Random Notes •

This Note's for You

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Tuesday, January 09, 2018
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Sketches, One-liners, and Zingers
(but no snark, Mr. Denby)

[Election 2008]


- Modern Greek chorus…if we had our own talk show, we’d have these funny people on to talk about current events: Kathy Griffin, Bill Maher, Greg Proops, and Aisha Tyler.

- A practical reason to keep your emotions in check…after Alec Baldwin’s tirade was made public in 2007, you’d think celebrities would’ve learned to never yell at anyone close to them because these telephone rants would only end up on television and all over the Internet. Guess Mel Gibson just couldn’t help himself.

- Sleuthing fun in the summertime…courtesy of PBS’ “History Detectives” (pbs.org/historydetectives/) since 2003 (“Antiques Roadshow” meets “60 Minutes”). This show is also touching in an understated way—unlike such mawkish shows as “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” (take the megaphone away from Ty Pennington) or when family members show up on “Survivor.”

- Awkward…we no longer watch Jay Leno now that he got his old show back. It’s the same reason we change the channel when Marv Albert is on.

- The thanks she gets…after Oprah Winfrey gave two NBC series a big push on her show (“The Marriage Ref” and “Who Do You Think You Are?”), NBC put author Kitty Kelly on “Today” at least three times.

- Enough already…you know something is amiss when a series relies heavily on flashbacks. That is the case with ABC’s “Lost” from the beginning. But then the series started showing flash-forwards, not to mention time travel. And now the final season gives us flash-sideways (sort of a parallel universe).

- When “Criminal Minds” (CBS) is good, it’s like a taut one-act play. The November 2009 episode featuring guest star C. Thomas Howell (“100”) is almost as good as the ones with Keith Carradine (“No Way Out”) in 2007.

- Will prime-time Jay Leno be subjected to the possibility of cancellation like all other prime-time shows?

- Battle of the Wallanders…we’ve seen two competing Maigrets on TV before. Now we have the British version of “Wallander” (pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/) against the latest Swedish series. Like “Maigret,” “Wallander” is based on a literary character. The U.K. version, filmed on location in Sweden, looks like it costs a lot more. When Kenneth Branagh started playing detective Kurt Wallander, he was about 10 years younger than his Swedish counterpart when the Swedish series began a few years earlier. Maybe it’s the age difference, but the older Wallander seems more of a bumbling Walter Matthau type while Branagh’s Wallander is more angst-ridden. Wallander has a closer and warmer relationship with his daughter in the U.K. production even though she works alongside her father in the Swedish version. These differences may be due to the fact that the British series—and the Swedish films—were based on the original series of books. The Swedish TV series, on the other hand, used original teleplays inspired by the character.

- Competing know-it-alls…“Lie to Me” (Fox) is way better than “The Mentalist” (CBS), yet CBS got itself a top 10 hit for the 2008-09 season.

- Close-out sale of sorts…ABC airing the three remaining episodes of the canceled “Pushing Daisies” on Saturdays once the May 2009 sweeps were over.

- If the point is to annoy the viewers, those 2009 Canada tourism ads have succeeded.

- SNL got it right after all…if you watched “60 Minutes’” 2009 report on World Savings mortgage problems (“World of Trouble”), then you know the October 2008 bailout skit on “Saturday Night Live” mocking Herb and Marion Sandler hit the bull’s-eye.

- Some people are quick to point to Fox’s “24” for helping prepare Americans for a black president. If such is the power of television, maybe the hawkish show also helped torture go mainstream, which would explain why so few Americans were genuinely shocked by Abu Ghraib in 2004. By the way, some critics have finally seen the light regarding “24.” As we wrote a while back, this show is too manipulative, too predictable, and not too subtle about its agenda.

- As seen on TV…some places to visit for fans of these shows: Portmeirion, Wales (“The Prisoner”); Avoca and Enniskerry, Ireland (“Ballykissangel”); Port Isaac, England (“Doc Martin”); and Swaffham, England (“Kingdom”).

- Beyond “Mystery!”…ask your local PBS station to broadcast these U.K. crime series: “Lovejoy” (1986, 1991-94), “Pie in the Sky” (1994-97), “Jonathan Creek” (1997-2004), “Trial & Retribution” (1997-present), “Rebus” (2000-07), “Waking the Dead” (2000-present), “Rosemary & Thyme” (2003-07), “New Tricks” (2003-present), “The Brief” (2004-05), and “The Invisibles” (2008-present). If you live in the Bay Area, you’re in luck because after merging with KQED San Francisco, KTEH San Jose (kteh.org) has expanded its British programming. And KCSM San Mateo (kcsm.org) showcases non-English series such as “Tatort/Scene of the Crime” (Germany, 1970-present), “Maigret” (France, 1991-2005), “Commissario Montalbano/Inspector Montalbano” (Italy, 1999-2002, 2005-06, 2008-present), and “Wallander” (Sweden, 2005-06, 2009-present).

- Speaking of imports…put in a request for these one-hour dramedies as well: “Ballykissangel” (1996-2001), “Doc Martin” (2004-present), and “Kingdom” (2007-present). One thing these shows have in common is a strong sense of place. You should also ask your local library to add these titles to its DVD collection.

- Sherlock homies…thanks to “Mystery!” on PBS, started in 1980 and now part of “Masterpiece” (pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/), we’ve come to know so many television sleuths, including detectives (Roderick Alleyn, Dave Creegan, Cribb, Adam Dalgliesh, Christopher Foyle, Michael Jericho, Robert Lewis, Thomas Lynley, Jules Maigret, Endeavour Morse, Ross Tanner, Jane Tennison, Kurt Wallander), private investigators (Tuppence and Tommy Beresford, Albert Campion, Elly Chandler/Dee Tate, Cordelia Gray, Sid Halley, Sherlock Holmes, Sally Lockhart, Hercule Poirot, Hetty Wainthropp), and moonlighters (Adela Bradley, Brother Cadfael, Father Brown, Jane Marple, Jemima Shore, Peter Wimsey).

- Most overrated TV shows of the 2000s (based on questionable critical acclaim and underserved cult status)…1. “24” (Fox, 2001-present), 2. “Heroes” (NBC, 2006-present), 3. “The Office” (NBC, 2005-present), 4. “Lost” (ABC, 2004-present), 5. “Arrested Development” (Fox, 2003-06), 6. “House” (Fox, 2004-present), 7. “Alias” (ABC, 2001-06), 8. “Scrubs” (NBC/ABC, 2001-present).

- A man’s got to know his limits…Simon Schama should stop hosting/narrating his documentaries. Listening to him drone on and on is a big distraction (worst example: “Power of Art”). We can’t all be as natural in front of the camera as Michael Wood, David Attenborough, and the late George Page. And we can’t all be respected narrators like David McCullough, Will Lyman, and Liev Schreiber. There’s a good reason we don’t see or hear Ken Burns in his documentaries.

- About time…Oprah Winfrey finally gave the Amazon Kindle a plug on her show in October 2008, one year after its launch. If anyone can sell this product, it’s the queen of book clubs.

- Dancing with fire…ABC should’ve paired Julianne Hough with Lance Bass on “Dancing With the Stars”—in light of the heated battle over California’s Proposition 8.

- The new variety show…ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars”…it has comedy (sometimes unintentional), singing, and lots of dancing.

- What’s wrong with NBC’s “Heroes”…basic premise too similar to “X-Men,” each episode like a pop song missing a chorus, and Dr. Suresh’s affected accent (mistake to ask this American actor to do a British accent).

- What’s right with “Heroes”…multicultural casting. But like ABC’s “Lost,” not all the characters are Americans. Hollywood shouldn’t need an excuse to show a little diversity. So American TV still doesn’t look like the home country most of the time, a problem shared by other countries perhaps.

- For those who watched it on local television, the 2008 Olympic torch relay in San Francisco unfolded like a caper. A last-minute detour managed to foil the demonstrators. It makes one wonder if London and Paris tried all that hard to avoid a showdown with protesters.

- Fans of “CSI” should check out BBC’s “Waking the Dead,” a series that premiered in the U.K. one month before “CSI” made its American debut in 2000.

- Best use of the Internet…“CSI: NY” incorporating Second Life into an October 2007 episode.

- Hollywood sets new outsourcing record…seven new 2007-2008 series are all fronted by actors from Europe and Australia: NBC’s “Bionic Woman,” “Journeyman,” and “Life,” CBS’ “Moonlight” and “Viva Laughlin,” ABC’s “Eli Stone,” and Fox’s “New Amsterdam,” not to mention returning shows starring foreign actors and reality programs with non-American hosts. The movie industry has a long history of employing foreigners in front of the camera; the television business is catching up.

- Namaste…Indian is the new brown…suddenly, every other show must have at least one Desi actor. “The Simpsons” started it all with the character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon way back when.

- Newsmagazine catfight…ABC’s Brian Ross doing an investigative piece on the “To Catch a Predator” series on “Dateline NBC.” More than anything else, this is a case of bad blood between a district attorney and a police chief. If NBC should be faulted for wanting to get maximum drama for its television show, ABC is equally guilty of using local politics to rain on NBC’s parade.

- If you can’t beat ’em…ABC’s “i-Caught,” an occasional (?) series that showcases some of the viral videos on the Internet as well as Internet-fueled fads such as parkour and phrogging, just some things people under 30 already know.

- In need of a major makeover…what went wrong with “On the Lot” (Fox)…judges (missing a real critic), music (more appropriate for an awards show), writing (surprisingly devoid of any memorable “making of” moments), casting (no real major discovery), voting (only one of the three finalists deserves to be there—and he didn’t win—should they let the judges choose next time [if there is a next time]?).

- A cliffhanger few saw coming…leave it to HBO’s “The Sopranos” to go out with the kind of ending usually reserved for a season finale.

- MTV effect continues…TV shows such as “Cold Case” and “CSI: Miami” often wrap up each episode with what looks like a music video. A Journey song was featured prominently in the series finale of “The Sopranos” just as Green Day played a part in the final episode of “Seinfeld.”

- The last word…the Dixie Chicks winning five Grammies—and the first artist to nab the three top awards since Eric Clapton in 1992—after a mostly corporate-driven boycott at country radio in 2003 and Jennifer Hudson winning an Oscar after placing seventh on season 3 of “American Idol” in 2004.

- Why bother…AMC has announced it will produce a remake of the 1967 British series “The Prisoner”…why remake something that was nearly perfect? Whether it’s “Nowhere Man” (1995) on UPN, “John Doe” (2002) on Fox, “Lost” (2004-present) on ABC, or “The Truman Show” (1998) on the big screen, nothing compares to “The Prisoner.”

- The most consistently Hitchcockian series in a long time…“Medium.” This NBC show started as one of those I-see-dead-people deals and evolved into something more satisfying.

- Say it ain’t so, Cosmo Kramer…we sentence Michael Richards (of “Seinfeld” fame) to a viewing of “Eyes on the Prize” and a reading of Randall Kennedy’s 2002 book—and a whole lot of soul searching. At least Mel Gibson could say he was drunk.

- CNN is not the only game in town…try these other international news sources that also broadcast in English: BBC (bbcnews.com), Deutsche Welle (dw-world.de), Russia Today (russiatoday.ru), Al Jazeera (aljazeera.net/english), and France 24 (france24.com). Russia Today is supposedly state-owned. And there are two familiar faces on Al Jazeera: Dave Maresh (former “Nightline” correspondent) and David Frost. Check your local PBS stations as most carry BBC and some DW-TV and Russia Today as well.

- Farewell to another TV detective…a few years ago it was Endeavour Morse (“Inspector Morse” [1987-2000]) and now Jane Tennison (“Prime Suspect” [1991-2006]).

- Another serving for foodies…check out Gourmet magazine’s first network show, “Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie” (diaryofafoodie.org).

- Happy trail…most Americans are familiar with the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Oregon Trail, California’s Mission Trail, and Route 66. After watching a re-broadcast of the documentary “Eyes on the Prize” (pbs.org, freedomridersfoundation.org), we’re convinced students and history buffs should retrace the 1961 Freedom Rides that started in Washington, D.C. Some of the history-making stops through the South include Virginia, North Carolina (Greensboro), South Carolina (Rockhill), Georgia (Atlanta), Alabama (Anniston, Birmingham, Montgomery), Mississippi (Jackson), and Louisiana (New Orleans).

- Race war for ratings?…Say what you will about reality shows, but their casting has always been more diverse than regular TV shows. Before the first “Survivor,” how often did you see a gay, fat, naked character for a whole season on network television? Now comes word the 13th season of “Survivor” will play the race card and divide the contestants by race (it had sometimes separated the players by gender and age before). Lost in the growing controversy is the fact that this will be the first time in “Survivor” history when white players will be outnumbered and minority cast members will not stand out from day one. If producer Mark Burnett had the cojones, he should consider splitting future teams by religion (atheists, Christians, Jews, and Muslims) or sexual orientation (gay, straight, bi, and tranny). But seriously, will CBS yank “Survivor: Cook Islands” as ABC did with “Welcome to the Neighborhood” in 2005 (see below)? Despite declining ratings, the previous and 12th installment of “Survivor” still finished at No. 11 for the season—not bad for a six-year-old series. So there’s your answer.

- Bring back the buzz…instead of more reality programming every summer, the networks should consider re-broadcasting classic series that never went into syndication. The first season of “Twin Peaks” only had eight episodes—perfect for a summer run.

- Bad move…have you seen the Ford commercial featuring the 2006 American Idol? Is this the best way to showcase the winner before the release of his debut album? They say great singers can sing the phone book and make it sound good. Well, this guy didn’t even pass the jingle test.

- End of an era…with Tom, Dan, and Peter gone from the anchor desks at all three commercial networks and other veterans working part-time or retiring altogether, younger TV journalists are forced to take over before they’re ready for prime time. The three co-hosts of ABC’s “Nightline” can’t seem to fill Ted Koppel’s shoes. Here’s hoping they don’t ruin venerable shows such as “CBS News Sunday Morning” and “The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer” on PBS.

- One way to get more people to watch the Oscars…put up the actual vote count in each category after the winner is announced. Didn’t you want to know if “Crash” won by a comfortable margin or not? And about the song from “Hustle & Flow”….

- Nothing against Samantha Harris…but Giselle Fernandez should co-host “Dancing With the Stars” on ABC. Shakira and Jason Lee (“My Name Is Earl”) should show off their dancing skills on this show—they sure know how to pop and lock.

- Ted Koppel…a class act all the way. He would’ve been a great choice to anchor ABC’s “World News Tonight.”

- A new show for Bay Area foodies…”Check, Please! Bay Area” on KQED San Francisco (kqed.org/checkplease). Half the fun is watching the attention-starved guests go at it. They are mostly eccentric and a little difficult—not unlike the contestants on “Survivor” and “Big Brother.”

- Best travel show for people who avoid packaged tours…Rough Guides produced a wonderful series in the 1990s; now it’s “Globe Trekker” (globetrekkertv.com) from Pilot Guides.

- Back to slim pickings…only five—and we’re being generous—promising new shows in the 2005-06 season: NBC’s “My Name Is Earl” and “Heist” (canceled), CBS’ “Criminal Minds,” ABC’s “Night Stalker” (canceled), and WB’s “Supernatural”…a far cry from last season’s bumper crop of good to great debut series: “Desperate Housewives” (ABC), “Veronica Mars” (UPN), “Medium” (NBC), “Numb3rs” (CBS), “Blind Justice” (ABC), “Family Guy” (Fox reentry), “American Dad” (Fox), and, if you insist, “Lost” (ABC) and “CSI: NY” (CBS). “Justice” may have been canceled, but Marisol Nichols should have a bright future.

- Best song from the Katrina relief concert, “Shelter From the Storm”…Neil Young’s “When God Made Me,” the last track on his new album, proving once again he doesn’t just rock out on songs like “Rust Never Sleeps” (he also contributed the Oscar-nominated title track to the “Philadelephia” soundtrack).

- Night and day…fans of “House” on Fox should rent the early 1990s series “Jeeves and Wooster” or catch its reruns on PBS. They’ll see a very different Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster, the opposite of Dr. Gregory House.

- Spies like us…if you missed it the first time, catch the reruns of “Spy” on PBS, a 10-part reality series repackaged for the U.S. market (bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/spy/), and find out if you have what it takes for intelligence work.

Current events got you down? Stop by our sister site, thenewsreader.blogspot.com, and we’ll help you sort it all out.

- ABC saw the light…and decided to shelf “Welcome to the Neighborhood” 10 days before its July 2005 premiere. This is a reality series in which three families in Austin, Texas, get to pick a neighbor to move into an expensive home in their upscale enclave. Some thought the producers might have violated the fair housing law. We don’t have a problem with a TV series that shows people overcoming their prejudices, but the premise of (seemingly) WASP families deciding who can live in their exclusive neighborhood (minorities, gays, and non-Christians are among the contestants) is anachronistic if not off-putting and a tad creepy. It wasn’t that long ago when segregated neighborhoods were the norm. Guess this means the show that follows an all-white school as faculty and students interview a “colorful” group of applicants is out.

- Kudos to Quentin Tarantino…for writing and directing the season five finale of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” one of the most memorable episodes in “CSI” franchise history. Speaking of the CBS goldmine…“CSI: NY” is clearly the weakest link. If the network insists on another spin-off, they better get the next one right.

- Who knew Craig Ferguson, that Scottish actor on “The Drew Carey Show” (1995-2004) would be a natural as the new host of “The Late Late Show” on CBS?

If you want to know what we think of the S.F. 49ers video pick or Prince Harry’s party attire, stop by our sister site, shirtydame.blogspot.com, and read all about it.

- Brown, Jackson, and English…name of a British law firm? No, this Florida-based trio makes up the core of the WB’s morning news program, “The Daily Buzz” (dailybuzz.tv), another attempt by a network to deliver an irreverent news show. A Ken-doll type plays straight man to his co-host, a former actress known to get up and shimmy to the break music. The weatherman is the hobbit with the frosted tips. Whether you’ll laugh with this show or at it depends on your perspective and how awake/sleepy you are in the early morning.

- “24”…the Justice Department’s favorite TV program? After watching countless interrogation scenes involving Middle Eastern suspects in the first three seasons, we’ve grown tired of this Fox show’s M.O. (the way the hero’s family is always in jeopardy is also gratuitously manipulative). In the past, the writers could claim the real bad guy has turned out to be someone much closer to home—and non-Arab (reminds us of the use of a black police captain in movies such as the Dirty Harry series to “neutralize” complaints of stereotypes). The fourth season presents a Muslim family as a terrorist cell in America—yikes. With shows like “24,” who needs the USA PATRIOT Act?

- Back before you know it…PBS started airing “Everyday Food” (pbs.org/everydayfood/), the cooking series based on the Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia magazine of the same name, before she completed her sentence. Some of the hosts (employees of her company) had appeared on her defunct morning TV program. “Petkeeping With Marc Morrone” (petkeeping.com), another of her company’s syndicated TV show, has been on the air since 2003.

- Who should replace Dan Rather?…Connie Chung…over Rather’s dead body. Seriously, CBS should not pick John Roberts (milquetoast) or Scott Pelley (got too emotional during the Lewinsky scandal).

- Oops, he did it again…the creator of “Alias” gave us another overrated series, “Lost” on ABC, in 2004. One problem is that not much happens each week. The first season’s two-hour finale, for instance, is about one hour too long. The best way to enjoy “Lost”: just catch the recap show followed by the season finale.

- Most annoying TV interviewer…Peter Robinson (uncommonknowledge.org)…what’s up with his obsession with quotations? Enough with the closed-quote mantra.

- The best new network TV series of the 2002-2003 season…NBC’s Peabody-winning “Boomtown” (the season’s best network TV series, period). It’s a shame the series was canceled just weeks into its second season (boomtown.bravepages.com).

- Carson Daly…MTV’s Pauly Shore.

- Most frustrating TV interviewer…Charlie Rose (charlierose.com)…a question is not a speech—make it snappy.

- Iann Robinson…the anti-Carson Daly.

- Something always gets lost in translation…the U.S. edition never came close to the original “Iron Chef” with its Las Vegas ninja-host, fast-talking roving reporters, dead-serious judges and commentators, and theatrical staging and over-the-top production…great to see the three Iron Chefs in a 2003 reunion special shot on location in Shanghai, Seoul, and Ho Chi Minh City.

- Carson Daly and Jimmy Neutron…separated at birth?

- Most overrated TV series in recent years…ABC’s “Alias” (they’re lucky to have cast Jennifer Garner).

- The first “Star Trek” series worth watching…“Star Trek: Voyager” (1995-2001) (this ought to generate a lot of e-mail).

- If we may paraphrase the Dixie Chicks…we’re ashamed Carson Daly used to work in the Bay Area (thank you, Bonnie Hunt, for hosting “Late Show With David Letterman”).

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- All things considered, we’d rather listen to Kanye West sing than Eminem. Be afraid of “Not Afraid.”

- Colbie Caillat, India.Arie just called and she wants her record back.

- Good career move…the best thing Fergie ever did professionally was joining The Black Eyed Peas. Without The Peas, she would’ve been just a footnote as a former member of the forgettable group Wild Orchid. Now her solo album has spawned five hit singles.

- She still loves rock ‘n’ roll…proving she still knows how to rock, Joan Jett performed a song from her 2006 album in bra and pants on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.” Not too many rock stars would be able to pull off this type of performance at age 46. When she’s in her 60s, will she turn soft like Rod Stewart (he must stop making those dreadful standards albums) or continue to rock out past sell-by date a la Mick Jagger?

- The pinstripe jacket, the hair, the eyebrows…was that Hilary Clinton performing a song on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” in May 2006? Someone should tell the Goo Goo Dolls’ lead singer to change his look.

- It’s the same old song? Will the iPod end up in the same retirement home as the Walkman? There was a time during the 1980s when nearly everyone bought a Walkman, which has been sitting in a drawer since the 1990s—long before the iPod came along. Sales of digital songs will ensure a longer shelf life for the iPod, especially if record companies decide to stop selling physical records.

- Don’t play coy…what’s with some radio stations playing a “clean” version of The Black Eyed Peas’ “Don’t Phunk With My Heart”? The FCC didn’t object when Prince sang “We can funk until the dawn/Making love till cherry’s gone” on “Erotic City” in 1984. Moreover, The Peas have performed their song as is on television, and the skittish TV censors didn’t have a problem. So why is radio so obsequious in 2005? It’s ironic because some of these very stations never give it a second thought when they spin hip-hop tracks that would make most people blush.

- Simon Cowell may be good at stating the obvious on Fox’s “American Idol,” but none of the artists he helped launch are standouts, including the equally unremarkable Il Divo.

- Blue-eyed soul is often overrated…latest exhibit: Joss Stone. If she were black, would the press have paid much attention?

- One-third of a good song…“Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand starts out great and then changes tempo and becomes a mediocre song the rest of the way.

- Twelve Girls Band…Celtic Woman…can you say elevator music?

- Charlotte Church, Russell Watson, Josh Groban…zzzzz.

- Why does Enrique Iglesias frequently sound like he’s singing in the wrong key? Dashboard Confessional and Franco De Vita have a similar problem. Don’t they use ProTools in the studio for that? What if they’re already using it…scary thought.

- Give these guys some Metamucil…Michael Bolton, Creed.

- Corazon…the most overused word in Spanish-language pop songs?

- Russell Watson and Clay Aiken…separated at birth?

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- The end…so long to “At the Movies” (1982-2010), the syndicated show that really began on PBS as “Sneak Previews” with Roger Ebert and the late Gene Siskel way back in 1977. Though PBS did continue “Previews” with different hosts for almost 15 years after the departure of Siskel and Ebert in 1982, it was never as popular as those first five years.

- James Cameron claims he’s had the idea for “Avatar” for a long time, but the trailer sure looks like the Second Life site.

- Oscar bait…Morgan Freeman playing Nelson Mandela in a Clint Eastwood picture.

- The new hosts of “At the Movies” (atthemoviestv.com) are better than the two Bens (maybe it’s because they had appeared as guest hosts before). A.O. Scott needs to watch his Hugh Grant-style stammer.

- Most overrated directors…M. Night Shyamalan, who has had commercial success, and Atom Egoyan, who has not. Most critics have come around to our way of thinking regarding the former; they’re starting to wonder about the latter.

- With no clear front-runners again, “Milk” could sweep the 2008 Oscars in these major categories (assuming the right marketing campaign produces these nominations): picture, directing, actor, and original screenplay. Academy voters might reward “Milk” because of the passage of Proposition 8 in California and the fact that “Brokeback Mountain” was upset a few years ago. You read it here first.

- We won’t miss Richard Roeper, but the two Bens who now host “At the Movies” (atthemoviestv.com) probably won’t last too long. The jury’s still out on Ben Mankiewicz. The other Ben, son of critic Jeffrey Lyons (reeltalktv.com), is still a little green. Besides, one Lyons on TV is plenty. The critics roundup is not a bad idea, but don’t waste it on movies like “Babylon A.D.”

- More questionable makeup…Adam Sandler in “Reign Over Me”…is he auditioning to play Bob Dylan? And then there’s Javier Bardem in “No Country for Old Men”…he sure looks like Jason Schwartzman (“The Darjeeling Limited,” “I [Heart] Huckabees”).

- Proof 2006 is a bad movie year…not a single film has emerged as the critical or Oscar favorite…the five best picture nominees received only a total of 26 nominations, the fewest since 1933 (and there were fewer categories in the past).

- Rating Roger Ebert’s 2006 and 2007 substitutes…thumbs up to Jay Leno, Kevin Smith, John Ridley, Aisha Tyler, Zorianna Kit, Harold Ramis, Kim Morgan, and David Edelstein…thumbs down to Toni Senecal and Fred Willard. Ridley and Tyler are good enough to host their own review shows—they might actually make a great team. Willard is a surprising pushover when it comes to movie critique.

- Questionable makeup…something’s wrong with “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” when people compare Johnny Depp with Audrey Tautou (“Amelie”), Carol Burnett, Carol Channing, and a certain pop star. And did someone tell Robert Rodriguez there’s a “Star Trek” Ferengi loose in “Frank Miller’s Sin City”?

- I snooze…a bunch of crash test dummies chasing Will Smith in “I Robot” is not exactly the definition of suspense.

- “South Park” did it…it’s time for a “Simpsons” movie (how about a double feature with “Futurama” on the big screen?). We also can’t wait to see “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or “Angel” in a theatre. Of course, “Buffy” began as a film.

- Trouble ahead for Hilary Duff…she’s 16 (in 2003) but looks 23, which means she might look 40 when she turns 30.

We have much more to say about the movies. Check out our Movie Talk.

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- Apples and oranges…for anyone debating whether Michael Phelps is the greatest Olympic athlete, don’t go by the number of medals won because you can only win one medal in most sports, not to mention elite swimmers routinely win multiple medals. Indeed, of the dozen American athletes who won at least three medals at the Beijing Olympics, all but two are swimmers. Natalie Coughlin won six medals and a 41-year-old swimmer won three.

- It may not be as bad as steroids, but using underage female gymnasts is still cheating.

- No room service for them…during the 2006 World Cup, the U.S. team left their base hotel in Hamburg, Germany, and spent two nights at Ramstein Air Base for security reasons. They also traveled in an unmarked team bus. FIFA could build a World Cup Village a la the Olympic Village if the venues were closer together.

- Biggest surprise at the 2006 World Cup…the U.S. team was ranked fifth in the world right before this event. When FIFA unveiled a new and improved ranking system after the World Cup, the U.S. immediately dropped to No. 16. Mexico, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Egypt, and Greece all fell between eight and 14 places. Ukraine, Switzerland, Paraguay, Guinea, and Ghana fared much better under the new system.

- Usual anomaly at the World Cup…still no national team representing the U.K. It would be as strange as Germany sending two teams representing the former West and East Germany or the U.S. having a Union team and a Confederate team. FIFA should make the decision for the British since they couldn’t agree themselves. Of course, if all four British teams (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) made it to the semifinals, FIFA would immediately take action.

- To every athlete who never won a gold medal at the Olympics…it’s about the career or body of work. As Jon Stewart said on “The 78th Annual Academy Awards,” “Martin Scorsese: zero Oscars. Three 6 Mafia: one.”

- Who knew Pat O’Brien is as freaky as Marv Albert? Makes you wonder about other current and former sportscasters…Jim Grey…John Tesh…oh my!

- Don’t kill the messenger…after Rafael Palmeiro’s failed drug test, it’s much harder for critics to ignore Jose Canseco’s tell-all book. Moral of the story: don’t discount the testimony if you don’t like the witness personally. You could say some celebrities and an “American Idol” judge were lucky because their accusers or the witnesses for the prosecution failed to make a favorable impression.

- Baseball…forget who’s on first, it’s who’s on steroids. The new drug policy is still toothless. And the Justice Department shouldn’t have dropped the ball.

- Good idea…Fox Sports adding an instant score box during its football broadcasts (later copied by other networks).

- Not-so-good idea…Fox Sports changing the corner score box into a hard-to-read strip.

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Election 2008

- Highlights of the year…Obama elected, O.J. convicted, gas down to $1.60.

- Paper rules…a run on newspapers the morning after…that’s one way to save the print business.

- Iowa, we owe you one.

- Yes, we can…America—at least half of it—can look beyond a person’s skin color and put him in the Oval Office.

- Even though Barack Obama got slightly more white votes than John Kerry four years ago and Al Gore in 2000, shouldn’t he have won by more than six points in popular votes, given this year of discontent would be an uphill battle for any Republican ticket? One has to wonder how many of the people who voted for John McCain did so because they simply felt more comfortable with a white candidate. On the other hand, McCain should have garnered more than 54 percent of votes in his home state of Arizona.

- While Barack Obama, 47, is the youngest presidential nominee since John F. Kennedy (43 in 1960), he’s still three years older than Sarah Palin and six years older than Dan Quayle when he was the VP nominee in 1988.

- A brilliant play or kamikaze move…John McCain’s choice for vice president…we’ll know in November. This election year just keeps making history.

- Mile-high Bird’s Nest…fireworks at the Democratic National Convention in Denver…a case of Olympic envy?

- Much has been made of the Reagan Democrats in the 1980s…will there be a lot of Obama Republicans?

- Underreported primary story…not all of Hilary Clinton’s 18 million cracks came from Democrats and Independents. As soon as John McCain had locked up the nomination, some Republicans voted for Clinton for ulterior motives (in states with open primaries).

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