Don Imus, the Dark Prince of Morning TV … Buchwald Gets a Special … Olympic Dudes

Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week

Multiple-Academy Award-winning director Leo McCarey, the man who teamed Stan Laurel with Oliver Hardy and supervised all their best silent work, also made perhaps the quintessential screen love story because he knew how to keep the humor in it; actually, he made the same story twice, with two different casts, 18 years apart. The first one, Love Affair (1939), starred Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer; the second had Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr and served as the catalyst for Nora Ephron’s successful 1993 comedy, Sleepless in Seattle : That’s 1957′s An Affair to Remember [ Saturday, Feb. 14, AMC, 54, 2 P.M. ]. In Sleepless, Meg Ryan refers to Affair as a picture “men don’t get,” which, if the generalization has a base, is probably because the Lothario in the piece is the one who must learn his lesson. The idea for the film-a man and a woman, both engaged to others, meet on an ocean liner, fall in love, agree to rendezvous when they’re free six months later at the top of the Empire State Building, but she has an accident, doesn’t make it, and he thinks she didn’t really love him-came to McCarey in a flash after a three-week European vacation with his wife as they arrived at the Port of New York and saw the Statue of Liberty. The 1939 version has the more inspired feeling to it, almost as though McCarey were improvising the whole thing as he went along-which, indeed, was often his technique; being in black-and-white, the first also has a more realistic atmosphere, and the early sequences of banter between Boyer and Dunne are among the most amazingly fresh comedy love scenes ever captured. However, the overall emotional impact of the Cary Grant version is stronger, probably because Grant’s image, unlike Boyer’s, was often comic, and so by contrast the dramatic notes hit all the harder. In certain ways, this is one of the few Cinemascope pictures that is improved by the cropping to TV size, mainly because McCarey steadfastly refused to be bothered composing for the wide screen (which he loathed) so that the sides of nearly all the images are irrelevant. The intimacy and essential loneliness of television also help to bring the story closer and to erase embarrassment at being overwhelmed by emotion. McCarey got his secret wish on this picture (his last success, and he only made two more films) by co-writing a hit song, the title one, which became a pop standard. The combination of comedy and romantic drama is among the most difficult mixtures to pull off; McCarey was a master at it, and An Affair to Remember is one perfect example, and the ideal Valentine’s Day movie if the guy isn’t a dope.

The Hitchcock Watch: Three brilliantly directed thrillers and one exciting drama from the master of suspense, including far and away his best English film, 1935′s classic The 39 Steps [ Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 14 and 15, CUNY, 75, both 9 P.M. ]. Forerunner of all innocent-fugitive-on-the-run films, starring the beautiful British star Robert Donat in the role Cary Grant would play in Hitchcock’s American culmination 24 years later, North by Northwest (1959). Hitch’s own personal favorite, he always said, was his superbly observed 1943 small-town, serial-killer-at-large story, Shadow of a Doubt [ Saturday, Feb. 14, AMC, 54, 10 P.M. ]. Starring a deeply ambiguous Joseph Cotten as the “Merry Widow Murderer,” the picture is strong on character, not surprising since no less than Our Town ‘s own Thornton Wilder worked on the script; Wilder was also the only writer Hitchcock ever praised publicly, even thanked him on screen for his “consultation.” Teresa Wright, Hume Cronyn and Macdonald Carey co-star in one of director’s most subversive slices of Americana. Robert Walker gives the performance of his career as a spoiled mama’s-boy psychopath who proposes a swap of murders to Farley Granger in 1951′s memorable Strangers on a Train [ Tuesday, Feb. 17, AMC, 54, 11 P.M. ], and the divine Tallulah Bankhead is splendid as a journalist in an all-star one-set tour de force, with a John Steinbeck script, 1944′s Lifeboat [ Tuesday, Feb. 17, AMC, 54, 11:15 A.M. ]. The notoriously eccentric and iconoclastic Ms. Bankhead amused Hitch and his crew by never wearing panties, even as she had to cross into and out of the lifeboat numerous times a day.

Don Imus, the Dark Prince of Morning TV

NYTV correspondent Peter M. Stevenson writes:

The best morning show on TV isn’t a TV show, but rather a radio show that only incidentally appears on television-we’re speaking, of course, of the MSNBC cable TV simulcast of Don Imus’ WFAN radio program, Imus in the Morning .…

Mr. Imus’ famous blend of political satire, interviews and news is heard over the radio by 10 million or so Americans every morning, but the MSNBC version is watched by just 56,000 households, and brave households they must surely be. While the show works beautifully on radio, on TV it’s a shaky, dark, existential three hours-no chipper smiles from Matt Lauer or Katie Couric, no cheery fat weathermen, no saccharine interviews with pretty movie stars, no sober assessments of national disasters. Instead, you get to spend your first waking hours-the show comes on at 6 A.M. and lasts till 9 A.M.-with a cynical, chicken-boned, craggy-faced wreck of a man who announces with some regularity that he hates the fact that he’s on TV.…

Seated across from Mr. Imus is his sidekick, Charles McCord, a mustached fellow in pressed shirt and tie, a family-man type who does the day’s news and probably offers to carry old ladies’ grocery bags in his local A.&P. Visible in the wings is Mr. Imus’ producer, Bernard McGuirck, a quick-witted doofus who supplies running commentary in the form of bawdy one-liners.…

The guests are often respected politicians such as John Kerry, writers like Doris Kearns Goodwin, media pundits like Dan Rather and Tim Russert-indeed, ever since the 1992 Presidential election, Mr. Imus’ stature as powerbroker and occasional political pariah (see his raucous, Clinton-taunting 1996 speech at the Radio-Television Correspondents Association dinner)-has risen enormously. The best guest, however, is Mr. Imus’ brother Fred Imus, a country-and-western hick version of Mr. Imus who sells clothes via catalogue out of New Mexico and calls in to the program regularly.…

But to read the above is to assume that there is a show-for there is no show, in terms of the conventions of TV. “We do a radio program; I hope we don’t ever do a TV program,” Mr. Imus once told an interviewer. He’s got nothing to worry about. Mr. Imus, his handsome rock ‘n’ roll face now dry as parchment, his body hidden beneath baggy polar fleece, never looks into the camera, never offers the viewer an empathic channel. He sits in his own psychic igloo, almost shivering, as if it’s about 20 degrees below zero in there, as if he’s using all his energy just to keep it together for just one more show. Cameras mounted above Mr. Imus and the crew’s heads move around the windowless studio on a circular rail, looking like robotic medical instruments, probing for an interesting shot. Which often ends up being something unappetizing, like a close-up of the flaky bald spot on the back of Warner Wolf’s head. Respite from this desert of male decrepitude and dissatisfaction comes whenever Mr. Imus’ much younger, blond, sexy actress wife, Deirdre Coleman-Imus, makes an appearance, either in person or in name-at such moments, Mr. Imus actually blushes.…

Because this is primarily a radio show, there are several moments in each program when the cameras are rolling but, as a small message across the screen will tell you, ” Imus in the Morning is in a radio commercial.” These are the choicest moments-Mr. McCord stuffing some breakfast item into his face, then wiping a bit of food from his mustache with a napkin, and Mr. Imus feeding piece after piece of gum into his mouth until your own stomach acid rises in protest. It’s in these floating bits of footage that you realize you are watching what is really a documentary of sorts, a look into the abyss that always threatens to swallow the most carefully scripted of TV moments.…

But make no mistake, despite the wet-lipped sarcasm and searing attacks on Bill Clinton and others, Don Imus, morning television’s Underground Man, is not bitter. And here we have the key to his appeal: It lies in the fact that he’s a recovering alcoholic and coke addict. Which means at some point during his rehab at Hazelden in West Palm Beach, Fla., 10 years ago, where he finally checked himself in after what he has said was a “nine-day binge on vodka, drinking warm vodka out of the bottle,” at some point down there amid the expensive nurses, D.T.’s and waving palm trees, he must have had a glimpse of something Good in himself. Something absolutely true and cornball at the same time. And each morning, while ranting and cussing and imploding inward, what Mr. Imus is also doing is waiting for some more of that Good. It ain’t much, but it’s everything. In the meantime, like the rest of us, Don Imus is embarrassed to be here. [ Wednesday, Feb. 11, MSNBC, 43, 6 A.M. ]

Olympic Dudes

Well, you gotta say this about the Olympics broadcast put on by the tattered CBS sports department: It’s got charm. Especially when those two dudes, Steve Podborski and Jim Rippey, are doing the play-by-play for the snowboarding competitions. Their banter, which seems to owe something to Keanu Reeves, is a breath of fresh air compared to the slick monotony of Christian Cooper. When Mr. Podborski and Mr. Rippey find themselves having to come up with something to say to fill the dead air, they resort to lines like: “Man, he must have been stoked on that run!” and “I’m having such a great time watching!” Not to mention “Go for it, dude!” These guys will be on tonight during the half-pipe competition. [ Thursday, Feb. 12, WCBS, 2, 8 P.M. ]

Buchwald Gets a Special

On tonight’s edition of Biography , it’s Art Buchwald: The Wit of Washington . “I’m happy with it,” said the syndicated columnist and author, who is now 72. “It explains me, how I was in foster homes and the Marine Corps. My theory is that this is the equivalent of getting on the cover of Time magazine-I’m in very good company. They did a good job. I went along with it. I don’t like to get on the air and talk about Monica and all that stuff, that’s not my bag, but this is nice.” …

Mr. Buchwald has an idea for TV, but no one will listen: “I want to put a name up every 5 to 10 minutes to tell you what you’re watching. Don’t you think that’s a good idea? It’s not gonna cost them anything, and I’ve even gotten my idea to Ted Turner-I told Tom Johnson, who is the head of CNN-but nothing! Everyone says it’s a great idea, I don’t know. It’s like pushing a rock up a hill or something. It’s free and no one’s touching it!” …

Anyway, he doesn’t think much of TV.…

“One of the biggest moments of my life was when I was in Chicago around five or six years ago. I was sitting in the greenroom waiting to go out and plug my book, I’ll Always Have Paris . And it was just me and a lady holding a chimp, just looking at each other. And she asked me to hold the chimp because she wanted to change her …” His voice trailed off. “Another time, I was in Detroit with Tony Kornheiser, and we were buddies and were both going on to plug our books. Then they said we just invaded Grenada and told me I was going to be bumped so they could talk about Grenada, and so I said I was just there and he said, “You were? Come right in,” and I bluffed the whole thing. They asked me what it was like there, and I said it was very nice. That’s the only way to sell books. Kornheiser never got on the air and he never forgave me. ‘You goddamned fraud!’ he said to me. I said when it comes to book plugging, it’s every man for himself.” [ Monday, Feb. 16, A&E, 14, 8 P.M. ]