Now that "American Idol" is down to its final 24 contestants it seems more clear than ever that the show could be headed into big trouble after this season.
Sarah Silverman recently said, as a viewer and fan of "Idol," what she's primarily interested in is hearing the contestants sing and then hearing what Simon Cowell has to say about them.
Watching last night's show (Tuesday, Feb. 23) only made one realize how right Silverman is with her observation.
I can whittle it down to one contestant's performance last night, and the judges reaction to it.
The contestant was Haeley Vaughn, an effervescent, bubbly, enthusiastic 16-year-old who sang the early Beatle's classic "I Want To Hold Your Hand," accompanied by her own guitar playing.
After the performance, Kara went first, saying that Vaughn was all over the place musically, but that she likes the girl. Randy agreed, in mild criticism mixed with much praise.
Then came Ellen. She said she didn't know anything technically about music--referring to the critiques of Kara and Randy--and that as "Someone who just loves music, I enjoyed it."
Next came the truth-teller, Simon: "If I'm honest with you, I thought it was verging on terrible." As the boos mounted in the audience, he continued, "It was a complete, utter mess. It wasn't very good." As the crescendo of boos peaked, Simon then said, "I'm only saying what you're thinking."
And, of course, as most times, he was indeed saying what we were thinking.
Up until last night, for much of 'Idol" this season, Simon appeared to have been disinterested and distant, seemingly already done with the show, knowing that this is his last season.
But last night he was back on his A-game.
Seeing that, along with the pronouncements of Miss "Gee, I don't know music, but I liked that," you can clearly see the huge challenges "Idol" has moving forward.
First there was the choice of picking Ellen to join the weak Kara (she's just basically a clone of Randy without his wit, charm or smarts) on the judging panel.
Yes, Ellen can deliver a good joke, as we've seen. And last night, after Simon's dose of truth about Haeley's performance she quipped, "If it was a mess, it was a hot mess," but her humorous quips don't generally add anything to the enjoyment of the show and just serve as a distraction.
Ellen as a talk-show host? Absolutely! Ellen as the judge of a show trying to pick the next best comic? Stupendous! Ellen as a judge on 'Idol"? Stupefying.
So what it will come down to after this season is who replaces Simon. I cannot think of a more difficult casting decision.
For those of us who love 'Idol," as well as for those responsible for keeping the program going as the cash cow it is on the business side, there is no bigger decision the producers of the show and those at Fox will have to make regarding this show.
So far, with their choices of having Kara and Ellen join the judges table, I'd say they have two strikes against them. I'm hoping that they don't strike out.#
You probably had to be there, but Larry David said the Writers Guild issued him a death sentence in handing him the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television.
It was the culmination of a hilarious acceptance speech at the WGA Awards in Los Angeles Saturday in which David revealed that his mother's dreams for him were to become a mailman, that he'd long ago scouted out a place on 44th St. on which to camp out when he became homeless — and that he hates writing.
Humor was a hallmark of the evening, beginning with host Seth McFarlane's opening song-and-dance number, which profanely mocked anyone in the business who thinks they can do it without writers. Chris Rock brought down the house with his riff on Tiger Woods’ apology, Billy Crystal razzed Barry Levinson for not hiring him, but a different kind of Jew — named Mickey Rourke — for “Diner” and Levinson in turn thanked comedy god Mel Brooks in accepting the Laurel Award for Screen. Naturally, Jason Alexander (David’s thinly disguised alter ego as George Costanza) killed with his intro of David, joking that lauding him was tantamount to seeing Mel Gibson on the next Chabad telethon — and saying he thanked God for the “Seinfeld” blessing every day.
Cementing its critically acclaimed status with two trophies, the writing staff of ABC’s “Modern Family” walked away with the award for best new series and tied with “30 Rock” for episodic comedy.
And it was “Rock’s” time to shine again — for the third year in a row — as it picked up the trophy for best comedy series. Never one to take anything for granted, though, Tina Fey accepted the award in New York by saying, "Network TV is seen by so few people that it is as precious as live theater," and reminded the audience, "Our special moment may not last forever."
Tina, let’s hope there is an extended shelf life for you and the other “Rock” talents.
“Mad Men” continued its heavily awarded reign, taking best drama series for the second year running. "I’m really hungry, I can’t drink, I’ve gotta pee and I have low blood sugar,” said Matthew Weiner in accepting the award for his writing staff — a reference to the fact that in order to coordinate the East Coast/West Coast ceremonies, the folks in Southern California had been drinking for nearly four hours at that point, with dinner still to be served. ("Curb Your Enthusiasm" regular Susie Essman hosted at the Millennium Broadway Hotel's Hudson Theatre in New York.)
The writers of "House" took the episodic drama trophy for their two-parter "Broken." Coincidentally, star Hugh Laurie had a presenter's role after that award was given, saying he had been prepared to unleash a torrent of hate if his show had lost — as he fully expected.
And in a very tough call in which I agree with the decision, guild voters just couldn't decide which show was better written, so there was a tie between the staff of "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," led by head writer Steve Bodow, and "Saturday Night Live," headed by Seth Meyers, for best comedy/variety series.
"I want to thank Jeff Zucker for having nothing to do with our show and network," said "The Daily Show's" Tim Carvell from the New York ceremony.
The NBC Universal chief was also a target of Chris Rock, who called him "the Elgin Baylor of TV"—a joke that left many in the audience a bit confused, but nonetheless amused.
For longform original, “Georgia O'Keeffe,” written by Michael Cristofer, edged out the popular “Grey Gardens” to take the trophy, and for longform adaptation, the well-decorated “Taking Chance” got the prize for its teleplay by Lieutenant Colonel Michael R. Strobl, USMC (Ret.) and Ross Katz, based on the short story by Strobl.
Other highlights: Morgan Freeman (the new James Earl Jones of the voiceover world) presenting the Paul Selvin Award to “Invictus” screenwriter Anthony Peckham, and Rock and Ali LeRoi’s spiel before Carl Gottlieb accepted the Morgan Cox Award for long-time service to the WGA.
(For a complete list of winners, click here.)
Could it be? Having a little bit of momentary awards show withdrawal in the midst of the season, after the boom-boom-boom of the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards and the Grammys.
The next televised extravaganza (after the non-broadcast yet very prestigious upcoming WGA Awards and the Costume Designers Guild Awards) will be the 41st Annual NAACP Image Awards, live on Fox Friday, Feb. 26, at 8 p.m. — but tape-delayed on the West Coast — from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
This year’s theme, “One Nation, One Dream,” represents a utopian goal distilled for the prestigious civil rights organization, which is also celebrating entering its second century of civil rights advocacy.
The nominees — representing excellence in television, film, music and literature — got revved up at a luncheon in their honor at the Beverly Hills Hotel, replete with admonishments from EP Vic Bulluck to keep their acceptance speeches to :45. Yeah, like that’s going to happen — but it’s always fair warning before the winner gets played off the stage or has his or her mic cut.
Attendees were treated to a performance by Judith Hill — Michael Jackson’s duet partner in “This Is It” on the ballad “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” Sans Michael, her piano and vocal performance riveted the crowd, and a few tears could be seen around the room.
The show itself promises more such moments — and some tough races on the TV side. Up for outstanding comedy: “30 Rock,” “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Glee,” “Ugly Betty” and “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.”
Perry is up for several other awards, and no suspense here, will receive the Chairman’s Award, in recognition special achievement and distinguished public service. He’ll be in the company of past honorees including Aretha Franklin, Bono, President Barack Obama, The Dave Matthews Band, Danny Glover, Aaron McGruder and Janet Jackson.
Dramatic programs vying for the Image Award are “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Cold Case,” “HawthoRNe,” The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” and “Lincoln Heights.”
Another highlight: recording industry executive Clarence Avant will be inducted into the NAACP Hall of Fame.
(For a complete list of Image Award nominees, click here.)
Coming Friday: From the Gospel of the Former Saint Woods, his Sermon on the Mount.
OK, perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but our anticipation of what Tiger Woods will say on Friday could not be any higher.
Woods' plan to break his silence and finally talk to the media, however briefly, has been immediately attacked for what he won't be doing: Primarily that he won't be anwering any questions. But I'm going to assume there might be a good reason for that and it's not just an issue of his being a control freak.
Regardless of how poorly many of us think Woods has handled his media communications during this scandal thus far, let's assume that his advisors really might have something on the ball, despite all evidence to the contrary thus far. I know, perhaps it's a nonsensical assumption, but let's give them the benefit of any doubt.
So let's see if we can figure out what Woods will say.
First, as ABC News said in its account of the Woods' anouncement, "In a statement Wednesday, Woods' agent Mark Steinberg said the golfer was looking forward to the next step. ' While Tiger feels that what happened is fundamentally a matter between he and his wife, he also recognizes that he has hurt and let down a lot of other people who were close to him. He also let down his fans. He wants to begin the process of making amends and that's what he's going to discuss,' the statement said."
OK, that sounds like the right thing to say.
Furthermore, according to the ABC account, "Fellow golfer Ernie Els told Golfweek magazine after Woods' announcement that his statement was 'selfish.' 'I feel sorry for the sponsor [of this week's professional golf tournament]. Mondays are a good day to make statements, not Friday,' he told the magazine. 'This takes a lot away from the golf tournament.' "
However, I also read where Woods' camp responded to Els by saying that Ernie doesn't know all the facts and that Woods needs to make his announcment on Friday and can't wait until next week.
So here's what I'm thinking: Why would Woods feel he MUST talk on Friday. I've decided it's one of two reasons.
One, there's some bombshell coming out in some publication early next week.
Or--and I'm hoping it's this one--Woods is going to say that he''ll be sitting down with Oprah or Diane Sawyer or Barbara Walters or Larry King or someone of their ilk on Monday.
If I'm wrong and it's just an announcement about where Tiger will play his first golf tournament since the scandal broke, then both Woods and his advisors are far less smart and media savvy than we already think they are. And so far we think they're getting a D- at best.
Tiger, don't keep blowing it.#
Howard Stern can be a mean-spirited a-hole. No doubt about it.
He is also one of the most brilliant, talented broadcasters I’ve ever heard. No doubt about it.
I don’t subscribe to Sirius Radio, so I have not heard Stern regularly in the past four years.
However, I was a regular listener when he was on free, over-the-air radio.
There were days when I was so upset with him for verbally abusing someone who I didn’t think deserved it that I swore I’d never listen to him again.
But a few days later there I was, again listening and laughing hysterically at something Stern said or at his antics or the antics of his gifted cohorts.
I don’t know Stern personally. Like you, I only know his public persona.
So here’s what I know. Stern is multi-dimensional. He’s colorful (duh) and smart as all get out. Yes, he can go on a rant and mercifully tear apart anyone at anytime. He can do it with some wit and biting humor or he can do it as an a-hole son of a bitch with nothing but verbal sludge and an oral sledgehammer. And while he thinks the latter might be funny and/or entertaining, it almost never comes across that way. At least it never did to me.
So what do I think about him taking over as a judge on “American Idol” when Simon Cowell leaves?
I think Stern would be a dazzling choice.
Before you decide that I’m crazy, go out and rent the movie “Private Parts.” Stern stars in it, based on his autobiography. The book came out in 1993, and the film was released in 1997.
It’s a fun, massively entertaining movie. Stern is terrific playing himself. And let’s credit Betty Thomas with a great job directing Stern and the film. If you only knew Stern from this movie, I don’t think any of you would question that he could take over for Cowell without being an inappropriate foul-mouthed scoundrel. A Simon-like scoundrel yes. And that’s that the show will need.
Stern is no stranger to TV. For many years he was on E!, but that was basically just a partly cleaned up version of his radio show, and still too raunchy for an audience with a lot of kids. And when I lived in New York in the 1990s, Stern had a comedy show on WWOR that I liked, but, again, probably not suitable for the young kid set.
But Stern could do this job, do it well, and be appropriate for kids. And it would pair Stern with a brilliant TV executive who has survived slings and arrows himself, and who I think Stern would respect and listen to: Fox’s Mike Darnell.
Ultimately, if Stern doesn’t take the job—or isn’t seriously offered it—here’s another choice I like:
Few may know this, but Mike is very musical. And I don’t know anyone with more smarts about what works on TV. Though he’s known for putting on daring and challenging programming, he may actually be too nice a man to replace Simon. Also, at this point in “Idol’s’ lifespan, it may be essential that Simon be replaced by someone who is more familiar to viewers than Darnell.
Which brings me back to Stern.
I’m a big fan of “Idol.” In our household it’s required viewing for me, my wife, our 14-year-old, our 11-year-old, and our six-year-old. If Stern took the gig I’d have no problem inviting him into our living room.
I can’t tell you the number of times, over the years, when Simon has spoken his mind and has gotten roundly booed—or attacked by the other judges for his opinion—that my wife and my kids have all looked at one another and then looked at me and we all nodded and have said, “Simon’s right.”
Next year I can easily see the new judge getting the same reaction on the show while my family and I all look at each other and say, “Stern’s right."#
Where was Kanye West when you needed him? Perhaps he could have mitigated some of the Taylor-phoria at the 52nd annual Grammy Awards, which many people are complaining was more like the Country Music Awards, what with the Zac Brown Brand (who?) winning for best new artist.
And even though West is famous for complaining at award shows, he actually scored some hardware for producing one of my favorite songs of the year, "Run This Town.” Rihanna wasn't even listed as a nominee, but she bolted up on stage with Jay-Z. and his cute little kid to accept the Grammy. So Kanye, you were missed — and congrats on your Grammy.
Whatever was going on in front of the camera in the 3½-hour telecast, audiences were liking it, to the tune of almost 26 million viewers, up about 35% from last year.
It was a big night for pop’s favorite not-really-single lady, Beyonce, although most of her record six Grammys were scored in the non-televised pre-show.
Let's get right down to the best things about the program: the tribute to Michael Jackson, Pink’s Cirque du Soleil-esque performance and some of the duets that rocked the Staples Center stage and small screens everywhere.
The 3-D tribute to Jackson had been hyped before the show, but in order to see it properly, you had to have a pair of glasses from Target, or maybe some you nicked from "Avatar.”
Not living in the vicinity of a Target or willing to make a trip, we had to see it cold, in regular, boring old 2-D. No matter. The staging was beautiful, and the performers (Celine Dion, Carrie Underwood, Smokey Robinson, Jennifer Hudson and Usher) soared in concert with the enviro-lyrics from the late, great King of Pop.
And then came the most touching part of the tribute, Jackson’s kids Prince Michael and Paris taking the stage to accept their dad’s lifetime achievement award. The last time a TV audience saw these pre-teens was on the same stage, at Jackson’s memorial service — and you could feel the audience holding their collective breath, riveted by the sight of the poised brother and sister dressed in dark suits with red armbands. This time, Prince spoke — sounding uncannily like MJ in his delivery — and promised to continue to spread the message of love that was instrumental in his father’s songs.
Can we talk Pink? The pop singer pulled off a similar aerial performance at the recent VMAs, but this was truly spectacular. The nude bodysuit, the white bondage-y outfit — and being aerially dunked in water while spinning in a harness and still singing like an angel. Hard to top.
Another big moment, the inspired pairing of Andrea Bocelli and Mary J. Blige. Bocelli started off singing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in Italian before Blige joined in and gave the classic Simon & Garfunkel song a sweet R&B twist.
A couple of the other duets weren’t so in sync. Take the show opener — Elton John and Lady Gaga, whose crazy costumes are getting a little tiresome. How long has Elton been pounding the ivories and singing his soul out — more than 35 years? Don’t think her music will have the shelf life of a “Candle in the Wind.” I was distracted by whether she painted her teeth translucent red as part of the apparent monster theme that was many months late for Halloween.
Stephen Colbert — man, you’re great but your monologue really blew. Asking your teenage daughter three times if you were cool was a bit much. (You kind of redeemed yourself when you did pick up the Grammy for best comedy album — and spoon-feeding it on “The Colbert Report” last night was pretty damn funny.)
Oops, the audience voting for what song Bon Jovi would sing was closed to West Coast viewers.
If you were paying close attention — and mine certainly drifted during the ubiquitous and overexposed Black Eyed Peas performance — you somehow realized the Recording Academy had handed out a number of lifetime achievement awards, to music legends like Leonard Cohen, Bobby Darin and Loretta Lynn, but these were mentioned quickly in passing, without even a clip of a song to recognize the artists.
Instead of going to commercial after the “in memoriam” segment, as is traditional, the show went to “Crazy Heart” start Jeff Bridges, apparently now considered a musician. Tough segue.
More program notes:
Quentin Tarantino — you could get a job as a carnival barker. Maybe dial it down a few notches.
Ricky Martin — did you get the heat you asked for twice?
Kaley Cuoco — was your dress on backwards?
Bon Jovi — why did the fan-chosen “Living on a Prayer” only run about 1:30? Always leave them wanting more, I guess.
Beyonce — did you really grab your crotch?
Whichever Jonas brother — do glasses make you look more mature? It kinda worked.
Lionel Richie — can you read the teleprompter a little more smoothly or memorize your intro better? It distracted from the significance of what you were saying.
Kings of Leon — maybe not so many shots before the show next time. This isn’t the Golden Globes.
With all the high and low moments — as Robert Downey Jr. called them, the “gauche festivities” — this will be a tough Grammys to top.
NBC Universal President and CEO Jeff Zucker was a guest on PBS’ “Charlie Rose” show a few weeks ago (Jan. 18th).
Charlie Rose, who has known Zucker for years and has had him on his show periodically since at least 2001, began the interview with this assessment:
“Here is the storyline. You took over as NBC entertainment head in 2000 after being very successful as the executive producer of ‘NBC News.’ Things have gone downhill for NBC, and it’s now in shambles. What is it you want to say about that experience?”
After protesting that Rose’s assessment was unfair to the employees of NBCU, Zucker confessed, “Having said that, we need to be straight that NBC Entertainment in primetime over the last five years has not done well enough. And we have to do better and we have to find bigger, broader, better shows.”
He added, “I always say that NBC Entertainment is responsible for five percent of our bottom line and 95 percent of our perception. And right now that’s about 105 percent of our perception.”
What is clear is that under the leadership of Zucker and Jeff Gaspin, the cable networks of NBCU—including USA, Syfy, Bravo and CNBC, among others—have been stellar contributors to the company’s bottom line.
Concurrently and conversely, by Zucker’s own admission, NBC Entertainment in primetime has been a laggard.
Jeff Zucker on "Charlie Rose" on Jan. 18, 2010
Later in the interview Rose said that some people “say the following things—Jeff [Zucker] is a brilliant tactician and not a great strategist. He came to the job without an understanding of Hollywood but [with] an understanding of news and ‘The Today Show.’ And therefore when you look at those mistakes and you look at this [Jay Leno at 10 p.m. and Conan O’Brien taking over the “Tonight Show” at 11:35 p.m.] mistake, accountability and responsibility might have suggested they needed a new man as head of NBC Universal.
Zucker: Well, look, I will tell you that, again, I think some context is important there. I’m very proud of the job that we’ve done at NBC Universal in the three years that I’ve been in the role [of President and CEO of the company].
And if you look at the scope of what we’re talking about here, again, NBC Entertainment is a tiny piece of the overall company. We’ve had great success in most parts of the company. I think we’ve—
Rose: Except network television.
Zucker: Except network entertainment television.
Rose: Right, which has often been the identifying—
Zucker: Agreed. And that’s why—and I understand that. And I understand that’s why there’s so much angst over this, and I get that. And, frankly, we need to do a better job. And I want to do a better job.
Rose: But at some point if you don’t do better then somebody ought to say "Well, I should turn this over to someone else and somebody else ought to have their hand at it."
Zucker: Well, look, that obviously is for others to decide. But I’m very comfortable with the job that my -- that I and my management team have done over the last three years.
Hmmm....In broad strokes, let's look at Zucker’s performance on the TV side of things with a clear head.
That’s not necessarily easy to do. Up to and including New York Times’ columnist Maureen Dowd’s recent attack on Zucker, more than any other top TV executive in recent years, he has been vilified by the nastiest of anonymous quotes from those in Hollywood. Yes, some of the vitriol has been stated by people in Hollywood on-the-record, but very little, with the excuse that the ones delivering the spiteful spittle have been granted anonymity because they all want to work at NBC Universal at some point.
As regular readers of this blog may recall, I’m a big believer in the KISS concept: Keep it simple and stupid, or, more commonly, Keep it simple, stupid. So let’s apply a KISS approach to this Zucker situation and see if we can come up with a simple solution that makes sense.
By Zucker’s own admission NBC primetime has under-performed for the past five years. The latest disappointment—Leno at 10 p.m.—was also a move destined to fail, as I wrote in my last blog entry.
Zucker is not popular in Hollywood. Most of the charges against him, as I noted, may have been made anonymously, and while that isn’t necessarily fair, it doesn’t make those comments any less heartfelt.
The cable networks, which figure mightily in NBCU’s cash flow and profits, have performed very well under Zucker and one of his top lieutenants, Jeff Gaspin.
Clearly, with Comcast’s approval, Zucker’s contract was renewed at the end of last year for another three years. Part of that, I’d imagine, was basically to keep Zucker—who’s been at NBC for 24 years—in place to shepherd through the regulatory process the sale of the company to Comcast. That is expected to take about a year.
What Comcast needs to do once they take control of the company is a management tweak—as opposed to a major reorg.
And what that tweak needs to be is to take one responsibility away from Zucker and Gaspin: their responsibility for NBC Entertainment. In this instance that means only the TV network and its associated properties. All the cable properties would stay under the purview of Zucker and Gaspin.
Next, appoint a president of NBC Entertainment who has great relationships with the Hollywood community. That person would report directly to Comcast’s Steve Burke, who at one time was president of ABC Broadcasting.
Another idea would be for this president of NBC Entertainment to report to Ron Meyer, the well-respected president and chief operating officer of Universal Studios. But that would be dicey, since Meyer reports to Zucker and the idea here is to take Zucker out of the loop with regard to NBC Entertainment.
Would Zucker go for this? Maybe. At one point in his career he was executive producing, simultaneously, the “Today" show and the “Nightly News” with Tom Brokaw. He later said it was foolhardy to have taken on both responsibilities at the same time, and attributed his attempt to do so as a mistake one makes when one is young. As someone who is older and wiser now, he certainly can see how the idea we propose here makes sense. And lord knows, he’d still be in charge of a ton of important properties that are the real financial drivers of NBCU.
Who should be hired as this new president of NBC Entertainment? Why not throw a lot of money at CBS’ Nina Tassler to do the job. It’s probably doubtful that the she’d jump over to NBC, given her strong ties to CBS chief Leslie Moonves, but I’d be surprised if she wouldn’t love the challenge.
Maybe some of you think Angela Bromstad, who’s currently charged with reviving NBC’s primetime, should be given a shot at the position.
What are some of your choices? How about an agent or former agent—yes Ben Silverman didn’t work out for NBC—but what about someone like his former boss, Sam Haskell, who ran William Morris’ TV department for many years?
Perhaps a showrunner. Or a former showrunner. Would any of the Stevens or Stephens fit the bill? Bochco or Cannell? Or perhaps a Howard Gordon or Damon Lindelof or Katie Jacobs. Robert Greenblatt would be a good choice; so would Chris Albrecht.
I can see you’re getting as excited about this idea as I am. It’s a win-win for NBCU and Comcast. They keep Zucker and Gaspin in the company doing what they do best , and bring a fresh face to NBC that Hollywood would welcome, let alone viewers and the media, all of whom will otherwise continue to deride NBC from now until they find some long-lasting hits—which have been hard to come by for the peacock network these last five years.
Is this the best idea since Johnny Carson was chosen to replace Jack Paar, or the worst one since, well, the Leno/Conan debacle?#