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ABC makes space for intergalactic Defying Gravity

Spaced out: Defying Gravity's Ron Livingston, Laura Harris. ABC

Premiering: Sunday, Aug. 2nd at 8 p.m. (central) with back-to-back episodes on ABC
Starring: Ron Livingston, Laura Harris, Malik Yoba, Christina Cox, Ty Olsson, Florentine Lahme, Paula Garces, Dylan Taylor, Andrew Airlie, Karen LeBlanc, Zahf Paroo, Maxim Roy, Peter Howitt
Created by: James Parriott

ABC's sometimes exhilarating, occasionally overwrought Defying Gravity centers on eight astronauts on a $10 trillion mission to seven planets in six years.

Not having anywhere that kind of money to spend, the network has gone the inevitable international co-production route, with Fox Television and Omni Film Productions working in association with Canada's CTV and Germany's ProSieben. Whatever it takes. NBC similarly has co-partnered this summer on three scripted series -- Merlin, The Philanthropist and The Listener, the latter already co-canceled.

Defying Gravity at least looks expensive on-screen. And it has a capable international cast headed by Ron Livingston (Office Space, Band of Brothers) as jauntily named Maddux Donner, a womanizing and somewhat haunted flight engineer who 10 years earlier had to abandon two space colleagues on Mars. Quite naturally then, he's prone to grave narrative sermons that sometimes don't fly all that well.

The year is 2052, except when we're flashing back to training sessions for the eight astronauts who will be boarding the Antares and initially heading toward Venus. On the ground, Donner first gets into a fight with a snippy BBC reporter and later decks imperious Mission Control Commander Mike Goss (Andrew Airlie), who looks quite a bit like James Cameron.

There's a secret mission at the heart of the Antares expedition, and Sunday's first two hours don't go very far toward fingering it. Instead there are two rather pro forma rescues amid the continued haunting of ship geologist Zoe Barnes (Laura Harris), who hears a baby's high-pitched wail when no one else does.

Zoe initially is the most interesting and appealing character in a series that's still sorting through them after the first two episodes are over and out. Things keep promising to get more interesting and involving, and might well do so in time. It can be a long pull, though, as is Donner's very sl-o-o-w reeling in of a colleague after she's nearly lost in space.

TV watchers of a certain vintage might think they see someone quite familiar in Defying Gravity's opening minutes. Indeed they do. It's former Hill Street Blues star Charles Haid (who played "Cowboy" Andy Renko) as Donner's very dissipated dad. Haid spends most of his time behind the camera these days, but still knows how to make an impression.

ABC reportedly has ordered 13 episodes of Defying Gravity, which certainly brightens the network's summertime landscape more than its recently launched reality series, Dating in the Dark. But whether it truly blasts off -- creatively at least -- remains very much up in the air. So far we're still footloose -- and alien-free.


More to Love -- less than meets the eye

North Texan Natalia Jackson is one of 20 "full-figured" suitors vying for bachelor Luke Conley, pictured with host Emme.

Premiering: Tuesday, July 28th at 8 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Bachelor Luke Conley, supermodel Emme and 20 plus-sized women looking for love
Produced by: Mike Fleiss

None of the 20 "full-figured" supplicants on Fox's More to Love looks quite large enough to make the cut on NBC's The Biggest Loser.

Most certainly are weepy enough, though, including North Texan Natalia Jackson, easily the heaviest contestant at 279 pounds.

The show lists everyone's weight, save for "iconic" plus-sized supermodel Elle, who serves as host. And whether or not this thing truly is "inspirational" -- as Fox describes it -- Natalia does seem to be at a sizable disadvantage against love-seekers who weigh as much as 99 pounds less than her.

Premiering Tuesday, July 28th at 8 p.m. (central), More to Love is from veteran reality show provider Mike Fleiss, who has already hit the motherlode with ABC's The Bachelor. This series is exactly like that show, save for the so-called "real" women populating it and the bestowing of diamond-studded promise rings instead of roses by 26-year-old, 330-pound real estate investor Luke Conley.

"I'm a big man, and I enjoy being a man of large stature," he proclaims before heading to the inevitable, floodlighted, Southern California mansion to meet an array of love-handled "voluptuous, curvy women."

Natalia, the last to be introduced to him, is originally from Fort Worth and currently lives in Dallas. Fox press materials list her occupation as "make-up artist," but on the show she's billed as a "recruiter."

"I'm such a good person. And I just want somebody to love me for me and just get to know me and get past all that. And it's hard. It's definitely hard," Natalia says, sobbing.

Most are soon proclaiming their love for Luke, who in turn tells the camera, "They're all so beautiful. They're exactly what I'm looking for."

Alas, he must trim the herd by five on the premiere episode. The supposedly lucky ones are asked, "Will you wear this ring?"

Television is all over the place when it comes to telling women how they're supposed to feel about their bodies. Nary a week goes by in D-FW without a new spate of diet and cosmetic enhancement stories on local newscasts. Biggest Loser also implores its over-sized inhabitants to take it off, as do Oxygen cable's Dance Your Ass Off and VH1's Celebrity Fit Club.

More to Love -- "I love me a skewer of meat," says one contestant -- and Mo'Nique's Fat Chance, also from Oxygen, say it's all right to strut your "junk" and be proud of it. Most guys may indeed "love the skinny bitches," 245-pound Kristian says on More to Love. But she's got more to offer and sassily plans to prove it.

Why then, are most of these plus-sized women depicted as desperate, dateless and dependent on More to Love for a last grasp at the brass ring? How can they go on if Luke rejects them? Several seem at rope's end, including Natalia.

But that's the way reality TV rolls, no matter what the shapes and sizes of the participants. More to Love is no better or worse in that respect. But it sure does seem redundant -- and in no small part phony, too.


Silverman out in NBC Universal shakeup

Jeff Gaspin (left) supplants Ben Silverman in NBC exec suites.

The troubled and largely ineffective two-year reign of NBC Entertainment co-chairman Ben Silverman ended Monday with the last-place network's cable guy supplanting him.

Jeff Gaspin, already in charge of the NBC Universal-owned Bravo, USA, SyFy, Oxygen, Sleuth and Chiller networks, will be adding the NBC broadcast network to his responsibilities, effective immediately.

Silverman, who joined NBC from Reveille Entertainment in June 2007, is "returning to his entrepreneurial roots to form a new venture," NBC Universal said in a statement. He supposedly will remain at NBC "for several weeks" to assist in launching the network's fall schedule. But no one is expected to listen to him. (Silverman's new venture is in partnership with former Fox broadcast network czar Barry Diller.)

Gaspin had rejoined NBC in March 2001 as executive vice president of "alternative" (unscripted) series. He co-developed The Apprentice, Deal or No Deal and The Biggest Loser before being named president of Bravo in December 2002. During an earlier nine-year stint at NBC, Gaspin helped Dateline NBC get off the ground and also presided over the expansion of Today to seven days a week.

Gaspin is "an extraordinary media professional who has had an incredible record of success in his 25 years in the business," said Jeff Zucker, president and CEO of NBC Universal. "He's a strong creative executive who also has the business acumen necessary to succeed in today's media environment."

Silverman, in Zucker's words, "has many exciting things he wants to accomplish and we applaud him as he sets off on his new endeavors. Ben brought us tremendous new thinking in this changing media age, and we're grateful for that."

Much of Silverman's "new thinking" involved "product integration" into failed new series such as Knight Rider and My Own Worst Enemy.

"Basically I'm getting 'disintermediated' from my audience via technology," Silverman tried to explain in a November 2008 interview on PBS' The Charlie Rose Show. "Digital and the delivery of our programming via digital distribution is giving my consumer the power to freeze-frame, fast-forward or watch at their own discretion. And therefore potentially skip the ads that are sold around the shows."

Under Silverman, and with no small assist from Zucker, the storied NBC broadcast network has largely become a loss leader in the past few seasons while NBC's growing portfolio of cable properties has prospered. Basic cable's dual revenue stream, via both commercials and fees charged for carrying the networks, has made NBC's business model seem outmoded. USA in particular has thrived with summer series such as Burn Notice, In Plain Sight and the new Royal Pains while NBC has mostly suffocated with scripted hot weather fare such as The Listener, Merlin, The Philanthropist and its Sunday night disaster-driven miniseries.

Silverman, whose admittedly freewheeling personal life also has come under scrutiny, quickly positioned himself as a man of action when he addressed the nation's TV critics during NBC's portion of the July 2007 "press tour" in Los Angeles.

"Get ready. I want to do it fast and furious," he said in an interview with unclebarky.com. "It's really hard to move this massive ship. We left port, and we're in a business that's under attack. We're an inch from the iceberg. We're not 100 yards from shore. So I think we have to move quick. We have to roll up our sleeves."

In fairness, NBC's fall 2007 schedule already had been put together by his predecessors. But some of Silverman's quick-fix initiatives soon backfired and others never materialized at all.

The Singing Bee, promoted to NBC's fall schedule after a fast summer start, quickly became a one-note flop while Fox's like-minded Don't Forget the Lyrics! lived on. An announced one-hour "dramedy" from All In the Family creator Norman Lear has never seen air. Phenomenon, a search for the "next great mentalist" fronted by Criss Angel and Uri Geller, also came up empty.

Silverman also uncanceled Donald Trump's The Apprentice and turned it into two little-watched celebrity editions. And NBC's hitless 2008 fall schedule, the first with Silverman's full imprint, brought forth ratings clunkers such as Kath & Kim, Crusoe and the aforementioned My Own Worst Enemy and Knight Rider.

Other Silverman initiatives have included Momma's Boys, Superstars of Dance and Howie Do It, all of which have been canceled. NBC's only bonafide prime-time hits, America's Got Talent and Sunday Night Football, were both underway before Silverman's arrival.

Gaspin, 48, inherits an already announced fall schedule that includes possibly the riskiest prime-time venture ever, NBC's Monday through Friday Jay Leno Show, set to premiere on Sept. 14th.

"I can't think of a more important time to take on this expanded role," Gaspin said. "Our industry is going through one of the most profound changes in history and I look forward to using all that I have learned to help build the NBC Universal assets through this period of unprecedented evolution."

It'll be a tall order, particularly with the network that used to flex its prime-time ratings might with mega-hits such as The Cosby Show, Seinfeld, Frasier, Friends, Cheers, ER, L.A. Law and the now all but dissipated Law & Order.

NBC's five consecutive fourth place finishes -- in both total viewers and advertiser craved 18-to-49-year-olds -- are testament to how long ago that's been.

NBC's The Storm replete with latter day TV washouts

Stuck in The Storm: James Van Der Beek, Luke Perry. NBC photo

Poor James Van Der Beek probably knows the score better than anyone.

The onetime Dawson's Creek heartthrob has since been eclipsed by the show's three other principals.

Katie Holmes, who played Joey Potter, is the wife of Tom Cruise and mother of their daughter, Suri. That alone is enough to maintain her international celebrity status, but she also remains an in-demand actress whose credits include the blockbuster Batman Begins.

Joshua Jackson (Pacey Witter) co-stars in Fox's high-visibility Fringe, which returns for a second season this fall.

Michelle Williams (Jen Lindley) received an Oscar nomination for Brokeback Mountain and has a daughter, Matilda Rose, by the late Heath Ledger.

For Van Der Beek (Dawson Leery), there's NBC's The Storm, latest miniseries entry on the network's disaster-prone Sunday night lineup. Premiering Sunday, July 26th at 8 p.m. (central) and concluding a week from then, it succeeds the Peacock's Meteor, in which Earth also was in the cross-hairs.

Van Der Beek, outfitted in specs and stubble, plays idealistic scientist Jonathan Kirk, who messes with Mother Nature in hopes of ending all famine and floods. But unbeknownst to him, sinister forces are plotting to use his weather technology as a weapon, unleashing hurricanes and the like on any countries that get out of line. Namely Iran for starters.

The premise is pretty much all wet. Likewise is Van Der Beek, who spends much of this miniseries drenched and on the lam from bad guys while a recurring, grinding rock score pounds bumps on viewers' cerebellums. Irksome camera tricks also accompany these chase scenes, as Kirk captains his one-man effort to reverse a spate of really bad weather around the globe.

The Storm also is stocked with other familiar TV stars who've mostly had their day.

John Larroquette (Night Court) pops in for a few scenes as head of the Cable News Service's L.A. bureau.

David James Elliott (JAG) is back in uniform, this time as four-star Gen. William Braxton. He's very keen on weaponizing the weather.

Luke Perry (Beverly Hills, 90210) spends a little time as a duplicitous counter-agent of some sort.

And Treat Williams (Everwood) is most laughable of all as ruthless billionaire Robert Terrell, who barks out orders while variously getting a massage, stroking a concubine's leg or putting golf balls.

Basically put, Kirk realizes the error of his ways after blasts of energy intended to scientifically alter the weather instead poke a big hole in the ionosphere. He immediately quits his post at the Atmospheric Research Institute, prompting Terrell's thugs to chase him all over the place.

Kirk's old girlfriend, Danni Nelson (Teri Polo), now a heat-seeking reporter for CNS, is also quickly in harm's way. A heavy-handed Psycho ripoff finds her in the shower and at the mercy of an assailant with a long-bladed knife.

The Storm offers other subplots, including a pregnant woman trapped in a cellar with her "Poppy" (father) and a female bartender whose life is jeopardized while her former lover strives to make things all better again.

Mostly though, there's a whole lot of Van Der Beek running, sometimes in tandem with a comely cop with whom he confides. Those who stick it out all the way through might find their hearts racing just a tad above the speed limit. In its own clunky way, The Storm manages to be just a wee bit gripping down the stretch.

Now Van Der Beek needs to get a grip on his career. At age 32, it's still not too late.


Please, please, Mr. Postman: Letterman wins two straight weeks in total viewers for first time since 1998

Letterman-McCartney on last week's Late Show. CBS photo

No matter how NBC tries to spin it, the old man and the CBS Eye are increasingly taking it to Conan O'Brien's Tonight Show.

Last week's national Nielsen ratings made it two straight wins in total viewers for CBS' Late Show. And that hasn't happened in back-to-back weeks since February 1998 during the Nagano Winter Olympics.

NBC blames this in part on Paul McCartney's "highly publicized" appearance and performance on Letterman's July 15th show. And the Peacock crows that Tonight is still beating Late Show among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds, although by just two-tenths of a rating point in the week of July 13-17.

Here's the thing, though. Late Show went out and got McCartney as a guest. He didn't just magically materialize on the show. And when Jay Leno's prime-time program premieres on Sept. 14th, guest bookings are going to get even tougher for O'Brien's Tonight. So the worst may be yet to come.

Letterman clearly is re-invigorated by the chance to once again be late night king. So is ABC's Nightline for that matter. Its ratings are only for a half-hour while Late Show and Tonight are measured for the full hour. And as the hour grows later, the ratings usually fall off.

Still, in the latest ratings week, Nightline beat both Letterman and O'Brien in total viewers. The totals were 3.7 million for Nightline, 3.5 million for Late Show and just 2.7 million for Tonight.

CBS repeats its summertime success -- again with mostly repeats

Mark Harmon of NCIS and Emmy nominee Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory. Their summertime repeats are thriving. CBS photos

This bears repeating. CBS leads all networks in total viewers this summer despite filling most of its prime-time lineup with crime and comedy reruns.

What's more, it's the only network to show a year-to-year increase while rivals ABC, NBC and Fox all are enduring double-digit decreases.

This is especially vexing for ABC and NBC, who rely far more heavily than CBS on new reality and scripted programming. Fox, which programs seven fewer weekly hours than its competitors, has been less ambitious on the first-run programming front. But it still banks heavily on So You Think You Can Dance and launched new episodes of Hell's Kitchen this week.

CBS, sticking to its usual hot weather game plan, again brought Big Brother back earlier this month. But its biggest summertime audience grabbers have been repeats of NCIS, The Mentalist (on both Tuesdays and Thursdays), Two And A Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, CSI: Miami, CSI: NY, just plain CSI and Criminal Minds.

All told, CBS has 11 of the 20 most-watched series through the first eight weeks of the summer season. It's averaging 7.024 million viewers so far, an increase of 1 percent over last summer.

That might not seem like a lot, but ABC, NBC and Fox would love to say as much. The No. 2 Peacock is drawing 5.419 million viewers (down 11 percent year-to-year), followed by Fox's 5.207 million (down 19 percent) and ABC's 4.958 million (down 11 percent).

"Summer repeats work on several levels for building program franchises," CBS senior vice president of communications Chris Ender says in an email response. "Popular shows can turn into hits in the fall after more people discover them in June, July and August. You can ease shows into their new time periods for fall, like we're doing now for The Mentalist, The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother. And it's important to remember that even passionate fans sometimes only see two out of four shows a month during the regular season."

That's only half the story. Even more important to CBS is its summertime revenue picture. CBS executives won't comment on the record, but confirm that an old economic reality remains in place when it comes to a network's overall bottom line. Namely, networks collect virtually all of the revenue on repeats of their series. Not so with first-run episodes, where much if not all of the money coming in goes right back out to pay production costs.

This is especially true of scripted programming. And CBS has found, to its great advantage, that "procedural" crime dramas in particular repeat far better than serialized hours such as ABC's Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice.

Last week's national Nielsen ratings (July 13-19) were typical. On Thursday at 9 p.m. (central) for instance, The Mentalist in what will be its new fall time slot drew 8.37 million viewers opposite Private Practice, on a respirator with just 2.917 million viewers.

NBC has prospered with its Tuesday and Wednesday episodes of America's Got Talent, plus preceding repeats of the show on both nights. But its other first-run programming has gone clunk, including a series of Sunday night disaster miniseries and weekly episodes of Merlin, The Philanthropist, Kings and The Listener, which recently was dropped with five new episodes to go. Earlier this summer, the Peacock flailed about with an extended run of I'm A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here.

ABC has done all right with new episodes of Wipeout and The Bachelorette, but bombed with the likes of The Superstars, I Survived a Japanese Game Show, Better Off Ted, The Goode Family and burn-off new episodes of Pushing Daisies, Eli Stone and now Dirty Sexy Money.

Fox's So You Think You Can Dance generally inches into the weekly top 20 despite getting hammered on Wednesday nights by America's Got Talent. The network's new Mental is largely invisible from a ratings standpoint.

Fox still leads the summertime competition among advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds. But CBS again is easily faring the best from a year-to-year standpoint. The network is down 6 percent among viewers of this age range, compared to a 21 percent shortfall for Fox, a 16 percent dip for NBC and an 11 percent decrease for ABC.

In the latest ratings week, topped by Fox's coverage of baseball's All-Star game, CBS nonetheless had 15 of the top 30 programs in total viewers and 12 of the top 30 among 18-to-49-year-olds. That's money in the bank for a network that still drives the "old model" while rivals try to soup up their engines and mostly keep sputtering.

Eyes wide shut: ABC's Dating in the Dark is for dim bulbs

Pretty boy Rossi Morreale hosts ABC's Dating in the Dark.

Western civilization takes another stiff punch to the solar plexus with prime-time TV's latest "sexy social experiment."

Otherwise known as ABC's Dating in the Dark, it premieres Monday, July 20th at 9 p.m. (central) and is scheduled to run for six episodes. Your host is Rossi Morreale, whose first TV credit was as a contestant on Fox's Temptation Island. Perfect.

The isle here is a pitch dark room in which six human lab rats, equally split by gender, congregate to answer the age-old question, "Is love blind?" It helps to save on utility bills. And other than the expense of infrared cameras, this is a very low overhead exercise. There's no prize money, no lovely parting gifts, not even a year's supply of Rice-A-Roni. But the embarrassment? Priceless.

A voluble 27-year-old Australian named Leni, who works as a nanny, quickly makes two references to what she believes are her awesome "boobs." Seth, a 31-year-old audio visual designer, feels compelled to ask rhetorically, "Am I a 10? No. Am I a Hobbit? No."

But yes, he is an idiot.

After meeting en masse under cover of dark, the six of 'em return to daylight and host Morreale's command to take their shirts or tops off. This is for the purpose of sniffing, because a person's scent is supposed to provide more clues about them.

Stephen, a 31-year-old SAT tutor and self-described genius, detects a "little bit of ketoacidosis" in Leni's sweat. Christina, 28, a marketing manager, exclaims, "Oops, he's got pit stains" after whiffing Seth's shirt.

Stephen takes it to the next level when he's later in the dark with Christina. "I'm a very big believer in pheromones," he tells her. "Do you mind if I just kinda smell you?" Cringe.

Allister, a 29-year-old bloke from Britain, is a deejay with a sob story. His mum supposedly left Allister and his twin brother when they were very young. So despite his killer looks, Allister says he's never been very confident or smooth with the ladies. And if you believe that, then here's another one: Pauly Shore will be cast as Hamlet in a new feature film adaptation from director Steven Spielberg.

Everyone eventually is paired with their "compatibility matches," as determined by questionnaires and computers. But will the mostly fun times they have in the dark endure after each is spotlighted for the other to see?

There are no roses bestowed. Instead, participants are told to show up on a veranda if they want to continue seeing each other. Not to spoil anything, but there's a prototypical agonizing wait in each instance. Results range from one couple kissing hungrily to a jilted sad sack wondering, "Was I knocked out of the water because of the way I looked?"

Dating in the Dark plans to do it all over again next Monday, apparently in a concerted effort to dethrone NBC's I'm A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here as the summer's worst reality series.

So far so good. Turn out the lights, the party's on.

GRADE: D-minus

Programming note: NBC's The Wanted, a controversial pursuit of terrorists produced by the network's news division, premieres opposite Dating in the Dark Monday night. It was unavailable for review, but here's NBC's official site for the series.

Walter Cronkite up-close: Memories of the late, great journalist for all seasons

Walter Cronkite in his office on the day of his last CBS Evening News telecast, March 6, 1981. He was nearing 65 at the time. CBS photos

Heavily outfitted with hearing aids, Walter Cronkite walked haltingly but gamely through a luncheon crowd in a downtown Dallas hotel.

He wore a blue blazer, grey slacks and an accommodating smile as an aide guided him toward the dais. My notes say it was March 2, 2006, the date of Cronkite's last public appearance in North Texas. He was 89 at the time and tired easily. But the storied TV newsman, who died Friday evening of complications from dementia, could still rouse himself for an easygoing 45-minute conversation with National Center for Policy Analysis president Pete du Pont, the former Republican governor of Delaware and 1988 presidential candidate.

Cronkite flashed a "Hook 'em Horns" sign when it was noted that he once studied journalism at the University of Texas before dropping out in 1935 to become a full-time reporter for The Houston Press. He joined United Press in 1937, and for a time was stationed in the wire service's Dallas bureau. His first big story as a reporter was that year's school explosion in New London, Texas. A total of 294 students and teachers were killed.

"It was really a ghastly scene," he recalled in the 1996 CBS special Cronkite Remembers.

At the Dallas luncheon, Cronkite took a crack at the then blossoming "blogosphere," which he did not look kindly upon.

"We're getting some pretty sloppy journalism from time to time," he said. "It is extraordinary, the blogging business. Of course, it makes for interesting reading, the kind of nut material that frequently is on there . . . It is not journalism per se. I think the blogosphere business will run itself out."

During his pre-Internet and largely pre-cable days as anchor of the CBS Evening News -- April 16, 1962 to March 6, 1981 -- Cronkite let his emotions overtake him just twice. He choked up when telling the nation that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. And he was like a school kid -- "Oh boy!" -- on the day Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.

Cronkite, a space buff through and through, told his Dallas audience that the July 20, 1969 moonwalk is the date the world will remember 500 years from now. His closing words at the luncheon appearance were otherworldly: "We escaped our environment on the earth and proved that man could live and work on the moon."

1974: Roger Mudd, Lesley Stahl, Cronkite, Dan Rather, Mike Wallace.

I was lucky enough to cover Cronkite, and many times converse with him, during my tenure as TV critic at The Dallas Morning News.

The first up-close meeting came in September, 1981 at the annual Radio-Television News Directors Association convention in New Orleans. Cronkite had stepped down just a half-year earlier as anchor of the Evening News, ceding the chair to Dan Rather lest CBS lose him to ABC News and its predatory president, Roone Arledge. His speech at the RTNDA gathering was tied to his acceptance of the organization's highest honor, the Paul White Award, named after a pathfinding CBS news director.

Cronkite, 65, had a steady drumbeat back then. He invariably bristled at reports he had quit the news business for a rocking chair.

"Besides the honor of the thing, the award gives me a platform from which to deny that unseemly publicity of last spring about my retirement," he said. "What retirement, for God's sakes?"

He indeed had been pretty busy, segueing from the Evening News anchor chair to hosting the science-themed Walter Cronkite's Universe series for CBS. "And now that fall has come, I am back on the job and, as we had planned from the beginning, looking forward to frequent contributions to the Evening News," he said.

But by February of 1982, Cronkite already felt he was working too hard and enjoying it less. In an expansive interview before a speaking engagement in Dallas, he spoke wistfully of spending more time on his sailboat.

"We'll see if we can't work out a more orderly plan of some kind that will give me a little more time off," he said. "But my problem is I'm an old firehorse and when they ask me to go, I go without any second question. I suppose these are idle dreams of spending more time on my boat and sailing around the world and all that stuff."

Meanwhile on the Evening News, Rather had taken to wearing sweaters. Coincidentally or not, the ratings warmed up, too. Cronkite tried to be diplomatic.

"I never thought of him as a sweater boy before," he said of his successor. "I'm surprised by all the publicity about it. I thought he had a cold. I don't mind the tinkering with the set if it doesn't get out of hand. I just hope we don't get into the business of having to walk onto the set from the shadows and have Dan wearing a big 'CBS Eye' patch on his blazer."

Cronkite was no stranger to artificial additives in his early days at CBS. In the mid-1950s he hosted the network's first early morning news effort, a live, three-hour program that co-starred Bill and Cora Baird's puppets. Cronkite regularly interacted with a stuffed lion named Charlemagne. He grew to hate the assignment, particularly the hours.

"After a very few months, it gets very old getting up at 2 o'clock in the morning," he recalled. "You never feel right. You're always kind of floating in a miasma of sleeplessness. The terrible thing is you're off work around noon. That's dinnertime for you and only lunchtime for everybody else. So after you've had about four martinis at lunch, you go stumbling unshaven through the gutters of Manhattan. And people say, 'Look at poor old Cronkite, he's gone to hell in this business.' "

Puppetmaster -- and with Douglas Edwards, Edward R. Murrow

Cronkite's relationship with Rather seemed ever-problematic. Did Rather feel threatened by Cronkite's shadow and try to squeeze him out as both an Evening News and national political convention contributor? Had Cronkite ever really respected the man whose elevation sent him packing at age 65 while some 60 Minutes correspondents have endured into their 90s?

Cronkite publicly called for Rather's firing in 1987 after he caused a six-minute breath of dead air by walking off a CBS Evening News set in Miami when a tennis match was running long. He later had it both ways in a series of interviews tied to Rather's stepping down as anchor in March 2005 after the heavily publicized scandal tied to discredited reports on George W. Bush's Texas Air National Guard service.

"I certainly think he (Rather) should be remembered for his career successes," Cronkite told me in a telephone interview shortly before Bob Schieffer began an extended term as interim anchor of the Evening News. "We all know how unfortunate it is that his last days were sullied by this problem. But that will dim over time, I think."

But just a few days later, Cronkite told CNN that CBS had waited too long to replace Rather. Schieffer should have been brought in "a long time ago," he said. "It surprised quite a few people at CBS and elsewhere that without being able to pull up the ratings beyond third in a three-man field, that they tolerated his being there for so long."

Rather has never spoken ill of Cronkite -- at least not on the record. The two men made their most public attempt at reconciliation during the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta after Cronkite conceded they'd had a falling out.

A handful of reporters were invited to the CBS skybox for a little Rather-Cronkite show-and-tell after the network had largely excluded Cronkite from its 1984 convention coverage. But the session didn't go exactly as planned. The two of them were asked about other matters until just a few minutes before Cronkite had to leave to interview an undisclosed political heavyweight for the last night of CBS' convention coverage.

Rather, fully aware of the importance of Cronkite's imprimatur, broke off his remarks to remind the gathering, "Walter has to go if you want to talk about any other subject."

Duly noted. And Cronkite played ball.

"I tell you, with my right hand on my heart and my left hand on the Bible, that this has been a really happy experience for me," Cronkite said of teaming with Rather. "There is absolutely no problem with our relationship at all. Our relationship at this convention has just been superb. I hope it continues like this and I expect it will. There isn't any reason why it shouldn't."

"You know I hope it will," Rather rejoined before calling Cronkite a "master broadcaster."

Cronkite acknowledged, however, that "it would be terribly less than honest to say that we haven't had a communication problem in the last couple of years. That communication problem ended with our association at this convention." Except that it hadn't. And never really would.

On the campaign trail, and later reporting from Vietnam.

Their enthusiasm buoyed him. It was Dec. 5, 2000 at Southern Methodist University. And Cronkite, 84 and using a cane after a recent tennis injury, was holding forth at a packed student forum. More than 500 impressionable youths, many of them high schoolers, gave the old warhorse a standing ovation before one of them asked for his basic advice to would-be TV anchors and reporters.

"Go get a job," he said, grinning. And once you have one, "don't stoop to tawdry sensationalism or commercialism."

Cronkite took 16 questions from the audience, and afterward couldn't help but marvel at the reception he received.

"Yes, I think I was surprised," he said, chuckling. "I still am happily surprised that the young people today apparently look at some of our old footage and what we did in television in the early days. It's a privilege and an honor."

Cronkite also said he still yearned to be in the thick of it, intoning "And that's the way it is" to a new generation.

"Oh sure," he said. "I miss it every day a story breaks."

At the time it had been nearly 20 years since he vacated the Evening News while still able-bodied and energetic. And yes, he now had a somewhat different story. All that stuff about sailboating, taking more time off and charting new journalistic territories for himself -- well, he apparently didn't really mean it. The old job was what he wanted to keep all along.

"I regretted it the day after I walked out of the office," he said of yielding the CBS Evening News. "It wasn't a month later that a shot was taken at (President) Reagan. And here I was in Moscow all that time doing a documentary, for heaven's sake. I could have kicked myself."

One other grand adventure eluded him. If only it were still possible, "I'd like to walk out there on the moon," he told one of the high schoolers. It would have given him the optimum perspective on Earth, which Cronkite called "this little lifeboat floating out there in space."

Then he truly would have seen it all.

Lohan remains vertical, stays the course in ABC Family's Labor Pains

Lindsay Lohan hangs in there for Labor Pains. ABC photo

Multi-troubled Lindsay Lohan certainly doesn't walk through Labor Pains.

Nor does she stagger through it.

The much-chronicled, seemingly self-destructive 23-year-old is in virtually every scene of an ABC Family channel confection that's entertaining and amusing enough to spend a little time on. Premiering on Sunday, July 19th at 7 p.m. (central), Labor Pains is likely to draw a sizable crowd for voyeuristic reasons alone if nothing else.

Lohan plays Thea Clayhill, a penny-poor publishing company assistant bedeviled by an officious boss and a rebellious kid sister named Emma (Bridgit Mendler). Faced with firing, she fakes being pregnant to save her job. The subterfuge of course escalates before Thea's balloon eventually bursts -- figuratively and literally.

Some of the scenes can't help but call attention to Lohan's post-Freaky Friday personal strife.

First there's the one where a co-worker played by Jay Thomas (himself a badly faded former comedy star) twits Thea's "slippery slide into obesity."

"Ah well, you had a nice run there, didn't you, champ?" he jabs. It takes one to know one.

Later in the movie, a friendlier co-worker named Lisa (Cheryl Hines from Curb Your Enthusiasm) implores Thea to give up the masquerade.

"You have got to come clean," she tells her, the words fraught with double-meaning.

But Lohan might possibly be righting herself through the good graces of the Disney-owned ABC and ABC Family networks. She came to prominence in Disney feature films, after all. Her latter day re-entries, following two DUI arrests and some rehab stints, have been the recurring part of Kimmie Keegan on ABC's Ugly Betty and now the starring role in Labor Pains.

Lohan looks a little blotchy and heavily made up in some scenes. Still, she perseveres, gradually breathing some life and likeability into both the film and her character. Ironically, her kid sister, whom she's more or less raising after their parents died, initially is a bratty ingrate who might remind Lohan herself of Lohan.

"So is your sister a badass like you?" Thea is asked by a cute guy named Nick (Luke Kirby), who of course is destined to become more than her stand-in boss.

"No, she's more of a smart-ass," Thea replies.

Labor Pains also is populated by former American Idol dweeb Kevin Covais as a nerdy assistant and ex-Girlfriends star Tracee Ellis Ross (Diana's daughter) as another of Thea's co-workers. Chris Parnell, formerly of Saturday Night Live, is strictly one-note as their very off-putting boss. And Janeane Garofalo drops in for a few minutes as an influential talk show host.

The movie proceeds pretty much exactly as expected. But this is Lindsay Lohan after all, so predictability gives way to more than a little voyeurism. Does she look hung over in any of her scenes? Is there any charisma left? Can she throw down a "vodka straight up" at a restaurant without reminding viewers of her real-life descents?

The answers are: hard-to-tell, some and no. Which at least makes Labor Pains one to grow on if Lohan indeed is destined to right herself and someday conquer all those demons.


Same old, same old: 30 Rock, Mad Men again head their classes while HBO leads all networks

30 Rock's Tina Fey; Drew Barrymore, Jessica Lange of Grey Gardens

NBC's 30 Rock and AMC's Mad Men again topped their fields among comedy and drama series while HBO notched another chart-topper with Grey Gardens in prime-time Emmy nominations announced Thursday morning.

Rock led all programs with 22 nods, upping its total from 17 last year. Mad Men replicated the 16 nominations it received in 2008. Grey Gardens, starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore as a batty mother-daughter duo, nabbed 17 nominations in supplanting last year's HBO pacesetter, John Adams. The complete 39-page list of nominees is here. Or if you'd rather just hit the high points, go here.

Emmy voters expanded the drama and comedy series fields to seven from the traditional five.

A quintet of the drama nominees -- Mad Men, Fox's House, ABC's Lost, Showtime's Dexter, FX's Damages -- were repeaters from last year, with AMC's Breaking Bad and HBO's Big Love both joining the party for the first time.

Among comedy series, 30 Rock, NBC's The Office and HBO's Entourage all repeated. The surprise new nominee, Fox's Family Guy, joins Showtime's Weeds, CBS' How I Met Your Mother and HBO's Flight of the Conchords among this year's Emmy contenders. Mother supplants CBS' Two and a Half Men, which wasn't nominated after three straight years among the Emmy elite.

The expanded fields still didn't help NBC's Austin-made Friday Night Lights, the most undeservedly overlooked series since Emmy snubbed Homicide: Life on the Street throughout its run. FNL received a lone nomination this time -- for "Outstanding Casting." A pity.

HBO again led all networks with 99 nominations, up from 85 last year. NBC was runnerup with 67 nominations, compared to 50 last year.

Besides the aforementioned frontrunners, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences heaped double-digit nominations on HBO's Into the Storm (14); NBC's Saturday Night Live (13); HBO's Generation Kill and PBS/BBC's Little Dorrit (11 each); and ABC's Academy Awards telecast, ABC's Dancing with the Stars and HBO's Taking Chance (10 apiece).

CBS' The Amazing Race, which got seven nominations, will have a chance to cop a seventh consecutive Emmy in the "Outstanding Reality-Competition Category." No other series has won since the category was created in 2003.

Neil Patrick Harris, who will host the Sept. 20th Emmy ceremony on CBS, received a best supporting actor nomination for his role as Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother. It's his third Emmy nomination, but so far he's come up empty.

Other acting nominees will have chances to extend longer losing streaks. Oddly enough, they're led by Bob Newhart, who so far is 0 for 5 but has another shot for his role in TNT's The Librarian: curse of the Judas Chalice.

Steve Carell of The Office and Sandra Oh of ABC's Grey's Anatomy both received their fifth nominations, and hope to be first-time winners. Ellen Burstyn, nominated for a guest role in NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, also is Emmy-less in four previous tries.

Hugh Laurie of House, Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer of Two and a Half Men and Kyra Sedgwick of TNT's The Closer are among those stepping to the plate for the fourth time after being denied thrice.

In the rich-get-richer category, Alan Alda has notched his 33rd nomination for a guest stint on 30 Rock. He's won six times.

Two other TV legends, Carol Burnett and Ed Asner, also are in the hunt again. Burnett's guest shot on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has won her a 23rd nomination after six previous wins. Asner, who guested on CBS' CSI: NY, has added a 17th nomination, with seven wins already in hand.

Other noteworthy Emmy tidbits:

***Michael J. Fox could receive the biggest ovation of the evening if he wins for his recurring character of Dwight on FX's Rescue Me. He's also been nominated for the ABC special Adventures of An Incurable Optimist. These are his 11th and 12th nomination, with four previous wins.

***Longtime toiler in the trenches Ken Howard, who memorably starred in CBS' The White Shadow a generation ago, has his first ever nomination for a supporting role in Grey Gardens.

***Who know what Shirley MacLaine might say if she claims a statue for the title role in the Lifetime movie Coco Chanel. It's her sixth nomination, with one previous win.

***HBO's hottest series, True Blood, received just three nominations, none in major categories.

***Previous Emmy darlings Desperate Housewives (ABC), ER (NBC) and Ugly Betty (ABC) received just two nominations apiece.

***Big Love's nomination as best drama series oddly was the series' only recognition. Besides the aforementioned Friday Night Lights, other notables on the one-and-done list include Fox's Bones, USA's Burn Notice, TNT's The Closer, NBC's Chuck, CBS' The Mentalist, FX's Rescue Me, ABC's Scrubs, CBS' CSI: NY and ABC's According to Jim.

Yes, we live in an Emmy world where According to Jim can get as many Emmy nods as Friday Night Lights. And FX's The Shield was shut out entirely for its last season. Inexplicable.

CNBC gets porn-y -- but first read this article

Fast Money's Melissa Lee reports on the skin trade for CNBC.

It's supposedly true that using the word porn -- you know, p-o-r-n -- in a post can jet-propel Web site traffic.

Not that unclebarky.com would ever resort to putting porn in play just to test the pulling power of porn among this great nation of google oglers.

Which brings us to the CNBC documentary Porn: Business of Pleasure, a one-hour treatise on where the industry's at in terms of profits and losses. It premieres on Wednesday, July 15th at 8 p.m. (central), with every expectation of breaking ratings records on the all-business channel. Repeats are at 9 p.m. and midnight.

Melissa Lee, co-host of the network's Fast Money, presides in a relatively low-key fashion while a male pitchman all but despoils her efforts during commercial breaks. Sounding like Jim Cramer in heat -- at least they don't have him hosting -- the guy figuratively drips drool while enticing viewers with come-ons such as "Up next, the most powerful players in porn -- women on top!"

Up next? Hoo boy. A less invasive audio disclaimer repeatedly warns of "mature sexual content" coming into view. Not that that's going to turn many or any away.

CNBC clearly is having it both ways. The porn industry is a reasonably legitimate topic of discussion on a business news channel, particularly when $3,075 is spent every second on it, Lee says.

On the other hand, the potential audience is huge compared to what CNBC might draw with a documentary titled How Now DOW Jones.

Lee's interviewees include porn star Jesse Jane ("And later, we'll let you go home with a porn star!" says the talking penis of a pitchman); Wicked Pictures vice president of special projects Joy King; Vivid Entertainment CEO Steven Hirsch; and dirty-to-the-touch Paul Little, currently serving 46 months in prison for his activities as "Max Hardcore."

Jane, whose real name is Cindy Taylor, yearns to be a multi-facted "brand" whose various products will continue to sell despite the wealth of free pornography on the Internet.

"You always have to have a backup plan," she says.

Jesse/Cindy otherwise lives rather quietly in Oklahoma City with her 9-year-old son and boyfriend, a former porn star. Lee helpfully notes that "despite its conservative values, Oklahoma is among the top 10 porn-watching states in the country." Not sure where she got those stats, but what else is there to do in Muskogee?

Still, DVD sales of adult films are down 50 percent in the past year, largely due to piracy and easy free access on Web sites other than unclebarky.com. Five of the country's most-trafficked sites are porn-fueled, says Lee, drawing more users than washingtonpost.com for instance.

Vivid exec Hirsch is worried, but not unduly.

"Look, pornography has been around since the time of the caveman," he reasons. "It's not going anywhere."

It is going in some new directions, though, including 3-D and relatively "big budget" porn movies such as Pirates, which oddly enough is seen as a way to curb piracy.

Lee begins and ends the documentary in Times Square, where X-rated venues used to flourish. They've since bowed to the so-called Disney-fication of the area. But CNBC obviously still sees Porn: Business of Pleasure as a money shot.

GRADE: C-cup

HBO's Ted Williams doc hits the not-so-sweet spots, too

HBO took an All-Star game break between its two looks at Teds.

The network's airbrushed In His Own Words tribute to Ted Kennedy aired on Monday night. Now comes Ted Williams, a far blunter and more objective assessment of the Boston Red Sox great -- and ingrate.

Premiering Wednesday, July 15th at 8:30 p.m. (central), the 85-minute documentary calls on old teammates, relatives, biographers and admirers Robert Redford and George H.W. Bush in portraying a slugger who made hitting his science and relationships his bane.

The foul-tempered, profane and demanding baseball legend remains the last major league player to hit .400 -- in 1941. But although he mellowed somewhat in his autumn years, Williams never seemed to overcome a less than idyllic childhood in which his mother devoted her life to Salvation Army work while his father mostly stayed away. He compensated by hitting baseballs.

"It was ironic that his mother was off saving everybody else's soul and wasn't around to really take care of her kids," says Williams biographer Leigh Montville. "I think he had a very strange relationship with his mother, feeling that she'd kind of let him down."

Williams never talked much about his personal life. But the HBO documentary does have an audio snippet from the man himself.

"I wouldn't want to be married to a gal like that," he once said of his mother. "The house was dirty, and Jesus, I hated it."

Williams ended up being a lousy husband -- three divorces -- and belittling father himself.

Second wife Lee Williams says, "We were afraid of making a move, afraid of setting him off."

Williams' youngest of three children, Claudia, has emerged as a defender of her cantankerous old man, who died on July 5, 2002 after a triumphant 1999 return to the All-Star game in Boston's Fenway Park. But she also speaks candidly about the very tough love dad dispensed.

"It was hard to keep up with his emotions," she recalls. "But you needed to be a duck and let that water roll off your back. And it took a while to learn that."

Dubbed "The Kid" in his early days with the Red Sox, Williams lost five years of prime playing time to military service in WWII and the Korean War. Still, he hit 521 home runs in the pre-steroids era, the last one in his final at bat on Sept. 28, 1960. "Teddy Ballgame" -- another of his nicknames -- always had a flair for the dramatic, even while waging verbal warfare with writers, fans and wives.

Robert Redford, who worshipped Williams from afar as a kid, says his 1984 baseball film, The Natural, was an homage to the Red Sox legend. He wore Williams' No. 9 as the emotionally and physically damaged Roy Hobbs, but never met the man.

"I wanted him to come on the set so I could shake his hand. But he was too busy fishin'," Redford says with a laugh.

For much of his life, Williams went to bat for sick kids via the Jimmy Fund he championed. He mostly didn't publicize his charitable work, and never enjoyed mingling with fellow celebrities.

"He didn't like people who thought they were something great, and maybe thought he wasn't," says writer Richard Ben Cramer.

Toward the end, Williams' estranged only son, John Henry, reunited with his father and became his caretaker. But most people remember their relationship as mercenary, with the son cajoling his father to autograph as many baseballs and pictures as possible before he passed. John Henry, who died at age 35 of leukemia, also was condemned and ridiculed for having his father cryogenically frozen, supposedly in accordance with his wishes.

"To his credit, he (John Henry) spent a lot of time with his father," says writer Dan Shaughnessy. "It wasn't a barrel of laughs those last 10 years -- getting him in the shower, dressing him. And John was there . . . I think he had some weird ideas, but I do believe he loved his dad."

The HBO film ends with footage of Williams circling the bases, head bowed, after hitting his final home run. It's a surprisingly grainy, fuzzy look, even though 1960 hardly qualifies as ancient times.

Imagine if ESPN's Sports Center had existed in its current form back then. We would have seen the home run live and in crystal-clear clarity -- over and over again. But Williams no doubt would have hated the scrutiny -- and cursed ESPN as well. He was that kind of a guy -- almost impossible to get along with, but so very sweet to watch.


TNT's stark Dark Blue makes it a six-pack

Dylan McDermott trolls the underbelly of L.A. in TNT's Dark Blue.

Premiering: Wednesday, July 15th at 9 p.m. (central) on TNT
Starring: Dylan McDermott, Omari Hardwick, Logan Marshall-Green, Nicki Aycox
Produced by: Jerry Bruckheimer, Jonathan Littman, Danny Cannon, Doug Jung

Suave in ABC's The Practice and suaver in the network's short-lived Big Shots, Dylan McDermott lately speaks in a rasp, eschews suits and sports a little carefully rough-hewn stubble in TNT's new Dark Blue.

He's now part of the burgeoning "We Know Drama" family, teaming with the like-minded second season premiere of TNT's Leverage for the rest of this summer's Wednesdays. Viewers with a jones for undercover, misunderstood, justice-seeking renegades will find a bull market from 8 to 10 p.m. (central). So have at it if you will, but don't expect anything of either Emmy or even Golden Globes quality. That's not the way these shows roll.

Dark Blue is from the Jerry Bruckheimer prime-time crime factory. His hits so far have all been on CBS, though. The CSI trio belong to Bruckheimer, as do Cold Case and the recently canceled Without A Trace. Throw in The Amazing Race as something of a lark, and you've got a lot of revenue still pouring in.

Bruckheimer's latest predictably begins with a torture scene before McDermott's character, the divorced, unsmiling Carter Shaw, strides into view with an accompanying 'tude.

"I haven't seen 7 a.m. since 1992 . . . What can I do for the Federal Bureau of Intimidation?" he emotes for openers.

It turns out that one of Shaw's operatives, Dean Bendis (Logan Marshall-Green), has penetrated the inner sanctum of an over-the-top mobster named Franzine (James Russo). But has he "flipped" to the dark side? Inquiring minds want to know, including former Homicide: Life on the Street star Kyle Secor in the thankless guest role of a badgering FBI agent.

Shaw's other teammates are the recently married Ty Curtis (Omari Hardwick) and the freshly recruited Jaimie Allen (Nicki Aycox), whose ability to lie convincingly is greatly admired by her new boss.

Two prolonged gun battles and a bare-knuckled, underworld "Fight Club" match later, the bad guys are hauled off before loose cannon Dean gets a lil' lecture.

"There's goin' under and there's steppin' over," bossman Shaw warns him. "I get scared when I don't know the difference."

Next week's Episode 2 likewise includes some howlers amid the hostage-taking of undercover Ty, who's infiltrated an automatic weapons ring run by two broadly drawn psychopaths.

Ty's new bride, whom he tries to bed on her birthday, informs him, "I don't like having sex with you while you're 'under.' " Um, this has nothing to do with positioning or with hubby's overall level of consciousness. And anyway, he was supposed to keep his hands off of her while on the job.

This prompts another post-apprehension lesson to live by -- from killjoy Shaw, of course.

"Being alone in a crappy motel room and disappointing the woman you love, that's just the cost of doing business," he tells Ty. Otherwise go back to being a conventional cop. OK, sorry, boss.

Dark Blue takes itself very seriously during the course of its prototypical undercover cases. At least the preceding Leverage has a little levity, even if it's also largely preposterous.

The newcomer makes it six ongoing first-run dramas on TNT. The best is still The Closer, which partners on Mondays with producer Steven Bochco's improving Raising the Bar.

Tuesdays are reserved for Holly Hunter's holdover Saving Grace and Jada Pinkett Smith's first-season medical drama, HawthoRNe. Then it's male-dominated action on Wednesdays, with Dark Blue nonetheless the weak sister of the six.

Give TNT credit, though, for keeping first-run scripted drama alive during the hot summer months while rival broadcast and cable networks load up on reruns and lame-brained reality fare. Whatever Dark Blue's shortcomings, it soars like an eagle above NBC's recent I'm A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here or ABC's ongoing Here Come the Newlyweds. OK, enough of the plus side.


Teddy bear treatment on HBO for the last surviving Kennedy brother

This isn't February, but HBO's Teddy: In His Own Words is a valentine nonetheless.

It also can be pictured as low-hanging fruit for conservative commentators, who rightly can huff, "They'd never do anything like this for Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon or a Bush."

Teddy of course is Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who's represented Massachusetts for 46 years and now is battling brain cancer. HBO's 90-minute documentary, premiering Monday, July 13th at 8 p.m. (central), is from the producer of JFK: In His Own Words and Bobby Kennedy: In His Own Words. So you're not getting a lot of objectivity here.

Like its predecessors, the Teddy film is a feast of family home movies and evocative archival footage. It has pulling power in that respect. But the subject's accompanying words, gleaned from previous interviews, are almost uniformly unrevealing. And the Chappaquiddick incident, which proved to be Ted Kennedy's waterloo, is treated more as another tragedy befalling the senator than a tragedy he caused.

The documentary cries out for a cogent self-analysis from the now 77-year-old senator, whose three older brothers, Joe, John and Robert, all met tragic ends, two by assassination. But the closest we get is black-and-white footage from an old press conference in which he's asked whether he intends to run for president.

"We don't make long-term plans is the experience that we've had," Ted says, his voice trailing off.

There's also audio tape of President Nixon coldly plotting against Ted Kennedy and the senator himself directing some big chill rhetoric at Reagan.

"Ronald Reagan must love poor people, because he's creating so many more of them," he says.

The original music composed for Teddy is notably pedestrian, although reliably sinister when Nixon is on camera. His divorce of the alcoholic Joan Kennedy is only passingly noted, as is the subject's brief public acknowledgment of his own personal shortcomings.

Entirely missing is the famous 1979 television interview with CBS correspondent Roger Mudd, in which Kennedy was asked, "Senator, why do you want to be president?" His answer, widely viewed as rambling and incoherent, led to a decline in his poll numbers as he unsuccessfully sought to unseat incumbent Democratic president Jimmy Carter.

Teddy begins and ends with its subject's rousing speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, his first public appearance since undergoing surgery for brain cancer.

"And the dream lives on," he pledged.

Teddy: In His Own Words is something of a dreamscape as well. It's more infomercial than documentary, celebrating the life of the Senate's reigning liberal lion without reservation. Many of the images still resonate, beginning with a still picture of a smiling little Teddy in short pants as his father and the family arrive in London to begin Joe Sr.'s tenure as U.S. ambassador way back in 1938.

Ted Kennedy since has endured and emerged as his sprawling family's patriarch. But this air-brushed documentary won't stand the test of time.


Michael Jackson gets velvet glove treatment on wide array of cable/broadcast networks

Michael Jackson's only daughter, Paris, with his sister, Janet, in the closing minutes of Tuesday's memorial. Photos from cnn.com, msn.com

Touching, tasteful and shown live on all the major broadcast and cable news outlets, Tuesday's memorial to Michael Jackson had a majesty befitting the self-proclaimed King of Pop.

That's fully intended as a compliment. What could have been a tawdry and misshapen mess instead rose to this much-ballyhooed occasion. Beginning at 12:11 p.m. and ending two-and-a-half hours later, the celebration/eulogy of all things Michael came off as dignified, dramatic and occasionally defiant. In any case, it delivered, never more so than when Jackson's surviving 11-year-old daughter, Paris, said through tears, "Ever since I was born, daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine. And I just want to say I love him so much."

That moment of course will be replayed multi-millions of times in the hours and days to come. They were the first public words from any of Jackson's three secrecy-shrouded children.

Not only that, "This is the first time that I've ever heard him called daddy. And I may not forget it," Fox News Channel anchor Shepard Smith said.

"However they were conceived and whoever their mothers were, he absolutely adored them," said ABC's Martin Bashir, whose much-discussed 2003 documentary on Jackson helped trigger a subsequent child molestation trial in which Jackson was acquitted of all charges.

That's where the defiance came in.

"There was nothing strange about your daddy," the Rev. Al Sharpton declared during his portion of the program. "It was strange what your daddy had to deal with."

That drew an ovation from the 16,000 Jackson fans packed into Los Angeles' Staples Center. Houston congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee also received prolonged applause after telling the crowd, "We know that people are innocent until proven otherwise. "That is what the Constitution stands for."

The Jackson family turned out in force for Tuesday's memorial.

The memorial was equally notable for its sentiment and moving performances from the likes of Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, John Mayer, Usher and Jackson's brother, Jermaine, who sang "Smile" after longtime friend Brooke Shields said it was Michael's favorite song.

Shields, who said she first met Jackson when she was 13, told of their bond as child stars who "needed to be adults very early. But when we were together, we were two little kids having fun."

Her remarks were a revelation, with Shields struggling to compose herself as she spoke of a friend who "loved to be teased" and "saw everything with his heart."

The recriminations and bone-picking will resume soon enough. And some no doubt were sickened by Tuesday's entire ceremony on behalf of a man they'd rather characterize as "Wacko Jacko" without reservation.

From this perspective, though, this was a television event that lost its footing only when an Emergency Alert System test briefly short-circuited everything for North Texas viewers just after Lionel Richie took the stage.

Jackson, who arrived and departed in a flower-laden, shining gold casket, will remain both a controversial and indelible figure whose legacy won't ever be just his music.

"Maybe now, Michael, they will leave you alone," his brother Marlon said before breaking down and being engulfed in a group-hug by his siblings.

There's no chance of that. But among friends and family Tuesday, Michael Jackson indeed could rest in peace on at least 18 cable and broadcast networks that carried his memorial from start to finish. That may well be an all-time and perhaps unbreakable record. As was Jackson's Thriller for albums sold -- and still being bought.

Sarah Palin and CNN? Far-fetched maybe, but betcha someone's thought about it

Perfect/imperfect match? Sarah Palin could give CNN a needed jolt.

Sarah Palin, soon to be the ex-governor of Alaska, says on her official website that she'll be "advancing in another direction" after again shocking many a Republican.

Some assume that could be a run for the presidency. But first things first -- a TV talk show. What better way to keep your name in play while also getting a crash course in how to be more "media savvy?" NFL coaches do it all the time between jobs. Former Arkansas governor and 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is doing it right now with his weekend show on Fox News Channel.

Palin, not to be confused with Tina Fey's killer impression of her, obviously would fit right in at FNC. Maybe she could supplant Greta Van Susteren's 9 p.m. (central) show on cable's most popular 24-hour news network. But FNC already has a ratings-potent murderers' row in Glenn Beck, Shepard Smith, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. It's cruisin' without the conservative Palin tilting FNC further to the right.

Conversely, Palin would be the only prominent right-winger at MSNBC, which has cast itself as a liberal alternative to FNC. The network has a 9 p.m. hole in its prime-time schedule after Ed Schultz, Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow take their swings from the left side of the plate. But imagine the openly gay Maddow having to cross-talk with and promote Palin instead of handing the baton to a Countdown with Keith Olberman rerun. That'd be akin to Perez Hilton joining hands with The 700 Club.

Meanwhile, how about CNN? For the first time ever, the grandfather of cable's all-news networks is coming off a third place finish in the quarterly prime-time Nielsen ratings (April to June). MSNBC beat CNN in both total viewers and 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

CNN has suffered for, if anything, being too fair -- and maybe a bit dull, too. Its principal prime-time anchors -- Campbell Brown, Larry King and Anderson Cooper -- are not demonstrably to the left or the right. But viewers who say they want a semblance of fairness in their news coverage have responded by migrating to networks whose selling points are partisanship. For CNN, being middle-of-the-road seems to be an increasingly no-win strategy. It's a shame it's come to this -- but it has.

Hiring Palin -- and no doubt having to pay a pretty penny for her -- would jolt the cable news world and drive the conversation toward CNN for the first time in recent memory. Maybe she'd be a bust as an anchor of her own show. But a Palin hour initially would be hard to resist, whether she turned out to be a natural -- or a man-made disaster triggered by CNN president Jonathan Klein. In either case, the network badly needs a ratings engine of some sort.

CNN had a right-wing lightning rod in Beck, but wasted him at CNN Headline News (now HLN) before losing him to FNC. Now he dominates at 4 p.m. and almost assuredly will be moving to a prime-time showcase in due time.

Palin and CNN would be an odd coupling to be sure -- but far less so than any very unlikely alliance with MSNBC. On the other hand, joining FNC would be strictly predictable -- and Palin's shown an aversion to that.

CNN is clearly the network that could use her the most. Will its execs at least make a play for Palin in hopes of blunting MSNBC's momentum and generating some much-needed buzz? In a world that's come to this, let's not be entirely surprised by anything.