Too much country? Too much everything

I really do think Alan Jackson was telling the truth when he sang: "No such thing as too much fun."

Still, we get pretty close to it sometimes. Right now, TV almost has too much of everything.

Too many new shows? At least, too many on the same night. I'm actually sending papers four stories with Monday time factors. That's when two things debut (American Country Awards on Fox, "Big Cat Week" on Nat Geo Wild) and two return ("Sing-Off" on NBC, "Men of a Certain Age" on TNT).

Too much country? Almost. Monday's award show will be the third country show to debut in the past eight days; it follows the terrific "CMA Country Christmas" and "CMT Artists of the Year."

This one has all the biggest stars (vertically speaking) in country, including Trace Adkins (the host), Toby Keith and, of course, Jackson, who gets a career award. I'll plunk that story here, because of one time factor: Fans still have until Saturday to vote in the top category, entertainer of the year. Here's the story:



Imagine a TV world with Trace Adkins on
every show.

Consider “Survivor,” for instance:
“That'd be the shortest show in history,” he said. “I'd get a
big stick and say, 'Everybody get off my island.'”

And they would. Adkins– 6-foot-6,
sometimes topping 260 pounds – is the biggest guy in country music,
with one of the deepest voices in show business. “I smoked for 30
years and drank a lot of whiskey to get it this way,” he said.
People pay attention.

They'll have to on Monday, when he
hosts the first American Country Awards, on Fox. “I'm gonna run a
tight ship,” Adkins said. “Not gonna let people do those long,
drawn-out acceptance speech.”

Adkins isn't one for excessive
verbiage. In his book (“A Personal Stand,” 2007, Villard), he
said he and his dad got along fine and “would go weeks without
speaking, while living in the same house.”

He also doesn't like punch lines. He
describes phone conversations with the show's writers: “It's
basically gone like this: 'That's not funny; you'll have to write
something better than that.'”

First was the call in which producers
asked him to host. “I said, 'Really? Another award show?'”

Many people have asked that. “We
think country's one of the most vibrant areas of music in America,”
Peter Rice, the new Fox Networks chairman, said this summer.

Rice – whose precise British accent
offers no hint of a drawl – isn't a a country expert; Adkins is. He
grew up in Sarepta, a Louisiana town of 925 – and has done all the
country things – football, gospel music, alcoholism, serious
accidents (two in his truck, one on an oil-rig) and the time his
then-wife shot him through the heart.

He survived and, at 48, is a
non-drinker, married, with five daughters, lots of charity work and a
hosting chore. “This may be my first and last hosting gig ever; I
hosted a party at my house once.”

Adkins tends to dominate. Producer Thom
Beers, who hired him to sing the theme song for “Black Gold,”
said his own voice drops down when he's near Adkins. Blake Shelton –
who linked with Adkins for “Hillbilly Bone” – said being near
him “makes me feel like I'm still a kid and he's the grown-up.”

Adkins rumbled a laugh and said anyone
is a grown-up next to the free-spirited Shelton. “Miranda (Lambert,
his fiancee) is the grown-up in that relationship. He's like herdin'
a child around.”

He said that in his wry, country way.
It's a style that should work for him Monday.

– American Country Awards, 8-10 p.m.
Monday, Fox

– Adkins hosts; Alan Jackson gets a
career award. They perform, along with Toby Keith, Rascal Flatts,
Keith Urban, Reba McEntire, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Josh Turner,
Steel Magnolia, Uncle Kracker

– Voting has concluded in most
categories. For entertainer-of-the-year, however, fans can still vote
online until 11:59 p.m. PT Saturday; that's 2:59 a.m. Sunday, ET.
It's at;
nominees are Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Lady
Antebellum and the Zac Brown Band






Fox and FX sorta save December

The Fox network started by cleverly going where the others weren't. At various points, it tried all the things the big networks had abandoned. Some failed (there are, at times, good reasons for abandoment) and some succeeded splendidly; Fox revived primetime cartoons ("Simpsons"), variety shows ("In Living Color"), sci-fi ("X-Files") and amateur competitions ("American Idol").

Now comes another example: December is when almost everyone switches to light, cheery shows. Many of these are excellent -- see my holiday mega-list, a few blogs back -- but we still need variety; that's what Fox and one of its cable channels, FX, are delivering this week. Consider:

-- FX has two terrific dramas wrap up this week -- "Sons of Anarchy" at 10 p.m. today (Tuesday), "Terriers" at 10 p.m. Wednesday. Each is concluding a complex, 13-week story, filled with death and deception. "Sons" does it quite well; "Terriers" does it brilliantly.

-- Amid lots of reruns, Fox has strong episodes this week from two of its drama series. First is "Human Target," at 8 p.m. Wednesday; this week focuses on the young thief and scam artist (beautifully played by Janet Montgomery) who has been a big boost for the show. Then "Fringe" (8 p.m. Thursday) has a superb and pivotal episode, with the two Olivias in opposite worlds.

For details, hit the "TV columns" part at the top. Then be glad Fox delivers some December variety.


Oscar hosts: Wrong, wrong

The new Academy Award hosts were announced today. The decision was ... well, flat-out, totally wrong.

Chosen were James Franco and Anne Hathaway.They are "the next generation of Hollywood icons," producers said.

In short, the show is going for youth, at all costs.

Now, I like youth as much as anyone. When it comes to cheerleaders, beaches, cornerbacks, modern dancers and Victoria's Secret models, I find youth to be very admirable.

But think through the list of award-show hosts -- the great (Steve Martin, Neil Patrick Harris), the very good (Johnny Carson, Ellen Degeneres, Conan O'Brien), the good (Billy Crystal, David Letterman, Garry Shandling, Whoopi Goldberg, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel). All -- with the exception of the miraculous Harris -- had been stand-up comedians and/or talk show hosts.

Occasionally, shows try hosts who are neither. A few (Hugh Jackman, Vince Gill, Brad Paisley) are OK; others (Ryan Seacrestm Kelsey Grammer, random musicians) are not.

Franco and Hathaway are smart, talented people. They've acted in comedies, which is sort of like creating live, spontaneous comedy ... in the same way that you would want the "ER" stars to perform your open-heart surgery. Maybe this will turn out OK, but it's all wrong.




Christmas shows -- all the time, everywhere

You can't really celebrate Christmas without a scorecard and a master list. There are holiday shows everywhere, all the time.

I sent papers a list that starts Saturday (Nov. 27) and goes on through Christmas. It's packed ... and still incomplete.

And occasionally, it includes shows that are quite splendid. "November Christmas" -- Sunday (Nov. 28) on CBS -- is beautifully crafted and richly emotional. It ranks near the top of any list, in the general turf of "Grinch" and "A Charlie Brown Christmas." It's soon followed by a thoroughly entertaining "CMA County Christmas" on Monday; two days later, ABC Family starts its "25 Days of Christmas," which helped spark this surge.

Anyway, here's the list. Please look it over and also keep an eye on the daily columns:


Music and dance

– “CMA Country Christmas.”
Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland hosts a splendid mixture of uptempo tunes and strong ballads. The line-up includes Brad Paisley, Martina McBride, Darius Rucker,
LeAnn Rimes and members of Rascal Flatts and Little Big Town.
(9:30-11 p.m., Nov. 29, ABC)

-- "Royal Opera House: The Nutcracker." This launches a five-day string of "Nutcracker" performances, with viewers then choosing their favorite. These will repeat Dec. 19-23, then rerun in an all-day, Christmas Day marathon.

– “Christmas in Washington.”
Ellen Degeneres hosts Mariah Carey, Annie Lennox, Andrea Bocelli,
Maxwell, Miranda Cosgrove (“iCarly”) and Matthew Morrison
(“Glee”). (8 p.m., Dec. 17, TNT)

– Also, several new PBS concerts
(check local listings): “L.A. Holiday Celebration” (9 p.m., Dec.
8); “Christmas at Concordia: Journey to Bethlehem” (9 p.m., Dec.
13); “A Renaissance Christmas” (10 p.m., Dec. 13); and “Christmas
With the Mormon Tabernacle Choir” with Natalie Cole (8 p.m., Dec.
15). Also, the San Francisco Ballet's “Nutcracker” reruns at 9
p.m., Dec. 12.

Animated (the two giants)

– “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Dr. Seuss' great story joined animation from Chuck Jones, of Road
Runner fame, to create a masterpiece. (8 p.m., Nov. 30 and Dec. 9,
ABC; also, on the Cartoon Network at 8 p.m., Dec. 9; 5:30 p.m., Dec.
12; 7:30 p.m., Dec. 13; 5:30 p.m., Dec. 15; 7:30 p.m., Dec. 18; 7
p.m., Dec. 20; and 4:30 p.m., Dec. 22)

– “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Skillfully mixing humor, heart and a jazzy little score, this ranks
alongside “Grinch” as two of the great moments in TV history. (8
p.m., Dec. 7 and 16, ABC).

Animated (the rest)

– “Merry Madagascar” and “Kung
Fu Panda Holiday Special.” Using the characters from hit movies,
Dreamworks created these TV specials. (8-9 p.m., Nov. 27, NBC)

– “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”
has been around for 46 years. (8-9 p.m., Nov. 30, CBS)

– “Shrek the Halls.” In a so-so
tale, Shrek is clueless on how to plan for Christmas. The first
airing follows “Grinch,” the second leads into “Prep &
Landing,” a quick-paced cartoon about the elves who prepare Santa's
stops. (8:30 p.m., Nov. 30; 8 p.m. Dec. 9, ABC)

– “Santa Claus is Comin' to Town.”
It's the show's 40th anniversary. (8-9 p.m., Dec. 2, ABC;
also, ABC Family, 8 p.m., Dec. 9; 7 p.m., Dec. 10; 5 p.m., Dec.
18-19; 9 p.m., Dec. 24; 8 a.m., Dec. 25)

– “Mickey's Christmas Special.”
Classic cartoons are assembled. (7 p.m., Dec. 7, ABC Family; also,
10:30 p.m., Dec. 17; 5 p.m., Dec. 24)

– “Frosty the Snowman” has been
around for 41 years, with a zippy song and an OK story. Its first
airing this year (8 p.m., Dec. 11, CBS) pairs it with a shabby
sequel, “Frosty Returns.” Then (8:30 p.m.,, Dec. 17) it follows
“Yes, Virginia,” which debuted last season.

– “The Flight Before Christmas.”
A young reindeer and his squirrel friend search for his father, who
may be a member of Santa's Flying Forces. (9 p.m., Dec. 11, CBS)

– “I Want a Dog for Christmas,
Charlie Brown.” This was created in 2003, based on Charles Schulz's
comic strips. When Snoopy isn't available, Rerun turns to Spike. (8-9
p.m., Dec. 14 and 18, ABC)

– Also: ABC Family loads up on
cartoons, most related to Christmas. They're 6-8 p.m., Dec. 1; 6-7
p.m., Dec. 2; 6-8:30, Dec. 6; 6-8:30 p.m., Dec. 8; 6-11 p.m., Dec. 9,
6-8 p.m., Dec. 10; 6-7 p.m., Dec. 13; 6-8 p.m., Dec. 14; 6-8:30 p.m.,
Dec. 15; 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Dec. 18; 4-6 p.m., Dec. 19; 6-8 p.m., Dec.
20; 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., Dec. 24; and 7-10 a.m., Dec. 25.

New TV movies (the best)

– “November Christmas.” Here is
“Hallmark Hall of Fame” at its best – intelligently written and
richly crafted. With his daughter fighting cancer, a dad (John
Corbett) wants to move the holidays ahead; soon, townspeople
(including Sam Elliott) are helping. Director Robert Harmon gives
this the same soft-spoken eloquence he gives to all the Jesse Stone
movies. (9-11 p.m., Nov. 30, CBS)

– “Christmas Cupid.” Three years
ago, singer-actress Christina Milian made “Snowglobe,” one of the
best Christmas movies; now she has another winner. When a Lindsay
Lohan type (zestfully played by Ashley Benson) chokes on a martini
olive, she returns as a ghost to re-direct her self-centered
publicist. (8 and 10 p.m., Dec. 12, ABC Family; also, 7 p.m., Dec.
13; 2 p.m., Dec.21)

– “Call Me Mrs. Miracle.” Doris
Roberts returns as Mrs. Merkle, a benevolent (and rather magical)
soul who inserts herself in strangers' lives. Jewel Staite is
excellent as a well-meaning flounderer. Slickly directed by Michael
Scott, this overcomes any flaws and predictability. (8 and 10 p.m.,
Nov. 27, Hallmark Channel; reruns at 8 p.m., Nov. 28 and Dec. 3)

New TV movies (not so good)

– “The Night Before the Night
Before Christmas.” Santa embarks a day early, causing his magic to
malfunction. He crashes on a roof in Milwaukee and loses his memory.
(2 p.m. Nov. 27, Hallmark)

– “On Strike For Christmas.” With
a mountain of Christmas tasks – all ignored by her husband and sons
– a mom (Daphne Zuniga) goes on strike. It takes almost half the
movie, alas, to get to the fun part. (8 p.m. ET and 5 p.m. PT. Dec.
5, Lifetime Movie Network; reruns at midnight)

– “An Old-Fashioned Christmas.”
There are touches of class, with Jacqueline Bisset, Irish settings
and characters from Louisa May Alcott. Still, this often seems stiff
and lifeless. (8 p.m., Dec. 11, Hallmark)

More coming

– “The Dog Who Saved Christmas
Vacation.” This sequel again has Dean Cain as a hapless thief and
Mario Lopez voicing the thoughts of a heroic mutt. Paris Hilton is
typecast as the thoughts of a pampered poodle. (8 and 10 p.m., Nov.
28, ABC Family; also, 7 a.m., Dec.4.

– The Hallmark Channel has many more
films, each debuting at 8 p.m. They include Kevin Sorbo in “The
Santa Suit” (Dec. 2), Christine Taylor in “Farewell, Mr. Kringle”
(Dec. 4), Ione Skye in “The Santa Incident” (Dec. 9), Fionnula
Flanagan in “Three Wise Women” (Dec. 14), Marla Sokoloff in “Gift
of the Magi” (Dec. 16) and Daniel Stern and Matt Frewer in “Battle
of the Bulbs” (Dec. 18).

Best of the TV movie reruns

– “A Season for Miracles.” Taking
her niece and nephew on the lam, Carla Gugino finds a town where
lives can be remade. (6 p.m., Dec. 1; 4 p.m. Dec. 5, Hallmark).

– “Snow” and “Snow 2.”
Searching for his missing reindeer, Santa's son (Tom Cavanagh) meets
a sweet zookeeper (Ashley Williams). (9 and 11 a.m., Dec. 11; 2 and 4
p.m., Dec. 20, ABC Family)

– “Santa Baby” and “Santa Baby
2.” Now it's Santa's daughter (Jenny McCarthy), a slick executive
who helps her dad. Between movies, Santa changed from George Wendt to
Paul Sorvino, Luke went from Ivan Sergei to Dean McDermott. (2 and 4
p.m., Dec. 12, 8 and 10 a.m., Dec. 21, ABC Family)

Theatrical movies

There are plenty of them, but here are
a few highlights:

– “Elf.” An oversized elf (Will
Ferrell) heads into the real world, finding humor and warmth. (9
p.m., Nov. 27; 6 p.m., Dec. 5; 7 p.m. Dec. 7, USA)

– “Santa Clause,” the Tim Allen
comedy, is 7 and 9 p.m. Dec. 2 on ABC Family. The first two “Clause”
films run at 8 and 10 p.m., Dec. 10; all three are 5, 7 and 9 p.m.,
Dec. 11. Also, the third is at noon, Dec. 12, the first and third at
8 and 10 p.m., Dec. 22, the first at 6:30 p.m., Dec. 23.

– “Santa Clause 2 and 3” also air
as an ABC double feature, 7 and 9 p.m., Dec. 19; “Santa Clause 2”
reruns at 9 p.m., Dec. 24 on ABC, after “Phineas and Ferb's
Christmas Vacation.”

– “Fred Claus.” A good Santa
(Paul Giamatti) needs help from his bad brother (Vince Vaughn). The
result is moderately entertaining. (8 p.m., Dec. 10, TBS)

– “A Christmas Story.” This
1940's portrait mixes warmth and wit. (Every two hours for 24 hours,
starting 8 p.m., Dec. 24, TNT).

– “It's a Wonderful Life” has
been beloved since 1946. (8-11 p.m. Dec. 11 and 24, NBC)

– “Meet Me in St. Louis” is a
lovely, 1944 musical with Vincente Minnelli directing Judy Garland.
It's 8 p.m., Dec. 11, on Turner Classic Movies, after an interview
with their daughter, Liza Minnelli. Also at 2 a.m., Dec. 25, as part
of a marathon that starts with “The Bishop's Wife” (1947) at 8
p.m., Dec. 24.

– ABC Family also has some top
movies, unrelated to Christmas, led by “Wall-E,” two “Toy
Story” films and (Dec. 4-5) a Harry Potter marathon. See

Home-design specials

– “Celebrity Holiday Homes”
chooses three homes from opposite parts of the country – Sherri
Shepherd in Harlem, Trisha Yearwood in Nashville, Brooke Burke in
Malibu. The Shepherd project – reflecting Harlem's jazz age – is
gorgeous; the others are OK. (8 p.m., Dec. 4, HGTV)

– Other new HGTV specials include
specials by Genevieve Gorder (8 p.m., Nov. 27), Mike Holmes (9 p.m.
Dec. 5) and “Design Inc.” (8 p.m. Dec. 11).

– Also, Hallmark has “Martha
Stewart's Holiday Open House” (with Jennifer Garner and Claire
Danes) and “Mad Hungry for the Holidays” with (Lucina Scala
Quinn) at 8 and 9 p.m., Dec. 6


– “12 Nights at the Academy”
(Golf Channel) has nightly golf tips from the pros. It starts Nov. 29
with an overview at 7 p.m. and Greg Norman at 7:30; it continues
daily at 7 p.m., wrapping up with Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and
Arnold Palmer, Dec. 8-10.




Conan VIII: "What Am I Doing Here?"

Maybe Conan O'Brien is starting to realize where he ended up.

After being courted by NBC, ABC and Fox, he ended up at TBS. That's not TNT, the home of terrific original dramas; it's a sister channel known for sitcom reruns and "Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns."

Wrapping up his second week tonight, O'Brien had a so-so monolog, with a couple good lines. In the next generation, he said, whites will be in the minority in Great Britain. "As a precaution, people have changed the name to 'Tyler Perry's Great Britain.'"

He also told about a Harry Potter contest. "Out of respect for their families, the names of the winners were not announced."

It was a good line, drawing a frown from the audience member who was dressed as Harry. That guy was just nerdy enough to help save a bad monolog. Also helpful was a clever list of alternatives to the real slogan: "TBS: Very Funny." They included:

-- "Very re-runny"

-- "No, no, no ... you're thinking of TNT"

-- "Last stop before Animal Planet."

This wraps up my two-week habit of blogging after each "Conan." Mostly, the show has settled into a state of being sort of pleasant enough. Tonight included:

-- A slow start. The monolog was weak; so was the race (burly stage hands on little girls' bikes) that was staged to give the Conan blimp something to shoot.

-- A better bit. Since Prince William and Kate Middleton haven't chosen a wedding site, Conan suggested Burbank. The details were funny; a more-formal presentation would have helped.

-- A surprising boost. It turns out that Jesse Eisenberg is an excellent guest -- understated, self-effacing, quite clever.

-- A pointless little chat with Venus Williams. Many of O'Brien's second-guest talks have failed.

-- And a fairly good song from the Decemberists. Irish singer Gillian Welch sang back-up; this may have been the first time she didn't have the reddest hair on a TV show.