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Bad form? Couric bypasses CBS, announces her impending departure in People magazine exclusive

Katie Couric strikes one of her last poses for CBS news. CBS photo

It takes little if any reading between the lines to deduce that CBS News isn't exactly thrilled about the way in which Katie Couric made her exit official.

"There's a lot to be proud of during Katie Couric's time at Evening News. CBS News, like Katie herself, is looking forward to the next chapter," the network said in a decidedly terse "CBS News Spokesperson" statement after its onetime mega-star exclusively told People magazine of her decision to leave the network.

Couric, whose CBS Evening News never got out of third place during her nearly five years as anchor, spilled her beans to People in an interview posted early Tuesday afternoon. "I have decided to step down from the CBS Evening News," she said in comments to the less than hard newsy magazine. "I'm really proud of the talented team on the CBS Evening News and the award-winning work we've been able to do in the past five years in addition to the reporting I've done for 60 Minutes and CBS Sunday Morning. In making the decision to move on, I know the Evening News will be in great hands, but I am excited about the future."

Those great hands are expected to belong to 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley, who worked at D-FW stations KXAS-TV (Ch. 5) and then WFAA-TV (Ch. 8) before joining CBS News in 1989.

It's been widely rumored that Couric, 54, will next go the daytime talk show route, with ABC lately in a prime position to snag her according to the latest word on this front. She told People that her post-CBS future is "still being discussed," but "I am looking at a format that will allow me to engage in more multi-dimensional storytelling . . . I have a lot of areas of interest and I want to be able to full all of that."

Her pact with CBS expires on June 4th, and she'll supposedly be covering the royal wedding before taking a hike. That is, if CBS doesn't decide to ground her in light of Tuesday's chilly response to the People exclusive.

Announcements of such high-level departures almost always are handled by the network that's saying goodbye. This one clearly wasn't, indicating a frosty relationship between the two parties after Couric apparently decided against working for CBS in some other capacity.

Any Couric-hosted talk show likely wouldn't start until fall 2012, giving those hoping to fill Oprah Winfrey's impending void a full year to either solidify themselves or fail to make their marks.

Couric received a reported $15 million annual salary at CBS. Pelley's pay, should he be anointed, assuredly will far below that level. In the latest national Nielsen ratings, released Tuesday, the CBS Evening News averaged 5.7 million viewers for the week of April 18-22), again running well behind the NBC Nightly News (8.4 million viewers) and ABC's World News (7.7 million viewers).

Treme returns to HBO, as good or better than ever

Khandi Alexander is a key part of Treme's ensemble. HBO photo

Melodic as ever amid the overall pain and disappointments, Treme remains tremendous as it returns for a second season on HBO.

Paired on Sunday nights with the new Game of Thrones (already renewed for its Season 2) Treme likewise is a series that's set in another world. Except that this also is the hard knocks real world of New Orleans, the voodoo palace of jazz, blues, revelry and 2005's near wipeout from Hurricane Katrina.

Treme (9 p.m. central) picks up on All Saints Day, 2006 -- "Fourteen Months Later." Executive producer David Simon (The Wire) remains intent on both celebrating The Big Easy and keeping Katrina in play as a not-to-be-forgotten supporting character.

"We are following the actual timeline of post-Katrina New Orleans as a means of understanding what happened -- and what didn't happen -- when an American city suffered a near-death experience," Simon says in HBO publicity materials.

Sunday's first of 11 episodes begins with a kid carrying on the city's musical heritage by haltingly practicing on his horn. His mother has shooed him away, so he takes to the streets while painstakingly playing the same notes. It's an evocative, symbolic and perfectly composed start, with the kid walking past a graveyard whose population has swelled in recent months. The music of Treme remains front and center, whether from clubs or street corners. It's reason enough to listen/watch, but the denizens and their evolving stories are great hooks as well.

One larger-than-life character from last season, John Goodman's profane, proselytizing Creighton Bernette, is gone but not forgotten after committing suicide. His wife, Toni (Oscar winner Melissa Leo), a crusading attorney, and their teenage daughter, Sofia (India Ennenga), are left to pick up the pieces. Sofia copes by copping a 'tude, shutting out her mother and carrying on with some of her father's Internet rants against the government's calcified response to Katrina.

Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce), Treme's quintessential man with a horn, continues to play gigs wherever he can get them while hoping to someday front his own band. Girlfriend Desiree (Phyllis Montana-Leblanc) sticks with him, and the shorthand dialogue of their relationship is one of the series' many delights.

On other fronts, LaDonna Batiste-Williams (Khandi Alexander) is still struggling to keep her bar/restaurant in business while life-long resident and cultural heritage preserver Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters) is increasingly despondent over losing his home and getting diddled by insurance companies. His son, Delmond (Rob Brown), remains a purist jazz trumpeter with a minimal market for his music. He divides his time between New Orleans and New York, where restaurateur Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens) has relocated in hopes of making a better living. But working for a belittling, hot-tempered Gordon Ramsay-like chef is no cup of tea. And her roommates in NYC are a pair of infantile stoners.

The happier side of Treme's ensemble is helmed by radio DJ Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn), who still can't keep a job for very long but is both calmed and rejuvenated by his new live-in relationship with violinist Annie Tee (Lucia Micarelli). Her playing, by the way, is incredible, as you can see first-hand in Sunday's Episode 1.

Treme also has added a new character named Nelson Hildago. Fresh from Dallas and intent on making some quick profits from both demolition and rebuilding, he's very effectively played by Jon Seda from HBO's The Pacific miniseries. The always welcome David Morse also is now a regular character after being introduced last season as police lieutenant Terry Colson. He's basically a good cop who doesn't sweat the small stuff. "Let Bourbon Street be Bourbon Street," he stresses to his troops. Drunken businessmen with their pants down are good for business, so simply send them on their way.

The dialogue is as rich as the music, whether brief and to the point or an elongated discourse. In Episode 2, Delmond's spirited defense of New Orleans music at an elitist New York party is something you just don't get anywhere else. But back home, LaDonna's one-word put-down is delicious, too. Live music might perk up her business, she tells an employee, but there are upsides and downsides.

"What's the downside?" she's asked.

"Musicians," LaDonna snorts with perfect disdain.

Treme is a many-splendored triumph of slow-cooked storytelling and hot, humid music. Is it HBO's best drama series ever? From a ratings standpoint, no way, no how. But you won't find a better rendering of time and place anywhere else on the sprawling TV landscape. This is still the real deal, through and through.


Say it Loud, but not so proud. HBO's Cinema Verite re-tracks "reality" TV all the way back to PBS

James Gandolfini, Diane Lane and Tim Robbins from the triangle of Cinema Verite, which revisits the Loud family phenomenon. HBO photo

Premiering: Saturday, April 23rd at 8 p.m. (central) on HBO
Starring: Diane Lane, Tim Robbins, James Gandolfini, Thomas Dekker, Patrick Fugit, Shanna Collins, Caitlin Custer, Nick Eversman, Kaitlyn Dever, Johnny Simmons
Directed by:Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini

True story. The network of Masterpiece Theatre, Frontline, Great Performances and pledge drives also is responsible for planting the seeds of Jersey Shore, Jon & Kate Plus 8 and The Real Housewives of . . . wherever.

It just took a while for the genre to become The Blob of both broadcast and cable television after PBS premiered the 12-hour An American Family back in 1973. Momma Kardashian is old enough to remember, but Kim, Kourtney and Khloe would have to do a little research. Yeah, like that's gonna happen.

HBO's rather generically titled Cinema Verite, which premieres Saturday, tellingly revisits both the fractious Louds of Santa Barbara and the filmmakers who made them overnight stars. But patriarchs Bill and Patricia Loud (played by Tim Robbins and Diane Lane) had little if any idea of the price they'd pay for such unparalleled exposure. Nor did their five children, particularly openly gay oldest son Lance (Thomas Dekker). He died of AIDS at age 50 in 2001 after coming to the conclusion that "television ate my family." Then again, they were all willing participants, at least at first.

The film recreates some of what America saw on-camera, including the breakup of the Louds' 22-year marriage and Lance's unapologetic homosexuality in times when television mostly looked the other way if it looked at all. But Cinema Verite's strength is in dramatizing the off-camera seductions and betrayals that led to the Louds being vilified in many quarters before the entire family went on The Dick Cavett Show to both tell their side of the story and confront filmmaker Craig Gilbert (played by a bearded, toupeed James Gandolfini in the film).

Gilbert and his then young camera crew, Alan and Susan Raymond, remain enemies to this day. The husband and wife Raymonds have made numerous documentaries since then, but are still not on speaking terms with Gilbert. They were consultants on Cinema Verite, though, and are played by actors Patrick Fugit and Shanna Collins. Gilbert on the other hand declined to cooperate with HBO in any way and hasn't made a film since American Family. The Louds also resisted offers to have any input in the making of the HBO film.

Cinema Verite begins in 1971, with Gilbert meeting Patricia Loud at a tennis court after a friend of hers (Kathleen Quinlan as "Mary") serves as a go-between.

"Why would anybody want to participate in such a thing?" Patricia asks him after Gilbert proposes an unprecedented look at the realities of a real American family as opposed to the prime-time confections personified by The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family.

Patricia is flattered, though. She's of reasonably sound mind and notably firm body. And Gilbert's admitted description of her as "sultry" -- during a pitch to WNET-TV programmers -- is not an unappealing notion to her. Her marriage to wayward, philandering Bill is falling apart, making Patricia susceptible to any flattery she can get. "I like 'sultry,' " she tells Gilbert. And if he'd streamline his "flabby body," he'd be her "perfect match."

The film implies, but never actually shows, any physical coupling between Patricia Loud and Gilbert, who's portrayed as manipulative in getting what he wants on film but not entirely duplicitous in insisting that An American Family reflect its subjects in good times and bad.

The Raymonds increasingly feel he's going too far, though. "That's it. We're done," Alan says after Gilbert insists that the cameras keep rolling while Patricia and Bill have a bitterly sarcastic confrontation. "We actually care what happens to them. We don't want to see them destroyed by your film."

Alan ends up punching Gilbert in the face before the Raymonds say they're done with him. But with no real explanation, they're eventually back for more, including the filming of Patricia's climactic kiss-off to Bill. He gathers his belongings and walks out to his convertible while the Raymonds give chase and keep their camera rolling.

Robbins is solid throughout, playing Bill Loud as a man whose wants and needs are no longer satisfied by his pampered real housewife of Santa Barbara. He worries about his children becoming aimless spendthrifts, particularly Lance. Lack of camera time also is an issue with him. "I know I'm shapin' up to be the square of your show. Maybe I've got more goin' on than you think," he tells Gilbert, who ends up being a tattletale to further his own means.

Lane in fact does get more camera time, and knows what to do with it. Her performance is spot on as a somewhat vainglorious creature determined to both uncover Bill's infidelities and cover her own tracks when meeting with Gilbert.

Lance easily is the most vivid of the five Loud children, as he was in American Family. But something is missing in this portrayal, which mostly accentuates the flash.

Gandolfini is sturdy in his pivotal role as the Louds' combination Lucifer/guardian angel. But it remains difficult, despite the ample camouflage of beard and hair, to see past Tony Soprano. Try as he might, Gandolfini can't escape the inescapable fact that his signature role is still writ large.

Cinema Verite ends with a brief clip of the real-life Gilbert and Louds assembled on the Cavett show. Now that would be something to see again. There also are updates of where the principals are now, with a surprising end game for Bill and Patricia.

The Raymonds reportedly are putting together a condensed two-hour version of An American Family that's scheduled to air this June on PBS. It remains the same old story, though, with a producer convincing a mom, dad and their five children to bare themselves on-camera before they ultimately recoiled from the horror of an unforgiving national spotlight.

Times obviously have changed. Reality series subjects still complain about how they're edited. But it takes little if any coaxing to get them before a TV camera. It's the American way, after all. Ask the Kardashians, the Gosselins, the Snookis, the Osbournes, the Dog who bounty hunts, the deadliest catchers, the denizens of Big Brother, the celebrities who rehab, the people who hoard, the hordes of MTV's Real World . . . to mention just a very few.


Hi there, my name's David Hasselhoff. What's yours? (Well I'll be damned)

"The Hoff" meets David Hasselhoff of Lake Jackson, TX. CBS photo

Depending on how you might feel about such things, David Hasselhoff of Lake Jackson, TX is going to be lucky enough to meet and "trade lives with" the same-named Hollywood celebrity famous for Knight Rider, America's Got Talent and crawling on the floor drunk while eating a cheeseburger in an infamous video made by his daughter.

CBS' new Same Name, announced Friday and scheduled to premiere sometime this summer, will feature celebs making close contact with commoners who have identical monikers. In Episode 1, Hasselhoff journeys to Lake Jackson (population 27,614) to meet 27-year-old high voltage power technician/landscaper David Hasselhoff and his family. CBS expects electrifying results.

"They may have the same names, but their lives couldn't be more different," alternative programming VP Jennifer Bresnan says in a publicity release. "Walking in each other's shoes and experiencing their home life, work and other activities reveals moments of humor, laughter and unexpected emotion."

The two Hasselhoffs will "live in each other's houses, meet and interact with family, friends and co-workers and experience how the other lives," CBS says.

No other celebrity participants have been named yet, but might there be another Lady Gaga out there? That'd be cool. But the way these things tend to work, viewers may have to settle for the likes of Scott Baio, Judith Light and Joe Piscopo.

Friday Night Lights returns to brighten NBC for a fifth and final season

Friday Night Lights stars Jesse Plemons, Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton are aglow at NBC's 2007 summer "press tour." Photo: Ed Bark

NBC's best drama series of the last five seasons begins taking its final bows this week.

And you know something? Those lowly Friday night ratings for Friday Night Lights are going to be looking better and better on a down-and-out network that averaged just 5.1 million viewers in last week's national prime-time Nielsens. FNL should be able to draw that many viewers without breaking a sweat. Or maybe not. We'll see.

The fifth and final season already has played out on DirecTV. But for most of us, its Friday, April 15th arrival on NBC (7 p.m. central) will mark its long-awaited return. NBC plans to air all 13 episodes on successive Fridays, ending with the bedraggled but battle-tested East Dillon Lions ready to play the game of their lives in an episode subtitled "Always."

Most of the charter cast has moved on, at least player- and girlfriend-wise. But the last season's opening episode still includes two former high school players. Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons) is getting ready to go off to college while Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) continues to serve jail time after taking a rap for his older brother, Billy (Derek Phillips).

What really matters, though, is that FNL mainstays Eric and Tammi Taylor (Emmy nominees Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton) remain in their usual fine form for the duration of Season 5. Coach Taylor is getting his Lions ready to play a Texas football power in August's pre-season Whataburger Football Classic while his wife segues to a guidance counselor position at East Dillon.

"Seven a.m. and I'm already sweatin' like a whore in church," a radio announcer says in prepping listeners for a game in which the previous season's 2-8 Lions are expected to have little chance to win. We've been there before.

One more Season 1 holdover, the Taylors' oldest daughter, Julie (Aimee Teegarden), also is getting ready to leave for her first year in college. But she'll be a recurring presence in this climactic season, as will Kitsch's Tim Riggins.

Filmed in Austin with occasional side trips to other Texas locales, FNL continues to excel at presenting a non-stereotypical look at a much-stereotyped state. The series has won a prestigious Peabody Award and is even seen as smart and intelligent by The New York Times, which regularly sings its praises.

Dallas and its Ewings, returning for a re-do on cable's TNT, may have been 10 times as popular in their day as little old FNL. But the Taylors are far more upstanding standardbearers for a state that's already had its prime-time TV fill of crooked bidnessmen in 10-gallon hats as well as an assortment of standard issue drawling dummies.

The five-season run of FNL already must seem like an eternity for four young cast members who have gone to other series.

Adrianne Palicki, who played Tyra Collette, saw Fox's Lone Star go thataway after just two episodes.

Zach Gilford (quarterback Matt Saracen) is hoping against hope that ABC's Off the Map gets a second season, which doesn't seem very likely at this point.

Matt Lauria (still very much a part of this final FNL season as linebacker Luke Cafferty), is waiting to hear whether Fox's ratings-challenged The Chicago Code will return next fall.

And Jurnee Smollett, likewise a regular this season as Jess Merriweather, knows that the odds aren't good for a second season of CBS' The Defenders.

All four owe their co-starring roles in those dramas to the time they spent getting noticed on some of NBC's finest hours in the last five years.

So when it's finally time to officially turn out the lights, FNL will resonate for seasons to come as a stellar series about coming of age in a scrappy small town that just happened to be located in Texas. Yeah, Dillon's harbored a yahoo or two. But that was never ever the point.

HBO's Game of Thrones can't seem to get going

Lord Stark has much to contemplate in Game of Thrones. HBO photo

Premiering: Sunday, April 17th at 8 p.m. (central) on HBO
Starring: Sean Bean, Mark Addy, Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, Michelle Fairley, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Jack Gleeson, Isaac Hemstead-Wright, Kit Harington, Lena Headley, Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Harry Lloyd, Jason Momoa and a host of others
Produced by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss

HBO's first full immersion into the fantasy realm is thickly plotted but also clotted.

The blood flows freely while the storytelling tends to congeal in this 10-part adaptation of George R. R. Martin's four-volume A Song of Ice and Fire series. The Game of Thrones title is taken from Book One, with HBO making the first six hours available for review. Although nicely mounted and decently acted, they certainly are in no big hurry to get anywhere.

Numerous characters, a good number of them diabolical, populate the sprawling story at hand in this "deadly cat-and-mouse game for control of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros." After a while your head may hurt if you're not already a full-fledged devotee of Martin's elongated tomes.

The key figure is Lord Eddard "Ned" Stark (Sean Bean), who learns early on that his revered mentor, Jon Arryn, has died in the Westeros capital of King's Landing. Against the wishes of his wife, Lady Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), he agrees to replace Arryn as the "King's Hand" of King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy), who's become a corpulent alcoholic in pre-AA times.

How did Arryn die, though? Might he have been poisoned? And what about the marauding, vicious otherworldly "wildings" of the frozen tundra up north? They're briefly glimpsed in Sunday's opening minutes but otherwise are content to wait for another lifetime of winters before mounting a renewed attack. It's up to the men of the Night's Watch to keep them at bay after training at the dreary Castle Black.

Meanwhile -- and there are lots of meanwhiles -- the punkish, dethroned Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd) intends to be restored to power. To that end, he makes a pact with the wandering Dothraki warriors, whose leader, Khai Drogo (Jason Momoa), is rewarded with a lithe blonde wife who's also Viserys' sister, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke). But the Dothraki horsemen seem in absolutely no hurry to attack anyone. Instead they keep riding and having parties while Daenerys learns how to satisfy her new brutish but protective hubby.

Meanwhile, the amoral Lannisters likewise crave power. They're led by Ser Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his twin sister, Cersei (Lena Headley), who also is King Robert's duplicitous Queen. Their younger brother, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), is a self-assured dwarf who enjoys spewing insults and the company of whores.

The Starks, for their part, have five legitimate children plus a bastard son named Jon Snow (Kit Harrington). He still doesn't know who his mother is. Nor does Ned's wife, who frets that history will repeat itself when he again goes off in the service of a whoring King who notes in Episode 6 that "killing clears my head."

There are some gruesome deaths to be sure, including a fallen knight slowly choking to death after his neck is perforated by a wooden spear during a tournament joust. Copulations also are recurring developments, with the Dothraki warriors particularly active.

As noted, though, the pacing is mighty sl-o-o-o-w for the most part. Any sense of urgency is missing in action. Instead the filmmakers seem intent on resolving little of real import by the end of the first 10 hours. Character development is one thing. But the story at hand regularly slows to a crawl, making HBO's at times pokey but otherwise magnificent five-hour Mildred Pierce re-do seem like a 100-meter sprint in comparison.

Some characters do resonate, though. Dinklage's dwarf makes for a nice, snippy diversion and the Starks' youngest daughter, Arya (Maisie Williams), is full of agreeable pluck. Addy's King Robert has some forceful scenes while Bean's comparatively goodly Ned Stark gradually develops into a character worth caring about.

But oh the machinations. And diversions. And overly long, leisurely scenes that keep sinking Game of Thrones into a quicksand of its own making. A full-blown battle of some sort would be welcome at any point . But through the first six hours, it can still be a chore to simply keep all of the characters straight. Let alone what kingdoms they inhabit and how many out-of-wedlock children they might have.


Oh yeah, that guy: The Paul Reiser Show begs and borrows from other shows while its star frets about fleeting fame

Curb-esque: Paul Reiser, Larry David in opening episode. NBC photo

Premiering: Thursday, April 14th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Paul Reiser, Amy Landecker, Ben Shenkman, Omid Djalili, Duane Martin, Andrew Daly
Created and produced by: Paul Reiser, Jonathan Shapiro

Remember him? He seems to think that hardly anyone does despite his seven seasons on the hit NBC sitcom Mad About You.

Either that or Paul Reiser is being self-deprecating to the point of torpedoing his return to the Peacock after a 12-year absence. On-air promotions for The Paul Reiser Show, which premieres Thursday in place of the dreadful Perfect Couples, catch him in the act of instead pitching Will Ferrell's four-episode arc on The Office.

Here's how it goes: "So I guess the takeaway from this is, 'Will Ferrell's gonna be on The Office. Will people remember my show is on right before that?' I'm thinkin,' not so much. 'Oh, who is that nice man on TV, darling? Oh, I don't know. But I'm so glad he told us Will Ferrell is on The Office.' "

So under these circumstances, would you buy a used premise from this already defeated man? The Paul Reiser Show is by no means flat-out terrible. In fact, compared to Perfect Couples, it's a veritable murderer's row of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Men of a Certain Age and Seinfeld.

Unfortunately it's also transparently derivative of all three shows, with Reiser playing himself as a flustered married father of two sons who wonders what his next act is going to be after becoming duly rich via Mad About You. Each episode begins with Reiser riffing in the manner of Jerry Seinfeld during the early years of his show. On Thursday's premiere episode, one of four sent for review, Reiser says a fan recently told him, "You look exactly the same. Maybe a little fatter." He then laments, "This is my life now."

He's in fact chunkier, and at age 54, grayer, too. But in typical sitcom fashion, this doesn't stop him from having a younger, thinner, prettier actress cast as his wife. Claire is played by Amy Landecker, who's 41 in real life and looks more than a little like Courteney Cox. She mostly puts up with Paul, who wears his shirts unbuttoned and hanging out a la Ray Romano in Everybody Loves Raymond and now Men of a Certain Age.

Episode 1 features guest appearances by Curb's Larry David -- as himself, of course -- and producer Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice), who loves Paul's audition for a new game show called Start Thinking. David also has been offered this gig, which prompts the two of them to meet over lunch for a back-and-forth scene straight out of Curb. Larry's advice: "You should be doing your version of Curb Your Enthusiasm.' " Which is pretty much what Reiser is trying to do while also borrowing from Seinfeld's "show about nothing" motif and hanging around with four men of a certain age.

His doofus pals are anal Jonathan (Ben Shenkman), clueless Brad (Andrew Daly), Fernando the token black man (Duane Martin) and slap-sticky Habib (Omid Djalili), who owns a huge warehouse full of discarded products called Habib's Perfectly Goods. If this were the Five Stooges, Habib would be Curly. Except he'd only be about one-fifth as funny, even though his yoga class gyrations in the April 28th episode might qualify as guilty pleasure viewing.

Reiser otherwise seems content to cast himself as something of a hapless has-been whose agent can't get him anything better than a crummy game show with idiot contestants, an overseas spokesman's role for a tool company or a part as a violent drunken fisherman in a movie to be filmed in Iceland, where Mad About You reruns are just now airing.

Maybe fame really is that fleeting. But The Paul Reiser Show has an odd air of desperation about it, with its star flailing about like a carp on a ramshackle wooden pier.

It also doesn't help that the episodes are running oddly out of order. Which means that another of Reiser's agents, named Zeba (Mozhan Marno), is part of the mix in Thursday's premiere and a subsequent episode before being introduced as a new character in a scheduled May 5th outing subtitled "The Batting Cage." It also means that Reiser's second son suddenly rolls into view in a wheelchair after being entirely unseen in the first three episodes.

There are some random amusements sprinkled in. Reiser and company make a woefully bad basketball team, prompting the only good player, Fernando, to jab, "I've seen seals shoot better." The premiere episode's game show audition segment also has its moments, with Reiser rating it the "most degrading experience of my life. There is not a shower strong enough to cleanse my shame."

The Paul Reiser Show doesn't sink to those depths. And some viewers might even find it heartening to see the new Comcast-owned NBC presenting a relative oldster in a lead role for the second time this week after rebuilding Law & Order: L.A. around 57-year-old Alfred Molina.

Neither actor is likely to ring a lot of bells with prime-time TV's anointed-in-oil demographic -- 18-to-49-year-olds. But No. 4 NBC is desperate for any viewership at all, and might just settle at this point for overall tonnage rather than target audiences. The older you are, the more you might respond to the oft-clunky, middle-aged craziness of The Paul Reiser Show. In fact, you'll even know who he is -- and perhaps prefer him to Will Ferrell.


All in good time: ABC's Happy Endings falters at first, then finds its footing

The six friends of Friends, er, Happy Endings. ABC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, April 13th at 8:30 and 9 p.m. on ABC
Starring: Elisha Cuthbert, Casey Wilson, Damon Wayans, Jr., Zachary Knighton, Eliza Coupe, Adam Pally
Produced by: David Caspe

It begins pretty clumsily with a wedding stoppage scene straight out of The Graduate.

Friends also quickly comes to mind.

Still, this is an otherwise new ABC comedy called Happy Endings. And after viewing three available episodes, let's dust off another old saw: All's well that ends well.

Premiering post-Modern Family with back-to-back episodes Wednesday, Happy Endings quickly gets its game in gear. Save for Modern Family and The Middle, it emerges as ABC's best new sitcom since Better Off Ted unfortunately failed to find an audience. No need to repeat that history.

Elisha Cuthbert likely is the best-known cast member after playing Jack Bauer's oft-imperiled daughter, Kim, on 24. This time she's Alex. But the scene-stealer is Casey Wilson, who never quite broke through on Saturday Night Live but fully registers on Happy Endings as loud, madcap Penny.

The first of Wednesday's two episodes, plus the scheduled April 20th and 27th half-hours, were submitted for review on ABC's media website. All have something going for them, particularly the last one in line, subtitled "Mein Coming Out." This is the one where Penny's accidental blind date turns out to be a Mr. Right whose only drawback is his surname -- Hitler. Meanwhile, gay Max (Adam Pally) is still using his gal pals as beards rather than come out to his occasionally visiting parents.

Rounding out the cast are Jane and Brad (Eliza Coupe, Damon Wayans, Jr.) -- whose interracial marriage is peripheral so far -- and decimated Dave (Zachary Knighton), the guy who gets left at the altar when a rollerblading dude named Bo rolls into church to proclaim, "Alex, I love you!"

He's never seen again, but provides the impetus for Alex's cold feet and runaway bride remedy.

"Huge game-changer," Brad understates, concerned that the six will never be able to inhabit the same room again.

"Even I think roller blades are gay. And I had sex with a dude last night," Max needlessly riffs during these early moments of Happy Endings' awkward efforts to gain its footing. Which it eventually does, with creator-executive producer David Caspe at the helm of his first TV series.

The show's jilted Dave spends his next week in miserable, self-pitying shape while Jane (who's also Alex's sister) assures him this is all "just the sad chapter in your epic love story."

A raucous, cake-smashing 30th birthday dinner for Penny -- who remains adamant about being just 26 -- serves to lance various boils and put the six friends back into reasonable working order. And it's surprisingly good fun getting to this point, thanks to the oft-clever writing and a cast that clicks.

The April 20th edition even includes a nice little dig at Cuthbert's much-parodied altercation with a cougar (of the furry kind) on a super far-fetched Season 2 episode of 24. The three episodes also include references -- unflattering and otherwise -- to John Mayer, Kathy Bates, Paul Rudd, Leonardo DiCaprio, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

But the best-in-show pop culture riff comes during Jane's recitation of her close encounters with five couples' therapists after the Alex-Dave breakup.

"The third one looked like a female Scott Bakula," she tells husband Brad. "Which just stressed me out because I am way behind on my Men of a Certain Ages. And you know how momma likes a clean DVR."

Happy Endings will move to Wednesdays at 9 p.m. (central) next week, oddly slotted on a newly expanded, wall-to-wall ABC comedy lineup between new episodes of the returning Cougar Town and Modern Family repeats.

It's going to be tough to get noticed under such circumstances. But Happy Endings will need to attract a decent-sized audience -- and quickly -- before ABC makes its mid-May announcement of a new fall 2011 lineup. Getting left at the altar a second time would not be Happy Endings' idea of a happy ending.


NBC's LOLA hopes to return from the near-dead by killing one of its own

Who's missing from this picture? Skeet Ulrich. NBC photo

Whatever LOLA wants it gets, even if this means the first fatal shooting of a Law & Order regular character since charter cast member George Dzundza's detective Max Grevey went down two decades ago.

Might it merely be a stay of execution, though? LOLA, creator/executive producer Dick Wolf's preferred shorthand for Law & Order: L.A., returns Monday night after a lengthy absence and a re-tooling that deals out Skeet Ulrich's detective Rex Winters. As on-air promotions already have trumpeted, he goes down in a hail of bullets Monday night on an 8 p.m. (central) episode subtitled "Zuma Canyon."

The immediately following LOLA hour, "Silver Lake," then pairs holdover detective Tomas "T.J." Jaruszalski (Corey Stoll) with new partner Ricardo Morales (Alfred Molina). Morales had been a deputy district attorney, with Molina playing him in every other episode. His souring on office politics and return to the street beat make Molina a full-time participant while also freeing up Terrence Howard (deputy D.A. Jonah "Joe" Dekker) to appear in every episode.

Rachel Ticotin remains as squad leader Arleen Gonzales, but Howard's character has a new courtroom partner, Connie Rubirosa (played by former Law & Order regular Alana de la Garza). Besides Ulrich, actresses Regina Hall and Megan Boone likewise have been removed from the new LOLA equation. They both played deputy D.A.s.

Got all of that? And does it make LOLA a better show? Molina's ramped-up presence indeed is a plus, but it may be too late in the game to matter on a network that's currently in its worst rating ditch ever. NBC even has been trailing Univision lately in the national Nielsens measuring viewership among advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds. And replacing the 41-year-old Ulrich with the 57-year-old Molina isn't likely to make the Peacock or LOLA skew any younger.

LOLA's regular Monday 9 p.m. slot also will pit it against two successful crime dramas on rival networks, CBS' Hawaii Five-0 and ABC's Castle. So it's going to be a steep uphill climb that will get even steeper next week when NBC's little-watched The Event returns as LOLA's's lead-in attraction.

Although set in Los Angeles, the reconstituted LOLA is hardly beaches 'n' cream. In the "Zuma Canyon" episode, nine Latinos are mowed down by automatic weapons fire during a backyard party. A conscience-less head of a Mexican drug cartel has given the order, with detectives Winters and Jaruszalski assigned to the case. Winters quickly crosses swords with the episode's sinister smiling python, a drug lord named Cesar Vargas. It doesn't take long for retribution.

Molina's performance is powerful throughout, whether he's in full rage as an avenging angel or reaching out to an 11-year-old boy who becomes indispensable to the prosecution as its star witness. But events take a grim turn, prompting Molina's Morales to quit the D.A.'s office in disgust before quickly rebooting in the "Silver Lake" episode as the co-investigator of a double homicide whose victims are a mother and her young son.

"It's like riding a bike. Except I don't remember all this paperwork," Morales says of his return to the force.

These are strong, straight-ahead, uncompromising episodes in times when murders most foul already are in abundant supply on the Big Four broadcast networks. LOLA for its part shows signs of getting that old Law & Order moxie back. But the flesh is weak when you're on a network that's pretty much been playing dead ever since the NFL's Sunday Night Football stopped dragging players off the field.


PROGRAM NOTE: Fox's House marks its 150th episode Monday night (7 p.m. central) by returning Dr. Remy "Thirteen" Hadley (Olivia Wilde) to the fold after a mysterious six-month prison term.

The not-so-good doctor (Hugh Laurie) is there to meet her upon release. Whereupon they take a road trip to an annual "spud gun" competition. Why was Thirteen incarcerated? The episode provides the answer while also weaving in a back-at-the-hospital subplot involving hoarding and a puzzling respiratory illness.

Laurie and Wilde are good together, but the episode ends up being only so-so. Congratulations, though. A drama series making it to the 150-episode milestone is no small accomplishment.

Auction Hunters stars shed light on their profession at Garland, TX storage unit

Allen Haff and "Ton" Jones of Spike TV's Auction Hunters. They were in Garland Thursday to peer into storage units and talk up the show. Photo: Ed Bark

GARLAND, TX -- It's a warm, breezy late Thursday morning at a storage facility off North First St., where the running mates of Spike TV's Auction Hunters have dropped in to scope out the remains of two repossessed "rooms," as they call them in the trade.

The proprietors of the place are adamant that it not be named. Nor may any photos be taken of the contents up for auction. In Texas terms, it turns out to be a dry hole anyway for partners Allen Haff and Clinton "Ton" Jones. They unconcernedly watch rivals bid $300 for a shed containing a wooden rocking horse and a bicycle among other things -- and $50 for another abandoned set of belongings whose centerpiece is a well-worn hot tub.

"What can you do?" Haff says afterward. "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. This one's a loser."

It was mostly for show-and-tell anyway. Cameras aren't rolling for any of this. And the stars of the show already have bought and sold other stuff during their brief stop in North Texas, Haff says. Reporters mainly have been invited to get a taste of the bidding action, with some of the star-struck bidders and their friends more interested in getting their pictures taken with the Auction Hunters' disparate duo.

Jones, 32, sports a 300-pound frame, is covered head-to-toe in tattoos and has dime-sized piercings in both ear lobes. Haff, 41, has boyish, matinee idol looks and no visible tattoos or piercings. "You know why?" he asks. "People will stereotype you anyway, so why make their job easy?"

Their partnership works like a charm, though. Haff knows antiques inside and out after running his own store in Houston at age 24. His mother taught him the trade. Jones is the expert in weaponry, currency, precious metals and stones. He used to be a rough, tough teenager in Abilene, where his father was stationed at Dyess Air Force Base.

"If we both knew about the same stuff, it'd never work," Jones says of their partnership, which was formed several years ago when they met at -- where else? -- a storage unit auction. "He's very particular about everything. Me? If it happens, it happens. Life is a lot easier if you don't stress."

Haff says he tends to skulk around auction sites, wearing a hat and shades, his shoulders slumped. Of course that's getting harder to do now that Auction Hunters is at the start of its second season (Tuesdays at 9 p.m. central) after drawing 2.3 million viewers for last December's Season 1 finale.

"Having him at your side, it takes the focus off of me," Haff says of Jones. "People never see me comin'. They're too worried about him. He's big and strong, I'm pretty crafty. You don't see me until I steal the room from you at the last second."

Haff previously hosted HGTV's My House Is Worth What? and was the "Yard Sale Guy" on Style Network's Clean House. He's also had bit parts in TV series such as CSI: Miami and Just Shoot Me.

Jones also has done a bit of acting, popping in as a security guard on an episode of CSI: NY. But he mostly craves road trips -- and reptiles. Texas' plethora of snakes -- and New Braunfels' famed Snake Farm and Exotic Animal Farm -- has him frequently returning to these parts from the partners' home base in Southern California.

"I'll be back here in two or three months when the sneak season gets in full run," Jones says. "And we're going to be photographing wild life. I love it."

His third passion dates to his teen years at the Psycho City tattoo parlor in Lancaster, Calif., where he swept floors "to stay out of trouble." Jones quickly learned how to do body-piercings, and at age 18 began adorning his body with pictures that tell his story.

"So it's not just this random junk," he says. "Every three minutes I'd have a different feeling for the day. And I'd get part of my life tattooed on me."

His chrome dome -- "I've never been a big fan of hair" -- is illustrated with a "shield of protection" and "eyes in back of my head." His arms and hands include aces, pistols, poker chips, a smoking gun and "a grenade with a 'W' for wasted youth." On his knuckles -- "Walk Away." Which Jones has learned to do when a storage unit doesn't meet his expectations.

As a rube, he lost $2,000 in three weeks time," he recalls. "So I took a step back. I realized I can make a lot of money, but I've gotta be smart at it. Because one bad day hurts. And it can put someone behind for a long time."

There are some basic tricks of the abandoned storage room trade, Haff says. A half-empty room, which they encountered in Garland, means that the former owner probably cleaned out most of the good stuff. But 95 percent of the property left behind is in good working order, he says. "You've got the crazies who just put garbage in there. I've seen that. But most of us wouldn't consider storing stuff if it wasn't functional."

Auction Hunters premiered in November of last year, just a month before the A&E network also got in on the act with Storage Wars. Another like-minded series, Auction Kings, beat both shows on the air with its October 2010 premiere. So it's already getting to be a crowded field -- at least on TV screens.

Haff and Jones will keep hitting the road, though -- with the additional luxury of now getting paid extra for their toils and travels.

"When this job is done correctly, it's very hard work," says Haff.

"Every day's a treasure hunt for me," says Jones. "If I stay stagnant too long, I go stir crazy."

They're still good enough at it to make more money off-camera than Spike TV is paying them to star in Auction Hunters.

"N-o-o-o-o," Jones says laughing when asked if the network's paycheck now exceeds his other earnings. "The auction business, if you do it right, can be very lucrative. You do it wrong, you can go home broke."

Showtime's Gigolos gives sex a sordid name -- but doesn't scrimp on it

Tatted Nick whips it out on the new series Gigolos. Showtime photo

Premiering: Thursday, April 7th at 10 p.m. (central) on Showtime
Starring: Nick, Steven, Brace, Jimmy and Vin
Produced by: Tom Forman, Jay Blumenfield, Tony Marsh, Alex Campbell, Shane Walker, Richard Grieco

Sodom? Gomorrah? So yesterday.

In the here and now, Showtime is going to go ahead and premiere Gigolos, whose "Working Stiffs" publicity tagline isn't kidding.

Paired on Thursday nights with the final season of the scripted Secret Diary of a Call Girl, this cock and bull concoction stars a quintet of purportedly real-life, Vegas-based studs employed by "the largest straight male escort companion company in the United States."

And "business has never been better," crows its proprietor, Garren James.

As immediate proof, Nick shows off his member while showering before heading off to bed a schoolteacher client named Rebecca. She reasons, "It's time that I just had some fun."

And so they do, at the rate of $550 per two hours of Nick's time. Both parties are fully naked and there's no effort to hide her identity. So if she's really a teacher, well, some local newscasts somewhere are soon going to have ready-made lead stories for their late night editions.

It's hard to know how much of Gigolos is "real," though. Even though Showtime's website has bios of all five male principals, including divorced Steven from Texas, who has a five-year-old son.

Steven both uses his tool and is a tool. He gets weepy in Episode 2 when talking about how badly he wants to placate his ex-, provide for his son and satisfy the kid's latest desire to go to a "posh" camp. Then he mans up and pleasures a plus-sized client whose body basically revolts him. She's a medical assistant named Valerie who also consents to let the cameras roll while she strides in topless before letting Steven approach her from behind. And so on.

Printed disclaimers at the end of episodes say that "no one depicted in this program was remunerated in exchange for engaging in sexual activity."

It's also stated that "records attesting that all visual depictions in this episode . . . of actual sexually explicit conduct are of persons who were over 18 years of age at the time the depictions were created."

So if they were created, is anybody really for real? As with its far less sexually explicit The Real L Word, Showtime insists these are genuine articles at work and at play.

"We're competing with each other 24/7," says Nick. Besides Steven, their "family" includes bragging Brace ("I've had so many women in my life, it's just a blur"); straightforward Jimmy ("Being a gigolo isn't always easy") and newcomer Vin, who just happens to bear a more than passing resemblance to actor Vin Diesel.

Vin is described in publicity materials as "an exotic ethnic mix of French, Black and Latin." So he's proud to break the "color barrier" and join the "vanilla" gigolo crew. "There's Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson and now Vin Armani," he says at the end of Thursday's premiere episode. Laugh, cry, kiss your brains goodbye.

Other activities in the initial two episodes include Jimmy doing it with a woman on her birthday while her husband watches in approval. "The nastier the better," he urges. Next week, four of the gigolos visit a psychic, where Brace starts bawling at the thought of his barren future.

The same quartet is soon gathered at another client's house, though, joining a lone woman for a four-way as a selfless group gesture to raise money for Steven's son's camping trip. Brace just can't bring himself to participate, though, telling the camera that "I couldn't have gotten it up with a crane for that girl." This later prompts an argument with the willing rookie, Vin, who compares it to three men digging a ditch while the fourth just lazily stands there and watches. Their nurse client pronounces herself highly satisfied anyway.

Laughable? Yeah. Pathetic? Even more so. Degrading? That, too. Entertaining for consulting adult viewers who pay extra for such premium cable fare? Possibly. Gigolos goes farther than any "reality" series ever, although HBO's Real Sex certainly has been in there punching for more than two decades now. And for the record, Vin considers himself "a real feminist."

If so, he's an even better actor.

GRADE: C-minus

No mas: Peacock lately trailing Univision in key 18-to-49-year-old demographic

Here's a watershed development that NBC Universal is unlikely to be touting to shareholders.

In two of the last three weeks, the Spanish language network Univision has averaged more 18-to-49-year-old viewers in prime-time nationally than the NBC broadcast network.

It first happened during the week of March 14-20, according to data from Nielsen Media Research. And it happened again this past week (March 28-April 3), when Univision averaged 2.03 million viewers in this key demographic to the Peacock's 2.01 million.

NBC long has been down and out, but this is a potential seismic shift as well as a big jolt to new owner Comcast. Essentially, it means that more advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds are watching Univision's telenovelas than NBC's English language lineup of dramas, comedies and reality hours.

A year ago, during the week of March 29 to April 4, 2010, NBC was still pretty safely ahead of Univision. It averaged 2.4 million viewers in the 18-to-49 age range compared to the Spanish language network's 1.6 million.

In this latest ratings week, with results released Tuesday by Nielsen, NBC still leads Univision in total viewers by a count of 5.38 million to 3.97 million. But the Peacock is woefully behind CBS, Fox and ABC in both ratings measurements.

CBS averaged 11.79 million total viewers for the week, followed by ABC (9.43 million), Fox (8.26 million) and NBC's 5.38 million.

Among 18-to-49-year-olds, CBS averaged 3.82 million viewers, followed by Fox (3.60), ABC (3.30) and NBC's 2.01 million.

Those are severe beatings. And now Univision is plucking the Peacock in times where the network's only consistent big drawing card for this entire season has been Sunday Night Football.

Of course the NFL currently is in lockout mode. Not that NBC needs to be reminded. Its fortunes and future prospects have never been worse.

Harry Smith's the best fit for a CBS Evening News of the near future

Harry Smith anchoring a recent edition of the CBS Evening News. Photo: Ed Bark

Put it this way. America is yet to see a bald man emerge as the captain of a network dinner hour newscast.

Harry Smith eminently qualifies. He also would be a calming yet authoritative full-time anchor of the CBS Evening News, where Katie Couric's days apparently are numbered as she plots a future course that likely will land her a talk show of some sort after her contract expires on June 4th.

Couric will leave the Evening News in third place nationally, which is where it was when she signed on nearly five years ago. But in D-FW, CBS' flagship 5:30 p.m. newscast has markedly improved its standing over the past year. It's vaulted from third place in the February 2010 ratings "sweeps" (with an average of 110,811 viewers) to a very narrow first-place finish ahead of ABC's World News with an uptick to 151,673 viewers in the most recent February sweeps.

Still, Couric clearly is itchy to move on to something else. And Smith is one of the perceived in-house favorites to succeed her, along with 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley and weekend anchor Russ Mitchell.

Coincidentally, all three have past D-FW ties.

Pelley worked at both NBC5 and WFAA8 before moving to CBS in 1989. His wife is former NBC5 reporter Jane Boone.

Mitchell anchored at WFAA8 from 1983-'85 before moving to a St. Louis station. He signed up with the CBS network in 1992.

Smith, who is married to former WFAA8 sports anchor/reporter Andrea Joyce, joined CBS News in 1986 as a Dallas-based reporter. He since has worked virtually everywhere at the network, including a recent nine-year stint with the CBS Early Show. He's lately been filling in wherever asked, including his current duties as Couric's principal sub on the Evening News.

Here's the case for giving Smith an upgrade to permanent status.

When a tarnished Dan Rather left the Evening News, old warhorse Bob Schieffer was named interim anchor, assuming the equivalent of Jerry Ford's healing role after Watergate. Ratings improved to the point where CBS wanted the ancient mariner to stay on indefinitely. But Schieffer demurred in favor of returning to his Washington home and staying with Face the Nation. So Couric was hired with the idea of youthifying the broadcast and making it more relevant to viewers who hadn't yet encountered their first liver spots.

That didn't work, and never will. Audiences for the three dinner hour network newscasts may be dwindling over time. But there's still a core group of more than 20 million loyalists per night, according to Nielsen Media Research. They may not be getting any younger, but you can pretty much count on them in times when the three cable news networks are sophomoric turn-offs more often than not. ABC, CBS and NBC still offer solid half-hour digests of mostly real news without any transparent politicizing of same.

Smith, now 59, is better suited to this task than any of his current colleagues at CBS News. You might even call him avuncular, a trait that Walter Cronkite had down the homestretch and Schieffer had from the start of his Evening News tour of duty. Pelley and Mitchell have both put in their time, but don't have that comfy old chair appeal that Smith can bring to living rooms.

Most network news viewers, the great majority of them 50 years old and upward, are not particularly receptive to cute or jaunty. They want solid and reliable, but hold the stuffy. NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams might go against that grain a bit. But his matinee idol looks are balanced by an ability to relate and commiserate. He has the look and feel of a guy who'd help Aunt Edna carry her groceries to the car. Such a nice young man.

Smith won't win any beauty contests. But neither will Charles Gibson, who wore very well during his relatively brief tenure as World News anchor before retiring and virtually vanishing without a trace.

Both of these guys first accentuated their folksiness during long grinds on their respective networks' morning shows. As did Williams' predecessor, Tom Brokaw, and Gibson's successor, Diane Sawyer.

Now it should be Smith's turn to percolate at the dinner hour. Everyone might not be wild about Harry. But really, what's not to like about him?

Breaking In makes it a trifecta the hard way for hapless Christian Slater

Christian Slater on fumes in the new comedy Breaking In. Fox photo

Premiering: Wednesday, April 6th at 8:30 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Christian Slater, Bret Harrison, Odette Annable, Alphonso McAuley, Trevor Moore, Michael Rosenbaum
Produced by: Adam F. Goldberg, Seth Gordon, Doug Robinson

Somewhere, somehow, some way, somebody at Fox gave the go-ahead to Breaking In.

But why? Is there some sort of intra-network game we don't know about to make Christian Slater a three-time loser in rapid-fire fashion? Or does Slater have compromising 8 by 10s of various network executives caught in the act of voting for Tea Party candidates? There must be some logical explanation.

Slater previously came up empty in 2008 as the star of NBC's very muddled My Own Worst Enemy. Same result a year later in ABC's faintly remembered The Forgotten. But those two dramas were positively Dostoyevsky compared to what unfolds and unravels Wednesday night after a 90-minute edition of American Idol.

Is it too late to pad Idol with an extra half-hour of Ford Focus commercial outtakes? Could the nine remaining contestants perhaps don Lederhosen for a tribute to the Trapp Family Singers? How about having Charlie Sheen drop in and do whatever he wants? In short, anything. Even him.

As of this writing, though, Fox still intends to go through with Breaking In. It's an attempted half-hour comedy in which Slater appears to be unclear about whether he's doing a sendup of Jack Nicholson or an amazingly prescient imitation of Sheen in the clutches of his "Violent Torpedo of Truth" tour.

But the credits and script identify him as Oz, officious head of Contra Security. It's described in Fox publicity materials as a "top-notch security firm that seeks out security breaches." Coulda fooled me.

The dumb thing begins on the campus of Loyola Technical College, where a cocksure guy named Cameron Price (Bret Harrison) strides past three co-eds sunning themselves in bikinis. They should have stopped right there, kept the cameras on the babes and continued filming until the allotted 21-minute running time plus commercials was achieved. That at least would have made Breaking In ready-made for a prime-time slot on Spike TV.

Instead, Cameron is shanghaied by Oz, who's onto his game of hacking his way into college as a phony, long-term student. Now Cameron will be exposed unless he works for Oz and his other "uniquely skilled oddball geniuses." Namely a candy-imbibing black dude named Cash (Alphonso McAuley), a territorial white dud named Josh (Trevor Moore) and the resident eye candy, Melanie (Odette Annable).

Wednesday's opening half-hour proceeds to bounce around with no seeming purpose in mind other than to stitch a buncha scenes together. In one of 'em, Cameron comes upon Melanie's boyfriend, Dutch (Michael Rosenbaum), who makes a living selling clean urine on ebay for the purposes of passing drug tests.

"I love the crap out of this woman!" he explains. So far, though, he's not hawking stool samples.

Oz later informs Cameron that "life is about either trying to dodge a bullet or hit a bullseye. And trust me, kid, this job is the bullseye,"

This series is a complete mis-fire. There are no relatable characters, every joke's a dud and Slater seems to have no earthly idea what's befallen him. Breaking In succeeds only in being a stupendously bad half-hour of television that should be charged with breaking and entering into unsuspecting living rooms.


Fools and their money: Sheen reportedly bombs in first "Violent Torpedo of Truth" outing

Charlie Sheen in disrepair Saturday night at Detroit's Fox Theatre. Photo courtesy of Detroit Free Press website

Those holding tickets to Charlie Sheen's scheduled April 27th stop at Dallas' American Airlines Center might want to try unloading them on Mark Cuban in return for a nosebleed seat to one of the sagging Dallas Mavericks' last regular season games.

Get whatever you can, based on the scathing reviews for Sheen's maiden "Torpedo of Truth" performance Saturday night in Detroit.

The Detroit Free Press account is among several to brand Sheen's discombobulated stage show a disaster that left attendees booing if they hadn't already walked out. Among the observation's in the newspaper's first-hand account: "Sheen, visibly worried that he was losing the audience, at times appeared close to becoming abrasive. He never completely fell apart, but at one point, he did tell a heckler, 'Sorry dude, already got your money.' "

Other accounts say that Sheen joked about Detroit being a good place to buy crack. That didn't go over well either.

As previously posted, Cuban has been avidly pursuing Sheen to do a show of some sort for his HDNet cable network. Wise up, Mark. You'd be better off buying reruns of The Nanny. Or even Charles In Charge.

Here's some additional unsolicited advice to CBS and Warner Bros. Television, which makes Two and a Half Men for the network. Resist all inclinations to give Sheen another chance when he inevitably comes crawling back. Stick to your resolve to make this guy pay. The world already has way too many enablers.

There. That felt good.

Cardinal's sins: Showtime's The Borgias charts a treacherous path to Popedom

Thou shalt not . . . oh, never mind. Pope Alexander VI (Jeremy Irons) and his mistress, Giulia Farnese (Lotte Verbeek). Showtime photos

Premiering: Sunday, April 3rd at 8 p.m. (central) on Showtime. Continuing at 9 p.m. for eight more Sundays
Starring: Jeremy Irons, Colm Feore, Francois Arnaud, Joanne Whalley, Holliday Grainger, Joanne Whalley, Lotte Verbeek, David Oakes, Sean Harris, Derek Jacobi
Produced by: Neil Jordan

The Holy Father as The Godfather -- just what the Catholic Church needs at the moment.

Latter day priests and, in some cases, their superiors, are perceived by many as a collective group of pedophiles. Now Showtime's The Borgias, premiering Sunday with a two-hour splash, revisits the not so golden olden days of the late 15th century by presenting the Pope and his offspring as "The Original Crime Family." Thou shalt not? It doesn't work that way with Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons) and his brood.

He's not Rodrigo Borgia for long. Old Pope Innocent VIII is dying in a sea of iniquity, gasping rhetorically, "Which of you will wash it clean?" Not Cardinal Rodrigo, who's already primed to buy the votes of his colleagues with varying offers of land, treasure and promotions. His chief henchman is oldest son Cesare (Francois Arnaud), a sitting bishop.

"We have placed the papal mitre in the hands of an ape," arch rival Cardinal Della Rovere (Colm Feore) laments after the deed is done.

He's being too kind. As the first four hours show, Pope Alexander also authorizes assassinations of his enemies and has a mistress named Giulia Farnese (Lotte Verbeek), whose marriage is on the rocks. He beds her after first watching Giulia demurely flagellate herself in punishment for her sins. Later in these proceedings, Giulia sits very publicly by his side while the Pope presides over the mandated marriage of his only daughter, Lucretia (Holliday Grainger), to a guy who's really an ape.

His wife, Vanozza (Joanne Whalley), mother of the three other Borgia children, has been disinvited to her daughter's wedding because, well, it would be "scandalous" for her to be there. Entertainment at the reception includes a bawdy, topless sketch. Ah, the good old days of the Roman Catholic Church.

Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather, has said that his master novel was influenced by how the Borgias handled their affairs. It's easy to see the parallels. Cesare is Sonny Corleone while his younger brother, Juan (David Oakes), is something of a Fredo who messes up an assassination attempt. Youngest son Joffre (Aidan Alexander) is the innocent Michael at the moment while Lucretia is married to an abusive pig, as was Connie Corleone.

Feore's Cardinal Della Rovere essentially is a rival gang leader who's determined to overthrow Rodrigo and make himself Pope. Or if you prefer, he looks to be something of a hapless Cliff Barnes destined to never win a big one in his never-ending conflict with J.R. Ewing.

The Borgias begins in 1492, the year in which Columbus allegedly discovered America and a year after the birth of England's future King Henry VIII, whose reign spanned four seasons of Showtime's The Tudors.

Despite all the aforementioned intrigues, The Borgias so far isn't quite as bawdy, foul-minded or over the top as its predecessor. It moves more deliberately, sometimes a bit ploddingly. Irons of course lacks the inherent sex appeal of The Tudors' Jonathan Rhys Meyers as an uncommonly lithe Henry VIII. But the old pro from Old Vic is throughly comfortable in costumed dramas, seeming far more suited to crowns and robes than suits and ties. Such times call for aplomb. And Irons delivers when told that plots again are being hatched against him. "Oh, what would Rome be without a good plot?" he asks in turn.

The Borgias isn't always convincing in its plot turns. A hired assassin named Micheletto (Sean Harris) supposedly has endured a full day's worth of torture at the hands of Cesare Borgia without giving up the secret of who poisoned an old Cardinal. But his handful of back lacerations, administered by Cesare to dupe Cardinal Della Rovere, hardly qualify as convincing proof. Later on, the pillow-smothering of another Borgia victim is accomplished in remarkably quick fashion.

It's all sanctioned by the Pope, who looks the other way while managing to steer clear of any redeeming qualities. Make of it what you will. For the purposes of executive producer Neil Jordan, who also wrote the first four hours, The Borgias constitutes a free pass to add and subtract at will.

"I don't claim to be telling a completely factual tale; that's for textbooks," he says in Showtime publicity materials. "This is a suspenseful crime drama based on real characters and events. I have a rapacious thirst for historical material, and if something sets off my imagination, I use it."

So it shall be written. So it shall be done.