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Stalker gives CBS another crime-driven gawker


Dylan McDermott and Maggie Q on the prowl in Stalker. CBS photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Oct. 1st at 9 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Maggie Q, Dylan McDermott, Victor Rasuk, Mariana Klaveno, Elisabeth Rohm
Produced by: Kevin Williamson

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Kevin Williamson’s psyche must have gone badly off the rails a while back.

The onetime gentle purveyor of Dawson’s Creek and its wise-beyond-their-years small town teens has pretty much been immersed ever since in blood, guts and sadism.

Stalker is his latest dark and foreboding drama, joining Fox’s The Following and CW’s The Vampire Diaries. The Scream movies also are part of Williamson’s portfolio. It’s hard to argue with success, I guess. And Williams now has little patience for those who question his seeming obsession with the dark and twisted.

“Why is this interesting? Why is this fun or entertaining?” he was asked during a session at the Television Critics Association summer “press tour.”

“Turn the channel,” Williamson replied.

Stalker, compatibly paired with the grisly Criminal Minds on Wednesday’s CBS lineup, begins with a woman who’s doused with gasoline by a masked despot before he lights up her car. Her prolonged screams end when the car explodes. It’s a horrid beginning that indeed might prompt some viewers to turn the channel. Terrorizing, torturing and killing women is epidemic in prime-time TV. So the celebrities behind the current “No More” campaign aimed at domestic violence might also want to turn their fire on Williamson and his ilk.

Stalker otherwise stars Maggie Q as a lieutenant with the LAPD’s Threat Assessment Unit and the increasingly creepy Dylan McDermott as a former New York City homicide detective with emotional baggage. She’s Beth Davis, he’s Jack Larsen, and they’re soon at odds while tracking down the opening episode’s featured killer.

“I’m sorry I stared at your breasts. It’s why you don’t like me,” he tells Beth while they’re on the case. But Jack “let my eyes linger” only because he thought she’d be flattered. And if not, why does she dress so alluringly -- in his view at least.

In a later scene he presses the issue: “I want you not to hate me . . . Why do you wear sexy things if you don’t want men to notice?” At this point, maybe Jack’s the guy who should be locked up.

Stalker also includes a little classroom treatise by Beth, who tells her students that over six million people are stalked yearly in the United States. “Anyone can be a stalker . . . Anyone can be a victim. And it’s on the rise.”

But why? “Social media is the No. 1 reason stalking cases have tripled over the last decade,” she says. “That’s where I come in.”

One could argue that television’s bounteous crop of “procedural” crime dramas, with CBS the lead purveyor, also have played at least a supporting role in this escalation. But Stalker portrays itself as preventive medicine while at the same time showing another stalked, screaming woman being drenched with gasoline -- not once but in two separate segments.

A smallish companion storyline is about male-on-male stalking. Williamson insists that Stalker will be “balanced” in its depictions of terror. But that very much remains to be seen by those who like to watch.

Maggie Q’s character also battens down her apartment each night after a previous first-hand experience with stalking. And McDermott’s character can be seen spying on his ex-wife and their pre-teen child before she confronts him.

“I have a right to see my son,” he insists.

“Stay away from us,” she demands.

Stalker at best is an unsavory blend of violent crime, voyeurism and by-the-book preachments just in case you aren’t getting its “messages.” In the process, creator Williamson has made more than enough money to build a maximum security prison for all the murderers and perverts he’s brought into America’s homes and theaters. He’s not alone in this, but someone has to be the fall guy. Let him twist in the wind -- just as some of his victims do.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Reviewing Amazon Prime's Transparent (after streaming all 10 Season One episodes)


Jeffrey Tambor is the star trans in Transparent. Amazon Prime photo

Streaming: on Amazon Prime, with all 10 Season 1 episodes available
Starring: Jeffrey Tambor, Gaby Hoffman, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass, Judith Light, Alexandra Billings, Melora Hardin, Carrie Brownstein, Kathryn Hahn, Rob Huebel, Bradley Whitford, Alison Sudol, Brett Paesel
Produced by: Jill Soloway, Andrea Sperling

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The Pfefferman family dynamics in Transparent are far messier than the sauce-slathered ribs they gnaw on in the opening episode.

This is the series that puts Amazon Prime on the map, if not yet on the same level with competing streamer Netflix. Season 1’s 10 half-hour episodes went up on Friday morning, and this review is based on seeing all of them.

Jeffrey Tambor, best known as Hank Kingsley on The Larry Sanders Show and then George Bluth Sr. in Arrested Development, takes the biggest dare of his career in the uncompromising Transparent. He’s Mort turned Maura Pfefferman, divorced father of three problematic adult children whose needs he’s been meeting all of his life without ever really meeting his.

“They are so selfish,” Mort as Maura says during a group session at L.A.’s LGBT Center. “I don’t know how it is I raised three people who cannot see beyond themselves.”

Mort/Maura’s impossible to please ex-wife, Shelly (more tremendous work from Judith Light), has known for years of his fondness for wearing women’s clothing in private. His children still haven’t had a clue, though, and now Mort/Maura is finally taking it to the streets. But how and under what circumstances will he tell Sarah (Amy Landecker), Josh (Jay Duplass) and Ali (Gaby Hoffman)? The timing never seems to be quite right, although Transparent is by no means a comedy of constantly mixed signals and errors. In fact it’s really no more of a comedy than Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, which didn’t stop them from submitting it as such to Emmy voters.

Tambor looks very sad-faced in early episodes. But as the series moves on, we see him in happier frames of mind during both 1994 flashbacks and in the current-day company of supportive Davina (Alexandra Billings), who’s had the full-blown sex change that Mort/Maura hasn’t embraced yet.

As for the kids . . . well, there’s been a lot of damage done over the years.

Sarah is married with children to Len Novak (Rob Huebel), but lately has fallen madly in love with Tammy Cashman (Melora Hardin), a lesbian designer and home decorator with a very high opinion of her talents. Len immediately wants to “fix” her via psychiatric help.

Josh is a successful record producer who sleeps with just about every woman he encounters. This is a byproduct of the sustained sexual relationship he had as a teenager with Rita (Brett Paesel), the adult family babysitter. His parents simply looked the other way rather than intervene.

Then there’s youngest daughter Ali, a twisted, parasitic wreck who seems incapable of self-sustenance. Daddy’s little girl is inevitably on the dole and on the prowl for new sexual adventures. In a searing Episode 10 -- no more specifics will be revealed -- Maura/Mort asks somewhat rhetorically, “Do you like me? If I didn’t give you any money, would you even talk to me?”

Transparent abounds with other interesting characters. Bradley Whitford is a recurring presence as Mark/Marcy, who in Episode 8 accompanies Mort/Maura to the Camp Camellia trans camp, It’s the only half-hour set entirely in what turned out to be a pivotal 1994. Both men are happy and relaxed among like-minded men until a free-spirited wife of one camper begins muddying things up.

Kathryn Hahn excels as Rabbi Raquel Fein, who looks to be the best thing that ever happened to Josh and in fact almost certainly is. Carrie Brownstein plays Ali’s longtime gal pal Syd, who’s always felt extraneous.

Transparent may end up being the signature creation of Jill Soloway, whose previous credits include United States of Tara and Six Feet Under. This is far more provocative work, with the sex scenes throughly adult and the premise a major challenge to pull off.

The three fractious yet sometimes united siblings of the series are still capable of laughing easily amongst each other. As when Ali cracks Sarah up by telling her she’ll call their father “moppa” from now on (for both momma and poppa). But Transparent earns its occasional laughs from characters, not punchlines. Light’s Shelly may have gotten almost as batty as Estelle Getty’s Lucille on The Golden Girls. But there’s also an underlying sadness to her declaration that “when you get to my age, your skin is like Kleenex.”

Tambor who at age 70 is hardly going quietly into the night, is the overall glue as Mort/Maura. And by Episode 10 -- which is open-ended with a smattering of closure -- he’s owning what he proclaimed in Episode 2.

“My whole life I’ve been dressing up like a man,” he tells daughter Sarah. “This is me.” He therefore acts the part -- only it’s not an act. We can drop the “Mort” now. It’s “Maura” without reservation or hesitation in a groundbreaking series that’s not for everyone and surely will repulse some. Our free country marches on.

GRADE: A-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

ABC hopes (against hope) that viewers will fall for Manhattan Love Story


Analeigh Tipton, Jake McDorman front cast of Manhattan Love Story. ABC photo
Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 30th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Analeigh Tipton, Jake McDorman, Nicolas Wright, Jade Catta-Pretta, Chloe Wepper, Kurt Fuller
Produced by: Peter Traugott, Jeff Lowell, Robin Schwarz, Rachel Kaplan, Jon Liebman

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The new ABC comedy Manhattan Love Story is its version of NBC’s new A to Z. Or maybe vice-versa.

In each coupling, boy meets girl, misunderstandings ensue and this will never work -- or maybe it will because these are network sitcoms.

There’s more narration in Manhattan Love Story, under the guise of uncovering the characters’ real thoughts about one another. For instance, when hound dog Peter (Jake McDorman) passes by women in the street, he instantly rates them on their bed-ability. Upon first seeing Dana (Analeigh Tipton), he thinks “Yes” and she thinks “Not bad.” You might be thinking, “Blecch.”

Dana is fresh in town from Atlanta. Her Manhattan contact and former college roommate is willful, manipulative Amy (Jade Catta-Pretta), who’s married to Peter’s bearded brother, David (Nicolas Wright). Peter, David and their half-sister, Chloe (Chloe Wepper), all work for their father, William (Kurt Fuller), who owns an engraving company and has branded his kids with the notion that whatever he wants from them he gets.

Set up on a blind date with Peter, the usually level-headed Dana arrives flustered after a series of mishaps. They fail to hit it off after he’s too smug and she’s too hiccupy when crying. But amends later are made because otherwise this might as well be called Manhattan Try Again Next Week with Someone Else Story.

A second episode made available for review finds Peter thinking, “Whoa, is she actually not wearing a bra?” She somehow fails to think in turn, “Whoa, Peter’s peter looks like it’s going commando.”

Half-sister Chloe, who’s a bit of fun as the show’s fifth wheel, later tells Peter, “You’re not going to like this, but I think you might be experiencing some feelings.”

She’s right. He doesn’t.

It’s hard to see this one sticking around for very long. The dialogue and interior monologues occasionally have some snap. But Manhattan Love Story mostly is pretty thin soup in a city known for its delis. Seconds are not recommended.

GRADE: C-minus

OMG, LOL, WTF: And then along came ABC's Selfie


John Cho and Karen Gillan re-imagine My Fair Lady in Selfie. ABC photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 30th at 7 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Karen Gillan, John Cho, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Allyn Rachel, David Harewood
Produced by: Emily Kapnek, Julie Anne Robinson

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Affixed with the new season’s most off-putting title, ABC’s Selfie further welcomes viewers with a vomit-athon in the opening minutes.

Those who get past that point might actually come to somewhat enjoy the two principals in this modern-day mash-up of My Fair Lady.

For starters, though, here’s social media addict Eliza Dooley (Karen Gillan) aboard a plane with a guy she’s been dating until suddenly discovering the telltale trace of a ring around his finger.

She unloads into not one, but two airline barf bags before making her way toward the restroom. Alas, both bags burst, dispensing “panic pudding” on Eliza and triggering a festival of phone cam pics. As humor goes, The Three Stooges suddenly seem cerebral.

It turns out that Eliza was a high school ugly duckling who resorted to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as means to becoming popular without all that messy face-to-face discourse. But after this mishap-gone-viral, she deduces that “being ‘friended’ is not the same thing as having friends.” Really? Wow, that’s powerful, although perhaps not all that far from the realities of many younger humanoids who text first, foremost and always.

Eliza’s guru turns out to be a fellow employee and marketing whiz named Henry (John Cho), who’s just successfully re-branded a pediatric nasal spray that had to be recalled after inducing “satanic hallucinations.” Yes, the humor in Selfie can be very broad. Or more to the point in the early going -- imbecilic.

Eliza decides that Henry is just the man to “re-market me.” He reluctantly agrees to accept the challenge of transforming her from a “vapid, despised, social-media obsessed narcissist into a valued and respected woman of stature.”

Their odd couple liaison occasionally begins clicking from a humor standpoint. Eliza also relies on three nerdy reading club women who might as well be leftovers from one of last season’s ABC flops -- Super Fun Night. They amusingly help to groom Eliza for a company wedding event at which the couple’s vows to each other include, “If I’m the bagel, you’re the schmear.”

Selfie has some vital signs, with Cho and Gillan a well-matched, mis-matched pair that could take this beyond what seems to be a one-joke premise. By the end of Tuesday’s premiere, the opening puke-fest is almost out of mind. But how many repulsed viewers might have already tuned out before reaching this point? The answer, my friends, is not entirely up to your Facebook friends or Twitter followers. Well, in this case, perhaps it is. Hashtag #suityourselfie.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Rhimes makes it a Thursday night triangle with How to Get Away with Murder

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Viola Davis dominates How to Get Away with Murder. ABC photos

Premiering: Thursday, Sept. 25th at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Viola Davis, Alfred Enoch, Jack Falahee, Katie Findlay, Naomi King, Matt McGorry, Billy Brown, Karla Souza, Charlie Weber, Liza Weil
Produced by: Shonda Rimes, Pete Nowalk, Betsy Beers, Bill D’Elia

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Her production company is Shondaland and Thursdays are land’s end for all three of Shonda Rhimes’ ABC empowerment hours.

How to Get Away with Murder is joining holdover hits Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, both of which are being moved up to an hour to accommodate it. Seems like old times for ABC, which used to clear out Saturday nights for the late Aaron Spelling. But that hasn’t happened since fall 1984, when T.J. Hooker, The Love Boat and Finder of Lost Loves were all Spelling productions. Rimes-produced series are considerably more substantive. Not that you can’t wallow in them.

Murder is driven by bare-knuckled law professor/defense attorney Annalise Keating, brought to vibrant life by Oscar nominee Viola Davis (The Help). She’s a veteran of the prime-time TV game after playing regular or recurring characters in City of Angels, Century City, Traveler, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and United States of Tara in addition to four Jesse Stone movies. But this is her true coming out party as a top-of-the-marquee series star.

When not defending high-profile clients, Keating teaches a Criminal Law 100 class at Philadelphia’s fictional Middleton University. “Or as I prefer to call it,” she says before dropping her voice an octave, “How to Get Away with Murder.”

Keating doesn’t quite have the imperious air of John Houseman’s Charles W. Kingsfield Jr. in The Paper Chase movie and subsequent TV series. But she does practice the art of intimidation while pitting students against one another in their efforts to become apprentices in her law firm.

The case at hand in the premiere episode is a mistress accused of trying to poison her older CEO lover, who’s now a semi-vegetable in a wheelchair. Five students emerge as both frontrunners and series regulars. Principal among them is idealistic Wes Gibbins (Alfred Enoch), who soon catches the married prof in a compromising position with a very well-muscled man who’s not her husband.

Murder jumps around a lot, to the point where it’s perhaps too much. The opening sequence finds Keating’s chosen ones involved in a panicky murder cover-up during the dark of night. We’re then taken to “3 Months Earlier” -- and Keating’s classroom. But the flash forwards continue throughout, building to a revelation of the corpse the students are intent on hiding. By that time you’ll recognize the deceased. It’s all intended to be the serial hook of a series that also will dabble in new weekly crimes.

Davis’s Keating tends to spit out or bite off her words during classroom lectures and courtroom interrogations. So it doesn’t seem entirely believable when she’s suddenly weepy during a “Thank you for keeping this between us” scene with Wes the wide-eyed student. Maybe it’s an act? But it’s not played that way.

Later she’s again hard as nails with the kid after he questions both her courtroom tactics and motives for keeping him in the fold. Either/or dictums don’t get much more laughable than Keating affixing a steely glare before laying down the law. “Think carefully,” she says. “Everything after this moment will not only determine your career, but life. You can spend it in a corporate office drafting contracts and hitting on chubby paralegals before finally putting a gun in your mouth. Or you can join my firm and become someone you actually like. So decide. Do you want the job or not?”

Hitting on chubby paralegals and then a gun to the mouth, huh? Gimme rewrite. Even Davis can’t make that kind of dialogue work.

Murder is hardly a perfect crime against viewers. Davis has considerable presence, and the closing scene casts her character in yet another intriguing new light. How much of a Svengali is she? What will she do to stay in the winner’s circle? Or is this all one big game of misdirection? I’m sort of interested in finding out more. But for now, not really jumping at the chance.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

ABC's black-ish looks for laughs in 'burb-an vs "urban"


Not yet putting it to bed. Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross debate the merits of “keeping it real” in black-ish. ABC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Sept. 24th at 8:30 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laurence Fishburne, Marcus Scribner, Yara Shahidi, Miles Brown, Marsai Martin
Produced by: Kenya Barris, Larry Wilmore, Anthony Anderson, Laurence Fishburne, Helen Sugland, E. Brian Dobbins

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Even at the height of its ratings powers, The Cosby Show stood accused in some quarters of not being black enough.

A generation later, the new ABC family comedy black-ish makes that same criticism from within the show itself. It’s also worth noting that this time the wife is the doctor in the house. Furthermore, the creator/executive producer of the show, Kenya Barris, is black, as are three of the other principal producers. That wasn’t the case with The Cosby Show>, which came from veteran sitcom hit makers Tom Werner and Marcy Carsey.

All of this is important in terms of what’s permissible humor on black-ish, which seems novel but in fact has a premise very similar to ABC’s 1998 fall sitcom The Hughleys. D.L. Hughley starred in that one as a prosperous “vending machine king” who moved his family to the Los Angeles ‘burbs and then fretted about losing his “blackness.” It lasted two seasons on ABC and another two on the now defunct UPN network.

black-ish, a better show in a seemingly advantageous time slot (behind Modern Family), stars Anthony Anderson as ad agency executive Andre “Dre” Johnson, with Tracee Ellis Ross as his biracial wife, Rainbow. Or as Dre puts it in the opening narrative sequence, his “pigment-challenged, mixed race” wife.

Married with four kids, they’ve sought and found prosperity after moving out of the “ ‘hood.” But in a presumably out-of-body scene that’s both jarring and in keeping with black-ish’s premise, the Johnsons happily wave in unison from the curb while an “Ultimate Hollywood Tours” bus rolls through their neighborhood. “The mythical and majestic black family out of their natural habitat and yet still thriving,” the tour director enthuses. No, a white writer could not have gotten away with this. And I’m not sure a black writer should either. Then again, comedy isn’t supposed to be pretty.

Dre is in line to be the first black senior vice president at his workplace. But although he wants his kids to re-embrace their “blackness,” Dre is vexed to learn that he’ll be heading the ad firm’s “new urban division.”

“Wait, did they just put me in charge of black stuff!?” he wonders aloud.

Meanwhile, Andre Jr. (a very appealing Marcus Scribner) has a Jewish friend and is quite comfortable with being called “Andy” at school. He also flabbergasts dad with his determination to try out for the field hockey instead of the basketball team. And on his 13th birthday, he wants a Bar Mitzvah.

This is the last straw, and it won’t stir the drink. Andre Sr. insists on “throwing you an African rites of passage ceremony” while wife Rainbow carps, “Why don’t we take a ‘black’ break and go get some white yogurt.” The two younger kids like that idea.

Ellis Ross knows how to execute these lines. But black-ish has a trump card in Laurence Fishburne as Andre Sr.’s prototypically gruff “Pops.” Fishburne is not at all known for comedy. He’s already got this part nailed, though, whether grousing about baked instead of fried chicken at dinner or saying of Andre’s promotion, “Finally made it, son. Finally made it! The head puppet of the white man.”

Anderson, who had a rough go of it two seasons ago in NBC’s dreadful Guys with Kids sitcom, is far better served here as an exasperated, well-meaning, would-be head of household. The series has steered clear of buffoonery in the premiere episode. But it will be further challenged when one of its key writer-producers, Larry Wilmore (The Bernie Mac Show), leaves to ramp up for hosting Comedy Central’s new The Minority Report, set to premiere in January after Stephen Colbert leaves The Colbert Report.

black-ish has a lot packed into its oft-amusing opening half-hour. It’s both fairly daring and also endearing, sharply written but with an overdose of narrative exposition. The kids and adults are all well-cast and there’s no laugh track to gum anything up.

But I’m still wondering about that tour bus scene in the show’s opening minute. Depicting a black family essentially as a zoo exhibit does not seem like a very good idea. At best it makes an unnecessarily broad point. At worse -- well, let’s not even count the ways.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Still makin' copies: CBS' NCIS: New Orleans


Bar time on NCIS: New Orleans with Scott Bakula and CCH Pounder. CBS photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 23rd at 8 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Scott Bakula, Lucas Black, CCH Pounder, Zoe McLellan, Rob Kerkovich
Produced by: Gary Glasberg, Mark Harmon, Jeffrey Lieber, James Hayman

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The address is CBS for NCIS. But the latest offshoot, NCIS: New Orleans, should be returned to sender.

Premiering Tuesday after the mothership, this thing is likely to stick to the wall only because of its lead-in and thoroughly beatable competition from ABC (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Fox (New Girl, The Mindy Project) and NBC (the new Marry Me and the returning About A Boy).

Be advised, though, that your arteries might harden while watching a bland, thuddingly formulaic knockoff. Gumbo it’s not. Cream of boiled water soup it is. And of course, the omnipresent Steven Weber’s a guest star, ploughing through another prime-time hour as a noxious jerk.

Scott Bakula stars as Special Agent Dwayne Pride, who’s also a Cajun-style cook and a jazz pianist when he’s not giving orders or trying to stay awake while reciting lines such as “All I’m sayin’ is where you lay your head in this city defines you.”

He says this to newbie agent Meredith Brody (Zoe McLellan), who’s arrived from the Midwest to primarily team with incumbent drawler Christopher LaSalle (Lucas Black). He asks her at one point, “What in the sam hill does that mean?“ I thought that expression was buried along with “Tarnation!” and “Jumpin’ Jehosaphat!”

The other principal member of the team is body dissector Loretta Wade (CCH Pounder), who raises an eyebrow regularly.

Bakula and Pounder have some solid work on their resumes, and Black was highly appealing as a crew cut kid actor in Sling Blade and CBS’ short-lived, memorably offbeat American Gothic. NCIS: New Orleans may end up supplying all of them with fail-safe, long-term employment at handsome rates of pay. But as acting challenges go, this is bacon, lettuce and tomato short of a BLT.

We begin with a severed limb in a big bin full of shrimp. It turns out the appendage belongs to Navy petty officer Calvin Parks, whose pop, known as “Pop,” is a jazz trumpeter. Bakula’s Pride took the kid under his wing. As for Pop (guest star James McDaniel), there’s “only two things I ever loved in this life -- Calvin and jazz.”

Determining what happened to Calvin -- and whether he may have gotten mixed up with the wrong crowd -- are what drive Pride and his team through the rest of the hour. Weber drops in as an onerous city councilman who sees political mileage in coming down hard on New Orleans’ gang bangers.

“You know how I feel about this community, and no one has less love for the gangs,” Pride tells him. But something smells fishy here, and it’s neither the stink on ice script or a seafood Po Boy.

NCIS: New Orleans also squeezes in a little room for David McCallum’s Donald “Ducky” Mallard, who’s Loretta’s medical examiner counterpart on NCIS. He drops in via a close-circuit feed to further reinforce the brand.

It all ends in thoroughly predictable fashion -- and without any zip or pop. NCIS: New Orleans is the equivalent of a hand-me-down jacket that’s already been worn by two older brothers. By that point, it’s stretched out, faded and threadbare. Oh well. Might as well get more use out of it


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Forever gives ABC an immortal doc of "Sherlockian" stock


Forever’s triumvirate: Judd Hirsch, Ioan Gruffudd, Alana De La Garza. ABC photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 22nd at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC before moving to regular Tuesday, 9 p.m. (central) time slot on the following night
Starring: Ioan Gruffudd, Alana De La Garza, Judd Hirsch, Lorraine Toussaint, Donnie Keshawarz, Joel David
Produced by: Matt Miller, Dan Lin, Jennifer Gwartz

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His “Sherlockian” deductions are elementary to him but may range from semi-plausible to completely preposterous in the eyes of your average viewer.

Dr. Henry Morgan (Ioan Gruffudd) has been at this a long time, though, as he takes pains to relate during a lengthy narrative near the start of ABC’s Forever. Two hundred years ago he was shot and thrown overboard after trying to save a slave from a similar fate. But lo and behold -- or something like that -- Henry lived to breathe again.

“I always return in water. And I’m always naked,” he explains.

Henry dies three more times in just the opening hour of Forever. He first perishes during a subway crash after meeting a comely blonde and immediately deducing where she’s from, what she’ll be doing that night, etc.

“You see a lot,” she says.

“Well, I’ve seen a lot,” he confides. They arrange to have a drink before, crash-boom, everyone on the subway car is down for the count. Henry then bursts through another of his watery would-be graves and is arrested for indecent exposure. But he’s soon out and about again, with his trusty old friend, Abe (Judd Hirsch), picking him up in a New York minute.

Abe deals in both antiques and sermonettes. He has a long history with Henry that dates back to World War II. It allows him to lay it on a little thick after Henry again is bedeviled by Forever’s mysterious Moriarty, who calls him by phone and says he knows all of his secrets.

Henry, who’s been working in a morgue (“where the action is”), is intent on running away again. Not so fast, says wizened Abe: “I’ve got news for you. You might not be able to die. But you haven’t lived for a very long time.”

Well, dash it all then. Let’s stand and fight, solve crimes and banter with suspicious detective Jo Martinez (Alana De La Garza), who increasingly appreciates Henry’s ability to instantly figure out who did what to whom and why.

This is one of those series where a flake of dandruff on a suit collar can lead to something like this: “Aha, so you obviously didn’t use your Head and Shoulders shampoo last night. But why? Is it because you didn’t have time after cleaning all that blood out of the shower where you killed your wife’s lover with the same straight razor that you then cleverly planted in the bathroom medicine cabinet of a man to whom you owned a fortune in gambling debts?”

OK, I made that up. But really, some of these deductions are really a stretch.

Forever also flashes back on occasion to the only true love of Henry’s life, a woman named Abigail. As we see in Tuesday’s Episode 2, he tried to break it off with her because he knew it could never work. But his heart melted anew after she told him, “Who cares about how it ends? Life is about the journey.”

Too much of Forever is either overwrought or half-baked. But Gruffudd is mighty handsome as Henry. Jaunty, too. So the series is well-equipped from that standpoint.

The series also has added Lorraine Touissant -- fresh from Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black -- as a cop shop boss lady named Joanne Reece. She first shows up in Episode 2, starting with the throwaway line, ”I may be new to the squad, but . . .”

Viewers otherwise may have been over-exposed to the immortal/flashback basics of Forever. Except that Henry doesn’t seem to be a vampire or any sort of otherworldly creature. He’s just a guy who lives and lets die without yet knowing why. For now, rinse him in the Hudson River and repeat.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

CBS' Scorpion is mostly lethally ridiculous


Robert Patrick (center) & his socially inept Scorpion team. CBS photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 22nd at 8 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Elyes Gabel, Robert Patrick, Katharine McPhee, Jadyn Wong, Ari Stidham, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Riley B. Smith
Produced by: Alex Kurtzman, Robert Orci, Nick Santora, Nicholas Wootton, Justin Lin, Heather Kadin, Scooter Braun, Walter O’Brien

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Robert Patrick basically is Kurtwood Smith with lots more hair.

Both veteran actors ply the hard-ass trade, snarling and scowling on big screens and small.

Patrick, who first got rolling as the relentless villain of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, is a good guy with a bad disposition in CBS’ Scorpion. As federal agent Cabe Gallo, it’s a retro-kick to hear him bellow, “My process involves my foot in your ass!”

His recruits are four high IQ “nerdy masterminds” led by Walter O’Brien (Elyes Gabel), a certified genius who years ago felt betrayed by Gallo. But old iron pants comes calling again when a big bad computer breakdown leaves 56 airliners in jeopardy. They’ll all crash-land when their fuel runs out unless Walter, mechanical whiz Happy Quinn (Jadyn Wong), behaviorist Toby Curtis (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and “statistics guru” Sylvester Dodd (Ari Stidham) can devise a way to reboot everything.

This is all supposedly “inspired by a true story,” although dramatic license clearly is in the driver’s seat. That’s how Scorpion is able to work in socially adept waitress Paige Dineen (Katharine McPhee), whose pre-teen son, Ralph (Riley B. Smith), is uncommunicative until Walter deduces that he’s a genius, too.

There’s considerable techno-talk in the premiere episode, with little of it making much sense. Walter’s minions race around trying to hard wire or hot wire stuff before he says resignedly, “No place on earth has what we need.”

But wait. What if we . . . Suffice it to say the high-speed way in which Walter and Paige save the day is totally ludicrous. Nonetheless, it’s pretty well-staged after Paige first tells the self-important but adorably introverted Walter, “Oh, I get it. I’m a dumb waitress. But I’m smart enough to know that you’re scared.”

A genius probably didn’t write the script.

Agent Gallo ends up dangling big money and a state of the art research lab in return for the quintet’s promise to take on any and all future mission: impossibles. Paige is part of the team because she has the ability to interact with a wide variety of people after taking all of those orders at the diner. Meanwhile, Walter will further bond with Ralph, making Paige one happy mom for starters. Walter and Paige taking it to the next level is a given.

It’s hoped that Patrick’s character won’t be cauterized in future episodes. He needs to remain ornery and never satisfied with his band of misfit handfuls. Still, he’s in a series scheduled opposite the potent trio of NBC’s The Voice, ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and Fox’s Sleepy Hollow. Putting a foot in their asses won’t be nearly as easily accomplished.

GRADE: C-minus

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CBS' Madam Secretary could use a bigger jolt of political theater


Tea Leoni yearns to effect change in Madam Secretary. CBS photo

Premiering: Sunday, Sept. 21st at 7:30 p.m. (central) and repeated at 9:30 p.m. (central) on the same night
Starring: Tea Leoni, Tim Daly, Bebe Neuwirth, Zeljko Ivanek, Keith Carradine, Geoffrey Arend, Patina Miller, Erich Bergen
Produced by: Barbara Hall, Lori McCreary, Morgan Freeman, Tracy Mercer, David Semel

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Any comparisons to Hillary Clinton should begin and end with Tea Leoni’s preference for pantsuits as Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord.

Otherwise it’s a big stretch. The dedicated protagonist of CBS’ Madam Secretary is a former CIA agent and mother of two opinionated kids whose husband Henry (Tim Daly) seems to be about as perfect a spouse as Bill Clinton hasn’t been. Besides that, he teaches religion at Georgetown. And whispers sweet nothings such as “I love women in power positions.”

Comparisons to The West Wing are more apt, although Madam Secretary doesn’t look as though it will have the heft to play at that high level.

Sunday’s premiere episode quickly sets the stage for Elizabeth’s ascendance. She’s happily teaching at the University of Virginia -- and turning down a student’s plea for an assignment extension -- before word comes that the secretary of state’s plane has gone down abroad. The next morning at the busy McCord household, her mentor, President Conrad (a recurring Keith Carradine), pops in to pop the question. He recruited her for the CIA and now wants her to step in as secretary of state.

“You don’t just think outside the box. You don’t even know there is a box,” the prez says before adding with an equally straight face that he’s determined to preside over “real change” in the world with Elizabeth as his point woman. The viewing public has long stopped believing that.

Two months later Elizabeth is on the job. And in an amazingly timely story line, she must deal with Syrian terrorists who vow to execute two college age brothers taken hostage unless their demands are met. “Ultimately they want us to call off the peace talks,” Elizabeth says.

Her chief of staff, tart Nadine Tolliver (Bebe Neuwirth), spreads warmth by dubbing this “Operation Stupid Kids.” Meanwhile, the president’s blunt-spoken chief of staff, Russell Jackson (the ubiquitous Zaljko Ivanek), warns the new secretary of state that she’d better not try to do any end runs around him. The upshot in his view: if the kids have to be sacrificed, so be it.

It’s enough to make an idealist tell her hubby in bed that the president “told me that we could affect real change in the world. That’s what I signed up for.” They then kiss and proceed further.

Elizabeth eventually gets the OK to go through back channels in an effort to obtain the brothers’ freedom. This is all pretty murky and without much dramatic punch.

By the way, the king of Swaziland and his 10 wives are scheduled to visit in the midst of all this. Can Elizabeth learn all of their names in time while also pushing her agenda to combat an AIDS epidemic in Swaziland?

Madam Secretary also raises the specter that the previous secretary of state’s plane crash death was no accident. To be continued.

Leoni is fine in the title role and Daly is thoroughly dutiful as her heaven-sent husband. But the accomplished Neuwirth is little seen in the first hour while Ivanek is getting stuck in a rut of playing basically the same character over and over.

What’s missing from Madam Secretary is an overriding reason to keep watching. Nothing really crackles so far, as it did with Netflix’s House of Cards. Instead we get boiler plate dialogue in abundance, with Elizabeth telling the president at one point, “This is a risk you cannot afford not to take.” And the president replying, “You’d better be right about this.”

Better to have made Elizabeth McCord much more of a Hillary knockoff with a husband whose eyes often are on other prizes. Now that’s entertainment.


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Fox's Gotham an "origin" series with originality as well


Donal Logue and Ben McKenzie front the cast of Gotham. Fox photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 22nd at 7 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, Jada Pinkett Smith, Robin Lord Taylor, Camren Bicondova, Cory Michael Smith, Sean Pertwee, David Mazouz, Eric Richards, Victoria Cartagena, Andrew Stewart Jones, John Doman
Produced by: Bruno Heller, Danny Cannon, John Stephens

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Fox is taking a big, bold swing with Gotham. And it packs a solid first punch with this hardly comic prequel to the Batman playlist.

Premiering in tandem with with Sleepy Hollow Monday night, Gotham has a cinematic big-screen look, a vivid, well-cast ensemble of characters and some violence that’s anything but cartoonish.

The centerpiece scene, violence-wise, is the early robbery and murder of pre-teen Bruce Wayne’s parents, Thomas and Martha. Young Bruce (David Mazouz) screams out in horror while future Catwoman Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) by happenstance sees it all from one of her upper perches.

Future commissioner James Gordon (Ben McKenzie from Southland), a newcomer to the force, is soon on the scene with his hardened older partner, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue).

Gordon quickly consoles the boy, assuring him “There will be light” and promising to “find the man who did this.”

The script at times goes wanting, as when Bullock snarls, “This is not a city or a job for nice guys.” And Gordon snips back, “You’re a cynic. A slovenly, lackadaisical cynic.”

But the writing can be a kick, too, with the amoral Fish Mooney (deliciously played by Jada Pinkett Smith) sizing up Gordon for the first time by telling him, “Well, aren’t you a cool glass of milk.”

Pinkett Smith bites deeply into every scene she’s in. But one of her henchmen, future Penguin Oswald Cobblepot, is played with even more relish by Robin Lord Taylor. Whether laughing maniacally while wielding a baseball bat or cowering when his betrayal is uncovered, Taylor reduces all previous Penguins to rubber duckies. By the way, he hates being called Penguin.

The other “origin” story in play during Episode 1 is future Riddler Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), who for now is on the side of justice. Gotham’s companion detective team is Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen (Victoria Cartagena, Andrew Stewart Jones), both of whom are at odds with the sneering, easily corrupted Bullock.

Logue, whose duplicitous King Horik met a nasty demise on Season 2 of History Channel’s Vikings, has grown accustomed to playing sneering heavies. He’s also become adept at it, although it can be tough duty navigating a line such as “I haven’t been ashamed since I was 12 and my mom caught me jacking off.”

Not to overly worry, though. This is a rousing beginning, with McKenzie a sturdy presence as a knight in shining armor who’s still no Dudley Do-Right. The action scenes are crisply staged and the look is close to noir-ish, except when flip-top cell phones are used.

Head executive producer/writer Bruno Heller, in a session with TV critics this summer, called it a “mash-up” of looks and feels. “In this Gotham, it’s a kind of timeless world. It’s yesterday, it’s today and it’s tomorrow all at the same time, because that’s the world that dreams live in.”

Well, if he says so. And for now none of this is really a distraction -- just as long as no one gets on Twitter or Facebook.

Fox should be commended for making a Big 4 broadcast network series seem big, special and distinctive. There’s definitely not a lot of that going around these days. Comic book adaptations are hardly novel -- on big screen or small. But Gotham feels like a larger-than-life event. The challenge will be to build on that -- or at the very least hold steady.


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The Beatles and Me On Tour is a fab way to join the lads back in the U.S., circa 1964

ivor even better resized ivor70sblur

British reporter Ivor Davis was with The Beatles from start to stop on their 1964 U.S. tour, which landed in Dallas on Sept. 18th.

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Fifty years and four Beatles ago today, they made Dallas the scheduled last stop on their very first U.S. tour.

John Lennon very much wanted to visit the JFK assassination site, Ivor Davis writes in his new book The Beatles and Me On Tour.

“Let’s take a quick look at the scene of the crime,” Lennon is quoted as saying. But The Beatles’ controlling, ill-fated manager, Brian Epstein, would not relent. So The Beatles remained sequestered at the Cabana Motor Hotel before they took the stage on the night of Sept. 18, 1964 at the Dallas Memorial Coliseum.

“The more John demanded to see the assassination site, the more Brian pushed back, insisting: ‘It’s a bloody waste of time,’ “ Davis says in the book. “He also knew that the Dallas promoter was not keen to show off the location of such infamy following an incident that was still so raw in everyone’s mind. More to the point, he worried that The Beatles showing up at Dealey Plaza on the eve of their live appearance would produce negative publicity for the upcoming concert -- not to mention being a security headache.”

Epstein won out -- as he almost always did -- telling Lennon, “They say there’s nothing to see, just a decrepit office building and a lawn.”

Davis, a longtime colleague on the semi-annual Television Critics Association “press tours” in California, found himself in a position to hear all of this firsthand. As a Los Angeles-based correspondent for London’s Daily Express, he was assigned to cover The Beatles’ landmark 1964 U.S. tour from its Aug. 18th start in San Francisco to a tacked-on benefit concert for cerebral palsy on Sept. 20th in New York.

The book says he was the “only daily news reporter” to cover that tour in its entirety. Davis also ghost-wrote a column for George Harrison, who initially balked at contributing anything but later warmed to the task.

“I was there when they popped pills and talked candidly about their passions and the things and people that they disliked,” Davis writes. “When they told war stories; when they moaned about the lousy sound systems and the crappy merchandise sold at stadiums, about their fear of flying and about how they coped with the revolving door of women that was the inevitable result of their perch as global sex symbols.”

One is tempted to bow in his presence. The term “journey” is used ad nauseam in today’s “reality competition” shows. But this was a real trip, with Davis on the inside looking in. As experiences of a lifetime go, it’s off the charts.

Davis writes bluntly, sometimes cheekily, and always entertainingly. Whatever the concert venue, he usually took a beating from the jelly beans thrown toward the stage after Harrison had expressed a fondness for jelly babies, not the harder shelled variation.

During the inaugural concert at San Francisco’s Cow Palace, “most missed their human targets -- though more than a few clattered like hailstones onto Ringo’s drums,” Davis remembers. “Others fell far short, stinging my ears and hitting my head like sharp pellets. I crouched low in my seat, pulled my jacket over my head and grabbed a newspaper as a kind of makeshift shield.”

The book has a wealth of such anecdotes, but they’re for the reader to discover. And although Davis rode shotgun from start to finish on the 1964 U.S. tour, his most incredible experience came in the following year. He was among a very small handful of insiders who witnessed the one and only meeting between The Beatles and Elvis Presley.

It happened on the night of Aug. 27, 1965 during The Beatles’ stay in L.A. for two concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. Davis got a spur of the moment invitation, but with the proviso that no photographers or tape recorders would be allowed. Presley’s authoritarian manager, Col. Tom Parker, informed Epstein that “if any press shows up, he’ll cancel.”

Their venue was Presley’s one-story pad at 565 Perugia Way in Bel-Air. “The living room was furnished in what I would describe as Vegas Overdone,” Davis writes in the book. “Heavy, overstuffed chairs and faux antique tables that would have looked at home in a medieval castle.”

After some awkward small talk, Paul McCartney became mesmerized with Presley’s remote-controlled television. It prompted the host to take action. “At last he stood up, took the remote out of Paul’s hand, and drawled with mock severity, ‘If you guys are gonna just sit around, I’m goin’ to bed.’ “ Davis writes. “Everyone laughed, and Elvis’ demeanor visibly eased: ‘Didn’t you guys show up to jam?’ he asked.”

Which they did while Davis marveled: “Right here in the living room, the hottest pop musical talents in the world were jamming like a garage band.”

The Beatles and Me On Tour is more than a cherry atop all the books devoted to John, Paul, George and Ringo. It’s a unique, one of a kind rewind through the eyes of an accomplished correspondent who finally was coaxed into telling his story. And believe me, it’s one for the books.

You can order The Beatles and Me On Tour via ivordavisbeatles.com. Or you can check out an old-school bookstore.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Life, death and taxing teens in Fox's Red Band Society hospital drama


All smiles, but not often: Patients & caregivers of Red Band Society.
Fox photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Sept. 17th at 8 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Octavia Spencer, Griffin Gluck, Charlie Rowe, Nolan Sotillo, Astro, Ciara Bravo, Zoe Levin, Dave Annable, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Wilson Cruz
Produced by: Steven Spielberg, Margaret Nagle, Rina Mimoun, Justin Falvey, Darryl Frank, Sergio Aguero

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The 12-year-old narrator remains in a coma, which alone makes Fox’s new Red Band Society a unique departure from the mushrooming narrative norm.

Then there’s the welcome casting of Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) in the lead role of Nurse Jackson. She’s saucy and authoritarian, of course, with a coffee cup that says, “Scary Bitch.” She’s also dedicated, without overtly showing it, to the mostly teenage patients of Los Angeles’ Ocean Park Hospital. Whether new or somewhat entrenched, they’re afflicted with illnesses ranging from cancer to heart failure to an eating disorder.

Narrator Charlie (Griffin Gluck), who weighs in early and often, goes undiagnosed in Wednesday’s premiere episode. For now he’s simply flat on his back in bed, making it clear that he doesn’t blame his dad for however he got this way.

Comparisons to The Breakfast Club have been made and are welcomed by the show’s executive producers. One of them, Margaret Nagle, had a brother who was in a coma “for a very, very long time,” she said during an interview session at the summer Television Critics Association “press tour.” He could hear what others were saying, she says. And so can Charlie.

The title Red Band Society comes from the wrist-wraps distributed by Leo Roth (Charlie Rowe), who’s lost both his hair and part of a leg to cancer. Incoming patient Jordi Palacios (Nolan Sotillo) faces the same operation. So they bond, with Leo telling Jordi, “They can never cut into your soul.” Yes, things can get a bit cloying and pretentious. But there are affecting moments as well, and plenty of possibilities for new patients and story lines.

Another first-timer at the hospital is Kara Souders (Zoe Levin), a mean girl cheerleader who collapses at practice to the merriment of just about everyone else in attendance. She winds up talking smack to “Coma Boy” Charlie, but begins to get religion after passing out and then communicating with him in a sort of netherworld.

The other principal patients, in the early going at least, are Emma Chota (Ciara Bravo) and Dash Hosney (Astro from The X Factor). She has an aversion to food and he has cystic fibrosis. Both are also part of Leo’s orbit.

Spencer’s Nurse Jackson is the necessary adult supervisor/modulator of all this teenage angst. Other staffers include Dr. Jack McAndrew (Dave Annable), the hunky pediatric surgery whiz, and naive new nurse Brittany Dobler (Rebecca Rittenhouse). Wilson Cruz, little seen in the opening hour, was a late addition to the series as openly gay nurse Kenji Gomez-Rejon.

For starters at least, lRed Band Society has enough lightness of being and appealing characters to counterbalance its overall sobering premise. There’s no RX for smash hit here. But the prospects for survival perhaps approach 50-50.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Whodunit to Debra Messing in NBC's The Mysteries of Laura?


Debra Messing tries to get a grip on her twin terrors. NBC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Sept. 17th at 9 p.m. (central) before moving to regular 7 p.m. Wednesday slot on Sept. 24th
Starring: Debra Messing, Josh Lucas, Laz Alonso, Janina Gavankar, Charles Reina, Vincent Reina
Produced by: Greg Berlanti, Jeff Rake, McG, Aaron Kaplan, Todd Lituchy, Sarah Schechter

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NBC has a new crime-time Wednesday in mind, with The Mysteries of Laura walking the beat in the leadoff spot before Law & Order: SVU and Chicago P.D. go after more bad guys.

But first comes a “sneak preview” of Laura, an oft-loud and mostly messy hour of Debra Messing hoping to register as a New York homicide detective after all those years on Will & Grace and a tour of duty on Smash. The pilot episode follows Wednesday’s two-hour Season 9 finale of America’s Got Talent.

Straight-ahead, close-ended crimesolving is the overall intent, with Messing’s Laura Diamond deducing the weekly murderer in a manner that suggests both the board game Clue and the old Columbo whodunits. But a fairly inventive plot twist at the end can’t save the opening hour from otherwise being all over the place.

It all begins with a slam-bang car chase and a Dirty Harry-ish Diamond in pistol-brandishing action before viewers are introduced to her pre-K twin boys from hell, Nicholas and Harrison (Charles and Vincent Reina). Separated from her husband, Jake (Josh Lucas), who’s also a detective, Laura has the impossible task of parenting two kids who can’t be deterred from destroying property, peeing on one another, etc. Dad doesn’t help by bringing the boys toy guns during one of his quick visits.

“You need to beat ‘em!” a black woman bystander exclaims when Nicholas and Harrison go ape in a public park. In light of recent events involving Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, that line may well have to go before Laura makes its way to home screens.

The central murder case, which couldn’t be much more uninteresting, involves an effete rich guy who’s planning to launch a new cell phone. He lives like a king with his snooty wife before being found dead. Laura, assisted by her partner Billy (Laz Alonso), manages to wind up undercover in a fairly daring swimsuit at the impossibly pricey Ancient Baths spa.

Meanwhile, a new private school must be found for her sons after they’re kicked out of their current one. This allows Dad to call a school interviewer a “snobbish, pre-K Nazi Queen” after she’s understandably aghast at the boys’ latest bad behavior.

Messing seems to be trying hard, but in a role and a show that just don’t suit her talents. The Mysteries of Laura may well get a nice-sized sampling in Wednesday’s advantageous post-AGT slot. But the appetite for more will be sorely tested next week when Laura goes to battle opposite new episodes of CBS’ Survivor, Fox’s Hell’s Kitchen and ABC’s family comedy combo of The Middle and The Goldbergs.

Elementary deduction: that’s a fourth-place finish in the making.

GRADE: C-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History is triumphant even by Ken Burns' standards


The Big Three: Franklin, Theodore and Eleanor Roosevelt. PBS photos

Premiering: Sunday, Sept. 14th at 7 p.m. (central) on PBS and continuing nightly at the same time through Saturday, Sept. 20th
Voiced by: Meryl Streep, Paul Giamatti, Edward Herrmann, Patricia Clarkson, Billy Bob Thornton, John Lithgow, Ed Harris and others
Directed by: Ken Burns
Written by: Geoffrey C. Ward
Narrated by: Peter Coyote

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It’s tempting and no doubt premature to trumpet PBS’ The Roosevelts: An Intimate History as Ken Burns’ masterwork.

Here’s a guy, after all, with The Civil War, Baseball, Jazz and The War under his belt, with another epic, Vietnam, yet to come.

Even in that context, Burns’ 14-hour The Roosevelts may well be the television program of the year -- or maybe even the decade. The imprints they left are enormous. Their personal lives are equally indelible. “This is the story of the Roosevelts,” narrator Peter Coyote says early in Sunday’s first of seven two-hour chapters. “No other American family has ever touched so many lives.” No kidding.

This first intertwining of Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt captures them in all their grand, poignant, self-absorbed glory. Images are wedded to words in ways that prompt continued wonderment. It’s history-telling beyond compare, with a soap opera overlay that, were it not all true, might be laughed out of the writing rooms of even the most preposterously plotted daytime serial.

And then there’s Meryl Streep. She brilliantly voices Eleanor Roosevelt, making every recitation of her words a mini-event. Paul Giamatti and Edward Herrmann are solid and sturdy stand-ins for Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt. But Streep simply soars, capturing the lilt, the passion and the heartbreak of a plain-spoken, even plainer-looking feminist long before the term was coined. Orphaned at an early age and called “Granny” by her dismissive mother, Eleanor was the anti-Jackie Kennedy in terms of glamor and style. But she endured constant indignities and emerged in her own right after her towering husband’s death. Streep is with Eleanor every step of the way, breathing new life into an indomitable woman of substance whose psyche never succumbed to its deep bruises.

Burns also has selected his on-camera “talking heads” with exceeding care. Historian Geoffrey C. Ward, who wrote this entire series, is very much among them. Old standbys David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin also weigh in with their usual telling insights. But the real revelation of The Roosevelts is George Will, whose straight-ahead observations cut to the chase and keep leaving a mark.

As president, both Theodore and Franklin “regarded the Constitution as a nuisance” that shouldn’t and wouldn’t get in their way, Will says in Chapter 1.

And later: “Theodore Roosevelt, we should say this bluntly, liked war.” Therefore he should be viewed with “dry eyes,” not misty, sentimental ones.

In Chapter 5, Will notes that “the presidency is like a soft leather glove, and it takes the shape of the hand that’s put into it.” And when a president “stretches the office,” as Franklin did, the glove never goes back to its original size.


Eleanor and Franklin put on good shows for public consumption.

All seven chapters are first-rate. But if you only watch one of them, make it Chapter 4. It mostly deals with how Franklin, at the age of 39, began the day of Aug. 10, 1921 as a healthy, vigorous man before waking up the next day without being able to walk. Doctors eventually determined that he had contracted infantile paralysis, the longer term for polio.

Ward, himself a polio survivor, gets emotional in describing what befell the man who would go on to serve an unprecedented four terms as president.

“It produces terror, unreasoning terror,” he says, his voice breaking. “You just can’t believe that the legs that you depended on simply don’t work.”

Roosevelt later insisted that “I’m not going to be conquered by a childish disease.” And he wasn’t. But the man who became president in the throes of The Great Depression and later guided the country through World War II would never walk again without heavy braces and the assistance of aides whose arms he tightly clasped for balance.

This chapter also includes incredibly poignant footage of FDR at the Warm Springs, Georgia retreat that began as a resort before he turned it into a rehab center for fellow polio victims. Although he brooded in private, Roosevelt beamed in the soothing pool waters, where a semblance of walking was possible. He cavorted as an equal with those who shared his disabilities.

Suzanne Pike, among the few Warm Springs survivors who met the future president, recalls that he always had nicknames for everyone. He asked if he could call her “Suzy.” In turn, many of them dubbed him “Rosie.” By the end of this chapter, after 10 years of struggle, depression and elation, America is calling him their President.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he said famously at the first of his four inaugurations. “Nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror.”

Relationship-wise, Franklin was a fifth cousin of Theodore Roosevelt, whose very troubled brother, Elliott, was Eleanor’s father. Theodore became godfather to his niece, Eleanor, for whom he felt considerable affection. When Franklin and Eleanor married, Uncle “Teddy,” the sitting president, gave her away. But The Roosevelts has no pictures of the three of them together. Which means they likely don’t exist.


Theodore Roosevelt: A Mr. Bluster of the first magnitude.

Teddy Roosevelt likewise overcame considerable personal tragedy en route to becoming a full-throttle president that some called a “steam engine in trousers,” according to Will.

His mother and his wife died on the same day, the latter after giving birth to their first child, Alice. TR left the baby in his sister’s care and then ran from his demons by remaining in perpetual motion, according to historians. “Roosevelt was a high-functioning neurotic,” says Evan Thomas.

As such, he became a manly ranchman out West who craved the scent of battle and eventually breathed it in deeply as the head of The Roughriders. They trained in Texas and then became renowned for a bloody charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba during the Spanish-American War of 1898. A total of 89 Roughriders were killed or wounded. But TR deemed it “fun” and became a hero to many.

“He was a killer. You can’t sanitize that,” says historian Clay Jenkinson. He also quickly became governor of New York, vice president and then the country’s youngest president, at age 42, when President William H. McKinley was assassinated. His trademark tag lines were “Bully” and “Dee-lightful.”

TR fought the big business tycoons of his day; strong-armed the building of the Panama Canal; won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in brokering a treaty between Russia and Japan; and became the country’s foremost conservationist. But the first major event of his post-presidency was a predatory 11-month jaunt to Africa with his son, Kermit.

The footage from this excursion, in Chapter 2, is both amazing and repulsive. Accompanied by 206 porters who carried every manner of baggage, the two Roosevelts killed a total of 512 large birds and animals, including big batches of lions, elephants, rhinoceroses and giraffes. Upon return to New York, they got another hero’s welcome.

The Roosevelts also details the infighting among Teddy’s surviving offspring and FDR, whom most of them loathed as president. At one point, Alice said she’d vote for Adolf Hitler rather than FDR if he ran for a third term. Teddy Jr. also was a constant antagonist. But his embedded zest for combat prompted him to unite behind Franklin when the U.S. entered World War II after the Dec. 7, 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Teddy Jr. was granted a commission as general, and insisted on leading his troops to shore during D-Day.

“It steadies the men to know I am with them, plodding along with my cane,” he said. Teddy Jr. survived D-Day, but died shortly after -- in uniform -- of a massive heart attack. Earlier during WWII, TR’s despondent son, Kermit, had committed suicide by firing a bullet through his chin.

FDR’s four boys also all fought in World War II. Elliott Roosevelt flew 300-some combat missions and was decorated for valor while Republicans back home continued to question his bravery and accuse the President of giving his sons favorable treatment. Sound familiar?

“I sometimes really hope that one of us gets killed so that they’ll stop picking on the rest of the family,” Elliott said at one point.

The Roosevelts is an “intimate” history, not a “tabloid” one, Burns has emphasized in interviews. But the oft- long distance marriage of Franklin and Eleanor is duly documented. Each had their own companions, with FDR striving to keep his women a secret while approving of Eleanor’s close friendships with several female friends.

Whether any of these relationships was physically consummated remains an open question, at least during these 14 hours of The Roosevelts. What’s clear, though, is that both FDR and Eleanor drew strength from the company of others. Their marriage bore six children, but the bond between them was stretched thin to the point of fraying by the time he succumbed to a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945.

FDR died at Warm Springs, where his company included his longtime confidante and companion, Lucy Mercer (Rutherford). Eleanor had her usual busy day of activities in Washington, completely unaware that Lucy had re-entered the picture. But she soldiered on, excelling as a pivotal delegate to the United Nations and establishing a new circle of friends, including Dr. David Gurewitsch and his wife, Edna, who’s interviewed in the film.

The Roosevelts is never less than thoroughly compelling, whether marching through its remarkable pageantry of history or re-telling the smaller, personal stories that played out behind the scenes. It’s a remarkable piece of filmmaking that fully rises to the occasion of its remarkable subjects. Television’s new season is upon us, but this is an achievement for all seasons.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Fall promo palooza: Grand finale

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Network TV’s new fall series begin trickling onto home screens next week, although the latest TV season doesn’t officially begin until Monday, Sept. 22nd.

We conclude our “Fall Promo Palooza” series with an extended tease for one of the showiest newcomers. Fox is banking heavily on its Batman prequel, Gotham, which premieres on Monday, Sept. 22nd. Benjamin McKenzie, who became a star via Fox’s The O.C., returns to his old network as the future Commissioner Gordon. The Penguin, The Ridler, Catwoman and others also are in their formative stages.

All in all, it’s a big, bold and risky attempt to rope in both old and new comic book fans. Here’s Fox’s 2-minute effort to further stir the juices.

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Fall promo palooza: "We've Got the Touch" (CBS, 1983)

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No. 1 CBS touted its returning hits -- and it had plenty of ‘em -- in these homey “We’ve Got the Touch” spots for the 1983 fall season.

The network wanted to make it clear that everyday Americans also had “The Touch.” So they were shown in various vigorous activities before gathering around the TV hearth to watch CBS. Never mind that actors were playing all of these parts, ranging from Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing in Dallas to someone dressed as an old lady jumping rope. The sing-along jingle melded them as one: “You’re tuned to us, we’re tuned to you.”

CBS had six of prime-time’s top 10 series from the previous season, with 60 Minutes ranked No. 1 followed by Dallas (No. 2), M*A*S*H and Magnum, P.I. (tied for No. 3), Simon & Simon (No. 7) and Falcon Crest (No. 8).

Most of its fall 1983 newcomers hit dry holes, though, with quick exits for Goodnight, Beantown, Emerald Point N.A.S., The Mississippi, Whiz Kids and Cutter to Houston (which co-starred Alec Baldwin as a hot-shot Houston doc). Only Scarecrow & Mrs. King proved to have any legs.

Here are two of those promos from days when cable TV was yet to pose a serious threat and the living room TV set still held most of the power.

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Z is for zombie (but of course) in Syfy's Z Nation


Tom Everett Scott will look like this a lot in Z Nation. Syfy photo

Premiering: Friday, Sept.12th at 9 p.m. (central) on Syfy
Starring: Tom Everett Scott, Harold Perrineau, Kellita Smith, DJ Qualls, Anastasia Baranova, Michael Welch, Russell Hodgkinson, Keith Allen
Produced by: Karl Schaefer

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Fear not, there’s no statute of limitations on zombie apocalypses.

So here comes another one. And although the acting can be a bit mechanical, Syfy’s Z Nation may have enough pop, intrigue and indispensable gore to serve as more than a mere placeholder for AMC’s The Walking Dead, whose Season 5 is due on Oct. 12th. It might even have the chops to develop its own fairly large and devoted following during the course of a scheduled 13-episode first season.

Friday’s premiere is frenetic from the start, with the U.S. president already dead and the country two years deep into zombie hell. Delta Force Lt. Mark Hammond (Harold Perrineau) and his remaining men are fighting off another furious zombie attack while a nerdy dude who’s dubbed himself “Citizen Z” (DJ Qualls) is issuing orders from his Northern Light lair.

It’s essential to keep experimenting on convict guinea pigs in hopes of finding a vaccine. And if anyone passes the all-important zombie immunity test, he must be transported to the sole remaining viral lab atop California’s Mount Wilson.

Sure enough, we may have a winner. Then it’s suddenly a year later, with a group of survivors prayerfully sending off a 64-year-old bed-ridden woman who’s more than ready to be granted “mercy” from those still able to fend for themselves.

“Hell yes, I’m ready,” she declares. “I’ve had enough of this stinkin’ world.”

She’s delivered from it with a pillow-cushioned bullet to the head by a resilient woman named Warren (Kellita Smith). Next it’s Hammond’s time to arrive in a boat with the surly Murphy (Keith Allan), who “may be the last, best chance to save humanity.”

Murphy’s torso bears the ugly scars of gorging zombies, who converged on him during experimentation but couldn’t end his life. Now he could be the meal ticket for the entire human race. But a treacherous cross-country trek from New York to California separates the survivors from Mount Wilson. And if Citizen Z clicks with viewers, it’s likely to take a long time to get there.

The series’ other principal star is Tom Everett Scott as a man-of-action former National Guard sergeant named Garnett. He shows his soft side when the group encounters an abandoned baby at a rendezvous point. A little humor seeps in, too, as when Warren asks, “What the hell are we gonna do with a baby?” Garnett drily replies, “Beats me. I stopped plannin’ ahead two years ago.”

No wonder. The zombies of Z Nation are far swifter afoot than the plodding, stagger-stepping flesh-eaters of The Walking Dead. They’re also adept at playing possum. But as in Walking Dead, a well-placed kill shot to the head re-ends their lives.

The violence here is every bit as gruesome, and certainly as frequent in the first hour at least. Director John Hyams (the Universal Soldier movies) is not one to dawdle. He infuses the premiere episode with constant jeopardy, sometimes leaving the acting for dead, too. In Episode 1, it generally ranges from stilted to adequate.

Perrineau, who was a second banana in Lost, is affixed with a jagged scar that bisects the left side of his face from nostril to ear lobe. He gets top billing in Z Nation, but doesn’t have a leading man’s screen presence. By episode’s end, though, his character’s participation may no longer be needed after a jolting turn of events. On the other hand, might it somehow not be as bad for him as it looks?

However it fares, Z Nation opens at a sprinter’s speed and for the most part keeps up that pace. The blood flow is constant and the makeup department answers the bell. Some full-blooded characters will be essential, though. Even the most hard-core zombie fan might want at least a little flesh on the bone.

GRADE: B-minus

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Fall promo palooza: NBC's "We're Proud" (1980)

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NBC deployed showgirls and a stiff upper lip “We’re Proud” theme song to herald it’s 1980-81 season.

But the Peacock was cowed at the time, with nowhere to go but up. NBC’s 1979-80 season had yielded just four shows in prime-time’s top 30; none made the top 10. Its highest-scorer had been No. 14 Real People, with Little House on the Prairie (No. 16), CHiPS (No. 18) and Diff’rent Strokes (No. 26) also running far behind juggernauts such as CBS’ No. 1 60 Minutes and ABC’s runner-up Three’s Company.

NBC’s 1980-81 newcomers included Hill Street Blues, a ratings bomb in its first season but an Emmy champ that also became a ratings success in Season 2. NBC otherwise threw out the likes of Lobo, Games People Play, Marie, Speak Up America and Walking Tall. None were invited back.

Here’s how NBC went into battle in fall 1980 opposite the heavy artillery of CBS and ABC.

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Fall promo palooza: dawn of the nighttime NFL (ABC, 1970)

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Putting the NFL in prime-time seems like a no-brainer today, with no reference to concussions intended.

But back in fall 1970, ABC took what many considered to be a foolish gamble by premiering Monday Night Football with a trio of Keith Jackson, Don Meredith and Howard Cosell in the booth.

The network was replacing a fall 1969 Monday night lineup of Harold Robbins’ The Survivors and Love, American Style to see if viewers were ready for some football. MNFwasn’t an immediate hit, failing to make prime-time’s list of 30 most popular shows in its first season. But in the 1971-72 TV campaign, football ranked No. 25. And it’s been a reliable ratings performer ever since.

Below is ABC’s very first MNF promo, which provides retro-cool animation with a little game footage and a hard-hitting, brass-knuckled voice-over. The final image is of a silhouetted receiver making a leaping catch against a full moon backdrop.

“Under the lights, every Monday night.” Indeed. Add Sundays and then Thursdays, and the rest is still ratings gold.

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Fall promo palooza: A little somethin' called Homeboys in Outer Space (1996)

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The UPN network didn’t make much of a mark -- but did leave a few welts -- during its short existence on planet Earth.

The new fall 1996 offerings included Homeboys in Outer Space, a hard-to-believe-it-actually-existed sitcom starring Flex Alexander and Darryl M. Bell. Premise: Two 23rd century black dudes explored the galaxy in their “Space Hoopty” after being expelled from Starship Commander Community College.

Homeboys aired on Tuesday nights between UPN’s Moesha and The Burning Zone. Here’s how it was introduced to the few viewers who boarded ship. For a change of pace, UPN also was the network of Star Trek: Voyager

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Fall promo palooza: Fox's "We Are All Made of Stars" (2003)

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Fox spotlighted its hot young stars -- well, at least they all looked hot -- in this still very stylish, image-is-all plug for the 2003-04 TV season.

Moby’s “We Are All Made of Stars” is the theme music, with six new shows briefly identified in block letters. Only one of them, The O.C., lasted beyond a single season. Wonderfalls (which didn’t air until midseason), Luis and A Minute with Stan Hooper quickly went down for the count. And two of the alleged newcomers, Still Life and The Ortegas, never got on the air at all.

Still Life’s Jensen Ackles nevertheless can be seen as a premature heartthrob who went on to throb hearts for real in Supernatural (returning for its 10th season this fall on The CW). This promo likewise stands the test of time.

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R.I.P. Joan Rivers: June 8, 1933 to Sept. 4, 2014


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Let it be said that she spoke her mind.

Joan Rivers was the Howard Cosell of comedians. People loved to hate her, hated to love her. Or teeter-tottered between the two extremes.

Unlike Cosell, though, she never let herself become an embittered recluse. Her vulnerability often showed, but the show must go on. Less than two weeks ago, on Tuesday, Aug. 26th, Rivers hosted a special 90-minute edition of the E! Network’s Fashion Police, which dressed down the gowns at both the Emmys and MTV’s Video Music Awards.

Now she’s suddenly gone, at age 81. And the world seems just a little drab at the moment.

Her 46-year-old daughter, Melissa, who was at her side Thursday, served as a co-executive producer of Fashion Police and occasionally appeared as an on-camera fill-in. The Rivers were best known on camera as red carpet fixtures, where Joan’s “Who are you wearing?” became an internationally famous tagline. More recently, mother and daughter co-starred in WE tv’s Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?, a “reality” show of fanciful proportions built around their generational divide.

Joan’s storied affection for plastic surgery became a storyline, for instance.

“It’s a source of conflict. It really is,” Melissa said during a January 2011 interview tied to the show. “It bothers me. It really does.”

Joan gave an inch -- for a few seconds at least -- saying it dawned on her that she was “doing a lot of plastic surgery” when Melissa phoned to tell her that little grandson Cooper “ran to the TV and went ‘Grandma, Grandma’ “ while Return of the Mummy was on TV.

That got a sustained laugh, even if it probably didn’t happen quite that way -- if at all. But Joan and Melissa, her only child, clearly enjoyed each other’s company and the sprightly banter it provoked. Having a flesh-and-blood second banana can keep the juices flowing.

Joan to TV critics: “If you had a dollar for every stitch in the face of someone you’ve interviewed, you wouldn’t be sitting here. It’s part of our business.”

Melissa: “But you can go too far, right?”

Joan: “There’s no such thing.”

Melissa: “And I disagree.”

Joan: “Because your’e not my age.”

My first in-person brush with Joan Rivers came in early 1984. Melissa was just a teenager then, and Joan was in Dallas defending some of the jokes she had told a few months earlier as a co-host of the prime-time Emmy Awards on NBC. She also unintentionally let an expletive slip during the telecast. But Rivers was taking more heat for calling former Secretary of the Interior James Watt “an idiot” while also joking about herpes, homosexuals, prostitutes and Joan Crawford. Presenter Joan Collins came onstage after Rivers said her Dynasty character “has had more hands up her dress than the Muppets.”

NBC supposedly heard from thousands of outraged viewers while Rivers uncharacteristically went silent for a while. But in Dallas she let loose.

“There was a backlash to the backlash, and I just came out like the golden girl,” she contended. “NBC got 500 calls in my favor, which they have never gotten on anything. I’ll tell ya the truth. I was in shock the first few days. I said, ‘What did I do?’ The only thing that upset me is that everybody from NBC ran for the hills . . . They took me to task on a James Watt joke! Bob Hope -- Mr. America, who wears the American flag as a suit -- was doing James Watt jokes on his special. To take me to task on a Joan Crawford joke! Her daughter made two million dollars saying her mother was a bitch. Crazy!”

Once she got wound up, Rivers talked faster than a speeding bullet. And she rhetorically shot to kill anyone who bad-mouthed her. That included Chevy Chase, who said of Rivers during a Playboy Channel interview: “I don’t like her. She doesn’t read enough. She doesn’t know what’s going on in the world. She constantly insults the same people about weight problems. There’s nothing womanly about her. I think she’s offensive.”

Rivers began her rebuttal by ticking off her current reading list, which included John Mortimer’s Clinging to the Wreckage.” Then she strafed him.

“As far as comedy goes, I think we should look very closely at Chevy’s ‘major’ -- and this is a joke -- career. I know I do ‘fat jokes.’ Unfortunately, I can’t fall down to get my laughs. I mean, look at the source. He doesn’t think I’m bright enough. I mean, I ask you. I ask you. The world is insane! Look what’s knocking me -- a man who has made a living tripping, who has done four films, each one progressively worse, the last one beyond embarrassment.”


Joan and Johnny back when it was fun for both of them.

Chase and Rivers both went on to do short-lived late night talk shows for Fox. His was barely more than a blip. Hers came in the wake of one of TV’s most famous and enduring feuds.

Rivers had guest-hosted Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show many times after first coming to prominence as one of his favorite guests. But when Fox came calling in 1986 with a late night offer, she neglected to tell Carson that she could become his competitor. He never forgave her for that while also pounding Rivers in the late night ratings. Fox dropped The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers in May 1987, just seven months after its fall 1986 premiere. It had received dismal reviews from the very start.

“If the critics ever like me, I’m in trouble. I’ve never been the critics’ darling,” Rivers said during a January 1987 gaggle on the set of her ill-fated show. She was surrounded by many of those very same critics during Fox’s leg of the annual winter TV “press tour.”

By 1991, though, Rivers had a successful daytime talker, The Joan Rivers Show. She stopped in Dallas to promote it while also fanning the flames for her upcoming book, Still Talking.

“Oh, the anger’s there,” she said of the split-ups with both Carson and Fox. “And the more I look back at it, the more angry I become. And that’ll all come out.”

She spilled a little. Her first book, Enter Talking, was dedicated to Carson, who “made it all happen.” But beyond that they were never friends, Rivers contended during the stop in Dallas. “Nothing. Nothing. Never a Christmas card from him. So why should there be one now?”

The Fox late nighter made her stomach churn from the start, Rivers said. “I need to walk on a set and everybody’s happy. Otherwise I cannot deal with it. With Fox, there wasn’t one day when I didn’t wake up and say, ‘Oh God. Oh God, what’s gonna hit us today?’ “

On one of her daytime shows, she began by tossing Kitty Kelley’s unauthorized biography of Nancy Reagan into a wastebasket after dismissing it as “trash.” There’s a difference, she said in our interview, between flat-out lies and fun gossip.

“When it’s absolutely, totally untrue, when it’s twisted beyond any recognition, when it’s a half-fact, that’s no longer gossip. That becomes malicious ,” Rivers tried to explain. “But if it’s a thing like who’s Madonna dating, then that’s fun. You have to walk that line. Our gossip hasn’t ever been malicious. It’s been just rumors and fun and who’s dating whom and who’s sleeping with whom. Things that we all talk about at the beauty shop. But the Nancy Reagan book was s-o-o-o untrue. It was s-o-o-o far-fetched. I mean, Nancy and (Frank) Sinatra having an affair in the White House? Yeah, right. C’mon. First of all, Frank wouldn’t even remember at his age. So it would have been a waste, anyhow.”


Joan and Melissa: It was always personal and also good for business.

Joan Rivers influenced and inspired many women to stand up and be acerbic on stage. Roseanne Barr, Sarah Silverman, Kathy Griffin and Chelsea Handler are among the many who took their cues from her.

But Melissa Rivers benefited most from her mom’s determination to shepherd her through show business as a junior partner who slowly grew into a larger role. They hit the red carpet -- and occasionally a national political convention -- as a team in which mom initially did most of the talking before daughter became adept at chiming in.

At the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, I witnessed Joan blocking the path of former secretary of state Henry Kissinger while Melissa exclaimed “Roll! Roll!” Kissinger then looked panic-stricken when Joan asked, “What is the brightest-colored tie you’ve ever worn to a state event?”

“Uh, I think it’s red,” he finally mumbled.

It was all for the greater glory of an E! network special. During a sit-down interview away from the camera’s eye, Joan played nice with First Lady Laura Bush after earlier describing her in a live CNN interview as being dressed “like a nice-looking Amish woman.”

But for a Texas correspondent’s consumption, “Laura looked good,” Joan said. “Remember, she started out in slacks. She was a librarian. She’s come a long way.”

“They didn’t jam her into something that said ‘First Lady,’ “ Melissa dared to add. “She looks like she actually owns and wears her clothes.”

By 2005, mom and daughter were much closer to verbal equals during a joint telephone interview. They’d been dropped by E! after an eight-year run and were trying to drum up interest for their new gig as the TV Guide Channel’s red carpet Oscar team.

“When we first went on the red carpet, it was a dirty place to be,” Joan recalled. It was paparazzi and dead stars.”

“You remember when Demi Moore wore the bicycle pants?” Melissa asked.

Joan: “And Celine Dion wore the Dior suit backwards.”

Melissa: “Kim Basinger with that one-shoulder thing she designed with Prince.”

Joan: “Lily Tomlin had a white, trailer-trash corsage on, which was great. Those were the good old days.”

Perhaps this is a sad commentary, but I could have listened to them all day. And Joan Rivers, of course, was never a slouch as a solo act when the occasion called for it.

A few years back, Bravo televised Joan Rivers: Before Melissa Pulls the Plug, a one-woman show during which she professed to hate -- in no particular order -- old people, the Olsen twins, vegans, kids, love, the Clintons (and their “ugly daughter, Celery”), the Bushes and, to some degree, herself.

“I use my left boob now as a stopper in my tub,” she told her audience.

In a telephone interview promoting the special, Rivers said her comedy had gotten even harsher because the times demanded it.

“I ratchet it up because comedy is ratcheted up,” she said. “The times are so rough.”

Rivers has always had a substantial following in the gay community, and figured she knew why.

“Without them, I’d probably be a dentist’s wife in New Jersey,” she said. “They just love strong, ugly women. They love Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Liza. I think they love us because we try harder and we’re not the stereotype of what we’re supposed to be.”

Joan Rivers never fit anyone’s mold. She was a bundle of insecurities who outwardly played rough and inwardly sought approval. Her jokes could be tasteless, but then she’d get one just right. Boorish at times, but never dull-edged. And always “good copy.”

I’ll miss Joan Rivers. And I feel bad for her daughter because she’s lost not only her mom but a close pal who taught her the ropes as best she could. While kvetching all the while, of course.

“It’s almost like a cocktail party with us” on the red carpet, Joan once said.

“We can talk to each other in a way that no other two people can,” Melissa agreed.

Joan: “Like, ‘You’re stupid, mother.’ “

Melissa: “And my mother can say, ‘Stop slouching and keep your hair out of your eyes.’ “

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Fall promo palooza: "Get Ready for CBS" (1990)

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CBS rolled out The Temptations in fall 1990 for a “Get Ready” promotional campaign that pretty much fell on deaf ears in terms of new series.

This spot begins with a familiar face, though. Candice Bergen of Murphy Brown does a little wailing -- or maybe that’s someone else’s voice -- to get everyone in the mood. Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda later jiggles and throws viewers a kiss.

But at the end of the 1990-91 TV season, CBS had just six attractions in Nielsen’s prime-time Top 30 -- 60 Minutes, Murphy Brown, Designing Women, Murder, She Wrote, The CBS Sunday Movie and Major Dad. It had appreciably more freshman flops than that. Roll call: Uncle Buck, Lenny, WIOU, Bagdad Cafe, Over My Dead Body, The Family Man, E.A.R.T.H. Force, The Flash (being re-birthed this fall on The CW) and Doctor, Doctor.

A couple of other fall 1990 newcomers, Top Cops and The Trials of Rosie O’Neill, lingered on the air for a couple of seasons without ever catching fire.

The running joke for that season, among some of us snide, younger critics, was that there were more black people in The Temptations than in CBS’ entire prime-time lineup. Still, the “Get Ready” spot remains a finger-snapper. So go for it.

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Fall promo palooza: ABC "Still the One" (1979)

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ABC used a hot air balloon motif for its latest “Still the One” sing-a-long touting the network’s 1979-80 TV season.

Among those smiling and/or waving happily in these four separate promos are Robin Williams (with Pam Dawber) in his striped Mork shirt and a bearded Henry Winkler of Happy Days.

That fall’s new series aren’t featured in these spots. But ABC had its share of clunkers, including 240-Robert, Detective School, The Lazarus Syndrome and Out of the Blue. Still, the network was dominant in those days after finishing the previous season with 12 series in prime-time’s top 20, plus the ABC Sunday Night Movie.

Here’s some of what they were celebrating.

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Fall promo palooza: NBC "Must See" (1996)

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Network TV’s latest new fall season is inching up on us, with the usual promises that you’ll be wildly entertained by one hit show after another.

In hopes of furthering this mood, our “Fall Promo Palooza” kicks off with NBC’s one-minute “Must See” tickler for its 1996 fall season. As you’ll see, the emphasis is on comedy, with holdover hits such as Seinfeld, Friends, Frasier and Mad About You in the Peacock’s quiver.

Less successful were the “New Faces,” populating duds such as Mr. Rhodes, Something So Right, Men Behaving Badly and Boston Common.

Remember Jay Leno? You can also see him right at the start. So enjoy the spectacle, and we plan to bring you one of these each weekday until the new TV season starts rolling into view.

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