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Evening News anchor Scott Pelley pledges allegiance to his Texas-bred news values and value system

Scott Pelley is flanked by CBS News chairman Jeff Fager (left) and CBS News president David Rhodes during recent Television Critics Association "press tour" session at the Beverly Hilton. CBS photos

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- He's the upright Nelson Eddy of CBS News, an avowed straight shooter who wouldn't look at all out of place in a Royal Canadian Mountie uniform. Even though he's from Texas.

Yeah, that's a dated visual, but it still suits Scott Pelley. The former KXAS/WFAA reporter, who became anchor of the CBS Evening News on June 6th, clings to old-school traditions with the same zeal Lady Gaga devotes to changing her look.

"I started in this business at the age of 15 as a copy boy at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal," Pelley, 54 told a hotel ballroom full of TV writers earlier this month during CBS' portion of network TV's annual summer press tour. "And I grew up in this business during a time when the values of CBS News were spread more widely throughout journalism in America. And it is just part of my DNA to drive stories right down the middle and to listen to all opinions. And after you've written the script, to ask yourself, 'Have we been fair to everyone?' It is literally the way I grew up as an individual, and it's the only way I know how to do this."

It's easy to believe him. In fact, it's virtually impossible not to. The idea of Pelley intentionally slanting a story seems as preposterous as The Rolling Stones doing a polka album. And the troops at CBS News seem primed and ready to march with him after five years of Katie Couric's morale-sapping star turn. Here's a guy, after all, who balked at having his name in the title of the CBS Evening News. The division's president, David Rhodes, vetoed that notion. But off-camera, the CBS news room now bears a sign reading, "The CBS Evening News With All of Us."

"In the 30 years I've been at CBS News, I really can't remember a time when the place was as invigorated and excited and optimistic and confident," said chairman Jeff Fager, who also is executive producer of 60 Minutes. "And we're happy to report we've seen some viewer growth as well."

Well, a little at least. In Pelley's first week as anchor, the CBS Evening News averaged 5.7 million viewers, still a distant third behind the NBC Nightly News (8.2 million) and ABC's World News (7.1 million).

In the latest ratings week -- Aug. 22-26 -- the Evening News averaged 6.1 million viewers in what was an eventful period of storm buildups and the liberation of Libya. But World News also made gains, with 7.7 million viewers, while Nightly News increased its audience to 8.8 million viewers. So in this three-horse race, the Evening News remains something of a nag, even with a hard-charging jockey in the saddle.

Pelley, married for 29 years for former KXAS reporter Jane Boone, worked briefly for the Fort Worth-based NBC station before joining WFAA in 1982. He remained there until 1989, when CBS News came calling and Pelley headed East. His taskmaster/mentor at WFAA, late news director Marty Haag, ultimately won a Peabody Award for his long and prosperous tenure at WFAA.

"Everything that I learned from Marty Haag and (former assignments editor) Bert Shipp at WFAA are lessons I employ at the Evening News every day," Pelley said in a brief post-session chat before being whisked away to do a pre-arranged satellite interview for that night's broadcast. "WFAA was the greatest training ground possible for a young correspondent. The traditions of news under Marty Haag were the highest that you will ever see. And that informed everything we did at WFAA."

Told that one of his former WFAA running mates, Gary Reaves, had just retired, Pelley said he'd heard about that, and "it's a worry when your colleagues start to retire around you." But he's only just begun at the CBS Evening News, where two of his predecessors in "The Chair," Bob Schieffer and Dan Rather, continue to work well into their 70s.

All three are Texas natives. And Walter Cronkite cut his journalism teeth in the state, both as a student at the University of Texas and a cub reporter in Houston.

"Well, America loves Texans," Pelley said not altogether seriously. "And I think that is something that CBS News has recognized for a long time."

Pelley, who attended Texas Tech University but did not graduate, served his TV journalism apprenticeship "at a little wood-burning station (KSEL-TV) literally in the middle of a cotton field," as he recalled. "The people that I grew up with, the adults in my town, were the people who survived the Dust Bowl and stuck through it and never left. And you learn something from those people about family, about honor, about sticking to it. And I'm very, very proud to have come from that heritage."

Unlike many of his colleagues at CBS News, Pelley does not recoil when asked about his relationship with Rather. After leaving the network under a George W. Bush "Memogate" cloud, Rather sued for wrongful termination and eventually lost. But he continues to do some first-rate reporting for Mark Cuban's HDNet, where he'll hit the five-year mark this fall.

Pelley said that his first note of congratulations after being named CBS Evening News anchor arrived in one of Rather's signature gray envelopes. "Congratulations. Well done and well deserved," it said.

"Dan was a great mentor of mine, a great friend of mine," Pelley added. "I hate the way that it ended. But he will always have that very important place in CBS News and our history."

Pelley is now writing his own history while pledging allegiance to what some see as a stuffy, antiquated way of presenting the news without any built-in points of view. MSNBC president Phil Griffin, for one, says that his network's ratings gains are the result of taking a "progressive" (left-of-center) stance in its coverage while Fox News Channel remains steadfastly on the right. Occupying the center of the news teeter totter just doesn't work anymore, he contends.

"Well, you can do that," Pelley shot back. "And it does work. And the audience . . . has been flocking to it. We are driving this broadcast right down the middle of the road because we think that's what the largest number of people in America want to see. It's a basic tenet of the ethics of CBS News, and it's the kind of thing we rely on every day."

The proprietors of the NBC Nightly News and ABC's World News would say the same of their approach. And so far they're still winning the dinner hour newscast wars while Pelley and the Evening News hope to slowly chip away and take CBS back to the top.

If that ever happens, it will be via a combination of rock-solid storytelling and a dogged anchor's vision of his network's storied past as the only acceptable blueprint for its future.

New cast of Dancing with the Stars has a spiked heel in Nancy Grace

Dancing with the Stars''s latest celebs include Nancy Grace (bottom left) and Chaz Bono (upper right). Kickoff is on Sept. 19th. ABC photo

After many years of pronouncing defendants guilty before the rendered verdicts, brawling Nancy Grace will face judges and a jury of home viewers on the 13th edition of ABC's Dancing with the Stars.

The dagger-tongued, corkscrew-mouthed host of HLN's weeknightly Nancy Grace headlines a dozen new celebrities announced live Monday night during breaks from the network's Bachelor Pad.

Grace strode onstage in a black dress and her best approximation of a big smile. At a subsequent mini-"press conference," a sycophant from ABC's owned-and-operated New York TV station asked her if she'll feel more pressure delivering the news or dancing in pursuit of a mirror ball trophy.

"I think it will probably be a lot easier to report on the live news than to be the live news," she said with a thin smile. "Such as fallin' on your booty. So let's try to avoid that."

But millions may be rooting for a rear end collision when Grace and her pro partner dance either the Cha Cha Cha or the Viennese Waltz on the hit show's Sept. 19th opening night. Former attorney Howard Cosell attracted legions of love-haters on ABC's Monday Night Football, but this ex-prosecutor may well be in his league. Then again, critiquing her performances won't be any picnic for lead judges Len Goodman or Bruno Tonioli. Grace's glare is capable of melting cast iron at 20 paces. And her verbiage can be a heat-seeking missile.

OK, we've had our fun. And there also are some other intriguing contestants, including David Arquette (who remains very publicly separated from Courteney Cox) and LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) rights advocate Chaz Bono, who grew up to be a rather different only offspring of Sonny and Cher.

Iraq War veteran J.R. Martinez clearly looks like the competitor with the most built-in rooting interest. He still bears the visible scars of his 2003 combat wounds after undergoing 33 different surgeries. Martinez since has toured the country as a motivational speaker and joined the cast of ABC's All My Children as a combat veteran.

A likely early favorite to win it all -- and succeed Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward -- is U.S. women's national soccer team goalie Hope Solo. An athlete or two invariably make Dancing's Final Four, and Solo looks like a much better bet than fellow contestant Ron Artest, the ever-problematic Los Angeles Lakers forward who apparently is banking either on a continued NBA lockout or an early eviction. In June he filed a petition to legally change his name to Metta World Peace. But can he do the Samba?

Rounding out the field are:

Talk show host/actress Ricki Lake.
Kardashian throwaway Rob Kardashian.
Reality star/actress Kristin Cavallari.
Model Elisabetta Canalis.
Stylist Carson Kressley.
Singer Chyna Phillips, daughter of John and Michelle Philllips of The Mamas and the Papas.

Should Last Man Standing and 2 Broke Girls have checked these particular jokes at the door?

New fall series 2 Broke Girls and Last Man Standing. CBS/ABC photos

Some things just shouldn't be joked about, particularly on network TV sitcoms seen by millions.

Humor is subjective, of course. And political correctness can be insidious when taken too far, as it often is. But among the hundreds of one-liners in this fall's new crop of comedies, I'm still wondering about two of them. From this perspective, both easily could be dropped without compromising the "integrity" or varnishing the "edge" off their respective carriers -- CBS' 2 Broke Girls and ABC's Last Man Standing. So I asked about them during mass interview sessions for these shows at the recent Television Critics Association "press tour" in California.

In the pilot for 2 Broke Girls, a greasy spoon cashier played by charter Saturday Night Live cast member Garrett Morris jokes that a new waitress is "workin' harder than Stephen Hawking trying to put on a pair of cufflinks."

And in the opener for Last Man Standing, Tim Allen decides against dropping off his little grandson, Boyd, at what he later terms a "hippie hippie rainbow" learning center. He then tells his single parent oldest daughter, "I just don't think your kid should go to that school. You know how that ends up. Boyd dancin' on a float."

Hawking, the eminent physicist and cosmologist, is now almost completely paralyzed after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis as a young man. And the clear implication of Allen's joke is that Boyd might end up gay if he spends too much time in an "unmanly" environment.

Hawking's achievements are both incredible and inspirational. As his disease progresses, is such a ham-fisted joke at his expense really necessary?

And whether he's "in character" or not, should Allen be throwing out a cheap gay joke in times when bullying and hate crimes are still very much in the news?

Allen seemed surprised when he was asked, "Are you going to leave that joke in there?" But to his credit, he took the question seriously.

"Hmm, here's some thin ice right here," he began. "I think it's a funny joke, and I don't think the intent was to offend anybody. So I believe the network will probably leave it in there, but I don't know . . . political sensibilities being what they are."

Allen also didn't try to pretend that the joke wasn't aimed at a particular target. "I don't think we can safely hide behind 'What are you talking about?' " he said. "A lot of people dance on floats. Haven't you seen the Macy's parade? Now obviously if you go to Santa Monica Boulevard, it's a different kind of float. But it (the joke) wasn't meant to be offensive. It was meant to be a reflection on this guy's limited perspective."

At the 2 Broke Girls session, my question about the Hawking joke was handled by the show's co-executive producer, Michael Patrick King. He's openly gay and earlier earned fame and fortune as the principal show-runner for HBO's Sex and the City.

"Yeah, I think it's funny. I'm sorry," he said when asked if it will stay in. "The show will have an edge. And from joke to joke, you will either think it's funny or not. Our job is to make people laugh and be surprised. So if you cannot like that joke (about Hawking), I understand why. But we will always reach for comedy."

Both jokes are a reach, all right. And they should hit the cutting room floor because there's really no defensible reason for either of them.

At least that's how I feel about it. But maybe that's just me. How about you?

Flightmares achieves liftoff as latest network entry from Dallas-based AMS Pictures


Dallas-based AMS Pictures also keeps it REAL SIMPLE with Flightmares, a one-hour special premiering Sunday, Aug. 28th at 9 p.m. (central) on the Bio cable network.

This pilot for a possible series re-tells four tales of pilot and passenger distress, beginning with the Aug. 2, 1985 Delta 191 crash at DFW Airport that took 135 lives. It's an efficient, straight ahead approach, with a quartet of real-life survivors bearing witness while workmanlike reenactments put their words into pictures.

The overall production values are sturdy if not spectacular, with nothing looking cheesy. That even includes the shortest of the four stories, in which pilot Monty Coles literally had a snake on his private plane during a one-man 2006 joy ride out of Charleston, W. Va. It coiled around his arm while he gripped the back of its head and sought to make a safe landing. Samuel L. Jackson is nowhere to be found.

Real-life passenger Johnny Meier calmly recalls his death-defying experiences aboard Delta 191. He still has the yellow knit shirt he wore and a copy of The Dallas Times Herald's front page account of the tragedy. Meier holds up both artifacts during his recollections.

WFAA-TV's live coverage of the crash's aftermath is not mentioned. But the station made a long-lasting reputation on that day as D-FW's go-to destination for live breaking news while its TV rivals stayed with regularly scheduled entertainment programming in the early going.

Flightmares also details a 2009 charter plane trip from Florida to Louisiana that turned into a harrowing experience for a family of four when the pilot suddenly died of a heart attack. The climactic tale is by survivor Julia Ferganchick, who was aboard a June 1, 1999 American Airlines flight from DFW Airport to Little Rock.

A severe storm sent the plane skidding along a runway at Little Rock National Airport before it hit a light tower and burst into flames. Ferganchick emotionally recalls being pulled from a hole in the side of the aircraft before she and other passengers came to the aid of some of the injured.

Flightmares ends up being gripping enough to hold interest. And there obviously are many more stories of this ilk if Sunday's one-hour special draws enough viewers for Bio to make a further investment.

GRADE: B-minus

MSNBC's hiring of Sharpton gives it yet another left hook

Foes forever: Newt Gingrich and MSNBC's newest host, Al Sharpton. MSNBC photo

MSNBC's concerted tilt to the left just got more top-heavy with the official addition of the Rev. Al Sharpton as the network's newest full-time host.

Sharpton, who has been auditioning for the past two months in MSNBC's 5 p.m. (central) slot, will begin helming the new PoliticsNation at that hour, beginning Monday, Aug. 29th.

The heat-seeking firebrand joins a roster of like-minded politicos who already have their own shows. Sequentially from 6 to 10 p.m., they are Chris Matthews, Lawrence O'Donnell, Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz.

MSNBC president Phil Griffin, who made the announcement Tuesday, said that Sharpton has "always been one of our most thoughtful and entertaining guests. I'm thrilled that he's now reached a point in his career where he's able to devote himself to hosting a nightly show."

Sharpton pronounced himself "very happy and honored to join the MSNBC team as we collectively try to get America to 'Lean Forward.' It is a natural extension of my life work and growth."

In reality, "Lean Forward" means "Lean Left" in the same way that arch rival Fox News Channel's long-entrenched "Fair and Balanced" slogan really means "Fair to the Far Right." But MSNBC clearly has FNC outnumbered at this point in terms of weekday hosts with unwavering political views.

In a recent chat with a small circle of writers during this month's Television Critics Association "press tour," Griffin emphasized that "the media landscape's changed. You've got to stand for something. This idea that you're going to be distant and unemotional in a world where there are so many media outlets -- you can do it, but . . . " His voice then trailed off rather than finish the obvious point that has caused NBC News anchor Brian Williams and his predecessor, Tom Brokaw, to distance themselves from MSNBC rather than be seen as part of an obvious and growing partisan crowd.

In an earlier press tour interview session with TV writers, Griffin said that his network has now trained its sights on FNC after consistently beating the comparatively down-the-middle CNN in the prime-time Nielsen ratings. "For the first time," he said, "we are beginning to chip away at Fox News Channel."

But at what price to the public discourse in times when compromising or reaching a middle ground increasingly are dirty words in both Washington and in the all-our war between MSNBC and FNC? Republican presidential candidates are mostly buffoons on MSNBC and thoughtful alternatives to President Obama on FNC. There's basically next to no in-between, with Sharpton for one inviting a token Republican on his show every night for the sole purpose of ridiculing and/or talking over that person.

"I think it's easy to caricature us as the opposite of Fox, but I don't really think we live up to the caricature," said Maddow, who joined Griffin, Matthews and O'Donnell on the MSNBC panel. "I think that there is a lot more nuance and more unpredictability on our side . . . They (FNC) really are pushing a party line, not every one of their hosts, but in the vast majority of their coverage. I think we are more unpredictable."

Matthews said he even voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election because "I thought he'd have some common sense instead of be taken over by these bookish right-wigers that introduced him to this neo-con crap, and he got sold on it."

At an earlier press tour session, CNN flagbearer Anderson Cooper noted that "it's not an easy thing that CNN is trying to do" -- namely report the news with at least a semblance of old-school objectivity. "When a big event happens, people turn to CNN because they know not only are they going to have people there covering it, but they're going to cover it in a way that's non-partisan, that's not left or right. When there's not a big news event, that's when the ratings dip and it becomes more difficult for CNN . . . When you're not trying to be partisan but when you're trying to be aggressive just about the facts and what is true, it's often not as entertaining as some of the others -- and they (CNN) have had some trouble with it."

Cooper will be launching his new syndicated daytime Anderson talk show on September 12th, with WFAA8 carrying it in D-FW at 3 p.m. weekdays as a lead-in to Dr. Oz. On CNN, meanwhile, his presence will be expanded to twice nightly with a 7 p.m. first-run of Anderson Cooper 360 and a repeat at 9 p.m.

MSNBC's Griffin gives every indication that he won't be paying much attention to anything CNN does in prime-time, even though he predicts that someday "they'll be back" as a strong ratings contender. Meanwhile, the "progressive attitude" continues to bloom and grow at MSNBC, with Sharpton the latest to take offense at anything the political right says or does.

It's a network where Matthews can happily call Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney "a mood ring" before adding, "I look at 'Chet,' whatever that guy's name is -- Rick Perry. He ought to be a Chet . . . I don't know what he is exactly, but I don't think he's authentic."

Perry and thrust/parry and thrust. What a country we're becoming.

BBC America's exemplary The Hour has a 60 Minutes air in a Cold War era miniseries

The Hour stars Romola Garai, Dominic West, Ben Whishaw. BBC photo

Premiering: Wed., August 17th at 9 p.m. (central) on BBC America
Starring: Dominic West, Romola Garai, Ben Whishaw, Anton Lesser, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Oona Chaplin, Anna Chancellor, Joshua McGuire
Created and written by: Abi Morgan

Intelligent, suspenseful and stylish through and through, The Hour has just one shortcoming.

BBC America didn't send enough episodes. Four of the six were made available for review and devoured in one sitting. So the central mysteries of this mid-1950s period piece are still very much at large for everyone except those who watched The Hour during its earlier United Kingdom airing.

It's hoped that creator/writer Abi Morgan will prove adept at resolving everything satisfactorily. If so, this is one of the best drama series of the year. And even if not, the acting and atmospherics have been quite something to see so far. Pip pip and bravo, too.

The Hour also is the name of a 60 Minutes-esque TV news magazine that's launched in 1956 as a dig deep alternative to the generic newsreel programs of the day.

Producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) and lippy, temperamental reporter Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw) have worked together on the stuffy old predecessor while also being close but platonic confidants off-screen. Freddie, a young wisp of a man, aspires to anchor "The Hour," which Bel has been picked to produce. But the position instead is given to the square-shouldered and more mature looking Hector Madden (Dominic West from HBO's The Wire). An unwieldy triangle emerges, with a jealous Freddie playing hard to get before finally signing on near the end of Wednesday's opening one-hour episode.

"I'm looking forward to working with you," Hector tells him.

"At least that makes one of us," Freddie jabs back.

The fits and starts of getting the new program off the ground are intercut with Freddie's dogged investigation of what he believes to be two murders -- of a highly regarded academic and a young woman named Ruthie (Vanessa Kirby) whom he used to know as a kid. Before her demise, she re-establishes contact with Freddie and whispers, "They will kill me if they know I'm talking to you."

But who are "they?" Might they be Cold War era spies or sinister members of the British government? Is there another network out there besides the BBC, which carries "The Hour?"

Freddie's detective work, which perhaps fittingly includes the bribing of a cop, continues apace while Bel and the married Hector are growingly attracted to one another. The real-life "nationalization" of the Suez Canal Company by Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser is also part of the plot. "The Hour's" up-to-the-minute reporting of the crisis puts it at odds with the British government, which along with France is the principal shareholder in the Canal.

This all sounds like a pretty dense thicket, and it's true that close attention should be paid. But the story unfolds clearly if sometimes leisurely while the performances, particularly by Whishaw, grow stronger by the hour. He's cocky but thoroughly winning, never more so than when asking/telling one of his middle-aged bosses, "Do you want to die knowing you're always a 'yes man?' "

Viewers craving a satisfying gourmet meal rather than another summertime "reality" Moon Pie are urged to make The Hour a Wednesday night ritual for the next six weeks. The only caveat is whether it will all come out plausibly in the end. At the two-thirds mark, all systems are go.

GRADE: A (based on the first four episodes)

Bravo's Most Eligible Dallas beautifully captures the city's self-entitled, vacuous, money-to-burn singletons (Bravo?)

Five of six cast members from Bravo's Most Eligible Dallas gather in the top floor Stardust Room of the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Photo: Ed Bark

Premiering: Monday, Aug. 15th at 9 p.m. (central) on Bravo
Starring: Matt Nordgren, Courtney Kerr, Tara Harper, Drew Ginsburg, Glenn Pakulak, Neill Skylar
Produced by: Kimberly Belcher Cowin, John Ehrhard

It's hard to be humble -- or likable for that matter -- when you're busily reinforcing Texas stereotypes in a new series with a big braggart of a title.

"Are we the most eligible group in Dallas? Without a doubt," says blonde 'n' curvy Tara Harper, whose love of animals can't quite keep pace with her love of self.

Bravo's Most Eligible Dallas, launching on the summertime heels of CMT's Texas Women and Style's Big Rich Texas, is at base level another effort to undo all the good work of Friday Night Lights. That Emmy-nominated series was the first to portray the state as something more than a 10-gallon repository for yahoos and/or self-important fools and their money. Now we're back in the gilded saddle again, with a re-do of Dallas coming next fall to TNT while the likes of creature-comforted Drew Ginsburg proclaim Monday night, "Everyone in Dallas tends to be self-centered and shallow."

Openly gay, thoroughly full of himself and working for daddy's luxury car dealership, Ginsburg is one of six major league posers populating Season 1 of Most Eligible Dallas. Monday's opening hour, which gifts the city with its very own super-lampoonable Jersey Shore, also features a vagabond ego-centric NFL punter who's been released by 10 NFL teams; a former Bishop Lynch High School star quarterback but University of Texas benchwarmer; a self-described "slave to vanity" and a late-arriving new girl in town who instantly makes her jealous.

Is it all a hoot to watch? Definitely, but probably not intentionally so. And the production values at least are of a higher caliber than on Jersey Shore, whose thoroughly dim denizens are regularly showcased in symbolically cheap-looking, grainy video.

Matt Nordgren, profiled on the Dallas-Fort Worth page of unclebarky.com, is best known for his vainglorious description of himself in early promotions for Most Eligible Dallas. But "reality" television can be edited any which way. So Matt's scene-setting "I consider myself the total package. I genuinely love women" has been altered for Monday's premiere. He now says, "Dallas is a very small town. Everywhere you go, everyone knows your name. I consider myself the total package for sure. Everything I've done in my life, I've been groomed to be a great man. One thing my mother told me, 'When you walk in a room, own it.' And I've always done that."

Tara's promo clip quote also has been re-calibrated. One could first see and hear her saying, "Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Big boobs. That's what you think of Dallas, and that's kinda me." The re-edited version goes like this: "Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Big boobs. I am 100 percent a Dallas girl."

Minorities need not apply in Most Eligible Dallas, save for Tara's Preston Hollow mansion housekeeper, Maria. She gets a cameo appearance for the purpose of making a little snack for Tara's latest take-home dog via her Paws in the City charity. The dog is named Shaniqua, a popular name in the African-American community. But Tara doesn't like that moniker because "we need a better name than that." The dog, by the way, is black. Wow.

As does Drew, Tara and Matt have well-salaried positions in their family's long-established businesses, allowing them ample free time for partying, clubbing, drinking and posturing. When you're loaded with money, "the world sort of becomes your playground," says Matt, who regularly rounds up a harem of women. This continually vexes the possessive, high-strung Courtney.

Preparing to make a grand entrance at Teddy's nightspot, Matt makes multiple phone calls before outlining his overall game plan. "I try not to do one on one, because it's just not valuable time spent," he reasons. "You know, why do one on one when you can do one on three? Why do one on three when you can do one on five? Why do one on five when you can grab one buddy and do two on 15?" He then cuts loose with an everything-is-bigger-in-Texas laugh.

Courtney, a supposed longtime friend of Matt's, contributes some acid-tongued riffs when he strides into Teddy with "all the Hooters waitresses," as she puts it.

"Toot toot," Courtney tells the camera. "Like the whole train of 'ho's in their cheap dresses and their plastic heels and their fake boobies."

Let's towel off by meeting Glenn, whose frequently captured abs apparently are designed to compete with those of Jersey Shore's Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino.

Glenn's modest, though, describing himself as a "natural born poser" before he preens for a fashion shoot. "I've never had an ugly duckling phase," he later reveals. "I've just been this pretty ever since I was a child." This is not said in a wink-wink manner. Glenn really means it.

Meanwhile, Courtney is laying the wood to poor Matt the next morning at his pad. "I need a bottle of wine," she says before he pours jumbo glasses of red for the both of them. How could he embarrass and humiliate her like that at Teddy's, where she ended up bawling in the restroom with Tara?

"I don't know how to fix it," Matt tells her. "The word 'player' to me is one of the most offensive things people can say about me" because to "be a player you have to be playing games." On the contrary, all of his "cards are on the table" and all 15 of the girls he squired at Teddy's were "friends," Matt says with a thoroughly straight poker face.

Most Eligible Dallas, in which Tara snootily dismisses two men who hit on her as "Guido von Duccis," may well end up being summertime's guilty pleasure/comedy sensation. Its six resident posers clearly have no sense of irony or shame, leading their entitled lives with gusto while all of the city's unemployed or working class slugs strive to make ends meet.

"I have a view that's a panty dropper," Drew says of his luxury Uptown apartment.

"There's nothin' I can't do in this town," says Matt. "If you wanna hate on me for being a single guy at 28 in town, fine. Do it."

One more time, Matt. "I like to go everywhere with a good group of girls," he says. "Honestly, no one else can really do it. It's a special characteristic."

Damn, it'd be great to see all of them selling pencils on a street corner someday. But life isn't fair, and that's just not going to happen.

GRADE: D for the overall image of Dallas it presents. But on a love-to-hate scale, Most Eligible Dallas is way off the charts.

HBO's involving Steinem bio gives her the first, last and only words

A current day Gloria Steinem in her home office. HBO photo

The late Howard Cosell had legions of love/haters, but he can't hold Gloria Steinem's handbag in that respect.

At age 77, the lightning rod embodiment of feminism and women's liberation is given an hour's time to explain herself in HBO's Gloria: In Her Own Words (Monday, Aug. 15th at 8 p.m. central)

It's something of a Valentine, as were HBO's earlier Teddy: In His Own Words and JFK: In His Own Words films. And it seems safe to predict that HBO isn't likely to ever air a right-of-center documentary such as Nixon: In His Own Words.

Still, the Steinem film is consistently interesting while at the same time being deferential to its subject. She tells her story without entirely sparing herself, although an unauthorized and less subjective film no doubt would have sanded off some of the varnish.

"We didn't feel we had the right to be equal, or to be angry," a current-day Steinem says of times when women were expected to be subservient to men both at home and in the workplace.

She first came to fame in 1963 for a Show magazine expose on life as a bunny at the New York Playboy Club. Steinem went to bunny training school under the name of Marie Catherine Ochs, working clandestinely for several weeks to gather more first-hand material. Kirstie Alley later played Steinem in the 1985 TV movie A Bunny's Tale.

"You're paid very little, the trays are heavy, your feet hurt," Steinem reflects. "I learned what it's like to be hung on a meat hook." (She lately has called for a boycott of NBC's upcoming fall series The Playboy Club after reserving judgment late last month during a Television Critics Association "press tour" session on behalf of the HBO documentary.)

Steinem says she initially regretted the bunny escapade because "it made me unserious" to prospective employers when she sought other writing work. But she later "became glad I did it" after numerous past and present bunnies thanked her for telling the truth about working conditions at the Playboy clubs.

She became fully invested in the movement after attending a 1969 hearing at which women spoke out for legalized abortion. Steinem earlier had an abortion at age 22, but "I never told anybody," she confides in the film, which is directed by Peter Kunhardt (Freedom: A History of Us).

In those days, "there was no word for sexual harassment," she says. "It was just called life." The burgeoning feminist cause was easy enough to ridicule. Former variety/game show host Garry Moore is recaptured in a 1972 radio interview in which he describes Steinem as "extremely attractive" before adding that "most of the women I see in the women's liberation movement frankly couldn't lure me out of a burning building."

Steinem founded Ms magazine in 1972, with predictions of its quick demise a little premature for a publication that exists to this day. Anchor Harry Reasoner, one of the early doomsayers later was man enough to apologize on the air for being wrong.

Many other men were having none of it, though. An Esquire magazine article ridiculed Steinem in a comic book segment that depicted her as a superficial, self-aggrandizing superficial feminist. And a "Pin the cock on the feminist" placard placed outside theMs. magazine offices showed a fully nude illustration of Steinem surrounded by male appendages. This being HBO, we see the entire display, which remains a jaw-dropper.

Steinem could be barbed as well on the subject of men's sexuality. As the film shows, she once referred to Richard Nixon as "the most sexually insecure chief of state since Napoleon."

It's also made clear that Steinem adored fellow activist Bella Abzug but wasn't a fan of Betty Friedan -- and vice-versa. Her principal regret, it seems, is the way she largely abandoned her parents.

Steinem's father, Leo, was both charming and financially irresponsible, she says. And her mother, Ruth, had a nervous breakdown and was constantly depressed. They had been long divorced when her father was seriously injured in a car accident in Orange County. She never went to see him for fear she'd end up being his caretaker, as Steinem was for her mother during what she says was a lonely and "neglected" childhood. In later years, Steinem also suffered from depression -- and wrote a book about it.

"So he died alone, and I regret that so much," Steinem says of her father.

She also has survived a bout with breast cancer and the death of her husband, David Bale, in 2003. They were married in 2000, a development that Steinem admits surprised both her and the world at large. In Her Own Words also shows her acting out of character by tap-dancing during a Barbara Walters special at the urging of the host, who sings "Me and My Gal" in accompaniment. It's pretty cringe-worthy, but also shows that Steinem, who learned to tap as a kid, can be more than a single-minded, deadly serious pretty face.

None of this will convert those who believe, as a caller to a 1990 Larry King Live program expressed, that Steinem is "one of the primary causes of the downfall of our beautiful American family and society today." Furthermore, Steinem should "rot in hell," the caller told her to her face.

She doesn't hope to tempt fate anytime soon. "I've so loved being here, and I do hope to be 100," Steinem says at film's end. "I love it so much. I never want it to end."

Whatever you think of her, Steinem already has led one very eventful life. In Her Own Words offers her a chance to airbrush it at will. But the film still stands as a revealing and often surprisingly intimate look at a woman whose impact and influence are undeniably indelible.


Summer TV "press tour" picture book

The two-week Television Critics Association "press tour" has faded from view. Your friendly content provider has another batch of homegrown pictures, though. So let's share and share alike.
Ed Bark

The cast of NBC's Chuck has one last half-season left. Photos: Ed Bark

Tennis honey Anna Kournikova is new trainer on The Biggest Loser.

Iconic Harry Belafonte will be subject of a new HBO docu-film.

It's a geek heaven on earth with the Game of Thrones easy chair.

Splashers get ready to sync & swim at BBC America party.

SNL evergreen Garrett Morris strikes pose for CBS' 2 Broke Girls.

Sodom and Gomorrah: Our Playboy mansion guide before and after.

Hey, it's Emmy nominee Johnny Galecki of The Big Bang Theory.

Hey, hey, it's Davy Jones of The Monkees, hosting a new PBS special.

All hair broke loose at the NBC Universal All-Star Party.

Still twins after all these years: Tia and Tamara Mowry.

Come fly with them this fall on a same-named ABC series.

Erik Estrada is ready for his closeup -- but not for long.

Kathy Griffin and 90-yr.-old mom Maggie take a red carpet ride.

Drink specials & fakey love on behalf of Bravo's Most Eligible Dallas.

Lopez Tonight canned, Conan goes on

George Lopez played the good soldier. Now he's paying the price.

TBS abruptly canceled the veteran comic's Lopez Tonight Wednesday, with his final hour airing Thursday. In a statement, the network said it had "reached the difficult decision not to order a third season" of the show, which premiered on Nov. 9, 2009 at 10 p.m. (central) before the arrival of Conan O'Brien's Conan pushed Lopez back to 11 p.m. in November of last year.

"We are proud to have partnered with George Lopez, who is an immensely talented comedian and entertainer," TBS said.

Lopez publicly supported both the hiring of O'Brien and the loss of his earlier time slot to the red-headed former Tonight Show host. But as O'Brien's ratings began slipping from their initial highs, so did Lopez's.

In this year's May "sweeps" Nielsen ratings, Lopez Tonight ranked 10th in the key 18-to-49 ratings for late night broadcast and cable programming, averaging 295,000 per show in this age range while Conan placed 8th with 701,000. Both were distant also-rans to Jon Stewart's The Daily Show on Comedy Central, which finished No. 1 in this category with an average of 1.344 million viewers.

In January, Conan was riding higher with an average of 811,000 viewers in the 18-to-49 age range while Lopez Tonight also fared better with 382,000.

Both shows also have been dropping off in total viewers. Conan averaged 1.123 million in January, doubling Lopez Tonight's 556,000. In May those numbers respectively fell to 975,000 and 451,000 while Stewart's Daily Show soared to 2.337 million compared to January's 1.556 million.

During a set visit in January, Lopez told TV critics that he "was not unhappy about the move (to a later hour) or with Conan coming to TBS. I like it . . . This could be a nice partnership that will last a long time. Listen, they don't put in air-conditioning this extravagant for a show that's not going to be around a long time. I want to be the last face people see before they pass out with their televisions on."

Lopez prided himself on the diversity of his guest list and his show's party atmosphere. But now the party's just about over, with O'Brien certain to get part of the blame for displacing Lopez Tonight and no doubt hastening its demise.

Lopez's scheduled guests Thursday are Raven-Symone, Auggie Smith and Slash. But look for some unannounced drop-ins as the cancellation continues to reverberate.