Sunday, May 27, 2007

Hidden Palms - May 26, 2007



Still a peach of a pair

Gail O'Grady and Sharon Lawrence were
memorable on NYPD Blue. Now, they're back
together in the mysterious confines of Hidden Palms.

By Eric Kohanik

There’s a great little TV reunion that takes place on the screen in Hidden Palms, a kitschy new mystery-drama series that makes its way to the tube this week.

It’s a reunion that involves two of my favourite actresses: Gail O’Grady and Sharon Lawrence

The two co-stars actually worked together “60 years ago,” O’Grady quips, during the early years of NYPD Blue. That series featured Lawrence as Sylvia Costas, a tough prosecutor who clashed with – and later fell for – world-weary police detective Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz). 

O’Grady, meanwhile, attracted plenty of attention for her role as Donna Abandando, the buxom, poofy-haired precinct receptionist during the show’s first few seasons. 

The actresses have followed different career paths since those days. O’Grady spent three seasons as wife and mother Helen Pryor on a nostalgic drama called American Dreams. She followed that with a rather short-lived run in an unsuccessful real-estate-office sitcom called Hot Properties

In between, O’Grady has chalked up anumber of memorable guest stints, including a two-episode turn on Two and a Half Men last season and a recurring run this season as Gloria Weldon, the super-hot judge who has a tough time keeping her hands, or other body parts, away from lawyer Alan Shore (James Spader) on Boston Legal.

As for Lawrence, her career journey has included TV movies and series appearances, too. Among them was a onetime guest shot on Boston Legal and a recurring turn on Desperate Housewives as Maisy Gibbons, the randy suburbanite whose sordid encounters with Rex Van De Camp (Steven Culp) ended up putting him in the hospital.

Hidden Palms is a dark, mystery-filled drama fuelled by suicide, scandal and murder. The brainchild of Dawson’s Creek producer Kevin Williamson, it focuses lots of energy on contrasting the idyllic resort lifestyle of Palm Springs, Calif., with dark secrets that lurk beneath its facade.

There are also plenty of nubile young bodies romping around all over the screen.

O’Grady and Lawrence play two very different mothers of teenaged boys wrapped up in the mystery. Unlike NYPD Blue, in which they rarely had scenes together, Hidden Palms gives the two seasoned actresses plenty of opportunities to interact onscreen. 

“On this show, we’re actually good pals,” Lawrence says. “I get to wear the big hair and she’s the one who looks as if she has a bit more reasonable sense in her brain.” 

O’Grady, meanwhile, was simply happy about “working with another actor that you respect.” It was an added plus, she says, to work with “an old buddy” as well.

“To have an opportunity to get onto the same cast for another show?” O’Grady says. “We were thrilled.”

Saturday, May 19, 2007

American Idol - May 19, 2007



Hitting the high notes

The good news is that American Idol wraps up
this week. The bad news is that
Canadian Idol is just around the corner.

By Eric Kohanik

After weeks of showcasing vocal performances that have ranged from heavenly to horrific, American Idol will finally wrap up this week.

The bad news associated with this, of course, is that there is another season of Canadian Idol just around the corner.

Now, that’s not to say Canadian Idol (which, at press time, was due to begin its new season the first week of June) isn’t a series worth watching. Even if it does have Ben Mulroney as its host.

No, it’s just that all this Idol worship is just getting to be too exhausting. And, frankly, the franchise may need a bit of a break.

This week’s two-part finale of American Idol will hit its peak on Wednesday night as the show crowns a sixth champion to join the ranks of Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood and Taylor Hicks

Of course, this season of American Idol was fraught with peculiarities. While talented competitors kept falling by the wayside, a dedicated “vote for the worst” campaign actually managed to keep the woeful Sanjaya Malakar in the race for longer than anyone could have imagined.

Ultimately, sanity prevailed. When it came down to this season’s Final Four – Blake Lewis, Jordin Sparks, Melinda Doolittle and LaKisha Jones – any of them would have made a credible champ. 

Still, the Sanjaya campaign was a curious phenomenon that magnified what happened with nerdy competitor Kevin Covais last year. It spiced up interest in the show. But one of these days, that sort of effort may crown a real loser as the show’s ultimate winner.

Of course, there are those who would say American Idolhas really done that a coupleof times already. With such runners-up as Clay Aiken (who lost to Studdard in the second season) and Katharine MacPhee (edged out by Hicks last year) showing a ton more popularity than their victorious rivals, it’s not always clear that Idol fans really know what they’re doing when they pick a winner.

Canadian Idol has had mixed results with its four champs, too. Ryan Malcolm, Kalan Porter, Melissa O’Neil and Eva Avila have experienced varying degrees of success. With the show’s fifth season now waiting in the wings, it remains to be seen what vocal joys and horrors await viewers this time. 

Unfortunately, Canadian Idol always takes a backseat to its American counterpart. This summer, the show will also have to share a good deal of CTV’s reality-TV-show spotlight. The network has two new American reality shows on its docket – a filmmaking contest called On the Lot (premiering Tuesday) and a swashbuckling adventure game called Pirate Master (due May 31).

Maybe Canadian Idol could use its own Sanjaya movement to help spice things up a bit this summer. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

NBC Movie Of The Week - May 12, 2007



Everything old is new again

It's not surprising to see NBC bring
movies back to Sunday nights.
In the TV world, everything that
goes around comes around.

By Eric Kohanik

There was a time when Sunday nights were huge movie nights for all TV networks.

Those were the days when ABC, CBS and NBC ruled the roost on the American TV scene. They were the days when the “world television premiere” of a theatrical movie was a really big deal for a broadcaster – the days before cable channels, pay-per-view, video on demand, DVDs, cellphones and the Internet came along to milk every last drop out of any flick around.

During the mid-1980s, all three of the big American networks had movies on their Sunday-night schedules. The practice began to change with the arrival of the Fox network. In 1987, Fox turned Sunday – its only evening of primetime programming at the time – into a showcase for TV series.

The success of that move gradually prompted other networks to slot series into Sunday nights. NBC steadfastly resisted the change, however, even as ratings for movies continued to spiral downward.

In fact, during a casual conversation on a TV press tour in Los Angeles back in the mid-1990s, I asked a top NBC executive at the time why the network didn’t try airing series instead of movies on Sundays.

The guy laughed in my face. Series just don’t work on Sunday nights, he said. 

Of course, it’s a much different Sunday night on the tube these days. NBC finally relented in the fall of 2001, becoming the last big American network to drop the Sunday movie tradition. 

In the TV world, though, everything that goes around comes around. And programming trends always swing back and forth, particularly if a network is struggling.

So, it’s not surprising to see NBC making the switch to big Sunday-night movies again. Along Came Polly got the ball rolling a couple of weeks ago. Shrek jumps into the berth this weekend. And Nicolas Cage’s escapades in National Treasure will fill NBC’s movie slot next Sunday. 

The decision comes from Vince Manze, an old-school NBC veteran recently named to a newly created position of “president of program planning, scheduling and strategy.” 

Sunday is “the place where we used to do events and miniseries,” Manze explained to The Hollywood Reporter recently. According to Manze, putting movies back onto Sunday nights “accomplishes two things: building events and serving as counter-programming to what the others are doing.” 

Manze claims that NBC doesn’t have big ratings expectations for its Sunday-night flicks, particularly since they’re up against such shows as Desperate Housewives and Brothers & Sisters on ABC and Cold Case and Without a Trace on CBS.

If NBC’s strategy proves successful, who knows? Others may follow suit. And that old programming pendulum may just swing back the other way yet again.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Riches - May 5, 2007



American dreamers

The Riches is a dark drama series
about a family of con artists.
You just never know what's going on
with the folks next door.

By Eric Kohanik

Some call them “gypsies.” Others refer to them as “tinkers” or “travellers.”

Most of us would simply know them as con artists.

Meet Wayne and Dahlia Malloy. They’re an average-looking American couple (played by British actors Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver) with three wholesome-looking American kids. The Malloys are making their way across the countryside in a mobile home. But things aren’t always as they seem.

Actually, in the case of the Malloys, things are never as they seem. So, when Wayne shows up at a high-school reunion in the opening scene of The Riches, you soon realize he is up to no good.

The Riches is a difficult series to sum up. Just know that it’s dramatic. It’s dark. It’s deliciously good. And you should watch it.

As the opening episode progresses, there are some twists of fate that befall the Malloys. For starters, Dahlia has been in the slammer and is just getting out. She also has a nasty little crack habit, which doesn’t help. 

After a violent run-in on the road with members of Dahlia’s extended family, the Malloys narrowly escape a car crash with a couple named Doug and Cherie Rich – who, as it turns out, are moving to a new house they’ve bought in Louisiana. 

The Riches never make it because they die in the crash. So, the Malloys do what they do best. They rob the bodies of their belongings. They assume Doug and Cherie’s identities. And they try to escape their past and pursue a new American dream.

The Riches is the creative brainchild of Dmitry Lipkin, a Russian-born playwright who first pitched his idea a few years ago.

“I wanted to write a show about a family who pretends to be someone they’re not,” Lipkin recalled during a press conference in Los Angeles. “I always felt that’s sort of what I was doing in my own life.” 

Immigrating to the United States when he was 10, Lipkin’s family settled in Louisiana. His upbringing in the swampy South made him want to “capture that oddness and that kind of outside perspective on America.”

According to Lipkin, there are 20,000 to 30,000 known “travellers” in the U.S. Their existence intrigues him.

“It’s just a fascinating idea,” he says. “In a time where everybody’s ‘on the grid,’ these guys are off the grid completely.” 

The opening episode of The Riches does a good job of exploring the subculture of “travellers” and their sense of morality, while future episodes delve into the culture clash that arises between the Malloys – er, make that the Riches – and their unsuspecting neighbours.

“We know this exists,” Izzard says. “For year after year, you can be next door to someone, and you don’t know what’s going on with them.

“So, check your next-door neighbours.”