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Embarrassment of excesses: the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner

Nightline co-anchor Cynthia McFadden shows off her credentials while on the red carpet at Saturday's White House Correspondents Association dinner. Colleague Terry Moran looks on. Photos: Ed Bark

The "Fair and Balanced" news network gave equal time to Lindsay Lohan and Kim Kardashian, inviting both to Saturday night's White House Correspondents Association dinner in Washington.

White House Correspondents? That's something of a really big joke these days at what's now derided as "prom night" for the people who allegedly cover government goings-on.

Close watchers of C-SPAN's annual feed could still glimpse ancient mariners such as Bob Schieffer, Ted Koppel and Charlie Rose. But Lohan and Kardashian were much more representative of what the event's become. As was one of Koppel's successors, Cynthia McFadden, nearly spilling out of her ball gown while escorted along the red carpet (red carpet?) by another of the program's anchors, Terry Moran.

The new and considerably lighter weight Nightline is doing very well in the Nielsen ratings opposite the first half-hour of Jay Leno's Tonight Show and David Letterman's Late Show. So ABC News isn't about to apologize for content that Koppel never would have considered.

Koppel for the most part has been diplomatic, but did tell Seattle's KOMO-TV last fall that "it's no secret they have become hugely successful because they are doing precisely what I didn't want Nightline to do. It's become a show that's heavily oriented into entertainment, more than it is in the direction of information and news."

The White House correspondents dinner, which Koppel still somehow can't resist attending, crystallizes what he's talking about. Presidents are expected to deliver a comedy monologue, and President Obama was pretty much up to that challenge.

The night's designated court jester, in this case Jimmy Kimmel, is then expected to be funnier than the president. Which Kimmel may have been in sporadic bursts before over-staying his welcome, getting unduly personal and increasingly telling his jokes at a near-auctioneer's pace. Obama had comedic timing, deftly pausing for effect. Kimmel too often performed his hit-and-miss material as though he had only until midnight before his tux turned into a leisure suit.

All of this is no doubt C-SPAN's most-watched program of the year. But the public service cable network doesn't have commercials and doesn't subscribe to Nielsen. So in the end it's anyone's guess how many watched this Washington carnivale, in which the Hollywood contingent held sway while politicians and members of the media scrambled to pose for pictures with the likes of Lohan, Kardashian, cast members of Modern Family, cast members of Glee, George Clooney, Goldie Hawn, Steven Spielberg, Zooey Deschanel, Reese Witherspoon, Charlize Theron, Mary J. Blige, Claire Danes, Rashida Jones, Fred Armisen, Eva Longoria, Diane Keaton, Pierce Brosnan, Kelly Ripa, Martha Stewart, etc.

All were invited by various media outlets to sit at their tables. And they call the Golden Globes ridiculous.

Dumb and dumber were the featured guests of Fox News.

Fox's surprise renewal of Fringe is business as (un)usual

Fringe star Joshua Jackson on the red carpet at January Fox party. Photo: Ed Bark

Fox's renewal of Fringe, announced Thursday evening by the network, is both a pleasant surprise for fans and a heartening detour from business as usual.

The pickup is half a loaf -- a fifth and final 13-episode season. But few thought that was possible, including one of the series' principal stars, after Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly told TV critics in January, "We lose a lot of money on the show. We're not in the business of losing money. So we really have to sit down with (the producers). I do not want to drop the ball at the end and let the fans down."

At a Fox star party that same night, Fringe star Joshua Jackson seemed to be reconciled to a spring series finale.

"This is not a charitable foundation they're running here at Fox," he told a small group of TV writers at the end of a red carpet walk. "So if we really aren't making them any money, I would say our chances are zero. The important thing for me is not whether we get canceled or renewed. It's that if the show has to go, that our writers are given a chance to finish the story. It would just be a horrible thing to do to the audience to just leave them in the lurch."

In Thursday's Fox publicity release, Reilly hailed Fringe as a "remarkably creative series that has set the bar as one of television's most imaginative dramas. Bringing it back for a final 13 episodes allows us to provide the climactic conclusion that its passionate and loyal fans deserve."

The sci-fi's drama's principal producer, J.J. Abrams, praised Fox for having "made the impossible possible." He promised a "wild and thrilling" conclusion.

Fringe, exiled to Fox's longtime forlorn Friday lineup this season, has averaged just 2.9 million viewers per episode, with 2.1 million of them in the advertiser-prized 18-to-49 age range. That ranks it in the bottom realm of all prime-time series shown this season on the Big Four broadcast networks.

Fox's renewal of Fringe comes after earlier decisions on the fates of House and Terra Nova. All three were on the bubble when Reilly addressed TV writers in January. Terra Nova, which made money for Fox according to Reilly, has nonetheless been canceled. And House will have its series finale with a two-hour episode on May 21st.

Producer Abrams (Lost, Alias) also has Alcatraz on Fox. The series wrapped Season 1 earlier this spring and is considered a long shot for renewal despite averaging significantly more viewers (6.7 million) and 18-to-49-year-olds (4.3 million) than Fringe.

But Alcatraz airs on higher profile Monday nights, and its ratings lagged as the season wore on, even if its creativity didn't. If it doesn't return, fans will be left with an unresolved cliffhanger. After the Fringe pickup, though, anything's possible. Still, a renewal of Alcatraz remains improbable at this point.

One more thing. The Fox renewal of Fringe was announced in tandem with the release of a new trailer for next season, although Season 4 won't end until a two-parter airs on May 4th and 11th. Meanwhile, here's the hype for Season 5.

Texas two-step: Russell Hantz takes his Survivor villainy to a new venue

All for show: Russell and Shawn Hantz of Flipped Off. A&E photo

Premiering: Saturday, April 28th at 8 p.m. (central) on A&E
Starring: Russell Hantz, Shawn Hantz, Kristen Bredehoeft
Produced by: Max Weissman, Matt Levine, Timothy Robbins

Russell Hantz has established a gainful made-for-TV "brand," so he's not about to give up being a brusque, condescending a-hole.

Initially packaged as a conniving, amoral Dayton, TX oilman on 2009's Survivor: Samoa, Hantz subsequently appeared in two more editions of the CBS "reality" franchise, including last spring's Survivor: Redemption Island.

A year later, here's Hantz on A&E's Flipped Off, another "Real Life" concoction from the network of Billy the Exterminator, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Hoarders, Monster-In-Laws, Parking Wars and so on.

The setup: Hantz is prowling around Houston and "ready to master a new game." Namely house flipping in league with his lunkhead big brother Shawn and shapely blonde real estate agent Kristen Bredehoeft. The one-hour series launches on Saturday, April 28th at 8 p.m. (central), with the Hantzes getting themselves into all kinds of argument-enhanced messes.

Russell, who supposedly is "gamblin' everything I got to make this work," depicts his older brother as a hapless dummy before the decision is made to buy a run-down one-story home for $225 grand. The game plan is to spend another $46 grand renovating the place before the Hantzes turn a tidy profit. But by this show's parameters, they have just four weeks to get 'er done.

Meanwhile, Russell's own home front has gone sour. His wife, Melanie, drops in briefly to say that her and the kids aren't a priority anymore.

"My and my wife been havin' problems ever since I got back from Survivor," he says, adding that they can't be allowed to get in the way of his new business as a home wrecker/renovator.

All kinds of problems ensue. A giant rat in the toilet means there's a busted underground pipe somewhere.

"This is really gonna sell the house, rat nibblin' on someone's ass," Russell deduces before ordering his clueless brother to fix the problem. Flooding ensues, with both brothers to blame. But it's Shawn who's ordered to go underwater and plug the thing up after Russell orders, "Get in there and do somethin'. "

The Hantzes fall deeper into a financial hole after the lumber for a backyard deck is stolen from the garage. The cops are called and a uniformed person with his face digitized shows up to face Russell's immediate wrath. This is where the blatant "reality" show subterfuge kicks in. Because we're supposed to believe that Russell immediately starts bellowing at and shoving the "cop" before he's handcuffed and stuffed into a squad car. But Shawn intercedes with some sweet talk that results in his brother's immediate release. It's time to serve up a triple helping of "Yeah, sure," with a dead rat on top.

Other bungles help to move the show along while the allotted time ticks down. Realtor Kristen pops in and out, and is given a good line while heralding the arrival of the Hantzes for another day's worth of screwups.

"Well, here they are, Dip and Stick," she cracks.

Groups of faceless Mexican laborers keep toiling to get the place in shape for a big open house. They of course get no speaking lines because, well, you wouldn't want to pay them anything extra. It's the ugly Americans -- Russell Hantz in particular -- who make all the dough.

Shows such as these never end in disaster. So it's really giving nothing away to note that Russell is a very satisfied man in the end. He even invites the wife and kids over for a little house party after a deal goes down.

Flipped Off may have an inkling of entertainment value for those who enjoy watching two brothers go at it over and over again. All the world's a stage, and the obviously staged activities in this "Real Life" drama are no exception.

Russell Hantz still knows how to play his role, though. And as long as there are takers, he's buying in.

GRADE: C-minus

Lifetime strikes a few sparks with The Conversation with Amanda de Cadenet

Amanda de Cadenet posing with Demi Moore and snuggle-posing with Gwyneth Paltrow for her weekly new series The Conversation. Lifetime photos

Premiering: Thursday, April 26th at 10 p.m. (central) on Lifetime
Hosted by: Amanda de Cadenet
Produced by: Amanda de Cadenet, Demi Moore

Nearing 40 and on her second marriage to a rock star, British photographer/TV personality Amanda de Cadenet has met and befriended enough famous people to assemble a fairly imposing guest list for her first U.S. venture.

Premiering Thursday, April 26th (10 p.m. central) on Lifetime, The Conversation with Amanda de Cadenet follows the same night's launch of the network's 7 Days of Sex, a decidedly bland and tedious weekly series in which couples attempt to mend their frayed relationships by doing it for a full week.

Judging from an episode sent for review -- which turns out not to be the first one -- this is all going to be about as sexually exciting as Great Aunt Ida's 7 days of Quilting. Except that Ida is known for being a tigress in the sack while 7 Days won't even show Marilyn Tipps in the nightie that dull hubby Galan bought for her under duress.

So let's move on to the sometimes more stimulating Conversation, where the opening night guests are Jane Fonda, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sarah Silverman and Zoe Saldana.

That's not a bad list, although the obvious "big get" for de Cadenet would be the show's co-executive producer, Demi Moore. The two of them recently attended a launch party for the show, marking Moore's first public appearance since getting out of rehab. But a sit--down on her own show may well be asking a bit much of Moore, who might instead be aiming at the likes of Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters, Katie Couric or Matt Lauer for her inevitable first big "tell-all."

De Cadenet, daughter of former champion race car driver Alain de Cadenet, married Duran Duran bassist John Taylor when she was still a teenager. They divorced in 1997, with Amanda remarrying in 2006 to The Strokes guitarist Nick Valensi, with whom she has twins.

She references both marriages, but not her husbands' names, during Thursday's cozily appointed interviews. A variety of stuffed couches in a living room setting are deployed, with de Cadenet and her subject usually facing each other with their feet up.

Fonda, now 73 and for the first time "free" in her view, says she didn't have real "intimacy" with any of her first three husbands -- film director Roger Vadim, political activist Tom Hayden and media baron/land tycoon Ted Turner. All were alpha males to whom she willingly subjugated herself, Fonda says.

But in the "third act" of her life, she's dating a man "who does not define me" after Turner declined to make the "adjustments" needed to sustain their marriage. She left him, Fonda says, because otherwise "I would die married. I wouldn't die whole."

De Cadenet tells Fonda that she promised just "10 years max" to her first husband. And the record shows that she delivered about six.

In the show's second talk, with Paltrow, both women say they experienced post partum depressions in addition to physical changes. They laugh together when de Cadenet says that her post-twins "tits" are now pointing this way and that.

Paltrow, who herself has a rock star husband (leader singer Chris Martin of Coldplay), also talks movingly of the bond she had with her late father, esteemed television producer Bruce Paltrow (St. Elsewhere). He was the signature man in her life, she says. And it was only after his death that she married for the first time.

"I refuse to have it just be a loss," she says of Bruce Paltrow's death in 2002 at age 58. "It's like what's the legacy in that?"

This is the best of the four interviews. Comedian Sarah Silverman then appears, with de Cadenet at one point telling her, "I loved hearing you talk about vaginas and tits and just body parts" as part of her stage act.

The closing interview mostly amounts to a exchanges of platitudes between de Cadenet and actress Zoe Saldana (Avatar. But de Cadenet does work in a second reference to her off-kilter bosom.

Then it's time for a buzz round that separately subjects all four interviewees to questions such as "Do you have any vices?" and "What is your favorite sex position?"

"What!?" Paltrow initially responds to the latter question before eventually confiding, "I'm down with all of them."

Silverman says, "I do enjoy a good, sound 'missionarying.' "

De Cadenet makes it very clear throughout that she empathizes. Boy, does she ever. And she seems equally intent on being pals, if she isn't already, with all of her celebrity guests. Therefore the climactic series of hugs and picture-taking.

Some interesting conversation does seep through, though, as part of what the host terms "the universal language of women." And although Moore apparently isn't booked yet, future guests include Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, Donna Karan, Miley Cyrus, Eva Longoria, Gabby Sidibe, Olivia Wilde and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Perhaps the host will pop the "favorite sex position" question to Lady Gaga, even if that might take up the whole hour. But perhaps not to Sen. Gillibrand.


The Conversation with Amanda de Cadenet -- C+
7 Days of Sex -- D

Syfy's Total Blackout an eyesore for the ages

Jaleel White happily hosts the gross Total Blackout. Syfy photos

Premiering: Wednesday, April 25th at 9 p.m. (central) with back-to-back episodes on Syfy
Hosted by: Jaleel White
Produced by: Hnrik Nielsen, Jeff Apploff, Jack Martin

It seems reasonably safe to assume that Alex Trebek wouldn't be interested in hosting a game show in which in-the-dark contestants must, among other things, sniff an obese man's hairy unkempt armpit in pursuit of a measly $5,000 grand prize.

That is unless his only available alternative was mating with a wild boar. And even then, Trebek might have to think about it.

So in steps Jaleel White, who's also currently hoofing and puffing with the lush Kym Johnson on ABC's Dancing with the Stars. You'd think he might be able to parlay that into something more than this. But the former Steve Urkel must have inked a deal to preside over Syfy's Total Blackout well before DWTS put him back among the living. Whatever the timing, though, this is a career decision that equates with sticking your hand into the teeth of a whirring garbage disposal. Sorry, garbage disposals.

Syfy is launching Total Blackout with back-to-back half-hour episodes Wednesday night. Let's hope no Martians land in the interim, because it'd be sad for them to see this as typical earthling behavior. On the other hand, perhaps they'd retreat in horror before warning other planets that Earth isn't worth invading.

The opening half-hour presents four contestants, all of whom are escorted into a pitch dark arena to face their fears.

"I'm gonna win this game because I said so," brags a Boston administrator named Awet. But she's soon completely petrified by the first challenge, in which competitors are told to put their hands into glass tanks and then guess what's within. Awet immediately gets the heebies while photographer Marq gets a serious case of the girlyman jeebies. Objects that they're asked to identify range from cockroaches to a bra.

The contestant with the fewest correct answers is eliminated by jumping into a "deep black hole," as White puts it. Three survivors then must correctly identify the foods they slurp from the belly button areas of four bare-skinned humans positioned flat on their backs. Imagine a Hollywood agent telling a client," Hey, I've got great news! I've landed you a prime-time TV gig in which your navel will house a mound of bleu cheese! It's a sure portal to stardom!"

White eventually quips, "Well, the good thing is you don't have to do the dishes." The guy's a riot!

The finale pits two competitors in a five-minute challenge that includes the aforementioned ripe armpit.

"It smells like poo," says one of the hopefuls.

"It smells like an animal," says the other, who earlier had guessed "lemon meringue pie" when put in close proximity to a "stinky shoe."

Wednesday's second episode of Total Blackout has a quartet of couples in pursuit of $5 grand after White helpfully notes that "normally only four contestants are put through our cruel and unusual punishment."

After proper introductions are made, he promises one and all, "Your fingers are about to go places they've never been before."

He says nothing about viewers' brain cells, which surely will be down a quart after even brief exposure to Total Blackout.

In the annals of all-time worst game shows, this one takes its rightful place alongside ABC's Conveyor Belt of Love, which soiled prime-time back in January 2010.

ABC also turned out the lights in July 2009 with Dating in the Dark, a grope-fest hosted by former Temptation Island contestant Rossi Moreale.

Total Blackout laps this field, though, at the point when the tubby guy brandishes his armpit for smelling purposes. That's going to be a hard one to top for any future game show. But flatulence is still in play.


The CW's L.A. Complex: worth watching on a network that's now barely noticed

Everyone's hoping to get lucky in The L.A. Complex. CW photo

Premiering: Tuesday, April 24th at 8 p.m. (central) on The CW
Starring: Jonathan Patrick Moore, Cassie Steele, Benjamin Charles Watson, Jewel Staite, Joe Dinicol, Chelan Simmons, Andra Fuller
Produced by: Linda Schuyler, Stephen Stohn, Martin Gero

Winding down its worst season ever, The CW somehow hopes to get noticed down the homestretch with a new drama about Hollywood dreamers and schemers desperately hoping to get noticed.

The L.A. Complex, which actually deserves a look, replaces what had been CW's best hope for the fall, Sarah Michelle Gellar's Ringer. But the 2011-'12 TV season has been a hell hole for the increasingly pint-sized network, which now is doing only half as well as Univision in both total viewers and advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds.

In that context, one of this series' principal characters is telling a larger truth when she laments, "You can give everything you have here, and it still might not be enough."

CW sent the first three episodes of L.A. Complex for review. And on a network where one is usually more than enough, three didn't seem like too many. So much so that you actually might develop a rooting interest in one or more of these fame-seekers, most of whom live from hand to mouth in a faded sub-Melrose Place known as The Deluxe Suites.

It's actually a motel complex with its own party band, Whale Tooth, and ample action around the pool. But the aspiring residents mostly must pool their resources while traipsing from one disappointment to the next.

Raquel Westbrook (Jewel Staite) once knew success as a co-star of the TV series Teenage Wasteland. Now she's too old for teen parts and too faded to be on anyone's B-list. Think Shannen Doherty, except that Raquel is rather likable even when she's deluding herself and conning others.

There's also a bespectacled, budding comedian named Nick Wagner (Joe Dinicol), who keeps bombing at comedy clubs and striking out with the ladies as well.

"My whole life is awkward hugs with beautiful women," he deadpans.

In one of the series' unexpected turns, Mary Lynn Rajskub of 24 fame guest-stars in Tuesday's premiere episode as a very douche-y version of herself. Nick is on her receiving end, and she's absolutely merciless with him.

Another interesting character, Abby Vargas (Cassie Steele), is down to her last nickel while still hitting the bricks in search of even a wisp of an acting part. Nick has a crush on her, but she has eyes for studly Aussie Connor Lake (Jonathan Patrick Moore), who's just landed a part as a doctor on a cheesy medical series.

There's also Tariq Muhammad (Benjamin Charles Watson), whose internship at a hip-hop record company, DyNasty, is not at all what he'd hoped for.

"They said they wanted a go-getter," he tells Abby. "But all they really want is somebody to go get."

His life is about to change, though, when hip-hop star Kaldrick King (Andra Fuller), takes a hard-knocks liking to him on several levels. Their volatile relationship is surprisingly well-crafted over the course of the first three episodes.

The seventh main character, Alicia Lowe (Chelan Simmons), is an aspiring dancer whose moneymakers otherwise make ends meet during her hardly surprising night job.

Other aspects of L.A. Complex also are telegraphed. But predictably doesn't lessen the overall appeal of the core cast. The writing is surprisingly strong, too.

On the surface at least, it's hard to imagine responding to CW's three-pronged tagline attack of "Small fish. Big pond. Huge dreams." Wonder of wonders, though, this series sells its premise while only occasionally trying way too hard. Its nutshell is Alicia telling Nick, "I was hoping I would have heard by now."

And Nick replying, "We all shoulda heard by now."

Maybe word of mouth can somehow keep L.A. Complex among the living on a network that can't seem to stop itself from slip sliding away. It's CW's best new series in several seasons. But it's late in coming and likely facing even steeper odds than its wannabes.


Fox hits the 25-year mark and salutes itself with a Sunday night anniversary special

Twenty-five years later, Fox is a sobering reality for rival networks. Fox photo

Prime-time television wouldn't be the same without Fox.

And the network won't mind saying so Sunday night with a two-hour Fox 25th Anniversary Special (7 p.m. central) hosted by the ubiquitous Ryan Seacrest and featuring cast reunions of series ranging from Married . . . with Children to The X Files.

"This is going to be an amazing trip down memory lane filled with plenty of surprises that will showcase our hits, our misses and everything in between," Alternative Entertainment president Mike Darnell says in a publicity release.

Darnell's division is responsible for both the highest of highs -- American Idol -- and "reality" genre low points such as Celebrity Boxing and Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?

But in the cold hard reality of the current prime-time season, Fox is poised to win yet another victory among TV's most valued audience, 18-to-49-year-olds. And it will finish second to CBS in the total viewer Nielsens.

Fox officially made its prime-time debut on April 5, 1987 with the launches of Married . . . with Children and The Tracey Ullman Show. Derided at the time as a "coat hanger network" because of its dependence on a large percentage of UHF stations, Fox is now the network that its rivals aspire to be.

It has fewer prime-time hours to program each week, which saves millions upon millions in development costs. It has NFL games and the World Series. Its expanded local news hours on owned-and-operated stations (including Fox4 in DF-W) have generated major profits around the clock, particularly in the mornings. And its younger audience demographics have been the best in the business for seven consecutive seasons.

Idol, although slipping in its 11th season, ranks as the biggest prime-time cash cow in the history of network television. And Fox also has distinctively branded itself over the years with the likes of The Simpsons, The X Files, COPS, In Living Color, Beverly Hills 90210, Arrested Development, Ally McBeal, 24, House, Glee, Family Guy and the aforementioned Married . . . With Children.

The network still hasn't established a reliable weekly late night presence, with The Chevy Chase Show and The Late Show with Joan Rivers its two most notable failures. And it has left its share of rings around the prime-time tub with a wealth of unscripted weekly embarrassments such as Temptation Island, Anchorwoman, Joe Millionaire, The Littlest Groom and The Swan.

Seacrest was on the cusp of becoming a teenager when the Fox network first went on the air with just two half-hour sitcoms on a Sunday night. Just over 25 years later, Fox has allotted itself two hours on that same night to bask in what's now its storied past.

Note to readers: I've covered the Fox network since its inception. And on our Back Channels page, you can find a now vintage story on the network's preparations to take a big gamble nationwide while its owned-and-operated station in Dallas (KDAF-TV at the time) exuded high hopes.

HBO's Veep is hardly a Washington monument

The five stars of Fly Girls prepare for battle. CW photo

Premiering: Wednesday, March 24th at 8 p.m. (central) on The CW
Starring: Real-life Virgin America flight attendants Nikole, Louise, Farrah, Tasha, Mandalay
Produced by: Jeff Collins, Colin Nash

The cheapo CW network pairs one dreadful reality series with another Wednesday when Fly Girls joins the pre-existing, critically reviled High Society.

This one's not quite as bad, although that's like saying Lindsay Lohan is less odious lately than philandering Jesse James.

Billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin America airlines is the takeoff point for Fly Girls, which stars five cute 'n' buxom flight attendants named Nikole, Louise, Farrah, Tasha and Mandalay. Branson, who appears on-camera in the first two episodes, had one of the 2004-05 TV season's biggest flops in Fox's The Rebel Billionaire: Branson's Quest for the Best. Now he's free-fallen all the way to The CW. Good for him.

The featured "fly girls" all conform to basic reality series typecasting. Nikole is the freewheeling resident bee-yotch and Mandalay the goodly striver who keeps getting her heart crushed. Aging Farrah hears her clock ticking, separated Tasha has a young son whom she dotes on and heat-seeking Louise is on the rebound from a four-year relationship that went whiskey sour.

They all live together in a Marina del rey "crash pad," where the newly arrived Nikole immediately creates problems. In Wednesday's premiere episode (they mercifully only last a half-hour), Mandalay gets all weepy after Nikole conspires to stand next to Branson atop a fire truck at a big Virgin America "launch party" in Fort Lauderdale.

That was supposed to be Mandalay's perk, but she couldn't be found at the appointed hour. So she later upbraids former best pal Nikole "because you can't just be a friend who's happy for another friend to have 'a moment.' "

Meanwhile, Louise accepts an in-flight proposition to attend a Beverly Hills cocktail party being thrown by a laughing, brainless but handsome bonehead named Geoff. It doesn't go particularly well.

Next week's thrilling episode finds Mandalay absorbing another emotional blow from a friend/rock band singer named Avir.

"Can you tell that I might have feelings for you possibly?" she asks. Yeah, he can tell. No, he's not interested.

Meanwhile, back on the West Coast, Nikole and Tasha have the great honor and privilege of being gofers and eye candy at a "Rock the Kasbah" charity event being thrown by their employer. Event planner Jessica notes that "there's going to be a tremendous amount of celebrities here."

Yeah, like who? Well, like Lohan, Sharon Stone, Paula Abdul and Daisy Fuentes, she says. Wowee. But none of 'em are shown on camera.

It's all portrayed as very glamorous and dreamy, with every day a new adventure in being servile ornaments regularly hit on by IFBs (In Flight Boyfriends).

"It's a cute guy that you scope out to make the time fly," explains Louise.

CW has ordered eight time-wasting episodes of Fly Girls. I guess they beat sitting on a tarmac while waiting for take-off. But not by all that much.


R.I.P. Dick Clark: Nov. 30, 1929 to April 18, 2012

No one gets out alive, not even the man known for most of his adult life as "America's Oldest Teenager."

Dick Clark died Wednesday at age 82 of a heart attack. And no one wants to dance to that beat.

Clark's principal legacies are American Bandstand, a staple of teen life in the 1950s and '60s, and the New Year's Rockin' Eve specials that dated to Dec. 31, 1972 and have continued with the part-time presence of Clark after a 2004 stroke forced him to yield the main hosting duties to his modern day equivalent, Ryan Seacrest.

His production company also churned out a wealth of game shows (most notably Pyramid with varying cash values); trophy fests (The Golden Globes and the American Music Awards); the TV Bloopers & Practical Jokes series; and numerous made-for-TV movies, some of which proved to be landmarks.

Clark and his company were behind ABC's 1979 three-hour Elvis movie. It starred Kurt Russell and on the night of Feb. 2nd went up against Gone with the Wind on CBS and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest on NBC. No one gave Elvis a chance but it thumped the two feature films in the Nielsen ratings and spurred a big boom in production of made-for-TV movies and miniseries.

Dick Clark Productions also made the 1981 NBC miniseries Murder In Texas, a true crime blockbuster that also made a respectable actress of Farrah Fawcett and earned Andy Griffith his first and still only Emmy nomination.

Earlier, in 1968 alone, he produced a quartet of B-side feature films -- Killers Three, The Savage Seven, Wild in the Streets and Psych-Out. The latter starred Jack Nicholson as a pony-tailed rock band leader.

Clark also is the only person enshrined in both the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame. But he's never been among the Kennedy Center honorees, a major oversight in life and now death.

Born Richard Wagstaff Clark in Mount Vernon, NY, Clark's first TV job was as host of Cactus Dick and the Santa Fe Riders in 1951 for KKTV-TV in Utica, NY. He got the Bandstand gig in 1956 after the incumbent host was jailed for drunk driving. The show originally aired on WFIL-TV in Philadelphia before going national on ABC in 1957.

The Bandstand years implanted Clark firmly on the television map. But younger viewers primarily know him for those annual Rockin' Eve specials. The first one aired on NBC, which wanted a hip alternative to CBS' Guy Lombardo/Waldorf Astoria festivities.

I last talked to Clark in late 2001. It was a telephone interview tied to the 30th anniversary of the Rockin' Eve specials. The very first one included performances by Three Dog Night, Helen Reddy and "oh God, I can't remember who else," Clark said. "I think Billy Preston was on that show, and I was in New York in Times Square. So it was the same sort of potpourri of people. the truth is, this show hasn't changed an iota."

"We've built what in television-land they call a 'franchise,' " he added. "Dick Clark and New Year's Eve are synonymous now. It's a little odd, but we've become sort of dates. Some people are alone and some are at parties. But there's good ol' Dick and the ball drop."

NBC carried Rockin' Eve until the 1973 telecast, when NBC's ironclad contractual commitment to carry Johnny Carson's Tonight Show sent Clark looking for a new network. ABC has aired it ever since, save for the big 1999 millennium blowout by the network's news department. It knocked Rockin' Eve out of the box, with Clark showing up only for his signature Times Square countdown. But the following year's Rockin' Eve came back in full force and hit its highest ratings ever, Clark noted. "That's what made it so sweet. That's so tasty."

The 30th anniversary edition aired just several months after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, a subject that Clark didn't care to dwell on during our interview.

"I was born in New York," he said. "New Yorkers are very resilient people. There was a time when people said, 'Ah, New York, those people are cold. They're mean.' Now they're looked upon as a unique kind of dog. Everybody loves New Yorkers now, and I anticipate that New Year's Eve in Times Square will be a very festive occasion. At the same time we'll all be thinking about what happened on Sept. 11 and we'll be looking forward to the future."

Clark prided himself on being current, booking whatever acts were hot at the time even if he at times had to swallow hard or perhaps even gulp. The 30th anniversary edition of Rockin' Eve included Busta Rhymes singing his crossover hit "Break Ya Neck."

"It's a natural curiosity," he said of going with the flow. "I voraciously read all the trade papers. I just happen to love the entertainment business. And if you were a doctor who loves his profession, you'd be up on all the new things, too."

Despite his youthful, gregarious persona on-camera, Clark survived as a hard-driving businessman who cut new deals while also keeping what he already had. It got harder, though.

"Big corporations have taken over everything," he lamented a little over a decade ago. "And they don't want to pay you and they want all the rights. The government allowed this, so now we have to survive on unique things that we've created or somehow have grandfathered in."

Clark once matter-of-factly told an interviewer that "I don't make culture. I sell it."

"I made that quote 20-some years ago," he recalled. "I would have said it a little more politely if I had known it would be used this much. To put it in a warmer, fuzzier way, people say to me all the time, 'Thanks for being a part of my life.' And that's kind of nice."

He already had been iconic for decades when we talked in late 2001. And Clark was pretty much OK with that.

"Here, here, let's not forget 'legend,' " he said, laughing. "Yeah, well, what it causes people to do is call me 'Mr. Clark' instead of 'Dick' sometimes. That's a little frightening."

You'll be missed, Mr. Clark. But your beat will go on.

NBC's Parks and Recreation resumes a campaign that doesn't hurt to watch

Leslie Knope's city council campaign is hitting high gear. Photo: Ed Bark

NBC's Thursday night comedy carousel is taking another spin, with Up All Night the latest to get off while Parks and Recreation gets back on.

This is good news for those who need a break from the interminable presidential campaign and Diane Sawyer's exclusive report (on Tuesday's ABC World News) about how the Romney dog, Seamus, got diarrhea during one of those strapped-to-the-carhood vacation trips that he otherwise "loved."

Instead, let's enjoy a nice soft landing into the homestretch of Leslie Knope's campaign to win a seat on the Pawnee City Council. In this case, absurdity has its privileges when Parks and Recreation begins where it last left off on March 8th. Its new time is 8:30 p.m. (central), starting on April 19th.

NBC sent three episodes to look at. And they're all quite amusing and virtually certain to draw roughly one-third the audience for comedy kingpins such as ABC's Modern Family and CBS' The Big Bang Theory.

The Peacock, which used to flex its Thursday night ratings might with the likes of Friends, Seinfeld, The Cosby Show and Cheers, has been utterly under the radar in recent years with a critically praised but scantly seen rotation.

Besides Parks and Recreation, this season's lineup has included Community, 30 Rock, Whitney, The Office and the aforementioned Up All Night. And even The Office has fallen on hard times without Steve Carell and with the previously announced departure of James Spader after this season.

Still, NBC is likely to renew five of the above, with only Up All Night viewed as being "on the bubble," according to most assessments. But the network has no hopes of any of them ever becoming a "breakout hit," with those days done for The Office and never a reality for the others.

It's a shame in the case of Parks and Recreation, which recently won a prestigious Peabody Award but is averaging just 4.4 million viewers per episode to rank 130th among all prime-time programs.

Amy Poehler's lead character had appreciably more exposure during her years on Saturday Night Live. But Parks and Recreation, in its fourth season, is getting fairly close to the semi-magical 100-episode mark, the number deemed necessary for gainful syndication. And after a less than scintillating start, it's evolved into one of network TV's better half hours of understated mirth.

In Thursday's return, subtitled "Live Ammo," Leslie finds herself at the mercy of a retiring councilman (guest star Bradley Whitford) intent on cutting the parks budget by eight percent. Urged to reconsider, he instead backs the closing of an animal shelter housing 32 dogs and cats -- plus a pig. Charges of being a "dog murderer" are then gleefully leveled by her opponent's campaign manager. You just can't win.

Next week's episode pits Leslie and rich kid fron-runner Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd) in a televised debate. They share the stage with several also-rans, including gun shop owner Fester Trim (Brad Leland of Buddy the car dealer fame on Friday Night Lights) and adult film star Brandi Maxxxx.

Fester's principal campaign plank is assault rifle vending machines. And one of the debate moderators, "legendary newswoman Joan Callamezzo, newly single" as she bills herself, is thoroughly in the tank for Bobby. Poehler both wrote and directed this one, and it' has some very funny stuff.

The May 3rd episode is built around a climactic bus tour with just a day left in the campaign. It begins to go badly awry, of course.

Parks and Recreation is in no real danger of significantly improving its ratings at this point. It's destined to be one of TV's little pleasures, taking its rightful place someday amid the likes of NewsRadio, Lateline and Buffalo Bill. They also were part of the NBC family in times when the network had a wealth of far more visible comedy smashes.

The only difference between then and now is the overall poor ratings health of all of NBC's sitcoms. And that's no joke.

ABC's GMA dethrones NBC's Today, ending its morning winning streak of more than 16 years; NBC's Nightly News also increasingly challenged

The hosts of GMA get slap-happy on recent edition. ABC photo

NBC's two remaining strongholds, Today and the network's Nightly News with Brian Williams, are under increasing assault from ABC.

One wall fell during the week of April 9-13, when ABC's Good Morning America barely ended Today's more than 16-year- winning streak in total viewers.

"Fast national" Nielsen ratings gave GMA a minuscule 13,000 viewers edge over Today, which hadn't lost a week in the morning ratings since Dec. 4, 1995. GMA has been steadily gaining, as the network crows in weekly publicity releases. But this is the first time it's actually closed the deal, although Today still led its principal rival among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. ABC didn't mention that fact in trumpeting its victory.

Today mainstay Matt Lauer was on vacation during this particular week while Robin Roberts returned to her post after a week-long holiday in which former Today co-host Katie Couric took the GMA co-host reins.

Interestingly, Couric's presence wasn't enough to turn the trick for GMA, which trailed Today by 187,000 total viewers for the week of April 2-6. But Today pulled its own stunts by bringing Meredith Vieira back for a day and using Sarah Palin as a guest host on the April 3rd edition.

The shortfall during Couric's heavily promoted week could be something of an ill omen for her upcoming Katie talk show, which will launch around the country in early September (and on WFAA8 in D-FW).

On the dinner hour newscast front, ABC bragged about making steady gains in total viewers while "slashing" the year-to-year 25-to-54 demographic gap.

Still, the big winner in the latest ratings week (April 9-13) may be the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley. It continues to trail by a significant gap in total viewers but is making a game of it with 25-to-54-year-olds while remaining the only newscast to register year-to-year gains in both ratings measurements.

From April 9-13, Nightly News led in total viewers with 8.160 million, followed by Diane Sawyer's World News (7.203 million) and the CBS Evening News (5.943 million).

In the 25-to-54 age range, Nightly News had 2.203 million, with World News (1.918 million) and Evening News 1.817 million) trailing.

Pelly joined CBS News in 1989 after seven years with Dallas-based WFAA8. Before that, he also worked briefly at Fort Worth-based NBC5.

Still smokin' hot: Prince's blazing guitar solo at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony

It's the eve of the 27th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which goes down on Saturday night, April 14th, in Cleveland.

Announced performers include Guns 'n' Roses, The Beastie Boys, Donovan, The Small Faces and Laura Nyro. And HBO will present a three-hour telecast of the event on May 5th.

All involved will be hard-pressed to top Prince, who celebrated his 2004 induction with a blow-away guitar solo tied to fellow inductee George Harrison's "As My Guitar Gently Weeps." Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and George's lookalike son, Dhani, also were on stage. At the end, Prince simply disengaged from his guitar and walked away. It's hard to be humble when you've just ripped the lid off the place.

The video below joins the performance in progress, just as Prince heats up. And the sound quality is superb.

Let's also note that former WFAA8 anchor Macie Jepson, now with Cleveland's WEWS-TV, is among those chronicling Saturday's big event in downtown Cleveland.

"We're streaming our Rock n Roll Hall of Fame special LIVE tonight (Friday)," she says on her Facebook page. Check it out! Excited to be a part of it with the NewsChannel5 team!"

Good for her. And now on with the show (below):

Knuckleheads unite: The Three Stooges movie is our answer to those Sex and the City gal pal outings

Will hordes of reasonably able-minded men be trekking to theaters this weekend to see our version of Sex and the City?

That would be The Three Stooges feature film, whose promotional campaign even includes an ad urging women to enjoy a pampered day at home or elsewhere while their knuckle-dragging spouses and boyfriends head off to this year's ultimate anti-chick flick.

It's no coincidence that a lot of these commercials have been running during pro baseball and basketball games, whose audiences tend to number a lot more men than women. Moe, Larry and Curly generally aren't the kinds of guys a gal would like to encounter on a blind date. Or in a house call for a plumbing problem.

The long-in-coming movie stars Chris Dimantopoulos, Sean Hayes and Will Sasso as M, L and C. That's quite a markdown from Benicio del Toro, Sean Penn and Jim Carrey, all of whom dropped out for various reasons. But the Farrelly Brothers (Dumb and Dumber, There's Something About Mary) are still attached as the film's directors and producers.

That's better than nothing, and in an odd way sort of replicates Curly's reasoning as to why he'd rather be burned at the stake than beheaded. A hot steak is better than a cold chop, he deduced.

Formative Barky loved those Three Stooges shorts, lovingly presented on Chicago-based WGN-TV during late afternoons. My brothers and I quickly adapted and sometimes even improvised. I remember us bopping each other on the heads with Tootsie Roll Pops, raising small badge-of-honor bumps and greatly aggravating our live-in grandma, who hated "those Stoogies" to her core.

In another Stooge-inspired incident, a porcine kid belted a home run against my brother Jim's elementary school baseball team. As he rounded the bases, he went "Woo woo woo woo" all the way home -- just like Curly did. I swear this is true.

In tandem with the big movie release, Chicago Review Press has published an updated edition of The Three Stooges Scrapbook, an exhaustive, over-sized 356-page compendium that seemingly contains every last speck of information about the trio and its offshoots.

It's billed as a "lovingly assembled tribute," although the book also fully documents the short, tragic and mostly unhappy life of Curly Howard, who died at age 48 in 1952. His oldest brother, Shemp, replaced him, although Curly clearly was irreplaceable. Middle brother Moe Howard continued to dispense most of the on-screen punishment while also keeping The Stooges on track as "the businessman of the team."

Larry Fine played Larry, whose unruly hair withstood being yanked out in clumps by the ever-aggravated Moe. I'm afraid that made me laugh the most. Although I also grew to like Shemp well enough, particularly when he went "Me be be be be" -- or whatever the hell that was. Hey, "Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk, nyuk" was a damned tough act to follow.

A made-for-TV movie about the Stooges, produced by Mel Gibson, preceded the big-screen version almost 12 years ago to this day. Michael Chiklis played Curly en route to his signature role as polar opposite Vic Mackey on The Shield. And Evan Handler donned a frizzy wig as Larry several years before becoming a recurring character on Sex and the City. It wasn't exactly a laugh riot, though, with a broke, beaten-down Moe (Paul Ben-Victor) trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces after the Stooges' heyday had passed. Flashbacks ensued.

The new Stooges movie, featuring cameos from the likes of Larry David, Jane Lynch, Jennifer Hudson, Sofia Vergara and Nicole
"Snooki" Polizzi, is intended to be a big guffaw from start to finish. And if it's not, I'm determined to consider it time well spent anyway.

Homer Simpson would agree. And he won't be taking Marge.

Vexed in the city: HBO's Girls plays for real

The girls of Girls hardly have it made. HBO photo

Premiering: Sunday, April 15th at 9:30 p.m (central) on HBO
Starring: Lena Dunham, Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, Zosia Mamet, Chris Abbott, Adam Driver
Produced by: Lena Dunham, Judd Apatow, Jenni Konner

Plain-spoken, plain-faced and pain-ridden, Hannah Horvath is a TV heroine quite unlike any other.

She's a jobless would-be writer with a heart-of-gold roommate, a rather dirty-to-the-touch boyfriend and parents who finally decide that "we can't keep bankrolling your groovy lifestyle" in hard-to-please Manhattan.

To which Hannah (series creator/producer/writer Lena Dunham) retorts in an opening restaurant scene, "I could be a drug addict. Do you realize how lucky you are?" (Veteran TV watchers might recognize Peter Scolari, who co-starred with Tom Hanks in Bosom Buddies, as the dad on the receiving end of this.)

HBO's decidedly unglamorous Girls, premiering Sunday, April 15th and slated for a 10-episode run in its first season, is pretty much positioned as a polar opposite of that network's biggest comedy hit, Sex and the City. Even though one of its four principal characters still worships the show and has a giant, shrine-ish poster in her apartment living room.

This is very much Dunham's baby, both on-camera and off-. But the series' most recognizable name is co-executive producer Judd Apatow, who's been dissecting young adult behavior for years in both TV series (Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared) and feature films (Knocked Up, Superbad).

With Girls, "I've been able to 'godfather' and give notes and advice and whatever wisdom I have left," Apatow told writers at the January network TV "press tour." "When I did Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, I put so much into it that I wound up in the hospital. So it's nice to not have to do that."

Dunham doesn't spare herself. Best known as the director/writer/star of 2010's acclaimed indy film Tiny Furniture, she wrote or co-wrote all 10 episodes of Girls. And her character is bracingly and often jarringly "real" in ways that the Sex and the City quartet wasn't and wouldn't want to be.

Episode 2, for instance, ends with Hannah undergoing a vaginal exam after obsessing over whether she might have contracted a sexually transmitted disease from her lay-about and rather yucky boyfriend, Adam (Adam Driver).

An exasperated woman physician on the receiving end of her babble tells Hannah in no uncertain terms that "you could not pay me enough to be 24 again."

"Well, they're not paying me at all," Hannah replies. Perfect.

Hannah's best friend and roommate Marnie (Allison Williams, daughter of NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams) is the designated looker of the group. But Marnie's become bored with her steady boyfriend, Charlie (Chris Abbott), whose touch has come to seem like that of an uncle, she tells Hannah. Not that she'd prefer Andy. When Hannah's late for a dinner with guests, Marnie says that her roommate no doubt is "off having sex with that gross animal."

Vagabond Britisher Jessa (Jemima Kirke) is often off having sex with just about anyone. Breezing back to New York to settle in for a bit, she's rooming with her cousin Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), the Sex and the City addict who's otherwise a frustrated virgin.

Perhaps none of this sounds all that appetizing. And sometimes it isn't, particularly when the talk gets positively cavalier at times in an Episode 2 built around Hannah's fears of messy condoms and Jessa's hasty decision to have her pregnancy aborted.

In fact, dad Brian may cringe more than a little when his daughter Allison's character carps about how "there is seriously nothing flakier in this world than not showing up to your own abortion."

Episode 3, the best of the three sent for review, finds Hannah on a voyage of discovery with her old college lover while Marnie gets bowled over by an artist to whom she's introduced by her bawdy art gallery boss. It ends a lot more joyously than Episode 2, with Hannah dancing by herself to "I Keep Dancing On My Own" (by the Swedish artist, Robyn) before Marnie arrives back home and happily joins in.

Girls may to be to most males what The Three Stooges movie is to most females -- an acquired taste at best. Still, it's a distinctive, signature series from a decidedly singular voice. Lena Dunham is unafraid to hold herself up for close inspection. The view can be off-putting at times. But that's life, and this series just wouldn't work without its warts.


Number could soon be up for CBS' latest crime entry, NYC 22

Leelee Sobieski and Harold "House" Moore of NYC 22. CBS photo

Premiering: Sunday, April 15th at 9 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Terry Kinney, Adam Goldberg, Leelee Sobieski, Harold "House" Moore, Sark Sands, Judy Marte, Tom Reed, Felix Solis
Produced by: Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, Richard Price

ABC has become the home of empowered women while Fox keeps positioning itself as the daring edge-of-the-ledge network.

NBC is still searching for a latter-day identity other than the network of sitcoms that few people watch. And CBS? Crime, crime, crime -- which certainly has paid.

Its latest new one, NYC 22, premieres on Sunday, April 15th in the 9 p.m. (central) slot previously occupied by CSI: Miami. Its co-executive producers include Robert De Niro, who made his big-screen bones as a bad guy.

But NYC 22 -- previously titled Rookies and then The 2-2 -- fails to generate much power in its first two hours. Its principal protagonists are six rookie cops who basically prowl their beats while waiting for something to "go down." Most of CBS' crime dramas are pro-active, with their law enforcers quickly on the scent of whoever committed that murder or murders in the opening minutes. In this one the crime tends to take its time. And for the most part, the wrongdoing is comparatively mundane anyway.

NYC 22 is more realistically grounded but also duller around the edges than ABC's equivalent Rookie Blue, which will fire up its third season on May 24th. It means well and looks good -- almost too good in fact given the "gritty streets of upper Manhattan" description in CBS publicity materials. When the director yells "Action!" it's too often a case of relative inaction. And the rookies, three of whom get nicknames, aren't quite interesting enough to make this thing really pop.

Sunday's premiere begins with the six principals heading off to their first day at work to the beat of a musical sequence with the lyrics, "I'm back. Back in the New York groove."

Some of the rooks are pretty lippy -- right from the start.

Tonya Sanchez (Judy Marte), spawned from a family with a criminal bent, wastes no time in barking, "You lay a hand on my stuff, I'll snap it off your wrist."

And Jayson "Jackpot" Toney (Harold "House" Moore), a former NBA phenom who blew it, has instant lust in his heart for Jennifer "White House" Perry (Leelee Sobieski), a steely former college volleyball star and Marine MP.

"I'm gonna hit that before the sun goes down," he boasts. They of course become opening day beat partners, sassin' each other while steadily growing closer.

Sanchez is paired with Ray "Lazarus" Harper (Adam Goldberg), an ex-newspaper crime reporter who one day walked into the office to find his stuff in a cardboard box. Not even a buyout offer. The bastards. But getting screwed will come in handy when "Lazarus" later finds himself commiserating with a rifle-brandishing nut case who likewise got the shaft from his employer.

The other featured rookies are Ahmad Khan (Tom Reed), an Afghani native who "fought his way to freedom," and Kenny McLaren (Stark Sands), latest in a long line of New York cops from the same family.

The series' tough but firm mentor is Daniel "Yoda" Dean (Terry Kinney) -- oh ple--e-e-ease! There's also a scruffy plainclothes "gang intel" guy named Terry Howard (Felix Solis). Veteran TV watchers might immediately see him as a facsimile of Bruce Weitz's Mick Belker from Hill Street Blues. Otherwise he's neither funny or very interesting.

Sunday's premiere eventually gets around to a brief but active showdown between two gangs before "Yoda" predictably reads the riot act to all the rooks for their failures to follow police procedure. Then he calms down -- predictably as well.

Episode 2 follows the newcomers on their first "midnight tour," with the fire-bombing of a residential "weed house" the principal flashpoint. I guessed the perpetrator a mile away, and was disappointed when it played out just that way. The hour otherwise is shot almost entirely in the dark, which doesn't help either.

NYC 22 has some OK scenes among its major characters. But they don't resonate to the point where it's an acceptable trade-off to also endure some of the tedium.

In short, nothing really jumps off the screen here. And Tom Selleck from CBS' Friday night uniformed cop entry, Blue Bloods, is not scheduled to make any remedial "cross-over" guest appearances from his post as NYC police commissioner Francis "Frank" Reagan.

So no, it doesn't look good.


ABC's Don't Trust the B looks like a comedy worth keeping (trust me)

Krysten Ritter showcases herself in Don't Trust the B . . . ABC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, April 11th at 8:30 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Krysten Ritter, Dreama Walker, James Van Der Beek, Liza Lapira, Michael Blaiklock, Eric Andrz
Produced by: Nahnatchka Khan, David Hemingson, Jeff Morton

This bitch has got some pop.

As does "The Beek."

So maybe A(bitch)C has something at least a little special in Don't Trust the B ---- In Apartment 23, its second new series this season with an advertiser-unfriendly word shorn from the title but deployed within the show itself.

The alphabet network's Dallas-set GCB, short for the Good Christian Bitches book it's based on, is the other dicey proposition with the hush-hush moniker. But ABC's Dirty Sexy Money was deemed OK a few seasons back.

Don't Trust the B, subbing the rest of this season for Happy Endings, is inheriting its network's best available comedy time slot following Modern Family. It's "B" is Chloe, played with consummate confidence and presence by possible big star-in-the-making Krysten Ritter (no relation to the late John Ritter).

ABC's hesitancy regarding the title is quickly lapped by an in-and-out theme song that goes like this: "I'm not perfect, I'm a snitch. But I can tell you she's a bitch." The last three words are whispered, just in case Procter & Gamble might be hard of hearing.

Chloe also gets away with some of the more sexually explicit lines ever uttered in a Big 4 broadcast network comedy. As when she informs her wide-eyed new roommate June (Dreama Walker) that she and friend James Van Der Beek (playing himself) didn't work out dating-wise. "We weren't really compatible genitally," Chloe explains. "Imagine trying to fit a cucumber into a coin purse."

"The Beek from the Creek," as the former Dawson's Creek heartthrob is dubbed, pops in regularly to good effect. It's the best outing by an actor playing himself since Matt LeBlanc began doing it in the Showtime series Episodes. And if Don't Trust the B clicks, look for more of the same next season.

Don't Trust the B has other familiar plot points. June is a freshly arrived naive Indiana girl with a new job at a Manhattan mortgage firm. But wouldn't you know, the CEO is yet another mockup of Bernie Madoff. So June arrives for work only to find everyone shredding, burning and running for their lives.

Jobless and now homeless, too (the company had set her up in a plush pad), June goes apartment-hunting and wades through the usual assortment of wacky would-be roommates before warming to Chloe despite warnings she's a b-i-t-c-h. And she pretty much is, but with a moral compass that occasionally points in the right direction.

It's only because of Chloe, for instance, that June discovers her doctor fiance's philandering. A suspicious Chloe first gets a little kid informant blasted on beer in order to get the scoop on Steven (guest star Tate Ellington). She then seduces the cad while inadvertently plopping into June's birthday cake. Justice is served, but it "came with a price," Chloe tells June. "I got a lot of frosting in my crack."

Ah, but she's endearing in her own way. And two upcoming episodes made available for review show that Don't Trust the B potentially has staying power in a season where ABC has found a few modest hits amid big misses such as The River, Charlie's Angels, Man Up! and most dreadful of all, Work It.

Ritter doesn't quite have the ready-made appeal of Zooey Deschanel in Fox's New Girl, which already has been renewed for a second season. But she's a pistol with a knack for cracking wise. As in an upcoming episode where she breezes into Apartment 23 and takes aim at June: "I know you hate it when I come drunk and fun and eat tomorrow's lunch. You're in a rut with tuna by the way."

But June instead has accompanied The Beek to a vodka launch party, which makes Chloe jealous. Another one-liner is saved up for the following morning, when a hung over June hears, "Good morning. I'd offer you breakfast, but you didn't make any."

Van Der Beek adeptly plays along, whether grandly prepping for a Dancing with the Stars stint (in real life he hasn't done it yet) or failing to get his NYU acting class students off the subject of Dawson's Creek. "I walk a lonely road," he says of the fame that won't release him.

Don't Trust the B otherwise could do without a creepy voyeur named Eli (Michael Blaiklock), whose next door view of the ladies' kitchen puts him in closer proximity than the fence-talking "Wilson Wilson" from Home Improvement. Eric Andrz is used to better effect as Mark, who fled the mortgage company before helping desperate June get a job at a coffee shop.

The series' creator/executive producer, Nahnatchka Khan, has both a flow-off-the-tongue name and some budding mad skills as a comedy writer. Principally armed with Ritter and Van Der Beek, she makes Don't Trust the B a find if not a treasure just yet.

Clunky men didn't work at all in those aforementioned male-driven comedy flops. Now it's a time for a B to step up, crack wise and walk naked (and pixillated) through her apartment kitchen while saying with letter-perfect insincerity, "So how was moving? I was going to help you, but then I didn't want to."


R.I.P. Mike Wallace: May 9, 1918 to April 7, 2012

Even his own CBS network called him a "pit-bull reporter" in the first sentence of its tribute to the late, inimitable Mike Wallace, who died on the day before Easter at age 93 after a lengthy illness.

My most vivid recollection of him is as a father who talked openly of reconnecting with his likewise famous son, Chris Wallace.

The two of them had never appeared on television together until Nov. 6, 2005, when Chris, 58 at the time, welcomed Mike, 87 to his Fox News Sunday program. A bit of business was at hand. Mike would be talking up his last book, Between You and Me, a trip through a half-century of TV interviews with the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Frank Lloyd Wright, Dr. Martin Luther King, Johnny Carson, Nancy Reagan, Richard Nixon, Malcolm X, Norman Mailer and Barbra Streisand.

The earlier encounters, on Night Beat and The Mike Wallace Interview, were conducted through thick clouds of cigarette smoke coming from the host and sometimes his guest as well.

During those vintage years Mike had little time for his second son, Chris, who was born the year before the marriage of his father and the then Norma Kaplan ended in a 1948 divorce. She soon married CBS News president Bill Leonard, to whom Chris felt far closer in his formative years.

Until he was 15, "I'd not had much of a relationship at all with my father," Chris said in a 2005 telephone interview.

The elder Wallace agreed in a separate interview.

" I hoped that he would follow in my footsteps," Mike said. "But his stepdad had more to do with teaching Chris than I did. They had a wonderful life growing up. They told me that they used to do sports play-by-play when they drove into New York City along the Hudson River together. They loved each other."

The 1962 death of Peter Wallace -- Chris' older brother and Mike's only other son -- had a pronounced effect on both survivors.

"He fell off a mountain in Greece at the age of 19," Mike remembered matter-of-factly. "I was much closer to him in those years than I was to Chris."

Mike had been taking just about anything that came along, including game shows and commercials for Golden Fluffo Shortening. After Peter's death, he steeled himself.

"I decided I was going to do something that would make Peter proud," Mike said. "I said to hell with all this other stuff. I was going to find out if I could do it the way I wanted to, which was to do news and nothing but."

He also re-connnected with Chris.

"We both felt an interest in this other person in our lives that we didn't know much about," Chris said. "One thing he did know was that I was a huge sports fan, so he started taking me to Toots Shor's restaurant in New York, where I could see Frank Gifford and people like that. I wasn't excited about seeing my dad, but I was very excited about seeing sports stars. That was sort of the way we made our way back to each other."

Mike and the late Harry Reasoner were the first anchors of 60 Minutes when the program premiered on the night of Sept. 24, 1968. It bounced around the CBS schedule for seven years before settling in on Sundays at 6 p.m. (central) in 1975. It's been entrenched ever since, with Wallace enduring all the way to Jan. 6, 2008, when his final 60 Minutes interview was with accused steroids user Roger Clemens.

"What I try to do, honestly, is to read everything that's been written about or by the person I'm talking to," Wallace said in our 2005 interview, which preceded his last visit to Dallas on Wednesday, Nov. 9th of that same year. "We have no subpoena powers, obviously. We have to persuade them that we'll be fair."

"When it becomes apparent that you've done a lot of homework and you know a lot about them, they respect it and they become, in effect, co-conspirators," he added. "The chemistry of confidentiality develops in that way. But where else my interviewing skills come from, I don't have a clue. Maybe it's just because I've been doing it for such a long time."

Wallace closed his 2005 Between You and Me memoir with what he called "a final word from the old geezer." He noted that he'd "never gotten a chance to interview the current president of the United States (George W. Bush). Karl Rove wouldn't let me talk to him when he was merely governor of Texas. So I've interviewed just about every president since Abe Lincoln, including Bush the elder, number 41, but never George W., number 43.

So how about it, Mr. President, isn't it time you gave this old man a break?"

That never came to pass, but Wallace gamely played along when I asked him what his first question would be. He said it would go something like this: "How does a man prepare to be president of a superpower of the world?"

For a 40-year span on 60 Minutes, Mike Wallace was his own superpower. He remained in play almost until his 90s, making a name for himself that very few have equalled or surpassed in the annals of TV journalism.

I saw him for the last time in fall 2005, just before he went onstage at Highland Park Methodist Church to talk about his new book and his many old adventures within its covers. He insisted on signing a copy, and writing a warm, personal inscription as well.

But we'll close with his words about son, Chris. Because they're the ones that many dads never get around to saying.

"I gotta tell you, it's a joy to watch him. He's so damn good," the once estranged father said of his son. We love each other a lot. He's a good fella."

60 Minutes will remember its Grand Inquisitor next Sunday in a one-hour tribute. I'll always remember him this other way, too.

Hewitt's treasured chest serves as The Client List's calling card

Lifetime's marketing campaign is not about character development. Lifetime photo

Premiering: Sunday, April 8th at 9 p.m. (central) on Lifetime
Starring: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Cybill Shepherd, Loretta Devine, Colin Egglesfield, Rebecca Field, Kathleen York, Naturi Naughton, Desi Lydic, Alicia Lagano
Produced by: Howard Braunstein, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Michael Jaffe, A.J. Rinella, Jordan Budde, Danielle Thomas

You see that photo above? Of course you do.

Lifetime's promotional campaign for its continuation of The Client List as a weekly series is brazenly built around star Jennifer Love Hewitt's bazooms. And yeah, they are pretty spectacular. Or as she recently told Maxim magazine, "It's horrible to say, but I like my boobs. They've always served me well. They're good."

Lifetime has long been the network aimed at women. But when you build a drama around Hewitt's strong suits and a massage parlor with "extras," it's a safe bet that a lot of men also will be along for the ride. It could go something like this: "Honey, why don't we watch Lifetime for a little while tonight. I'd like to get in touch with my feminine side, just like you've always wanted me to. And I hear they've got a new series about hard-working women with real character."

Hewitt, the Waco native who first came to fame as a teenager on Fox's Party of Five, had a nice run as the star of CBS' Ghost Whisperer before segueing in 2010 to Lifetime's The Client List movie, one of its most popular ever.

She played Samantha "Sam" Horton in that one. In the continuation she's Riley Parks, a Beaumont, Texas-based married mother of two whose husband has been unemployed since a work injury. Desperate for cash, Riley takes a job at a Sugarland massage parlor called The Rub.

A client soon apprises her that "the girls that don't do 'extras' don't really do very well here." But Riley is firm in her resistance until arriving home and finding that hubby Kyle (Brian Hallisay) has blown town. The tips indeed have been lousy so far. So Riley decides to get with the program for the sake of her two sweet little kids.

"Their daddy's gone. I can't take their house away, too," she tells mom, Linette (Cybill Shepherd changing names from Cassie in the original movie).

Luckily, the owner of The Rub is the very kindly Georgia Cummings (Loretta Devine). And Riley's four co-workers are really nice, too. It's kind of like working for a spa/brothel run by Nabisco. And as Georgia notes, "Ninety percent of what we do here is legit."

Riley is soon rakin' in the dough and sometimes wearing semi-naughty outfits provided by the clients. But Lifetime is an advertiser-supported network. So the hands-on "extras" provided by the masseuses are kept under wraps while Hewitt's deep-dish cleavage of course is fair game.

Riley also finds time to counsel some of the men on how to repair their marriages or re-connect with a lost lover. In Sunday's premiere episode, she even talks sense to a suspicious wife who had spray-painted "WHORE" on her car. The woman is urged to talk it out with her disaffected husband and "then screw the livin' daylights out of 'im." Tarnation.

Episode 2 finds Riley cuttin' loose at a country-western bar after sluggin' down a passel of margaritas. She leads a karaoke sing-along with her co-workers before Kyle's gentlemanly brother, Evan (Colin Egglesfield), arrives to drive her home, put her to bed and then get some day-after home cookin' after Riley sobers up.

"In Greece they give olive branches. In Texas it's chili," she reasons.

Client List has ample hokum throughout, although veterans Shepherd and Devine often make it easier to swallow.

Shepherd's sassily down-to-earth mother has been through five marriages but remains undeterred. In fact, she's met a new feller at church and is intent on landing him.

"Sugar," she tells her daughter, "if God meant for women to be single, he woulda taught us all how to use a hammer."

Hewitt's Riley gamely soldiers through all of this, and looks great doing it. And by the end of Episode 2, she finds out the real reason why husband Kyle left. This also leaves the door open for him to return, even though momma Linette keeps telling Riley she should wash her hands of him.

Client List ends up being easy on the eyes, harder on the ears and likely destined to become a bell-ringer in the ratings for a network that needs another hit scripted series other than Army Wives.

Hewitt and her self-professed favorite body parts may well be more than enough to carry this show. "I'm really glad I came in again," says one of her clients.

Why wouldn't he be?


Starz's Magic City rewinds 53 years to a glowingly corrupt Miami Beach

The main Magic City players at Miami Beach's Mirimar Playa hotel. Starz photo

Premiering: Friday, April 6th at 9 p.m. (central) on Starz
Starring: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Olga Kurylenko, Steven Strait, Jessica Marais, Christian Cooke, Elena Satine, Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Taylor Blackwell, Danny Huston, Alex Rocco, Kelly Lynch
Produced by: Mitch Glazer, Geyer Kosinski

Wikipedia could get a bit of a workout during and after Magic City by any viewers too young to remember the likes of Cyd Charisse, The McGuire Sisters, Jack Carter, Danny Kaye, Georgie Jessel, Shecky Greene, Sal Mineo and Kim Novak. Or you could bone up right now.

All of those names and more are dropped in Friday's opening episode of Starz's Magic City, a decidedly old-school morality play set in the Miami Beach of the late 1950s. Frank Sinatra and Jack Kennedy should ring-a-ding-ding a bell, though. They're referenced, too, but none of the above are actually seen and only Sinatra is heard.

Crisply and vividly shot, Magic City is Mad Men era entertainment in swimsuit attire -- or often no attire at all. Dinner jackets also are plentiful amid the smoking, drinking and occasional bloodletting. This is Miami before the Dolphins, but sharks (human and otherwise) are always in the swim of things.

At center stage is Isaac "Ike" Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a halfway principled man who built the palatial Miramar Playa hotel from scratch and is very proud of it. Unfortunately he's also in hock to the very nasty and controlling Ben Diamond (Danny Huston), an underworld S.O.B. also known as "The Butcher."

Ask Ben for a favor and he'll grant it -- but always at a price. And Ike badly needs some muscle when a picket line sanctioned by his childhood friend, union leader Mike Strauss (Leland Orser), threatens to really screw up the Miramar's big New Year's Eve gala, with Sinatra as its centerpiece. But Frankie will walk if the place ain't filled, says his right-hand man, Jilly. (Hey, kids, that would be none other than Jilly Rizzo, whose surname is left out of Friday's proceedings.)

Ike also is a widower with a knockout new and younger wife named Vera (Olga Kurylenko). He has two grown sons, Cain-ish Stevie (Steven Strait) and Abel-ish Danny (Christian Cooke), plus an increasingly lippy little daughter named Lauren (Taylor Blackwell).

Danny is enamored of a hotel maid named Mercedes Lazaro (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) while Stevie has the very dangerous hots for Lily Diamond (Jessica Marais), who just happens to be brutal Ben's moll.

Friday's first episode moves along at a sometimes languorous pace, but not to the point of being a turn-off. TV addicts might notice that an early scene is eerily similar to one of the ABC series GCB's table-setters. Namely, a stud being orally gratified from below while driving his car is fated to lose control and crash it. But Stevie and his pleasurer have the good fortune to land in a shallow body of water, emerging unhurt. In GCB, both parties ended up dead.

Morgan and Huston play their pivotal roles well, but Magic City's scene-stealer is Alex Rocco in the recurring role of Ike's semi-infirm father, Arthur Evans. He's alternately cantankerous and tender, a pop with a little weasel in him. And Rocco plays him to the hilt.

Vera Evans is willful but not evil, a wife who sees only the best sides of her husband while he somewhat reluctantly does what has to be done to keep the Miramar out of financial harm's way.

In Episode 2, one of three sent for review, Ike gets a to-the-point treatise from Ben on what they could and should mean to one another. "You built a palace," Ben rasps. "Now it's time to be king. And you and I can wear this town like a diamond necklace."

Episodes 2 and 3 otherwise are partly built around what Ike considers a coup -- the luring of the CBS-televised "Miss 1959" pageant to the Miramar. Beauties from around the world eventually hit Miami Beach in very playful moods. So much so that they seem to be rent-a-whores, particularly when it comes to pleasing a corrupt old state senator whose committee is soon scheduled to hold hearings on the lucrative legalization of casino gambling.

"You know, son, I cannot be bought," he informs Ike. But I can be rented." Haw-haw.

Magic City will have a 10-epsode Season One. And Starz already likes what it sees, ordering a second season before the first premieres.

So far this is solid and very picturesque entertainment, with a strong sense of foreboding built in. There's a lot to look at and enough to like about this "flashy and tumultuous time in Miami." It remains to be seen whether future back-in-the-day name drops might include Danny Thomas, Mitzi Gaynor, Xavier Cugat and maybe even Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme.


God is the Bigger Elvis is its own form of Graceland

Dolores Hart: then with Elvis and now with God. HBO photos

Nuns are all right by me. They almost always have been.

My first grade teacher was a Dominican sister. Save for the 6th grade, it was an uninterrupted string of nuns.

My late father, during his tenure as Home and School president, would regularly visit the nearby nuns' residence to discuss strategies. He'd sometimes take me with him. It was kinda cool.

I served early morning Mass in a convent for a while. The nun in charge knew how tough those cold Racine, Wisconsin winter wakeup calls could be. So she always gave us little presents on various holidays. And pretty much looked the other way when we snuck sips of the leftover wine.

The person who convinced me that I needed to write for my high school newspaper was a nun. She had an incredible influence, and I'll never forget Sister Sean. And one of my cousins was Sister Shirley. She was always lots of fun while on leave from wherever she'd been stationed. And she loved sports.

So that's the context preceding this brief review of God Is The Bigger Elvis, the Oscar-nominated short documentary film (just 40 minutes) charting the transformation of Dolores Hart from movie star to the current Mother Prioress of the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut. It has its TV premiere on Thursday, April 5th at 7 p.m. (central) on HBO.

Some of the nuns of my youth could be cranky, and even a little mean at times. But most of them were benevolent "real people" who enjoyed a good joke and tried to put us on the straight and narrow without being all stuffy about it. Kind of like Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary's.

Dolores Hart, who received Elvis Presley's first on-screen kiss as a 19-year-old in 1957's Loving You, is the closest we have to a real-life Ingrid Bergman. She was still a knockout upon joining the sequestered Benedictine order in 1963. And at age 73 she continues to radiate an inner and outer beauty, whether asking her parakeet Toby for a kiss or giving the film its title by telling director/producer Rebecca Cammisa, "The abbey was like a grace of God that just entered my life in a way that was totally unexpected. And God was the vehicle. He was the bigger Elvis."

Hart also co-starred with Elvis in King Creole. Her other film credits include Where the Boys Are, Wild Is the Wind and Come Fly With Me, her last movie before quitting cold turkey.

Hart was engaged to architect Don Robinson when she shocked both her fiance and Hollywood by deciding to enter the abbey. She had first visited Regina Laudis in 1959 after feeling exhausted and unfulfilled during her run in Broadway's The Pleasure of His Company.

Robinson, who's newly interviewed for this film, recalls the moment she told him of her decision to find God amid the abbey's kindred spirits.

"Every part of my love for her was destroyed in a matter of seconds," he says. But Robinson never really got over Dolores Hart, and still visits her residence annually.

"'I've come to the abbey for 47 years," he says. "I think that says something."

God is the Bigger Elvis also includes interviews with other nuns and vintage footage of earlier times at Regina Laudis. As Mother Prioress, it is now Hart's responsibility to counsel wavering young novices who are struggling with their new surroundings -- as she once did.

"It's going to take time," she tells one of the rookies who seeks her comforting advice. "And you have to trust that your heart grows and can take on the work of becoming a person of Christ in this monastery."

The film has the perfect Hollywood ending. Don has come to visit, and the two of them are still fond of one another. They hold hands and walk along an abbey pathway. And they briefly kiss on the lips before he says, "Love you," and she says "Love you, too."

When he leaves -- after promising to call -- Mother Prioress Dolores Hart is both teary-eyed and contemplative. She folds her hands and says a short silent prayer before in effect exiting stage left.

Yes, nuns are good people. And this is an effecting short film about life in the chaste lane.

GRADE: A (in part because anything less just wouldn't seem right.)

ABC's Scandal goofily practices D.C. damage control (when it's not being just plain aggravating)

Kerry Washington is "fixer" Olivia Pope in Scandal. ABC photo

Premiering: Thursday, April 5th at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Kerry Washington, Henry Ian Cusick, Katie Lowes, Columbus Short, Darby Stanchfield, Guillermo Diaz, Tony Goldwyn, Jeff Perry
Produced by: Shonda Rhimes, Betsy Beers

Along comes Scandal, another aggravatingly imperfect melodrama from Grey's Anatomy/Private Practice creator Shonda Rhimes.

It's regularly preachy and far-fetched, with the key characters tending to speed-talk as though they're all in a Go-Kart race. Never more so than in Thursday's opening scene, when a recruit meets a recruiter in a Washington, D.C. bar. Words spurt from their mouths at a pace that might make even Aaron Sorkin a bit dizzy. Viewers will be hard-pressed to hang on every word when the words zoom their way between two Rhimes-written refrains -- "I don't do blind dates" and "I want to be a gladiator in a suit."

I wanted to quit watching Scandal in an even bigger hurry. Instead I ended up wading through all three episodes available for review on ABC's media site. Because despite all of its overwrought, seemingly under-thought machinations, Scandal also has a certain amount of pulling power.

It's not every day, for instance, that a weekly broadcast network series has a running plot in which a relatively young president of the United States yearns to re-ignite the interracial affair he had with his beautiful communications director. That same communications director now runs her own super-powered crisis management firm. And their paths cross anew when Republican prez Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn) asks Olivia Pope (series star Kerry Washington) to intercede on his behalf after a White House intern seems poised to go public with a charge that he had a fling with her.

"It's not right. Makes me look like a dirty old man," the president tells Pope after insisting it's all been fabricated on the intern's part.

Then it gets really dicey when Pope learns the real truth and barges into the Oval Office just as her tuxedoed former lover is ready to give a toast to the president of France. A slap in the face, a hard kiss and some yelling ensue before the president's harried chief of staff rushes in and tells them to keep it down.

This is all in Thursday's frenetically paced opening episode, during which Pope's firm also takes on the case of a much-decorated war hero and resultant conservative "poster boy" who's been accused of murdering his girlfriend by firing three slugs into her head. Uh-oh, he ends up having a very inconvenient but ironclad alibi. But this will require a public fess-up that turns Scandal into an exceedingly heavy-handed polemic.

It also might ruffle a few right-of-center feathers when one of Pope's team members initially blurts that she doesn't want to take the case "because it's too messy, too much work, and I hate Republicans."

The lead character of Olivia Pope is at least loosely based on real-life D.C. crisis manager Judy Smith, who gets a co-producer credit. Earlier in her career Smith took on what proved to be the impossible task of heading NBC Universal television's publicity department. Compared to that, these over-the-top cases are a snap. Although Smith insists that she's never slept with a sitting president.

Besides nervous newcomer Quinn Perkins (Katie Lowes), Pope's snap-to-it task force includes recovering womanizer Stephen Finch (Henry Ian Cusick from Lost); slickster Harrison Wright (Columbus Short); peppy lefty Abby Whelan (Darby Stanchfield) and a comparatively slovenly "hacker extraordinaire" known only as Huck (Guillermo Diaz).

They strategize in what seemingly is supposed to be a heavily secured HQ. But that doesn't stop just about anybody from barging in, whether it's the hapless district attorney or a cub reporter for the so-called "D.C. Sun."

Episode 2 finds the team aiding D.C.'s longtime "finest madam," who doesn't want her prominent client list made public. That includes a guy who's all set to be President Grant's first nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. Episode 3 features the rape prosecution of a privileged punk whose wealthy mother happens to be a prominent client of Pope's firm.

Each hour also advances the president-in-jeopardy storyline, with intern Amanda now represented by Pope while the leader of the free world still yearns to dump his First Lady and go balls to the wall with the woman he really loves. Namely his darlin' "Livvy," who by the way looks particularly smashing in the white sheath dress she wears to a White House State dinner.

The dialogue can be a riot at times, probably not intentionally.

Hear Huck lay out the rules of the road to the teary rookie Quinn: "You're a stray dog and Olivia took you in. Don't question it. No crying. We don't cry. Ever."

Thrill to Olivia spurring her troops to action with a hearty, "All cylinders, people! Let's go!"

And boy, the prez sure has a point when his First Lady clandestinely cancels his morning appointments because he's not been sleeping well lately. "I'm the leader of the free world. I do not sleep in!" he rages while still in his jammies.

This is all one helluva stretch -- and also ridiculously entertaining whenever those establishing shots of the White House kick in. NBC's The West Wing re-imagined the president as an actually principled guy who wanted to do good and asked his top aides to likewise aspire to higher callings.

Scandal gives viewers a D.C. that moves to the down-and-dirty beats of shysters, cynics, philanderers and craven opportunists. Over the top? Yeah. Closer to the truth of the matter? That, too.

GRADE: C+ (mostly for not being boring)

Letterman & Olbermann: two pals chortling about the latest Current events

Keith Olbermann balls a fist on Tuesday's Late Show. CBS photo

Oh how Keith Olbermann would have pounced had Mitt Romney called himself a "10 million dollar chandelier."

The Republican front-runner again shows he's hopelessly out of touch with everyday Americans. Yet another gaffe by the man who's building an in-home elevator for his luxury cars. How can this guy live with himself, let alone run for the presidency? And so on.

On Tuesday's Late Show with David Letterman, Olbermann grandly depicted himself as a "10 million dollar chandelier" who was just too ornate for the outhouse Current TV turned out to be. So in that respect, "I screwed up really big on this," Olbermann said. "Let's just start there. I thought we could do this."

That's an apology, Olbermann style. His off- and on-camera conduct wasn't an issue, of course. No, Olbermann was just way too bright for the dim bulbs that hired him. So his latest firing amounts to nothing more than that.

Both insular multi-millionaires -- Olbermann and Letterman -- laughed it up throughout much of KO's first public appearance since Current sacked him on Friday. The host, who's perfectly capable of pressing his guests hard when the occasion demands, instead let Olbermann have his way after initially presenting him with a joke business card affixed with a rotating wheel of KO's many employers.

After the "10 million dollar chandelier" comparison, Letterman didn't follow up by asking, "Doesn't that make you sound more than a little pompous and self-important? Would you let Mitt Romney get away with that?"

Instead Letterman fawned, "Now I'm impressed. I've known you many, many years now and always as just a stand-up guy who's ready for a good scrape and will take the high road if there is a possibility of a high road anywhere in the world anymore. So for you to announce that the whole thing was your fault just by agreeing to go there, you're taking the blame for that."

Letterman then veered off and added, "You got your money. That's all I care about, right?"

It just so happened that Tuesday also was the day that Letterman further enriched himself with a new deal that will take his Late Show at least through the year 2014. And Olbermann says he'll be suing Current TV to get the rest of the reported $50 million owed to him in a deal that was supposed to be for five years but lasted just a little over one.

Letterman asked Olbermann about his absence from the "Super Tuesday" primaries, which the guest blamed on throat problems. But he didn't ask about the straw that initially stirred the drink -- Olbermann's refusal to participate in Current's coverage of the first two key presidential contests of the year -- the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. Instead he went on vacation rather than share a desk with Current's other commentators, which on those nights ended up including the network's co-founder, former vice president Al Gore.

Nor did Letterman ask questions such as these:

***Haven't we reached the point where people can draw only one conclusion -- that you're the problem, not the many networks you've worked for?"

***Why couldn't you have been a team player and shown up for work at a time when Current was trying to make a name for itself on the nights of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary? Wouldn't that have been good for both you and the network? Shouldn't they get a little show of faith in return for paying you a fortune?

***Had you perhaps burned too many bridges to go anywhere else but Current? Were there really other offers out there?

***You say you're a beacon for the common man. And yet here you're equating yourself to a $10 million chandelier and griping about the quality of the "car service" Current provided for you? Couldn't you have afforded to take a cab?

Instead, Letterman ended the interview very oddly after earlier noting that "I didn't know how to get to Current" to even watch Olbermann's prime-time Countdown.

"In my case, fun follows me around," Letterman began. "In your case, trouble follows you around. That was my impression. Now up until the Current situation, I completely believe that it's a different story and that they took on some responsibility that they could not live up to and fulfill, and you're suffering for it."


Olbermann answered, "I think that's a fair assessment," before Letterman ended their time together by again referencing the moolah to which both men are accustomed.

"I just want to make sure you get your money," he told Olbermann. Just swear to me that you have a good chance of getting your money. That's all I care about."

Olbermann assured him that he'll be suing Current in partnership with the same lawyer that represented Conan O'Brien in his dispute with NBC.

And that was it, with the studio audience understandably applauding only tepidly at that point before the immensely more relatable Allison Williams, the actress daughter of NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, joined Letterman after a commercial break. Now there's a kid who seems to have been raised very well.

One more thing. This is not political. There are way too many foghorn fatheads from both the left and the right with TV or radio podiums. Rush Limbaugh and Ed Schultz (who also happen to have fat heads), Sean Hannity, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Chris Matthews, Current's own Cenk Uygur, etc.

I exempt Bill O'Reilly, because he's still capable of branching out with a surprisingly moderate viewpoint. In other words he's not completely predictable.

O'Reilly certainly would ask some of the questions Letterman didn't if Olbermann ever deigned to mix it up with the man he calls "Billo the Clown." That will never happen, though, because Olbermann seldom if ever has interviewed a guest who doesn't uniformly share his opinions.

More was expected of Letterman. But in the end, it was just two multi-millionaires jabbing at Olbermann's latest former workplace. KO again of course held himself blameless.

"The show editorially was never better," he told Letterman. When he showed up for work, that is.

NBC's Best Friends Forever is better suited to eternal damnation

Never again? The cast of Best Friends Forever. NBC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, April 4th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Jessica St. Clair, Lennon Parham, Luka Jones, Stephen Schneider, Daija Owens
Produced by: Scot Armstrong, Jessica St. Clair, Lennon Parham, Alexa Junge, Fred Savage, Ravi Nandan

A beating from beginning to merciful end, NBC's Best Friends Forever marks the last of the Peacock's new scripted series this season before networks reboot in May with revamped fall lineups.

NBC still has only two bonafide hits in its prime-time lineup. And both of them -- Sunday Night Football and The Voice -- are of the unscripted persuasion.

BFF, launching after the re-launch of Betty White's Off Their Rockers, isn't about to alter that equation. You probably wouldn't wish it on your worst enemy.

We once again begin with a jilted woman. Lennon and the extremely annoying Jessica (Lennon Parham, Jessica St. Clair) briefly Skype-talk about the advisability of keeping their va jay-jay areas "natural" before the latter receives her divorce papers via two-day ground mail.

Jessica is traumatized in a suitably sitcom-y way before Lennon implores her to cross the country back to Brooklyn -- and the apartment they once shared. One complication: Lennon is now living with her boyfriend, Joe (Luka Jones), a shlump who loves both "Lazy Sundays" and his inflatable Michigan Wolverines chair.

Three's a crowd, with Jessica coaxing Lennon to resume their tradition of watching Steel Magnolias together while Joe starts to feel like a second hand rose. BFF also works in another guy named Rav (Stephen Schneider) -- an old friend of Jessica's -- and sassy Queenetta (Daija Owens), a nine-year-old black girl with a fondness for trash-talking. It's an insulting characterization at best.

St. Clair over-plays virtually every scene she's in -- in a comedy that exaggerates from start to finish. None of these characters really registers on the relatable human being scale. And the premise is thoroughly dog-eared anyway.

BFF leads into what almost assuredly will be the last two episodes of the exceedingly better Bent, which NBC has thrown away via a six-episode order and a back-to-back scheduling scheme on three successive Wednesdays opposite American Idol.

Next week brings the peripatetic Rock Center with Brian Williams in Bent's place, with BFF supposedly returning for a second episode. Its principal executive producer, Scot Armstrong, co-wrote the screenplay for The Hangover, Part II.

Watching BFF leaves only a dull, but throbbing headache.


CBS will do Dave (and Craig) for at least three more years

Long-lasters Regis Philbin and David Letterman in their elements. CBS photo

David Letterman may not be the biggest fan of the human race. But unlike Keith Olbermann, at least he can keep a job.

CBS announced Tuesday that Letterman's Late Show has been renewed through 2014 as has Craig Ferguson's followup Late Late Show, which will be moving to larger stage at CBS Television City, says the network.

Assuming that all goes well, Letterman soon will surpass his idol, Johnny Carson, as the longest-running late night host in TV history. The late Carson logged 30 years on NBC's Tonight Show before calling it a day. Letterman began on NBC in 1982 as host of the network's Late Night before making his CBS debut on ug. 30, 1993 after being passed over as Carson's successor.

"David Letterman is a late night legend with an iconic show and Craig Ferguson continues to evolve the genre in exciting and innovative ways," CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler said in a publicity release.

Letterman turns 65 on April 12th. Ferguson, who has hosted Late Late Show since 2005, will be 50 on May 17th.

Letterman's featured guest on Tuesday (April 3rd) is Olbermann, who on Friday got fired from his latest job, as host of Current TV's now defunct Countdown.

Earlier in his long tenure on Late Show, Letterman mercilessly twitted the network's big boss, Leslie Moonves, to the point where his show seemed in jeopardy of being canceled. But they eventually made amends, and Letterman remains standing despite consistently trailing NBC's Tonight Show with Jay Leno in the after-hours Nielsen ratings.

Olbermann, who now is vowing to sue Current TV, has never played well with others. It will be intriguing to see how these two Exhibit A anti-socials play off one another on Tuesday. Will Letterman dare scold Olbermann this time? Doubtful but possible.

A Monday morning unlike any other (in quite awhile) on Today, GMA, This Morning

Oprah Winfrey, Meredith Vieira and Katie Couric all made Monday's morning scenes in an unusual three-way display of one upmanship.

Hmm, they still seem to be taking these network morning wars pretty seriously.

So NBC's front-running Today wasn't about to just sit there and take it when ABC's onrushing Good Morning America announced Friday that Katie Couric would be hosting a week's worth of shows from April 2-6.

The Peacock quickly responded by booking a Today "legend" for Monday's program while also making it official that Sarah Palin will host the show on Tuesday. That's also the day when Ryan Seacrest is scheduled to make a big announcement regarding his future plans, which obviously will have something to do with NBC Universal.

The Lilliputian in this field, CBS' This Morning, flexed as best it could by booking Oprah Winfrey for her first live appearance on the show, which is co-hosted by her longtime friend, Gayle King.

Couric, the former Today mainstay, was suitably bubbly during her return to morning television as a sub for the vacationing Robin Roberts. In promos, she joking called co-host George Stephanopoulos "Matt," a reference to former Today running mate Matt Lauer.

And on Today, Lauer cheekily resurrected an old question from Couric's 2008 campaign interview with a seemingly discombobulated Palin.

"What are you doing to prepare? Are you reading newspapers?" he asked during a brief phone chat with Palin, who was making her way from Alaska to New York City by way of Minneapolis.

"And it begins," weatherman Al Roker interjected before Palin good-naturedly replied, "OK, that's a fine 'How do ya do.' "

Couric, whose syndicated ABC-produced daytime talk show Katie launches Sept. 10th (on WFAA8 in D-FW), dutifully prepared an extended taped piece on the network's No. 1 show, Dancing with the Stars.

Vieira, who replaced Couric on Today when she left to anchor the CBS Evening News, turned out to be the "legend" in residence. She popped in to announce that she'll be a featured contributor for NBC's coverage of this summer's Olympics from London.

Winfrey arguably made the most news of all, even if in a comparatively small arena. She told King and co-host Charlie Rose that "had I known it was going to be this difficult, I might have done something else."

She was referring to her ratings-challenged OWN cable network, which became a reality on New Year's Day 2011 during Winfrey's wind-down as host of her long-running Oprah show. Winfrey said she should have waited longer and launched OWN after she left the daytime arena. Were she to write another book, it could be titled 101 Mistakes, she said, with all of them having to do with OWN.

But Winfrey said she remains dedicated to keeping OWN going amid the recent layoffs of 30 employees and cancellation of the Rosie show hosted by Rosie O'Donnell.

"It's just press," she said of the resultant round of negative publicity. "Because you've failed does not make you a failure."

GMA's publicity department lately has been crowing loudly about making major gains on Today while the re-tooled This Morning is the latest effort by CBS to somehow wake up its 7 to 9 a.m. ratings.

In the latest national results released by Nielsen Media Research (for the week of March 19-23), Today averaged 4.979 million viewers, with GMA (4.842 million) right behind and This Morning (2.364 million) luring less than half the audience of either show.

Among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming, Today had 2.179 million viewers, followed by GMA (1.967 million) and This Morning (966,000).

Although a GMA win this week would have an accompanying Couric asterisk, Today isn't about to roll over and hit the snooze button. Expect the show to deploy further stunts as the week goes on.

The sun rises in the east -- and Keith Olbermann gets fired again

Wow, that didn't take long -- even by Keith Olbermann's standards.

Network television's consummate bridge-burner got sacked again Friday. This time even Current TV couldn't take him anymore.

In a letter addressed "To the Viewers of Current" on the
cable net's website, founders Al Gore and Joel Hyatt said in part that Current was "founded on the values of respect, openness, collegiality, and loyalty to our viewers. Unfortunately these values are no longer reflected in our relationship with Keith Olbermann and we have ended it."

Concurrently, a Current TV publicity release sent to TV writers late Friday afternoon announced that former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer will be Olbermann's 7 p.m. (central) replacement, beginning immediately. The show will be titled Viewpoint with Eliot Spitzer.

Spitzer earlier presided over the failed In the Arena and an earlier version of that program on CNN. The network hired him despite Spitzer's well-publicized resignation from office after he became enmeshed in a prostitution ring scandal.

"Eliot Spitzer is a veteran public servant and an astute observer of the issues of the day," Gore said in a statement. "He has important opinions and insights. Eliot relishes the kind of constructive discourse that our viewers will appreciate this important election year."

He probably can be counted on to show up for work, too. That wasn't always the case with Olbermann, who first lit a fuse with his Current bosses by declining to participate in the network's prime-time coverage of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire presidential primary.

Asked about this by unclebarky.com during the recent winter Television Critics Association "press tour," Current president David Bohrman gave the implication that the network was powerless to make Olbermann do anything he didn't want to do in return for the handsome salary he had negotiated after being dumped by MSNBC.

Bohrman said that Current executives "had approached Keith about doing election coverage a couple of months ago for the early primaries. He declined. We have now been told by Keith that he will be leading our coverage going forward, and that is what we want to do."

Olbermann fired back with a series of Tweets Friday, 11 of them as of this writing.

"It goes almost without saying that the claims against me in Current's statement are untrue and will be proved so in the legal actions I will be filing against them presently," Olbermann said.

He also tweeted that "in due course, the truth of the ethics of Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt will come out. For now, it is important only to again acknowledge that joining them was a sincere and well-intentioned gesture on my part, but in retrospect a foolish one. That lack of judgment is mine and mine alone, and I apologize again for it."

Initially hailed by Current as "one of our great provocateurs," Olbermann was hired by the still little-seen network in February of last year. His program premiered in spring 2011, with Gore enthusing, "In a world where there are fewer and fewer opportunities to hear truly distinct, unfettered voices on television, we are delighted to provide Olbermann with the independent platform and freedom that Current can and does uniquely offer."

Olbermann also was given an equity stake in Current as well as the title of Chief News Officer. Where will he go next? To court, it seems.

AMC's The Killing returns with some explaining to do (and does so convincingly

Detectives Stephen Holder and Sarah Linden of The Killing. AMC photo

Some denizens of the TV critics kingdom (but not your humble serf) virtually set themselves on fire over the way AMC's The Killing ended its first season.

Wrote one: "This will be the last review I write of The Killing, because this will be the last time I watch The Killing. Because I have no interest in going forward with a show that treats its audience this way."

Wrote another: "I hated the season finale of The Killing with the burning intensity of 10,000 white-hot suns." And furthermore, "The Killing has killed off any interest I had in ever watching the show again. That is one fact I can state conclusively."

Their missives recently were recycled in a brief
New York Times Magazine piece headlined "Can The Killing Make a Comeback? Veena (executive producer Veena Sud) Versus the Superviewers."

What got them so torched? Well, The Killing ended its first season by raising new questions about who killed teenager Rosie Larsen rather than providing a cut-and-dried final answer. And its closing scene also raised the ugly possibility that unconventional detective Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) had gone over to the dark side after working hand-in-hand with stout-hearted detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) for the entire run of Season 1.

Plus, principal suspect Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell), who had been running for mayor, looked doomed to be on the receiving end of a point-blank bullet after being arrested just minutes earlier.

I'll admit to being a bit put off by that Season 1 ending. But nowhere near to the point of renouncing the show and all its evil, manipulative ways while at the same time pledging to not get fooled again -- ever. It was only the first season, after all. So cool it with the "10,000 white-hot suns" intensity, even if it was loads of fun to read.

Season 2 begins right where the first one left off, and with a two-hour opener (
Sunday, April 1st at 7 p.m. central).

Executive producer Veena Sud and AMC programming executive Joel Stillerman have sent an accompanying letter that includes what amounts to a one-sentence mea culpa: "As we've said before, we learned a lot with season one and the reaction generated by the finale." They also pledge that Rosie's killer will be definitively revealed in this season's final episode.

So if any amends were really needed, has The Killing done a good job of making them? From this perspective they've done a pretty great job of raising new questions, resolving others and above all, explaining how and why detective Holder acted as he did.

Then again, how much more can be said? AMC, as it did with last Sunday's two-hour re-launch of Mad Men, has issued an accompanying spoiler alert with a six-point of list of details that are supposed to be off-limits to reviewers.

Some TV writers more or less ignored the Mad Men request from creator/executive producer Matthew Weiner. This time around, I don't think prospective viewers will mind being apprised of a couple of basic details that should be no-brainers anyway.

No. 1, Councilman Richmond in fact is shot. No. 2, the search is on for the real killer by the end of Sunday's re-launch. If that weren't the case, there'd be no reason for this season.

Enos and Kinnaman remain terrific in their central roles of detectives Linden and Holder. And the latter in due time begins to smell some rats.

Other than that, it continues to rain a lot in rarely sunny Seattle. But The Killing certainly isn't all wet in its revelation about what Councilman Richmond was really doing on the night of Rosie's brutal murder. In fact it turns out to be pretty damned plausible, giving credence to the way Season 1 ended while also restoring any lost faith in The Killing's storytelling prowess.

We'll now get to see if the entire enterprise can hold up convincingly for another full season's worth of false leads, dead-ends and a believable apprehension in the end.

For now, The Killing has made a very good re-start. Perhaps even the "intensity of 10,000 white-hot suns" can at some point be cooled to a mere meteor shower.

GRADE: A-minus

Game of Thrones returns for more heavy duty evil-doing

A merry old soul he's not: Teen King Joffrey. HBO photo

Depravity and duplicity reign with impunity in HBO's
Game of Thrones.

The first four episodes of a 10-part Season 2 again are testament to that. Therefore they're not for the faint of heart -- or perhaps even the entirely sound of mind.

Ah, but it surely is a handsome production. And damned if it doesn't make us current-day earthlings seem manifestly civilized in our thoughts, words and deeds.

Adapted from the sprawling George R.R. Martin fantasy novels and praised as "Shakespeare for idiots" and "totally unsentimental junk" by GQ magazine, Games gets its game back on
Sunday, April 1st at 8 p.m. (central).

Its thoroughly dedicated fanboy followers (aided and abetted by assorted geeks, fantasy dwellers and just plain folks) tend to take severe umbrage to any naysaying. For them this is religion. For me it's a beautifully filmed, fitfully coherent, torture-and-sex-spiked tale of power lost and found. It slogs, it sprints, it sometimes even enthralls. But all in all I'd rather watch HBO's Luck, which now is no more.

Thrones certainly does succeed, however, in stoking a powerful hatred for the current occupant of the Iron Throne in the not-so-joyous kingdom of King's Landing. He's the utterly amoral, astoundingly evil, egregiously egotistical teen King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), the punk who happily presided over the beheading of noble Eddard "Ned" Stark (Sean Bean) near the close of Season 1.

The surviving Starks are now all over the place, save for poor oldest daughter Sansa (Sophie Turner). She's the terrified, brainwashed "milady" of Joffrey, who at the very least deserves a severe case of pus-running acne for the way he's treated her.

The younger Stark daughter, Arya (Maisie Williams), has escaped and is masquerading as a boy while oldest brother Robb Stark (Richard Madden) seeks to marshal the forces to overthrow Joffrey and thereby avenge his father's death. But he intends to be noble in this quest, which makes him a stark exception in a series rife with connivers and knuckle-draggers.

Through it all, the dwarf Tyrion Lannister (Emmy-winning Peter Dinklage) keeps plotting, scheming and quipping. He's the brother of Joffrey's mother, Cersei (Lena Headey), who delivered him after being impregnated by her now imprisoned brother, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).

Small though he may be, Tyrion has the chops to talk back to both the king and Cersei. But he also has a knack for the deft one-liner, telling Cersei in Sunday's opener, "You love your children. It's your one redeeming quality. That and your cheek bones."

Tyrion has come to King's Landing with his whore girlfriend secretly in tow after she begs to accompany him.

"Cities make me want to (have sex)," she tells him.

"And so did the country," Tyrion riffs. Dinklage again is delish in this role, although he's also fully capable of just about any atrocity in the interests of furthering his growing power.

Meanwhile -- and there are lots of meanwhiles -- the widowed Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) has scraped together the remnants of her Dothraki subjects for a traipse through the dusty Red Waste. But her aces in hand are three baby dragons birthed in the jarring closing scene of Season 1 after she strode into a fiery funeral pyre toward her dead husband Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa).

Numerous other power-seekers populate the Thrones landscape. Rivaling King Joffrey in the thoroughly reprehensible department is brothel owner Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish (Aidan Gillen). He's also the resident "Master of Coin" (treasurer) at King's Landing. And if you gave a penny for his thoughts, they'd all be either evil or luridly carnal.

New characters this season include the imposingly brawny Brienne (Gwendoline Christie), a female knight in armor who looks ready and able to block Baylor basketball star Brittney Griner's jump shot.

Some very nasty deeds (but of course) take place in these first four episodes of Season 4. And there's one big phantasmical occurrence as well. It's all a lot to swallow, let alone digest. But Game of Thrones nonetheless is an undertaking worth applauding for its audacity if not always for its overall senses of direction or cohesion.

Those who have devoured the books are already panting in anticipation. Those who haven't can be excused for averting their eyes when things get cringe-worthy or hitting the pause button before asking, "What the deuce?"


A starring Steven Seagal punches up ReelzChannel's first scripted series (he again plays with guns, too)

Steven Seagal will be hard-punching his way through True Justice. ReelzChannel photo

Premiering: Friday, March 30th at 8 p.m. (central) on ReelzChannel
Starring: Steven Seagal, Sarah Lind, Warren Christie, Meghan Ory, Williams "Big Sleeps" Stewart
Produced by: Steven Seagal, Nicolas Chartier, Phillip B. Goldfine, Peter Graham, Stephen Hays

Long ago and far away, Steven Seagal had a pretty high-profile big-screen career as the brawny bloodletter of Hard to Kill and a pair of Under Siege outings.

Now he's hiding in plain sight on ReelzChannel, still best known as the network that aired The Kennedys miniseries after History Channel bankrolled it and then backed away.

Seagal, who turns 60 next month, looks as though he still could make Lou Ferrigno cry for his mommy. But as the star of Reelz's first original scripted series, True Justice, he's become pretty much a stationary fist-fighter/wrist-breaker.

"Nobody listens nowadays anymore," he laments after a crum-bum drug dealer is told to do everyone a favor and stay down. But he doesn't, requiring Seagal to knock him senseless with the no-sweat efficiency of a Hell's Angel kick-starting his chopper. Damn it, isn't he ever going to try musical comedy?

Seagal's jet-black hair looks as though it comes straight from a shoe polish can, with its triangular cut sharp enough to serve as a directional sign. He plays hard-driving but cool-tempered Elijah Kane, whose SIU (Special Investigative Unit) takes on assorted tough guys in a never-ending battle to keep Seattle safe.

Elijah talks in a rasp bordering on a whisper. But unlike Chuck Norris in Walker, Texas Ranger, he bites off fairly big chunks of dialogue during the course of the first two episodes sent for review. Cordell Walker would simply say, "Let's roll." Elijah Kane says, "We gotta do what we gotta do to get our job done. Ya see? We gotta get the bad guys and protect the good guys, man. That's why we're here. You know that."

Get it? Got it? Good. Um, Seagal himself wrote the script.

The four law enforcers under Elijah's wing are by-the-booker Andre Mason (William "Big Sleeps" Stewart); sultry, hard-nosed Juliet Sanders (Meghan Ory); quick-tempered Brett Radner (Warren Christie) and plucky rookie Sarah Montgomery (Sarah Lind).

A more familiar face, Gil Bellows (Ally McBeal, drops in to guest-star as a conscience-less Russian drug lord named Nikoli Putin, who's not featured until the April 6th second part of this saga. Bellows goes by "Gill" in the on-screen credit list, perhaps because he didn't want anyone to fully make the connection. His signature scene is at a strip club, where Nikoli deduces that Juliet and Sarah are coming onto him as undercover cops. He's otherwise mostly around to take an inevitable climactic beating from our hero.

It should be said, though, that Seagal brings some presence to this prototypical role. The guy can still fill a screen -- even more so on a smaller one.

His character also keeps saying "man." Because after all the "atrocities and just terrible things" he's seen, "You just lose your faith in mankind, man." Urp.

It's all enough to make Elijah very much in favor of the death penalty and very much against undue rules and regulations. A "dirty" killer cop, who's also a racist, really makes his blood boil. But there's no need to raise one's voice.

"I just wanna see you fry," he says measuredly. And if life imprisonment instead interferes, well, there are ways to ensure a never-ending living hell behind bars.

True Justice's second episode includes a particularly grisly mass murder scene and ample automatic weapons fire. But the recurring strip club visits are less revealing than any typical day at the beach. Violence wins again.

Reelz publicity materials say that each episode of True Justice will include a "Seagal in 60 Seconds" segment highlighting one of his previous movies and then informing viewers where they can see it via PPV or Video on Demand.

Wonder if they'll ever get around to latter year Seagal classics such as Pistol Whipped, Machete or Today You Die.

The marginally watchable True Justice seems as though it just has to be a cut above any of those. But I'll leave that research to others.

GRADE: C-minus

WE tv's Mary Mary turns out to be merry merry

Mary Mary's Tina and Erica Campbell at the TV critics "press tour." Photo: Ed Bark

Premiering: Thursday, March 29th at 9 p.m. (central) on WE tv -- with future one-hour episodes at 8 p.m.
Starring: Erica and Tiny Campbell, their families and a manager named Mitchell
Produced by: Tara Long, John Morayniss, Eric Hoberman, Mitchell Solarek

The "drama" comes in fits and spurts, much of it transparently purloined from the dog-eared "reality" playbook.

Will pregnant Erica Campbell's dress arrive on time for a
Mary Mary concert with her younger sister, Tina?

Are they destined to miss a supposedly all-important red carpet appearance after another bout with chronic lateness?

Will manager Mitchell Solarek (known only as Mitchell for these purposes) ever stop carping, whining, griping?

And above all, how will the Grammy Award-winning gospel duo cope with spending Thanksgiving away from home at a Christmas tree-lighting extravaganza in Atlanta?

What's next? The onset of a medium-sized pimple on the eve of a major major Mary Mary photo shoot? Perhaps.

WE tv's Mary Mary is appealingly upbeat and probably at least halfway genuine in its depictions of two married show biz sisters with six children between them and another en route. For abject phoniness, try the Kardashians or Paris Hilton. For a huggable feast peppered with a-w-w-w-ws, this is a reality series with a feel good flow to it.

Manager Mitchell, one of the 10-episode series' executive producers, makes himself the designated taskmaster in hopes of ramping up a little friction. One of his foils is Erica's and Tina's younger sister, Goo Goo, the flighty resident stylist for Mary Mary.

"To be quite honest with you, I probably wouldn't have hired her," Mitchell proclaims. Says Goo Goo: "Mitchell likes to freak out and have panic attacks."

Tina's and Erica's respective hubbies, Teddy and Warryn, also figure in these proceedings. Both seem to be congenial, patient guys, with Teddy currently the Tonight Show's drummer while Warren produces Mary Mary's studio recordings.

The stated intention, on everyone's part, is to be good parents first and then professional singers. This is put to the test when Mitchell ramrods Mary Mary into that aforementioned away-from-home Thanksgiving Day gig, which he portrays as a titanic event in the career of the duo.

But this means that Tina must miss little daughter Laiah's big "glee" performance. And while Erica will have her brood with her on the road, it looks as though Tina is destined to feel "a little broken inside." Just you wait, though.

Mary Mary also showcases the duo's singing talents, which are formidable. And it exudes a top-of-the-marquee positivity that wears well overall, even after Tina baits a little hook in the early going by telling the camera, "I love my sister, but sometimes I wanna punch her in the face."

There are no Jerry Springer moments, though. And as this stuff goes, Mary Mary for the most part overcomes its contrivances and settles into a pleasant little groove.

GRADE: B-minus

The discoveries go down easy in PBS' celebrity-stocked Finding Your Roots

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. holds forth at winter TV "press tour." PBS photo

Premiering: Sunday, March 25th at 7 p.m. (central) on PBS, with another episode following
Hosted by: Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Produced by: Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Stephen Segaller, Peter Kunhardt, Dyllan McGee

PBS' new
Finding Your Roots could just as easily be called Congenial Genealogy.

Its host and chief practitioner, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is about as likable as they come during the course of telling people who and where they come from. He chuckles easily while also showing an obvious enthusiasm for what he does. But neither are over-done.

As with Lisa Kudrow's ongoing NBC series, Who Do You Think You Are? (Fridays at 7 p.m. central), the people on the receiving end are celebrities. Although Gates also drops by his Cambridge barber shop to conduct a little DNA-backed ancestry quiz with a handful of just regular folks.

Sunday's first one-hour episode, which will be immediately followed by another one in this 10-part series, otherwise focuses on two New Orleans-bred musicians of note -- Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick, Jr. They've known each other since boyhood, when a geeky looking kid Connick took piano lessons from Branford's father, Ellis.

Early in the program, Gates gently asks Connick whether he sometimes felt like an outsider among the city's predominantly black jazz and blues players.

"It frustrated me not to be black," Connick answers. As an adolescent, he tried to "dress black" while also longing to be "fat and black."

Gates presents both Connick and Marsalis with a "Book of Life" that charts their family histories as far back as researchers were able to turn up solid information.

This can be problematic in Marsalis' case. Because until the 1870 census, blacks went unreported in terms of full first and last names.

Still, Gates is able to identify his great great great grandfather. And with Connick, records stretch all the way back to his fifth great grandfather.

Connick isn't thrilled to learn that James Connick fought for the Confederate side in the Civil War. But he's delighted to know what the earlier grandpop was best known for.

Both celebrity subjects are duly surprised (and don't seem to be faking it) by what Gates and his staff turn up. And Gates is eager to share during the course of an episode that's also vividly photographed and illustrated.

Sunday's second hour of Finding Your Roots, which wasn't available for review, focuses on longtime Congressman John Lewis and Newark mayor Cory Booker. In upcoming weeks, Gates also will be dishing to the likes of Barbara Walters, Robert Downey, Jr., Condoleezza Rice, Martha Stewart, Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Samuel L. Jackson, Maggie Byllenhal, Wanda Sykes, Rick Warren, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and John Legend.

That's quite a bit of star power to aid and augment the overall educational aims of Finding Your Roots. It's hoped they'll help to get you in the door for what turns out to be a page-turning show-and-tell.

GRADE: A-minus

Mad Men takes it easy with leisurely Season 5 start

Cast members of Mad Men and their oft-used ashtray. AMC photo

Season 5 premiere: Sunday, March 25th at 8 p.m. (central) on AMC
Starring: Jon Hamm, Vincent Kartheiser, Elisabeth Moss, January Jones, John Slattery, Christina Hendricks, Kiernan Shipka, Jared Harris, Jessica Pare, Aaron Staton, Rich Sommer, Robert Morse
Produced by: Matthew Weiner

After a prolonged fall/winter/spring/summer/fall/winter hibernation, Mad Men at last awakes to new dawns for most of its main characters.

What else can be safely said in light of creator/executive producer Matthew Weiner's severe allergic reaction to "spoilers" of any kind? Let's try five little words: "Zoo Be Zoo Be Zoo."

They're not to be taken lightly in Sunday's two-hour Season 5 premiere of the series that put the AMC network on the map as a maker of Emmy caliber dramas. Even though the here and now tells us that AMC's The Walking Dead now greatly out-paces Mad Men in viewer popularity. It premiered on Halloween night, 2010, two weeks after Mad Men's Season 4 finale shocked the faithful with Don Draper's out-of-nowhere marriage proposal to his secretary, Megan Calvet.

Will he or won't he follow through? This central question is answered early on in an episode whose otherwise leisurely pace at times resembles a zombie's halting gait. The fashions are still smashin' and the image-makers continue to jockey for position at the still struggling Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce ad agency. But there's next to no urgency in play, at least during these first two hours. Even some devotees might get just a little itchy. Not enough to change the channel, though.

So how much time has passed between the October 1965 end point of Season 4 and Sunday night's restart? That's also supposed to be a secret, although Weiner's own devotion to detail has pretty much supplied the answer to those who want to know beforehand.

Responding to notations that Dusty Springfield's "The Look of Love" wasn't released until roughly six months after Season 5's initial time frame, Weiner said he'll remove the song and substitute another before Sunday's premiere.
Go here if you'd like to do the elemental math after pinpointing the initial release date for the Burt Bacharach-Hal David hit.

Sunday's re-launch is book-ended -- in a rather contrived way -- by separate but related events that force a change in hiring policies by the renegade ad agency that dapper Don (Jon Hamm) forged at the close of Season 3. But it remains to be seen how much follow-through there'll be. And whether Mad Men will be able to strike the requisite delicate balance without becoming too preachy for its own good.

Other carryover questions hang in the balance. Married office manager Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks), whose husband is in the military, became pregnant after a one-night stand with philandering ad man Roger Sterling (John Slattery). What's the end result?

January Jones, who plays Don's divorced wife, Betty, had a real-life pregnancy and recently a baby boy. How much does this affect her screen time during the early stages of Mad Men's new season?

And what about the aggressively ambitious Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser)? Is being married with a first child suiting him? Or is he increasingly becoming a restless apprentice Don with a collection of feigned excuses for coming home late?

The Season 5 opener also marks a pivotal birthday for Don, who's always been more of a lone wolf than a party animal. And ad woman Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) remains frustrated in her efforts to make big breakthroughs at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

Mad Men also finds plenty to do for middle age Britisher Lane Pryce (Jared Harris), who joined the series in Season 3 as a recurring character and now is firmly entrenched. His activities during Sunday's two hours turn out to be deliciously intriguing. Lane has come to be the series' most honorable and empathetic character, even when he's trying to be a bad boy. And Harris' performance again is a delight.

The thrill of discovery is mostly gone for Mad Men, although new converts can still start from scratch. Otherwise it's up to Weiner and his troops to provide a thrill of re-discovery while at the same time trying to meet almost impossibly high expectations.

Sunday's re-launch is hardly a major disappointment in that respect. Nor is it a slap-your-forehead triumph. As a fan from the start, I didn't love it, but liked it well enough. The Look of Love/The Nook of Like. Every great series aspires to the former but also inevitably flirts with the latter.

Resuming after more than a year and a half on hold, Mad Men has both nothing and everything to prove. Its central characters are still only as good as their last ad campaigns. And this time around, they haven't yet made the sale. Zoo Be Zoo Be Zoo.


NBC's Bent gets a bum's rush despite being a pretty good sitcom

David Walton and Amanda Peet of Bent. NBC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, March 21st at 8 and 8:30 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Amanda Peet, David Walton, Jeffrey Tambor, Margo Harshman, Joey King, Jesse Plemons, J.B. Smoove, Matt Letscher, Pasha Lychnikoff
Produced by: Tad Quill

Everything goes unrequited in Bent. That even includes the kitchen, which seems fated to remain in terminal disrepair regardless of whether this new NBC comedy somehow manages to last beyond its initial three-week, six-episode run.

So it's probably best not to get too attached to an amusing but sometimes aggravatingly childish enterprise from Tad Quill. He's fully in charge for the first time after logging a series of co-producer credits on the likes of Spin City, Scrubs and Samantha Who?

Bent is will-they-or-won't-they all the way. Will cocksure Pete (David Walton) and his lay-about construction crew ever complete the remodeling of divorced lawyer Alex's (Amanda Peet) Venice, California kitchen? For that matter, will viewers buy the fact that she keeps them employed even though they manage to get basically nothing done day after day after day?

Might Pete and Alex hook up at some point despite the fact they're polar opposites? Or might Alex instead choose the much stabler Ben (Matt Letscher), a doctor who all in all is not such a bad guy even if the writers can't seem to decide whether he should wear glasses or not.

Might Alex's free-wheeling younger sister, "Screwsie" (Margo Harshman), ever get down to it with painfully earnest apprentice carpenter Gary (Jesse Plemons from Friday Night Lights)? Meanwhile, will Pete and his other two crew members ever stop hazing the poor guy?

Lastly, will Pete's roommate dad, Walt, ever grow up? He's played by Jeffrey Tambor, so no, he won't. Finally an easy one.

I watched all six episodes of Bent, largely because they had just enough going for them to keep me hanging on. Only to be left hanging in virtually every way, shape and form. This is not good when the odds of Bent returning next season look longer than the beards on A&E's latest "real life" concoction,
Duck Dynasty, which also premieres Wednesday.

NBC is offering back-to-back episodes of Bent on three successive Wednesdays in a time slot also occupied by Fox's American Idol, CBS' Criminal Minds and ABC's already established comedy duo of Modern Family and Happy Endings.

That's daunting competition for a newcomer that begins smartly with some sharp repartee in Episode 1.

Pete, who's also a surfin' Lothario and recovering gambling addict, supposedly is trying to turn his life around. He's handy with his hands in more ways than one, which leads him to the doorstep of Alex and her 10-year-old daughter, Charlie (Joey King). Her ex-husband is out of the picture, serving time for one of those catch-all TV sins, insider trading.

"Can I be honest?" Pete asks her at first blush.

"Doesn't seem like it," she fires back. Good one.

He gets the kitchen magician job, but soon is in trouble for sleeping with Alex's nanny. At least this happens away from the job site.

You're fired, he's told. Yeah, right. Alex also has a question: "Why are you cocky? Is there some universe where 35 and constantly baked is cool?"

"Yeah!" Pete retorts. "Venice." Another good one.

This is a solid first episode, and the five half-hours to come are by no means a sudden cliff dive into mediocrity. Still, the premise -- and all of that running in place -- begin to try one's patience.

The ever lovely and talented Peet is always worth watching whatever her surroundings. But Walton's Pete almost begins to get a little creepy. And his inept crew, which also includes Clem and Vlad (J.B. Smoove from Curb Your Enthusiasm and Pasha Lychnikoff), reaches the point where you'd rather throttle the whole bunch of 'em than play along.

Tambor's presence gives just about any comedy an Arrested Development feel. But even his neurotic narcissism is getting a little too predictable to click on all cylinders. Still, he has his moments. He always does.

Bent ends up being worth watching for the recurring grins it provides. Just don't expect to ever know what happens to any of its main characters. In that respect, NBC's pre-measured coffin is looking pretty air-tight. Six episodes in three weeks and then six feet under. That's no way to treat a pretty good comedy series, but what else is new?

GRADE: B-minus

A&E's Duck Dynasty hopes to quack you up

Master of his domain: Willie Robertson of Duck Dynast. A&E photo

Premiering: Wednesday, March 21st at 9 p.m. (central) on A&E
Starring: Willie, Korie, Phil, Jase and Si Robertson, plus "Miss Kay"
Produced by: Deirdre Gurney, Scott Gurney, Joe Weinstock

Back when it aspired to something other than "Real Life. Drama" (as its slogan goes), A&E gobbled up nine Emmy nominations for 1999's
Dash and Lilly and then won a Peabody Award the following year for The Crossing.

But there's no accounting for taste these days. Which leads us to the network's Duck Dynasty, a hillbilly stew premiering Wednesday after double doses of Storage Wars and Dog the Bounty Hunter. Try to hang in there, Western Civ. All of them thar blows to the head only build character and steel you for the long groggy march toward inevitable extinction.

Duck Dynasty is flimsily built around the no doubt embellished antics of the backwoods-bred Robertsons, who have built a multi-million dollar business out of artificial quacks. They all gather together on a Bayou-style Ponderosa, where scraggly beards may not be the law, but you'd best not be without one. Womenfolk excepted -- for now.

The series airs in half-hour chunks, and only the first one was available for review. Alas, it doesn't include any up-close adventures with patriarch Phil Robertson's body odor. Publicity materials say that the former Louisiana Tech University quarterback -- and inventor of the ingenious Duck Commander duck call -- "follows a strict routine of no showering, no shaving, and no clothes washing of any kind" during duck-hunting season, which lasts for 10 weeks. This supposedly ensures a "bountiful haul." And presumably no relations with his wife, "Miss Kay."

Episode 1 instead shows philosophical Phil slicing up live frogs while giving one of his "passel" of grandsons the lowdown on what kind of woman he should marry. She needs to know how to cook, carry a bible and love bullfrogs, he tells the kid, who isn't yet old enough to vote for Rick Santorum.

"Now there's a woman. See what I'm sayin'," Grandpappy adds. And don't worry too much about looks, 'cause "it's hard to get a pretty one to cook and carry a bible anymore."

Duck Dynasty does have a purdy one, though. She's Korie Robertson, the all-business but comparatively genteel wife and business partner of Duck Commander CEO Willie Robertson. Both of them know it can be durned tough getting everyone on the same page when it comes to churning out those handmade duck calls and decoys, all made from genuine swamp wood.

In the opening half-hour, Jase Robertson is out cat-fishing while Phil and brother Si are trying to shoot beavers.

"They're like the Viet Cong," says Phil. "They only move at night, and they live in holes in the ground." And since they're voracious timber eaters, "the only good beaver is one with a bullet in his head," adds Si. Or maybe I've got them interchanged. It's tough to tell behind those lookalike foot-long beards.

Later on, a coupla Robertsons try Willie's patience by flooding a loading dock and turning it into a "research pond" where real-life duck quacks can be measured against the manufactured ones. It's enough to make Willie bolt from the taping of an ad hoc cooking DVD starring family matriarch Miss Kay, who was 16 when she married Phil.

"Everybody here is doing nothing!" Willie rages. "And I can't fire you because you're kin to me!"

He then kicks something before calming down at the nightly family dinner, where all of the Robertsons set down for a long spell of good-natured funnin' and palaverin'.

Duck Dynasty does turn out to have more substance than Lifetime's aggressively empty-headed
Roseanne's Nuts, which briefly afflicted home screens last summer. But it's pretty much all the same. "Drama" is manufactured and then acted out by the latest collection of human oddities.

Viewers in a sense are going to another carnival freak show. Although if this keeps up, smaller and small percentages of the American populace will be educated enough to feel "superior" to the likes of rough-hewn Phil, lay-about Si or cocksure Jase, who terms himself a "frog's nightmare. I was just born that way."

On the other hand, maybe A&E's revamped Wednesday night lineup isn't a whole lot different from watching consecutive double-runs of Gilligan's Island, The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres.

Each generation has its own forms of mindless entertainment. It's just that Duck Dynasty and its ilk are advertised as real rather than make-believe. And we haven't even been introduced to Phil's show-stopping B.O. yet.

GRADE: C-minus

OWN strikes out again with cancellation of Rosie show

Rosie O'Donnell and guest Suzanne Somers. OWN photo

Hardly anyone watched and even fewer people talked about it.

Still, it's fairly big news when two former daytime TV queens collaborate on a colossal failure. Which was the case Friday evening when Oprah Winfrey and Rosie O'Donnell jointly announced the cancellation of The Rosie Show, which will air its last hour on March 30th after a final March 20th taping.

It's another significant setback for Winfrey's OWN network, which launched on New Year's Day 2011 and is still a non-starter in most homes. The Rosie Show, which premiered on Oct. 10th and aired Monday-Friday at 6 p.m. (central), was averaging just 200,000 viewers nationally. That's a smaller audience than the winning 10 p.m. local newscast draws on most nights in D-FW.

O'Donnell, who relocated to Winfrey's Chicago-based Harpo studios for the show, said she was "welcomed with open arms and will never forget the kindness of all I encountered. It was a great year for me. I wish the show was able to attract more viewers -- but it did not."

Winfrey thanked O'Donnell "from the bottom of my heart for joining me on this journey . . . As I have learned in the last 15 months, a new network launch is always a challenge and ratings grow over time as you continue to gather an audience. I'm grateful to Rosie and the dedicated Rosie Show team for giving it their all."

The audience for The Rosie Show shrunk over time, with its host saying she'll now return home to New York. Winfrey reportedly made the cancellation decision on her own after staff layouts and format changes only made matters worse. There also were the usual accounts of behind-the-scenes bickering, which go hand-in-hand with any O'Donnell enterprise.

Winfrey announced the show and introduced O'Donnell in late July at the annual summer Television Critics Association "press tour."

"As we all know, and as she knew, she could have gone to any of the big broadcasters," Winfrey enthused. "But she chose to align herself, her talent, her big creative vision with me and with OWN."

O'Donnell put on a good show at the time, joking that "my agent was thrilled that I wanted to go to basic cable as opposed to one of the major networks."

Asked whether she fit the overtly "aspirational" mantra of OWN, O'Donnell replied, "Nobody is really thinking that they want to aspire to be like me, but I'm very relatable . . . My job is mostly to entertain and be funny, and that's what I'm hoping to do."

Now it's back to the drawing board -- for all concerned.