Wednesday, Sept. 29
It wasn’t easy working for a show like Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place . The big, respected hit-show teams get to swagger around Hollywood as though they had created The Mary Tyler Moore Show or E.R. , but as a Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place guy, the basic rule has been that you turn red when you tell people what you do for a living. And it’s become a sadistic sport in the company town: In Action , the joke is that the wimpy screenwriter guy getting hired by Jay Mohr’s character worked on TGaGaaPP . But now that they’ve taken the pizza place out of the show, added a bunch of good writers and TGaGaaPP is just Two Guys and a Girl , the people who put it together are hoping that they’ll no longer be the biggest punch line in television. “We’ve basically been referring to the premiere as a pilot,” said executive producer Kevin Abbott, a veteran of Grace Under Fire and Roseanne . Last season, TGaGaaPP started off slow, mired in tired old sitcom plot lines. But the suddenly sainted Jamie Tarses stuck by it and got it on the fall schedule. Now that she’s departed, some have predicted that TGaaG will go the way of the aaPP . But Mr. Abbott said ABC executives say it’s improved and will hold on. Judge for yourself tonight, when Pete returns from a horrible trip to Paris. [WABC, 7, 8 P.M.]
Thursday, Sept. 30
The supreme diss NBC executive Dick Ebersol reportedly meted out to Andy Kaufman 17 years ago is coming back to haunt him. After all, Kaufman is now a great man, the subject of a forthcoming Milos Forman movie, The Man in the Moon , in which he’s being played by Jim Carrey. The movie is partly based on a biography, Andy Kaufman Revealed!: Best Friend Tells All , by Bob Zmuda. According to Mr. Zmuda’s book, when Mr. Ebersol was producing Saturday Night Live , shortly before Kaufman died, he and Kaufman made a deal. As part of a comedy bit, the viewing audience was going to be allowed to call in and vote on Kaufman’s continuing presence on the show. If the audience voted No–and it was basically rigged so they would–Kaufman would get the boot. But there was, reportedly, a payoff to the gag: when Kaufman left, in would come Tony Clifton, Kaufman’s lounge-singing alter ego. The votes came in against Kaufman, as expected. But when Kaufman called Mr. Ebersol about Tony Clifton’s entrance, Mr. Ebersol didn’t take his calls, according to Mr. Zmuda’s biography. Mr. Kaufman was out of luck and off the show for good, much to his surprise. At the time it must have seemed like no big thing to Mr. Ebersol. After all, by then Kaufman appeared to be nothing more than another washed-up comic stunt artist headed to Nowheresville. But then he suddenly died, rocketing him to a second life as comedy legend and taking Mr. Ebersol with him as cultural villain. But Mr. Ebersol, now NBC’s sports president, will get a break. When Mr. Forman’s movie is released, the telephone poll will be recounted but not the deal with Mr. Ebersol, according to a spokesman for Jersey Films. Still, the film’s certain to be a Jim Carrey blockbuster. The lesson is: be careful whom you screw; you never know if he or she will end up the subject of a Milos Forman movie.
Catch Mr. Carrey tonight with Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum in Earth Girls Are Easy . [Comedy Central, 45, 8 P.M.]
Friday, Oct. 1
Each fall television season, the big ad firms handicap the new shows to help their clients decide what to buy–like, should Lee Jeans put its Buddy Lee ads on Angel or stick with Buffy the Vampire Slayer ? Mike Greco, head of BBD&O’s media research department, has released a report lumping the new shows into three categories: swimmers, which will last the whole season, floaters, which may or may not, and sinkers, which won’t.
Here’s how BBD&O says things will shake out–and as usual, only a handful of the 38 new shows are expected to make it.
The West Wing (NBC), the half-hour Ally McBeal (Fox), Malcolm in the Middle (Fox), Angel (WB), Roswell (WB), WWF Smackdown! (UPN).
Odd Man Out (ABC), Once and Again (ABC), Wasteland (ABC), Judging Amy (CBS), Cold Feet (NBC), Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (NBC), Stark Raving Mad (NBC), Third Watch (NBC), Action (Fox), Harsh Realm (Fox), Time of Your Life (Fox), Popular (WB), Safe Harbor (WB), The Parkers (UPN), Shasta McNasty (UPN).
Oh, Grow Up (ABC), Snoops (ABC), Then Came You (ABC), Family Law (CBS), Ladies Man (CBS), Love or Money (CBS), Now and Again (CBS), Work With Me (CBS), Freaks and Geeks (NBC), The Mike O’Malley Show (NBC), Get Real (Fox), Manchester Prep (Fox), Mission Hill (WB), The Badlands (Fox), Jack & Jill (WB), Grown-Ups (UPN), Secret Agent Man (UPN).
Tonight, see if you think Now and Again will make it–and where Glenn Gordon Caron can take this show about a fat guy whose brain is transplanted into a skinny guy’s body. And how many viewers are going to turn it on waiting to see if John Goodman’s coming back. [WCBS, 2, 9 P.M.]
Saturday, Oct. 2
Rich Hall was up at the Late Night with Conan O’Brien offices on Tuesday, Sept. 21, preparing for the next day’s taping with Late Night writer Frank Smiley, when the phone rang. It was Louis C.K., asking Mr. Smiley to come down to the tiny Upright Citizens Brigade Theater to do his Dildo Boys comedy bit–in which Mr. Smiley leads a retro-leather-jacketed band of brutes who beat people with dildos–in “Louis C.K.’s Filthy Stupid Talent Show.” Mr. C.K. insisted that Mr. Hall come also. When Mr. Hall took the stage with the other dildo guys–pumping his dildo-filled fist like a real old-school thug–he looked exactly the same as he did back on Saturday Night Live –the eyes are still buggy, he’s still tall and wiry, his hair’s still kind of greasy, his head still moves about like it’s attached to his shoulders by a taut spring. Those who recognized him asked if Mr. Hall, who now lives in London, was in town for the Sept. 26 Saturday Night Live 25th-anniversary show. But as he milled about on the sidewalk after the show, Mr. Hall snapped at the notion. “I’m not interested in that,” he said. “I hate the show. It kind of sucks now, doesn’t it? It was good when I was on it.” Asked why he thinks SNL sucks, he said, “It’s not funny. Do you think it’s funny? If you do your own stuff, it has a good chance. That’s why some of the characters work. It’s the sketch that doesn’t work anymore. It’s sad. It’s just not that organic anymore. Every time I turn it on, I’m disappointed.”
Though he hasn’t enjoyed the same success as many of the other former cast members, Mr. Hall doesn’t seem to be carrying any grudge. “I’m just telling the truth, right?” Well, sort of, but that Tim Meadows is pretty funny. And that Colin Quinn ain’t bad either. Anyway, tonight, the new season kicks off with Jerry Seinfeld as host. [WNBC, 4, 11:30 P.M.]
Sunday, Oct. 3
Speaking of Mr. C.K. … even though you’ve likely seen his work–he came up with the Conan O’Brien staring contest bit and now writes for HBO’s The Chris Rock Show –you probably don’t know who he is. But you probably will soon enough. On Oct. 5, Comedy Central is going to tape his “Filthy Stupid Talent Show” for an installment of Pulp Comics . If all goes well, the network will pick up the sketch show as a regular series. Mr. C.K. started his Tuesday-night Upright Citizens Brigade “talent show” a few months ago as a mere comedic diversion, something fun to do at a small theater. The show’s format has Mr. C.K., a paunchy, red-headed 32-year-old from Boston, doing a little stand-up and then emceeing a talent show with made-up acts. “I started to do it for the hell of it in the theater, figuring, if people like it, great, but that’s the one that turned into something,” he said. “Last year I had a deal with Castle Rock Entertainment for a sitcom. I wrote it and read it for CBS, and it was a huge amount of work and first-class tickets and nights in the Four Seasons and meetings with [CBS president] Les Moonves. Just a bunch of horse shit. All of that turned into nothing. It was like doing a term paper.”
No matter what, though, Mr. C.K. should be O.K. Like, if you have to have your horse attached to something, it may as well be Mr. Rock. Mr. C.K. and Mr. Rock just completed scripting a remake of Heaven Can Wait for Paramount Pictures Corporation, and now they’re working up a movie based on Mr. Rock’s Pooty-tang character for the studio. The bottom line is that these writer guys, once they land, basically have it made these days. Tonight on The Chris Rock Show , the Rev. Al Sharpton. [HBO, 32, 11:50 P.M.]
Monday, Oct. 4
A very important film, Tommy , airs tonight on VH1. [VH1, 19, 8 P.M.]
Tuesday, Oct. 5
So how’s Friends doing in the WPIX 11 P.M. time slot compared to how Seinfeld did in the same slot last year? (And that’s a big, big question for us, since we were devastated when Seinfeld was hauled from 11 P.M. to the dinner hour–7:30 P.M.) As you’d expect, not as well. For the week of Sept. 20, Friends was watched at 11 P.M. by 463,250 city households. During the same period last year, Seinfeld was watched by 585,875 households. But, in a way, that’s not too much of a surprise. The whole reason for making the switch was to give WB’s slate of prime-time shows on Channel 11 a good boost, and that seems to be working already. Seinfeld is drawing 415,563 households at 7:30 P.M., compared with 279,313 for Frazier a year ago. And that helped WB’s prime-time slate jump nearly two rating points compared to last year. Executives at WPIX are hoping it will go even higher when the belated WB prime-time slate launches in earnest this week. Tonight’s WB premiere: Angel , the delightful Buffy spinoff. [WPIX, 11, 9 P.M.]
Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week
The career of director Edgar George Ulmer, one of die-hard film buffs’ major cult favorites, is an object lesson in the triumph of talent, courage, ingenuity and passion over time and money. Ulmer rarely had more than a minuscule budget and six days to shoot an entire feature; that is one to two days shorter than TV directors today are given to film a one-hour (actually, more like a 48-minute) series episode. The discipline and resourcefulness required to be able to turn out any sort of full-length product in that short a time is impressive by itself; forget about also revealing a strong personality and an often vivid style, as Ulmer did repeatedly in numerous Poverty Row classics like the nightmarish Detour (1946), or the uncompromising Ruthless (1948), or the remarkably atmospheric period horror tale of 19th-century Paris, 1944’s Bluebeard [Saturday, Oct. 2, WLIW, 21, midnight] . The star is the legendary patriarch of one of our most enduring acting families, John Carradine, in a role he always ranked high among his best.
When I first saw Bluebeard over 30 years ago, I wrote for my movie-card file: “Strikingly directed and designed, evocatively scored and written story of a crazed artist who is compelled to murder his models after he has finished painting them, with a fine performance by John Carradine. The stylized sets; ironically lilting, romantic music; and, above all, Ulmer’s forceful, subtly heightened, semi-abstract direction, all combine to make an unusually engrossing, poetic, modest little film, with a unique charm and sadness.” Ulmer–who began in show business as a set designer for Max Reinhardt and first worked on pictures in production design–created Paris on the back lot, with little means and much imagination. This was especially personal to Ulmer, who once told me, “All my love for Paris came out in that picture.” You know a film has strong visual powers when years have passed since you saw it, yet images and impressions cling to your memory. Bluebeard has that sort of magic, all the more astonishing when you consider the profoundly limiting conditions under which the film was achieved.
Ulmer (1904-1972), who was born in Vienna and worked with Reinhardt while still in his early teens, first came to the United States in 1923 with Reinhardt’s famous Broadway production of The Miracle . His greatest movie experience was working with the transcendent German master F.W. Murnau on three of cinema’s most important and influential films, The Last Laugh (1925), Sunrise (1927) and Tabu (1931). After co-directing with Robert Siodmak a famous short silent documentary, People on Sunday (1928), with Fred Zinnemann as assistant director and Billy Wilder as writer, Ulmer fairly quickly worked himself into the feature director’s chair, and his third movie, The Black Cat (1934), was a successful Universal horror film with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi (the two biggest horror stars of the 30’s). But at this high point, Ulmer made a choice of the heart that would permanently affect his directing career. He fell in love with the wife of one of Universal’s reigning monarchs, and she with him; Shirley Castle left Edgar’s boss, and Ulmer was quietly blacklisted in Hollywood.
From then on, it was a topsy-turvy existence directing some of the wildest and weirdest assignments in picture history: for a Ukrainian committee, for a Yiddish organization, for companies in Mexico, Italy and Spain, from such infamous exploitation pictures as Girls in Chains (1943) to a Z-budget nudie, The Naked Venus (1958). The astonishing thing is that so many of Ulmer’s movies have a clearly identifiable signature; and several, like The Naked Dawn (1955) or his last, The Cavern (1965), are B-budget classics. That so much good work could be accomplished with so little encouragement and so few means makes our current situation–much money, little talent–all the more distressing and Ulmer’s achievement all the more impressive.