Sunday, October 17, 2010

TV: Crazy Thursday

Last week, Jimmy Smits' Outlaw became the third series of the fall season to be given the axe. As the casualties pile up, everyone worries who's next but people with NBC worry less figuring how many slots can the network plug Dateline into? Besides what show runner could worry at all about their own livelihood after Crazy Thursday?


Crazy Thursday, for those who missed it, took place last week and was celebrated on two different networks, ABC had it in the morning and NBC had it at night.

"But it's like that's what Bill O'Reilly does, why would you book him?" asked former View host Rosie O'Donnell the same day on her Rosie Radio program referring to the incident but largely using it as a spring board for her to jab at Barbara Walters.

What happened? Bill O'Reilly was booked on ABC's The View. He has a new book entitled Patriots and Pinheads. He was invited on to discuss it. As Rosie pointed out, Bill's a known quantity. There are no surprises left with him. He does his shtick and people either like it or they don't. He's Henny Youngman still trotting out the same old jokes to an aging audience which embraces him out of familiarity. We're not taken with his act but there's no denying his act is a known.

So if you book him, deal with it. No one forced you to, no one twisted your arm and no one can claim to be surprised by anything Bill O'Reilly does at this late date. Now it is true that there are five hosts of The View -- Barbara Walters, Whoopi Golberg, Joy Behar, Sherri Shepherd and Elisabeth Hasselbeck. Point, there may well be some guest that one of the hosts just can't stand and can't pretend to. Fine. As we noted the last time we got a sniff of this daytime sewer, you can call off.

Hot topics was the usual crap fest that should have been subtitled "Only Female Politicians Make Mistakes." This was most notable when they discussed Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell at last week's debate. O'Donnell is running against Democrat Chris Coons for the Senate seat that Vice President Joe Biden was elected to. An entire debate was reduced to O'Donnell being asked what recent Supreme Court decision she objected to? She had no answer, asked for some input from the moderator (who explained that wasn't possible) and then promised to post an answer on her campaign website. (Which she did selecting three cases: Boumediene v. Bush, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld and Kelo v. City of New London.)

Whoopi couldn't stop laughing even before the clip aired. Barbara did allow, "I don't know how many of us could pick a Surpeme Court issue --" At which point, Joy cut her off with, "We're not running for office." Then it got really weird as Barbara and Joy brought Sarah Palin into it and equated it with the Katie Couric question to Palin, two years ago, about what newspaper and magazine she reads? How was that the same? One's an interview, one's a debate, Palin has stated -- and it comes across in the Couric footage -- that she did not like Katie or Katie's tone and didn't answer because she was irritated. O'Donnell wasn't irritated, she drew a blank. Should she have or shouldn't she have?

Which brings us to the increasingly pompous Whoopi who seems to believe if she speaks slower she will transform into Maya Angelou or at least Mary Hart as she insisted that "there are some things you should know" as a Tea Party candidate. Though the question was about "recent" decisions from the Court, Whoopi said O'Donnell should have said Roe v. Wade -- a decision that is approximately 40 years old. And you better believe that if she'd cited that decision she would have been ridiculed for doing so.

Should O'Donnell have known? Maybe so. Surely Whoopi should have known some court cases that morning on the show because she knew what the hot topic was. But she didn't know any. So maybe she should stop calling other people stupid? Or maybe she should learn what it means to be a host? When Barbara introducing a guest, before they're even onstage, your facial expression doesn't need to make it clear that you hate them. Again, you have the option of skipping the interview. When O'Reilly, sitting down on the couch, would note her expression, Whoopi would insist, "Bill, I have a case of gas. It's not you." But of course it was.

They were probably on question two of the interview (so many starts and stops it's hard to tell in that gab-fest) which was Sherri wondering if Bill thought the economy was hurting Barack Obama's poll numbers. He replied there were two things and one of them was the economy. To applause from the studio audience, he stated there was "a statute of limitations" and that when you spend $3 billion dollars trying to fix the economy, it's on you. He then moved to the second part of his answer. His opinion was that the voters perceived a gulf -- "a widening gulf" -- between Barack and themselves. Barbara wants an example so he goes to the proposed Muslim cultural center that's taken far too much attention already (and you can blame all sides for that) in NYC which he called a "mosque." He stated there was a legal right to build it but that it was "inappropriate."

How does this apply to Barack? Bill states that the president weighs in that there is a legal right to build it and then, when asked about "the wisdom of it," Barack stated, "I'm not going to comment." To then apply that to a gulf perceived by voters between themselves and Barack Obama, we could draw a few lines. We can think of at least three ways Bill O'Reilly might have built his case. But we don't know because he wasn't given a chance to. That's all fine and dandy. When you go on a program, you're not going to be allowed to monologue. There is a give and take. But we're stressing this part of it because we're trying to point out that he was still on Sherri's question and he was never able to answer it because of all the cross talk, all the piping off, Joy putting horns up behind his head (and his thinking the audience was with him on joking or sniping at Joy when they applauded her putting horns up behind his head), all this was going on, this entire train wreck before the moment everyone was talking about.

Whoopi cuts him off with, "So let me ask you this, let me ask you this --" And, no. Let someone answer a question before you ask or badger them with another. She talked a lot -- is Queen Latifah really parodying her on 30 Rock? -- but she said little of value. She went into "70 Muslim families" dying on 9-11 in the buildings. Presumably she meant the Twin Towers and/or the Pentagon but we weren't aware those were families of workers? Seventy individuals, okay, but 70 families? Were they families of four?

She was totally unprepared, didn't know what she was talking about and determined -- and not just her -- to turn an interview into a filibuster. While Whoopi's trying to find a point, Joy snipes, "That's so unamerican!" Apparently at what Bill O'Reilly was saying but maybe she was just suddenly possessed by the spirit of Joseph McCarthy?

"We're Americans! I'm an American!" Joy starts snapping and saying that "most Americans" agree with Barack on the cultural center. She's such a damn idiot. Barack Obama has not weighed in on anything but the legal aspect. Joy should know that. Instead, she claims that Barack agrees with her and so do most Americans.

Bill O'Reilly: [. . .] 70% of Americans don't want that mosque down there [audience applauds] -- so don't give me the "we" on this.

Behar: So where's that poll? Where's that poll? I want to see that poll!

August 25th, Alex Sundby (CBS News) reported on CBS News' latest poll in which 67% of respondents across America stated there was a legal right to build the cultural center (the poll used "mosque") but 71% of respondents in the same poll felt that it was "inappropriate" to build it in the planned location. August 19th, Alex Altman (Time magazine) reported on Time's poll which found 61% oppose construction and over 70% felt it "would be an insult to the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center" to build it in the planned location. August 11th, Jordan Fabian (The Hill) reported on the CNN - Opinion Research poll which found 68% of Americans oppose the construction. These findings are consistent with the polling done since the start of the controversy. Joy's an idiot for not knowing of them -- especially the third one since she does also work for CNN -- and she only embarrassed herself.

Whoopi wanted to know why that was? Bill replied, "Because it's inappropriate." At which point, Whoopi raised her voice to shouting level and asked, "Why is it inappropriate!" And Barbara appeared to grasp for the first time how quickly The View could become just another chair hurling trash TV staple. Why, Whoopi wanted to know, and Bill replied, "Because Muslims killed us on 9-11."

Which lead host Whoopi to scream, "Oh my G*d! That is" at which point she was censored and ABC dropped out what she was saying. (We censored the use of God as we censor the use of any deity's name in vain.) There was yelling and screaming, Whoopi screaming about "McVeigh" over and over and Joy looking off to the side before rising and yelling, "You know what! I don't even want to sit here! I don't! I'm outraged by that statement!"

At which point Whoopi stood and she and Joy walked off the set. In the midst of an interview. Leaving Barbara to declare, "I want to say something. I want to say something to all of you. You have just seen what should not happen. We should be able to have discussions without washing our hands and screaming and walking off stage. [Applause from the audience.] I love my colleagues, but it should not have happened. Now let me just say to you [Bill] in a calmer voice, it was extremists. You cannot take a whole religion and demean them because of what some --" And that's as far as she got before being interrupted.

Joy and Whoopi walked back out onto the set at some point. Joy taking Whoopi's seat far to one side of Bill, folding her arms in a closed and confrontational manner and refusing to look at anyone but staring off to the side while Whoopi grabbed Joy's former spot next to Bill and gave him dirty looks as he spoke. During the break, they switched back to the original places. After the break, Whoopi continued to give dirty looks and roll her eyes as Bill spoke and Joy was smutty. (Smutty? The world didn't need her judgment of Marilyn Monroe.)

They were like two spoiled brats and both of them need to be fired.

As the host, you do not walk out on an interview. Many, many years ago, Lily Tomlin walked out on a talk show. Chad Everett was referring to his wife as "my property." Lily found it offensive. She walked out. We applaud her for that. The difference isn't that Lily was protesting sexism. The difference is the show wasn't The Lily Tomlin Show. (It was The Dick Cavett Show.) She was a guest. A guest can walk out.

A host? ABC pays all five hosts to be present and do their jobs. You don't have the luxury of storming out. They're very lucky -- as one ABC exec noted to us -- that Barbara was present because if she hadn't been, this wouldn't have been one of those moments when Barbara can show up the next day and smooth things over. They need to learn their jobs.

There's no excuse of they found Bill vulgar. O'Reilly is no more and no less vulgar than he always is. They knew what they were getting into. They refused to allow him to answer questions and that's the point that's really not being discussed.

Is The View going to be used as a Democratic Party organ to attack? If there's a reason to ask any guest a question, there's a reason to hear their answer. Badgering a guest? That shouldn't be allowed. Sherri asked a question and it was too much for Whoopi to wait for that question to be answered before cutting and demanding attention.

Joy and Whoopi need to learn, as two ABC execs noted, to shut up.

If a guest has been asked a question, allow the guest to answer. That's not just a basic courtesy in any host-guest relationship, it's important for the audience which expects that questions asked will lead to replies.

Crazy Thursday saw ABC air When Hosts Attack and it was not pretty. It also saw NBC air The Truly Not Ready For Primetime Players: 30 Rock.

Tina Fey. Tina Fey. How we'd love to be done with Tina Fey. We were grabbing something to eat right before 30 Rock aired on the East Coast and in the Central Time zone -- aired live. And our phones were going off like crazy. "Train wreck" was the most often repeated term. We tossed a few bucks to get the TV turned to NBC and train wreck was too, too mild.

First, the good news. There were two live episodes Thursday: the one we watched on the TV and the West Coast one. Currently, both are available for streaming at NBC's 30 Rock page. Good news? The second performance was much, much better.

In fact, if you saw the West Coast version only, you might think it did okay.

But the reality is that it failed on pretty much every level.

It failed as a TV show. Period. Unless we entered some alternate universe where Lillian Gish never existed, there's a little thing called the close up, a detail the thirty minute show never seemed to find. What the hell was that?

We asked and were told that people had a problem with their blocking? "People?" Tina.

And that's obvious if you watch both broadcasts.

In the first one, Tina's doing something but it's not acting. She is, however, semi hitting her marks. For example, she stops and then delivers a line to Tracy Morgan. In the second performance, she can't be bothered with blocking at any time and she steps over her own lines and the laughs that she should be getting.

So the second performance is Tina's worst?


See, apparently she can't chew gum and walk at the same time. By ignoring the blocking in the second performance, she finally manages to deliver her lines correctly.

She's not an actress and the first episode really drives that home. It is not until the first performance is almost over that she finds Liz Lemon -- a character she should know having played her for four other seasons. Specifically, it's at the end of a scene with Alec Baldwin where they watch Tracy's character -- dressed as Oprah -- disrupt the live broadcast of TGS. Prior to that, her delivery is off, her voice is off, she's not even sounding like Liz and she destroys every scene she's in.

As a performer on a single camera show, not filmed in front of an audience, she manages -- with a lot of help from editing -- to give the impression she's creating a character. That really came across. For the second performance, Tina was basically a voice actor. She spat out her lines with some semblance of delivery and the voice sounded like Liz -- even though she was marching around from scene to scene as though she were Candice Bergen playing Murphy Brown arriving for work.

Let's stay with acting for a moment. Alec Baldwin was good in the first performance. He was great in the second. Tracy Morgan, Jane Krawoski, Cheyenne Jackson, Maulik Pancholy and Rachel Dratch were consistently strong in both performances and the real surprise there was Pancholy who is so obviously underused on the show. While, for example, Jack McBrayer floundered as Kenneth in the first performance, Pancholy sparkled and came alive as Jonathan. In fact, the show -- both performances -- would have really suffered if he hadn't been on. Or if, like Grizz Chapman and others, he'd been given nothing to do or even a line to say.

Then again, considering the level of the script, some might consider themselves lucky not to have had lines. Was there a point to the episode? No. Not really.

It was a badly written episode that was weak and mediocre. Apparently scared to be doing a live episode -- in front of an audience -- the decision was made to include 'magic' and other nonsense. It was really sub-par to have Alec Baldwin stop being Jack and pull scarves out of Liz's mouth. (He was still supposed to be Jack but, no, Jack would never have done that.)

It was pandering over and over. It was playing to the lowest impulses. Every award the show's ever gotten for writing? They should all be stripped away after that episode.

Having no plot, the show basically revolved around the broadcast of TGIS. And Tracy and Jenna were acting up. Tracy wanted to break up laughing in his skits and Jenna vowed if he did it again, she would have a nip slip. For those reasons, twice Liz made the call for TGIS to immediately go to a commercial. The first one was for a bad collection of songs and the second was for hand transplants. Both commercials -- on both performances -- had to be interrupted with a 'technical difficulties' card. Because, are you sides splitting yet, they were getting graphic. Oh, it was so funny because heaven knows we all love those live commercials and it was just so --

What's that?

TV really doesn't do live commercials?

Yeah, we knew that. In fact, everyone pretty much does. It's just Tina Fey thinks viewers are stupid and that they'd never know that.


One inspired idea that they came up with was having Julia Louis-Dreyfuss play Liz in Liz's flashbacks. That gave Julia three scenes in each performance and the first performance especially needed her.

The first performance was so awful it shouldn't have aired. The script was weak, the performances were bad (other than the exceptions already noted), there was no strong camera work or even functioning camera work and did no one notice how poorly lit the thing was? (The lighting for the second one suffered in the early moments before Rachel and Tina were in the elevator together and the lighting went bad in the middle of the final scene of the show.) The second show still had the weak skit but it managed to reach at least a C-minus level.

Season five, which many are predicting will be the last of the low-rated show, is when this overly feted sitcom elects to show how bad it can be? This show won a Peabody for goodness sake. But watching Thursday night was like watching a bad episode of Married Without Children because -- No, that's too kind. It was like watching an episode -- any episode, they were all bad -- of Unhappily Ever After. That's how awful 30 Rock was. It could only happen on Crazy Thursday.
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