Wednesday, May 30
TV is a nasty, nasty business. It will pick you up, stick your pretty mug in the pages of magazines and then promptly toss you into the gutter, giving you a swift kick just to make sure you’re down.
Ask Jim Gaffigan. The tall, blond-haired, bespectacled comedian from Indiana struck TV gold a while back when fellow Hoosier David Letterman plucked him, Lana Turner–style, out of the yuk-yuk pastureland and developed a sitcom around him called Welcome to New York.
Welcome to New York-in which Mr. Gaffigan played an out-of-town weatherman at a fast-paced Manhattan news outfit headed by Christine Baranski-debuted on CBS in the fall of 2000. It got an O.K. time slot, Wednesday nights at 8:30, up against then-juggernaut Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, but tucked behind Bette, the Bette Midler sitcom that CBS was hyping like the eighth wonder of the comedic world.
Well, you know what happened next. Bette started out well but quickly bombed, to the point where even Ms. Midler got sick of it. By then, it was clear that Welcome to New York-which received fairly favorable reviews-was pretty much doomed, too. It shuffled around, stopped, then came back before disappearing entirely. You know, just like David Cone’s slider.
But Mr. Gaffigan didn’t pack up his gunnysack and head back to the sticks. No, he came back strong. In fact, Mr. Gaffigan has recently had a TV resurrection that would have made Lazarus or David Caruso proud. He landed a co-starring role on Ellen DeGeneres’ new CBS sitcom, The Ellen Show, set to premiere this fall. And these days, he’s on your tube every other minute, it seems, as the “dorky white guy” (his words) sandwiched between Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra in those Fleet bank commercials.
“Yeah, I feel incredibly lucky,” Mr. Gaffigan said of his quick comeback. “I think the odds of that are pretty slim.”
Mr. Gaffigan said he felt proud about Welcome to New York, even if the show was vaporized in its first season. “Being a comedian from Indiana and having Letterman show the interest that he did was pretty incredible, even if it hadn’t gone anywhere,” he said. “And as an actor and a comic, the fact that it was a sitcom that I wasn’t embarrassed about was a major accomplishment.”
Speaking of shows to be embarrassed about … Mr. Gaffigan was asked if he thought Bette’s disastrous run prematurely torpedoed his show. He politely refrained from bashing Ms. Midler, but he agreed that Welcome to New York might have performed better on another night. “I would say that if it had the Monday-night 8:30 slot [between King of Queens and Everybody Loves Raymond], it probably would have been an easier road to hoe,” he said. “It’s weird, it’s like, you know, if-here, hold on-heh, heh, Jeannie, leave me alone!
“Sorry,” Mr. Gaffigan said, returning to the phone. “My girlfriend.”
Well, it certainly is good to be Jim Gaffigan these days! As for those ubiquitous Fleet ads, Mr. Gaffigan became the 4,345,455th person to pour praise upon the hunky Mr. Jeter and Mr. Garciaparra. “Even if you’re just a mediocre baseball fan, you know you are sitting there with the Mickey Mantles of today,” he said. “It was pretty cool …. I don’t know about you, but I have encountered some athletes, and even when they are trying to hide their egos, it kind of leaks through … but [Mr. Jeter and Mr. Garciaparra] are pretty humble.”
In the ads, now running in the New York and Boston areas, a clueless Mr. Gaffigan pesters Mr. Garciaparra and Mr. Jeter about online banking in a neighborhood coffee shop. They’re pretty good. The only thing is, right now they’re on TV, like, 12 bazillion times a day. Mr. Gaffigan sounded bemused. “I had no idea it was going to be on every five seconds,” he said. “You’d think Fleet was taking over the world! It’s kind of scary.”
Tonight on CBS, Backstreet Boys: Larger Than Life, sponsored locally by the New York City Public Schools. No joke. [WCBS, 2, 8 p.m.]
Thursday, May 31
By the way, what the heck’s the matter with CBS News? The Tiffany network lost a little bit of its luster last week when it neglected its civic responsibility to show a cross-promotional Pearl Harbor documentary pinned to the release of the Walt Disney Company’s epic summer movie, Pearl Harbor.
What gives, House of Murrow? Disney’s ABC, naturally, had a Pearl Harbor documentary, Pearl Harbor: Two Hours That Changed the World, designed to whet the public’s whistle for Ben Affleck and Alec Baldwin in Pearl Harbor: Three Hours That Wasted Your Saturday. Even NBC stepped up to the synergy plate, offering its own Pearl documentary, Pearl Harbor: Legacy of Attack, hosted by the Greatest Generator himself, Tom Brokaw.
But CBS had nuttin’! CBS News president Andrew Heyward said he gave no order to lay off the Pearl Harbor hype. “There was no policy decision on my part to do it or not to do it,” Mr. Heyward said.
Not that there would be, Mr. Heyward said. “It would be very unusual for there to be a discussion,” he said. “This is not the kind of place where I would say, ‘Make sure you do a story about Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,’ nor is it the kind of place where I would say, ‘Don’t overdo it on Pearl Harbor.’ It’s our version of academic freedom.”
You heard correctly: Andrew Heyward is hip to Lara Croft: Tomb Raider! Things really are getting younger over at CBS these days.
Tonight on CBS, Funny Flubs and Screw-Ups, hosted by that funny flub and screw-up, Cheech Marin. [WCBS, 2, 8 p.m.]
Friday, June 1
Speaking of Pearl Harbor, it sure passed the public-approval test, raking in 75 million smackers in its opening weekend, despite blisteringly bad reviews. But did it pass the Joel Siegel test? You know, did the Disney flick get four stars and a smiley face from Disney-ABC-Good Morning America’s famously upbeat movie critic?
You betcha! Mr. Siegel dropped a love bomb on Pearl Harbor. “They made a movie that captures a time the way we remember that time, through the movies,” he said in his review, delivered on GMA Friday, May 25. “They made the film … look like the lush Technicolor of 40′s and 50′s movies. They cast Kate Beckinsale because she looks like a 40′s movie star. There’s even almost no swearing in the script.”
No swearing! Mr. Siegel acknowledged that Pearl Harbor has its weaknesses. At times, the story bordered on soap opera, he said, and co-star Josh Hartnett wasn’t the equal of Ben Affleck, whom Mr. Siegel termed “a movie star and a terrific actor.”
“But the filmmakers set out to make a bigger-than-life, hugely entertaining Hollywood epic for those who don’t remember Pearl Harbor. That’s also a tribute to the memory and the bravery of those who were there,” Mr. Siegel went on. “And they succeeded big-time.”
Best of all, Mr. Siegel said he got a “lump in my throat the size of my daddy’s ’41 Chevy” when Ms. Beckinsale chased after Mr. Affleck in a train station, a scene Mr. Siegel admitted was an old Hollywood cliché. But that was just a precursor to Mr. Siegel’s Victoria Falls–style waterworks when Alec Baldwin’s Colonel Jimmy Doolittle asks his brave pilots to step forward if they wish to volunteer for a dangerous mission over Tokyo. Of course, they all step forward. “Sure, it’s a cliché, but if they had cut to me, they would have seen me rubbing my eyes with my sleeve, trying to pretend I had an allergy attack. I was in tears.”
“If they had cut to me”! We knew Pearl Harbor was missing something.
Today on Good Morning America, tune in to see if Mr. Siegel is equally moved by this weekend’s new movies, which include the always-lump-inducing Martin Lawrence in What’s the Worst That Could Happen? [WABC, 7, 7 a.m.]
Saturday, June 2
Dateline NBC pulled a dusty segment out of its closet over the weekend about the professional golfer Laura Baugh (no, not Lara Croft-sit down, Andrew Heyward) and her struggles with alcohol. It’s a straightforward piece, addressing Ms. Baugh’s valiant efforts to gain control of her life as a golf pro, wife and mother, but we bring it up because it contains one of the finest pieces of television newswriting ever:
“By the time Baugh was 40, her life had become a nightmarish blur of booze, golf and diapers ….”
Behind the Music couldn’t have done it better, folks. Amazing. But just asking: Is there ever such a thing as a non-nightmarish blur of booze, golf and diapers?
Tonight on NBC, Headliners & Legends, the Matt Lauer–hosted profile show that usually airs on MNSBC, moves over to the big network for the evening to show a profile of Jim Carrey. Why, you ask? Because NBC’s showing Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls right after! Remember when you liked the idea of synergy? [WNBC, 4, 8 p.m.]
Sunday, June 3
When New York chef Bobby Flay lost to Masaharu Morimoto on the camped-out Japanese cooking showdown Iron Chef last year, it was sort of like Nikolai Volkov pinning Hulk Hogan: It was sad, it was unsettling, yet it felt … inevitable.
If you saw it, you know that Mr. Flay-the hometown favorite and the owner of the Mesa Grill-was filleted by Mr. Marimoto in a stateside Iron Chef filmed before a raucous crowd at Webster Hall. What’s more, Mr. Flay was electrocuted while trying to concoct his Iron Meal, then took a tongue-lashing from an indignant Mr. Morimoto after he hopped on a cutting board to (d’oh!) prematurely claim victory.
But all that didn’t hurt as much as losing, he said.
“It was in New York. I’m a native New Yorker,” Mr. Flay said. “I definitely wasn’t looking forward to losing.”
But Mr. Morimoto respectfully granted his old rival a rematch-in Tokyo. It airs tonight on the Food Network. As Mr. Morimoto tersely explained: “We are not doing cooking show. We are doing cooking battle.”
Mr. Morimoto was asked why he got all bent out of shape when Mr. Flay jumped on his cutting board. “For Japanese, knife and cutting board and napkin, and all equipment in the kitchen, is sacred,” Mr. Morimoto said. “I spend 16 years in this country, mostly in New York. I try to understand American culture and lifestyle. But I don’t understand how [jumping on a board] is O.K. for restaurant cooking.”
But Mr. Flay, who’s not known for his self-deprecating demeanor, didn’t sound repentant. “Some people said to me, ‘How could you jump on the cutting board? That’s why you lost the match.’ But [other] people said, ‘Of course you jump on the cutting board. You’re an American! You get up and you get your adrenaline going. You cheer. That’s what we do in this country.’”
That’s right. That’s what we do in this country-unless we’re trapped in a nightmarish blur of booze, golf and diapers! Meanwhile, Mr. Flay said he was happy for his Food Network colleague Emeril Lagasse, who got his very own sitcom on NBC next fall. “It’s going to be my new Sopranos,” Mr. Flay said.
Bobby Flay tries to make Masaharu Morimoto sleep with the yellowtail in tonight’s Iron Chef rematch, entitled Iron Chef 21st Century Battle. [FOOD, 50, 9 p.m.]
Monday, June 4
Tonight on TNT, Wesley Snipes in the not-so-gay Blade. [TNT, 3, 8 p.m.]
Tuesday, June 5
Hey, it’s former Broadway sensation Kristin Chenoweth, making her debut tonight in Kristin, her NBC sitcom! Just to make sure she does O.K., the Peacock’s got Ms. Chenoweth smooshed inside a triple-decker Dagwood of Frasier repeats. [WNBC, 4, 8:30 p.m.]