Is life one big competition show?

Maybe we're reaching the point where all of life is one big reality-competition show.

That's how it will seem Wednesday (Sept. 15). In one dizzying night, four final champions will be named; that same night, two more shows start and one cotinues. Our VCR's might implode.

TV has always been about feast-or-famine, all-or-nothing, overload-or-wasteland, but this takes it to an extreme. The finales are:

-- 8-10 p.m.: "America's Got Talent" (NBC), a very silly show with some serious talent. I'm especially impressed by the pure-classical beauty emerging from the mouth of 10-year-old Jackie Evancho, but the others -- Prince Poppycock, Michael Grimm, Fighting Gravity -- are also worth catching. You can see their final performances from 9-10 p.m. Tuesday, then vote.

-- 8-10 p.m. (also): "MasterChef" (Fox) which skips the pros and has amateur chefs. It's down to its final four.

-- 9-11 p.m.: "Big Brother" (CBS), which gives someone lots of money, but no particular title. Best roommate? Loudest person?

-- 10-11 p.m.: "Top Chef: Washington" (Bravo). Right after the amateurs get their prize on Fox, the pros get one on cable. To get in the mood, you can watch the previous episodes at 8 and 9.

And then that's it -- except that the same night debuts two more shows. CBS has "Survivor" from 8-9 p.m., this time with an old-vs.-young theme in Nicaragua; Bravo has a new round of "Top Chef" at 11 p.m., this time focusing only on desserts.

Oh yes, the second round of "America's Next Top Model" is from 8-9 p.m. Wednesday, with an elimination you'll be glad to see. Try to keep all of these straight; otherwise, you'll be expecting the models to start singing arias and making cupcakes in the Nicaraguan wild. 



"Stars" winning formula: Reality pillages reality

ABC has now found the perfect way to
build a bigger reality show. Just borrow the parts from everyone
else's shows; then sprinkle them around and add music.

That started last season, when "Dancing With the Stars"
had Kate Gosselin (from TLC's “Kate Plus 8”) and Jake Pavelka
(from ABC's own “The Bachelor”). Ratings soared, so the new edition, just announced, has:

– David Hasselhoff, formerly of NBC's
“America's Got Talent.

– The Situation (that's a name, sort
of) from MTV's “Jersey Shore.”

– Audrina Partridge, from MTV's “The

– Bristol Palin, from the reality
show called politics.

The others are OK, following the usual
formula. There's the obligatory old person (Florence Henderson, 76),
a couple of good singers (Brandy and Michael Bolton), two prime
ex-athletes (Rick Fox and Kurt Warner), a moderately funny comedian
(Margaret Cho) and a Disney kid (Kyle Massey).

There's also one terribly clever twist:
Jennifer Grey – who was so good in “Dirty Dancing,” as a novice
learning to dance – now gets to do the same thing in real life.

All of that is fine, but the big draw
will be lumping those first four. It's all part of the modern TV
hierarchy: When you're watching one reality show, you're sort of
seeing people audition for other reality shows.

Parsons wins; the universe is correct

In a minute, I'm going to do a chronological view of the Emmys. First, however, let me jump to the good news; then I'll digress:

1) The good -- great, actually -- news: Jim Parsons has won the Emmy for best actor in a comedy series. Parsons is brilliant in "The Big Bang Theory," which has quickly become the best comedy on TV.

2) Now back to the start: For the red-carpet preview, I stuck with E this year, which was fortunate. Ryan Seacrest was prepared and topical and -- this is rare on red carpets -- non-ditzy. His colleague, Giulianna Rancic, alas, was mostly a total ditz.

3) Way too many women are wearing black this year. The commentators tried to claim that some of them were actually navy blue. Sure, if the navy has somehow become an undertakers' corps.

4) Jimmy Fallon's opening "Glee" number was a total delight. It was clever and original, with lots of cute detours. And even on NBC, it reminded us anew that Fox's "Glee" is the story of 2009-2010.

5) That led to one of my favorite promos of all time: Betty White gleefully said she was going to be on the season-opener of "Glee." When she was told it was really "Community," she asked: "'Community,' what's that?" It was a wonderful piece of humility, emphasizing the enormous gap between those shows.

6) In addition to Fallon, tonight's other big star was John Hodgman, who made the witty comments as the winners walk to the stage. He's an author and, occasionally, a "Daily Show" humorist, but he's probably better known from those old computer commercials, where he plays the bad one. Incidentally, his co-star on those commercials (Justin Long) went on to date Drew Barrymore and co-star with her in the movie "Going the Distance." I guess this Emmys job means that Hodgman got second prize.

7) Lauren Graham had double bad luck: Someone gave her an awful dress and then a worse joke to be delivered with Matthew Perry.

8) My predictions got off to a good start, anyway: I was two-for-two with Parsons and then Edie Falco ("Nurse Jackie"). The streak stopped, alas, when "Top Chef" ended the seven-year winning streak of "Amazing Race" -- and when Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad") won for the third straight year ... once again beating Hugh Laurie -- who should, of course, be the winner every year.

9) Whoever created that comedy film -- a network executive pushing changes for "Modern Family" -- deserves a special Emmy.

10) I wish the show "Under Covers" could be as good as the promo for it. Or half as good. So far (in the pilot film, at least), it's not.

11) I don't care how many times they run that stupid Avon commercial, I still think it's a bad career path.

12) On the flip side, I really like the commercial done by Mike Morelli, the Michigan State University sophomore who was runner-up on "The Biggest Loser." He comes across beautifully with a solid message: He and his dad really did lose 400 pounds, changing their lives.

13) OK, it's fun to be wrong sometimes. I thought Julianna Magulies ("The Good Wife") would win for best actress in a drama; still, I was glad to see Kyra Sedgwick finally win for "The Closer." She's been great every year.

14) I was wrong again and happy about it again. I though a sympathy vote would take Conan O'Brien to a win for best talk-variety show; instead, "The Daily Show" won yet again -- and I was delighted. I still think O'Brien was treated fairly and made a mistake when he left NBC; I also think "The Daily Show" (11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays on Comedy Central) is a delight.

15) Ricky Gervais announced that he hoped Bucky Gunts would win (for directing the Olympics opening ceremony) simply because of the name. "'Bucky Gunts?' I didn't think you could say that on TV." And then, in one of those neat twists, he did win.

16) George Clooney was, again, terrific. Fame happened to exactly the right guy.

17) Flashing back to earlier in the show, I really liked Fallon's introduction, saying that some people have so much lustre that they only need one name -- "and some are so insecure that they need three .... Here is Neil Patrick Harris."

18) Harris responded neatly by saying it's great to have the Emmys hosted for two straight years by a gay man. (Actually, Harris is and Fallon isn't.) As good as Fallon is, Harris remains my all-time favorite award-show host.

19) Jewel's song, backing the "In Memorium" section, was beautiful. Each year, it's considered a special honor to be the last person listed. This time, that went to David Wolper, the producer of "Roots" and other mini-series; this was especially important, because TV has almost forgotten that minis exist.

20) One of the great acceptance lines was by Adam Mazer, who wrote "You Don't Know Jack," the film about death-doctor Jack Kevorkian. To Kevorkian, who was in the audience, he said: "I'm so glad you're my friend -- and so glad you're not my physician."

21) It was 15 years ago that Steven Spielberg, talking to reporters in Hollywood, singled out two great young actresses -- Julia Ormond and Claire Danes. "Claire Danes is one of the most amazing actresses to debut in 10 years," he said then. Those two never worked together -- until now, when they played mother and daughter in the brilliant HBO movie "Temple Grandin." And tonight, they both won Emmys. As I said back in the first item, the universe is correct.

22) I had a nice little streak there, correctly picking the best actor and actress in a movie or mini-series (Al Pacino in "You Don't Know Jack," Danes in "Temple Grandin") and the best mini-series ("The Pacific"). That was broken when I missed the rest. Still, I'm delighted that "Temple Grandin" -- the best TV movie in years -- won.

23) I was also wrong in thinking "Mad Men" wouldn't win again for best drama. It did. Ironically, "Mad Men" fans had to learn about it later. In two time zones, their show was going on at the same time that it won the Emmy.

24) The final award was handed out to "Modern Family," as best comedy series. That left one irony: Even though "Glee" is clearly the show this season will be remembered for -- and even though it dominated the wonderful opening production number -- it got only two awards in the telecast, neither near the end: Jane Lynch won for best supporting actress, Ryan Murphy for directing.

25) The final count: Only five of my 12 predictions were right. (In two other cases, my preference -- "Temple Grandin" and "The Daily Show" -- won, but I didn't predict them.) The real-life Temple Grandin stood up four times in the audience and once onstage; the real-life Jack Kevorkioan stayed seated, but waved twice. A good time was had by all ... or, at least, all the winners. 






Gulf-TV; it's a great week

The twin Gulf disasters -- Hurricane Katrina and the oil spill -- were made-for-television events. They were on a human scale, on ground level, happening to real-life, blue-collar, average-Joe people. That helps explain why this is such a great week for TV.

The previous blog includes a full list (Aug. 22-29) and a story, interviewing Spike Lee and some Gulf people. (Some of these have already aired now, but Lee's wonderful documentary reruns from 7-11 p.m. Friday on HBO.) Since posting that, I've had a chance to see a couple of the things listed; a few comments:

-- "Frontline" airs from 9-10 p.m. Wednesday on most PBS stations. (Lansing viewers, alas, will have to wait until October to see this one, because WKAR has classical Wednesdays in the summer; the only solace I can offer is that Renee Fleming is luminous in the opera show that night.) It singles out one wretched case in which New Orleans police apparently let a man die, then burned the evidence. It also views the effect of rumor and fear: In the days following Katrina, the mayor, police chief and deputy chief spread rumors that turned out to be false. Some cops felt, incorrectly, that martial law had been declared.

-- "Forgotten on the Bayou" soars on the wondrous personality of Rockey Vaccarella. This is a 2007 documentary that airs from 8-10 p.m. Friday on the Weather Channel. It follows Vaccarella's quixotic attempt to take a FEMA trailer to Washington, D.C., and dine there with George W. Bush. In other hands, this might have been silly; with Rockey, it becomes a mad mixture of optimism, idealism and buoyant humanity. It typifies the best in Gulf coverage. 

Katrina coverage keeps growing ... and then growing some more

As the Katrina anniversary nears, TV's
coverage keeps growing – and then growing some more.

I sent a preview story – included
here – which some papers have already run. During that time:

– The list of TV and cable coverage
kept growing. I'll include the updated, expanded list here.

– And I just had a chance to see a
splendid example. “Forgotten on the Bayou” – following one
man's quixotic effort to take his story from New Orleans to the White
House – is fascinating. Definitely catch it, at 8 p.m. Friday (Aug.
29), the fifth anniversary of the day Katrina touched land in the

Anyway, I'll put both here -- first the expanded TV list, then the story:

(Here's the list, chronologically)

– “Hurricane Katrina: The First
Five Days,” 7-8 p.m. Aug. 22, on NBC's “Dateline.”

– “In America: New Orleans Rises”
vuews actor Wendell Pierce (“Treme”), who is working on the
rebuilding of his New Orleans neighborhood; 8 and 11 p.m. Aug. 22,

– “Storm Stories” has “Katrina:
Animals” at 8 p.m. Aug. 22 on the Weather Channel, followed by
“Katrina: Dolphins” at 9:30.

– “If God is Willing and Da Creek
Don't Rise,” Spike Lee's superb two-parter; 9 p.m. Aug. 23-24, HBO.

– “Witness Katrina,” a raw film
assembled from homevideos; 9-11 p.m. Aug. 23, National Geographic.

– “Storm Stories” has “Ride It
Out,” a look at people who stayed in New Orleans during Katrina, at
8 p.m. Aug. 23 on the Weather Channel. That's followed at 8:30 by “In
His Own Words: Brian Williams on Hurricane Katrina.”

– “Frontline” probes the New
Orleans police; 9 p.m. Aug. 25, PBS (check local listings).

– “Anderson Cooper 360” has a
three-day stay in New Orleans, 10 p.m. Aug. 25-27, CNN.

– “Katrina: Where Things Stand”
begins at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 26 on the ABC News, with Bob Woodruff
reporting. It continues the next morning on “Good Morning America,”
which Robin Roberts – who grew up in that area – hosts from Pass
Christian, Miss.

– Brian Williams anchors the NBC news
from New Orleans, Aug. 26-30. He also anchors a “Meet the Press”
there, Aug. 29.

– Rachel Maddow anchors hosts her
show from New Orleans, 9 p.m. Aug. 26-27 on MSNBC, which anchors its
daytime coverage there, Aug. 27-29.

– CBS anchors its morning shows in
New Orleans, Aug. 27-29; also, Russ Mitchell hosts the evening news
there, Aug. 29.

– “The Gulf is Back,” 8 p.m. Aug.
27, CW. Highlights of a concert with Lonestar, Ricky Skaggs, Terri
Clark, Brian McKnight and “American Idol” alumni Taylor Hicks, Bo
Bice and Ace Young.

– The Weather Channel has live
reports from Jim Cantore and Mike Bettes, Aug. 27-29. Also, the
channel debuts “Forgotten on the Bayou,” a stirring, 2007
documentary, at 8 p.m. Aug. 27.

– “Dr. Sanjay Gupta,” revisits
the now-closed Charity Hospital; 7:30 a.m. Aug. 28-29, CNN.

– “Brian Williams Reports: A Return
to New Orleans,” 10 p.m. Sept. 10, MSNBC.

– Two documentaries view the oil
spill aftermath; Sept. 28, National Geographic


(Now here's the story)


LOS ANGELES – Like any good
storyteller, Spike Lee was searching for a strong ending.

He figured he had one for his HBO
documentary, marking the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina: The
New Orleans Saints would win the Super Bowl.

“The Saints were going to win that
game,” Lee said. “We knew it; the Saints knew it.”

They did and the parties started, with
cameras rolling. “We thought we'd filmed the ending,” Lee said.

Ten weeks later, the British Petroleum
oil spill brought new chaos. Now that spill flows through some of the
documentaries on cable and broadcast.

“We went from Katrina to the
recession to the oil spill,” said Cheryl York, whose videotapes
(from Gulfport, Miss.) are included in National Geographic's “Witness

Others felt that same frustration.

The Super Bowl was definitely sweet,
said Eric Tiser, a Louisiana fisherman who will be featured in a
National Geographic Channel special next month. “My friends and I
partied for a month.”

When he talked to reporters recently,
he happened to be wearing the Saints jersey of Jeremy Shockey. He had
three more Saint jerseys at home; “I'm still proud of them,” he
said of the Saints.

But that win no longer offers a happy
ending for any of the films. “We had to rethink everything,” Lee
said. “(We) made another seven trips down to New Orleans.”

His first Katrina documentary –
which won three Emmys and a Peabody Award – eyed government
inaction. His new one rages at New Orleans actions that have closed
Charity Hospital and the housing projects. “I think the plan was to
get these poor black people out of the city,” Lee said. “People
are still in exile who want to come back.”

He also fumes about failures of the New
Orleans levees and the British Petroleum containment system.

“The connective tissue is greed,”
Lee insisted. “(The) Corps of Engineers cut corners in the
construction of the levee system …. It was greed again that reared
its ugly head with BP.”

The twin disasters battered fishermen
like Tiser, an American Indian (with Houma roots). His home was
destroyed by Katrina, he said; his job was destroyed by the oil

Desperate for work, he tried to be
hired by BP for the clean-up. “We'd go down there and wait in front
of the building …. And it would just be so hot. We'd be soaking
wet, waiting, trying to get a job. And they said they would hire us,
but we never got hired.”

Kindra Arnesen (also featured in the
September film) said her husband was hired, but many others in
Venice, La., weren't. “At least 50 per cent of our fishermen have
not worked one day, while people from all over the United States have
been allowed to come in and work.”

That has shattered Venice, a Gulf Coast
town on Mississippi River, Tiser said. “We got about 5,000 people
in our community. Now we got about 40-, 50,000 people in and out ….
It's not home no more.”

Arnesen said she kept pushing BP to
hire Tiser and others. “I brought them list after list of locals.”

Outsiders were hired and the local
economy sputtered, she said. “What's become a windfall for (some)
people … has become a community divider. Half of our community is
working; the other half is not.”