E! Explores ‘The Zoolander Effect’ … The Daily Show (Almost) Skips the Emmys … A-Team Anchors Airlifted on Oct. 7

Wednesday, oct. 10

In serious times like these, it’s a good idea to occasionally visit an alternate, comforting universe. So with this in mind, on Monday, Oct. 8-less than 24 hours after bombs began raining on Afghanistan-we dropped in on the good folks at the alternate, comforting E! Channel.

Believe it or not, E! may be more valuable now than ever. That’s because at the entertainment network, Life As We Knew It merrily sails along. And to tell the truth, it’s encouraging to know that while lives are on the line elsewhere in the world-and every schmo with a laptop from Park Slope to Timbuktu is now painfully, darkly, loquaciously contemplative about Their World Today-there are still fine people out there who care deeply about watching Jessica Biel learn how to give an elephant a bath (as the slinky 7th Heaven creature did in a recent episode of E! Celebrity Adventures ). E!’s like a Snoopy alarm clock preserved in amber on Sept. 10, 2001.

Of course, the E! people make sure to tell you that they’re on top of global events-what the war on terrorism means to Hollywood, to the Emmys, to Cameron Diaz-but we’re not looking to them for news, for goodness sake. We’re looking to E! for diversion, in the same way that unnerved Americans flocked to goofy movies during the Great Depression and World War II.

So attention, E!: the dopier the better. Serve it up, trashy and loud. More True Hollywood Stories with the Barbi Twins! More E! Wild On with Brooke Burke and cameo appearances by Stephen Baldwin! Get those buff nitwits running around on the beach in Ibiza, chattering on methamphetamine and bathing in Skyy Vodka. That’s what we need you for, not jittery, videophoned correspondence from Islamabad.

Thankfully, the people at E! seem to understand this. “People know this programming; they come to it because it’s fun and they enjoy it and it’s informative,” said E! senior vice president of original programming John Rieber. “We haven’t had to pull anything.”

See? That’s what we mean. While virtually every other self-important network executive is acting like a Defense Department head, scouring the fall 2001 season to ensure the American public isn’t exposed to potentially insensitive material -soooo illuminating to see what it took for them to finally care about that- E! blissfully flutters on, like an unfazed village idiot. (E! also examined its content for problems, but needless to say, it found none.)

E!’s viewers troop on, too. The other day, their Web site, E! Online (one billion hits and counting!), released the results of its “Greatest True Hollywood Story Ever Told” contest. What are the greatest stories ever told? Princess Diana, followed by Beverly Hills, 90210 , the last days of Elvis, Karen Carpenter, the last days of Sharon Tate, River Phoenix, Dirty Dancing , the last days of J.F.K. Jr. and Robert Downey Jr.

Owww! Just like a raspberry Slush Puppy on a hot summer day, all that benign ridiculousness gives you a pleasing headache, doesn’t it? Thirty-five thousand people voted in the contest-about as many, we think, as voted in the Democratic Mayoral primary on Sept. 25. “The week of the attack, [the site] definitely took a hit,” said E! Online spokeswoman Remi Sklar. But since then, “fans definitely have been flocking for escapism.”

Ms. Sklar termed it “the Zoolander effect”-the notion that Americans are now looking for entertainment as vapid and absurd as possible. (That’s a pretty good catch-phrase, Ms. Sklar-look for it to pop up on Salon any second.)

And what better place to find said Zoolander effect than on E!, an empty-calorie paradise in a world gone mad. “I definitely think it’s a great outlet for escapism,” Ms. Sklar said. “That’s what people want. And I guess they still want it.”

Well, God bless America, and God bless E! Tonight on E!, a one-hour Celebrity Profile of “celebrity” Christine Lahti. [E!, 24, 10 p.m.]

Thursday, oct. 11

E! did suffer a minor blow on Sunday, Oct. 7, however, as the 2001 Emmy Awards were postponed for the second time after the Pentagon decided to bombard Kabul without giving a heads-up to the casts of Malcolm in the Middle and Everybody Loves Raymond . That meant E! had to shut down its pre-Emmy red-carpet berserk-fest and air other, less vital programming instead.

But was anyone that jazzed for Sunday’s Emmy telecast, anyway? The whole thing sounded slightly puffy, tin-eared and presumptuous, with somber musical tributes and Walter Cronkite speaking and all that. (No disrespect to Mr. Cronkite, of course, but what was next, Madeleine Albright reading the nominees for Best Supporting Actress in a Situation Comedy?) Awards shows have a hard enough time just being mildly amusing. But when they try to tone it down and be serious-gack!

The nominees weren’t very gung-ho about going to the rejiggered show, either. Almost the entire staff of The Daily Show- Comedy Central’s ha-ha news hour hosted by critics’ darling Jon Stewart-had collectively decided not to go as a crew, even though the Emmy people erected a satellite set in New York. The

D-Show was going to send a couple of writers to pick up any hardware if they won some, but of course, no one wound up going at all, and that was fine with Daily Show wit Mo Rocca, who cracked that while many of his colleagues were living in fear of another terrorist attack, he was living “in fear of a Jenna Elfman tribute to fallen firefighters.”

Mr. Rocca went to a friend’s wedding that Sunday instead. “It was all Canadian Jewish intellectuals, almost none of whom own TV’s,” he said.

Sounds great. Tonight on CBS, the debut of Survivor: Africa . Yee-humm. [WCBS, 2, 8 p.m.]

Friday, oct. 12

By now, it’s clear that news organizations had pretty solid inside info that something was going to go down in Afghanistan over the weekend of Oct. 6. Just prior to the weekend, members of news organizations were shuttled to U.S. aircraft carriers and instructed to be vewy, vewy quiet about preparations for a strike-and they kept it under their caps. Which makes you wonder: What happens if Bill O’Reilly schleps over to Islamabad?

But that inside dope was also why you turned on your TV at noon on Sunday and found Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings instead of John Roberts, Brian Williams and Charlie Gibson. With the potential for a big showdown, the A-team anchors were on high alert-as they have been for the past month-and ready to step into the usually sleepy Sunday-afternoon slot as soon as the first bombs fell.

Mr. Jennings, for example, was phoned at his Hamptons digs at 8 a.m. Sunday morning by Marc Burstein, ABC News’ executive producer in charge of special events. Mr. Burstein told Mr. Jennings that the word around the Pentagon was that an attack was imminent, so the anchor vroomed back into town. ABC News went live at 12:43 p.m.

Tonight, the great Barbara Walters sits idly at home while America turns its frightened hearts to Sela Ward, as ABC shows a bit of prescient programming with Once and Again . [WABC, 7, 10 p.m.]

Saturday, oct. 13

Meanwhile, foreign superduper-

correspondent Christiane Amanpour (man, wasn’t it like yesterday she was worried that no one would care about international news anymore?) continues to set the pace from abroad. She must be getting a kick out of all these wartime Johnny-come-recentlies showing up from the States with their $399 Patagonia jackets and Oliver Peoples specs, lookin’ for scoops.

In these times, Ms. Amanpour-who’s enough of a big shot that she can have deals with both CNN and CBS’s 60 Minutes and no one can give her crap about it-is pretty much exclusively into CNN. At least, that’s what 60 Minutes says. CNN declined to discuss Ms. Amanpour’s deal.

“She’s especially beholden to CNN in times like this,” said 60 Minutes spokesman Kevin Tedesco. However, he said, “it doesn’t preclude us from getting a piece from her. We hope to get one whenever she can deliver one.”

Don’t you wish your employers treated you like that? Tonight on the “Hey, we were just kidding about that ‘getting jazzy and fun’ stuff” CNN, more serious reportage from the front lines. [CNN, 10, 24/7]

Sunday, oct. 14

Re: CNN, what was Larry King doing the other day, wolfing breakfast at the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue (bowl of yogurt and granola, juice, coffee; approx. $25) with none other than Mr. Roger Ailes, chairman and chief executive of the Fox News Channel? Were the Great Suspendered One and Mr. Ailes cooking up a high-profile defection? A little quid pro Paula ? Or cracking up over a galley of Bill O’Reilly’s book, The No Spin Zone: Confrontations With the Powerful and Famous in America ?

“There’s nothing to it,” said a Fox News spokesperson. “They’re old friends.”

Hey, what kind of an answer is that? Maybe Mr. King will wind up doing a pay-per-view yakfest with archenemy Mr. O’Reilly-you know, like how Superman and Flash got together to beat back Bizarro in The Challenge of the SuperFriends .

Or maybe Roger wants Larry to write a column for Fox News.com: “Osama bin Laden is nothing but trouble … I like the Mariners in six … Forks are overrated … Tell me again: Which one is Colmes?”

Today on the suspiciously in-the-loop Fox News Sunday , Tony Snow delivers secret messages slipped under his door by Donald Rumsfeld. [FNC, 46, 6 p.m.]

Monday, oct. 15

Tonight on Monday Night Football , the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys compete for the title of Earth’s Suckiest Team. Maybe they should replace this tilt for the ages with a third stab at the Emmy Awards. [WABC, 7, 9 p.m.]

Tuesday, oct. 16

It seems awfully petty to discuss minor TV irritations right now, but here’s one we can’t ignore: that icky new commercial for the VW EuroVan. You know the one, with the well-pressed fortysomething yuppie couple barreling around the dusty middle of nowhere, picking up a crew of apple-cheeked, clean-fingernailed 18-to-34-year-old hitchhikers who look like they stepped out of a Yale Whiffenpoofs rehearsal?

Listen, VW: You make nice cars, and a lot of times you make nice commercials. But hitchhikers chop up people in EuroVans and eat them for breakfast with their Dinty Moore. And bourgeois couples in $26,000 vans don’t pick them up, feed them cucumber sandwiches and haul them to Red Rocks.

Tonight on NBC, the bourgeois and already-cooked Emeril . [WNBC, 4, 8 p.m.]