October 31st, 2008
12:40 PM ET

The future of 'Saturday Night Live'

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have been instrumental to “Saturday Night Live’s” success this season. But now the two are going - Fey (who was just a guest star this year, anyway) back to her show, “30 Rock,” and Poehler to new motherhood and an announced show from the producers of “The Office.”

This game of musical chairs could be great for Poehler and “SNL” - or it could be a disaster.

First things first: Poehler’s departure leaves “SNL” in need of another breakout female star. So it’s time to get Kristen Wiig a season's worth of Red Bull.

Wiig is by far the most brilliant of the women remaining on “SNL.” Her Target Lady, "surprise" Sue, Suze Orman, Travel Reporter and "Penelope" sketches have potential to turn her into a huge comedic success.

Which is why I hope “SNL” executive producer Lorne Michaels and the rest of the writers don't abuse her. She has the talent to handle the work; I just hope they choose her skits with care.

If the writers know what's good for them, they will shy away from doing what they did to Wiig last week when they had her practically read the exact same "Surprise" skit from months earlier, just in a different setting. Don't ruin a good thing - especially when it’s all you've got.

Poehler had an ability to nail small quirks of characters, like with her untouchable "hot tranny mess" Christian Siriano "fierce"-fest that made my roommate and me watch and rewatch the “Project Runway” skit on a regular basis. Those episodes are still on our DVR and will remain there until Comcast decides to accidentally delete my recordings for no reason.

In fact, “SNL” had worked its way up to the top of my DVR save-until-we-delete pile. But I fear it won't be there for long. Even if Wiig is used well, the show has plenty of holes.

Michaels has told media outlets he plans to fill the holes by casting two new females, but its unlikely to be anytime soon. Michaels also said he plans to leave Seth Meyers solo on "Weekend Update" for the "foreseeable future."

And what of Poehler? The entertainment world has been littered with the failed sitcoms and movies of “SNL” veterans. I’d hate to see Poehler end up in a version of "It's Pat," "A Night at the Roxbury," "The Ladies' Man" and Molly Shannon's new flop of a show "Kath and Kim."

So Amy, please choose wisely. And you, too, Lorne.

– Mallory Simon, CNN


Filed under: television
October 29th, 2008
12:03 PM ET

Bong-bing-booong

The National Broadcasting Company was founded in 1926. For most of that time, the network has had a distinctive chime consisting of the notes G-E-C (which, coincidentally, match the initials of one of the firm’s founding corporations and, now, owner). The notes have been since been played by a variety of instruments, but almost always anonymously.

Not anymore.

To celebrate the audio trademark, NBC asked some of its stars and several music luminaries for their own versions of the chimes.

But it seems the network is only scratching the surface. Who would you like to see do the chimes? And is it time for a new musical theme? (Brian Eno may be available.) Chime in here.

– Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer


Filed under: television
October 24th, 2008
10:49 AM ET

What happened to 'real' TV characters?

At a time when presidential candidates regularly take policy advice from Joe the Plumber, Dan the Drywall Guy is conspicuously silent.

Twenty years ago this week, “Roseanne,” a TV series about a working-class family facing daily challenges with a blue-collar brand of humor, premiered on ABC. Today, with the state of the economy so bleak, more and more families - like “Roseanne’s” Conner clan - are clipping coupons and forgoing luxuries, making the message of the show perhaps more relevant today than ever.

And yet today it seems as if every character on television is upscale. While wealth is not synonymous with love and security, television has all but abandoned blue-collar characters. Modern-day shows tend to mock the working class and lack the soul that "Roseanne" once expressed so exuberantly.

What happened to shows about people who don't have Birkin bags or slick luxury cars? The character of Naomi on “90210” seems to have a Chanel bag for every day of the school week. Members of the “Gossip Girl” cast can often be heard click-clacking along Manhattan sidewalks in Christian Louboutin heels.

The argument can be made, of course, that people watch TV as an escape and that they no more expect to step into a pair of Jimmy Choos than they expect snow flurries in Miami in August. Then again, there are Web sites devoted to hunting down clothing and accessories that actors wear in TV and movies. So, are everyday people looking at shows as fantasy - or are they maxing out their credit cards on Gucci sunglasses?

In some ways, the Conners were worse off than many of us. Their dishwasher-less house was a bit of a dump, with mismatched furniture and haphazard decor. They argued over relationships and money, and were fluent in sarcasm.

But the Conners were lucky in other ways. Their house may have been dumpy, but it was cozy and soulful. (Three cheers for the set decorators!) And, at the end of the day (or 30 minutes), they remained a tight-knit family, and their love and sensitivity was something that could not be bought. They didn't need a Sub-Zero refrigerator to show the world they were a force to be reckoned with. Would it be that today’s TV show characters could do the same.

– Katie McLaughlin, CNN

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Filed under: television
October 21st, 2008
12:27 PM ET

Was Roger Ebert wrong?

I’m coming to this a bit late, but a CNN.com user pointed me to a controversy involving Roger Ebert and his review of a film called “Tru Loved.”

It seems that Ebert reviewed the film, ticking off its deficiencies one by one, and then - in a twist - revealed that he’d only seen the first eight minutes. Knowing that such a practice was dicey, he ran it by his editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, who in the end acceded to Ebert’s wishes to run the review as is. Ebert then talked about the whole controversy on his blog, and received hundreds of responses, pro and con, for his position.

(One critique in particular was submitted by the person who sent the story to CNN.com, Margaret Nowak, who wrote an e-mail to Jim Romenesko’s journalism site. Read Ebert’s response here.)

It’s an interesting issue. Book editors frequently winnow their slush piles by reading the first chapter of a submission - or even less. Music reviewers might listen to a few seconds of each cut of a new CD before deciding to discard it. And how many times have you popped a DVD into your player, watched 10 minutes and decided you’d wasted enough time?

But those are ways of sorting. Ebert was supposed to be reviewing the film, right? If he was only going to watch the first few minutes, he should have either not reviewed the film at all or led his review with the caveat that he’d watched the first eight minutes and decided the rest wasn’t worth his time.

Right?

Or does Ebert have a point? He was honest, though in a tricky way, that he hadn’t watched the whole thing. And, along the same lines, have you ever been asked your opinion of a film/show/CD/book and said, "I hated it so much I could only get through the first part"? Is that not a review?

What do you think?

– Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer


Filed under: movies
October 20th, 2008
10:57 AM ET

Behind the scenes at 'SNL' with Palin

In a word, it was electric.

I have been to "Saturday Night Live" many times over the years, but I’ve never seen people so excited about a guest appearance - in this case, Sarah Palin. And the ratings proved everyone was excited, with "SNL" scoring its highest viewership in 14 years.

Let me take you through the process. First off, you’re told to arrive no later than 10 p.m. That’s 90 minutes before showtime. Once I got my tickets, a member of the crew came down to get me and take me to the 8th floor. That’s where you go if you’re seated on the floor versus in the balcony, and I was lucky enough to be sitting second row. What a vantage point!

Before the show started, Jason Sudeikis (the actor who plays Joe Biden) came out to warm up the crowd with some jokes. Then, Fred Armisen (aka Barack Obama) and Kristin Wiig entertained the crowd with a song - Kristin on vocals, Fred on guitar.

The show itself is really something to see, especially if you’re on the floor. Sets are going up and down, all in a matter of minutes. Josh Brolin - the guest host - literally ran off stage between sketches holding the hand of a crew member.

But the best part was the political sketches. To have Tina Fey and Sarah Palin together on the same show was a gift from the humor gods. Truly. The "Weekend Update" segment featuring Palin and Amy Poehler rapping about her was arguably one of the funniest moments in "SNL" history. The crowd went wild.

After the show, Tina Fey - who recently told TV Guide she’d "leave earth" if McCain and Palin were elected - actually hugged Palin. And the governor - ever the politician - shook hands with members of the audience on her way out.

It was definitely a night to remember. I’d tell you about the after party with the cast, but that’s classified.

Alina Cho, CNN


Filed under: television
October 17th, 2008
01:15 PM ET

Mixing politics and entertainment

Whether it was John Anderson guest-starring in a “Saturday Night Live” sketch in 1980, Frank Sinatra helping John F. Kennedy in 1960 or any number of other incidents, the overlap between politics and entertainment has a long tradition - but it seems the mix has reached absurd levels this election season.

Sarah Palin is scheduled to appear on "Saturday Night Live" tomorrow night.

There are the YouTube mashups, the instant songs, the push for votes.

Musicians have created songs for the candidates and even more have tried to stop the candidates from using their songs.

And with such examples as David Letterman’s grilling of John McCain and the regular satire of “The Daily Show,” there has been the odd sense that comedians and entertainers are sometimes tougher on the candidates than the mainstream media.

Now comes the ultimate mix: Sarah Palin is going on “Saturday Night Live.” The show has been mum about the role Palin will play - or if she’ll do a scene with Tina Fey, who has mimicked her brilliantly.

Care to make any predictions on what we can expect?

– Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer


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