Cybill Shepherd, Woman Warrior, Blasts CBS … A ‘Passionate Ambivalence’ to Barbie on PBS

Wednesday, July 8

Delta Burke talks about how she went from being the youngest Miss Florida (“It seems absurd to me now. There was nothing strange to me about the fact that I would zip around on the freeways with the big poofy hair and the makeup and a crown on my head and a banner … I look back on my 20′s and I see footage of me and go, ‘My God, I was a goddess.’ I was stunning and I didn’t have a clue. Why didn’t I see that?”) to Designing Women star to self-respecting clothing designer on Delta Burke Celebrity Profile . [E!, 24, 8 P.M.]

A cute ABC ad campaign–”cute” as in “we hate it”–is urging viewers to tune in for this summer’s Dharma & Greg repeats, counting on the audience’s affection for Dharma herself. But not everyone is buying her act. Maybe that hyper-articulate cultural critic Camille Paglia put it best, between sighs and moans, in an interview with NYTV: “Dharma! Aaaaaah! That Dharma! The character! Oh, my God! I just, oh my, I just, aaahhh! I just, aaahhhh! Smarmy! I cannot stand smarmy, you know, girls. I cannot stand smarmy girliness! I’ll say that about her.” [WABC, 7, 8:30 P.M.]

Thursday, July 9

Biography has a lovely subject tonight: Myrna Loy, who was so breezy and naughty in the zany prewar Thin Man series and so solid in the somber, sentimental classic The Best Years of Our Lives immediately after the war. Franklin Roosevelt’s favorite actress, and who could blame him? [A&E, 14, 8 P.M.]

At one point, President Bill Clinton said he wanted to have more dialogue on race. So PBS obliges, with an hourlong program called Presidential Dialogue on Race , moderated by the mild Jim Lehrer. As for that topic people would really like to see him talk about–call it a Presidential Dialogue on Foolin’ Around–we’ll probably have to wait for an intimately lit interview with Katie Couric sometime in 2007, timed to the publication of a carefully worded memoir. [WNET, 13, 10 P.M.]

Friday, July 10

Jaleel White, now studying film at University of California in Los Angeles, begins putting Steve Urkel to rest tonight in part 1 of the two-part Family Matters finale. Family Matters wasn’t doing so hot in its first season until Steve Urkel, supernerd, made his first appearance in the 12th episode. ABC rode his popularity for eight seasons; then CBS president Les Moonves lured Family Matters to his network for season No. 9. A dumb move. Mr. White had outgrown the role and America was no longer crazy for Urkel. The show’s writers are giving him a nice send-off, anyway–he wins the girl next door, who always hated him, and gets to ride on a rocket. [WCBS, 2, 9 P.M.]

Late Night With Conan O’Brien is going so well right now that it doesn’t really need good guests–they just get in the way of the comedy bits. But there’s an excellent lineup tonight: Chris Rock goes first, and it ends with Lucinda Williams. Just so you know you’re watching a dumb ol’ talk show, Judith Martin (Miss Manners) is also scheduled. [WNBC, 4, 12:35 A.M.]

Saturday, July 11

You and your TV are happy tonight: Beastie Boys Videography ! Two hours of dope videos and documentary stuff to promote the soon-to-be-released, 30-months-in-the-making record from the rude boys turned Zen masters. [MTV, 20, 8 P.M.]

Sunday, July 12

Tonight’s episode of Perspectives is for people who don’t get the whole Marilyn Manson-as-prophet thing. Or for people whose kids have gone Goth and stopped talking to them. It’s called “Dark Religions” and it’s a documentary about teenagers who get into witchcraft and vampirism and satanism. Not your typical CNN snooze-athon, this is the first original series for the network to buy and air. Documentary filmmaker Sammy-Leigh Webster-Woog, who shot 50 hours on a small-format digital camera, understands if the topic sounds tabloidy–but now that it’s finished, he’s proud.…

“This was a chance to get beyond the hype and hear real stories from kids who, for whatever reason, were alienated, weren’t finding guidance and were looking for guidance and support,” he said. “Without getting too hypey, I think there is a trend of kids searching for some sort of alternative spirituality and alternative guidance and choosing some scary symbolism to do that with. Teenagers see the hypocrisy, and so people like Marilyn Manson who point it out are sympathetic.” Warning signs? “Not to say they’re all screw-ups, but a lot of the people I was dealing with did have significant family problems: divorces, abusive relationships, suicide attempts and substance abuse … If you really step back and take a full hour to really try and get into these people’s heads, you can see how they’re not so different from your children or from yourself.” [CNN, 10, 8 P.M.]

Monday, July 13

After four years of wishy-washy network treatment, Cybill comes to an end. But that doesn’t mean its star and producer is going out with a whimper.…

Cybill Shepherd, the perfect eat-your-heart-out American beauty in The Last Picture Show , The Heartbreak Kid and Taxi Driver , now 48, is worried that there are no women her age on TV anymore. “It seems like they’re getting rid of powerful women–they got rid of Dr. Quinn, Brett Butler, Ellen, Murphy,” she said. “It’s a complicated situation, but it didn’t help to have the show move as often as it did.” Or to be yanked off the air for November, February and May sweeps, we might add.…

Ms. Shepherd explained that the network doesn’t know what to do with “borderline” shows. For example, her publicity disappeared in the last year. “It’s just a raucous show, it’s a sexual show about women of a certain age,” she said. ” Cybill has a radical feminist story line, but for some reason there’s been no mention of it as a radical feminist show. I’ll tell you something–it’s ironic that I’m on the cover of People for the first time in 10 years, but not to talk about the show we did on menopause three years ago. They didn’t want to talk about the show! We had a quiet revolution going.” Sometimes quieter than they wanted.…

“We did an episode in which we used the words labia and vagina, and when the episode ran, it got high ratings, but they said, Never say that word again! Then, when I was doing the menopause episode we heard, not from Standards and Practices, but from the CBS executives, that we were not allowed to refer to any women’s body parts or cycles except as ‘women’s cycles.’ We had to change a cervix joke. We couldn’t say menstruation! They wanted us to play it safer. My show was very sex-positive for women in their 40′s. I don’t know if you know this, but something really wonderful can happen in your 40′s, maybe it’s happening earlier now.… But the message was delivered, and they said I couldn’t say menstruation or period, although I fought for period. With my show, it became more difficult … I can’t understand why a conversation about something that happens to every single woman alive is a problem. I know that our silence is not going to protect us. You can say penis as much as you want, but you can’t say vagina. It’s one of the ways people keep us down. If we name things, we give them power. A strong woman is a scary thing. I’m proud of what we did. I feel very grateful for the 87 episodes. I would like to have another year or two. I would like to be that rich … I feel guilty that I didn’t win an Emmy because maybe then we would have gotten another year or two … On some level, I got away with murder. I think it’s a good show and at the center is a great, strong, affectionate friendship between two women. And how often do you see that?” [WCBS, 2, 9:30 P.M.]

Tuesday, July 14

P.O.V. has been airing a series of independent nonfiction films worth watching–11 documentaries by 11 different filmmakers. They’re broad and edgy, as far away from corporate TV as you can get. This week, see a labor of love from first-time filmmaker and former journalist Susan Stern. It’s called Barbie Nation: An Unauthorized Tour , and she felt compelled to make it when her daughter asked her to play a game she had made up called “jealous Barbie.” …

Ms. Stern said it wasn’t until the final editing that she figured out what the movie was about. She said part of the Barbie story became a coming-out story concerning gay men’s interest in the doll: “They weren’t allowed to play with Barbies as children, and their ability to play as adult men becomes a story of pride.” Her subject is still something of a puzzle to Ms. Stern: “People thought I had to say whether Barbie was good or bad, and I couldn’t decide and I struggled with it a lot. My general feeling is that it’s not a good thing to try to protect children from pieces of pop culture.… I finally decided my feeling was one of passionate ambivalence.” [WNET, 13, 10 P.M.]

Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week

If you haven’t seen Cary Grant, Jean Arthur and Rita Hayworth in Howard Hawks’ romantic and exciting 1939 South American flying drama, Only Angels Have Wings [Friday, July 10, Cinemax, 29, 6:30 A.M.; also available on videocassette] , you have not experienced one of the most vibrant, resonant and deeply entertaining movies ever made. It was the picture that took Grant from light-comedy star into the front ranks of leading men, the first successful dramatic film in which he got the girl, or rather, since it’s Hawks, the girl got him. Grant impersonators always used to do him saying, “Ju-dy, Ju-dy, Ju-dy,” which he actually never said in a film, but they got it from this movie: Rita Hayworth’s character is named Judith, and Cary’s typical pronunciation turns this into “Ju-dith.” The picture also made Hayworth a star.

It is Hawks’ first fully realized, extremely personal adventure story in what would come to be called the Hawksian tradition, a line traceable directly to his 1944 To Have and Have Not with Humphrey Bogart and his 1959 Rio Bravo with John Wayne. Indeed, Grant, Bogart and Wayne in those three films seem to be Hawks’ incarnations of a very similar guy at three very different ages, at his youngest and most vulnerable in Only Angels Have Wings , a poetically ambiguous title never explained or even alluded to in the film.

Set in a small seaport called Barrancas, the story by Hawks–one of the only times he took a writing credit–revolves around a group of fliers at a tiny air transport company, flying mail and sometimes dangerous cargo through unpredictable weather over a hazardous mountain range. Grant runs the company for its owner, the Dutchman (well played by Sig Rumann), and his best friend is an aging aviator he calls Kid (a beautiful performance by Thomas Mitchell), while the love interest becomes a chorus girl who just happened to get off a boat for a look-see–not unlike the Lauren Bacall character in To Have and Have Not . She’s played nicely here by that perennial good girl Jean Arthur, who resisted Hawks’ attempts to make her sexually more provocative, and so the kind of tense antagonism he was to achieve with Ms. Bacall, or with Angie Dickinson in the same basic role in Rio Bravo , is not there. It exists far more vividly with Rita Hayworth, who turns out to have been Grant’s nemesis a few years back: She left him because she couldn’t handle living with his outrageously dangerous profession. In typical Hawks fashion, she ended up with another flier, touchingly played by the popular silent star Richard Barthelmess, who had been the lead in Hawks’ first successful flying movie, The Dawn Patrol (1930; remade eight years later with a lot of Hawks footage and Errol Flynn). Barthelmess here plays a guy who had a terrible moment of cowardice, which caused his co-pilot’s death.

When questioned on the inspiration for his characters in Only Angels , Hawks would say they were all based on people he had met or heard about in his own flying days–he used to build and fly airplanes as a youngster–and this contributes to the movie’s strong sense of reality as well as to its richly personal quality, the dark aura of fatalism that hangs over it. Hawks’ beloved younger brother, Kenneth Hawks (a promising director himself), had been killed in a flying accident a decade earlier. All the air sequences, therefore, have a most convincing intensity, a pervasive sense of the director’s firsthand knowledge and passion for the profession, keenly felt as well in The Dawn Patrol and his two other exceptional flying pictures, Ceiling Zero (1935) and Air Force (1943).

The fast-paced, overlapping, offhand delivery of the lines, the moody, fog-enshrouded atmosphere, the oblique approach to the most dramatic moments, the almost religious ignoring of danger and death, are all quintessentially Hawksian qualities, and this is one of his masterworks. It’s also among my favorite movies, and I enjoy returning to its company far more often than to any of the other more famous releases from that same banner year, such as that old blockbuster, Gone With the Wind .

Another, extremely different (and previously recommended highly) Hawks-Grant collaboration of a decade later is on, too: their popular, though underrated, hilariously funny dark comedy from 1949, I Was a Male War Bride [Wednesday, July 8, AMC, 54, midnight; also on videocasssette] , in which the bureaucratic world has become so loony that Grant finally has to dress in drag in order to bed Ann Sheridan.