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Mess-terpiece Theatre: But that's what Syfy's Mega Python Vs Gatoroid is supposed to be

Debbie Gibson and Tiffany star in Saturday night creature feature. Syfy photos

Far-fetched creature features used to be drive-in movie staples. The bigger and scarier the monsters, the better chance you had of getting to second base or beyond.

Syfy has revived this arguably proud tradition with its ongoing Saturday night series of low budget original monster fliks. Anonymous Rex, Mongolian Death Worm, Android Apocalypse and so on. Most critics might sniff. But the come-on and the title for Mega Python Vs Gatoroid have sent your friendly content provider careening into full-blown, crazed Uncle Barky mode.

"Are you ready for the television movie event of 2011?" prospective reviewers are asked in publicity materials. Sure, why not. Then brace yourself for double-barreled terror and copious use of the word "bitch" when Debbie Gibson and Tiffany "get down and dirty in their long-awaited pop princess smackdown."

Both of these "1980s singing sensations" have been this route before, with Tiffany a veteran of Syfy's Mega Python and Gibson emoting in the network's Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus.

So with a key assist from Tiffany's always on display mega-cleavage, here we go with a blood-spillin', invective-spewin' Florida Everglades rumble premiering Saturday, Jan. 29th at 8 p.m. central.

Tiffany plays park ranger Terry O'Hara, who's fated to clash with Gibson's obsessed animal rights activist, Nikki Riley. Their favorite reptiles respectively are alligators and pythons, both of which grow to enormous proportions during the course of this gruesome but also riotous saga.

But as the above poster for the film suggests, a good deal of the action also is devoted to verbal and physical bouts between the two leading ladies.

"Ooh, somebody had bitch for breakfast," Nikki declares early in the game after Terry tells her to keep her mitts off of her.

Personal tragedy soon strikes, leaving Terry distraught, borderline psychotic and lashing out at the woman she blames for her miseries. That would be Gibson's Nicki, who looks almost emaciated next to Tiffany's decidedly full-figured authority figure. Terry further lays the wood by branding Nicki a "crazy, cold-blooded, snake-lovin' bitch."

Mega Python Vs Gatoroid also includes a buncha knuckle-draggin' hillbillies suitable for snacking and a still-in-there-punching A Martinez (no, there's still no period after A) as a heroic herpetologist who declares, "I just encountered a gator of literally massive proportions."

The special effects are expectedly cheesy, but not unduly so. And you won't have to wait very long for the snakes and gators to strike again. In an early growth stage, though, one of the wild-eyed slitherers looks more than a little like a vacuum cleaner hose after it get scrunched by a pickup truck tire.

A surprise participant in this outing is good ol' Kathryn Joost, a two-time Emmy winner for her guest star role of Karen McCluskey on Desperate Housewives but better known by many as the devoted Mrs. Landingham on The West Wing. Joost plays a deputy park ranger named Angie, whose occasional one-liners are supposed to break the tension or something.

There's also an appearance by a very hammy Micky Dolenz, who plays himself and is billed as a trained Monkee at Terry's big fundraiser for everglades preservation. But Terry's also been a very bad girl, maniacally plying the resident alligators with steroids in hopes they'll grow big enough to conquer the pythons.

All of this has been building, of course, to a big catfight between the two principals. And Tiffany and Debbie don't disappoint, pelting each another with fundraiser food items before rolling their way across a lawn and into a pond. Tattoo-dotted Tiffany remarkably stays within the confines of her low-cut evening gown, although perhaps the European version will be a bit more expansive.

Publicity materials note that Mega Python Vs Gatoroid is the first Syfy Saturday Original Movie to be directed by a woman -- namely Mary Lambert. She can't be accused of using a light touch. Or of getting anything more than cartoonish performances from either the actors or the monsters.

Still, the pacing is crisp and the sight gags occasionally a bit inspired, as when a gargantuan snake and gator poke their heads through the wall of a mall having a "Monster Sale Today."

When all is said and devoured, Mega Python Vs Gatoroid emerges as a fairly enjoyable waste of time, particularly if you watch it in the grip of your mood enhancer of choice. Too bad it's not in 3D. All of its mega attractions, both human and reptilian, are just begging to further pop off the screen.

GRADE: What better to give a B-movie than a B-minus?

Star Melissa Peterman makes the best of CMT's shopworn Working Class

Melissa Peterman and Ed Asner have a deli moment. CMT photo

Premiering: Friday, Jan. 28th at 7 p.m. (central) on CMT
Starring: Melissa Peterman, Ed Asner, Steve Kazee, Patrick Fabian, Laughlan Buchanan, Courtney Merritt, Cameron Castaneda
Produced by: Jill Cargerman, Bryan Johnson

This old-timey sitcom thing is already starting to get a little -- old.

TV Land went for broad retro laughs last season with Hot In Cleveland, whose Betty White-powered success spawned this month's premiere of the very like-minded Retired At 35.

Country Music Television (CMT) took full notice and now is launching its first-ever scripted sitcom. Episodes 1 and 2 of Working Class, co-starring former Reba regular Melissa Peterman and Ed Asner in full grimace, give it the old hee-haw in back-to-back fashion Friday night.

You'll likely guess every development at least a minute or two beforehand. But Peterman's enthusiasm for her role is tangibly contagious, making it possible that a decent percentage of opening night viewers might RSVP in the affirmative to this show's overall "Ya'll come back, ya hear" motif. Besides, next week's third episode will have guest appearances by both Reba McEntire and John Schneider. Wouldn't wanna to miss that, now would ya?

Peterman is a big ol' ball of fire as Carli Mitchell, a twice-divorced single mom who's hard-pressed to provide for kiddoes Scott, Pam and li'l Will (Laughlan Buchanan, Courtney Merritt, Cameron Castaneda).

"I'm payin' bills. You guys eat. I'll eat -- next year," Carli tells her offspring in an opening kitchen scene that soon finds her trying to secretly water down the milk again.

Carli's layabout, but good-natured brother, Nick Garrett (Steve Kazee), for some reason is allowed to live rent-free in the family's convincingly ramshackle home. His next effort to help make ends meet is to go out drinking with an old high school pal named Buddy. For some reason, Carli's perfectly OK with this, resisting any urges to hit him alongside the head with that watered-down milk jug.

Cut to the Parker Foods deli section, where Carli works the counter with grumpy Korean War vet Hank Grezniak (Asner). His first words are aimed at a pampered little dog residing in a stick-thin customer's hand bag. She feeds him sweets.

"I know that mutt," Hank grouses. "Damn thing craps cupcakes." A minute or two later, Hank tells Carli that it's still "not too late to land a sugar daddy." Told that she first needs to feel a "spark," he grinds her gears with this one: "Oh grow up. You want a spark? Chew on a lamp cord."

Arrgh, it's pretty sad to see Asner this way. His crusty demeanor was dead-on funny in those gloried Lou Grant days. Now it's just off-putting, with the multiple Emmy winner looking dissipated and more than a little desperate to still feel wanted in a small-screen setting. Betty White is one thing, but Ed Asner is quite another. His voice work in Up was terrific. This outing is anything but.

Peterman soars above her Working Class environment, though, whether eager to please a man who turns out to be her boss or fending off the advances of Buddy in Episode 1 and a dentist who's well-played by guest star Ryan Stiles (The Drew Carey Show) in Friday's second half-hour. She even gets away with saying, "And I love you -- as a buddy -- Buddy."

Otherwise there's not all that much to like. Working Class pumps the laugh track with the vigor of a loan shark's deal-closing handshake. Its situations and denouements are reliably musty remnants from the days when sitcoms such as Who's the Boss? and Empty Nest stuck to the wall in one season after another.

There can be a certain comfort in turning back that clock. But for the most part, that's what reruns are for. In this case, Peterman merits an upgrade. For now, though, she carries Working Class on her back, straining to make this material come alive and coming amazingly close to actually pulling it off.


FX's Archer starts Season 2 by successfully getting away with just about everything

Thoroughly adult-humored Archer is back for Season 2. FX photo

The cartoon teen in Archer's Season 2 opener can do what none of MTV's can -- get naked and be sexually explicit without raising concerns that these might be violations of federal pornography statutes.

Perhaps you've heard about the semi-uproar over Skins, MTV's explicit adaptation of a hit British series about an oft-time teenage wasteland. Some of the actors in the cast are under the age of 18, which has put the network on the defensive after the Parents Television Council attacked Skins as a "dangerous" dramatization that includes possibly illegal sexual content involving minors. Since the show's Jan. 17th premiere, several major sponsors have dropped out, including Taco Bell and Subway. Audiences also dropped, from 3.3 million for the opening episode to 1.6 million for Monday's second hour.

Both Skins and FX's Archer are rated TV MA, the strongest viewer advisory available. But Archer, which returns for a new 13-episode run on Thursday, Jan. 17th (9 p.m. central), is strictly a sendup of the well-worn spy genre. And in that guise, it's both jaw-droppingly funny and brilliantly voice-acted by a cast that includes Jessica Walter, Aisha Tyler, Chris Parnell and H. Jon Benjamin in the lead role of vain and awkwardly adept master spy Sterling Archer.

Now back to the teen scheme of things, during a provocative season premiere episode subtitled "Swiss Miss." Archer's demanding, tough-love mother Malory (Walter), who runs the ISIS agency, takes her operatives to a snow-covered European resort for the purpose of protecting a Swiss billionaire's 16-year-old daughter, Anka, from a kidnapping threat.

Fellow agent Lana Kane (Tyler) isn't quite over Archer. So she gets a little miffed at him for eyeing Anka a little too closely after she clandestinely squeezes his tush.

"I saw you totally eye-bang a teenager," Lana carps before stalking off.

Anka turns out to be a sex-craving Lolita who doesn't at all mind Archer dubbing her "Countess Von Finger Bang." She's further aroused by the sight of his chiseled bod in a bath towel. Which is inadvertently dropped when Anka jumps into his arms after he saves her from a would-be abductor.

In her native state of Germany, the age of consent is 14, Anka has informed him. An incredulous Archer wonders whether her homeland is "the Alabama of Europe."

"In many ways, yes," she purrs. "But we can talk about that in bed."

Anka's father then barges in to see his daughter straddling her flustered, naked and still upright protector. And perhaps at this point it should be noted that the actress voicing Anka is 33-year-old Kari Wahlgren, a veteran of numerous animated outings on big-screen and small-. FX and Archer might be in big trouble if it instead were one of the underage actors from Modern Family. That indeed would be going too far.

The episode ends with a prolonged and splendidly animated snowmobile chase in which Anka is topless throughout after initially asking Archer, "Do you think I need a boob job?" He keeps a hands-off attitude until the bitterly cold end, when Anka begs Archer to put his "big mitten-y gloves" on her freezing chest. "Only because this is a medical emergency," he says, finally relenting before Lana drives up to again draw the wrong conclusion.

Adult animation hasn't yet reached the point -- at least on an advertiser-supported cable network -- where female endowments or male tools can be shown with abandon. But side views of ample breasts (including Anka's) and fully bared bottoms again are part of Archer's landscape, as they were in Season 1. The S-word also is used with regularity, as when plus-sized ISIS Human Resources director Pam Poovey (Amber Nash) exclaims "Holy shitcakes!" in next week's outing.

Archer in short can get away with just about everything Skins can't. And it does so in ways that are often laugh out loud funny. In every way imaginable, Archer is about as far removed from The Flintstones as Guy Fieri is from a vegetarian diet.

Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" block or Comedy Central would kill for a show like this. Instead it's FX scoring again with another out of the box, jump-in-your-face series that most assuredly isn't for everyone but most definitely knows what it's doing.


Syfy ramps up creature comforts in new competition series starring budding special effects artists

Premiering: Wednesday, Jan. 26th at 9 p.m. (central) on Syfy
Starring: Host McKenzie Westmore and judges Ve Neill,Glenn Hetrick, Patrick Tatopoulos
Produced by: Michael Agbabian, Dwight D. Smith

You need the right makeup to be a world class special effects artist. The proper materials play an important role but it also helps to be perhaps a bit creepy.

"It takes a lot of time in your mother's basement when everybody else is out having a party or playing football," is the way judge Glenn Hetrick put it during a recent interview session tied to Syfy's new Face Off competition series.

Visions of a dozen pasty-faced, wild-eyed variations on Norman Bates are perfectly logical then. But at least Face Off is about something other than cooking, weight-shedding, singing, dancing, romancing, having the right look or winning through the "art" of conniving. Instead this latest Syfy creature feature focuses on 12 aspirants who'd love to turn you into a zombie, a mutant or maybe even Massive Head Wound Harry.

They'll get their chances in an array of competitions judged by Hetrick (Heroes), Pirates of the Caribbean wizard Ve Neill and creature designer Patrick Tatopoulos (I Am Legend). Your host is McKenzie Westmore, whose great-grandfather George is considered a god in this field. Unfortunately he killed himself with a self-induced lethal dose of mercury while still in his early 40s. Don't try this at home.

The contestants, who include 31-year-old Sergio Cuerra of San Antonio, are quickly put through their paces after minimal introductions in Wednesday's first episode. Following a brief warmup task, in which one gains a week's worth of immunity, they pair off into six teams in a "Spotlight" challenge that requires transforming a model into a human/animal hybrid. As with Iron Chef, you must work with the designated ingredients, which in this case are an elephant, an ostrich and a beetle. No worries, though. These live creatures are only used as visual aids.

Face Off spends a good deal of time showing how the sausage is made. Competitors all work in the same well-appointed la-BOR-atory, so there's also a little time to diss and dissect each other's work.

The judges can be fairly cutting in their criticisms.

"What the duck happened here?" Hetrick asks one team.

"You could never put this on film, even for a kids' show," Neill tells another.

One contestant, an emotional 21-year-old woman "straight out of school," becomes a bit vexed. "I wanna shoot myself in the face in front of you all right now," she says.

Well, at least it's different, even though your basic "reality" competition trappings remain firmly in place. One hopeful will be evicted each week, with one of the judges first intoning, "The person going home tonight is" -- pause at comical length before naming name.

Challenges in future episodes will include applying full-body makeup on nude models, creating a horror film villain and creating new characters inspired by classic fairy tales. And the premiere episode is just captivating enough to make Face Off worth at least a few more looks.

GRADE: B-minus

Yes, even Judy Woodruff has opinions -- and expresses them despite saying she doesn't

Judy Woodruff holds forth at TCA confab for NewsHour. PBS photo

This might seem a little nitpicky. And even though it's aimed at Judy Woodruff, it's not entirely meant to single her out for what she said Monday regarding President Obama's impending State of the Union Address.

Woodruff in reality is no more "guilty" than many others when it comes to outwardly objective journalists being asked to express their opinions. And then freely giving them in return.

Woodruff is the lightning rod here, though. That's because she got quite holier-than-thou earlier this month during a session for PBS' NewsHour at the Television Critics Association "press tour" in Pasadena, CA.

Panelists, pictured above, were asked what they thought of NPR's firing of Juan Williams last October after he told Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly about his unease in traveling with plane passengers clad in "Muslim garb." His employer said Williams had violated NPR's policy against expressing personal opinions. Doing so was "inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR," management said in a statement. FNC then quickly signed Williams to a new contract with a pay rise.

Woodruff, a recurring guest on NBC's Meet the Press, told TV writers that opinion "has risen in value, if you will" on some news outlets. "It's easier for us (on NewsHour) because we don't do opinion. We just don't do it. And people can say, 'Well, you do analysis and you do this and you do that.' But there's a difference. Opinion is what you personally think about something. And you know it when you see it. You can smell it. And we don't do it."

She went on to describe Williams' dismissal as "unfortunate," but wouldn't elaborate. At this point, I asked Woodruff about being "asked all the time (on Meet the Press and other Sunday morning chat shows) to analyze races . . . "

"And I don't answer those questions," Woodruff interjected.

"Well, but tons of journalists do," I said, contending that "they have you on those shows not to do a recitation of what's going on in the world but to give your opinion of what you think about it."

"I'll beg to differ," Woodruff said. "When I go on, I prepare as carefully as I can. I talk to a lot of people . . . and I report what people have been telling me about how they view certain things. But I don't sit there and say, 'I think the President did something dumb this week.' Or, 'I think Speaker (John) Boehner did a fabulous job' . . . It's not about me. And I think there's a difference."

This brings us to an email sent Monday, alerting TV writers to a new "State of the Union preview video" posted to NewsHour's "Rundown blog." In the video, Woodruff and NewsHour political editor David Chalian "discuss expectations for the speech, the president's political posture, and more," the email said.

I watched the video, during which Woodruff tells Chalian, "He's (Obama) coming into the State of the Union in a stronger position. And I think that gives him a little more leeway to do what the White House wants, and not be so defensive about explaining what they want to do."

Wait a minute. Did Woodruff say "I think?" How dare she use those words. Wasn't she expressing a personal opinion about the Obama administration supposedly righting itself of late and gaining a more advantageous position for Tuesday night's big speech? Nowhere in the 5 minute, 18 second video does Woodruff say she had talked to political leaders who said they felt that way.

So shouldn't Woodruff be fired? No, of course not. Because virtually everybody in TV news would be sacked if they were held to such an impossible standard.

Woodruff shouldn't be so sanctimonious, however, in putting NewsHour or herself on a pedestal. In doing so, she leaves herself open to heightened scrutiny. And frankly, to regurgitate her words, I know opinion when I see it. I can smell it. And Woodruff in fact does do it.

Rivers again run shallow in latest mom-daughter "reality" gambit

Joan & Melissa at Television Critics Association session. WE tv photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Jan. 25th at 8 p.m. (central) on WE tv
Starring: Joan, Melissa and Cooper Rivers plus an assortment of interlopers
Produced by: Annabelle McDonald

The well-received documentary film Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, released last summer, accomplished the virtually impossible by making her a somewhat sympathetic figure with unquenchable needs to be both wanted and appreciated.

It also was made abundantly clear that Rivers, 77, will turn down nothing in her determination to remain in the public eye. This unfortunately brings us to her latest thinly-based-on-reality series, Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?. The premise: mommy not so dearest relocates from the East Coast to Malibu to get closer to both her 43-year-old daughter and grandson Cooper, who was nine during filming of this eight-part concoction for WE tv.

None of this is to be bought, even though the elder Rivers persists in thinking she can buy love. Her staff and friends all feign shock when she breaks news of her move to them while the cameras roll. Meanwhile back in Malibu, viewers are introduced to an array of Melissa's hanger-ons. They include a boyfriend named Jason (who looks like one of the bulkier Baldwin brothers); a layabout live-in lout known as Conrad and reminiscent of Kato Kaelin; a ribald, parasitic BFF named Lynne; and a voluptuous, scantily-clad Swedish nanny called Dominica. Where does the girl get the money? Is Fashion Police that lucrative?

Joan in turn will bring her abundant demands and baggage plus beloved dog Lola, who has "bladder issues" when excited. Melissa is prototypically aghast, even after mom tells her that Lola is "the Gayle to my Oprah." Jason braces for the perils of Joan moving in, summing up his fears thusly: "I don't want to be living under duress the whole time here, and feel eyes piercing through my soul."

Episodes are one hour each, requiring ample manufactured "drama" to keep this thing percolating. In Tuesday's opener, Joan rails against Dominica ("You either hire an ugly nanny or a gay guy"); angers Melissa with her continued addiction to plastic surgery; and secretly buys Cooper a surfboard after the kid easily manipulates her. There's also time for Dominica to doff her itsy bitsy bikini top during a beach outing so that Joan can layer her back with lotion.

"I think it's a good way for Cooper to learn how to count," Joan riffs.

Here's also a mother who in next week's Episode 2 incessantly lobbies her daughter to go topless for a Women of Hollywood Gone Wild video being put together by notorious sleaze merchant Joe Francis. (D-FW angle: Francis was very briefly married last year to former CBS11 entertainment reporter Christina McLarty.)

It seems that Joan objects to a "hooker watering the plants" (namely Dominica), but is perfectly at ease having Melissa go topless while her chest is still up to the task.

"When my breasts fell, they were measured on the Richter scale," Joan cracks before mother and daughter visit Francis to see how much money he'll offer. The figure he comes up with isn't shared with viewers. But Joan can't help proclaiming, "I would just be so proud to say, 'You see that slut on the cover?' That's my daughter.' "

She can't possibly mean that. But in return for exposure of any kind, television's most desperate mother-daughter duo apparently know no bounds or boundaries. It's unfortunate, because the elder Rivers truly was a groundbreaking standup comic in a field where women remain few and far between. The Piece of Work film brought that home while also making it clear that Rivers' manifest insecurities continue to get the best of her.

This time it's led to this super-ludicrous WE tv eyesore, which also includes mom sneaking up to Melissa's bathroom to snap pictures of her in the shower. Daughter shrieks in protest but mom is only out to prove that her only child has "a great ass" among other things. Alas, you can't make this stuff up. Except in these cases, you most certainly can.


Olbermann out and about again

Although he's made himself toxic wherever he's worked, CNN probably would be wise to make itself the next waystop in Keith Olbermann's checkered career.

The slot currently occupied by the network's failed and flailing Parker Spitzer would be perfect for the oft-bombastic Olbermann, who could resume competing against The O'Reilly Factor and now Lawrence O'Donnell in MSNBC's 7 p.m. (central) hour.

Olbermann's sudden and rather shocking last day at MSNBC was Friday, when he said goodbye on his Countdown program by reading a James Thurber story with the motto, "It is better to ask some of the questions than to know all of the answers."

At roughly the same time, MSNBC issued its own by-the-book statement via email: "MSNBC and Keith Olbermann have ended their contract . . . MSNBC thanks Keith for his integral role in MSNBC's success and we wish him well in his future endeavors."

The network also said that The Last Word with Keith O'Donnell will slide from from 9 to 7 p.m., effective Monday, while The Ed Show (with Ed Schultz) will move from 5 p.m. to O'Donnell's former slot.

Olbermann, who returned to MSNBC in 2003 after a previous short stint from 1997-'98, had been in the middle of a four-year, $30 million contract. But he publicly crossed swords with the network last November, receiving a hand-slap two-day suspension after acknowledging his monetary donations to three Democratic campaigns. Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough likewise received a two-day suspension for contributing to Republican campaigns.

(Olbermann and Scarborough have been odds personally as well as politically, with Olbermann carping, "Jesus, Joe, why don't you get a shovel?" after Scarborough talked up Republican presidential candidate John McCain's chances during MSNBC's 2008 Democratic National Convention coverage.)

During his on-air statement Friday, Olbermann told viewers that "there were many occasions, particularly during the last two-and-a-half years, when all that surrounded the show, but never the show itself, was just too much for me. But your support and loyalty, and if I may use the word 'insistence,' ultimately required that I keep going."

At a salary of more than $7 million per year, it wasn't as though Olbermann were carrying a cross. But no network news personality -- not even Olbermann's arch rival Bill O'Reilly -- had a more self-aggrandizing air about him.

MSNBC contends that Olbermann's abrupt dismissal had nothing to do with Comcast's takeover of NBC Universal last week. That's a fairly believable disclaimer. Olbermann, who turns 52 on Thursday, has gained a reputation as being notoriously "difficult" during a broadcast career that has taken him from ESPN to MSNBC to Fox Sports Net and then back to MSNBC. "I fired him. He's crazy," former employer Rupert Murdoch was quoted as saying after Fox Sports Net and Olbermann parted ways.

Still, there's no denying Olbermann's talents as both a wordsmith and on-air communicator. On Countdown he fired from the left at will while invariably inviting only those guests who agreed with him. His frequent "Special Comment" interludes at the end of Countdown gave full vent to his rages against all things Republican. Olbermann's nightly "Worst Person In the World" segments likewise became a staple, with seldom a week going by in which either O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh didn't make his lists.

The audience response to Countdown, even though it never managed to outdraw O'Reilly, helped push MSNBC past CNN in the prime-time ratings race. It also prompted MSNBC to hire more voices from the left in a partisan strategy to beat Fox News Channel at its own conservative game. Schultz, O'Donnell and Rachel Maddow all were hired after Olbermann set the stage. They share his left-of-center political views.

CNN has fought to preserve the middle ground with its prime-time lineup and overall presentation. But although still profitable, the granddaddy of cable news networks remains in the midst of a makeover.

The Crossfire-ish Parker Spitzer, co-anchored by conservative commentator Kathleen Parker and former New York governor Eliot Spitzer (who resigned after a prostitution scandal) has been a critically panned ratings disaster since its October premiere. It's still too early to tell with Piers Morgan Tonight, which on Monday replaced CNN's quarter-century old Larry King Live.

Olbermann's partisanship and overall degree of difficulty would be problematic for CNN. But there's little doubt that he'd at least double the audience for Parker Spitzer, which on Thursday night had 522,000 viewers to Countdown's 1.1 million while The O'Reilly Factor in turn almost tripled Olbermann with 2.9 million.

Hiring Olbermann -- who clearly isn't welcome at Fox News Channel -- would give CNN both a ratings boost and a lot of baggage. It also would resume the O'Reilly/Olbermann not-so-civil war, during which the latter once compared his foe to discredited, "Red-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy in remarks to TV critics.

"Joe McCarthy has people to this day who say of him, 'He was right. He really was a great American,' " Olbermann said. "I'm grateful that Bill O'Reilly is on television. I mean, what if he were in Congress? There's always been a little room for some crazy demagogues."

Many would say that description likewise fits Olbermann, who's now in search of more rope in which to both hang and martyr himself. But CNN might as well go after him. It badly needs a prime-time jolt, and Olbermann's just the guy for that job.

Network TV "press tour" photo album -- January 2011

Every picture tells a story. Or as Ricky Gervais might say, "I saw Charlie Sheen at breakfast the other morning, and he had his knickers around his neck."

Your friendly content provider snapped to it when possible during the recent 11-day network shows-and-tells in Pasadena, CA. Here are some of the more evocative images. And remember, for complete stories about what went on out there, please visit locatetv.com and have at them.

Behold the casbah housing Oprah Winfrey's OWN party. Photos: Ed Bark

Oprah's security people walled her off, preventing a better picture.

Mike Tyson popped into the OWN party, even though he doesn't have a show on the network. Who was gonna tell him he couldn't?

Paris Hilton agreeably struck a pose at jammed NBC Universal party.

Alas, Jeff Bridges seemed to be doing his dead-on Nick Nolte impression when this one was snapped. He was a great interview during a preceding PBS session for American Masters.

Leading ladies of Laugh-In: Ruth Buzzi, Lily Tomlin, Joanne Worley.

Glee's Chris Cofer took home a Golden Globe a few nights later.

A natural looking Cloris Leachman hasn't had much work done.

A supernatural looking Joan Rivers has had lots of work done.

Hey, look, it's the still hirsute "Coco" on the TBS set of Conan.

Holly Madison is Hef's ex-girlfriend. She doesn't look too crushed.

That really mean guy from Avatar is actually actor Stephen Lang.

Sweet Amy Poehler on the set of Parks and Recreation.

George Lopez flaunts TCU colors in full view of University of Wisconsin alum who's still smarting from 21-19 Rose Bowl loss.

There's just no stopping Glee's Jane Lynch -- from winning awards.

Doris Roberts with Mad Men kid Kiernan Shipka at Hallmark party.

Austin bar owner Brad Womack says he found made-for-TV love during his second go-around on The Bachelor. But he can't say who she is until ABC telecasts his climactic rose ceremony.

Former Taxi star Marilu Henner still stands out in a crowd.

ABC's really crappy "press tour" day included "Ballsy" from Wipeout.

A horse is a horse, of course of course. Even when he's miniature Li'l Sebastian from Parks and Recreation. And that's a wrap.

IFC's Onion News Network an alphabet soup of CNN/FNC/MSNBC

Brooke Alvarez, Tucker Hope of Onion News Network. IFC photo

Premiering: Friday, Jan. 21st at 9 p.m. (central) on IFC
Starring: Suzanne Sena, Todd Alan Crain, Jill Dobson, Esther David and many more
Produced by: Will Graham, Julie Smith, Jim Biederman

If only they didn't seem so grounded in reality.

Earlier this month, Comedy Central launched Onion Sportsdome, a sendup of the abundant excesses on ESPN's Sports Center. It's paired on Tuesday nights with the incumbent Tosh.0.

Now comes Onion News Network, a thoroughly modern lampoon of cable's trio of regularly ridiculous 24-hour news networks. It premieres Friday on IFC alongside the network's new Portlandia.

Trumpeted as "News Without Mercy" and "A 24-Hour Non-Stop News Assault," ONN barges into living rooms with its flagship The Fact Zone, helmed by the convincingly self-important Brooke Alvarez (Suzanne Sena). Her wingman is Tucker Hope (Todd Alan Crain), who presides over the program's "High Definition Recon Wall" and has been recognized nationally for his touch-screen prowess.

Sena's Alvarez is a marvel of ego-centricity in the line of duty. She even has a promo in which a pitchman bellows, "When you follow Fact Zone's Brooke Alvarez, you're following the news anchor with more stalkers than any other major network on-screen personality."

The first two editions of the half-hour program provide a feast of guffaws, even if "real" TV journalists, pundits and producers might not be all that amused.

Alvarez's top story in Friday's premiere is slugged "Motor City Murderer." A young white woman accused of stabbing her victim with a screwdriver receives the harshest penalty available to the city's justice system. She's tried as an African-American man, with Alvarez intoning, "Now that Hannah has been ruled black, the court has instructed local media to assume she's guilty."

Later in the newscast, Hope's "Daily Briefing" notes that convicted sex offenders in California now must wear "lightly tinted eyeglasses" and cutoff denim shorts when outside their homes. Viewers also are informed that the Joe Biden Band will be reuniting after a long layoff to play the Super Bowl halftime show. An old concert cut from the band's repertoire, "Sister-In-Law," is then played as a bridge to a commercial break.

Fact Zone's "First Responders" segment features a trio of pundits mouthing off on an already overblown news story. And at show's end, there are always a few seconds for the ramblings of elderly Joad Cressbeckler, whose "The Cressbeckler Stance" is a very thinly disguised twit of CNN's Jack Cafferty-fueled "Cafferty File."

Not everything works to perfection in the first two editions. But next Friday's lead story, "Snowlocaust," certainly does. The going is so tough in the Midwest that Southern Wisconsin is in the throes of a travel-restricted "Pornography Outage," reports meteorologist Tom Fontaine. Even New Orleanians are feeling a "bit chilly" while bracing for a "potential light snowfall."

There also are occasional highlights from ONN's Today Now!. For openers, the hosts browbeat a woman whose life was saved by a firefighter who died in the process. "Nation Wondering If Melanie Should have Died Instead," says a tagline.

Back at the Recon Wall, Hope's regular "This Day In History" segment salutes the deceased inventor of the "Hand Job," whose pioneering efforts led to other breakthroughs in self-pleasurement.

Everyone remarkably keeps a straight face, with Alvarez leading the charge. Comedy Central's The Daily Show at last has a worthy rival in the "fake news" game. Even if both in effect are just keepin' it real.

GRADE: A-minus

Lights, cameras, carnage, carnality: Starz's Spartacus prequel again bares all

Cocky Gannicus is The Man in lurid Spartacus prequel. Starz photo

Full frontal nudity: Check

Opium-induced lesbian scene featuring co-star Lucy Lawless: That, too.

Hard-core profanity: Check

Blood-spurting violence: Of course.

Urination onto a badly bloodied face: Afraid so.

Compelling storyline: Well, you can't have everything, although in truth there's just enough plot to go around in the Friday, Jan. 21st premiere of Spartacus: Gods of the Arena (9 p.m. central).

Necessitated by star Andy Whitfield's unfortunate bouts with cancer, this is the prequel -- and the franchise -- that Spike TV would love to have if it didn't have advertisers to offend. Visceral with a vengeance, it's Extreme Fighting with no holds barred and enough extracurricular activities to make even Caligula blanche. All of these myriad excesses are firmly in keeping with last year's Spartacus: Blood and Sand, which ended with a literal big slosh through ankle-deep blood after all of the enslaved gladiators' tormentors were left for dead.

Whitfield's continued health problems have led to the recasting of Spartacus, who will be played by Australian actor Liam McIntyre in the post-slaughter continuation of the series. Meanwhile, Gods of the Arena is intended to keep the blood flowing -- and the flesh heaving -- with a flashback to the story of how vainglorious Batiatus (John Hannah) and his wife, Lucretia (Lawless), propelled themselves into the big leagues of the gladiator game.

Hannah, whose character met a brutal death in the closing minutes of Blood and Sand, again grandly over-acts as the super-profane shyster with the movin' on up mania. Is he therefore laughable as well? Pretty much so, although verbal histrionics are hardly out of place amid all the abundant overkill in this six-episode ramp-up.

Batiatus' first big meal ticket is Gannicus (Dustin Clare), a taunting, cocksure piece of prime beef of whom his master says, "He can strip naked and fight with his cock as long as he wins."

Still, Gannicus isn't considered quite ready for prime-time by a sinister overlord named Tullius (Stephen Lovatt). So Batiatus must bow and scrape to a degree while his main man racks up bloody victories to the tune of the series' chainsaw rock sound track. Gannicus is then rewarded with pleasures of the flesh, which Gods of the Arena of course depicts. He's a heavy drinker as well.

Also very much in play is the lascivious Gaia (Jamie Murray), whose elderly husband is infirm, dried up and out of her picture. Gaia wonders why her friend, Lucretia, hasn't already treated herself to a gladiator or two. But she deems them "filthy" beasts for now, with her subsequent lover, Crixus (Manu Bennett), a coarse rookie in training at the moment.

Gods of the Arena won't disappoint on the guilty pleasure front. If anything it's even more gratuitous than the original, which also managed to tell some pretty good tales while flaunting its goods. It's obviously not for the squeamish, nor perhaps for the refined. But it's al-i-i-i-i-i-ve in so many ways. So what the hell, let's rock.


Fairly Legal gives USA another soft touch

Ex-Dallas Cowboys ch'leader Sarah Shahi fronts cast of Fairly Legal. NBC photo
Premiering: Thursday, Jan. 20th at 9 p.m. (central) on USA
Starring: Sarah Shahi, Michael Trucco, Virginia Williams, Baron Vaughn
Produced by: Michael Sardo, Steve Stark

A light breeze blows through all of USA's drama series.

The network's slogan, "Characters Welcome," might just as well be accompanied by "As Long As They Brightly Banter."

Fairly Legal, premiering Thursday with an extended 75-minute episode, sticks steadfastly to that formula. Its lead character, litigator turned mediator Kate Reed (Sarah Shahi), even keeps her bounce while at gunpoint in a convenience store robbery. She eventually talks both sides into a compromise, with the would-be bad guy contentedly walking away with an armload of beer and beef jerky while the store owner puts away his baseball bat.

Hey, it's working. Led by No. 3-ranked Royal Pains, USA has six of cable's top 20 scripted dramas among advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds. The network's nominal big brother, NBC, sorely wishes it could say as much. USA succeeds almost effortlessly while NBC keeps flopping.

Shahi herself is a veteran of two NBC ratings duds -- the critically praised Life and the not so critically praised Teachers. The former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, born in Euless, TX as Aahoo Jahansouz, now is likely to live long and prosper as Fairly Legal's pacesetter. She plays this lead role with assurance and aplomb, elevating the entire enterprise in the process. Fairly Legal in a sense is Shahi's coming out party as an actress capable of toting the load. Not that USA requires any unduly heavy lifting. Another tagline for the network might be, "Watchable But Not Exceptional" -- with the arguable exception of Burn Notice.

Kate is first seen on her San Francisco bay houseboat, waking from an unintended sleepover with estranged husband Justin Patrick (Michael Trucco). Their prickly relationship also is complicated by the fact that he's an up-and-coming assistant district attorney who's regularly in a position to help her wade through various legal entanglements.

On another front, Kate spars with oft-imperious stepmother Lauren Reed (Virginia Williams), who belatedly married her recently deceased daddy and now is determined to keep his troubled law firm afloat. Lauren looks to be just a few years older than Kate, which also complicates matters. The late Teddy Reed, whose ashes rest in a majestic looking urn, apparently was randy as well.

The premiere episode is stocked with a goofy mediation case tied to an impending wedding and a more serious one involving a hit-and-run incident with several twists and turns. Graybeards Ken Howard (The White Shadow) and Gerald McRaney (fresh from the NBC flop Undercovers) drop in as guest stars. Both play it very stern while Kate strives to keep her sunny side up.

A fourth regular character, Kate's "geek-chic" assistant Leonardo Prince (Baron Vaughn), looks to be a nice fit in this mix. Kate also has an occasionally seen brother who quit the law firm to bond with his new baby daughter. Hence the ever-present stroller.

Fairly Legal (initially titled Facing Kate) has an initial 10-episode order, all of which are completed. It's likely to run a good deal longer than that on a network that knows what it's all about. Did we mention that Kate's frequent cell phone callers are identified as characters from The Wizard of Oz? That's another light touch typical of the overall USA approach. Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy need not apply here. They'd only soil the sheets.

GRADE: B-minus

Perfect Couples: Wow, what a bad show

Hey, we're the cast of Perfect Couples. You'll hate us. NBC photo

Premiering: Thursday, Jan. 20th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Kyle Bornheimer, Christine Woods, David Walton, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Hayes MacArthur, Olivia Munn
Produced by: Jon Pollack, Scott Silveri, Andy Ackerman

Nothing clicks during NBC's Perfect Couples. Except perhaps millions of hand-held remotes searching for something -- anything -- to relieve the tedium.

Sneak-previewed to disastrous ratings on Dec. 20th, Perfect Couples makes its official debut Thursday as part of an all-night Peacock comedy bloc that also includes the return of Parks and Recreation and new episodes of Community, The Office, 30 Rock and Outsourced.

Let's put it this way. It's a good thing that Comcast has finalized its takeover of NBC. Because a close look at Perfect Couples otherwise might have driven the cable giant toward a panicky give-back at a penny on the dollar.

The shows' six whiny whiteys have less appeal than a rafting trip deep within the bowels of a waste treatment plant. Friends this isn't. In fact this is enough to incite a Facebook campaign for NBC to bring back any un-aired episodes of Conrad Bloom.

Let's briefly outline the painful particulars.

Dave and Julia (Kyle Bornheimer, Christine Woods) are the marginally well-adjusted married couple of the group.

Friends Vance and Amy (David Walton, Mary Elizabeth Ellis) are constantly blowing up at one another -- "You jerk, you bastard, you giant baby monster!" -- before sometimes immediately making up and having hot sex.

Fellow friends Rex and Leigh (Hayes MacArthur, Olivia Munn) call each other "cherished partner" in the interests of keeping their relationship rolling.

None of this resonates. In fact, with pals like this you'd be better off alone on a desert island dragging a pair of bloody stumps.

OK, perhaps one line might induce a bit of a grin. During the otherwise wretched excess known as "Game Night," Vance says, "You Seacrest-ed me" after being made to believe he won't be on the same team as one of his friends.

Actually the whole show is almost certain to be Seacrest-ed Thursday night by a little competing show called American Idol. Perhaps Fox should be nominated for a humanitarian award.

Unfocused, unfunny and all together unbearable, Perfect Couples at least affords NBC a chance to hit rock bottom before the new owners begin their massive cleanup effort. Sometimes that's the best way to fully recover.


Matched set: TV Land plays it again by pairing new Retired at 35 with returning Hot in Cleveland

George Segal again is strummin' on his old banjo. TV Land photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Jan. 19th at 9:30 p.m. (central) on TV Land
Starring: George Segal, Jessica Walter, Johnathan McClain, Josh McDermitt, Ryan Michelle Bathe
Produced by: Chris Case

Throw another retro-fitted sitcom on the fire. Then sit back and smell the Glade-scented ratings.

TV Land soared over its highest expectations last year with the Betty White-fueled Hot In Cleveland, which also is aided and abetted by savvy sitcom vets Wendie Malick, Valerie Bertinelli and Jane Leeves. It ended up being cable's most-watched comedy series, and not just among viewers who get around with walkers and know who Randolph Scott is.

Cleveland also was cable's No. 1 comedy among 25-to-54-year-olds while likewise topping the charts with 18-to-49-year-old women. So TV Land will strike again Wednesday night, with the Season 2 premiere of Cleveland (featuring a cameo by Mary Tyler Moore as a jailbird) followed by the launch of Retired at 35.

The title refers to the comparative kid of the piece. But the show's stalwarts are old pros George Segal and Jessica Walter as his Florida-esconced parents, Alan and Elaine Robbins.

Sporting an ample gut and finding myriad reasons to strum his trademark banjo, Segal regularly delivers his lines several decibel levels above optimal volume.

"You're gonna love it here! It's like college in slow motion!"

"Are you on facial book?!"

"Porn is like basketball to me. I like watching people do what I used to do."

The laugh track is beside itself -- and why not? In a sea of "smart" one-camera comedies (including NBC's entire re-shuffled Thursday night lineup), Retired at 35 is unapologetically broad and bull-horned. Dialogue is served like Beef Wellington -- grandly with heavy sauce.

We begin with the Robbins' harried son, David (Johnathan McClain), arriving from New York while being pestered on his cell phone about unfinished business matters. "Will you stop with all the texturizing?! Dad exclaims. Yo ho ho and a bottle of Scotch, which Segal's character has in abundance.

Wednesday's premiere also includes David's carping younger sister, Amy (Casey Wilson), who's been written out of future episodes. As has her seemingly gay boyfriend, who's meant to sound and act like Paul Lynde.

Surviving through next Wednesday's Episode 2, though, are David's typically lunk-headed, beefy best friend Brandon (Josh McDermitt) and comely bartender Jessica Sanders (Ryan Michelle Bathe), on whom David had a crush in high school.

The title tells you that David will be sticking around a spell. It doesn't tell you about another key plot development that involves his parents and frees up Dad to be the recipient of "a toke and a poke" (a pal's shorthand description of medical marijuana and Cialis).

McClain's David Robbins does a fairly good job throughout of acting flustered and hectored. And evergreen guest star Christine Ebersole, who also pops in next week, remains capable of turning a head or two with both her acting and her looks.

Shelley Long of onetime Cheers fame in contrast has an embarrassingly brief walk-on next week. Down the road, Fred Willard of course will also make a guest appearance. It's written in the TV Constitution that no comedy shall go more than two seasons without his participation.

Whatever its excesses, Retired at 35 isn't hurting anyone and likely won't lower many IQs to room temperature. It has its moments and is well-appointed with seasoned actors who know how to hit their marks. So if you like Hot In Cleveland, then by all means stick around. These two shows go together like peanut butter and jelly, AARP Magazine and bifocals, Cialis and medical marijuana . . .


Being Human gives Syfy a supernatural threesome -- all under one roof

Vampire Aidan has a bite to eat in Being Human. Syfy photo

Premiering: Monday, Jan. 17th at 8 p.m. (central) on Syfy
Starring: Sam Witwer, Sam Huntington, Meaghan Rath, Mark Pellegrino, Sarah Allen, Gianpaolo Venuta, Alison Louder
Produced by: Michael Prupas, Jeremy Carver, Anna Fricke

Hey, have you heard the one about the vampire, the werewolf and the ghost?

They share an apartment in Syfy's Being Human, a light/dark and fairly diverting melodrama launching in times when fangs seem to be fail-safe. This one is braced on a British series, also hardly a novelty these days.

The vampire is named Aidan (Sam Witwer), a 200-year veteran who craves to get out from under the thumb of mentor/maker Bishop (Mark Pellegrino). His friend, Josh (Sam Huntington), is a relatively newly minted, nebbish-y werewolf who works at the same hospital as Aidan.

Striving to be regular guys, they move into a Boston brownstone together, with Josh initially seeming like a fastidious Felix Unger while Aidan lazes about. Three's a crowd, however, when Sally the ghost (Meaghan Rath) blows in. She's been languishing in the apartment for six months after dying from a fall down a flight of stairs while endeavoring to take a nighttime pee. Her boyfriend -- and the boys' landlord -- has been pretty blue ever since. But Sally is thrilled to at last be able to talk to someone, anyone. Vampires and werewolves also can see ghosts in the flesh, so that's an added plus for her.

When not being jokey, Being Human can be pretty grisly. Aidan succumbs to his dark side early in Monday's premiere, sinking his teeth into a
date named Rebecca (a scene-stealing Sarah Allen), who then turns up missing. We haven't seen the last of her, though, which is a good thing for this series' sense of menace.

Syfy has divided the first two hours of this series into a cliffhanging Monday to Monday episode subtitled "There Goes the Neighborhood." At the end of Part 1, Josh is on the verge of turning into a werewolf while his unsuspecting sister, Emily (Alison Louder), shares a locked room with him. Meanwhile, Aidan has been lured to a seductive vampire lair by Bishop.

Intermittent pop tunes overlay Being Human with a somewhat juvenile CW-y feel. And its breathe easier banter is a bit contrived at times, with Aidan cracking, "Look at you, Julia Child" while Josh whips up a meal. The serious portions are appreciably better done, with viewers exposed to plenty of red. Aidan's flashback to a wedding party slaughter is decidedly un-pretty to behold but does raise the stakes, so to speak.

The joking and biting occasionally give way to Sally's pining for Danny (Gianpaolo Venuta), who seems to slowly be sensing her presence near the end of next Monday's second episode. All in all it's a pretty deft mix of violence, pathos and ethos via a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost as roomies. Beware, though, of a potential Saturday Night Live sketch. If Being Human catches on, it's certainly ripe for that.

GRADE: B-minus

Amid ample minuses, NBC's Harry's Law has a big plus in Kathy Bates

Kathy Bates snarls and spars in Harry's Law. NBC photo

Premiering: Monday, Jan. 17th at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Kathy Bates, Nate Corddry, Brittany Snow, Aml Ameen
Produced by: David E. Kelley, Bill D'Elia

Over the top topicality and a plus-sized, 62-year-old lead actress are sequentially typical and atypical of a David E. Kelley legal drama.

Both are in abundance when the architect of Ally McBeal, The Practice and Boston Legal goes to court anew with NBC's Harry's Law, an improbably entertaining outing that initially finds Kathy Bates' character reclining at her office desk while smoking pot and bemoaning her fate.

"Patent law is as boring as a big bowl of steaming dog -- shut the door, Jenna," she beefs after her boss walks in on her. "I'd sooner look into a mirror and watch my teeth rot than do one more case involving patent law."

So Harriet "Harry" Korn is immediately fired. Walking the streets of downtown Cincinnati, she's then twice knocked flat on her back, first by a drug-addicted college student trying to commit suicide (he instead hits an awning first and lands on her) and then by a hot shot young attorney who hits her with his car.

Both Malcolm Davies (Aml Ameen) and Adam Branch (Nate Corddry) of course impulsively join the tart-tongued Harry's fledgling law firm, along with holdover assistant Jenna Backstrom (Brittany Snow). It's headquartered in an abandoned shoe store, prompting footwear aficionado Jenna to dub the new venture Harriet's Law and Fine Shoes. It's all perfectly plausible if you also believe that an obscure Alaska governor who says "You betcha" a lot can become an overnight sensation as a vice presidential candidate who now seems to be aiming at bigger game.

Actually, Sarah Palin probably won't be a big fan of Harry's Law. Producer Kelley tends to wear his left-of-center politics on his sleeve. This affords Harry a chance to fire away in Monday's premiere episode at courtroom adversary John Peyton (former ER regular Paul McCrane) after earlier dubbing him "an asshole" in defiance of rudderless NBC's usually persnickety standards & practices department.

Harry's spirited defense of Malcolm, facing prison time after his third arrest on drug possession charges, includes a recommendation that cocaine and the like be legalized, regulated and taxed. Peyton says that liberals would love that before she retorts, "The argument was first raised by conservative Republicans when the party had thinkers before it was hijacked by the likes of Rush Limbaugh -- a drug addict himself who somehow fared much better in our justice system. I wonder why."

In next Monday's second episode, Harry's back at it on behalf of a destitute 87-year-old neighborhood lady accused of robbing a liquor store owner at gunpoint. She first asked her congressman for "some of that stimulus money" but instead received a solicitation for a campaign donation, the defendant testifies before dubbing him an "asshole" while the judge tries to stifle a chuckle.

It's then Harry's turn. "We're the richest nation in the world," she tells jurors, "and one in seven of us lives in poverty. We're supposed to be the country that cares . . . Trust me, there's nothing you can do to this woman that the government hasn't already done."

By this time another dose of omnipresent mood music has kicked in. Harry's Law can be off-puttingly formulaic on that score.

Still -- and this is a basically overriding "still" -- the Oscar-winning Bates is mostly great fun to watch, whether snarling, empathizing or rolling with references to her bulk. She additionally packs a pistol, offing a rat in Episode 2 before sardonically adding, "Alert PETA."

Harry's Law also embraces its rundown neighborhood's diversity, with people of color mostly portrayed as decent-minded victims of circumstances. Kelley clearly doesn't care if this grates on some viewers. Nor is he afraid to cast an actress whose age is well beyond any network's "acceptable" demographic target.

Twelve episodes of Harry's Law have been completed, but ratings-starved NBC so far has given Kelley just a six-episode on-air commitment. The newcomer also will have to go against CBS' Hawaii Five-0 and ABC's Castle, a tough twosome for any show to tackle.

Whatever its fate, Harry's Law at least stirs the juices. Bates has long proven her worth as an actress who knows how to throw her weight around and doesn't mind having it double as a plot point. "Mostly soft tissue," she deadpans after her character avoids serious injury in both of those aforementioned, scene-setting mishaps.

She just might grow on you, too. But the odds are long and the climb will be steep.