Aaron Sorkin Delivers White House Show to NBC

Wednesday, May 5

National TV Turn-Off Week is finally over, and thank goodness! It was easily the longest week we’ve ever spent. It was sponsored by TV-Free America, a group that claims to be nonpartisan. A group that is against everything decent people hold dear is “nonpartisan?” Ha! Write your Congressional representative or e-mail TV-Free America at tvfa@essential.org.

Anyhoo, there’s no better way to celebrate the end of that most un-American week by tuning in Party of Five . Remember, the Big Kiss between Neve Campbell (Julia) and her (female) professor is tonight, readers. But according to our moles at the show, the relationship is not as hot and heavy as it was originally scripted. (Damn you, Murdoch.) Even so, Fox is pumping up the upcoming episodes with provocative advertisements that ask, “Is Julia falling in love … with a woman?” (Would that she were! Oh, why am I such a wretch!) Whether she does or doesn’t fall in love with her, one thing seems certain: The lovely lesbian will be out of the show by season’s end, said our moles. [WNYW, 5, 9 P.M.]

Thursday, May 6

Those dogged reporters over at Brill’s Content poked around The Howard Stern Radio Show and found that producer Gary (Ba Ba Booey) Dell’Abate pulls in a cool $150,000 per year. Is he worth it? It’s hard to tell, especially since his supposed incompetence as a producer gives Howard fodder for hours of on-air discussion and debate. He also has his own spin-off character (the wicked Fa-Fa Fooey puppet). We say: Give that man a raise. [E!, 24, 11 P.M.]

Friday, May 7

Seen … in the white letters that appear on the bottom of the screen during MTV’s Loveline , a show offering sex therapy to call-in listeners:

Goldie, 23, from Salt Lake City: “Runaway testicles ruin sex.”

Mikey, 18, from San Francisco: “Roommate masturbates in front of him.”

Randy, 21, St. Louis: “Obsessed with flashing his privates.”

Chris, 19, from New York City: “Didn’t know he slept with his friend’s wife.”

Amy, 21, from Baltimore: “Tell boyfriend about her horrible sexual past?”

Kimberly, 21, from Little Rock, Ark.: “Embarrassed by her noisy crotch.”

Char, 23, San Francisco: “Can’t stop crying during phone sex.”

Niki, 19, University of Texas: “Boyfriend awkward with her mom after caught during sex.”

What was it that Louis Armstrong sang? “What a Wonderful World.” [MTV, 20, 11:30 P.M.]

Saturday, May 8

Twenty-eight-year-old Yalie Arthur Bradford’s new project, How’s Your News? , is a lot like other sarcastic interview shows (à la The Daily Show ) depending on offbeat examples of Americana for subject matter. But what makes this show different from anything else is that its reporters all suffer from some developmental disabilities. And what makes this even more exciting and volatile is that South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s names are inextricably bound to the pilot. In fact, it was their encouragement (financial and otherwise) that helped get the pilot off the ground.

It all began at Camp Jabberwocky on Martha’s Vineyard, a camp for adults with mental and physical disabilities where Mr. Bradford–like a lot of other socially conscious lads from “good families”–has worked, lo, these many summers. One day, Mr. Bradford introduced a video camera to his campers and the campers went nuts. “For them, the novelty was just seeing themselves on TV,” Mr. Bradford said. “And it had a practical benefit of helping them speak better.”

Mr. Bradford was enlisted by the camp to create a promotional tape, which ultimately made it into the hands of Mr. Stone and Mr. Parker. “They just really connected with it,” Mr. Bradford said. “This was before South Park really existed. Then when South Park hit it big, they had the means to put up the money for the show.”

The half-hour pilot was made by Mr. Bradford over three weeks of traveling from Maine to New York with some of his campers. How’s Your News? played at the New York Underground Film Festival in February and will air on Channel 4 in Britain later this summer. If Mr. Bradford’s luck continues, it may end up on HBO or the Independent Film Channel.

The two main interviewers in the pilot are Sean Costello, who has Down’s syndrome, and Bobby Bird.

In one segment, Mr. Bird interviews strangers speaking in a brand of gibberish that only he can understand. “His inflections are such that you think he’s saying something meaningful,” Mr. Bradford said. “It’s very disconcerting. He’s old, too. Close to 50. So he comes up to people and says this string of nonsense, and he has a smile on his face and he seems to be asking a question and then the epiphany is–and this is the nice thing about the whole project–that if they just smile and talk to him, they can actually have a conversation with him. He understands everything other people say.”

Some people might call this show, oh, I don’t know, tasteless.

“That’s the question that everyone always brings up,” Mr. Bradford said. “It’s possible that such a thing could be exploitive, but I think because of the fact that the people that worked on the show for so long, it makes it different. They’re our friends. I don’t have any interest in making them look foolish. And also in there’s a certain amount of laughing at themselves. To call a show like this offensive is to deny that these people understand what they are doing and that they have a sense of humor about themselves.”

Perhaps because of concerns about taste, Messrs. Parker and Stone (who are masters of what we used to call “sick humor”) are laying low on the promotional front. But their South Park is still running on Comedy Central–just barely. [Comedy Central, 45, 10 P.M.]

Sunday, May 9

LeVar Burton starred as Kunta Kinte in the mini-series Roots . Then he played Lieutenant Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation , which is where he started directing. He continued his directing career on Star Trek: Voyager . His current directing project is a Disney Channel movie called Smart House , about a technologically advanced house that takes over a little kid’s life. “The house becomes an overbearing 50’s mom,” Mr. Burton explained. The story is based on a short story by Ray Bradbury.

What was the attraction of Star Trek ? “I read a lot of science fiction but there was not a lot of representation of people of color. Watching Star Trek and seeing Nichelle Nichols play Lieutenant Uhura. It was an example of the future and it said to me, ‘There is a place for you.'”

Mr. Burton also directed an unofficial Tiger Woods movie, The Tiger Woods Story . He met Mr. Woods after the film was done. “He was a little standoffish because this was the unauthorized version of his life,” Mr. Burton said. “But I had a very intense conversation with his father. I talked about the fact that he had nothing to fear from our movie.”

What about those glasses he wore as Lieutenant La Forge? Were they hard to see out of?

“Eighty percent of my vision was taken away. Why are you asking?”

I just thought it looked tough to see out of them.

“Well, your presumption in that regard is correct.” [WWOR, 9, 7 P.M.]

Monday, May 10

Today host Matt Lauer begins the first day of his popular “Where in the World Is Matt Lauer” segments, in which Mr. Lauer disappears and no one, not even his colleagues, know where he’s gone! And then he reappears on the air. This, of course,

drives the Midwestern hausfraus into a frenzy.

Would it be wrong, dear readers, to hope that, one of these mornings, they just can’t find him? Like, some dude goes, “Where’s Matt?” And then some other guy would be like: “We don’t know. We don’t freakin’ know! ” And no one would ever find him again.

Is that harsh? [WNBC, 4, 7 A.M.]

Tuesday, May 11

We asked Aaron Sorkin, creator and executive producer of ABC’s critically acclaimed Sports Night , whether the proliferation of nightly sports round-up shows might affect his show.

“When I was creating Sports Night , I used to watch Sports Center all the time, but since I started making this show, I’ve stopped watching those shows altogether,” Mr. Sorkin said.

Anyway, Mr. Sorkin has been developing a new show, which he’s just delivered to NBC. It’s an hourlong show called The West Wing , about senior members of the White House staff. Even though our Government has become a complete joke, Mr. Sorkin insisted, “It’s not a satire. It was developed well before our President had his troubles. This has nothing to do with the Clinton White House.”

The hourlong show, in the mold of Sports Night –you can call it a “dramedy” if you like, a word bandied about in the days of Hooperman and Slap Maxwell –will star Rob Lowe (Rob Lowe!), Moira Kelly (hummuna-hummuna-hummuna) and Richard Schiff. And best of all, Martin Sheen plays the President. We like, we like!

In two weeks, Mr. Sorkin will hear back from NBC as to whether his script will get made. Good luck, Aaron! Oh, yeah–Mr. Sorkin, one more thing while we’re at it. I’ve got this thing , see, this sort of a script thing, I guess you could call it and, well–Mr. Sorkin? Mr. Sorkin, are you there!

Hello?

Well, gang, thanks for “tuning in” the column this week. I’ll be seein’ you again next week–unless that new guy gets here! [WABC, 7, 8:30 P.M.]

Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week

On May 10, Fred Astaire would have been a hundred years old, and of all the many musicals he made (Turner Classic Movies is running 13 of them that day, and American Movie Classics is showing another four) the very best for my money is one of his last. He appeared in only four others afterward and it’s among the most delightful, witty and charming in the genre’s history, Vincente Minnelli’s comic 1953 ode to show biz, The Band Wagon [Monday, May 10, Turner Classic Movies, 82, 2 A.M.; also on videocassette] . The title is a tip of the hat to one of Astaire’s first successes, the 1931 Broadway show he did with his sister Adele, but only the name was borrowed since the movie is a totally new creation conceived and written by that hip and unpretentious, brilliantly inventive team of musical comedy wizards, Betty Comden and Adolph Green ( Singin’ in the Rain , On the Town , etc.). The premise alone played so cleverly into Astaire’s image at the time: A movie-star hoofer is washed up in pictures and thus comes to New York to give Broadway a shot at revitalizing his career. The purposely exaggerated biographical context continues by having Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant play (with great verve) a most likable pair of musical book-writers modeled, naturally, on Ms. Comden and Mr. Green themselves.

All this gives the film a persuasive sense of reality that reverberates throughout and makes everything feel true: the snob rivalry between Hollywood star and Broadway dance diva (Cyd Charisse at her long-legged best) inevitably developing into romance through an intoxicating pas de deux in Central Park at night (yes, at night, this being nearly 50 years ago) to the lush strains of “Dancing in the Dark”; or the good-humored parody of an Orson Wellesian genius director-producer-star of drama condescending to take a portentous stab at doing a musical. This role is played by one of the most popular stars of British stage and screen musicals, Jack Buchanan, who unfortunately was little seen in American movies, with the one glorious earlier exception of Ernst Lubitsch’s innovative 1930 musical comedy masterwork, Monte Carlo , co-starring Jeanette MacDonald. Since Buchanan died only four years after The Band Wagon , it serves as his memorably ingratiating swan song.

The picture gets off to a quick start (and never really flags for a moment) with two fabulous Astaire solo numbers: First, he arrives at Grand Central, where the press is waiting to welcome not him, as it turns out, but Ava Gardner (who does a cameo, looking incredible), and so Fred walks sadly along the deserted platform singing, “I’ll go my way/ By myself,” one of a dozen warmly familiar standards by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz; next, he’s strolling through Times Square and decides to cheer himself up by getting a shoeshine, which leads to a smashing song-and-dance routine because, “When there’s a shine on your shoes,/ There’s a melody in your heart.” If you’re not hooked by then, just forget musicals.

The dances are all choreographed by the superbly boisterous Michael Kidd, with a climactic satirical “Girl Hunt” ballet that both imitates and kids the Gene Kelly musicals of the period and at the same time spoofs the then-popular raunchy Mickey Spillane detective sagas, with Fred’s voice narrating in mock tough-guy style. Along the way, there are such show-stoppers as Astaire, Buchanan and Fabray dressed as terrible infants singing “Triplets;” Astaire cheering up a depressed cast party with “I Love Luisa”; and, of course, Fred, Jack, Oscar and Nanette doing the rollicking, inspired show-biz anthem, “That’s Entertainment!” Minnelli keeps it all going with infectious energy and grace in what is, I think, along with An American in Paris , his best musical and therefore certainly high among the finest ever made.