Wednesday, May 2
Get out your brooms! It’s sweeps-o-rama time in New York, when local TV news outlets gin up their most titillating tales (“Sex Palace Junior High!”) and everyday horror stories (“The Reclining Chair– of Death! “) in a game effort to win ratings and advertising.
So far, the best sweeps tale comes from the always wacky bunch over at WPIX’s WB 11 News at 10 , where producer Christina Summers gave new meaning to the phrase “taking one for the team.”
Here’s the story: About a month ago, Ms. Summers and the WB 11 News posse came up with the idea of scouring the seats on New York City’s planes, trains and automobiles for signs of filth. You know, swab the cushions and have a lab check for really gross stuff, like insect poop, eyelashes, dirt, boogers–the works. The story, a TV-nooz perennial, is always a winner; The Observer, in fact, did a similar feature a couple years back.
At the story meeting, Ms. Summers piped up that she and her boyfriend, Tom Fike, were flying to Rome in a couple of days to visit her mother. So her colleagues asked her to bring along a swab and a video camera and to try to find some grunge. Ms. Summers happily agreed, and on her way to and from Italy, she and Mr. Fike took samples from their plane seats, pillows and surrounding areas.
No biggie, right? Well, when she got back, Ms. Summers provided a lab technician in Long Island with her sample slides. And that technician made quite a discovery.
“The first slide he puts in there, he goes, ‘Oh my,’ Ms. Summers said. “I’m like, ‘Oh my what ?’”
The technician turned to Ms. Summers. “We may have lice,” he said.
Barbara Walters would be proud of Ms. Summers’ initial reaction: “I’m like, ‘ Yay ! Yay ! Good story!’” she said. “Not even thinking my head might be involved.”
You know what’s coming, right? Of course her head was involved! The technician discovered that the first slide, which contained an empty egg casing from head lice, came from a sample taken from Ms. Summers’ airplane pillow. At that point, it’s fair to say that Ms. Summers began to feel a certain tingling sensation and … freaked out.
“He said, ‘Well, let’s take a look,’ and he just looks on my head, right behind my ears, and he puts a piece of Scotch tape there and puts it on a slide,” Ms. Summers recalled.
When the technician looked up from the microscope, he had some nasty news. “He looks at me and goes, ‘I don’t know how to tell you this, but you have to go to the doctor: There’s an empty lice egg here.’”
Yeah! “Now at this point, of course, I’m itching like crazy,” Ms. Summers said. “I feel like my whole body is lice-infested.”
But Ms. Summers didn’t go to the doctor right away. First she went back to the WB 11 newsroom, where, naturally, her story-hungry colleagues–including WB 11 news director Karen Scott–were thrilled, even as they carefully backed away from their itchy producer.
“Nobody wanted to speak to me, but they were all very happy,” Ms. Summers said.
Well, this story, it just gets better. That night, Ms. Summers was supposed to take Mr. Fike out on the town for his 30th birthday. Mr. Fike, of course, had been sitting next to Ms. Summers on the flights, so he, too, was a serious candidate for head lice.
But Ms. Summers didn’t want to spoil her beau’s birthday, so she decided she wouldn’t tell him until the following morning. Then, she thought, she would gently break the news, and together they could wash all their clothes and sheets and scrub their heads with some of that terrible-smelling shampoo and try to get rid of their critter problem.
So Ms. Summers and the clueless Mr. Fike went to the midtown champagne bar Flute, where they got some bubbly, talked about stuff, celebrated Mr. Fike’s birthday and then …
Mr. Fike proposed.
” Yes! ” Ms. Summers said. “So I say, ‘Yes,’ and then he goes to put his hand through my hair …. “
“And she grabbed my hand and shouted, ‘ Noo-ooo-ooo !’” Mr. Fike said. “And with all the calm I could muster, I said, ‘Is there a reason I can’t touch you on the side of your head?’”
Mr. Fike, who had just finished asking the biggest question of his life, was understandably flummoxed. “I thought she might have had an injury or something a little wrong,” he said.
Ms. Summers decided to ‘fess up. “I’m like, ‘Well, I know the timing is really bad, but I think we may have head lice. I know I do.’”
And you know what? You want to know what love is? Love is a new fiancé who learns that his spouse-to-be has a case of head lice … and still wants to marry her!
Mr. Fike was philosophical. “After the relief of having her agree to marry me … she could have told me that she was going to lose a limb and I still would have married her,” he said. “Thank goodness it was just lice.”
Still, it wasn’t exactly the last scene in Pretty Woman . After Ms. Summers broke the news to Mr. Fike, “we finished up our champagne and went to Duane Reade,” she said.
As it turned out, the couple didn’t have a serious case. Better yet, Ms. Summers was able to use the story, including videotape shot by Mr. Fike, in a segment for the WB 11 News series on vermin in public places, which runs through Friday, May 4. (The downside, Ms. Summers said, is that she is now officially known around the WB newsroom as “Lice Girl.”)
But at least Lice Girl found herself a Lice Guy.
“My mother was getting constant phone calls that night,” Ms. Summers said. “I called her to tell her, ‘Can you believe I just got head lice?!’ And then I called her three hours later: ‘Can you believe I just got engaged?!’”
Mr. Fike also has big plans to air the “Itchy and Scratchy” video at a later date. “We’re going to show it at the wedding, of course,” he said. “It’s too funny not to share!”
Why do we have the feeling that, well, cooler heads will prevail on that one? Tonight on the WB 11 News at 10 , you can catch more of the formerly tingly Ms. Summers and reporter Polly Kreisman’s work on grubby New York City transit. Scratch, scratch! [WPIX, 11, 10 p.m.]
Thursday, May 3
CNN is on the prowl. No, not for a hot Headline News anchor who looks great naked–they’ve already got one of those!
No, CNN is currently looking for a prominent space in New York City in which to do its programming. You know, kind of like what ABC and MTV have with their nifty little studios in Times Square, or NBC has with its Rockefeller Center Today show set, or CBS has with its place over at 59th and Fifth.
“Increased visibility in New York is a priority,” said a CNN spokesperson.
Yes, that’s right, viewing public! Though currently cruelly deprived, you may soon have the chance to wait in the rain for hours so you can press your wet noses against the window and watch critics Peter Travers and Lisa Schwarzbaum tape He Said, She Said.
The CNN spokesperson said that the decision to look for more prominent New York real estate does not affect the cable channel’s Atlanta headquarters. Operations and the majority of CNN programming will continue to be based there, the spokesperson said.
But the new studio idea makes sense. For years, CNN New York has been marooned in a bland space in 5 Penn Plaza, in the shadow of Madison Square Garden and 12 billion cruddy sub shops. Until AOL Time Warner’s sexy, twin-towered Emerald City headquarters is finished at Columbus Circle, it’s probably a good idea for the cable outlet to find some cooler city digs.
Then again, another reason CNN might be feeling it has decreased visibility in New York is that there’s less CNN in New York. After AOL Time Warner D’Artagnan’d a major chunk of the cable channel’s staff–including a sizable segment of the CNNfn financial-news crowd–it’s no wonder they’re feeling a little lonely.
Tonight, catch the back-from-the-dead Moneyline on CNN. When Lou Dobbs returns to Moneyline on May 14, we suggest that he heighten his own visibility by wearing a silver cat suit and performing his entire newscast suspended from a blimp traveling down Fifth Avenue. [CNN, 10, 6 p.m.]
Friday, May 4
You know, those stupid judge shows are everywhere now. Some days it seems you can’t turn on the TV without finding a pair of morons bickering over a rent check, an engagement ring or whether or not Junior was in fact permitted to borrow Dad’s Caprice Classic for a randy night on the town.
The only things more depressing than the defendants and plaintiffs on these courtroom shows are the judges themselves, most of whom are too busy finger-waving and whipping off strained catch phrases–”Do you see the word ‘Stupid’ written on my forehead?” et al.–to render any kind of useful mediation.
The Hon. Judge Glenda Hatchett wants to provide a calm harbor from that tumultuous judicial sea. Judge Hatchett’s show, called … Judge Hatchett , is supposed to be a thoughtful antidote to the screaming and barking of the TV courtroom competition. Instead of huffing at her mostly youthful plaintiffs and defendants, she gives them wise, motherly counsel. She puts troubled kids in rehab programs, tries to scare them away from promiscuity by sending them to walk the street with retired hookers–you know, the stuff that all good moms do.
“The whole idea is to not exploit people,” Judge Hatchett said on a recent afternoon at a midtown hotel. “Not to sit there and make them feel less than human, tell them how stupid they are ….”
A former judge in Atlanta’s juvenile court, Judge Hatchett said she balked when she was first approached about doing a show. “I didn’t want to sit on Court Television and preside over small-claims cases,” she said. Eventually, however, Columbia Television won her over, and she agreed to do a show on the conditions that it wouldn’t be dopey and that it would make an honest effort to rehabilitate its troubled defendants.
“People told me I was foolish,” the Judge said. She recalled an encounter with an individual involved in the planning stages of the show, who told her that he “didn’t care about saving the children. All I care about are ratings.” But that person is now one of her biggest supporters, Judge Hatchett said.
Indeed, Judge Hatchett has carved out a little TV niche for herself. She said her program, which airs at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Fox WNYW, is now the “fastest growing” of all the courtroom shows. Being nice to people doesn’t hurt, even in the hard-knock world of television, she said.
“If you make a mistake, what I’m really interested in is getting you focused and believing you can get above it,” she said. “If I’m sitting there dogging you out, how am I ever going to expect you’ll rise above it?”
We don’t know. Today, catch the kindly Judge Hatchett . [WNYW, 5, 10:30 a.m.]
Saturday, May 5
Golly, Disney is making extra sure that the public is geared up for Ben (“Get Out the Vote”) Affleck in the forthcoming Pearl Harbor. Tonight, they force ABC to run Pearl Harbor director Michael Bay’s godawful Armageddon (featuring Mr. Affleck) for the second time in one week. Why don’t they just run a subliminal message on the screen: “YOU MUST SEE PEARL HARBOR … YOU MUST SEE PEARL HARBOR …. ” [WABC, 7, 8 p.m.]
Sunday, May 6
Tonight’s True Hollywood Story features the cast from Survivor I. You know, sometimes an unexamined life is worth living. [E, 24, 9 p.m.]
Monday, May 7
Lucky Catherine Crier! The Court TV correspondent gets to go to Terre Haute, Ind., to broadcast live from Timothy McVeigh’s execution.
Well, not really lucky. In retrospect, standing outside a Midwest prison doesn’t sound as plum as Matt Lauer and Katie Couric getting to tan themselves outside the Sydney Opera House, like they did before the 2000 Summer Olympics.
“This is a very grim, very somber moment,” said Ms. Crier (left), a former prosecutor and judge.
Still, there are sure to be a bunch of lunatics outside the prison grates, grilling hot dogs, slurping Dixie beer from cowboy hats and performing all the other sordid festivities typically performed outside major executions.
“You’ve got to keep the tone and be careful of what you’re transmitting over the air, because there is a lot of hoopla, a lot of circus to these types of things,” Ms. Crier said.
As much as she’ll be part of this particular spectacle, Ms. Crier said she’s firmly against taking the ultimate step further and broadcasting actual executions, even ones as significant as Mr. McVeigh’s. “As much as I do not believe in censorship, I would not want to see that,” she said.
Well, you can watch Ms. Crier execute today on her show Catherine Crier . [COURT, 40, 5 p.m.]
Tuesday, May 8
On tonight’s episode of the reality-TV series Chains of Love , the contestant must choose among four women, “including,” notes TV Guide , “a financial planner, an executive assistant and a former member of the Israeli army.” Hey, that’s what we were gonna do tonight! [UPN, 9, 9 p.m.]