Wednesday, August 18
Andy Richter, who has announced he will leave the sidekick position on Late Night With Conan O’Brien in May, is already zeroing in on his first project: a network sketch comedy show.
“What’s nice about sketch is, it gives you the opportunity to do lots and lots of things,” Mr. Richter told NYTV. Of course, it’s evolving. “It may turn into a cop show by the time we’re done with it.”
News that Mr. Richter is leaving Mr. O’Brien’s show after seven years has sent the late-night world abuzz. For a long time, Mr. O’Brien and Mr. Richter had been treated with contempt by dissatisfied NBC executives, tossed bones of 13-week contracts that strung into years. But then the show hit its stride, and the two who had been blamed for the early awkwardness were suddenly viewed as NBC’s dream team. Mr. Richter, with his cynical, deadpan humor, and Mr. O’Brien, with his bright sarcasm, concocted bits like their infamous staring contests, “In the Year 2000″ predictions and “Triumph: The Insult Comic Dog” sketches, and turned Late Night ‘s first half-hour into one of the funniest on television. If not the funniest.
Now the show is No. 1 in its time slot. Last season, it pulled as many 18- to 34-year-old viewers (read: cash prizes) as CBS’s Late Show With David Letterman , which airs an hour earlier.
So why, oh why, is Mr. Richter, 32, leaving? And why now?
“No one expected me to be, dare I say, Ed McMahon. It wasn’t something I was ready to do for 30 years,” said Mr. Richter, whose network contract is officially over in September 2000. “I’ve enjoyed a lot of success, and you think, ‘I wonder if I can parlay this success into taking a next step’ … or else I sit there all Pollyanna and safe and say, ‘No, no, no. This is plenty. I’ve got enough on my plate.’ Basically, I’d feel like a chickenshit.”
Mr. Richter thinks the time is right. The networks, facing stiff cable competition, are searching for an edge. Everyone’s looking for ways to beat South Park and The Sopranos and Sex in the City . Mr. Richter said that works to his advantage: “They don’t know what the next new thing is, and they’re looking for it, and maybe they’ll think it’s me.”
So Mr. Richter is out shopping. He said he’s decided against playing it safe and working with Mr. O’Brien’s new production house, part of an NBC development deal. That would feel like a cop-out, Mr. Richter said.
Mr. O’Brien said he understands that decision. “It’s like he’s moving out of the house and if he stays in his dad’s rent-controlled apartment, he will still feel under his family’s shadow,” said Mr. O’Brien.
Mr. O’Brien has other things to worry about–like figuring out how he’ll retool the show in Mr. Richter’s absence. And luring back Late Night band leader Max Weinberg from what could be an endless tour with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Mr. O’Brien said he’ll take one thing at a time. “If I have one strength–actually, I have two strengths. One, I smell great. Two, I don’t worry about things I can’t control,” he said, adding that it’s unclear if Mr. Richter will be replaced, and he’ll wait and see what Mr. Weinberg does.
Mr. O’Brien said Mr. Richter’s sketch- comedy show idea seems to be a good one. “As long as Andy doesn’t create the new Star Search . If he left me for that, I’d kill him,” he said.
Mr. Richter said he thinks Late Night will do just fine in his absence. And he’s not worried about his own future, either. “It’s very possible in show business to just keep failing upward, you know?” he said.
Then he abandoned the serious-guy disguise and snapped into his on-air self. “Oh, my God, a window washer just rolled past us!” he said. “Thank God I have pants on.”
Tonight on Late Night , Jason Priestley and the Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian. [WNBC, 4, 12:35 a.m.]
Thursday, August 19
Amy Sedaris worked a double shift on Thursday, Aug. 12. In the morning, she reported for her day job at her Leroy Street production office to begin writing the first script for the second season of Strangers With Candy , the Comedy Central TV show in which she also stars.
Then, at 6:30 p.m., she headed over to Marion’s–an old-school martini restaurant on the Bowery–where she’s been waitressing for four years. That’s been her steady gig, lasting through five plays and, now, two TV shows. And she intends to keep it.
“I don’t have to waitress,” she said, eating a steak at one of the restaurant’s back tables, under a fish tank, before starting her shift. “But I hope I’ll always have a job like this. I like that hard work–physical, hard work. You’re so sore when you leave this job. And I love making cash, you know? Walking home with money. And what else am I going to do for eight hours? I mean, just sit at home and listen to Molly Hatchet or something?”
Ms. Sedaris, 37, said sometimes she is recognized by her customers, often not. And that makes sense. While her character Jerry Blank, a 47-year-old lesbian ex-con who returns to high school, is hunched over, bucktoothed, heavyset and frumpy, Ms. Sedaris is upright and well toned.
There was a point during his run on Taxi when Andy Kaufman worked as a busboy. When he was found out, it made a great splash, adding to his legend. Ms. Sedaris’ show business colleagues said the difference is that Ms. Sedaris is not doing this as a stunt.
“I think she just likes to have a real job in the real world,” said comedian Sarah Thyre, who guest-stars on Strangers With Candy . “Not this TV make-believe stuff.”
And it is a real job. One recent night, a group of 20-somethings took a table in her station. They were ordering the sort of drinks that drive any waitperson crazy–margaritas and brightly colored vodka drinks. They ran her ragged. “I’m in the weeds,” Ms. Sedaris explained, too busy to keep talking.
Tonight on Comedy Central, it’s the season premiere of the animated show Bob and Margaret . [Comedy Central, 45, 10 P.M.]
Friday, August 20
Louis Theroux, son of the writer Paul, will vomit in the debut episode of his funny new Bravo documentary show, Louis
Theroux’s Weird Weekends . And that’s just fine with him. The British-born Mr. Theroux regurgitates on camera after being pushed to the edge at the Power Plant, the World Championship Wrestling training center where he experiences firsthand what professional wrestlers go through.
The footage is tough to watch. Mr. Theroux, 29, turns green and looks like he’s about to die before he regurgitates under the verbal and physical abuse of Sarge, the head trainer. All the same, he was happy when it happened, Mr. Theroux said. That’s the kind of thing that gets you noticed on a crowded cable dial.
“It’s schizophrenic because half of me is, like, in pain and misery and feeling degraded,” said Mr. Theroux, who was taping promos for his show at Shadow Studios, in West Chelsea. “Then there’s this little corner of the brain that’s going, ‘This is good stuff!’ Which is really kind of weird and troubling at the same time. But I feel like, if you’re going to be on TV … you’ve got a responsibility to do something different.”
Weird Weekends will be a George Plimpton-esque journey through America’s stranger subcultures, said Mr. Theroux, who was a correspondent on Michael Moore’s TV Nation , the predecessor to Mr. Moore’s current Bravo show, The Awful Truth . The show has been airing in Britain for two years. Mr. Theroux said a chance meeting with a Bravo executive at a New York comedy club led to its upcoming debut on Bravo.
Tonight on The Awful Truth , William Cohen. [Bravo, 64, 10 p.m.]
Saturday, August 21
Go back in time–when no one had ever heard of “rough sex,” much less read about it in a daily newspaper–to The Preppie Murder , with William Baldwin. [Lifetime, 12, 2 p.m.]
Sunday, August 22
Network executives are scrambling to add minority faces to their fall lineups, jamming them into scripts wherever possible. But the N.A.A.C.P. is planning to hold a November sweeps boycott regardless, N.A.A.C.P. president Kweisi Mfume told NYTV.
Mr. Mfume said this is not just about actors. “We want to know about what opportunities exist in directors, writers, producers, programmers. What’s not happening in the news departments? What’s not happening on the corporate boards?” he said.
Mr. Mfume was planning to meet with the top executives at ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox during a trip to Los Angeles the week of Aug. 15. He won’t be easily appeased; he said he’s planning to target at least one or two networks, if not all, regardless of the outcome of the talks. By holding the boycott during a sweeps period, when ad rates are set, he hopes to cost executives some dough.
But it’s unclear how much punch he’ll have. Nearly 13 percent of the American television audience is black. CBS has the largest share of black viewers, thanks to shows with black stars, like Cosby and Touched by an Angel , said Stacey Lynn Koerner, a researcher with TN Media. So, strangely, CBS could take the biggest hit. But television boycotts don’t tend to work, Ms. Koerner said. And ad buyers will adjust their rates to account for any boycott, she said. “If a number is wacky, we tend to discount it,” she said.
Tonight on Touched by an Angel , a son returns home, as a father. [WCBS, 2, 8 p.m.]
Monday, August 23
Kiss performs live on W.C.W. Wrestling . Then Ted Turner’s outfit introduces a whole new group of wrestlers, based on the guys from the band. You heard it here first. Sorry. [TNT, 3, 8 p.m.]
Tuesday, August 24
CBS wants to name a co-host for Bryant Gumbel’s Early Show –which debuts Nov. 1–by Labor Day weekend. Are the people at ABC’s Good Morning America worried? “I really look at this as a golf game … we keep our eye on our own ball,” said GMA co-host Charlie Gibson. Oh, please. [WABC, 7, 7 a.m.]
Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week
Movies about making movies or moviemakers usually have unhappy endings. So do a good many of the movies’ true-life stories. Why a product (or art) that supposedly gives to millions such joy and enlightenment should often lead to such unhappiness for its creators is perhaps some alchemistic punishment too mythic or mystic to conclusively unravel, but maybe it has to do with the dangerously difficult boundaries between reality and illusion, and the mysterious processes of making reality out of illusion and illusion out of reality. Three of the most painfully intriguing looks at film as hell were released in the first half of the 1950′s: Billy Wilder’s acid yet strangely touching chronicle of new and old Hollywood meeting head-on in 1950, Sunset Boulevard [Thursday, Aug. 19, American Movie Classics, 54, 9 P.M. and 2 A.M., and Saturday, Aug. 21, AMC, 6 P.M. and 12:05 A.M.; also on videocassette] ; Vincente Minnelli’s all-star 1952 pageant of the lives and loves that orbit around one typically ruthless and megalomaniacal producer, The Bad and the Beautiful [Thursday, Aug. 19; Turner Classic Movies, 82, 8 P.M.; also on videocassette] ; and Robert Aldrich’s ultra-intense 1955 version of the vibrantly angry Clifford Odets drama about a blackmailed movie star, allegedly based on an actual dark chapter from Clark Gable’s career, The Big Knife [Friday, Aug. 20, Turner Classic Movies, 82,11:30 P.M.; also on videocassette] . From all three, the big message seems to be that cinema as a profession should always be advertised with a prominently displayed skull and crossbones.
Seeing Sunset Boulevard again today, it is striking how much of its effectiveness relies on the iconography of its stars, their individual persuasiveness as founded on the baggage they automatically bring with them onto the screen. From the star roles–Gloria Swanson as aging silent-movie queen, Erich von Stroheim as once legendarily outsize picture-maker–to the bits: Buster Keaton and H.B. Warner as two of the “waxworks” from the past. High among the drawbacks of the staged musical version of Sunset Boulevard was its inability to cut to close-up reactions of Swanson, Stroheim or even William Holden to shore up the sometimes shaky believability of the plot line. But the movie maintains the ring of truth to it, and a kind of bitter heartbreak, not simply because so many of the players bring enormous veracity just by being there–it is also, after all, superbly written, and directed with a film noir’s edgy suspense. That its profoundly bleak view was by no means popular upon release is not surprising.
In this regard, The Bad and the Beautiful is not nearly as unrelieved in its mood, and it has more of a slick magazine-fiction tone, with the device borrowed from Citizen Kane of multiple viewpoints to keep us guessing. The script is constructed from numerous real instances–here a touch of Val Lewton’s B-horror-movie mythos, there a bit of the Selznick legend, now a grace note from John Barrymore’s life, and so on–done with all the smoothness of Minnelli at his best, most personably star-acted by Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell, Gloria Grahame, Walter Pidgeon, Gilbert Roland and Barry Sullivan. The picture manages to be both realistically critical of Hollywood and in awe at the same time–an uneasy tension to sustain.
The trick of playing Clifford Odets’ uniquely explosive and evocative dialogue is to do what was accomplished brilliantly in Sweet Smell of Success –throw it away with enormous dexterity rather than hit it hard. Aldrich doesn’t do that in The Big Knife , and Jack Palance, Ida Lupino, Rod Steiger and Shelley Winters are anything but throwaway artists, so the picture has an overheated, near hysterical atmosphere that does not capture the historical resonance or wintry poetry of the original stage play. But of those three Hollywood views, it is certainly the blackest, and the heroine’s piercing final cry of “Help!” might easily speak for all the terribly wounded or woefully wounding characters we encounter in this fascinating trio from the final full decade of the movies’ golden age.
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