Wednesday, Feb. 10
Errol Morris, everyone’s favorite tormented documentarian, darling of this year’s Sundance Film Festival with his new film Mr. Death , has a dirty secret. He not only works for Truth and Knowledge, but for Wieden & Kennedy, not to mention Chiat-Day, the two firms that handle the advertising for Miller High Life beer and Levi’s jeans, respectively. Yes, Mr. Morris, the director of Fast, Cheap & Out of Control and The Thin Blue Line , directs TV commercials. He did those Miller High Life spots–stylish takes on the guys-will-be-guys thing and the Levi’s ads with young hipsters sittin’ around talkin’ about their alternative life styles.
Mr. Morris is not about to apologize for what he does on the side. “I like the ads,” he said. “I might have edited some of them differently. But I like doing the commercials. I liked the people I was working with. There’s this myth that people are doing things selflessly. I like to think I have some integrity as filmmaker, but I don’t think it precludes doing advertising. I feel very grateful for it, actually. The pay is good. The budgets are also good, so that you have the ability to have the best imaginary tools.”
What commercials does he like? “When I tell people what I like, they always seem appalled. For instance, I like the Old Navy advertising. Yeah, my son goes around the house singing it. Of course, they work.”
The song immediately popped into NYTV’s head: Old Navy, Old Navy, Old Navy performance fleece!/ Old Navy, Old Navy, Old Navy performance fleece! Yes! With Morgan Fairchild looking hot and the slick happy Euro-dude on the chairlift? All right!
Mr. Morris’ Miller ads are very atmospheric, grainy, all-American and sleazy-lookin’. The filmmaker said he believed in the product. “I do not like Miller Lite,” he said, “but I love Miller High Life. I’ve become a Miller High Life Man.”
He believes the ads, which were aired during sporting events, should have been broadcast late at night, too. “I think they could have gone much wider with it,” he said. “My choice, and, of course, no one asked me, I would have run them on things like S.N.L. and Letterman .”
But isn’t that crowd into Heineken and micro beers?
“But that’s because they haven’t seen my ads yet.”
Mr. Morris said he was proud of the scorn he got for those oh-so-hip Levi’s ads. “I was surprised by the reaction,” he said. “I felt that I had arrived, because I heard these commercials being dissed on NPR. I thought, this is not so bad.”
As for the television, when Mr. Morris watches, it’s with his 11-year-old son: Comedy Central shows like South Park and Dr. Katz , and of course, The Simpsons .
“You know in The Red and the Black , when Julien Sorel would show the fact that he was a culturally sophisticated person by reciting the Bible in Greek?” Mr. Morris said. “Today, you do that by showing your knowledge of The Simpsons .”
Freshen up your Simpsons knowledge tonight on a memorable episode in which Harvey Fierstein plays Homer’s personal assistant. [WNYW, 5, 7 P.M.]
Thursday, Feb. 11
Friends is getting better ratings than Frasier .
Tonight on Frasier : Frasier is confused over whether he’s on a romantic date or a business date with an attractive lady, then ends up not having sex; Niles has a disastrous date and ends up not having sex; in the C plot, Daphne laments having no sex life.
On Friends : Monica and Chandler have sex again, which leads to plenty of farcical situations.
Friends is getting better ratings than Frasier . [WNBC, 4, 8 ( Friends ) and 9 ( Frasier ) P.M.]
Friday, Feb. 12
Did Bobby Valentine, manager of the New York Mets, have anything to do with the team’s giving announcer Tim McCarver the boot on Feb. 3? Mr. McCarver answered this one carefully. “As far as I know,” he told NYTV, “Bobby had no involvement. But I don’t know if we’ll ever know that.”
For his 16 years in the booth, Mr. McCarver made the Mets seem like a legitimate organization, even when the players and executives acted like chumps. He could also explain strategy in such detail that your head would implode. And his entertaining tales of his playing days (stories about Bob Gibson, Bob Uecker and Steve Carlton) and his occasional appreciations of Elvis Presley made uneventful games pass quickly.
Did Mr. McCarver and Mr. Valentine have a problem?
“He showed his discontent with what I said in various ways,” Mr. McCarver said. “Our relationship was not cordial, but it wasn’t a situation where we tried to avoid one another.”
What does this incident mean?
“It’s always said that the written word is the one that carries the most invective. But if this is true about Bobby, and Bobby is so annoyed at me about some of the things I said, maybe it’s not true. Maybe it’s not the written word. Maybe it’s the spoken word by somebody who’s been in the business before. I’m trying to figure this out psychologically. I don’t understand it. But I’m not alone.”
Mr. McCarver was replaced with Mets legend Tom Seaver. Another hero of ’69, Cleon Jones, is the guest on today’s Hot Stove . [Fox Sports, 26, 3 P.M.]
Sorry, men, ladies, TV lovers and fans of governmental investigations: There will be no video of Monica Lewinsky’s sassy Senate deposition.
Natalie Olinger, spokesman for MPI Media Group, which put out The Grand Jury Testimony of William Jefferson Clinton , said there is not enough demand. The Clinton video has sold 170,000 copies so far, but MPI Media Group does not believe Monica would come close to that number.
“At the time, there was a lot of interest shown by law students and universities and libraries,” Ms. Olinger said. “But since then, the public has become so desensitized that we feel there’s no market for a Monica Lewinsky video.”
All you scandal lovers, tune in to Hockenberry on perhaps the last night of the scandal, for one last dose. And if it is the last night of Clintonmania, well, remember what happened to Court TV after the O.J. Simpson trial ended? That’s what’s going to happen to MSNBC. [MSNBC, 43, 10 P.M.]
Saturday, Feb. 13
The President’s a sleaze and all heroes are schmoes. So prepare for the destruction of one more institution–the dolphin!–tonight on NBC. On this National Geographic special, Dolphins: The Wild Side , the beloved sea mammals are shown to be vicious predators, skillful killers with hearts of ice. [WNBC, 4, 8 P.M.]
Sunday, Feb. 14
Snuggle up with your loved one for Striptease , the 1996 comedy starring Demi Moore as the noble G-string girl who must strip … for some reason or other. Look out for Burt Reynolds in Vaseline. [TBS, 8, 6:30 P.M.]
Monday, Feb. 15
The lines between sports, celebrity and commerce get tangled tonight at ESPN’s Espy Awards . Comedian Bill Scheft writes the bits that the athletes and entertainers say before presenting the awards. He used to be a sportswriter. In Albany. Covering hockey. So he became a comic.
“I like writing the patter and the introduction,” he said. “The Espys are a little better than other awards shows, because they don’t want that incessant back and forth. Ideally, they like, if it’s two people, the first person says something and you get the joke from the second person and then you introduce the nominee. We try not to do that bullshit thing where you have to connect the presenter with the award that he or she is presenting. Sometimes it works when it sort of makes fun of itself, but if you have Keri Russell (of Felicity ), you’re not going to say, you know, ‘I play a college freshman who falls in and out of love and in tennis there’s love …’ You save that for the People’s Choice Awards.”
Mr. Scheft swore that the winners will actually be caught by surprise this year–unlike in previous years, when they faked it.
“This year,” he said, “for the first time, the show’s not going to be fixed. In the past, with the Espys, it was like: ‘Terrell, we’d really like you to show up because you’re up for the pro football player of the year.’ ‘Well, I’m a little busy.’ ‘Wait! Did you know you’re winning ?’ ‘All right, I’ll be there.’ This year, from what I understand, it’s really for real.” [ESPN, 28, 8 P.M.]
Tuesday, Feb. 16
Sweeps stunt of the week: The stately A&E network brings us a highly important, gripping documentary called New York Street Sex on tonight’s edition of Inside Story . Includes: strippers, prostitutes. [A&E, 16, 9 P.M.]
Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week
I have to confess I’m a sucker for good visual slapstick, a riotous and difficult art which actually reached its peak on the screen in the era of non-talking pictures, circa 1915 to 1928: the glory days of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Laurel and Hardy, to name only the absolute best. Since sound, there have been terrific isolated moments or scenes in films directed by Frank Capra, Howard Hawks, Leo McCarey, Preston Sturges, Frank Tashlin and Jerry Lewis, among others, not to mention the Warner Brothers cartoons of such slapstick comedy geniuses as Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng. But in more recent years, the most consistently effective practitioner of the form has been Blake Edwards, specifically in his series of Pink Panther movies starring Peter Sellers as the Homerically incompetent and bumbling Inspector Clouseau.
Eventually extending to eight features over 30 years, the first two– The Pink Panther and A Shot in the Dark –both came out in 1964, the second somewhat better than the first because concentrating more on the Sellers character. Eleven years later came the third and best yet, with the slapstick allowed even fuller expression: 1975’s uproariously irreverent joyride, The Return of the Pink Panther [Saturday, Feb. 13, American Movie Channel, 8 P.M. and 2 A.M.; also on videocassette] . This is the one with Christopher Plummer as a retired jewel thief out to prove he didn’t steal the famous Pink Panther diamond, Catherine Schell as his wife sent to seduce Clouseau and breaking up in hilarity instead, and introducing the outrageously conceived Cato (Burt Kwouk), Asian valet to Clouseau (“My little yellow friend”), who violently surprise-attacks his boss whenever possible to test Clouseau’s defensive skills.
Blake Edwards, who before the first two Panthers had had a couple of huge box-office successes (including the wonderful 1961 Audrey Hepburn romance Breakfast at Tiffany’s ) hit a slump with a number of expensive but commercially disappointing films (like his elaborate 1965 slapstick homage The Great Race ), fell into Hollywood disrepute and left for Europe for a while. The Return of the Pink Panther marked not only a return to box-office grace but thereby also a return to power for Edwards who, with a kind of vengeance, made two further Sellers- Panther comedies in a row that were remarkably undiminished in uproariousness: The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) and Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978), both huge commercial winners that gave Edwards the clout to make a script he had written nearly a decade before but couldn’t get financed called 10 (1979) which also went through the roof.
A brilliant and sophisticated comic constructionist, Edwards (who had grown up in a show-business family, his grandfather a silent film director) has a mischievous, marvelously malicious sense of humor, and was most fortunate in his choice of Henry Mancini as composer for all the Panthers , as well as the aforementioned Friz Freleng, who did the actual Pink Panther cartoon work in the features, plus the superb Herbert Lom as Clouseau’s long-suffering boss. Of course, the centerpiece for the Panthers is the utterly inspired satirical buffoonery of Peter Sellers doing the greatest British sendup ever seen of their old adversaries across the Channel. His French accent murdering English and his punctiliousness always out of step, Sellers is perfectly hysterical at every turn. His untimely death in 1980 made the three subsequent Panther attempts misfire. But the panache of The Return is as magnificently funny as ever, the three Panthers of the 70’s being among the most enduring delights of that complicated though rarely amusing decade.