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R.I.P. Leslie Nielsen: Feb. 11, 1926 to Nov. 28, 2010

Leslie Nielsen as a serious-minded young actor in Forbidden Planet and as Det. Frank Drebin in ABC's short-lived Police Squad!, where he happily and very profitably spoofed his previous life's work.

Leslie Nielsen had the good fortune -- and undeniable talent -- to star in one of TV grandest, glorious flops.

ABC's Police Squad!, which lacked a laugh track in times when it was standard operating equipment, lasted just six episodes before the network killed it off. More than 28 years after its March 4, 1982 premiere, it remains an ahead-of-its time feast of sight gags, word plays and brilliant braggadocio in the person of Nielsen's Det. Frank Drebin.

Police Squad! later evolved into the hit Naked Gun movies, with Nielsen reprising Drebin and prospering in his later years as an actor willing to spoof anything and anybody. He died Sunday at age 84.

Nielsen took the Police Squad! role shortly after Airplane! revitalized his career. The Zucker brothers (David and Jerry) and partner Jim Abrahams were the dementos behind both sendups. And Nielsen's portrayal of Dr. "Don't call me Shirley" Rumack made it virtually impossible for him to ever again effectively play a straight role.

Nielsen's Detective Drebin was, however, almost completely straight-faced, swaggering through cases with his loyal partner, Capt. Ed Hocken (Alan North). They solved crimes while remaining clueless, with Drebin occasionally going undercover. In one episode he played a fight manager who became angry at the sight of his pugilist playing a saxophone just minutes before a big bout.

"I thought I told you," he bellowed. "No sax before a fight!"

ABC's entertainment president at the time, Tony Thomopoulos, told TV critics that Police Squad!'s lack of a laugh track likely confused viewers, many of whom in effect had to be told when to respond. He said this with a straight face, and perhaps had a point in trying to explain why Police Squad! never rang the ratings bell. But a canned laff machine would have been hard-pressed to keep up with this series. That is, unless it was deployed non-stop.

We fondly remember Leslie Nielsen with the below clips from Forbidden Planet and Police Squad!.

Two Oscar hosts for the ages -- mainly, younger viewers

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences again has chose dual hosts for the latest Oscar-cast on ABC.

But this twosome may be less known to the general public than any in Oscar's history. Film actors Anne Hathaway and James Franco were announced Monday, succeeding last year's duo of Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin.

It's a notable demographic shift, which co-producers Don Mischer and Bruce Cohen readily acknowledge in an accompanying publicity release.

Franco and Hathaway "personify the next generation of Hollywood icons -- fresh, exciting and multi-talented," they say.

Hathaway, 28, probably is best known for her co-starring role with Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. She also received an Oscar nomination for the far less seen 2008 film Rachel Getting Married, and currently is starring in Love and Other Drugs.

Franco, 32, has three Spider Man films under his belt as the character Harry Osborn. His latest movie is 127 Hours.

The 83rd annual Oscars ceremony will air on Feb. 27, 2011 from Hollywood's Kodak Theatre. The Academy had relied on a long list of comedians to host the show until Hugh Jackman was tabbed for the 2008 edition. Martin and Baldwin typified Oscar's long-established comedic bent. But Hathaway and Franco, both a generation younger than their predecessors, are not at all known for telling jokes. That should make it interesting -- or possibly disastrous.

Lennon remembered in two evocative PBS films

John & Yoko in New York, and current-day Ono during summer interview at Television Critics Association "press tour." PBS photos

The walrus was Paul, but John Lennon remains The Beatles' lion king.

Post-Fab Four, this became all the more evident. Lennon's activism, ostracism, torments and triumphs during life with Yoko Ono are being revisited in two daringly distinctive PBS presentations.

The 90-minute Lennon Naked, premiering Sunday, Nov. 21st under the Masterpiece Contemporary banner (9 p.m. central on KERA in D-FW), stars a former Dr. Who in the title role. It ends with John and Yoko jetting off to New York City, where they were fated never to return to his homeland.

LENNONYC (Monday, Nov. 22nd at 8 p.m. central) picks up their story with two hours worth of stirring real-life archival materials. Both programs are airing in the year he would have turned 70 and during the month before the 30th anniversary of his murder.

Lennon Naked is the lesser of the two projects, but not by all that much. Christopher Eccleston, bearing a suitably passable resemblance to Lennon, portrays him as an alternately self-absorbed and self-effacing bloke whose long estrangement with his father, Freddie (Christopher Fairbank), is as central to the story as his meeting and mating Yoko Ono (Naoko Mori).

Also a key player is Lennon's first wife, Cynthia (Claudie Blakely), whom he eventually coldly discards along with their son, Julian. In that respect, Lennon has replicated the conduct of his own parents, whose divorce made a waif of him at age six. Mother Julia dumped him on his Auntie Mimi. Father Freddie stayed away for 17 years.

The three other Beatles are mostly stick figures, with Andrew Scott's Paul McCartney allotted a scene or two of genuine impact after Lennon decides to break away.

Pointing to his head, he tells Paul, " 'Cause up here, it's over."

"But out there it's not," Paul rejoins to no avail.

Lennon then briefly but affectionately brushes McCartney's face. "See ya," he says.

Lennon Naked is based on "real events," but some scenes are the "invention of the writer (Robert Jones)," viewers are informed. The inventions are most inspired in a closing scene between Lennon and his father. He has just recorded "Mother," with its searing, wailing lyrics, "Mama, don't go, daddy come home."

"It's not like The Beatles, is it?" Freddie remarks.

John continues to upbraid him, ignoring his father's defense that "I did me best, John."

"Julia was a whore, and then she died. And you were a waste of space," he's told.

It's a raw and affecting scene, borne of John's earlier primal scream therapy sessions with Art Janow (Allan Corduner).

Lennon Naked dawdles at times, too, regularly resorting to symbolic images of an adult John underwater and a little John gazing upward at kites and balloons. It's also can be hard to distinguish Lennon aides/gofers Pete Shotton and Derek Taylor (Adrian Bower/Michael Colgan) from one another.

"Everybody loves me. That's like saying nobody does," he tells one of them.

The John and Yoko scenes ("she's as cracked as I am") are for the most part serviceable. But Lennon's final kiss-off to first wife Cynthia has more of an impact. "You're cruel and spiteful," she tells him. And in this case, she's right, underscoring the fact that Lennon Naked is unafraid to spare the varnish.

Christopher Eccleston in Lennon Naked PBS photo

LENNONYC is far more of a loving tribute, although it does spend considerable time on John's drunken/drugged Los Angeles period during his 1974 estrangement from Ono.

Those were the days of headlines such as, "Swinging Beatle in Troubadour Melee." Earlier on that same night, Lennon had emerged from another nightclub's restroom with a Kotex affixed to his forehead.

"There was nobody there to support me, and I fell apart," he said in a later interview.

Reuniting with Ono, backstage after an impromptu New York City concert with Elton John, essentially saved Lennon's life. It led to his period as a doting stay-at-home dad to their son, Sean, before a triumphant return to record-making for the acclaimed "Double Fantasy" album with his wife.

LENNONYC, airing as part of PBS' much-lauded American Masters series, is brimming with evocative still photos and never before aired audio recordings, concert outtakes and home movies. The most poignant of all is Sean's singing "Do you need anybody? I need somebody to love" before telling his dad, "That's my favorite song."

The federal government's continued efforts to deport him, launched by the Nixon White House, are also detailed at length. The grounds for sending him back to England were an old drug possession charge, but it's clear that the ulterior motive was his very public anti-Vietnam War stance.

Lennon at long last got his Green Card. Asked by a reporter whether he bore any resentments, he joked, "No, I believe time wounds all heels."

Friends of Lennon say he was planning both a world tour and a return to England when his life was taken on the night of Dec. 8, 1980 by a young man for whom he earlier had signed an autograph. His name isn't mentioned in LENNONYC, and won't be here either. Ono, who very much cooperated in the making of the film, is still coming to grips with that horrific night.

"He was an artist," she says. "Why would you want to kill an artist?"

Why indeed?

Lennon Naked -- B+

Mourning Joe: Scarborough latest to receive brief MSNBC suspension for contributing to political candidates

The suspension merry-go-round took another whirl at MSNBC Friday when Joe Scarborough was informed that his services won't be needed for the next two weekdays.

Upon further review, the moderately conservative Morning Joe host was found guilty of violating the partisan network's policy against making un-approved donations to political candidates.

MSNBC president Phil Griffin, in a statement, said that Scarborough informed him Friday morning that he made eight contributions of $500 each to local candidates in Florida during the years 2004-'08.

"In my conversation with Joe two weeks ago, he did not recall those contributions," Griffin said. "Since he did not seek or receive prior approval for these contributions, Joe understands that I will be suspending him for violating our policy."

Scarborough will get the same two-show, unpaid layoff meted out earlier this month to liberal Countdown host Keith Olbermann, who admitted making three donations to Democratic candidates without telling his MSNBC bosses. So he'll miss next week's Monday and Tuesday editions of Morning Joe, leaving co-host Mika Brzezinski in charge of the waker upper's Starbucks coffee cups.

MSNBC didn't see fit to discipline Scarborough when he appeared onstage in August 2004 at a Florida rally for then Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush. He had a prime-time show on MSNBC back then.

Unlike Olbermann, Scarborough issued a contrite companion statement Friday after noting that he "mistakenly believed" he didn't need permission from MSNBC for making token donations "to my brother and three longtime family friends." He termed them "nothing more than simple acts of friendship," adding that "I gained nothing personally, politically or professionally from these donations."

Nevertheless, Scarborough said he has a "responsibility to honor the guidelines and conditions of my employment, and I regret that I failed to do so in this matter. I apologize to MSNBC and to anyone who has been negatively offended by my actions."

It all serves to make MSNBC an even bigger laughingstock for enforcing a policy that basically makes no sense. Morning Joe's basically balanced approach is an abberation. All of the network's early evening and prime-time hosts are outspokenly liberal, a tack that MSNBC has found to be a financially sound business plan in its war of words with right-tilting Fox News Channel. Scarborough is a former Republican congressman who campaigned for Bush while his network turned a deaf ear at the time. Now MSNBC is reprimanding him for actions taken as long as six years ago. Hilarious.

It would be a different matter entirely if MSNBC made even a pretense of being objective in its overall political coverage. On Thursday's Countdown, Olbermann said of Republicans in the House and Senate: "They don't live in this world. They don't live in this country. And I think we'd better off if they didn't live in this country."

Meanwhile, Fox News Channel head Roger Ailes soiled himself the other day by proclaiming in an interview with The Daily Beast that NPR executives "are, of course, Nazis" for dismissing Juan Williams for his comments about Muslim air travelers on FNC's The O'Reilly Factor. "They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism. These guys don't want any other point of view. They don't even feel guilty using tax dollars to spout their propaganda."

Ailes later apologized in a letter to the Anti-Defamation League, saying "I was of course ad-libbing and should not have chosen that word, but I was angry at the time because of NPR's willingness to censor Juan Williams for not being liberal enough."

In hindsight, Ailes said the words "nasty, inflexible bigot" would have "worked better" in describing NPR.

Fox News Channel has no policy against its hosts making political donations. Not that anyone would be surprised by Sean Hannity's acknowledged contributions to Republican candidates.

All in all, we get the media we deserve. And in the current cable news firmament, the right hand (FNC) knows what the left hand (MSNBC) is doing -- and vice versa. It matters not a whit if Olbermann dumps hundreds of thousands of dollars into Democratic coffers while Hannity does likewise on behalf of the Republican Party. It won't make either man -- or either network -- any fairer. It'll just underscore the obvious.

Glory Daze goes to the back of the class with hackneyed college try

A typically subtle scene from the new Glory Daze. TBS photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Nov. 16th at 9 p.m. (central) on TBS
Starring: Kelly Blatz, Matt Bush, Drew Seeley, Hartley Sawyer, Julianna Guill, Tim Jo, James Earl, Josh Brener, Tim Meadows
Produced and created by: Walt Becker, Mike LeSieur

Kids bent on heading off to college at their parents' expense might want to keep them away from TBS' Glory Daze.

Because if they see it, you might well end up in welding school.

Launching Tuesday, Daze is dedicated to the proposition that institutions of higher learning are sham fronts for four years of non-stop drinking, drugging, screwing, hazing and ogling. OK, maybe that's basically true. But this is no Animal House -- because it's not nearly as artful. Daze instead is a truly dreadful one-hour comedy that's clumsily executed on all fronts besides resorting to some truly jaw-dropping racism.

It all originates at a fictional Indiana University, circa 1986, where wide-eyed Joel Harrington (Kelly Blatz) is instantly taken with all the writhing, partying co-eds populating the campus grounds. So is his dad (an embarrassing cameo from Brad Garrett), who drives the family car into a tree while also taking in the sights. Mom is played by former Saturday Night star Cheri Oteri, who's equally grating.

Joel's initial dorm roommate is the very nerdy Zack Miller (Josh Brener). But he's soon in the company of three fraternity-pining pals named Eli Feldman (Matt Bush), Jason Wilson (Drew Seeley) and Brian Sommers (Hartley Sawyer). They're respectively a virgin pretending he's a stud, a straight arrow conservative and a reluctant baseball jock.

Supporting players include an embarrassingly token Asian named Alex Chang (Tim Jo) and the beauteous Christie De Witt (Julianna Gulli), who turns out to be taken.

Shopping for a frat house, the boys climactically visit hard-partying, imperious Omega Sig. This is the sort of exclusive club that uses a pint-sized Mexican who wears an oversized sombrero doubling as a chip 'n' dip tray. The miniature, mostly mute Mex later is pushed around in a grocery store cart by his white Omega Sig puppeteer.

One of the principal would-be pledges eventually says in passing that Omega Sig might be a little racist. But does that deter them from wanting to join? Not at all. And wait'll you see the scene where an officious black cop tazes a jailed student in the shorts. He doubles over, and you're supposed to do likewise -- with laughter.

Another SNL alum, Tim Meadows, shows up in the regular role of Professor Haines, who delights in belittling his students. The university baseball coach adds to the overall ambience by relating how his dad took him to a whore house at age 12 to teach him the difference between love and sex.

Glory Daze belies the tiresome TBS slogan "Very Funny," instead opting for an antonym of that. It's also the worst new series of the season, falling just short of stupendously bad before settling for remarkably stupid.

GRADE: D-minus

George W. and Oprah cozy up before Hannity rolls over

"I had a good time," Oprah said before they nuzzled. Photos: Ed Bark

So who bowed deepest Tuesday in the ongoing effort to sell George W. Bush's new book and give him an image makeover as well?

Adulation of the former president came from both a usual suspect (Sean Hannity) and an unlikely source (Oprah Winfrey). He'll take it where he can get it during the full-tilt, nationally televised promotion of Decision Points.

Winfrey, who very publicly supported Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, effusively welcomed Bush to her show, as did her studio audience.

"I'm really, really, really proud to have you here," she told him after bestowing two air kisses with an audible "Mwah, Mwah."

Bush last visited The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2000 when he was still a presidential candidate. This time around she laughed joyously at his self-deprecating jokes, clasped his hand during an emotional anecdote tied to the war in Iraq and told Bush "I had a good time" before cuddling with him while the closing credits rolled.

That last image conceivably could end up being her Sammy Davis Jr./Richard Nixon imbroglio. Not an aha moment, but an uh-oh one.

Winfrey even commiserated with Bush over his administration's admittedly tardy response to Hurricane Katrina. According to his book, he was in part blocked by the state of Louisiana, whose governor (Kathleen Blanco) declined to give him quick authority to send in federal troops. Winfrey said it caused her to think, "Aha."

The show also featured an exclusive peek inside the Bush family's Kennebunkport compound, where No. 41, No. 43 and Barbara gathered to swap one-liners and reminiscences. It was an entertaining hour, even if it sometimes seemed to be originating from The Twilight Zone. Winfrey is nothing if not a gracious host during a daytime show aimed primarily at female viewers. Still, it was odd to see her so buttery in the presence of the man whose policies her man had campaigned so aggressively against. If Oprah can be wooed this easily, then maybe Glenn Beck will soon be making a donation to MoveOn.org.

Butch and Sundance on a slow drive through Crawford.

Over on Fox News Channel Tuesday night, a special edition of Hannity found the host with Bush at his Crawford, TX retreat.

Bush was behind the wheel in the first segment, chatting about his book while Hannity kept nodding in assent or complimenting him for his resolve.

Later on, after a short hike through the woods to a picturesque plateau, Bush again noted that he had intentionally laid low after his eight years as president.

"I understand I'm in the limelight now because I'm talkin' to you, my buddy," he told Hannity. "And the reason I am is because I'm sellin' my book."

His buddy tried on three separate occasions to get Bush to bad-mouth Obama. But to no avail. He otherwise kept extolling the former president's virtues. In the sit-down portion of their "interview," the two even wore matching jeans and pale blue shirts. (Bush had changed from the checked short-sleever he sported in the above picture.)

Amazingly, Hannity didn't ask for a lock of Bush's hair or maybe a piece of belly button lint to treasure as a keepsake. Or at least he didn't on-camera.

MSNBC, otherwise known as the network that won't be getting a Bush interview, predictably went after him with a machete Tuesday. Ed Schultz, Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow and the newly re-installed and self-aggrandizing Keith Olbermann all happily took their turns. In their view, they're not drinking the Kool-Aid when it comes to Bush. But their overwhelming partisanship is increasingly hard to swallow. Hannity's a lap dog, they're all attack dogs.

Not that he'll ever get the opportunity, but it's an open question as to whether Olbermann would be man enough to do a one-on-one with Bush. His Countdown show never fails to accommodate an assembly line of like-minded guests. On Tuesday night, he welcomed Michael Moore, who tore into Bush while Olbermann either grinned or nodded appreciatively.

Tuesday's events served to elevate Matt Lauer's initial Monday prime-time interview with Bush. He pressed him on a number of points while also remaining respectful of the office Bush had held. It struck a solid balance. Lauer was no pushover; nor was he a shover.

Bush will keep making the rounds, with Fox News Channel's two other prime-time personalities -- Bill O'Reilly and Greta Van Susteren -- in the mix before he eventually turns to CNN's Candy Crowley and Jay Leno's Tonight Show. There's also a Sunday morning interview scheduled with CBS reporter Jim Axelrod. But nothing with ABC. Or, of course, MSNBC.

The O'Reilly interview is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 11th, and I'm thinking it could be the best of the bunch. Drill deep down and he might tell you that Hannity's session with Bush not only one-upped him, but sickened him. Way too sycophantic for his much-trumpeted "No Spin Zone."

As for Oprah making nice, well, she knows how to sell books. Decision Points almost assuredly won't make her still potent Book Club list. But its author couldn't have asked for a better time.

NBC takes a few last jabs as O'Brien takes another late night shot with TBS' Conan

Conan O'Brien and sidekick Andy Richter mess with a movable full moon during Monday's premiere of TBS' Conan. Photos: Ed Bark

Conan the Contrarian is back after nine-and-a-half months as a Red-Headed Stranger to post-prime time TV.

"It's not easy doing a late night show on a channel without a lot of money that people have trouble finding," he said during his maiden monologue Monday for TBS' saturation-promoted Conan. "So that's why I left NBC."

Good one. And pretty good for starters in what will be O'Brien's war for advertiser-coveted younger viewers in a growingly crowded battlefield.

His last Tonight Show was way back on Jan. 22nd, giving O'Brien much of this year to grow a beard, launch a reliably funny Twitter account and hit the road with his Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour. NBC had paid him $45 million as a lovely parting gift, $12 million of which went to his staff.

Monday's Conan, as did his inaugural Tonight, began with a short film on the transition. In the first film he ran coast-to-coast from Manhattan to Burbank. This time it was "Last Season on Conan," with O'Brien balking at moving Tonight back a half-hour to accommodate a proposed new late night half-hour hosted by Jay Leno.

Exiting NBC, he then was swiss-cheesed by four machine gun-wielding assailants in a scene borrowed from Sonny Corleone's gyrations in The Godfather.

"You'll never work in network television again," he was told while bandaged from head to toe in a hospital room. But a recalcitrant wife -- "Conan, you have to get a job. We have 14 kids" -- spurred him to a failed ad agency interview with Mad Men's Don Draper (Jon Hamm in his latest cameo) before miserable stints as a Burger King worker and birthday party clown.

Poised to end it all by jumping off a bridge, O'Brien was dissuaded by a wings-wearing Larry King, who intoned, "I have two words for you. Basic cable."

That led him to the TBS lifeboat and a new contract reading "MUCH. LESS." Re-enter the machine-gunners before O'Brien triumphantly took his new Warner Bros. Studios stage while the studio audience went bananas. "Welcome to my second annual first show," he told them.

Together again at the host's latest desk, Richter and O'Brien sport real-life Halloween masks that were labeled "Ex-Talk Show Host."

O'Brien trimmed back his beard for the occasion. And the show's Jimmy Livino and the Basic Cable Band is without its previous leader, Max Weinberg, who declined to participate.

But Andy Richter again is in tow, and the show works much better with him than without. Desk mates otherwise have been drummed out of the late night terrain in the post-Ed McMahon era. But O'Brien is that rare generous host who not only makes room for sidekick Richter's ad libs, but laughs uproariously at some of them.

Richter was in terrific form on Monday's opener. When O'Brien played around with the show's behind-the-desk movable moon, Richter cracked, "It's got that incredibly realistic lunar wobble."

They later donned cheap-looking, real-life "Ex-Talk Show Host" masks made in O'Brien's likeness. "Inside it smells like tears," Richter riffed.

A faux congratulatory film from Ricky Gervais led to the "the winner of our rigged first guest contest," conducted via teamcoco.com. The 12 initial possibilities ranged from Pope Benedict to Lady Gaga to Jack Nicholson. But the winner, in what turned out to be a lame procession through the studio, was Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum curator Arlene Wagner. Yes, the place actually exists. Yes, she's the curator.

Otherwise the guests were actor Seth Rogen and Glee star Lea Michele, both of whom were reasonably entertaining but no match for rescued Chilean miner Edison Pena on last Thursday's edition of Late Show with David Letterman.

O'Brien wrapped things up by singing and playing guitar with Jack White as they replicated a rockin' tune they recorded together in Nashville. Ax-wielding late night talk show hosts start and stop with O'Brien. So he might as well take advantage of it.

It all made for a pretty smooth-sailing return for the much-lionized O'Brien. Now the war of attrition sets in, with Jon Stewart's The Daily Show and Chelsea Handler's Chelsea Lately directly opposite the first half-hour of Conan before The Colbert Report, Leno's slumping Tonight, Letterman's resurgent Late Show and ABC's sturdy Nightline kick in. Will there be reason enough to make the switch to O'Brien -- or at least record his show for later use?

Despite all the basic cable jokes, TBS is spending a relative fortune to make Conan work. If he doesn't fly this time, the next stop could be Artie Ptomaine's Comedy Dinner Playhouse in Encino. But nah, it won't ever come to that. Right?

O'Brien and Jack White close out Monday's premiere of Conan.

MSNBC's suspension of Olbermann a laughable declaration of principle (updated)

Keith Olbermann with TV critics in summer 2007. Photo: Ed Bark

Keith Olbermann's indefinite unpaid suspension for making unauthorized contributions to Democratic candidates is both laughable and sad.

Laughable because what did parent corporation NBC Universal expect?

Sad because MSNBC's parent company has allowed the network to become a full-blown liberal counterweight to the conservative Fox News Channel. Why? Because there's more money to be made with bombast than by adhering to old school objectivity. And Olbermann's Countdown program has been in the vanguard of MSNBC's makeover into a left-centric platform during early evening and prime-time hours.

Caught in the middle is CNN, which has fallen far behind both FNC and MSNBC by clinging to a fair and balanced approach that FNC long has preached but never really practiced. Its news anchors and commentators rightly should be suspended for any financial support of political candidates. But MSNBC's discipline of Olbermann is akin to fining the New York Yankees for pirating rival teams' star players. It's what the Yankees do.

Olbermann's suspension, announced Friday, came after he told Politico that he had given the maximum legal donation of $2,400 apiece to three Democratic candidates -- Reps. Raul M. Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona and Kentucky attorney general Jack Conway, who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate against Tea Party hero Rand Paul.

MSNBC president Phil Griffin, who has orchestrated the network's march toward partisanship, said in a statement: "Mindful of NBC News policy and standards, I have suspended him (Olbermann) without pay."

NBC News indeed still strives to be objective under the direction of president Steve Capus. Otherwise George W. Bush wouldn't be doing a prime-time special Monday night with the network's Matt Lauer in the interests of selling his new book.

But MSNBC is no more a part of NBC News than Sean Hannity is a card-carrying member of the ACLU. In fact, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams and his predecessor, Tom Brokaw, conspicuously stayed away from MSNBC during Tuesday's mid-term election coverage. NBC instead expanded its coverage into late night hours, preempting both Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon to give Williams and Brokaw a safe haven. Meanwhile, MSNBC hammered away at the Republicans all night, with Olbermann in the company of fellow liberals Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O'Donnell and Ed Schultz.

Maddow, on Friday's edition of her program, addressed the Olbermann situation by assailing Hannity's financial contributions to Republican candidates and Fox News Channel's decision to put potential presidential candidates Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee on its payroll. FNC allows its batch of partisan hosts to make political contributions. The only shock wave in that respect would be if Hannity actually gave money to a Democrat. Come to think of it, he might be suspended for that.

As previously noted in these spaces, I'm no fan of either FNC or MSNBC. Both have contributed in no small part to the polarization infecting this country. The people be damned. Republicans plot to make President Obama look bad at any cost. Democrats likewise dig in their heels. It's only getting worse, and FNC and MSNBC bear some responsibility for that. The public good? Don't make me laugh.

Olbermann, who has burned bridges with previous employers, can now play the part of martyr for however long it takes for MSNBC to bring him back. But his network long has forfeited any right to suddenly get all sanctimonious about news ethics.

If anything, MSNBC should require its prime-time hosts to make contributions to Democratic candidates. The network has significantly increased both its ratings and its profitability by positioning itself as both a Fox News Channel basher and Democratic Party cheerleader. So in reality, what did Olbermann really do wrong? He was simply giving back.


MSNBC announced Sunday that Olbermann will return to Countdown on Tuesday, Nov. 9th.

The network's president, Phil Griffin, said in a statement: "After several days of deliberation and discussion, I have determined that suspending Keith through and including Monday night's program is an appropriate punishment for his violation of our policy. We look forward to having him back on the air Tuesday night."

Perry on Morning Joe: "I pray for Obama every day" (but with an asterisk)

Texas Gov. Rick Perry gives a thumbs up to his new book, Fed Up!, during Friday's edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe. Photo: Ed Bark

Fresh from stomping opponent Bill White in Tuesday's elections, Texas Gov. Rick Perry wasn't much for messing around during his book-touting appearance Friday on MSNBC's gabby Morning Joe.

His tie was tightened to the hilt and his gray suitcoat buttoned to the max while he sat down next to host Joe Scarborough and assorted other panelists in the show's New York studios.

"Don't get deflected from your goal," he said when the talk didn't quickly turn to his reason for being there. "I mean, we're gonna talk about my book here in a minute, Fed Up! And I'm not gonna let you get deflected from my goal here, which is to talk about this book."

He said this unsmilingly, and without any twinkles in his eyes. And he regularly relied on two standard issue preambles for any sandbagging politician -- "with all due respect" and "the fact of the matter is."

Scarborough, a former Republican congressman who appeared at rallies for George W. Bush's presidential candidacy while employed by MSNBC, is still mostly on board with his party's positions. But he's given himself some squeeze room, too.

"You can be a conservative and still not root against the president of the United States, right?" he told Perry for openers. "My grandma taught me to pray for the president."

"I pray for Obama every day," Perry said, neglecting to insert the presidential courtesy title that Fox News Channel anchors still reserve for "Governor" Sarah Palin during her paid analyst appearances.

"Every day?" Scarborough rejoined.

"I pray for his wisdom," Perry clarified. "And to open his eyes."

Perry said he wants the door shut on the so-called "Obama Care" health package, which will cost Texas $27 billion per year. At least that's the figure he initially threw out before immediately down-shifting to $2.7 billion dollars in the next breath. "So that's a budget issue," he said. "A big budget issue for us."

The governor also said that the secession talk he entertained during the early stages of his campaign was by and large a media concoction.

"The fact of the matter is we have a great country," he said. "And we're going to stay in the Union."

Perry buried White by a 55 to 42 percent margin while towing the conservative line. He said it doesn't bother him that some states have elected moderate Republicans because, after all, "I couldn't get elected dog catcher in California."

He also referred to "one of those little states up there" after initially confusing Vermont and New Hampshire.

"What a Texan!" Scarborough exclaimed.

The full title of Perry's book is Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington. But might he have ambitions to wind up in Washington himself via a 2012 presidential campaign?

"It is not on my radar screen. I have no interest in going to Washington," Perry said, noting that he wouldn't make fun of "little" Northeastern states such as New Hampshire if he had other intentions.

Former president George W. Bush also has a new book out, which he'll be referencing on NBC Monday night during a one-hour interview (7 p.m. central) with Today show host Matt Lauer.

"George W. Bush will go down as a great president," Perry said. "He kept us safe."

Perry ended his Morning Joe activities by flashing a thumbs up sign for his book. He wasn't exactly a charmer but clearly had his priorities in order.

***60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft risks being perceived as President Obama's caddy.

He'll interview Obama yet again on the Sunday, Nov. 7th program, with CBS billing their sit-down as the president's "first one-on-one, post-midterm election interview."

This will be at least the fifth one-on-one exclusive between Kroft and Obama. It all began in February 2007 during the very early stages of his presidential campaign. Kroft and Obama also sat down in February 2008, November 2008 and March 2009.

Clearly a comfort level has been established. But is it too close for comfort? Kroft has asked some pointed questions during these sessions. But isn't it time that someone else -- at CBS or elsewhere -- gets to participate in one of these exclusives?

Rescued Chilean miner Edison Pena on Letterman: watch for the big finish

Edison Pena was in good company with David Letterman. CBS photo

Rescued Chilean miner Edison Pena has big plans for the weekend. He'll be trying to complete the New York City Marathon after spending 69 days underground before re-emerging in mid-October.

First though, Pena visited Thursday's Late Show with David Letterman. It was the first "in-studio interview" given by any of the rescuees, CBS says. And in the company of a delightful translator named Cassandra, Pena and Letterman laid down one of the more memorable TV interviews of this or any season.

It was all capped by Pena's apparently spontaneous rendition of "Suspicious Minds" after Letterman said he'd heard that some of the miners passed the time by singing Elvis Presley songs together.

"Actually, I like to sing by myself," Pena said before haltingly breaking into Presley's last big hit. Paul Shaffer and the band chimed in and that was all Pena needed. The rest, at the end of the clip below, is pure TV gold. So is Cassandra's joyful reaction.

The Larry Sanders Show rides again in complete series set that oozes TV greatness

Unholy trinity: Hank, Artie and Larry of The Larry Sanders Show.

Under-appreciated at Emmy time and under-seen on HBO, The Larry Sanders Show only grows in stature as time marches on through the late night talk TV minefield.

Its 89 episodes are newly packaged and now available via Shout! Factory, a video curator whose restoration projects and dedication to both the great and the bizarre merit yet another full-throated shout out.

Larry Sanders (suggested $149.99 retail price but shop around) weighs in at roughly 40 hours on 17 discs with ample "Bonus Content" and a 60-page booklet documenting the show's 1992-'98 run. It's all as fresh today as it was back in the day, with Garry Shandling, Rip Torn and Jeffrey Tambor brilliantly funny and craven as Larry, producer Artie and sidekick Hank "Hey Now" Kingsley.

No series before or since has rolled the TV industry onto its back and exposed its underbelly with such mercilessly biting results. And on the big screen, only 1976's ahead-of-its time Network has played in the same league as Larry Sanders.

Much of this is due to Shandling's lifelong neurotic bent. He still seems terminably unable to come to grips with himself, making Larry David seem like Dr. Phil in comparison. But this also freed him to follow his own distinctive beat and instincts during the course of this landmark TV series. Shandling's manifest insecurities are resplendent on-screen and in character. And he found the perfect trimmings in Torn and Tambor. Few if any comedic trios have ever clicked like this one, although The Three Stooges certainly had their moments.

The DVD add-ons are another matter, however. Shandling's "Personal Visits" with prominent Larry Sanders guest stars (taped in 2007 as part of a previously released retrospective), can be almost painful to behold. He's thoroughly discombobulated in the presence of Carol Burnett, who as herself went against the grain of a self-described "White Bread Woman" image by saying "I saw your balls" during Season 1's third episode.

"I loved it. I slept very well that night when I got home," she tells Shandling during their ad hoc reunion. In turn, he yammers and stammers about.

Another such interview, this one with Jon Stewart, is done over the telephone with video cameras trained on both of them. Stewart, playing himself, was the guy who replaced Sanders in HBO's fictional but all too true talk show world. In their 2007 interview, Shandling can't remember anything regarding how he hired Stewart in the first place. Not even their New York dinner with Billy Joel also in attendance, as Stewart relates it.

Shandling ends their conversation by asking Stewart what he should do next. "Lighten up," Stewart says in all sincerity. This seems to further muddy Shandling's waters. He has no idea how to react to such advice.

Artie watches Hank and Larry shill for The Garden Weasel.

The overall brilliance of Larry Sanders exempts Shandling from doing anything next. Its August 15, 1992 premiere episode, "What Have You Done For Me Lately?", got the show off to a roaring good start with a razor-sharp look at network interference.

The new and icy vice president of programming, Melanie Parrish (terrifically played throughout most of the series by Deborah May), insists that Larry do live commercials to please restive sponsors.

"In a fiscal sense, your show just isn't cutting it," she inform Larry and Artie, who later remarks, "I swear I killed her in the war."

Larry ends up messing around with spots for The Garden Weasel, wondering at one point why it's not called "The Amazing Ratstick." This doesn't set too well with corporate, but toadying Hank is more than willing to help out with a smoothly rendered shill in a voice that could sell Popsicles in Antarctica.

Larry's very first monologue turns out to be eerily timeless. Referring to then presidential candidate Bill Clinton playing the saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show, he notes that Jerry Brown "didn't actually play a number with the band (on Larry's late nighter), but he did score them some great coke."

Eighteen years later, Brown is politically re-born as the newly elected governor of California, whose voters on the same day decided against legalizing marijuana via Proposition 19.

Another monologue joke, about Ted Kennedy, falls pretty flat after his recent death from cancer. Larry notes that Kennedy just remarried. "And boy, he's going to be surprised when he sobers up, huh?"

The show's first monologue ends with Larry's trademark "Don't flip around" advisory, which in slightly abbreviated form became "No flipping."

Larry of course loves watching tapes of himself on TV upon returning home to his wife, Jeannie (Megan Gallagher in early episodes). Artie also couldn't stop watching, even during a tryst in Venice with the real-life Angie Dickinson in Season 5's "Artie, Angie, Hank and Hercules" episode. In that same half-hour, the ever supplicant Hank solemnly tells guest Don Rickles, "I knew television was in deep trouble the day they took CPO Sharkey off the air." Riotous.

Larry Sanders' cast of supporting players included several previously unknown performers who later scored in signature roles of their own. Among them are Jeremy Piven (Ari Gold on Entourage), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe O'Brian on 24) and Penny Johnson (President David Palmer's duplicitous wife, Sherry, on the early seasons of 24).

Big name guest stars playing themselves abounded, of course, never more so than on a one-hour series finale that still ranks as one of the great TV closers of all time. Jim Carrey's cavorting, much of it ad libbed, again steals that show amid the likes of Warren Beatty, Sean Penn, Carol Burnett, Ellen DeGeneres, Jerry Seinfeld, Clint Black, Jon Stewart, David Duchovny, Tim Allen and Greg Kinnear.

The series finale, originally shown on May 31,1998, includes a commentary by Shandling and co-producer/writer Peter Tolan. As does the very first episode. But their byplay isn't as revealing or insightful as it could and should be. And that's kind of a shame.

Otherwise it's all on the screen. Eighty-nine splendid episodes of a series that richly deserves a spot among the 10 greatest comedies in TV history.

See David Spade, as an up-and-coming young comic, explain to Larry why he double-dipped and did The Tonight Show in the same week: "Night after night you want The Tonight Show. And I finally get it. Even though it's (bleeping) Leno now."

Watch David Letterman mess with Larry backstage at the American Television Awards in an episode that also includes Tom Snyder as a would-be late night follow up act for both of them.

Check out Hank receiving and reading a profane FAX intended as a missive from Larry to disparaging TV critic Tom Shales.

Witness Artie phonily beam and rave as aforementioned network executive Melanie Parrish disdainfully reacts to a guest list for Stewart's substitute shows. Namely, Sally Struthers, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Jamie Farr, Joan Embry and Charles Nelson Reilly.

Above all, re-appreciate the manifest show business insincerity and insecurity on the part of all involved. A dozen seasons after leaving HBO, The Larry Sanders Show still seems to have everything just right. And that's just beautiful.


Rangers-Giants World Series scrapes bottom nationally

Giants catcher Buster Posey celebrates good times a second or so after Rangers OF Nelson Cruz strikes out to end the 2010 World Series and give San Fran its first national championship. Photo: Ed Bark

It's still a very nice ratings boost for any network. Still, the 2010 World Series, won by the San Francisco Giants in five games over the Texas Rangers, ranks as the second least-watched of all time in the national Nielsen ratings.

Baseball's biggest showcase averaged 14.3 million viewers in perfect weather. That's a bit better than the 13.6 million who watched 2008's rain-soaked 5-gamer between the victorious Philadelphia Phillies and upstart Tampa Bay Rays.

Roughly one-fourteenth of this year's World Series audience came from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where each game averaged more than one million viewers in a No. 5 market of 6.9 million.

Fox, which has carried the Series for 10 straight seasons, would have preferred a rematch between the Phillies and New York Yankees, who averaged 19.4 million viewers for last fall's six-gamer.

This time around, Sunday's Game 4 of the Series was outdrawn for the first time by NBC's competing Sunday Night Football. The Peacock's potent Saints-Steelers matchup had 18.1 million viewers, compared to Game 4's 15.5 million.

The 1978 World Series between the Yankees and Los Angeles still holds the record since Nielsen began tabulating total viewer numbers in 1973. Telecast on NBC, it averaged 44.3 million viewers. No World Series has averaged 30 million or more viewers since the 1992 matchup between the Toronto Blue Jays and Atlanta Braves on CBS.

The last six World Series have drawn under 20 million viewers.

***Meanwhile, AMC is jubilantly circling the bases after hitting a home run with Sunday's Halloween night premiere of The Walking Dead.

The 90-minute premiere episode of the network's fourth original series drew 5.3 million viewers nationally. That's easily a record audience for any AMC original series. The Oct. 17th Season 4 finale of its Emmy Award-winning Mad Men in comparison had 2.4 million viewers.

Walking Dead also lured 3.6 million advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds, the biggest haul of viewers in that age range of any cable series premiere this year.

AMC has ordered an initial batch of six episodes. But AMC programming executive Joel Stillerman says in an accompanying publicity release that "this is only the beginning of a long, intense and powerful ride." Walking Dead is adapted from a comic book series by Robert Kirkman.