James Cameron: King of Murdoch’s World?

Wednesday, May 26

Shae D’Lyn plays Dharma’s kooky and cute friend on the cute ABC sitcom Dharma & Greg . But even though the show can be annoying, Ms. D’Lyn is not. NYTV asked her the old David Letterman question: What were you like in high school?

“Did you see Election ?” she said, referring to the high school satire in which Reese Witherspoon plays a perfect young lady. “I was that character. I was the president of my class. I was friends with the pretty girls. I was friends with the drama crowd, but I was also friends with the cheerleaders.”

Did you go out with the jocks?

“Not really. My first boyfriend in high school was an intellect and an acrobat. Make of that what you will. He was a director and stage designer and an intellect. He was very philosophical. We used to sit in my driveway. My curfew was 12, but my parents allowed me to stay up in the driveway after that. We talked about life and philosophical issues.”

What happened with him?

“He broke up with me. He went to university before I did and started dating another girl. Now he’s an attorney.”

Then what happened?

“I dated a lot of boys in college.”

College is a time for finding out about life.

“I think life is time for finding out about life.”

Say, you do know about philosophy. [WABC, 7, 8 P.M.]

Thursday, May 27

Under a white tent at ABC’s party in Bryant Park, former Seinfeld writer Peter Mehlman stood beside a banner of “It’s Like, You Know … , ” his Seinfeld -in-L.A. show, which contrary to what was reported in this column last week, is not off next season’s lineup, but merely off this one’s.

Before Mr. Mehlman was writing snappy “observational” comedy, he was a reporter for The Washington Post . “If you want to write, going into sitcoms is the last thing you want to do,” he said. “I think that’s a sign that you’re interested in money and not writing. The best people out there-David Kelley was a lawyer, Larry David was a comedian, I was in journalism-did other things. I was at The Washington Post covering sports-the lesser colleges in the area, high schools and Georgetown football. I worked at ABC Sports with Howard Cosell for a couple of years. And then I did freelance magazine writing for a couple of years. Reporting is great, because as opposed to being naturally creative, you can make up for whatever creativity you may lack by your experience as an observer. You notice when someone says, ‘yadda yadda yadda.’” [WPIX, 11, 11 P.M.]

Friday, May 28

I’m not about to give up on khakis, not just yet, anyway! Those Gap ads are so cool looking, surely my khakis collection will finally find vindication. Long Nguyen, 33, style director of the hip Flaunt magazine, offered the following observation. “What they were trying to do is replace the baggy jeans look,” he noted. “Remember about four years ago people were wearing these baggy jeans that came right below the knees. It was very big with the street kids and in the nightclubs. I go out constantly. I have never seen anyone in a cool nightclub in khakis. I go to Vinyl where Danny Tenaglia plays every other Friday. That’s where all the cool kids go. I’ve never seen it.”

What is Gap trying to do?

“I think they’re trying to give a bit of the club life style for kids who don’t go out. It’s what we would call a sublimation. It’s for some preppy kids somewhere in Connecticut who appropriated the hip-hop look. They buy all the merchandise and think they are a part of it, but the reality is a different affair. It’s a cool commercial, anyway.” [MTV, 20, all day.]

Saturday, May 29

Still on the air and still the champ: Bugs Bunny . [WABC, 7, 10:30 A.M.]

Sunday, May 30

James Cameron apparently never gets tired of a good line, especially if it’s one of his own. So there he was at the Lincoln Center celebration of Fox Television’s ’99-’00 prime-time lineup on May 20, gladly reprising his famous Academy Awards spectacle.

Was he still feeling, ah, what was it that he had said? Top of the …

“No,” he said. “King of the world. Get it right. King of the world!”

He was explaining why, after winning 11 Oscars for Titanic -which he wrote, produced and directed-he decided to move to the small screen for the first time with a new sci-fi series for Rupert Murdoch’s quirky network.

“The answer is, it’s good to be king, but, you know, eventually you’ve got to go do some shit.”

Mr. Cameron and his co-executive producer, Charles Eglee, seemed glad for some company at the Fox fete. Even though their show, Dark Angel , was the surprise announcement of the day at the network’s ’99-’00 season unveiling for the advertising world at the Beacon Theater, they weren’t exactly deluged with fans.

The Cameron-Eglee project represents the duo’s first collaborative effort since the 1982 production of Piranha 2: The Spawning . Which was? “The worst piece of shit in Western history,” said Mr. Cameron.

“I had never written anything before and I came up with the idea of those piranha getting into the river and getting into the Gulf of Mexico and attacking those girls,” said Mr. Eglee, who eventually made good with shows like Moonlighting and Murder One .

“I was making the fish in the sink, out of rubber,” Mr. Cameron recalled, sipping from a wineglass.

“In the bathroom sink,” Mr. Eglee reminded him.

After kicking back for a while and soaking in his Oscar triumph, Mr. Cameron said he eventually hooked back up with his longtime friend last spring to get some TV projects going. But why?

“Little things,” said Mr. Cameron, “like, uh, it’s the most powerful medium of our time. Like, we can reach 20 million people a night.”

They eventually came up with Dark Angel , which is about a babelicious genetic mutant engineered by the military who eventually decides to take her progenitors down.

“We were just talking about a bunch of different things and then it was like, you know, look, what about genetic engineering, you know? And we thought, what about a show with a young girl as a protagonist, you know, isolated. She’s gotta be strong, something like that. Then, we thought, what if she’s genetically engineered and one thing leads to another?” said Mr. Cameron, a former truck driver who was wearing a gray flannel beneath a dark blue blazer.

The duo said the show couldn’t be ready for the fall, so it will debut midseason, starring Jessica Alba, who was in Never Been Kissed .

A tall, lovely woman in black pulled Mr. Cameron aside a moment to tell him something. He came back flabbergasted.

“That girl just told me she’s never seen Titanic ! I’m like, ‘Boy, that must be a cold and lonely feeling!’ She was like, ‘I can deal with it, I can deal with it.’ She’s waiting until they need a record broken and then she wants to be, like, the ticket that puts it over.”

Until the Cameron show arrives, you’ll have to get your Fox sci-fi fix with the ol’ X-Files . [WNYW, 5, 9 P.M.]

Monday, May 31

Greg Proops is the host of Comedy Central’s new dumbass game show VS. , which features contrasting group of contestants (Deadheads versus Young Republicans, bikini models versus male strippers, bikers versus prison guards, etc.) pitted against each other, Family Feud -style, in intellectual combat. Mr. Proops competed on Jeopardy! when he was in college. “That’s not why I got the job,” Mr. Proops insisted. “I got the job because I was funny.”

Mr. Proops made it to Final Jeopardy before he lost on the following question: “Besides the President, two people must sign a bill to pass a law. Who are these two people?”

The answer, of course, is the Vice President and the Speaker.

“I just got confused,” he said. “I became disoriented by the light. Or maybe Alex Trebek’s mustache.” [Comedy Central, 45, 5 P.M.]

Tuesday, June 1

David Finkelstein runs an avant-garde improvisational performance group called Lake Ivan Exists on public access.

The show consists of three people, Agnes Degarron, James Martin and Mr. Finkelstein, in a room, saying whatever comes into their heads, dressing up in strange costumes, and playing with various props all accompanied by a jarring non-Western-sounding musical backdrop.

“There’s no plan, in the sense that there are no themes to the show or in the words that the characters speak,” Mr. Finkelstein explained. “But we work with technique, an improvisational technique which is quite demanding and rigorous and involved. It’s quite a difficult technique. To explain it, we’d be here on the phone the for hours.”

Boy, that’s pretty complex.

“Yeah, very complex.”

And very serious.

“I employ a tremendous amount of irony. There will be abrupt changes of tone from something that seems very whimsical to something that seems very earnest. But, yes, I’m serious about what I’m doing as an art form.”

What’s the next episode going to be like?

“Well, being a totally improvised form, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.”

Trick question! Well done, Mr. Finkelstein, you’re free to go. As for the rest of you? Hang on a minute. I’ll be right back. [Manhattan Neighborhood Network, 67, 9:30 P.M.]

Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week

When he was 16, and until he was about 21, Howard Hawks helped build racing cars and drove them to earn a living, getting to know the sort of men drawn to this highly dangerous profession as well as the women attracted to them. He used all these firsthand experiences to create his fourth sound film–made right after he’d directed the original Scarface –the now little-known, rarely seen (not available on videocassette) but fast-paced, exciting, quite typically Hawksian 1932 racing drama starring a young James Cagney in only his ninth picture (in less than three years), The Crowd Roars [Sunday, May 30, Turner Classic Movies, 82, 1:30 P.M.] . As was his unembarrassed wont, Hawks had “borrowed” the basic story line from another Warner Brothers picture (1928′s The Barker ), changed the circus setting to racecar driving and switched the father-son triangle aspect to two (older versus younger) brothers. When Jack Warner first read the Hawks’ script, he said, “This is a good story,” to which the director replied, “It ought to be–you own it.”

But, as was also usual with Hawks, the plot is simply a peg on which to hang the incidents and characters, a way of further investigating his favorite theme: men in dangerous occupations. Primary to these kind of Hawks men is their absolute refusal to in any way discuss or even acknowledge the hazards inherent in what they do. In another context it’s not unlike the private detective (played by Humphrey Bogart) in Hawks’ The Big Sleep who, when told, “You take chances,” responds, “I get paid to.” I commented to Hawks about his racers having a total disregard for the dangers of their job and he said, “They fall into the same category as the men in Hatari! catching wild animals in Africa. Every day is dangerous, terribly exciting, and they exist on that. They enjoy it and also greatly understate their feats.” Nearly all of Hawks’ adventure stories dealt with characters exactly like that, whether they were fighter pilots, tuna fishermen, frontier sheriffs, cattle-herders, or fliers in rough climates. They never explained, never complained–death was something you ignored.

Cagney–who, four years later in Hawks’ memorable Ceiling Zero , would play an ace pilot with similar drinking and grandstanding problems to his racecar driver in The Crowd Roars –told me that everybody he worked with at Warners was very closely supervised and had little freedom, but that Hawks was treated differently. He said that on Hawks’ pictures, no one seemed to interfere and that even his schedules were longer. This is in keeping with the amazing consistency in Hawks’ work over the years: No matter with which studio or stars he worked, his personal attitudes and signature are vividly recognizable. Yet he had a genius for bringing out the best in each star’s persona, and Cagney is no exception–in both Hawks pictures, he is wonderfully Cagney.

The other players do brisk, evocative work: the two tough Hawksian women enacted by Joan Blondell and Ann Dvorak; the character comedy relief of Guy Kibbee and Frank McHugh; the kid brother, callow yet likable Eric Linden. But among the main attractions are the superbly shot and edited racing sequences–lean, unpretentious and gripping action being a Hawks trademark–culminating, of course, in the Indianapolis 500.

After the two brothers have almost been killed during a race, they end up in a speeding ambulance, but they’re both cheering their driver on as he passes another ambulance on the way to the hospital. When I noted this never-quit attitude to Hawks, he said, “That’s the way those fellows are–they’re crazy.” And when I asked if he had intended a touch of irony in his title, in that the crowds roar watching the spectacle and its possible carnage, he replied, “That’s why they come–because it’s dangerous. If you took the danger out of it, they wouldn’t come.”