Reality TV Bites … The Brady Bunch Gets Popped Up … Is Penn Jillette the New Podhoretz?

Wednesday, July 18

Danged if you do, danged if you don’t! NBC got whipped for not getting its act together on reality TV, but when it finally ponied up with Fear Factor and Spy TV , it got whaled by the critics for going downmarket. Later, the news media got creamed for hyping the Chandra Levy story, but when one outlet, The CBS Evening News , decided to take a pass, Chicken Littles clucked around and pecked at the network for turning its back on “hard news.”

Wacky business, TV. Alas, NBC’s hey-no-fair cry about its reality programming sounds a little lame. No one’s slamming NBC for getting into the reality-TV business. They’re slamming them for getting into the dopey reality-TV business. ( Fear Factor makes Survivor look like Eight Is Enough , and the meanie Spy TV was clearly developed by the folks who used to get a kick out of pulling people’s chairs out from behind them in homeroom.)

As for The CBS Evening News ‘ ostrich act, it’s getting a little tired, too. Big points for not going bananas about 18-year-old mistresses and massage oils, but a blackout? What began as a nice concept now seems intractably holy and weird, like Marvin Kalb meets Chauncy Gardner–especially now that other CBS News ies, like Face the Nation ‘s Bob Schieffer, look like they’d be happy to go in the woods with the D.C. police.

Tonight on The CBS Evening News , Dan Rather flashes everyone a secret hand signal to let them know Chandra’s still missing. [WCBS, 2, 6:30 p.m.]

Thursday, July 19

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia– Sumner, Sumner, Sumner! Nickelodeon decided to dump more Brady Bunch reruns on the world this month, but at least those synergy-crazed Viacommers have the sense to punch up the episodes with the smart-ass handiwork of Woody Thompson and his Pop-Up Video crew. Pop-Up Brady begins on Wednesday, July 18, and runs weekly through Aug. 29.

NYTV asked Mr. Thompson what he thought of all the clutter on TV screens these days, from the scrolling stock tickers on CNBC to that horrible, totally intrusive info-graphic that sits atop Fox’s national baseball telecasts, making Yankee games look like Missile Command.

You’d think Mr. Thompson would be into that stuff. But he hates what he called the “Bloombergization” of the screen, saying it pays “no respect to the viewer.

“You’re saying, ‘We admit the event that we’re spending time and energy shooting isn’t worth your time, so we’re going to jazz it up,'” Mr. Thompson explained.

Still, Mr. Thompson sounded hot to huddle with his fellow Redstoners and pop up some reality-TV reruns, like old Survivor s . Such shows currently have little rerun value, but blurbing them could make them entertaining the second time around, he said. He’s also re-upped to do more Pop-Up s with VH1.

And what about a Sonny-and-Cher-style reunion between Mr. Thompson and his estranged Pop-Up buddy, Observer muse-carnival attraction Tad Low? Mr. Thompson laughed, but didn’t close the door.

“Popping one last video together?” Mr. Thompson asked. “I don’t know. We have sort of gone our separate ways.”

Mr. Low, as always, took the high road. “If popping up the Bradys is what the show has resorted to, I’m happy to have moved on,” said the Spinthebottle.com iconoclast. “Are there two shows more tired right now than The Brady Bunch and Pop-Up Video ? What’s next, the truth about Estelle Getty’s brand of dentures on Pop-Up Golden Girls ? We used to break news and hurt feelings on that show. It’s sad. It’s like a once-great rock band being relegated to playing poolside at a kiddie birthday party.”

Alrighty then. Sounds like the hatchet’s buried and everyone’s hip to the idea. We’ll pencil you guys in for the Reunion Tour next week, ‘kay?

Tonight on Nickelodeon, four straight episodes of Diff’rent Strokes. Whatchu talkin’ ’bout, Mel Karmazin? [NICK, 6, 9 p.m.]

Friday, July 20

Guess who’s joined the ranks of guest columnists appearing on the New York Post op-ed page? “Pol Pot!” you say. Good guess, but Pol Pot is allegedly dead. Guess again!

You’d be guessing until 3048 before you named Penn Jillette, the hulking, ponytailed half of David Letterman and Conan O’Brien’s favorite magic act, Penn & Teller.

These days, Mr. Jillette’s writing a column as a fellow for the Cato Institute, a respected if slightly fringy libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. Mr. Teller’s a fellow, too. (And you thought magicians were too busy sawing each other in half to care about the Invisible Hand.) The Post picked up one of his columns last week.

“If you give people a lot of freedom, they get the most medicine, the most food, the most happiness–things just get better,” Mr. Jillette said by cell phone the other day, in a limousine en route to an Atlantic City performance. “Leave them the fuck alone.”

Mr. Jillette said his political views were first shaped by his parents, New Englanders who always told their son to mind his own business, and later by his travels. He told of discovering governments and caste systems in places like Egypt and India that curtailed freedoms, limited competition–and produced sucky magicians.

“The best slight-of-hand people [in India] couldn’t touch the pimply-faced 18-year-old losers at a Society of American Magicians Convention in Vegas,” Mr. Jillette said. “They couldn’t touch them on a good day.”

Government intervention doesn’t do much to improve things: “Seeing the government take care of people–if it’s going to give you fewer card tricks, what the fuck is it going to do in medicine?” Mr. Jillette said. “If these guys can’t do a decent bottom deal, how can they come up with an artificial heart ?”

Mr. Jillette said he wasn’t worried if his growing stature as a libertarian pundit put him at odds with the lefties in Hollywood. Hollywood people don’t understand the rest of the country anyway, he said.

“You can’t go into a pitch meeting in Hollywood without someone saying, ‘That’s fine for me and you and for us, but we have to deal with all the dipshits living in Iowa,'” he said. “That always made me insane, because I would go, ‘You mean those fools there who can [practice] medicine and fix cars and can program machine code–as opposed to the people in this room, who can’t do anything?’

“When someone [in Hollywood] says ‘these assholes in Duluth’–we have done shows for 10,000 assholes in Duluth, and we couldn’t tell them from the assholes in New York City.”

Neither can we. Tonight, more than 10,000 are sure to be riveted to Dateline . [WNBC, 4, 9 p.m.]

Saturday, July 21

Bob Guccione Jr.’s favorite comic, Craig Kilborn, has himself yet another new producer. Former Martin Short Show producer Peter Johansen has hopped into the hot seat previously occupied by Billy Kimball and ex-Lettermanite Mary Connelly.

Mr. Johansen, who also worked on the Today show with wonderdude Jeff Zucker, said he preferred to think of his new seat as “cool, comfortable.” “Not like Timothy McVeigh’s seat,” Mr. Johansen said. ” That was a hot seat.”

Well, watching Craiggers run his fingers through his fluffy blond locks and coo about the latest WB ingénues beats the hell out of Mr. Johansen’s last job, running the frightening Cybill Shepherd daytime yapper, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.

“I actually enjoyed my time with Cybill,” Mr. Johansen said. “But truth be told, [daytime chat TV] is really a genre that didn’t interest me in the least. It was something I did because I moved to L.A. and I have a 4-year-old son. That was strictly a paycheck.”

Right. It makes you appreciate craftsmen who were in it for the art, like CBS castoff Chuck Norris. Observe the magic on tonight’s episode of Walker, Texas Ranger . [WCBS, 2, 9 p.m.]

Sunday, July 22

Tonight, as Tom (“Cliff Griswold”) Brokaw and his subway-riding pal, Sidney Lumet, shoot skeet and make jokes about Headliners & Legends at Mr. Brokaw’s Montana spread, you put on an itchy gray suit and watch another one of Mr. Lumet’s overblown power epics, Night Falls on Manhattan. [WNBC, 4, 9 p.m.]

Monday, July 23

Remember how HBO–back before it started thinking it was Masterpiece Theatre (hey, fellas, Real Sex pays the bills, too)–used to air all those stand-up comedy specials, until someone realized that David Brenner had done 6,785 hours of airplane jokes in 18 months and wisely decided to pull the plug? Well, Comedy Central is picking up where HBO left off. Tonight, the Jiminy Glick network airs Kevin James: Sweat the Small Stuff , a comedy routine from that guy Kevin James from the CBS sitcom King of Queens.

You know King of Queens . You feel the same way about it as you do that 24-roll pack of Charmin on the bottom shelf at Key Food. It looks good, it makes sense, you know people who like it, but for some reason you can’t bring yourself to ….

Still, it’s been an excellent run for Mr. James, who’s from these parts. Safely tucked into CBS’ Monday-night Raymond -a-go-go, King of Queens has become a hit, even if you can’t bring your snotty, Discovery Channel -loving self to watch it.

Said Mr. James of his fans: “The best compliment I get on the road is when someone comes up to me and says, ‘You’re just like my husband, and I’m just like your wife on the show.'”

Hmmm. Sounds like a pick-up line to us. Mr. James’ Comedy Central hour, taped at the Hudson Theater, is mostly PG-rated Seinfeldian musings about pizza, air travel, etc. The comic didn’t sound bummed about the possibility that having a cable comedy special–which typically get replayed 500 times–might force him to come up with some new jokes. “I’m going to go try and bury this material,” he said. “But it was great to do.” [COM, 45, 10 p.m.]

Tuesday, July 24

We really can’t get enough of Lynda Lopez’s entertainment reports on the WB 11 Morning News , especially when she intones copy about the nonstop pregnancy and marriage rumors surrounding her older sister, Jennifer. It’s TV news at its most bizarre. If WB wants to avoid looking conflicted, it should instruct Lynda to refer to Jen in all her reports as “my big sissie-wissie!! ” [WPIX, 11, 6 a.m.]