"Archer" takes aim


If Thursdays are meant for laughs -- they are, really -- then why stops at 10 p.m.?

Wise viewers start with CBS' "Big Bang Theory," then switch to NBC for three more comedies. There's more tonight, though, with the season-opener of the animated "Archer" at 10, with Burt Reynolds as guest star; here's the story I sent to papers:

 

By MIKE HUGHES

Even Hollywood people can be impressed
by some celebrities – especially ones who have had movie stardom
... and a museum.

So there is “Archer,” the animated
comedy adventure, opening its season with a guest star. “I couldn't
get over the fact that I was sitting in a room with Burt Reynolds,”
said producer Adam Reed.

Reed visited Reynolds in Florida, to
record the dialog. “We went to the museum,” he said.”I got to
touch the 'Deliverance' canoe.'”

Yes, a Burt Reynolds Museum was
established in the actor's home town of Jupiter, Fla., complete with
the canoe from “Deliverance” and lots of posters and pictures and
costumes and such. Reynolds, 75, seems to fit easily into this show.
After all, “Archer” has:

– A wild, adventure flair –
something Bond-like, maybe Burt-like.

– A mixture of ages. George Coe, 82,
plays Woodhouse, a butler Coe describes as “a more sympathetic
character, a person who's more rooted in reality and hard drugs.”
Jessica Walter, 70, plays Sterling's mom and boss and (in the opener)
Reynolds' lover.

“I'm still basking in the fact of
being considered a younger person when (Coe) was speaking,” Walter
said. “That hasn't happened in a while.”

She rules a staff of adventurers.
Sterling has an authoritative voice – “it's the sound of a hero,”
said H. Jon Benjamin, who plays him – and a self-confidence that's
rarely justified.

Then there's Lana Kane. In the
tradition of animated heroines, she has talent, skill and large
breasts.

“How can she stand at this point?”
askd Aisha Tayler, who plays her. “She's going to die like a turtle
on her back, suffocating under the weight of her own breasts.”

Or not. In the animated-adventure
world, characters rarely die. They keep finding adventures, romance
and, at times, Burt Reynolds.

--”Archer,” 10 p.m. Thursdays, FX

--The Burt Reynolds episode opens the
season Jan. 19. It repeats at 11:01 p.m. and 1 a.m., also, a week
later at 12:30 a.m.

 

Globes are gone; "Idol" is next


Some quick comments on many things and then a story about the new "American Idol" season:

1) I really did not like Sunday's second football game. REALLY. However, let's remember that the Packers finished with the year's best record, 15-2.

2) Ricky Gervais had some great moments in the opening monolog of the Golden Globes ceremony, then sort of faded away. He'll be back next month, with a hilarious HBO show.

3) Many Globe viewers could only shrug about the winners. They've probably seen "Modern Family" (best TV comedy), but not "Homeland" (best TV drama), "The Artist" (best movie comedy) or "The Descendants" (best movie drama). "Descendants" is an extraordinarily subtle film, beautifully crafted but without the size and scope of the movies we expect to win awards.

4) It was great to see "Downton Abbey" win for best TV movie or mini-series. The award came right about the time the second chapter of its sequel was starting on PBS. Make sure you catch the rest of the sequel, at 9 p.m. Sundays.

5) Today (Monday, Jan. 16) is huge on TV. Please read my three blogs prior to this one, all on Monday shows -- "Alcatraz," Betty White's 90th birthday and Ashton Kutcher and "Two and a Half Men."

6) And then it's on to the Wednesday season-opener of "American Idol." Here's the story I sent to papers:

By MIKE HUGHES

In its earliest, giddiest years,
“American Idol” had some traditions.

Ratings were huge, Simon Cowell was
harsh, the winners were stars. And the female judge was the flashiest
dresser.

Now – as the 11th season
begins – everything is different. For one day of auditions,
Jennifer Lopez arrived in a basic tee-shirt, while Steven Tyler had
layers of violet and purple.

“The hat, the feather,” Lopez said
with a laugh. “I love that … we have different senses of style.”

Added Tyler: “I always wear
Jennifer's clothes anyway,”

In a way, that accented the biggest
change in “Idol” lately: The contestants have had mixed success,
but the new judges, the host and the show have soared.

Last year's winner had fair success
with singles (No. 15 and No. 28 on Billboard's country charts) and
had a No. 1 album. “Scotty McCreery is now a platinum artist.”
said Randy Jackson, one of the judges.

Still, the previous winners (Lee
DeWyze, Kris Allen) made little impact. By comparison, the show's
regulars have found fresh stardom.

Ryan Seacrest, the host, is weighing
big-money possibilities with NBC. Lopes is big in movies, music and
tabloids. And Tyler revived his rock career at 63, after he and Lopez
became judges last year.

“I can't go anywhere now, because of
the show,” Tyler said, “because of the notoriety. It took
Aerosmith sales up 260 percent last year.”

But can “Idol” create stars? It
does, at least, do better than its competitors do.

“Leona Lewis was kind of a
one-and-a-half hit star for 10 minutes,” producer Ken Warwick said
of a winner of “The X Factor” in England, “but there are no
Kelly Clarksons, Carrie Underwoods.”

He and others reel off the list of
“Idol” alumni who have soared – some as winners (Clarkson,
Underwood), some as mere finalists (Jennifer Hudson, Chris Daughtry,
Adam Lambert and Katharine McPhee, who has stunning moments in the
upcoming NBC series “Smash”).

Such matters are important, because
“Idol” faces a fresh wave of competitors. NBC has the
Cowell-produced “America's Got Talent” in the summer and “The
Sing Off” in the fall; it's also giving the second edition of “The
Voice” a huge launch after the Super Bowl. Fox reluctantly start
competing with itself this fall with the U.S. version of “X
Factor,” with Cowell as producer and judge.

“Simon has done well with his show,”
Jackson said. “(but) probably not the expectations he wanted.”

Mike Darnell, who supervises both shows
for Fox, sees them as opposites. “'X Factor' is by its nature sort
of over-the-top. (Idol') is more intimate.”

It is sometimes the rawest sort of
music audition – one nervous kid, with little or no back-up. “This
is the most authentic talent show,” Jackson said.

And the flash and spectacle? Sometimes,
that's confined to Tyler's clothing choices.

– “American Idol,” Fox

– Opens this week, 8-10 p.m.
Wednesday, 8-9 p.m. Thursday, and about 10 p.m. ET (after football)
on Sunday, Jan. 22

– Then Wednesdays and Thursdays, plus
a Tuesday episode (its 400th overall) on Feb. 28.

– Auditions through Feb. 8, Hollywood
round through Feb. 16, then more sifting. The finalists will be
announced March 1, with the weekly eliminations starting March 7-8.

 

Alcatraz: Fictional thrills, real place


Monday (Jan. 16) is an overcrowded day for TV viewers. Please catch my previous blogs on Betty White and Ashton Kutcher; here's the brief story I sent to papers on "Alcatraz":

By MIKE HUGHES

For the people from ”Lost,” the new
series was a bit easier.

This time, they didn't have to make up
the island. Alcatraz – once a prison, now a tourist spot – is
real, just off San Francisco.

“It's so scary, because it's so
close,” said director-producer Jack Bender. It's “a very unique
place in the world (with) almost a contemporary, Edgar Allan Poe
vibe.”

And now it has “Alcatraz,” the TV
series. Like “Lost,” the show has J.J. Abrams as producer, Bender
as principal director (after the pilot), Jorge Garcia as one of the
stars. Like “Lost,” it has a spooky, sci-fi mood; this time, past
prisoners are returning – unchanged and un-aged --after 50 years.

That's bad news, producer Jennifer
Johnson said. “Alcatraz is notorious and the criminals who were
housed there were the worst of the worst.”

The show filmed part of its pilot at
the real Alcatraz, then may return occasionally during the season.
This is partly a catch-the-crooks story, with Sarah Jones, Sam Neill
and others as cops. Dominating the pilot, however, is the menacing
mood of Alcatraz itself.

“It has that kind of creepiness that
an old skeleton has,” Garcia said.

“It feels a little bit like a ghost
house,” Abrams added. “You feel like you;re in this haunted
house.”

It's a haunted house, however, that's
ready for some TV stardom.

– “Alcatraz,” Mondays, Fox

– Opener Jan. 16, is 8-10 p.m.; then
9 p.m.

 

Betty White's first 90 years have been fun


One of the pleasures of Television Critics Association tours involves interviewing Betty White. Now she's busier than ever, with her 90th birthday coming Tuesday and a TV party Monday. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By MIKE HUGHES

A strange thing has happened to old
folks in show business … and maybe everywhere else.

They have simply kept going. That was
clear during recent Television Critics Association sessions.

There was Tim Conway at 78, with droll
comedy ad-libs. And Tony Bennett at 85, with an immaculate concert.
“I have to do it,” Bennett said. “And it will always be that
way; I will never retire.”

Then there was Betty White, unimpressed
by Bennett's age. “He's a kid,” she said.

On Tuesday, White turns 90; one day
earlier, NBC gives her a birthday special.

Robert Greenblatt, NBC's programming
chief, calls her “one of our national treasures”; right after the
special, he has a sneak-preview of a show the network calls “Betty
White's Off Their Rockers.”

White grants that she has little to do
with “Rockers,” other than hosting and sometimes meeting the
elderly people who pull hidden-camera tricks. Still, she has a lot
else to do, including a cable comedy and talk-show appearances. In
the past year, she's been with Letterman, Leno, Kimmel, Fallon,
Ferguson , Stewart and Ripa; she's won an Emmy (her seventh) for
hosting “Saturday Night Live.”

Yes, she loves the attention. “I'm in
the acting business,” White said. “That's the ego business.”

And she figures she shares a passion
with Bennett and others.

“They love what they do and … that
keeps you energized,” White said. “In the first part of your
career, you're trying so hard to get somewhere. (If) the jobs keep
coming in, you've got to celebrate.”

She was a California kid who was at
pioneering station KTLA, almost 70 years ago.

“I did my first television show in my
graduation-from-high-school dress,” White said. “The senior-class
president and I went downtown and the audience was standing around in
the Packard showroom and we were up in the fifth floor, doing a
version of 'The Merry Widow.' And it was very exciting and all that,
but I never thought it would go.”

It did and she became an on-air
sidekick for the daytime “Al Jarvis Show.” She made $5 for doing
one show a week, then $50 for five shows and $150 a week for six
shows a week.

“I thought I had died and gone to
heaven,” White said. Soon, she was adding another show. “I
started a half-hour (weekly) variety show at night, where I could
sing. And it was like going to television college, because everything
that happened to you happened on camera. You had to handle it.”

It was at that station in 1953 that she
made “Life With Elizabeth,” a sweet-spirited marital situation
comedy that sometimes had just two people and an announcer. It ran
for two short seasons, syndicated nationally; bigger sitcoms – from
“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” to “The Golden Girls” –
followed.

Now – 59 years after that first
sitcom – she has “Hot in Cleveland” and a grand birthday party.
“I have a major regret – that Allen Ludden isn't with me,”
White said.

He was the Phi Beta Kappa game-show
host who met White – a sharp game-player – when she was a
“Password” contestant. They were married for 18 years; she's been
widowed for 30.

She spends her time writing books,
working on projects involving animals (especially dogs) … and, now,
being celebrated for her age.

“Don't give me any credit,” White
said, “I didn't do anything to get to be 90. It just happened.”

Betty White everywhere

– “Betty White's 90th
Birthday” and “Off Their Rockers,” 8 and 9:30 p.m. Monday, NBC,

– “Hot in Cleveland,” 10 p.m.
Wednesdays, TV Land, plus reruns. Leading into the birthday, they
include 5-9 p.m. Saturday, 9-11 a.m.Sunday; also, 11 p.m. Tuesday,
her birthday

– “Golden Girls” reruns, 8-10
a.m. weekdays, Hallmark; also, birthday-eve marathon, 3 p.m. to 2
a.m.

– Several books; the latest is “If
You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won't)

 

Ashton's uncovered face is back


Ashton Kutcher showed up at the Television Critics Association sessions today, complete with a less-hairy face. Here's the story I sent to papers; also, please read the previous blog on Anna Deavere Smith's one-woman play Friday on PBS:

By MIKE HUGHES

Now that viewers have embraced the
new-look “Two and a Half Men,” they'll have a newer look to
adjust to: On Monday, Ashton Kutcher's character cuts his hair and
beard.

“It's a really funny episode,”
Kutcher said today. “You should watch it.”
The clean-shaven look had
propelled Kutcher through years as a model, then “That '70s Show”
and romantic comedy movies. Between jobs, however, that changes.

“When I'm not working, I let it be a
growing field,” Kucher said, in case the next role calls for more
hair. So he happened to meet producers during a hairy time. Lorre
says he liked the notion of “someone who doesn't look like anyone
else on television.”

Or think like anyone else. “The first
time I met Ashton,” Lorre sai, “he launched into a discussion of
the computer codes of Skype.”

That's the flip side of Kutcher, who
has companies dealing with tech, investment and TV. “I was a
biolchemical engineering major in college,” he said. “I've always
stayed up with the technology.”

So his character became an Internet
billionaire, moping about his impending divorce. “There's a
childlike quality we intentionally brought to the character,”
Kutcher said.

It was a big change from the sardonic
humor of the character Charlie Sheen played, but audiences have
stayed. In the Nielsen ratings for last week, “Men” was No. 6
overall and No. 5 for ages 18-49; it had more viewers then its top
timeslot competitors (“The Bachelor” and “Fear Factor”)
combined,

The final Sheen season wasn't as
chaotic as people thing, the producers and actors say. “Charlie was
always awesome on the set,” said Angus Jones, who plays the teen
Jake. “It was never not fun.”

But as Sheen's substance problems grew,
there was consideration of simply ending the show after the eighth
season. “We absolutely considered it,” Lorre said.

CBS insisted and they pondered the new
characters. “We went through all the possibilities,” Lorre said,
exaggerating a bit. “He's a rabbi,he's an alien, he's a talking
horse ...”

Then they met Kutcher and decided he's
a lovelorn tech guy with lots of hair – for a while. On Monday's
episode – the 15th in a 24-episode season – Zoey
(British actress Sophie Winkleman) tries to convince him to get a
shave and haircut.

Things are settled now – except that
Kutcher only signed a one-year deal. He's talking about doing a
couple of movies, but would do them in what he refers to as the
hiatus. “I would be interested in coming back, if we can work it
out.”

– “Two and a Half Men,” 9 p.m.
Mondays, CBS