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    Is This the End of 'American Idol'?

    After 10 long years of big-footing its way through pop culture, it looks like "American Idol" has sung its last note as the country's No. 1 TV show, music ("music"?) source, Broadway feeder school, and all-around entertainment distraction. With the departure of judges Ellen DeGeneres and (reportedly) Kara DioGuardi, there is no way that "Idol" will continue as the well-oiled machine that it was in the hallowed days of Randy-Paula-Simon.
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    'Jersey Shore': The Backlash Begins

    "Jersey Shore" returns this Thursday, and right on cue, the naysayers are piping up—from The New York Times to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. What are they saying about America's new icons?
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    Angelina Jolie: Spy Master?

    Consider: Angie's thriller "Salt" opens in less than a month, and it just so happens that she plays an American woman who is accused of spying for the Russians. Now, if folks are finding it hard to believe that the Russians—decades after the end of the Cold War—had engineered some kind of long-range plan to infiltrate Washington think tanks, is it any less conceivable that yesterday's news was really a ruse created to drum up publicity for a movie?
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    Isner Over Mahut: So Long, It Hurts

    Who says tennis is a gentlemanly game? The marathon, three-day match at Wimbledon between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut—just resolved in Isner's favor, at 70 to 68 games—became something like mortal combat . . . for the fans.
  • Film Review: '8: The Mormon Proposition'

    A good documentary should be like a kindergarten teacher: something that sternly makes you pay attention, and if you're lucky, learn something. By that standard, what grade should "8" receive?
  • PBS Relaunching Retro Fave "Electric Company"

    HEY, YOU GUYS! That's not a desperate plea to read this article (mostly). For children of the '70s, it's the catchiest catchphrase from the hippest TV show this side of "High School Musical." "The Electric Company" was the first show to make a grade-school kid feel like a grown-up. It was basically a sketch comedy—a sort of junior "Carol Burnett"—filled with silly skits, pop-culture spoofs and snappy songs. It was so good that most kids never noticed it was really a reading booster shot. The amazing cast included Bill Cosby, Morgan Freeman and Rita Moreno, but the real stars were the diphthongs, blended syllables and a pre-Dave guy named Letterman.No PC-savvy, Wii-crazy kid would go near such retro stuff today, so why is PBS launching a new version of "Electric Company" next week? Because more than a quarter of public-school fourth graders are still below-level readers for their age. Because after kids graduate from "Dora" and "Sesame Street," there isn't a lot of literacy-oriented...
  • Film on NHL's Sean Avery and the Fashion World

    You might say that Sean Avery is the human equivalent of jock itch. It's his job, as the baddest badass in the National Hockey League, to annoy his opponents, to get under their skin—anything to gain an edge. Like the time he painted his fingernails black. "It was an experiment to see what a guy would do when he saw a fist coming at him and the nails are painted," he says. Or the time he turned his back on a game against New Jersey so he could wave his arms to block goalie Martin Brodeur's view and glare at him like a jackal. "I still remember the look on his face," says Avery. "I think at that point he thought I was officially out of my f–––ing mind." The NHL promptly outlawed that kind of diversionary tactic in what is now called "the Avery Rule." "I only got to do it once," he says, "but it was a good once."If you met Avery on the street, though, you'd never guess he likes to get bloody. Quite the opposite. He may be the most hated guy in the NHL, but he's hands down its best...
  • The Oscars Should Die

    Whether or not the Hollywood writers' strike nixes this year's Academy Awards telecast, it may be time to kill the show.
  • Babs’s Stepson Also Rises

    You might call Josh Brolin the Rory Culkin (or Stephen Baldwin or Lorna Luft) of the moment. He's one of those actors who are better known for their bloodlines—dad James Brolin, wife Diane Lane, stepmother Barbra Streisand—than for their own work. To the extent it's possible to take pity on someone so blessed, I do feel for the guy: Brolin is talented, but it's hard to avoid the hunch that he's getting work only because he's worked his connections. It's not as though his résumé is sparkling. His greatest hits include "The Younger Riders" (with Stephen Baldwin!) and a TV drama called "Mister Sterling." Oh, and "The Goonies."So how, I wondered, did he land?in two of this year's most intense dramas, the Coen brothers' "No Country for Old Men" and Ridley Scott's "American Gangster"? Talk about setting yourself up for disaster. Brolin's costars are Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem (in "No Country"), and Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe (in "Gangster"). Together, they have four Oscars...
  • TV: The End of 'The Sopranos'

    One of the perks of being a TV critic is that you get to see all the shows before the public does. So you can imagine what my week has been like. Everyone who knows what I do for a living has asked me: "Does Tony die at the end of 'Sopranos'?" One person framed the question like this: "Do we know what happens at the end of 'Sopranos'?" To which I responded: "We can't know because you obviously do not." I know—bitchiness is never becoming, but I couldn't help myself. The fact is, I don't know how "The Sopranos" ends, and I'm very, very bitter about it. After all the hours I wasted watching "Lucky Louie," at least HBO could slip me the finale. I promise I won't tell anyone.OK, that's probably not true—I am a reporter, after all. I'd have to tell someone, even if it were only my mother. But since HBO doesn't trust me, I have no choice but to make something up. What follows are my theories of what might happen to Tony and the gang (what's left of it) on this Sunday's series finale: ...
  • Television Was UsTube

    When "Davy Crockett" debuted on ABC in 1954, the show was supposed to be a flop. "Crockett" was an earnest series of dramas based on the manly exploits of the American adventurer, starting with "Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter." The show was the brainchild of Walt Disney himself, who devised it to promote Frontierland at his new amusement park, Disneyland. Yet Disney's faith in the show was so minimal that before the first episode aired, the third one, "Davy Crockett at the Alamo," had been filmed--and Crockett had died. Something amazing happened when that first episode aired, however: 40 million people watched. And that was just the beginning. "Crockett" doodads--toy wagons, guitars and, especially, coonskin caps--sold faster than a wild mustang can run. Within a year, the merchandise generated more than $300 million--in today's dollars, about $2 billion. Not surprisingly, Disney quickly brought Crockett back from the dead. Now that's what you call the magic of television.You can't...
  • Snap Judgment: Theater

    Butley Booth Theatre, New YorkNathan Lane has spent so much time mugging in recent years--"The Producers," "The Odd Couple," "The Lion King"--that you forget the man can act. In "Butley," he plays Ben Butley, a British literature professor who loses his wife, his boyfriend and his mind on the same rainy day. Is he bitter? You betcha. Lane spews acid on everyone he meets, and with perfect tragi-comic timing. Rarely has bile tasted this delicious.
  • Newsmakers

    Roseanne is back with a one-hour comedy special on HBO. She spoke with Nicki Gostin.I'm trying to get comfortable with aging. It's hard. Reality is really tough.No. They don't do you any good except make you violent. I've been on everything but now I meditate. Meditation helps calm me down a lot.Yeah, I had my stomach made the size of a walnut and I still maintain my weight at 180.Well, it takes a lot of discipline. I used to just gorge. Now I gorge all day on smaller amounts. I'm still fat and I always will be and I don't care.Oh yeah.Of course. I'm sure I irritate them, too.Well, I know it's unbelievable but I irritate people daily. The truth is I like it or I wouldn't do it. It's fun to see what's underneath all the fake niceness, when you scratch and you see the crazy person come out.Actually I do have one serious, nice boyfriend, and then I have several gay boyfriends. And then I have my dreams.About having sex with all the hot men.I'm not going to say.No, I don't like that off...
  • Ready for Prime Time?

    One of the disadvantages of being the last TV show to debut on the fall schedule is that your show has already been discussed, dissected and, in some quarters, dismissed before it’s hit the air. By now, you’ve probably heard about “30 Rock,” the NBC sitcom created by “Saturday Night Live” alumnae (and “Mean Girls” writer) Tina Fey, and you probably think you know all about it—that it’s an “SNL”-inspired comedy, not to be confused with Aaron Sorkin's “SNL”-inspired drama, also on NBC. It turns out that, in the proud tradition of DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN and MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, those early reports are dead wrong. “30 Rock” is greatly inspired by a TV show. But that show is “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”Fey stars as Liz Lemon, the creator of a fictional series called “The Girlie Show,” which only resembles “SNL” in that it is not funny. Lemon is, like Mary Richards before her, the level-headed woman who is surrounded by buffoons, head cases and wackos. Chief among those is Tracy Jordan ...
  • Killer Serials

    There's a rule of thumb for writers that goes, if you introduce a gun into your story, it had better go off. In the first episode of ABC's "The Nine," the gun appears before the first commercial--and is never seen again. It belongs to a nerdy guy named Egan Foote (John Billingsley), who arrives at a bank in Los Angeles to ask for a loan. When he's turned down, he heads to the bank's bathroom, apparently to commit suicide. But someone knocks on the door, and Egan, loser that he is, drops his weapon in the toilet. Then things really go downhill. Within minutes, two thugs rob the bank and take Egan and eight other people hostage. By the time they're freed 52 hours later, one hostage is dead, the bad guys are in cuffs and the survivors are calling Egan a hero. How'd that happen? Did he use his gun? Who killed the woman? For answers to these and other questions, tune in next week.And the week after that. "The Nine" takes its sweet time sharing its secrets. In fact, the drama will spend...
  • Starting to Feel 'Lost'

    I’m reluctant to question the way that “Lost” unlocks its secrets. The show has changed directions countless times in its first two seasons, and each of the zigzags—discovering the hatches, the second set of survivors, the “Others” and of course the whole mysterious “Dharma” initiative—has only deepened the story and fed fans’ obsession with this most willfully inscrutable show. In other words, the producers know how to tell a story. But last night's premiere was an exercise in extreme frustration.Jack, Kate and Sawyer—who at the end of last season were being held captive by the evil Others—have been spirited away to yet another undiscovered part of the island. Jack is now being held in some kind of huge metal vat. Kate is in a locker room. And Sawyer is outside in a metal cage. Weird? Of course, but you expect “Lost” to be exotic. What you don’t expect, after waiting four months to find out the fate of the survivors, is that the episode ignores the rest of the cast. Sayyid, Sun,...
  • Televsion: Shark

    James Woods has never been Hollywood's most subtle actor--which makes him perfect for "Shark." Sebastian Stark, a.k.a. Shark, is the legal equivalent of flesh-eating bacteria, a high-priced defense attorney who devours anyone standing between him and victory. Until the day that Stark exonerates an accused wife-beater, who leaves court, goes home and kills the woman. Stark suddenly discovers his conscience and joins the D.A.'s office, and that's when "Shark" starts to drown. Woods is wonderfully corrosive in the courtroom scenes, but he's not good at going soft, which happens much more than you'd like, seeing how the contrived pilot (directed by Spike Lee) saddles Woods with custody of his 16-year-old daughter and a team of bright young D.A.s who want to train with the master. "Shark" wants to be "House" with less bile. Unfortunately, a bad guy trying to do good adds up to a mediocre show.
  • Race Baiting

    “Survivor: Cook Islands,” which premiered Thursday night, received much more than the usual preshow buildup thanks to a controversial gimmick: the four tribes are segregated—and we do mean segregated—by race: black, white, Asian and Latino. When CBS revealed this twist a few weeks ago, many people around the country were incensed that the show would pit races against each other as entertainment (though, curiously, no one has ever complained about women competing against men). A group of New York City councilmen even called for a boycott of the show. Now that we’ve seen the first episode, it’s clear that those councilmen were right. Separating the tribes by race is a terrible thing to do, but not because anything patently offensive has come from it. On the contrary, the debut episode was so boring—certainly the most boring debut episode of any “Survivor” ever—that some people will wonder what all the fuss was about.It’s clear that CBS and “Survivor” are desperate for their gimmick to...
  • Falling for Fall: What's Cool and Coming Your Way

    When we say that Aaron Sorkin's "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" is this season's big newTV show, that's not "Fall Preview" hype. We mean that literally. Did you see that title? Or the cast? Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, Amanda Peet, D. L. Hughley, Sarah Paulson, Steven Weber, Timothy Busfield, Nathan Corddry --combined, they've got to cost almost as much as Perry made for "Friends." "Studio 60" takes place behind the scenes at a show like "Saturday Night Live," only glitzier. The set looks like an art deco palace, with marbleized walls and Erté-like nudes--some joker put a red G-string on the big one in the foyer--surrounding a 150-seat studio. It's twice the size of the "West Wing" White House, and real enough to fool the pros. Corddry once went up to a production assistant who was wearing a headset and a studio 60 sweatshirt and asked where lunch was. "How should I know?" the man answered. "I'm an extra."In Corddry's defense, there's a major through-the-looking-glass vibe to ...
  • Oh Brother

    This is a good time to be a bad guy. Tony Soprano, Dr. House, “The Shield,” “Deadwood”—the badder the lead character, the bigger the ratings and acclaim. So it’s not surprising that someone has taken the anti-hero worship to the next level.Showtime’s “Brotherhood” (debuting July 9) is a drama that orbits around two bad-boy polestars. Tommy Caffee (Jason Clarke) is a conniving state assemblyman in working-class Providence, R.I. His brother Michael (Jason Isaacs) runs the neighborhood mob. You can already see the central conflict—a sibling rivalry on opposite sides of the law. Except it’s hard to tell who’s the bigger hood in “Brotherhood.” Michael may cut off a rival’s ear to make a point, but Tommy will cut a backroom deal to run a highway through his constituents’ homes if it means more power and money for him. It’s tempting to say that both brothers have holes in their souls, but that would imply that they have souls at all.What they do have is family, which is the place where bad...
  • Putting a Spell on Us

    Aaron spelling was the McDonald's of TV producers--no one ever accused him of being a master chef, but he sold more shows than anyone. Spelling, who died last week of a stroke at 83, was never deluded by where the likes of "The Love Boat," "Dynasty" and "T.J. Hooker" would leave him in history. "We often have to make the choice between 150 critics and 150 million Americans out there," he once said, "and I have always felt that my job was to please the viewers." He may not have reinvented television, but Spelling created genres that were, in their own way, hugely influential. "Charlie's Angels" was the first bimbo police show (just as "Starsky & Hutch" was the first starring himbos). Before "Beverly Hills, 90210," no one ever made a hip teenage drama entirely from the kids' point of view. "The Mod Squad" made cops look cool--in 1968. And his biggest hit? "7th Heaven," about a family headed by a minister. Spelling's shows may have been as deep as the pool on "Melrose Place," but...
  • Chappelle: A Dozen Skits, a Million Questions

    On July 9, Comedy Central will air what it's calling "Chappelle's Show: The Lost Episodes," but that must be a typo. These are really the last episodes, as in the dozen skits Dave Chappelle had filmed before he went crazy or to Africa or wherever he went after he walked away from his $55 million (or so) contract. Chappelle himself had nothing to do with this salvage job; in fact, the two blues guys who croon the "Chappelle's Show" theme stop, hilariously, and say: "I don't think he's comin'." "When each sketch is over, I still expect to see Dave come running out," says "Chappelle's Show" co-creator Neal Brennan, who packaged these three shows. "You still kind of hope it's a joke and he's not really gone."The sketches themselves are just as topical and subversive as ever. There's one where Dave is at a party dancing to posthumous Tupac music that's suspiciously prescient. Another features Chappelle as the host of "Hip Hop Newsbreak" in the kind of extreme whiteface no one else would...
  • Battle of the Network Stars

    When you're trying to tease a couple billion dollars out of a roomful of advertisers, it helps to have a smokin' PowerPoint presentation. Last week, when Fox tried to sell its fall lineup to advertisers in New York City, its idea of exciting was asking the studiously bland Carrie Underwood to sing a tune. The folks at ABC hired a real star--Mary J. Blige--but played "Desperate Housewives" clips shamelessly while she performed. NBC's presentation was soporific; CBS's was terrific: Mariah Carey and the cast of "Jersey Boys." But it was Chris Rock, creator of "Everybody Hates Chris," who gave the crowd what it really wanted--a sales pitch without the song and dance. "We want you to buy more ads because Chris is going to be played by a white girl," he said. "You are going to see more white people this year than you have before. Sometimes they are just going to walk through, wave and say, 'Hi! I'm white'."And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a peek inside the weeklong suck-up known as the...