A new date for Friday the 13th

By Steven Zeitchik

Voor Jason's coming back.

The villain who's defied death more often than Evil Knievel is making another appearance on the big screen. Sources saying that New Line and Platinum Dunes are moving forward on a new “Friday the 13th" and that Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, who wrote the recently released reboot, beginning work on a script for a new picture.

There's a catch, though.

Unlike the sophomore efforts of other franchises, the new “Friday” is expected to be not a sequel so much as a follow-up, those familiar with the project say. Jason Voorhees will be the villain, of course, but the new picture is expected to use elements of the original franchise more as a jumping-off point than as a template.

The reason? The reboot drew from the first four pictures in the “Friday” series, and producers are said not to be keen on the plot elements of the half-dozen movies that followed. And Marcus Nispel, who directed the latest film, is a possible but unlikely candidate to helm the “Friday” follow-up; the director is believed to be fielding offers for movies across other genres.

The wild cards are stars Jared Padalecki and Amanda Righetti; though both survive in the latest film and are considered rising young stars, they also are on hit TV shows (“Supernatural” and “The Mentalist,” respectively) and their schedules could be too packed.

Insiders caution that there is no greenlight and Platinum Dunes and New Line are actively working together on another franchise reboot, “A Nightmare on Elm Street,”  which is set to start shooting in two months.

Still, the “Friday” property is a desirable one, and in a best-case scenario the next film could be ready as early as the second half of 2010.

The first reboot, which brought a group of attractive young victims ack to get slashed at Camp Crystal Lake, was one of the surprise hits of the winter, earning $70 million worldwide. New Line and Paramount split domestic and international rights on the recent release and likely would do so again on a new picture.

In addition to the new “Friday,” the CAA-repped Shannon and Swift are in development on a number of other projects, including “Inland Saints” for Paramount and “Jerry the Giant Killer” for Columbia.

Moving kids' imaginations, one episode at a time

By Barry Garron

If you haven't heard of Imagination Movers, it's probably because you don't spend enough time hanging around with preschoolers. Ever since September, they've been on at 10 a.m. daily on the Disney Channel. With any luck, they'll be renewed for a second season sometime soon.

Imagination_movers Imagination Movers are heroes in the eyes of the preschool set. They are bright, enthusiastic, active and musical. They easily win toddlers over with their melodies and their antics. And here's the best part. They are the kind of TV parents want their kids to watch.

To understand why, it helps to know a little bit about how the Movers came about. One of them, Scott Durbin, was an elementary teacher for 10 years. "I developed an appreciation of kids being creative," he said. About six years ago, Durbin got together with three friends, all residents of New Orleans, to create a kids program for the local public broadcasting station.

"From the first few days, we had an educational dogma and a mission statement," he said. The idea behind the series was to show young children how to use their imagination and what they know to solve problems and find answers to what they don't know. Adding to the fun are the five songs the Movers write for every episode.

"We make catchy music that fires kids' imaginations," said Rich Collins, a Mover who used to write about entertainment for a New Orleans weekly paper.

The Movers are not afraid to let their hair down; they actually enjoy it. Three of them are parents of young children and the fourth, Scott "Smitty" Smith, a firefighter, said he and his wife are doing their best to make it unanimous. "We're used to being goofy with our kids," Durbin said. "We're all just kind of big kids ourselves. We love to play. We love to be silly. If you look at us in concert, half the time we're stooped over or sitting down crosslegged or in some other way we're directly in contact and talking to and connecting with little kids.

In their early years, they played at children's hospitals and performed for small groups of kids. "It gave us a very, very strong sense for what's working and what doesn't work," Durbin said. "It allowed us to do a lot of field testing and create something that makes a connection."Imagination_movers_2

The Movers were starting to make their move when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005. Three of the four members lost their homes. The office where the Movers kept their instruments, equipment, CDs and DVDs was destroyed.

Said Smith: "If there was a silver lining to it for us it was that we were getting e-mails from fans who were on the road. They told us they took with them a few belongings and our CD and DVD, which brought a sense of normalcy to their lives and was comforting during the evacuation."

The Movers repaid the compliment. After Disney ordered the show, all 26 episodes were produced in New Orleans, giving the area an important economic boost.

The Movers are optimistic that Disney will pick them up for another season and they should be. Children love the show and it's good for them. Originally designed for PBS, it's the kind of TV that any kids channel should be eager to carry. If you don't believe me, just ask a preschooler.

'The Shield': Another good thing comes to an end

By Barry Garron

Series come and series go and, even as The Reporter's chief TV critic, I don't get terribly sentimental about the process.

Shield_2 Every once in a while, though, when a series is head and shoulders above almost all the rest, something tugs at me. "The Shield" falls into that group. It is and will remain one of a relatively handful of programs that, above and beyond being remarkably well-produced, had a profound impact on the medium and the TV business.

I bring this up because "The Shield," is on the cusp of ending after seven terrific seasons. The penultimate episode airs at 10 p.m. Tuesday on FX and the grand finale rolls out on Nov. 25. If you ever watched it before--even for just a few episodes--you will be handsomely rewarded if you tune in this week and especially next.

What's so great about "The Shield?" The very idea of a TV cop who operates in moral ambiguity, for one thing. In virtually every other police drama, all cops are good cops except for an occasional corrupt one who never lasts more than an episode. A real life cop, on the other hand, operates in a gray area of tradeoffs and compromises. Vic Mackey, as brilliantly played by Michael Chiklis, takes it one step further and becomes a law unto himself within the larger framework of law enforcement.Shield1_4

The series, the creation of Shawn Ryan, unfolds in a world with no absolutes. Even the most honest, idealistic cops on the show can not remain pure for long. Without resorting to gratuitous violence, Ryan captured a work environment in which simple survival demands some level of moral concessions.

At the same time, Ryan and FX executives raised the bar for dramas on basic cable, paving the way for a steady stream of bold series, including many on FX.

Ryan, however, wasn't concerned about all of that as he puzzled over how to bring "The Shield" to a conclusion worthy of al the work that had gone before. Should Mackey be brought to account for his heavy-handed, sometimes murderous ways? And if so, how? And what of the other characters? Should there be loose ends or should loyal viewers be rewarded with more or less definitive answers?

Having seen these two episodes, I will say only that Ryan's solutions are as brilliant as "The Shield" has been throughout its entire run. Don't miss the ending.

Want a time machine? Go see your 'U.N.C.L.E.'

By Barry Garron

The pleasures of watching vintage TV series are not restricted to the stories and performances. The best series do so much more. They capture the essence of their time, from the fashions to the fears, from the dramas to the dreams. They reflect pop culture, current events, social awareness and contemporary values more vividly than any textbook could describe.

Uncle2 So it is with "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." which, starting in the fall of 1964 and continuing through four glorious seasons, epitomized all that was cool and sophisticated. The series, previously released on DVD sets by season, now is available as an entire series--all 105 episodes plus 10 hours of special features in a 41-disc set--in a handsome '60s-style attache case. (The retail price is $199.92 but it is available for less--Amazon.com has it for $169.99.)

The series starred Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo, the smooth and dapper agent for the United Network Command for Law Enforcement. A young English actor, David McCallum, was hired for a minor part as fellow agent Illya Kuryakin, but fan reaction quickly elevated him to a co-starring role. Their boss was Alexander Waverly, played by the dapper Leo G. Carroll.

"The Man from U.N.C.L.E." was conceived as TV's answer to the newly-popular James Bond films but the series quickly developed it's own personality, one that was far better suited to the rigors of weekly episodes on the small screen. Series writers leavened each story with humor but always stopped short of self-parody. Instead of a Bond girl, there was a weekly innocent, an attractive guest star who inadvertently gets caught up in the action.Uncle

And what guest stars there were! In just Season Three, for example, episodes featured puppeteer Shari Lewis, Janet Leigh, Joan Blondell, Joan Crawford, Jill Ireland, Edy Williams and Carol Wayne. Nancy Sinatra appeared in pink boots and bikini and harmonized with Illya. Sonny and Cher showed up in a goofy story about a dress made from a pattern encoded with confidential information about T.H.R.U.S.H., the evil organization that was U.N.C.L.E.'s nemesis. Then there were Jack Palance and Telly Savalas.

If you've never had the pleasure of seeing this series when it first played on NBC, you're bound to enjoy the wit and fun that went into each story. If, however, you're like me and you haven't seen this series for 40 years, it will speak to you in entirely different ways. I still marveled at Vaughn and McCallum, both as suave as ever, but now they seem to be winking at me, inviting me to appreciate their outsize personalities and larger-than-life relationshihp in a way I could not as a callow teen. It's like traveling back in time and seeing, hearing and feeling things I missed the first time.

They're bagging 'Dancing with the Stars' -- for this?

Obama_3So there is apparently some big show coming onto television on Tuesday that every network on both broadcast and cable seems to be covering despite it having precious little dancing in it. And the truth is that if you possess a television set, the odds are overwhelming that you'll be watching at least, well, hours and hours of Election Day/Night coverage. In fact, it will be difficult to miss, and for good reason. It stands to be the single most-watched planned news event since the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon in July 1969. (Note the word planned; we're not including stuff like the O.J. Simpson slow-speed chase or coverage of 9/11 on that fateful, devastating day.)

Be it NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Comedy Central, MTV or BET, there will be election news and returns and pundit discussion and endless overviews and speculation throughout a period of at least 16-18 hours beginning around Noon ET. That's bright and early out here on the West Coast.

Mccain2_5Here is a little something that may sound like hyperbole but happens to be true: This Election Night coverage stands to produce -- if we are to believe the polls -- one of the top 10 most important occurrences in American history. We simply cannot overstate the sea-changing impact of a nation long ravaged by racial tensions and divisions electing a man of color to lead it. Call him Black, call him African-American, call him mixed-race. The label is less consequential than the monumental significance of what it means to both America's present and future.

If Sen. Barack Obama is elected President of the United States tomorrow, it has to be seen as a glorious day no matter one's political persuasion in the sense that it supplies incontrovertible evidence of just how far this country has evolved from the days of Jim Crow and segregation and institutionalized racism -- to say nothing of indentured servitude, slavery and the unquestioned practice of discrimination by skin color. Less than a century after the civil rights movement dawned, we could have an African-American President-elect roughly 24 hours from right now.

Those of us who never thought we would come close to seeing a Black chief executive in our lifetime are left pinching ourselves at being around to witness it, at seeing -- as Dr. Martin Luther King once noted -- the ultimate example of a man being judged not by the color of his skin but the content of his character. The cataclysmic social, societal and international eruption of the moment would be one we all need savor and for which the electorate should be enormously proud -- again, if it happens. But if it does, even those who voted for Sen. John McCain (or, God be with you, somebody else) should acknowledge the historic magnitude of our bringing diversity to the Oval Office for the first time in our 232 years of nationhood.

Just personally, I've been around on the planet for a while -- roughly four years longer than Sen. Obama -- and the phenomenal interest in this election vastly exceeds anything I have ever seen in terms of politics and the nation's business. And while the Internet may have seized control of our consciousness, not to mention the news cycle, on Tuesday it will still be about watching Election Night coverage the old-fashioned way: on the couch, in the living room, riveted to the TV screen.

For one momentous night, election coverage stands to unite this crisis-riddled, profoundly polarized republic as few events have in the electronic age. Or then again, it could wind up polarizing us still further. Either way, we've all got a front row seat to history, baby.

Edward Asner's life: The greatest story never told

By Barry Garron

One of the best Hollywood biographies has never been told and probably never will be.

Ed_asner_1 That would be the story of Edward Asner, who will star in "Generation Gap," a new Hallmark Channel movie that premieres Saturday. In the film, Asner plays a widowed grandfather and former military man who reluctantly agrees to reform his rebellious teenage grandson over the course of a single summer.

While the story is not particularly memorable, Asner's performance is reason enough to watch. "I feel very strongly I have not lost it," said Asner, who turns 79 next month. "I'm a better actor now than I've ever been, though I can't leap tall buildings."

Even so, he is more than capable of giving an honest and convincing performance. "If you got me there to deliver the line and to demonstrate what I'm feeling and what I'm projecting in terms of dialog, you've got the right party," he said.

Not that anyone should need convincing. No man has won more Emmys for performance than Asner, who has seven. It is not hard to make the case that, in the world of TV particularly, he has been the preeminent actor of his generation.Edwardasner

So why can't we read about it, particularly since bookstore shelves overflow with the biographies of lesser lights? You'd think that Asner, the son of a scrap metal dealer who went on to star in one of TV's best comedies ("The Mary Tyler Moore Show"), one of the best dramas ("Lou Grant") and two of the best miniseries ("Roots" and "Rich Man, Poor Man") would have some great yarns to spin. Not only from his time in front of the camera but behind it. He has been a president of SAG and a sometimes-controversial activist for social justice

It's come up, Asner said about a biography. "I had two feeble attempts earlier and they were not gratifying."

The first time, he said, he couldn't convince publishers that the writer he had in mind was right for the book.

The second time, the writer submitted a sample chapter to the publisher about Asner's spat with the late, right-leaning Charlton Heston. "The attitudes of the agents and publishers by this point had turned so much more conservative, half of them rejected it forcibly. Didn't want to hear about it." The writer became so depressed he suffered a nervous breakdown, Asner said.

Maybe it's just as well no biography is written, he said. He would not want to tell half-truths, suppress his anger, harm innocent people or shy away from naming names. "It seems a waste of time to do a biography which, to me, is cheating."

So, unless something drastically changes, one of Hollywood's greatest stories will remain untold.

Two gizmos you didn't know you needed

By Barry Garron

In recent weeks, I came across two relatively inexpensive gadgets that I desperately needed, though I didn't realize it until I found them. One actually paid for itself. Either of them might be just the thing for that someone who has everything.

The Power Monitor from Black & Decker

Power_monitor_1 Every two months, I take a deep breath and then open my electric and water bill. When I come to, I wonder how it was possible to spend so much just to power a toaster and a TV. And a refrigerator and air conditioner. And all that other stuff.

The Power Monitor is the answer. Place one part of it around your electric meter and the other part gives you a reading that tells you, at any moment, how much you are spending to keep everything running. It also keeps a running total so that you will know, even before you open that bill, how much it's going to be.Power_monitor_3

Armed with this information, I could see for myself the money I could save by setting the air conditioner to a higher temperature, running the dishwasher at night and doing fewer loads of laundry. There's even a way to find out how much a new appliance will add to your electric load.

It took me about 12 minutes to install, roughly the time it takes me to change a light bulb. Also, as a side benefit, the Monitor tells you the outdoor temperature. A link at the Black & Decker site sends you to Amazon.com, where it sells for $99.99, which includes shipping. It may be available at home center stores and elsewhere.

The Chargepod from Callpod

Chargepod_1 If you don't mind clutter, you can skip this. On the other hand, if you are weary of the tangled mass of wires and plugs from all the devices you have to recharge, help finally has arrived.

The Chargepod also consists of two parts. There is a central hub with a power cord. And then there are short cords that fit whatever you have that needs to be charged.Chargepod_2

The Chargepod can charge up to six devices at one time. So even if your iPod, BlackBerry, digital camera, cell phone, Palm Pilot and that other MP3 player all need to be charged at the same time, you're all set.

The central hub and power cord and carrying case sell for $39.95. Individual cords that match each of your devices (called device adapters) are $9.95 each. Or, for $79.95, you can get the "bundle pack" which consists of the base kit, the six most commonly used adapters and a car battery plug that lets you charge items in your car.

Look at it this way. Even during a recession, you'll never need to stop charging things. The Chargepod makes it easy. The Power Monitor makes it affordable.

There's nothing subtle about VH1 lessons on good manners

By Barry Garron

Here's a little something from My How Times Have Changed department.

Viewers of a certain age will recall TV ads about the oh-so-delicate issue of how you tell a friend that they have bad breath. Or, heaven forbid, body odor. Should you slip a bottle of mouthwash on their desk? Should you say it tactfully in a note? Whatever you do, just please, please be considerate and don't hurt their feelings.

Charm_school_uniforms_460x316 Contrast that with the web site for "Rock of Love Charm School," which premiered earlier this month on VH1. In this series, 14 young women, each of them former unsuccessful contestants on "Rock of Love" and very capable of filling out a bikini, attends a Charm School administered by Sharon Osbourne (right). Each week, one girl is expelled until the sole survivor wins a prize of $100,000.

As part of the online promotion, VH1 set up what it calls "A Manner Must." This consists of six individual tips on proper behavior, each of them recorded by Osbourne. With the click of your mouse, you can send any one of them to the phone number of your choice.Sharon_osbourne_2_2

Bad breath isn't covered by the tips. If it was, it would be the most genteel of the topics.

No, these tips feature Osbourne reminding that good manners forbids dialing while drunk, spreading legs too far apart, vomiting in public, drinking tequila instead of tea, going topless in public and wearing enough makeup to look like a clown.Charm_school_angelique_2

She gets right to the point. "It's not good manners to flash your hoo-hoo. Save it for your gynecologist," she says in one Manner Must. "Taking your top off in public is the act of a desperate woman," she says in another.

In the space of a single generation, we've gone from, "Psst, buddy, maybe you should check your breath" to "Hey, sweetheart, stop flashing your genitals."

In order to send a Manner Must, you need only type in your phone number and the number of the recipient. When the call is placed, the caller ID will show your number, or at least the number you say is yours. I suppose you could lie about your number to preserve your anonymity. But that wouldn't be good manners now, would it?

A breast cancer movie on Lifetime that's Must-See-TV

Livingproof_2Made-for-TV movies about breast cancer, particularly at Lifetime, have so devolved into a cliche that it's easy to dismiss -- sight unseen -- any new original focusing on the subject as shamelessly redundant, if not gratingly maudlin. But as Saturday's Lifetime project "Living Proof serves to emphasize, not all "disease of the week" cable dramas are created equal. The film, airing tomorrow night at 9 and bolstered by one of the most impressive casts to grace a two-hour movie in recent memory, is that rare example of a flick that can legitimately make a difference in the lives of women and their families battling the breast cancer monster.

"Living Proof" tells the true story of Dr. Dennis Slamon (played with power and verve by Harry Connick Jr.), the UCLA doctor who helped to develop the revolutionary breast cancer drug, Herceptin, and his tireless efforts to keep the drug trials afloat and thereby bring hope to thousands of women with nowhere else to turn. Besides Connick, the extraordinary ensemble here includes Jennifer Coolidge, Regina King, Swoosie Kurtz, Amy Madigan, Bernadette Peters, Trudie Styler, Tammy Blanchard, Angie Harmon, Amanda Bynes and John Benjamin Hickey. Not too shabby. And no doubt extremely costly.

Actually, it turns out the actors were a bargain, foregoing anything close to their typical fees. The reason is no mystery. There's the righteousness and dynamic nature of the story, for starters. But beyond that, credit the producers: Renee Zellweger, Neil Maron and Craig Zadan, the actress and producing partners who together also gave the world the Oscar-winning feature "Chicago" and this year's phenomenal ABC remake of "A Raisin in the Sun."

When it comes to movies on TV, Zadan and Meron are pretty much the best there is. Their previous productions for the tube include the superb "Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows," the mega-controversial miniseries "The Reagans" and the small-screen edition of "The Music Man." For "Living Proof," however, they were rolling the dice that they could pull off a top-drawer film on the miniscule budget of a basic cable TV-movie: around $2 million or so. That they made it work is a testament to their instincts and work ethic.

"The budgets for these TV-movies just get smaller and smaller," Meron confirms. "We literally had no money to do this thing. The joke is that you go to your Rolodex and look up all of the actors you've worked with and send out emails to everybody, calling in favors. And they all came through unbelievably. We basically paid their way to get to the set, but that was about it."

Yet before all of that could happen, Zadan and Meron themselves had to be convinced to take on a project that Zadan admits left them initially skeptical. "We didn't want to do the next Lifetime movie about breast cancer," he says. "On the other hand, we did want to be behind a story that resonated like 'And the Band Played On' or 'Silkwood.' The truth is this is less a breast cancer movie than it is it is a story of one man's journey through the pharmaceutical maze and battling the big drug companies. Our whole thrust was for it to play like a thriller."

That it does. And Meron further hopes that "Living Proof" comes across as more inspirational and hopeful than tragic.

"The cancer community is so woefully underfunded," Meron believes. "Awareness of issues is always a problem. So anything we can do to help shine a light on something that has previously fallen largely through the cracks is enormously gratifying. It's the primary reason why Renee (Zellweger) wanted to get involved. It took the writer Vivienne Radkoff seven years to bring it to the screen. We just helped carry it there. And we're proud to have done it."

Ex Day -- your relationship will never be the same!

By Barry Garron

Today, Thursday, Oct. 16, in case you hadn't heard, is Ex Day. It's a promotional idea on a par with the establishment of Club a Seal Day or the Stock Market Crash Festival.

The idea for Ex Day originated with some genius at CBS looking for a way to promote "The Ex List," a new series with a preposterous premise. In the series, Elizabeth Reaser plays a thirtysomething single. A professional psychic warns that she must get married within a year or she will be forever single. Also, that the man she is to marry is someone she dated in the past. (Remember, I told you this was pretty nutty.)

Ex_day So someone came up with the idea of promoting this bizarre premise by declaring Oct. 16 to be Ex Day. Along with 1-800-FLOWERS.com, CBS is encouraging everyone to send a bouquet to someone they once dated.

CBS cited research that said two out of five Americans still have romantic feelings for an ex. The bouquets, according to the CBS press release, "give those who long for the good old days with an ex an easy and fun way to reconnect with a past romantic interest."

CBS didn't say how much these bouquets cost but it didn't take much investigation to track that down. Each bouquet is 40 bucks, plus 14 more for delivery. Now let's say you get carried away with Ex Day. Here's what to expect in a few weeks:

She: Honey, what's this charge on our Master Card? It says $54 for flowers. I don't know about any flowers.

He: Oh, yeah, sweetheart. No that's OK. I sent them.

She: Really? I don't remember getting any, lover boy.

He: Um, I sent them to someone else, sweetie.

She: Might I ask who they went to and why, snookums?

He: Uh, yeah. It was Ex Day, sweet pea, and I sent them to Bambi. You remember, I dated her before we started dating. I thought, you know, because of the holiday and all.

She: No, poopsie, I don't know. I haven't gotten so much as a stinkweed from you for the last five years and you're spending our money sending flowers to that bimbo? Well, from now on, why don't you have Bambi cook and do your laundry? Or, wait. Better yet. I'm through here. Next time Oct. 16 rolls around, why don't you just put me at the top of your Ex list?

(Sound of slamming door.)

Who knows? Maybe for the next promotion, CBS will cover the cost of divorce lawyers for one lucky observer of Ex Day.

Today's news: Faster than the speed of truth

By Barry Garron

Between the economic downturn and the dismal fighting overseas, there's so much really, really bad news these days that it might be hard to interest people in merely bad news, such as the way journalism has been changing. But trust me, the news is not good here either.

Nttt_jacket_art_9780826429315_ful_2 Or, rather, don't trust me. At least, not until I can make my case with hard, cold facts and examples. Not until I reflect on what I'm saying and what it might mean to you.

This trend in journalism away from solid reporting and the absence of time to assess the meaning of facts is at the center of a new book, "No Time to Think," out this month and written by former Los Angeles Times TV critic Howard Rosenberg and veteran CNN reporter Charles S. Feldman.

Highway safety officials have warned for years that speed kills. Rosenberg and Feldman illustrate over and over again that the admonition is just as applicable to traffic on the information superhighway.

"No Time to Think" explains how cable TV and the Internet created a never-ending news cycle and how competitive pressures made the speed of reporting more important than the accuracy of what is being reported. It shows how traditional journalistic values of verification and perspective have been ignored by millions of bloggers who are more interested in massaging information than digging to get it.

Rosenberg and Feldman have been at their respective games for quite some time, but their book is neither a nostalgic yearning for the good old days nor a diatribe against change and technology. There is no lack of space for those who defend the blogosphere or argue that, in its own way, it serves the public by ultimately providing truth and a more diverse array of information.

However, Rosenberg and Feldman are not shy about challenging these notions and showing, time after time, how bloggers without training or journalists in too great a hurry do a disservice by playing fast and loose with the facts, often without realizing it.

What's more, the authors warn that the situation can only get worse. Cuts in staff positions at nearly every newspaper all but guarantee there will be fewer people chasing more stories in an increasingly complex world.

"No Time to Think" won't reverse the unhappy course of modern journalism. For that to happen, we'll need a new and as yet undiscovered economic model -- one that gets Internet users to pay for content they now enjoy for free.

Reading this book will, however, make you more aware of what you are seeing on TV and on the Internet. It will make it easier to recognize when you are being served hot air instead of hard information, and it will make you more skeptical of the entire process. And that's a good place to start.

(Rosenberg and Feldman will be talking about their book and signing copies at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles.)

The cyber and print worlds finally get it right

Kobre_3We've all heard too many times lately that the printed word is in grave danger of becoming obsolete due to the Internet and the accompanying computer monitor. The simple pleasure of holding a piece of reading material in one's hand is growing quickly antiquated and unfeasible. Newspapers, books, magazines, all are now officially on the endangered species list as relates to ink and paper. And a lot of oldtimers like myself mourn the passing of the old way of gleaning information. Cyberspace simply ain't the same, no way, no how.

But here is the good news: a just-launched Net pitstop has come closer to seamlessly merging the worlds of online and printed content than anything I've seen before. It's called KobreGuide, and in the interest of full disclosure, its hands-on creator and editorial director, Jerry Lazar, is a friend and talented journalism man who logged time working for thr.com. But this doesn't render KobreGuide any less intriguing and, indeed, revolutionary. It supplies an impressively comprehensive, visually sharp, sleek and sophisticated overview of the creme de la creme of multimedia and video journalism content.

The brainchild of legendary San Francisco State photojournalism professor Ken Kobre, the site represents a one-stop shop for professional-quality, newsmagazine-style video journalism on the level of a "60 Minutes" or "20/20." Impressively simple to navigate, KobreGuide is organized according to "Channel" (everything from the L.A. Times to Reuters to the New York Times to National Geographic to NPR), "Topic (adventure, food, transportation, lifestyle, war) to "Award Winners" to "Got A Minute?" (where the options are "Make You Laugh," "Make You Cry" and "Make You Wonder").

Morekobre_2In short, the site culls the best and most worthwhile content and presents it in a clean, straightforward and appealing package. It kicks the ass of the YouTubes and MetaCafes because it points surfers only to the online content that boasts genuine heft, rather than cluttering things up with anything and everything that can stick to a cyber wall like those other guys do.

Were I to recommend anything different to help make KobreGuide stand out, it would probably be to change the name. This is meant as no disrespect to Mr. Kobre, who is indeed a renowned guru of the profession. But it doesn't mean a whole lot to Joe Blow Cyber Consumer. It also may be too close to "KobeGuide," which could cause some confusion with people believing they were accessing a site that told them about Kobe Bryant or, um, Kobe beef. But that is a minor quibble. Anyone who still cares about depth in their news consumption -- and being truly informed rather than merely teased and titillated -- owes it to themselves to pay a visit (or several) to KobreGuide. It's the antidote to the mindless babble that so dominates the Web.

As debate moderator, Ifill was awful

By Barry Garron

The buzz before Thursday night's vice presidential debate, at least in the conservative blogosphere, was that Gwen Ifill of PBS was a bad choice for moderator. Turns out they were right, albeit for the wrong reasons.

Gwen_ifill Supporters of McCain/Palin had all the normal trepidations about anyone connected with PBS, that liberal-infiltrated bastion of do-gooders. But there was a special concern about Ifill, who moderates "Washington Week."

She has been working on a book called "Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama." The McCain camp knew about the book when they approved Ifill and, according to her, she has yet to write the chapter on Obama. Still, just the title might suggest she had a vested interest in a victory by Barack Obama.

Even without the book, the odds are--according to polls that indicate overwhelming support for Obama among black voters--Ifill favors the Democrat.

As it turns out, Ifill did not betray a pro-Obama bias. She was a poor moderator for both candidates. In fact, if anyone benefitted from her style, it was Republican Sarah Palin and not Democrat Joe Biden.

Seated in front of the stage, Ifill had the temperament of a judge on a syndicated daytime court show, barely concealing contempt for both candidates. Questions were posed in a curt, almost hostile, manner. At one point, after both candidates gave their stances on same-sex civil unions, Ifill abruptly summarized their positions as the same and moved on, as if they had been wasting her time.

At other times, her questions were just plain dumb. Strategically, no running mate is going to take issue with his or her principal. It therefore makes no sense to waste time asking how a Palin administration would differ from McCain's or how a Biden administration would differ from Obama's.Debate_drawing_2

In addition, there's no point asking for an example of how the candidate changed his or her mind on an issue. While, logically, one should change one's mind when faced with contradictory facts, doing so in politics is perceived as lack of decisiveness. No one admits, at least on a serious issue, to being a flip-flopper.

Perhaps the greatest irony, though, is that Ifill, whether because of pre-debate intimidation or just because it was her style, turned out to be a gift for Palin.

From her earliest responses, it quickly became clear that Palin had been coached to acknowledge every question and then ignore it. Instead, she moved to a list of carefully memorized talking points that, most of the time, had nothing to do with what she had been asked. On the rare occasion she was actually directed to respond to a point, she said she didn't want to argue about it. Or she just blathered that pundits would say something the next day but here's what she wanted to say.

That's politics, of course, but this is a debate, not a town hall. A good moderator politely but firmly tells the candidate he or she has failed to address the question and offers one last opportunity. By rarely doing this, Ifill allowed Palin to get away with being unresponsive to nearly every question that was posed.

Maybe it's time we stopped lowering debate expectations for the candidates and started raising them for the moderator.

Sarah Silverman: 'If Obama loses, blame the Jews.'

By Barry Garron

Sarahsilverman_2 It's hardly a surprise to find that Sarah Silverman, like much of Hollywood, hopes that Barack Obama is elected president in November. Or, for that matter, that she has produced a video on behalf of Obama's campaign.

The video, largely in jest but not without a grain of truth, suggests that, if Obama loses, Jews may need to accept responsibility for the defeat.

Here's Silverman's explanation: If Obama wins Florida, he is sure to win the election. The only thing keeping Obama from a win in the Sunshine State is elderly Jews who are skeptical about his candidacy. So if the children and grandchildren of these Jews can just get through to these seniors, Obama will be unstoppable.

Has Silverman correctly identified the linchpin to this election? Well, there is some logic to her argument, but whether the decision over who gets to be president ultimate belongs to Jewish seniors remains to be seen.

The Warner Bros.: Up Close and Personal

By Barry Garron

The new TV season is young, but one program that is clearly a highlight is PBS' "American Masters" miniseries that ran this week and marked the 85th anniversary of Warner Bros. studio. "You Must Remember This" was authoritative, entertaining and informative -- a remarkable combination for any TV production.

Warnerbrothersshield However, unless you also happened to catch "The Brothers Warner," a feature-length documentary carried by KCET in Los Angeles, you missed an important part of this fascinating story. While "American Masters" focused mainly on the studio and its contributions to American culture, "The Brothers Warner" looked at the four brothers who founded and operated the studio, at least until one of them, Jack, tricked the others and gained sole control.

The documentary was produced by Cass Warner (below), granddaughter of Harry Warner, the eldest of the founding brothers. Although the lives of the brothers have been fairly well-documented in the past, their story has never been presented more thoroughly and lovingly than in "The Brothers Warner." No one outside the family could have told it with as much insight and heart.

At the outset, Cass Warner takes us back to a time when she was 10 and her grandfather's life was slipping away. A stroke left him unable to talk. Still, Cass remembers the squeeze of his hand on her little hand and her squeeze in response. In that moment, she made a promise to her grandfather to produce a fair and honest history of the family. Decades later, the promise is fulfilled.Casswarner_2

She interviewed surviving family members, film historians, actors who worked at the studio and others. She rummaged through boxes of photos and memorabilia and scrapbooks to find even more clues to the lives of her grandfather and great-uncles. Who were these men? What did they want? How did they see their work and their world? Their lives were similar to many others but, at the same time, unique to themselves.

The PBS marketing arm will make the "American Masters" DVD set available to those who want to add it to their collection. A companion book is widely available at bookstores. But if you want the full story, you'll need to see "The Brothers Warner," as well.

The DVD is available for $25 at www.warnersisters.com or by calling 800-336-1917.

The Emmy telecast -- you read it here first

By Barry Garron

Look, I'm not the kind of guy who says "I told you so." No, that's not true. Who am I kidding? I am exactly the kind of guy who says "I told you so" because, in my case, those opportunities are so rare that they must be commemorated in some way.

Bergeronklum So, yes, I told you. To be precise, I wrote in this very blog on July 30, shortly after ABC announced that the Emmy co-hosts would be Ryan Seacrest, Tom Bergeron, Heidi Klum, Jeff Probst and Howie Mandel. And here is exactly what I said nearly eight weeks before the telecast:

"With the exception of Mandel, an accomplished stand-up comedian, you'd have to go to the coroner's office to find a bigger group of stiffs."

I said other things, as well, but you get my drift. Naming reality hosts to be Emmy Award co-hosts was an idea on a par with giving O.J. Simpson his own syndicated daytime court show.

This, however, raises an interesting question: How can five people who are so prominent on some of the best-rated TV shows be so awful here? If they are the cream of the reality genre, why did they become the dregs of the Emmy telecast?Seacrest_l

Here are two possibilities, neither mutually exclusive: First, the skill set for reality host has little in common with the skill set for Emmy host. A reality host must have a bland personality, a forced cheerfulness that seems vaguely sincere and an understanding that he or she is not the beautiful antique vase but the glue that holds the pieces together. Wit is not part of the equation.

An Emmy host, on the other hand, should set the tone and energy level for the show, be quick with an ad lib, possess impeccable comic timing and, essentially, lend the show a piece of their own unique persona.

Second, the Emmy telecast is real, at least in the sense that it is live. What you are watching is what is happening and not something that has been manipulated or massaged after the fact. For many reality hosts, such as Probst and Klum, the only reality with which they are familiar is the kind that's been edited, processed, heightened and reformulated.

For no obvious reason, both ABC and the TV Academy failed to understand these simple truths, even after the awful hosting performance of Seacrest in 2007. This time, though, I think it will sink in.

The Emmys jump the shark along with every other creature in all of the world's oceans

Emmyhosts_2Let me just start out by saying that I'm an old, decrepit, craggy, doddering (actually very very doddering) elderly-type person who has seen many a Primetime Emmy show in his time. I'm one of these guys who starts out every sentence with "In my day" or "Back during the war -- MY war, the American Revolution..." By gum, I've been watching Emmy telecasts since before there were even television sets! We'd tune them in by shining tempered glass at just the right angle of the Moon, drilling 12 fine holes into the center, weaving through six cords of piano wire, laying it atop a propane-powered stove and then capturing the resulting reflection on a piece of #7 parchment. It was primitive, but it did the job. Of course, back in those days they handed out awards for stuff like "Outstanding Future Actor" and "Best Dramatic Flickering Images Projected Faintly Onto a Rotating Wall."

But I digress. My point here is that my aged condition notwithstanding, I have never seen anything quite like Sunday night's Emmycast on ABC. It wasn't merely bad, it was outrageously, unfathomably, surrealistically, monumentally awful. And that was just the first five minutes. I'm actually somewhat shocked, because producer Ken Ehrlich is a longtime pro who generally knows what he's doing. But during this ceremony, little of that veteran knowledge and savvy were in evidence. He somehow lost control, and along with it the show's bearings. It grew so dreadful that Congress should enact legislation to keep it from happening again for reasons of national security. I mean, if I'm the terrorists, I see this show and I figure, "Well, their entertainment culture clearly is vulnerable. We should feel emboldened, comrades!"

Nearly the entire show was marred by amateurish gaffes and baffling choices, bad transitions and timing errors. Consistency and perspective were virtually nonexistent. And it all began, of course, with THAT OPENING. I mean, What the Hell Was That? I'll tell you what, actually. It was an apt metaphor for a television culture that has officially lost its way and could well use someone to swoop down and drop pebbles every few feet to help it find its way back to sanity again.

Emmy2_2Remember the notorious "Snow White" opening at the Oscars years ago? Well here, we got Snow White and the Four Dwarfs, aka Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel, Jeff Probst, Tom Bergeron and Ryan Seacrest, aka Four Guys, a Girl and an Armageddon Place. That they would bomb on a significant scale was really preordained. I mean, how could anyone think that hiring five reality hosts -- four of whom aren't entertainers -- to oversee an awards show was a genius idea? Was Jimmy Kimmel, who hangs out nightly on the broadcasting network, ABC, somehow unavailable? No, he appeared later on the show. He was in town. He's young and can pull the young people into the tent whom the TV Academy see as so important to the Emmys' future. But no, they go with the clueless quintet.

Yet no one could have predicted that it would grow so sublimely terrible so immediately. After a deadly dull address from Oprah Winfrey (who evidently doesn't have to be even remotely interesting because she's Oprah Winfrey), the five hosts came out and proceeded to do...absolutely nothing. It was, indeed, planned dead air! During what may have been the most painful three minutes in TV history, they launched into a skit that wasn't, rambling and talking over each other and continually assuring us that "this is completely unscripted!" as if we somehow might find that difficult to believe. It was bizarre to the point of delusion.

Who thought this was a good idea? As it turns out, no one. It was later explained backstage by Probst that the five couldn't come to agreement on what to do, so they did nothing, as if this were an acceptable option. Isn't this what writers and producers are for, to rescue guys who don't know what they're doing from themselves? It's actually completely unforgivable and a world-class humiliation for the TV Academy. Did no one vet this? Did the idea of three minutes of nothing right off the top somehow resonate? It boggles the mind. The idea that a show celebrating the best of television should be reduced to horribly awkward improv by design is just about as strange as it can get for a ceremony that rightfully suffered the worst ratings in its history. Someone besides me ought to be hugely angry about this.

On the other hand, the lack of coherence stands as the perfect metaphor for where primetime has headed in the unscripted era. You want it America, you got it. Babbling desperation as a genre conceit. Sometimes, when you turn the keys to the kingdom over to the lame, what you get in return is lame-en-ade. I mean, these guys couldn't do a soft-shoe together? They thought the best way to settle it was to bring zero to the table? Wow.

The utter dearth of professionalism on display masked the fact this was quite a historic night. You had a miniseries, HBO's "John Adams," breaking the all-time record for wins by a single program by earning 13 all told. You had a basic cable drama, AMC's "Mad Men," becoming the first of its ilk to win a top series prize. You had Bryan Cranston of AMC's "Breaking Bad" pulling off one of the great upsets of all time in his well-deserved win for drama series actor. And you had the funniest show on TV, NBC's "30 Rock," and its funniest human, Tina Fey, getting treated like it.

But the embarrassments unfortunately snatched the spotlight away time after time. They had Josh Groban sing a medley of 30 TV show themes that would have been funny at maybe one-third its length but was just interminable as it was. Ditto a 40th anniversary salute to "Laugh-In" that was a good idea but so long it left you wondering what was supposed to have been so funny and revolutionary about this legendary series in the first place.

Partly saving the night were Don Rickles, now 82 but still dead-on perfect with his jabs; Ricky Gervais, whose British accent alone helped put the fiasco erupting around him in its place; and a few smart and funny acceptance speeches, especially that of Fey, who remarked, "I want to thank my parents for somehow raising me to have confidence that is disproportionate with my looks and abilities. Well done!" If he lived to be 1,000, Seacrest couldn't come up something even a tenth as witty.

However, what remains the biggest Emmy crime of all, one that continues on year to year, is the galling inconsistency of the acceptance speech stopwatch. Some can ramble on for two minutes. Others get 15 seconds. It seems to somehow involve where you and your category happen to rank on the entertainment-value scale.  Writers, as you might imagine, are down near the bottom, on a level commensurate with the guy you have to tip in the rest room who stands guard over a neat pile of paper towels and a teeming stash of 67 different brands of cologne.

It reached a nadir when "John Adams" scribe Kirk Ellis won for movie/miniseries writing and was cut off after less than 20 seconds, just as he was starting to say something more profound than "This one's for you, my beloved agent!". What he actually said was, "Thank you for this amazing opportunity to talk about a period in history when articulate men articulated complex thoughts in complete sentences. They..." And there Ellis was, ironically, cut off, since we are no longer living in that period when complex thoughts may be articulated without a band rudely playing the speaker offstage. Ellis was understandably fuming backstage that the five hosts would be handed 30 minutes to slum around while he was given the "Wrap it up!" cue as soon as his microphone opened.

If a guy who wrote a miniseries that won 13 Emmy Awards can't merit even 40 lousy seconds to speak from his heart during one of the biggest moments of his life, something's way out of whack with this system. As I've oft said, if awards shows aren't about hearing the winners accept their awards, what's even the point? Oh yeah, that's right: the point is now to say nothing, but to do so with cosmetic grandeur.

If the TV Academy can't balance its ratings-fueled requirement to be un-boring with the equally important need to honor the industry's best and brightest, it's clearly time to change up its focus. Maybe the academy should work on finding other revenue sources outside of rights fees and advertising. Otherwise, its annual ceremony looks to be in grave danger of implosion, if Sunday's show didn't supply ample evidence that perhaps it's already there. There can, after all, only be one show about nothing. The Emmys is supposed to be about everything. Instead, this year, it was about three hours too long.

Emmys, Tubeys -- your guess is as good as mine

By Barry Garron

Some people make a big deal out of predicting who will win an Emmy Award during the telecast on Sunday. They study what was submitted, they debate with each other online or on panels, they analyze past voting patterns, and they come up with elaborate theories. Then they make their picks.

They invest all this time in what is essentially a guessing game for a variety of reasons, most of which have to do with self-promotion. They perpetuate their reputation as authorities mainly by proclaiming they are year after year.

Emmy1 Fortunately, no one takes the time after each show to calculate the accuracy of their predictions, particularly in categories that don't have a consensus favorite (for example, "John Adams" in the miniseries category). I suspect that if someone actually measured these things, it would be surprising to see how often the so-called experts were wrong and how frequently other guessers were right.

I say this as one of the "other guessers." As a TV critic at The Hollywood Reporter and elsewhere, I've made Emmy predictions for about 25 years. Sometimes, I've been horribly wrong. Sometimes, I've been amazingly accurate. Overall, I've fared no worse than the self-proclaimed experts.

Over the years, those of us in the prediction game have developed a technique for covering our derrieres. We predict not only who will win but who should win. Simply by the law of averages, we get a 40 percent chance of being correct. If you factor in even a small amount of industry knowledge and background, it goes up to 75 or 80 percent.

If it turns out that our predictions of who and what will win are correct, we  pat ourselves on the back for being such astute students of the TV Academy.

On the other hand, if the winners turn out to be the ones we say should have won, the automatic follow-up column praises Academy voters for finally paying attention and getting it right. Heads we win. Tails we win. Hooray for us.Tinafey

An interesting example of how the game is played can be found at the Television Without Pity Web site. It's interesting because, in this case, the "should win" category -- and not the "will win" category -- appears to be the one that will produce the winners. Obviously, we won't know for sure until Sunday evening, but it would be a shock if "will win" America Ferrera beats out "should win" Tina Fey (right).

Reverse psychology, anyone?

The site, owned by Bravo, is also the home of the Tubey Awards, voted in 60 categories such as most improved show ("Lost"), least improved show ("Heroes"), least favorite actor (Charlie Sheen), least favorite actress (Katherine Heigl) and most appalling reality star (Tila Tequila).

Agree or disagree, the list of Tubey winners makes for a more fun read than those self-satisfied Emmy predictions (mine included).

Here comes the (next) judge

By Barry Garron

In case you're keeping track, there are now 11 syndicated courtroom TV programs. And that doesn't count Lewis Black's "The Root of All Evil" on Comedy Central.

New this season is "Family Court With Judge Penny" (seen in L.A. at 2:30 p.m. weekdays on KCOP-TV, right after "Judge David Young" and before "COPS"). The title makes it sound like the judge is actually a friend of the family. I guess viewers are more inclined to watch these shows if the judge is seen as friendly and personable. So if you want a cranky judge, you've got to watch "Boston Legal."

Judge_penny Judge Penny is, in fact, Judge Penny Brown Reynolds, who was appointed and then elected to the trial court bench in Atlanta. In some ways, she's got a better story than Sarah Palin. She and her three sisters were raised by a single mother. Also, in addition to being a judge, she became an ordained minister.

But it's not her story that sets Judge Penny's program apart. It's the cases. Instead of hearing people argue over who owes the rent or who should pay for the dented fender, Judge Penny hears disputes over custody and hurt feelings and parental malfeasance.

Here's an example: In Monday's premiere, a mother was sued by two of her children for about $1,200. That was how much they were made to pay so that they could attend a sports camp that the mother thought was in their best interest. That amount also included lobster dinner on the mother's birthday.

On a typical court show, the judge decides who owes what. The money comes out of an amount set aside for each case. Anything left over gets split evenly between plaintiff and defendant.

In this case, though, the money is of relatively little importance. The mother is a bully who won't listen to her kids or let them pursue their own interests. This family desperately needs counseling. Although Judge Penny pointedly tells the mother she must change her approach, there is little to indicate the mother will take the advice to heart.

In the end, we're left with a family whose serious conflicts mostly provide entertainment for us but no resolution for them.

At the same time, the extent of Judge Penny's power is far from clear. If she orders a new custody arrangement, is it final? Can she enforce rights of grandparents to visit children?Justice

Who knows? At the end of the final credits, there are two paragraphs on the screen. One says the show was edited, the judge's decision is final, property exchanges "may be facilitated by security" and the monetary awards are paid out of a fund.

The second paragraph says: "The advice and counseling given on this program by Judge Penny Brown Reynolds should not be considered a substitute for any form of legal, medical or psychological advice, counseling, treatment or therapy. You should seek help from a licensed practitioner in your area."

Viewers get less than two seconds to read both paragraphs. With that in mind, I'd love to see Judge Penny tackle a case about fair disclosure.

Introducing Sarah Palin: The Action Figure, vowing to save the planet one offshore oil drill at a time

Palinaction1_2Palinaction2_3Palinaction3_2Well, that certainly didn't take long.

Before she has consented to so much as a single interview with members of the evil "liberal" media, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin -- whom you may have heard has been chosen as John McCain's running mate on the Republican ticket for President of these United States -- has been fashioned into a trio of uncannily realistic and monumentally creepy (redundant?) action figure dolls that are available for purchase right this minute at HeroBuilders.com.

All three of the dolls sport Palin's trademark specs and bunned-up hair along with an identical facial look and smile perhaps best described as demented. The no-frills Palin figure in black jumpsuit goes for $27.95. There's also a heat-packing Super Hero version in black overcoat and halter top and a 45-caliber pistol sidearmed to her thigh, and a truly frightening "School Girl" edition (in plaid miniskirt and bobby sox with lace bra and panties underneath, we're told). Each of the latter pair retail for $29.95.

Creator Emil Vicale says he's already sold "more than 500" Palin figures on Monday, the first day it's been available. "And the pace of orders is starting to step up big time," he added in a phone chat this afternoon.

Vicale also takes credit for Palin's cold war-ready buffed-out bod that sports not an ounce of fat a mere 4 1/2 months after her having given birth. In fact, she in many ways resembles a woman in the throes of a profound eating disorder, in contrast to real life. The man who made the pec-prominent Palins a reality refers to this as "creative license." And while her three-pronged toy alter ego evidently lacks the actual capacity to hunt moose, oppose abortion or preach premarital abstinence -- and has no more foreign policy expertise than does the politician from whom they were fashioned -- the three faux molded Sarahs are said to successfully inspire the populace with their pitbull-in-lipstick spirit, if not their hands-on experience.

Why not order all three and, for under $100 (plus shipping), turn your home into a Palintology shrine? (That's merely a rhetorical question, by the way.)

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