Yes, there's life (and TV time) after the governorship

In America, any kid can grow up to be president or governor -- and then, maybe, to get a real cable-TV show.

That's what has happened to Jennifer Granholm, the former Michigan governor. Today, the Current TV cable channel announced she'll have a primetime show, five days a week, beginning in January. Here's the story I sent to papers:


As Al Gore sees it, Jennifer Granholm
has star potential for cable-TV.

In January, the former Michigan
governor will have a show on Current TV, the channel Gore co-founded.
It will be at 9 p.m. weekdays, colliding with Piers Morgan on CNN,
Rachel Maddow on MSNBC and Sean Hannity on Fox News.

“We want it to be fast-moving, want
it to be entertaining,” Granholm said. There will eve be a
comedian, Brett Erlich. And as the title (“The War Room”),
implies, it will be heavy on politics.

That's her strong point, Gore said.
“Very few people can articulate the issues the way she does,”

He was the one who first started
discussions with Granholm, a month or two ago, he said. “We were
blown away by the way she just lit up the room and just took

Still, there's a flip side: When
Granholm finished her second four-year term (the limit in Michigan)
on Jan. 1, the state was troubled and her approval rating were low.

“That's the reality,” Granholm said
of the economy that plagued her in Lansing and plagues Barack Obama
in Washington. “It's certainly an issue as we look at what the
solutions are.”

A prime focus of the show will be jobs,
she said – which states have found ways to keep them and to spur
new ones. Gore talked about “a resurgence (in Detroit), which she
laid the groundwork for.”

David Bohrman, the Current president,
insisted that Granholm isn't weighed down by the Michigan troubles.
“Gov. Granholm was re-elected in a down economy.”

Bohrman, formerly of CNN, took over
Current 10 weeks ago and quickly began working on a commentary
line-up for prime time. Cenk Uygur's “Young Turks” will be at 7
p.m., Keith Olbermann at 8 and Granholm at 9, with all three
repeating at 10 p.m., 11 p.m. and midnight.

Gore and Joel Hyatt launched Current in
2005, as a loose collection of viewer-submitted films. Ratings were
meager and the channel drew attention only for its award-winning
documentaries. The transition to a news-and-commentary focus began in
June, when Olbermann moved his show to Current.

Ratings remain low, but Hyatt said
Current is drawing younger viewers. The mean age, he said, is 65 for
Fox News, 63 for CNN, 62 for MSNBC, in the 50s “and getting
younger” for Current.

Now Granholm, 52, steps in. Her show
will be done from San Francisco, near where she and her husband, Dan
Mulhern, have faculty jobs at the University of California, Berkeley.
She said she will continue that (and her job on NBC's “Meet the
Press”), but has resigned from boards of directors.

The rest will be fairly easy, Gore
insisted. “If she can lead the state of Michigan, she can lead the
mechanics of a television program.”


Cable's big week: Artists, then Oprah, then zombies

The big networks had their three weeks of debuts and such. Now -- with a few big-network shows still coming -- cable takes over.

It was Rosie O'Donnell this week (see previous blogs), with more Oprah Winfrey Network shows this weekend (see the Saturday and Sunday columns). And wrapping up the weekend, "The Walking Dead" brings fresh swarms of zombies.

Before that, however, I like "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist," which debuts tonight (Wednesday) and reruns often. It has an interesting batch of people; here's the story I sent to papers, interviewing two of them:


Artists, we've always suspected, are
not like the people next door. Van Gogh and Picasso were different
from Herb the accountant and Deb the work-flow analyst.

Now a cable reality show adds some more
information: Artists aren't like each other, either.

On “Work of Art: The Next Great
Artist,” one contestant – who gave himself the self-deprecating
name The Sucklord – is a big-city guy. He grew up in Greenwich
Village, where his mom designed sadomasochism gear. “S-and-M was
very big back then,” he said.

Another, Jazz-Minh Moore, spent her
formative times in a hippie commune in the Oregon woods. “There are
trees that are 300 years old,” she said. “I think of them as my

These two have little in common with
each other … or with Dusty Mitchell, a soft-spoken art teacher in
Mountain View, an Arkansas town of 2,800. Or Ugo Nonis, from Paris …
Or Leon Lim, from Malaysia … or Lola Thompson, from everywhere; her
mom is a wanderer and she went to 20 schools.

These artists are from opposite worlds.
“What I found interesting was that everyone liked each other and we
got along,” said Sucklord, 42.

Well, usually. Moore, 33, admits she
distrusted Sarah Kabot, who was entirely too cheerful.

Some artists may be more visual than
verbal, more likely to be lost in thought. The Sucklord, an outgoing
guy, is an exception. “I used to be very shy as a kid,” he said.
“I perhaps overcompensated.”

And Moore? Consider the first time she
went to a public school, away from the rural-hippie mood. “It was
overwhelming,” she said. “The kids seemed like wild, feral
animals. I would hide away.”

A teacher noticed this and found
another contemplative girl for her to play with. It was a start.

Her real roots are in what's now known
as the Breitenbush Retreat, 154 acres of the Willamette National
Forest of the Oregon Cascades. Kids aren't distracted; they play
outside or they create.

Moore spent her first two years there,
before leaving with her mother, and returned every summer. Her father
– “a really creative guy, a philosopher” – remains there as
business director.

After moving to California, her mother
became a nurse, but retained her own artistic impulses. And with a
name like Jazz-Minh, Moore would always stand out. “I knew that I
was different,” she said.

The name grabbed people instantly.
“When I got to a new school in Lodi, Calif., the teacher said, 'Oh
honey, I was sure you were going to be black.'”

Some normality crept in. Her mother
remarried and Moore became a responsible older sister to kids 10, 11
and 16 years younger. “I've always liked to work; I've had a work
permit since I was 14 years old.”

Five years ago, she moved to New York,
where she taught and was an artists' model, while working on her own
figurative paintings and living in Greenwich Village.

That's where The Sucklord, 42, spent
his early years, when he was merely known as Morgan Phillips. Much
later, he would coin the phrase “suckadelic” and the name
Sucklord, which is not meant in a religious or sexual way. “It's
self-deprecating,” he said, “(but) I'm an ego-driven guy.”

Mostly, he takes old action figures and
transforms them into odd creations. Then he arrives at art shows in
costume – anything from a leisure suit to a Darth Vader mask.

Art can be like that, he said, letting
people sink into their own quirks. A reality show has them interact.

“It's like being in a war,” he
said. “You're all in it together and you get to know each other.
I'm not the diabolical mastermind I'm supposed to be. Underneath that
is a human side, I guess.”

– “Work of Art: The Next Great
Artist,” Bravo

– First season reruns from 8 a.m. to
5 p.m. Wednesday (Oct. 12)

– Second season opens at 9 p.m.
Wednesday, rerunning at 11. That episode also airs at 6 p.m.
Thursday, 9 a.m. Sunday, 6 p.m. next Wednesday, Oct. 19



"Rosie": Slow start, strong finish

The worst and best moments of Rosie O'Donnell's new show came at the beginning and end.

The worst, surprisingly, came with the opening monolog. O'Donnell, a smart stand-up comic, had hired joke-writers, but there was little evidence of them here. She had some mild remarks, then turned to questions from the audience -- never a good idea unless the whole thing is sharply edited -- and (belatedly) a witty song.

And the best came at the end. Her first mini-game show was quick and fun and let O'Donnell play off the contestants cleverly.

In between? This daily cable show -- see O'Donnell interview, two blogs ago -- had a zesty band, a shrill-and-grating announcer and a long chat with Russell Brand.

This wasn't quite the leisurely, in-depth interview that was promised. (Too many other things broke into the Brand time.) Still, it was an enjoyable chat between two intelligent and opinionated people. In its own, erratic way, "The Rosie Show" was kind of fun.

"Five": The best TV movie in years

OK, people have had some good excuses lately for not watching TV. The weather has been perfect in many places. It happens.

Now, however, it's time to start watching. Tonight (Monday, Oct. 10) is big, with:

-- A makeover for the struggling Oprah Winfrey Network, starting at 7 p.m. with Rosie O'Donnell's new talk show (see previous blog).

-- The departure of "The Playboy Club," a dark and dreary show that didn't deserve to live (see two blogs ago).

-- Lots of sports, as usual. In Michigan, where I live, people are giddy about a double-header of storts -- the Tigers in the play-offs (4:20 p.m., Fox), the undefeated Lions hosting the Bears (8:30 p.m., ESPN).

-- And much more, including "Five" -- which is very simply the best TV movie in years. Here's the story I sent to papers:



This is the sort of starpower that's
rare for TV – Jennifer Aniston, Demi Moore and Alicia Keys.

The catch: None of them are on-camera
in the movie “Five”; instead, each makes her directing debut.

“Great actors do often make great
directors,” said actress Patricia Clarkson.

The idea was hatched in a meeting the
Lifetime cable network had with Jennifer Aniston and her friend,
producer Kristin Hahn: Combine five mini-films about breast cancer.
“We call it a film in short films,” said producer Marta Kauffman,
who came up with a way for all of them to be related.

Then the powerhouse people converged.
In order, the films are directed by:

– Moore. Her film is set on the night
of the moon walk, with a little girl shielded from the fact that her
mother (Ginnifer Goodwin) is dying. Jennifer Morrison and Annie Potts

– Aniston. Clarkson plays
someone who rants at her own advance funeral. “It was so emotional
and physically so brutal at times,” she said. “(Aniston)
understood the humor of this character.”

– Keys. An in-control lawyer (Rosario
Dawson) finds herself still sparring with her sister (Tracee Ross)
and mother (Jenifer Lewis). “When a woman who is diagnosed with
breast cancer still has to deal with her mother, it can be funny,”
Kauffman said.

– Penelope Spheeris, best known for
directing “Wayne's World” and rock 'n' roll documentaries. Her
film has a young stripper (Lyndsy Fonseca) who may need both breasts
removed. Unlike the other films, this has a gritty, blue-collar
setting. “I know that territory,” Spheeris said, “so it was perfect
for me.”

– Patty Jenkins, who directed
Charlize Theron's Oscar-winning work in “Monster.” Her film has
an oncologist (Jeanne Tripplehorn) facing her own crisis. “We knew
it was new territory for everybody, and that sort of gave it this
freshness and excitement on the set,” Tripplehorn said.

Many of these women are best known for
comedy – especially Kauffman, the “Friends” co-creator and
co-producer – and Aniston, one of the “Friends” stars. So humor
emerges in surprising places.

“When we are in the most
extraordinary circumstances,” Kauffman said, “we react in one of
two ways. Either we completely freak out or we go toward humor.”

The film has both, Spheeris said. “You
cry and you laugh and you do so many different emotions.”

At the core is Lifetime's ongoing push
for women to get mammograms. “There are currently 2.5 million
breast-cancer survivors in the U.S.,” said Nancy Dubuc, president
of the cable channel.

This film could stir some more.
Tripplehorn said Keys asked her to be at a script-reading. “I said,
'You know, I'm a professional and I want to be (there). But frankly,
I'm getting a mammogram.'”

– “Five,” 9 p.m. Monday,
Lifetime; repeats at 1 a.m.

– Also, 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday,
Oct. 15-16; repeats at midnight each time




Rosie O'Donnell: The Oprah makeover begins

For the Oprah Winfrey Network, this is sort of Launch Day II.

The cable network started on Jan. 1, with high expectations and low ratings. Looking at this sea of talk and reality, viewers shrugged.

But today (Monday, Oct. 10), it sort of starts over -- Rosie O'Donnell's  new talk show at 7 p.m., "Oprah's Lifeclass" (built from 25 years of "Oprah" reruns) at 8, reruns of Lisa Ling documentaries at 9, "Oprah" reruns at 10. A lot more new shows, including the start of Ling's new season, start this weekend.

It's a major makeover and it all starts with O'Donnell. Here's the story I sent to papers, about her show.


Not long ago, Rosie O'Donnell says, she
told her youngest kids about her upcoming talk show.

“They both had this look of
confusion. 'Do you think people are going to listen to you just

She's seen that look on grown-ups'
faces. When “The Rosie O'Donnell Show” started in 1996, there was
more confusion. “I had to convince people I was not going to do
another Jerry Springer show.”

O'Donnell had six seasons of
mostly-light talk, then quit while ratings were still strong. Now
she's back, as a key in giving the sputtering Oprah Winfrey Network a
second spurt. And she's still trying to explain to people – her
youngest kids (11 and 8) and grown-ups – what she'll do.

There were rumors that O'Donnell would
be dead-serious, with single-subject hours. Winfrey described it in
only vague terms: “She will cover current events, hometown heroes,
showcasing the arts, celebrating kids and families, as well as
feature ... talent and do her Rosie things.”

OK, but just what are “her Rosie
things” these days? Gradually, O'Donnell has defined the show:

– Yes, it will often have only one
guest. Most will stay for three segments, for what she calls “a
really lengthy, sit-down, insightful” conversation.”

– At their liveliest, those portions
might be like the hours Dick Cavett spent with comedians or actors.
O'Donnell's first hour will have Russell Brand, the eccentric British
actor and comedian; “I find him fascinating.” Other early guests
include Carrie Fisher, Fran Drescher, Kevin Bacon and Wanda Sykes.

– It's not all talk, though. There
will be a band led by Katreese Barnes, who has been the “Saturday
Night Live” music director and received three Emmy nominations for
co-writing Justin Timberlake songs for that show, winning for
“(Bleep) in a Box.”

– That band brings other
possibilities. Gloria Estefan will sit in with it for a week,
O'Donnell said. Early on, a Broadway cast will fly to Chicago to do
the show.

– There will be an opening monolog –
yes, she now has joke-writers – and audience interaction.

– And the closing bit will bring
someone up from the audience. “We're gonna end with a fun … game
every time, because you know my goal in life was to host 'The Price
is Right.'”

This is a show from someone who has
encased herself in pop culture. O'Donnell was 10 when her mother died
of cancer. Surrounded by quiet males – “there wasn't a lot of 'I
love you,' typically Irish” – she focused on TV as a kid. That's
remained an obsession, including all 25 “Oprah” seasons.

“Half my life, I've watched her on
television,” O'Donnell said. “She's a woman who has spent her
life trying to inspire, encourage and teach.”

So yes, O'Donnell will sometimes get
serious. There will be moments that reflect her life as an adoptive
parent, a lesbian and gay-rights advocate, someone who's outspoken
against wars and guns.

Still, she's mellowed at 49. She's less
sure of some views – “I really thought I was an amazing parent
until I had teen-agers” – and she regrets a 1999 interview with
Tom Selleck. “It was a week after Columbine and I was pretty raw
emotionally. (I regret) that this really kind man will, for the rest
of his life, be associated with (that hour). He's a nice man; he
really is.”

– “The Rosie Show,” 7 p.m.
weekdays, Oprah Winfrey Network; reruns at 11 p.m., 9 a.m., 5 p.m.

– The opener (Oct. 10, with Russell
Brand) will be simulcast at 7 p.m. on TLC and Investigation Discovery
and at 11 p.m. on TLC.

– Part of a face-lift for OWN, which
replaced Discovery Health on Jan. 1. It will be followed by “Oprah's
Lifeclass” (hosted by Winfrey, using “Oprah” reruns) at 8 and
then reruns of Lisa Ling documentaries at 9 p.m. and “Oprah” at

– Face-lift continues that weekend,
Oct. 15-16. Saturdays have reality – “Welcome to Sweetie Pie's”
(restaurant) at 9 p.m. and “Don't Tell the Bride” (groom plans
the wedding) at 10. Sundays have “Ask Oprah's All Stars” at 8,
new Ling documentaries at 9, “Visionaries” (starting with Tyler
Perry) at 10.