Wednesday, June 23
@ Last year Patton Oswalt, the 35-year-old actor who plays schlubby, lovable nerd Spence Olchin on CBS’s schlubby, lovable sitcom, The King of Queens , went onstage at a Pittsburgh comedy club and told a few jokes about the Bush administration.
Suddenly, he wasn’t so lovable.
“I was chanted offstage,” he recalled. “Three hundred people chanting ‘Bush rocks!’ and pounding on their tables-’ Bush rocks! Bush rocks! ‘ People were trying to rush the stage. They had to lock me in the manager’s office. ‘ Send him down here! ‘ People at the bar wanted to get into fights. It was a nightmare.”
“When you do get the King of Queens audience out there, it’s like a brick against their head,” he continued. “And they need to hear it: Not everyone agrees with this bullshit administration.”
On Monday, June 21, Mr. Oswalt was preparing to do a standup act for a more receptive crowd in the East Village, working material from his new comedy album, Feelin’ Kinda Patton . Mr. Oswalt felt that a CD of his standup was the only way to define himself against the beloved TV character he’s played since 1998.
“I could care less how many copies I sell,” he said. “This is all about creating a separation between me and The King of Queens .”
On it, Mr. Oswalt lets his feelings be known about the war in Iraq. He suggests that owners of Hummers, for instance, should be hit on the back of the neck with a roll of quarters and left in the middle of the Iraqi desert to go find their own gas.
“Oh yeah, you can drive it,” he says. “You just have to get the gasoline yourself.”
He also calls Mr. Bush the man to end it all. “That’s the one thing I like about George Bush,” he says. “I really think he can get us into the Apocalypse.”
Mr. Oswalt then does an imitation of a lucky soul who has died in the Apocalypse and gets to brag from “the velvet-rope section of eternity.”
“You should have been there, man! Fucking volcanoes came out of the ground and spewed menstrual blood into the sky, and then it formed into Avril Lavigne’s face and she recited the Good Will Hunting screenplay and then the words turned into sentient razors and just bored into your flesh, and George Bush was President and mediocrity held sway! It was amazing.”
Mr. Oswalt stands at 5 feet, 7 inches, has a whiny, irony-drenched voice and wears rimless spectacles. He has popped up in the usual funny-guy venues on TV, from Comedy Central to VH1′s Best Week Ever . He also had a memorable role as the disco D.J. in Starsky and Hutch . Mr. Oswalt said lots of comics are voicing viscerally dissenting views nowadays, “but they almost never allow it on TV.” Consequently, he has a lot of fans among fellow comedians. “He’s one of the best out there, truly of one of the top five comics out there,” said David Cross, the onetime Mr. Show costar who plays Tobias Funke in Fox’s Arrested Development . “And he’s really ballsy.”
On Monday, Mr. Oswalt was preparing to be a guest on Janeane Garofalo’s radio show, The Majority Report , on Air America. “It really tells you something about how bad this administration is when somebody as dumb as me understands precisely, both in historical context and by just day-to-day revelations, just how bad it is,” said Mr. Oswalt. “These last four years were such a brick against my skull as far as politics are concerned. This is like an old silent-movie, mustache-twirling thing-I mean, it’s not even subtle.”
His comedy isn’t all political, of course. There are also some excellent jokes about midgets. “I read this in Discover magazine,” he says. “If you hit a midget on the head with a stick, he turns into 40 gold coins-40 glittering gold coins!”
Tonight, CBS has a rerun of The King of Queens . Wait, do we really want to watch this show? Mr. Patton insisted it was loaded with subtly subversive material.
“It’s very subversive and weird,” he said. “References to race and drugs and sex and stuff like that.”
[WCBS, 2, 9 p.m.]
Thursday, June 24
) The folks over at Fox News are tickled pink with their in-house media critic, Eric Burns. The horn-rimmed host of the media-on-media show Fox News Watch may be less glamorous than his CNN counterpart, Washington Post media columnist Howard Kurtz, but his program has been averaging close to 900,000 viewers, nearly double that of Mr. Kurtz’s Reliable Sources.
To what did Mr. Burns chalk up his ratings coup over Mr. Kurtz?
“I probably shouldn’t admit that I don’t see his show very often, if at all,” said Mr. Burns from his home in Westport, Conn., on Monday, June 21. “The audience out there is full of media critics these days, partly because they’re so offended by what they see as years of bias one way or the other, in part because they’re appreciative that there’s a show on the air that is critical of the business that the show is a part of. Kurtz’s show I know doesn’t do that.”
Every Saturday, Mr. Burns, a fiftysomething former NBC News correspondent, picks over the latest issues with a panel that includes Jim Pinkerton of Newsday , Jane Hall of American University, media writer Neal Gabler and syndicated columnist Cal Thomas. He said Fox News Watch is a media “criticism” show and not a media “explanation” show like Reliable Sources , which he deemed an uncritical broadcast for media insiders. Even though Mr. Burns insisted he never watches Mr. Kurtz, he did happen to flip by it “in passing” recently and caught his interview with CBS News anchorman Dan Rather on Sunday, June 20.
“Dan Rather was on, explaining-or I should say promoting -the interview with Bill Clinton,” he said. “We would never do anything like that.”
Mr. Kurtz, of course, was inclined to disagree with Mr. Burns’ assessment. “I ask tough questions of my guests,” he said, “whether they are Dan Rather or Rush Limbaugh or any of the high-profile folks who come on.
“I asked Rather, for example, about criticism that he is friendlier to Democratic Presidents than Republican ones,” he continued, “and also pressed him to justify his airing of the Iraqi prisoner-abuse photos.
“I am sorry those questions don’t appear to meet Eric Burns’ high standards,” said Mr. Kurtz.
About those standards: Did Mr. Burns consider Fox News “fair and balanced,” as advertised?
“Gee, you’d think I’d been asked that before,” said Mr. Burns, pausing for a long moment. “It certainly attempts to be. The reason I’m hesitating is, that’s a very-I think it makes more sense to think of that as a goal rather than something you can actually achieve. First of all, because the definitions are impossible. A lot of people criticize Fox News for conservative leanings. Well, does that mean that Fox isn’t fair and balanced, or the people criticizing it for that are so used to a liberal tilt on CNN? Which, yes, does exist, and I say that without qualification. So there’s a serious problem of definition of terms.”
Speaking of Mr. Clinton, he’s taking viewer calls tonight to talk about his memoir, My Life , in a very special 15-hour edition of Larry King Live .
[CNN, 10, 9 p.m.]
friday, June 25
T NYTV News flash: Harvey hearts Roger!
If you were watching AMC’s Hollywood talk show, Sunday Morning Shootout , on Sunday, June 13, you may have done a double-take: That was indeed Harvey Weinstein you heard giving big ups to Fox News chief Roger Ailes. Apparently, Mr. Ailes has privately supported Mr. Weinstein in his battle with Disney over the distribution of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 .
“When the big fight over the movie [was going on], the unlikeliest of allies happened: Roger Ailes at Fox,” Mr. Weinstein told the show’s host, Variety editor in chief Peter Bart. “I mean, when he sees this movie”-Mr. Weinstein had to laugh just thinking about this-”I don’t want to be responsible for a cardiac bill, but on a First Amendment issue, it blew his mind. So the best coverage we had wasn’t ABC, CBS or NBC-and even Michael Moore couldn’t believe it-it was Fox News. Roger Ailes said a movie, in his mind, that couldn’t be distributed, or was having to fight for distribution, just was un-American. He’d rather say, ‘Bring it on, we’ll deal with that, but you have a right to show it.’”
A Fox News spokesperson confirmed that Mr. Ailes had spoken privately with Mr. Weinstein about issues surrounding the film.
Tonight, Fahrenheit 9/11 is put into a particle accelerator with The O’Reilly Factor . The result is Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines .
[HBO, 32, 9 p.m.]
saturday, June 26
* Tonight, watch Fox News Watch on Fox News. Fair and balanced, bucko!
[FNC, 46, 6:30 p.m.]
sunday, June 27
* Instead of a Clinton Summer, NYTV opts for a Clinton Half-Week and calls it quits tonight with Primary Colors .
[BRAVO, 38, 2 p.m.]
monday, June 28
$ NBC Late Night host Conan O’Brien was among the professional comedy practitioners to remove his cap at the arrival of a new DVD set: the majestic five-disc collection of 90-minute SCTV episodes that united a comedy nation when broadcast on NBC in 1981 and forever made indestructible this nation’s eternal respect for Canada. Imported from the Great White North, SCTV was the first comedy to understand both the glory and rot of American television, and won the eternal gratitude of the comedy elite in the United States, from Malibu to Manhattan, from Carol Burnett to … Conan O’Brien.
“It was one of the least-needy comedy shows I’d ever seen,” said Mr. O’Brien, who wrote an essay for the DVD’s liner notes. “They weren’t waiting for you to get it; they were moving ahead at their own pace. So when you’re doing comedy about, you know, Mike Douglas and Orson Welles on the 2001 spaceship hiding from HAL, you’re clearly not playing to everyone in the audience.
“Even Saturday Night Live , which was supposedly the coolest show at the time, looked needy in comparison to SCTV ,” he continued. “Because there was a studio audience. And whenever there’s a studio audience, you’re listening for laughs if you’re a performer. You just are. And these guys were completely off on their own.”
That much is clear. The cast were straight-faced comic geniuses: scar-browed Eugene (“Bobby Bittman”) Levy, Catherine (“Lola Heatherton”) O’Hara, Imogene Coca–like Andrea (“Edith Prickley”) Martin, Joe (“Count Floyd”) Flaherty, John (“Johnny LaRue”) Candy, Rick (“Woody Allen”) Moranis and Dave (“Bob Hope”) Thomas. Watching it now, SCTV looks like it inhabited its own low-pressure zone, but it essentially invented TV satire on television within a time-frame of its own making. Mr. Thomas and Mr. Moranis were not so much hilarious as Bob Hope and Woody Allen, but oddly moving and evocative of cultural shifts in what constituted funny. On the other hand, “5 Neat Guys,” the K-Tel sendup in which a barber-shop quartet sings “Who Made the Egg Salad Sandwiches?” and “I Got a Hickey,” could destroy you without even trying.
Part of the joy, of course, was SCTV ‘s insider’s quality. It was hard to find. Mr. O’Brien first began watching it as a kid, with his older brothers, late at night, from a poorly received Canadian-TV signal via a Buffalo, N.Y., station. “It almost felt like the Soviets were blocking the transmission, and it made it more appealing to us somehow,” he said.
It’s difficult to imagine SCTV existing on NBC in 2004. “Today, it’s hard to get that much writing and performing in one place,” said Mr. O’Brien, who wrote an essay for the liner notes. “Because there are so many outlets now in television that talent’s always getting pulled apart. So that show would probably be broken up into seven different shows between FX, Comedy Central and MTV.”
If the show were broadcast now, he said, networks would probably market it to death: “I would be hearing way too much about SCTV and it would be on the cool lists, and it would start to irritate me before I even saw too much of it.”
Tonight, the Soviets are up to their old tricks again, trying to block Conan’s signal. If Guy Caballero finds out, he’ll go crazy!
[WNBC, 4, 12:35 a.m.]
tuesday, June 29
f Tonight, Cary Grant stars in his last movie , Walk, Don’t Run , from 1966, in which he sits in a Japanese hot tub and looks very pleased with the whole thing. Listen closely and you can hear him humming the theme songs to An Affair to Remember (1957) and Charade (1963).
[TMC, 66, 8 p.m.]