Saddam, Unplugged …ABC’s Hairspray … MTV’s Bomb

Wednesday, Oct. 23

Amid all the saber-rattling between the U.S. and Iraq, it’s been hard to get anything more than a cartoonish portrait of our sworn enemy, Saddam Hussein. But now comes a quirky television documentary that may provide the scariest and most three-dimensional account yet of the Iraqi dictator.

Entitled Uncle Saddam and made by French journalist Joel Soler, this documentary-set to premiere Nov. 26 at 7 p.m. on Cinemax-uses astonishing smuggled footage and firsthand interviews with Saddam relatives and employees (Saddam’s architect! Saddam’s interior designer!) to chronicle the Iraqi leader’s reign. Saddam, Mr. Soler shows, is more than a fierce military brute-he’s a wildly eccentric fashion dandy, art fiend and germ nut who’d make Howard Hughes blush.

In one memorable piece of film, a Panama-hat-wearing Mr. Hussein rails on about hygiene: “It’s preferable to bathe twice a day.” At another moment, he offers: “If a woman can’t afford to brush her teeth with toothpaste and toothbrush, she should use her finger.” Mr. Soler’s film notes that cleanliness is a top priority with the dictator, at least in part because he requests that visitors greet him with a kiss right next to his … armpit.

Uncle Saddam is not all fun and games; Mr. Soler neatly juxtaposes Mr. Hussein’s odd habits and extravagances against footage of the oppressed Iraqi people. But with a script written by former Kids in the Hall star Scott Thompson, this is a cheeky work. “Scott Thompson says he is an evil drama queen,” Mr. Soler said in an interview. “It’s so campy. Saddam and Tammy Faye [Bakker] will make a great couple.”

Still, Uncle Saddam doesn’t soften Mr. Hussein’s image-it merely offers more worrisome insight into the man. Mr. Soler, who’s received death threats since returning from Iraq to complete the film, said, “We are dealing with a man more dangerous than people think he is,” and said his one hope for his documentary was that it might arouse sympathy for the Iraqi people, whom he called “the greatest people I have ever met.”

Tonight on Cinemax, Swordfish . [MAX, 69, 8 p.m.]

Thursday, Oct. 24

Marissa Jaret Winokur, you can do no wrong, baby! After bowing to rhapsodic raves in Hairspray as Tracy Turnblad, Ms. Winokur has emerged as a refreshing It Girl, a normal-bodied counter to the Christinas and Britneys. (Plus she can sing like nobody’s biz.) Now she’s got herself a spiffy development deal with Touchstone Television and ABC.

“Right now, we’re talking about a half-hour sitcom,” Ms. Winokur said the other day. Everything else is up in the air. At the very least, Ms. Winokur knows she doesn’t want to do Tracy Turnblad on TV, but she was open to other suggestions. What about a karate-instructor action-hero superstar?

“That would be fun!” Ms. Winokur said.

She identified her current sitcom favorites as Curb Your Enthusiasm and Will & Grace . As for the old stuff, the 29-year-old admitted to fixations on Silver Spoons and The Facts of Life . Also: “I’m the actress who watches all the reality shows.” That’s right: The Bachelor , American Idol , etc.

How does she watch all these shows? After all, she’s got to run around with Harvey Fierstein in heels five nights a week.

“TiVo!” Ms. Winokur said.

The TV deal doesn’t necessarily mean that Ms. Winokur will soon bail on Hairspray . She’s planning to take some time away from Broadway in midsummer to film a pilot, and if that goes well-like, the pilot gets picked up-she’ll make a decision. But it’s equally possible that midsummer will come and she’ll want to extend her stay. “This is my heart and my love,” she said.

Of course, Ms. Winokur’s heart and love is also wiping her out. Broadway’s newest star admits to having no life because of the demands of her show.

“I go home,” she said, “and I’m exhausted.”

Tonight, Ms. Winokur blows off the gang at Sardi’s to watch a TiVo’d installment of Friends . [WNBC, 4, 8 p.m.]

Friday, Oct. 25

Boinnnnng !! Former CNN White House correspondent turned sexpert Bob Berkowitz is back on the tube with a zippy new chat show on the Metro Channel called Naked New York . Mr. Berkowitz, who used to have a racy program on CNBC called Real Personal and has been known to show up as a featured speaker at swingers’ conventions, says that New Yorkers are still hormonally buzzing even in post-Giuliani (PG) New York.

“Sex is such a strong force for all of us that no matter what a politician says, does or enacts into law, it still has a major position in our lives,” Mr. Berkowitz said.

What position? Oh, never mind.

On Naked New York , the affable yet gamy Mr. Berkowitz brings on guests and chats them up about sex and sexual goings-on. Recent panelists included Richard Bey and-how’s this for a little sex-show incongruity?-former New York Giant Harry Carson. “Harry’s a bright, smart guy who has something to say about sex,” Mr. Berkowitz said.

Mr. Berkowitz said he’s got one dream guest: Bill Clinton.”I would like to ask him what was going through his mind and did he think about the consequences,” Mr. Berkowitz said. “There seems to be a pattern here: Has he ever sought help for it? I’d be curious to find out about that, and how did it affect his marriage-did he and his wife have a deal, a private deal?

Mr. Berkowitz is talking about welfare reform, of course. Tonight on Naked New York , Mr. Berkowitz gulps a fistful of Viagra and works his magic. [METRO, 70, 10 p.m.]

Saturday, Oct. 26

Not long ago, those N.Y.U. kids with the smart-assed Shakespeare hip-hopera The Bomb-itty of Errors were the little darlings of downtown New York. Then they went Hollywood and disappeared- poof! -but now they’re back with an MTV sketch-comedy series entitled Scratch & Burn that debuted Oct. 19.

How are they liking TV life? Tons, if you believe Bomb- adier- cum – Scratch & Burn er Erik Weiner, who goes by the handle Dragon.

“We all agreed it was the most fun we’ve ever had performing,” Mr. Weiner, er, Dragon, said. “I hope it’s not all downhill from here.”

Meanwhile, there is work on a Bomb-itty of Errors feature film, Mr. Weiner said. The gang workshopped at Sundance earlier this year and cooked up a screenplay; the movie is being developed with MTV. Mr. Weiner said he hoped filming would begin sometime next year.

Tonight on MTV, see what Dragon and the boys have been up to. [MTV, 20, 9:30 p.m.]

Sunday, Oct. 27

Senator John McCain, you were funnier than we thought you’d be the other night on Saturday Night Live . Whereas some opportunistic politicians take up comedy for the brownie points, get on camera and freeze like Popsicles, Mr. McCain was (relatively) loose. He won’t make anyone forget Bill Murray, but his impression of John Ashcroft killed.

Saturday Night Live executive producer Lorne Michaels thought Mr. McCain was good, too. “He was very comfortable with himself,” Mr. Michaels said. “He just sort of threw himself into it and was completely committed to whatever sketch he was doing.”

“I think he’s pretty clear on who he is,” Mr. Michaels said. “If he was uncomfortable with anything, he would just say, ‘I don’t think this is funny.’”

Mr. Michaels thought the trick for politicians performing on SNL was to enjoy it, and not spend too much time worrying about fallout. That’s what Mr. McCain did, he said.

“I think it’s easier if you’re not overthinking everything in terms of what its potential impact is,” he said. “I think the Senator was there because he was going to host Saturday Night Live . I don’t think he thought of it as anything other than that.”

Tonight on NBC, the always-sunny George Michael finds a fumble recovery to get excited about on George Michael Sports Machine . [WNBC, 4, 11:35 p.m.]

Monday, Oct. 28

With its constant, horrible twists, the Washington, D.C.–area sniper story has proven to be perfect for cable-television news, even if too much on-air time is still spent blindly hypothesizing about the killer’s motives and origins. It’s an equally compelling story for the broadcast-news operations, but to date, these outfits have not been breaking into regular programming to deliver sniper updates. At CBS News, the possibility of doing such has been discussed, but a spokesperson for the news network said that it won’t break into programming unless there are critical developments in the case.

“The bar is set very high for us,” the spokesperson said. “For us to break in, there has to be legitimate, verifiable news that furthers the story.”

Tonight on CBS, CSI: Miami [WCBS, 2, 10 p.m.]

Tuesday, Oct. 29

The Man Show is pretty much a one-man show at this point, with co-host Jimmy Kimmel currently preparing the precarious January launch of his ABC late-night talk show and Adam Carolla awaiting further instructions from Comedy Central. A spokesperson for Comedy Central said that the network has not made any final decisions on TMS ‘s fate, primarily because it isn’t under the gun: Mr. Carolla and Mr. Kimmel have made enough installments of the boobalicious show to last through April of 2003.

Still, Comedy Central is exploring several possibilities, the spokesperson said, including having Mr. Carolla return with a new co-host (Sal Iacono, where are you?) or “adding two completely different people.”

Here’s a nomination: Bill Clinton and Ben Stein. Better than Crossfire , plus: Juggies . [COM, 45, 10 p.m.]