Wednesday, August 12
David Letterman’s first choice to replace Tom Snyder on the Late Late Show , friendly, sweater-wearing Jon Stewart, didn’t get it–Craig Kilborn did. So now Mr. Stewart replaces Mr. Kilborn as host of the Daily Show at Comedy Central in ’99. But where does that leave poor Norm Macdonald? [Comedy Central, 45, 11 P.M.]
Thursday, August 13
Last week Seinfeld ranked No. 1 in the Nielsen ranking. Meaning we, a beaten-down nation, have joined hands and recognized that we demand nothing more from television than repeats of Seinfeld . A repeat? That’s O.K. Tonight: George gets nostalgic about Frogger. This makes no sense, because he’s too old to have played video games as a kid. But, again, no problemo. [WNBC, 4, 9 P.M.]
Friday, August 14
Unfortunately, when you think of comedian Kathy Griffin , you think of the central casting crazy she plays on Suddenly Susan and not the very funny comic she is. But her uncensored standup act has been consecrated by HBO and her one-hour special, taped in June from the Variety Arts Center in Los Angeles, airs tonight. (Another comic’s special made it harder than usual to get the word out: “That fucking Jerry Seinfeld. When is it enough? In California, I have a huge billboard on Sunset of me looking coy; in New York, nothing.”) Ms. Griffin’s power is delivery, but her idea is the old observational: “When did Madonna become British?” (Pause. Audience giggles.) “O.K., let’s talk about her lineage.” (Pause.) “Grew up in the Midwest … Moves to New York …” ( Now here’s the big pause.) ” British! ” That’s the power of the explosive punchline. Other ballsy attacks: haranguing the President at a Washington, D.C., fund-raiser, deconstructing Celine Dion and Mariah Carey.
So when’s she going to exit “Must See Monday”? “I love the show,” she blurted robotically. HBO has promised her a show, but she’s not so sure. “I don’t trust them,” she said. “Tracey Ullman … was already well known, and Sarah Jessica Parker was a big movie star. For me a sitcom is an actor’s job.”
What about new TV trends? “I tell you one trend that’s really dangerous–the networks’ owning part of the show. There’s such a conflict of interest because what will happen is they will stop buying pilots and only buy their own. I was talking to Larry Charles [ Seinfeld ], who said he feels like eventually the networks are going to realize that it may look like they make more money, but they’re not going to have any good shows … You can have your Full House s and Urkels, but you just can’t write off the entire demographic of people who have a smarter sensibility. It’s like how Fox put all the best writers under contract and then refused to make any of their shows. They’re Fox! They don’t even get what’s good when they have a Simpsons . It’s my prediction that within five years they will air executions and get great ratings.” [HBO, 28, midnight.]
Saturday, August 15
6 NYTV music video correspondent Valerie Stivers reports: This isn’t the first time the world has been captivated by Macaulay Culkin’s lips, but their presence in an outstanding, newish Sonic Youth video directed by Harmony Korine (Kids , Gummo ) is not to be missed. The rotation gods at MTV have been giving the video for “Sunday” (on A Thousand Leaves ) some, but not nearly enough, play, considering what a lovely and original piece of work it is. Music videos are supposed to be creative as can be, often achieved through a wacky procession of fast cuts and shots of the artist dancing and lip-synching in surreal locales. Harmony Korine and Sonic Youth show up the rest of the genre, slow things down almost to still photography. The dancing is ballet, by little girls in tutus. During the only shot of the artist–Thurston Moore playing the guitar–Macaulay Culkin guitar-synchs beside him. Macaulay’s mouth is large, versatile and fascinating as always. [MTV, 20, throughout the day. ]
Sunday, August 16
f The new Fox Family Channel seduces its new audience with Leo Mania: Di Caprio’s Unauthorized Story . Whoops, Leonardo! Maybe you should have made American Psycho ! [Fox Family Channel, 66, 5 P.M.]
Monday, August 17
% Craig Shoemaker, Magic Johnson’s original sidekick and co-host (before Steve White and Tommy Davidson), might be the only person who was upset by the cancellation of The Magic Hour . “I was thinking about suing them,” said last year’s Comedian of the Year. “So it wasn’t really great news. It’s like suing a dead guy. I don’t think it will have the same appeal.” Mr. Shoemaker and the Fox execs never really hit it off; he thinks they ruined his career and stiffed him. And so now Mr. Shoemaker wants to be paid according to his “pay or play” deal–meaning regardless of the show’s success. “There was an article in the L.A. Times where the execs made me the scapegoat based on two days on the couch and bad jokes,” said Mr. Shoemaker. “I responded in the Philadelphia Inquirer and they called that a breach of my contract and haven’t paid me.…
“They took me off the couch as co-host in the middle of Day 3 and after about eight days I was limited to a part-time role. I said to them, ‘You’re going to fire me, please get it over with.’ It was obvious they had given up on the white audience, which is why they had me to begin with, and were going to go toward an urban audience.…
“People saw through what was happening. Hundreds of people came up to me and said how horrific Magic’s responses were. I’d tell a joke and he’d say, ‘Craig, you’re bad, that’s on you, I didn’t say that.’ I was the sacrificial lamb so he’d look like the nice guy. I don’t mind as much if they pay me … They had a picture of Nell Carter inside slabs of beef and they wanted me to say ‘There’s Nell, eating her way out of a meat salad.’ I said, no, this isn’t my humor and one of the execs, Darrel Vickers, told me, ‘Craig, sometimes a boo is as good as a laugh.’ The writers were all white men in their 40’s. I was one of the top acts in the country and I went down to Magic’s sidekick, the jackass of the country.” Mr. Shoemaker joins Whoopi Goldberg on Hollywood Squares this fall. [WNYW, 5, 11:30 P.M.]
Tuesday, August 18
& Last season, there were 14 sitcoms set in New York City, but only two that were actually shot here: The Cosby Show and Spin City . Spin City is here because it was the only way Michael J. Fox would do it, but according to the show’s supervising producer, Stephen Godchaux, shooting in New York City can be complicated. “One nice thing is when we go outside it’s not some cheesy-looking Hollywood set,” said Mr. Godchaux. “It takes you out of the show sometimes when Seinfeld is allegedly in Central Park and it looks like something out of a 1950’s B-movie.” And the complicated part? “New Yorkers are a little less accustomed than in L.A. Paparazzi will descend on the scene and people will scream things from windows that weren’t scripted.” What shows are convincing? “Oddly enough, NYPD Blue . It’s filmed in Los Angeles but they do a great job of creating a great verisimilitude. Caroline in the City has a certain any-town, any-city feel.…
“It’s expensive and time-consuming to go outside, but we make a real effort to do so. Often, when cold weather is depicted, there is no smoke coming out of people’s mouths, but when we lit the Christmas tree in the park in front of City Hall last year, I think it added to the scene.”
“We were in Central Park in an episode where Michael Boatman is talking to Michael J. Fox about exercise, and there was an unusually pretty woman Rollerblading by. So … Boatman just skated after the woman and asked her if she knew where the petting zoo was. And it aired like that.” [WABC, 7, 9 P.M.]
_ Wayne Kao, a 17-year-old high school senior from Saratoga, Calif., hates the character Jennifer Lindley from Dawson’s Creek so much he created a Web site called I Hate Jen! (www.dawsons.creek. com). Here is the “Are You a True Jen-Hater?” test: 1. Have you ever been watching Dawson’s Creek and suddenly have an urge to kill Jen ? 2. Feel they need an episode where Joey kicks the shit out of Jen for your life to be complete? 3. Ever started shouting or swearing as soon as Jen walked onto the screen?
NYTV asked Wayne Kao, what’s the deal? “I don’t have anything against Michelle Williams, just the character she plays. I started the Web site just to see how many people would agree with my viewpoint and it surprised me when I discovered a lot of people did.” [WB, 11, 9 P.M.]
Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week
For 1959, when the William Wyler-Charlton Heston biblical epic Ben-Hur won 11 Oscars including for best picture, there were some of us who felt quite strongly that actually the best American movie of the year was either the Howard Hawks-John Wayne western Rio Bravo , or the Alfred Hitchcock-Cary Grant thriller North by Northwest [Thursday, Aug. 13, Turner Classic Movies, 82, 10:30 P.M.; also on videocassette and laser disk] . Some of us still do. In fact, I would bet money that if the three films were played side by side today, there would be far more walkouts on the Wyler than on the Hawks or the Hitchcock.
I remember seeing North by Northwest for the first time at a press screening nearly 40 years ago, and being bowled over by the film’s absolutely mesmerizing ride from the streets of Manhattan to the flats of Illinois to the American Presidents monument at Rapid City, S.D. Simply, it has to be Hitchcock’s most consistently delightful entertainment, the ultimate take on one of the director’s main themes, the perils of complacency. And it is the climax not only of Hitchcock’s trio of innocent-man-on-the-run pictures–which began with his best English film, The 39 Steps (1935), and continued with the more darkly wartime Saboteur (1942)–but also of the kind of elegant suspense-comedy-sex mixtures; of which Rear Window (1954) is another high point, though Rear Window essentially plays in one room and a courtyard while North by Northwest goes all over the United States and comes full circle back to England with two British-born actors as lead and heavy, Cary Grant and James Mason. The casting in itself is a typically wicked Hitchcockian joke, since Grant was a much bigger star than Mason, but during their lifetime Mason was considered the better actor, which adds a piquant subtext to their scenes together.
When I first met Hitchcock early in 1961, two years after North by Northwest had been a huge financial success, and he was still irritated by some of the critical reactions, mentioning that the New Yorker critic had said his film was “unconsciously funny.” Hitchcock shook his head: “Can you imagine?” he asked, incredulous. “Why, it’s an absolute fantasy. Even the title doesn’t exist: There is no such reading on a compass as north by northwest.” Hitch was also completely overlooked at the Oscars, even in nominations, and although it was an extremely profitable picture, Cary Grant’s other movie that year, the light service comedy, Operation Petticoat (produced by Grant, directed by Blake Edwards), was the biggest grossing film in Grant’s career.
A couple of years ago, a brand-new 35-millimeter print of North by Northwest –which is one of my favorite films and one that influenced my life as well as my movies in numerous ways–was playing on the big screen near my home. Though I had originally viewed the picture five times in its first seven years, I hadn’t seen it properly in the theater for close to 30 years. When I did, I was again reminded of my mother’s old remark that the difference between seeing a film on a theater screen as opposed to TV was the same as the difference between seeing a painting on a wall or a reproduction in a book. The amazingly bravura virtuosity of Hitchcock’s work in North by Northwest needs every inch of its beautifully color-photographed Vistavision space. The film looked so fresh you forget how many imitations and wannabes it spawned, and you feel in the presence of an original. It’s the most likeable culmination of the Hitchcock-Grant collaborations, their fourth; begun superbly with Suspicion (1941), followed brilliantly with Notorious (1946) and romantically by To Catch a Thief (1955). Classic sequence follows classic sequence: the abduction at the Plaza; the train ride; the crop-duster; the auction; the escape over Lincoln’s nose. Bernard Herrmann’s score is magnificent. Eva Marie Saint is terrific in the one sexy glamour role of her distinguished career; James Mason and Martin Landau are both excellent. But it’s Cary’s picture, start to finish, and you wouldn’t want it any other way.