Archive for the 'Television' Category

Jack Kevorkian: Dr. Death Becomes a Rock Star

Dr. Jack Kevorkian: he helped 130 people to their deaths through assisted suicide. He spent 8 1/2 years in jail. And now, at the age of 82, Dr, Death is a rock star.

Last night was the New York premiere of Barry Levinson’s excellent new HBO about Kevorkian, “You Don’t Know Jack,” starring Al Pacino. The screening was at the Ziegfeld, with a heavy A list. The party was at the legendary Four Seasons restaurant. This is the top. You can’t do better than this kind of action.

At the Four Seasons, young girls in mini-skirts lined up to have their picture taken with Kevorkian. A listers like Bob Balaban, Michele Lee, and Garry Trudeau were guests. The Four Seasons served their famous lambchops and mashed potatoes.

The joke going around was: don’t even tell Dr. Kevorkian you have the sniffles. In case he’s trigger happy.

But seriously: Oscar winner Levinson has made an Emmy worthy movie, giving Pacino a nuanced performance–his best in many years. John Goodman and Danny Huston are very, very good in supporting roles, as is Susan Sarandon as Kevorkian’s right hand. Ordinarily Sarandon would be the female standout but “Jack” has a surprise: Brenda Vaccaro.

Youngsters may wonder: who is Brenda Vaccaro? Well, she was hot stuff–cute, smart and sexy–in the 60s and early 70s. Vaccaro was an “It” girl. sort of in the same category as Susan St. James and Stefanie Powers. She did tons of TV every year, dated everyone, and had a great role in a Best Picture, “Midnight Cowboy.”

In “Jack,” Brenda plays Kevorkian’s beloved sister Margo, his partner and rock as if her whole legacy depended on it. She and Pacino seem like they’ve been brother and sister forever. They’ve known each other in real life since the 60s, so that helps. “Marty Bregman gave us each our starts and introduced us,” Al explained, while Bregman beamed. “We go all the way back,” said Brenda. Pencil her in for a Best Supporting Actress Emmy next fall.

Pacino was happy cat all night. He brought his 33 year old Argentinian girlfriend, Lucilla, who’s also the mother a 13 year old. He also brought his 20 year old daughter, Julie, a budding filmmaker. A short film of hers called “Prodigal,” may play out of competition at Cannes. Pacino has two younger kids with Beverly D’Angelo, but this one’s ready to go in the world. She’s a smart cookie, and funny.

“She’s also a great softball player,” Pacino chimed in.

But back to Dr. K on the couch, getting his picture taken with nymphets. He’s very happy about the movie. And why not? It’s a very synpathetic portrait of a man who–right or wrong–helped 130 people die. These stories usually don’t end with lambchops. He loves Pacino. He told Al, “I’d love to go down the street with you dressed as me. I’d say, I’m Al Pacino and this is Jack Kevorkian. That’s how much you’re like me in the movie.”

Each of Kevorkian’s attorneys were there, too, but only one–Detroit’s Geoffrey Feiger–is in the film (played so well by Danny Huston). Feier rose to fame on TV defending Kevorkian, but apparently they had a falling out along the way. The more steadfast Mayer Morganroth, who’s mentioned in passing in the film, was the guy who really filed all the motions and stuck by Dr. Death for 16 years. He never leaves his client’s side. After years of pro bono work, he’s finally getting paid.

Kevorkian is looking forward to all his new fame, starting with that lunch time interview on Friday with Anderson Cooper. “Bring your toughest questions,” he advised me. “I’ll answer anything.” Stay tuned.

Oprah Book: Ex-Employees Could Make Good Unnamed Sources

Who woulda thunk it?

The mainstream media has accepted the word of Kitty Kelley, a trash biographer who depends of unnamed sources, over Oprah Winfrey, a woman who’s obviously made too much money and been too successful as a broadcaster and philanthropist.

As of now, and thanks to the internet, Kelley’s assertions about Winfrey in her new book have been presented as a fait accompli. No one’s bothered to check them out. They’re just reprinted millions of times, from the New York Post to the Washington Post.

This column was the only one to call Oprah’s aunt in Mississippi, Mrs. Katherine Esters, to see what Kelley had wrought. And Mrs. Esters, as I wrote here yesterday, disputed Kelley’s claims. She says that Kelley manipulated and hounded her, that she never told Kelley family secrets.

It seems to fall on deaf ears.

The New York Post just laid it out, happily enough: “Lesbian fling, prostitution, and abuse lies.” That’s it, case closed. Unbelievable. Even worse: the lofty Howard Kurtz deigns to roll in the mud, writing about Kelley and using her interview with the slimy Michael Jackson hunter Diane Dimond, formerly of “Hard Copy,” to bolster his argument. Has Kurtz ever been able to book himself on Oprah? Probably not.

Kelley must be pleased. Her attempted assassination has no doubt caused the pain she sought to inflict on Winfrey. She’s endeavored to ruin a career far more substantial than her own by miles. Good work!

Kelley had a lot of help in this project. Unnamed sources are usually disgruntled ex-employees. In this case, Kelley has said she used people who’d signed confidentiality agreements. They’d have to give back their monetary settlements if they were caught.

It’s not hard to find the culprits. Oprah’s show has not had a lot of turnover, and the staff has always been treated well. But back in 1994 there was a huge amount of turmoil. Lots of people left or were fired. This could be an Agatha Christie mystery. (It was covered in Entertainment Weekly at http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,304426,00.html.)

Also, Kelley’s book is published by Crown, a division of Random House. Maybe they’re getting even. Back in 1994, Oprah abruptly canceled publication of her scheduled autobiography by Knopf, another Random House division. She returned the advance. But the decision left Random House holding the bag without its anticipated best seller.

And let’s not forget: there was some kind of manuscript or treatment from that book. It’s no doubt out there, somewhere.

Of course, the current Random House is not the company started by Bennett Cerf and run so beautifully for many years by Bob Bernstein. Kelley’s book is the kind of thing only hacks like Lyle Stuart would publish in the old days. How times have changed.

Conan Going to TBS, Full of Surprises in Meantime

Conan O’Brien is heading to TBS in September for his late night talk show. It’s a surprise, since the trades kept predicting a Fox show in no time.

But I told you months ago, when the Conan-Jay scuffle was underway, that Fox had problems clearing stations. Their network goes off the air at 10pm. After that, it’s syndication. Their stations make too much money showing comedy reruns. And Fox might not have such a sense of humor about O’Brien’s politics.

Tonight Conan starts his live tour, so the announcement is well timed. The live shows are full of surprise guests in every city. The Conan people are going to work hard to keep the guests a secret, but I am sure some of it will leak out. By the time Conan gets to New York on June 1st, there should be Coco hysteria.

Also, I wouldn’t bet the farm, but maybe the barns: the New York shows are sure to have some  involvement with Bruce Springsteen. We’ll wait and see.

Epatha Rep Says Law & Order Decision Final; True Blood Stars Re-up

Yesterday I told you that insiders at “Law & Order” really feel that S. Epatha Merkerson will sign a new contract. She said previously that she was leaving. Her rep told me yesterday that she’s really, really leaving. “It’s not a contract ploy,” he says. Somehow, I still think she’ll be persuaded to stay for one last record breaking season. That is, if Dick Wolf doesn’t kill off her character at the end of this season…

…And I hear the folks at HBO had to ante up “a lot” to get the cast of “True Blood” back for its next season. No, Anna Paquin won’t be paid twice since she announced she’s bi-sexual…

…We know that Matthew Rhys re-signed for another season of “Brothers & Sisters,” as did other cast members. But will ABC renew the show? The ratings are terrible, and the show is simply adrift. What could have been “Knots Landing” meets “thirtysomething” has lost all focus. They should try and get the creator, Jon Robin Baitz, back on board. Especially embarrassing is the waste this season of Rachel Griffiths on an idiotic story line involving a French stud boyfriend…

Here in New York, we lost something special last week: the Joey Reynolds show on WOR Radio. WOR Radio has really become a creepy outpost for right wing conservative radio buoyed by commercials for wacko products. There’s nothing entertaining about listening to hate-filled Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, and even John Gambling III (who has really gone ’round the bend since returning to the station after an 8 year absence) rant on and on. Now the once great station has canned the lovable Reynolds for syndicated George Noory, who talks every night about UFOs, ESP, and cosmic happenings. Reynolds gave the station a heart and soul, now something it lacks sorely other than New York institution Joan Hamburg. I sure hope Joey lands somewhere soon. He knew that New Yorkers have no time for space ship watching. We’ve got real stuff to do…

Law & Order: Epatha May Stay, Meloni In, Erbe Back?

It’s spring, and a young man’s fancy turns to the soap operas at the various “Law & Order” shows.

I can tell you that sources say S. Epatha Merkerson may not be leaving “Law & Order” so fast. Even though Merkerson announced that she was exiting her role after 20 seasons, I am told that this is just a negotiating ploy. “L&O” grand poobah Dick Wolf is notoriously tough on money. But Merkerson is the show’s only tie to its past. She started there in 1993. Next season, if it’s renewed, “L&O” would become the longest running series ever. It doesn’t seem possible that NBC and Wolf won’t make that p.r. hook happen. And they can’t do it without Merkerson. So hold on. Lt. Anita van Buren may yet play out a final record breaking season.

And there’s more: Chris Meloni is now saying he’s staying with “Law & Order: SVU.” In February, he gave some quote that he was out. But “SVU” can’t function without Meloni and Mariska Hargitay, who’ve become savvy negotiators themselves. Merkerson probably took a page from their book. See how this works?

And finally: the word from the set of “Criminal Intent” is that Jeff Goldblum and Saffron Burrows are not getting along, that Burrows may not be working out, and the stage could be set for Kathryn Erbe–whom I reported exclusively months ago was purged along with Vincent D’Onofrio and Eric Bogosian–might be brought back around Episode 5.

Hold on, because it’s all volatile, and anything could happen. One thing’s for sure: fans continue to write this column saying they are agree that D’Onofrio and Erbe are gone, and that they won’t watch a Goldblum-only show.

As far as the original “L&O”: Wolf should make sure Merkerson is there, and bring back as many of the living alumni as possible next season for an all-star send off. Fans want to see Paul Sorvino, Michael Moriarty, Richard Brooks, Jill Hennessy, Angie Harmon, etc. It could be a bonanza!

Julianne Moore’s World Turns This Afternoon

Julianne Moore has been nominated for the Oscar four times.

But she has one win for the Daytime Emmy. She played Frannie Hughes and her lookalike cousin Sabrina back in 1985 on CBS’s “As the World Turns.”

Today, Moore–unlike so many famous soap graduates–returns to “World Turns” at 2pm EST for a one day visit. The occasion is the 25th anniversary of her soap parents, Bob and Kim Hughes, played by show vets Don Hastings and Kathryn Hays.

If only more actors acknowledged their beginnings, soaps might have lasted longer. But that’s Julianne Moore–she’s a mensch.

Last night she came to the premiere of “Lend Me A Tenor” with the casting director who first found her and hired for “World Turns.” That’s loyalty.

Moore is on a break before she starts another batch of films. She’s currently in “Chloe” and has Spike Lee‘s new one on her schedule. Still, she called up and offered to do a bit on “World Turns”before CBS and Procter & Gamble stupidly end the 54 year old show in September. They’ll replace it with something cheap and useless, like another game show, talk show, or reality thing.

Moore reportedly got a kick out of the reunion, but limited her involvement. “They wanted to write her a whole episode where she was going to fix a lot of the characters’ problems,” a source says. “But in the end she just wanted to come in and say hi.”

One funny thing: Moore got advice from 92 year old show matriarch Helen Wagner, who plays a warm grandmother on the show. “She told Julianne how to lean in on a scene so Helen’s light wasn’t blocked,” an observer said. “Helen knows her stuff!”

“World Turns” has about 60 more episodes to film. Maybe Moore’s appearance will inspire some other famous grads, like Meg Ryan, Marisa Tomei, to pop in and say goodbye, too. Fans are also hoping for a cameo from Broadway star Larry Bryggman, who played Dr. John  Dixon for 30 years before vanishing into soap ether.

PS Les Moonves, who’s said such mean things about the soaps, should send Moore a dozen roses, don’tcha think?

Kirstie Alley Puts A&E Ratings on Diet

Kirstie Alley‘s ratings are putting her network, A&E, on an audience diet.

The ratings for her “Big Life” show on A&E were down this past Sunday from the previous week when the show debuted. Even adding “best friends” John Travolta and Kelly Preston to the mix didn’t help.

Alley had a big lead in, too, from Gene Simmons‘ “Family Jewels” show. A&E aired six half hour installments of that show on Sunday night, from 7 to 10pm. “Family Jewels” audience kept increasing, too, finally scoring 1.9 million viewers. But when “Big Life” came on, the number of viewers slimmed down fast. Alley had a 1.3 average for her two episodes, down from 1.4 the previous week. (Ratings are courtesy of website http://www.tvbythenumbers.com)

This past Sunday, cable TV was competitive, too. A Lifetime movie called “Amish Grace,” scored a 4.o between 8 and 10pm. That means that people watching cable–nay, dare I say women?–watched “Amish Grace” but had little interest in “Big Life.”

Alley’s show didn’t dent the top 25 cable shows for the week.

A&E just sent out a press release trumpeting that their first quarter were their best ever, and that they’re 5th among non news cable networks. Ok, if they say so. Their current programming is much different than their beloved “Biography” series. (Where’s Bill Kurtis when you need him?)

In its debut a week ago Sunday, “Big Life” also didn’t hold onto its lead from “Family Jewels,” which preceded it at 9pm.  The KISS leader’s personal saga had 300,000 more viewers during its hour before Kirstie.

After all the hullabaloo about Alley’s roller coaster weight, and the controversy about her diet program and Scientology, the publicity didn’t do much.

Consider that on its first Sunday night, the hit cable shows were “Life” on Discovery–6 million viewers; “Sunny with a Chance” on Disney with 5 million; “The Pacific” on HBO with 2.7 million; “Breaking Bad” on AMC–almost 2 million viewers; and then Simmons with 1.74 million. And A&E, unlike HBO, is on basic cable. There’s no subscription fee.

Plus–logging even beat Kirstie’s weight dilemma. “Ax Men” on the History channel had almost a million more pairs of eyes than “Big Life.” I resisted the headline: “Kirstie Alley Beaten By Loggers.”

And PS: what constitutes a hit on basic cable? Well, “Mad Men,” the best show on TV, airing on also free cable AMC, never did lower than a 1.7 last season. Its high was a 2.8. And the third season finale was 2.3. Just FYI.