Ringing out the year with Popes and gladiators

MUCH AS I HATE year-end lists, there’s something to be said for the therapeutic value of mental housecleaning. So in the spirit of giving (or maybe shedding), here are some oddities and observations worth sharing before closing the books on 2005:

He’s dead, Jim: A producer at “Inside Edition” called to inquire about an on-camera interview to explain, in light of ABC and CBS’ dueling John Paul II biopics, “why the Pope is so hot right now.”

Granted, dumb requests from TV producers are nothing new, with this year’s runner-up being the network morning show eager to discuss whether reality TV had “gone too far” because of “Intervention,” an A&E series that had been on for more than six months. Asked why they were making an issue of it now, the producer replied, “Well, we just heard about it, so it’s news to us.”

Only in L.A.: During my riveting jury-duty service, the prospective juror pool included an adult-film actor and a Playboy playmate. For awhile, it was hard to tell if they were trying to impanel a jury or cast a Fox reality show.

The jury coordinator also advised us that the legal process is “not like the stuff you see on TV,” which reflects a gift for understatement. “Law & Order” completes a murder trial in 22 minutes; we spent eight interminable days on a crappy misdemeanor. Given his obvious skill at multitasking, I say we place producer Dick Wolf in charge of the whole system.

Spanning the Globes: “Two and a Half Men” producer Chuck Lorre’s vanity card manifestos are often a near-surreal treat, as he demonstrated with Monday’s “open letter to Golden Globe voters” regarding his show’s nomination snub.

“Dear foreigners,” he began, proceeding to admit that he was “really upset to learn that our show isn’t even as funny as ‘Weeds.’ Are you sure?”

Lorre was just warming up. Wondering if the present Warner Bros. sent members wasn’t incentive enough, he continued, “Maybe next year you can tell the publicists what you’d like before they go shopping for the cute little gifts that always seem to wind up on eBay. Oh heck, I promised myself to take the high road, to not be bitter.”

Um, too late. But too funny.

Leave the kids: For all the time spent agonizing over the decline in movie attendance, let’s not absolve stupid patrons from their role in scaring off more discriminating movie-goers, beginning with the woman who brought a howling infant to “King Kong.”

Theater owners are weighing more aggressive tactics to police boorish behavior, but it’s an uphill slog. Technology has its costs, and a ruder, more self-absorbed culture is unfortunately one of them.

We get mail: You can never please everybody in these jobs, but this year’s mailbag seemed angrier than usual. The missives included a tart riposte from a producer’s father, a nasty note from a sci-fi showrunner asking what I really wanted to be when I grew up (now that’s original), and several emails from reality-TV contestants, who are apparently more literate — and easily riled — than one might have guessed.

When in “Rome”…: Despite HBO’s troubles this year with its sluggish Sunday ratings, there wasn’t a better program than its new drama “Rome,” a gripping, brilliantly acted ensemble piece whose finale was nothing short of haunting. Throw in the single most gruesome gladiator fight ever put on screen, and that show had something for everybody.

“The Mole” man: For all the anchor shenanigans at CBS and ABC, the year’s defining TV news personality has to be Anderson Cooper, and the long-term bet CNN made by rebuilding its primetime lineup around him.

Given the channel’s track record, I can’t wait to hear what explanation they come up with for replacing him.

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