Wednesday, March 3
Monica. Barbara. 20/20 . You know you want it. [WABC, 7, 9 P.M.]
Thursday, March 4
p Christopher Guest has been doing some pretty weird stuff lately. The comedy genius–who personified guitarist Nigel Tufnel in This Is Spinal Tap , and created characters for Saturday Night Live and its predecessor, The National Lampoon Radio Hour– became a member of the British House of Lords a couple of years ago, inheriting the title Lord Haden-Guest after the death of his father, a former United Nations official. And the husband of Lady Haden-Guest (Jamie Lee Curtis) and half-brother of Observer cartoonist and nightclub-crawler Anthony Haden-Guest just directed two TV spots for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, airing now. Yes, Frosted Flakes. The ad campaign is shot in the mock-documentary style that Lord Haden-Guest used to such hilarious effect in his small-town satire Waiting for Guffman . The 1996 film is not as good as Spinal Tap , but that’s like saying the Met Life Building is not as tall as the World Trade Center. [The Movie Channel, 49, noon.]
Friday, March 5
“Have you ever seen me on television?” asked Mike Walker, incredulously. Mr. Walker, the senior editor and gossip columnist of The National Enquirer and certainly one of the most conceited men in America, is explaining to NYTV that’s it’s inconceivable that a television columnist, even a very naïve and ignorant one, has never heard of him. “I’ve logged 264 appearances on the Geraldo show–that’s double the number of the next highest, Cindy Adams. I do Howard Stern every Friday. I’m always on the Leeza show. I’m known by practically everyone in the world except you. I can’t believe it!”
Mr. Walker will soon become even more famous, if that’s possible, with the launch of a new National Enquirer television show next fall. He, of course, will anchor the show. “I’m the managing editor of the show, and the host, and the writer, and I’ll park cars and whatever,” he said. Five nights a week, the half-hour syndicated show will position itself in an already crowded tabloid-TV magazine landscape. “We’re naughty but we’re nice,” said Mr. Walker, from the Enquirer ‘s offices in Lantana, Fla. “We’re not like Hard Copy used to be, before it became ‘Soft Copy.’ And we’re not like the other side of the spectrum, with Entertainment Tonight . That’s a vehicle for studios to show clips of upcoming films, and supply stars for kissy-butt interviews. We’ll have human interest stories, too.” The show was recently picked up for distribution after the success of two syndicated National Enquirer specials last year, and TV stations in about 90 percent of the country have already agreed to air it including Fox’s WNYW in New York.
With the Enquirer ‘s purchase in February by Roger Altman, former Deputy Treasury Secretary, and David Pecker, former president and chief executive of Hachette Filipacchi Magazines, the television show will probably be the first of many extensions of the brand name, including new magazines for the teenage and Spanish-speaking markets. The distinction between mainstream journalism and tabloid has disappeared, as far as Mr. Walker is concerned. “There are only regular journalists and journalists that pretend to be respectable,” he said. And the field is crowded enough for the Enquirer ‘s niche: “There are plenty of guys covering Kosovo; can I cover Madonna here for a minute?” [WCBS, 2, 2:35 A.M.]
Saturday, March 6
Bee Gees: One Night Only . Thank goodness. [WNET, 13, 8 P.M.]
Sunday, March 7
The 1990 Schwarzenegger gorefest Total Recall may have entertained 15-year-olds across the nation, but how can it translate to the small screen without Ah-nuld? “What’s interesting about the project is how little what we’re doing resembles the movie,” said Art Monterastelli, creator of Showtime’s new Total Recall 2070 , based on the Philip K. Dick story that also inspired the film (“We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”). In the year 2070, artificial memory implants take the place of real memories, and rogue androids run amok. “We’ve taken the more psychological aspects of the movie: the mind control, the memory implants, the paranoia, the questions of ‘What’s real?’ and ‘Who can you trust?’ It’s a psychological thriller much closer to Blade Runner or Brave New World .” And like any good original program on premium cable, it has gratuitous nudity within the first three minutes. Showtime, meanwhile, seems to be carving out a niche with television appropriations of sci-fi films: Poltergeist: The Legacy , Stargate SG-1 , etc. Coming soon: The Last Starfighter: The Next Generation ? [Showtime, 48, 8 P.M.]
Monday, March 8
To the long list of those who fall upward, add the name Rob Thomas. Cupid , the ABC romantic comedy Mr. Thomas created last year, was beloved by critics but spurned by audiences, and was canceled after a handful of episodes and futile time-slot shuffling. But Mr. Thomas, 33, recently signed a four-year, $8 million development deal with 20th Century Fox Television and also became the executive producer for next season’s Snoops , the latest product from the David E. Kelley ( Ally McBeal , The Practice ) hit machine. Situated in a high-tech detective firm, Snoops will star Gina Gershon and Cupid ‘s Paula Marshall. Mr. Thomas entered the television business recently as a writer for Dawson’s Creek , after teaching journalism to Texas high school students for five years and playing bass in bands for nine. His novels aimed at the teen market, such as Rats Saw God , caught the eyes of Hollywood executives. “I like to think they’re closer to Catcher in the Rye than Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret .” he said, adding, “but I’ve got nothing against Judy Blume.”
The failure of Cupid , about a man who believes he was the little matchmaking guy, still rankles Mr. Thomas. “I will to my dying day believe that if Cupid had aired Monday at 10, it would still be on the air,” he said. ABC executives, he said, demanded that the show earn a 3.0 rating in “key demos,” but the show fell short. “It got to the point where every time anyone called with important news, I thought it was the cancellation call. I walked around for three weeks, saying ‘Is this the call?’”
Mr. Thomas said he told Mr. Kelley he would run Snoops if it was closer in tone to Ally McBeal than The Practice . “I’m not that interested in straight drama,” he said. “I want to do a funny one-hour. In the rhythm of romantic comedy, you don’t go after the jokes as much as the jokes come to you.”
As for tonight’s Ally McBeal , Ally tries to reject a guy (the annoying Rob Schneider) who can’t take a hint. [WNYW, 5, 9 P.M.]
Tuesday, March 9
If television is a reflection of ourselves, then soon we will all be animated. Recently, four new cartoons were announced by the broadcast networks, hoping to ape the success of the animated shows already airing–Fox’s The Simpsons, King of the Hill and The PJs and UPN’s Dilbert , as well as Comedy Central’s South Park on cable. Plus, there’s another half-dozen animated shows already on programming slates. NBC led the charge, ordering 13 episodes each of two new shows: the tentatively titled Sammy , created by David Spade and based on his own relationship with his father; and God, the Devil and Bob , which will feature James Garner as God’s voice and Robert Downey Jr. as the Devil. Both shows come from sitcom powerhouses, the former from Brillstein-Grey Entertainment ( Just Shoot Me , News Radio , The Larry Sanders Show ), the latter from Carsey-Werner Company. ( Cosby , Third Rock From the Sun , That 70′s Show ). Fox had passed on God, the Devil and Bob , but ordered a new cartoon of its own: Gary and Mike , a claymation series about two teens on a cross-country road trip. ABC also tossed its hat into the ring, announcing a deal with Miramax Films and Touchstone Television for an animated series based on Kevin Smith’s first film, Clerks . Meanwhile, UPN has the animated Home Movies and Quints in the works, WB is prepping Baby Blues and The Downtowners , and NYTV recently chronicled the battle between Fox’s upcoming Family Guy and Futurama . (CBS is the only network sitting out this trend, proving once again that it never liked children after it court-martialed Captain Kangaroo.) Why animation, why now? South Park recently proved a cheaply produced product can quickly become a phenomenon. If any of these new shows is a hit, its network will probably rake in monster merchandising and licensing revenues, and retain advertisers for the lucrative youth demographic that animation tends to attract. But remember the post- Simpsons animation mini-boom of the early 90′s? Capitol Critters ? Fish Police ? Family Dog ? Didn’t think so. Tonight on The PJs , which just got picked up for a second season despite continued criticism about stereotyping from folks like Spike Lee and Stanley Crouch, Thurgood catches a tenant’s son playing hooky. [WNYW, 5, 9 P.M.]
Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week
With World War II back in vogue in the movies, it’s worth remembering one of Robert Aldrich’s most subversive (and financially successful) looks at that vicious conflict: his 1967 color and wide-screen saga of legalized criminality, The Dirty Dozen [Sunday, March 7, Turner Classic Movies, 82, 8 P.M.; also on videocassette] . Aldrich had first dealt with this war 11 years earlier in his violently gripping cult film, Attack ! (1956), which featured the brilliant Lee Marvin in a strong supporting role. In The Dirty Dozen , Marvin takes the lead, playing–with his usual restrained gusto–a maverick major who recruits 12 condemned soldier-misfits for a suicidal mission behind enemy lines; if they survive, they’ll be reprieved. It’s a terrific plot setup (from an E.M. Nathanson novel, scripted by veteran Nunnally Johnson and heavily revised by the director’s longtime associate Lukas Heller) and carried out with Aldrich’s typically energetic, often refreshingly perverse, always personal dexterity and viewpoint. At two and a half hours, the picture seems half that long, never flagging in intensity, and was subsequently much imitated. The essentially all-male cast looks like a Who’s Who of quirky off-center character actors, each of them excellent: Robert Ryan, Charles Bronson, Ernest Borgnine, Telly Savalas, George Kennedy, Jim Brown and especially (in an Oscar-nominated turn for best supporting actor) John Cassavetes, who just about steals the movie.
Bob Aldrich (1918-1983) was himself always a kind of insider-outsider in the Hollywood industry, a maverick who played by the rules but bending them as much as possible in an ornery iconoclastic fashion that produced a number of complicated, darkly ambiguous works. Having been assistant to such unique filmmakers as Jean Renoir (on The Southerner ), Abraham Polonsky (on Force of Evil ) and Charles Chaplin (on Limelight ), Aldrich stamped his own movies with a restless, edgy signature, defying restrictions or easy assumptions. The results were such angry, oddball triumphs of individualism as his sardonic Gary Cooper-Burt Lancaster action send-up, Vera Cruz (1954), his annihilating Mickey Spillane thriller, Kiss Me Deadly (1955)–in which even the title, in a characteristic Aldrich manner, rolled up backward: Deadly Kiss Me –his Clifford Odets anti-Hollywood drama, The Big Knife (1955) and his Bette Davis-Joan Crawford psycho duel, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), among several others equally enthralling.
One of the first independents in the 50′s, Aldrich was 49 when he made The Dirty Dozen , which was his most popular picture, the profits from which he used to buy his own studio and bolster his own independent company, neither of which flourished, sad to say. Especially intrigued by the inherent dramatic potential of men locked together in a life-or-death struggle, he returned most often to those kind of stories–in other World War II pictures like The Angry Hills and Ten Seconds to Hell (both 1959) or Too Late the Hero (1970)–and in the all-male trapped-in-the-desert suspense piece, The Flight of the Phoenix (1966), with James Stewart’s last superb performance.
Since Aldrich was, no matter what, on the side of the underdog and the loner, it isn’t surprising that when John Cassavetes was silently blacklisted in Hollywood for having taken a punch (literally) at Stanley Kramer–over the cutting of a movie John had directed ( A Child Is Waiting ) for producer Kramer–Aldrich stepped into the breach and hired Cassavetes for The Dirty Dozen . The role was originally quite small, but Aldrich encouraged Cassavetes’ improvisational talents, enabling him to create one of his most incendiary portrayals. Though the musical score is sometimes overly insistent, The Dirty Dozen remains a memorably abrasive film, with Lee Marvin continually subverting conventional expectations–like Aldrich, like Cassavetes–a smoldering volcano of antiestablishment, antiauthoritarian revolt. How refreshing they remain today.