powered by FreeFind

Apple iTunes


Warning: this look at Lost's season finale discusses major plot points in case you haven't seen it yet

Jack stands over Locke box; Kate and Aaron. ABC photos

Can the island's recuperative powers -- whatever they are and wherever it is now -- serve to resurrect a presumably dead John Locke?

Except that he's Jeremy Bentham now. Or was.

Lost's two-hour, fourth season finale, in parts both preposterous and spellbinding, ended with a "flash forward" foreshadowing a blast to the past/present.

A still distraught Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox), whose ridiculous, glued-on jet black beard got a facelift for later scenes, broke into a mortuary to get another look at what turned out to be Locke/Bentham (Terry O'Quinn) reposing in a coffin. Inevitably, the nefarious Ben Linus (Michael Emerson) popped up, too.

Locke/Bentham, said to have committed suicide, "told me that after I left the island, some very bad things happened," Jack related to Ben. "And it was my fault for leaving."

Jack has been desperate to return ever since. But Ben told him the island will force all of the evacuees to return, including the deceased.

"How?" asked Jack.

"I have a few ideas."

Doesn't he always? Ben is the most complex, vexing villain cum good guy ever to inhabit the small screen. But he also can be a ridiculous figure, never more so than when "moving" the island near the climax of Thursday night's temporary farewell.

To do so he had to descend deep into the earth, where a giant, frosted, handled wheel was frozen in place. He strained mightily to move it, befitting the last labor of Hercules or something. But move it he did. And the island then magically poofed out of sight just as a conveniently oversized inflatable raft with the "Oceanic 6" and two other survivors rowed back toward its shore.

Well, you can't make this stuff up. But unfortunately Lost's creators sometimes do. Still, it's all so damned transfixing most of the time. The show's late season episodes, after settlement of the writers' strike, have given the faithful a supercharged series of head-spinning twists and turns. Lost doesn't dally anymore -- or at least it hasn't of late. But how do they come up with this stuff?

Lest we forget, the Oceanic 6 are Jack, Kate Austen (Evangeline Lilly); Sayid Jarrah (Naveen Andrews); Sun Kwon (Yunjin Kim); Hugo "Hurley" Reyes (Jorge Garcia) and baby Aaron (multiple kids).

All have lied about their pasts on the island, ostensibly to protect their remaining colleagues from annihilation at the hands of sinister Charles Widmore (Alan Dale).

But in truth, only three Lost regular characters of note remain unaccounted for. They would be James "Sawyer" Ford (Josh Holloway), Juliet Burke (Elizabeth Mitchell) and Claire Littleton (Emilie de Ravin), mother of Aaron and -- as it turns out -- sister of Jack.

Another survivor, long-suffering Desmond Hume (Henry Ian Cusick) was reunited with his beloved Penny Widmore (Sonya Walger) after she and a crew searched for him on a boat not so imaginatively named Searcher. It also served as the vehicle to take the Oceanic 6 back to a real world of denial, tribulation and cover stories.

Comically, the motorized little boat initially used to shuttle island denizens to an ill-fated freighter was heavily stocked with stick figures that never emerged as identifiable characters throughout Lost's first four seasons. Who were those people? Oh well, they're all dead now, along with hapless Michael Dawson (Harold Perrineau), the traitor turned would-be rescuer.

There's no telling how all of this will shake out. Lost remains at high risk of being too mystical and therefore absurd. But its revelations and studies in human frailty are still powerful magnets. Those of us in for the long haul -- just two more seasons to go -- can continue to marvel at the balls-out ingenuity of it all.

Whatever awaits, Lost will go down as one rich broth, the most debated, dissected serial drama in broadcast TV history. Its island -- whereabouts now unknown -- remains an intoxicating place to visit every week. You just wouldn't want to live there.

Added note: As teased during Lost's season finale, ABC's Friday edition of Good Morning America showed two alternate endings. One had Sawyer in the casket, the other, Desmond. They were filmed to prevent leaks. Unlike anything else about Lost, that's a conventional tactic dating back to the "Who Shot J.R.?" season of Dallas.

Souped-up Password returns: Uma/Oprah; egg/yolk

Celeb player Neil Patrick Harris fists up as host Regis Philbin claps.

Premiering: Sunday, June 1st at 7 p.m. (central) on CBS
Hosted by:Regis Philbin with opening night celebrity players Neil Patrick Harris and Rachael Ray
Produced by: Vin Rubino

Old hit game shows don't fade away. They keep returning with bigger jackpots, brighter lights and tricked-up formats.

So here comes Million Dollar Password for at least a six-week summer run after premiering on CBS in 1961 with bespectacled Allen Ludden in its driver's seat.

Back then, during the show's breathtaking "Lightning Round," commoners and their celebrity partners could amass a swingin' sum of $250 if they connected in one minute's time on all five words given to them. Nearly a half-century later, $250 might buy a dress shirt for host Regis Philbin, but only if he's slummmin' it. Reege plays the part by striding grandly into the show's red-lit district to proclaim, "It's top celebrities and razor-sharp contestants in a quest for the big money."

Sunday night's opening star twosome are Neil Patrick Harris and Rachael Ray, both of whom work for CBS Corporation properties. Without giving too much away, let's just say that Harris turns out to be a glib, able-bodied Password player.

Here's how it works -- and it works pretty well. Celebs and their partners initially get 30 seconds to guess five words. Everyone on Planet Earth presumably is familiar with the game. But just in case, it goes like this: You throw out a word that's supposed to prompt your partner to guess the password. Only single words are fair game. So you can't say "Danny Bonaduce" in hopes that the guesser will respond, "Idiot." Although that would be a perfectly logical answer.

The non-celebrity contestant with the most points after four rounds gets to play for cash money that starts at $10 grand and escalates in five steps to $1 million. But CBS of course has made it virtually impossible to win a mil. You'll see.

Even so, the game hums along nicely, and there's genuine suspense when a commoner dubbed _______ goes for ________ in partnership with _________.

Upcoming celebrity players include Rosie O'Donnell, Tony Hawk, Steven Weber and venerable Betty White, widow of the late, aforementioned Ludden. That's sure to be mentioned, and it's a nice touch to have her on.

It's kinda nice to have Password back, too. There's nothing overly cerebral about it, but the game's certainly brainy enough. And if you think it's easy guessing those words, try playing along with your eyes closed. What would you say, for instance, in response to the word "chit?" Actually, _______ should have gotten that one, but read something else into the pronunciation.

Grade: B

Back to basics: 2007-08's big winners recall TV's formative years

David Cook and Kristi Yamaguchi reigned over TV's two top draws.

Back to the future: The 2007-08 television season's six most popular programs had just two things going for them -- singing and dancing.

Split those spoils between Fox's American Idol and ABC's Dancing with the Stars, which dominated the prime-time landscape as two shows never have.

Idol's Tuesday performance shows reigned supreme with an average of 27.7 million viewers a week, edging out its runnerup Wednesday results shows (26.8 million viewers).

Then came Dancing's fall and spring editions. Last autumn's performance shows ranked third with 21.2 million viewers a week. Then came the spring performance shows (19.17 million), which barely outpointed fall's results hours (19.16 million). The No. 6 slot went to Dancing's spring results editions with 17.8 million viewers.

Rounding out the top 10 were ABC's Desperate Housewives (17.3 million); Fox's House (16.2 million); CBS' CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (16.1 million) and NBC's Sunday Night Football (15.9 million).

NBC's highest-ranked scripted show in total viewers, Heroes, managed just a 24th place finish with an average of 11.6 million.

The season-long results among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds played out a little differently. Idol's performance and results shows still easily held down the top two spots. Then came House; Desperate Housewives; ABC's Grey's Anatomy; Sunday Night Football; Fox's Moment of Truth; Heroes; ABC's Lost and fall's Dancing with the Stars performance shows.

Fox had its biggest year yet, winning for the first time ever in total viewers and notching its fourth straight victory among 18-to-49-year-olds. It also was the only network to improve its year-to-year performances in both measurements, although having the Super Bowl always helps.

Here's how the networks ranked overall, with last year's totals in parentheses:

Fox -- 10.35 million (9.85)
CBS -- 9.68 million (11.93)
ABC -- 8.49 million (9.47)
NBC -- 7.46 million (8.48)
Univision -- 3.51 million (3.61)
The CW -- 2.34 million (3.02)

Fox --- 4.97 million (4.89)
ABC -- 3.48 million (4.25)
CBS -- 3.43 million (4.51)
NBC -- 3.26 million (3.76)
Univision -- 1.98 million (2.05)
The CW -- 1.19 million (1.59)

The writers' strike and escalating options for watching shows via other "delivery systems" obviously didn't help the networks' conventional ratings results. Still, it was a pretty gloomy season for everyone except Fox.

Same old story: McCain's age his overriding issue on late night monologues

The presidential candidate favored in most NCIS households recently took it upon himself to embrace the standard-issue jokes coming at him on every late night comedy show.

"What should we be looking for in our next president?" he asked America on the season finale of Saturday Night Live. "Certainly somebody who is very, very, very old." He also touted himself as having "the oldness it takes to protect America."

Yeah, McCain's of a certain age, which makes him an easy lay. Broadcast networks abhor nothing more than a program that skews too old and misses the target that most advertisers greatly prefer -- 18-to-49-year-olds. Ageism in the pursuit of profits has never been a crime on the so-called public airwaves. The presidential campaign first became fair game back in 1996, when future Viagra spokesman Bob Dole headed the Republican ticket.

"Bob Dole is calling himself an optimist," David Letterman joked at the time. "I understand this because a lot of people would look at a glass as half empty. Bob Dole looks at the glass and says, 'What a great place to put my teeth.' "

Letterman, oldest of the late-nighters at 61, increasingly knows what it's like to be deemed irrelevant or antiquated by viewers half his age. But jokes about the elderly aren't just a young man's game -- and Letterman still plies this trade more than most.

Just the other night he noted that McCain has been auditioning possible running mates. "And they're visiting at his home in Arizona, which I believe is called the Lazy Artery. Wait, I believe it's a ranch. I think it's the Double Hernia, or maybe it's called the Rancho Prostateo."

Conan O'Brien has joked about McCain's Secret Service name being "Enlarged Prostate." And in Jay Leno's view, "John McCain says he's been tested, re-tested and tested again. And that's just his prostate."

Leno also says that McCain's been "crisscrossing the United States campaigning. Or, as they're calling it, 'Antiques Roadshow.' "

Jimmy Kimmel notes that McCain would boycott the Olympic ceremonies this summer if he were president. "Not because of China's human rights record, though, but because the ceremonies start at 8:00 and he goes to bed at 6:45."

And Bill Maher wasn't overly impressed when Mike Huckabee finally dropped out and endorsed McCain. "Oh great," he said, "you've got one guy who doesn't believe in evolution, and another guy who remembers it."

For a brief time Ralph Nader picked up the slack. After all, at age 74, he's even older than McCain. "The good news, if Ralph gets sick, his younger brother, Raul Nader will take over," Leno cracked.

But McCain quickly re-established himself as the go-to guy for easily composed jokes about presidential candidates who have to get up and go a lot.

"He's an older gentleman. That's the idea here," O'Brien said earlier this year after noting that McCain is looking for a running mate, plus his reading glasses and car keys. "You'll be hearing more of those in the next nine months, because that's our take. Until he gets a whore."

McCain's SNL bit, posted below, showed his ability to go with the flow -- in a manner of speaking. Parrying and parodying a steady stream of jokes -- while maintaining the same in the bathroom -- is of utmost importance in trying times like these.

Otherwise you risk letting your opponent -- in this case, Letterman -- define you as "the guy at the hardware story who makes the keys, the guy who can't stop talking about how well his tomatoes are doing, the guy who goes into town for turpentine . . ."

HBO's Recount expertly paints by the numbers

Laura Dern has the right makeup as flighty Katherine Harris.

Let's get this out of the way first. No actors named Chad were harmed -- or used -- in the making of HBO's dissection of Florida's 2000 presidential election.

Recount otherwise has a good number of "name" actors on-screen in this superb re-rendering of how Al Gore eventually "lost" the presidency to George W. Bush after more than a month of feverish maneuvering by both sides.

Laura Dern easily has the showiest turn as Katherine Harris, Florida's much-lampooned, easily manipulated secretary of state. But it's Britisher Tom Wilkinson who steals this two-hour movie, which premieres on Sunday, May 25th at 8 p.m. (central).

It's been a helluva spring on HBO for the two-time Oscar nominee. Wilkinson excelled as Benjamin Franklin in the network's recently concluded John Adams miniseries. And now he's a crackerjack presence as James Baker III, the Bush team's main man on the ground after Florida went up for grabs.

Baker immediately sees it as a "street fight for the presidency," and he won't be taking any prisoners. But this is a nuanced performance by Wilkinson, who also brings out the courtly Texan in Baker. Every on-screen second counts, whether he's chortling over the Gore camp's continued predicaments, enjoyably sparring with an adversary or quickly assessing Harris as a boob.

"This woman is hopeless," he tells an aide after watching one of her televised press conferences. "We're going to need some help on this."

Almost as much fun is Denis Leary as the Gore campaign's oft-profane national field director, Michael Whouley. His captain, Warren "Chris" Christopher (John Hurt), is much more a man of appeasement than action.

"The guy's so tight he probably eats his M&Ms with a knife and fork," Whouley deliciously tells Gore's former chief of staff, Ron Klain (Kevin Spacey).

Leary, Spacey and Wilkinson deftly drive the action in Recount.

Spacey is solid in the film's top-of-the-marquee role. But he's best with Leary at his side. They have one of their better scenes together while commiserating at a bar when all seems lost.

"You know what's funny about this?" Spacey's Klain says. "I'm not sure I even like Al Gore."

This cracks both of them up. But they plod on through this strange land of dimpled and hanging ballot chads punched feebly by many of Florida's elderly, some of whom don't see too well either.

Unfortunately, they're mostly Democrats, Leary's Whouley deadpans.

Director Jay Roach on the surface seems little-suited to this task. His feature film credits are mostly comedies, including all three Austin Powers movies, Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers.

Recount certainly has its darkly comic aspects, particularly when Dern's Katherine Harris holds forth.

"The eyes of the world have landed on me," Harris rhapsodizes, noting that just 10 years ago she was teaching "The Chicken Dance."

Still, the film is anything but a comic farce in its depictions of pivotal court decisions and stop-and-go ballot-counting. It hums along through all of this, detailing the issues involved without ever bogging down. That's no small feat.

Archival footage is used throughout, beginning with all those missteps by network TV anchors who first gave Florida to Gore and then took it back. Dan Rather's election night "Dan-isms" ride again, with the presidential race "cracklin' like a hickory fire" and Bush being "madder than a rained-on rooster."

A couple of guys named Brent Mendenhall and Grady Couch respectively play Bush and Gore. But they're barely seen on-camera, and never in full-frontal closeup. Gore is, however, heard over the phone far more often than Bush.

The real-life combatants are shown bringing an end to it all via excerpts from their addresses to the nation after the U.S. Supreme Court orders a halt to Florida's vote-counting with Bush still barely ahead.

"Ron, I can't win," the Gore mimic first tells Spacey's Klain over the phone. "Even if I win, I can't win."

Baker then tells his troops, "The system worked. There were no tanks in the streets."

Harris is last seen on a horse in a cowgirl outfit, happily waving to parade-goers. Her real-life counterpart likely will despise her depiction, but everyone else should be pretty much fine with theirs.

Recount resoundingly succeeds in its compelling retelling of a debacle that made Florida and its punch ballots a national punchline. The course of current events tells us that it made a great deal of difference who prevailed during what now seems like almost ancient history.

Grade: A

Idol finale ratings inch upward

American Idol's Season 7 finale Wednesday drew 31.7 million viewers nationally, up a notch from the 30.8 million for 2007's closer.

That's a tonic for Fox, which plans to give the show a limited makeover for next season after overall ratings for the still No. 1-rated series dropped about eight percent from last year's.

The 2003 Season 2 finale, pitting Ruben Studdard against Clay Aiken, remains Idol's all-time champ with 38.1 million viewers. And 2006's Season 5 ender (Taylor Hicks vs. Katharine McPhee) is still No. 2 with 36.4 million viewers.

Wednesday's David Cook-David Archuleta matchup moves into the No. 3 spot on Idol's finale charts.

The first Idol finale (2002), in which Kelly Clarkson of Burleson, TX defeated curly-topped Justin Guarini, pulled in 22.8 million viewers.

Idol: Do you smell what the Cook's rockin'?

Beam him up: David Cook becomes 7th Idol. Fox photos

Simon Cowell must have known something. Otherwise it's not like him to suck up.

"I think I was verging on disrespect for you, and I don't think you deserved that," he said in apologizing to David Cook seconds before host Ryan Seacrest anointed him the seventh winner of American Idol Wednesday night.

Cowell had all but crowned eventual runnerup David Archuleta after Tuesday's sing-off. Bowing to that night's heavyweight boxing motif, he declared Archuleta's three performances a clear "knockout" over Cook's.

But the 25-year-old rocker from Blue Springs, MO won in a comparative blowout, amassing 56 percent of the record 97.5 million viewer votes, according to Fox.

"Good God," he said after composing himself. His mother and brother, Andrew, with whom he "tagged along" to an Idol audition, briefly joined him onstage.

"This is all your fault," he jokingly told Andrew, who failed to make the cut while David got the show's coveted gold ticket to Hollywood.

Cook then performed "Time of My Life," the reliably syrupy new closer that emerged from Idol's season-long songwriting contest.

The two-hour extravaganza reunited the show's top 12 finalists and included appearances by ZZ Top (with whom Cook performed "Sharp-Dressed Man"), Donna Summer, Seal, Bryan Adams, Graham Nash, One Republic, Mike Myers (in costume to crassly promote his new film The Love Guru), Jimmy Kimmel, previous Idol champs Carrie Underwood and Jordin Sparks, and most notably, George Michael.

In an amusing but overlong taped spoof, Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. played would-be Pips singing backup for Gladys Knight. And both Cook and Archuleta already have a commercial under their belts, doing sendups of Tom Cruise in Risky Business on behalf of the Guitar Hero music video game.

Michael had a show-stopper near show's end with his superb performance of "Praying For Time." It takes less than little to move judge Paul Abdul to tears, but this time they were well-founded. Michael has a lot of history to say the least. But now he's seemingly back on track with his first tour in 17 years and recurring appearances on the ABC fantasy drama Eli Stone.

Grand champ Cook earlier got to sizzle with old goats of ZZ Top.

Rockwall's Jason Castro, the sleepy-eyed, dread-locked fourth place finisher, got relatively short shrift. His early solo of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," which he also performed to good effect during Idol''s competition rounds, seemed liked a sop to someone who lasted longer than the show's producers would have preferred.

In contrast, fifth-place finisher Brooke White landed a duet with Nash while third-placer Syesha Mercado got to sing with both Seal and Summer. Earlier evictees Michael Johns and Carly Smithson (voted off before their times had come, said Seacrest), were showcased together on "The Letter."

Underwood, named female vocalist of the year at the Academy of Country Music awards Sunday night, has become Idol's ruling class after deposing inaugural champ Kelly Clarkson. She returned in a short-skirted, low-cut, white-caped eyecatcher to sing the hard-drivin' "Last Name."

Also in a cape was rejected auditioner Renaldo Lapuz, this season's William Hung. His oddly hypnotic rendition of "I Am Your Brother, Your Best Friend Forever" was accompanied by Southern Cal's Trojan marching band and a gaggle of cheerleaders.

Crass and class: Mike Myers and country queen Carrie Underwood.

Post-finale, Fox4 devoted the entire first half-hour of its 9 p.m. local newscast to Idol chatter and highlights.

Co-anchor Steve Eagar laid out, except to say of Lapuz, "He speaks for America." That left desk partner Heather ("The whole show was just great") Hays to chat it up with Season 4 Idol contestant Celena Rae, who humbly said of Cook's victory, "I saw this coming 12 weeks ago."

Even so, Mercado's her girl.

"If you're askin' me," said Rae, "this girl should have won American Idol. This girl is going to be crazy successful."

For inexplicable reasons, Hays also had a brief phone chat with the highly excitable "Stylin' " Steve Kemble, who worked himself into a near-orgiastic frenzy over what he'd just seen. Let's just say he lost the Bubba crowd big-time.

Eagar stepped in to mostly tote the second half of the 9 p.m. newscast, which oddly enough had some news. In the closing "Viewers' Voice" segment, a caller complained about the station devoting the first half-hour to Idol.

In this particular case the customer's always right.

Simon/Davids: Idol rings out the 2007-'08 TV season with its seventh coronation

But will they invite poor Taylor Hicks to their annual wrap party?

TV's strike-pocked 2007-'08 "regular season" officially shuts down Wednesday night with what's become the traditional last big bang from prime-time's No. 1 show.

Ratings are down roughly eight percent for this seventh season of Fox's American Idol. But it's still a Gulliver among mostly Lilliputians, with the two-hour finale likely to approach 30 million viewers nationally.

Vegas oddsmakers had made the more seasoned David Cook their favorite to win it all over pixie-ish David Archuleta. But judge Simon Cowell proclaimed li'l Davy the clear-cut winner of Tuesday night's three-song sing-off. So anything could happen -- except Hillary winning -- after all those post-show votes are counted.

Idol's previous six champs have a checkered record, with inaugural winner Kelly Clarkson reigning as the show's biggest star until being eclipsed in the past year by fourth season queen Carrie Underwood.

Ruben Studdard, who prevailed in the second season, was invited to close out Tuesday's show. He's been dropped from his record label, though, as has fifth season champ Taylor Hicks. Alas, he's become Idol's resident non-person of late, shuffled to the bottom of the deck while that season's fourth-place finisher, Chris Daughtry, lights up the charts.

Hicks deserves better, and needs only the right record producer to prove it. But Idol's string-pullers generally have written him off as the show's one glaring "wrong" choice.

Third-season victor Fantasia Barrino also performed on Idol this month, leaving Cowell all agape at her flaming red hair and hip-hoppery. Otherwise she's been doing fine on Broadway. Jordin Sparks, Idol's reigning champ until 9 p.m. (central) Wednesday, has done OK so far with her recently released inaugural CD.

Idol producers are promising a makeover for next season, although the show is hardly on life support. No matter who wins Wednesday, it's Cook, 25, who looks best able to cut a distinctive hit CD. Meanwhile, the 17-year-old Archuleta may have to follow in the squishy, mushy footsteps of the now faltering Clay Aiken.

Nothing's set in stone, though. Ask third-season Idol also-ran Jennifer Hudson, who came back out of nowhere to win an Oscar for Dreamgirls. She of course is welcome on Idol anytime. That's show biz.

Fox adds a couple for fall, puts 24 in play with two-hour prequel

It's curtains for Back to You, but 24 will get a dress rehearsal.

No. 1-rated Fox, with just two new series for this fall, made bigger news Thursday with announcements of a cancelation and a prequel.

The casualty is Back to You, last fall's highest-profile freshman comedy series due to the teaming of Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton as battling Pittsburgh news anchors.

The big twist is 24, which makes an early return on Nov. 23 with a self-standing, two-hour Sunday night movie that Fox says "will set the stage and raise the stakes" for January's launch of the show's "Day 7" on Monday nights.

24 didn't air at all this season because of the writers' strike. "We think we can jump-start it," Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly said during a teleconference with TV critics. The 24 movie, being shot on location in South Africa, is "a really cool piece of business," he said.

An accompanying Fox news release says that Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) will battle yet another international crisis while incoming new president Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones) prepares for her inauguration. As announced earlier, Carlos Bernard is returning to the cast as the previously presumed dead Tony Almeida. CTU otherwise in fact is dead, and Day 7 will begin with Bauer on trial.

Back to You, which still has three unaired episodes, failed to fulfill the network's high expectations after a "major marketing launch," Reilly said.

"The show did not seem to be striking a chord" and its creative direction looked wobbly, he said. The overall expense of a high-profile cast and older-skewing audience demographics also worked against Back to You.

"It was a factor, not the ultimate factor," Reilly said.

Fox executives also confirmed that they'll be tinkering with American Idol during the off-season after a ratings downturn for its seventh edition, which climaxes Wednesday with a showdown between the show's King Davids -- Archuleta and Cook.

"I would say I'm satisfied creatively, but not necessarily satisfied with the audience," said Fox entertainment chairman Peter Liguori. "I do think the show has somewhat suffered with the post-strike malaise."

Plans to keep Idol clicking as "the most relevant, 'zeitgeisty' show on TV" do not include the ejection of judge Paula Abdul, whom various reports again have put on the chopping block.

"We love Paula. She's coming back," Liguori said unequivocally.

"It's not like it's in its death throes," Reilly added.

Fox otherwise is accentuating "stability" this fall after the writers' strike impaired programming development at all five major broadcast networks. Fox, NBC, ABC and CBS are launching a combined 13 new series, easily their lowest total ever. The CW, which doesn't play in their league, will have three newcomers.

Lost creator J.J. Abrams is readying Fringe for Fox this fall.

Fox's biggest fall splash will be Fringe, from Lost creator J. J. Abrams.

A passenger jet again figures prominently in the proceedings. This time it's an international flight that lands at Boston's Logan Airport with all of its inhabitants victims of "grisly deaths."

An investigation ensues, with Fox promising a drama that "will thrill, terrify and explore the blurring line between science fiction and reality." Fringe's ensemble cast includes Joshua Jackson (Pacey from Dawson's Creek) and Blair Brown (The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd).

Fox also will pair the returning 'Til Death -- star Brad Garrett must have compromising pictures of Fox execs -- with the new workplace comedy Do Not Disturb. It's set in a hot, hip New York hotel, with Jerry O'Connell playing the place's "egotistical, hyper-stylish, detail-oriented" general manager. Graybeard Robert Wagner occasionally will drop in as the hotel's owner.

Fox's tentative January plans include removing two fall returnees -- Prison Break, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles -- and replacing them on Monday nights with 24 and the new Dollhouse from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer maestro Joss Whedon.

Buffy alum Eliza Dushku will star as Echo, who's an "Active." She's also a "member of a highly illegal and underground group who have had their personalities wiped clean so they can be imprinted with any number of new personas." Etc.

Besides Back to You, Fox has canceled New Amsterdam, Canterbury's Law, Unhitched, the Return of Jezebel James and K-Ville.

Here's the fall lineup, with new shows in boldface:

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Prison Break


'Til Death
Do Not Disturb

The Moment of Truth
Kitchen Nightmares

Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?
Don't Forget the Lyrics!

America's Most Wanted: America Fights Back

The OT (NFL post-game show)
The Simpsons
King of the Hill
Family Guy
American Dad

Laughter still an option on CBS

New comedies Project Gary and Worst Week are coming to CBS.

CBS is going cuckoo for comedy, at least compared to its two longest standing rivals.

The network's new fall schedule, announced Wednesday, will include two new sitcoms for a grand total of six.

ABC's announced autumn look is without any new comedies, and just one overall -- the returning Samantha Who? NBC, which unfurled a 52-week schedule in early April, has four comedies set for fall, including lone newcomer Kath & Kim.

CBS also is adding three new drama series and giving The Unit a reprieve after furloughing it for much of this season. The military drama will move to Sunday nights at 9 (central), following Cold Case.

Benched until midseason is Rules of Engagement, which had been performing well as part of CBS' longrunning Monday night comedy bloc. The network also will re-open Wednesday for laughs, but just during the night's first hour.

Canceled are Shark, Moonlight, Welcome to the Captain, Kid Nation, Cane and Viva Laughlin.

Here are CBS' five new fall series:

Worst Week (comedy) -- An entertainment magazine editor named Sam Briggs (Kyle Bornheimer) aims to please his girlfriend's parents, but "instead becomes a one-man wrecking crew whenever he's around them." Veteran Kurtwood Smith segues from sourball dad "Red" Foreman on That '70s Show to sourball dad Dick Clayton.

Project Gary (comedy) -- Jay Mohr forsakes a throwaway recurring role on CBS' Ghost Whisperer to star as a recently divorced painting contractor with a controlling ex-wife. Their 15-year-marriage has yielded two kids, one politically correct and the other socially awkward. More trouble ensues -- and perhaps laughter, too -- when Gary Barnes (Mohr) begins dating a single mom while former spouse Allison (Paula Marshall) hooks up with their mutual shrink.

The Mentalist (drama) -- Simon Baker, featured in two previous CBS dramas (The Guardian, Smith), returns to the fold as detective Patrick Jane, who solves crimes by using his "razor sharp skills of observation." But a prototypical "no-nonsense" senior female agent (Robin Tunney from Prison Break) bristles at his "theatrics, narcissism and dangerous lack of boundaries."

Eleventh Hour (drama) -- Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, whose string of CBS hits includes Without A Trace and all three CSI series, strikes again with the saga of a "brilliant biophysicist and special science advisor" who investigates various crises and oddities. His name is Dr. Jacob Hood, he's played by Rufus Sewell (The Illusionist) and the show is adapted from a British miniseries.

The Ex List ("comedic drama") -- A single, 30-something business owner named Bella Bloom (Elizabeth Reaser from Grey's Anatomy) learns from a psychic that she's already dated her eventual hubby. Shades of Fox's New Amsterdam, she'll have to find him in a year or be doomed -- yawn -- to live alone forever.

CBS also has ordered a midseason drama, Harper's Island. Premise: a murder mystery is hatched during week-long wedding festivities on a remote, picturesque island made infamous by a homicidal rampage seven years earlier. In other words, the perfect getaway spot.

NBC's new fall lineup looks like this, with new series in boldface in case you've already forgotten them:

The Big Bang Theory
How I Met Your Mother
Two and a Half Men
Worst Week
CSI: Miami

The Mentalist
Without A Trace

The New Adventures of Old Christine
Project Gary
Criminal Minds

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
Eleventh Hour

Ghost Whisperer
The Ex List

Crimetime Saturday
Crimetime Saturday
48 Hours Mystery

60 Minutes
The Amazing Race
Cold Case
The Unit

CW adds three new fall series while outsourcing Sunday

Presenting the nubile cast of The CW's Surviving the Filthy Rich.

The CW, ink-a-dink-a-doo of the five English language broadcast networks, nonetheless will have one more new fall series than ABC.

But it's also subtracting a night -- Sunday -- and turning it over to Media Rights Capital, which will announce a separate schedule later.

One of CW's new dramas, 90210, is billed as a "contemporary spin-off" of the old Fox series. It's also touted as "the most eagerly anticipated series of the fall," which it really isn't, but who cares?

TV vets Lori Loughlin and Jessica Walter will join a new cast of teens, with "guest star" Jennie Garth reprising her old character, Kelly Taylor, who's now a high school guidance counselor.

Also added is Surviving the Filthy Rich, starring JoAnna Garcia (Reba) as a Yale-educated journalism grad who finds herself "slaving away at a tabloid rag" until getting fired. So she junks the profession to become a live-in tutor to the twin teen granddaughters of a wealthy Palm Beach cosmetics mogul.

The third entry is Stylista, a new reality competition series being paired with the returning America's Next Top Supermodel. Eleven "fashion enthusiasts" fight for an editorial job at Elle, with the magazine's "fashion news director," Anne Slowey, cracking the satin whip.

Last year's critically praised Reaper will return, but not until midseason. Not in CW's current plans are Beauty and the Geek, Girlfriends, Aliens in America and Friday Night Smackdown!, whose producers couldn't reach a new deal with the network. Incredibly, One Tree Hill is still part of the schedule while the network's remaining comedies, headed by Everybody Hates Chris, get shuffled from Mondays to Fridays.

Here's the new fall lineup, with new series in boldface:

Gossip Girl
One Tree Hill

Surviving the Filthy Rich

America's Next Top Model


Everybody Hates Chris
The Game
America's Next Top Model (repeats)

ABC's "new" fall season -- more or less

Jason O'Mara of Life on Mars and midseason's The Goode Family.

No big-time broadcast network has ever stood this pat.

ABC's new fall lineup, announced Tuesday morning, makes room for just two new prime-time series, with only one featuring actors and their roles.

That would be Life on Mars, whose executive producers include Boston Legal creator David E. Kelley. Shades of NBC's canceled Journeyman, it's about a police detective who's mysteriously transported back to 1973 after a car wreck.

Slotted on Thursdays at 9 p.m. (central) following Grey's Anatomy, the hour-long drama is adapted from a same-named BBC series. Featured detective Sam Tyler is played by Jason O'Mara, who played recurring character Stuart Maxson on ABC's canceled Men In Trees.

ABC also has dipped into the mostly mindless Ashton Kutcher well for the reality series Opportunity Knocks, which leads off Tuesday's schedule.

"Hollywood will invade a suburban neighborhood and each week one lucky family will play the game of a lifetime in front of all their friends and neighbors," the network says. They'll have a chance to win an array of prizes packed into a semi-truck, but first must answer trivia questions "based directly on their lives, each other and articles found in and around their home." Kutcher's previous producing efforts include Punk'd, Beauty and the Geek and NBC's short-lived The Real Wedding Crashers.

ABC's cancelation corral houses the aforementioned Men In Trees, plus Women's Murder Club (somewhat surprisingly), Miss Guided, Big Shots, Cavemen, Carpoolers, Notes from the Underbelly, October Road, Cashmere Mafia and the big-money game show Duel.

Just one half-hour comedy, Samantha Who?, has made ABC's fall cut. That's a telling turn of events for a network with a long legacy of comedy hits. In the 1993-94 season, ABC still had four sitcoms -- Home Improvement, Roseanne, Grace Under Fire and Coach -- among Nielsen's Top 10 most popular programs.

The network plans to again add According to Jim at some point in mid-season. And it's picked up Scrubs for later in the year after NBC dropped the long-running comedy. That's largely because ABC Studios produces it and wants to get an extra season in the books for syndication purposes.

ABC also announced two new midseason series. One of them is an untitled Kutcher project built around "a beauty pageant unlike any you've ever seen." The other is The Goode Family, an animated half-hour from Austin-based King of the Hill creator Mike Judge, who will voice a Dad named Gerald. ABC says the Goodes are "obsessed with doing the 'right' thing, whether it's environmentally, politically or socially. Unfortunately, their efforts often have unintended comic consequences." Wah, wah, wah.

As with this season, Lost again is scheduled to return in January with an uninterrupted string of episodes. The Bachelor and Primetime: What Would You Do?, from ABC's news division, also are slated for later.

Here's ABC's fall lineup, with new series in boldface:

Dancing with the Stars
Samantha Who?
Boston Legal (new night)

Opportunity Knocks
Dancing with the Stars results show
Eli Stone (new night)

Pushing Daisies
Private Practice
Dirty Sexy Money

Ugly Betty
Grey's Anatomy
Life on Mars

Wife Swap (new night)
Supernanny (new night)

Saturday Night College Football

America's Funniest Home Videos
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
Desperate Housewives
Brothers & Sisters

Jimmy gets the job

Long-rumored to be Conan O'Brien's replacement on NBC's Late Night talk show, Saturday Night Live alum Jimmy Fallon officially got the gig Monday.

He's the hand-picked choice of SNL creator Lorne Michaels, who also tabbed a then virtually unknown O'Brien to replace David Letterman when he jumped to CBS in 1993.

"When you're good at it, it's the last job you'll ever have," Fallon said at a Manhattan press conference also made available to TV critics across the country. "You started my career. You might as well end it," he then told Michaels.

"NBC has identified the last piece in its late night succession plan," the network said in its official news release. But plenty of uncertainty remains.

It's been nearly five years since NBC announced that O'Brien would replace Jay Leno as Tonight Show host in 2009. But the exact takeover date is still up in the air, as is Fallon's debut on Late Night. Meanwhile, NBC still wants to somehow keep Leno on its team, although what the Peacock could offer him remains a puzzlement.

It's far more likely that Leno will join a rival network in hopes of re-dominating the late night ratings. He continues to beat Letterman by a substantial margin in most weeks, and the winning streak continued during the recent writers' strike. That was an impressive feat, considering that Letterman's show made a separate agreement that allowed him to book big name guests while Leno persevered without his writers and with little star power.

Fallon, 33, joined SNL in 1998 and became best-known for co-anchoring the show's Weekend Update segment with Tina Fey before leaving in 2006. He's since had a less than successful feature film career.

"It's going to be a grind," Fallon said of his return to a familiar building -- NBC's famed "30 Rock" studios -- but in an unfamiliar setting. His only previous talk show hosting experience came when he guest-hosted CBS' Late Show with David Letterman in 2003 while the incumbent recuperated from heart bypass surgery.

"It's one of the best opportunities you could ever get . . . I want it to happen tomorrow," Fallon said. "I can't wait. I've been doing monologues in my living room for the past three years."

For now, though, "it's just kind of surreal," he said.

Michaels said the challenge for any television show, particularly in late night, is to lure younger viewers away from their computers.

"The enemy," he said, isn't rival networks, but Guitar Hero and other diversions.

Fallon likely will take over Late Night sometime within the first six months of 2009, NBC executives said. The duration of his deal wasn't disclosed, but Fallon joked, "I have the same contract as Willard Scott -- 150 years."

***NBC also announced Monday that it's getting into business with Ryan Seacrest.

The ubiquitous American Idol host and E! network personality will be co-executive producing the reality series Are You a Momma's Boy?, set to premiere "on the heels" of NBC's August presentation of the summer Olympics in Beijing.

The Peacock says that "tension mounts" when moms and their eligible bachelor sons are housed together with several potential brides. "The women will first have to get by mom," NBC says.

Seacrest says he's a "true momma's boy" who always wonders whether his own mother will approve of his professional and personal decisions.

"She is the most important woman in my life and she is never short of opinions," he says.

Somewhere Simon Cowell is laughing uproariously.

Idol: Evicted Jason Castro seems glad all over

Rockwall's hardly sad Jason Castro (left) says goodbye to Idol grind.

Rockwall's Jason Castro got sent home Wednesday night after becoming the first finalist to openly plead American Idol fatigue.

The dreadlocked 21-year-old essentially wrote his own obit the night before with dreadful performances of "I Shot the Sheriff" and "Mr. Tambourine Man."

"Someone told me that I shot the tambourine man yesterday," he told host Ryan Seacrest Wednesday, referring to the lyrics he forgot before judge Simon Cowell began lowering the guillotine by telling him, "Jason, I'd pack your suitcase."

Castro ultimately found himself paired with veteran Bottom Two-er Syesha Mercado, who's been coming on strong while he kept regressing.

"I almost feel like you're relieved," Seacrest said after sparing Mercado.

"A little," he said. "There's three songs next week. I don't know what I would have done."

Castro had greased his skids with recent comments in Entertainment Weekly, where he admitted to struggling with Neil Diamond's songs the previous week and not really caring all that much how his performance fared.

"What happens happens," he told the magazine. "I'll sing and if people like it, they like it. And if they don't, they don't. I'm kind of ready to go home."

It at least was a refreshing departure from typical down-the-stretch Idol swan songs. Brooke White, the eventual evictee during Diamond week, had sobbed herself into a pool of self-pity when Seacrest put it to her. Castro exited pickin' and grinnin' after playing around with a final performance of "I Shot."

Earlier in Wednesday's show, a phone-in questioner asked the four finalists what their biggest challenges had been.

"Just the brain bein' dead," Castro replied.

He later told Seacrest, "I think it's just gettin' tough for me. My inexperience is showin' up."

Rockwall is still planning some homecoming festivities for Castro while Mercado, David Archuleta and David Cook brace themselves for another pivotal performance show.

Wonder if he'll even watch.

Babs and Oprah: two queen bees spoonin' the honey

Power couple: Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey. Getty Images

Television's two most powerful women, Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey, did a little business with each other Tuesday.

Walters has a new, revelatory book to sell. Winfrey had a big interview to get. So Babs made her first promotional stop on The Oprah Winfrey Show, where the host primed the pump by telling viewers, "You know you've arrived when Barbara comes a callin' "

Babs came a callin' after being introduced as "The First Lady of Television," a title she holds only because she's been around longer than the still incredibly influential Winfrey.

Copies of Walters' Audition assuredly are already flying off bookstore shelves, in no small part because the most potent bookseller in the land -- Oprah Winfrey -- ordered her viewers at show's end to "Go get it."

She then bestowed a cheek-to-cheek hug after twice telling Walters, "Good job."

Yes, they definitely got the job done during a genuinely intriguing hour in which Walters decorously dished about Star Jones, Rosie O'Donnell, Donald Trump, her mentally challenged sister, Jackie and most important of all, her two-year affair in the mid-1970s with then U.S. Sen. Edward W. Brooke, who was married at the time.

Winfrey was one of the very first to know of this after getting galleys of the book in preparation for her interview with Walters.

"How did you pull that off at the time?" she asked.

"Were you surprised?" Walters rejoined, seemingly impressed with her ability to hide a dalliance that she's certain would have ruined both of their careers if made public.

Walters good-naturedly balked when Winfrey referred to her as Brooke's "mistress." No, a mistress is someone who's "taken care of" financially, she said. And Walters, now 78, already was drawing a nice paycheck as the trailblazing co-host of NBC's Today show.

She wouldn't tell Winfrey whether she loved Brooke. But in her recollection, Walters finally told him, "I can't sneak around anymore."

Brooke then told his wife of the affair, and their resultant divorce doomed his bid for re-election.

"Do you regret the affair?" Winfrey asked her.

"I regret that he didn't get re-elected," Walters replied. She's ever the pragmatist.

The guest wore white, the host wore light pink and the studio audience was kept at a distance. There were no questions from the rabble, just Babs and Oprah in their one-on-one element. Winfrey probed, but never harshly. She's good at this. Very good.

Walters says she's made peace with both Jones and O'Donnell, both of whom contributed mightily to The View before turning on her.

"In a lot of ways, Oprah, she (O'Donnell) began to think of me as her mother," Walters said. And you know how it sometimes can go with moms and daughters. Their relationship eventually came to a boil during "that terrible incident in the dressing room," which Walters otherwise won't detail.

To hear Walters tell it, she's incapable of holding a grudge, preferring to hold fast to the better angels in people she's known, loved and sometimes discarded.

Older and wiser now, she's learned that "you must be kind," Walters said at interview's end. "I'm not going to be a very good interviewer anymore. I'm getting too soft. That I know for sure."

As Walters herself would say, it was all very "fasssss-inating." Next stop -- tonight's (May 7th) ABC special, Audition: Barbara Walters' Journey. And on Monday, Larry King Live.

That's my boy: Son's troubled presidency burnishes his father's

It can't be of much comfort to him, but it almost goes without saying.

What George H.W. Bush didn't do in Iraq can't help but compare favorably with what his son, George W., is doing now.

The latest in PBS' well-received The Presidents series doesn't have to do much at all to compare and contrast. The senior president Bush's former secretary of state, James A. Baker III, notes in retrospect that he used to always get asked, "Why didn't you guys take care of Saddam Hussein when you had a chance?"

"Well, guess what?" he continues with some relish. "Nobody asks me that question anymore."

Premiering Monday, May 5th at 8 p.m. (central) and concluding at the same time Tuesday, the three-and-a-half-hour George H.W. Bush doesn't exactly gild his one-term presidency. It is in large part rehabilitative, though, with critics far outnumbered by admirers, including Barbara Bush, their son, Jeb, and their only daughter, Doro Bush Koch in new interviews for this film. Occasionally seen, but only fleetingly heard in archival footage, is the sitting president Bush.

The Presidents , presented under the long-running American Experience series umbrella, previously has looked in-depth at the formative years and administrations of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S Truman, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

Multi-part American Experience films on John F. Kennedy and Theodore Roosevelt also are part of the series' history. But unlike the aforementioned biographies, they're not scheduled to be re-deployed on PBS as part of a "multimedia election-year project."

George H.W. Bush, written and directed by Austin Hoyt, begins on a heroic note with the now oft-told story of the young Navy pilot being shot down and then rescued after a World War II bombing run. His mission indeed was accomplished before his plane became inoperative. The young Bush's two crewmen didn't survive, though, and he understandably has been reluctant over the years to revisit that traumatic day.

George already had met Barbara as a teenager before he shipped overseas.

"Well, he was the handsomest living human I ever saw," she says, "and maybe the nicest . . . I fell in love at first sight -- practically."

Bush is portrayed as both a politician of expediency and of principle. In his early years as one of Texas' bare handful of Republicans, he reached out to bigoted John Birchers in hopes of forming a bigger tent. An old friend eerily calls him "a uniter."

But once elected to Congress from a Houston district, Bush quickly risked his seat by backing President Johnson's open housing bill.

"Dad got a lot of death threats," remembers daughter Doro. But the film says he bravely took on his detractors at a public meeting in which many of them came away admiring his courage.

Bush eventually lost a run for the U.S. Senate to Democrat Lloyd Bentsen, prompting him to successively accept appointments as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee, U.S. ambassador to China and head of the Central Intelligence Agency.

He collected various political IOUs along the way, repeatedly expressing his willingness to serve at the call of the President because to do otherwise would be unpatriotic. It culminated in his successful vice presidential runs with Reagan on the 1980 and '84 Republican ticket.

"In many ways George Bush was what Ronald Reagan pretended to be," says narrator David Ogden Stiers, the former M*A*S*H co-star. That's because Bush in fact was both a war hero and star athlete while the bossman only played them on film. Bush also had a happy, fulfilling family life; Reagan preached family values but had recurring problems with his children, as did wife, Nancy.

Monday's Part One skimps on Bush's controversial 1988 campaign for the presidency, in which he defeated Michael Dukakis after portraying him as soft on crime. His televised, "Iran/Contra affair" dust-up with CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather is omitted completely. As are his debates with Dukakis or his earlier 1984 struggles in dealing with Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman ever to run on a major party presidential ticket.

Through it all, historians and biographers say Bush went for the jugular only as a last resort. Still, he also seemed all too malleable, leading to George Will's famous "The Sound of a Lapdog" column and Newsweek magazine's characterization of him as a "wimp."

Tuesday's Part 2 details President Bush's key role in ending the Cold War after Reagan "did all the exciting, glitzy stuff," in the view of Colin Powell. The senior Bush also rode his decisive handling of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait to a then record approval rating of 89 percent.

But a souring economy and Bush's "Read My Lips, No New Taxes" pledge at the 1992 Republican National Convention would quickly undermine his bid for a second term. Says biographer Timothy Naftali, "He never connected with the American people . . . George Bush was not his own best friend when he tried to explain George Bush."

His defeat at the hands of Bill Clinton, with help from cantankerous third-party candidate Ross Perot, left Bush dazed and depressed for a while. But the pain eased, and "I now think we were saved the four most miserable years of our life," Barbara Bush says.

The film ends sentimentally after several Bush admirers stand tall for him and extoll his administration as far more successful than sometimes meets the eye.

George and Barbara Bush continue to divide their time between Houston and their beloved Kennebunkport, Maine retreat. In an excerpt from a recent letter to his children, he tells them, "Your mother and I sit out here like a couple of really old poops, but we're at total peace."

Others no doubt will judge him more harshly. But The Presidents, as have previous films in the series, remains unashamed to hold both the office and its occupants in generally higher stead.

Grade: B

Idol: Burbling Brooke's out, Rockwall's Castro in Final Four

Brooke White goes home while Rockwall's Jason Castro strums on.

Relentlessly needy Brooke White sobbed her way through Neil Diamond's "I Am . . . I Said" Wednesday night after American Idol viewers put her in the show's past tense.

That whittles it down to a Final Four that includes 21-year-old Jason Castro of Rockwall, who survived another whipping from the judges. That included a now exhaustively reported out-of-body Paula Abdul critique of a second Neil Diamond song, "September Morn," that he hadn't yet performed.

"Just for the record, the rumors are not true (about Abdul)," said host Ryan Seacrest, apparently referring to a report that she may have been a bit tipsier than usual. "She's part of our family, and we love her."

Castro was declared "safe" in the show's opening minutes, although many expected him to at least share a Bottom Two rung. Judge Simon Cowell had lashed both of his less than riveting Tuesday performances, telling him, "This is not the Jason we put into this competition."

Instead, White joined the relentlessly imperiled Syesha Mercado on the griddle. She sobbed copiously into Mercado's arms after Seacrest counted her out.

"I just want to say thank you," White finally told a weary nation. "It's going to be terrible for me right now. But thank you."

Castro and Mercado join David Archuleta and David Cook in the show's home stretch competition to be Idol's seventh big winner. The two Davids are widely seen as the show's Goliaths, but Castro also appears to have a very formidable fan base. If he survives another week, it would be Idol's first all-male Final Three. No married contestant has ever won, and White was the last of those.