More good news: "Nova," "Justified," cable excess


The world seems to have an unlimited amount of television and a too-limited amount of really good television. So let's celebrate three bursts of good news -- two relating to shows tonight (Wednesday):

1) "Justified" has been renewed for a third season. This show (10 p.m. Wednesdays on FX) crackles with great characters and sharp dialog. Tonight's hour is a pretty good one, as two strong women -- a coal executive and a crime matriarch -- battle over mining rights.

2) "Nova" is rushing a terrific hour, "Japan's Killer Quakes," to the air, at 9 p.m. today on most PBS stations. This one arrived at the last minute, so the addition didn't get to all the papers in time. Here's the section I added to tonight's TV column:

TONIGHT'S MUST-SEE: “Nova,” 9 p.m.,
PBS (check local listings).

This science show usually spends months
on a report. Now it has rushed “Japan's Killer Quake.”

On one hand, we see the usual powerful
scenes, during and after the March 11 disaster. Alongside that,
however, scientists explain what happened and what steps could have been taken.

We learn why a 30-foot sea wall failed:
The tsunami waves were also 30 feet high – but the earthquake had
caused the wall to sink by at least three feet.

And we see startling sights, including
a saltwater lake, created on a mountain. It's a powerful hour.

3) And there's more coming up, especially on cable. Coming are three hugely ambitious series, each with a two-hour opener -- "Camelot" at 10 p.m. Friday on Starz, then both "The Killing" (AMC) and "The Borgias" (Showtime) at 9 p.m. Sunday. It should be a good weekend.

Fitness trainers? TV can find them up North


Growing up in Wisconsin, I probably should have become a fitness trainer. Then again, I probably should have become fit.

Being a trainer is one quick route to reality TV. Here's a story I sent to papers:

By MIKE HUGHES

Reality TV has special needs these
days.

It needs cooks and designers and anyone
with a tattoo. And it especially needs fitness trainers.

Those trainers tend to live in
California, which is roughly the fitness capital of the world. “Here,
it's much more a part of your life,” said Jennifer Cohen of CW's
“Shedding For the Wedding.”

Still, many grew up in smaller and
chillier places. Jackie Warner (of Bravo's “Work-Out” and
“Thintervention”) is from Fairborn, Ohio, near Dayton. PJ Stahl
(just added to Style's “Ruby”) is from Mount Pleasant, Mich.;
it's “a small town where people are so genuine,” he said.

And Cohen is from even further north.
She's from the Canadian city of Winnipeg, where “everyone knows you
have to plug in your car (into a heater) at night.”

These are places where it's always
tempting to stay home. “You have to make a concerted effort” to
get exercise, Cohen said.

And many people do make that effort.
Cohen was a dancer, Warner was a soccer goalie, Stahl conducted a
personal revolt for gender equality: “When I was 5 or 6, my little
sister was going to gymnastics,” he said. “I thought, 'If she
gets to jump on a trampoline, so should I.'”

Later, that suited him perfectly.
Smaller (5-foot-6, 130 pounds) than most teens, he lacked confidence.
“I was kind of dorky,” he said. “I was a little scrawny; I
wouldn't say I was popular by any means.”

But he was a state champion at the
floor vault and parallel bars, developing a gymnast's strength. When
Michigan State University dropped its gymnastics team, he became a
diver – “I wasn't on a diving board until I was 19” – and did
well.

Soon, each moved to California. “I've
always had big dreams,” Warner said.

She went from fashion school to a
cell-phone business to being a Hollywood agent and then trainer.
Cohen went to college in Manitoba and Toronto, then started her own
business, No Gym Required.

That name makes sense, she said.
“People will always find an excuse to not work out …. They're too
busy, they can't get to the gym.” When no gym is required, they run
out of excuses.

She's been on “Today” and other
shows and now is one of the two “Shedding” trainers. The show
started with nine overweight couples and will give the winners a
Malibu wedding.

“When you're under wedding stress and
you pile on the weight-loss sress, it becomes very difficult,”
Cohen said. “You have to rely on your partner, because it's based
on combined weight loss.”

Stahl, by comparison, has one focal
point on TV: Ruby Gettinger, 5-foot-9, had already trimmed from 716
points to about 350. When she decided to spend time in Los Angeles,
her trainers (in Chattanooga, Tenn.) pointed her toward Stahl, who
does training sessions in homes and in gym space he rents.

He liked her instantly, he said. “She
is just such a sweetheart; I couldn't believe how genuine she is.”

Trainers aren't always liked, of
course; they can be harsh. “I don't sugarcoat it,” Cohen said.

Still, she said, there are benefits.
“When you exercise, it releases endorphins that make you feel
better.”

These pre-wedding work-outs are
particularly good, Cohen said. “It unites the couple. Instead of
watching TV and eating bon-bons, they're doing something together.”

– “Shedding For the Wedding,” 9
p.m., Wednesdays, CW. On the March 30 episode, four couples remain;
the winning couple will be named April 13

– “Ruby,” 8 p.m. Sundays, Style
network, rerunning often; PJ Stahl started on the March 27 show

– Jennifer Cohen (“Shedding”) and
Jackie Warner have fitness books; Warner also has videos

– Web: jennifercohen.com,
jackiewarner.com, pjstahlfitness.com

 

"Fringe" renewed: That's really good news


ADDED NOTE TO THE BLOG BELOW: I just finished watching the "Fringe" that will air tonight (9 p.m. Friday, March 25) and it's extremely good. Please read the blog below and see the hour; sometimes, good things have to good TV shows.

Now the previous blog:

This has been a whip-saw week for fans of well-made TV.

First came the good news -- "Onion News Network" and "Southland" are being renewed by IFC (Independent Film Channel) and TNT. Then the bad -- "Lights Out" won't be back; it wraps up during the next two Tuesdays on FX.

Now comes the best -- and most surprising -- news: "Fringe" has a full-season renewal for next season.

This is a terrific show, with complex plots (at 9 p.m. today, we see the pregnant Olivia hostage in the alternate world, while Walter takes desperate steps to save her) and fine actors. Anna Torv and Joshua Jackson are just right as Olivia and Peter; John Noble is an Emmy-worthy revelation as Walter.

Still, ratings have seemed so-so. Last week, "Fringe" was seen by 3.8 million people, Fox said, putting it at No. 71 among 95 shows. In its Friday slot, it was beaten by NBC's "Dateline" (seven million), ABC's "What Would You Do?" (five million) and CBS' basketball (3.8 million), beating only CW's "Supernatural" rerun (1.3 million).

Then why renew it? The audience is the one advertisers want the most and reach the least -- young and (often) male. Fox says the show leads its time slot in ages 18-49.

There are times when I might grumble about that age bias. Today, it seems like a great idea.

 

"Idol": The save makes sense


When “American Idol” hatched its
“judges' save” scheme, I was skeptical. Would it be used
properly? Would it make a difference?

So far, it's “yes” to both.
Tonight's save of Casey Abrams was another good one.

The first person saved, in 2009, was
Matt Giraud. As a result, he finished fifth, not eighth.

The second was Michael Lynche, the
giant powerhouse. He finished fourth, not 10th.

Now Abrams has been spared. He's a
strong talent who could stick around; a few other comments:

1) Clearly, the judges knew the results
before the show started, just as Ryan Seacrest did. Jennifer Lopez
made a reference to when she saw (not heard) the result; Steven Tyler
seemed crestfallen throughout the hour, even after it had celebrated
(two days in advance) his 63rd birthday.

2) Then came the instant save, shortly
after Abrams' song began. I'm glad it happened that quickly; Abrams –
who was already hospitalized a few weeks ago with an ulcer condition
– seemed on the verge of a breakdown. The save was quick and
merciful.

3) Also merciful: The advance decision
that if the save fell on No. 11, the tour would have 11 people, not
10. Now everyone is going.

4) The rest of the bottom three? I had
expected Thia Megia to be there, but not Stefano Legano. Viewers have
been slow to like him; he missed the top 10, but was one of the three
judges' choices. Still, I think he has a classically beautiful
pop-tenor voice.

5) Is it just me, or haven't the group
numbers become a lot better this year? They've gone from kinda-awful
to really not bad at all.

6) In the first two weeks, no guys
reached the final three. Tonight, they ARE the final two. From here
on, it gets tougher to predict.

Lights out for "Lights Out"


OK, apparently some cable shows do get canceled after all.

The good news this week was that both "Southland" and "Onion News Network" were renewed for a second season. The bad news came this afternoon: "Lights Out" won't be back.

That's too bad, but it's easy to see the up side: This is a show with a logical one-season arc, as "Lights" Leary struggled for a comeback bout to avoid bankruptcy. It's ending with:

-- This week's brilliant episode, with an Emmy-worthy performance by David Morse, as a former champ. That one airs one more time, Sunday night (technically, Monday morning) at 1 a.m.

-- Next Tuesday's episode, 10 p.m. March 29.

-- The April 5 finale, with what turns out to be Leary's final bout. I'll have more on those, in the next two Tuesday columns.