Wednesday, July 15
Every week, a hidden camera in a second-floor window on a beautiful-people street in SoHo tapes women walking by for a cable-access show called Knit Bootie . It’s compelling television. Somebody splices together the most attractive specimens, creating narrative from nothing. It’s the purest form of TV; the creator simply brings outside inside, hangs a frame on it and turns one story into two: You watch to look at the people, even though you can get the same experience looking out your window. But you also watch so you can scratch your head and think, Who’s making this? Why am I watching this? Where’s that chick’s going? I wonder if she has a boyfriend? [Manhattan Neighborhood Network, 16, midnight.]
Thursday, July 16
There’s a rumor that Brian Unger, a correspondent at The Daily Show , will replace pretty-boy Craig Kilborn as host when he leaves for his own show. Which would be good. Before joining Comedy Central two years ago, Mr. Unger was a producer at Eye to Eye With Connie Chung at CBS, a job where, he said, there was “not a lot of opportunity to go all the way to the edge.” How does he get to the edge at The Daily Show ? By “rebelling against hero culture” and “focusing on ordinary people who live mundane lives and do insignificant things because they deserve their 15 minutes, too.” Like the guy in Florida who wants to be Tom Arnold’s body double ….
But he’s got two strikes against him so far: He is tall and dark instead of frat-boy blond, and he is a buddy and sitcom-writing partner of Kilborn-nemesis Lizz Winstead. “I watch Rivera Live a lot,” said Mr. Unger. “I just dig the whole show, it’s like a circus. Unedited chaos. I watch Magic Johnson religiously. He is the grin that stole late-night. Rarely have you seen a train wreck within a train wreck. I also like the local news. I love WCBS’s virtual set, I feel like I’m watching a video game. I like Chuck and Sue for their rapport, I like Chopper Seven ’cause … they’re always telling us that every bridge in Manhattan is backed up.” …
So would you take the job? “I would. We are bumping up against the wall a little bit with the way the show is structured now … but I think that, on a personal note, it’s like having a crush on a girl who’s not going to go with you to the dance.” [Comedy Central, 45, 11 P.M.]
Friday, July 17
Thirty-year-old chef Bobby Flay (Mesa Grill, Bolo) was getting lonely doing one-man food shows, so he found himself a sidekick (comedienne Jacqui Malouf) and created a show called Hot Off the Grill With Bobby Flay . “You have to find yourself on camera,” said the native New Yorker. (Turns out Emeril Lagasse’s loudmouth TV persona is fake! “He’s actually really sweet and soft-spoken,” said Mr. Flay.) “In The Main Ingredient , I was really hyper, but now what you see is really Bobby Flay,” said the redhead from the Mesa Grill kitchen…
The show is the first cooking show to depart from the no-frills kitchen setting. Name-brand guests sip expensive drinks in an al fresco kitchen and carry on playful conversations with Bobby (Bo) and Jacqui (who’s hoping the show turns into “the Conan of food”). They cook. May sound contrived, like aerobics shows at the beach, but watching Bobby Flay cook is fun–rapid-fire, graceful, with the economy of movement of a good cabdriver, or the cart guy who gets your coffee in three swift moves…
In general, Bobby Flay attributes his success to this fact: He knows “how to feed New Yorkers.” “When you walk into our restaurants, we want your blood pressure to go up a little,” he said. “People want to be excited, they want big-flavored food, it’s got to be an event.” His dream guest, James Carville, has already been on. “I think he kicks ass. He’s a total foodie; I was nervous before he came on. We dig each other. We made soft-shell crab sandwiches.”…
If you had a week to eat in Manhattan where would you go? “I think the best food is in New York: Daniel; Jean Georges; J.G. Melon for a cheeseburger without a doubt; Felidia, the greatest Italian food in New York; Il Buco; Peter Luger; and Nobu. I think the greatest meal in New York is at Nobu. I just think it’s so good. Drink that cold, frozen sake and let them cook.” Bobby, what’s with all the food shows? “Food has become important in this country in the last 10 years. In the 80’s it was like everyone was doing all these drugs, and now we’re spending our money drinking martinis and eating good food.” Today: Korean-style marinated skirt steak for Bobby’s guest, drummer Max Weinberg. [Food Network, 50, 1 A.M.]
Saturday, July 18
When Gabé Doppelt, VH1’s creative director for fashion, called up Unzipped director Douglas Keeve and asked him to direct a movie about Naomi Campbell, he was a little skeptical. “I never worked for television so I imagined the worst,” said the 40-year-old former fashion editor. “I imagined something plodding and not terribly intelligent.”…
But guess what? He was able to “make a film about someone who turned out to be mesmerizing,” said Mr. Keeve. “She’s pretty captivating. It’s incredibly fast-paced. My style is fly-by, especially with documentary, and I get bored very quickly.” The film revolves around Naomi’s trip to South Africa, where she produced and hosted a fashion show to benefit Nelson Mandela’s children’s charity….
“When you combine the incredible world that she lives in and the incredible things, both disastrous and fabulous, that happen to her, I have to say I think, for television, it’s as good as it gets,” said Mr. Keeve. How good? “Well, the amazing thing is that in most people’s lives, something incredible happens like once a year and with Naomi … one day it’s a fistfight on the airplane, the next a millionaire kid is buying her jewelry, the next she’s supposed to be in a fashion show but has diarrhea and can’t get off the toilet. You can do a documentary in five days that for most people would take a year.” [VH1, 19, 10 P.M.]
Sunday, July 19
Madeline marathon. Three hours of the animated version of Ludwig Bemelmans’ schoolgirl. If they’d only do a cartoon that took place in the Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle: “Once there was a little weenie/ Who could drink a very big martini/ He was your basic novelist manqué/ Who liked to get stinko in his ‘banquet’…” [Disney Channel, 33, 10 A.M.]
Another E! True Hollywood Story to make you question how you spend your time. Everything you probably didn’t need to know about One Day at a Time star Mackenzie Phillips, the less-cute sister who was eventually fired for a drug and alcohol addiction that lasted 20 years. “We had the run of the rock-and-roll world,” said Ms. Phillips of her 70’s life. “You know, we went everywhere in helicopters and limousines and some Lear jets.” Things are different now: “I would like to have a nice, quiet life. I don’t want to go to parties and meet stars. I just want to work in my chosen profession, stay sober and be somebody’s mom. Simple.” [E!, 24, 8 P.M.]
Monday, July 20
After The Cosby Show ended in 1992, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, who played Theodore Huxtable, moved out to Los Angeles, starred in a short-lived sitcom called Here and Now , started directing for television (mostly for Nickelodeon) and got another sitcom, Malcolm & Eddie , one of the few asked back for next year. In his spare time, the 27-year-old has a spoken-word band and a jazz funk band and writes poetry. He read this one, “She Excites Me”:
Am I too old,
To sometimes simply lose control?
Cause I just want to drop to my knees and
plead with her to abuse my soul
She makes me want to cry just to see if the
tears come cause I envision her
tongue tasting each drop one by one …
NYTV asked Mr. Warner the following: Do you think The Magic Hour is trying to appeal to too broad an audience? …
“That in itself is a difficult call,” he said. “Arsenio did not initially go for an urban audience, there just wasn’t anything else exciting in late-night television. But then the audience broadened, and now you have rappers and urban artists who are finally getting late-night airplay that weren’t getting airplay on Letterman or Carson . Arsenio expanded that audience … To say we’re going to have a black late-night talk show, I think, just from a business perspective, isn’t smart. If you look at the numbers and numbers of late-night talk shows, period, it would be pretty difficult to sustain a late-night talk show only geared to one audience. But even if Arsenio came back today, he wouldn’t have the same numbers as he had before.” …
How long are they going to give it?…
“I think Fox has a lot of hopes for the show, and, quite honestly, what else is there? So they’re going to give it some time to let it find its way … Part of the problem with African-American sitcoms is they have such a limited vision on how we can be funny. Almost every African-American sitcom, with the exception of Cosby and Family Matters , tends to perpetuate the same stereotypes. There were only two in the history of TV where you had characters who were clearly black but did not have to act black. It didn’t have to be “Yo, yo, yo” or “Your momma” or shucking and jiving…
“There are not a lot of people of color in strong executive positions in television. For anyone who has a goal of expanding that vision, there is a lot of muck to have to get through. Sometimes you have to re-educate a network, a studio, or even fellow actors, because we’ve only seen being funny in certain situations.” Tonight: The guys’ feud threatens to end their friendship. [WWOR, 9, 8:30 P.M.]
Tuesday, July 21
You know you’re in the middle of summer when the networks air Christmas-themed repeats to practically taunt you for watching TV. On a repeat Soul Man , a suicidal elf tries to jump from a church steeple, and on Spin City , the gang tries to restore a little boy’s belief in Santa. [WABC, 7, 8:30 and 9 P.M.]
Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week
John Ford always used to say that he tried to alternate his pictures by doing “one for them” and then “one for myself,” meaning he would accept an assignment to satisfy the studios and the box office, and this would often enable him to get the backing for his more risky, personal projects. Ironically, sometimes the ones “for them” have endured as well, if not better, than the others because of that intriguingly complicated tension between material and a director’s way of handling it, an aspect of film which was among the most basic tenets of the French politique des auteurs , and is also one of the most difficult things to see in, and to convey about, a movie. A good example from Ford’s work is his evocative, though largely forgotten, 1953 African love story starring Clark Gable, Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly as the extremely potent sides of a triangle in Mogambo [Sunday, July 19, Turner Classic Movies, 82, 6 P.M.; also on videocassette] .
It was, in fact, a remake: Gable himself had played the same role opposite Jean Harlow (doing Gardner’s part) two decades earlier in one of his first big successes (also still a pretty fair picture), Red Dust (1932), directed by Victor Fleming. But Fleming was a competent though impersonal director, very dependent for quality on his script and cast, while Ford is among the precious few U.S. directors who could be called a poet. Orson Welles called him “a poet and comedian,” and both qualities are apparent in the gloriously color-photographed Mogambo –an uninspired title with no known meaning: Legend has it the producer made up the name as a variant on his favorite nightclub, the Mocambo.
Gable plays an aging big-game hunter who basically makes his living by taking tourists on safaris. Kelly is the repressed, frustrated, spoiled and slightly hysterical wife of a pleasant young British anthropologist who hires Gable’s services while Kelly yearns for his services elsewhere. Gardner is a worldly-wise showgirl who happens to get stranded at Gable’s place and, after an antagonistic beginning, allows herself an affair with him, only to become humiliated when he takes up with Kelly. Ford’s unusual treatment of all this is what gives the picture its distinction–that, combined with the three actors’ excellent performances and their individual star personas. Gable lets himself be more unbuttoned than usual, more reckless, a consummate cocksman, often a heel. Kelly, in her last non-starring picture and her best work for anyone other than the three Hitchcocks that followed, was nominated by the Academy for best supporting actress. Rumor has it that she and Gable had an affair during the shooting, and their love scenes certainly don’t disprove it. Gardner, whom then-husband Frank Sinatra was visiting through some of the filming, was nominated as best actress for unquestionably her finest job in any movie; she’s just brilliant in it.
Of course, Ford slants the film totally in Gardner’s favor, making her not only the most sympathetic character but, in one sequence after another, things are subtly shown from her perspective, and she receives the most loving close-ups. Ford clearly adored her. In Gardner’s first scene, the meeting between her and Gable, notice how Ford shoots her in the closer angle so that we are unconsciously seeing Gable from her point of view, and therefore identifying more with her than with him. This is typical of Ford’s empathy with the underdog: Remember his treatment of Claire Trevor’s “fallen woman” in Stagecoach (1939) or even Linda Darnell’s misguided spitfire as she died in My Darling Clementine (1946).
It was Ford’s idea not to use a score for Mogambo , the only music being African tribal rhythms he recorded on location. His way of playing certain scenes without a cut or not going to a reaction shot when you most expect it, his expressive choice of where to put the camera and therefore the emphasis–all these give the work a personal intensity, a dynamic quite apart from the script or the actors, which used to be what direction was all about. Speaking of influences in the movies, Howard Hawks once admitted to me that, “It’s hard to make a picture without thinking of Jack Ford.” Just watching Ford do his thing on Mogambo becomes a valuable lesson in the reasons why Hawks said that.