Craiggers Meets Jesse Jackson … Talk Soup Host Can Kick Your Butt … Gruesome Fox Show

Wednesday, Mar. 15

Somebody over at CBS was angry enough over Craig Kilborn’s Feb. 29 interview of Jesse Jackson on The Late Late Show that they sent NYTV an official CBS copy of the show in a plain brown envelope, with a Post-It affixed to the cassette, reading: “Jesse Jackson interview: an atrocity!”

Mr. Jackson appeared on the show to promote the personal finance book he wrote with his son, called It’s About the Money! After introducing Mr. Jackson, and asking him whether he should address him as Reverend, Jesse, “or J-Jack or something,” Mr. Kilborn looked hard at Mr. Jackson and said cryptically, “You’re reaching a big young audience tonight. Choose your words carefully . We’re big in Brentwood and Sherman Oaks, you know.”

Mr. Jackson responded by adding a few towns to Mr. Kilborn’s lily-white list. Watts, Harlem.”

Mr. Kilborn nodded and looked at his notes. Then he launched into a series of his famously deft questions, such as, “When was the last time you performed a marriage?” and “Did you know you always wanted to be a reverend?” All the while, Mr. Jackson seemed to be trying to veer the conversation back to his book, a manual for young African-American professionals.

After a commercial break, Mr. Kilborn did his patented bit, Five Questions.

Question 1: “Name the hamburger chain … famous for its square little burgers.”

“White Castle,” Mr. Jackson said.

“What kind of shark terrorized the citizens of Amity in the movie Jaws ?”

Mr. Jackson looked dejected. “I dunno,” he responded, and then snapped his jaw together in a biting motion.

“A great white!” Mr. Kilborn called out. The audience began to see where Mr. Kilborn was going. They groaned.

“Hey, this is funny!” Mr. Kilborn said, appealing to the audience with his arms stretched out.

Then, “Finish this Elton John song lyric: ‘Get back …’”

“From where I started from,” Mr. Jackson said.

“No, that’s somebody else,” said Mr. Kilborn.

“No, that’s it!” said Mr. Jackson, testily.

“‘Get back, honky cat ,” said Mr. Kilborn.

Mr. Kilborn then asked him for a synonym for “gluey” (“pasty” was the correct answer), and finally asked him to name the greatest forward of all time. Mr. Jackson answered Elgin Baylor.

“Elgin Baylor is three, after Dr. J. who is two. No. 1 is Larry … Joe … Bird.” Mr. Kilborn said the name with apparent Nordic relish.

A spokesman for Mr. Jackson said Mr. Kilborn’s people had been pursuing him for a long time and had initially offered him the option of bowing out of the Five Questions segment. But, the spokesman said, when Mr. Jackson got to the studio, they hit him with the questions.

This morning, Craiggers welcomes Ben Affleck. [WCBS, 2, 12:30 A.M.]

Thursday, Mar. 16

When Jon Henson left Talk Soup nine months ago to pursue a development deal with ABC, all seemed lost for the spunky talk-show roundup on the E network. But then came Hal Sparks, and disaster was pretty much averted. In a recent and candid interview with NYTV, Mr. Sparks revealed his new theory about David Letterman.

“Letterman’s softened up a little bit because he wanted an earlier time slot,” Mr. Sparks said. “But that’s O.K., I believe, and this is my own thing, that any medical condition or any physical thing that goes wrong with you is sort of an indication of what’s going on in your life or in your mind.”

Could you elaborate on your theory?

“That doesn’t mean that everyone’s responsible for their diseases necessarily, but where they get their diseases is indicative, and I think it broke his heart a little bit to soften up because his real talent is for being this sharp thing. Not being your true self can break your heart.”

Mr. Sparks was born and raised in Kentucky. He moved to Chicago when he was 14. After high school there, he left for Los Angeles to become a star.

Mr. Sparks got his first film role in the B movie Chopper Chicks in Zombie Town and did standup in Los Angeles while he waited for his big break.

In his spare time, Mr. Sparks writes screenplays, five of ‘em so far. The most promising one, he says, is called Stealing Chicago . The film is a buddy-action comedy that takes place in Chicago. The main characters steal from the rich to give to the poor.

What’s your dream role?

“I’d like to be Spider-Man when they make the Spider-Man movie because I sort of look like Peter Parker and I can do the moves. The kung fu stuff. Fighting and being really flexible is something I do. I teach two nights a week in Los Angeles. I’m a black belt. I’ve been studying since I was 8.”

Please, go on.

“I actually got my black belt in tempo karate when I was 16. I studied tae kwon do in Chicago. When I moved out here–I’ve always been a big fan of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan–I was like, You know what, I want to study the Chinese arts. So, about six years ago, I started studying san shui, which is a Chinese kung fu style, wushu, which is the style that Jet Li does, northern long fist and shaolin.”

Turns out, before Mr. Sparks discovered comedy, he liked to fight. A lot.

“Back in Chicago and Kentucky, I would beat up one guy and then three of his friends would come along and want to fight, and that’s the way it spread,” he recalled. “It was fairly easy. No real fight lasts longer than three punches if you’re really connecting. Three times in serious locations–in the solar plexus, above your stomach and below your diaphragm, it’s really soft right there, and if you make a knuckle and you make a roundhouse punch, boom! Then along the ribs there’s another open area. Even weightlifters are vulnerable there, and that’s a good spot. What happens is you get a reaction from the first hit and that opens up other targets. Then the right side of the neck opens up and there are pressure points in the right side of the neck that really, really hurt. I need a quick fight. Boom. Boom. Boom. I’m too small to go round and round, so they have to be quick. I’m 150 pounds. I’m 5-8. If I’m fighting some big redneck, thick-necked guy, I got to go groin, throat, eyes, you know, leverage an arm and kick them in the solar plexus and that’s it.” [E!, 24, 8 P.M.]

Friday, Mar. 17

What could be nicer than a night at home with that friendly couple John and Patsy Ramsey? Bring the kids! Pack a taser! Watch out for Burke! Watch 20/20 !

[WABC, 7, 10 P.M.]

Saturday, Mar. 18

Tonight on Saturday Night Live : Australian heavy metal band AC/DC. [WNBC, 4, 11:30 P.M.]

Sunday, Mar. 19

Ahoy there, Elton John fans. Tonight on VH1, back-to-back Elton John features. First it’s a Behind the Music and then it’s Elton John’s Road to El Dorado , a live concert where he performs “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Benny and the Jets,” among others. [VH1, 19, 9 P.M.]

Monday, Mar. 20

Every once in awhile, a show like Fox’s Titus comes along that makes you wish you could spend a few hours riding around in the head of a television programmer, and just poke around and try to find out what it feels like to be insane.

The concept: Bay Area standup comic Christopher Titus relates stories from his uncharmed life growing up with an alcoholic father and schizophrenic mother.

The show employs flashbacks of Mr. Titus’ childhood growing up with his abusive, womanizing, beer-swilling dad, played by Stacy Keach. There’s also black-and-white shots of Mr. Titus doing bits from his monologue in a room that looks like a cell with an electric chair. These are all interspersed with the garden-variety situation-comedy elements of Mr. Titus, present day, at work in a shop, building hotrods.

Take the very first line of the Titus pilot, called “Dad Is Dead,” in which Mr. Titus and his brother intuit that their father has died because he has been in his room for four days without emerging for a beer. Mr. Titus says to his brother: “What do you mean, Dad is dead ?” This line elicits huge laughs. Mr. Titus follows with this little comic nugget: “I have taken half the day of work off. There better be a corpse.” More unrestrained laughter. There is a particularly raucous volley of laughter during a flashback sequence during which Mr. Keach punches out the teenage Mr. Titus. The scene is viewed through something called a “Fist Cam.” (Later in the show, a “Psycho Bitch Cam” is introduced to hearty laughs.)

Mr. Titus maintains that all the laughter came from a real studio audience. He was on a cell phone at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. A baby was crying in the background. “We actually unsweetened the pilot because it was four minutes fast,” he said, referring to the networks’ practice of “sweetening” or adding canned laughter to comedies. “We got notes that we should tone down the laughter. My attitude is, that’s the laughter we got, that’s what we’re going to use.”

Mr. Titus got a deal with Fox after he was noticed performing his autobiographical monologue called Norman Rockwell Is Bleeding in Los Angeles in 1998, a show in which nothing about his life was off limits. Mr. Titus rented the Hudson Theater in Los Angeles specifically to attract network executives to his work. The show was met with some critical accolades. Some audience members didn’t get the jokes. “When I did the show on stage, I had a woman heckling me, saying, ‘That’s not funny!’ when I was talking about my mom’s suicide, and how my mom shot and killed her last husband,” he said.

According to Mr. Titus, his mother killed her husband in 1986, over Thanksgiving dinner, which formed a central part of his comedy routine. “The turkey got put down on the table 15 minutes late, so he picked it up and threw it across the room. So my mom goes upstairs, got a gun and shot him three times because she didn’t want him to do that again. So my sister, who was there at the time, said, ‘Mom, should I call the ambulance?’ Mom made her wait until the guy died and then called the ambulance.” Mr. Titus seemed to pause where the laughter would come in the stage show. “But I can’t do the bit right without setting it up,” he explained.

Mr. Titus’ mother was acquitted of the murder of her husband in the late 80′s and, in 1994, committed suicide. “They’re funny bits! That bit gets applause. The guy was beating her, and Mom killed him.” Mr. Titus said that if the show gets picked up, he will try to incorporate both the murder and suicide plots into the series. [WNYW, 5, 8:30 P.M.]

Tuesday, Mar. 21

James Garner, actor. Will need work soon. See him, tonight, on the animated sitcom God, the Devil and Bob . [WNBC, 4, 8:30 P.M.]