Wednesday, Jan. 20
Tonight, on American Justice , a documentary of Larry Flynt made before he decided to go after the Republicans. The documentary, which was completed in November 1998, only touches on Mr. Flynt’s lust to bring down Republicans. The real focus is about him allegedly selling porn illegally to minors. [A&E, 14, 9 P.M.]
Thursday, Jan. 21
Top o’ the morning, officer? The great Irish-American TV trend of 1998 went straight to hell. Fox’s Costello , a barroom sitcom, was quickly canceled. Then Trinity , a big, brawling NBC soap opera with cops and priests, also ended up in the tank. The third show, To Have and to Hold , is “on hiatus” over at CBS (which usually means “we’re about to cancel it, but we may need to run some of the episodes we’ve already shot during a slow part of the year”).
The failure of those shows has not stopped CBS from trotting out yet another manly but weepy Irish-American drama– Turks , about a family of Chicago cops. Dad’s a cop. So are the kids. Mom? Works in the parish. Got it? [WCBS, 2, 9 P.M.]
Friday, Jan. 22
Lifetime takes a look at women and football tonight. The show is called A Woman’s Touch in the N.F.L.: Tackling Pro Football . But we smell a rat: The show, which features women whose lives are somehow touched by the National Football League, was produced by N.F.L. Films.
Suzanne Morgan, who produces shows like Inside the N.F.L. , the hourlong football show on HBO, is the producer behind this show. Do women really watch football?
“Women make up 40 percent of the audience,” Ms. Morgan said.
“It’s not that surprising to me. It surprises a lot of people. But I think advertisers are starting to realize that there is a market there.”
How did the idea for the show come up? Did Lifetime go to N.F.L. Films and ask for a show about women?
“I think it’s more like the N.F.L. and N.F.L. Films making a presentation to Lifetime.”
Ah. I see. Hey, wait a minute. Lifetime is owned by the Walt Disney Company. And Disney owns ESPN, which airs Sunday Night Football . And Disney also owns ABC, which airs Monday Night Football . [Lifetime, 12, 7 P.M.]
Saturday, Jan. 23
Nothing on TV tonight. But if you’re not going to watch some, at least make plans for future TV enjoyment by calling 1-800-621-5559 to order your own copy of The Best of the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts . It is a hoot.
After hosting his own highly rated NBC Thursday-night variety show, The Dean Martin Show , between 1965 and 1974, Dean Martin appeared in a number of special celebrity roasts between 1975 and 1984. The shows, which aired sporadically, had a featured roastee and a bunch of celebrity roasters who hurled borscht belt insults at the guest of honor. Now an outfit called Guthy-Renker Video has come out with an 11-volume series of the roasts on video. The first available volume is the above mentioned “Best of” collection. There are highballs, cigarettes and race jokes galore. You won’t believe your eyes and ears.
Dean Martin gets things off to a nice start when he introduces the Johnny Carson: “He was raised on a farm outside of Norfolk, Nebraska. I know he’s a farm boy because I saw him the other night in a bar with a couple of pigs.” Hi-yo! Then Truman Capote ascends the dais and tosses off a witty morsel: “The talk show is the show that crams 30 minutes of entertainment into 90.” Then it’s Redd Foxx’s turn to go after Johnny: “He taught me how to act–on the show I had to act like I’d been to his house for dinner!” Johnny gets revenge on Redd Foxx with a kind of joke you just don’t hear on TV anymore: “It’s apropos that Redd is here tonight, because his ancestors originally came up with the idea of roasting people.”
It’s $9.95 for the first roast video, and $19.95 for each of the remaining 10. It’ll take four to six weeks.
Sunday, Jan. 24
James Lipton is the Bravo channel’s celebrity interviewer. On his show, Inside the Actor’s Studio , he has gotten Jack Lemmon to confess his alcoholism and Sharon Stone to shed tears.
Mr. Lipton is a literary sort of fellow. By 12, he had completed three novels! He studied acting with Stella Adler, dance with Hanya Holm. Mr. Lipton took his concept for a show to Bravo and they took the bait.
Mr. Lipton explained how he gets Hollywood folks to spill their guts: “They know there’s going to be no ambush. There can’t be any ambush because we’re talking about craft. They’ve seen the show, and they know I’ve never ambushed anyone. They also understand they have final cut. They understand when they come and after it’s edited, we send them the edit. If they want anything in or anything out, all they have to do is say the word and I’ll change it. That relaxes them.”
Some technique! Let me mention a few names and you respond. Charlie Rose.
“I think Rose is very good. I was on the show.”
“Barbara was a great influence in my life. I wrote a book called An Exaltation of Larks in 1968, and Barbara invited me to be on the Today show when she and Hugh Downs and Joe Garagiola were on it. And it’s a book about language. It was Barbara who read it and asked me to come on the show. And they had the whole studio filled with flying silver larks and the three of them interviewed me. That afternoon there wasn’t a copy of the book to be had in the United States of America.”
What about her interview technique?
“She is wonderful. She’s very cunning about her interview. She’s very laid-back and calm and very thorough. But Barbara has the precision of a surgeon. And she gets a lot out of people.”
She makes people cry, just like your show.
“Well, I don’t know if we’re like Barbara Walters. She’s very good. But so many people have. And not just wept. Jack Lemmon revealed something to me he had never revealed publicly in his life. When we were talking about The Days of Wine and Roses , and I said to him that I thought, with all the great scenes in it, that for me the most stunning moment in it was when his character says, ‘My name is so and so, and I am an alcoholic.’ And he said it, and I said, ‘Yes, that was it.’ And he said, ‘No, Jim, I am an alcoholic.’ And there was the profoundest silence you ever heard in your life on the screen, and we just stared at each other and the audience was riveted. And he nodded at me and smiled then we went on.”
Tonight: Robert De Niro. [Bravo, 64, 8 P.M.]
David Chase, formerly an executive producer of Northern Exposure , is now the executive producer and the creator of HBO’s new Mafia dramatic series, The Sopranos . This one shows the family life behind the mob–marital problems for the show’s hero, Tony Soprano, his kids getting into trouble at school–seamlessly intertwined with the business side of his life.
“My opinion is that these people are very bourgeois, basically,” said Mr. Chase. “The mobsters, they’re very bourgeois relatable. They’re like our next-door neighbors or our cousins or ourselves, except they have this more–how shall I say it?– direct way of doing business … They have an alleged code and maybe the biggest thing of all is that the troublemakers and bad people get it, they really get it. Unlike in real life, if you go to work in an office, the asshole in the next office who’s always creating problems doesn’t get punished. But in the mob, he does get punished.”
Did you do a lot of research, or did you had some experience with organized crime?
“Well, you know I’ve grown up with the stuff.”
You mean in real life or in the movies?
“No, I was actually interested in mob culture itself.”
Where did you grow up?
Was there a lot of mob activity at that time?
“There was a lot of mob activity in New Jersey at that time.”
Were you involved with it at all?
“Was I what?”
Were you involved?
“Just observing, yes. Well, you know, there’s always someone in your family who has a relative who is … you don’t escape it completely.”
If you’re Italian-American?
“I’m sure there are a lot of Italian Americans who will raise a ruckus and say, ‘There’s nobody in my family that has anything to do with organized crime.’ I’ve just noticed for the most part, you know, six degrees of separation, somebody’s cousins’ uncle, something, is somehow connected.” [HBO, 28, 9 P.M.]
Monday, Jan. 25
What do you do to save Hyperion Bay, the flailing hour-drama series with Saved by the Bell star Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Christina Moore? Well, if you’re the WB, you whip up a bad-girl character and cast the recently scandalized Baywatch lady Carmen Electra in the role. [WPIX, 11, 9 P.M.]
Tuesday, Jan. 26
Inside Story: Fight Like a Girl looks at women’s boxing through Kathy (The Wildcat) Collins and Leah (The Kitten) Mellinger. The show concludes with a fight between Ms. Collins and Ms. Mellinger in Atlantic City, which took place on Dec. 11. “Kathy Collins is fantastic,” said the show’s producer Lisa Wood Shapiro. “She looks like Ellen Barkin. I really liked both of them right from the outset. But it felt a little strange–hanging out with them for a week and half and then watching them bang each other’s brains out.”
How’d the fight turn out?
“It was a very controversial fight–a split decision. They’re both beautiful and very feminine, and the boxing was really impressive. Though they both got beat up pretty bad. But neither of them are what you would call bleeders.”
Nice to know.
[A&E, 14, 9 P.M.]
Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week
I’d hate to take a bite out of you, Sidney, you’re a cookie full of arsenic” is one of numerous memorable lines in a brilliant American cult picture that is, with Touch of Evil , the last of the great films noir, and among the sharpest, most uncompromisingly dark Manhattan street movies–specifically, the old Times Square district–ever made: 1957’s acid-etched drama of the gossip column-press agent world, Sweet Smell of Success [Wednesday, Jan. 26, 82, Turner Classic Movies, 9 P.M.; also on videocassette] . Directed by Boston-born, Scotland-educated Alexander Mackendrick–who had been responsible for such classic British comedies as Tight Little Island and The Man in the White Suit –this was his first American film, and was co-produced by its two stars, Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, both of them in (at the time) image-shattering roles which so disappointed their fans that the work, though fairly well received by critics, was a box-office disaster.
The original short novel and first-draft screenplay were by the savvy, talented Ernest Lehman, who would later write one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best, North by Northwest , and who had himself been a New York City press agent, so that many of the often scabrous incidents came from hard-earned personal experience. The setup is simple: Lancaster–a powerful newspaper-TV gossip columnist (like Walter Winchell) named J.J. Hunsecker–has a latent incestuous obsession with his younger sister, and when she becomes serious about a jazz musician, he gets an ambitious press agent called Sidney Falco to spread dirt on the fellow to destroy him.
After Lehman became unavailable for revisions, Mackendrick surprised his producers by suggesting an old literary hero of his, 1930’s boy-wonder playwright Clifford Odets, then rather out of vogue. Odets–in whose striking plays ( Awake and Sing , Golden Boy ) had been famous for idiosyncratic dialogue with a kind of larger-than-life street vernacular that cut deep and resonated long–leaped at the chance, keeping the basic plot and characters but rewriting everything else. Much of the picture’s cult status is founded on Odets’ lines (in Barry Levinson’s 1982 Diner , a character keeps quoting them). Curtis as Falco–in the most searingly unsympathetic characterization of his career, and probably his finest–gets many of the best: “Hunsecker’s the golden ladder to the places I want to get,” he tells his secretary, “way up high, Sal, where it’s always balmy, and no one snaps his fingers and says, ‘Hey, shrimp, rack the balls’ or ‘Hey, mouse! Mouse! Go out and buy me a pack of butts!’ … From now on the best of everything is good enough for me.”
Lancaster, who has the “arsenic cookie” line above, is astonishingly grim and vicious, with no redeeming features; he takes out a cigarette, says to Curtis: “Match me, Sidney.” Even the sadistic cop who calls Curtis “the boy with the ice cream face,” has lines like: “Come here, Sidney, I want to chastise you.” Lancaster’s secretary comments, “You’re so immersed in the theology of making a fast buck.” And the poor cigarette girl, whom Curtis maneuvers to sleep with a guy he wants a favor from, protests: “What am I, a bowl of fruit–a tangerine that peels in a minute?”
All of this is played fast, thrown away nearly, through Mackendrick’s superbly paced direction, with camera work (by James Wong Howe) that is as flawless as it is evocative. Sweet Smell of Success only seems to get more modern with the years, a one-of-a-kind anomaly near the end of the studio system, a riveting, strangely disturbing masterpiece of mood, malice and menace with mythic overtones in what Lancaster describes as “a world of old rags and bones.”