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.



Liz II: Alas, "Cleopatra"

I"m guessing that Twentieth Century-Fox has forgiven Elizabeth Taylor for "Cleopatra."

At the time, there was talk that this was the movie that would bankrupt the studio. As Taylor kept calling in sick, the cost soared; the resulting film was large and lush and, alas, merely OK.

It eventually broke even, however. And now, as its tribute to Taylor -- who died Wednesday of congestive heart failure, at 79 -- the Fox Movie Channel is airing the movie all day Sunday.

That's kind of a hollow tribute. Compare that to the April 10 marathon on Turner Classic Movies, which starts with the kid classics ("Lassie, Come Home" and "National Velvet," then has such giants as "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof," "Butterfield 8," "Virginia Woolf" and ... well, "Giant."

The full TCM schedule is listed two blogs past. Meanwhile, if curiosity drives you to seeing "Cleopatra" on Sunday, it airs at 6 a.m., 11 a.m., 3:30 p.m., 8:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m.; also, there will be two airings -- 8 p.m. and 1 a.m. -- of Tom Rothman's "Fox Legacy" discussion of the movie.

"Idol": The guys keep soaring

I've always liked the women on "American Idol." That may be due to my sexuality (hetero) or some other personal quirk. Whatever the reason, it's an ongoing thing; twice in the finals, I was rooting for the female (Katharine McPhee, Crystal Bowersox) who lost to a guy.

So this wasn't an easy conclusion for me: This year, the guys totally and completely dominate "Idol."

The women were good again tonight, but with one exception -- the magnificent Pia Toscano -- none could match the sheer brilliance of Jacob Lusk or James Durbin ... or the near-brilliance of Casey Abrams and Stefano Langone. Here are a few comments and predictions.

1) Abrams does a great scream. Still, when he sings "I'm gonna lose my mind," I don't immediately dismiss the possibility.

2) Haley Reinhart has, apparently, discovered her legs. For the second straight show, she wore short shorts; it was an excellent style choice. (Or maybe that's just that hetero thing doing the talking.)

3) Langone was on ideal turf in Motown night. Soul music -- from Jackie Wilson to the Motown stars, led by Smokey Robinson -- has always celebrated the high tenor voice. That's similar to the Italian tenor style that Langone does so well.

4) Then again, Jacob Lusk and James Durbin also hit the high notes beautifully, so they soared tonight. Things were much harder on Scotty McCreery, who had to take a Stevie Wonder song way, way down. The judges thougth he was great; I thought he was good.

5) That leaves Paul McDonald as the only guy I just don't get. I have no idea why he keeps getting the votes.

6) My prediction? It's complicated by the fact that Naima Adedapo had an exceptionally good night and Lauren Alaina had an OK one; even when she's bad, voters don't put her in the bottom. So my prediction for the bottom three goes like this: Thia Megia (partly hindered by being the second singer in a two-hour show, way too long before voting begins) ... and Haley Reinhart (despite the good growls and great fashion choice) ... and McDonald (as the first guy in the bottom; it has to happen sometime). Megia -- a good singer, competing with greatness -- will go home. 



Liz: Good actress, great movies

It's easy to focus on the character quirks of Elizabeth Taylor, who died today of heart failure at 79. She was, apparently, a good and decent person (one of the first in Hollywood to champion AIDS victims) and a bizarre person.

Still, let's focus on something else: She became a good actress who was in some truly great movies. Proof of that will come April 10, when Turner Classic Movies has an all-day Liz-athon.

TCM has just annonced its line-up; look over the list and you'll see some remarkable movie moments. Some of these ("Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," for instance) are great movies; some ("Virginia Woolf," for instance, capture Taylor at the top of her acting skills. All mark an impressive career.

Here's a complete schedule of TCM’s April 10 memorial tribute
to Elizabeth Taylor (all times Eastern):
6 a.m. – Lassie Come Home
(1943), with Roddy McDowall and Edmund Gwenn; directed by Fred M. Wilcox.
7:30 a.m. – National Velvet (1944), with Mickey Rooney, Anne
Revere and Angela Lansbury; directed by Clarence Brown.
10 a.m. – Conspirator (1952),
with Robert Taylor and Robert Flemyng; directed by Victor Saville.
11:30 a.m. – Father of the Bride (1950), with Spencer Tracy,
Billie Burke, Joan Bennett and Don Taylor; directed by Vincente Minnelli.
1:15 p.m. – Father’s Little Dividend (1951), with
Spencer Tracy, Billie Burke, Joan Bennett and Don Taylor; directed by Vincente
2:45 p.m. – Raintree County
(1957), with Montgomery Clift, Eva Marie Saint, Lee Marvin, Rod Taylor and
Agnes Moorehead; directed by Edward Dmytryk.
6 p.m. – Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), with Paul Newman
and Burl Ives; directed by Richard Brooks.
8 p.m. – Butterfield 8 (1960),
with Laurence Harvey and Eddie Fisher; directed by Daniel Mann.
10 p.m. – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966),
with Richard Burton, George Segal and Sandy Dennis; directed by Mike Nichols.
12:30 a.m. – Giant (1956), with James Dean and Rock Hudson;
directed by George Stevens.
4 a.m. – Ivanhoe (1952), with Robert Taylor and Joan
Fontaine; directed by Richard Thorpe.

Good news: "Onion News Network" and "Southland" will return

For cable viewers, two pieces of good news arrived today: "Onion News Network" and "Southland" have both been renewed.

These shows have nothing in common except that they are different from most and are well-made. Details include:

-- "Onion News Network" currently has reruns at 10 p.m. Fridays on IFC (Independent Film Channel); for that matter, it has lots of reruns ... this Friday (March 25), they go from 7:30-10:30 p.m. This is a pseudo-newscast, with the terse wit of the Onion pseudo-newspaper. Now it's been renewed for 16 episodes. It returns in October -- the same time that IFC has the six-episode second season of another excellent show, David Cross' "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret."

-- "Southland" is a cop show done with a quiet sense of character. TNT has renewed it for 10 episodes -- which is a lot when you consider that the show has totaled only 23 episodes in three seasons.

When I interviewed the "Southland" stars, prior to the season finale, they were moderately optimistic they'd be back. Here's the story, in the version I sent to papers at the time:


In the stop-and-go life of “Southland,”
there's a thin line between a season-finale and a death sentence.

This cop show has needed three seasons
to reach 23 episodes – a one-year load for most series. And as that
23rd one airs Tuesday -- (that was a few weeks ago) -- no one is positive there will be
any more.

“I think the show is getting picked
up,” said Michael Cutlitz, one of the show's two main stars. “I
think it's a matter of how many (episodes).”

What if he's wrong and Tuesday's
episode is the last? “I would just say we (made the) series that we
set out to produce,” he said. “And TNT has given us the
opportunity to do that, unflinchingly.”

That's clear in Tuesday's episode,
which works both ways. It would make a decent series finale, wrapping
up key plot lines; or it could propel “Southland” to survival …

NBC aired seven episodes in the spring
of 2009, giving them the old “ER” slot. It then put the show on
its fall schedule, but gave it a tough slot (8 p.m. Fridays), because
Jay Leno had all the 10 p.m. ones. And then it changed its mind,
airing none of the six new episodes it had paid for.

That's when TNT stepped in. It showed
those six episodes last spring, then had 10 more this year.

It did it with a lower budget that may
actually make this a better show. Instead of doing a scene over and
over, “Southland” has several cameras – often hand-held ones –
working simultaneously.

“We don't run down the street 12
times …. Usually, we run down it once or twice,” said Ben
McKenzie, who stars with Cudlitz.

In his old days as the “O.C.” star,
fight scenes were carefully planned. “Every fight I've ever been in
in my own personal life is not choreographed,” McKenzie said.

So for the the big fight in the season-finale, he
and the guest villain – an actor and stunt man who also happens to
be a mixed-martial-arts fighter (“in real life, he would kick my
butt”) – simply improvised. “It's messy,” McKenzie said. “And
that's the way a lot of fights are – messy.”

The result seems both raw and
realistic. So do the show's character issues.

McKenzie plays Ben Sherman, just
starting out as a street cop; Tuesday's episode follows his last day
as a rookie. Cudlitz plays John Cooper, his no-nonsense training

“You have two guys who couldn't be
more different on the face of it, but are actually more similar than
either of them realize,” McKenzie said.

Both are idealists, but Cooper hides
that under a pragmatic surface: Afraid of getting desk duty, he
refuses to report his bad back; instead, he has a mountain of pain
pills, only some of them prescribed.

He's a decent guy, if misguided. Now
he's heading toward a turning point as something – maybe the
season, maybe the series – ends.