Wednesday, March 31
Program title of the week: Angry Beavers . [Nickelodeon, 6, 2 P.M.]
Thursday, April 1
“Where should we put the Urine Guy?” a Court TV producer asked Lizz Winstead, the creator of the network’s new show Snap Judgment . “Should we put him with the Marijuana Legalization Guy?” The Urine Guy, who sells his clean urine to drug-test-takers, is represented by one of the many index cards covering Ms. Winstead’s office walls, summarizing story segments for her show: “Inmate who snores too loudly”; “Burglarizing vending machines in a women’s bathroom”; “Carrying baby like a football.”
Ms. Winstead, the co-creator of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show , is much in demand for the news-parody and social-satire style of comedy she honed after 15 years of stand-up. Based on her Daily Show success, she was hired by Court TV to create Snap Judgment , a Daily Show – Talk Soup -type program poking fun at the legal system. The show premieres today, but next week she’ll be out the door to develop a new show for Fox Television. Sitting in her office, crunching on Butter Rum Life Savers, Ms. Winstead is in an odd situation: She’s launching a new program and, at the same time, she’s getting ready to pack up and go.
Snap Judgment , hosted by the AM radio personality currently known as Lionel, is a novelty for Court TV, a satirical examination of the process it otherwise treats so reverently. The show contains court testimony from absurd lawsuits and profiles of obscure players in the legal profession. Though it will air weeknights, it is not as topical as The Daily Show ; it’s taped two or three weeks in advance. It also contains commentary from “experts,” but the network may need to be more judicious in its choice of subjects and guests: To comment on a pedestrian lawsuit about a neighbor playing rock music too loud, Snap Judgment retained the services of an unprepared Ozzy Osbourne impersonator from a Black Sabbath cover band. It didn’t help that Lionel asked lame questions like, “You play rock music. Anyone ever tell you to turn it down?”
Of course, Court TV is limited in the guests it can draw from. “If you can’t get Ozzy because you’re Court TV, you get an Ozzy impersonator,” said Ms. Winstead. Yet she’s not trolling for big-name guests. “When celebrities come to town pumping their shit, they go on Letterman, Rosie, the Today show, The Daily Show and all those programs. I don’t want to battle for that.”
Ms. Winstead, who said she “is in her 30′s,” is as famous for leaving The Daily Show as she is for creating it. In January 1998, she walked away from the show after the host Craig Kilborn told Esquire , “To be honest, Lizz does find me very attractive. If I wanted her to blow me, she would.” Mr. Kilborn was suspended, and ended up leaving the show soon after to launch a CBS late-night show that made its debut March 30. Though she will not comment on the specifics of leaving The Daily Show , Ms. Winstead said that most of the time she got along with Mr. Kilborn. “Everyone thinks I’m boycotting his show,” she said, “but I’m curious to see what it’s like.”
Ironically, Mr. Kilborn’s replacement, Jon Stewart, is a friend of Ms. Winstead. She was a segment producer on Mr. Stewart’s syndicated talk show back in 1995, and she said she considered him to host The Daily Show originally, but he was too busy. Instead, Comedy Central chose Mr. Kilborn. “Craig was an amazing host, because he had this air of mystery,” said Ms. Winstead. “You wondered, ‘Is he in on this or not?’”
Since leaving The Daily Show , Ms. Winstead has been associated with several projects. During a summer in East Hampton, she wrote a sitcom with former Daily Show correspondent Brian Unger, but UPN didn’t pick it up. And though it seems masochistic, she consulted on the pilot for The Man Show , an exercise in self-conscious misogyny that Comedy Central developed after ABC passed. “It was more ironic than just misogyny,” she said. And as a bonus, she said, ABC sent her to a spa when it was over.
With Mr. Unger, she begins developing a news parody for Fox this month, a magazine show that will look at the events of the past week. (The Fox Broadcasting Company’s new chief programmer, Doug Herzog, used to hold the same job at Comedy Central, and wooed Ms. Winstead.) On this show she will appear on-air, as she did at The Daily Show , and she may write the show solely with Mr. Unger. Oddly, for a show created by two women (Ms. Winstead and Madeleine Smithberg), the current writing staff of The Daily Show is 100 percent male. “To write good social satire, it has to be part of your makeup,” said Ms. Winstead. “There are less women comedy writers, and out of that group, it’s hard to find women for this particular genre.” [Court TV, 40, 7:30 P.M.]
Friday, April 2
Yes? Marv Albert returns to national TV with the Lakers-Suns game at Phoenix. [TNT, 3, 8 P.M.]
Saturday, April 3
“Drugs played absolutely no part,” said Marty Krofft about his creations, a colorful, hallucinogenic cast of characters that include H.R. Pufnstuf, the Bugaloos, Witchiepoo, Whoo Doo, Weenie the Genie, Kaptain Kool and the Kongs … and Richard Pryor. Even his name–Krofft–sounds like it came to a stoner in a daydream; actually, his ancestors simply made up the name long ago.
Mr. Krofft is one of the more successful producers of children’s programming. Together with his brother Sid, he created a slew of shows in the 70′s that still have fans today, many of whom believe there’s a psychedelic influence to all those oversize puppets; “Kroffties,” Mr. Krofft calls the fans. The brothers are enjoying a comeback of sorts: Beanbag toys of various Krofft characters are on their way in July. Rhino Home Video is releasing a three-volume box set of Krofft programs in May, including Land of the Lost, Far Out Space Nuts (with Bob Denver), The Lost Saucer (Ruth Buzzi, Jim Nabors), Lidsville (about a mysterious world of hats, with Charles Nelson Reilly as the evil Whoo Doo) and Richard Pryor’s Saturday-morning effort, Pryor’s Place .
And this morning, TV Land debuts a much-welcomed new series, Super Retrovision Saturdaze , a five-hour blast of Saturday-morning television from the 60′s and 70′s. Included are the Kroffts’ H.R. Pufnstuf and Sigmund and the Seamonsters ; Terrytoon’s Heckle and Jeckle and Mighty Mouse and a slate of animated series spun off from other TV shows or from real life: The Jackson Five , Star Trek , The Harlem Globetrotters , The Brady Kids and Fonz and the Happy Days Gang , which followed Henry Winkler’s character as he traveled through time. Plus the network will sandwich in some old Saturday morning TV commercials, or “retromercials,” for sugary breakfast cereals, and it’s created a house band, the Saturdaze, which plays 70′s bubble-gum pop.
The Krofft brothers continued to work into the 80′s and 90′s, designing puppets for D.C. Follies and producing variety shows. And at age 67 (Sid) and 60 (Marty), they’re currently developing another Pufnstuf movie (the first was in 1970) with the screenwriters of Ed Wood and The People vs. Larry Flynt , and a film version of Family Affair with John Hughes for Warner Brothers. Plus they’re planning a half-hour show called Andy Lumpkin’s Puppeterium with Bobcat Goldthwait. “He’s the star of a kids’ show, and he gets electrocuted, and the show takes place in hospital room while he’s in a coma,” said Marty Krofft. “The characters come from his dreams, but they’re all negative characters. It’s the opposite of what we’re known for.”
What they are best known for are their trippy, fantastical, absurdly whimsical early efforts, which also included the variety shows The Krofft Supershow and The Krofft Superstar Hour . Their first creation, H.R. Pufnstuf, remains their most famous. The giant puppet Pufnstuf originally appeared in a live show for Coca-Cola at the 1964 World’s Fair, said Mr. Krofft.
Recently HBO’s sketch-comedy program Mr. Show with Bob and David offered a dead-on Pufnstuf spoof called “The Altered States of Drugachusetts,” featuring characters named Hallucinojenny and Jonesy. “I think they were worried we were going to sue, but I liked it,” said Mr. Krofft. Still, he’s resolute about the narcotic influence. “Everybody wants to think what they want, but I don’t know how anyone can create anything on drugs.” [TV Land, 85, 8 A.M.]
Sunday, April 4
Backstreet Boys: Coming Home . Thats everything you need to know. [Showtime, 48, 7 P.M.]
Monday, April 5
It happened to Ben Stiller, Jon Stewart, Bill Maher and Craig Kilborn. Once a comedian proves himself on a basic-cable network like MTV or Comedy Central, he’s gobbled up by the big broadcast networks or by syndication. Is Tom Green next?
Mr. Green, a Canadian export known for his audacious stunts and pranks (he left a bloody cow’s head on his parents’ bed, etc., etc.), is MTV’s hottest star, having received a guest slot on The Late Show With David Letterman , plenty o’ press coverage, and a television campaign for Pepsi. And suddenly, The Tom Green Show is MTV’s highest-rated regularly scheduled show among the 12-to-34 demographic, though it falls behind Road Rules and Celebrity Deathmatch among the core 18-to-24 demo. Mr. Green’s humor is overt, physical and puerile, and can be damn funny; he’s like the kid in high school who was really good at making prank phone calls. Unlike the current network lords of irony (Mr. Letterman, Mr. Kilborn and Conan O’Brien), he is certainly not cerebral.
One executive in charge of late-night programming at a major network said he’s unsure of Mr. Green’s prospects, and that success at MTV is not necessarily indicative of mainstream appeal. “It’s a big network, but it’s small,” he said. “It’s successful, but with a 2 rating.” MTV originally bought only 10 episodes of the show; at press time, it was deciding whether or not to order more. (It will.) [MTV, 20, 2 P.M.]
Tuesday, April 6
Iditarod . [USA, 23, 9 P.M.]
Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week
If you want to see an Easter-related picture, you don’t have much choice: The monopoly is held by the Fred Astaire-Judy Garland-Irving Berlin 1948 charmer, Easter Parade [Saturday, April 3, WNET, 13, 9 P.M.; Sunday, April 4, Turner Classic Movies, 82, 6 P.M.; WNET, 13, midnight; also on videocassette] . The movie was conceived, written and prepared by M-G-M’s Arthur Freed musical unit to star Gene Kelly, but shortly before shooting was to begin, Kelly badly twisted his ankle. Two years earlier, Astaire–after a string of box-office disappointments, and with Kelly clearly in ascendance–had announced his retirement. Now, though, M-G-M asked Fred to come back and replace Gene. He did, the picture was a smash, and Astaire had another decade of starring roles. Both the part itself and the gist of the numbers have more of a Kelly feel, but Astaire pulls everything off with his usual aplomb–indeed, maybe this difference in basic approach helped to give Astaire his new lease on picture life. Certainly the best of his post-retirement movies, Vincente Minnelli’s The Band Wagon , is very much a Gene Kelly kind of musical. But Easter Parade is not really in the modern Kelly league of On the Town , An American in Paris or Singin’ in the Rain ; it’s essentially an old-fashioned piece, accounting perhaps for some of its attractiveness as the square era’s finale.
The plot (fashioned first by Sidney Sheldon, of all people, then restructured by veterans Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett) starts out during Easter 1911 as Fred’s dancing partner–Ann Miller at her most exaggeratedly movie-starrish–quits to strike out on her own, taking some huge Broadway offer and leaving Astaire romantically in the lurch, too. So Fred is forced to find a new partner, reluctantly picks Garland and then, of course, trains her to such star power that by Easter 1912, the new team of Astaire and Garland far outshines selfish Ann. In between, there are about 17 Irving Berlin tunes–7 new at the time, 10 from his voluminous catalogue–the centerpiece, of course, being the title Easter anthem where, “You’ll find that you’re/ In the rotogravure …” (The picture easily won the Oscar for best musical score.)
If you had to come up with a single succinct word for Easter Parade , it’s the same one that could sum up most of the films directed by Charles Walters, of which this was only the second: likable. Having begun as an actor-dancer and choreographer (most significantly on Minnelli’s Meet Me in St. Louis ), Walters went on to make, among many others: the only Astaire-Rogers color film, The Barkeleys of Broadway ; the last Garland-Kelly, Summer Stock ; the appealing Frank Sinatra-Debbie Reynolds romantic comedy The Tender Trap ; the Sinatra-Bing Crosby-Grace Kelly-Cole Porter High Society ; and Cary Grant’s final picture–and Walters’ last, too– Walk Don’t Run , released in 1966. He never had the panache or wit of Minnelli or Stanley Donen, but for unpretentious affability, Walters was dependably consistent.
To see Judy Garland in Easter Parade , however, taking a not very rewarding part and managing to present herself as mature yet innocent, savvy yet vulnerable–and superbly bringing off the difficult dancing–becomes all the more poignant when you realize she only did two other starring roles before being kicked out of M-G-M, which led to her first suicide attempt. So the failed, though glorious, 1954 comeback of A Star Is Born was only two pictures (plus a cameo) after Easter Parade : a bracing hint of how tough the grind of picture stardom in the old studio system must have been for some players, especially women. This awareness also gives the greater valiant edge to the magnificent Astaire-Garland highlight here, in which they dress as Chaplinesque bums and sing and dance the utterly delightful Berlin novelty number, “A Couple of Swells.” They certainly were.
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