It's Emmy night

It's Emmy night now, which is just plain fun. The red-carpet coverage has already started on E and will also be on Fox at 7; the ceremony itself starts at 8.

I'll be blogging about this through the night, adding comments as it goes along. Meanwhile, here's the advance story I wrote; it includes a list that you can kind of check along with:


Somewhere in the TV world, people might
shrug at winning Emmy awards.

Maybe at the “Daily Show”; it's won
eight straight Emmys as best variety series. Or at “The Amazing
Race”; last year, its string (best reality competition series)
ended at seven.

Still, there are plenty of others who
are giddy awards. Just ask Margo Martindale, who's been a working
actress for almost 40 years.

“I've been … poor, counting pennies
on the floor,” she said. Then came deep role on “Justified,” as
the matriarch of a crime family in the Kentucky hills. Now she has an
Emmy nomination (supporting actress in a drama), a new job (CBS' “A
Gifted Man”) and no poverty prospects.

“It just feels fantastic,”
Martindale said. “I turned 60 and everything fell into place.”

Or ask Jane Lynch. Lately, she's become
an Emmy-winner who is hosting this year's show.

Lynch, 51, grew up as a TV buff who
would pull out the listings each Sunday and mark he plans. Later, as
a semi-employed actress in the 1990s, she would watch the “Seinfeld”
people win supporting Emmys. “I remember (thinking)” 'What a
life! They're on this hit show; they're character actors.'”

Now she has that situation herself, as
Sue Sylvester on “Glee.” Last year, Lynch was in the Emmys'
opening song-and-dance number – “Jon Hamm to the left, Kate
Gosselin to the right” – and won the Emmy. Now she's up for her
second and she's the host.

Lynch said she'd like to copy the
formula of last year's host, Jimmy Fallon. “He was so relaxed and
the show was all about his energy, which is very open and funny and

Still, she's not the relaxed type. “I
have (a) cocktail of excitement, anticipation and abject fear.”

Mark Burnett (“Survivor”), the
Emmys producer, will watch the pave. “I think the best way to do
these shows is a lot of shorter bits,” he said, “so it keeps
moving along, and adding in short, spoof films.” Here are the
nominees in some categories, plus comments:

– Comedy: Last year's winner, “Modern
Family” (ABC); also, “Big Bang Theory” (CBS), “Glee” (Fox)
and “The Office,” “30 Rock” and “Parks and Recreation”
(all NBC.)

Comment: “We'd love to see “Big
Bang,” TV's best comedy, win; “Modern Love” will probably
repeat, however, which will be fine.

– Drama: Last year's winner, “Mad
Men” (AMC), plus “The Good Wife” (CBS), “Friday Night Lights”
(DirecTV and NBC), Dexter (Showtime) and HBO's “Boardwalk Empire”
and “Game of Thrones.”

Comment: After five quietly brilliant
years, “Friday Night Lights” is leaving without the awards it
deserves. The winner will probably be the beautifully crafted
“Boardwalk Empire.”

– Variety: “The Daily Show” is
back for more, facing “Saturday Night Live” and the talk shows of
Fallon, Conan O'Brien, Bill Maher and Stephen Colbert.

Comment: There's a reason why “Daily
Show” keeps winning. It's REALLY funny.

– Reality competition: “Top Chef”
(Bravo), which broke the “Amazing Race” string last year, is
back, plus “Race” (CBS), “American Idol” (Fox), “Project
Runway” (Lifetime), “Dancing With the Stars” (ABC) and “So
You Think You Can Dance” (Fox).

Comment: We keep rooting for “So You
Think You Can Dance”; no one listens.

– Movies or miniseries: HBO's “”Too
Big to Fail,” “Mildred Pierce” and “Cinema Verite,” plus
“Downton Abbey” (PBS), “”Pillars of the Earth” (Starz) and
“The Kennedys,” which was made and dropped by History, ending up
on Reelz.

Comment: “Too Big to Fail” was
important and brilliantly done. Still, the rich texture of “Mildred
Pierce” will probably give it thw win.

Acting: In each category, we'll list
our favorite first and note last year's winner, when applicable:

– Actress, drama: Mireille Enos, “The
Killing” (AMC); Kathy Bates, “Harry's Law” (NBC); Connie
Britton, “Friday Night Lights”; Mariska Hargitay, “Law &
Order: SVU” (NBC); Julianna Margulies, “The Good Wife” (CBS);
Elisabeth Moss, “Mad Men” (AMC).

--Actor, drama: Hugh Laurie, “House”
(Fox); Steve Buscemi, “Boardwalk Empire”; Kyle Chandler, “Friday
Night Lights”; Michael C. Hall, “Dexter”; Jon Hamm, “Mad
Men”; Timothy Olyphant, “Justified” (FX).

– Actress, comedy: Laura Linney, “The
Big C” (Showtime); Edie Falco (last year's winner), “Nurse
Jackie” (Showtime); Tina Fey, “30 Rock”; Melissa McCarthy,
“Mike & Molly” (CBS); Martha Plimpton, “Raising Hope”
(Fox); Amy Poehler, “Parks and Recreation,” NBC.

– Actor, comedy: Jim Parsons, “The
Big Bang Theory” (last year's winner); Alec Baldwin, “30 Rock”;
Louis C.K., “Louie,” FX; Steve Carell, “The Office”; Johnny
Galecki, “Big Bang Theory”; Matt LeBlanc, “Episodes”

– Actress, movie or mini-series: Kate Winslet, “Mildred
Pierce”; Diane Lane, “Cinema Verite”; Elizabeth McGovern,
“Downton Abbey”; “Taraji Henson,” “Taken From Me”
(Lifetime); Jean Marsh, “Upstairs, Downstairs” (PBS).

– Actor, movie or mini-series: William Hurt, “Too Big
to Fail”; Idris Elba, “Luther” (BBC America); Laurence
Fishburne, “Thurgood” (HBO); Greg Kinnear and Barry Pepper, “The
Kennedys”; Edgar Ramirez, “Carlos” (Sundance).

Emmy awards

– 8 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox

– Red-carpet preview, 6-8
p.m., E; 7-8 p.m., Fox.

– Emmy previews, 5-6 p.m., E;
7-8 p.m., TV Guide


The real football season begins

Any football season that starts with a Packer victory is a good one for me. Thursday's game was spectacular; it also re-enforced my admiration for NBC's coverage.

Fox has a good NFL team, particularly with Troy Aikman doing the analysis, but NBC has a great one. Bob Costas (pre-game) and Chris Collinsworth (fame analysis) are the best in the business.

Anyway, here's the story I sent to papers just before the season begins. I've changed the tense about the Thursday game (now past), but kept the rest the same:



If pro-football fans were normal –
and you know they're not – NBC would hate this year's schedule.

The season's first regular-season game was in the NFL's smallest market. The second (Sunday, Sept. 11)
involves a team that had a losing record last season.

“I think that we understand the
history of the game,” said Cris Collinsworth, the NBC analyst. “The
fan base is so knowledgeable.”

So the Packers – in little Green Bay
– have a big following. So do the Dallas Cowboys, even after last
year's 6-10 record. “There's national appeal for these guys,”
said Mark Lazarus, the NBC Sports chief.

The Packers are the lovable ones; the
Cowboys vary. “Only two teams in all of sports engender love and
hate to that extreme,” said Al Michaels, the play-by-play man. “The
other is the Yankees.”

Now both face teams with their own
emotional tugs:

– The Packers, the current Super Bowl
champions, host the New Orleans Saints, the previous champions and a
sentimental favorite since their city was battered by Hurricane

– The Cowboys visit the New York
Jets, a favorite on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11

Yes, that goes beyond football. That's
always been NBC's style.

“We have made this a big-tent show,”
said producer Fred Gaudelli. “This is not for football fans only.”

That's a philosophy ABC developed for
“Monday Night Football” in 1970 and NBC adapted for Sundays in
2007. It tries for both – football buffs and people who just want a
dramatic story.

ABC had Howard Cosell, a former lawyer,
lecturing on endless things; it had Don Meredith sometimes breaking
into song. NBC has Collinsworth, a law-school grad from a family of
lawyers; Al Michaels likes to sing, but not on the air.

“The thing that I look forward to
most of all is between the commercial breaks, listening to All
Michaels singing a Katy Perry song,” Collinsworth said. “I think
that is the true highlight.”

Really? When nudged, Michael recited
some “I Kissed a Girl” stanzas. “I actually started with Jay
and the Americans,” he said, “and then I worked up to Grand Funk

Their sideline reporter this year is
Michele Tafoya, who knows the turf – and the risks.

“The only time I ever got close to
something bad was the year I was pregnant,” she said. “The action
came my way and ... someone swooped in and picked me up and moved me

It was a close call and only
semi-related to the game. It's the kind of thing that fits into TV

– NBC football

– Season opened at 8:30 p.m. ET
Thursday (Sept. 8), after a 7:30 celebration that includes music by
Kid Rock, Maroon 5 and Lady Antebellum.

– Then games are 8:20 p.m. ET
Sundays, after previews at 7 p.m. First one, Sept. 11, has Dallas
Cowboys at New York Jets


Erik Estrada: Ponch turns reality star

OK, I know that today (Sunday) is overcrowded. There are the Sept. 11 reports ... and the first Sunday of the pro football season ... and even the season finales of "True Blood" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

Still, let's stop for a moment and talk about Univision. Really. Erik Estrada makes his debut tonight on a dance show.

And if you don't speak Spanish? Don't worry, Erik didn't either, until he was in his 40s. Here's a story I sent to papers:


So let's say you've been one of the
world's top Latino stars. Now a Spanish-language dance show wants
you. Two questions seem timely:

– Do you dance? And

– Do you speak Spanish?

Hey, don't make any assumptions. Erik
Estrada – at the core of Univision's “Mira Quien Baila” (“Look
Who's Dancing”) – can tell you that.

Dancing? “I danced disco a little,”
Estrada said, including an episode of “CHiPs.” n which he starred
as Poncherello, a motorcycle cop. “Larry (Wilcox) was supposed to
sing,” he said. “Then he said he didn't want to, so they said,
'Let's get Ponch to dance.'”

He did, with the help of a
choreographer and a lot of rehearsal time. Dancing, it seems, takes a
lot of work; he'll be reminded of that in the new show, with Estrada,
62, facing people half his age.

Then again, it won't be nearly as hard
as when he learned to speak Spanish.

By the early '90s, Estrada's big roles
had dried up. “I was in Mexico, doing a movie,” he recalled. “I
was basically speaking Spanglish.”

That's when someone asked him to star
in a 100-episode telenovela. Estrada explained that he couldn't read
or speak Spanish and was told that was no problem. The character –
a truck driver with two women in his life – had moved to Mexico
from the U.S.

“I thought, 'Wait, this is cool. I'm
going to be speaking mostly English.' …. Then they sent me the
script. There wasn't one word in English. I had no idea what it

So he tried to make outrageous demands
– a big salary ($500,000), a cell phone (“that was a pretty big
deal back then”), a penthouse and a cook.

To his surprise, people kept saying
yes. “I thought, 'OK, I'd better learn Spanish.'”

He did, in 30 straight days of
eight-hour sessions. That's stuck with him, making him

Estrada had grown up with the language
around him. His parents are Puerto Rican, his boyhood was in Spanish
Harlem, where he met lots of people. “I started working on the
streets when I was 5 years old, selling snow cones with my

He was an unknown, just out of his
teens, when he co-starred with Pat Boone in “The Cross and the
Switchblade.” Then came small roles, “ChiPs” fame and,
eventually, a slowdown.

That's why he kept doing the telenovela
“Two Women, One Road,” as it expanded to 260 episodes and then
400. By then, he had an agreement that he could fly home from Mexico
every weekend. “I'd land in (Los Angeles) at 7:30 every Friday and
take the red-eye back every Sunday.”

Estrada has been open to many things,
including reality. For “Armed and Famous,” he became a real cop,
alongside Latoya Jackson and others. For “Surreal Lives” he
stepped into an odd household – reluctantly. “My wife said,
'Look, these kids don't know who you are. I want you to go in that

This year, it was his mother who did
the convincing. “She said, 'I'm 84 years old, seven years ago I had
a triple-bypass …. I want to see you dance on Univision.”

So Estrada agreed, and was the first
person announced by the show. He's joined by four singers, four
actors and the wrestler Blue Demon. Estrada is one of two people with
Puerto Rican roots (the other is actress Adamari Lopez), joined by
one with Argentine roots, one Venezuelan and six Mexican.

All headed to Miami, to dance with the
pros. It helps if they can dance and speak Spanish.

– “Mira Quien Baila” (“Look
Who's Dancing”), a variation on “Dancing With the Stars”

– 8 p.m. Sundays, Univision; starta
Sept. 11, concludes in late November


Farewell to Meridian 6 theaters

If you live in the Lansing, Mich., area, make sure you go to the Meridian Outer 6 theaters this weekend. They close after Monday, creating a big hole for film fans. Here's a basic, newsy story; more later:

The Meridian 6 movie theaters are
closing this weekend, after 25 years.

That will leave the East side of the
Lansing area – once the strongest place for filmgoers – with no
movie theaters for the first time in more than 40 years.

The first Meridian Mall four-plex
opened in 1970, with a second one in '75. The Meridian 6 – then
called the Merician Outer 6 – was added in 1986 and continued after
the others closed.

It has struggled in recent years,
however, as parent firm AMC ran into financial troubles and didn't
modernize. Two other local theaters – Celebration Cinema and the
NCG theaters in Eastwood – have been built with stadium seating,
digital projection and 3-D capability.


Ellerbee: From party time to a wise old aunt

Sure, Linda Ellerbee is a revered figure these days, someone who has talked to kids via "Nick News" for 20 years.

But she's also been a brilliant news reporter and anchor, talking to grown-ups. And -- like many news people -- she's had some fun.

In her autobiography, Ellerbee described a drunken colleague who thought he was going to the rest room of his hotel; instead, he relieved himself over the atrium restaurant. Many people are appalled by this, she wrote, by she just treats it as a cautionary note: Now she always gets one of those little umbrellas for her drinks.

That's vintage Ellerbee; meanwhile, the current version has a terrific special Thursday, telling kids about the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Here's the story I sent to papers:


What we should notice about Linda
Ellerbee are her sharp mind and her incisive wit.

On this particular day, however, what
we notice first is that her retro-style tennis shoes are a bright
orange. It's a look that few other 67-year-olds could pull off.

Ellerbee's special for kids on Thursday
helps launch TV's September surge of World Trade Center reports. It
also continues her ongoing, on-air transformation.

There was a time when Linda Ellerbee
fit the image of hard-living, hard-drinking reporters. Her
autobiography offers rowdy accounts of misdeeds by her and by others.

These days, however, she does specials
on Nickelodeon, the kids' channel. To viewers, she might be that
eccentric aunt everyone needs. “Or some bizarre, raggedy neighbor,”
Ellerbee suggests.

All of this has happened sort of by
accident, she said. “I was ready to go with the traditional life,
with a family and husband. (But) my husband left when I was 28, with
two kids.”

So Ellerbee dove into news work,
something that fits her. She writes easily, talks easily, has lots of
opinions and few filters. Working for the Associated Press in Dallas,
she wrote what she calls “a very chatty letter,” then
accidentally sent it on the news wire. “It was a self-inflicted
wound,” she said.

But the letter was clever enough to
draw the attention of the news director of a Houston TV station.
Soon, Ellerbee was working there, then going on to WCBS in New York
and to the networks.

In the years that followed, she drew
raves. She won an Emmy for her writing on ABC's “Our World”
(1986-87); when she and Lloyd Dobyns did “NBC Overnight” (1982),
the duPont Columbia Awards called it “possibly the best written and
most intelligent news program ever.”

After “Our World,” however,
Ellerbee left the networks. With former ABC newsman Rolfe Tessem, she
started Lucky Duck Productions, doing documentaries for at least a
dozen networks.

The key came in 1991, when Nickelodeon
wanted a Gulf war special for kids. “We knew if they saw kids on
television talking about their fears and concerns, it would be OK to
have those concerns themselves,” Ellerbee said.

That launched what became “Nick
News.” Twenty years and eight Emmys later, it is “recognized for
speaking directly and respectfully to kids,” said Marjorie Cohn,
Nickelodeon's programming chief.

A 1992 special set the tone: Magic
Johnson, the basketball star, had arrived at the set fairly late,
Ellerbee said, and didn't know that four of the kids were (like him)
HIV-positive.“This little girl sat next to him and he reached out
and held her; she was 6 years old.”

Viewers could see that Johnson was
deeply moved when he learned she had AIDS. Today, 19 years later,
both are living with a disease that had been considered quickly

Ellerbee had her own health crisis that
year; now she's a 19-year breast cancer survivor.

Her life has been complicated; prior to
her relationship with Tessem, four marriages ended in divorce or
separation. Her career, however, has thrived and “Nick News” has
prospered. “I had forgotten how smart kids are,” Ellerbee said,
“and how spontaneous they are.”

In an Internet age, they are filled
with information, some of it wrong. “You hear a kid say, 'I heard …
the planes were Japanese.' 'I heard Saddam Hussein attacked us' ….
'I heard 9/11 never happened.'”

For Ellerbee, that day was vivid. She
was returning to town when traffic to Manhattan was stopped.

Some people were already at the Lucky
Duck office, a dozen blocks from the World Trade Center. Ellerbee,
could only watch from a distance; a decade later, her special –
including kids who were much closer to the event – offers fresh

– “Nick News” special on the 10th
anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks

– 9 p.m. Thursday (Sept. 1),

– Also Thursday: Discovery has the
second half of “Rising: Rebuilding Ground Zero” (8-11 p.m.);
National Geographic reruns the second half of “Inside 9/11” (8-10