Conan’s New Deal; Tom Green’s Shtick

Wednesday, July 14

Is Conan O’Brien building a late-night empire à la David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants, now that he has his own development deal with NBC? It was not that long ago when Mr. O’Brien was working on 13-week contracts as NBC evaluated whether he was worthy of keeping the 12:35 A.M. slot. He has since proven himself–at times pulling the same number of younger viewers as Mr. Letterman’s 11:35 show on CBS. So, early this month, NBC announced it was giving Mr. O’Brien and his producer, Jeff Ross, a deal that would allow him to set up his own production company to develop shows for the network’s flagging programming department.

Insiders said part of the reason the men were offered the deal was to retain writers. Mr. O’Brien and Mr. Ross have developed a talent for recruiting top-flight comedy scribes. And over the past couple of years, Late Night With Conan O’Brien has lost some of those writers to other shows. The fear is that will keep happening as more and more cable stations begin to develop their own programming, giving writers even more reasons to flee the show and NBC.

The idea now is that if writers are looking for something else, they’ll be more inclined to stay with NBC and Mr. O’Brien, since they’ll have a chance to develop their own shows for the network–which needs a good injection of quality stuff now, anyway.

Still unclear, however, is how active the still-nameless production company will be. Sources told NYTV Mr. Ross and Mr. O’Brien don’t want to divert too much attention away from putting out the best show they can each night. Scheduled for tonight on Conan : Eugene Levy and Kelly Willis. [WNBC, 4, 12:30 A.M.]

Thursday, July 15

Michael Evans–a.k.a. Mike Daddy–was pacing back and forth in front of the Late Show with David Letterman stage door at the Ed Sullivan Theater on July 6, just inside the police barriers that were holding at bay the talk show’s daily gaggle of tourists and autograph seekers. His jeans were falling down below his waist so you could see the elastic top of his boxers as he spoke on a cell phone that was ringing over and over. He had just finished with his client of the moment, Chris Rock, who was inside plugging his new HBO special, Chris Rock: Bigger and Blacker .

Mr. Evans had just finished doing Mr. Rock’s hair for his standard half-day rate of $600. Yes, Chris Rock has his own personal stylist.

Mr. Evans said Mr. Rock’s hair style–close cropped and slightly shiny–is relatively simple.”I put a little leave-in conditioner in it, give it a nice little scissor trim, make sure the beard is laying down neatly on his face and it’s nicely, it’s nice and sharp and looking, you know–got that nice, sharp look, like it’s just been cut.”

Mr. Evans, 29, said he’s been working with Mr. Rock for three years and counts him among his other big clients, likeDerek Jeter, Eddie Murphy and Jodeci.

Judge Mr. Evans’ work for yourself when HBO Plus repeats Mr. Rock’s special tonight. [HBO Plus, 90, 1:30 A.M.]

Friday, July 16

Shaun Cassidy–yes, the former teen idol–recently inked a $6 million deal with the USA Network to develop shows for Barry Diller’s cable outlet. His first offering will likely be called Undercover Family , NYTV has learned.

David Kissinger, Studios USA president of programming, said the show will be about “a family that is working undercover for the F.B.I. It’s very complicated, it’s very rich. It can tell family stories but it can also tell crime stories.”

That reminded us of Mr. Cassidy’s most notable foray into television crime: The Hardy Boys . Back then, he and his brother, David, played young detectives, tanned and smiling, who cavorted around with that little vixen, Nancy Drew. That was around the time Shaun made his big musical splash with his version of “Da Do Ron Ron.” Things dried up and nobody heard a peep from the former teen idol until around 1995, when he popped up as the creator of CBS’s American Gothic and then co-created Fox’s Roar in 1997. It was geared for the Dungeon & Dragons set, and focused on warring Irish tribesmen in the Middle Ages.

Last year, he developed another show for Fox, called Hollyweird , with Wes Craven. But he resigned after a second rewrite of the pilot didn’t wash with Fox executives.

“He’s kind of reinvented himself–he’s multitalented and grounded at the same time,” Mr. Kissinger said.USA executives said his show could be ready by the middle of the ’99-’00 season.

Tonight on USA, you can catch Jaws 3 , sans 3-D goggles. [USA Network, 23, 11 P.M.]

Saturday, July 17

Last Saturday, Media Shower , the public access video program, was supposed to run a special airing parts of CBS’s 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special. It is the special that George Lucas doesn’t want you to see because it features cheesy song and dance numbers–some by cast members themselves–and appearances by Art Carney and Bea Arthur. But the show never hit the air, with the folks at Manhattan Neighborhood Network running a Media Shower rerun instead. Could this have involved the long arm of Mr. Lucas? Apparently, it was one of those mix-ups that happen in public access once in a while. The Star Wars special is scheduled to run late night, tonight. [Manhattan Neighborhood Network, 34, 12:30 A.M.]

Sunday, July 18

Hey! Tom Green! We’re split on The Tom Green Show , which moved from Canada’s Comedy Network to MTV in January. On the one hand, it’s low-grade cheap stuff with no real intelligence. You are desperate for laughs, so desperate that it’s more pathetic than funny. But then, on the other hand, well, it makes us laugh, and you can’t argue with a laugh. Like the time you pretended to be a cripple falling off your crutches in some small town and then some passers-by came and tried to help you up, but you kept on falling down. Funny.

But here’s what happened to Tom Green once he tried shooting his remotes here in New York. The bits don’t work, since New Yorkers either ignore him or recognize him. So that’s why you’ll notice many of his bits are filmed in places outside the city.

“It’s sort of a city of attractions and when he walks around Manhattan and New York, he’s mobbed and we can’t do our work,” said his executive producer, John Miller. “Some people just refuse to react, they don’t have time.” [ MTV, 20, 6:30 P.M.]

Monday, July 19

It looks like people are snatching up Dan Rather’s book, Deadlines and Datelines , after all–despite NYTV’s prediction that no one in their right mind would want to buy it. Over the Fourth of July weekend, it hit No. 15 on The New York Times ‘ best sellers list. Watch Mr. Rather tonight, as always, on CBS Evening News With Dan Rather . [WCBS, 2, 6:30 P.M.]

Tuesday, July 20

Jeffrey Tuchman co-wrote and directed The Man From Hope , the 14-minute 1992 campaign propaganda film that showed Bill Clinton’s humble beginnings–”I was born a poor white child …”–in his hometown of Hope, Ark. It was produced by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason ( Designing Women ), and so it got the yet-to-be First Couple into a little bit of political trouble for having glitzy Hollywood friends.

Jump-cut to present. Thursday, July 8, found Mr. Tuchman in his office at Broadcast News Networks–the New York-based, television production house–reviewing footage of a helicopter rescue for a show about the Las Vegas search and rescue squad that will eventually air on A&E’s Investigative Reports .

Mr. Tuchman took a cigarette break on his office patio to talk with NYTV about his own proposed rescue mission.

He is starting to put feelers out to people close to Mrs. Clinton (including his old colleague, Mandy Grunwald, Hillary’s media adviser) to see if he can make a documentary of the First Lady’s likely Senate run. Otherwise, he said, the historic moment will be doomed to the 24-hour-a-day, television-news meat grinder.

“I think that the media’s perspective on the political process has become more jaundiced and cynical and dark, and I think their ability to see moments of real possibility has really diminished,” said Mr. Tuchman, taking a deep drag from his cigarette. “If we don’t get the opportunity to follow her, the media coverage of the campaign, along with the commentary of the pundits, will ultimately stand as the record of her candidacy.”

Alas, things have changed since Mr. Tuchman directed The Man From Hope .

That film short showed Mr. Clinton as a committed family man who rose up from humble beginnings to devote himself to a life of public service.

“I think everything about Bill Clinton that The Man From Hope promised has borne itself out. It was absolutely a film about who he is, and his personality has been utterly consistent with the man in the film.” Despite the scandals, Mr. Tuchman? “Absolutely,” he said.

Tonight on Investigative Reports: “Cop World, Part 2 .” [A&E, 16, 9 P.M.]

You can e-mail NYTV at jrutenberg@observer.com.

Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week

People who used to do Marlon Brando impressions (I was one of them) always did him in his 1950’s pictures ( Streetcar , Zapata , Caesar , Wild One , Waterfront , Guys and Dolls , Sayonara were the most prevalent) and, until The Godfather in 1972 replaced most of these, the last movie anyone imitated Mr. Brando from was the single one he also directed (and produced)–that unsuccessful, but nevertheless memorably original 1961 Technicolor western drama with the terrific title, One-Eyed Jacks [Thursday, July 15, 9 A.M., and Monday, July 19, 10:45 A.M., both on Showtime, 48; also on videocassette] . The two lines most frequently mimicked were both evidently written by novelist Calder Willingham, one of two credited screenplay writers (Guy Trosper is the other, adapted from Charles Neider’s novel The Authentic Death of Henry Jones ): When asked why he had shot someone, Marlon’s character replies, “He didn’t give me no selection”; and, exploding at somebody else, he shouts angrily, ” You scum-sucking pig!” Two uncredited fellows also worked on the script: Sam Peckinpah (before he had become a feature director) and Stanley Kubrick (post- Spartacus ), who had been originally hired to direct. During a production conference, when Mr. Brando supposedly gave everyone exactly three minutes to speak, and when informed that his time was up, Kubrick told Marlon to “go fuck yourself,” and soon afterward was replaced by the star, who, Kubrick always maintained, had wanted to direct it himself all along. Mr. Brando was 37.

The shooting of One-Eyed Jacks –along the majestic coastline of the Monterey peninsula and in the Mexican desert–took considerably longer than scheduled and cost a good deal more than budgeted, so the Paramount front office wasn’t very happy by the time Mr. Brando was editing. They were even less happy with the picture they saw, which was three hours long and had an unhappy ending. Arguments ensued, ultimatums came, the conclusion was partially reshot, much was deleted. No one, especially Mr. Brando, was really pleased with the compromised final version, which was halfheartedly released to tepid business. Mr. Brando’s production company, Pennebaker, which had had a great many plans, never did another movie, and Marlon never directed again. All his friends say that the experiences on this movie soured him forever on pictures and that the generally lackluster, increasingly less engaged work he did throughout the rest of the 1960’s was the result of his gigantic disappointments with the making of One-Eyed Jacks . His spectacular twin comebacks on The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris were motivated by financial needs, and he only acted in three other films in the 1970’s, two in the 1980’s. This decade, as he entered his 70’s, neither quality nor interest returned, and physical, not emotional, weight has taken over. So One-Eyed Jacks was actually the last time Brando acted out of true commitment, an uncynical passion for the material, and he gives one of his best performances as the outlaw betrayed by a friend (Karl Malden), seeking vengeance and finding love with the villain’s stepdaughter. His direction is perceptive and effective–all the actors are uniformly excellent–evoking especially fine work from the newcomers, notably Piña Pellicer as the young woman who falls for him. Katy Jurado is fine as her mother; Malden, always good, is superbly ambiguous here, and Ben Johnson and Slim Pickens are wonderfully authentic.

Certainly the most influential actor of the last 50 years, Mr. Brando was the first star-personality in movies who possessed and exploited an enormous versatility and range. Throughout his first decade in films, he challenged himself never to be the same from picture to picture, refusing to become the kind of picture star the studio system had invented and thrived upon–the recognizable commodity each new film was built around. Mr. Brando broke that mold forever: Since his advent, actors labor most to prove their diversity and, with the final collapse of the old studio-contract days–ironically, right around the time of One-Eyed Jacks –the original star system has essentially disappeared, and personality-actors (like Clint Eastwood) are few and far between. The funny thing is that Mr. Brando’s charismatic screen persona was vividly apparent despite the multiplicity of his guises. While today’s stars are not ones easily mimicked, Mr. Brando remained recognizable, a star-actor in spite of himself.