News, scoops, reviews and more from TV land.
Here's, briefly, who I am: I've been with Newsday since 1989, and have written about virtually every show, personality, development, controversy, and network over those years. Most of this has been sheer joy. Some of it has been sheer torture. And all of it, for better or worse, adds up to one thing: I know a lot more about the wonderful business of television entertainment than even I care to admit.
Have you been watching HBO's "True Detective," which wraps Sunday? Of course you have - everyone else on the planet has been. But here's the thing - what the heck is the Yellow King? The whole series seems to revolve around resolution of this urgent question, and lots of clues, some puckishly, are strewn throughout. (There's even a character named LaRue; at least his first name isn't "Jaune.")
College Humor, the website, has a theory. It may be the correct one. Take a look, but be warned - a naughty word at the end you wouldn't want your grandmother to hear. And thanks to Hitfix's TVTattle for locating this amusing theory.
So what did we think of Seth MacFarlane's "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey," premiering Sunday on Fox, while hitching a ride on half a dozen other Fox-owned networks (that's called a "simulcast" ). My thoughts... .
"Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey," WNYW/5, Sunday night at 9, then Monday nights at 9.
What it's about: This 13-part series produced by Seth MacFarlane, who also does some voice work here (some of the historical figures and sequences are in anime), is a remake of Carl Sagan's 1980 series, "Carl Sagan's Cosmos," which charted the creation of the universe, planets and life and became a huge hit for PBS in the process. With a major assist from Sagan's widow, Ann Druyan and Steven Soter -- both of whom wrote the original with Sagan, who died in 1996 -- this "Cosmos" is hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, also director of the Hayden Planetarium. Sunday's opener, like Sagan's, begins beyond the stars, at the beginning of the universe, as Tyson (like Sagan) takes flight in his own "Ship of the Imagination." "It's time," says Tyson, "to journey from the infinitesimal to the infinite."
My say: Seth MacFarlane does Carl Sagan's "Cosmos?" Is this the cosmos' idea of a cosmic joke? Or is this project perhaps MacFarlane's atonement for his TV sins (and "Ted," too?) Billions and billions and billions of years of evolution, and 75 years of TV, and we all now meet at this point in space and time, whereby the guy who created "Family Guy" channels an eminent planetary astronomer and his classic TV series... What does this all mean?
Who cares. Is "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" any good? Based on the first (and only) episode sent out for review, yeah, it's good and in some ways superior to the original. Those are, of course, the obvious "ways," represented by quantum leaps in special effects technology that transport Sagan's original vision to places even he could never have dreamed of. It's a dazzling vertiginous swirl of stars, planets, galaxies and super-clusters while the money sequence Sunday features a proto-Earth and moon rapidly accreting out of space junk and stardust. Were Sagan alive to witness this extravagant TV spectacle, he'd happily approve.
But in some ways this "Cosmos" is also inferior to the original. Sagan's "Cosmos" began with a breathtaking visual idea: What if you, the viewer, were to approach Earth from the farthest reaches of the known universe? This offered a unique cosmic perspective by placing our pale blue dot -- Earth -- within the infinite span of space and time. Accompanied to a soundtrack by Vangelis, Sagan's "Cosmos" carefully led the viewer on this intellectual journey, patiently explaining reasonably difficult science with singular clarity and compelling language. (In addition to his many talents, Sagan was also a wonderful writer.)
But commercial TV doesn't have the luxury of time, so there's a rushed, breathless quality to this finished product. Basic ideas are laid out, but they're almost too basic. MacFarlane's "Cosmos" loves pictures. Sagan's "Cosmos" loved words.
But as a cosmic tour guide, Tyson is easily Sagan's equal. He brings Sagan's passion, wonderment and intellectual heft, and because he's told this story on so many other TV series, he remains a comfortable, familiar figure, too. Tyson closes Sunday's opener with an anecdote about a 17-year-old from the Bronx who long ago visited Sagan. That aspiring astronomer -- Tyson himself -- was treated with kindness and generosity. That day, he says, "I also learned the kind of person I wanted to be." In this series, one hopes Sagan will be repaid.
Bottom line: Basic yet beautiful, "Cosmos" appears to be a winner.
Announced Tuesday night: Conan O'Brien will host the 2014 MTV Movie Awards, airing April 13, and originating from the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles. And naturally the once and future host of this reasonably fun event -- has to be more fun than the recent Oscars! -- had this to say:
“After eight years of intense negations, I am honored to announce I am hosting MTV’s second most prestigious awards show.”
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who exhibits questionable judgment with regard to his public appearances (ahem), exhibited especially questionable judgment by appearing on Monday night's "Jimmy Kimmel Live." You've no doubt heard he was upset by the appearance, no doubt heard he was badly mauled, no doubt wondered why he would do this at all?
Why... Here's an outtake -- one of the offending ones:
And just like that, we have a pair of frontrunners in the forthcoming season of "Dancing With the Stars," starting March 17: Olympic skating champs Meryl Davis and Charlie White have joined the cast. Of course, the only real question here is not whether they will be at the top of the leader board by season's end -- but which one will (likely) prevail? (They will be partnered with Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Sharna Burgess, respectively.)
And this news: Billy Dee Williams (Emma Slater) will be on the show, and so will the 55-year-old Drew Carey (Cheryl Burke). Also: Sean Avery (Karina Smirnoff), formerly of the Rangers.
And more news still: Amy Purdy (Derek Hough), a snowboarding "paralympian" who according to ABC lost her legs to meningitis when she was 19, will be here, too. Expect her to be around for the long haul, especially with Hough along for this ride.
Here's the rest:
James Maslow (Peta Murgatroyd): The 23-year-old star of Nickelodeon's "Big Time Rush" has been chosen in an obvious attempt to "youth up" this very old show -- one of the oldest, in terms of audience, on the air, which has made "DWTS" a "sales problem" for ABC. Maslow to the rescue!
Cody Simpson (Witney Carson): Speaking of which ... another teen heartthrob joins; will do well because ABC will make certain he will. No early exit for Simpson, 17, who should bring in some boppers, who will make the audience (theoretically) a little bit younger.
NeNe Leakes (Tony Dovolani): This Housewife has been reported as a potential cast member almost before she was a "Real Housewives of Atlanta" star. (Not really, but ....)
Diana Nyad (Henry Byalikov): The swimming champ ... Smart hire here. Nyad, 64, is one of those people -- an indomitable force, who should have a backstory (not to mention backstroke) that will keep the show/judges rattling on for weeks.
Danica McKellar (Valentin Chmerkovskiy): Winnie from "The Wonder Years." She's 39.
Candace Cameron Bure (Mark Ballas): D.J. Tanner, "Full House." Another long-rumored addition. She's 37.
Bottom line: Interesting cast, with no obvious weak links, unless Carey would qualify (he does). With this cast, "DWTS" is not merely covering all of its demographic bases, but noticeably shifting them to a younger base. Will it work? (Do you know a teen who has ever watched "DWTS"? Then I think you have your answer.) This cast at least stands the chance of proving the exception. Avery, 33, a famed enforcer, will struggle to get the audience vote -- that's just how this audience swings, while Williams -- at the age of 76 -- has that going against him, too. Nyad's an athlete; should help. Leakes, 43, has notoriety and reality fame; should also help. But obviously all eyes will be on Davis, 27, and White, 26. Just to point out what's so obvious, they're the ones to beat.
The vox populi has spoken and what is said is loud and clear — we loved the 86th annual Oscars telecast, or at least we watched the 86th annual Oscars telecast . . . It was seen by an average 43 million viewers, up three million from last year and a 10-year record. Here are the relevant stats...via ABC:
ABC’s “The Oscars” marked its most-watched telecast in since 2004. In addition, the Ellen DeGeneres-hosted show was up in adults 18-34 to a 7-year high (+1% — 11.4 rating vs. 11.3 rating), in teens 12-17 to a 3-year high (+8% — 6.8 rating vs. 6.3 rating) and in kids 2-11 to an 8-year high (+9% — 3.5 rating vs. 3.2 rating) — since 2007, 2011 and 2006, respectively.
Other than a surprising instance of what many critics deemed the should-win best picture candidate topping the will-win candidate ("Gravity"), the 86th Academy Awards did not really have all that many other surprising instances, did they?
This all proceeded with the sure-footed -- if not exactly light-footed -- grace of a massive institution that knows what it is and knows that it is not about to explore new and uncertain terrain either. The Academy tried that last year, which is why Ellen DeGeneres -- whose most dangerous move Sunday night was prying cash out of Harvey Weinstein for the pizza -- was back as presenter.
After 86 years, the Oscars has lost its youthful spark because youthful sparks only seem to get it in trouble; it's Woody Grant, stumbling his way toward Lincoln, Neb., a little bit dazed and a little bit confused in the modern world of annual TV awards presentations, where even the Tonys have more life force. The Grammys have now emerged as the de facto standard of what an awards show should be -- but Sunday night's Oscars felt at moments more like the daytime Emmys by contrast.
There were certainly high-water marks -- exciting moments that you remember or savor in the moment or the next day, when something real or unbridled or joyful broke through the crust and must of a lumbering TV spectacle: Steve McQueen's sort-of-verbal back flip thanking everyone and anyone while knowing that he had just made history as the first black director who's film won for best picture, or Jared Leto's terrific moment in the spotlight, or Lupita Nyong'o's tearful tribute to Patsey.
Ellen was good, too -- but safe and good, in that order, which is now the order of importance for any host post-Seth MacFarlane, who didn't merely reverse the order but demolish it and add a few other elements to the mix last year.
The Oscars is about honoring a very nervous body of industry players who really aren't there to be part of a large TV entertainment put out by a TV network looking for younger viewers, or preferably those elusive younger male ones. They are there to get awards.
Ellen tried to humanize it with an Oscar selfie, then a pizza shtick that went on and on -- Rainn Wilson actually timed it, saying in a tweet that it went on for 11 minutes and 54 seconds; he wasn't exaggerating, and the thing really did start to feel like a frat house transaction (who's got five bucks for the tip?) after awhile. The pizza was ice cold by the time it was over and so was the joke.
Her opener was all-establishment. Check out -- for contrast -- her 79th opener, in that maroon velour (I guess it was velour) suit: "My job is to put you at ease and make you forget this is a make or break night for you..." Of course that got a laugh. That one ran a brisk five minutes; last night's ran nine, for those keeping count.
Ellen looked sharp in a black tux, and she seemed comfortable herself. No meanness, nothing arch. To Barkhad Abdi: "Who's the wine captain now!..." Or nothing too arch: "One of the most amazing Liza Minnelli impersonators I have ever seen, good job sir!" Or this, to JLaw: "If you win tonight, I think we should bring you the Oscar..."
The night wanted some drama but couldn't quite locate it, and clearly wanted to avoid it, too. Not a word whispered about the recent death of Philip Seymour Hoffman -- just a terribly sad bookend to the In Memoriam segment.
"Gravity" kept winning all the early awards, then all the technical awards, then the director award -- Alfonso Cuarón -- and if you paid much attention to the experts, that kind of roll would inevitably lead to one thing -- the best picture. Even McQueen's loss to a nevertheless richly deserving Cuarón seemed a letdown, for he would have become the Academy's first winning black director. Cate Blanchett's win, then Matthew McConaughey's win, seemed to indicate that Those Who Know really in fact knew.
... And then "12 Years a Slave" brought their all-knowingness to a crashing halt. Too bad viewers had to wait all the way until 11:59 for the night's one genuine surprise. Seemed like an awfully long wait.
What did you think of the 86th Academy Awards? Tell us in the poll and comments below.
Rare is the Oscars TV moment that forces you out of a state of non-wakefulness to laugh at something surprising or unusual - but not so rare is the post-Oscars TV moment, or in last night's case, Jimmy Kimmel's post-Oscars chat with Kevin Spacey. Spacey is always good on talk shows, and invariably the host asks him to reprise his Johnny Carson, which is very nearly perfect. Check out this portion of the interview (two minutes in) then go here to see a young Jimmy Kimmel perform on "The Tonight Show." Where, oh where have the years gone?
Toronto mayor Rob Ford, around whom an entire late night TV comedy industry has revolved the last six months, found his way to Jimmy Kimmel's post-Oscars bash lat night. He will be a guest - also, as if once is not enough - on tonight's "Jimmy Kimmel Live."
Here's a clip, plus Kevin Spacey, who tried to enliven a not particularly lively Oscars last night whenever he was on-camera, as Kimmel's guest...
Amusing encounter between Lena Dunham and Seth Meyers last night on "Late Night With Seth Meyers." She had an incident at the airport...(doesn't everyone?)."This is like 'SVU' times a thousand...I cried and then I called my mom [and she] said, 'Oh my God, do you think anyone tweeted about it?'" She also talks here about her "Saturday Night Live" obsession; she hosts the show March 8.