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Archive for December, 2010|Monthly archive page

Glenn Beck and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

In Programs of the Year on December 31, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Beck and Stewart at their rallies. (Beck was photographed by Alex Wong/Getty Images; Stewart, Drew Angerer/The New York Times)

It would be all too easy to dismiss Glenn Beck and Jon Stewart as the Goofus and Gallant of basic cable television.

In a world that prizes simple narratives, both men fit neatly into familiar archetypes: Beck is the conservative blowhard whose weepy tirades against President Obama make him seem a little loony; Stewart is the sly satirist whose nightly critiques of Bush administration foibles made him a liberal darling.

Beck and Stewart don’t just occupy opposite ends of the political spectrum, either; they also operate on the fringes of prime time (read: mainstream) homogeneity: Fox News Channel shows Beck’s eponymous program weekday afternoons at 5, shortly before Brian, Diane and Katie deliver their straight-down-the-middle take on the day’s events; Comedy Central offers Stewart’s Daily Show weeknights at 11, after the crowds have dispersed from Dancing With the Stars and How I Met Your Mother.

Despite these differences – or maybe because of them – no two series did more in 2010 to demonstrate television’s enduring ability to influence the national agenda.

That’s why Glenn Beck and The Daily Show are TV Columnist’s first Programs of the Year. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rest of the Best (and the Absolute Worst)

In Programs of the Year on December 31, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Watson and Holmes (Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch) in “Sherlock.” (Photographer unknown; courtesy BBC)

I’ll announce my Programs of the Year later tonight, but first, here are my TV favorites in 2010:

Sherlock. The Sherlock Holmes update – part of PBS’s Masterpiece series – was wonderfully imaginative, thanks to its Bourne-style production values and sly performances from Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Holmes and Watson.

Modern Family. The ABC comedy boasts television’s best ensemble – and whether or not Ed O’Neill actually said it, Sofia Vergara is funnier than Jane Lynch. So is O’Neill, whose omission from this year’s Emmy race was unforgivable.

Mad Men. For years, I merely liked AMC’s signature drama; in 2010, I fell in love with it. This was the season that the storytelling on Mad Men rose to the level of the show’s gorgeous aesthetics – although I’ll always believe Randee Heller’s crass Miss Blankenship was offed prematurely. Read the rest of this entry »

Masterpiece’s Framed: Where Art Thou?

In Recaps on December 27, 2010 at 11:55 pm

Angharad Stannard (Eve Myles) in “Framed,” last night’s “Masterpiece” presentation. (Photographer unknown; courtesy PBS)

As a sop to rerun-weary viewers like me, PBS last night unveiled Framed, a fresh Masterpiece presentation about a down-on-its-luck Welsh village that becomes the temporary home of the National Gallery’s art collection.

The 90-minute production – which PBS is streaming through January 26 – opened with Quentin Lester (Trevor Eve), the gallery’s urbane curator, lecturing schoolchildren on Domenichino’s painting of Saint Jerome. “Here we see him about his work,” Quentin said, “living the kind of life we all dream of….”

Buzz. Buzz.

Quentin turned and saw the children fiddling with handheld devices; he resumed his talk anyway: “…no distractions, no annoying phones, no television, no noise – just the light of the mind.”

When a girl pointed out a ceiling leak, Quentin tried to calm the children, telling them it was “just a drop of water … not a national disaster.” Read the rest of this entry »

Wishing Upon a Star (Or Maybe Three)

In Tidbits on December 14, 2010 at 10:30 pm

Emile Hirsch, try television! (Photo by Jayson Laveris/FilmMagic; courtesy New York Magazine)

Since Showtime has cast Don Cheadle in its House of Lies comedy pilot – and since this is the season for wish lists – here are three more movie stars I’d love to see in TV series:

• Jude Law. PBS is reviving Upstairs, Downstairs next year, so why not remake another Masterpiece Theater classic – I, Claudius – with Law in the title role?

• Emile Hirsch. When Congress finally repeals Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, someone ought to produce a series about an idealistic, openly gay service member – the kind of role Hirsch plays so well on the big screen.

• Frances McDormand. Speaking of Congress, wouldn’t it be nice to have McDormand playing a determined, progressive House speaker in prime time?

Just as we relied on Jed Bartlet to survive George W. Bush’s White House years, I suspect we’ll need another prime time liberal to get us through the Boehner era on Capitol Hill.

Anchor Astray! Katie Couric Does Glee

In Commentaries on December 5, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Katie Couric, stick to journalism. (Photographer unknown; courtesy CBS)

Maybe I shouldn’t get worked up over Katie Couric’s decision to portray herself on an upcoming episode of Fox’s Glee.

After all, Couric may be sitting in Walter Cronkite’s old CBS Evening News chair, but she hasn’t exactly inherited his mantle as the nation’s most trusted figure.

Who cares what she does when she’s not at the anchor desk?

I do.

If you ask me, news anchors should stick to journalism.

Admittedly, it’s an old-fashioned idea, but I’m clinging to it – without apology.

Here’s why: Anchors occupy positions of authority, even in an era when many Americans get their news from Facebook feeds.

But even though we may no longer turn to the anchors at suppertime to tell us what happened in the world that day, we still rely on them when big stories break.

If madmen fly airplanes into skyscrapers again, where will you turn for the latest information? Read the rest of this entry »

After Morning, Breakfast Time TV News Got Cornier, Flakier

In Commentaries on December 5, 2010 at 5:30 pm

A 1987 sketch of “Morning Program” hosts Mariette Hartley and Rolland Smith. (Artist unknown; courtesy TV Guide)

Every time CBS overhauls The Early Show – as it did this week, for the third time in eight years – I’m reminded of the network’s most spectacular a.m. news fiasco, The Morning Program.

What’s that, you say?

You don’t remember The Morning Program?

Well pull up a chair, child, and let me tell you about the most influential – and shortest-lived – morning show of our time.

The Morning Program debuted on January 12, 1987 and aired weekdays at 7:30; the 90-minute show lasted just 11 months, broadcasting its final show on the day after Thanksgiving.

Mariette Hartley, an actress best known for pitching Polaroid cameras alongside James Garner in the 1970s, co-hosted the show with Rolland Smith, previously a local anchor in New York.

The Morning Program caused a sensation when it debuted because it was so different from CBS’s competition – then as now, NBC’s Today and ABC’s Good Morning America.

Those shows mixed hard news with lifestyle reports and human-interest stories but The Morning Program only did soft stuff. Read the rest of this entry »

Blue Bloods: Danny Reagan, This is Your Wife

In Recaps on December 4, 2010 at 10:30 am

Linda Reagan (Amy Carlson) in “After Hours,” last night’s “Blue Bloods” episode. (Screen cap)

Since Blue Bloods debuted three months ago, I’ve been struck by how much it resembles the first season of Dallas.

Beyond the obvious – both shows are multi-generational dramas that focus on brothers who’ve followed dad into the family business (on Dallas, that business was oil; on Blue Bloods, it’s policing) – the newer series seems to be struggling to find its voice, just as the older show did when it began three decades ago.

We remember Dallas today as the granddaddy of prime-time soap operas, but that’s not how it started out.

In the beginning, each episode introduced a new storyline, which was tidily wrapped up by the time the closing credits rolled.

As Dallas soon discovered, textured characters like Sue Ellen Ewing (my personal favorite) demand deeper stories, and those often require more than an hour to tell.

Once Dallas embraced its inner soap opera, it found its way and became one of the era’s biggest hits.

Blue Bloods would be wise to follow a similar path. Read the rest of this entry »