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London's opening ceremonies fall short of lowered expectations (updated with final ratings)

Queen Elizabeth II arrives safely in her royal box after "jumping" from a chopper during Friday's opening ceremonies from London. Photos: Ed Bark

Let the games begin. Please.

Few if any expected Friday night's Summer Olympics opening ceremonies from London to equal or surpass the jaw-dropping 2008 spectacle from Beijing.

But even with low expectations firmly in place, the Brits came up way short in the wow department. Not that it ruins the Olympics or anything. And NBC's bottom-line imperatives were very well-satisfied when the national Nielsen ratings made London's show-and-tell the most-watched summer opening ceremony ever, besting the 1996 Atlanta games by 40.7 to 39.8 million viewers while Beijing slid to No. 3 (34.9 million).

NBC's four-and-a-half-hour taped telecast presented the trio of Bob Costas, Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira as commentators, with Ryan Seacrest back in the studio for an interview with ace U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps. Costas didn't step in until the elongated "Parade of Nations," leaving Lauer and Vieira to preside over what was supposed to be the night's big Queen Elizabeth II/James Bond tongue-wagger. They bungled it.

Coming out of a McDonald's commercial, the mostly filmed gambit at first seemed like a commercial itself. But the appearance of Daniel Craig as James Bond eventually made it appear otherwise. He strode into the Queen's Palace and waited patiently for Liz II to acknowledge him with her only speaking lines: "Good evening, Mr. Bond."

The two of them then boarded a helicopter in daylight hours, although it was obvious that the Queen sitting beside him was a stand-in. Day magically shifted to night as the chopper hovered over Olympic Stadium. The fake Queen jumped first, to the strains of the James Bond theme. As she and Bond descended into the stadium, Lauer and Vieira actually seemed to believe it was all for real. Or at least that's what they sold to viewers.

"Are you kidding me?!" Lauer began.

"Now that's a good sport," said Vieira.

Lauer then said in all seriousness, "Queen Elizabeth II making perhaps the most memorable entrance to an opening ceremony ever. This is what they'll be talking about in newspapers around the world tomorrow."

He continued to coo, noting that the Queen had gone from "royalty to rock star" during her recent well-received "Jubilee" celebration. "Tonight she's a Bond girl."

"People who know her say that she has a wicked sense of humor," Vieira added. "And you are seeing it on display tonight."

They let that hang there as the Queen made her way to the royal box. Viewers with even minimal powers of observation surely knew that someone other than the queen had parachuted out of that chopper. But Lauer and Vieira made it seem as though they had bought it whole cloth before he finally said off-handedly that the Queen's derring-do was "thanks to a classic Andy Boyle illusion."

Their oft-inane commentary leading up to this point made one wonder whether a producer had bellowed into Lauer's earpiece, "Hey, that wasn't really her!" He must have known that. Right? If so, both Lauer and Vieira played incredibly dumb before giving up the ghost with a brief comment that many viewers may not have caught.

Boyle, chief director of the opening ceremony, is best known as the director of the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire. He worked a decent amount of spectacle into Friday's marathon proceedings. But too often the ground-level song and dance resembled a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, to which Lauer and Vieira certainly are accustomed.

Costas took over for Vieira during the Parade of Nations," teaming with Lauer for a constant stream of verbiage while NBC piled on a heavy load of commercials.

Viewers were repeatedly told by Costas that this was the briskest such alphabetical parade he'd ever witnessed. But it still seemed to last forever, even if some of the 204 nations got only a second or two of air time. At one point it was Bangladesh/Barbados/Belarus, which might have made a good title for a good kharma song by the late George Harrison.

As promised in an earlier interview, Costas noted that the International Olympic Committee had decided not to observe a moment of silence on the 40th anniversary of the terrorist massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Despite earlier commemorations, most recently before a small group of athletes in the Olympic Village, many believe that "tonight, with the world watching, is the true time and place to remember those who were lost. And how and why they died," Costas said as the Israeli team marched into view. He then paused for about three seconds before saying, "We're back in London after this." Cue the commercials.

Whatever the shortcomings of the pageantry at hand, all can be forgiven if the lighting of the Olympic flame rises to the occasion. But the majesty of this climactic event went into hiding when organizers decided to let it be gang-lit by seven young prospective British Olympians.

Consider the 1984 summer Olympics in Los Angeles, when the legendary decathlete Rafer Johnson navigated an imposing flight of stairs to light the torch. Or para-lympian Antonio Rebollo, who made the 1992 summer ceremony from Barcelona soar when he shot a flaming arrow from a considerable distance over a natural gas cauldron. Muhammad Ali moved millions by lighting the torch at the 1996 summer games in Atlanta. (He also attended the London opening ceremony, looking sadly infirm in sunglasses.) And the 2002 winter games in Vancouver were buoyed by the victorious 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team rejoining to do the honors.

The kids who lit the torch Friday night no doubt will remember it for the rest of their lives. But will anyone else?

Paul McCartney led yet another "Hey Jude" sing-along Friday night.

Paul McCartney, introduced without the "Sir" by the public address announcer, capped the ceremonies with "Hey Jude," which pretty much has morphed into elevator music over the years.

He obviously couldn't have rocked out with "Helter Skelter." But as one unclebarky.com reader noted, why not try to re-tool the lyrics to "Back In the U.S.S.R.?" Or perhaps better yet, write an original composition in hopes it would stand the test of time.

McCartney instead delivered the ol' "Nah, nah, nah, nah-nah-nah-nah" in an at times unsteady voice. The emotion of the moment no doubt played a role. But it got pretty cheesy when he exhorted the assembled athletes to join him, first "just the men, just the fellas" and then "just the women, just girls."

Some athletes could be seen doing so, but many are way too young to perhaps even know the song. McCartney at this point seemed a bit like a hoary Vegas lounge act, exhorting the tourists to let loose before generously tipping their waiters.

More enjoyable, from this perspective at least, was an earlier performance of The Beatles' "Come Together" by the Arctic Monkeys, whose lead singer, Alex Turner, replicated a very early John Lennon in black leather jacket and slicked hair.

The opening ceremonies were notably short on stage performances by singular performers. The available British talent is enormous in this respect. Where was Adele? Or Mick Jagger? Or Coldplay? Or Elton John? On and on. Instead we got piped-in music during an elongated, not so magical trip through various stages of pop culture.

Had the London opening ceremonies been a fish, Beijing would have thrown it back. Still, there's no use crying over spilt milk, as the Brits say. The 2012 Summer Olympics will rise or fall with their competitions over the next 16 days. It's always nice to make a great first impression, but you can't always get what you want. And at least the fireworks were really cool.

HBO's About Face a different sort of project runway

Clockwise from upper left: Former star models Jerry Hall, Paulina Porizkova, Isabella Rossellini and Carmen Dell'Orefice. HBO photos

They're hardly Model Ts, but still far removed from their days as A-list, pouty-lipped clothes mares.

HBO's About Face: Supermodels Then and Now (Monday, July 30th at 8 p.m. central) is an intriguing 85-minute documentary book-ended by tart, colorful observations from unrepentant Carmen Dell'Orefice.

Still strutting runways at age 81, she's asked what she thinks of cosmetic surgery.

""That's a very polite way of asking me, I'm sure, 'Have you had a facelift?' " Dell'Orefice retorts agreeably in the film's opening minute. "Well, if you had the ceiling falling down in your living room, would you not go and have a repair?"

Besides, Dell'Orefice wasn't exactly built up by her mother. Or so she recalls. "My mother used to say, 'You have feet like coffins and ears like sedan doors.' I internalized that."

Filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders (The Black List, The Latino List) might have done well to just keep the camera on her and let everyone else hit the cutting room floor. But other former supermodels are quite interesting as well, among them Isabella Rossellini, Jerry Hall, Paulina Porizkova, Carol Alt, China Machado, Marisa Berenson and Lisa Taylor.

In contrast, the director's two best-known subjects, Christie Brinkley and Cheryl Tiegs, are comparatively guarded. Which makes them rather dull.

Hall, the pride of Gonzales, Texas and Mick Jagger's wife from 1990-'99, recalls working at a Dairy Queen as a teenager while her mother urged her to become a model. As Hall tells it, she struck it rich after a hospital offered her $800 in hush money if she wouldn't sue them after being injected with penicillin, to which she was allergic.

At mom's urging, she took the money and ran off to the place to be -- the French Riviera. It didn't take long for her to be discovered in a pink, metallic crocheted bikini.

Now 56, Hall still looks pretty wild and wooly in a leopard print dress she wears for her current-day close-ups. Her marriage to Jagger is never mentioned, though.

Alt talks openly of doing a Playboy spread at age 48. Viewers get a brief look-see before she says her overall goal was to show that women of her age can still be "healthy and happy."

Porizkova remains a stunner at age 45, but says that her days of posing are pretty much past tense.

"At 50, you don't need to attract the same thing," she says. So why do you need to look like you still want to attract the same thing? I've got my kids, I've got my man."

In her view, confidence is the best human attribute of all. And "nothing says I'm not confident as much as Botox."

Karen Bjornsen, who returned to modeling at age 50 and is now 58, says she's had her eyes done in the interests of "getting the product in shape again. I don't want to look younger. I just want to look well-rested."

Rossellini, wearing a suit and tie with her hair cut severely short, says she's still debating whether to have any cosmetic touchups. The daughter of screen star Ingrid Bergman -- she touchingly calls her "mama" at one point -- can now laugh boisterously about not being invited to A-list parties anymore. It really doesn't seem to bother her.

Some of the models recall the racism they encountered in vying for magazine covers and runway exposure. Beverly Johnson notes that she was "the first African-American to grace the cover of Vogue." But that wasn't until August, 1974.

The rampant hard drug use of that era took lives while also being swept under the rug.

Taylor recalls being the principal subject of a New York Daily News story headlined, "The Dark Side of Modeling." She considers herself very lucky to be alive. But she also takes the standard fallback position, expressing no regrets at all because being a former drug addict is part and parcel of the person she is today.

"When drugs came on the scene, the look of the girl changed," says former Vogue fashion director Jade Hobson. "You certainly stopped smiling."

From the look on her face, she does seem to have regrets after saying, "We maybe exploited those girls, because it (a drug high) also brought a certain look to the photograph."

Porizkova is even blunter in her assessment of how the models of her day were viewed, ogled and sometimes pawed.

"What people called sexual harassment, we called compliments," she says.

A number of the models interviewed are pampered and primped anew for a group photograph session near film's end. And whatever their current views on the past and present of their profession, they still seem to very much enjoy the renewed attention.

None more so than the ever-game Dell'Orefice, who gets the last words before the closing credits are accompanied by the Lou Reed-written "You Wear It So Well."

"I get my love privately," she says, undeterred by rejection. "There's another job, or there isn't another job. We all have to go sometime. And when I go, I want to go with my high heels on."

One could do a lot worse.


"Twinkletoes" Emmitt Smith part of Dancing's first All-Star collection

Emmitt Smith with Cheryl Burke in 3rd edition of Dancing. ABC photo

The NFL's all-time leading rusher, former Dallas Cowboy Emmitt Smith, will hoof and puff anew in this fall's first All-Star edition of ABC's Dancing with the Stars.

Dubbed "Twinkletoes" by judge Carrie Ann Inaba, Smith won the fall 2006 third edition of the show in tandem with Cheryl Burke. Former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader Melissa Rycroft, who finished third in Dancing's spring 2009 eighth edition, is returning as well.

Five other past champs -- Drew Lachey, Helio Castroneves, Kelly Monaco, Shawn Johnson, Apolo Anton Ohno -- will join Smith on America's biggest dance floor. But his more eye-catching all-star opponents may be Bristol Palin, Pamela Anderson and Kirstie Alley.

Rounding out this field are Joey Fatone and Gilles Marini. Three other celebrities -- Sabrina Bryan, Carson Kressley, Kyle Massey -- will vie to be the so-called "Viewers' Choice" All-Star in online voting.

Scheduled to premiere on Monday, Sept. 24th, this will be the 15th edition of ABC's most-watched prime-time series. Athletes have won 7 of the previous 14 competitions, with Green Bay Packers receiver Donald Driver the most recent recipient of the many-splendored Mirror Ball Trophy.

Kristi Yamaguchi and Hines Ward are the other athlete winners in addition to Smith, Castroneves, Johnson and Ohno.

Smith and Burke prevailed over runners-up Mario Lopez and Karina Smirnoff in 2006. All of the All-Stars, except for Anderson, have finished no worse than third. But she has other winning attributes.

Monaco, Lachey, Smith, Ohno and Castroneves were Dancing's first five champs. The show premiered in the summer of 2005.

Here's ABC's somewhat less than subtle promo clip for its first All-Star edition.

They're everywhere, they're everywhere. NBC's big rings ceremony kicks off Summer Games, with executive producer Jim Bell marveling at the "staggering" amount of upcoming coverage

Point man for the Summer Olympics again is Bob Costas. NBC photos

Here come the Summer Olympics, all 5,535 hours of them (by NBC Universal's count), serving more platforms than the diving competitions.

Given the enormous technical challenges ahead -- both on-screen and online -- you'd like to think that Thursday's teleconference with Olympics executive producer Jim Bell will be remembered as only an irksome glitch and not a bad omen.

Bell and a companion NBC publicist got off to a solid start from London. Both could clearly be heard setting the stage, with Bell teasing Friday night's opening ceremonies by saying he'd seen the rehearsal and is aware of comparisons to the jaw-dropping Beijing curtain-raiser four summers ago.

London's rebuttal, from Olympic Stadium, is full of "amazing moments," he promised, "including one that I think will be one of the more astonishing and memorable in opening ceremony history."

Then came the Q&A, with the very busy Bell allotting just 20 minutes for this exercise. Long, long pause while questions supposedly were being queued up. Uh-oh, there's a "technical issue with the operator."

Another lengthy pause. "We are still here, so stand by, " said the NBC publicist. More silence, which most assuredly was not golden at this point. But finally it came to pass. And ironically, the first long-distance question concerned anchor Bob Costas' earlier determination to observe his own "moment of silence" in honor of the Israeli athletes who 40 years ago were taken hostage and killed during the 1972 games in Munich.

Costas, NBC's principal host of London's opening ceremonies, told The Hollywood Reporter last month that he was baffled by the International Olympics Committee's determination that opening night was not the proper venue "to remember such a tragic incident."

"No, I don't think he (Costas) put any added pressure on himself," Bell said Thursday. "If there's anyone who knows how to handle himself in that situation, have the right approach and tone, it's Bob."

The subject was revisited later in the Q&A, with Bell saying "We're still talking about that" in terms of whether Costas in fact will follow through on his earlier intentions. "You'll have to watch the coverage."

A worldwide audience of millions upon millions in fact will be doing just that Friday night, with NBC signing on at 6:30 p.m. (central) in the U.S. It's one of the few Olympic events that will not be streamed live at earlier hours on NBCOlympics.com, the network says in a publicity release. (Note to readers: it was easy for me to sign up for all this live coverage. You'll need to first identify your cable or satellite provider and then supply your user name and password for that service. Sitting through some short commercials is also part of the bargain.)

Olympics coverage will continue through the Sunday, Aug. 12th closing ceremonies. The 2012 Summer Games won't quite be everywhere. But they will be on NBC, NBC Sports Network, MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo, Telemundo, the aforementioned NBCOlympics.com, two "specialty channels" and the Games' inaugural 3D platform. All in all, it's nearly 2,000 hours more coverage than the Beijing games got.

The so-called "first social Olympics" will also have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr pages. "I think the biggest surprise has probably been just the size and scope of coverage," Bell said. "It's just staggering when you break it down."

Still, he doesn't discount the importance of the NBC mothership's nightly prime-time packages.

"Yes, we're hugely hopeful that a lot of people will be gathered around the television set," he said. "It's one of the last great family-viewing television events on the planet."

On most nights, NBC will begin coverage at 7 p.m. (central), which will be midnight London time, Bell said. So there won't be any live competition coverage in prime-time, although Costas as usual will handle any "on the fly" breaking news from the Games.

This will be Bell's ninth Olympics behind the cameras, but his first as the overall executive producer. Former NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol previously held that title, but couldn't reach a new contract agreement with the network. However, he's a "consultant and an advisor," Bell said. "He's here and he's weighing in and we're thrilled to have him here."

Friday's opening ceremonies will include a performance by Paul McCartney. First Lady Michelle Obama leads the official U.S. delegation while Queen Elizabeth II will officially begin the Games before retiring to her Royal Box. And Bell vowed that all 204 Olympic teams will be seen at least fleetingly on camera. "We're going to get every single country on."

Given that he has a lot on his mind -- Bell also is executive producer of NBC's Today show -- the answers were short and to the point Thursday. Or terse after he endured a question from a twit who asked whether NBC had a plan to catch dignitaries unguarded in the way a "Kiss cam" captured an unprepared President Obama and his wife at a mid-July USA exhibition basketball game.

"Yes," Bell said sardonically. "I can tell you that Kiss cam is a big part of our Olympic coverage."

Not really. Let the games and the gamesmanship begin -- and without any undue technical difficulties.

CBS' 3 at least wins the minimalist title crown (but what's this all about?)

Chillin' with the 3 comely singles of 3. CBS photo

Premiering: Thursday, July 26th at 9 p.m. (central) on CBS before moving to Sundays at 8 p.m.
Starring: Libby Lopez, Rachel Harley, April Francis
Produced by: Dan Cutforth, Jane Lipsitz, Chris Columbus, Avi Nir, Ami Glam

TV titles can't get much more minimalist than 3. So what could it be?

***The mini-adventures of 24's Jack Bauer?
***The Babe Ruth story (sports fans will get it)?
***A raucous look at kids coming out of their "Terrible Twos?"
***Tell-alls from the number of women who usually accompany Hugh Hefner to bed each night?
***Lamar Kardashian's 1 to 10 care-o'-meter rating as a Dallas Maverick?

It's the summertime, though. And as with almost any new unscripted series coming your way, 3 turns out to be yet another "journey of the heart" on the part of people looking for made-for-TV love.

Saving grace: 3 is from CBS, whose so-called "reality" offerings usually aren't as sleazy, catty or bankrupt as those on rivals ABC, NBC or Fox. So there's a certain patina to 3 in comparison with The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Bachelor Pad, Love In the Wild, Take Me Out, The Choice or one of ABC's all-time stinkers from the summer of 2009, Dating in the Dark. (The network's Conveyor Belt of Love, which briefly soiled ABC's 2010 midseason schedule, remains the uncontested grand champ in this field.)

3, which rolls out on Thursday, July 26th, also has a shocking twist. It doesn't originate from a posh Southern California mansion or mini-manse. It's instead headquartered at a "luxurious lakeside home" in Chicago, where 24-year-old model Libby Lopez, 29-year-old entrepreneur April Francis and 34-year-old pharmaceutical rep Rachel Harley have gathered to inspect some 100 men promenading before them.

Each woman must pick six of 'em, but it's OK for two or more to vie for the same guy. Then comes the multi-episode "search for love," with a little-seen extraneous host named Alex Miranda promising that in this quest, Libby, April and Rachel will "travel across the country and outside their comfort zone" before returning to Chicago for the end games.

Pretty Rachel is pretty appealing as the widowed mom of two kids who lost her husband to brain cancer two years ago. Libby is intent on marrying a "believer," so bachelor Tyler immediately hooks her with his declaration that "For me, the No. 1 thing is a relationship with Jesus Christ." April so far is the least likable, as well as the pickiest. She gets weepy -- and the piano tinkles -- when Rachel and Libby gently tell her she needs to open herself to new possibilities and maybe be a little less judgmental.

In the premiere episode at least, the three women both go along and get along. Maybe the claws come out later in the game. But it's unique, it not all together refreshing, to see a little sisterly camaraderie rather than the typically shallow gamesmanship in play on other shows of this ilk.

A scant few of these quests for true love actually end in anything genuine or long-lasting. Not that these shows are any better or worse than online dating services or various other non-televised matchmaking gambits.

3 rises above the genre's usually tawdry trappings, even if the opening episode is more than a bit static. Here a dude, there a dude, everywhere a dude dude, with Libby, Rachel and April passing judgment from their group couch. Previews of coming attractions show that they'll eventually get to Hawaii, though. Lei lady lei? As they phonily say in the TV news business after showing anchors or reporters the door, "We wish them all well."


R.I.P. Sherman Hemsley: Feb. 1, 1938 to July 24, 2012

Sherman Hemsley, the broadly comic actor whose inimitable rants made The Jeffersons one of the most popular sitcoms of the mid '70s to mid '80s, died Tuesday at age 74.

His diminutive George Jefferson was a volatile bag of bones opposite wife Louise "Weezy" Jefferson (the late Isabel Sanford) and their take-no-guff maid Florence Johnston (Marla Gibbs) in one of several successful CBS spinoffs of Norman Lear's masterstroke, All In The Family. The Jeffersons ran from 1975 to 1985, finishing among prime-time's 10 most-watched weekly programs in three of those seasons.

Hemsley also played cantankerous deacon Ernest Frye in NBC's Amen, which aired from 1986 to 1991 while ascending as high as No. 13 in its first season.

Both shows aired in times when comedies with predominantly black casts flourished as mainstream prime-time hits. The Jeffersons came to prominence during the days of Sanford and Son, Good Times and What's Happening!. In the 1981-'82 season, The Jeffersons ranked No. 3 in the ratings, making it television's most popular comedy behind the serial soap Dallas and the news magazine 60 Minutes.

Amen didn't achieve those heights. But it likewise prospered amid so-called "urban" comedy success stories. NBC's The Cosby Show led the parade with five consecutive seasons in prime-time's No. 1 spot. Its spinoff, A Different World, and another NBC sitcom with a mostly black cast, 227, also cracked Nielsen's top 15 most popular shows during that period.

Hemsley's George Jefferson was a super high-strung businessman who built his first dry cleaning establishment into a small chain. The good life ensued in a luxury high-rise Manhattan apartment. But George was seldom satisfied, registering as a combination Archie Bunker and Ralph Kramden with his temper tantrums and meltdowns.

In an Archives of American Television interview, Hemsley said, "The first five years I would hardly ever smile . . . I had to be true to the character."

In 1984, Hemsley received his lone Emmy nomination for what became his signature role. But he didn't win. The series' "Movin' On Up" theme song remains indelible, although it never hit the pop charts.

Hemsley's last screen role was as George Jefferson in a 2011 episode of TBS' House of Payne. That network, with a small assist from TV Land, now houses the majority of TV's contemporary black sitcoms. But none of them has even a small fraction of the audiences that The Jeffersons amassed in largely pre-cable times.

Fox fills one Idol judge vacancy with Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey in picture from her official website.

Season 12 of Fox's wobbling American Idol got some juice Monday when the network announced the long-rumored hiring of Mariah Carey to fill one of two vacant judge posts.

Carey did not meet with TV critics during Fox's day at the ongoing network "press tour" in Beverly Hills. But she did position herself as "so excited" during brief comments over a speaker phone.

Idol was hit earlier this month with the departures of both Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez after each spent two seasons with the show.

"We are proud to have one of the world's greatest-ever female singers join our show," Idol creator/executive producer Simon Fuller said in a publicity release. ""Mariah defines the word 'Idol' and will inspire every singer that has the honor of performing in front of her."

Carey, in her official statement, noted that she's currently working on her new album and its first single, "Triumphant," due next month. "I can't wait to channel my creative energy as a part of this show, which is a massive global phenomenon."

Idol will return as usual in January after losing 25 percent of its audience in Season 11. At least one more new judge, and some format changes, also are coming.

Mass shootings in Aurora movie theater followed by TV network excesses, mistakes

Fox News Channel is using the above logo to promote its Friday prime-time coverage of the shootings in Aurora, Colo. Photo: Ed Bark

It never fails. Major lapses in both taste and reporting inevitably follow the mass shootings that are becoming all too common in this country.

Fox News Channel couldn't resist using the above "Movie Theater MASSACRE! logo throughout its Friday coverage of the Aurora, Colo. murders. And ABC News investigative reporter Brian Ross linked the shooter to the Tea Party before later realizing he had the wrong guy.

The tasteless FNC promotion, complete with breathless voice-over, urged viewers to watch the network's prime-time stars -- Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren -- for all the latest news on the mass murderer. It served to reduce the shootings, at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, to a cheap B-movie in their own right.

In contrast, rival CNN teased its prime-time coverage with a "Shooting In Colorado" logo. MSNBC is using the equally unobjectionable "Tragedy In Colorado." So far 12 people are dead and another 59 injured.

ABC News re-fueled the "liberal media conspiracy" tanks with its early reporting that the suspected, incarcerated shooter, 24-year-old James Holmes, may have been a Tea Party supporter. Said Ross: "There is a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colo. page on the Colorado Tea Party site as well, talking about him joining the Tea Party last year. Now, we don't know if this is the same Jim Holmes, but it is a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado."

The network later apologized on-line for "disseminating that information before it was properly vetted." And Ross himself said on the air: "An earlier report that I had was incorrect that he was connected with the Tea Party. In fact that's a different Jim Holmes."

In other words, never mind. But the rush to be first, rather than verify such a divisive association, has given Rush Limbaugh something else to foment about. He's already denounced The Dark Knight Rises as a premeditated, anti-Mitt Romney manifesto because its principal villain is named Bane. You know, as in Bain Capital. For the record -- not that this will matter to Limbaugh -- the creator of the Bane villain, Chuck Dixon, says he's a "lifelong conservative." He also says that Limbaugh's theory is "silly."

The three major cable news networks of course will continue to cover the tragedy and its aftermath all day and into the night. Not to be left out, ABC, CBS and NBC all have prime-time specials planned for Friday. CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley and NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams both will be in Aurora for Friday's dinnertime editions while ABC World News anchor Diane Sawyer remains in New York for that network's "special edition."

ABC News also sent TV writers a timeline of its early "breaking news" coverage of the shootings. At 7:07 a.m. (central), for instance, Good Morning America co-anchor George Stephanopoulos reported that James Holmes had been identified as the suspected shooter. The timeline of course managed to not include Ross's significant reporting error.

By the way, ABC's Friday prime-time special is being titled Tragedy in Colorado: The Movie Theater Massacre. But at least there's no exclamation point at the end. Thanks for small favors.

Emmy nominations a feast for perennials plus notable newcomers ranging from Girls to Homeland to Hatfields & McCoys

Veteran Kevin Costner (Hatfields & McCoys) and rookie Lena Dunham (Girls) were first-time Emmy nominees Thursday. History/HBO photos

A batch of usual suspects -- Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Modern Family, 30 Rock -- again deservingly had their say while newcomers American Horror Story, Homeland, Girls and Hatfields & McCoys also broke through in a big way in prime-time Emmy nominations announced Thursday.

Mad Men (AMC) and Horror Story (FX) led all programs with 17 nominations apiece, although the latter oddly was entered in the movies & miniseries category despite its renewal for next season. That's kind of cheating, isn't it?

The bearded laddies of History's Hatfields & McCoys miniseries and PBS' properly dressed Downton Abbey also prospered with 16 nominations each, followed by the HBO movie Hemingway & Gellhorn (15).

In the two marquee categories -- best drama and comedy series -- HBO landed five of the 12 nominees in racking up another league leading 81 total nods. That was down, however, from 104 last year.

Shut out in the best comedy series category last year, HBO rebounded with old hand Curb Your Enthusiasm and freshmen Girls and Veep. They joined repeaters 30 Rock (NBC), Modern Family (ABC) and The Big Bang Theory (CBS).

Lena Dunham, creator and star of Girls received three Emmy nominations, all of them firsts for her.

Louis C.K., star and creator of FX's thoroughly adult Louie, was nominated for both acting and writing while his series got left out in the best comedy series category. But the ongoing Season 3 of Louie, its best ever, premiered late last month outside the Emmy eligibility window of June 1, 2011 to May 31, 2012. So maybe next year.

HBO's Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones both returned to the list of best drama series nominees, as did four-time champ Mad Men. But either Showtime's first-year Homeland or AMC's Breaking Bad (ineligible last year) are likely to dethrone Mad Men, with Downton Abbey a dark horse in its first outing in this category after winning last year as prime-time's best miniseries or movie.

HBO's first-year The Newsroom, the Aaron Sorkin creation with wildly mixed reviews, also premiered too late to make this year's Emmy cut-off. But the network's Hemingway & Gellhorn, likewise loved/liked/loathed by TV critics, made an aforementioned big score. So expect Newsroom to be a player the next time around, universal acclaim or not. Meanwhile, FX's very deserving Justified again got left out.

Hemingway & Gellhorn and HBO's Game Change nabbed nominations in the best miniseries or movies categories, with Hatfields & McCoys, American Horror Story, PBS' Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia and BBC America's Luther also joining the party.

Costner copped his first Emmy nomination for the lead role of "Devil" Anse Hatfield while co-star Bill Paxton also is a first-time contender as Randall McCoy after never being nominated for his work as a Mormon bigamist in HBO's Big Love. But Woody Harrelson may well be the man to beat for his bravura turn as John McCain's right hand man, Steve Schmidt, in Game Change.

Julianne Moore, also of Game Change, appears to have the inside track in the miniseries/movies lead actress category for her dead-on portrayal of Sarah Palin. Will she say "You betcha" if she wins? Nicole Kidman as Martha Gelhorn could give her some strong competition, though. The most undeserving nominee is Ashley Judd for ABC's Missing, which in fact was a canceled series, not a miniseries or movie. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences shouldn't be opening this door in its nominating process. Otherwise, any short-lived series casualty could be considered a contender in a category where it simply doesn't belong.

Although they again had a tough time holding their own against cable networks, three of the Big Four broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS and NBC -- increased their nomination totals from last year. Non-commercial PBS also upped its nomination, with its 58 second only to CBS' 60 among non-cable networks. But Fox took a big hit, falling from 42 to 26 nominations while The CW was completely skunked. FX had as many nominations as its broadcast brother and AMC beat both of them with 34.

The broadcast networks were strongest in the "Lead Actress in a Comedy Series" category, receiving five of the seven nominations and giving Fox at least one bright spot with Zooey Deschanel's nod for New Girl.

Besides those previously mentioned, the other programs with 10 or more nominations are Modern Family and NBC's Saturday Night Live (14 each); Breaking Bad, Sherlock and 30 Rock (13 each); Boardwalk Empire and Game Change (12 each; and Game of Thrones (11).

You can find the complete list of Emmy nominations here. The winners in major categories will be revealed during the 64th prime-time Emmy telecast Sept. 23rd on ABC.


***Oscar-winner Kathy Bates racked up her 10th and 11th Emmy nominations for her starring role in NBC's canceled Harry's Law and for a guest shot on CBS' Two and a Half Men. She has yet to win.

***Michael J. Fox outdid Bates by landing his 14th and 15th nominations. Both were in the guest star category -- for CBS' The Good Wife and HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm. Fox so far has won five times in 13 previous tries.

***Among all the nominees in major categories, who's the biggest lock to win? You can bet the house on Claire Danes' bravura portrayal of tormented terrorist-seeker Carrie Mathison in Homeland. If she doesn't win it would be the biggest Emmy injustice since CBS' Lonesome Dove got shut out on Emmy night.

***The dreaded "Just One Nomination" list has a number of popular and/or critically praised comedy and drama series. In alphabetical order, this year's entrants include The Big C, Community, Criminal Minds, Dexter, Entourage, Falling Skies, Grey's Anatomy, Hawaii Five-O, The Middle, NCIS: Los Angeles, Parenthood, Person of Interest, Raising Hope, Shameless and Southland.

So which of these series really got screwed. Many will make the case for Community, but ABC's The Middle is the most deserving of Emmy love. Its Wednesday night running mate, Modern Family, not only received a best comedy series nomination but seven acting nods as well. Hey, it's really not that much better than The Middle, whose lone nomination was for "Outstanding Makeup for a Single-Camera Series (Non-Prosthetic)." Gee, thanks a lot.

***American Idol's Ryan Seacrest received another nomination as best host of a "reality-competition" series, but his show didn't make the cut. Making it worse: NBC's rival singing competition, The Voice, was one of the six nominees.

Sullivan & Son gives TBS a drunken lout of a sitcom

Dan Lauria and Steve Byrne share a glare. TBS photo

Premiering: Thursday, July 19th at 9 p.m. (central) with back-to-back episodes on TBS
Starring: Steve Byrne, Dan Lauria, Jodi Long, Valerie Azlynn, Brian Doyle-Murray, Christine Ebersole, Vivian Bang, Owen Benjamin, Ahmed Ahmed, Roy Wood, Jr.
Produced by: Vince Vaughn, Peter Billingsley, Rob Long

The new TBS bar sitcom Sullivan & Son is to Cheers what horse droppings are to a Persian rug.

Sorry, horse droppings.

Crude, lewd and incredibly clumsy in its determination to be politically incorrect, it staggers into view Thursday night on a network that keeps insisting on billing itself as "Very Funny." Which is funny in itself, but bears no relation to S&S.

Set in Pittsburgh but filmed on a Hollywood sound stage, it strives to herald Steel City denizens as "real people" while depicting the majority of them as drunks, bigots, harpies or combinations of same. Thursday's second of back-to-episodes even includes a cock-fighting sequence and followup jokes. The Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce might want to consider tarring and feathering it. Even Don Rickles might cry fowl/foul.

Premise: Steve Sullivan (Steve Byrne), an up-and-coming Manhattan corporate lawyer, returns to Pittsburgh for a bar party celebrating his father Jack's (Dan Lauria) birthday. His snooty, creature-comforted girlfriend, Ashley (guest star Brook Lyons), is with him, turning her nose at Steve's old neighborhood while they arrive in a cab.

Irish-American Jack has owned the Sullivan & Son watering hole for years while also placating his never satisfied Korean wife, Ok Cha (Jodi Long), who still speaks in broken English. But wouldn't you know, he wants to sell and retire. And Steve instantly realizes that he really misses the old place while feeling unfulfilled as a budding vice president of a rapacious Wall Street law firm.

What's to miss?

Well, there's a braying, bigoted drunken barfly named Hank, played by Bill Murray's older brother, Brian Doyle-Murray. The latter seemingly has chewed scenery in just about every post-Saturday Night Live sitcom ever made. In S&S he gripes about "the coloreds" moving in, extolls "normal whites" and states his determination to "keep the Mexicans out" of the bar where he drinks non-stop while not always knowing where he is.

The resident "tipsy cougar" is another SNL alum -- Christine Ebersole as Hank's sister, Carol. She's also terminally wasted while on the prowl for any man who will bed her. Hank sees her as part of the family rather than a pathetic alcoholic. "I even love fishing Carol's wig out of the toilet," he tells his son.

Steve's former old neighborhood flame, Melanie (Valerie Azlynn), is a paramedic who downs a shot before responding to an emergency call.

"Turn on the siren, everyone gets outta the way," she reasons before the laff track shifts into over-drive.

Another bar regular, Ahmed (Ahmed Ahmed), is a tow truck operator who in Episode 2 continues drinking with his hapless cronies rather than respond to a call for help. Paramedic Melanie drops in to down another shot before telling Ahmed that a stranded motorist waiting for assistance was plowed into and killed. Ahmed pauses for a second or two to consider the ramifications before shrugging them off.

At episode's end -- sorry if we're giving anything away here -- he's informed that the deceased motorist in fact was waiting for a different tow truck, not Ahmed's. "Man, what a relief," he says. "The guilt was really weighing on me. Can I get a beer?"

Other denizens includes a guy who nonchalantly notes his two previous DUIs and a bigamy rap. Another desperately drinks in the S&S kitchen (the bar has temporarily been shut down by a health inspector) in order to avoid what's depicted as a fate worse than death -- helping his son with his homework.

Then there's mom, who in Episode 2 upbraids Steve for refusing to continue protection payments to the crooked health inspector. She storms out after warning him, "Oh ho, you will call. With a little bitch tone in your voice."

"Mom, you are kind of not a nice person," he replies.

"This just dawn on you?" says Ok Cha. We're mercifully spared a big climactic gong clang.

Co-produced by actor Vince Vaughn, S&S undoubtedly sets a sitcom record for constant, consummate alcohol consumption. And poor Dan Lauria, who once knew the glory of The Wonder Years, is regularly called on to fake-guffaw in the background at all of the drunken hilarity taking place.

If there's even a smidgen of a saving grace, it's Steve Byrne as the half-Irsh, half-Korean Steve. Amid all the human flotsam, he qualifies as something of an appealing character. But he's seriously out-numbered and even more or less acquiesces to back-of-the bar cockfighting after initially protesting. The guy who brought the two birds in assures the cops, "I promise we'll eat them when we're done."

Bawdy, dicey humor has its place, which is abundantly clear in the daringly superb FX comedy series Louie. But Sullivan & Son is utterly artless in its efforts to be an equal opportunity offender.

"This is not a nice neighborhood. It's not funky. It's just crappy," says Steve's soon to be ex-girlfriend.

That it is.

GRADE: D-minus

Schieffer bites back after unwittingly being used as Romney campaign attack dog

Face the Nation moderator Bob Schieffer is none too pleased about the Mitt Romney campaign using him as a rallying cry in a new political ad.

Nor should he be happy with whatever CBS station sales departments authorized the 30-second spot in which the overall slogan is Schieffer asking, "Whatever happened to hope and change?" It ran Sunday during Face the Nation, prompting a quick response from Schieffer after a commercial break.

"Obviously, I have no connection with the Romney campaign," Schieffer said on the air. "This was done without our permission. It comes as a total surprise to me, and that is that."

Actually, as he also noted Sunday, Schieffer was posing that question to President Obama's campaign manager, David Axelrod. "I wasn't stating something there. I was asking somebody else a question," he said.

It's not known how many CBS stations aired the ad, which likely was a local buy. CBS-owned CBS11 representatives so far have not returned emails asking whether the spot ran in D-FW.

Schieffer, an Austin native who grew up in Fort Worth, is an alumnus of Texas Christian University, which has its journalism school named after him. As a reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram he covered the Kennedy assassination. Schieffer also worked for Fort Worth-based WBAP-TV, now known as NBC5.

The below video has both Schieffer's comments and the ad itself.

A mesmerizing musical mystery tour opens Season 10 of PBS' History Detectives

Bob Dylan "plugged in" for first time at 1965 Newport Folk Festival and the guitar he played, according to History Detectives. PBS photos

A definitive answer may forever be blowin' in the wind.

Who in fact has the Fender Stratocaster electric guitar that Bob Dylan used during his historic July 25, 1965 performance at the Newport Folk Festival? It's the site where he "plugged in" publicly for the first time, stunning folk "purists" while supposedly being roundly booed.

PBS' History Detectives opens its 10th season (8 p.m. central on Tuesday, July 17) by concluding that the daughter of Dylan's onetime private pilot now has one of the holiest of guitar artifacts. But his lawyers now say otherwise.

Whatever the truth, this is an absorbing hour for musicologists, with the show also passing judgement on whether a Frank Zappa "collage" bought in a thrift store in fact is his artwork. There's also a lesser investigation of the authenticity of two Beatles' autographs from their 1964 stay at Miami Beach's Deauville Hotel.

A statement from Dylan's attorney, Orin Snyder, says that Dylan still has the historic guitar in his possession. However, he "did own several other Stratocaster guitars that were stolen from him around that time, as were some handwritten lyrics," according to Snyder. "In addition, Bob recalls driving to the Newport Folk Festival, along with two of his friends. Not flying."

History Detectives' rebuttal, sent to TV writers late last week, says the program "stands by its reporting of our story in which we conclude that a contributor to the show is in possession of the Fender Stratocaster played by Bob Dylan at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival . . . History Detectives welcomes the opportunity to examine the guitar which is currently in Mr. Dylan's possession."

That's not likely to happen. Dylan has never been known for playing well with others, save for his stage appearances. And at age 71, his powers of recollection may no longer be tip-top.

Dawn Peterson, the New Jersey-based daughter of deceased pilot Vic Quinto, says her late father took one of Dylan's guitars home after he left it in a plane. "I was told my father tried to get them to pick it up . . . and no one ever came," she tells History Detectives investigator Elyse Luray, who despite her relatively young age seems to have way too little knowledge of Dylan or his music.

The guitar case also included proposed lyrics for Dylan songs, purportedly penned by the man himself. Another History Detectives regular, Wes Cowan, separately investigates their legitimacy.

The guitar sleuthing first takes Luray to Rolling Stone magazine offices, whether young Dylan expert Andy Greene says it would be "a major historical find" if the guitar indeed is bona fide. But it's another Andy, guitar authenticator Andy Babiuk, who says emphatically, "That's Bob Dylan's guitar." He first takes it apart -- glad this isn't Humpty Dumpty -- before putting it back together again. Babiuk also compares wood grains to color photos of Dylan performing at Newport.

His ultimate deduction carries some weight. Babiuk also has authenticated guitars for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, including a Hummingbird used by Dylan at Bill Clinton's inauguration.

The Beatles' autograph segment, with show detective Tukufu Zuberi on the case, is marred in part by the gumshoe declaring himself a huge fun despite later admitting that he didn't know the lads did a second Ed Sullivan Show performance from Miami Beach after their famous New York City appearance. C'mon now, that's pretty basic knowledge.

At issue are a hotel room service menu supposedly signed by John Lennon and a photo of the Beatles bearing a Ringo Starr signature. Two brothers who were kids at the time, Michael and James Mischner, want to know if they're the real deals.

Far more interesting, although likely of less import to many, is Gwendolyn Wright's far-ranging investigation into the alleged Frank Zappa collage, which bears the initials "F Z." She thoroughly does her homework and footwork, which includes interviews with both Zappa's brother, Bob, and his surviving wife, Gail.

Zappa, who headed the jazz/rock and thoroughly eclectic Mothers of Invention band, has sold just a tiny fraction of the albums and CDs bought by fans of The Beatles and Dylan. But the dogged detective work by Wright is nonetheless thoroughly compelling. As is the companion information on who Zappa was and what he was up to with his avant-garde approach. Similar refresher courses accompany the Dylan and Beatles segments, although for many they aren't really needed.

History Detectives preceded all of television's latter day storage facility/pawnbroker/"picker" series in which scavengers look for big strikes. So it remains the Cadillac of the bunch, with Tuesday night's Season 10 return of more than usual interest to those for whom Dylan, The Beatles and even the Mothers were soundtracks of our youths.

GRADE: A-minus

AMC's Breaking Bad makes another brilliant strike

Breaking Bad kingpins Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston. AMC photo

Taut, chilling and measuredly paced for maximum impact, AMC's Breaking Bad very much returns to the living after the stirring Season 4-ending death of drug capo Gustavo "Gus" Fring.

He still had half a face left before picturesquely falling to his final horizontal position. And the Sunday, July 15th Season 5 season premiere (9 p.m. central) finds Gus's killer feeling his oats as Albuquerque's new lord of all he surveys.

New vistas in darkness beckon cancer-ridden, chemistry teacher turned meth cooker Walter White (Bryan Cranston). It looks as though he'll be enjoying the ride while wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) grapples with the demon he's becoming.

"It's over. We're safe," he has told her. So why does she still look so vexed?

"I am relieved, Walt," she tells him. "And scared."

"Scared of what?"


And there's the crux at the outset of a two-pronged final season that will run for eight episodes this summer and eight more the next.

Cranston and co-star Aaron Paul, who plays his shaky protege, Jesse Pinkman, have both deservedly won acting Emmys for making Breaking Bad a gritty, violent polar opposite of AMC's Mad Men. Both would now surely agree that veteran character actor Jonathan Banks, as Gus's former lieutenant, Mike Ehrmantraut, is more than ready for Emmy gold -- or whatever they're made of these days.

AMC sent the new season's first two episodes for review, and Banks flat-out commands the second one. He's never had a role of this caliber, and at last is emerging as Breaking Bad's unsung hero. Will he throw in with Walt and Jesse in their plans to build a new drug empire? Of what is he capable in the act of self-preservation?

Sample exchange: "You are a time bomb, tick tick ticking," Mike tells Walter. "And I have no intention of being around for the boom."

"Well, sleep on it," says his undeterred recruiter. "Maybe you'll reconsider."

Whatever awaits him, Mike is in full bloom this season. And creator/executive producer/writer/director Vince Gilligan deserves full credit for putting Banks in harness and letting him run for the roses. This guy can act.

First there's some other unfinished business. Episode 1 of Season 5 focuses on removing any remaining incriminating evidence after Gus's death and the destruction of the camouflaged drug lab where Walter and Jesse worked under duress as brewmeisters. A bizarre but ingenious mop-up plan is aimed at disarming Gus's impounded and heavily protected computer. Once again, Breaking Bad soars to the challenge of coming up with story ideas that elude mere mortals.

It's not at all easy to keep improving on a series that's been daringly different since Episode 1 of Season 1. But Gilligan and company keep on pushing Breaking Bad to new highs.

"There's no denying the popularity of our product," Walter says with the assurance of an increasingly bad ass junk dealer with a market to satisfy. As Season 5 unfolds, hitting new lows is now just the cost of doing business.


USA's Political Animals strives to be a drama, emerges as laughing hyena

Sigourney Weaver as secretary of state with her philandering ex-president hubby & two sons, one engaged, the other gay. USA photos

Premiering: Sunday, July 15th at 9 p.m. (central) on USA
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Ciaran Hinds, Adrian Pasdar, James Wolk, Carla Gugino, Ellen Burstyn, Sebastian Stan, Brittany Ishibashi
Produced by: Greg Berlanti, Laurence Mark

The Kennedys have been lionized and scandalized in virtually every way imaginable at this point. So why not take the Clintons for a small-screen spin?

USA's new six-part "limited series event," Political Animals, basically re-imagines Bill and Hill in the form of philandering former president Bud Holland (Ciaran Hinds) and his ex-wife, Elaine Barrish (Sigourney Weaver). She's now secretary of state after running unsuccessfully to become the first woman commander-in-chief.

Sunday's 90-minute premiere makes for an unintended hoot, both ridiculous and often ridiculously watchable. There's also some very bad taste in play, as when Bud/Bill tells Elaine/Hill, "I am the most popular Democrat since Kennedy had his brains spattered across the Dallas concrete. Baby, I am the meat in the Big Mac of this party."

Those critics who have been railing against Aaron Sorkin's The News Room for its babble and inconsistencies might now want to turn their fire on Political Animals' depiction of high-level politics. This is a series in which Elaine and the man who bested her to become president (Adrian Pasdar as Paul Garcetti) suggestively shake their booties together at a big outdoor campaign event.

It's also a series in which a Russian diplomat/womanizer named Victor openly grabs Elaine's behind during a press conference. She then reams him out offstage, first in English: "The next time you touch me, I'm gonna rip off your tiny shriveled balls and serve them to you in a cold borscht soup." Then in Russian with subtitles: "I will f*** your shit up."

HBO's Veep, a flat-out comedy, perhaps can get away with this stuff. But Political Animals is very much meant to be a drama. An Iranian hostage-taking and a covered-up attempted suicide by Elaine's gay, coke-addicted son, T.J. (Sebastian Stan), are mixed in with a bulimia subplot involving the Asian fiancee of older son Douglas (James Wolk rebounding from the lead role in Fox's exceedingly short-lived Lone Star).

Then again, there's also time for a super-bosomy soap star named Eva Flores (Lucila Soto) to hop aboard Bud for an orgasmic "Yes, Mr. President!" To say that Political Animals is all over the place is like saying that Christopher Columbus got around. Both are understatements. But is all of this so bad it's good? You can make that case, too.

It all begins with an elongated, clumsy set-up in which actors badly play MSNBC reporters. It's the day of Elaine's exit from the presidential race after her losing battle against Garcetti. "She's been called everything, from a feminist liberal icon to an opportunistic closet conservative," viewers are told.

After bucking up her supporters, Elaine leaves the stage stone-faced before telling Bud, "I hate campaigning. It's an Olympic sport in hypocrisy."

The jowly Irish actor playing Bud might be familiar to some viewers as Julius Caesar from the HBO series Rome. But in this case he looks like a younger Barry Corbin trying to pull off a Mafia don with a Southern twang. Bud and Elaine are still married at this point, but she can't convince him to throw his support to Garcetti in hopes of getting a high-level administration post down the road.

"I don't eat shit. I serve it," he declares during the course of setting a modern-day USA network record for use of the word "shit."

Fed up with his philandering and his 'tude, Elaine demands a divorce before a sassy soul song kicks in with the refrain, "I ain't nobody's baby. Get yourself a new one." Two years later, she's the divorced secretary of state.

Political Animals also deploys the ever capable Ellen Burstyn as family matriarch Margaret, a boozer with a bruising tongue. "You must give one helluva hummer, lady," she tells Washington Globe investigative reporter Susan Berg (the well-traveled Carlo Gugino), who has traded up-close access to Elaine for a promise to keep T.J.'s suicide attempt under wraps. She also sleeps with her editor, and has previously railed against Elaine for enduring a 30-year marriage to an openly aggressive pussy hound on whom she still relies at crunch times.

Weaver, in her first TV series, sports a stern mannish visage that doesn't quite merit the repeated references to her as a still hot babe. Perhaps she's just clenching at some of the clunky lines given to her and others. As when the president carps during their signature scene together, "I go on TV to try to communicate a vision and America collectively turns me off to watch drunk housewives and singing competitions."

Poor baby. Oldest son Douglas, a key advisor to his mom, gets a howler, too. It goes like this, "If the American people really knew how this government ran, there would be one big collective upchuck the size of which FEMA would have to clean up."

Weaver's mostly indomitable Elaine later is called on to tearfully upbraid reporter Susan, who in the world of Political Animals is something of an upstanding crusading journalist compared to her devious amoral colleague, Georgia Gibbons.

"He was the first openly gay child of a president," Elaine says of T.J. while turning on the waterworks. "You will never know the vitriol, the evil he suffered when he came out against his will as a boy in the White House." Followed by the obligatory and climactic -- wait for it -- "NOW GET THE HELL OUT!!!"

Political Animals, does not, however, commit the cardinal sin of being boring. Its big pile of over-the-top twists, turns and excesses can be mmm mmm delish. And Ciaran Hinds eventually reaches the point of being a welcome scene-stealer, whether beckoning his ex- with a "C'mere, Sugah" or eying a lush future conquest before asking an underling, "Who is that gorgeous piece of tail at the bar?"

It's easy to envision the real Bill Clinton thoroughly enjoying this romp while pawing away at a tub of popcorn. Not in Hillary's company, of course. That wouldn't be nearly as much fun -- for either of them.


TNT's Perception is prime-time's latest crime-bender

Eric McCormack plays a crime-solving schizophrenic in Perception. TNT photo

Premiering: Monday, July 9th at 9 p.m. (central) on TNT
Starring: Eric McCormack, Rachael Leigh Cook, Arjay Smith, Kelly Rowan
Produced by: Ken Biller, Mike Sussman

TNT's string of fair to fairly good drama series continues with Perception, Eric McCormack's latest effort to make viewers see him in a new light after his eight seasons on Will & Grace.

McCormack tried and failed once before on TNT with 2009's Trust Me, in which he played a Chicago-based advertising executive. Now he's returned to the Windy City as a paranoid schizophrenic neuroscience college professor who of course proves to be handy at solving crimes.

Today's over-stuffed corpse 'n' carry market demands much more than a straight-ahead Joe Friday to figure out whodunit and why. You almost have to have some sort of disorder or weird power. That or be based in picturesque Hawaii.

McCormack's character, Dr. Daniel Pierce, is first seen teaching a batch of college kids at an unnamed Chicago university that apparently isn't big on background checks. His first words to them: "What is reality?" And before dismissal: "If what we perceive is often wrong, how can we ever know what's real -- and what isn't?"

Daniel is reasonably sure, however, that the buxom student with the up-front "Stimulus Package" t-shirt is not one of his hallucinations. This has nothing to do with the opening murder case at hand, but does end up being a pretty lame kicker near episode's end.

After class, the prof is re-visited by FBI agent Kate Moretti (Rachael Lee Cook), a former student with whom he used to piece together murder mysteries until she got transferred out of town. So they team up anew -- just like that. The dead body under discussion had his skull fractured via numerous blows from a blunt instrument. His widow has already confessed to taking him out, but Kate thinks the real killer(s) is still out there. Presto, so does Daniel after he quickly determines that she's suffering from a mental disorder.

Perception also includes an obligatory joke at the expense of the hapless Chicago Cubs while at the same time showing how little the producers apparently know about baseball. Daniel is watching what's referred to as a "spring training" game on TV with his best friend, Natalie Vincent (Kelly Rowan).

Spring training? Wrigley Field's famed ivy-covered outfield wall is visible on-screen as an unidentified Cub hits a home run into the "basket" bordering the bleacher section. But the Cubs didn't schedule any 2012 spring training games at Wrigley. They were all played in either Arizona or Nevada. "Rationality is over-rated, particularly when you're a Cubs fan," Daniel deduces before the team inevitably blows the game. Maybe so, but you've got to at least get the basics right. It makes one wonder whether the various mind impairments tossed around are also pretty much figments.

One other supporting character, Max Lewicki (Arjay Smith), is a young African-American teaching assistant who also keeps tabs on Daniel's behavior. This basically requires him to be the prof's manservant, making sure he eats nutritiously and has the requested classical music available for those imaginary orchestra conducting interludes. LeVar Burton will have a recurring role as university dean Paul Haley. He pops in for a throwaway scene in the premiere episode. Some might have a hard time recognizing him.

McCormack, in designer stubble, is no better than ordinary in the lead role. Nor are the cases at hand all that compelling, either in the July 9th premiere or in a subsequent episode built around a rapist/killer who strikes again 26 years after his last known crime.

The series also tries to impart the overall message that being a little or a lot mentally unhinged isn't always a bad thing. Which can be true. But Perception goes about all of this in less than absorbing fashion and with largely non-descript scripts. Pay it no mind and you won't be missing all that much.