XFL ‘s Promotion Team … Full Frontal Fashion Week … Bitches in Heated Competition

Wednesday, Feb. 7

The nation’s columnists and social critics are collectively losing their minds over the XFL, NBC’s “extreme football” partnership with W.W.F. evil genius Vince McMahon. “Unmitigated garbage,” harrumphed the New York Post ‘s Phil Mushnick. “Shame on NBC,” wrote The Washington Post ‘s Leonard Shapiro. “Xcruciating,” sniffed The Los Angeles Times ‘ Mike Penner.

Easy for them to say. But if you’re one of those poor folks who actually has to cover the thing–like New York’s local TV sports broadcasters–the XFL presents a unique quandary. On one hand, it’s a real, live professional sporting event, with a local franchise (the New York-New Jersey Hitmen) to boot. On the other hand, the XFL is also a high-stakes show pony for one major television network: NBC. It’s worth noting that the league also has a broadcast agreement with the United Paramount Network, a subsidiary of Paramount, which is owned by Viacom, the parent company of CBS.

This inevitably means that some people delivering XFL news have bosses with a direct financial stake in the league. And that makes covering the XFL not the same deal as reciting Jets scores.

WNBC sports anchor Bruce Beck, who is doing a weekly Q & A show with Hitmen coach Rusty Tillman, did not duck that blunt reality. “I think that there is a vested interest for the company, and therefore for the league–so, yes, I’d like to see it succeed in that regard,” Mr. Beck said.

Still, Mr. Beck said that he has yet to receive any direct orders to promote the XFL, but he didn’t shy away from his employer’s XFL allegiance–and his potential role.

“We understand what they are trying to accomplish,” Mr. Beck said. “I think there is some responsibility for us to work with them and cross-promote. I think that is a part of it.”

WWOR (UPN) sports director Russ Salzberg said that he hasn’t been asked by management to do any XFL promotion. “The last thing I’m really interested in right at this minute is a new football season,” cracked Mr. Salzberg.

Still, Mr. Salzberg acknowledged that the upstart league is an intriguing sports-business story because of its innovations with rule changes and camera angles. “I think it’s a made-for-TV league,” he said.

Ultimately, however, the anchors agreed that the league’s success will come down not to its scantily clad cheerleaders or wrestling-style theatrics, but to its level of play. If it’s just gimmicks, they expect the XFL to die, no matter who’s footing the bill.

“We’ve only seen one weekend’s worth of games, and I don’t know that anybody’s qualified to make a judgment just yet,” said WCBS sports director Brett Haber. “But if it becomes clear that this isn’t a sport, I’ll have no interest in it.”

Tonight on NBC, The West Wing . In tonight’s episode, President Bartlet vows to sign an arms-control bill only if his aides promise him tickets to the Hitmen opener at the Meadowlands, so he can “witness the exciting smash-mouth energy of brand-new XFL football.” [WNBC, 4, 9 p.m.]

Thursday, Feb. 8

Everyone knows there’s no better TV than fashion TV, with its hard-hitting journalists, its incisive social commentary ….

Um, who’s kidding whom? Fashion TV may be empty-calorie junk, but there are worse things to watch than a bunch of starving East Europeans before a flock of semi-celebrities and accessories editors dressed in bad 80’s fashion, like they’re auditioning for Fame or something. Fashion Week–we’ve been commanded to refer to it as “Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week,” as if you will run out and buy a 500 SEL–arrives in Bryant Park this week, and the place to watch it is on New York’s own Metro Channel, which is going C-Span-style bonkers with 24-7 tent-wall-to-tent-wall coverage.

“It’s kind of a pinnacle event for us,” said Patrice Andrews, Metro’s senior vice president of programming and promotion.

This year, Metro has enlisted In Style heavyweight Hal Rubenstein and celebrity shutterbug Patrick McMullan to assist with the channel’s 250-hour style marathon, which it is formally calling Full Frontal Fashion .

“Instead of doing a sound bite or giving (designers) three minutes, we’re actually giving them an opportunity to, in some cases, spend 15 to 20 minutes with us giving a real background, back-end story,” said Ms. Andrews.

¡Ay caramba! It’s hard enough to tell Dolce from Gabbana; now we have to listen to Ralph Lauren drone on about classic American glamour for a quarter hour ? Give us Tad Low in a bear suit any day!

Oh, we’re just giving Metro a hard time. The pesky, clever upstart has become one of the more enjoyable oases on our evening clicker odyssey; irreverent shows like Third Date and Subway Q&A have become cult favorites among Manhattan cable viewers.

Meanwhile, in one of the more bizarre fusions of pop culture and prêt-à-porter , Metro has scheduled its Full Frontal Fashion kick-off party at the W.W.F. restaurant in Times Square. “Hey! Is that Kate Betts putting a half nelson on Triple H? ”

Tonight, tune into Full Frontal Fashion (O.K., that title is officially annoying) on Metro. [MET, 70, all night.]

Friday, Feb. 9

“Benicio Del Toro is the finest actor of his generation …. ” All right, all right ! We’ve had it up to here with Traffic -philes and Mr. Del Toro’s gushy acolytes. Here’s the good news: You can send all these Steven Soderbergh-touting yappers packing to the Museum of Television and Radio in midtown, which is attempting to capitalize on the Pottery Barn generation’s Silkwood by showing Traffik , the original five-part British television series upon which the epic film was based. The series will debut at the M.T.R. on Thursday, Feb. 22. So grab your crack pipe and the local drug czar’s kids and knock yourself out.

Meanwhile, there’s still no word as to whether PBS, which ran Traffik in this country in 1990, will show it on free TV.

Tonight on PBS, Washington Week . [WNET, 13, 8 p.m.]

Saturday, Feb. 10

Over the years, Saturday Night Live has been known to scour comedy clubs in search of the next Mike Myers. But lately, it appears the show’s talent scouts have been checking out the subway. SNL ‘s most recent comedic find–though he has yet to receive any recognition, let alone a contract–may be John Del Signore, an underground performance artist who answers, albeit reluctantly, to the name Mercury Man.

If you’re familiar with the Times Square station, Mr. Del Signore is the mime-like “living statue” near the escalator who covers himself in silver face paint, dresses in a polyester tuxedo over a hooded silver spandex body suit and does a nifty little robot move whenever someone chucks a coin in his cup.

Though similar robot acts can be found in other cities, Mr. Del Signore thinks Saturday Night Live is specifically ripping him off. Twice in recent weeks, SNL has run a talk-show skit starring Molly Shannon that included a guest appearance by a character called “Ken Aquarius, the human robot from Times Square,” played by Chris Parnell.

“They say, ‘Let’s go to the silver man from Times Square,’ and they have a guy in my suit doing a cheesy robot dance,” Mr. Del Signore complained. “We’re living on loose change and crumpled-up dollar bills, and NBC comes along and co-opts our idea.”

Annoyed, Mr. Del Signore and fellow Mercury Man Victor Cretella paid an unscheduled visit to the NBC studios in Rockefeller Center last week, hoping to meet with SNL honcho Lorne Michaels. But the pair failed to get a meeting with Mr. Michaels.

They “called up [from downstairs] and spoke with his secretary, and they said he was out of town,” Mr. Del Signore reports. “And then we asked them to take a videotape we’d made to give to Lorne Michaels. They wouldn’t take it.”

An SNL spokesman, Marc Liepis, said he knew nothing about their visit. “Even if I did, I doubt we’d comment on it,” he said.

But the Mercury Men haven’t given up yet. Mr. Del Signore said he plans to shed from his automaton schtick in the face of the SNL skit. “We call what we do ‘the art of not doing,'” he explained. “It’s based on Zen. I’ve studied meditation and tai chi. We’re talking to a lawyer to see what our options are.”

– Ralph Gardner Jr.

Tonight on Saturday Night Live , Jennifer Lopez will adequately act, dance and sing. [WNBC, 4, 11:30 p.m.]

Sunday, Feb. 11

On NBC, the predictably lame-o N.B.A. All-Star Game . [WNBC, 4, 6:30 p.m.]

Monday, Feb. 12

Rarf! The annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show scampers into Madison Square Garden today and, as usual, all the fluffy action will be carried on Barry von Furstenberg-Diller’s USA network. David Frei, USA’s color commentator, said that one favorite to win Best in Show is a Texas-trained bichon frise champion named Special Times Just Right, a cozy handle that sounds a bit like malt-liquor ad copy.

Mr. Frei estimated that Special Times vanquished over 100,000 pups in 2000. If you’re not in the dog-show business, friends, that’s what you call some domination .

As for last year’s Westminster champion, the Sacramento-raised English springer spaniel Samantha, she went and got herself knocked up. “[She] just had a litter of puppies,” Mr. Frei said.

Westminster attracts the dog-show world’s most passionate devotees, but USA’s telecast, co-anchored by the former baseball player and Today show host Joe Garagiola, is geared more toward the Frisbee-throwing dog owner. “I figure we get a lot of people who are sitting at home with their dog–Fluffo, maybe–next to them,” Mr. Frei said. “When their breed comes up, they say, ‘You know, there is your cousin, and I think you could be just as good out there if I maybe spent a little more time grooming you and training you.'”

Sounds just like what NYTV’s mom used to say during Star Search ! While Mr. Garagiola and his folksy, occasionally schizophrenic commentary gets most of the attention, the studied Mr. Frei–who once chaired a “world congress” on Afghan hounds–is the USA network’s real link to the hard-core dog scene.

But don’t ask him about Best in Show ! Mr. Frei sounded like he was biting his tongue when asked about Christopher Guest’s comedy, a substantial portion of which was dedicated to ridiculing Mr. Garagiola’s broadcasting style. “Well, it’s a satire , of course,” Mr. Frei said. “I thought it was really funny, but we take it as a form of flattery , because we have the real event.”

Tonight, see if a stung Mr. Garagiola holds back during the real event. [USA, 23, 8 p.m.]

Tuesday, Feb. 13

Tonight’s E! True Hollywood Story profiles Carmen Electra. This takes up an entire hour? [E!, 24, 9 p.m.] XFL ‘s Promotion Team … Full Frontal Fashion Week … Bitches in Heated Competition