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Mark Cuban and Kym Johnson: He's lovin' it

Dancing with the Stars pro Kym Johnson has made both Jerry Springer and Joey Fatone look good. Can she do the same for Mark Cuban?

Dallas Mavericks owner and Dancing with the Stars contestant Mark Cuban had his first close encounter Wednesday with Kym Johnson. You might say he's mightily impressed with the sculpted blonde's overall attributes.

"She is amazing. She is bright, funny and obviously a fabulous dancer," Cuban said in an email sent Wednesday night. "She's also patient, laughs at my jokes and did a great job teaching me the foxtrot today."

Cuban's almost as complimentary about his team's high draft picks. But Kym Johnson plays in another league. Her moves on a dance floor amount to a knee-buckling crossover dribble followed by a rim-rattling slam dunk. Or something like that. Anyway, her game plan is to take Cuban deep into Dancing's fifth edition, which premieres Sept. 24th on ABC. Earlier this year, Johnson and former boy band singer Joey Fatone placed second to champ Apolo Anton Ohno and pro Julianne Hough.

"I was a fan. Now I'm a huge fan," Cuban said of his new business partner. "And I told her I wanted the Fatone weight loss plan she put Joey on, too."

TV movie review: The Murder of Princess Diana (Lifetime)

Fictional reporter Rachel Visco is put at the scene of Diana's death.

Premiering: Saturday night, Aug. 25 at 8 p.m. (central) on Lifetime
Starring: Jennifer Morrison, Gregori Derangere, Kevin McNally
Directed by: John Strickland

Strike while the eternal flames burn even hotter.

Or to put it another way, Lifetime is going to burn viewers Saturday night with its thoroughly shoddy and ridiculous The Murder of Princess Diana.

Timed to coincide with the 10th anniversary of her death on Aug. 31st, it's a fictional account of the same-named book by Noel Botham (feeder). He's one of several to theorize that her death in fact was an assassination.

Lifetime certainly plays along, putting pretty blonde investigative reporter Rachel Visco (Jennifer Morrison) in close proximity to the car crash that took the lives of Di and playboy boyfriend Dodi Al Fayed. Actors named Nathalie Brocker and Stephane Loumi respectively are credited with playing these two roles, even though neither speaks or is shown in anything resembling a full-faced closeup.

That's a stark difference from The Learning Channel's infinitely superior Diana: Last Days of a Princess, which premiered earlier this month. It had full-blown, effective portrayals of Di and Dodi by Genevieve O'Reilly (Star Wars Episode III) and Patrick Balad (the original British version of The Office). And there were no conspiracy theories thrown in.

Lifetime's bone-picker has no such scruples. Reporter Rachel whisks herself from London to Paris after somehow sensing "there's a huge story about to break. It's been building up and I can feel it."

She quickly runs into old flame Thomas Sylvestre (Gregori Derangere), now an inspector for the French police. They'll eventually hit the sack again. But for now he's helping to provide security for Di and Dodi during their stay at the Paris Ritz Carlton. Rachel quickly smells a rat after seeing some shady looking guys talking to one another in the lobby. So she impulsively piggybacks onto her photographer's motorcycle when Di and Dodi try to speed off without the vulturous paparazzi on their heels.

A massive coverup is quickly put in play after the couple's tragic death. Along the way, viewers are informed pretty much matter of factly that Di was both pregnant and planning to marry Dodi. Therefore some people had reason to kill her.

Many cliches and giant leaps later, another death occurs before Rachel herself is put in harm's way. Viewers are left to believe that the killers are still at large and that various high-level French officials and law enforcers are unspeakably complicit.

Well, maybe people will believe just about anything. But this preposterous film is an insult from start to finish.

Grade: F

Putting Anchorwoman in its place

So why did Anchorwoman fail so dismally?

Fox junked the made-in-Texas "comedy/reality hybrid" after Wednesday's opening night national ratings went well south of the border. It was a quick kill, but only the most recent one. Several months ago, Fox had a big money game show called The Rich List. It also went under after just one episode.

Anchorwoman had reams of free pre-premiere publicity, though, both print and electronic. The made-for-TV hiring of model and ex-wrestling villain Lauren Jones by Tyler's KYTX-TV rubbed a lot of pundits the wrong way. Would it further soil the already badly stained reputations of many local TV newscasts?

"What were they thinking?" huffed Howard Kurtz, the veteran Washington Post media critic who still finds it ethically defensible to also be on CNN's payroll.

Kurtz eventually interviewed Jones and KYTX president Phil Hurley on his Sunday morning CNN program, Reliable Sources. He then cashed another check while others also cashed in. ABC's Good Morning America had three lengthy pieces on Anchorwoman, the last a live interview of Jones. She also parried with Bill O'Reilly on The O'Reilly Factor among others.

A wealth of newspaper, magazine and Internet articles likewise decried or twitted Anchorwoman. That's usually more than enough to get a decent opening night tune-in, but definitely not this time.

Maybe we're at the point where many viewers feel they already get enough apparently unintentional comedy within so-called serious newscasts. A D-FW reporter crawling through a doggie door is pretty hard to top. So is our very own Ted Baxter. You otherwise know him as __________ .

Or perhaps viewers increasingly are turned off by the whole tenor of their local nightly news programs. Fear-mongering and laughable consumer tips are running rampant at the expense of reporting that requires more than camping out near a police scanner or spending an hour with Dr. Youthcream.

Anchorwoman in many respects piled on more of the same. Most viewers decided to look elsewhere before slogging through their late night newscasts in order to see what the next day's weather will be.

Unfortunately, the mega-bombing of Anchorwoman may not bode well for Fox's upcoming Back to You sitcom. It stars Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton as reunited anchors at a Pittsburgh TV station. The pilot episode is sharp, funny and suitably broad in its swipes at local newscasts.

Uh-oh, that could be a fatal approach.

Kid Nation "controversy" -- if only some people would grow up

CBS' Kid Nation had some mishaps along the way, including 11-year-old Divad Miles burning her face with cooking grease. CBS photos

CBS' upcoming Kid Nation may not be the greatest or noblest idea for a TV reality series. Whatever its merits or demerits, though, it surely couldn't have been all that more dangerous than playing jump rope.

Still, at least one parent is getting a lot of ink after writing a letter of complaint to New Mexico state officials after the show ended production last spring. Her daughter, 11-year-old Divad, was splattered with grease while cooking. And three other children accidentally drank a little bleach, thinking it was a soft drink. No one was hurt even remotely seriously.

This hasn't stopped The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times from recently running lengthy stories questioning whether all of this amounted to child abuse or neglect on the part of Kid Nation's producers. There also is the matter of whether the show skirted New Mexico's less restrictive child labor laws during 40 days and nights of filming in rickety old, abandoned Bonanza City.

CBS, in a statement issued to the L.A. Times, said in part that a lone parent was "distorting the true picture of the Kid Nation experience. These kids were in good hands and under good care with procedures and safety structures that arguably rival or surpass any school or camp in the country."

Networks don't always tell the truth, and in fact lie a lot to TV critics. But siding with CBS is easy in this case. The parents who sent their eight-to-15-year-old children into this enterprise haven't complained about the $5,000 "stipends" that each of their offspring received. Nor have they objected to the $20,000 "Gold Star" to be awarded in each of the planned 13 episodes.

So you might say they sold their children down the river, or in this case the show's nearby creek. But it's not as if CBS willfully exposed them to all manner of deprivation. During a mid-July "press tour" interview session with Kid Nation's producers, some TV critics were skeptical as to whether the young stars were really roughing it at all.

"Hundreds" of adults were on site, said executive producer Tom Foreman.

They included pediatricians, child psychologists and an animal wrangler, he said. All were "mostly standing back and watching the kids with instructions to step in if something was going wrong and anybody was in danger. If the kids had done something that we thought was going to hurt one of the animals, we would have stepped in, too . . . This was as well thought out a show as I have ever seen in terms of contingency plans lest any little thing go wrong."

We live, however, in times when many kids are lumps on couches. And where abuse is defined as looking cross-eyed at a kid or making him use a phone dial-up for the Internet.

Back in prehistoric times -- my 1950s childhood -- we used to play "King of the Mountain" during school recess. The mountain would be a big mound of plowed-up playground snow. The Kings usually would be school bullies. Not being one of those, I'd often end up sliding back down onto the icy pavement. A daily minimum of bruises ensued, but every once in a while you'd be able to tackle a big kid and knock him off his perch. So it was worth it, and the nuns who taught us seldom if ever bothered to protect us from ourselves. In their view, this was character-building. And sometimes they even joined in.

Kid Nation looks to be an amusement park tram ride compared to that. Still, the producers say they met with each child's parents and "they asked whatever they wanted to ask," said Foreman.

"Some parents absolutely thought of this as a 40-day vacation from their children," he said. "I think most of them had very reasonable questions about what the kids would be doing, where they would be living, what sort of food they would be eating . . . And everyone we met with opted to go ahead with the show."

Water and canned goods were provided, with the kids required to prepare it themselves. They also elected their own leaders, formed their own government, passed their own laws, etc. There are no elimination rounds, but kids could leave voluntarily. A "few" did just that, according to Foreman. But most of the kids now "wish it wasn't over," he said.

"They saw this as the greatest chance they've ever had to prove something to the adult world out there -- that they could actually show us up."

It's best to never entirely believe a television producer. In this case, though, the "brewing controversy" -- L.A. Times' words -- over Kid Nation seems far more manufactured than genuine. What else is new?

New series review: Anchorwoman (Fox)

Sour and sweet: Self-absorbed KYTX-TV incumbent Annalisa Petralia more or less tries to school novice blondie Lauren Jones.
Premiering: Wednesday night, Aug. 22 at 7 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Lauren Jones, Annalisa Petralia, Phil Hurley, Dan Delgado, Michele Reese, Stormy the Weather Dog
Produced by: Brian Gadinsky

It's either perverted injustice or just desserts.

Through the miracle of funhouse mirror editing, Fox's Anchorwoman has managed to turn the tables and quickly take the onus off model and former wrestling vixen Lauren Jones.

She's suddenly at worst a flighty little sweetie compared to off-putting Annalisa Petralia, resident news diva at KYTX-TV in Tyler, TX. In fairness to Petralia, she probably gets jobbed in the show's opening minutes. Then again, she should have known better. A real Capital J journalist, as she keeps saying she is, wouldn't even consider taking a co-starring role in this so-called "comedy/reality hybrid."

(Note to readers: unclebarky.com previously posted two detailed behind-the scenes stories about Anchorwoman. You can find them here and here.)

Fox provided only the first half of Wednesday's one-hour premiere, leaving TV critics hanging on the countdown to Jones' on-air debut from the KYTX anchor desk after just six days of training. She'd first envisioned meeting a "hot cowboy" and supposedly thought about packing a sequined bikini for her new duties.

"How do you think that would look doing the news?" she wonders aloud. Premise in place, via what almost assuredly was a scripted line.

Anchor/producer/reporter Petralia soon makes her entrance, positioning herself as Christiane Amanpour to Jones' Daisy Mae.

"Journalistic credibility is what everything I do here stands for," asserts Petralia, who arrived at KYTX in 2004 after working at two New York City TV stations.

The show quickly sabotages her by showing a clip of Petralia doing an "Eye on Health" segment for her station.

"You've probably seen it firsthand," she tells viewers, "that person who doesn't wash their hands after using the bathroom."

Anchorwoman then cuts back to some more pontificating by Petralia, who says, "Without that (credibility), I'm nothing. And the station is nothing. And everything we do is nothing."

We then return to Petralia's Eye on Health report for her closing line. "That's why boys have cooties," she says while smiling.

The transparent message, tricked up or not, is that Petralia really is no different than Jones, except that she's also a self-absorbed hypocrite. It's amazing what they can do with a little creative cutting and pasting.

Lauren Jones and Annalisa Petralia: they sure do like their mikes.

Jones certainly plays the role, arriving at KYTX in a low-cut Cheetah top and red convertible. The station's Stormy the Weather Dog wants nothing to do with her. Or maybe somebody wagged a steak at him off-camera so that he'd walk off in a seeming huff.

She initially has a tough time with the TelePrompTer and her own inclination to make editorial comments such as, "Gunshots ring out at a Tyler nightclub. There's nightclubs here?"

But Jones also is portrayed as becomingly dedicated. Sure she bats her eyes. But she also puts in long hours at the TelePrompTer, telling a staffer, "I'll go again. I'll go until we get it perfect."

Tyler-ites are duly skeptical, if not always particularly eloquent. One language-mangling man frets that "the kids are gonna see, you know, the 'cleavledge' and stuff." But don't worry, Fox has promised not to portray the city as a buncha bumpkins.

Also starring is KYTX president and general manager Phil Hurley, a good-lookin', straight-shootin' sonofagun who's been upfront from the start about boosting his neophyte station's profile.

"We're the new guy here," he says. "And we're lookin' for as many eyeballs as we can get in a very short period of time."

Good Morning America has been especially adept at thumping the tub, running three stories on Anchorwoman and what it might mean to the sanctity of broadcast journalism. That's kind of a laugh, though, when you had GMA's hunky Chris Cuomo sitting down with Jones for a live interview Monday. His lofty journalism credentials? None really. He's an attorney who came to prominence as a campaigner for his famous father, Mario Cuomo. ABC News snapped him up and he's learned on the job ever since.

Other paragons of TV journalism who arrived at various networks with no formal journalism training or from show biz backgrounds include Mike Wallace, Barbara Walters, Tim Russert, Hugh Downs, Phyllis George and David Hartman.

Jones obviously takes it to the next level, and if this show is a hit then maybe a station in Poughkeepsie will bite next. Still, she seems like less of a phony than Petralia, who apparently thinks she's some sort of journalistic Joan of Arc.

"I want you to know I fought for you. I fought for every woman in this news room," she tells a colleague with no real evidence that she has.

Later, Petralia informs her poor sap news director, Dan Delgado, that she easily could have been a model in these high times for photo touchups.

"But no, I'm a journalist," she sermonizes. "And I don't want anyone to mix me up with a swimsuit model. A swimsuit model fills in Annalisa Petralia's shoes? Is that what we're telling our viewers? That I'm a swimsuit model, too?"

Clearly Anchorwoman has found its pretentious poser -- and it's not Jones. She comes out a winner merely by saying in Petralia's presence, "It's not like I'm a bimbo." A-w-w-w.

By the end of just the first half-hour, Jones already seems to have mastered the art of reading copy to a camera. Is it so easy a cavewoman could do it? Maybe not. But it's not nearly as hard as Petralia makes it out to be.

What 's even easier is making a fool out of a self-proclaimed Capital J journo. A little sleight of hand in the editing room can almost always do the trick. In that respect, Petralia's the real rube in Anchorwoman. The producers will bend and shape her as they please in the next several weeks.

That's not journalism, but it sure is show biz.

Grade: C

Disney's High School Musical 2 tackles Cowboys ratings record holder for loss

Final national Nielsen ratings put The Disney Channel's High School Musical 2 in the record books on two fronts.

The 17.2 million viewers for Friday's sequel are easily enough to make HSM2 the most-watched cable program ever.

An Oct. 23, 2006 Dallas Cowboys-New York Giants game on ESPN's Monday Night Football had been the previous champ with 16 million viewers. Before that, a contentious November 1993 Al Gore-Ross Perot NAFTA debate on CNN's Larry King Live had held the record for 13 years.

HSM2 also will emerge as the week's most-watched program on either broadcast or cable TV. That's never happened before, even though the summer season gives cable shows a better chance of topping the field. The Cowboy-Giants game, which aired during a week of two World Series telecasts, wound up 14th among all TV programs. A first-run episode of ABC's Desperate Housewives placed No. 1 for that week with 21.2 million viewers.

Disney Channel also cleaned up Friday night with a sneak preview of its new Phineas & Ferb animated series (10.8 million viewers nationally) and a new episode of Hannah Montana (10.7 million).

All three programs are assured of landing in the week's overall top 10, another impressive feat for Disney.

High School Musical 2 could make ratings history for Disney Channel, basic cable

Some HSM2 cast members are larger than life. Namely Zac Efron.

This is going to be huge. Massive. Maybe even mega-super duper with sugar on top.

Coming Friday to The Disney Channel at 7 p.m. (central) is High School Musical 2, sequel to the Jan. 20, 2006 original. You might say there's some anticipation in the 'tween and teen worlds, let alone among many of their parents.

Disney also is layering this cake with a sneak peek at its new Phineas and Ferb animated series (8:45 p.m.), followed by a new episode of Hannah Montana (9:15 p.m.) with guest stars The Jonas Brothers.

"While I am extremely reluctant to make predictions, I will guarantee that the night of August 17th will be on every kid's calendar," Disney Channel president Gary Marsh told TV critics last month.

He's not wrong about that, and so it won't really matter that Disney has decided to keep review copies of HSM2 out of the hands of TV critics for fear of piracy.

It has been previewed, however, on some cable On-Demand channels. And critics attending July's TV "press tour" were allowed to see the movie on a close-circuit hotel feed, albeit with a big copyright stamp in the middle of it. Sorry, didn't take notes, but it all seemed very energetic and watchable. As noted, though, kids could care less about any favorable or unfavorable reviews. This one's completely pre-sold.

Disney also could have a ratings record in sight. No basic cable program has ever topped the overall prime-time Nielsens for both broadcast and pay TV. But the mountain isn't that steep in the late summertime. Last week's most-watched TV program, NBC's America's Got Talent, drew 10.8 million viewers. HSM2 should be right in that ballpark -- and might well hit it out of that park.

The movie's top draw is Zac Efron reprising his role as hunky high school basketball captain Troy Bolton. He's also currently co-starring in the feature film Hairspray as well as adorning the cover of Rolling Stone as "The New American Heart Throb."

Swarmed by TV writers on press tour, Efron, 19, says he'd "love to bring musicals back to being cool and sought after. Not that they're uncool now. There's just other things that take priority."

His sudden fame -- and questions about his relationship with HSM2 co-star Vanessa Hudgens -- are making it harder to be "normal" in the Hollywood sense of the word.

"Vanessa's a great girl," he says in reference to paparazzi photographing them romping in the surf. "But at 19 I don't want to be the guy that's got 'relationship' headlines all over the magazines. Maybe in the future that's something I would love to talk to the press about."

His iPod is "full of show tunes, embarrassing or not." And his private life is seldom that anymore. A photographer recently snuck into a gym to snap pictures of him working out, he says.

"I don't know what to say about it. It's funny. . . I'm getting used to people observing my daily activities. Formerly people would just see the work. Now it's like I'm at a grocery store buying Cheetos, and there will be people that are interested."

His next project is a starring role in a remake of Footloose, which he watched growing up.

"I don't know if we can make it better," he says of Kevin Bacon's signature movie.

For now he's still made it intact through the Hollywood obstacle course, which if anything is more treacherous than ever.

Merv Griffin: singer, talker, gamer (1925-2007)

Merv Griffin laughed last a lot -- often all the way to the bank.

He couldn't conquer Johnny Carson when they went head-to-head in late night. But his daytime talk show ran for 21 years in syndication. And his crown jewel game shows -- Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! -- show no signs of going away now that Merv has checked out at age 82.

"Of course I'm surprised it's still on," Griffin said of Wheel in a 1991 telephone interview. "The legs are extraordinary, and the public has almost adopted them (Pat Sajak and Vanna White) as institutions. If they've done anything for America, they've taught a generation to spell."

Wheel, which debuted in 1975 with Chuck Woolery as host, is a junior partner of Griffin's Jeopardy!, which he launched in 1964. But Jeopardy! was canceled in the same year that Wheel was birthed. It then returned briefly in 1978 but didn't catch on anew until Alex Trebek began hosting a third incarnation in 1984. Griffin has another game show, Crosswords, set to premiere this fall.

Back in 1991, Griffin said the climate for launching new quizzes had gone from fertile to "terrible."

"There's such a plethora of talk shows," he lamented. "They're just smothering us all. My biggest laugh in the morning is when I look to see who all the talk show hosts have on. And it makes me fall out of bed laughing. All these freak-o people sitting around discussing how they had their front teeth removed so they could kiss better."

Griffin made his first mark in show biz as a big band singer who had one chart topper in 1950's "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts." He hosted a game show himself -- Play Your Hunch -- from 1958 to '62. Seven years later, he went head-to-head with Johnny Carson, lasting three years in the late night arena.

"We had all of Andy Warhol's movie stars," Griffin recalled in the 1991 interview before letting loose with his trademark, head-thrown-back mega-laugh. "We had --- what was her name? -- Ultra Violet. We would turn some things down, though. We weren't going to sit there and listen to albino hopefuls for president. But these people are all putting them on their talk shows today."

Griffin's daytime talker resumed after Carson knocked him off. It lasted until 1986, with few if any big names of that era bypassing a chance to sit down with chatty Merv and, in the early years, his droll British sidekick, Arthur Treacher. A 2006 three-disc DVD set contained highlights from interviews with the likes of Richard Burton, Jane Fonda (with her then husband, Roger Vadim), Ingrid Bergman, Martin Luther King Jr., Grace Kelly, Orson Welles, Richard Pryor (whom he discovered), Tom Hanks, Jerry Seinfeld and Sophia Loren.

The host's ooh-ah style prompted a string of hilarious parodies on the old SCTV sketch show. "Oooh!" went Merv in the person of Rick Moranis. Still, he often came away with the goods.

The interview with Burton, on the set of the 1974 film The Klansman, found the hard-living Welshman taking pot shots at America's astronauts after Griffin cooed about "landing men on the moon, romping around up there in the dust."

"The least important thing we've done . . . in the last 100 years is to get a man on the moon," Burton sniffed. "The idiots who went up there had no knowledge or no idea or no purpose. They were just simply automatons."

Griffin's interview with Welles was taped just two hours before the legendary actor/director died on Oct. 10, 1985 at age 70.

"Old age is a shipwreck," Welles told Griffin.

"But you feel wonderful, don't you?" the host replied.

"Oh sure," Welles rejoined, rolling his eyes.

All three parties smoked during Griffin's sit-down with Vadim and a starkly deferential Fonda, who later would star in the director's Barbarella.

"Does she cook, Vadim?" Griffin asked.

"Oh yes."


"Very good, but it's a disaster."

"For the stomach?"

"No, no, for the relax in the house."

In Merv Griffin's Book of People, published in 1982, the author describes his interviewing technique as "organized improvisation. Every guest who appears on my show is researched by my staff, pre-interviewed for pertinent facts about his or her current activities, and then just prior to show time the talent coordinator responsible for a particular guest's appearance gives me a quick briefing."

It worked for him. So did a lot of other things during a show biz career that just couldn't be stopped -- and that few have topped.

New series review: Californication (Showtime)

David Duchovny lines 'em up in Showtime's Californication.

Premiering: Monday night, Aug. 13 at 9:30 (central) on Showtime
Starring: David Duchovny, Natascha McElhone, Madeleine Martin, Evan Handler
Produced by: Tom Kapinos, Stephen Hopkins, David Duchovny

So are we really supposed to pity poor Hank Moody?

Here he is filthy rich from selling off his acclaimed bestseller into a ridiculed Hollywood movie. But gee, now Hank has both writer's block and a failed relationship in the bank. So he figuratively bangs his head against the wall while otherwise banging a succession of great-looking women.

Four bare their wares in Monday's half-hour premiere of Showtime's Californication. Hank also dreams about a knockout nun giving him a blow job. Nice work if you can get it in a dark but also lamentably dim comedy that follows the third-season opener of Weeds.

Hank not surprisingly is played by David Duchovny, who's been wandering in a wilderness of bad career choices before and since The X-Files left Fox five years ago. Still well-preserved at 47, Duchovny simply isn't an actor that most people yearn to see anymore. A haze seems to accompany his every move or movie. He was funny as himself on HBO's The Larry Sanders Show, but that's been a long while ago. Still, you still get the feeling that Duchovny still thinks America should kiss his ass, which he bares for good measure in the opening minutes of Californication.

Hank also has a 12-year-old daughter, Becca (Madeleine Martin), who was born during his years with Karen (Natascha McElhone), who's now engaged to another man. He now yearns to hook back up with her, but consistently undermines his cause with booze-fueled bed-hopping. Even his pre-teen daughter knows the score all too well.

"Why is there a naked lady in your bedroom?" she asks during one of their custodial outings. "There's no hair on her vagina. Do you think she's OK?"

Those are the jokes, folks. And Californication seems to think they're pretty cute. So does Hank of course, who tells his agent, Charlie (Evan Handler), "I'm disgusted with my life and myself, but I'm not unhappy about that."

He then demeans a dinner date in a condescending manner that might make some women yearn to punch Hank's teeth through the back of his neck. Oh, but that's how our anti-hero rolls. Later, in what's meant to be a redemptive strike, Hank bounds into action and out of the sack upon learning that daughter Becca has run off to an adult party.

"You smell like pussy," Karen rebukes him before they combine to make the rescue.

By the way, the name of Hank's bestseller is God Hates Us All. It begat the "crappy romantic comedy" A Crazy Little Thing Called Love, starring "Tom and Katie."

Well, we all know who that is. Duchovny has some nerve, though, taking shots at TomKat. Were anyone else starring in Californication, the reference to a "crappy romantic comedy" might well have Duchovny's name on the receiving end.

He's definitely got that one coming.

Grade: C-minus

New series review: Flash Gordon (Sci Fi Channel)

Flash and Dale flash flesh in Sci Fi's "contemporized" Flash Gordon.

Premiering: Friday night, Aug. 10 at 8 (central) on Sci Fi Channel
Starring: Eric Johnson, Gina Holden, Jody Racicot, John Ralston, Karen Cliche, Giles Panton, Jill Teed
Produced by: Peter Hume, Robert Halmi, Sr.

Direct from planet Hollywood, here's another version of Flash Gordon.

This one's pretty dopey, not that these adventures have ever been very deep. Birthed in a 1934 comic strip, Flash (Eric Johnson) returns in present times on the Sci Fi Channel to battle bad-nasty Ming (John Ralston), who's had "The Merciless" subtracted and doesn't look very menacing either.

Flash -- real name Stephen -- was nicknamed as a kid by his believed-to-be-dead dad. That's because he could run really fast, and we begin Friday's 90-minute premiere with Flash winning his third straight Tri-City Marathon. He finishes fresh as a daisy, looking no more winded than Superman running the 100 yard dash.

On hand at the finish line is Dale Arden (Gina Holden), Flash's old high school sweetheart. She's now a TV reporter engaged to detective Joe Wylee (Giles Panton). Meanwhile, Flash still lives with his mother (Jill Teed), who looks young enough to be his big sister. She travels a lot, allowing Flash and his pal, Nick Gilmore (the single-named actor Panou), to rebuild classic cars while headquartered at mom's house.

Eventually Flash encounters the storied Hans Zarkov (Jody Racicot), who used to work with his dad on the secret Portage Initiative. Gadzooks, Zarkov has detected another mysterious "trans-dimensional rift." Flash learns that his father disappeared through one of these, and in fact didn't die in a fire. After a really lame chain of events, Flash and Dale are sucked in, too, with our hero determined to find his dad.

Flash hadn't been much fun on Earth, but on another planet he's suddenly a playful quipster. Ming and his minions are determined to find Earth's very valuable "Imex," though, so Flash is soon on a torture rack. By this time Flash Gordon has become a little torturous itself. Nothing quite works very well, particularly the hot pursuit of Flash by Ming's lusty daughter, Baylin (Karen Cliche), who makes Dale newly jealous.

Johnson, best known as the recurring Whitney Fordman on Smallville, is no great shakes in his first lead role. He's cute, though. And Holden as Dale fills the bill in a temptress costume ordered up by Ming. Otherwise the special effects look less than special, even though a review copy sent to critics was missing some of them.

Future episodes will find Flash and company bouncing back and forth between Earth and distant planets. You definitely won't have to be a rocket scientist to play along.

Grade: C-minus

New series review: Power of 10 (CBS)

Teenager Jamie Sadler won a mil on Drew Carey's Power of 10.

Host Drew Carey fake-fretted Tuesday night after 19-year-old Jamie Sadler won a million bucks on the very first episode of CBS' Power of 10.

"This show's not gonna get through the first season, man," he told a whooping studio audience and, of course, those playing along at home.

He was joking, of course. Scripted dramas cost roughly $3 million per hour these days, with some far more expensive than that. Cost-efficient, big money game shows cost maybe half that amount -- and less when contestants walk away with mere pocket change.

CBS for its part has never had a prime-time game show hit on the order of ABC's Who Wants to be a Millionaire, NBC's Deal or No Deal or Fox's Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?. So it has high hopes for Power of 10, which premiered Tuesday and will be back at you Wednesday (Aug. 7th) at 7 p.m. central time.

Carey, prepping for his day job as Bob Barker's replacement on The Price Is Right, looks as though he'll be TV's most jocular comedian-turned-game-show-host in a field that already includes Howie Mandel, Bob Saget, Jeff Foxworthy, Jimmy Kimmel and Dennis Miller. He cranks out jokes and ad libs at a rapid-fire clip while also pulling hard for contestants like Jamie Sadler.

"I'm genuinely nervous for ya," he told the kid just before he won $100,000 by coming within 20 percentage points of America's answer to, "What percentage of Americans said in a duel with Dick Cheney, they would probably get shot by the Vice President instead of the other way around?"

Sadler locked in at between 35 and 55. Survey said: 43 percent.

Power of 10 requires more common sense than luck, but otherwise is hardly cerebral. A two-contestant elimination round leaves one of them vying for the hard cash, which starts at $1,000 and then increases tenfold to $10,000, $100,000, $1 million and the grand prize of $10 million.

CBS clearly doesn't anticipate giving that last sum away, because too much of that would in fact break the bank. But contestants do have a decent, fighting chance to win a million. In Sadler's case, he had to come within 10 percentage points of the answer to, "What percentage of women consider themselves feminists?"

He eventually settled on 23 to 33 percent, and that turned out to be a winner. But in this next-to-last round, contestants aren't told the exact percentage until they decide whether or not to go for the $10 million. So Sadler had a one-in-11 chance of guessing right and taking home by far the biggest booty in game show history. If he missed, though, his winnings would drop to a mere $100 grand.

"I'm out," Sadler finally said while his near-hysterical mother screamed for him to take his $1 million rather than take a big chance. FYI, America's answer turned out to be 29 percent.

Carey tends to laugh too much at his own ad libs during these proceedings. But he's an engaging host whose one-liners regularly hit the spot.

"My girlfriend calls mine 'Oh him again' " he cracked after posing the question, "What percentage of men said their partner had a nickname for their private parts?" (Survey said: 30 percent).

Just 10 percent of respondents said they'd spent more than $100 on a pair of jeans. This prompted Carey to add, "Hello Wal-Mart. That's all I have to say."

Power of 10's first batch of contestants were likable, too. Unlike other game shows, no one bounded hysterically onto the stage or used more over-the-top body language than a chimp lobbying for a banana. Sadler was very happy to win, but didn't go ape-doody. That's refreshing.

Wednesday night's survivor of Tuesday's second elimination round is the becomingly sedate Louise Palmer of Bakersfield, CA. She survived by coming closest to the actual percentage of American women who said they'd changed a flat tire on a car. Survey said: 50 percent.

This game just might work.

Grade: B+

Miniseries review: The Company (TNT)

Michael Keaton and Alfred Molina have pivotal roles in The Company.

Premiering: Sunday, Aug. 5 at 7 p.m. (central) on TNT. Repeated at 9 and 11 p.m.
Starring: Michael Keaton, Alfred Molina, Chris O'Donnell, Allesandro Nivula, Rory Cochrane
Produced by: Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, John Calley

A stellar summer for basic cable gets brighter still with a suitably dark miniseries about the CIA.

Beginning in 1954 and stretching to 1991,TNT's six-hour The Company has a phenomenal and revelatory performance by Michael Keaton as anal, taciturn James Jesus Angleton. His presence is most felt in the final two-hour chapter. Otherwise we keep longing for Angleton's re-emergence in a taut drama that also includes sharp work from Alfred Molina, Rory Cochrane and Alessandro Nivola.

This leaves Chris O'Donnell out, even though his jut-jawed character, agent Jack McAuliffe, has more screen time than any other. O'Donnell's performance is capable at best, although it does improve with age. He's not an overall detriment to The Company, which airs on three successive Sundays. But it sure would have been nice to see Matt Damon magically transported from The Good Shepherd to this similarly formative role of a CIA idealist turned realist.

In the least effective middle chapter, O'Donnell's McAuliffe is an action figure caught in both the Hungarian uprising against Soviet occupation and the bungled Bay of Pigs effort to overthrow Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. There are lots of explosions but little character development in these two hours. Still, by the end of two CIA shortfalls, we begin to see McAuliffe in the first throes of deep disillusionment.

"You're a true believer. You just can't help it," fellow agent and former college chum Leo Kritzky (Allesandro Nivula) tells him before he receives a medal. But no, it's not that simple anymore.

The Company begins in Berlin, 1954, with crusty, hard-drinking agent Harvey "The Sorcerer" Torriti (Molina) schooling kid McAuliffe in how to be an effective operative at the height of Cold War tensions.

"In order to be a player, you've got to cross over into the wilderness of mirrors," Harvey says.

"What if I don't want to?" McAuliffe replies.

"You already have."

The search for moles within the CIA is ongoing in all three episodes. Viewers will know all along who the so-called "cutout" go-between is. He's Yevgeny Tsipin (Rory Cochrane), a Russian schooled in the U.S. and well-versed in the English language.

Cochrane's character initially is torn between service to his country and the love of a woman he's fated to leave behind. Unlike McAuliffe's would-be romance, this one never seems hokey or contrived. Even though he's on the enemy side, Tsipin is The Company's most poignant character. His pain is palpable.

Keaton's chain-smoking Angleton, who painstakingly raises exotic flowers as a hobby, doesn't come to full flower himself until the climactic Chapter 3 (Sunday, Aug. 19). Boring in on a mole known as Sasha, he's still haunted by the past duplicity of a friend to whom he swore allegiance.

Keaton is simply remarkable in this role, whether coldly interrogating a suspect or offering a rambling, seemingly deluded critique of the CIA as a mere shadow of its once shadowy self.

The Company regularly overplays its mood music, and Molina's character sometimes comes off as, well, too much of a character. But this is an ambitious, accomplished and overall enthralling effort that saves its very best for those riveting closing hours.

Basic cable networks already have made summer an uncommonly invigorating TV season with the premieres of The Bronx Is Burning (ESPN), Damages (FX), Mad Men (AMC) and Saving Grace (TNT). Now comes The Company, a big ball of yarn that effectively recaptures the Cold War era and then asks whether either side had virtue, let alone competence, on its side.

"We screwed up a lot less than they did, which is why we won," Molina's "Sorcerer" says with no small degree of certainty.

Maybe he's right about that.

Grade: A-minus

New series review: Masters of Science Fiction (ABC)

Venerables Sam Waterston and Judith Davis joust Saturday night.

Premiering: Saturday, Aug. 4 at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Judy Davis and Sam Waterston in the premiere episode
Directed by: Mark Rydell

Shocking but true.

The new four-part Masters of Science Fiction is a scripted drama series premiering in the summer season on a non-cable network. And its home base is Saturday nights, otherwise a season-round dumping ground for reruns and reprises of feature films.

This is another way of saying that ABC doesn't expect much of a crowd for these "thought-provoking tales of present and future Earth." Like its competitors, the Alphabet Network so far has been stocking June, July and August with cost-effective, unscripted escapism such as The Next Best Thing, American Inventor, Ex-Wives Club, Family Secrets and Shaq's Big Challenge.

Masters of Suspense is almost prehistoric in its approach, harkening to the days when The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents kept viewers spellbound with a conveyor belt of cautionary spine-tinglers starring a passing parade of capable actors.

Saturday's first episode, subtitled "A Clean Escape," is basically a two-person play propelled by Judy Davis and Sam Waterston. It's based on a short story by John Kessel and directed by the very seasoned and accomplished Mark Rydell (On Golden Pond, The Rose). In a climate where "skewing old" is almost a capital crime, this is akin to bringing back Matlock or Gunsmoke.

Davis, who won an Emmy for her bravura portrayal of Judy Garland, is cast as terminally ill psychiatrist Deanna Evans. Her recurring patient, Robert Havelman (Waterston), has repressed some very deep psychic wounds. He still views himself as a 41-year-old captain of technology living happily and prosperously in 2007. Evans is obsessed with making him "accountable" for previous actions that he's repressed by blacking out the last 24 years of his life.

Saying any more would ruin this nicely constructed, semi-cerebral story, which takes up the entire hour. Waterston, so very familiar to viewers as assistant D.A. Jack McCoy on Law & Order, manages to effectively submerge himself in this decidedly different role. And Davis is solid -- and color-drained -- as usual.

Future episodes of Masters of Suspense will feature the likes of Malcolm McDowell, Anne Heche, Terry O'Quinn, Brian Dennehy, Elizabeth Rohm, James Denton and John Hurt. This is a very worthy effort on the part of ABC, which would be truly stunned if robust Nielsen ratings forced it to make more than the allotted four episodes.

Viewers, of course, always have the power to stun. Or in this case, to perform a miracle.

Grade: B+

New series review: Jekyll (BBC America)

Premiering: Saturday night, Aug. 4 at 7 (central) on BBC America
Starring: James Nesbitt, Michelle Ryan, Gina Bellman, Dennis Lawson
Produced and written by: Steven Moffat

BBC America's present-day new take on London's olde monster tends to be too much of a bloody mess. And that's the case whether he's committing violent acts or fretting as mild-mannered Dr. Tom Jackman.

Saturday's two-hour premiere of Jekyll is disappointingly discombobulated, veering wildly in tone and texture. It's The Odd Couple meets The Nutty Professor meets The Incredible Hulk meets Looney Tunes. Or something like that. It's even hard to decipher whether the lead character is Dr. "Chapman" or "Jackman." But Jackman it is, according to the official credits.

Veteran British thespian James Nesbitt has the challenging title role, with NBC's upcoming Bionic Woman, Michelle Ryan, striving to cope as psychiatric nurse Katherine Reimer. Her new boss, Dr. Jackman, not only morphs into Hyde but communicates with him on a cell phone. Meanwhile, a semi-comical organization with "unlimited wealth and power" has its eyes on his every move.

Dr. Jackman also has a wife, Claire (Gina Bellman), and two young sons, all of whom amazingly still know nothing of his alter ego. His increasingly odd behavior and unexplained absences seem to merely vex them. Hello!!!

Nesbitt is interesting to watch as Hyde, who's cocksure, hellbent and pretty much everything that Dr. Jackman isn't. He comes out at all hours of the day or night, but not much makeup is required. As Hyde, his hair's combed back, his eyes are bloodshot and his teeth take on the shape of golf tees. Frankly, he wouldn't make much of an impression in a garden variety Halloween costume contest.

Jekyll hits its low point at a zoo, where one of Dr. Jackman's sons is transported to an outdoor lion's cage in order to draw Hyde out. The end result is a dead lion and a bloody shirt, but no real sense of menace or horror.

Nesbitt's acting isn't the problem, nor is Ryan's nicely showcased curvature. Jekyll instead falls victim to a far more sinister force -- lame, unfocused storytelling. It's "full of the unexpected," all right, but don't expect it to make much sense.

Jekyll will continue with one-hour episodes on Aug. 11 and 18 before concluding with a two-hour finale on Aug. 25.

Grade: C