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TV THEME SONG-ville -- Episode 9

Raymond Burr as Perry Mason is as iconic a combination as Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker or Larry Hagman as J. R. Ewing.

Except that Perry had the better theme song, so he wins on a tiebreaker.

There are several instrumental versions of the famed introduction, some of them too soft. This is the biggest, brassiest one I could find. Burr is a bit heavier and less expressive, but the music overrides that. Titled "Park Avenue Beat," it's composed by Fred Steiner, whose credits also include the theme song for Star Trek.

TV THEME SONG-ville -- Episode 8

Our pre-fall season journeys to TV THEME SONG-ville begin their final week with opening mood music for the classic ensemble police series that paved the way for Emmy caliber descendants ranging from St. Elsewhere to L.A. Law to ER.

Hill Street Blues was earmarked for NBC's 1980 fall season. But an actors' strike delayed its debut until January 1981. In June of 1980, during the TV networks' annual summer "press tour" in L.A., it was the first interview session I attended as the new TV critic for The Dallas Morning News. You might say I got spoiled.

The ever-distinctive opening music is from Mike Post. And of the 13 regular characters pictured in the opening credits, Michael Conrad, Kiel Martin and Rene Enriquez are deceased.

None of the remaining cast members has achieved the on-camera staying power of another rookie from the 1980-81 season, Tom Selleck of CBS' Magnum, P.I.. Thirty years later, he'll be fronting the new CBS fall cop series, Blue Bloods. For seven shining seasons, though, Hill Street established a standard of excellence that still reverberates. Here's its siren song:

New era for Emmys, with a hit 'n' miss backstage webcast angling for attention while host Jimmy Fallon flattens out after fast start

Host Jimmy Fallon gamely got in and out of his tux. NBC photos

Jimmy Fallon proved to be an OK -- but not A-OK -- host of Sunday night's 62nd annual Emmys ceremony, which pitted the traditional NBC telecast against a companion live backstage webcast on nbc.com and other outlets.

Neither presentation held up for the entire night. Nor did the Big Four broadcast networks, which this time were beaten in the overhaul hardware haul not only by HBO but by AMC.

ABC's three Emmys all went to Modern Family, including a statue for best comedy series that ended a three-year run by NBC's 30 Rock. AMC's Mad Men at the same time extended its best drama series winning streak to three years while Bryan Cranston likewise made it three best actor Emmys in a row for his lead role in the cable network's Breaking Bad.

Cranston's co-star, Aaron Paul, took the best supporting actor Emmy trophy while Mad Men added a best writing award. That gave AMC a heady total of four Emmys while HBO waited until the three-hour ceremony was two-thirds over before reeling off eight straight wins in the movies and miniseries division. That included five awards for the night's most-honored program, Temple Grandin.

All told, cable networks won 17 of the 26 statues and figured in the night's two biggest upsets. Kyra Sedgwick broke through for the first time to win a best actress Emmy for TNT's The Closer while the heavily favored Julianna Margulies of CBS' The Good Wife had to settle for presenting the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award to George Clooney, her former ER co-star.

CBS' The Amazing Race, winner of the best reality-competition series Emmy since its inception in 2003, had its seven-year winning streak snapped by Bravo's Top Chef.

Edie Falco won for her lead performance in Showtime's Nurse Jackie, which was entered as a comedy series but really isn't. Nor is Glee for that matter, although it also competed with Modern Family in the funny business categories.

Falco termed her win "the most ridiculous thing that's ever happened" in the history of acting awards. "I am not funny."

Glee's openly gay Jane Lynch, the hardly surprising winner of best supporting actress in a comedy series, thanked both "my lord and creator Ryan Murphy" (the show's producer) and her real-life wife.

In the night's slam dunk, bet-the-house-and-the-firstborn certainty, HBO's The Pacific beat its lone opposition, PBS' Return to Cranford, as TV's best miniseries. It was Pacific's lone Emmy Sunday. But seven statues at the August 21st Creative Arts ceremony gave it eight overall, enough to edge Temple Grandin (seven) as the most lauded program.

HBO also topped all networks with 25 total Emmys; ABC had 18 to finish second.

NBC barely avoided a shutout Sunday night, winning a lone Emmy for its presentation of the 2010 Winter Olympics opening ceremony from Vancouver. But the Peacock probably was just as happy to dodge any Emmys for Conan O'Brien's work as the banished host of NBC's Tonight Show. A bearded O'Brien was in attendance, but the award for best variety, music or comedy program once again went to Comedy Central's The Daily Show, whose host, Jon Stewart, was a no-show.

The show began with Fallon's perhaps predictable, but nonetheless very entertaining sendup of a Glee production number that included both cast members and recruited celebrities such as Tina Fey, Jon Hamm, Jorge Garcia, the inevitable Betty White and the regrettable Kate Gosselin. The elongated sketch began on film and ended live on stage, with Fallon gamely tearing through Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run."

Other bits sagged in comparison, particularly the host's occasional use of solicited Twitter introductions of some presenters. Fey absorbed an "I'd hit that" tweet while ABC's Castle co-star, Nathan Fillion, withstood "this dude is straight off the meat rack, yo."

Fallon's guitar-strumming introductions of various Emmy categories, with help from some of the seated nominees, also fell more than a little flat. He fared a bit better with a lengthier "musical tribute to three shows we lost this year" -- ABC's Lost, Fox's 24 and NBC's Law & Order. Later, though, Fallon stooped to spout "these next presenters really suck" before the principal three stars of HBO's True Blood took the stage.

Presenter Ricky Gervais exults in a directing win for Bucky Gunts.

The night's acceptance speeches for the most part won't make any all-time Emmy highlight reel. It at least was an oddity, though, when best actor winner Al Pacino (for the HBO movie You Don't Know Jack) lauded Jack "Dr. Death" Kevorkian, who was in attendance.

"Thank you, Jack. You're all right, Jack," Pacino declared, enthusiastically shaking his right fist in support of the controversial MD. Kevorkian briefly stood to bask in a warm reception.

Ricky Gervais, who will return to host NBC's Golden Globes telecast next year, emerged as the Emmys' MVP (Most Valuable Presenter) after first promising to save "all the really offensive stuff" for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's annual gala. "They're all drunk anyway," he reasoned before wondering why a guy couldn't get a beer -- even backstage -- at the Emmys.

Gervais then dropped Mel Gibson's name before quickly adding, "No, c'mon. I'm not gonna have a go at him. He's been through a lot. Not as much as the Jews -- to be fair."

That line easily got the night's biggest laugh before Gervais noticed that one of the best director nominees for a variety, music or comedy special was named Bucky Gunts.

"I hope it's Bucky Gunts" who wins, he said. "Because I didn't know you could say that on television. Let's face it. We're all Bucky Gunts here."

He then opened the envelope before gleefully exclaiming, "Bucky Gunts! Yeah!" Gunts, the lone NBC Emmy winner, then launched into a straight-ahead acceptance speech.

Actress Claire Danes and producer Steven Levitan toted home Emmys for Temple Grandin and Modern Family.

Finally, a few words on nbc.com's "Backstage" webcast, which utilized a "Thank You Cam, Green Room Cam, Makeup Room Cam, Producers Table Cam, Winners Walk Cam" and "Jimmy Cam" during the course of TV's big night.

The latter was trained on host Fallon, who occasionally could actually be both heard and seen. Early in the proceedings he rehearsed his introduction of presenter Matthew Perry before returning to the stage and repeating it for the TV broadcast. Not exactly scintillating, but if you like to see how the sausage is made . . .

The Green Room Cam muted the conversations of those stars waiting to take the stage. There were some interesting visuals, though, including Pacino cracking up at something Clooney said during their extended conversation. Webcast watchers also could witness presenter Tom Selleck milling about while discoursing with the likes of Ted Danson, Laurence Fishburne and, very briefly, January Jones of Mad Men.

Emmy's TV telecast utilized a seven-second delay in case something was deemed bleep-able. But the backstage webcast aired in real time. On a number of occasions, this meant that vigilant web listeners could learn who won the Emmy seven seconds before the TV audience did. Given the rapid-fire acceleration in communications, that someday will be considered an eternity. In fact, in some quarters it already is.

The webcast endured beyond the precisely on time 10 p.m. end of the TV ceremony. Fallon closed out NBC's telecast by popping a champagne bottle and exclaiming "Tonight, after-party at Betty White's house!"

A minute or so later on the webcast, he could be seen backstage taking a swig of the bubbly before some of the jubilant cast members of Mad Men messed around at the "Thank You Cam."

All the while, a companion "Backstage" tweet screen continued to roll by at nearly the speed of closing credits on today's conventional TV telecasts. Mad Men's leading man, Jon Hamm, tried to keep it real.

"I'm bad with live things," he said while ducking away from the web cam's eye.

You can find a complete list of the night's 26 winners by going here.

TV THEME SONG-ville -- Episode 7

OK, this is part theme song, part recitation of Superman's powers by an authoritative guy named Bill Kennedy.

"Faster than a speeding bullet." Fire the gun. "More powerful than a locomotive." Showcase that train. "Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound." Cue the skyscraper.

But the narration was backed by a suitably thrilling orchestral backdrop that made virtually every kid of the '50s (guilty, your honor) want to suit up and jump off the family garage.

"Yes, it's Superman. Strange visitor from another planet."

He was played by George Reeves, who was ruled to have committed suicide after growing despondent over being typecast. But mystery still surrounds his death. So let's leave it at that while basking in this vintage introduction to The Adventures of Superman, which originally ran in syndication from 1952-'57.

TV THEME SONG-ville -- Episode 6

Emmy winners Paul Giamatti, Laura Linney from HBO's John Adams

This one is of very recent vintage. But I don't think any HBO movie or miniseries has ever been graced by a more stirring opening theme.

John Adams, which premiered in 2008, swept that season's Emmy Awards, winning 13 in all. Its perfectly pitched mood music, by Rob Lane, starts slowly but builds quickly. Most theme songs have to grow on you, but not this one. I loved it the minute I heard it. Effortlessly majestic, it perfectly set the table for the rousing miniseries to come.

TV THEME SONG-ville -- Episode 5

Johnny Rivers' rockin', guitar-fused, definitive version of "Secret Agent Man" climbed all the way to No. 3 on the 1966 pop charts as the theme for CBS' Secret Agent, which lasted just one season.

Patrick McGoohan, better known as the star of The Prisoner, played British spy John Drake in this offshoot of 1961's Danger Man, in which he was the same character. It also was a one-season wonder.

Below is a full-blown version of "Secret Agent Man" during Rivers' appearance on David Letterman's old NBC Late Night show. Savor and enjoy.

Survivor host Probst likely won't deliver on this particular promise

Jeff Probst (second from left) at January Survivor anniversary party with (from left) hero Rupert Boneham, executive producer Mark Burnett, villains Jerri Manthey and Russell Hantz. Photo: Ed Bark

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson's participation in this fall's Survivor: Nicaragua had been widely reported but not yet officially announced when CBS held its latest summer press tour "All-Star Party" in late July.

So your friendly content provider sidled up to the show's host, Jeff Probst, to see if he'd spill anything. Probst, who late last week won his third consecutive Emmy as best reality show host, had just returned from taping the 21st edition. But here's the way these games are played.

"I love him," Probst said of Johnson. "He's a great football coach. He's got an awesome head of hair. And he's applied to be on Survivor twice in the past . . . He couldn't get through our physical. I've heard reports he's on. And if he's on this season, I'll wet my pants. 'Cause I'm a huge fan."

Well, of course Johnson is part of the newest Survivor. And Probst was fresh from spending some presumably quality time with him in Nicaragua. But he probably won't follow through on that vow to soil himself. Damn these Hollywood phonies.

Oh, but we kid. Following last season's successful Heroes vs. Villains 20th edition, Survivor: Nicaragua has another gimmick in mind. Johnson, 67, will be part of a 10-member team of competitors over 40. They'll square off against a contingent whose oldest member is 30. And at this stage of the game, Probst concedes that every new Survivor must have a get-'em-in-the-tent angle.

"It's a great format, but it's hard to promote without a twist," he said. "And that's why I'm always pushing hard every year, because I know I have to answer the question, 'What's new?' The twists are little spices. And you now have to have 'em."

Jimmy Johnson looks to be in fighting trim for Survivor. CBS photos

His friend since Survivor's second edition, Christoval, TX native Colby Donaldson, played the game for the third time in Heroes vs. Villains. He made it to the final five and was the last "Hero" standing. Still, Donaldson seemed disgruntled and disengaged throughout. And unlike Survivor: The Australian Outback, where he was runnerup, the former Dallas-based custom car builder proved to be a washout in immunity challenges.

"He did not seem to be having fun," Probst said. "I think it was a rough one for Colby and I doubt we'll ever see him back. And I would encourage him not to do it . . . He's not the same guy he was 10 years ago. Things could not have gone better the first time he played. Every single thing worked out. And it's all downhill from there."

Heroes vs. Villains was won by Sandra-Diaz Twine, a canny succubus who won no immunity challenges but again triumphed over those who did. In two consecutive Survivors, oily Texan Russell Hantz made it to the final three before the show's jurors snubbed him as a duplicitous backstabber.

Masterminds regularly get screwed in the end, Probst said. "Often what happens is that a group of very bitter people say we're going to vote against you and we're going to give it to the idiot sitting next to you" in the final make-or-break vote. "If I had a vote, I would have voted for Russell in Samoa and Pavarti (Shallow) in Heroes vs. Villains.

Probst insists he hasn't contracted any Survivor fatigue over the years.

"I am into it. I still find it fascinating," he says.

Just don't expect him to wet his pants.

TV THEME SONG-ville -- Episode 4

Has there ever been a sweeter, more melodic theme song than the one that welcomed Cheers?

I think not.

Written by Judy Hart Angelo and Gary Portnoy -- and performed by Portnoy -- "Where Everybody Knows Your Name" graced this classic NBC comedy from its September 1982 premiere to its May 1993 finale. The live wrap party, incorporated into Jay Leno's Tonight Show, found most of the cast members rowdy, bawdy and plastered. It also featured a remote greeting from Vancouver, in which Kirstie Alley performed the song "Dick, Dick, Dick, Dick" with mockups of her fellow Cheers co-stars. Rhea Perlman then called her "Krusty."

Enjoy the theme.

Another new vista in nudity -- Rolling Stone's graphic (gratuitous?) True Blood cover

The Sept. 2, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone arrived in the mail today, and its cover kind of jumped out at me.

Standing naked and blood-streaked are the three principal cast members of HBO's True Blood -- Alexander Skarsgard, Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer. In real life, the latter two were married on Aug. 21st in Malibu, which makes it easier to understand his right hand on her left breast.

The provocative cover called to mind other eye-catchers, three of them reprised above.

At top left is Rolling Stone's famed Jan. 22, 1981 cover of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, published in the month after his shooting death. Top right is Demi Moore's pregnancy-is-nothing-for-an-actress-to-be-ashamed-of statement on the August, 1991 cover of Vanity Fair. And the Dixie Chicks then took it all off for the May 2, 2003 cover of Entertainment Weekly after the uproar over lead singer Natalie Maines telling a concert audience abroad: "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."

All of those covers amounted to more than just visuals. There were messages buttressing them. The True Blood cover, photographed by Matthew Rolston, seems to be more than a little ill-considered in that respect. Just what is it supposed to be communicating -- other than the hardly revelatory truism that vampires draw blood?

I'm not going to say it's in poor taste. That sounds too much like Ozzie Nelson morphing into Sean Hannity. But I will say that they all look pretty stupid. And the relatively brief article within is no great shakes either.

But what do you think? Arty or silly? Another bracing sign of our changing times? Or a sign that Lady Gaga's recurring displays are about deep as it gets these days in the pop culture scheme of things?

TV THEME SONG-ville -- Episode 3

There's no clear-cut scientific evidence to support this. But I'm guessing that no TV theme song has been performed more by high school and college marching bands.

We're talking about Henry Mancini's driving music for Peter Gunn, which premiered in 1958 on NBC and Petered out three seasons later on ABC.

Craig Stevens starred as the series' suave PI, with Lola Albright as his girlfriend, Edie Hart. They often hooked up at Mother's nightclub, where she was the star singing attraction.

The theme to Peter Gunn climbed to No. 8 on the pop charts in 1959, with the Ray Anthony Orchestra laying down its beat. A guitar version by Duane Eddy made it to No. 27 the following year.

Below is the best available clip of Peter Gunn and its timeless theme. It's taken from the series' first episode, which begins with the closing two minutes before shifting to the signature payoff music. So you'll get some big bursts of gunfire and a few bars from Lola before it's Mancini time. Well worth it.

HBO's The Pacific warms up for Sunday's big show with seven Creative Arts Emmys while Neil Patrick Harris hopes to make it a trifecta

Neil Patrick Harris and The Pacific won big at Creative Arts Emmys.

The so-called Creative Arts Emmys, bestowed in relative obscurity Saturday night, were dominated by HBO's The Pacific and also marked by a double win for Neil Patrick Harris.

The Pacific won seven of HBO's league-leading 17 Emmys while Harris was honored for both his guest star role in Fox's Glee and his hosting of the 63rd annual Tony Awards on CBS. Harris also is nominated as best supporting actor in a comedy series for CBS' How I Met Your Mother. That award will be included in the bigger, showier Sunday, Aug. 29th ceremony, hosted by Jimmy Fallon on NBC.

The creative arts Emmys are primarily for what the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences terms the "key technical disciplines and behind-the-scenes crafts essential to television production." But a number of acting and best program awards also are in the mix, including guest star turns in both comedy and drama series.

Harris was joined in the comedy category by Betty White, who won for her hosting of NBC's Saturday Night Live. The honorees for drama were John Lithgow for his season-long turn as the "Trinity Killer" on Showtime's Dexter (his fifth Emmy overall) and Ann-Margret winning for the first time as an alcoholic hoarder on NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

ABC's Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution was named "Outstanding Reality Program" while Jeff Probst won for the third straight time as host of a reality or reality-competition series. The "Reality-Competition" series award, won every time since its 2003 inception by CBS' The Amazing Race, will be part of Sunday's Emmy show.

In other Creative Arts results, Ken Burns' latest PBS production, The National Parks: America's Best Idea, won for best non-fiction series and HBO's Teddy: In His Own Words was named the top non-fiction special.

Emmy's "Outstanding Children's Program" award went to The Disneys Channel's Wizards of Wavery Place: The Movie; Linda Ellerbee's Nick News special, The Face of Courage: Kids Living with Cancer, won for best non-fiction children's program.

Awards for best animation programs were won by the ABC Christmas special, Disney's Prep & Landing, and Cartoon Network's Robot Chicken.

The Emmys for "Outstanding Casting" in drama, comedy and a miniseries movie or special respectively went to AMC's Mad Men, ABC's Modern Family and The Pacific.

ABC won a total of 15 trophies to finish close behind HBO. Fox had 9 Emmys, followed by CBS, NBC and PBS (7 apiece); Showtime (5); Cartoon Network (4); and AMC and Discovery Channel (2 each). Another nine networks won single Emmys.

The Creative Arts ceremony will be reprised on Friday, Aug. 27th at noon (central) on E! Entertainment Television. For a complete list of winners, go here.

TV THEME SONG-ville -- Episode 2

This is from the old set-up-the-premise school of theme song writing, utilized in sitcoms such as Gilligan's Island and The Beverly Hillbillies.

Basically viewers learned all they needed to know by listening to the musical buildup. In this case, rapper Will Smith did the honors, tracking his journey from a rough Philadelphia neighborhood to his aunt and uncle's posh digs in sunny Southern Cal.

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air aired from 1990-'96 on NBC, with Smith then moving on to become one of Hollywood's most bankable movie stars. This theme remains dead-catchy while also going down as one of the most squeaky clean raps ever recorded. Give a look and a listen.

Creek Don't Rise both swims and sinks as Spike Lee's HBO sequel to When the Levees Broke

New Orleans author/artist Phyllis Montana-LeBlanc HBO photos

Plainly speaking, New Orleans has never been in very good shape.

Poverty, greed, corruption and an overall laissez-faire "Big Easy" malaise have characterized the city since its sale to the U.S. in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase.

Then came Hurricane Katrina five summers ago. And on April 20th of this year, the British Petroleum (BP) oil rig explosion unleashed its gargantuan spill.

It's all more than enough to make a resident wonder aloud, "Do you want to stay livin' in a place like this?" Spike Lee's If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise raises that question early in this four-hour sequel to his acclaimed When the Levees Broke. And he basically revisits it repeatedly during a film that's far stronger in Monday's Part 1 than in Tuesday's second half.

Airing throughout this month and next on HBO, Creek Don't Rise premieres on Aug. 23-24 at 8 p.m. central each night. It will be among a cavalcade of programming tied to the fifth anniversary of the Katrina devastation.

Those wounds, many still unhealed, were cauterized for a brief time by the New Orleans Saints' historic Feb. 7th Super Bowl win against the Indianapolis Colts. That's where Lee's sequel begins after a powerful opening manifesto by author Phyllis Montana-LeBlanc (Not Just the Levees Broke) and a montage of the death and destruction dealt by Katrina.

The joyous chorus of "Who Dats?" on Super Bowl Sunday were only allowed to reverberate for two-and-a-half months before the BP Gulf oil spill went unchecked for a seemingly eternal 86 days. Lee thought he had his film in the can, but returned to document the latest catastrophe befalling this still dilapidated city. Or as musician Dr. John puts it at a rally, New Orleans once again "got the shaft."

Monday's first half of Creek Don't Rise excels in both its selection of interview subjects and its dissections of two major post-Katrina developments -- the demolishment of already badly decayed public housing projects and the closing of Charity Hospital. Lee obviously opposes both demises, but does give the other sides a hearing.

Former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, for one, believes that in reality only one of the housing projects might have been worth saving, even if their demolitions were accelerated when city officials saw a golden post-Katrina opportunity. Absent their residents, who fled the city, the tear-downs became all that much easier. Some of the projects since have been replaced by "mixed income" developments that supposedly will mesh poor and well-off residents under essentially the same roof. But some see that as a utopian pipe dream while a neighborhood activist compares some of the new structures to a fashion model who looks good on the outside but is anorexic on the inside.

Filmmaker Spike Lee fares better with first half of Creek Don't Rise.

The smoldering debate over public housing gives way in Monday's Part 1 to the good will generated by actor Brad Pitt's "Make It Right" initiative to build affordable, well-made homes in New Orleans still storm-ravaged Lower Ninth Ward.

Those who see Pitt as the pampered co-star of "Brangelina" (with actress Angelina Jolie) can watch him walk the walk in this instance. Affixed with a scraggly beard and long-ish hair, Pitt says that "we rejected the idea that affordable housing has to use crap materials, toxic materials."

He has enlisted various architects in the "Make It Right," effort, with all of them contributing their designs pro bono. The result to date is more than 50 new homes at an average price of $150,000.

Creek Don't Rise also takes a side trip to Haiti, where actor Sean Penn has taken up residence in Port au Prince while helping the post-earthquake relief effort. Oft-maligned by Fox News Channel's arsenal of conservative personalities, Penn is another actor whose humanitarian efforts should be applauded unreservedly despite what one may think of his politics.

"The earthquake in Haiti (from where thousands of refugees migrated to New Orleans in the early 1800s) makes Katrina look like a delightful garden party," says Jacques Morial, co-director of the Louisiana Justice Institute.

Part One also has a revealing new interview with former FEMA director Michael Brown of "Brownie, you're doin' a heckuva job" infamy. Brown, now an apparently prosperous consultant, notes how he can be seen wincing when President Bush laid that one on him. He admits to some mistakes in his handling of Katrina, but says that others in the Bush administration -- particularly Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff and defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- likewise were key contributors to the federal government's inept early response to Katrina.

Brown knows full well, however, that his obituary will be prominently marked by the "heckuva job" stain. But "not on the headstone, c'mon!" he retorts when asked if it literally should follow him to the grave.

Alas, then comes Tuesday night's Part 2. It first dwells at length on New Orleans' mostly horrid public school system. Then it segues to rampant police corruption before spending much of its final hour recapping the BP spill.

Talking heads predominate -- back and forth, one after the other. Some of what's said still jumps off the page, as when Sen. John Kerry defends the Democratic administration's much-criticized handling of the disaster by asking rhetorically, "What's President Obama supposed to do, swim down there and close it off with his hands?" Kerry then predictably faults the Bush administration for its allegedly lax policies on drilling.

For the most part, though, all of this gets to be more than a little redundant, tedious or dreary, at times slowing the film's momentum to a crawl at best. The BP portion -- and Lee had little choice but to include it -- is a rather pro forma rehash of very recent events that remain fresh in the minds of most viewers. It will play better years from now. But in the here and now -- well, we've heard it all before.

Creek Don't Rise ends with all of the key participants literally framing themselves while reminding viewers who they are and what they do. It's worth sticking around to see the likes of Kerry, Brown, Penn, Pitt, Dr. John, CNN's Anderson Cooper and Democratic strategist James Carville all gamely playing along. Pitt, with a wisp of a smile, identifies himself as "self-employed."

GRADES: Part 1 gets an A-minus. Part 2 receives a C for now

TV THEME SONG-ville -- Episode 1

Another new fall TV season is steadily approaching, and will arrive next month with a big bang amid the usual thuds.

As an appetizer, we're launching a series of weekday trips to TV Theme Song-ville, where you'll find an eclectic collection of starter kits.

HBO still luxuriates in extended opening themes. But the broadcast networks are just as likely these days to give you a few seconds of mood music before jumping ship to the show itself. Producers of CBS' new version of Hawaii Five-O, set to premiere on Monday, Sept. 20th, recently told unclebarky.com that the show's iconic theme song will get at least a little room to breathe.

"Right now it's 30 seconds," said co-executive producer Peter Lenkov. "And it seems to feel right. The original was a lot longer. But for us we felt that what we have right now tells a story."

That's his story and he'll stick to it. Alex Kurtzman, the new Hawaii Five-O's other principal producer, lamented the latter day "lost art" of writing an enduring TV theme song. "I miss them just as a viewer," he said.

Likewise, I'm sure. We'll reprise the original Hawaii Five-O theme song later in this series. But for starters, luxuriate in the hypnotic opening theme for ABC's landmark Twin Peaks. It's hard to believe that more than two decades have passed since its April 8, 1990 premiere. And it's impossible to contemplate any broadcast network allowing an opening theme to run for two-and-half minutes, as this one does. The music is from producer/director David Lynch's longtime collaborator, Angela Badalamenti. Enjoy.

Pawn vs. pawn: it's a buyers' market on Monday nights

Family that pawns together: Seth, Les, Lili, Ashley Gold. truTV photo

Premiering: Monday, Aug. 16th at 9 p.m. (central) on truTV
Starring: Les, Ashley, Seth and Lili Gold
Produced by: Natalka Znak, Claire O'Donohoe, Richard Dominick

This is shaping up to be a battle of the titans.

Perhaps it's not quite in the same league as NBC pitting Miami Vice against CBS' Dallas in days of yore. Or Fox once upon a time shifting The Simpsons to a Thursday night slot opposite NBC's The Cosby Show.

Those were much talked about mega-showdowns. In today's TV the stakes are down to a pair of dueling pawn shop series. History Channel's Pawn Stars squatted down on Mondays at 9 p.m. (central) a year ago and has become one of the network's most popular attractions. Now Turner-owned truTV is countering with Hardcore Pawn, premiering Aug. 16th on the same night at the same time with back-to-back episodes.

Pawn Stars, a thinly disguised, lower rent version of Antiques Roadshow, chronicles activities at the Las Vegas-based Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, where founding father Richard teams with his son, Rick, and Rick's son, Corey. For comic relief add Corey's reliably dim-witted childhood friend, Austin "Chumlee" Russell.

This is a basically genteel depiction of the pawn shop trade, with the Harrisons calling in various apparently upstanding appraisers to evaluate a wide array of merchandise. Recent episodes have featured items ranging from a Civil War musket to a framed mini-flag that supposedly was flown on the moon. Both turned out to be legit, although their asking prices were far higher than what the Harrisons were willing to pay.

As its title suggests, truTV is accentuating the coarser, seedier side of the business with Hardcore Pawn. Home base is Detroit's American Jewelry and Loan, where the proprietors are Les Gold, his wife, Lili (unseen in the first episode), and their two children, Seth and Ashley. They claim to have 45,000 items in stock.

Monday's opening half-hour begins with an expletive-laced tirade by a woman who wants her earrings back but doesn't have a proper receipt. In the first go-around she's escorted to the parking lot by a head bouncer known as Robo. "With one punch he can take down a 300-pound guy," Les boasts.

The woman initially calms down somewhat during a return visit with her momma. But she again gets no satisfaction, prompting a parting threat -- "You're not makin' it home to your wife tonight" -- that sends Les into a full-blown red alert in which he calls the cops and then loudly and profanely reams out his security staff as the closing credits roll. Lovely.

Ashley, fondly described by her eerily well-tanned dad as "the bitch of American jewelry," branches out a bit in persuading the family to buy a stripper pole whose seller first demonstrates how to use it. She bets the old man $20 that it'll find a customer. Try to resist moving to the edge of your seat.

A young man armed with a "homemade cannon" is later offered $50 bucks by Les after its considerable firing power is demonstrated in the parking lot. This seems to be a far more dangerous threat to the public's safety than the aforementioned hollow threat against Les's life. But the cops aren't called in this case, and Les eventually is talked out of buying it by his outwardly more mature son.

Also up for bid are two horses and a donkey, all of them paraded through the pawn shop before Ashley cracks, "We actually never had two horses and an ass come walk in the store."

The word "pawn" -- and its platonic soundalike relationship with "porn" -- can provide lots of fun for America's unsung corps of TV show titlers. Pawn Stars. Hardcore Pawn. Surely there's room for a little series called Pawn-ography at some point in the near future.

For now, the Harrisons take the high road, the Golds bottom-feed and viewers are left to debate the entertainment value of historic, century-and-a-half-old muskets vs. miniature homemade cannons.

GRADES: Pawn Stars gets a grudging B and Hardcore Pawn a C-minus.

Here's to her health: Linney carries Showtime to new heights with bravura star turn in TV's first "cancer comedy"

A pondering Laura Linney in The Big C. Showtime photo

Premiering: Monday, Aug. 16th at 9:30 p.m (central) on Showtime
Starring: Laurey Linney, Oliver Platt, John Benjamin Hickey, Phyllis Somerville, Gabriel Basso, Gabourey Sidibe, Idris Elbo, Reid Scott
Produced by: Darlene Hunt, Jenny Bicks, Neal H. Moritz, Laura Linney, Vivian Cannon

They're not asking and she's not telling.

Showtime's superb The Big C soars on the strength of Laura Linney's portrayal of a seemingly doomed cancer victim who copes with a mix of stoicism and long-suppressed flights of fancy. Through its first three episodes, she steadfastly stops short of telling her immediate family what's befallen her. But her tongue otherwise is unleashed, as are many of her previous inhibitions.

The network's shorthand description is "cancer comedy." In longhand, this is a whimsical yet sobering depiction of a 42-year-old's battle to re-connect, re-discover and basically reboot before Stage 4 melanoma puts her in life's past tense. She's been a prim Minneapolis schoolteacher to this point. Now it's time to kick out the jams, speed through the caution lights and gleefully spill red wine on her meticulously cared-for living room couch before burning it in the backyard.

The character's name is Cathy Jamison. And Linney plays her to the hilt in a series that at least equals and arguably surpasses anything currently on HBO, AMC or FX, television's three other hot pockets for derring-do drama/comedy.

In Monday's half-hour premiere episode (9:30 p.m. central), we quickly learn that Cathy has a semi-infantile husband named Paul (Oliver Platt's best role to date) and a rebellious teen son, Adam (Gabriel Basso), who resists any and all of her ham-handed efforts to re-bond with him. They include playing paintball and re-mounting the same bicycle built for two that they happily shared as mom and little boy.

Cathy also has a stinky, combative, street-living, save-the-earth brother named Sean (John Benjamin Hickey). They get along beautifully -- by not getting along. In one of his weaker moments, Sean tells Cathy, "You're startin' to get your weird back, Sis."

"You have no idea," she rejoins.

The other pivotal characters are cranky old next door neighbor Marlene (Phyllis Somerville) and sardonic student Andrea (Precious star Gabourey Sidibe). In what might be The Big C's only significant misstep, Cathy's primary physician is an impossibly hunky and younger Dr. McDreamy type (Reid Scott), who just happens to be treating his very first cancer patient. That kind of stuff only happens in the movies, and The Big C is better than that.

One of the series' co-executive producers, Jenny Bicks (Sex and the City), is a cancer survivor whose own experiences inform some of the writing. This is particularly true in Episode 3, when Cathy impulsively visits a "cancer is a gift" support group before emphatically deciding this is not for her. During a recent interview session with TV critics, Bicks said she made the same deduction in her own life. The Big C nonetheless is walking a tightrope here, striving to make Cathy's point while at the same time not completely ridiculing a true believer who tells her, "When life gives you lemons, squeeze out a smile."

The Big C doesn't worry unduly about rubbing some viewers the wrong way. At its core, though, it's immensely entertaining and full of snap-crackle dialogue.

"You wear baggies for shoes, Sean. You are so not allowed to say I'm embarrassing," Cathy tells her brother.

"You can't be fat and mean," she tells Andrea. "You can either be fat and jolly or a skinny bitch. It's up to you."

"You're the yin to my yang, the ping to my pong," estranged husband Paul tells Cathy during one of his concerted efforts to win her back.

Each season literally will be a season in Cathy's life, beginning with summer and then moving to fall in Season 2, should there be one. Showtime hasn't officially committed yet, but it's hard to imagine anything short of a long and prosperous run for what's looking very much like the best series in the network's history.

For the record, Cathy's doctor gives her a year to live, "maybe a year-and-a-half." His best case prognosis would take The Big C all the way through Season 6. We can only hope.


Programming note: Alas, Season 6 of Weeds already is upon us, with its first episode preceding The Big C at 9 p.m. central. The new promotional tagline, "Let's Blow This Joint," refers to Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) and her family feeling the kingpins of a Mexican drug-smuggling cartel after Nancy's son Shane (Alexander Gould) kills the nefarious Pilar Zuazo (Kate del Castillo) with a croquet mallet.

Once one of Showtime's high points, Weeds now is completely out of gas, judging from the Season 6 opener. It's both preposterous and ponderous, with Parker looking bored or embarrassed throughout. In short, the whole thing blows. Only true diehard fans will want to inhale.


Miniseries maestro: Roots producer David Wolper reigned in times when networks thought bigger

The broadcast network miniseries is dead. Now, too, is its foremost practitioner.

David L. Wolper, architect of The Thorn Birds, North and South and, most memorably, Roots, has died at age 82 in his Beverly Hills home.

"Let me tell you about a miniseries," he told a roomful of TV critics in 1985 while trumpeting ABC's pre-Civil War opus of lust and laid-bare emotions. "You've got to hit people on the head with a two-by-four. If a miniseries is not an event, to me it won't be a success."

Television seemed much bigger back then, even though just three networks -- ABC, CBS and NBC -- still held most of the cards. All of them were determined to spend whatever it took to bring the next lavish miniseries to the small screen.

Wolper's Roots, shown in eight parts in January 1977, had been a wholly unanticipated ratings blockbuster while also generating mostly glowing reviews. The bar had been set. And even he couldn't clear it with any of his subsequent productions, which included a Roots: The Next Generations sequel in 1979. Wolper never stopped trying, though.

The Thorn Birds, unveiled in March 1983 on ABC, was preceded by a year-long promotional buildup. I was along for the ride when a bus departed the Century Plaza hotel in June of the previous year for a two-and-a-half hour bus trip to the Simi Valley. There awaited Wolper's meticulous replica of an Australian sheep ranch, along with a cast that included Richard Chamberlain, Barbara Stanwyck, Jean Simmons, Christopher Plummer and Rachel Ward.

At an outdoor dinner that night, a well-oiled Chamberlain confessed that he'd die to be a guest villain on ABC's Dynasty. The "King of the Miniseries," who had starred two-and-half years earlier in NBC's massive Shogun production, simply wanted a change of pace. But it never happened. Or maybe he never really meant it.

Less than three years after The Thorn Birds, Wolper consumed six more nights of ABC's schedule with North and South. The network invited TV critics to attend a show-and-tell event in Charleston, S.C., where activities included a boat trip to Fort Sumter with author John Jakes.

A then unknown Patrick Swayze, who played Southerner Orry Main, emerged as the future star of Dirty Dancing and Ghost. But Wolper also greatly enjoyed sugaring his productions with "bankable" stars. And so North and South also included the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Gene Kelly, Johnny Cash and Robert Mitchum, who earlier had played super-stoic Navy commander Victor "Pug" Henry in ABC's sprawling The Winds of War miniseries.

Wolper also made two sequels to North And South and produced the eye-popping opening and closing ceremonies for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. He later orchestrated the nationally televised July 4, 1986 celebration of the Statue of Liberty's 100th anniversary. Here was a guy who never shied from trying to knock your eyes out, sometimes to excess but always with the grand/grandiose objective of putting on a really big show.

Wolper's last big miniseries gasp, 1987's Napoleon & Josephine: A Love Story, starred Armand Assante and Jacqueline Bisset in the titles roles. It was pretty much a clinker, as was Wolper's ill-considered attempt during the height of his miniseries powers to turn Casablanca into a weekly series starring David Soul.

In his prime -- and what a prime it was -- Wolper spared next to no expense in times when broadcast networks had more than enough money to indulge him. His productions regularly erred on the side of stunt casting and soap opera-ish storytelling. But millions gathered under his Big Tops, and Wolper knew how to keep them there.

HBO now reigns as television's last provider of epic miniseries. But viewers have to pay extra for the privilege of watching the likes of The Pacific, John Adams, Band of Brothers and From the Earth to the Moon.

Back in Wolper's day it was all free of charge and much more of a communal experience. Everybody, it seemed, watched Roots. And just about everyone indulged at some point in The Thorn Birds and North and South.

In his 2003 autobiography, Producer: A Memoir, Wolper wrote, "I lived in the world of practicality. The first questions I asked myself about any idea were: can I sell it, can I get a sponsor for it, and can I get it on the air? I never saw the value of investing considerable time, money and passion on a film that few people would see."

Missions accomplished.

"Press tour" picture book

The 2010 network TV summer "press tour" is over and out, leaving your friendly content provider with already foggy memories of 13 days at the Beverly Hilton plus time off for bad behavior.

You can still catch up on all the happenings by visiting locatetv.com, where a wide variety of exclusive dispatches are in the books. So see for yourself while also checking out this page's eclectic collection of homegrown pictures.

Here an icon, there an icon. That's William Shatner in the foreground and Tom Selleck right behind him. Both of 'em have new CBS series this fall, $#*! My Dad Says and Blue Bloods. Photos: Ed Bark

Ready for their closeups: Selleck, Shatner redux.

Look, it's a Kardashian named Kim, the one who's dated Cowboys receiver Miles Austin. But it's not "super serious," says she.

Zachary Levi, star of NBC's Chuck, points out the obvious.

Shaquille O'Neal talks up ABC's Shaq Vs. amid little people.

Former ER star Laura Innes, now appearing in NBC's The Event, gabs with Peacock programming chieftain Jeff Gaspin.

Oscar nominee Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) will co-star with Laura Linney in Showtime's The Big C. It premieres on Monday, Aug. 16th.

Price Is Right host Drew Carey has lost 80 lbs., but not on a steady diet of bubblegum. Lotsa chicken/steamed vegetables did it.

Presenting PBS's latest batch of anointed TV "pioneers." Back row from left: Martin Landau, Mike Connors and Linda Evans. Front row: Nichelle Nichols and former Cotton Bowl parade host Robert Conrad.

Something's not right with the world in this shot from Venice Beach.

Nice flotation devices were deployed at this cable TV soiree.