Billy Crystal Noodges His Way to Daily Show Special

Wednesday, March 10

From Feb. 3 through March 5, the networks were doing anything they

could to get your attention–Monica and Barbara sat around and talked

on an ABC stage set; Martin Short acted nuts as the Mad Hatter; Hitler was

on the History Channel and sharks were in the waters of the Discovery

Channel; ABC even aired consecutive new episodes of NYPD Blue . But

now, nothing. Shows that were fresh in the fall–like the Dharma

& Greg episode featuring Floyd (Red Crow) Westerman, the

lachrymose Native American of the 70′s anti-litter ad–are served

up as TV leftovers now. [WABC, 7, 8 P.M.]

Even public television doesn’t care about you now: Tonight at 11:30

P.M., in the guise of “empowering television for viewers like

you,” Channel 13 broadcasts an infomercial-like pep talk full of

psychobabble called Suze Orman: The Courage to Be Rich .

It’s a repeat, no less. [WNET, 13, 11:30 P.M.]

Thursday, March 11

y Call it improvisational programming. Billy Crystal went by The

Daily Show last week to plug his new movie, Analyze This . Host

Jon Stewart spoke to him for four minutes, the standard interview length

for the show, and then thanked him for coming by. But Mr. Crystal refused

to leave. Don’t you people want more of me? he said–and

the audience cheered him on.

So Mr. Stewart kept going. And every time he tried to go to a

commercial, Mr. Crystal jumped in with another bit. The host finally

succeeded in taking a break only after rolling tape for 14 minutes.

The show’s producer, Madeleine Smithberg, and Eileen Katz, Comedy

Central’s vice president of programming, conferred: If they had only

eight more minutes, they would have a separate half-hour special. Mr.

Crystal agreed. And now, with The Daily Show With Jon Stewart

Interview Special: Billy Crystal , cable viewers can learn even more

about Mr. Crystal and his hit movie. Thank you, Comedy Central. [Comedy

Central, 45, 10:30 P.M.]

The exhibitionist dating show Change of Heart is proving

to be a syndicated success; it’s given WPIX its highest numbers for

the 1 A.M. time period in more than a decade, and its rating among women

aged 18 to 34 is up 146 percent from the same slot in November.

The show takes a real couple and screws with their minds by matching up

each person up with a date who is different from their usual partner. (Call

it Eyes Wide Shut , the TV show.) Then all four people join together

to share their experiences (and insult each other) for the camera. After

that, the original couple decides if they want to stay together or break

up. It’s both embarrassing and engrossing, and everyone who watches

has the same question: Who are these people? Why would anyone risk

being dumped on national television?

Many viewers assume the couples are actors, and that’s usually

correct. But that doesn’t mean the show is faked; Change of

Heart is taped in Los Angeles, so wannabe stars are always looking for

TV time, even if they’re playing themselves. According to executive

producer Scott St. John, guest coordinators for the

show–”professional party people”–hit the clubs every

night, along with swing dance classes and movie premieres, to recruit folks

for the show, both couples and singles.

Mr. St. John said participants are paid a standard game-show fee of

$200. “Honestly, the majority of couples have been dating for about

five months,” he said. “They’re not going to go to a

marriage counselor or professional help. With us, the bets are off for one

night, and you can see what it’s like to date someone else.”

About half the couples end up staying together. Occasionally, only one

person wants to stay together. That scenario, of course, makes for the best

TV. [WPIX, 11, 1 A.M.]

Friday, March 12

Sweeps are over and your network is not getting out of sixth place

any time soon. Quick–what’s the next move? Do you: (a) show

reruns of programs that nobody watched the first time; (b) spend 50 grand

or so for some old Tom Cruise movie like, maybe, All the Right Moves

or Cocktail ; (c) get people from all over the country to send in

videos of their pets and slap some dumb title on it–oh, I don’t

know, you could call it America’s Greatest Pets –and

let it run for a hour of cheap TV? If you chose (c), you have the makings

of a UPN executive. [WWOR, 9, 8 P.M.]

Saturday, March 13

Even public television doesn’t care about you now: Tonight at 8

P.M., under the guise of “cultural diversity,” WNET yet again

turns to that mad Irishman, Michael Flatley–and this time he’s

got 84 dancers with him in a “dancing adventure” called

Feet of Flames . Mr. Flatley, as the Lord of the Dance,

dance-fights the Dark Lord (Daire Nolan). Some are calling it “the

dance of the decade.” We call it crap! [WNET, 13, 8 P.M.]

Sunday, March 14

For parents of small, screaming children, there will be household

tranquillity on a Sunday night, made possible by a special 7:30 P.M.

episode of Blue’s Clues (“Blue’s Big Treasure

Hunt”). With host Steven Burn (who’s exactly between Mister

Rogers and Pee-wee Herman) and guests Rue McClanahan, Carol Kane and

Gregory Hines. [Nickelodeon, 6, 7:30 P.M.]

Some shows are declared hits even before they go on the air. Remember

Felicity ? There was a lot of hype, including an Entertainment

Weekly cover, and then … and then the show came out. It turned out

to be all right–kind of like a slightly sexier version of

Relativity –and now it regularly finishes fifth in its time

slot. (Remember Relativity , by the way? It was a stately hourlong

“romantic drama” on ABC that was a hit among critics for its

brief run during the ’96-’97 season.) Anyway, now the hype’s

rolling for Futurama , the soon-to-debut cartoon from Simpsons

creator Matt Groening and Simpsons executive producer David

Cohen.

Despite the pedigree, Futurama could be a flop. But that

hasn’t stopped devotional Web sites from sprouting up all over the

Internet. They have names like “Futurama-Rama” and

“Futurama: A Kick-ass Page for a Kick-ass Show.” There are even

Futurama Web sites that keep track of the other Futurama Web

sites. In addition, the launch of Futurama is getting coverage in

publications that don’t usually cover TV: Wired (those techies

love The Simpsons ) and Mother Jones (Mr. Groening’s a

lefty).

It’s nice to get the word out, but hype comes with its price.

“No matter what show we put on the air, we’re fully expecting

reviews along the lines of ‘It’s fine, but it’s no

Simpsons ,’” Mr. Cohen said.

Soon after The Simpsons debuted in 1990, there seemed to be Bart

Simpson merchandise on every street corner. Fox’s licensing and

merchandise division plans to start selling Futurama junk this fall

as part of the effort to make Rupert Murdoch even richer.

Mr. Cohen is already toying with potential catch phrases along the lines

of Bart Simpson’s “Don’t have a cow, man!” One

character on the show is Bender, a chain-smoking, pornography-loving robot.

His first line on Futurama sounds T-shirt-ready: “Bite my shiny

metal ass!” Tonight on the Simpsons repeat: Homer drops

out of society, becomes a hippie. [WNYW, 5, 8 P.M.]

Monday, March 15

For all the strides women have made in the television industry, a

gross imbalance remains: genitals. Cable television loves female nudity,

but generally shies away from the male organ. Tonight, though, HBO presents

more information about and images of the penis than you ever wanted to

see, “Private Dicks: Men Exposed,” on America

Undercover . It sounds like the bad idea of a freshman sociology

major: Collect a diverse group of men to sit naked in a studio and talk

about their penises. The experiment works, though, because of the honesty

of the subjects: a 57-year-old musician who proudly admits to his two-inch

erection; a porno actor; an ad director, paralyzed from mid-torso down; a

retired professor who contracted syphilis and gonorrhea during World War

II; a transsexual; a gay man with a generously sized package; three

immature frat boys. They talk frankly about sex and sexuality, virility and

mortality. “I was amazed,” said co-director Meema Spadola.

“I had never heard men talk that way before.”

Ms. Spadola, 29, found her subjects by distributing questionnaires in

bars and doctors’ offices with queries like “Describe your

relationship with your penis (e.g., sidekick, friend, enemy, simple body

part).” When she taped her subjects, she found some of their

stereotypical male responses shocking. “They weren’t

soft-pedaling reality,” she said. “Some of them said sex is

‘about the pound’–about being aggressive and getting off,

and not about the emotional connection or valuing the person you’re

with. It wasn’t comfortable to hear.”

HBO, she said, fully supported her decision to show penises. “If

you make a documentary about trains, you want to see the trains you’re

talking about.” But erections were verboten . “I don’t

think it’s legal,” Ms. Spadola said. “But it’s not an

issue for us. I didn’t want to have a segment where guys jerk off for

us, either.”

In addition to the penis video, Ms. Spadola’s main documentary

credit is a similarly themed video called Breasts. What’s next?

Assholes ? “I’m off body parts,” said Ms. Spadola, who

will next be making a documentary about the children of gay and lesbian

parents. [HBO, 32, 11 P.M.]

Tuesday, March 16

Tonight’s Spin City is not a repeat. There must

be a catch, right? On tonight’s episode, the staff grumbles over

having to work on “Oscar Sunday”–and guess which network

will be airing the Oscars on Sunday, March 21. ABC! And guess who owns the

movie that was nominated 13 times. That’s right, Disney-ABC. The

scoundrels. [WABC, 7, 9 P.M.]

Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week

With the meaning of celebrity becoming ever more ambiguous, and Andy

Warhol’s notorious prediction coming true that eventually everybody

will be famous for 15 minutes, the touchingly delightful 1954 George

Cukor-Garson Kanin-Judy Holliday-Jack Lemmon satirical New York comedy

about fame, It Should Happen to You [Sunday, March 14,

Turner Classic Movies,

82, 1:30 P.M.; also on videocassette], now

seems not only still most relevant but also absolutely prescient. Kanin,

who wrote the original screenplay, initially called the picture (far more

appropriately) A Name for Herself , but the studio thought it could

do better and didn’t. Jack Lemmon, whose beguiling debut in pictures

this was, has always blamed the movie’s lackluster box office on its

meaninglessly general title.

The plot is that a slightly askew young woman known as Gladys

Glover–beautifully incarnated by the wondrous Judy Holliday–wants

to make a “name for herself” so she buys a huge billboard at the

old (pre-Coliseum) Columbus Circle and has her name printed on it in

gigantic letters: “Gladys Glover,” and that’s all. The loony

idea, which her would-be boyfriend–a young, idealistic documentary

filmmaker played with heartwarming innocence by Mr. Lemmon–thinks is

awful, works ! People want to find out who Gladys Glover is, and

pretty soon she’s famous as “the woman who put her name on a sign

at Columbus Circle.” Among the hazards of notoriety that come her way

is an ace lothario businessman, perfectly cast with Peter Lawford in

probably his best performance. Eventually, Gladys comes to understand that

fame by itself without real achievement (and sometimes even with it) is

hollow, meaningless: a message for the 90′s!

Although Judy Holliday, the most original screen comedienne since Carole

Lombard, was to make only four other films before her tragic death from

cancer in 1965 at age 43, It Should Happen to You was the last

thoroughly satisfying one. Her swan song, the Betty Comden-Adolph

Green-Jule Styne musical Bells Are Ringing (1960), directed by

Vincente Minnelli, was likable and remains fun, but she and the show were

far better on stage, there being a strain to parts of the movie, which

there never is to It Should . Nor, indeed, to any of the other three

comedy classics she did with director George Cukor, each written by Garson

Kanin–two co-written with his brilliant wife, Ruth Gordon:

Adam’s Rib (1949), in which Judy almost stole the picture from

Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy; Born Yesterday (1950), the

movie version of her breakout stage success as Billie Dawn which won her

the Oscar for best actress over Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard ;

and the little-known gem The Marrying Kind (1952), an often

dramatic, deeply human look at a working-class marriage, introducing Aldo

Ray in a superbly artless performance. The chemistry between him and

Holliday is as affecting as that between her and Mr. Lemmon in It

Should , in which the complex charm emanating from them

throughout–and especially in their lovely improvisational scene

singing at the piano–is rare and memorable.

But then Cukor’s dazzling success with newcomers (like Holliday,

Mr. Lemmon, Katharine Hepburn, Angela Lansbury, etc.) is as continually

impressive as his control over stars (like Greta Garbo, Judy Garland, John

Barrymore, Ronald Colman, etc.), and has resulted in an amazing number of

films that hold up to the old test of time far better than many more

“cinematically” flamboyant jobs. Though often damned with

appellations like “woman’s director” or “studio

man,” Cukor had remarkable versatility: There is little more evocative

work on real Manhattan locations than that found in the Cukor-Holliday

comedies–especially those lovely Central Park sequences in It

Should Happen to You , which now bring a sharp clutch of nostalgia for

much simpler days from the middle of the 20th century.