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Latest Kennedy assassination rewind retains a firm grip

JFK and Jackie at Dallas' Love Field before the fatal motorcade.

Here we go again. Not that we shouldn't.

National Geographic Channel's The Lost JFK Tapes: The Assassination is the latest anniversary-tied re-telling of that very dark day in Dallas.

Premiering one day removed from the 46th anniversary of President Kennedy's last day, it's two hours shorter than History Channel's two-part, four-hour JFK: 3 Shots That Changed America, which aired in early October as part of that network's "Kennedy DeClassified Week."

Lost JFK Tapes (8 p.m. central Monday) is more closely tied to local TV coverage, with WFAA8 getting the lion's share of exposure. Program director Jay Watson once again is center stage, exhaling a cloud of cigarette smoke before interviewing the soon-to-be-famous Abraham Zapruder live in the station's studios.

WFAA8 news director Bob Walker, who died on July 7 of this year, is more than a bit player this time, though. He has a phone at each ear during one evocative live shot.

Later in the film, Walker looks irked when an unidentified WFAA8 underling comes on camera to quietly deliver the news that Jack Ruby reportedly is the shooter of Lee Harvey Oswald. Walker impulsively covers a desk top microphone with his hand, apparently worried that the man might not know what he's talking about. But he did, of course.

Lost JFK Tapes, compiled in cooperation with The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, includes faulty reporting as well. As during 3 Shots That Changed America, KRLD-TV reporter Bob Huffaker repeatedly refers to Oswald as "Lee Harold Oswald," unable to get the name right even during the minutes after Ruby killed him. Another unidentified reporter twice calls him "Harvey Lee Oswald" well after he had been arrested and correctly identified by police.

Most jarring of all, though, is a local TV reporter (again off-camera and unidentified) telling viewers, "The report is that the attempted assassins, we now hear it was a man and a woman who fired the shots were on the ledge of a building near the Houston Street underpass."

Lost Tapes -- even if the title's a misnomer -- recounts the tragedy in chronological order without narration. Watson, who died in 2001, is clearly local television's man of the hour as the story unfolds at a rapid clip. Eyewitnesses and station staffers, including Jerry "Mr. Peppermint" Haynes, are paraded in and out while Watson smokes, commiserates, tries to stay composed and at one point tells viewers, "We are ashamed at the moment. We are stunned."

For younger and older generations alike, it's a story that will never lose its power. Transfixing, horrific, heart-breaking and irreversible.

GRADE: A-minus

Sarah and Oprah -- not really worth bookmarking

Sarah and Oprah meet in the talk queen's center ring. Photo: Ed Bark

Was that it?

Sarah Palin's maiden TV appearance in support of Going Rogue -- "Already a bestseller," her host parroted thrice -- came and went without much pop and crackle. But Oprah Winfrey did let loose with a little "woo hoo" as her "Big Get" guest bounded onstage to applause Monday afternoon (at 4 p.m. on WFAA8 in D-FW).

Winfrey's initial questions were about her favorite subject -- herself. Did Palin feel "snubbed" by The Oprah Winfrey Show after the Queen of Talk very publicly endorsed Barack Obama before deciding against inviting any of the candidates to chat with her?

"No offense to you, but it wasn't the center of my universe" at the time, Palin said, prompting Winfrey to look just a bit taken aback before quickly recovering.

The host had a copiously bookmarked copy of Going Rogue in her lap, at times reading from it verbatim. Palin, almost constantly smiling, often answered questions in a semi-shout, saving her sharpest darts not for her campaign handlers or David Letterman, but for Katie Couric.

Couric's late September, 2008 interviews with Palin found the Republican vice presidential candidate seemingly ill-prepared to answer the most basic of questions. Palin acknowledged not being at her best, but said she had expected more of a "lighthearted interview" focusing on her family dynamics.

That's insulting in itself, as if a woman couldn't be expected to ask issue-oriented manly questions. She eventually became annoyed with Couric's "badgering."

"Her agenda was to not necessarily show me in the best light," Palin said, contending that opponent Joe Biden's mistakes were "ignored" during his earlier interview with Couric.

Palin also unleashed the one word Couric still despises the most -- perky. As in, "We had just come off this amazing rally, and there's the perky one again, with the microphone."

Couric also allegedly "asked me 12 different times my position on abortion and the 'morning after' pill . . . I gave my answer and she asked it again."

Asked Monday evening if Couric would have any response, a CBS News spokesperson said via email, "Nope."

"The interviews speak for themselves," the spokesperson said.

Winfrey also inevitably asked Palin about Levi Johnston, former fiancee of her daughter, Bristol, and father of their child, Tripp. He's lately been on a seemingly endless media tour, trashing the Palin family while also promoting his upcoming appearance in Playgirl magazine.

"I call it porn," said Sarah Palin. But "I continue to hope for the best and pray for Levi."

The host kept asking whether Johnston would be invited to Thanksgiving dinner. Palin finally extended an open invitation, but said she doubted he'd find the time. A question about her 2012 presidential ambitions was easily deflected. "It's not on my radar screen right now," Palin said.

Down the homestretch, viewers also were shown homey authorized pictures and video of the Palin family celebrating Halloween. The studio audience "awwwed" on occasion and giggled at the kids' costumes. Palin ended the program by praising Winfrey as an inspiration to her when she had more time to watch Oprah as a younger woman.

"Thank you for saying that," Winfrey replied before they clasped hands once more to the tune of the host's final "Already a bestseller."

Palin likely will face a tougher adversary in Barbara Walters, who begins a series of interviews with the former Alaska governor on Tuesday's Good Morning America.

The Winfrey interview had its moments, but too few of them. Among the questions never asked:

What is your current relationship with John McCain? When did you last speak with him?

Are you enjoying David Letterman's current travails at least just a little?

Is Barack Obama doing anything right as president?

In other words, Oprah Winfrey is no Katie Couric. Otherwise Sarah Palin wouldn't have been there in the first place.

Take a number: AMC's The Prisoner strives to be six hours that count

"Two" plus "Six" equals AMC's three-night re-do of The Prisoner.

Premiering: Sunday, Nov. 15th at 7 p.m. (central) on AMC and continuing at the same time Monday and Tuesday
Starring; Ian McKellen, Jim Caviezel, Hayley Atwell, Ruth Wilson, Lennie James, Rachael Blake, Jamie Campbell Bower
Produced by: Bill Gallagher, Michele Buck, Damien Timmer, Rebecca Keane

The only cells deployed in The Prisoner are your brain's. And they'll be taxed to the max.

AMC's "reinterpretation" of the fabled 1967 original -- "reimagining" is for sissies -- fittingly supplants Mad Men with the complex tale of a man who fears being driven mad.

Six, as ordained by his seeming captors, is played by Jim (Jesus) Cavaziel, who could use a reinvention after all that exposure in The Passion of the Christ. Ian McKellen, splendid in anything he takes on, is the white-clad overseer of The Village. He goes by the name of Two, and should not be confused with Fantasy Island's Mr. Roarke.

The original Prisoner series, with the late Patrick McGoohan as Six and multiple actors playing Two, ended open-ended without any resolution. AMC's six-hour version, spread out over three consecutive nights, ties up the story without gift-wrapping it. In late 1960s vernacular, it's a mindbender. And having seen it all, I don't pretend to entirely grasp everything or maybe even much of anything. But that's what multiple viewings and Internet chat rooms are for. Lost, anybody?

Sunday's opener finds Six in a desert, where he sees an old, bearded man being chased and shot at. "Go to 554," says the dying man, who turns out to be 93. As for 554, she's a waitress who's afraid to say much.

Six, who despises his numerical designation, has frequent flashbacks to New York, where he worked for a data gathering monolith known as Summakor. The Prisoner slowly unveils layers of his one-night relationship with Lucy (Hayley Atwell), a fellow employee who now distrusts Summakor while Six likewise has doubts about her.

"I want to get back to New York," Six demands in his first meeting with Two.

"That's not possible," he's told. "There is no New York. There's only The Village."

Other key players are Two's pill-fed, oft-comatose wife, M2 (Rachael Blake); their rebellious teen or twentysomething son 11-12 (Jamie Campbell Bower); and a doctor known as 313 (Ruth Wilson). Like Six, she's a "Dreamer" who's highly discouraged from doing that.

Six regularly returns to the desert, hoping to find a way out. But desolation stretches on and on while The Village has cute little triangular abodes of a uniform look.

"There is no out. There is only in," Two assures Six, who only once spouts the original Prisoner's trademark tagline -- "I am not a number! I am a free man!"

Following along seems impossible at times. But The Prisoner has the power to yank your chain while also pulling you in. Its urgent theme music sling-shots the pulse, or at least ups it a few ticks. And McKellen is ever-fascinating in his role as benevolent dictator, despotic overlord or something else entirely.

Near the end, in Hour 5, Two opines that "the mind is capable of anything because everything is in it."

Well said, old chap. The Prisoner, written by co-executive producer Bill Gallagher, is proof that the mind can wander as well. It's a challenge to stay fixated on words, nuances, metaphors, pieces of the puzzle, etc. Six longs to escape, but this isn't escapist fare.

Hang in there, though, and you'll be treated to three Beach Boys tunes cast in different lights. Playing The Prisoner off is "I Know There's An Answer," from the classic Pet Sounds album. As the final credits roll, viewers are left to ponder the significance of, "I know so many people who think they can do it alone. They isolate their heads and stay in their safety zones."

"God Only Knows" -- a Beach Boys selection in Hour 5 -- exactly what that all means. But devotees of the original Prisoner have spent decades trying to decipher it. So welcome to the club -- which is a bit more inclusive this time.


Apocalypse -- not now but then

World War II isn't exactly under-exposed. So it's hard to know how much of Smithsonian Channel's six-hour Apocalypse lives up to claims that most of its footage is hardly same-old, same-old.

"The footage deemed 'unfit' for civilians to see. Until now," publicity materials crow. " 'Top Secret' footage rediscovered, declassified and restored in full-color high definition."

The "full-color" in fact is pretty washed out, at least in the two episodes sent for review. And that's probably for the better, given some of the stark images presented.

Narrated by Martin Sheen, Apocalypse fittingly begins on Veteran's Day (Wednesday, Nov. 11th) and continues for five successive nights at 7 p.m. central.

"The series will forever change the way we look at the Second World War," Smithsonian Channel says. "This was not the stock newsreel or propaganda footage that the world had become all too familiar with seeing. This was provocative footage filmed by those who witnessed the war first-hand."

Hour 1, subtitled "Aggression," begins in Berlin, 1945 before quickly tracing Adolf Hitler's rise to power. Hour 3 ("Shock"), also sent for review, is starker and more powerful in its footage of the Nazi Army's march toward Moscow in conditions ranging from dusty/bumpy to impossibly muddy to brutally cold. This footage, taken by soldiers using 8mm cameras, is legitimately jaw-dropping at times. As is the brutality of the German Army toward Soviet Jews and others.

The script read by Sheen can be a bit pedestrian at times. But the pictures often are anything but. In Wednesday's opener, we see both children and horses being outfitted with gas masks. And Hour 3 brings the truly incredible sight of white-clad Siberians attacking the Nazis on their skis.

Hitler is caught in closeup throughout, as are Nazi higher-ups who seem to look even more evil. The devastation and delusion are ever-present, with body counts in the hundreds and hundreds of thousands.

Apocalypse is starkly powerful in its linear depiction of World War II's horrors and jarring forms of humanity. Early in Hour 3, Nazis aboard their U-boats can be seen tossing scraps of bread to enemy soldiers on life rafts after they abandoned their sunken ships.

Almost all were doomed to die from starvation or the elements, narrator Sheen notes. And the Germans weren't about to save them.


Yanks-Phils highest-rated Series in five years

Parade rest: Yankees and fans celebrate 2009 World Series win.

The final national Nielsen ratings are in for the 2009 World Series, which drew the biggest audiences since the Boston Red Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004.

The New York Yankees' 6-game triumph over the Philadelphia Phillies averaged 19.4 million viewers nationally after last fall's rain-soaked Phils-Rays 5-gamer hit an all-time low with 13.6 million viewers.

The Red Sox-Cardinals Series, following Boston's dramatic ALCS comeback against the Yanks, averaged a much heftier 25.4 million viewers. But Fox isn't complaining after getting the first 6-game Series since the Florida Marlins beat the Yankees in 2003.

This was Fox's 10th consecutive year of World Series telecasts, and the fourth highest-rated during that period. Since 1973, when Nielsen Media Research began measuring total viewer ratings, the highest-rated Series is 1978's 6-game faceoff on NBC between the victorious Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers. That one averaged 44.3 million viewers.

Minority report: Lopez, Sykes gear up for after-hours

Coloring in Wanda Sykes and George Lopez. Fox/TBS photos

Is late night TV ready for a new color scheme?

George Lopez, Wanda Sykes and their respective networks are primed to find out.

Fox's The Wanda Sykes Show, which supplants the long-running MADtv, launches Saturday, Nov. 7th at 10 p.m. central with announced guests Mary Lynn Rajskub, Daryl "Chill" Mitchell and Phil Keoghan.

TBS cable's Lopez Tonight, the first after-hours talker in the network's history, premieres Monday, Nov. 9th at 10 p.m. central with Ellen DeGeneres, Eva Longoria-Paker and Kobe Bryant in the house.

In teleconferences with TV critics, it's clear that Lopez intends to accentuate diversity while the openly gay Sykes is more inclined to keep it a bit on the down low.

"I've watched Jay Leno," Lopez says. "The only Latino I've seen on that show was a spoof that he did with a guy from the Dan Band at a car wash. That's not the intent of this show . . . You see a one-sided approach from the white side. This is coming from somebody who -- hey, I was born in the United States. I'm not an illegal alien. And I am the epitome of the American dream. The American dream is not just for somebody who's white. It's for everybody."

Sykes, who's appeared regularly on two predominantly white shows -- HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm and CBS' The New Adventures of Old Christine -- says that all talk shows are "driven by the host."

"Yes, George is a minority, and so am I. But it's basically not what you're getting from a minority. It's us. George has been at this for 20-plus years, and so have I. We're seasoned comedians and that's what we're going to bring to it . . . It's going to be more our personality and not just 'Oh, now you're finally going to get the voice of a black woman.' "

Lopez will be getting far more exposure. His show runs Mondays through Thursdays while Sykes is doing a one-night stand each week.

She plans to open with a monologue, feature a few pre-taped comedy sketches and then settle in for a panel discussion with her guests. Sykes also will have a sidekick, Keith Robinson, a longtime friend who used to be regular participant on Comedy Central's Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn series.

The panel portion will be similar in format to Bill Maher's freewheeler on his HBO Real Time show, but "not as confrontational," says Sykes. "It's like mingling, but of course they will be opinionated. We can sit down, have a drink and laugh about it."

She literally means "have a drink."

"I will probably start out out with a little vodka and club soda, yes. If you spill it, you won't have a problem with the wardrobe. And then there will be the after-show drink. If we have a great show I'll probably do a couple shots of Patron. Actually, you know what? If the show doesn't go well, then I'll have more shots of Patron."

Promotions for Lopez Tonight have promised a party atmosphere, a different vibe and no conventional desk for the host. He also hopes to draw a younger audience in league with the demographic makeup for The Arsenio Hall Show, which had a five-year run that ended in 1994. Lopez appeared more than any other guest on Arsenio. And Hall is one of his early bookings, according to TBS publicity materials.

"Being of a different ethnicity and a different comedic approach, I don't think we're going after the same audience" as rival late night shows, Lopez says. "I don't think there's an African-American audience or a Latino audience that's watching Conan O'Brien that he has to worry about me taking."

He emphasizes, however, that "I've crossed over and I don't want to be divisive. I want to be inclusive . . . And there is no shame in failing as long as you tried the best that you can. That's all I will do. If this show doesn't succeed, I don't think that it hurts me."

Both late nighters are scheduled opposite local newscasts, with Sykes getting a half-hour head start on NBC's Saturday Night Live and Lopez doing likewise with NBC's Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien and CBS' Late Show With David Letterman.

The announced guest list in the early stages of Lopez Tonight rivals those of either Tonight or Late Show. Post-opening night, he's already booked Jamie Foxx, Sandra Bullock, Ray Romano, Charlie Sheen, Queen Latifah, Ted Danson, Larry David, Marc Anthony, Oscar de la Hoya, Kelly Osbourne and Kathy Griffin among others.

"I don't want it to become a home for Jon and Kate (Gosselin) discussions," Lopez says. "I'm tired of that (crap). I wish they would go away. We'd like to keep it more legitimate with real celebrities and just a more eclectic mix of color than what you might necessarily see in late night currently."

Sykes says her opening monologue likely will be on President Obama (who as a candidate did a promo for Lopez's show) and how "everybody's picking on him. It's been only a year since he's been elected and it seems like the man can't do anything right. Everything he does, people find fault with him. I'll talk about that."

She hopes to book future guests such as Chris Rock and Jane Fonda. "And if I can track down Dave Chappelle, I'll get him to come by."

As a foil and punching bag, Sykes says she'd welcome Fox News Channel personality Glenn Beck.

"But to me," she adds, "interviewing Glenn Beck would be like interviewing Forrest Gump. They're not even real people."

Lopez doesn't particularly care who he offends either.

"I'm somebody who's not afraid to throw a punch and directly hit a target. Somebody who's not afraid of retribution," he says.

So ready or not, here they come to a late night screen near you. How they fare is a story for another day.

Peacock plucked again

The NBC chimes played taps for the Peacock in latest ratings week.

Life without pro football may not be worth living for NBC.

Absent the NFL, which took Sunday night off in deference to the World Series, the network of the cowed Peacock registered what appears to be an all-time regular season low in total viewers.

For the week of Oct. 26 to Nov. 1, NBC averaged just 5.59 million viewers nationally in prime-time, according to Nielsen Media Research.

To put that in perspective, the still ratings-starved CBS Evening News with Katie Couric outdrew NBC with an average of 5.88 million viewers in that same week.

NBC's average prime-time program had a substantial 3.86 million fewer viewers than third-place ABC's.

Runnerup CBS drew 4.25 million more viewers than the Peacock despite resorting to reruns of most of its popular crime hours and Monday night comedies.

Fox, buoyed by the first four games of the World Series, averaged a league-leading 14.68 million viewers, 9.09 million more than NBC.

After all the dust had cleared, the lowly CW network finished closer to NBC than NBC did to ABC, CBS or Fox. The margin between the Peacock and CW was 3.35 million viewers. And the Spanish language network Univision came within 2.34 million viewers of NBC.

Fourth-place NBC will return to a semblance of prosperity at the end of this week with a high-powered Sunday Night Football game between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles. But it won't have football after December. And the Winter Olympics, which NBC will showcase in February, are only a once-in-four-years band-aid.

NBC symbolically drew the most viewers last week with The Biggest Loser, which ranked 24th in the prime-time standings with 9.67 million viewers. In contrast, a repeat of CBS' NCIS had 16.70 million viewers.

The Peacock's last hour of prime-time continues to be dragged down by The Jay Leno Show. Whatever its cost-efficiency, it's punching late night NBC local newscasts in the gut with night after night of bargain-basement lead-in audiences.

Leno's most-watched show last week, the Tuesday edition, drew 6.06 million viewers to finish 54th behind even NBC's terminally ratings-challenged 30 Rock. Three of the five Leno hours drew fewer than 5 million viewers, with Thursday's edition bottoming out in 77th place with 4.41 million viewers.

These are all problems of NBC's making. Its brain trust pushed Leno out of his successful Tonight Show perch and replaced him with Conan O'Brien, who now is getting drubbed in total viewers by CBS' resurgent David Letterman.

So how can NBC undo the damage? Perhaps only by being bought, with Comcast the most likely rumored purchaser. Its executives could come in, clean house and restore Leno to the Tonight Show, where he's recently expressed a willingness to return if asked. At the same time it will have to re-program the 9 p.m. (central) hour with scripted dramas in hopes that one or more of them will be a reasonable facsimile of the next ER.

For now, though, and likely for the rest of the 2009-10 TV season, NBC can thank its lucky stars for Sunday Night Football while waiting for the roof to cave in after a brief respite with the Winter Olympics. It's a helluva way to run a network, and NBC's rivals still can't believe their good fortune.

ABC's V "re-imagines" NBC original -- but with flair

Women of V: terrorist hunter Erica Evans and alien Anna.

Premiering: Tuesday, Nov. 3rd at 7 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Elizabeth Mitchell, Morena Baccarin, Joel Gretsch, Scott Wolf, Morris Chestnut, Logan Huffman, Lourdes Benedict, Laura Vandervoort
Produced by: Scott Peters, Jeffrey Bell, Steve Pearlman, Jace Hall

You've doubtlessly seen her pale, fraudulent face, showpiece of an eye-catching ABC promotional campaign heralding the arrival of fall's last new series.

"We are of peace -- always," says Anna the alien, whose big plans for earthlings include sharing advanced technology, "complete medical services to all" and a restoration of hope during down-spiraling times.

Such is ABC's "re-imagining" of the 1983 NBC miniseries V, which morphed into a short-lived series. The new version bears the same title and premise. But a generation later, it easily could be seen by some -- Fox News Channel, Rush Limbaugh, Joe the Plumber -- as an arrival from on high of a charismatic, duplicitous candidate who has become President Barack Obama.

"The world's in bad shape, Father," a skeptical priest named Jack (Joel Gretsch) tells his church's elderly pastor. "Who wouldn't welcome a savior right now?"

One can only take these allegories so far, though. And when you get right down to it, V then as now is about a clandestine master plan by camouflaged, lizard-skinned "Visitors" to take over Earth after wiping out its inhabitants.

ABC, which already has Lost and the new FlashForward, again is asking viewers to buy into the mythology and invest in a serial drama that demands a good deal of devotion. Miss an episode or two and you might find yourself at sea. CBS takes an opposite tack with its battalion of hit "procedural" crime hours. Miss one on occasion and it doesn't matter all that much. Most of the wrongdoing doesn't carry over, allowing a fan to puzzle out a brand new crime each week.

It's too early to tell whether V will have any heavy-duty hooking power. But Tuesday's premiere is mostly mighty impressive, particularly its special effects. This is what high-definition, wide-screen TV is all about. The better to wow you with those monster space ships hovering menacingly over 29 major cities, including V's main locale of New York.

Viewers first are asked three printed questions:

"Where were you when JFK was assassinated?"

"Where were you on 9/11?"

"Where were you this morning?"

Then the tremors start, startling FBI counter-terrorist agent Erica Evans (former Dallasite and Booker T. Washington grad Elizabeth Mitchell from Lost), whose rebellious son, Tyler (Logan Huffman) is her first concern.

The vibrating escalates, toppling a big church cross and sending a plane spinning out of control. Finally comes Anna (Morena Baccarin), whose giant image towers above the awe-stricken populaces.

"We're truly anguished by the turmoil our arrival has caused," she says before introducing herself as "the leader of my people." In return for water and other essentials, Anna promises futuristic technology for the masses. Then comes the tagline: "Until then, we are of peace -- always."

V doesn't dawdle. Anna quickly visits the U.N., and settles on a malleable male mannequin news anchor (Scott Wolf as Chad Decker) as an easy conduit. His first question to her -- "Is there such a thing as an ugly Visitor?" -- convinces Anna that this guy is much more Mark Steines than Mike Wallace.

Three weeks later, Decker is told that he's the one and only choice for a worldwide exclusive interview with Anna. Questions of a "negative" nature are taboo, though. After a few seconds of surface soul-searching, their boy's on board.

Two of the premiere episode's featured characters turn out to be not as they initially seem. But ABC has asked for secrecy on this front, and of course that's only fair.

By hour's end, though, you'll clearly know the good guys from the bad ones. V now will have to keep its ball rolling without resorting to a predictable barrage of weekly shoot 'em ups between "freedom fighters" and the alien menaces among them.

ABC's current plan is to air four episodes during the ongoing November "sweeps" ratings period before putting V on hiatus until March. The network supposedly doesn't want to go against NBC's telecasts of the Winter Olympics for one. There also are reports of a "creative" revamp intended to short-circuit those Obama comparisons.

Whatever its fate and intentions, V at least is off to a flying start. Now all that's needed is for viewers to hover over it.


Barry Levinson's Poliwood has less depth than plywood

Barry Levinson directs and pontificates in Poliwood. Showtime photo

This much is clear about Barry Levinson's disappointing Poliwood. In his autumn years, the accomplished director (Rain Man, Avalon, Diner) likes to hear himself talk and be seen doing it.

His 90-minute documentary about the convergence of Hollywood, politics and television is otherwise dubbed a "Barry Levinson Film Essay." Undisciplined, disjointed, and rarely revelatory, it premieres on Monday, Nov. 2nd at 6:30 p.m. (central) on Showtime and will be repeated and available On Demand.

"I don't think anyone would realize the profound changes that television would bring about," Levinson says in his opening narrative thesis. He ends up concluding that TV "may be the most disastrous invention that ever happened in the history of mankind." No, that would be texting.

It's apparently just dawning on Levinson that television tends to polarize and trivialize politics. And that the national party conventions are choreographed from start to finish. Wow, who knew?

He journeys to both of the 2008 party gatherings with members of Hollywood's so-called "non-partisan" Creative Coalition. The film also bounces back and forth among other venues, including President Obama's inaugural gala and his nomination speech. Its overall structure is akin to a two-year-old constructing his first Lego masterpiece. In other words, a jumble.

Insights are mostly either obvious or overstated, many of them from Levinson himself talking to the camera in grainy black-and-white or telling an actor or actress what he thinks. Sometimes he'll listen, too, as when a blowhard at the Republican convention in Minneapolis says, "This is all about selling commercial time. It's a TV show. Might as well be watchin' Baywatch."

Never mind that the Big Four broadcast networks would just as soon not televise the conventions at all. They're expensive, get mostly lousy ratings and have long been whittled down from gavel-to-gavel to an hour or so of coverage per night.

One of Levinson's Creative Coalition subjects is actor Tim Daly, who also happens to be one of the film's producers. Therefore he's heavily interspersed throughout the film, cast as an earnest truth-seeker who climactically speaks at length about himself as a man of humble origins who may have a gardener now but worked at a number of menial jobs before striking it rich.

Other celebs making more than cameo appearances include Susan Sarandon, Ellen Burstyn, Matthew Modine, Spike Lee, Anne Hathaway, Josh Lucas, Graham Nash and David Crosby, who tells Levinson that his dad was the cinematographer on the classic 1952 film High Noon before being blacklisted by Hollywood.

Levinson is overtly chummy with his many of his interview subjects. They in turn must listen to his discourses, which include, "All of this information is flying around certain truths, which are not truths -- become the truth."

He's again talking about television, without which Poliwood basically would be seen by no one. Shame on you, TV. Now go sit in the corner.

GRADE: C-minus

24 begins countdown to Season 8

Jack Bauer a doting grandpop? This obviously can't go well for him, unless the kid enjoys Gymboree with live weaponry.

Season 8 of Fox's 24 begins on Jan. 17th with the traditional two-hour launch. Allison Taylor is still president and the action begins in NYC. Until then, here's the first official slam-bang trailer.
Ed Bark