The X Factor: Haven't we been here before?


What did I think of the "X Factor" debut? I sort of  liked it; of course, I also liked it when it was called "American Idol."

If there were anti-cloning laws in Hollywood, this show would face capital punishment. It's mostly "Idol" with a few "America's Got Talent" touches added for, well, originality.

Simon Cowell is like the kid who was wise enough to stay awake in class and copy someone else's answers. He was also wise eough to copy from the smart kids; it would have been a shame if he'd copied from the dumbos who created, say, "H8R."

Placido Domingo: The first 70 years


In the midst of this week's commercial-network commotion, PBS drops in a Placido Domingo special on Friday. This varies a lot from market to market -- it airs Friday on Cincinnati, but not in Lansing -- so I'll put the story here. Check your local listings:

By MIKE HUGHES

From his earliest moments, Placido
Domingo had music flowing into his ears.

“I remember both my mother and my
father singing me a lullaby before sleep,” he said. “The
harmonies … were so beautiful that it was hard for me to fall
asleep.”

These were pros, stars of zarzuela –
a Spanish musical theater, similar to operetta – in Madrid. His
first performance memories involve his parents onstage.

“I remember my father dressed in
tails,” Domingo said. “There is a song that says this gentleman
is a very elegant gentleman and he drives crazy the ladies.”

In his 70 years, Domingo has often been
the elegant man onstage. He has sung 131 operas, using his native
language (Spanish) plus Italian, French, German, Russian and English.
He's learned individual songs in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and more.

“I always like to learn a popular
song to please the people,” he said. “Probably, they don't
understand me too well, but in any case, I try.”

Lately, many of his roles have been on
PBS' “Great Performances.” He's done three in the past 20 months;
next is “Il Postino” (Nov. 25). Before that, there's a “My
Favorite Roles” special.

It was PBS that propelled a new wave,
two decades ago, with the popular “Three Tenors” concerts.
Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras were elevated to
pop-star fame.

That's fine with Domingo, who has
admired pop performers. He praises Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand,
Sting, Spain's pop stars and more. “The Beatles … were great,
great musicians.”

And in any performance, he said, his
classical technique is secondary. “I will give up technique for
feeling … It's important that that the public believes and feels.”

It's also important that he doesn't
take those feeling away from the stage. “You live a lot of tragedy,
constantly, on the stage,” Domingo said. But “you cannot let
yourself in the suffering.”

So he seems to live a non-operatic
life. A teen marriage ended quickly, but next August, he has his 50th
wedding anniversary with Marta Ornelas, a director and former
soprano.

“I love to be happy,” Domingo said,
“but I love to suffer onstage. On the stage it's wonderful, the
suffering. I also like the comedy, but I am better at the suffering.”

Domingo on PBS (check local listings)

– “Placido Domingo: My Favorite
Roles,” 9 p.m. Friday

– “Il Postino,” Nov. 25.

– Recent roles have been “Simon
Boccanegra” last year and two – “Rigoletto” and “Iphigenie
en Tauride” – this year; next year is “The Enchanted Island”

 

That no-Charlie, Charlie night


My view on the Monday without and with Charlie Sheen:

1) The second half of the "Two and a Half Men" episode was terrific. That's a good sign, because it's the half that mostly had just Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher. The first half, at Charlie's funeral, was up and down; in the show's fashion, it mixed clever and crude moments. But in the second half, we saw two gifted comedy actors bouncing good dialog off each other. I'm looking forward to next week.

2) And the "Comedy Roast" of Sheen that followed on Comedy Central. It had a great start with Seth McFarlane, a fairly good finish with Sheen. In between, in true "Roast" fashion, it ranged wildly from some big laughs to moments that were merely witless. You can check it out; this thing is rerunning a lot, including 10 p.m. this Friday AND Saturday, Sept. 23-24.

TV season: Now it starts for real


This is the night -- Monday, Sept. 19 -- when the TV season begins for real. It's the first official night of the new season and it's crowded.

With that in mind, I've included here more than usual of the stories that I sent to papers. If you scroll down after this, you'll find:

1) A profile of Whitney Cummings, who has two new shows. Tonight's "2 Broke Girls" (9:31 p.m., CBS) is the best new comedy; Thursday's "Whitney" (9:31 p.m., NBC) is above average.

2) An overview of the Playboy comeback that includes tonight's "Playboy Club" debut (10 p.m., NBC).

3) A chronological commentary on the Emmys. I just did that as it was going on; afterward, I went back and cleaned up the typos and stuff, but left the rest as-is.

4) The Emmy preview story.

 

Whitney: It's her week


For Whitney Cummings, this is the big week. Tonight, CBS "2 Broke Girls" (which she co-created and co-produces) debuts; on Thursday, "Whitney" (which she created and stars in) debuts. The former is terrific, the latter is above average. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By MIKE HUGHES

Every now and then, TV comedy needs a
fresh spark. Now it has Whitney Cummings – doubly.

“She's smart, she's incredibly
ambitious,” said Michael Patrick King, who created CBS' “2 Broke
Girls” with her. “She … thinks like a writer and writes really
hard jokes like a stand-up (comic).”

And she has an approach that can easily
be turned into a TV character. “Whitney, in her personality, is
such a ball of energy that she sometimes can take things to the
extreme,” said Betsy Thomas, the showrunner of NBC's “Whitney.”

Cummings needs that energy, now that
she's working on:

– “2 Broke Girls,” Mondays on
CBS. She's co-creator and one of the producers.

– “Whitney,” Thursdays on NBC.
She created it and plays the central character.

Those are two of the year's 10 new
comedies, one (“2 Broke Girls”) getting raves from critics. This
is a big deal for someone who grew up (in the Washington, D.C., area)
during TV comedy's golden age.

“Thursday nights on NBC – which is
what I grew up with – has been such a big part of inspiring me,”
said Cummings, 29. “You know: 'Mad About You' and 'Seinfeld' and
'The Cosby Show.'”.

Back then, she found a book by the “Mad
About You” creator-star.

“I was at a flea market when I was
like 12 or 13, and I came across a book called 'Couplehood,' by Paul
Reiser,” Cummings said. “I read it and … that was my first
introduction to what comedy is.”

She savored female-based comedies,
including “Roseanne” and “Sex and the City,” but also
followed academia. Cummings graduated in three years, magna cum
laude, from the University of Pennsylvania.

Next came Los Angeles, with dreams of
being an actress. She did get some roles, but the key was being hired
by “Punk'd,” the practical-joke show on MTV.

“A lot of comedians are on that show,
and it got into my head the idea of doing stand-up,” Cummings said.
“And … MySpace was the thing, before it was just for porn stars
and pedophiles …. I started MySpacing people who had (stand-up
comedy) shows … getting as much stage time” as possible.

She prospered, did some Comedy Central
work, then got two breaks last year: NBC hired her to write the pilot
script that became “Whitney”; also, King was looking for a
co-writer for his show.

“I wanted it to be as contemporary
and as edgy as I believe two broke girls would be today,” he said.

So Cummings was called in for an
interview, creating one problem: King's previous show, “Sex and the
City,” was known for its upscale fashions.

“The first thing I thought wasn't,
like, 'Maybe I should prepare some ideas for this,'” she said.

“It was, like, 'What am I going to
wear?' So I went and bought $800 Christian Louboutin shoes, which I
was planning on returning the next day, but I sweated through them,
so I couldn't. I was so nervous and made a complete idiot of myself.”

Still, she did well enough to get a
second interview and the job. Soon, King was telling her that the
show would have two waitresses – one blonde, one brunette – in
yellow uniforms.

“She said, 'And of course, Blonde is
homeless with a horse,'” he recalled. It was the image that
propelled “2 Broke Girls” forward.

Now Cummings spends her days at
“Whitney,” playing someone a lot like herself – young, living
with a boyfriend, ball of energy, takes things too far. Then she uses
that energy: “I'm able to get out at, like, 5:30, 6 (p.m.) and get
home and read all the notes and talk to Michael and read their
scripts and stuff.”

In an era of joblessness, she savors
overemployment, while propelling a comedy comeback.

– “2 Broke Girls,” 8:30 p.m.
Mondays, CBS; but debut (Sept. 19) is 9:31 p.m.

– “Whitney,” 9:30 p.m. Thursdays,
NBC, debuting Sept. 22; that episode then repeats at 8:30 p.m. Friday
on NBC; 12:30 p.m. Sunday on Bravo; 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday on
Style.