Raunchy Bleepin’ Fox Sitcom-but Do You Care?

Wednesday, July 21

Television reporters received the following document, reproduced here verbatim, on July 13. Just call it the Gospel According to CBS Public Affairs:

“JESUS,” AN EPIC MINI-SERIES STARRING JEREMY SISTO, NOW IN PRODUCTION IN MOROCCO FOR BROADCAST IN MAY 2000 ON THE CBS TELEVISION NETWORK

Jacqueline Bisset, Jeroen Krabbe, Debra Messing, Armin Mueller-Stahl, David O’Hara and Gary Oldman Also Star

Additional Footage To Be Shot in Malta

JESUS, a special event four-hour mini-series starring Jeremy Sisto (“The ’60s,” “White Squall,” “Grand Canyon”) about the extraordinary life and mission of Jesus of Nazareth, is currently in production in Morocco and will continue to be shot in Malta for broadcast on the CBS Television Network in May of the year 2000–the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus.

Jacqueline Bissett (“Joan of Arc,” “The Deep,”), Jeroen Krabbe (“Prince of Tides,” “The Fugitive”), Debra Messing (“Will & Grace,” “A Walk in the Clouds”), Armin Mueller-Stahl (“Shine,” “Avalon”), David O’Hara (“Braveheart,” “The Devil’s Own”) and Gary Oldman (“Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” “Air Force One”) also star in the epic drama about the man Christians believe to be the son of God and the Messiah. The mini-series reveals how Jesus, during His relatively short life, grew from a simple carpenter to a man whose spiritual teachings and loving ways continue to inspire billions of followers–nearly two thousands years after His crucifixion. The drama explores Jesus’ relationships with His mother, Mary (Bisset), and earthly father, Joseph (Mueller-Stahl); His 12 apostles, His devoted friends and followers, such as Mary Magdalen (Messing), and His cousin, John the Baptist (O’Hara). It also illustrates the politically charged times during which Herod is the unpopular ruler of Galilee and Roman governor Pontius Pilate (Oldman) rules over Judea–to the disdain of the Jewish leaders and residents.

The production begins with the young, likeable carpenter, Jesus, living a simple, happy life with Mary, Joseph, His extended family and friends–despite the oppressive Roman occupation of their region. It is following Joseph’s death that Jesus embarks upon His spiritual destiny. After fasting for 40 days and nights in the desert–while rejecting the temptations of Satan (Krabbe)–Jesus begins to share His wisdom and vision with others. Word of His rousing Sermon on the Mount, compassionate ways and spectacular miracles–such as turning water into wine, casting evil spirits from the possessed and healing the sick–draws numerous new followers to this charismatic leader. Jesus ultimately chooses 12 apostles to be His special helpers. Jesus is also devoted to His disciple, Mary Magdalen, a former prostitute who is reformed by His teachings.

Meanwhile, the new, arrogant Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, starts to survey the varying factions in his region. It is not long before Pilate attempts to assert his power over the Jewish leaders–and to show his lack of respect for nearby rulers such as the egotistical Herod. As Jesus’ popularity increases, the various leaders begin to feel threatened by Him. The religious leaders fear His influence and believe Him to be a false messiah; Herod worries that He is the outspoken John the Baptist reborn, and Pilate perceives Him as a source of trouble.

The undaunted Jesus continues to preach and remain steadfast in His beliefs, despite the knowledge that He will be killed for such actions. After an emotional, deeply symbolic Last Supper with His apostles, Jesus is arrested and passed from leader to leader in order to meet his fate. It is ultimately the sly Pilate who makes a show of complying with the frenzied chants of numerous chief priests and locals to have Jesus crucified. The willing, forgiving Jesus is put to death at the age of 33. His loving message, however, continues to survive and thrive in billions of Christians throughout the world.

JESUS is a production of Five Mile River Films, in association with Lux Vide, S.p.A. …

Tonight on CBS, The Almost Perfect Bank Robbery , a different sort of television movie starring Brooke Shields and Rip Torn about an F.B.I. agent who tries to catch a couple of bank thieves. [WCBS, 2, 9 P.M.]

Thursday, July 22

The producers and executives behind an upcoming sitcom about Hollywood–Fox’s Action –are hoping that the vogue for raunchy stuff lasts into the next century. So far, they seem to be right. Television reporters for a major daily newspaper recently wrote an article linking Action to rude motion pictures like South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut , in which children swear, and American Pie , in which a teenager inserts his penis into an apple pie.

The sitcom stars Jay Mohr as a trash-talking producer and Illeana Douglas as the washed-up child actress-turned-prostitute who becomes his No. 1 adviser. Buddy Hackett plays the producer’s security guard. There’s an abundance of talk about penises and sex, and within the first three minutes or so, Mr. Mohr’s character uses the F-word eight times (always bleeped out).

But there comes a time when everybody gets weary of all the nasty stuff. Or else audiences become unshockable. Recently, the directors David Mamet and David Lynch have both made G-rated, “fuck”-less movies.

NYTV caught up with Action ‘s creator, Chris Thompson, to ask him if maybe he was behind the curve a little on this one. Said Mr. Thompson: “Well, this is very easy for these guys to say, since they’ve been doing it for 20 fucking years, you know?” Hey, hey, hey! Language! “And, you know, certainly the world of the theater and the world of motion pictures has been well ahead of television, you know, in that regard. So it’s sort of easy for these guys to say, ‘Well, we’re tired of it.’ Well, yeah, they’ve been doing it for 20 years. I’m taking the first shot at it here.”

Mr. Thompson, who created Bosom Buddies and served as executive producer for The Larry Sanders Show for about a year, said he originally dreamt up Action for HBO. But when the network passed on it, he showed it to Fox’s new entertainment chief, Doug Herzog, who arrived there from Comedy Central last winter.

Mr. Thompson had his doubts about whether the show could work on a network, he said. “I sort of went to them and said, ‘I don’t think you can do this show.’ I said, ‘I won’t do it with a laugh track,’ and the problem with shows about Hollywood–which is the same problem with shows about rock ‘n’ roll–is that you can never get to do anything real, because all the real stuff is fairly debauched.”

He went on with his story in a throaty, tough-guy voice: “I said, ‘Look, I don’t need to use language all the time, but you know, there are occasions when this is the way people talk and there are occasions when only a “get the fuck out of here” will do.’ And I said, ‘Will you let me bleep?’ and they said, ‘Yeah.'”

The show will air Thursdays at 9:30 P.M. Tonight on Fox, in the future Action time slot: The P.J.s . [WNYW, 5, 9:30 P.M.]

Friday, July 23

Ah, yet another Woodstock anniversary. Starting this afternoon, those who don’t want to shlep upstate–and who would?–for the festival can catch Woodstock ’99 on pay-per-view. Jeff Rowland, executive producer of the telecast, said it will last 65 hours–at $29.95 per day or $59.95 for the whole thing–and will show everything that goes on using 30 cameras. “You can see the performances in their entirety, and live,” said Mr. Rowland, with the Metropolitan Entertainment Group. “You’ll hear an occasional four-letter word, you’ll occasionally see an exposed breast, no doubt. That’s part of its appeal.”

Mr. Rowland produced the Woodstock ’94 pay-per-view telecast, which grossed $11 million. He expects to do even better this year.

NYTV asked Mr. Rowland if there wasn’t, you know, some kind of contradiction between those 60’s values and the commercial aspect of the show. “That’s horseshit!” he snapped. “Really. Woodstock was always commercial. The reason there was no such thing as sponsorship or T-shirts at that time was just because it hadn’t been invented yet. The fact that there is commercialism involved in the concert will not take away from the spirit. The commercial thing pissed me off from 1994.”

Whoa. Peace out. [Time Warner Home Theater, 61, noon.]

Saturday, July 24

Hey–the return of Max Headroom , the late 80’s sci-fi show that all but predicted the world that’s upon us now (reporters carrying around computers and video equipment, etc.). [Bravo, 64, 3:30 P.M.]

Sunday, July 25

The guys who make the public access show Liebography have produced a mock-umentary about Led Zeppelin. They’re airing it tonight. It features old Zep footage with not-necessarily-the-story voice-overs. It’s funny, but the narration is rarely funnier than Robert Plant and crew speaking for themselves. [Manhattan Neighborhood Network, 56, 10:30 P.M.]

Monday, July 26

Sarah Thyre, wife of Conan O’Brien’s sidekick, Andy Richter, and a comedian in her own right, will fly out to Los Angeles this week to meet with the producers of King of the Hill , Fox’s animated show about a Texas family.Her Southern accents, she said, are among the best stuff in her repertoire: “That’s kind of my dream, to do animation voices. I do totally different characters, so it would be fun to play the debutante’s Mom as well as the laundromat malingerer.”

Ms. Thyre, who plays the gym teacher on Strangers With Candy , said she should find out if she gets any guest roles in about a week.

Tonight on Strangers , Jerri makes drugs for the most popular girl in school! [Comedy Central, 45, 10 P.M.]

Tuesday, July 27

Six I Love Lucy episodes. [Nickelodeon, 6, starting at 9 P.M.]

NYTV can be reached electronically at jrutenberg@observer.com.

Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week

Even if you don’t like westerns, there are at least four or five that must be seen by any civilized person, and since John Ford indisputably made the finest of them all in that most profoundly American genre, one of his would have to be at the top. Which to choose of the 20-odd features surviving from the approximately 60 he made between 1917 and 1966, when he directed his last of them? Certainly high among the contenders for the crown would be Mr. Ford’s deeply ambiguous, disturbing post-Civil War domestic tragedy set in Texas during the Indian Wars of the late 1860’s, filmed in Technicolor and Vistavision less than a hundred years later, in 1956, starring America’s most enduringly popular western star, John Wayne, and based on Alan LeMay’s excellent novel, The Searchers [Saturday, July 24, and Sunday, July 25, Turner Classic Movies, 82, both at 10 P.M.; also on videocassette] .

The irony is that in its own day–now nearing 50 years ago– The Searchers , while a successful box-office attraction, was nowhere considered among the premier in its field. Here it was mainly taken for granted, as usual with our most traditional aspects; just another quite good John Wayne-John Ford western, at a period when Wayne’s right-wing Republican politics were beginning wrongly to color certain people’s view of liberal Democrat John Ford’s movies. Nevertheless, seen from the truer perspective of time, The Searchers stands not only among the very best, but also among the final western masterworks of the movies’ golden age. The picture begins with the classiest western opening of all, a black screen becoming a door that opens from within a home to the red desert outside this settlers’ house as the whole family–father, mother, three children (two daughters, one son) and a dog–walk onto the porch while a lone horseman rides up from the gigantic red buttes in the far distance. The rider is the father’s long-absent brother, Ethan Edwards (Wayne), returned for the first time since the end of the Civil War, three years previous, during which Ethan was on the side of the Confederacy, a loner who has spent the bitter years since then fighting as a hired gun in Mexico. What is conveyed in a few small private moments is that Ethan is chastely in love with his brother’s wife, and she with him, though neither would think of showing it in any overt way.

There is the alarm of a Comanche uprising, and Ethan rides off with the sheriff’s posse to check on a nearby ranch. While he and the others are gone, Comanches attack Ethan’s brother’s house, brutally murdering the man and his young son, raping and killing the beloved wife and teenage daughter, abducting the 8-year-old little girl, burning down the house from which we have emerged so recently to begin this story of Ethan’s subsequent 10-year search. He and an adopted “quarter-breed” (Jeffrey Hunter) become the searchers not only to find the kidnapped young niece but also to avenge the terrible deaths by executing the destroyer, a proud and virile Comanche chief, who will become the child’s husband. The search is both love-and-vengeance, ridden and racial.

The saga that ensues is remarkably vivid, filled with incident, superbly composed, emotionally complicated, often darkly funny, deeply moving. That Ethan’s obsessive fury and hatred in some way turns against the young victim as well is among the most troubling aspects of the story, resolved by Ford (at odds with the novel) in one of the most profoundly touching moments in picture history. The ironic theme of the work, spoken by settler Olive Carey, is that all the sufferings these “Texicans” (read Americans) must endure will make it possible for future generations to live in harmony and peace. Although Ethan succeeds in his quest, at the end another settler’s door closes on him walking away toward horse and desert as alone as ever; thus concluding John Ford’s penultimate poetic landmark of the West that has shaped us, that haunts us still as both history and myth. Raunchy Bleepin’ Fox Sitcom-but Do You Care?