CW network detours yet again

Any visit to the CW network  brings mixed feeling. This has been the network of slick, sleek shows for young adults; it's also been the network of "H8R," clearly the low moment for television in this millennium.

Now CW offers some interesting switches and detours. Here's the story I sent to papers:


LOS ANGELES – After six years of
dodging the big guys, the CW network still keeps switching direction.

That's especially true now. For the
first time, CW has:

– A summer schedule – albeit not
one with many viewers. That has already included new reality shows
and a new, Canadian-import drama; coming are a slight variation on
“Amercian Idol” (Aug. 16) plus “America's Next Top Model:
College Edition” (Aug. 24).

– With those summer shows filling the
gap, a chance to delay the fall season until October. In the past, CW
started is early September, then “lost traction” as soon as the
competition arrived, Mark Pedowitz, the CW president, said Monday.
Now the starts will range from Oct. 2 to Oct, 19. “This will allow
us to avoid the clutter,” he said; also, reruns will be rare.

– Occasional specials and
youth-appeal movies. On Oct. 9, CW has the network debut of “Dr.
Horrible's Sing-Along Blog,” an Internet favorite for four years.

– And a bigger change: A network
known for bright, female-oriented shows is adding two darkly lit
dramas with angry and muscular action men.

“Gossip Girls” – the show that
symbolized CW's young-female look – returns on Oct.8 to start its
final, 10-week mini-season. Any long-running CW show will get a
chance for a full exit strategy, Pedowitz promised, “just as we did
with 'One Tree Hill.'”

There will be two female-oriented shows
at mid-season, one catching the early years of the “Sex and the
City” character. And Oct. 16 brings the debut of “Emily Owens,
M.D.,” with a star-making role for Mamie Gummer (Meryl Streep's
daughter), as a doctor who fears she'll never be one of the cool

Still, the other two new CW shows –
“Arrow” and “Beauty and the Beast” – are in another mode.
Each has a man who was thought to be dead, but now has extraordinary
powers. He has a dark lair, avenges evil and is considered a killer,
but a slender brunette beauty gradually trusts him. “They're a
little bit different (from each other) in my mind,” Pedowitz

Viewers can decide about that in
October. For now, the summer has:

– “The L.A. Complex,” about
likable young Canadians, scrambling to break into Los Angeles show
business. Ratings have been miniscule, but Pedowitz said things are
better Online. The show (9 p.m. Tuesdays, rerunning at 9
p.m.Thursdays) will show its 10 remaining episodes, he said.

– Reality shows . Two – set at a
Miami resort and a ballet company – died quickly; “Remodeled,”
set at modeling agencies, is currently in reruns, at 9 p.m. Mondays.

– The early start for “America's
Next Top Model.” This edition has 13 women from schools ranging
from Liberty University to the Harvard Divinity School.

– And “The Next,” which may seem

For the first six weeks, the “Next”
mentors – Gloria Estefan, Joe Jonas, John Rich and Nelly – will
spend three days in a city, each nurturing one talent. The singers
will collide in Los Angeles, with one winning an Atlantic Records

The live episodes will be Sept. 27,
Oct, 2 and Oct. 4 – leading into CW's late-starting season.


Sheen's "runaway train" leads to semi-sanity

Last year, Charlie Sheen was taking us on his magical mental tour.

And now. Well, his "Anger Management" (Thursdays on FX) is fairly funny and his life is semi-sane. Here's the story I sent to papers:


LOS ANGELES-- Mistakes are good,
we're told, because we learn from them.

In that case, Charlie Sheen is one
lucky guy, with so many to learn from.

“I learned a lot,” Sheen told
reporters. “I learned: Stick to what you know. Don't go on the road
with a one-man show in 33 days in 21 cities, with no act.”

He learned that last year during his
public breakdown. After refusing rehab and being fired from one of
TV's best-paying jobs, he had a spree of interviews and Tweets, plus
that one-man show.

“It was a crazy time,” Sheen said,
drawing no arguments. “It was sort of like a dream I couldn't wake
up from or some runaway train I couldn't get off of – but I was the

And now? “My life's different now
that I'm not insane any more,” Sheen said. “Pretty accountable,
most of the time.”

Also, almost over-employed. His “Anger
Management” show is being done on a hurry-up schedule, taping two
episodes a week. The contract says that if ratings hit a specified
mark in the first 10 episodes, the FX network will instantly order 90
more. “The odds are overwhelming” that the show will get the
order, said FX chief John Landgraf.

In a TV world that frets about getting
an order for a “back nine” (to complete a 22-episode season),
that's something. “It's daunting when they tell you you've got the
back 90,” said Bruce Helford.

He's produced successful comedies for
Drew Carey and George Lopez, but this was different. It began with
the notion of adapting Jack Nicholson's “Anger Management”
movie.”Really, the title is pretty much what is left of that,”
Helford said.

The show has Sheen as an
anger-management therapist. It gives him a funny therapy group,
ranging from the intense Lacey (Noureen DeWulf, 28) to the laidback
Ed (Barry Corbin, 71). It also gives him a bartender (Brett Butler),
a therapist-and-lover (Selma Blair) and an ex-wife (Shawnee Smith).

And soon, we'll meet his rascal-type
dad – played, logically, by Sheen's real father, Martin Sheen.

In real life, Charlie Sheen says, there
were no daddy issues. “He was great; he was awesome …. He was a
regular dad, except he just took us all over the world, making

That included “Apocalypse Now,”
sprawling and imposing. “It's the greatest film ever made,” said
Charlie Sheen, who was 13 when it opened. “I was there for half of
it when it was being shot ….

“I learned a lot about life. I
learned a lot about survival. And yeah, it was just one of the
experiences you can't plan or ever really completely understand why
it happened.”

There would be more such experiences,
on this runaway train he's sort of conducting.

– “Anger Management,” FX

--New episodes at 9:30 p.m. Thursdays,
rerunning at 12:30 a.m.; previous episode reruns at 9 p.m.


The right dance moves soar on TV

There's some superb dance on TV these days, much of it coming from an interlocking set of friends. Now comes "All the Right Moves," a dance show that focuses on a new group that includes the brilliant choreography of Travis Wall. Here's the story I sent to papers:


LOS ANGELES – For some people,
choreographing is Phase Two. It's something old dancers try.

And for Travis Wall, whose cable show
debuts Tuesday? “I started when I was 2,” he said.

That was at his mother's dance studio
in Virginia City, Va. “Music was my babysitter. She would put me in
a room and turn on the music and say, 'You have a half-hour to come
up with something.'”

So he did. He became a tot
choreographer, then a dance champion and co-founder of the Shaping
Sound dance company.

Now it's the centerpiece of the “All
the Right Moves” reality show – at a time when dance is thriving
on TV. “We are riding that wave at the highest peak right now,”
said co-founder Nick Lazzarini.

That's a wave that neatly centers on
the Shaping Sound people. “The competitive dance world … is so
small when you are a kid,” Lazzarini said. :”These were all my
best friends.”

At the core was Denise Wall's studio.
Travis danced there; so did Jaimie Goodwin and Taja Riley (both now
in Shaping Sound) and Danny Tidwell, who eventually moved into the
Wall home.

They met others – Lazzarini, Teddy
Forance, Kyle Robinson – at competitions. When “So You Think You
Can Dance” began in 2005, Lazzarini was a contestant; Wall, his
apartment-mate, watched on TV.

“I was too young to audition for the
first season,” Wall said. “So I rooted him on the whole way, and
I just counted down the days, hoping it got picked up for a second

It was. Lazzarini was the first-season
champion … Wall was the second-season runner-up … Tidwell was the
third-season runner-up.

Wall kept dancing, but he also focused
on choreography and created Shaping Sound with Lazzarini and Forance.
It was a group project – except some people think of it as Wall's

“I have a controlling issue,” Wall
granted. “I like to control every single thing.”

Now he's merging with his friends,
including Goodwin. “We dated for two years,” said Wall,who now
lives with his boyfriend, who is a gymnast and a cheerleading coach.
“I'm still in love with her.”

And dance is their shared passion. “I
grew up being home-schooled,” Goodwin said.” This was my outlet
…. For a lot of us, this was our only thing.”

It still is, said Wall, 23. “Dance is
all I know.”

Fortunately, he knows it well: Last
season, he received an Emmy nomination for his “So You Think You
Can Dance” choreography. This year, Shaping Sound made its debut on
“Dancing With the Stars”; he and Forance received an Emmy
nomination for choreographing the number.

They live in Los Angeles, so the Emmy
news arrived at 5:30 a.m., their time. “I ran into Teddy's room and
jumped on the bed,” Wall said, “which was kind of bad because his
girl friend was there”

It was a rude awakening, Forance
grants. “He was sort of choking me.” But the news was worth it;
in a difficult dance world, Shaping Sound had made the right moves.

– “All the Right Moves,” 9 p.m.
Tuesdays, Oxygen, repeating at 11 p.m.

– Opener, July 31, reruns often,
including 9 a.m. Wednesday (Aug. 1), 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Thursday, 10
a.m. Friday, 11 a.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. Sunday, 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Aug.

– More dance: “So You Think You Can
Dance,” 8-10 p.m. Wednesdays, Fox; “Dancing With the Stars”
starts its “all-star” edition Sept. 24 on ABC; “Step Up 4:
Miami Heat,” with Travis Wall doing some of the choreography, is in


"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.