Watch something Sunday (please)

Summers used to be kind of simple for TV columnists. People would schedule a lot of reruns and a few odd summer shows. We'd write something about how there should be more new shows in the summer; then we'd go to the beach and sing and dance with girls in bikinis.

(I'm not entirely sure about that last part. Sometimes, my memories mingle with the movies I've seen.)

And then something strange happened: TV people actually did what we told them; they scheduled lots -- LOTS -- of summer shows. Suddenly, we had to do a lot more.

How much more? For the Sunday, June 20 column -- just hit the "TV column" thing above -- I watched 14-and-a-half  hours of new shows.

Anyway, you'll see all of them in that Sunday column -- plus the series finale of "Tudors," which should have been there.

Please watch something in there. A lot of people (TV columnists, mostly) are working harder this year.

"Dance": This year, the guys rule

"Our boys are so, so strong," Nigel Lythgoe said during Wednesday's round of "So You Think You Can Dance."

Tonight, we learned that the viewers agree. Consider:

-- The judges had picked six guys for the final 11. When viewers voted after Wednesday's show, all six escaped the bottom.

-- Judges picked five women for the finals; viewers promptly plunked the majority of them into the bottom three.

It was Alexie Agdeppa who was sent home. Judges had said she was just being cute, instead of capturing the emotion of the piece; still, Nigel Lythgoe said, "people vote for cute."

Sorry Nigel, wrong show. On "American Idol," cute gets votes; just ask Jasmine Trias, David Archuletta, Ramiele Malubay or, of course, Sanjaya Malakar. On "Dance," cute gets sent home.

(Cute, incidentally, can also get you a great video. I thought the Justin Bieber video that debuted tonight, with Usher in support, was beautifully made.)

This year's men are extraordinary: Alex Wong is a magnificent ballet talent whose performance Wednesday was triumphant. Billy Bell arrived as an acclaimed contemporary dancer; Kent Boyd -- a raw kid from a farm -- suggests early Billy. Jose Ruiz is a brilliant B-boy, a great swirl of fun. Robert Roldan is big and impressive; Adechike Torbert is sunny.

These guys are, indeed, "so so strong." It will be a fun summer.









One word for "Dance" tonight -- Hallelujah

Here's a tip to remember when you become a contestant on "American Idol" or "So You Think You Can Dance": Make sure you do something that involves Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah."

One year on "Idol," that song propelled Jason Castro from also-run to contender. Another year, it nudged Lee DeWyze toward the championship. And now it has brought a "Dance" triumph.

Sonya Tayek composed a gorgeous piece to that song. Alex Wong -- a former Miami Ballet soloist -- danced it beautifully with his "all-star" partner, Allison. Two of the judges gave it a standing ovation; the third (Nigel Lythgoe) told the people involved: "You have just set a new standard for 'So You Think You Can Dance.'"

It was a great moment. Wong and Billy Bell -- the two people who would have been on the show earlier, except that circumstances intervened -- are major contenders.

Come to think of it, "Hallelujah" should find a way to be in all reality competitions. Cook to it, build to it, model to it; this song seems to make people better. A few of my other comments; please add yours:

1) I thought there was a lot of beauty to Ashley Galvan's number, too. Judges were hard on her, granting only that she's "a very special little bunny," but I thought there was lyrical splendor to the piece.

2) Lythgoe was having a bad-pun night, including "beauty and the weave." This from the guy who once triumphed with "what a difference Ade makes."

3) Lythgoe also made a soccer reference. We knew there was a danger of this, once we started letting Brits into the country.

4) Some of the other top moments were turbo-charged. Bell was particularly good in what he called an "insanely fast" piece.

5) Please remind Cat Deeley to never (that's NEVER) wear her hair up. With it down, she's beautiful; with it up, she's just one step away from Victoria Beckham, two baby steps from Skeletor.

6) Speaking of hair, remember when Tayek was being typecast as an odd-looking person who choreographed odd-looking hip-hop pieces? Not any more. Tayek -- a Wayne State University alumna from Detroit -- has shown she can also create warm beauty.

7) It was a good night overall, boosted by the new notion of an all-star withy each contestant. The only problem is deciding who will be in the bottom three. I'll guess it will be Melinda Sullivan, Adechika Torbert and Cristina Santana. None of them really deserve to be sent home; neither did anyone else.





Tony went to -- surprise -- a new musical with new music

"The Tony Awards," the announcer said proudly, "with the music of Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Green Day -- and the best of Broadway composers."

That last part seemed almost like an after-thought. Of the four nominees for best musical, only one ("Memphis") had new music. Most shows simply put old songs in new settings. That included the other three nominees -- "Million Dollar Quartet," "Fela" and "American Idiot" -- and the unnominated "Come Fly Away."

The good news? The one completely original show, "Memphis," won the Tony. Here are a few of my comments; please add yours:

1) Listening to that Sinatra song again, I realized that his prediciton was correct. "I'm gonna live until I die," he said; he did.

2) Neil Patrick Harris remains the best host of the Tonys (or just about anything else) ever. Still, Sean Hayes did a good job. And don't you think his family was proud to see those piano lessons pay off?

3) There was great fun had by unnominated stars. Kristin Chenoweth even did an imaginary faint, when realizing she didn't get a nod. Still, let's remember that Nathan Lane was just repeating a line that was said by Bob Hope, long ago. Back then, it was: "Welcome to the Academy Awards ... or, as they call it in my house, 'passover.'"

4) The show started and ended with great oomph -- first with a thundering medley of musical moments ... and then with the "Memphis" winners adding one more performance.

5) Acceptance speeches tended to start well, then deteriorate into lists. Also, I'm in favor of rescinding any award that goes to someone who then weeps.

6) One of the great moments came from Lea Michele, with a spectacular, Barbra-worthy "Don't Rain on My Parade." She's on "Glee" now, but her first fame came from the Tony-winning "Spring Awakening." That was a musical with original songs ... which is kind of what you expect prize-winning musicals to have.





Bobby Flay, Vern Yip, Next Food Network

OK, I've been a bit sparse with the blogs lately. Blame holidays or life or me or something.

But we should note that this is the start of the summertime skills competitions. We're not just talking about singers and dancers and comedians; it's prime time for cooks and designers and even artists.

Here's a line-up, followed by two stories I sent to papers -- on chef Bobby Flay and designer Vern Yip. These are guys who have talent, zest and wonderfully short surnames.

The line-up includes:

– “HGTV Design Star,” 10 p.m.
Sundays, starting June 13

– “Hell's
Kitchen,” 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Fox;

-- “Work of Art” debuts at 11 p.m.
Wednesday on Bravo, then moves to 10 p.m.

-- “Next Food
Network Star,” 9 p.m. Sundays, Food Network.

-- "HGTV Design Star," 10 p.m. Sundays, HGTV.

-- “Top Chef, D.C.,” 10
p.m. Wednesdays, starting June 16, Bravo.

-- “Masterchef,” 9 p.m.
Tuesdays, starting July 25, Fox.


Bobby Flay's life has known two speeds
– zero and overdrive.

The first filled his early years. “I
was 17 and I had no interest in anything,” he said.

He dropped out of high school and
worked at a restaurant, mostly because he had to work somewhere. Then
everything clicked. Now Flay owns five restaurants and a string of
burger spots; he has his own shows and hosts “The Next Food Network
Star,” which is starting a new edition. In his spare time, he's a
football buff who's married to a glamorous actress.

His schedule takes some focus; Flay is
up by 6 a.m. daily and was doing this phone interview at 7.

“You have to be relentless,” he
said. “Restaurants are living, breathing things.”

Being a TV celebrity is also
complicated. That's clear in “Food Network Star,” now in its
sixth season.

Here are 12 amiable contestants. They
range from veteran chefs to “someone who has a lot of knowledge
about food because she's been cooking for her family for years,”
Flay said.

All are good at food; not all are good
at meeting time limits. “There's a tendency to overshoot,” he
said. “We think we can do more than we can.”

Some are naturals at working in front
of a camera. Aria Kagan, a single mom from rural Wisconsin, impressed
judges quickly. “She's very likable,” Flay said.

Others flounder, he said. “It's very
complicated – doing something and talking to the camera.”

Flay suspects his own early appearances
on “Live With Regis & Kathy Lee” were “a little dull.”
Still, people always seemed interested in this combination – a New
York Irishman who studied French cooking, then specialized in
Southwest flavors.

Once his restaurant job hooked him,
Flay went to the French Culinary Institute in New York. He studied
with two chefs, one of them big on Southwest ingredients. That became
a specialty in restaurants, barbecue shows and more.

TV also became key. Flay is known for
cooking contests, in “Throwdown” and “Iron Chef”; friends
introduced him to Stephanie March, who has played Assistant District
Attorney Alexandra Cabot, off and on for a decade of “Law &
Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Conviction.” Their marriage
in 2005 was his third, her first.

And does March ever do the cooking? “I
like him, I wouldn't cook for him,” she once said. “That would be
terrible. I wouldn't do that to him.”

They eat out, order in. Flay likes to
cook on Sundays, the one time he might slip out of overdrive.


At times, the thrust for fame comes
down to something this basic:

Here is a room – bare and boxy, small
and white and unadorned. Now make it pretty.

“HGTV Design Star” contestants
tackle that each year, but this time (June 13) it's the first

“I love the idea of starting with the
white box this year,” said Vern Yip, a judge on the show. “It's a
level playing field …. It's such a wonderful way to get to know

Each summer brings a fresh flurry of
skills competitions. Alongside the usual (singers, dancers,
comedians), there are shows for cooks and artists and designers.

“Design Star” is one of the
leaders, partly because the winners quickly become HGTV stars.
Indeed, David Bromstad (the 2006 winner) debuts a show right after
the “Star” opener.

Still, there are also some key changes
this year:

– Mark Burnett, the “Survivor”
boss, is the new producer.

– There's no host. The judges –
Yip, Candice Olson and Genevieve Gorder – handle that.

– The show has moved to New York
City, where it will embrace local flavor. Contestants will find
themselves designing at a firehouse, a flower market, a runway show.

Still, some things remain constant.
That includes Yip as judge and the white-box room as a challenge.

To fix up that room, contestants have
little time, little money and some odd requirements. This year, each
had to design it around the tastes of another contestant.

Some people try to do too much. This
year, one inexplicably tossed feathers around the floor.

And some do too little. Yip proclaimed
that one room ended up looking like a prison cell; the contestant
“sort of admitted she didn't have a lot of excitement there,” he

And sometimes, people get it just
right. Last season, Yip decided that Dan Vickery had created the most
perfect white-box design in “Star” history.

That led to a strong finale: The
quietly precise Vickery was runner-up; Antonio Bellatore – a
former rock guitarist, big and bold and bearded – was the winner.
“Antonio sort of represented a variation we didn't have before,”
Yip said.

It was a reminder that HGTV designers
come in all variations. Yip also proves that.

Born in Hong Kong, he grew up in the
U.S., in a family of achievers. “The Chinese culture, puts a lot of
attention on math and science, because that's where we see people
succeed,” he said.

His family is filled with doctors and
scientists. When a kindergarten teacher noticed his talent and
suggested an arts-oriented school, his mom refused. “I'm really
glad that's what she did,” he said. “It made me a more
well-rounded person.”

He majored in chemistry and economics
and added a Master of Business Administration. Then he became an
architect, a designer, a TV host (coming next is an “Urban
Oasis” special) and a TV judge.

That last part often leaves him
overshadowed (literally) by his colleagues. Yip says he isn't really
as short as it seems, but his colleagues have high heels. He stands
5-foot-8, Gorder is 5-10-and-a-half; Olson – a former member of
Canada's national volleyball team – tops 6-foot. Design stars, it
seems, come in many varieties.