Nice guys, fun idea

It's easy to like Canadians and optimists, so people quickly take to the guys in MTV's "The Buried Life."

These are four young guys who travel the country -- two countries, actually -- crossing things off their quirky to-do list. Along the way, they also help others.

Here's a story I wrote about them, followed by a list of upcoming air times. I don't usually put my feature stories in this blog space, but time is tight (the series has already started) and I want the story to get around. Here it is:

Staring at that blank slate known as
adulthood, four friends were stumped.

“It was always, 'What do you want to
do with your life?'” recalled Jonnie Penn.

None of them were sure, so they made a
list. Then that list became an adventure and a TV show and more. “For
us, it's become a way of living our life,” said Duncan Penn,
Jonnie's brother.

That's what we now see on MTV's “The
Buried Life.” The guys roam two countries – the U.S. and their
native Canada – trying to cross off the 100 items on their
things-to-do list

Some are quite easy – “get a
tattoo” ... “plant a tree” ... “donate blood.” Some are
nearly impossible – “play ball with Obama” … “host Saturday
Night Live” … “go to space.”

A few may not be advisable – “swim
with sharks” … “tell a judge: “You want the truth? You can't
handle the truth?'”

And two are kind of repetitious –
“kiss Rachel McAdams” and “approach the most beautiful girl
you've ever seen and kiss her.”

The former – inserted after Jonnie
Penn saw McAdams in “The Notebook” – is still pending. And the
latter? “We keep crossing it off and putting it back on,” Duncan
Penn said.

This is flexible, Dave Lingwood said.
“The list changes. We'll add things on it; we'll take things off.”

The guys – Ben Nemtin, Lingwood and
the Penns – grew up in middle-class families in Victoria, near
Vancouver. They went to college (McGill, Concordia, Victoria) while
finding temporary jobs. “Jonnie and I worked in the oilfields,”
Duncan said.

Still, they wavered on what to do with
the rest of their lives. The list was born.

The first – “open the 6 o'clock
news” – was accomplished quickly, so the enthusiasm grew. The
guys planned a two-week venture in a 1977 RV. “We managed to get 23
things off the list,” Jonnie said.

They've been doing that, off-and-on,
for three years now. Some things came easily – for one day, Nemtin
rattled around all day in a suit of armor – and some didn't. It
took hours to achieve “win and shout 'Bingo' at a bingo hall.”

A detour came when they helped a
formerly homeless man get a truck for his business. More good deeds
followed, Nemtin said, including getting computers for a Los Angeles
school. “We hit Venice Beach and fundraised enough money to get two
new computers for these kids in Watts. It was cool.”

The project had transformed: Every time
the guys crossed off something, they would help someone else. “It's
the way the baby-boomers have raised us ….We are a very idealistic
generation,” Jonnie said.

One important item – “get a college
degree” – is still pending, but another, “start a TV show,”
has been accomplished. The title “The Buried Life” came from an
1852 poem by Matthew Arnold. An impressive trailer – made by Jonnie
Penn on a home computer – reached the company (Reveille) that also
produces “The Office,” “Ugly Betty” and “The Biggest

It took the show to MTV, which had been
planning an image change. “The Buried Life,” said MTV's Tony
DiSanto, represents “everything that we had been talking about and
where we wanted to go.”

The guys have resisted taking the easy
way out, telling people that this is for a TV show. Most things are
done on the sly, with hidden cameras.

Still, full-disclosure is sometimes
required. If the guys do get to play ball with Barack Obama, the
Secret Service will be aware of the cameras.

“The Buried Life”

– New episodes debut at 10 p.m.
Monday on MTV; the first, Jan. 18, was “Attend a party at the Playboy Mansion”

– The second – “Make a Toast at a
Stranger's Wedding” debuted this week (Jan. 25). It reruns often,
including 6-7 a.m. Friday, 5-6 a.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. and 8 p.m.

– The next new one, Feb. 1, is “ask
out the girl of your dreams.”

– The full list, subject to change,
is at



On Monday, our TV's hit overload

Sometimes the world conspires to make our TV sets (or our DVR's, or our heads) explode.

One of those times is Monday (Jan. 25), when approximately everything is new and interesting. You can get the details by hitting the "TV column" category above, but let me elaborate a bit.

The big step has "Damages" starting its season at 10 p.m. This is one of TV's best dramas -- Glenn Close has won Emmys in each of the first two seasons -- and it starts powerfully. It introduces an easy-to-hate villain (a Bernie Madoff type) early in the hour and adds at the end.

That puts the pressure on another 10 p.m. cable drama, "Men of a Certain Age." It has a pleasant hour that introduces Robert Loggia as Ray Romano's dad.

The big networks have their usual strength, from "House" to "Big Bang Theory." And yes, it really is fun to see Chuck confront Stone Cold Steve Austin on an airliner.

That's just the start. PBS has a terrific Wyatt Earp portrait, followed by a good music magazine show. Showtime and BBC America each give us a new show and a rerun. The latter, via "Top Gear," gives us perhaps our first chance to see a race between a 1949-era car, train and motorcycle. It's kind of fun; the whole night is. 

I'm back; also, Conan is wrong

For a couple weeks, you may have noticed, nothing was happening on this Web site. There were no new blogs, no new TV columns, no signs of life.

That was due to a quirky hotel system, which may or may not have been biased against the island of Tuvelo. Now, however, things are back to normal. I've updated the TV columns through tonight and will soon add more, through the weekend.

Also, I have a lot to blog about. First, I should explain:

From Jan. 8-18, I was nestled into a Pasadena hotel, for the semi-annual Television Critics Association sessions. The sessions went well -- lots of set visits, lots of breaking news -- but there was one quirk: The hotel's Web server would not access Web sites that ended with .tv.

That's a perfectly honorable domain. It actually belongs to the people of Tuvelo, who seem commendable. They have some concerns, especially about global warming and rising ocean levels; if a flood comes, they must scramble to the highest point on the island, which is 15 feet above sea level. They also have a logical suffix for a TV blog. Then the hotel simply never let me connect to it.

That's too bad, because I had a lot to say. Here's the first thing: I'm in the deep minority, but I think Conan O'Brien is wrong.

He was given some prime real estate -- the "Tonight" show at 11:35 p.m. weeknights. Then the ratings there fell in half, with no sign of an upswing. NBC's solution would have saved him: Jay Leno does a lively, monolog-dominated half-hour, with Conan following at 12:05 a.m., keeping the "Tonight" tag.

It was a good plan, which he rejected. Instead, we'll probably see him next season at 11 p.m. on Fox.

There are some benefits to that -- an earlier start, scooping other monologs ... a hipper network to be promoted on ... easy access to the sort of people (from "American Idol," "House," "24," etc.) that a hip network has.

Still, Conan will have to do it all on his own. Nestled behind a half-hour of Leno, he would have been in better shape.


Good news for Michigan football fans

For the hard-pressed University of Michigan football fans, there's finally some good news.

David Brandon, the CEO of Domino's Pizza, has been named the athletic director. This should help ticket-holders. If U-M doesn't score in the first 30 minutes, the game is free.


New Year's Day fun

Don't tell this to the other guys in the locker room, but I don't spend the entire New Year's Day watching large college students collide. I spend some of it watching the Tournament of Roses parade on HGTV and some of the HGTV shows that follow.

And yes, I kind of enjoy it. There's a bright-eyed vigor to the day that feels good when you're encased in Michigan snow. Here's a story I sent to papers, about this year's key figure:

Like a jet-fueled Johnny Appleseed,
Jamie Durie keeps circling the globe, leaving gardens and flowers and
such behind.

Now he'll be discovered by more
Americans. In one overcrowded day – New Year's Day, no less – he
has three-and-a-half hours on HGTV. He'll introduce the “Dream
Home” and his own show; before that, he'll co-anchor coverage of
the Tournament of Roses parade.

And no, he hasn't seen the rose parade
before; they don't have anything like that in his native Australia.
“I don't know if they do anywhere in the world,” he said.

And he would know; he's been to much of
the world. Durie, 39, was phoning from Tokyo, where he's planning one
of the gardens for an exposition. In his series opener, he includes
footage of the Bali gardens that inspired a California project; other
episodes include Mexico, Italy and Thailand.

And Durie? He has Sri Lankan roots, but
grew up far from the classic garden spots. “I got very interested
in seeing how my mother was able to grow roses in the desert,” he

That was in Tom Price, a West
Australian town of 2,700. There was beauty nearby (including the
Karajini National Park), but this was a harsh, iron-ore mining town.

Durie saw the difference flowers could
make and has made that his career. “It's my passion, to connect
people to the outdoors,” he said. “I want people to fall in love
with their gardens again.”

And yes, he says, Americans really are
flower people. “Some of the country is under five feet of show. But
overall, once the snow is gone, you really are good gardeners.”

The rose parade offers proof of that,
Durie said. “It's one thing to make something beautiful with
flowers. But then to put it on wheels.”

His own life has that mobile nature.
Back in Australia, he's been an author, a “DancingWith the Stars”
contestant, a garden-show guy and one of the speakers trained by Al
Gore's “climate change ambassador” program. In the U.S., he's
ranged from “Oprah” to “Victory Garden” to private
commissions, including Charlize Theron's home in Los Angeles.

Adding an HGTV series was complicated,
with two separate projects each week. “I'm literally running from
one site to another,” Durie said. “It's a very strange situation
for me.”

The fun part comes when he can stay for
a while and dig into the dirt. “That's when I'm really happy.”

Viewers will see some of that Friday,
when a Pasadena interior garden is transformed beautifully. Such a
project might be pricey ($75,000 to $100,000), but gives viewers

If they're lucky, they might win the
dream home (near Santa Fe, N.M.) that he'll introduce. Or they can
just settle back and watch the roses roll by.

Durie's day (Friday on HGTV)

– Tournament of Roses Parade, 11 a.m.
to 1 p.m. The parade is also on NBC, ABC, TLC, RFD, Travel, Hallmark
and Univision.

– “HGTV Dream Home,” 9 p.m..

– “The Outdoor Room,” 10 p.m.

– Also Friday, HGTV introduces “The
Antonio Project” (with “Design Star” winner Antonio Ballatore)
at 1 p.m. and “Curb Appeal: The Block” at 2 and 2:30; “Antonio”
reruns at 10:30.


– On Saturday, two shows take their
regular spots – “The Outdoor Room” at 9 and “Curb Appeal: The
Block” at 9:30. “The Antonio Project” becomes a series in

– More on Durie: