MTV’s Funny Puppets … 60 Minutes VII! … HBO Bags Rafelson …Your Prison Fantasy Explained

Wednesday, July 22

Don Imus sits down with Larry King Live . Two beautiful middle-aged men with oral fixations. [CNN, 10, 9 P.M.]

Thursday, July 23

6 MTV’s heavily revamped schedule (the “10 Spot”) includes a funny, low-budget half-hour called Super Adventure Team , co-created by comedian Dana Gould (who just left the cast of Working ) and writer Rob Cohen. It’s a parody of the unhip 70’s shows Messrs. Cohen and Gould fetishize, like Firehall XL-5 , Stingray and Thunderbirds . The cast are remote-controlled marionettes trying to save the world in a science-fiction setting, but the humor comes from their personal lives.…

“We’re comedy writers,” said 33-year-old Dana Gould, “but we’re also big science-fiction geeks. There were all these shows when we were kids that tried to be funny, but they were unsettling and creepy. We take marionettes and put them in dramatic situations. Now if you can tell me what’s not funny about a marionette cheating on his wife …” …

Dana Gould is a member of what he calls the “oh so precious” alternative comedy scene in Los Angeles; the Un-Cabaret talents who redefined joke telling as storytelling and include Ben Stiller, Kathy Griffin, Andy Dick, Julia Sweeney, Dave Cross, Bob Odenkirk, Janeane Garofolo, etc. Most of the voice cast on the Super Adventure Team are Un-Cabaret buddies. “It becomes the only time we can see each other the busier everybody gets,” said Mr. Gould of the weekly Un-Cabaret gig, where the only requirement is that you perform material cold. Traditional stand-up was a little different: “The weirdest stand-up experience I ever had was the big coup for all stand-ups. In the 80’s, everyone wanted to get on Letterman ; he was the defining bar of success. So when I did Letterman , it went great and it felt great, but I was all alone after, so I went to see a movie by myself in Times Square–that lame Charlie Sheen movie The Arrival . I was just sitting there dumbfounded, thinking: I felt famous an hour ago.”…

Dana Gould’s favorite show is the cartoon Space Ghost: Coast to Coast , Rob Cohen likes Starsky and Hutch ; also The Six Million Dollar Man on tape … [MTV, 20, 10:30 P.M.]

Friday, July 24

60 Minutes VII! Sitcoms dominate the Nielsens in winter, but the networks score big, easy ratings with their newsmagazine shows during summer. During the week of July 6-12, four of the top 10 shows were: 60 Minutes (second, with an 11.6 rating), Primetime Live and 20/20 (tied for seventh, with 8.8) and 48 Hours (10th, with an 8.4). Whitney Chapin, vice president of research at TN Media Inc., an advertising buying firm, said, “People are so conscious of when a repeat is on now because when they promote a new show they make a point of saying, ‘Oh, it’s a brand-new show,'” said Mr. Chapin. “News feels like the only thing that’s original on TV in the summer … What’s interesting is that as drama and comedy ratings drop in the summer, the numbers for newsmagazines don’t fall as much … which is why you have so many of them on the air and why next season there are going to be even more.” Tonight: How adults behave at youth sporting events! Back to you, Stone! No. 11: DatelineNBC . [WNBC, 4, 10 P.M.]

Saturday, July 25

Bob Rafelson ( Five Easy Pieces , The King of Marvin Gardens , The Postman Always Rings Twice ) took the second assignment of his life ( Black Widow with Debra Winger was the first) and directed Poodle Springs for HBO. Tom Stoppard wrote the script based on the first four chapters of an unfinished Raymond Chandler novel, and Mr. Rafelson said the writing convinced him. “Then I told HBO that I would like to see James Caan, who is a vastly underrated actor, and they said, ‘He doesn’t do cable,'” said Mr. Rafelson. “So I called him and he agreed to do it immediately. We shot it 10 weeks later. Now that doesn’t happen in the movie world. It’s such a pained, tortured process. I shot it in 35 days and I did it under budget. I like working quickly, it gives me pleasure to do low-budget movies, it’s what I do …” How’d Jimmy do? “Well, Jimmy,” he said, “who has had a rep for being difficult, was the exact opposite. He’s cleaned up all of his acts; I couldn’t find a better actor. I couldn’t get him off the stage!” …

“It was the sort of thing where you have some misgivings about the genre … you ought to work more often and trust that if you do something, you’re going to make it better than the genre.” …

Mr. Rafelson, what’d you think of the American Film Institute’s top 100 movie list? “I saw two or three of them, and I said they would not be on any sane person’s list at all. They had written me a letter some time ago in which almost all of the BBS movies [from the film studio run by Mr. Rafelson and Bert Schneider in the 70’s] were on their 400 list, and Bert [Schneider] wrote back that either The Last Picture Show goes on or I don’t give you permission for any of them.” Favorite movie of your own? “I’ve never seen a picture I’ve made. I’ve never been able to do that, I can’t bear to look at the fucking thing. I got into the habit that the last time I see a movie will be the first time I see it with an audience. People come up to me and recite lines, and I don’t even know what in the fuck they’re talking about.” [HBO, 28, 9 P.M.]

Sunday, July 26

Former Saturday Night Live comedian Norm Macdonald is thinking about moving into sitcoms. Working titles of new shows include I Suck at Movies and I Married Don Ohlmeyer . The New York Post reported that Warner Brothers TV is in the lead in the race to land Mr. Macdonald’s services.

Monday, July 27

Manhattan psychoanalyst Will Miller explains why people have responded well to the violent but critically acclaimed Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana prison drama, Oz . “The metaphor is that a lot of people feel trapped, incarcerated in their jobs or their lives,” said Dr. Miller. “People feel overburdened, so the idea of being imprisoned resonates with us. Take The Shawshank Redemption , where an innocent is accused. It’s immensely gratifying to see that the people who are holding the people against their will are the dumb ones because that’s how we feel … We can’t stand to be confined. We want to break out, and we want to break heads if we can’t break out … It appeals to people who are law-abiding, the overwhelming majority of us, because it gives vent to some fantasy about lawlessness and giving into aggression. It’s the ultimate rebellion fantasy.” [HBO, 28, 10 P.M.]

Tuesday, July 28

Ring-ring! It’s a conference call with the cast of Viva Variety , the funny–if one-note–parody of a European variety show that Comedy Central just renewed for a third season. But beware! Watching can make you long for what you can’t have: the wacky hilarity of The State , which included four Viva members (Tom Lennon, Kerri Kenney, Ben Garant, Michael Ian Black), back in the good old early 90’s heyday of sketch revivalism.…

Kerri: This show has basically become the show we were originally mocking. We watched a lot of Dean Martin and Cher, and we’re also based on Colpo Grosso , an Italian show with a lot more nudity.

Tom: It took us awhile, but we’re shocked that people get it. People were not dying for a fake European variety show.

Viva is shooting in Los Angeles this year, so the gang moved out from Manhattan.

Michael: It’s true, L.A. is a little superficial, but I like that.

Kerri: The Governor gave me leniency to have the comedy-tragedy masks for my license plates.

Comedy influences?

Ben: Skip Stevenson and Mark Russell from Real People .

Tom: Hart to Hart . I thought that Stefanie Powers was really hot.

Michael: That’s Incredible!

Kerri: I only watch documentaries.

Tom: Basically, the formula for this show is Hart to Hart with That’s Incredible! and The Muppet Show .

Michael: Celebrities who come on tend to be nervous because they think we’re going to make fun of them.

Ben: Stacy Keach came on and we were all a little frightened, but he had such a good time. It almost always happens that it works; rarely do they come on and not have a great time.

Kerri: Nell Carter and Jeff Jones asked to come back. Shelley Long asked for more rehearsal time–

Tom: I spent three hours squeezing her ass in rehearsal yesterday.

Ben: We’ve heard for a while that Paul Reubens is doing a fictional European variety show. TV has been taking itself so darn seriously, I think it’s ready for a celebration of stupid celebrity.

Kerri: If anyone comes up and does a European Variety Show , we’ll know they stole it from us, or at least that we stole it first.

Tonight: An hourlong season premiere from Las Vegas. [Comedy Central, 45, 10 P.M.]

Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week

For decades, when I would tell certain kinds of killjoy people that one of my all-time favorite pictures is John Ford’s robust, luminously color-photographed 1952 Irish love story-comedy The Quiet Man [Sunday, July 26, Turner Classic Movies, 82, 3:15 P.M., also on videocassette] , they would say condescendingly, “You know, the Irish aren’t really like that.” Well, a couple of years ago, I finally got a chance to go to Ireland and found to my delight that actually the Irish are a good deal “like that.” And Ireland itself is even more gloriously beautiful than it looks in Ford’s hilarious, romantic and lovely film, which stars John Wayne at his most leading-man-likable and Maureen O’Hara at her most gorgeously feisty. It was a homecoming story Ford had wanted to do since the mid-30’s, and only after agreeing to make his third cavalry-and-Indians movie ( Rio Grande , 1950) did mini-major Republic Pictures Corporation allow him to finally make the picture, which became perhaps his biggest commercial success, and for which he received his fourth Oscar for best director.

Wayne is a popular Irish-American prizefighter who accidentally killed an opponent in the ring and swore off any kind of fighting forever. Returning to his never-seen homeland, he buys the cottage of his long-lost mother’s dreams and falls in love at first sight with his neighbor’s sister (O’Hara). The hitch is that her brother (splendidly done by Victor McLaglen) is a mean-spirited bully who covets the land Wayne bought, takes out his disappointments on his sister’s relationship and refuses to send her dowry. As a result, O’Hara, feeling she is still not her own woman, refuses Wayne the privileges of the wedding night, or any conjugal night, until she receives her furniture and personal belongings and her money.

The essential simplicity of the plot belies the delightful though deeply felt complexities of the telling. There is no other film in Ford’s canon like it, yet the work seems nearly the most personal he ever made, done with a lightness of touch that perfectly combines charm with an inherent gravity. Having spent nearly five years of his life in World War II and having lost the love of his life (Katharine Hepburn) because of duty and tradition, Ford here reveals his most heartfelt emotions without pretension or pomposity. The director was 57 when he made the movie, and it has romantic abandon checked by wisdom, a sense of whimsy combined with rueful knowledge. It is no coincidence that name of O’Hara’s character is Mary Kate–Mary after Ford’s long-suffering wife, the mother of his two children–Kate after Hepburn, the love that was reciprocal but couldn’t be. I remember being with Ford, less than two years before he died, when he was told he had a phone call from Hepburn, and can never forget the extraordinarily boyish and happy way he said, “Kate!” as he went to answer it.

The Quiet Man , while it endorses pacifism, a need for peace–which Ford undoubtedly yearned for and never achieved–it nonetheless speaks strongly of the absolute necessity to fight in a just cause, and that a man must willingly undergo the ordeals of Hercules to win a woman’s love. Finally, the picture is a fable of wish fulfillment, a vision of life not as it necessarily is, but as it should be: where Catholic and Protestant join together to fight for love; where there is equal respect for both sexes, though they may have different roles, yet ones that may overlap; where chivalry, honor and gallantry are not words in the punch line of a dirty joke.

No words, however, can convey the joyous exuberance of The Quiet Man , its visual grace, the wonderful love of humanity it projects. Barry Fitzgerald’s performance alone as “the matchmaker” carries much of the somewhat leprechaunlike magic and poetic mystery Ford brings to the tale. It is, too, a film for the whole family, before ratings were necessary, that is thoroughly clear for adults in its adult meanings yet innocently enjoyable for children, if both haven’t already been brutalized by our cynical and dehumanizing times.

On its highest level, the mythological one–and certainly Jack Ford knew his Celtic mythology and all about those ancient Druids, Ford being extremely well read, especially in historical and prehistorical subjects, there always being several stacks of arcane books of that sort on his night tables both at home and on location– The Quiet Man is a comic variation of the single most ancient mythic tale of the queen or goddess and the two sacred kings or gods who fought and killed each other yearly for her affections. Unquestionably, Ford had read an old Irish version of the Cúchulainn saga in which the Holly Knight (Wayne) spares the Oak Knight (McLaglen) for the sake of the Queen (O’Hara). Ford, more consciously perhaps than any other of the pioneer picture makers, knew that he was dealing with a much larger-than-life and therefore mythologically potent medium. (Remember this was before reduction-to-video size.) It is also no coincidence that John Wayne remains one of America’s favorite stars nearly two decades after his death: John Ford used Wayne (about 20 times) as the ultimate American sacred king, and he knew what he was doing: He always used to say, “Heroes are good for the country.”

MTV’s Funny Puppets … 60 Minutes VII! … HBO Bags Rafelson …Your Prison Fantasy Explained