Channel 2 Saves Its Newscasts … Enough Dennis Miller … Seattle Tries to Shut Down MTV’s Real World …

Wednesday, June 24

Dennis Miller, fearless truth teller, is such a rebel (he just can’t play by your rules, Daddy-O–he just ain’t wired that way!) that he said “shit” on a recent edition of The Tonight Show With Jay Leno . He was responsible for another low TV moment when, on his HBO talk show, he had a very feisty conversation with Gloria Estefan about the unfairness of the Federal tax code. See him in all his glory tonight in Dennis Miller: Citizen Arcane , a stand-up special taped in Aspen, Colo. Certainly, Dennis will have some tough things to say about how this country is run. While mixing in Chia Pet references. [Comedy Central, 45, 8 P.M.]

Thursday, June 25

CNBC moves ahead of CNN (a .12 Nielsen rating, compared with CNN’s .10), probably thanks to Power Lunch , an interview show with chief executives and Wall Street players. Go into those woody financial district lunch spots and there it is, over the bar, serenading the dudes at the tables who are poking the last of their french-dip sandwiches into their mouths. “Let’s face it,” said host Bill Griffeth. “More and more people than ever are investing in the stock market, and people are discovering that CBNC is there every single day to answer the single question that people care about: ‘Is my money safe?'” …

Viewers discovered CNBC last October during the big dip in the stock market, the same way they found CNN during the Gulf War. “Whereas once the war was over CNN lost their audience, our people are so interested in their money that once they tuned in, they stayed through,” said Mr. Griffeth. This afternoon, Mr. Griffeth talks with Barry Diller. [CNBC, 15, noon.]

Friday, June 26

Mary Tyler Moore sits in the chair at Dave’s right on Late Show With David Letterman to plug an HBO movie with a long strange title: Mary Tyler Moore in Three Cats From Miami … and Other Pet Practitioners , an awards show honoring pets that help people in need, which is on Sunday, June 28. Said former Letterman head writer Bill Sheft, who just happened to be walking by as I wrote these humble lines: “She loves coming on that show and telling dirty jokes, but she’s great. They have a history. They’ll talk about the movie, Dave will be great with her, and then she’ll tell a disgusting joke.” [WCBS, 2, 11:35 P.M.]

Saturday, June 27

Nine days of men’s (snooze city) and women’s (babe fest) tennis begins today at Wimbledon . The repetitive lonely whack, the prissy British murmurings … it’s summer, there is nothing on television. [WNBC, 4, 1 P.M.]

Donald Trump tells Adam Smith (real name: Cornelius Rodriguez) on Money Game : “Lots of reporters are extremely dishonest.” Hey! Keeping talking like that, Mr. Trump, and you, too, can get a deal as a columnist at Brill’s Content ! [WNET, 13, 9:30 P.M.]

Sunday, June 28

14-Up in America , the second installment of 7-Up in America , a documentary series by producer Michael Apted ( Coal Miner’s Daughter , Nell ) based on his Emmy Award-winning 28-Up , airs tonight. Mr. Apted checks in with 14 people, from the age of 7 to adulthood, every seven years. Directed by Phil Joanou. Watch bright 7-year-olds turn into brooding 14-year-olds, moronic 21-year-olds, confused 28-year-olds, bitter 35-year-olds, screwed 42-year-olds. “I think it is about what is central to everybody: We all grow old,” said Mr. Apted. “It’s one thing to reflect on when I was 14, but when they reflect, there it is, and it isn’t the way we all look back on our lives. I have the material where you can actually look at what people were like, and I think it plays into something that is deep in all of us. People will identify with parts of the characters and they’ll say, ‘This is my life …'”

How do you film it? “I shoot about three hours of interviews every seven years. I was completely wrong about America because I said we won’t need much room [on tape] for this because when I did 14 in England, I could hardly get them to say anything. The last thing an English person wants to do is talk about themselves. But here they’re incredibly articulate and world-wise and real …

“I always thought, when I was doing the English one, that it was very English and only understood by the English, and then I brought it to New York and it was successful. And the fact that it did have a market in America led us, in our dimwitted way, to realize that maybe we could do it in America. I now bitterly regret that I wasn’t further down the road.”…

What does he watch? “I’m very taken with Ally McBeal , I rather like her … I just think it’s kind of cleverly done. It has a visual style that I like, it’s kind of daring in a real way and not a pretend way.” [Showtime, 37, 8 P.M.]

Monday, June 29

Ex- Daily News gossip columnist and cabdriver-puncher A.J. Benza gave up the dishing recently to host the E! channel’s Mysteries & Scandals . “I was desperate to get out,” said Mr. Benza. The low-budget show tells the creepy, gruesome conspiracy stories of dead Hollywood legends. Mr. Benza doesn’t mind working on Hollywood Boulevard three nights a week. “After spending five years in New York City, where there was a bit of scandal about my life, I love to read stories about men who are womanizers and men who have addictions to painkillers–because I had that after I had back surgery. I also lived a certain kind of life style; fighting and drinking, drugging and womanizing, so I like to see that these guys were doing the same things.” …

The show also suggests new explanations, like maybe Marilyn Monroe’s maid killed her by putting drugs in her enema.…

“Having sat at a gossip desk, I’ve learned that the names change, but the stories are the same,” said Mr. Benza. “There were Chris Farleys 40 years ago, and I wouldn’t have known that. Primarily, people dig this show because they get to watch a TV show that deals with their heroes and old icons. We have a long list of crazy lives–like did you know about Ramone Novarro? Rudolph Valentino’s lover? From Ben-Hur ? He lived this life of a secluded old gay man, and in 1967 he invited a bunch of hustlers into his house–this is a wild story–and they cut his thing off, you know, and put it in his mouth. If we heard this today, New York City would go crazy.”…

So explain your TV schtick, Mr. Benza.…

“I’m not a typical blow-dried man. My producer said he wanted a guy who’s a fish out of water, someone who doesn’t really belong in Hollywood, so they thought of me. It suits me, a New York City kid kind of doing like a noir thing, kind of L.A. Confidential .”…

Tonight: Errol Flynn. Anything to look for? “They might show a re-enactment of Errol Flynn stealing some chick’s jewels.” [E!, 24, 9 P.M.]

Tuesday, June 30

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988) finds Steve Martin in a nice phase of his career: He’s in a movie that isn’t a mere “Steve Martin showcase”–and yet he’s still going with his strength (acting like a complete jerk and buffoon) instead of doing the passive “normal” guy role he would go on to play in such bland fare as Parenthood and the Father of the Bride pictures. Michael Caine makes a great comedy partner for him–especially for the scene in which Mr. Martin wets himself at the dinner table while wearing a pirate patch over one eye. [Comedy Central, 45, 8 P.M.]

Wednesday, July 1

Chuck Berry: Hail, Hail Rock and Roll (1987), a bio and concert picture, with Keith Richards playing in the all-star band. Has nothing to do with that videotape you can order off channel 35 in the middle of the night. [Bravo, 64, 11 P.M.]

A great movie ending: A guy (Montgomery Clift) is banging furiously on the front door–and she (Olivia de Havilland) won’t let him in, and the words “The End” appear in giant letters on screen. It’s William Wyler’s The Heiress (1949), a crisp, moving adaptation of the Henry James novella Washington Square . Watch this one and you’re guaranteed not to feel like a shlub. [American Movie Classics, 54, midnight.]

Thursday, July 2

Sure, you remember that Hank Williams song “Setting the Woods on Fire.” Well, here’s a guy who actually did set the woods on fire–acres and acres of protected Federal land! Yes, it’s Johnny Cash, tonight on Biography . [A&E, 14, 8 P.M.]

Friday, July 3

Six-movie Jackie Chan marathon starts tonight, continues on July 4. It includes: Rumble in the Bronx (1995), Supercop (1996), Jackie Chan’s First Strike (1996) and Operation Condor (1997). [Starz!, 92, 8 P.M.]

Saturday, July 4

The hype-sensitive city of Seattle had a message for the cast and crew of MTV’s The Real World : Go home! It got so bad that those working on the show considered packing up and going elsewhere.…

Jeff Wilson, an MTV cameraman, said, “It was just too stressful–people yelling at us around every corner.” During a recent press conference, producer Devin Thomas said, “We can’t take the name-calling, the obscene gestures, the bare asses anymore. It’s time we packed up and went back to L.A.” The last straw was when the cast returned to their Seattle home at Pier 70 one day only to find thousands of people wearing T-shirts that said “Seattle Thinks: The Real World Sucks.”…

Mr. Thomas later said, “We’re going to have a new season next year in Sri Lanka. The people don’t own cameras, much less cable TV or computers.” …

On the show itself, one Real World er was a little different from the usual self-absorbed dopes who usually populate this documentary series. In other words, she was a little too real for The Real World . Her name was Irene, and you can watch her as she seems to unravel, little by little. In a future episode, MTV will explain her mysterious departure is due to Lyme disease, and will even contribute money to a Lyme disease charity at a Real World party after the show wraps. [MTV, 20, 8 P.M.]

Sunday, July 5

It’s NYTV’s annual “no TV day.” Do something outside the apartment, like maybe going to a movie.

Monday, July 6

Oh, joy. ABC unveils its new promotional campaign, a tweak job on its “TV is good” mantra. The slogan for phase 2? “We love TV.” You thought last year was kind of annoying? Get ready for another bombardment of new lines like, “Don’t just sit there. O.K., just sit there” and “Before TV, two world wars. After TV, zero” and “If TV’s so bad for you, why is there one in every hospital room?” and “Ever wonder why rush hour comes just before prime time?” and “Without a TV, how would you know where to put the sofa?” and “TV: So good, they named a frozen meal after it.” …

ABC says this year’s campaign assault is going to be even “more aggressive” than last year’s, including advertising on 15 million bananas. Jeremy Miller, from TBWA Chiat/Day, ABC’s ad agency, said, “We were a little cynical last year, and some of that was taken away,” said Mr. Miller. “It was a new campaign and definitely in your face.” [Begins today.]

Tuesday, July 7

Newscasts on WCBS have been in the dumps throughout the 90’s, with the exception of one glorious day in February 1993. They’ve tried everything. Young Canadian anchorman John Roberts. Storm Field. Frank Field. New helicopters. Old tabloid guy Jerry Nachman. Nothing worked.

Until December, when Steve Friedman took over as vice president and station manager. Now you’ve got young sweet cuties like VH1’s Tad Low and former New York Post Page Six-er Kimberley Ryan turning in sprightly features, and cable TV-esque reports from the stockroom floor and the Asian markets. WCBS news programs still finish in third place, but they have gained as many viewers as the other stations have lost. In the last year, CBS has gained as many viewers as each of the other networks has lost. The most likely reason for the seven-month turnaround has to do with the much-maligned Olympics broadcasts running on CBS this past winter.…

“A lot people said they were a disappointment. Are you kidding? We’d like to be disappointed like that all the time,” said Mr. Friedman, who comes from NBC News and Today . “I think it brought people to the new stuff that would have taken longer to get there. The Judge Judy lead-in has also really helped.” But the content changed, too. “We tried to make our hard segments hard and our soft sections soft, and we didn’t apologize by softening up our hard and hardening up our soft so everything’s like jelly.”…

The numbers: From May ’97 to May ’98, the 5 o’clock news is up 30 percent (from a 4.0 rating and 9 share to a 5.2 rating and 12 share). Meanwhile, WABC is down 25 percent and WNBC is down 20 percent. The 6 o’clock WCBS broadcast is up 31 percent, WABC’s is down 23 percent and WNBC’s is down 19 percent. Although still a long way from first place in the local news ratings, WCBS is happy. A year ago, it was 10 share points out of first, and 7 out of second; this year, it’s 2 points from second place and 3 out of first. “To me, that is a massive move,” said Mr. Friedman. “There’s two ways to look at this–you’re making up real ground, but you’re still third, but it’s a competitive third and not a joke third.”…

Running the first newscast to run the box-office returns on Sunday night (now they all do), Mr. Friedman said it’s become a lot harder to fill newscasts with … news. “Everything isn’t life and death anymore,” he said. “We’re trying to tell you we understand that and we will present our hard stuff, but we will give you more than just the news. We have to tell you what’s going on, but we have to tell you things that you can use in your daily life.” [WCBS, 2, 5 P.M.]

Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week

In 1941, the same extraordinary vintage year that saw the release of Orson Welles’ first film, Citizen Kane , John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley Howard Hawks’ Sergeant York , John Huston’s first film, The Maltese Falcon , Raoul Walsh’s High Sierra and The Strawberry Blonde , among other memorable films, came the third and fourth brilliant comedies in a row from America’s first writer-director, the incomparable Preston Sturges. Early that year, there was Sturges’ scintillating romantic farce with Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck, The Lady Eve , and right at the end, an utterly unique achievement–a light, even slapstick, comedy that veers into heavy drama–about a pampered hit-making Hollywood movie director who decides to find out what life is really like out there and does, with a fateful vengeance, in Sullivan’s Travels [Tuesday, June 30, American Movie Classics, 54, 7:30 A.M., also available on videocassette] .

Superbly stoic and deadpan Joel McCrea plays Sullivan–a mega-box-office winner with forgettable items like Ants in Your Pants and Hey Hey in the Hayloft , who gets his studio to buy for him a deadly serious, heavily social-conscious novel titled O Brother, Where Art Thou , so that he can adapt it into a picture of substance, weight and stature–”but with a little sex in it,” hopes his dubious studio head. Before Sullivan can embark on such a meaningful project, however, he feels he must first rough it, go down to skid row with no money in his pockets, see how the less fortunate live, where the homeless hang out. For a while, Sully (as his associates call him) is joined on his misbegotten travels by an aspiring young actress he’s run into, played with a sexy, savvy kind of candor by Veronica Lake in her best film role. Unfortunately for Sully, though, life intrudes in a very ugly way, and pretty soon he finds himself whacked on the head (causing amnesia for some time) and eventually part of a terrible Southern chain gang with a mercilessly brutal warden. In this miserable circumstance, he comes to learn his biggest lesson about life: that being able to make people laugh is a great and precious gift that should be treasured, because “Laughter,” as Sully says at the end, “may not be much, but it’s all some people have in this cockeyed caravan. Boy!”

The film’s satirical thrusts at Hollywood celebrity, unreality and pretentiousness are still timely as ever, the pace is breakneck and all the performances absolutely top-notch. Besides, how could any movie in which the two leads sit at a soda fountain and discuss Ernst Lubitsch be anything but sublime? Sullivan’s Travels was Sturges’ way of saying to all comedy makers that theirs was the most important work, a sardonic nudge to Frank Capra and the Academy to say that for a troubled public, social-minded seriousness can never take the place of solid healthy laughter.

(For ultra-dedicated film buffs, by the way, there is also the revolutionary Sturges screenplay which supposedly influenced the complicated flashback construction of Citizen Kane [coincidentally, too, on Monday, June 29, Turner Classic Movies, 82, 10:30 A.M.] : a rarely shown 1933 William K. Howard production starring Spencer Tracy called The Power and the Glory [Friday, June 26, WLIW, 21, 1:40 A.M.] . However, apart from the novelty of the technique and interest in Tracy’s generally fine performance, this is pretty dated now and not really well executed.)

The McCarey Watch: The opening sequences, set in France, of Leo McCarey’s enduring 1935 version of Ruggles of Red Gap [Friday, June 26, AMC, 54, 6 A.M., also on videocassette] features some of the funniest Americans-in-Paris scenes on film, like Charlie Ruggles ordering at a French restaurant: ” Voulez-vous ham and eggie?!” Charles Laughton is at his best as the very proper English gentleman’s gentleman whose gentleman (Roland Young) loses him in a poker game to a couple of hopelessly provincial wild Westerners (from Washington State). Though McCarey turns the tables at the end and Laughton has a change of heart about Americans–and does a touching rendition of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address–the film’s delicious satire and thrillingly improvised comedy makes it one of McCarey’s brightest, most representative works.

Special Bonus: The very best Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical-comedy is the one George Stevens directed in 1936, Swing Time [Sunday, June 28, TCM, 82, 2 P.M., also on videocassette] , featuring a delightful Jerome Kern score as well as the one time Astaire put on blackface in order to do a rousing tribute to the legendary black dancer Bill (Bojangles) Robinson, who, Astaire told me once, was the biggest influence and inspiration of his career.

Channel 2 Saves Its Newscasts … Enough Dennis Miller … Seattle Tries to Shut Down MTV’s Real World …