He's funny now, famous (maybe) soon

For three foolish summers, NBC had some silly summer shows while a better one ("Last Comic Standing") had been cancelled. Now "Comic" is back on Thursdays, bringing us some excellent stand-up comedians. Here's the story I sent to papers about a terrific one, Lachlan Patterson.


LOS ANGELES -- Lachlan Patterson gets a lot of questions,
but this one tops (or bottoms) the list.

“I really hate it,” he said, “when people say, ‘How come you’re
not famous?’”

OK … except he really should be famous. Like many stand-up
comedians these days, he’s clever; unlike most, he’s also 6-foot-4 and

On this summer’s “Last Comic Standing,” one judge (Keenen
Wayans) compared him to a store manikin; another (Russell Peters) said: “You
have the look that makes guys want to hate you.”

But they like him as soon as the comedy begins. Then they
ask why he isn’t famous.

Maybe it’s because he’s a quiet Canadian, not the type to
sell himself. Or maybe he just needs one big break … which is a “Last Comic
Standing” specialty. The show has “been an incredible talent-search vehicle,” said
Paul Telegdy, head of NBC’s alternative and late-night shows.

None of the seven previous winners has become a big star
(the most successful may be Alonzo Bodden), but many contestants have become
cable or TV fixtures. They’ve included Amy Schumer, Gabriel Iglesias, Ralph
Harris, Kathleen Madigan, Gary Gulman and Ralphie May.

Now Patterson – who’s in this year’s final six – could find
fame, belatedly proving his father wrong.

His dad had warned against a comedy career, an opinion worth
listening to. He’s a high school guidance counselor, Patterson said, and “has
access to all the information on jobs.”

He was also Patterson’s coach in baseball, soccer and basketball
– which dominated after the kid grew five inches at age 16. Later, after
quitting college, Patterson took a stand-up comedy class.

He did well in Canada, then moved to the U.S. in 2007. Three
years later, “Tonight” people scouted another comic and spotted him. “They
said, ‘We’d really like to use you, but we can’t say when.’”

When the call came, it was instant; Patterson was needed
that night. He savored the experience – “in Jay Leno’s audience, they applaud
jokes” – but didn’t become famous. For a while, he quit working the national
comedy-club circuit; in Venice, Cal., he surfed and was sometimes a dog-walker.

Then “Last Comic Standing” suddenly returned, after missing
three summers. “(Comedian) Wanda Sykes came to say, ‘Let’s do this again,’”
said Bob Greenblatt, NBC’s programming chief.

Patterson – who had been rejected in a previous year – returned
and thrived. “I think you could take this whole contest,” Roseanne Barr, one of
the judges, told him.

He could. He really should be famous, you know.

“Last Comic Standing,” 10 p.m. Thursdays, NBC,
rerunning at 8 p.m. Mondays.

Going into the July 24 hour, it has Lachlan
Patterson, Nikki Carr, Rocky LaPorte, Joe Machi, Rod Man and Karious Miller;
viewers will be able to add one more Online.

These were the heroes (or not) of the Old West

I can, I admit, still recall the words to the TV theme song: "Wyatt Earp, Wyatt Earp, brave, courageous and bold ..." (Only now do I realize the phrase "brave, courageous and bold" may be a tad redundant.) Such things live with us forever; now Earp and others are getting a fresh cable look. Here's the story I sent to papers: 


These were the heroes – or, often, anti-heroes – of the Old

There was Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok, Jesse James and more.
They killed people, sometimes legally. “They’re on that thin razor-edge between
good and bad,” said Bob Boze Bell, an Old West historian.

Now each is profiled on cable’s American Heroes Channel. But
were they really heroic?

“Hickok’s a hero … but a very complicated one,” said Walt
Willey, who plays him in the series and in a one-man stage show. Even robbers
had their fans, Willey said: “Jesse James, who was a bandit, … had a Robin Hood
kind of feeling to him.”

They were men of a very different era, said series producer
Christopher Cassel. “Today, everybody has an iPhone; in the Old West, everybody
had a gun.”

And some fared better than others. In the opener, viewers

Earp, who seemed immortal. He “survived gun
battle after gun battle, including the most famous gun battle of all (near OK
Corral), without a single scratch,” said Kevin Bennett, the channel’s general

Doc Holliday, his ragged friend. He graduated
from dental school, but was diagnosed with tuberculosis at 22; he moved to the
Southwest, where he drank and gambled heavily.

“He basically wanted to die,” Bell said. “So he went into every
saloon and said, ‘Kill me.’ Now, how would you like to go up against that guy?”

Holliday’s relationships varied widely, Bell said. “He’s a
cold-blooded killer, he’s a card shark, he’s a ne’er-do-well. He hangs out with
all these prostitutes and stuff and he’s rooming with John J. Gospar in
Prescott (Arizona). Well, John J. Gosper is the acting governor of Arizona and
historians want to know: How did Doc Holliday sink so low as to room with (a

That last part is cowboy-style humor. Bell – who edits True
West magazine – knows that cowboys’ lives are a moving target; “we’re still
arguing about them,” he said.

Billy the Kid, reputed to have killed 21 men, probably
killed six or seven, Cassel said.  Earp
was once considered a villain. And Wild Bill? “Hickok was the first media-generated
celebrity,” Willey said.

He had given an interview, Willey said, then went out scouting
for two years. When he returned, he found his story had been in Harper’s Weekly
and in dime novels. It kept growing, a process he didn’t resist. “He liked to
say, ‘Most of what you heard about me has been exaggerated, but all (the
stories) have come out of my mouth a time or two.’”

Now – 138 years after he was killed, at 38, during a poker
game -- cable tries to set the stories straight.

“Gunslingers,” 10 p.m. Sundays, American Heroes
Channel (formerly Military Channel)

Opener, July 20, is Wyatt Earp, followed July 27
by Billy the Kid. Also, Wyatt Earp, Jesse James, Tom Horn, John Wesley Hardin.

Reality TV: Sometimes simple, occasionally naked

There are some goofy things to fill our Thursdays now, from nakedness to Nicole Richie to LeAnn Rimes and Eddie Cibrian. Here's the story I sent to papers:



LOS ANGELES -- For Nicole Richie, “The Simple Life” was
supposed to be a simple breeze.

She was 21 and a college drop-out, a rich kid (the adoptive
daughter of musician Lionel Richie) who grew up in Hollywood comfort. The idea
was to drop her and her then-friend Paris Hilton in a tiny town.

“TV was not my world,” Richie recalled. “And I had Fox
saying to me, ‘Do you want to take this adventure, and it will take up 30 days
of your life?’”

It took up much more. “The show really kind of took a life
of its on,” she said, “and I went along with the ride.” It lasted five years …
or much longer. For good or bad, it transformed Richie and TV.

Today, the genre abounds. “It’s everywhere,” Eddie Cibrian
said. “Everybody has unscripted television.”

That includes the new Thursday line-up on VH1. Debuting July
17 are:

9 p.m.: “Dating Naked,” which is just what the
title implies. “Once everyone has stripped away their clothes and preconceived
notions about each other, … there is nothing left but their ultimate, honest
selves,” insisted Susan Levinson, the VHI programming president.

10: “Candidly Nicole,” following Richie’s life.

10:30: “LeAnn & Eddie,” with Cibrian, an
actor, and his wife LeAnn Rimes, a country star.

Those last two follow the “Simple Life” mold. There had been
other reality shows (starting with “The Real World”), but mostly competitions. “The
Osbournes,” in 2002, and “The Simple Life,” in 2003, just amiably follow
unusual people in unusual situations.

“Candidly” follows Richie, 32, and her friends. Her husband
(musician Joel Madden) and two children aren’t shown. “My dad’s on the show
because he’s desperate and a celebrity and cannot stay away from the camera,”
she said. “My sister is on the show because she’s just 15 and cute.”

That’s the light approach that made Richie a Twitter and
blog star. Now she’s back in reality-TV.

Rimes is new to that world. “We are really kidding ourselves
with the illusion of a private life,” she said.

After all, Cibrian’s ex-wife Brandi Glanville has a reality
show (“The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills”) and comments on him. Now he has
one, too. “They are very different shows,” he said.

The “LeAnn and Eddie: opener does spend a lot of time grumbling
about tabloid coverage of their marriage. Still, Cibrian says, “ultimately,
this is a comedy.”

He grew up in California, the son of a Cuban-American
banker; Rimes grew up in Mississippi and Texas. “Her dad is as Southern as
Southern gets,” he said. “You’ve never seen someone manhandle a horse or a
steer …. He’s so cool.”

And he takes his daughter’s life in stride, Rimes said. “My
dad always knew that I’d end up with a pretty boy from California.”

She did. And that sort of culture class has fueled reality
shows, ever since “The Simple Life.”

MTV discovers virginity. Really

Virgins on MTV? Yes, that sounds like an oxymoron. Still, the people featured on "Virgin Territory" (debuting Wednesday, July 16) are fairly interesting; here's the story I sent to papers:


LOS ANGELES -- In an MTV universe filled with high-octane
youth, these people seem unique. They are – openly and candidly – virgins; that
seems to surprise the people who know them.

“My family … honestly didn’t believe that I was still a
virgin, based upon my personality,” said Dominique Sullivan, 22. “I like to go
out and I like to do regular things.”

Now she’s in the opener of MTV reality show “Virgin
Territory,” flirting and dancing and then talking about her virginity. A
subsequent episode has Alec Melger, 21, who also surprised his parents.

“They assumed that I wasn’t a virgin …. I love talking about
sex, (but) I’m not having it,” he said.

By comparison, Lisa Youngerman, 23, (featured in the opener)
says her parents knew she was a virgin. “What father doesn’t love the idea that
his daughter is not having sex?”

They might seem misplaced in a network whose shows imply
that everyone’s having young sex. Sullivan was a “Jersey Shore” fan; Melger
recalls seeing a three-way on “The Gauntlet” when he was 9.

Even Susanne Daniels, MTV’s programming president, recalls
having doubts about some of the shows. “When I first heard about ‘Teen Mom,’ my
initial reaction was that it sounded exploitive,” she said.

Still, there might be a cautionary effect. Sarah Brown, head
of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, points to a
Brookings Institution study: “MTV programs focusing on pregnant teens and teen
moms could account for up to one-third of the decline in teen birth rate.”

Other shows have a different effect. “In our media,” Melger
said, “sex is everywhere …. It does put a lot of pressure on young people to
have sex.”

The “Virgin Territory” people resisted, for varying reasons:

For Youngerman, it was religious; she decided to
wait until her marriage (which is shown in the opener). “I was with Nick for
almost four years (before marriage), and so it was very (difficult) to abstain
from sex when you care so much about a person.”

For Melger, who is gay, it’s been inadvertent.
Sex simply hasn’t happened, he said, a fact that he’s not happy about.
“Abstinence is not for me.”

For Sullivan, it’s learning from others. “People
in my family started having sex at a very young age …. I didn’t want to
continue that pattern. I didn’t want to get pregnant at a young age.”

Often, Sullivan said, she skips serious relationships of any
kind. “It is hard dating someone for a while when you are a virgin …. It begins
to be an issue.”

So she prefers to put on a tight dress, dance zestfully,
flirt with the guys – and then go home alone. “We can still be sexy and we can
still be vibrant,” Sullivan said. “We just don’t have to ‘do it’ to be that.”

“Virgin Territory,” 11 p.m. Wednesdays, MTV.

Opener, July 16, reruns at 3 p.m. Saturday; 11
a.m. and 9 p.m. Sunday; 6 p.m. Monday; and 8 p.m. July 23.

A strong series starts ... and a Goldwyn tradition returns

I'm out in Los Angeles now, interviewing people about the summer and fall TV shows. That involves some OK ones, a few awful ones ... and, occasionally, a great one. One of the best is "The Divide," which debuts Wednesday and reruns often. Here's the story I sent to papers:


LOS ANGELES -- When it comes to law and order, Tony Goldwyn
figures his views were sort of standard. “I assumed that if you are put in
prison, you probably did something pretty wrong.”

Then he made the movie “Conviction” …. which led to a
remarkable new series called “The Divide” … which could lead to the reshaping
of the WE cable channel.

Yes, WE – formerly Women’s Entertainment, originally Romance
Classics, often home of “Bridezillas.” Now it has a richly layered drama series
about lawyers trying to free men on Death Row.

Neither of the show’s producers – Goldwyn and
Oscar-nominated writer Richard LaGravenese – recall having ever seen a WE show.
“But I’d never seen FX before ‘The Shield.’” La Gravenese said. “I’d never seen
AMC before ‘Mad Men.’” The AMC people (who own WE) want another transformation.

By family tradition, this should be natural for Goldwyn. One
grandfather (Samuel Goldwyn) ran MGM, the other (Sidney Howard) won a Pulitzer
Prize and wrote the “Gone With the Wind” screenplay. Goldwyn’s father (Samuel
Jr.) propelled art films with his theaters and movie company. Tony spent large
chunks of his boyhood watching movie classics with his older brother John, who
savored them

John would run Paramount and produce “Dexter”; Tony
resisted. He’s an actor (the “Scandal” president) and director. “The only
reason I wanted to be a producer of something was to protect it,” he said.

One of those was “Conviction,” a 2010 movie with the true
story of a young mother who put herself through law school, so she could help
get her brother a new murder trial. That led him to Barry Scheck and The
Innocence Project, which now lists 317 convicts it has helped exonerate.

There is strong drama here, Goldwyn decided, rippling through
the families of the victims and the convicted. LaGravenese – who has
nominations for an Oscar (“The Fisher King”) and Emmy (“Behind the Candelabra”)
– agreed: “The Innocence Project is really very fertile ground to do character

They created a story and Scheck suggested switching the
races: Members of a prosperous black family were killed and two white men were
arrested. Amid talk of unequal justice, there were fears of a riot; a young,
black prosecutor got convictions and the death sentence. Now – as he prepares
his race for governor -- an intense intern is convinced those are wrong.

This is a deeply layered character, a convict’s daughter who
is living with a tough (and sensitive) cop. “She’s studying to become a lawyer
and doesn’t like the law,” Goldwyn said.

That role went to actress Marin Ireland, who then spent a
month at the Innocence Project. “It looked and felt different than any other
legal atmosphere I’d ever seen on television or in a movie,” she said.

It’s a place of shared spaces and shared emotions, she said.
“A big cheer would go up across the room and then the whole room would kind of
cheer.” But there were also constant setbacks on life-and-death issues. “People
(said) you have to go outside … and walk it off.”

This became the backdrop for “The Divide,” which will spend
its first, eight-week season on this one case. Goldwyn directed and co-wrote
the opener; he isn’t acting in it, but he is re-joining the family tradition: “This
is the first time that I really loved producing.”

“The Divide,” 9 p.m. Wednesdays, WE, beginning
July 16.

Opener reruns at 10:50 p.m. and at 12:50 and
2:55 a.m. It’s then shown at 8 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. July 23,
leading into the second episode.