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New series review: Farmer Wants a Wife (The CW)

Farmer Matt's suitors include Dallas-bred Brooke, cradling big pail.

Premiering: Wednesday, April 30th at 8 p.m. (central) on The CW
Starring: Missouri farmer Matt and 10 citified milk-diggers, including nanny Brooke from Dallas
Produced by: Adam Cohen, Cara Tapper, Joanna Vernetti

Here's the poop: Hard-bodied hayseed hankers for a busty city chick in coop.

That's the long and short of The CW's Farmer Wants a Wife, which could be called The Bachelor Meets Green Acres if it were that good. Which means it's pretty bad.

Premiering Wednesday opposite American Idol, this new reality dollop is a tribute to both bad scheduling and worse execution.

Strapping Farmer Matt, first seen bare-chested on a tractor, turns out to be all biceps, no charisma. Not that his 10 city suitors aren't immediately ready for assorted rolls in the hay.

"I'm realizing that this person does not have a shirt on," says Christa, 22, of New York. "Immediately I am turned on."

"I wanted to jump on that tractor," adds Kanisha, 25, of Ontario, CA.

Farmer Matt, 29, presides over a nice-sized spread in rural Portage Des Sioux, Missouri. Although handsome and built like a Chippendale's dancer, he just can't seem to corral a wife. Nearby eligible women are either marrying their high school sweethearts or blowing town in search of something better, Farmer Matt laments.

Meanwhile, in America's sinister urban locales, women supposedly are being jilted left and right by the no-good opposite sex.

"Men are shady," says Ashley, 27, of Chicago. So she's looking for a man who'll treat her right and also look good astride a tractor.

Another would-be butter churner is Brooke, 22, of Dallas, a Texas Christian University grad who since has migrated to Huntington Beach, CA. CW press materials say she's a marketing representative, but on the show Brooke says she's a nanny.

Brooke quickly positions herself as a virginal perfect match for Matt. Living on a farm would be hard work, she admits. "But if he is the man that I love, I would do it."

Meanwhile, chunky Josie, 25, of Westwood, CA, takes on the task of being the show's showy vixen. It no doubt helps that she's a full-blown Republican who's not shying about saying so.

"I am a winner and I think like a winner -- like George Bush says," Josie declares. Farmer Matt sees her as "full of controversy mixed with a little bit of insanity."

Later comes a bit of a catfight between Josie and Kanisha after the latter gesticulates with her hands.

"That's low-class, and that's ghetto," Josie sniffs.

It's all according to the script, of course, even though this is supposed to be unscripted. Nearly every step of the way -- even when Stephanie, 23, of Boston steps in a cow patty -- Farmer Wants a Wife seems false, forced and clunkily choreographed.

Still, there's only so much the producers can do with a cardboard-cutout leading man. Farmer Matt has the charisma of skim milk, whether on a backyard "date" with lucky Christa ("I've had an absolute pleasure with you tonight," he tells her) or detailing the rules of a chicken-chasing competition that ends in a "coop off" between two women battling for opening night immunity.

The show's version of a "Rose ceremony" lays the biggest egg -- literally. Suitors stand by individual nests occupied by chickens. The unluckiest of all will be without an egg under the chicken's behind. It has all the suspense of a Michigan presidential primary without any candidates.

Farmer Wants a Wife, yet another U.S. import adapted from a "smash hit" in Europe, will be plowing little CW's north 40 into June if all goes as planned. But they'd better get these budding Eva Gabors into tag team pig sty wrestling matches as quickly as possible. Time's a wastin', and Farmer Matt looks to be very capable of boring the pants off everyone -- shirt or no shirt.

Grade: D

Idol: No thanks for the Memory, but Rockwall's Castro climbs another rung

In and out: Rockwall's Jason Castro outlasts tatooed Carly Smithson.

He'd probably like to forget his Tuesday night performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Memory." Still, Rockwall's 21-year-old Jason Castro beat back another volley of unfavorable judges' reviews to make American Idol's Final Five Wednesday night.

Carly Smithson, who had washed out with a previous professional recording contract, graciously left Idol's national stage after being paired with Bottom Two frequenter Syesha Mercado. Theories: those weekly reaction shots of Smithson's husband, whose face is almost completely tattooed, didn't help her cause. Nor does being married. A spouse has yet to win Idol through six previous editions. Now only one remains -- imperiled Brooke White.

Smithson's performance of another Webber standard, "Jesus Christ, Superstar," won raves from the judges, even Simon Cowell. This prompted her to brandish a T-shirt labeled "Simon Loves Me (this week)."

"I apologize for giving you a compliment last night -- kiss of death," Cowell said Wednesday.

Castro got the other end of the stick after again performing while seated. Judge Randy Jackson called it a "trainwreck" because the song was a bad fit for him.

"It came over as a young guy being forced by your mum and dad to sing a song at a wedding that you didn't want to sing," said Cowell.

Upshot: chances are looking better and better for Idol's first all-male Final Three. That would mean evictions in the next two weeks of the oft-endangered Mercado and the increasingly shaky White.

But it's an extreme longshot for Castro to survive beyond that opposite the show's two King Davids -- Archuleta and Cook. Next Tuesday, the survivors will tackle hit songs from "mentor" Neil Diamond.

"In honor of the WWE, you can call me 'Hillrod.' "

State of the Union: "Hillary" takes a spin from Samoan Bulldozer.

Shudder. It says something about our lives and times when President Bush can take Monday's higher TV ground with a videotaped guest appearance on NBC's Deal or No Deal.

That's because the three senators battling to succeed him were all appearing on WWE's Monday Night Raw, otherwise populated by the likes of Umaga the Samoan Bulldozer, Hardcore Holly, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Super Crazy and The Undertaker.

Bush, saluting contestant and Iraq war veteran Joseph Kobes for his three tours of duty, felt obliged to crack a joke first.

"I'm thrilled to be on Deal or No Deal with you tonight," he said. "Come to think of it, I'm thrilled to be anywhere with high ratings these days."

The President also invited host Howie Mandel to help broker a new federal budget with Congress: "How'd you like to host a $3 trillion dollar Deal or No Deal?"

Um, don't quit your day job, Mr. President. Actually, that'll happen soon enough.

Over on USA network's Raw, also owned by NBC Universal, the three presidential candidates stooped to conquer another potential voting block -- the mostly young males who avidly watch the show's ring fakery, comedy, babe-a-licious "divas" and big-time bloodletting during pay-per-view events.

Clinton and Obama didn't get much respect for their videotaped efforts. Raw went right ahead with a mock match between the two Democrats. A bulbous, showboating and eventually chicken-hearted "Bill Clinton" also entered the ring with his wife.

Obama was affixed with a pair of grossly caricatured, oversized ears, prompting a ring commentator to quip, "He could be Dumbo's stunt double."

Or if you prefer, "Look at those ears! He's gotta be gettin' satellite reception right now."

The fake Hillary, stuffed into a dark pantsuit, took a beating both from her "husband" and eventually Umaga the Samoan Bulldozer, who spun her overhead before cold-cocking her with his patented "Samoan Drop."

Before the mayhem, bogus Bill upbraided a referee for inspecting his wife for any foreign objects.

"C'mon, man, leave her alone," he drawled. "She hasn't had a man touch her in so many years, it's not even funny."

"Obama" also eventually was dispatched by Umaga, via a "Samoan Spike." Both Dems wound up flat on their backs before Raw went to a commercial break. That's what happens when you lay down in deference to the WWE, which doesn't exactly have a spotless record when it comes to keeping its athletes out of real-life harm's way when away from the ring.

McCain was spared any phony trips to the ring on the eve of Tuesday's Pennsylvania Democratic primary. He also got the last word among the three candidates, during which he agreeably talked smack after pronouncing Obama's first name BAR-ack."

"Let me tell ya, if you want to be The Man, you have to beat the man," McCain crowed. "Come November, it'll be game over. And what ya gonna do when John McCain and all his McCain-iacs run wild on you? You wanna pull out of Iraq? Well, I say no surrender. America can win the war on terror. I'm gonna introduce Osama bin Laden to The Undertaker (a popular WWE personality)."

Just what we need -- wrestling metaphors in connection with the bloody war in Iraq.

McCain also urged voters to participate in "the Cage Match" in November, otherwise known as the day in which we elect the leader of the free world.

And just so we're clear, "Americans don't watch wrestling because we're bitter," McCain said. "We watch WWE because wrestling is about celebrating our freedom. It's about fighting to be our very best. So can ya smell what the Mac is cookin'?"

Obama and Clinton were briefer, but not without their own wrestling lingo. The senator from Illinois didn't seem that into it, though, smiling self-consciously -- or perhaps with embarrassment -- after concluding with, "Do you smell what Barack is cookin'?"

Clinton began by dubbing herself "Hillrod" for the night "in honor of the WWE."

"You need a president who will go the mat for you," she said. "And that's exactly what I'll do. I've been knocked down, but I've always gotten back up. And I know how to take a hit for the American people. And if things get a little tough, I may even have to deliver the people's elbow."

So it's come to this. And what's next -- a guest appearance in the Big Brother household this summer for McCain and the surviving Democrat?

Seriously, a line should be drawn somewhere, shouldn't it? Presidential candidates and entertainment shows have a long history at this point, with pivotal moments including Bill Clinton playing the sax on The Arsenio Hall Show and Richard Nixon saying "Sock It to Me" on Laugh-In.

But crossing over to Monday Night Raw does seem to be a bridge way too far. And this is from a vintage wrestling fan who loved watching Dick the Bruiser pummel a hapless weakling or Crusher Lisowski finally get counted out at the hands of good guy Wilbur Snyder.

It's no fun at all, though, watching McCain equate the November election to a "cage match" or Clinton strain to dub herself "Hillrod." Is this really what it takes to get elected president these days? If so, it's the body politic being pinned to the mat.

Let's play two

Pirate and Cat: Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Duke Snider.

What play-for-pay North Texas baseball team has won its league championship the past three seasons?

Even those who think a foul ball is a lousy dance know it's not the Texas Rangers. So maybe you'd like to spend a little time with the winning Fort Worth Cats in the locally produced Through a Cat's Eye. It takes the field on Monday at 8 p.m. on KERA-TV (Channel 13) as part of a doubleheader that also includes Roberto Clemente at 9 p.m. under the umbrella of PBS' long-playing American Experience series.

Cat's Eye, co-produced by David Hatchett, Rush Olson and Randal Crossman, is an obviously low-budget production that nonetheless touches all the bases in retelling the team's more than 100-year on- and off-history.

Clemente is interesting but otherwise unexceptional in reconstructing the life and times of major league baseball's first Latino star. A recent biography by David Maraniss, who's interviewed in the film, is well worth your time if you'd like to learn much more about the "often misunderstood" Pittsburgh Pirates great. He died at age 38, in the autumn years of a Hall of Fame career, while on a flight carrying relief supplies to hurricane-ravaged Nicaragua.

The preceding Cat's Eye includes reminiscences from the likes of Duke Snider, Sparky Anderson (both are in the Hall of Fame), Maury Wills, Carl Erskine and Bobby Bragan, all of whom apprenticed in Fort Worth.

Famed CBS news anchor/reporter Bob Schieffer also makes the cut. He was a Cats fan as a kid, and remembers attending a game in which four players got married in a storied home plate ceremony.

"Oh, we talked about that for weeks," he says.

Anderson, who managed both the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers to World Series championships, says the Texas League of old separated the men from the sissies. In a long, hot summer, you had to play rough, tough baseball while also battling the elements.

"The mosquitoes were so bad in Beaumont, the big ones ate the little ones and got fatter," he recalls.

Host and narrator Olson can be a bit awkward in his on-camera appearances, but it's no big deal. Baseball historian Mark Presswood is the principal source of Cats paw prints, and he traces the team all the way back to its beginnings in 1888. One of the early stars, Clarence Kraft, hit 55 homers and drove in 196 runs in a single season. And "The Duke" remembers catching a major league scout's eye by homering "five or six" times in the 1946 playoffs against Tulsa and Dallas.

You'll also meet the very first Miss Fort Worth Cats, Barbara Feagin, who wore the crown in 1949. It was the same year a major fire destroyed a good part of the seating section at Fort Worth's LaGrave Field. But the fans came out anyway, and the games played on.

The Cats went out of business, though, from 1964 until being revived in 2001 under current owner Carl Bell, who had watched the team while growing up. He quickly revived the old right field bleachers' "Knot Hole Gang," and the team now has won three successive Independent League championships.

It's good to have all of this history in a tidy, one-hour documentary that might be just enough to spur a few trips to the Cats' home field, rebuilt on the same hallowed grounds as the old one. Bragan, Snider, Wills and Anderson since have had their numbers retired in ceremonies at the new field. All were able to attend in person, which is nice work if you can get it.

PBS' following Clemente, also an hour in length, is narrated by actor Jimmy Smits, who tells viewers that Puerto Rico's national hero "was larger than the game he loved."

As a kid, I remember him always killing my favored and long dormant Chicago Cubs. So it was hard to appreciate his artistry when he seemed to be knocking in the winning run game after game after game. Come to think of it, teammate Smoky Burgess was a nemesis, too. But enough of this.

Clemente spoke his mind both in and out of uniform, but his halting English alienated some sportswriters. The idea of a major league player named Roberto didn't cut it in some quarters either. His Topps baseball cards started out with "Roberto" in his first two seasons, but then "Americanized" him to "Bob" for the next 13 years before giving his given name back to him in 1970.

"I thought it grated on some people who thought the ideal ballplayer should be like Gary Cooper," says George Will, who arguably loves baseball more than his longstanding conservatism.

Other interviewees include former Pirate teammates Al Oliver (also a star Texas Ranger), Steve Blass and Manny Sanguillen. Clemente's widow, Vera, and brother, Matino, also are in the mix.

Before his tragic death, Clemente logged exactly 3,000 hits, won four batting titles and a dozen Gold Gloves, and starred as an elder statesman in the Pirates' 1971 World Series win over the favored Baltimore Orioles.

The PBS documentary doesn't do a very good job, though, of bringing him alive to a new generation. American Experience has a long and mostly stellar track record, but this biography hits only about .250. At best it's barely average and workmanlike, something Clemente would never dream of being.

Through a Cat's Eye -- B
Roberto Clemente -- C

ABC debate brings Dems into sharper focus on both issues and gaffes

Combatants and inquisitors in Philly Dem debate. ABC and AP photos

Moderators Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos are being hammered in some quarters for allegedly drenching ABC's Wednesday night debate from Philadelphia with stale gotcha questions instead of real issues of import.

Will Bunch's "Attytood" blog for the Philadelphia Daily News says the two news vets "disgraced my profession of journalism, and, by association, me and a lot of hard-working colleagues who do still try to ferret out the truth."

Longtime Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales says the "usually dependable" Gibson and Stephanopoulos "turned in shoddy, despicable performances." Furthermore, during the debate's first 52 minutes, they "dwelled entirely on specious and gossipy trivia that already has been hashed and rehashed, in the hope of getting the candidates to claw at one another over disputes that are no longer news."

Shales can still turn a good phrase, and his writing invariably is enjoyable if sometimes off-point. But what a Bunch of crap from that other guy. "Attytood?" Better to retitle it "Sermons From the Mount By A Self-Important 'I, Me, My' Blowhard."

Let's note that Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were debating together on a national stage for the first time since their Feb. 26th faceoff in Cleveland. A lot has happened since then, including Clinton's Bosnia bumble, Obama's difficulties with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his recent San Francisco fundraiser remarks about supposedly "bitter" Pennsylvanians clinging to guns and religion.

Yes, these issues have been exploited by both the candidates and the media during a prolonged and oft-acrimonious battle for the Democratic presidential nomination. But the nation's viewers hadn't yet seen the candidates address them in a face-to-face encounter. Or, as Gibson imaginatively put it, "This is sort of Round 15 in the scheduled 10-Rounder."

Did ABC's critics really expect Gibson and Stephanopoulos to throw out nothing but another round of generic questions about the candidates' only slightly differing positions on the war in Iraq, health care, taxes and so on? Both Clinton and Obama are fully capable, as they again demonstrated Wednesday night, of responding to any question with an automatic pilot restating of their rehearsed-to-death talking points.

The candidates also are adept at lobbing grenades at each other if that's the game plan going in. Debate moderators should consider it their duty to push and prod, especially this late in the game. Imagine the outcry from some of these same critics had Gibson and Stephanopoulos simply laid back and let the candidates pontificate.

ABC's two-hour debate, minus 30 minutes of sometimes ill-placed commercials, wasn't a perfect production by any means. Obama got the lion's share of time in the opening hour, with Gibson twice noting that things were "getting out of balance."

"I've noticed," Clinton said with a game smile before acquiescing to a commercial break.

Two of the more provocative questions -- both of which blogger Bunch railed against -- came on tape from his fellow Pennsylvanians.

Tom Rooney of Pittsburgh said that Clinton had squandered her credibility with him after claiming she'd landed in Bosnia "under sniper fire" while First Lady.

"You really lost my vote," he said, "and what can you tell me to get that vote back?"

Nash McCabe of Latrobe asked Obama why he doesn't regularly "wear the American flag" while at the same time emphasizing she was "not questioning your patriotism."

The third outside questioner, this time Mandy Garber of Pittsburgh, asked both candidates to further specify their plans for getting out of Iraq. Each said they would begin removing troops on a set schedule regardless of the situation on the ground. That in fact seemed to break new ground.

In the end this was hardly a gossip fest. Gibson and Stephanopoulos tried to keep the candidates from replicating their stump speeches while also giving them ample time to enunciate their positions on key issues.

Events on the campaign trail are hardly of no consequence, though. Gaffes and previous associations need to be aired out. And this was the first time in almost seven weeks that a national TV audience could see both Obama and Clinton parry and thrust on the same stage in a high-pressure situation.

Wednesday night may well mark the last time these two will get together in a debate format. From this view, Gibson and Stephanopoulos for the most part asked sharp, provocative questions and followed up when the candidates tried to wriggle free with well-practiced side trips. That's a far better course than rolling over and playing dead with a question on the order of, "Senators, for those who haven't heard it yet, could you please detail at any length you please your proposals to achieve national health care for all Americans?"

That would have made for a one-question debate.

Idol: Kristy Lee Cook(ed); Castro now in Final 6

C-notes: Cook out, but Rockwall's Jason Castro still in on Idol.

Likable Kristy Lee "Nine Lives" Cook couldn't withstand yet another Bottom 3 tightrope walk on Wednesday's latest American Idol vote-off.

"Can I go ride my horse now?" she asked after getting the hook.

Cook referred to the "really good barrel horse" she sold in order to pay travel expenses for her Idol tryout. Answering an earlier viewer question, Cook said the purchaser now won't sell the steed back to her. A-w-w-w.

Expect an announcement next week that a benevolent Idol has negotiated a return of her horse, of course. You don't pass up an opportunity like that, especially when your No.1-rated show is rolling in dough.

Cook, 24, said goodbye by sitting next to judge Simon Cowell, her biggest tormenter, and singing, "Those days of love all gone, our time is through" from Mariah Carey's "Forever." Nice touch. For the record, Cook had been joined in the Bottom 3 by another frequenter, Syesha Mercado, and the increasingly aggravating Brooke White.

Meanwhile, Rockwall's Jason Castro now has made it all the way to Idol's Final 6. The dreamy-eyed, dreadlocked 21-year-old performed Carey's "I Don't Want to Cry" Tuesday night to mixed reviews.

"I didn't really like it," said judge Randy Jackson. "I thought I was at some weird beach luau."

"I'd love to be at that luau, listening all night long," cooed Paula Abdul.

Cowell basically agreed with -- shocker -- Paula.

Next Tuesday's mentor is Andrew Lloyd Webber. Who's gonna get to tackle "The Phantom of the Opera?"

Prediction: Two of my originally forecast Final Four -- White and David Archuleta (everyone's no-brainer pick) -- are still in the mix. She might barely make it, but look for Idol's first all-male Final 3 of Archuleta, Castro and David Cook.

Never thought Castro could go this far, but his fan base seems Rock(wall) solid.

Ha! The pathetic spectacle of Chris Matthews

Sunday's devastating cover story on Chris Matthews in The New York Times Magazine underscores his unchecked self-importance and rampant insecurities.

On the other hand, the Hardball gasbag likely will love it because it's all about him.

Writer Mark Leibovich's all-you-can-eat buffet also deals with Matthews' on- and off-air womanizing, incessant name-dropping, rampant redundancy and the dislike that some of his more prominent NBC colleagues seem to have for him. It's all written in a delicious style that finds Matthews repeatedly making an ass of himself by simply being Chris Matthews.

Here are videos of his very odd comportment with CNBC's Erin Burnett on Hardball and his dismantling at the hands of The Daily Show's Jon Stewart. Both are referenced in the Times tome.
Ed Bark

Tell a friend: VH1's telenovela competition is juice-a-licious

Havin' a heat wave: Jenn and Alexcy of VH1's Viva Hollywood!

Title: Viva Hollywood!
Premiering: Sunday, April 13 at 9:30 p.m. (central) on VH1
Starring: A dozen would-be telenovela stars
Hosted by: Carlos Ponce, Maria Conchita Alonso
Produced by: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato, Tom Campbell, Danny Salles

Here it comes, the guiltiest pleasure of the TV season. By far. Sorry, Flavor of Love.

VH1's Viva Hollywood!, premiering Sunday with a special 90-minute blast, knows just how seriously to take itself. Which means that it doesn't -- not even for a minute -- as 12 flesh-baring, egocentric "hot mamis" and "hot papis" convene at the show's "Casa De Locos" in hopes of mastering the "7 Deadly Sins of Telenovelas" in pursuit of mucho dinero ($100 grand) and a "breakout role" on one of Telemundo's upcoming sudsers. Towel me off!

Contestant Vinci Alonso, presumably no relation to co-host Maria Conchita Alonso, quickly adapts to his new surroundings.

"If you run away from me, I'll catch you," he boasts. "I'll hunt you and eat you."

Your vigilant reviewer thinks it was Vinci briefly checking out his underwear-covered balls after supposedly drinking a whole bottle of vodka on the jacuzzi-soaked, liquor-fueled night before the first day's competition. Acting out the mood-setting Deadly Sin of Passion, contestants are required to test their skills at bitch-slapping, drink-tossing, hair-pulling, etc. Muy bueno.

The worst at each Deadly Sin is marked for elimination. The others then decide who should oppose that person in a climactic "Duel" presided over by a champagne-swigging Alonso, co-host Carlos Ponce and, on the first episode, a stuntman.

A Big Brother-esque "confessional" isn't nearly up to Viva Hollywood!'s standards. Instead, contestants parade into the show's most "sacred place," says an unbilled narrator. That would be "The Chapel," where vigil lights dominate the decor and "Death Cards" are deployed to help settle scores.

"May God be with you," says one male cad after playing his card next to a picture of a female rival he wants to see gone.

Also featured is "internationally renowned astrologer and psychic" Walter Mercado, a man who looks like a woman and speaks to contestants through a picture frame. It's his duty to introduce the weekly Deadly Sin, at which he's very good -- and creepy. After Passion, it's going to be Lust, Vanity, Drama, Fire, Seduction and Scandal.

Then in Episode 8, "The Finale," guest star Cheech Marin will preside over a "Duel Spectacular" after Maria Conchita performs her hit song "La Loca" while surrounded by Brazilian fan dancers.

She seems to have the perfect attitude for Viva Hollywood!, declaring during opening night deliberations that "there are many bitches around that are big stars."

By the way, each week's evictee passes away -- not literally at this point -- in a heart-rending "over-the-top telenova death scene." On Sunday, watch the two last-gasp combatants tumble down a flight of stairs in "La Massacre de la Mascara." One will remain motionless.

Vaya con Dios.

Grade: B

Johns out while Jason's stock rises

Ouster of Michael Johns (left) gives Jason Castro a smoother road.

Bat leadoff on American Idol and your chances of hitting a home run with judges are maybe one in 100. Viewers tend to forget you, too.

Michael Johns, who began Tuesday's show with Aerosmith's "Dream On," is the latest to be sent to the minors. His eviction, after a lukewarm reception from Simon Cowell et. al., leaves seven singers still standing.

They include, of course, Rockwall's Jason Castro, who's looking like a stronger and stronger possibility to make the show's Final Four. Getting Johns out of his way is big. The field's studly oldest competitor, at 29, had been tabbed a long distance runner who'd easily outlast the 21-year-old soft-server from North Texas.

"A lot of shock right now," said host Ryan Seacrest.

But Castro's rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," in which he used a dinky, newly purchased ukulele, won his strongest comments yet from the only judge who really matters.

"Fantastic," said Cowell after Randy Jackson primed the pump by calling the performance "blazing, molten hot."

Johns was joined in the weekly Bottom 3 by frequent flyer Syesha Mercado and second-timer Carly Smithson. It was his first and last trip to never-never land.

Thursday's vote-off, delayed a night by Wednesday's Idol Gives Back special, also made room for several previously announced celebrities who instead were missing in action. They included Jim Carrey, Dr. Phil and major party presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama, who made their pre-taped pitches for donations in that order.

30 Rock returns to roll the dicey

The new fall season, calming down at last, has occupied most of our time in the past few weeks. Now that there's a little breathing room, here's a catchup round of odds 'n' ends.

Austin-based businessman and bar owner Brad Womack will be the first rose-bearer to get a "second chance at love" on ABC's next edition of The Bachelor, due in January.

Womack, 37, became a pariah in the eyes of some by rejecting both Jenni Croft and De Anna Pappas on the November 2007 Bachelor finale. In the almost three years since then, Womack "has undergone intensive therapy, looking at who he was in a quite painful journey of self-awareness," according to an ABC publicity release.

The network says viewers should "get ready to see a changed, revitalized man who is still optimistic and confident about finding love" on a TV show. Yeah, well, good luck with that. Bachelor viewers currently are on the rebound from the tattered "love" story of Dallas flyboy Jake Pavelka and Vienna Girardi, who broke up bitterly shortly after giving their hearts to one another.

***A slew of cable series have been renewed for more seasons.

Showtime has picked up both The Big C, starring Laura Linney, and Weeds, fronted by Mary-Louise Parker. It will be a second season for Big C and a seventh for Weeds.

HBO has ordered a second season of Boardwalk Empire, which is still early in its first season. The Prohibition era gangster drama stars Steve Buscemi.

Lifetime has picked up Army Wives and Drop Dead Diva for their fifth and third seasons. And TNT has renewed Hawthorne for a third season.

***Fox has delayed the season premiere of Human Target, originally set for Friday, Oct. 1st, to Wednesday, Nov. 17th. House repeats instead will be paired with The Good Guys on Friday nights.

*** One of ABC Family's three new shows in development is Strut, a scripted one-hour drama series set in a small Texas town.

Publicity materials say the series "revolves around a showgirl named Roxy who marries a stranger after a wild evening, and overnight finds herself living in a small town in Texas and reinventing the high school's struggling drill team." In the process, "she turns the town upside down."

The go-ahead for Strut is "cast-contingent," meaning that the series might not get made if ABC Family doesn't sign the actors it wants.

DVD review: John, Paul, Tom & Ringo (Shout! Factory)

Title: John, Paul, Tom & Ringo
Total running time: 160 minutes on two discs
Extras: None
Suggested price: $24.99

Two outsized, oft-parodied TV personalities were fated to bring news of John Lennon's death -- before bringing him back to life.

Much of the nation first learned of Lennon's Dec. 8, 1980 murder from Howard Cosell during ABC's Monday Night Football game between the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots.

Then, on the following night's Tomorrow Show, host Tom Snyder replayed his entire in-studio interview with Lennon, originally shown in late April, 1975 on the late night NBC program. It was the legendary former Beatle's last TV interview before he mostly withdrew from public life to be a house-husband and doting father to his son, Sean.

Shout! Factory's latest vintage DVD release, John, Paul, Tom & Ringo, is mainly worth having for Snyder's now historic one-on-one with Lennon, who later was joined by his immigration attorney, Leon Wildes. Also included is a satellite interview from London with Paul and Linda McCartney and a briefer sit-down in Los Angeles opposite Ringo Starr and new wife Barbara Bach.

Any Angie Dickinson fans out there also can see Snyder help her promote a short-lived NBC series Cassie & Company during the second half of the program that gave Starr star billing. Footnote: Dickinson's cop drama was the first effort from Johnny Carson Productions.

Snyder, wearing a gray leisure suit that he in retrospect deems "awful," does a fair job of keeping his much-lampooned laugh at bay during the back-and-forth with a mostly convivial Lennon.

The host's muttonchop sideburns are longer and thicker than his guest's, but Lennon has the lengthier hair. He also has the interview's snappiest comeback -- saving it for the very end. It comes after Snyder notes that Lennon's reputation as an "egomaniac" seems unfounded on this night.

"I believe in what I do, and I say it," Lennon explains in part.

"Well," says Snyder, "you're one of the nicest egomaniacs I know."

"So are you, Tom," Lennon rejoins, triggering a truncated horse laugh from Snyder before the show shifts to affecting companion interviews with journalist Lisa Robinson and music producer Jack Douglas, both still stunned by the previous night's tragedy.

Lennon was fighting extradition from the U.S. in 1975 after ridiculously over-reaching law enforcement officials pounced on an earlier, minor drug bust in London. That's why his attorney joined him for a closing segment, lest Lennon say anything that could get him in further trouble.

It's mostly Tom and John, though, with the host lighting up a trademark cigarette while asking about the dangers of hard drug use.

"They all know you're a nicotine addict," Lennon playfully jabs.

The Beatles disbanded, he says, because it got stale going to the studio and grinding out another album.

"We didn't break up because we weren't friends," Lennon says. "We just broke up out of boredom, you know. And boredom creates tension."

"How can you get bored doing what you did?" Snyder wonders.

"Because it wasn't going anywhere . . . It just got like a marriage that doesn't work."

The host also quizzes Lennon about rock groupies, his current musical tastes, the heavily-publicized "bed-in" with wife Yoko Ono ("We were just promoting peace like you promote any product") and life in New York City as one of the most famous and deified celebrities in the land.

"I don't get get hassled," Lennon says, insisting that it's now easy to go out to dinner or a movie. "We're probably less recognizable than you now."

"Oh, I doubt that," Snyder says.

"You're on (TV) every night. You kidding?" Lennon adds.

Almost all of this is shot in extreme closeup in times when conversation, not shtick, remained the most important ingredient in late night network television. And Lennon is well worth a listen from start to stop.

Snyder's "Christmas show" interview with the McCartneys, on Dec. 20, 1979, finds them in London's Rainbow Theatre shortly before taking the stage with Wings. A now primitive-looking music video for the band's "Spin It On" comes first, with Snyder wondering, "How do they do that without getting dizzy?"

The interview is a bit dizzy, too. Linda, in a mullet, is either stoned, nervous or painfully trying to be playful. Paul, with a striped scarf thrown over his shoulder, tries his best to parry some occasionally very lame questions.

Snyder at one point asks whether he's affected by traumatic world events like the rest of the world's "mere mortals."

"We are mere mortals, too, Tom," McCartney answers. "Pinch-able and bleed-able and everything."

The host saves the Beatles questions for last after noting he'd been told that Paul would walk out if any were asked.

"I don't mind talking about the Beatles. Good group, Tom," Paul says during the last Christmas season before Lennon's death made a full reunion impossible. But getting back together would be "really like trying to get back your childhood summers or something."

The Nov. 25, 1981 interview with Starr is tied to his role in the movie Caveman and the release of his latest album Stop and Smell The Roses, on which McCartney and George Harrison contributed.

Both light up cigarettes before Starr proclaims himself "probably the rock-steady drummer of life right now."

He has a strong distaste for, and even anger toward those who repeatedly claim that a Beatles reunion is at hand.

"People were just using us to get themselves in the media," Starr says.

Snyder, who died last summer, remains one of late night TV's most enduring and at times aggravating personalities. Other Shout! Factory Tomorrow collections include Punk & New Wave and Tom Snyder's Electric Kool-Aid Talk Show, with guests Timothy Leary, Tom Wolfe, Ken Kesey and The Grateful Dead.

His Lennon interview is the one to remember him by, though. Just two egomaniacs talkin'. And their beats go on.

Seeing stars: Mega-watt Idol Gives Back ranks as season's biggest celebrity-fest

Miley Cyrus and Brad Pitt on pre-taped Idol Gives Back special.

Add the three major party presidential candidates to Wednesday's Idol Gives Back, now expanded to two-and-a-half hours with an early start at 6:30 p.m. (central).

Taped Sunday at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre, Fox's second Idol-infused charity special shapes up to be more star-studded than the Oscars, the Emmys or -- dare it be said -- Nickelodeon's Kids' Choice awards.

Even Ellen DeGeneres showed up in a pre-taped segment after dropping out as the event's previously announced co-host due to an "unforeseen production schedule" conflict. Also participating on tape were Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain, whose participations were announced Tuesday in a Fox press release.

Other newly revealed participants include British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Jim Carrey, Alicia Keys, Adam Sandler, George Lopez, Kyra Sedgwick, Whoopi Goldberg, Maria Shriver, Kobe Bryant, Felicity Huffman, David Beckham, Toby Keith and Julianne Moore.

They join the likes of Brad Pitt, Bono, Celine Dion, Eli and Peyton Manning, Miley Cyrus, Mariah Carey, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Forest Whitaker, Reese Witherspoon, Teri Hatcher, Carrie Underwood, Snoop Dogg, Kiefer Sutherland, Maroon 5 and John Legend.

Last year's first Idol Gives Back raised a reported $76 million for charity. This year they're shooting for $100 million on behalf of The Children's Defense Fund; The Children's Health Fund; The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; Make It Right; Malaria No More; and Save the Children's U.S. Programs.

Idol's final eight sang, with Rockwall's Jason Castro third from right.

Last blasts for 'Frakkies'

Admiral Adama and Capt. "Starbuck" are having trust issues.

Sci Fi Channel's signature series, Battlestar Galactica, won't be long for this world.

It returns for its fourth and final season Friday (9 p.m. central), with sinister Cylons still standing in the way of a return home for Admiral William Adama (Edward James Olmos), President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) and assorted underlings aboard the good ship Galactica.

The "select few" TV critics with review copies are warned not to spoil any "What the frak?!" moments coming your way. Frak is a way for the show's characters to drop f-bombs with impunity on an advertiser-supported network. But having not seen a whole lot of episodes, I'm a little unsure of what the frak I'm getting into.

Suffice it to say -- or say it to suffice -- there's a pretty showy space battle between the good guys and the Cylons, who then suddenly retreat to the puzzlement of Adama. This allows Capt. Kara "Starbuck" Thrace (Katee Sackhoff) to jet back onto the mothership with the belief that she's only been gone a short while.

But no, Starbuck has been missing for more than two months, and therefore presumed dead. So just about everyone is suspicious and distrustful when she says, "I did it, boss. I found Earth." Yeah, right. But might she really be a Cylon in disguise?

Meanwhile, Gaius Baltar (James Callis), previously found not guilty of war crimes, finds himself among a new group of followers who see him as a God-like figure. One impressed young woman gets religion by taking him to bed. But he's soon presented with a deathly ill child in need of healing.

The episode ends on a cliffhanger note. Those who haven't been watching all along also might find themselves in need of Cliff's Notes. Here's a good place for that.

Devoted fans of the show in contrast will revel in every nuance and then fire up various chat sites. It's always a risk, of course, that Galactica will let them down in the end. But Friday's re-launch seems fairly well-grounded and for the most part decently acted. The special effects are OK, too, although not really out of this world.

Before it's all over and done with, maybe the writers could lighten the mood a bit by throwing in a bit character called Frick N. Frack. Perhaps he could be an irksome mad scientist or something, prompting other characters to grouse, "That frakkin' Frick N. Frack really frakkin' pisses me off!"

Just a suggestion.

Grade: B

Idol: Eight is enough, and Jason Castro is one of 'em

Ramiele Malubay's out while Rockwall's Jason Castro plays on.

Another lashing from judge Simon Cowell didn't deter Rockwall's Jason Castro from making American Idol's Elite Eight Wednesday.

The 21-year-old also dodged a second consecutive trip to the Fox show's so-called silver "Stools of Shame, reserved weekly for the Bottom Three vote-getters.

Ramiele Malubay instead went home while cat-with-nine-lives Kristy Lee Cook again got a reprieve. The other stoolie, first-timer Brooke White, had the dreaded lead-off spot on Tuesday's performance show, "mentored" by Dolly Parton. But she quickly got the "safe" sign from host Ryan Seacrest, leaving Malubay and Cook dangling.

Castro's performance of Parton's "Travelin' Through" got the usual pull-string responses from judges Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul. She loved it and he deemed it "pretty good. You worked it out."

But Cowell "didn't like it at all." And had he been seeing Castro perform for the first time, he "wouldn't get it."

Castro's got new life, though, and may be able to outlast both Cook and Syesha Mercado before the going gets really rough. Then again, I had Malubay in my Final Four, so take any further predictions under advisement.