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The Shield goes out like a lion with rousing finale

Michael Chiklis re-defined himself as rogue cop Vic Mackey.

Tonight's the end game for FX's game-changer. That would be The Shield, which closes the book Tuesday (9 to 10:30 p.m. central) on its seventh and final season.

Central question: Will bull-headed Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) take a bullet for his many sins, skate away scot-free or pay in other ways?

I'm honor-bound to cop a plea here. And no television critic with an ounce of integrity would give away the ending anyway. Know this, though. Fans of The Shield almost assuredly will not be disappointed by this very satisfying resolution to the series that forged FX's barrier-breaking identity. Not that there still couldn't be . . . well, let's leave it at that.

Before The Shield, which premiered on March 12, 2002, FX was little more than another brand X basic cable network. Now it's the undisputed champ of hard-boiled dramas anchored by seriously flawed leads, most of them males. Without The Shield's success, there'd likely be no Nip/Tuck, Rescue Me, Damages or Sons of Anarchy.

I'm no big fan of the last one, but gladly applaud the others. Then again, The Shield's exit might also beckon another fresh start in which every new FX drama doesn't necessarily have to shove harder than the next. Under its current programming strategy, FX's version of Dirty, Sexy Money would be set in a strip club populated by rival gangs of off-duty hit men. And frankly, that's too predictable at this point.

The Shield also restored Chiklis to the good graces of his profession after a dispiriting period where he starred in NBC's mercifully short-lived Daddio sitcom and played Curly in a made-for-TV movie about The Three Stooges.

The role of Mackey required Chiklis to both lose weight and gain a swagger. This paid off immediately when he won both a best actor Emmy and Golden Globe in The Shield's first year.

Chiklis has had ample support, in no small part from the vastly under-recognized CCH Pounder as police captain Claudette Wyms. Pounder has yet to win an Emmy or even a Globe nomination for her work on The Shield. Her sterling performance in Tuesday night's finale is all the more reason to rectify both omissions.

Shield fans also will see what befalls Mackey's erstwhile partners in lawless crime-busting, detectives Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins) and Ronnie Gardocki (David Rees Snell). Everyone's fate revolves around Mackey's planned big-time bust of drug lord Guillermo Beltran (Francesco Quinn) in return for full immunity from many past misdeeds.

But who might Mackey be double-crossing? Or might he end up in the crosshairs? And what about his long-suffering wife, Corrine (Cathy Cahlin Ryan), who turned against him and became a police informant? If he finds out, will she be safe from him?

You'll get both definitive answers and command performances before The Shield's extended finale at last exhales and holsters itself. The final bow belongs to series creator Shawn Ryan, who's had the very good grace to pay the show's fans in full.


Colbert Christmas special is jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell mock

In the grand tradition of Denis Leary's Merry F#%$in' Christmas -- yes, that actually was a 2005 heartwarmer -- comes A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!

Except that Colbert isn't quite as sincere during this one-hour Comedy Central sendup of what Bing used to bring. You can either watch it Sunday night -- 9 p.m. central -- or start buying it Tuesday when the extras-laden DVD hits stores. A portion of the suggested retail price -- $19.99 -- will benefit Feeding America. And that's no joke.

The glassy-eyed host of The Colbert Report boldly promises that his Christmas extravaganza is "gonna have it all -- carolers, elves, a freshly hobbled Tiny Tim."

Instead he's trapped in his ridiculously decorated mountain cabin by a ravenous bear that won't let him make it to a presumably festive Manhattan studio where Elvis Costello restlessly awaits as a drummer boy and later a pop-up clown.

So what's poor cardigan-clad, pipe-smokin' Stephen Colbert to do? Well, he won't be crooning the usual medley of Christmas tunes because "when you sing those old standards, someone else gets the royalty check. That doesn't sound like Christmas to me."

The host throws himself into a full-throated, lip-synched rendition of "Another Christmas Song" before finding his path crossed by an angry bear. So it looks like it's gonna be just him and his two Christmas stockings, one emblazoned "Stephen" and the other "Colbert."

But in the true spirit of Pee-wee's Playhouse, a bunch of celebrity guests begin showing up in various guises, beginning with show-stealin' Toby Keith brandishing an assault weapon and wearing an Elmer Fudd-ish hunting outfit.

Keith, who presumably knows the joke's on him, is soon somberly singing in defense of Christmas traditions and against those who would tear them asunder. You'd better watch out because "if you say I can't deck my hauls, then I'll deck you myself." It's all punctuated by a nuclear explosion; and hot damn, it's pretty funny.

Then there's Willie Nelson as a miniature nativity scene wise man performing "The Little Dealer Boy." It pretty much fails as high comedy, although Willie really seems to mean it when he sings, "And let not mankind bogart love."

Things start bogging down a bit after that. Jon Stewart fails to interest Colbert in Hannukah, John Legend can't sell him on the joys of nutmeg and single-named Feist pretty much falls flat as a tree-topping angel who tries to answer the host's Jimmy Stewart-esque prayer to "show me the way." Ho ho hum. Couldn't A-Wreath-a Franklin have dropped in?

It all goes on longer than it should, but there are enough comedy nuggets to make Greatest Gift of All! a gift you might not return to the mall. Better to re-gift it -- as a gag.

GRADE: B-minus

24: Redemption movie puts Action Jack back in harm's way before Season 7 follows suit

Jack's busy in Africa while Madame President takes the oath in D.C.

His venue's changed, but Jack Bauer's 24 playbook hasn't during Sunday night's prequel to January's Season 7 start-up.

From 3 to 5 p.m. in fictional, war-torn Sangala, Africa, Kiefer Sutherland's super-resilient soldier of misfortune has a prolonged gunfight, is tortured, loses another friend to a violent death and gets betrayed by a government official before again sacrificing himself for the greater good. 'Cause that's the way Jack rolls.

Fox's 24: Redemption (7 to 9 p.m. on Ch. 4 locally) otherwise is somewhat less predictable back in the USA. Newly elected president Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones) had her swearing-in ceremony aborted not by an international incident, but by the writers' strike. So what was supposed to be a possible boost for Hillary Clinton's campaign last January is now a case study in what might have been.

There's skullduggery afoot, of course. And defeated incumbent president Noah Daniels (Powers Boothe) seems to have a lot of Dick Cheney in him. The "imminent coup" in Sangala "isn't our war" because America has no vital interests there, he tells the president-elect.

But she worries about the slaughter of innocent people after declining Daniels' offer to join him in having a stiff drink before taking the oath.

"I appreciate your idealism," he tells her in a tone that says otherwise.

"I can't say the same for your cynicism," she counters.

Meanwhile, Jon Voight lurks in the person of Jonas Hodges, described in Fox press materials as a "malevolent mastermind" plotting to "fan the flames of the growing international crisis." As usual he'll be aided by a coterie of crooked government officials. Where's the vetting?

Hodges is only briefly seen in Sunday's movie, which is set four years after Season 6 ended with Jack on the lam and the U.S. government after him. So far he's defied those pesky subpoenas and hopes to remain in Sangala doing good deeds for kids in partnership with the goodly Carl Benton (Robert Carlyle).

But the nefarious "People's Freedom Army" is abducting those same kids to train them as killers for its twisted cause. So Jack's torn between helping out and avoiding capture by his own government, which wants to put him on trial for coaxing information out of bad guys via torture. What a country.

24: Redemption dutifully proceeds along these paths with a goal of setting up Season 7's two-part, four-hour premiere on Jan. 11-12. The movie is followed by a generous helping of coming attractions that show Jack on trial, lots of action and the return of presumed dead CTU agent Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard) as a possible traitor.

Fox already has publicized all of these developments, which also include the disbanding of CTU but the return of popular agents Chloe O'Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) and Bill Buchanan (James Morrison).

24: Redemption, filmed in Cape Town, South Africa and L.A. is a serviceable although not exceptional place-setter that slightly shortens the unplanned, elongated gap between the May 2007 end of Season 6 and January's resumption of hostilities.

Be assured that Jack is the same old go-getter, emerging largely unmarked even after a brutish renegade presses the side of his face with a red-hot machete blade.

Meanwhile back home, Madame President airily quotes Alexis de Tocqueville in her inauguration speech.

"In every democracy, the people get the government they deserve," she tells the gathered masses.

24 keeps telling us that without Jack Bauer's interventions, that's a fatal combination.

Grade: B

Gotta sing, gotta dance. But nearing her first prime-time variety special, Rosie O'Donnell of course slings opinions, too

Rosie O'Donnell: Deja View and in NBC publicity pic for Rosie Live.

Her mouth still roars, even if next week's NBC special is Rosie O'Donnell's attempt to resurrect the apolitical variety shows she devoured as a kid.

"There's not going to be any talks about Vietnam or Guantanamo Bay," O'Donnell says of the one-hour Rosie Live, airing on Wednesday, Nov. 26th (7 p.m. central). "There's not going to be a production number on torture."

Instead it'll be a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants, to quote The Mary Tyler Moore Show's famed "Chuckles the Clown" episode.

Moore, it should be noted, tried and very much failed to succeed with a subsequent prime-time variety hour whose 1978 repertory company included the then mostly unknown trio of David Letterman, Michael Keaton and Swoosie Kurtz.

O'Donnell, plans to welcome Liza Minnelli, Alec Baldwin, Alanis Morrissette, Gloria Estefan, Kathy Griffin, Jane Krakowski and perhaps a surprise guest or two to Broadway's Little Shubert Theatre. One of them won't be Donald Trump, with whom she famously feuded during her dying days on The View.

"I think we can accurately say 'Never,' " O'Donnell says during an expansive one-hour teleconference with TV critics.

She insisted on doing the show live, with the understanding that NBC would order a minimum of six more hours if the Nielsen ratings click their heels on a show that will "be chock full of dancing boys and girls from Broadway."

"We're sort of having friends who want to come and play, without anything to promote," O'Donnell adds. "To sing a song, do a skit, do a joke. It's going to be a throwback to the time when those shows were hot."

It's been awhile. NBC's Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters was the last variety show with any staying power. And it only lasted from 1980-'82. Otherwise The Carol Burnett Show was the last of the giants, brightening CBS's prime-time lineup from 1967-'79 before living on via a series of ratings-rich reunion specials.

O'Donnell says she watched 'em all, and thinks the timing is right for a rebirth. Variety shows were "an addiction in the '70s when the economy was in the crapper," she says.

In that context it seems like old times as jobless rates grow, stock prices shrink and retirement funds play dead.

"I think the economy has made it so that people are staying home more," O'Donnell reasons. "We've watched celebrities go to rehab and be stoned out of their minds on their own reality shows. So it's time for a change. I've never been for humiliation television."

She says that includes Fox's American Idol, ABC's Dancing with the Stars, NBC's America's Got Talent and other talent competitions whose judges let 'er rip.

O'Donnell doesn't like this, even though most viewers apparently do. Maybe that's why her overriding pitch for Rosie Live -- "Imagine if you took out the judging and put even more talented people on!" -- went unanswered until NBC Entertainment co-chairman Ben Silverman finally bit. O'Donnell thinks it might be because Silverman told her his mother was a big fan of her old syndicated daytime talk show, which O'Donnell self-canceled in May 2002.

"I thought I had 'Career Achievement' completed" with The Rosie O'Donnell Show, she says. Talking to a who's who of big-name stars was "like being at the all-you-can-eat buffet."

But she bit when ABC's Barbara Walters and The View came calling. O'Donnell's subsequent abrupt departure, in May 2007, came after her outspoken political views led to feuds with Trump and conservative co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck among others.

"After I left the show, I couldn't watch it," O'Donnell says. "It would almost be like post-traumatic stress disorder." In her view, "When your own team doesn't support you, it's time to take off the uniform."

She compares Walters to the mom who wants everyone to co-exist happily on Thanksgiving and other big family holidays: "No matter what, Barbara wants everyone to think and act as though they get along. But that's not the reality . . . For me what happened on the show was a personal argument with a friend (Walters) that was publicly displayed. I didn't want to be paid to fight."

Walters' recent bestselling autobiography says little about the backstage realities of The View. So O'Donnell fills in more blanks. "I wasn't happy that I did not have control of the show," she says, referring to the autonomy she had as executive producer and star of The Rosie O'Donnell Show. "It was a very difficult transition for me to make. When you're the shortstop on the team, you don't get to be the coach. I did enjoy the program right up until the day it all went crazy."

O'Donnell, 46, married the former Kelli Carpenter, who has taken her surname, on Feb. 26, 2004 during a San Francisco ceremony that later was ruled invalid by the California Supreme Court. She's mostly been publicly mum on recent events in California, where voters supported Proposition 8's overturning of a more recent state Supreme Court ruling that recognized same-sex marriages.

"I don't think there's anybody in the country who doesn't know I'm for gay marriage," O'Donnell says. "I was surprised when people said I'm not vocal enough. I got married before anyone else did."

Rosie and Kelli, who has a degree from Dallas-based Southern Methodist University, are now parenting four children. The youngest, Vivienne, was birthed by Kelli on Nov. 29, 2002.

O'Donnell says she's "not so hung up" on using the word "marriage" to define gay partnerships. For her it's far less important than the rights of children under such unions.

On election day, "I was so overwhelmed and afraid that my dream for the nation would fall short of reality," she says of Barack Obama's election. "It's almost as if the last eight years have been some sort of bad dream."

"George Bush as the president has lowered the bar as to what's intellectually acceptable, especially on TV," O'Donnell adds. "Also we have to hold the media responsible. For the last years they've kind of dropped the ball."

Obviously she hasn't stifled herself. But with Rosie Live, she supposedly will. No politics, O'Donnell pledges. Just old-school song, dance and comedy, starting with an opening duet she'll do with Minnelli.

"I think America's ready," O'Donnell says. Take that any way you'd like.

What makes NBC's Big Ben tick? For one thing, using NBC shows as "integral pieces of marketing platforms"

Ben Silverman was brand new at summer 2007 TV tour. Photo: Ed Bark

As a network programmer, NBC Entertainment/Universal Media Studios co-chairman Ben Silverman could use a good deal of de-programming.

You know, strap him to a chair and pry his eyeballs open a la A Clockwork Orange. Then make him watch every episode of his network's junky Knight Rider series and others being used as "integral pieces of marketing platforms."

Silverman, interviewed none too aggressively on Monday's Charlie Rose show, exudes the scary confidence of a con man who actually believes he can sell quicksand in the Mojave. He had a rapt and agreeable listener in PBS's Rose, who unfortunately made even Larry King seem like Mike Wallace in his prime.

To hear Silverman tell it, No. 4 NBC is dominating the prime-time landscape in every which way imaginable. Not only that, the network is ingeniously integrating advertising into programming content in ways that will leave its rivals selling pencils on Sunset Boulevard.

Rose began their meeting of the minds with clips from NBC's Knight Rider, Kath & Kim, Biggest Loser, The Office and 30 Rock.

"Clearly the comedies are performing incredibly well," Silverman then told Rose.

Actually, they're not, although it'd be great if 30 Rock and The Office indeed did much, much better. They in fact are great shows. Left unsaid and unasked, though, is the fact that both comedies are far too smart and independent-minded to participate in the game Silverman is playing with his network's Knight Rider remake.

Its hero, Michael Knight, drives a Ford Shelby GT500KR in compliance with NBC's agreement with the Ford Motor Company. The Peacock had a like-minded arrangement between General Motors and My Own Worst Enemy, but alas the show has been canceled while GM's own fate hangs in the balance. Not surprisingly, Silverman and Rose didn't mention that little bit of business.

"Basically I'm getting 'disintermediated' from my audience via technology," Silverman explained while possibly creating a new brand of network-exec speak, too. "Digital and the delivery of our programming via digital distribution is giving my consumer the power to freeze-frame, fast-forward or watch at their own discretion. And therefore potentially skip the ads that are sold around the shows."

The "old school" way of production integration would be to brand the water glass in front of him, Silverman told Rose. In other words, do what American Idol has been doing pretty successfully with Coke since the show's inception.

But NBC supposedly has a better idea. It's using some of its new shows as "integral pieces of marketing platforms."

Advertisers "absolutely don't take a producing role," Silverman explained. "But they take on a role on how they'd like their car presented, but also the story they'd like to tell around their car."

That kind of sounds like producing the show. But no, said Silverman. It's merely "starting to think about the shows as promotional platforms, and almost as the new 30-second or 60-second spot (commercial)."

Great. Were Hill Street Blues in Silverman's hands, partners Andy Renko and Bobby Hill might well have driven their GM squad car to an off-duty charitable function that would make both them and their vehicle seem civic-minded. Or maybe the two officers might have raved about how they still had half-a-tank of gas after chasing crooks at high speed for a full day. Because GM, after all, gives you more oomph at the pump.

Rose drank all of this in without ever asking whether such integration might compromise a show's integrity. Or whether any producer with an ounce of integrity would allow such tampering. He laughed it up, though, after Silverman got off a good line on why it's difficult for youtube to get advertiser support.

"Because that same image is next to a cat peeing in a toilet," Silverman cracked.

As noted repeatedly in these spaces, NBC and Fox had the very good idea of partnering up to create hulu.com, which offers free access to clips and full episodes of their shows with comparatively few commercial interruptions.

But Silverman is really scary when talking about his visions of network programming. He may think it's outdated to measure a show's worth by how many people watch it on their television sets at the appointed hours. And clearly that can't be the only barometer anymore.

Still, ask NBC stations, including D-FW's KXAS-TV, about how thrilled they are to be getting mostly ratings-starved 9 to 10 p.m. lead-in programming for their late night newscasts. Do you think the grunts are buying into Silverman's glee over how many viewers supposedly watch NBC shows on hulu.com or whenever or wherever they want?

Meanwhile, CBS is thriving in the prime-time Nielsens and giving its stations' late night newscasts a ratings leg-up on almost every night of the week. You think they aren't a helluva lot happier?

Charlie Rose, who also works for CBS' 60 Minutes, seemingly doesn't know the difference. He just seemed happy to bask in the presence of a telegenic, supposedly hot-shot programming exec who told him that NBC is in the futuristic driver's seat with shows such as Knight Rider.

That's the same Knight Rider that finished 69th in the latest weekly Nielsen ratings with 5.34 million viewers. That put it right behind the Wednesday and Monday episodes of Univision's Fuego En La Sangre, which respectively drew 5.54 million and 5.46 million viewers.

Way to go, NBC.

Obamas and Steve Kroft spark 60 Minutes to another ratings high

The Obamas with 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft

So what will 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft do for an encore? Well, the First Dog has yet to be selected, so maybe he can score another "furst" in the coming months.

Kroft's Sunday night exclusive with Barack and Michelle Obama drove 60 Minutes to the top of the weekly national Nielsen charts for the second consecutive week. That hasn't happened since the Dec. 27, 1992 and Jan. 3, 1993 broadcasts, CBS says.

60 Minutes also had more total viewers -- 25.1 million -- than any edition since Jan. 17, 1999. On the previous Sunday (Nov. 9th), Kroft's exclusive sit-down with the Obama campaign's four top strategists drew 18.5 million viewers. That also was enough to make 60 Minutes No. 1 for the week by a slim margin over CBS' CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which had 18.2 million viewers.

This time it was a landslide, with 60 Minutes romping over NBC's runnerup Sunday Night Football game between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins (19.3 million viewers).

Cowboys-Redskins had the week's top performance among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds, though, with 60 Minutes a very heady second.

All of the four major broadcast networks have lost viewers compared to a year ago at this time. But CBS by far has lost the least in Nielsen tabulations covering the official start of the fall season on Sept. 22nd through Sunday, Nov. 16th.

In that period, CBS has averaged a league-leading 12.4 million viewers, down 4 percent from a year ago. Runnerup ABC has 11.7 million (down 9 percent), followed by Fox's 9.5 million (down 15 percent) and NBC's 8.9 million (down 10 percent).

CBS and ABC are tied for the lead with 18-to-49-year-olds, but ABC is down 15 percent in this key demographic while CBS has slipped 8 percent.

Fox and NBC are tied for second place, with both running 14 percent behind last year's early pace. But Fox has yet to receive its annual midseason turbo-charge from American Idol, so it's still the favorite to repeat as the 18-to-49 champ. NBC has the Super Bowl this season, but otherwise will be losing its most dependable ratings-getter -- Sunday Night Football -- in the season's second half.

CBS' Obama connection provides your friendly content provider with an opening to share some pretty incredible Bark family ties to a pair of major presidential game-changers. Here we go:

Nephew Mike Bark and my daughter, Liz (left, front), in Grant Park.

1. My daughter, Liz, a 2000 graduate of Ursuline Academy in Dallas, is now living in Chicago and pursuing a career in theater. She was among the many thousands in Grant Park on election night, Nov. 4th, to see Barack Obama make his first speech as president-elect.

2. Meanwhile, in a Minnesota hospital, Jacob Henry was being birthed by my youngest brother Greg's oldest daughter, Lindsay, who was married last October to Doug Sloan. He arrived at 11:06 p.m., during the heart of Obama's speech. And he's the first child born to any of the children of the four Bark brothers and one Bark sister -- Ed, Jim, Al, Greg and Susan.

3.Michael Allen Bark, the first child of the four Bark brothers and sister, is now an elder statesman of 34. He was born on another highly eventful day, Aug, 8, 1974, to Al and Claire Bark. We all remember watching Richard Nixon resign the presidency while gathered in a Milwaukee hospital that night.

Mike now runs his own upstanding business in Milwaukee, WI. He and his wife, Becky, are expecting their first child in January. Inauguration Day, anybody? We'll see.

And in other ratings news . . . Dallas-born ventriloquist Jeff Dunham set a Comedy Central ratings record Sunday with Jeff Dunham's Very Special Christmas Special.

It drew 6.6 million viewers, making it the most-watched program in the network's 17-year history, according to a Comedy Central release. So bow down, Daily Show.

Encores of Very Special Christmas Special are set for Tuesday, Nov. 18th at 9 and 11 p.m. (central), Sunday, Nov. 23rd (8 p.m.) and Friday, Nov. 28th (9 p.m.).

Einstein's mind is an action hero in new History Channel tale

We live in times when Fox's Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? reigns as nighttime's brainiest game show.

History Channel's Einstein (Monday, Nov. 17th at 8 p.m. central) is an upgrade without being too smart for the room.

Little do most of us know that humankind's most famous brainiac -- sorry, Ken Jennings -- had a devil of a time conclusively proving his fabled Theory of Relativity. This two-hour tale, set against a backdrop of World War I and warring scientists, adds up to a compelling look at how Einstein finally won the day and became an international celebrity whose "wild halo of hair" only made his thoughts seem deeper.

It's still hard to grasp exactly what he proved. Basically, though, Sir Isaac Newton's longstanding theory of gravity went out the window once it could be shown that spacetime is "curved."

Einstein's biggest brainstorm needed conclusive physical evidence, though. And that could be obtained only by photographing the stars' alignments around the sun during a total eclipse. Let's just say it took a while, with various hard-driving astronomers competing to prove or disprove what Einstein was talking about.

History Channel for its part deploys an array of contemporary talking heads, the best known being Einstein biographer Walter Isaacson and familiar TV personality Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who also runs the Hayden Planetarium. This expert testimony often is edited into bite-sized bursts that risk dumbing down the story at hand. No one gets to talk for very long.

Tyson -- and we'll have to take his word for it -- says that Einstein's Theory of Relativity had "no wiggle room" in terms of being right or wrong. Or to use a little basketball circular logic, he had to hit nothing but net. Which is what Einstein did after 15 years of perfecting his shot. The end result is a "beautiful and simple and profound" truth, Tyson says. "And all the best theories of the universe are just that."

Tonight's film is mostly about those game-changing 15 years, with Einstein battling his way through ostracism, self-doubt, a world at war and a failed first marriage. He had an odd and self-important way of paying alimony, obtaining a divorce in return for pledging his cash winnings from a Nobel Prize that he just knew would be coming to him.

Einstein remained a virtual nonentity outside of Europe until his Theory of Relativity finally hit paydirt. The U.S. media then couldn't get enough of him. He died in 1955, at age 76, long after also proving that the mind is a beautiful thing to behold.


The Crash of 1929 -- seems like old times

First shown in 2003 under PBS' American Experience banner, here's a classic cautionary tale that bears repeating, oh, at least every month or so.

The Crash of 1929 (8 p.m. central on KERA/Ch. 13 in D-FW) is a one-hour crash course in events leading to the United States' first stock market-fueled financial crisis.

The panic-fed meltdown of Oct. 29, 1929 laid waste to the wealth and life savings of stock-aholics ranging from Groucho Marx to "bull of the bulls" William Durant to that era's equivalents of Joe the Plumber. It seemed as if everybody had something to lose when the bubble finally burst.

"The (stock) market had entered popular culture," says narrator Philip Bosco. "Wall Street became Main Street. Everyone was talking stocks. Watching the ticker became a national sport."

Borrowing on credit with the certainty of getting rich quick was fun, easy and of course too good to be true. Not everyone bought into the stock market. But for the first time, everyday Americans were ready, willing and able to join America's storied Big Shots in wagering on stocks and then watching them pay off. Intoxicating.

The parallels to today are striking, even including bail-outs when the stock market took its first deep plunges. Famed economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who died in 2006, could afford to be a bit snooty in reminding the filmmakers that nothing ever changes when greed and easy money partner up.

"There's nothing unique about this," Galbraith says. "It is something which happens every 20 or 30 years because that is about the length of the financial memory. It's about the length of time that it requires for a new set of suckers, if you will, a new set of people capable of wonderful self-delusion to come in and imagine that they have a new and wonderful fix on the future."

Crash of 1929 also includes interviews with descendants of that era's multi-millionaires, beginning with the son and daughter of Charles E. Mitchell, president of National City Bank. They reminisce from within the splendorous home that was once the family's everyday palace.

"The bank, prior to father's being elected president in 1921, was geared mainly to doing business with large corporations," Craig Mitchell recalls. "Father pointed the bank, for the first time, in the direction of going after the little man and . . ."

"Don't call him the little man," sister Rita scolds. "It was Everyman."

"Going after" meant granting Everyman an interest-bearing loan in times when "amazing new products," ranging from underarm deodorants to pug-in refrigerators, were tempting the masses to spend now, pay later. It all passed the smell test during the hazy, crazy "dawn of the consumer revolution."

And now, here we go again. In that context, Crash of 1929 fittingly begins and ends with lyrics from "Blue Skies," the 1929 hit song that promised prosperity forevermore.

Rita and Craig Mitchell remember those days by singing/reciting a few bars in the film's opening minutes.

"People believed that everything was going to be great always -- always," she recalls. "There was a feeling of optimism in the air that you cannot even describe today."

Crash of 1929 plays itself off with another nod to "blue skies smiling at me. Nothing but blue skies do I see."

It still sounds jolly, all right. But it feels like a funeral dirge.

Grade: A

Tina/Sarah to Tina/Sarah/Oprah to Tina/Oprah -- and Oprah/Tina (updated 4:12 p.m.)

Liz Lemon and Oprah as her ownself on Thursday's 30 Rock.

At last the stars are perfectly aligned. Literally.

The most under-appreciated and currently the best comedy series on broadcast or cable television is getting a mega-boost tonight courtesy of a path that has taken star Tina Fey through Saturday Night Live, Sarah Palin and now a highly advantageous outcome of Tuesday's presidential election.

Tonight's episode of NBC's 30 Rock (Thursday, Nov. 6th, 8:30 p.m. on KXAS-TV locally) has literally everything going for it. And it's about time in a season where NBC otherwise has done just about everything wrong -- except for the very notable exception of that dying broadcast TV art form known as weekly comedy. Here's the highlight reel for 30 Rock in just the last month-and-a-half.

***On Sept. 21st, the show won its second consecutive Emmy Award as prime-time's best comedy series. That's no small achievement, considering that 30 Rock has only been on the air for two seasons.

Still, the increasingly little-watched Emmys lately haven't lit a fire under anything except the paper trail leading to the prime-time awards ceremony on ABC. The Academy of Television Arts & Science's brain trust, after apparent due deliberation, decided to name five reality show hosts to gang-emcee Emmy's annual crowning moment. Howie Mandel of Deal or No Deal by far made the biggest ass of himself, with ample help from numerous others. But we tarry.

**Fey has what now turns out to be the great good fortune to greatly resemble the Republican Party's former vice presidential candidate. Unclebarky.com first noted this on the late morning of Aug. 29th, just a few hours after watching John McCain shock the world with his announcement that Palin would be his Batgirl. And no, I didn't have time to check any other Web sites. Clearly, though, this eventually proved to be a no-brainer.

Things simmered, percolated and eventually caught the nation and world by fire on the now landmark night of Sept. 13th. That's when Fey as Palin and Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton teamed in a sendup that very well could end up being the most pivotal and funniest political sketch in the storied show's 34-year history. Better yet, it opened the new season. Ratings soared, and pretty much have stayed sky-high. SNL has been reborn. Wow, you can trust some things over 30. In the late 1960s, coming-of-age Barky of course thought exactly the opposite.

***Meanwhile, NBC stayed with its prime-time game plan, filling 30 Rock's Thursday, 8:30 p.m. slot with three special editions of Saturday Night Live Weekend Update Thursday. All did very well in the ratings, at least on still struggling NBC, where Sunday Night Football has been the only consistent, weekly big draw.

SNL's last Thursday special, on Oct. 23rd, drew 8.78 million viewers nationally and, of more importance to all networks,
5.32 million advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds, according to Nielsen Media Research. That's not exactly a hit. But among NBC's still struggling Thursday night comedy incumbents -- (acclaimed The Office and My Name Is Earl and so far awful newcomer Kath & Kim) -- SNL's trio of first-run prime-time outings were ratings smashes.)

As long-planned, though, 30 Rock would and did return on Oct. 30th. But did the Peacock wait too long to seize the momentum? The network already had the first two shows fully completed (they were sent to unclebarky.com and many other TV critics a full month ago), so are NBC's corporate programming executives in fact even dumber than many now believe?

30 Rock co-star and fellow Emmy-winner Alec Baldwin (who plays the fake but all too-real NBC studio boss Jack Donaghy), definitely thought so and made his feelings public, as he regularly does. But through no particular fault of its own, NBC's waiting game proved to be doubly brilliant because . . .

***Tina Fey and company returned on Oct. 30th with their biggest national audiences ever in both total viewers (8.66 million) and 18-to-49-year-olds (5.42 million). That ranked 30 Rock a stratospheric 15th among the week's heaviest hitters, in reasonably close proximity to NBC's most consistent, year-long demographic hit, The Office (No. 8 with 6.39 million viewers).

Maybe that doesn't sound so hot. But in complete overall ratings for the 2007-'08 TV season, 30 Rock in its sophomore year ranked a subterranean 65th among 18-to-49-year-olds (an average of 4.06 million) and a sub-subterranean 111th in total viewers (5.98 million).

In comparison, The Office respectively finished 23rd and and 85th with 5.55 million viewers in the 18-to-49 demo and 7.30 million total viewers.

But wait! As we approach the old-school living room showing of the Nov. 6th episode, things get much, much better for 30 Rock. That's because:

No. 1 -- Barack Obama is the new president-elect.

No. 2 -- As almost everyone knows, Oprah Winfrey strongly backed his candidacy in very public fashion, but kept her promise to abstain from politics on her daily afternoon talk show (4 p.m. weekdays on WFAA-TV) locally.

No. 3 -- She declared herself officially liberated on Wednesday's first post-election show. On election night, though, Oprah wisely joined a crowd estimated at 125,000 in Grant Park to hear Obama's speech. Cameras of course caught both her and fellow Chicagoan Jesse Jackson in tears as they watched. Countless billions have seen those images worldwide.

But both Winfrey and Jackson were part of the crowd and never went onstage to join Obama as his extended family, now including VP-elect Joe Biden and his kin.

So Oprah had the common touch, which of course made her famous in the first place. Very smart. Countless gab shows now are making much of the fact that she actually stood right next to a completely unknown guy who hopefully won't emerge as another Joe the Plumber, only not as _____. Well, you fill in the blank if you'd like.

No. 4 -- Her guests on today's Oprah are Will Smith and -- Tina Fey.

No. 5 -- As scheduled more than a month ago. Winfrey will play herself on tonight's "Believe in the Stars" episode of 30 Rock, with Fey again brilliantly funny as oft-hapless but still very brainy TV producer Liz Lemon.

No. 6 -- Everyone also should know by now, that no one promotes herself better than TV's reigning queen. Despite a gradual ratings downturn in recent seasons -- including here in D-FW -- Oprah is still the very active First Lady of TV as we now know it. Period.

By the way, Fey is planning to "retire" her Palin impression -- for the near future at least -- because she's the 38-year-old mom and married mother of a daughter who turned three last month. She simply can't and shouldn't pick up this pace. In other words, she's got her priorities straight, and there's no rush right now anyway.

On Winfrey's show just a few minutes ago, Fey said live from the 30 Rock's Manhattan set, "I'm gonna pack up my (Palin) wig." She also suggested some current SNL cast members, one of them the show's burgeoning new female star, Kristen Wigg, as great candidates to succeed her as Palin. My bet's on Wiig to start wearing that wig.

Meanwhile, Palin's still licking her wounds while no doubt planning a tell-all book and a tell-all interview with -- if she's wise -- Oprah.

***Finally, I've been touting 30 Rock for a long time and love the show even more now. Tonight's Oprah-fueled episode is extremely funny -- but you'll be the judge of that. I've seen it and won't spoil it.

Prediction: The Nov. 6 episode will draw at least 10 million viewers nationally, and very possibly as many as 15 to 20 million. So no matter how well it does in D-FW -- one of the worst major markets for the show -- it seems to be finally on its way. We can only hope. Tell a friend! Chicago sure as hell will be watching.

Next week Jennifer Aniston is returning for her second guest star stint on 30 Rock. And on the Thursday after that, Steve Martin makes his first 30 Rock stop. So the time is now. And "if there's anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible . . ."

Maybe that phrase sounds a little familiar, too.

OK, the frosting. Enjoy this extended clip from hulu.com, which you definitely should visit if you haven't already. It's a treasure trove.

History Channels: Television brings home the sights and sounds of Obama's (and America's) night of nights

Barack Obama stands triumphant in Chicago's Grant Park. CBS Photos

It's not just a hollow campaign promise. On increasingly rare occasions, television can still be a uniter not a divider, rising to the occasion of a signature event that can only happen on this scale in the land of the free, home of the brave.

Barack Obama's election to the presidency -- and John McCain's classy and conciliatory concession speech -- were quintessentially made in America.

"I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences," McCain said of Obama in his final act as a presidential candidate.

"I may not have won your vote tonight. But I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too," Obama said of McCain's supporters during his first act as president-elect.

Both candidates spoke at climactic, latenight outdoor rallies, McCain on the grounds of the Arizona Biltmore hotel in Phoenix and Obama in Chicago's Grant Park, where anti-war protesters gathered during the fractious 1968 Democratic National Convention to chant, "The Whole World Is Watching"

The whole world -- now almost infinitely more populous and diverse -- watched on Tuesday night as well. And America's major television networks brought the globe quite a show.

Their in-studio news sets were almost uniformly splashy, complete with computer-generated "virtual" adornments that created falsely vast, yet realistic-looking arenas from which various correspondents spewed statistics and commentary. CNN even beamed in a holographic Spike Lee among others. And it was all in sparkling high-definition, making past election night presentations seem almost quaint and grainy.

But the words and pictures from the candidates' closing venues were all that mattered in the end.

No one could see everything while bouncing through ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN and HDNET, where Dan Rather presided from a spare, unadorned desk on what might very well be his last televised election night. But I certainly saw enough. Here's a chronological, anecdotal look at how we got to those climactic endings:

(Note: In prime-time, I mostly watched the Fox network's broadcast feed (on Fox4 locally), anchored by Shepard Smith. The Fox News Channel coverage was helmed by Brit Hume, who's retiring in January. Both networks made their electoral vote projections simultaneously. I also mostly watched NBC's broadcast coverage, anchored by Brian Williams, instead of MSNBC's (David Gregory at the throttle). Again, both networks made their projections at the same times.)

6 P.M -- In preliminary festivities before the polls begin closing in earnest, all networks immediately project McCain the winner in Kentucky and give Vermont to Obama. That gives McCain an 8 to 3 electoral vote lead, which is padded to 16-3 when he's awarded South Carolina before we get down to serious business at 7 p.m.

CNN's projections are heralded by irksome introductory music that makes it seem as though anchor Wolf Blitzer is preparing viewers for a verifiable sighting of Elvis or at least the second coming of Christ. Blitzer's super-serious vocal intonations do nothing to downplay matters. It gets old in a very big hurry.

Meanwhile on Fox, reporter Brett Baier is in the "Balance of Power Studio," where he files his first reports on early projections in Senate and House races. Yes, they actually call it that.

7 P.M -- McCain's lead instantly vanishes for good when polls close in mostly Obama country. In a finger-snap, courtesy of big electoral vote counts in populous states such as Illinois, New Jersey and Massachusetts, Obama has the following electoral vote advantages:

77-39 on Fox
77-34 on CNN
81-39 on CBS
102-34 on ABC
103-34 on NBC

HDNET, relying on AP's consistently more cautious projections, has it 69-34 for Obama

ABC and NBC are the first networks to give Obama the pivotal state of Pennsylvania and its 21 electoral votes. The McCain camp quickly protests, but by 7:39 p.m. CBS, Fox and finally, CNN, also have made the call on Pennsylvania.

7:46 p.m. The AP is still the last holdout on Pennsylvania. HDNET's Rather is fully aware of this, telling viewers, "We're not at the point where we're totally confident" that the state is going for Obama.

7:49 p.m. -- CBS anchor Katie Couric quotes an unnamed Republican strategist as saying, "At this point we need a miracle." Veteran analyst Bob Schieffer agrees.

At this point it's noticed that Fox4, still the last major local D-FW station not in high-definition, is unable to retain the Fox network's HD presentation whenever it inserts various local vote totals at the bottom of home screens. Instead the network presentation suddenly shrinks to the square-boxed, now almost archaic, and comparatively blurry "analog" format.

This is irksome to say the least, and no doubt a turnoff to the increasing numbers of D-FW viewers who are watching election returns on high-definition TV sets. It's an open invitation to click elsewhere.

8 P.M -- Polls close in Texas, which usually is an automatic projection of the Lone Star state into the Republican column. But what's this? CBS is alone in giving Texas to Bush. All rival networks officially consider it still too close to call.

8:19 P.M -- Fox is the first network to award Ohio to Obama, all but dooming McCain's chances to prevail. All other networks remain on the fence -- for the next several minutes at least. So this is a bold call by a network that for the most part has been championing McCain's candidacy while MSNBC played for the Obama team.

8:40 P.M -- CNN, by far the most balanced network in the all-news cable universe, finds no believable way for McCain to win.

"I don't mean to be mean, but this is very bleak at this time," electoral map maestro John King tells colleague Campbell Brown.

He then begins giving various states to McCain based on absolute best-case scenarios.

"I can get him to 259 (short of the 270 required electoral votes)," King says after using his built-in electoral map pointer -- namely his right index finger. New Mexico, one of the states he gives to McCain, already has been projected for Obama by some rival networks. That's how grim it is for him.

Meanwhile, ABC projects Texas for McCain, with CNN, Fox and NBC still keeping the state in play. It remains the night's most remarkable non-call.

9:16 P.M -- CNN and the AP still haven't given Texas to McCain. But by 9:30 p.m., everyone has fallen in line.

Meanwhile, Fox4 has gone to virtually non-stop local coverage, prompting periodic visits to Fox News Channel's presentation on a different non-HD tier of networks if you're a Verizon Fios cable customer.

FNC analyst Karl Rove, looking oddly out of place in a bright Halloween orange tie, sticks to his story that the United States remains a "center-right country." Otherwise he looks perhaps a bit despondent.

9:49 p.m. -- CNN's Anderson Cooper finishes his interview with filmmaker Spike Lee, who's been beamed full-bodied into the network's indoor election center but isn't really there.

"I appreciate your being with us tonight via hologram," Cooper says wryly.

"Thank you. Chill out," Lee rejoins before vanishing.

Most of CNN's souped-up presentation is impressively state-of-the art. But Lee's visit still looks no more realistic than the "beam me up" segments from NBC's original Star Trek series. Or to put it another way, his holographic likeness seems like the primitive maiden voyages of the Iraq war's in-the-field "video phone," which now almost seems like a Betamax recorder. By the next election, though, expect anchors, reporters and their guests to show up in your living room in holographic form. And I'm not kidding.

Over on HDNET, Rather gamely throws out a "Dan-ism" from his unadorned HDNet studio. They used to be staples of his election night adventures on CBS. So for old time's sake, "One would have thought you'd see rocks grow or water run uphill before you'd see Virginia for Obama." Ba-da-bum-ba.

10 p.m. -- It's official. All the networks and AP project Obama to have well over the 270 electoral votes required for election. This is a stark contrast to the 2000 and 2004 election night squeakers, which eventually went George W. Bush's way. During this campaign, he's been an invisible lame duck president, shunned by his Republican Party for the past year or so.

Conservative Fox News Channel analyst Bill Kristol praises Obama's "amazing achievement. I hope as an American he is a successful president . . . He will be in a very powerful position to govern."

McCain begins his concession speech at 10:18 p.m. and finishes it 10 minutes later. Network anchors, analysts and commentators uniformly praise it as gracious and statesmanlike.

Shortly before Obama takes the stage at 10:58 p.m., ABC correspondent Steve Osunsam, reporting from the streets of Atlanta, says that his late father told him that a black man would never become president of the United States.

"This evening, this country has proved my old man wrong," he says, fighting back tears. "And we're the better for it."

Emotions are genuine on this historic night. No matter who they are, many voters are in tears. They include Jesse Jackson and Oprah Winfrey, otherwise mere faces in the estimated crowd of more than 125,000 gathered at Grant Park. We get brief glimpses of Jackson and Winfrey during Obama's speech, heralded by the 10:58 p.m. announcement, "Ladies and gentlemen, the next First Family of the United States."

Obama and his wife, Michelle, walk down a blue runway together, hands joined, well aware of the import of what he's about to say.

"That was one of the most subdued walks onstage I've ever seen," opines ABC analyst George Stephanopoulos, a key figure in mapping Bill Clinton's 1992 ascent to the presidency.

"Hello, Chicago," Obama says just a minute later, before a backdrop of American flags.

He praises McCain and running mate Joe Biden before assuring his two young daughters, "You have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House." It's his only moment of levity in a speech that wraps at 11:15 p.m. with a brief and moving salute to Ann Nixon Cooper, born on Jan. 9, 1902 in Shelbyville, Tennessee.

Obama says he met her on the campaign trail in Atlanta, and that she has lived in times when neither women nor blacks were allowed to vote.

Ann Nixon Cooper also was "there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that 'We Shall Overcome,' " Obama tells the world. "A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen and cast her vote. Because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change."

11:15 p.m. -- Running mate Joe Biden joins Obama onstage. Other family members gather around a president-elect unlike any other. Missing is the grandmother who raised Obama, and whom he visited in Hawaii during the closing days of the campaign. She was gravely ill, and he didn't want to miss seeing her at least one last time.

Madelyn Dunham died on Sunday, at age 86, after a long illness. Obama had extolled her in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. On election night 2008, he includes her in his opening remarks -- briefly this time.

"While she's no longer with us, I know my grandmother is watching, along with the family that made me who I am. I miss them tonight, and know that my debt to them is beyond measure."

Television brought all of this home to us on a wide variety of broadcast and cable networks. And that's still no small achievement, even in this mega-informational age.