"Ruby" sparks a "Purple Rose" moment

In real life, alas, there aren't nearly
enough “Purple Rose of Cairo” moments.

Last night, I had one, at the end of an
alternately deep and charming movie, “Ruby Sparks.”

In Woody Allen's “Purple Rose,” one
of the actors in a movie steps out of the movie screen and talks to
someone in the audience. That doesn't seem to happen in real life,
but it should.

So on Saturday, I was watching “Ruby
Sparks,” a mostly delightful film from the “Little Miss Sunshine”
directors. Afterward, Zoe Kazan – who wrote it and played the title
character – unexpectedly stood in front of the audience, along with co-star
Chris Messina, and answered questions.

(Maybe I should mention that this was
in a theater in Beverly Hills. This has hardly ever happened to me in
Lansing or Clintonville.)

As most people guess, Zoe, 28, is the
granddaughter of the late Elia Kazan, who directed perhaps the two
best-acted films ever (“On the Waterfront,” “A Streetcar Named
Desire”), plus “East of Eden,” “A Face in the Crowd” and
more. She graduated from Yale, did well in the New York theater
scene, but – like most actors – found herself with way too much
free time.

That's when she turned to her parents'
profession, writing. Separately, Nicholas Kazan wrote “Reversal of
Fortune” and Robin Swicord wrote the “Little Women” remake;
together, they wrote the wonderful “Matilda.”

So Kazan wrote a couple plays. Then she
was thinking of the “Pygmalion” tale – a man forming re-shaping
a young woman in his preferred image. For Kazan – who had
previously been dating some older men – that had resonance.

Walking home one day, she was startled
by a sight – a mannequin in a trash basket – that initially
looked like a person. That night she thought and dreamed; the next
day she had her story of a a lonely writer whose fictional character
– his ideal woman, actually – suddenly appears in real life.

As Kazan began writing the screenplay,
her boyfriend (Paul Dano of “Little Miss Sunshine”) foundthe
characters interesting.”Oh, you're writing about us?” he asked.

Not deliberately. Kazan said she even
tried to avoid that. Once the filming began – with Dano and Kazan
in the leads – they became more like the real people. “I have my
own mood swings, without having to have someone write them,” Kazan

Living in New York, she made the
screenplay a love letter to her Los Angeles roots. That's where the
directors (the husband-wife team of Robin Jonathan Dayton and Valrie
Faris) directed it. They cast two Hollywood icons – Annette Bening
and Antonio Banderas – as Dano's eccentric mothr and father-in-law
and put them in the wonderfully quirky home of Sid Krofft, of “H.R.
Pufnstuf” fame.

That's how Messina (who plays Dano's
brother) ended up being charmed by Bening. “Everyone falls in love
with her,” he said, “which I had to avoid, because I was playing
her son.”

And yes, things all come full-circle:
Bening is married to Warren Beatty – who became a star in Elia
Kazan's “Splendor in the Grass.” Messina, among other things, is
HBO's “The News Room” as the antagonist of the star – played by
Jeff Daniels, the guy who walked out of the movie screen in “The
Purple Rose of Cairo.” That really should happen more oftem.

Now it's "Dancing With the All-stars," sort of

OK, it was fun to see "Dancing With the Stars" unveil its "all-star" (well, some star) cast today. Earlier, I sent papers a quick version of the story; see previous blog. Here's the second version I sent, after talking with more of the people:


LOS ANGELES – “Dancing With the
Stars” began as a silly summer show. Semi-known actors did barely
known dance styles; the winner got a chintzy-looking disco ball.

And then? “The show just became this
juggernaut,” marvels Drew Lachey, its second winner.

Ratings soared. In total viewers –
but not in younger viewers – “Stars” came close to “American
Idol.” And on Friday, it announced its first “all-star” cast,
for this fall.

That includes the show's first five
winners – Kelly Monaco, Lachey, Emmit Smith, Apolo Anton Ohno and
Helio Castroneves – plus Shawn Johnson, the eighth winner. It also
includes people who didn't win, but stirred interest or controversy –
Melissa Rycroft, Kirstie Alley, Gilles Marini, Pamela Anderson, Joey
Fatone and, of course, Bristol Palin.

“The press is going to talk about me
no matter what,” Palin said, so she might as well have fun and make

One more person will be added. Fans
will vote for Sabrina Bryan, Carson Kressley or Kyle Massey.

The casting illustrates the
omnipresence of reality competitions. An NBC one – the
military-style “Stars Earn Stripes” – includes both Palin's
father Todd and Lachey's brother Nick.

Dancing may be harder than war games,
Nick Lachey joked. When he was in the real military “I didn't have
to worry about being spray-tanned or sequins falling off.”

But there are benefits. In his
pop-music days, he was known mostly by young girls; after his “Stars”
sting, “it was everybody, all ages.”

Monaco found the same thing. “This
was the first time people called me by my own name and not just by my
character's name,” she said.

Back then, her soap opera (“General
Hospital”) was much better known than this reality show. “The
cast would tease me about it,” she said. “I was embarrassed.”

And tired. “Doing eight hours on
'General Hospital' and then rehearsing eight hours (for 'Stars'),
that was exhausting.”

Then she saw the first hint of what
“Stars” could do. “When my 'costume malfunction' happened, the
next week the audience went from 13million to 25 million. That's when
people started to realize, 'Oh yes, this is really live.'”

Ratings stayed high and a mid-season
edition was ordered, with novices learning ballroom dance moves. “I
thought I had good rhythm,” Lachey said, “but my dancing was very

He learned, partly through the nudging
of his professional dance partner, Cheryl Burke. In the years that
followed, interest grew and the dances became more sophisticated.

Now the show could sift through 14
editions to choose its “all-star” cast. “This is almost like
'The Avengers,'” said producer Conrad Green.

Except that none of the people can fly
or turn green. And six of them have championship trophies – some
upgraded and some the early, tacky version. “I like the old,
chintzy one,” Monaco said.


:"Dancing With the Star" has its "all-star "moment

For Kelly Monaco, this was just an odd
summer diversion.

Already busy with “General Hospital,”
she was racing off to do “Dancing With the Stars” in her spare
time. “The cast would tease me about it,” she said. “I was

And tired. “Doing eight hours on
'General Hospital' and then rehearsing eight hours (for 'Stars'),
that was exhausting.”

Rhen the silly summer show caught on:
This fall, its 15th edition will be its first
“all-star”one. It will have previous winners – Monaco, Drew
Lachey, Shawn Johnson, Emmitt Smith, Helio Castroneves, Apolo Anton
Ohno – and others, including Bristol Palin and Melissa Rycroft.

All are part of a show that surprised
people with its ability to soar in the ratings. Monaco, 36, recalls
the first hints:

“When my 'costume malfunction'
happened, the next week the audience went from 13million to 25
million,” she said. “That's when people started to realize, 'Oh
yes, this is really live.'”

The show soon challenged “American
Idol” for the top of the ratings (albeit with lower ratings in the
younger ages advertisers provide) and propelled people to personal
fame. “This was the first time people called me by my own name and
not just by my (soap-opera) character's name,” Monaco said.

Other “all-star” contestants
include Gilles Marini,Pamea Anderson, Kirstie Alley and Joey Fatone.
For the 13th and final candidate, viewers will choose
between Sabrina Bryan, Carson Kressley and Kyle Massey.

Some of the winners received an updated
trophy; Monaco still has the original version. “I like the old,
chintzy one,” she said.

NBC cheers: "We're No. 3"

Here's the story I sent to papers this morning, on NBC and its post-Olympic world:


LOS ANGELES – This is not a statement
you would have heard from NBC a while back:

“We're really happy to be No. 3,”
Robert Greenblatt, the programing chief, told reporters Tuesday.

In the “must-see TV” days, NBC
topped the Nielsen ratings. In the current, needn't-see times, it
spent about seven years in fourth place.

Things perked up when the Super Bowl
led into “The Voice” and “Smash.” At least in the18-49
category (the one cherished by NBC and advertisers), the network
escaped the bottom.

Now comes a new springboard, with the
Olympics starting a 17-day run Friday. It gives NBC a:

– Rare chance to have viewers
actually see promo ads for its new season. Usually, Greenblatt
granted, it's hard to promote because of “the general decline
across the week and the loss of circulation.”

– Comeback chance for “Today,”
which has slipped after16 years of ratings dominance. It will
broadcast from London (the Olympic city), leading into the games at
10 a.m. weekdays.

– Showcase for two comedies, which
will run their pilot films commercial-free during the Olympics.
Matthew Perry's “Go On” runs Aug. 8; “Animal Practice” runs
Aug. 12, complete with veterinarians, dogs, snakes and a monkey in a
suit. “We're looking for stuff that doesn't live in the middle,”
said Jennifer Salke, president of NBC Entertainment.

– Reality show that debuts the day
after the Olympics, just as “The Voice” did after the Super Bowl.
“Stars Earn Stripes” gives military-type demands to such people
as Dean Cain and Terry Crews (former football players), Laila Ali (a
boxer, like her dad), Todd Palin and ski champion Picabo Street.

– Second phase for “America's Got
Talent.” Ratings have been down in this Howard Stern season, NBC's
Paul Telegdy granted, but it's “likely to (be) the No. 1 show this
summer …. We'd be delighted if (Stern) comes back” next season.

– Head start for the fall shows.
Virtually all will begin before the season officially starts in
mid-September, Greenblatt said.

The key question is whether people
will like those new shows. One drama (“Chicago Fire”) is a fairly
standard firefighter show; another (“Revolution”) is a strong
drama about a world with no power sources and little government. The
comedies are big, broad and plentiful, sprawling over three nights.

And “Smash,” the one new NBC show
that critics rave about? It will be back at mid-season.


Well, at least she's an older teen-ager

My first impressions of Demi Lovato and Britney Spears, in their new "X Factor" world? Lovato could be a sharp, zesty force. Spears, I'm not so sure about. And Lovato really needs to get back to her jet-black hair, instead of those silly dye jobs.

All of that is, however, beside the point. Here's the story I sent to papers:


A funny thing happened to Demi Lovato
while she was waiting to be an “American Idol” contestant: She
became a star … and now an “X Factor” judge.

“I was like counting down the years”
until reaching the “Idol” minimum age of 16, she said Monday.

Instead, there were detours – a
Disney deal at 14, cable-movie starring roles (opposite Joe Jonas and
Selena Gomez) at 15 and 16, a Disney Channel series, rehab, a record
deal and now more. “I never thought that at 19 I would be on the
(judging) panel,” she said.

This was once the turf of music
veterans; now “X Factor” hasBritney Spears, 30, and Lovato, 19.

What does Lovato bring to the show?
“I'm listening to what's on the radio now and I know what my
friends like,” she said.

L.A. Reid, 56 – a music-industry
heavyweight (CEO of Epic Records) and an “X Factor” judge –
jumped to her defense. “Demi is so close to the landscape of music

Simon Cowell – the show's producer
and chief judge – praised Spears (“she's a really, really good
judge”) – and showed that he enjoys sparring with the newcomers.

“Demi is a brat, but there's
something likable about her,” said Cowell, 52.

He also offered what is, in his
universe, praise for Spears: “Britney's quite mean.”

Lovato disagreed: “She's tough, not
mean; she's sweet.”

Replied Cowell: “Sweet as a lemon.”

A sour Spears? “I'm just a very
honest person,” she said.

Like Lovato, she said, she's been a
longtime fan of “American Idol” and “X Factor.” She started
seriously thinking about the show when she had the same make-up
person as Cowell. “I've done eight tours,” she said, and this job
“is really different.”

The first season of “X Factor” was
a ratings hit, but didn't match Cowell's lofty expectations. He
dropped half the judging panel (Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger)
and the host (Steve Jones).

When the second season starts this
fall, he said, it will have two hosts, one male and one female.
“Ideally, I'd have someone who hasn't hosted before.”