Michael McKean, Comedy Sideman, Gets a Special

Wednesday, April 21

Hello, Rick Springfield. You were once a popular star in the 1980′s, with a soap-opera gig, pop hits like “Jessie’s Girl” and the forgotten film Hard to Hold . Here’s a question you should be eminently qualified to answer: Should NATO accept a settlement giving autonomy to Albanian Kosovars inside Serb-dominated Yugoslavia?

Such is the absurdity of Politically Incorrect . Can’t we cancel this show before it does any real harm? [WABC, 7, 12:05 A.M.]

Thursday, April 22

To NYTV, the appeal of MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch wore thin after, oh, three minutes of the first episode. But it’s kicking ass as MTV’s most popular show–so there must be plenty of 18-to-24 year-olds out there who love its Mad-magazine-style celebrity spoofs.

Still, tonight’s episode contains a few laughs, especially when Oliver Stone jumps in the ring with Martin Scorsese for a self-referential battle. The animation is shot in the style of each filmmaker, depending on who’s dominating: Stone’s Natural Born Killers- esque footage contains quick cuts, negative film stock and random shots of explosions, while Scorsese uses freeze-frames and voice-overs à la Goodfellas . [MTV, 20, 10 P.M.]

Friday, April 23

Tonight, explore the magic of Don Knotts with a double feature: The Incredible Mr. Limpet and The Reluctant Astronaut . [Fox Family Channel, 14, 7 P.M.]

Saturday, April 24

Melissa Scardaville, 23 years old, works as a development assistant at the Legal Action Center, a public-interest law firm that fights the discrimination of people affected with H.I.V. and those with substance-abuse problems. To add to her list of positive accomplishments, she’s helping to organize the Save Another World Campaign. An environmental movement? A NASA-reform group? No, the Save Another World Campaign, protesting NBC’s recent decision to ax the soap opera Another World .

” Another World tells incredibly compelling stories, doesn’t talk down to you as an audience member, and shows you the power of the human spirit,” said Ms. Scardaville of the show she tapes every afternoon at 2 P.M. This morning she will attend a rally in front of the Today studio in Rockefeller Plaza from 7 to 9 A.M. She doesn’t expect that the rally will force NBC to reconsider its decision–the network has said the decision is irreversible–but she wants to send a message to the Procter & Gamble Company, which owns the soap, that the fan base will continue to watch the show if it’s picked up by another network. “We’re reviewing our options,” said a spokeswoman for Procter & Gamble Productions.

NBC canceled the show last week in order to make room for a new, NBC-owned soap, Passions , which will debut July 5. The network had been deciding whether to ax Another World , which has been on the air for 35 years, or Sunset Beach , a more recent soap owned by Aaron Spelling’s Spelling Entertainment. Both shows are low-rated, but Another World attracts more viewers–about three million, one million greater than Sunset Beach ‘s audience. However, Sunset Beach is gaining ground among the younger demographic, while Another World skews older.

” Another World is what TV should be,” says Ms. Scardaville, who has stopped watching Days of Our Lives because it’s aired by NBC, the enemy.

Ms. Scardaville hopes the rally this morning will attract many of the 800 or so fans who are attending the annual Another World fan club meeting this weekend, which has been transformed from a traditional celebration into a requiem. [WNBC, 4, 7 A.M.]

“Barbara is an icon to me,” joked Michael McKean about his Barbara Walters-esque interviewer turn in his special, Uncomfortably Close With Michael McKean . Mr. McKean, familiar to audiences from his dozens of television and film roles such as Lenny in Laverne & Shirley and David St. Hubbins in This Is Spinal Tap , is hoping to make Uncomfortably Close an occasional series at the network. So far, the only special he’s made is an interview with Seinfeld ‘s Jason Alexander, whom Mr. McKean met long ago when they both performed in Accomplice at the 46th Street Playhouse, before it was called the Richard Rodgers Theater.

“Comedy Central wanted me to do some kind of reality show or interview show,” said Mr. McKean. “But I didn’t want to do a regular talk show. It’s too much to do. I don’t have the personality for a weekly show, and I don’t have a terribly competitive drive–I inherited my height and good looks from Dad, but also his cynicism about competition. Maybe I’m lazy, too.”

He modeled his special after Jerry Visits , an early 70′s talk show. “Jerry Dunphy would drop in on Hollywood stars, but it was so patently fake. Like, ‘Hi, come on in, thanks for dropping by.’ And Chad Everett would be in his swimming pool. We wanted something with that audacity, that made it seem like I was a genuine pest.”

Mr. McKean, 51, has always been one of the workhorses of comedy, dependable as a cast member on Saturday Night Live or in guest spots on every show from Friends to The X-Files to Star Trek: Voyager . He’s also appeared in his share of direct-to-video releases and TV movies. Now he’s looking for projects that will keep him interested. “They automatically send me roles I can’t do anymore, like the son-of-a-bitch neighbor from The Brady Bunch Movie ,” he said. “I can do that in my sleep. I was the prison chaplain in True Crime , and that was sort of cool. There’s more adventure to roles like that.” Mr. McKean said he has no regrets, but often thinks about shows he turned down that became big hits. “I was offered Married … With Children , but that probably wouldn’t have been a big hit with me in it.”

Mr. McKean has roles in the upcoming films Mystery, Alaska and Killing Mrs. Tingle (with Molly Ringwald, “who knows a lot about jazz”). A pilot he recently made with Harry Shearer was not picked up by HBO. “It was probably the best satire about Monica last year, done with virtual reality animation.” Last month, Mr. McKean married Annette O’Toole, an actress fondly remembered by NYTV for playing Lana Lang in

Superman III , and he’s eager to discuss an upcoming project they’ve completed together. “Annette and I are playing the parents of Corey’s girlfriend Topanga on Boy Meets World , for the last show of the season. Do kids read your paper?” Uh, no. [Comedy Central, 45, 11 P.M.]

Sunday, April 25

Speaking of the caped crusader, Christopher Reeve kneels down before General Zod in Superman II . [TNT, 3, 9:30 P.M.]

Monday, April 26

How cool is TV Land? A couple weeks after bringing back a slew of 70′s Saturday-morning programming, the retro network airs tonight a two-hour block of The Electric Company , the show that the hip kids watched after graduating from Sesame Street. With Bill Cosby, Rita Moreno and Joan Rivers, among others, the show taught us about reading and spelling from 1971 to 1976. TV Land calls the show “timeless,” but it’s actually quite dated, which makes it so fun. The word “groovy” is bandied about quite frequently, and several children sing a song called “Slip Him Some Skin,” about the joys of high-fiving. Morgan Freeman, way before he drove Miss Daisy, played a regular blaxploitation character called Easy Reader, sort of a Superfly who loved to read: “Groovy, baby! You thought you were gonna get me wit’ that old silent E, didn’t you?”

“It was the best time of my life,” said Ms. Moreno of her Electric Company years. She was speaking from her apartment on East 54th Street, having finished the day’s shooting as the psychologist-nun on HBO’s brutal jailhouse series Oz , filmed in Chelsea. “I got to meet two of my lifelong friends, Morgan Freeman and Bill Cosby.”

Ms. Moreno–a veteran actress notable for being the only female performer to have won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony and a Grammy–belted the familiar “Hey you guys!” line in the beginning of the theme song to The Electric Company . “The schools resounded with that for years, with kids yelling it to each other,” she said. “It drove the teachers nuts.”

TV Land is airing The Electric Company as a way to promote Noggin, a new cable network from Nickelodeon and the Children’s Television Workshop. (TV Land, like Nickelodeon and Noggin, is owned by Viacom.) Noggin, just launched in February, offers educational children’s programming 24 hours a day, including Sesame Street , Blue’s Clues , Square One and 3-2-1 Contact . The network is seen in only 2 million households, while TV Land has 40 million and Nickelodeon 65 million. In New York, Noggin’s available only via a satellite service, so you’ll have to pay your Electric Company bills on TV Land tonight. [TV Land, 85, 8 P.M.]

Tuesday, April 27

Billy Joel’s financial troubles on VH1′s Behind the Music or Pee-wee Herman’s manual dexterity on E!’s True Hollywood Story ? Pee-Wee wins, hands down. [E!, 24, 8 P.M.]

Talk about the tension between a director and his material–which was one of the critical cornerstones of the French New Wave’s reassessment of American movies, and they were the first to point out this frisson in the work of iconoclastic director-producer Robert Aldrich, perhaps most noticeably in his aggressive, first independent film, the dark and dangerous 1955 thriller, Kiss Me Deadly [Tuesday, April 27, Turner Classic Movies, 82,8:30 A.M.; also on videocassette] . Aldrich hated detective-writer Mickey Spillane’s novels so much that he took one of the author’s most popular and typical Mike Hammer private-eye stories and transformed it into not only the best picture ever made from Spillane (which isn’t saying much) but a savagely angry film noir classic of annihilating dimension–literally: At the end everybody, including Hammer, gets blown up in a sunlit Malibu beach house by no less than a nuclear blast. What happened to L.A. is left to imagination.

The whole thing starts out quietly one night with a terrified young woman–Cloris Leachman’s first role–running along a deserted blacktop wearing only a raincoat and high heels. Hammer–played exceedingly tough, with virtually no charm, by Ralph Meeker–picks her up, tries to help her.

When she gets murdered, anyway, it really pisses him off and this is how he gets involved in the labyrinthine mystery that unfolds and remains fairly difficult to figure out all the way through. But, though often impenetrable, it’s also completely riveting–like a down and dirty The Big Sleep –Howard Hawks’ equally mystifying 1946 detective picture with Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe.

However, while the Hawks-Bogart movie is somewhat satirical, reluctantly romantic, Aldrich’s remains vicious and paranoid, strangely anticipating the bleak 90′s more than representing the ambiguous 50′s; in this way, Kiss Me Deadly today seems remarkably modern. If only current pictures could be as well made, and as personal. The hard-boiled script is by veteran shady-world scenarist A.I. Bezzerides, who wrote one of Jules Dassin’s most underrated movies, Thieves’ Highway (1949), and the excellent photography is by Ernest Laszlo, who conspires with Aldrich in the kind of angles that would have been unthinkable before Orson Welles’ The Lady From Shanghai (1948). Clearly, Aldrich had seen all the good movies. The ensemble cast includes edgy, unsentimental performances from numerous pros in this line of work, like Paul Stewart, Albert Dekker, Maxine Cooper and Wesley Addy.

Aldrich had greater box-office success with some of his later pictures, like the sardonic horror story What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), the troubling war film The Dirty Dozen (1967), or the hard-hitting football yarn The Longest Yard (1974); and he did several others in the same angry mood, such as The Big Knife (1955) and Attack! (1956), but none of his movies has quite the unbridled hostility and reckless panache of Kiss Me Deadly , a uniquely perverse turn in picture history–even the title rolls up backward: Deadly Kiss Me . (The director’s production-company name also refuses to conform: The Associates and Aldrich.) Having started out as assistant to such legendary filmmakers as Jean Renoir, Charles Chaplin, Abraham Polonsky, Joseph Losey and William Wellman, Aldrich inherited their pull toward freedom, and he was in the forefront of the independent movement, though he had the ability as well to work successfully within the system (he was for a while president of the Directors Guild). His most explosive film, Kiss Me Deadly may also be his best: When the world turns as ugly as this, Aldrich seems to be saying, it is all bound to end in unredeemable catastrophe. What could be a more appropriate cautionary fable these days?