Joshua Alston

Stories by Joshua Alston

  • Jay Leno Does Damage Control

    How the besmirched dark knight of late-night television can regain his stature—and fans.
  • Why 'Lost' Is a Show About Faith

    In the beginning, Oceanic Flight 815 started shaking somewhere over the Indian Ocean. "My husband keeps reminding me that planes want to be in the air," Rose nervously tells the passenger sitting next to her, a levelheaded neurosurgeon named Jack Shephard. "Well, he sounds like a very smart man," Jack replies. Moments later, 815 is ripped into three pieces, emptying its contents onto a Chinese box of an island. Twenty minutes into the still-stunning pilot episode of Lost, the message was clear: there are situations in which book smarts are worthless, in which eggheads wind up with egg on their faces. Or, to borrow from the Book of Romans, "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools." Lost is constantly alluding to the Bible: character identities (Shephard!), plotlines, explicit references to Scripture. As fans start speculating about the show's final season (set to launch on Feb. 2), they would do well to remember that more than anything else...
  • Can 'American Idol' Survive Without Simon?

    It's not just NBC struggling to keep its big stars happy. Fox made an equally risky move by letting Simon Cowell leave at the end of the season. Welcome to the new reality of network TV.
  • 'Flashforward': the Next 'Lost' or the Next 'Heroes'?

    Now that ABC’s new sci-fi drama FlashForward has been given a full-season pickup (a plump 25-episode order rather than the standard 22), it’s time to decide whether I plan to be around for the entire season. The premise definitely whetted my appetite: everyone on Earth blacks out for 2 minutes and 17 seconds, during which they get a preview of what’s to come for them six months in the future. Will knowing what happens in the future give them a shot at changing it? What if they don’t want it changed? There’s a lot to plumb, questions about fate and choice that would seem to lend themselves well to a series. But so far, I’m not sure FlashForward is making good on its promise.From the beginning, the show’s producers have been vocal about avoiding comparisons between their show and , and who can blame them? is a cultural phenomenon—why set yourself up to lose the expectations game? But ABC has been promoting as a worthy successor to , and just in time as the tropical mind-bender...
  • A Man, A Can, A Spatula: Why Black Men Have Hair Issues, Too

    A couple of months ago I got a frantic phone call from a female friend at 1 a.m. “I need you to come over,” she said. “It’s an emergency.” When I arrived, she informed me that her sewn-in hair weave, for which she had paid around $500, was coming loose, and she needed my help to take it out before she went to work the next morning. I sat with her for an hour, holding a mini-flashlight in my mouth while I performed surgery with cuticle scissors, carefully cutting the strings that tied her fake hair to her real hair. At that moment, I got it. Black women are serious about their hair....
  • Five Failing TV Shows We Should Take Off the Respirator

    There are issues so polarizing, so emotionally draining, so morally fraught, that we never really solve them as much as we table them for a while. Euthanasia is one such issue, which has come back to fore during the vigorous debate over American health care. But it’s an equally important issue in the world of entertainment: when is it finally time to pull the plug and kill a TV show? I know there are emotions involved, believe me I do. But I have to be the cold realist—there are some shows that have to die. It’s simply too painful to see them in their current state. I can’t bear it, and I’m willing to make the tough choices that others can’t. What follows is a list of the shows that must be taken off the respirator post haste. 1. America’s Next Top Model. Top Model has always been a house of cards. The title suggests that the show’s winner will go on to have a fruitful career in the modeling industry. Now that we’re into the show’s 13th season, it’s clear that isn’t true, and pr...
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    Recession Hits Reality TV

    Late last year, Nene Leakes was evicted from her five-bedroom, 5,000-square-foot house in Duluth, Ga. According to the legal notice, she and her husband agreed to leave because they couldn't afford the rent. That would put her in good company, but the eviction was especially damaging to Leakes, because for her, living in an expensive home isn't a choice. It's a job requirement....
  • The Top Five Hits of the Fall TV Season

    Now that all of the major fall TV premieres are in the rear-view mirror (except for the troubled V, which doesn’t bow for another month), it’s time to separate the winners from the losers, the wheat from the chaff, the 30 Rocks from the Studio 60 on the Sunset Strips. Here are the winners, a countdown of the five most-watched shows of the new season (according to audience share, not total viewers, in the key 18-to-49 demographic), along with my thoughts as to why they attracted so many eyeballs.No. 5: FlashForward (ABC) As usual, ABC ran an aggressive, effective advertising blitz to promote its most promising shows. The effort paid off for this sci-fi drama, which is being groomed as a serial puzzler to fill the hole left when ends next spring. This was the biggest key to its success. As much as the show’s creators tried to manage expectations and minimize comparisons to , ABC’s marketing department knew better. They understood that is a phenomenon, one that many folks missed out...
  • How Easy Is It to Win 'Survivor'?

    Survivor contestants go through a lot—thunderstorms, the desert heat, separation from friends and family, limited food (if you don't count rats)—which is why I don’t recall anyone ever describing CBS’s reality show as “easy.” That is, until now. The current season, Survivor’s 19th, features a foul, brutish little tank of a man named Russell Hantz, who is arguably the biggest villain the show has ever seen. He's even worse than Richard Hatch.Before the first episode was over, Hantz had done a season’s worth of conniving, sidling up to the ingénues of the tribe and assuring his loyalty to all of them (a coterie he charmingly refers to as his “dumb-ass girl alliance”). Then he sowed discord among his own tribe, creeping around like a frat-guy prankster as the others slept, pouring out their canteens and throwing their socks into the bonfire. Under a moonlight sky, he weaved a tall tale about having braved Hurricane Katrina and losing his beloved dog in the process. He congra...
  • The Five Most Surprising Moments at the Emmys

    When an awards show kicks off with a huge upset, the rules go out the window. The Emmys have always been pretty tough to call, but with two massively successful, critically ballyhooed series in the comedy and drama categories (30 Rock and Mad Men, of course), this year's awards could have looked like a repeat. They did, to an extent, when 30 Rock and Mad Men swept the final big awards again. But the night was also full of upsets, pleasant surprises, and downright jaw-droppers in some of the other major categories. Here are the five biggest shockers:1. Kristin Chenoweth Wins Best Supporting Actress in a ComedyThe first award handed out was the first OMG moment of the night. Chenoweth was up against Jane Krakowski from 30 Rock, Amy Poehler and Kristin Wiig from SNL. Her show was canceled, and yet, there she was at the podium. Poehler seemed like the frontrunner going in (especially after her now-classic performance as Hillary Clinton), but Chenoweth was certainly charming in the sadly...
  • And (We Think) the Emmy Goes To...

    Our TV guru Joshua Alston divines who'll take home a primetime, statuette-shaped doorstop in '09. The 61st Emmy Awards airs Sunday Sept. 20 at 8 p.m. ET. ...
  • What We Liked─and Didn't─About Jay in Primetime

    Kanye West's profusely apologetic appearance on the premiere episode of The Jay Leno Show proved two things: one, that after becoming known for petulant stunts, Kanye stepped on a land mine this time and he knows it. But it also proved that NBC might be onto something with this whole late-night-in-primetime idea. We know Jay's new show was probably going to get big ratings for its maiden voyage, thanks to the rubberneckers,but having the radioactive Kanye as a guest practically guaranteed a strong debut."This is what's nice about doing a show every day," Jay said, teasing the Kanye interview that would come later. Of course, he was always doing a show every day, but now his show is in primetime, a massive opportunity to capitalize on the latest breaking pop-culture obsessions. If Jay's bookers are content to feature whatever actor is promoting a romantic comedy that week, The Jay Leno Show has limited potential to best its scripted competition. But if...
  • The Death of the Awards Show

    by Joshua Alston So let’s say you watched the MTV Video Music Awards last night, then woke up this morning to report to an anachronistic corporate job wherein there is an actual water cooler around which people gather to discuss pop culture. Chances are your conversation featured observations such as:“Kanye West is such a jerk! That South Park episode was an insult to gay fish everywhere.”“So, Russell Brand─does anybody else get the feeling you would find him even more annoying if you understood what he was saying?”“Did you guys hear Eminem’s acceptance speech? So composed and mature. If I didn’t know better I’d swear he was 36 years old.”“What was up with that Lady Gaga performance? I think the blood was because she was supposed to be dying, but my girlfriend swears it was an homage to the locker-room scene from Carrie.”What your conversation was probably lacking was a mention of actual awards. You know, who won them, who didn’t win them, and why. For the second year in a row, I...
  • What Happens to TV if Jay Leno Is a Hit

    Has a comedy ever caused so much drama? Tonight marks the debut of The Jay Leno Show, which is either a modest proposal that allows NBC to save money while holding onto one of its biggest stars, or a Hail Mary pass with potentially cataclysmic consequences for television as we know it. As usual, the downplayers and the Cassandras will probably both be wrong, and Jay’s 10 p.m. variety show will land somewhere in the murky middle. But for the sake of a good time, let’s consider the possibilities.Scenario 1: Jay is a HitFirst, let’s define “hit,” since we’re in undiscovered country. No one is expecting Jay’s new show to beat new episodes of The Mentalist. But unlike Simon Baker’s show, Leno’s is inexpensive—it’s estimated to cost as low as 1/10th of a scripted drama. So even if the show trails its time-slot competition, or past NBC dramas, it’ll still be considered a success relative to its modest price tag. To put it into perspective, Jay’s Tonight Show averaged around a 1.5 share in...
  • Michael Jackson's Final Act

    A burial is an event so muted as to almost be anticlimactic. After the wailing and gnashing of teeth that comes with a funeral, there is the far more quotidian task of lowering a casket into the ground and covering it with dirt. Unless, of course, you're Michael Jackson, whose death and its aftermath has been characterized by arguably even more hoopla than his life, at least in the shrouded, low-key final years. Tonight, he'll be buried in a most grandiose way, in the Great Mausoleum at Glendale, Calif.'s Forest Lawn Cemetery. There, Jackson's body will lie among some of the greats of Hollywood's golden age, including Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. An exorbitant expense is attached, especially after his burial date was moved back from last week (reports suggested Michael Jackson's mother, Katherine, didn't want her son to be buried on his birthday). But a Jackson representative justified the cost. "The expenses are extraordinary," said...
  • Why Diane Sawyer Will Be Better Than Katie Couric

    ABC announced today that Charles Gibson, host of its nightly news show World News Tonight, will retire at the end of this year and be replaced in January by Diane Sawyer, the current co-host of Good Morning America. The major significance of the decision is obvious: two of the three nightly network newscasts will now be anchored by women. It was a watershed move when Katie Couric became the first woman to be the solo host of a network newscast in 2006─but while Sawyer’s ascension to World News is less splashy than Couric's due to the latter's historical significance, it’s very likely that Sawyer will avoid the tumultuous start that Couric had. Unlike Couric, there shouldn’t be a betting pool going on about how long it will take Sawyer to quit. Here’s why:...
  • Jane Lynch: Glee-ful Scene Stealer

    Jane Lynch has a stealing problem. Nothing that would get her arrested—she doesn't cheat on her taxes or, as far as we know, even take pens from restaurants. But make no mistake: she is one larcenous lady. To steal as often as this actress steals scenes in the many movies and television shows she's appeared in borders on compulsion. She stole a scene from Steve Carell in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, in which she played his lecherous supervisor. She inhaled all the oxygen in her scenes as part of Christopher Guest's mockumentary ensembles in Best in Show and A Mighty Wind. Of the 10 episodes comprising the first season of Weeds, the moment I remember most vividly is Lynch's appearance as the "Candy Man," a merchant of marijuana-laced sweets. Her scene lasted all of 85 seconds. Sticky fingers, that one.Next, she's prepared to steal from the fresh-faced youths of Glee, the Fox musical comedy that's practically a phenomenon after one episode. In it, Lynch plays Sue Sylvester, a nefarious,...
  • Porn Parody of TV Sitcoms Is Adult Entertainment's 'New Gold Rush'

    by Joshua AlstonIn a 2001 episode of Friends, Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) complains to a hotel clerk that she’s not to blame for some of the charges on her bill. “Sir, for the last time, I don’t care what the computer says. We did not take a bag of Mashuga Nuts from the minibar, and we did not watch Doctor Do-Me-a-Little.” This July, Friends got a porn parody of its own (see above), one of the many sitcom-based porn movies that have popped up in the past few years, some obvious (Three’s Company practically writes itself), others less so (Seinfeld? Honestly?). This recent spate of parody porn stems from the success of 2007’s Not the Bradys XXX. Jeff Mullen, who writes and directs under the name Will Ryder, helmed the Brady spoof and has since directed a sequel, as well as parodies of Bewitched, The Cosby Show, and most recently, Married With Children. He spoke to NEWSWEEK's Joshua Alston. What’s been up?I’m feeling good. Just wrapped eight days of shooting the next episode of The Brady...
  • Men on TV Are Such Wimps

    We TV is rolling out the fifth batch of its docuseries The Secret Lives of Women, which rummages through the dirty laundry of the fairer sex. Munchausen moms, phone-sex operators, and Wiccan priestesses reveal their unorthodox lives and the lengths to which they go to maintain them. There's no equivalent show for men, and if there were, even the title The Secret Lives of Men would sound silly. Men, it seems, don't have interesting secrets, and as TV fodder, they're worthless.There's no better evidence than Fox Reality's new series Househusbands of Hollywood. It's a gender-flipped version of Bravo's eminently bloggable Real Housewives franchise, and on paper, Househusbands sounds like it could be compelling. How do these men reconcile their domestic roles with the societal pressure to be the breadwinners? I had those questions going in, but as I watched the husbands—former baseball player Billy, ex-Marine Grant, sometime actor Danny, etc.—I found myself wondering what their wives...
  • 'American Idol' Doesn't Need Paula Abdul

    After a weeklong standoff, executed primarily through a series of tweets, the die is finally cast: Paula Abdul is leaving American Idol after eight seasons, during which time her sunny-side disposition and kid-glove criticism defined the tone and dynamic of the ratings juggernaut. This means that the judge’s table, which truthfully had gotten a little overpopulated when songwriter Kara DioGuardi joined last year, will be back down to three. DioGuardi will take Abdul’s spot between Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell. Abdul and the Fox network both released statements bemoaning Abdul’s loss. But is it really that much of a loss? ...
  • What's a 'D-Girl,' Anyway?

    by Joshua AlstonLOS ANGELES—Yesterday morning at the CBS portion of the Television Critics Association’s press tour, Nina Tassler, the network’s entertainment president, had a graceful barb prepared for NBC’s former programming head Ben Silverman. When asked what she thought about Silverman’s much-hubbubed departure from his network, Tassler flippantly replied “I’m really just a D-girl, so I wouldn’t comment on that.” If that’s not moving your “Oh, no, she didn’t!” meter, it’s probably because you, like most, are not hip to the public spectacle that was Ben Silverman, network head, or the most insidery Hollywood lingo. The Cliffs Notes version: Tassler was referring to an Esquire profile from 2007 in which the disastrously outspoken Silverman referred to the heads of the competing networks as “D-girls.” Tassler was elegantly deflecting the request to comment on Silverman’s fall, while shanking him back for good measure. But what is a D-girl (for "development girl") exactly...