Dusty Rogers: Some things are worth repeating (a lot)

In the previous blog, I took an overview of the upcoming Rose Bowl parade. Here's a peek at one of the key people.


For Roy Rogers Jr., this veers close to
being too much of a good thing.

During the two-hour Tournament of Roses
parade Monday, he said, he plans to sing “the same song, over and
over and over.” Fortunately, he's fond of:

– The song, “Happy Trails,” which
he'll keep singing. “Almost 400 people have recorded it,” he

– The songwriter. That's Dale Evans,
his step-mother. He was only six days old when his mother died; his
dad married Evans a year later and they were together 51 years.

Roy Jr. (usually called Dusty) keeps
returning to three songwriters – Evans, Bob Nolan (from his dad's
group, Sons of the Pioneers) and Cole Porter. “That's a pretty good
combination,” he said.

Yes, Porter. Long before becoming a
city sophisticate, he grew up on an Indiana fruit ranch. His “Don't
Fence Me In” captured the cowboy persona; Roy Rogers sang it in two
movies and most concerts,

Now Dusty does the same. “We've tried
to change our shows some,” he said, “but then people say, 'Hey,
why didn't you sing this one?'”

So he doesn't take any chances. Each
concert includes Evans' “Happy Trails,” Porter's “Don't Fence
Me In” and Nolan's “Tumbling Tumbleweed” and “Cool Water.”

Lately, that's been in Branson, Mo., in
a show that includes Dusty and his son Dustin. They did a long gig at
Mickey Gilley's theater; in April, they start doing a 2 p.m. show
daily at the RFD-TV Theater.

“It works out well,” said Patrick
Gottsch, the RFD founder. “That's Dale Evans' 100th

On Nov. 5 of 2011, the channel
celebrated Rogers' 100th birthday; that's the reason for
the float that closes the parade, complete with Dusty, Dustin and the
stuffed Trigger and Bullet. Almost exactly a year later – Oct. 31,
2012 – is Evans' 100th birthday.

By then, RFD will have transformed. In
February, Gottsch is planning a second channel, Rural TV. It will
take some of the current agriculture and equestrian shows, giving RFD
more room for its music – from old “Hee Haw” to new Marty
Stuart – and cowboys, including Rogers Rogers.

“We already have all (100) of his TV
episodes and 30 of the movies,” Gottsch said. “We're working on
getting the others.”

There are plenty more out there: Making
as many as nine movies a year, Roy Rogers did 80 in all. He became
the symbol of the American cowboy … which is why his image closes
the parade, while his son and grandson sing the same song, over and

– RFD-TV, via cable – especially in
smaller towns – and satellite

– Tournament of Roses parade is 11
a.m. to 1 p.m. ET Monday, with a preview at 10; the entire block
reruns from 6-9 p.m.

– The next Roy Rogers movie is “Don't
Fence Me In” – theme song by Cole Porter – at 2 p.m. Tuesday,
rerunning at midnight

– Episodes of Rogers' TV show run at
12:30 p.m. Sunday, rerunning at 5:30 p.m. Thursdays and noon


Rose parade: An exercise in cable democracy

For all of its silliness, the Rose Bowl parade provides great fun each Jan. 1 -- or, this year, Jan. 2. Here's a story I sent to papers; I also put in some sidebars that I'll put here:


Booming through Pasadena, the
Tournament of Roses parade offers a sort of heightened Americana.

Here are 21 marching bands, 20
equestrian units and 21 floats. And here are masses watching it.

“A million people line the route,”
said Roy Rogers Jr., known as Dusty.”You don't have any idea how
many a million is until you see it. It's amazing.”

He knows this first-hand. He first rode
the parade with his dad when he was about 7, learning that “there's
a lot of smilin' and wavin'” for two hours. Now, 58 years later,
he'll be on the final float of Monday's parade, singing while
overshadowed by the 35-foot-high floral image of his dad, who would
have turned 100 in November.

That represents something else about
the parade – it's the ultimate in TV democracy.

Yes, the big guys are there. NBC will
cover it for the 58th time – or the 85th, if
you count radio; ABC joined the coverage when it landed the Rose Bowl
game (now moved to is sister channel, ESPN).

But others have an equal shot. HGTV and
Hallmark Movie Channel carry it commercial-free; RFD-TV has what
founder Patrick Gottsch calls “very, very few interruptions.”

For HGTV general manager Kathleen
Finch, the parade – with floats crafted from flowers – seems
ideal. “It's sort of crafting taken to the extreme,” she said.

And for RFD, it's partly about horses.
“The folks at the parade were happy to have someone who actually
wanted to show the equestrian units,” Gottsch said. “The others
might cut away.”

He'll show all the horses, including
the 100 golden palominos in the finale – 101, if you count Trigger.
Roy Rogers – who rode him in movies and TV shows for more than 30
years – had Trigger stuffed after his death in 1965; RFD bought him
in an auction a year ago for $266,500.

Now Trigger is on that finale float.
“It's spectacular, if I say so myself,” Gottsch said.

So is the HGTV float, Finch said. “It's
jaw-droppingly beautiful.”

As usual, it's a replica of the “Dream
Home” that some viewer will win. The real home (in Park City, Utah)
will be shown during an HGTV day that leans toward daydreams. “It's
a time to kick back, put your feet up and enjoy the beauty,” Finch

There's the dream home at 1 p.m. and
“Million Dollar Rooms” at 2. (“Believe it or not, there are
some bathrooms that cost a million,” she said.) Then comes two
hours of the ultimate home – the 57,000-square-foot home that TV
producers Aaron Spelling's widow sold after asking $150 million.

That's far from the RFD world. Gottsch
grew up on a Nebraska farm, where he used to watch Rogers and the
rose parade on TV. He started RFD-TV (for Rural Free Delivery) in
2000, with a mixture of shows on agriculture, horses, country music
and more.

Five years later, he finally saw the
parade in person. “It just seemed like a natural for us,” he

So RFD has been carrying the parade
ever since. This year, it gets that spot in the finale. “It's going
to be exciting,” Dusty Rogers said.

After two hours of parade, the final
image will be a floral Roy overlooking his stuffed horse and his son
and grandson as they sing: “Happy Trails to you, until we meet
again ...” Now, that's Americana.

– “Tournament of Roses Parade,”
11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday (Jan. 2), NBC, ABC, HGTV, RFD-TV and
Hallmark Movie Channel

– Reruns at 3 p.m. on Hallmark
Channel and 7 p.m. on RFD-TV.

– Previews at 10 a.m. on HGTV and
RFD-TV; preview reruns at 6 p.m. on RFD.

– HGTV follows with its “Dream
Home” special. ABC and NBC switch to football and hockey. RFD-TV
has various half-hours, including Marty Stuart at 3 p.m. and Lorianne
Crook at 4.

– The Rose Bowl game itself is 5 p.m.
on ESPN, which follows with the Fiesta Bowl at 8:30.


TV in 2011: Comedy came back, Oprah struggled

Earlier, I put my TV top-10 list here (see previous blog) and promises to add an overview of the TV year. Here's the the story I sent to paper:


For TV viewers, the new year started
with a new network and new hopes.

The Oprah Winfrey Network was born Jan.
1. Five days later, talking to TV critics, Winfrey discussed “how
absolutely extraordinary it is that I can (have) my name on a
network, coming from a little town in Mississippi … and growing up
without a television and begging my grandmother for a television.”

It was a giddy start to what would be a
mixed 2011. Viewers soon learned that no one could match what Winfrey
has done – not even Winfrey herself. Here's a glimpse of TV's year:

NEW NETWORK: After its big start, OWN
sagged. Its ratings barely topped the obscure network (Discovery
Health) it had replaced. Leaders were shifted; morning host Gayle
King left for CBS.

Still, there were strong efforts from
Rosie O'Donnell, the monthly “Documentary Club” and the weekly
“Our America With Lisa Ling.” Next, the weekly “Oprah's Next
Chapter” debuts at 9 p.m. Jan. 1.

TALK SHOWS: Winfrey ended her 25-year
daytime reign in May and the scramble for viewers began.

Newcomers, including Anderson Cooper
and Lisa Gibbons, had slight impact. Some “Oprah” viewers tried
Ellen Degeneres or Winfrey-produced shows “Dr. Phil,” “Dr. Oz”
and “The Nate Berkus Show.”

More contenders are on the way. They
include Katie Couric, Steve Harvey and Jeff Probst in September of
2012, then Queen Latifah a year later.

THE SOAPS: There was more daytime fuss,
when ABC announced the end of two soap operas.

After 41 years (all with Susan Lucci),
“All My Children” left on Sept. 23, replaced by “The Chew.”
After 43 years, “One Life to Live” will end Jan. 13, replaced by
“The Revolution.”

There was talk that both soaps would
continue Online, but the financing fell through. Soon, ABC and NBC
will have only one soap apiece; CBS will have two. ABC even plans to
shut down its SoapNet cable channel as soon as its replacement
(Disney Junior, expected in February) is ready to go.

COMEDIES: When Jerry Seinfeld left,
situation comedies seemed to fade. The number of non-cartoon sitcoms
went from 52 to less than a dozen.

Then the comeback began. This fall, ABC
and NBC each launched a second comedy night. The sitcoms grew in
quantity (21), quality (“New Girl,” “2 Broke Girls,”
“Suburgatory”) and ratings.

“Two and a Half Men” survived the
Charlie Sheen implosion to top the Nielsen ratings. In a recent week
(Dec. 5-11), there were four CBS sitcoms in the top 10. In the age
range (18-49) advertisers prefer, the top 10 has five CBS comedies,
plus ABC's “Modern Family” and Fox's “New Girl.”


– Dramas have sagged lately.
“Desperate Housewives” is in its final season; “House” and
“Grey's Anatomy” might be. ABC has finally mastered the crime
genre with “Castle” and “Body of Proof,” but other
big-network shows are mixed. Instead, quality drama has come from PBS
(“Masterpiece”) and cable. This year saw the end of great shows
on cable (“Rescue Me”) and satellite (“Friday Night Lights,”
rerunning on NBC) and the start of good ones on cable (“Boss,”
“Hell on Wheels”).

– Fox polished up “American Idol,”
to cover up the loss of Simon Cowell. The result was often too
chipper, but produced a worthy winner (Scotty McCreery) and strong
ratings. The copies – “The Voice,” “Sing-Off,” Cowell's
“X-Factor” – prospered, but none matched the killer power of

– Other reality shows dominated
tabloids and blogs and such. There was little revolt over the fact
that there are no marriages from “The Bachelor” and a 72-day one
from the Kardashians.

– In latenight, it began to seem like
Conan O'Brien should have stayed at NBC. It was a big deal when his
show debuted on TBS in November of 2010, but the attention faded.
George Lopez – who moved to midnight to make room for the “Conan”
show – didn't get a boost; his show ended in August.

– In news, Scott Pelley skillfully
took over when Katie Couric left CBS on May 18. Couric was soon doing
primetime specials on ABC and preparing her talk show. And at a time
when news magazines are content to tell crime stories, NBC's new
“Rock Center” offers a wide range of quality reporting.

– PBS showed skill at news, drama and
more. This fall, nine Fridays had performers – from ballerinas to
banjo players, from Placido Domingo to Pearl Jam. It was a strong way
to end a mixed year.

TV's top 10: My picks for 2011

This is the time when everyone gets to gripe and grumble about top-10 lists and such. Here's the one I set to papers; later, I'll also put my year-in-review story; let the grumbling begin:


TV critics agree on very little, except
that “Seinfeld” was funny, “West Wing” was smart and “H8R”
was a low moment in civilization.

So any top-10 list is an adventure.
Here's what I saw as the 10 best shows of 2011:

1) “American Masters.” The year
started with a living actor (Jeff Bridges) and ended with dead
designers (Charles and Ray Eames). It ranged from an imposing dance
master (Bill T. Jones) to an unimposing comic (Woody Allen); it had a
nature zealot (John Muir) and musicians – Pearl Jam, James Levine,
James Taylor, Carole King. The approaches varied; the quality didn't.
These were deep, involving portraits. (PBS, check local listings;
Eames is Dec. 19, Taylor-King reruns Dec. 30, Phil Ochs is Jan. 23)

2) “Friday Night Lights.” TV rarely
captures the rhythms of blue-collar or small-town life; this show did
perfectly. It projected deep emotions with a glance, a nod, a few
words. And occasionally, it had some football. (DirecTV, rerunning on
NBC; already concluded)

3) “The Daily Show.” In his 12 year
as anchor, Jon Stewart keeps getting better, reacting to life's
silliest moments. And this year – with presidential candidates
soaring and crashing – he's been in his glory. (Comedy Central, 11
p.m. Mondays through Thursdays)

4) “Big Bang Theory.” Other shows
rise and fall; “Big Bang” remains sharp and funny. Its writers
and actors show a love of the characters, even while knowing their
flaws. (CBS, 8 p.m. Thursdays)

5) “American Experience.” Back in
1961, young people confronted the core of racism. A half-century
later, they recalled the most important moments in their lives, in
“Freedom Riders.” That film – and a musical companion piece,
“Soundtrack of a Revolution” – were compelling, but many other
films were also superb. They ranged from New York's deadly Triangle
fire to consecutive portraits of the Civil War foes, Robert E. Lee
and U.S. Grant. (PBS, new season starts Feb. 20-21)

6) “Rescue Me.” In its seven
seasons, Denis Leary's show ranged from goofy comedy to the pain of
firemen who couldn't connect to the outside world. The finale
included all of that, a rich farewell to great characters. (FX,

7) “Modern Family.” Most comedies
are content with one or two good characters; this show has 10 or
more, each wonderfully likable and wonderfully flawed. All six
grown-ups drew Emmy nominations and the kids are worthy too. They're
part of a neatly textured comedy, (ABC, 9 p.m. Wednesdays).

8) “Downton Abbey.” After adapting
the classics, Julian Fellowes came up with a better idea – original
scripts, set in olden times. He won an Oscar for “Gosford Park,”
an Emmy for this one. “Abbey” also won for best mini-series,
despite some melodramatic touches and a weak ending. That last part
may seem OK when the sequel arrives Jan. 8. (PBS, check local
listings;reruns Dec. 18, Dec. 25, Jan. 1.)

9) “Justified.” The first season
was filled with tersely terrific dialog in the Elmore Leonard style.
The second added a worthy opponent, a crime matriarch in the Kentucky
Hills; Margo Martindale played it to Emmy-winning perfection. (FX,
third season starts Jan. 17)

10) “New Girl” … or maybe “2
Broke Girls” … or “Whitney.” Each of these new shows tends to
be a bit too jokey. Still, they're great fun and (with “Suburgatory”)
part of a wave of fresh, female-focused comedies. (“New” is 9
p.m. Tuesdays, Fox; “Broke,” 8:30 p.m. Mondays, CBS; “Whitney,”
9:30 p.m. Thursdays, NBC, soon movig to Wednesdays; “Suburgatory,”
8:30 p.m. Wednesdays, ABC).

Also 10) Let's give a nod to two others: The year's best TV movie was Lifetime's "Five," a beautiful blend of five separate films about the impact of breast cancer. And on Starz, "Torchwood: Miracle Day" was superb science-fiction, the sort we expect from producer-writer Russell Davies.


For Bell, at least, TV movies are alive and well

TNT's mystery-movie experiment has been worthy (albeit flawed).

The cable network took six successful novels and turned them into TV movies. The result: There have been excellent performances (especially by Michael Cutlitz in last week's "Silent Witness"), skilled directors and -- surprisingly -- so-so stories.

Tonight's film -- "Good Morning, Killer," Tuesday, Dec. 13, with weeend reruns -- continues that trend. The story is flawed, with FBI agents getting easy breaks, but failing to finish things off; the director (Maggie Greenwald) and star (Catherine Bell) do excellent work. Here's a story I sent to papers about Bell:


Large chunks of Hollywood seem to think
TV movies no longer exist.

Still, you can't prove that by
Catherine Bell. “I'm really cornering the market,” she said with
a laugh.

It seems that way. “Good Morning,
Killer” is the third one she's starred in during the past six

Bell has nothing against series, of
course. She's done five seasons of “Army Wives,” nine of “JAG.”

Still, TV movies – basically
abandoned by all the big networks – are key. They're a different
experience for the viewer – “you sit down for two hours and go
through an entire story,” Bell said – and for the actor. This
year, she's been an ex-spy with martial arts skills (“Last Man
Standing”), a sweet-tempered witch (“The Good Witch's Family”)
and now an FBI agent.

“My favorite thing is learning about
all the different jobs,” Bell said.

For “Killer,” she learned about FBI
agents. “They're very cerebral, very intelligent, very methodical
…. The females I met were very strong and fearless, (but) it's more
intellectual than physical.”

That's the case in this film, which
April Smith adapted from her own novel. Ana Grey (Bell) leads an FBI
team, trying to track someone who has been kidnapping young women.

And yes, there could be more. Smith has
written three more Ana Grey movies; Bell – who has already done
four “Good Witch” films for Hallmark – would be glad to return.

In real life, Bell might have had
steady work like her characters do. She was studying biology at UCLA,
hoping to be a surgeon or a biomedical engineer.

Then a quicker route appeared: “I was
tall and skinny, so someone said, 'Hey, you should be a model.'
Then I took an acting class and really liked it.”

She had the basics – tall enough
(5-foot-10) to play opposite David James Elliott in “JAG,” with a
serene face suitable for a good witch. She knows Farsi (the language
of her Iranian-born mother) and martial arts. Now she's equipped to
corner the TV-movie market.

– “Good Morning, Killer”

– 9-11 p.m. Tueday (Dec. 13), TNT

– Reruns at midnight; also, latenight
Friday (12:30 a.m. Saturday) and noon Saturday

– TNT had mystery movies on Tuesdays
and Wednesdays for two weeks; the final two are Tuesdays

– The last one, Dec. 20, is “Deck
the Halls,” by Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark; Scottie
Thompson and Kathy Najimy star