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:


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


"Playboy Club": A surprising comeback continues

A few years ago, with the Playboy empire in decline, no one would have expected this. Somehow, the creation of Hugh Hefner, 85, has made it back into the media spotlight.

"The Playboy Club" opens tonight on NBC, amid much buzz (good and bad) and wildly mixed reviews. Also, Playboy keeps showing up elsewhere. Here's the story I sent to papers:


LOS ANGELES – Standing on the Playboy
Mansion grounds, John Salley seemed out of place.

He wasn't, he said. “Man, I feel like
I've always lived here.”

Visually, that didn't click. He's 47,
black, 6-foot-11, athletic; many of the people on the mansion grounds
were young, white and slender, negotiating the cobblestone in short
dresses and high heels.

But for a guy who grew up in Brooklyn
and spent six pro-basketball years Detroit, this fits a broader
image. “When we visited (California), I told my mother, 'I'm going
to live here some day,” Salley said.

Maybe that explains – a little bit –
why Playboy keeps resurfacing in media, including an NBC series. With some generations, the fantasyland image persists.

It has been 58 years since Playboy
magazine began, decades since its American clubs closed. “I'm happy
to say that the film that was made (in 1985) out of the expose I did
lasted longer than the clubs it was exposing,” Gloria Steinem said.

Still, Playboy keeps resurfacing,
including NBC's “The Playboy Club,” which is set in 1961 and
focuses on the women working as “bunnies.”

“It's empowering,” insisted co-star
Naturi Naughton, “because these girls are smart, they're going to
school, they're buying homes, (doing things) women weren't able to do
at that time.”

They weren't victimized, argued Amber
Heard, who stars. “It's a … puritanical way we look at things,
that we consider if it involves sexuality, the women must be

People will argue about that after
seeing the opener, in which her character needs a macho man to rescue
her from a mobster. Still, the show is part of a Playboy comeback

– A reality-TV surge on cable. “The
Girls Next Door” (about Hefner's girlfriends) led to spin-offs
“Kendra” and “Holly's World”; Hefner has been in 10 episodes
of E's “True Hollywood Story.”

– The NBC series, with its stylish,
early-'60s flavor. “Basically, it's 'Mad Men' with boobs,” jokes
Joel McHale of NBC's “Community.”

– The Playboy Channel, which has
added “TV For Two”shows aimed at couples. It was putting on this
party on the mansion grounds, with reporters and others. Salley,
developing an unspecified show for the channel, was there. So was
Jennifer Pershing, the Playmate in the Playboy issue of March, 2009.
“It's always been a dream of mine,” she said.

Pershing grew up in Somers Point, N.J.,
a harbor town of 12,000, south of Atlantic City. When she was spotted
(in a Los Angeles rock club) and chosen as a Playmate, she was
already 28 and married. “If it had happened when I was younger, it
might have been overwhelming,” she said.

Now she was conducting a tour of the
grounds – the mini-zoo with monkeys, the grotto where people can
feel like they're in a warm-water cave, the peacocks (and people)
that strut by casually.

There's an other-world feel, something
the clubs sought. “It's Disneyland for adults,” Naughton said.

Smart people can savor the image,
insisted NBC programmer Robert Greenblatt. “Some famous women were
once bunnies, including Barbara Walters, Lauren Hutton, Deborah
Harry, Susan Sullivan, … Federal Judge Kimba Wood and Dr. Polly
Matzinger, a world-renowned immunologist.”

Actually, Walters only did it for a
“Today” report on being a bunny. “I really didn't enjoy doing
that story, which took two days of filming,” she wrote in her

Steinem was there longer, researching
her undercover story. Long after the clubs vanished, Hefner, 85,
remains of interest. “There is a kind of horrible fascination,”
she said.

It is an odd mixture of fantasy,
fascination and other-world wonder. It sweeps Brooklyn boys and
Jersey girls to a different world, filled with music, monkeys and
sleek bodies.

– “The Playboy Club,” 10 p.m.
Mondays, NBC, debuting Sept.19

– E, now a sister channel to NBC, has
a new “Kendra” season starting 11 p.m. Sept. 25; it also has
frequent reruns, include “True Hollywood Story: Kendra Wilkinson,”
9 p.m. Sept. 22

– Playboy Channel; see



Emmys, a few comments

Here's a chronological commentary on the Emmys. Please see the previous blog for my preview:

1) The opening number had one great idea -- modern Jane Lynch talking television to the 1962 people of "Mad Men." This was surrounded by many other so-so ideas. Had they stuck only with the "Mad Men" bit, the opener would have been great; as it was, it was kinda good.

2)You know Julie Bowen didn't think she'd win. If she'd expected it, she would have prepared a speech and worn an attactive dress. Hers was that rare gown that achieves nudity without attractiveness.

3) Wait a second, a "Modern Family" sweep? They've give out four Emmys so far and all four went to that show -- Bowen ... and Ty Burrell (a great choice, for his subtly perfect work) ... and directing and writing. It's a good show, almost as good as "The Big Bang Theory" -- but not the ONLY show.

4) Jane Lynch has added a lot already, by throwing in the right comments -- first about being disappointed over losing, then about putting "Modern Love" in the drama category, since they're winning everything else.

5) After Lynch's excellent introduction, Charlie Sheen's presenting bit was a huge disappointment. He said a few nicey-nice words, sounding like he didn't mean any of them. You kept waiting for the funny parts.

6) Other presenter bits were quite funny -- especially the Jimmys (Kimmel, Fallon) and the censored Ricky Gervais. However, two straight things fell flat with the best-actress-in-a-comedy bit -- first, the clumsy humor about the Lucy-Desi accents, then the time-wasting beauty-pageant parody.

7) Still, the results were encouraging. Jim Parsons wins for the second straight year, for "Big Bang Theory." Then Melissa McCarthy beats better-known people for her work in "Mike & Molly." These two were total unknowns before their shows started on CBS. TV can reward talent in a hurry.

8) There were some great moments in the bit about what you hate about your work. Ashton Kutcher ended it beautifully. I guess "Two and a Half Men" is getting the better part of the Ashton-replaces-Charlie situation.

9) The Emmytones offer some nice little music bits, with clever lyrics.

10) After winning seven straight Emmys for best reality competition, "Amazing Race" actually lost last year. I think that was just to confuse our fantasy pools; this year it won again, as it probably should.

11) Yes, it's boring and repetitious for "The Daily Show" to win best variety show for nine straight years. Still, it's also correct. This is a great show -- smart, fresh and terribly funny.

12) The worst moment (so far) came from that Lucy-and-Desi bit by Rob Lowe and Sofia Veragra. Still, John Stewart has a point -- those two would make really beautiful children.

13) Robe Lowe, incidentally, also was involved with the Oscars' worst moment (a "Snow White" musical routine). We'll give him one more chance, maybe at the Tonys.

14) Two straight wonderful surprises in the drama category: First, a writing award for "Friday Night Lights." This has been one of the best series of the past decade, never winning the Emmys it deserves. Now it has one; it's not around any more, but go rent it. Then Margo Martindale -- a struggling actress who finally got the perfect role (matriarch of a crime family in the Kentucky hills on "Justified") at 60 and nailed it. She was genuinely excited -- so much so that she almost tripped on her dress going up the stage

15) OK, maybe they're done with the unknowns now. The latest winner (directing of a drama) is Martin Scorsese. He is not, I believe, an unknown

16) Peter Dinklage now goes in history as, I believe, the shortest adult to win a major award. Dinklage (best supporting actor, in "Game of Thrones") is 4-foot-5; Linda Hunt (Oscar-winner) is 4-foot-9. Now that I think about it, this information may not be terribly important.

17) The top drama acting awards just got handed out: Juliana Margulies ("The Good Wife") for best actress -- a kinda good thing. Eric Chandler ("Friday Night Lights") for best actor -- a wonderful surpise. "Lights" was constructed from writing and acting that were natural and wonderfully understated. Chandler -- as the coach who can say it all in a few words -- was perfect.

18) "Friday Night Lights," incidentally, keeps turning unknowns into sought-after actors. The Emmy was handed to Chandler by Minka Kelly, now of "Charlie's Angels," previously of "Lights." There are plenty more "Lights" grads, all over the TV universe

19) That may be my favorite introduction of all time, from Jane Lynch. It was, approximately: "Many people have asked why I am a lesbian. Here is the reason. Ladies and gentlemen, the cast of 'Entourage.'"

20) It was great to see PBS' "Masterpiece Classic" win Emmys; "Downton Abbey" -- which starts a seven-week sequel in January -- won for best movie or mini-sries and for supporting actress (Maggie Smith), writing (Julian Fellowes) and directing (Brian Percival). That's good because "Masterpiece" really is, quite often, masterful. And because it lets English people do the accepting. Fellowes managed to say the word "grandeloquent" in a way that made us believe that might really be how it's pronounced.

21) Barry Pepper for best supporting actor, for playing Robert Kennedy in "The Kennedys"? That's the first really silly award so far.

22) Producer Mark Burnett has turned out a pretty good show, but he got this one wrong: He promised that even "in memorium" would be fun. Instead, it was even more treacly and solemn than ever.

23) Not everything has to be a surprise, I guess. "Mad Men" has now been named best drama during each of its four seasons. That was OK, though. Also, Christina Hendricks looked really (I mean REALLY) nice in that gown.

23) We don't have to give all the awards to Brits. Australians will do fine, too. Guy Pearce's acceptance speech (for "Mildred Pierce") was a delight.

24) Kate Winslet ("Mildred Pierce"), a great actress, has improved only slightly as an acceptance-speech-giver. She's gone from awful to almost adequate. By British standards, that's pretty low.

25) The show ended -- on time, surprisingly -- the way it started, with a "Modern Family" win. This one was for best comedy, which is OK. (It's really second-best to "Big Bang Theory," but that's close enough.) It gave producer Steve Levitan a chance to end the night with a neat quip. A gay couple had told him "Modern Family" promotes tolerance. That's true, he said. "We show that it's OK to have a loving, committed relationship between an old man and a hot young woman. And looking around this room, I see that may of you agree." 





It's Emmy night

It's Emmy night now, which is just plain fun. The red-carpet coverage has already started on E and will also be on Fox at 7; the ceremony itself starts at 8.

I'll be blogging about this through the night, adding comments as it goes along. Meanwhile, here's the advance story I wrote; it includes a list that you can kind of check along with:


Somewhere in the TV world, people might
shrug at winning Emmy awards.

Maybe at the “Daily Show”; it's won
eight straight Emmys as best variety series. Or at “The Amazing
Race”; last year, its string (best reality competition series)
ended at seven.

Still, there are plenty of others who
are giddy awards. Just ask Margo Martindale, who's been a working
actress for almost 40 years.

“I've been … poor, counting pennies
on the floor,” she said. Then came deep role on “Justified,” as
the matriarch of a crime family in the Kentucky hills. Now she has an
Emmy nomination (supporting actress in a drama), a new job (CBS' “A
Gifted Man”) and no poverty prospects.

“It just feels fantastic,”
Martindale said. “I turned 60 and everything fell into place.”

Or ask Jane Lynch. Lately, she's become
an Emmy-winner who is hosting this year's show.

Lynch, 51, grew up as a TV buff who
would pull out the listings each Sunday and mark he plans. Later, as
a semi-employed actress in the 1990s, she would watch the “Seinfeld”
people win supporting Emmys. “I remember (thinking)” 'What a
life! They're on this hit show; they're character actors.'”

Now she has that situation herself, as
Sue Sylvester on “Glee.” Last year, Lynch was in the Emmys'
opening song-and-dance number – “Jon Hamm to the left, Kate
Gosselin to the right” – and won the Emmy. Now she's up for her
second and she's the host.

Lynch said she'd like to copy the
formula of last year's host, Jimmy Fallon. “He was so relaxed and
the show was all about his energy, which is very open and funny and

Still, she's not the relaxed type. “I
have (a) cocktail of excitement, anticipation and abject fear.”

Mark Burnett (“Survivor”), the
Emmys producer, will watch the pave. “I think the best way to do
these shows is a lot of shorter bits,” he said, “so it keeps
moving along, and adding in short, spoof films.” Here are the
nominees in some categories, plus comments:

– Comedy: Last year's winner, “Modern
Family” (ABC); also, “Big Bang Theory” (CBS), “Glee” (Fox)
and “The Office,” “30 Rock” and “Parks and Recreation”
(all NBC.)

Comment: “We'd love to see “Big
Bang,” TV's best comedy, win; “Modern Love” will probably
repeat, however, which will be fine.

– Drama: Last year's winner, “Mad
Men” (AMC), plus “The Good Wife” (CBS), “Friday Night Lights”
(DirecTV and NBC), Dexter (Showtime) and HBO's “Boardwalk Empire”
and “Game of Thrones.”

Comment: After five quietly brilliant
years, “Friday Night Lights” is leaving without the awards it
deserves. The winner will probably be the beautifully crafted
“Boardwalk Empire.”

– Variety: “The Daily Show” is
back for more, facing “Saturday Night Live” and the talk shows of
Fallon, Conan O'Brien, Bill Maher and Stephen Colbert.

Comment: There's a reason why “Daily
Show” keeps winning. It's REALLY funny.

– Reality competition: “Top Chef”
(Bravo), which broke the “Amazing Race” string last year, is
back, plus “Race” (CBS), “American Idol” (Fox), “Project
Runway” (Lifetime), “Dancing With the Stars” (ABC) and “So
You Think You Can Dance” (Fox).

Comment: We keep rooting for “So You
Think You Can Dance”; no one listens.

– Movies or miniseries: HBO's “”Too
Big to Fail,” “Mildred Pierce” and “Cinema Verite,” plus
“Downton Abbey” (PBS), “”Pillars of the Earth” (Starz) and
“The Kennedys,” which was made and dropped by History, ending up
on Reelz.

Comment: “Too Big to Fail” was
important and brilliantly done. Still, the rich texture of “Mildred
Pierce” will probably give it thw win.

Acting: In each category, we'll list
our favorite first and note last year's winner, when applicable:

– Actress, drama: Mireille Enos, “The
Killing” (AMC); Kathy Bates, “Harry's Law” (NBC); Connie
Britton, “Friday Night Lights”; Mariska Hargitay, “Law &
Order: SVU” (NBC); Julianna Margulies, “The Good Wife” (CBS);
Elisabeth Moss, “Mad Men” (AMC).

--Actor, drama: Hugh Laurie, “House”
(Fox); Steve Buscemi, “Boardwalk Empire”; Kyle Chandler, “Friday
Night Lights”; Michael C. Hall, “Dexter”; Jon Hamm, “Mad
Men”; Timothy Olyphant, “Justified” (FX).

– Actress, comedy: Laura Linney, “The
Big C” (Showtime); Edie Falco (last year's winner), “Nurse
Jackie” (Showtime); Tina Fey, “30 Rock”; Melissa McCarthy,
“Mike & Molly” (CBS); Martha Plimpton, “Raising Hope”
(Fox); Amy Poehler, “Parks and Recreation,” NBC.

– Actor, comedy: Jim Parsons, “The
Big Bang Theory” (last year's winner); Alec Baldwin, “30 Rock”;
Louis C.K., “Louie,” FX; Steve Carell, “The Office”; Johnny
Galecki, “Big Bang Theory”; Matt LeBlanc, “Episodes”

– Actress, movie or mini-series: Kate Winslet, “Mildred
Pierce”; Diane Lane, “Cinema Verite”; Elizabeth McGovern,
“Downton Abbey”; “Taraji Henson,” “Taken From Me”
(Lifetime); Jean Marsh, “Upstairs, Downstairs” (PBS).

– Actor, movie or mini-series: William Hurt, “Too Big
to Fail”; Idris Elba, “Luther” (BBC America); Laurence
Fishburne, “Thurgood” (HBO); Greg Kinnear and Barry Pepper, “The
Kennedys”; Edgar Ramirez, “Carlos” (Sundance).

Emmy awards

– 8 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox

– Red-carpet preview, 6-8
p.m., E; 7-8 p.m., Fox.

– Emmy previews, 5-6 p.m., E;
7-8 p.m., TV Guide


The real football season begins

Any football season that starts with a Packer victory is a good one for me. Thursday's game was spectacular; it also re-enforced my admiration for NBC's coverage.

Fox has a good NFL team, particularly with Troy Aikman doing the analysis, but NBC has a great one. Bob Costas (pre-game) and Chris Collinsworth (fame analysis) are the best in the business.

Anyway, here's the story I sent to papers just before the season begins. I've changed the tense about the Thursday game (now past), but kept the rest the same:



If pro-football fans were normal –
and you know they're not – NBC would hate this year's schedule.

The season's first regular-season game was in the NFL's smallest market. The second (Sunday, Sept. 11)
involves a team that had a losing record last season.

“I think that we understand the
history of the game,” said Cris Collinsworth, the NBC analyst. “The
fan base is so knowledgeable.”

So the Packers – in little Green Bay
– have a big following. So do the Dallas Cowboys, even after last
year's 6-10 record. “There's national appeal for these guys,”
said Mark Lazarus, the NBC Sports chief.

The Packers are the lovable ones; the
Cowboys vary. “Only two teams in all of sports engender love and
hate to that extreme,” said Al Michaels, the play-by-play man. “The
other is the Yankees.”

Now both face teams with their own
emotional tugs:

– The Packers, the current Super Bowl
champions, host the New Orleans Saints, the previous champions and a
sentimental favorite since their city was battered by Hurricane

– The Cowboys visit the New York
Jets, a favorite on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11

Yes, that goes beyond football. That's
always been NBC's style.

“We have made this a big-tent show,”
said producer Fred Gaudelli. “This is not for football fans only.”

That's a philosophy ABC developed for
“Monday Night Football” in 1970 and NBC adapted for Sundays in
2007. It tries for both – football buffs and people who just want a
dramatic story.

ABC had Howard Cosell, a former lawyer,
lecturing on endless things; it had Don Meredith sometimes breaking
into song. NBC has Collinsworth, a law-school grad from a family of
lawyers; Al Michaels likes to sing, but not on the air.

“The thing that I look forward to
most of all is between the commercial breaks, listening to All
Michaels singing a Katy Perry song,” Collinsworth said. “I think
that is the true highlight.”

Really? When nudged, Michael recited
some “I Kissed a Girl” stanzas. “I actually started with Jay
and the Americans,” he said, “and then I worked up to Grand Funk

Their sideline reporter this year is
Michele Tafoya, who knows the turf – and the risks.

“The only time I ever got close to
something bad was the year I was pregnant,” she said. “The action
came my way and ... someone swooped in and picked me up and moved me

It was a close call and only
semi-related to the game. It's the kind of thing that fits into TV

– NBC football

– Season opened at 8:30 p.m. ET
Thursday (Sept. 8), after a 7:30 celebration that includes music by
Kid Rock, Maroon 5 and Lady Antebellum.

– Then games are 8:20 p.m. ET
Sundays, after previews at 7 p.m. First one, Sept. 11, has Dallas
Cowboys at New York Jets