joel McHale) impaled himself on a spiky brush end after repeatedly slipping on spilled - regrettably poisoned - coffee. The rest of the episode revolved around determining which of the breeder's four wives did the dirty, highly caffeinated deed, all while continuing to probe the real straw that stirs the "Daisies" drink - Ned's (Lee Pace) freakish capability to bring people back to life, and therefore, his subsequent inability to touch the love of his life; the already deceased, but breathing because of Ned abusing his powers (whew!) Chuck (Anna Friel).

I know that sounds incredibly deranged, but rehashing the entire "pie-lette" in more organized detail is somewhat moot six episodes into the season. If you're not watching the show, what you have to do is decide for yourself whether those tiny insights sound interesting enough to explore further. Then go online to and watch older episodes, or when the strike inevitably kills off spankin' new TV, hope they replay the show from the beginning and get caught-up.

Yes, the show is about dead people coming back to life. But there isn't a hint of gloom and doom to the overall premise. When a guy wakes up in the morgue with a tire mark across his forehead, he doesn't flip out at the sight of being reanimated by Ned. Instead, he answers his questions and asks for a breath mint, you know, like any dead person who was cognizant that they had just been put down for eternal rest probably would.

That's original. That's funny. That's "Pushing Daisies."

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"Lost" in translation

Keeping eyes open to Internet chatter about the writers strike has frankly been, well, boring. Other than reports about Jimmy Kimmel delivering lunch to picketers and some soap opera writers daring to cross the line (they need writers for that dreck?), it doesn't appear as if there's any meat to negotiation sessions. Instead, the early going has been about public solidarity, with the actual writers taking a backseat as the national media flock to Eva Longoria and Brad Garrett for choice quotes.

It's already been reported that shows like "Pushing Daisies," "Heroes" and "Men In Trees" did enough tinkering with last remaining episodes so that they could function as season finales if the strike persists. However, a lot of shows are going to abruptly end without a trace of resolution, because according to Broadcasting and Cable, there doesn't appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel.

What does this mean for a show like "Lost," whose much-anticipated return is slated for February?

Michael Ausiello of TV Guide writes that if the strike ends in the next month or so, "there's a good chance all 16 episodes will still air this season. If it goes on longer than that, the back eight would most likely be grouped in with next season's 16. Let's hope it doesn't come to that."

Unlike Fox, which decided against a partial season of "24," ABC has said that as of now, it's planning to air the eight completed "Lost" episodes they have. Fox was in a better position to make the "24" call since they have the "American Idol" juggernaut coming in January. But it appears without a quick resolution, "Lost's" already patient and extremely passionate fanbase is going to lose no matter what.

"Damon [Lindelof] and my concern about running the [eight] episodes we will have made is that it will feel a little like reading half a Harry Potter novel, then having to put it down," co-creator Carlton Cuse told TV Guide. "There is a mini-cliff-hanger at the end of Episode 8, but it's like the end of an exciting book chapter; it's not the end of the novel. Damon and I didn't write [the ending of Episode 8] differently [with the looming strike in mind]. We wrote it to be the ending of Episode 8.

"It's really [ABC honcho Steve MacPherson's] call ... No one was happy with the six-episode run last season."

Any "Lost" fans out there? What's the worst-case scenario? Do you want to see the eight completed episodes air in February regardless of how long the strike drags? Or is continuity too important to sacrifice and is it better to wait?

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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I love New York, but hate myself

Any married man will tell you that it's a wife's job to put him in place when TV viewing gets out of hand. But I have to say, I'm ashamed to admit that my wife, Mary, called me out yesterday with a classic, "I can't believe you're watching this show" blast during a DVR viewing of "I Love New York 2."

First off, I'd like to thank Adam for saving this from being the fourth reality TV show post in a row on "Channel Surfing." (We don't need no stinkin' writers! Get back to drinking your Venti Pumpkin Spice Lattes and penning witty dialogue for mere pennies, peons!) Second, my wife watches "The Hills," so she has no business judging ANYONE's "to be recorded" selections.

Third, I can't really explain why "I Love New York 2" captivates me. The "2" should have been a solid indication that the producers would just recycle all the train-wreck material from last season and prop up new faces for the public's wretched consumption. And that's exactly what's happened, except they're piling decaying bodies from last season (Has anyone uttered the words, 'I miss that Mr. Boston guy' since Season One went off the air? Didn't think so.) onto this year's smoldering wreckage. That much is evident with smooth playa Chance - yes, I just wrote 'playa' - coming back next week to raise the ire or resident 'roid freak, Buddha.

Now, I know what you're saying. We don't watch this show, Tom. We have lives. Families. Dignity. So please, PLEASE, explain these ridiculous nicknames. Well, New York is actually Tiffany Pollard, who was runner-up on Flavor Flav's VH1 reality dating skank-o-rama a couple years ago, and she was so good at taking a wad of saliva in the kisser (Another contestant spat at her! Oh, yes she did!), they gave her a spin-off. So she's using the same "nickname" shtick as Flav, which means you have guys called Mr. Wise, The Entertainer and Tailor Made strutting around the house, referring to themselves by their newly-christened monikers, instead of, you know, Jeb or Winston. In fact, the producers of this show think we (OK, me, not you) are so stupid, Tailor Made, who apparently ordered an $850 piece of lingerie for New York on Monday's episode, referred to himself as "Tailor Made" while on the phone with a customer service rep. Er, I'm pretty sure that's not a legal name, bro. Check that Visa card again.

Anyway, I'm watching not to laugh, not to cry, not to feel, well, any emotion, for this show - which I'll simply describe as the Chicken McNugget of TV for its god-awful ingredients and lack of nutritional value. Instead, I'm convinced Tailor Made, a reality "star" if such a title exists, is a paid actor trying to hustle the rest of the contestants into making bigger fools out of themselves all for the sake of terrible TV.

Dude is the DeNiro of the reality genre. Except he makes everyone around him worse.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go take a shower.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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I'm holding out for "Heroes"

Time to face facts, true believers: "Heroes" this season has been pretty lame. If the Emmy-nominated first season was Superman, this season is coming off more like Blue Beetle.

What went wrong? The adventures of Peter Petrelli and friends landed 17 million viewers in the beginning of October (thanks to a operating change in the Nielsen's, allowing viewers from a second airing to be added to the first,) but the show failed to crack the Top 20 last week. Fans have complained about the snail-like pacing, the boring new additions to the do-gooder roster (cry-baby Maya and brother Alejandro, anyone?), and Hiro's extended vacation in 15th century Japan, helping out his own hero, Kensei, who ANYONE COULD SEE would eventually become a bad guy.

Things got so bad that even show creator Tim Kring fessed up to fumbling the ball in a recent Entertainment Weekly interview. Recognizing fan disgruntlement, Kring promised to remove the kryptonite and restore some adrenaline to the storylines.

As much was evident in this week's episode, which FINALLY flashes back to where last season's finale left off, with the after-effects of Peter's nuclear meltdown over New York. We found out why Peter needed Nathan to fly him away instead of flying himself (he was using all his power to keep from going boom,) and we saw Maya first discover her bleeding-eye power in the season's first holy-crap moment when she accidentally kills an entire wedding party. And we saw electric-bugaboo Kristen Bell look sexy as hell, toying with a captive Peter.

With three episodes to go before the "mid-season finale," (and presumably until the writer's strike is resolved -- maybe Jessica can go slap around a few studio heads, get them to cough up some residuals,) I'd say "Heroes" is back on track, if only seven episodes late.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Want Drama? Style? Talent? Watch "Project Runway"

With no end in sight for the writers strike, reality TV is a surefire option to those no-new-episode blues. Be strong, remember Nancy Reagan and "just say no" to catching up on "Making Menudo" because there's hope yet. "Project Runway" returns to television on Wednesday.

Subject matter aside, "Runway" has all the trappings of a great reality show. Ambitious competitors? Check. Brutally impossible challenges? Check. A ridiculously perfect hosting duo? Check. In its four seasons, it's taken a simple concept - 15 contestants, one prize - and brilliantly executed it that even the least fashion savvy among us marvel at a couture dress made out of Coke cans. (Don't try that at home, kids, unless you've updated your tetanus shot). The show also rewards the talented, so you don't have to feel too dirty about watching week after week as host Heidi Klum sends another contestant home with a kiss on the cheek and a swift "auf wiedersehen."

This season looks promising, at least based on the contestant bios on the P.R. Web site and some early chatter on the Internet like this MSNBC article about their higher level of experience (translation: bigger egos, better catfights). Guess we'll have to wait to see who'll be this season's Santino Rice, but judging solely on the leopard print shirt and neon green tie in his mugshot, my money's on Chris.

"Runway" fans are already counting down the hours until we can hear fashion-mentor/godfather-figure Tim Gunn say those magical words ("Make it work"). But if you're a first-timer, go in with an open mind. "Runway" is not just about style - it's got substance, drama and heart.

"Project Runway" Season 4 premieres Wednesday on Bravo at 9 p.m.

-- Malavika Jagannathan,

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"Dancing'' with Richard Simmons' shorts? 9, 9, 9!

If Richard Simmons pops up on "the reality show you're not ashamed to admit you like'' (see my TV-viewing profile posted on Monday), is it too late to change your answer? The skimpy costumes on "Dancing with the Stars'' took a scary turn on Monday night when Simmons showed up in a taped rehearsal segment to play self-help cheerleader to Jennie Garth. And yes, he was waving pompoms.

In the soap opera that has been "Dancing'' this season (fainting, deaths in the family, food poisoning, the now-infamous Sabrina snub), poor Jennie has been the dancer struggling with a lack of confidence. So who better to pump her up than a 59-year-old guy with the frizzies and disturbingly short shorts? Apparently, it worked, because Garth was crying by the time he left (or was it until he left?).

But the judges still showed her little love in both rounds of competition on Monday, and co-host Tom Bergeron took a swipe at her Jolly Green Giant/Sprout costume. Don't you listen to them, Jennie. Buck up. Make believe the competition is Valerie Malone and give us some of that Kelly Taylor 'tude from the "90210'' ZIP.

Who should go tonight? Marie Osmond. Her self-deprecating humor, Osmond perkiness and the endless shots of bro Donny in the audience each week have made her America's sweetheart contestant. But the "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?'' number on Monday made it clear she's not semi-finalist material. It's shaping up to be a showdown between Helio Castroneves & Julianne Hough and Melanie Brown & Maksim Chmerkovskiy for the title, with Helio's smile getting the early edge.

By the way, "Dancing with the Stars'' The Tour is hitting the road in December for a national tour that includes a Jan. 11 stop at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. Cheryl Burke, Sabrina Bryan, Mark Ballas, Joey Lawrence, Edyta Sliwinska and Monique Coleman are among the performers on that stop. For the full itinerary, go to

-- Kendra Meinert,

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Rhombus. Rhombus? Rhombus. Rhombus?

Remember your high school geometry class? Remember thinking "When the heck am I ever going to use the Pythagorean theorem in real life, or need to know what a heptagon is?" And you would go back to ignoring the teacher and filling out your cootie catchers, the folding of which was all the geometry you needed.

Well thank God you didn't become a fashion model then, because as the contestants on VH1's "America's Most Smartest Model" found out on a recent episode, there's a price to pay for valuing Gucci over Euclid.

The four pairs of impossibly fit, impossibly hot, impossibly stupid catwalkers were tasked with designing and making outfits based on simple geometric shapes, provided by their competition. One pair, working only with the circle for inspiration, crafted a evening gown with large holes cut out of the hips and a hem that looked like a duck bill. Another, working with the rhombus and the trapezoid, decked out the female partner like an 80s glam girl-slash-Transformer. The outfit produced the greatest meeting of the minds I've ever seen on VH1, when model Blonde Rachel mispronounced rhombus as "rhommus," and show host Mary Alice Stephenson corrected her, leading to this brilliant exchange: "Rhombus." "Rhombus?" "Rhombus." "Rhombus?" It's the most the equilateral quadrilateral has ever been mentioned on basic cable.

(In fact, I kept waiting for co-host Ben Stein -- yes, THAT Ben Stein -- to chime in with some "Bueller? Bueller?" action, but to no avail.)

Blonde Rachel was then booted from the show, off to resume her day job: high school geometry teacher. (Kidding.)

The concept of "America's Most Smartest Model" -- which combines the glamour of "America's Next Top Model" with the excitement of social Darwinism -- pits well-coiffed dummkopfs against each other in tests of modeling ability and intelligence. The least stupidest gets $100,000 ... or 100,000 little green rectangles, if you prefer.

(Think you have the looks and low IQ to be America's Most Smartest Model? Head over to .)

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Striking a blow for sharper No. 2 pencils

As far as blog launches go, it's impossible to ignore the irony that our TV-related musings come at a time when the Writers Guild of America is on strike. If it didn't seem foolish enough to be writing about imaginary hospitals, offices and schools, it'll probably be even MORE absurd to write about a strike that doesn't involve - you know - actual nurses, doctors, administrators and teachers waving placards for the greater good.

The point isn't to compare picket lines, though. Obviously, not watching "Lost" isn't a life or death proposition (at least I hope not) for everyday schlubs who still can't get that final airport scene with Kate and Jack out of their heads. Life will go on. And for the truly desperate, there are still reheated reality leftovers to choke down.

Then again, the strike is major news. Celebrities (and plenty of no-name writers with scruffy beards) are involved. And whether your favorite show is "30 Rock," or god forbid, "Cavemen," if the strikes drags on, there will probably be a moment in the coming weeks when you say to yourself, "Huh, I miss Jim making googly eyes at Pam," or "Hmm, I wonder what Jon Stewart or David Letterman thinks about the latest political debacle?" while wolfing down your third Hot Pocket and lounging in sweatpants.

(Or maybe this whole chain of events will be like that classic "Simpsons" episode where Marge turns "Itchy and Scratchy" wholesome and all of Springfield's kids abandon their TV sets to skip rope and climb trees? Come to think of it, I haven't engaged in a good hopscotch game in awhile ...)

So yeah, expect some daily writer's strike coverage (this just in: John Stamos is really good at shouting slogans that rhyme!) as this ugly mess continues to get uglier. Already, we know that late night TV is dark and Steve Carell not showing up to work puts "The Office" on ice, with the last available episode reportedly airing Thursday. "24" has been postponed indefinitely and virtually every scripted TV show will eventually hit the wall - it's just a matter of when - which the always-awesome Michael Ausiello of TV Guide chronicles here.

Variety's Scribe Vibe blog, LA Weekly's juicy Deadline Hollywood Daily, and this Twitter feed also contain plenty of helpful snapshots, links and rumors. And be sure to read this New York Times op-ed by Damon Lindelof (co-creator, writer for "Lost"). You may have to log in, but it's worth it for lines like, "I will probably be dragged through the streets and burned in effigy if fans have to wait another year for 'Lost' to come back. And who could blame them? Public sentiment may have swung toward the guild for now, but once the viewing audience has spent a month or so subsisting on 'America's Next Hottest Cop' and 'Celebrity Eating Contest,' I have little doubt that the tide will turn against us."

Mary-Kate Olsen would so dominate "Celebrity Eating Contest" ...

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,