Wednesday, Jan. 13
Mike Wallace, Howard Stern–what’s the difference? There is none. Not really. Not anymore. Everybody confesses everything now, and no topic is out of bounds when the camera light goes on.
All right, let’s back up for a moment. On the night of Jan. 6, 60 Minutes correspondent Leslie Stahl paid a visit to Diane Sawyer on ABC’s 20/20 to plug her new book, Reporting Live. Ms. Stahl more or less told Ms. Sawyer that her devotion to big-time TV journalism made her a rotten wife and mother. Ms. Sawyer mentioned that she once saw Ms. Stahl crying on the phone in the White House press room. And on and on, la-di-da, anything to promote a book, right?
The conversation eventually turned to Ms. Stahl’s husband, Urban Cowboy screenwriter Aaron Latham, and how depressed he was for, oh, about three years in the 80′s. Ms. Stahl was telling Ms. Sawyer about how her colleague Mike Wallace set her straight, instructing her to make sure that she got some help for her husband. At this point in the 20/20 interview, Ms. Sawyer and Ms. Stahl visited Mr. Wallace in his office over at CBS. He was seated behind his desk, looking great as usual. The ladies looked frightened to be in his presence. Ms. Sawyer asked Mr. Wallace to recall the stern advice he had given to Ms. Stahl all those years ago, and he happily obliged, in that million-dollar voice of his: “‘You’ve got to see that he goes!’” Mr. Wallace said, meaning that Mr. Latham go see a psychiatrist. “And he did.”
Then, there was this little nugget of conversation between Ms. Stahl and Mr. Wallace, with America listening in.
Mike Wallace: “Did he start taking antidepressants?”
Lesley Stahl: “Yes.”
Mike Wallace: “And did it ruin your sex life?”
Lesley Stahl: “No.” (Here, Ms. Stahl looked startled–but quickly recalling Mr. Wallace’s own battle with depression and use of antidepressants, she fired back.) “Did it ruin yours?”
Mike Wallace: “For a long time, yes.” (The man said these words with a twinkle, so that his meaning was clear: Those sexual difficulties are all in the past, and the old rascal is back!)
To its credit, 20/20 gave Mr. Latham the last word on Mr. Wallace: “He’s a strange guy,” Mr. Latham said. “But I owe a lot to him. Lesley says he can’t speak at her funeral. You just–you don’t know what he’s going to say!”
Tonight, Mr. Wallace, that octogenarian rogue, is supposed to show up for the debut of 60 Minutes II. (By the way, shouldn’t it be 60 Minutes 2? We’re tempted to call it 60 Minutes the Second, given those Roman numerals–but I guess CBS went with the Roman numerals thinking they’re freakin’ claaaaaaaaaasssy.) The executive producer of 60 Minutes II said the correspondents from the original 60 Minutes will do segments updating their Sunday segments. Mr. Wallace did the District Council 37 union scandal his last time out, on Jan. 10, a story we’ve had enough of by now, although it’s fascinating and all that. All right, so tune in tonight to see how Charlie Rose, Vicki Mabrey and Bob Simon perform after the ticking of the stopwatch. [WCBS, 2, 9 P.M.]
Thursday, Jan. 14
Marv Albert has been quietly making a comeback. First, by hosting MSG’s Sportsdesk program and now by coming out with a Sportsdesk segment, a featured series called “The Peripheral Opponent,” about New York coaches and their relationship to the city. [Madison Square Garden, 32, 10:30 P.M.]
Friday, Jan. 15
Can’t Hardly Wait is billed as a vehicle for Jennifer Love Hewitt. Unfortunately, it’s more of a vehicle for some guy named Ethan Embry, who plays the fellow who thought he could never land the lady, but … hey, you’ll have to pay to view it. It’s on pay-per-view. [Time Warner Home Theater, 60, all day.]
Saturday, Jan. 16
What you’ll get on tonight’s free night of the Movie Channel’s free weekend of movies: My Best Friend’s Wedding (expertly shot, but needs a few more laughs), The Game (not bad, coulda been scarier, saw the ending coming about a half-hour in advance) and U-Turn (Oliver Stone’s grimy energetic B-movie, with Sean Penn goin’ nuts). Not bad! [The Movie Channel, 49, 7 P.M. to 1:30 A.M.]
Sunday, Jan. 17
Garth Ancier, formerly president of entertainment at WB, is now the executive consultant at the station until his contract runs out in February … and he can pursue other jobs … like the one waiting for him at NBC.
“It’s a rather awkward situation,” he said.
“It’s O.K. I have other income. My company still makes The Ricki Lake Show .”
What did you watch when you were growing up?
“My favorite show of all time is The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which I guess is fairly typical for someone of my age. I’m 41.”
Any nice TV memories?
“The lineup that CBS had on Saturday nights when I was a kid. It was All in the Family , M*A*S*H , The Mary Tyler Moore Show , The Bob Newhart Show , leading into The Carol Burnett Show . That’s like your all-time great television night, and you compare that to what you see now on Saturday-night network television today. There’s almost nothing to watch.”
So what’s the problem?
“I don’t really know. The networks’ new shows by and large look so stale. Every so often you’ll have a show that breaks out. To me, it doesn’t make any sense to always do shows that are duplicates of shows that are done before.”
What’s the deal with the WB’s show Zoe, Duncan, Jack & Jane? Why did you change the name from Zoe Bean ?
“We tested the show and we discovered that it was viewed much better as an ensemble, rather than as a show just about Zoe. They said it looked more like Friends.” [WPIX, 11, 9 P.M.]
Monday, Jan. 18
Conrad Bloom is gone. So New York actor Mark Feuerstein is getting new headshots.
“Thankfully,” he said, “I got a job on a big movie, so I’m not feeling as bereft as I did at the moment when I found out that we were shit-canned.”
How did they break the news to you?
“Well, what happened was, we shot the last show on the Tuesday night before Christmas. We were gonna have a break for two weeks and come back and shoot more episodes. But in an effort to wish us a merry Christmas, the NBC executives pulled aside the creator of our show, Marco Pennette, and told him at about 11:30 that night, ‘You guys are not coming back to shoot any more Conrad Blooms.’ Now, Marco didn’t tell us that night, to save us our Christmas vacation. He indulged us in 24 hours free. So I flew back to New York for my father’s birthday, and we’re going out to dinner as a family and I still didn’t know, and then my father pulls the car aside. We had just come from Peter Luger, enjoying a lovely steak dinner for four. We pulled up at 44th and Eighth at a light, and my dad says out of nowhere–I mean, it was a complete non sequitur to what we had been talking about–and he says, ‘Mark, the show’s been canceled.’”
Your dad knew before you?
“He listened to the message in which I would have found out had I listened to my messages when I arrived home, but I didn’t.”
What will replace Conrad Bloom? Ah, just shove Caroline in the City in its slot, see what happens. [WNBC, 4, 8:30 P.M.]
Tuesday, Jan. 19
Richard Grieco starred opposite Johnny Depp in 21 Jump Street. But while Mr. Depp went on to fame and glory, Mr. Grieco never made it. His spinoff Booker was canned after a season. His foray into the motion picture business, with Tomcat: Dangerous Desires, Mutual Needs and Sinbad: The Battle of the Dark Knights, didn’t fare much better. Meanwhile, off screen, Mr. Grieco boozed it up with Mickey Rourke until he ended up in rehab.
“Yeah, I was going through my period of insanity,” Mr. Grieco said. “I’m still insane, I just toned it down a lot. That was back in those days with the Harley, when people were actually riding them. There were about 10 of us riding around. I haven’t talked to him in a long time, though.” Falling out? “A little bit, nothing major. If I saw him on the street right now, I’d go up to him with a big hug and a kiss.”
Now Mr. Grieco is back for another ride on the merry-go-round, starring with Baywatch mama Yasmine Bleeth in a made-for-TV movie called Ultimate Deception.
Is Mr. Grieco proud of those sexy cable pics like Mutual Needs? Not quite.
“I did it as a favor for a friend of mine who was directing it,” he said. “He asked me to do a couple of days on it. And I said, ‘Why?’ and he said, ‘Well, just help me out here, because we need a name to sell it.’ I said, ‘Ah, sure. I don’t care.’ But I’m done doing people favors.” [USA, 23, 9 P.M.]
Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week
In the 50′s, the conventional critical wisdom about Alfred Hitchcock–the centenary of whose birth will be much celebrated this year–was that his best work was done in England in the 30′s, while in truth much of his best work was done in America in the 50′s. That was the decade of such extremely personal, if not especially successful, pictures as I Confess (1953) and Vertigo (1958), as well as such popular vintage achievements as Rear Window (1954) and North by Northwest (1959). The movie that kicked off this amazing cycle, though a substantial hit in its time and certainly among his finest, is for some reason rarely cited as such these days, 1951′s rivetingly suspenseful Strangers on a Train [Sunday, Jan. 17, Cinemax, 29, noon; also on videocassette] . Maybe this is because it’s in black-and-white and boasts no enduring superstar like Cary Grant or James Stewart. Nevertheless, it remains among his most fully realized and unsettling thrillers, with at least three memorably effective sequences and featuring one of the most brilliantly subversive performances in any Hitchcock movie.
Prior to Strangers, Robert Walker had been almost as much identified as the all-American boy next door as Anthony Perkins had before Hitch cast him in Psycho (1960). Walker was an especially personable actor–his most defining role being the young soldier who falls for Judy Garland in Vincente Minnelli’s lovely wartime fable, The Clock (1944)–and Hitchcock here used his indisputable likability and charm to a superbly perverse effect. Indeed, it’s Walker’s charismatic persona, as much as Hitchcock’s camera work and cutting, that makes the central plot device work so well: Two strangers meet by accident on a train, have a couple of drinks, talk about their lives; one (a tennis star, played by Farley Granger) is very unhappily married; the other (a spoiled mama’s-boy neurotic) loathes his father and, half-joking (or is he joking at all?), proposes they swap murders–Walker will kill the wife if Granger will kill the father. Since they cannot be linked to each other, there is no motive and the murders can never be solved.
Adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s novel, this opening sequence is among Hitchcock’s most masterfully done: cross-cutting only between two different pairs of shoes, the director follows each from taxi to train station to train, not revealing who they are until, in the lounge car, one’s shoe accidentally bumps the other’s. Then comes the long, complex duologue which, when Hitchcock described it to his first scenarist on the film, Raymond Chandler (legendary creator of detective Philip Marlowe), completely bewildered him. Chandler felt there was simply no way to impart all the nuances Hitchcock wanted: a joking-not joking proposal, totally unaccepted by one, yet believed to be agreed to by the other, none of it spelled out, all by inference. But Chandler was thinking of the printed word while Hitchcock was seeing it on the screen, where choice of angle, size of image, timing of cuts, intonations and personality of actors each play their role in achieving a result. Upon seeing the finished movie, Chandler had to admit Hitchcock had accomplished everything he had described.
Equally remarkable, in more obviously gripping ways, are the murder at a carnival of the rather sluttish wife (an exceptional performance by Laura Elliott)–the actual strangulation seen only as reflected in the lenses of the victim’s fallen eyeglasses–and the final extended fight between Walker and Granger on an out-of-control merry-go-round, kids and parents screaming as the thing whirls wildly. The daunting complexities of shooting this sequence never get in the way of Hitchcock’s flawless manipulation.
Probably the most Hitchcockian aspect of Strangers on a Train, however, is the chilling ambiguity of the situation–the transference of guilt–a theme the director often explored. After all, Walker’s cold-blooded murder–again made possible and believable through the use of the actor’s intrinsic charm in luring the woman to her doom–does actually free Granger from the terrible dilemma he was in, making it possible for him to marry the rich girl he really loves (a nice job by Ruth Roman). Hitchcock keeps this terrible irony clearly present to the end.
While this was just the beginning of an extraordinary decade for the Master of Suspense, the picture would be the last one Robert Walker completed before his tragic death from a heart attack at age 33, the same year as its release. The troubled, gifted actor–he had had drinking problems and a mental breakdown–was filming Leo McCarey’s My Son John (1952), and McCarey had to borrow some of Hitchcock’s footage to finish his movie.