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'Fargo' on FX is pretty good, but not 1996 'Fargo' good

Billy Bob Thornton arrives at the Fox All-Star

(Credit: AP / Richard Shotwell / Invision)

FX's much much anticipated "Fargo" arrives Tuesday at 10 p.m. our time and I'm not quite sure what time in Minnesota.  But you probably want to know the basics besides times, yaa -- can William H. Macy ever possibly be bettered? Is there someone out there who even remotely approaches Frances McDormand in terms of sheer Coen-esque perfection? (Or Peter Stormare? Or Buscemi? Of the latter, of course not.)  This series, as you may already know, is not a remake whatsoever, but "homage."

Newsday's review:

"Fargo," FX, Tuesday, 10

What it's about: The arctic wind blows down over Bemidji, Minn. with a killing numbness. The immensity of whiteness left in its wake seems to absorb all living things -- except for hitman, Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) who has a job to do. A minor car accident lands him in the local emergency room. There he meets Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman), an insurance salesman tending to a swollen nose caused by the local bully. Lorne wonders if he'd like the bully dead? One thing leads to another and before long, death stalks Bemidji. This 10-part series from Joel and Ethan Coen is billed as an "homage" to their '96 film classic.

My say: Just to be perfectly clear, "Fargo" is fictional. The movie was fictional, too, so don't be thrown by the (by now) classic opening line on-screen that reads "...Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred."

That's bull -- or, more kindly, that's homage to the original (which also had the message, even though the movie was broadly based on a "true story" or stories). But also a gimmick, a tease, and a way to get you in the right frame of mind for what is to come.

And "what is to come" is what came in the 1996 film -- all that gentle, buttery "Minnesota Nice" leads directly into sudden, percussive violence. Peter Stormare, as the ruthless butcher Gaear Grimsrud, had the profoundly dead eyes in the film. Thornton as Malvo has them here.

The Coens have even found another Margie (Oscar winner Frances McDormand in the film): She is Molly Solverson -- played by relative newcomer, Allison Tolman, who is excellent as the cop five times smarter than the Barney Fifes who surround her.

Since comparisons are inevitable, let's go ahead and make more: "Fargo," the series, is funnier than the film, more bleakly so. The Coens, of course, got brilliant performances out of their film actors and they do here as well -- Thornton especially, who is a magnificent sociopath-monster. Freeman -- a superstar already -- simply reminds everyone again how good he is.

But the film was a masterpiece of storytelling economy that didn't spill over into side-stories, a few of which are patently ridiculous in the series (four episodes were provided for review). The film's essential weirdness felt real. The TV series' weirdness is more often just comical (or disgusting. One word: Spiders.)

Still, there are many memorable Coen-esque touches - the series was co-written by Noah Hawley - that will stay with you long after you've finished watching. Some of them even seem reminiscent of non-Coen films: The two bone-headed brothers, or "wolves," for example, seem to come straight out of "Nebraska." Then you realize: A film like "Nebraska," and so many others, were directly influenced by the Coens.  

  Meanwhile, be sure to check out the opening of the fourth episode. A long-standing "Fargo" mystery is solved...Whatever happened to the money by the fence...?

Bottom line: If you love the movie, you should love this, but ...

Grade: B+

Stephen Colbert does 'not envy whoever' replaces Letterman

Stephen Colbert, left, host of the "Colbert Report"

(Credit: AP / John Paul Filo)

Stephen Colbert -- in character of course -- last night addressed the David Letterman succession, but apparently had not heard the news: That he -- Stephen Colbert -- was the guy who was going to replace him.

"Dave has been on the air my entire adult life . . . I learned more from watching Dave than going to my classes, especially the ones I did not go to because I had stayed up until 1:30 to watch him . . . I do not envy whoever they put in that chair . . ." 

Stephen Colbert to succeed David Letterman as 'Late Show' host

Stephen Colbert, host of "The Colbert Report" on

(Credit: AP / Comedy Central, Martin Crook)

 

Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," was named Thursday to replace David Letterman as host of CBS' "Late Show." Colbert will remain at Comedy Central for eight more months and take over "Late Show" sometime in 2015.

In a move that even CBS acknowledged came together with lightning speed, the network said it and Colbert had agreed to a five-year deal, and that negotiations had begun only after Letterman had announced his retirement last Thursday. Colbert also affirmed he would not play his "Colbert Report" character as host of "Late Show." "I won't be doing the new show in character, so we'll all get to find out how much of him was me. I'm looking forward to it," Colbert said in a statement.

And he added: "Simply being a guest on David Letterman's show has been a highlight of my career. I never dreamed that I would follow in his footsteps, though everyone in late night follows Dave's lead."

In his own statement, Letterman said, "Stephen has always been a real friend to me. I'm very excited for him, and I'm flattered that CBS chose him. I also happen to know they wanted another guy with glasses."

Colbert - who turns 50 next month, was expected -- I reported here at TV Zone over a month ago. But this quick an announcement was not. Clearly CBS wanted to get the speculation behind it and begin laying the groundwork for the transition as as soon as possible.

Of immediate concern for New Yorkers: CBS did not announce a venue, and the network long ago wanted Dave to go west. Will the same pressure be brought to bear on Colbert? Reasons for a westward move are many, but the studio space in California (at TV City) is vast...But a New York venue makes sense too. First of all, there is the Ed Sullivan Theater -- a baton hand-off from from one of the great hosts in TV history to his replacement would have immense appeal. Second, the city's energy has been a boon for "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" -- which has simply fed off it.  Another factor in favor of NYC: If Colbert brings his staff, as he almost certainly will, a cross-country move for dozens and dozens of critical staff members is difficult. It is certainly not insurmountable: Conan O'Brien did it, after all. 

Reasons for this quick announcement -- Letterman only announced that he was ending his 32 years in late night just a week ago -- are obvious. Colbert's deal with Comedy Central -- where he will remain the next eight months -- was nearly over, and both he and CBS had made their mutual interest known. Moreover, this ends speculation -- will Tina Fey replace Dave? Neil Patrick Harris? -- all of which tends to be distracting, especially when unfounded.

CBS's upfront announcement to advertisers also falls next month- - and this question  would certainly have come.

But here's the key reason: These transitions take time -- time for the hosts to get used to the idea, time for viewers and fans. Colbert's transition is  somewhat tricky: After all, he must morph out of, to a certain degree anyway, his current persona. He must assemble a staff -- although undoubtedly he will bring his crew from Comedy Central. 

Then there are the other particulars: The aforementioned venue? Will there be a band? A sidekick? All those elements that seem set in stone -- except that they are not. 

And how will Colbert change his persona....? That is hardly a major issue. It is not even an "issue" -- but a silly distraction that the press and other observers seemed to take seriously for a time. Check out this earlier post, if you have not done so already, which has a handful of clips that demonstrate Colbert's range and facility. The Oprah Winfrey clips are good as well, for they provide some essential background of this extremely bright TV personality.

 

Colbert's character -- created during his years at "The Daily Show" before he launched his own late night series in 2005 -- is a partial representation of Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, both of whom have sparred-on occasion, not in the friendliest of terms -- over the years. As recently as Tuesday's "The O'Reilly Factor," O'Reilly said that Colbert has "damaged the country," although Thursday he seemed to step away from the jab. In a statement released to Time.com, he joked: "I hope Colbert will consider me for the Ed McMahon spot." Other conservative pundits attacked the hire, notably radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, who called it an "assault on traditional American values.

 

Meanwhile, CBS suddenly has a 12:35 problem. Craig Ferguson will almost certainly leave "Late Late Show," which means CBS's work is far from over. 

“Stephen is a multi-talented and respected host, writer, producer, satirist and comedian who blazes a trail of thought-provoking conversation, humor and innovation with everything he touches,” said CBS Entertainment chief Nina Tassler. ”He is a presence on every stage, with interests and notable accomplishments across a wide spectrum of entertainment, politics, publishing and music. We welcome Stephen to CBS with great pride and excitement, and look forward to introducing him to our network television viewers in late night.”

"Stephen Colbert is one of the most inventive and respected forces on television," said CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves in a statement. "David Letterman's legacy and accomplishments are an incredible source of pride for all of us here, and today's announcement speaks to our commitment of upholding what he established for CBS in late night."A Comedy Central spokesman said Colbert had no plans to address his new job on the air Thursday night. Meanwhile, "Late Show" was not taped Thursday.

Mike Rowe at CNN: Will he be the network's Bill O'Reilly

Mike Rowe of "Dirty Jobs" fame joins CNN this summer as part of a new original programs series that'll rotate at 9 p.m. (others hosted by Lisa Ling and Mike Walsh...) But here's the question: Will Rowe, who is clearly first among equals in this new lineup, be the struggling network's own Bill O'Reilly? 

 Rowe's series won't be live and it won't be nightly, at least initially. But CNN is clearly betting the ranch on a personality who already has a considerable following and doesn't seem to fall on either the left or right side of the political spectrum; as evidence,  he's been interviewed by the likes of Glenn Beck and Bill Maher - and you can't get any further apart that those two...He has been a supporter of 

 He's beaten a path on the "common sense" line -  a line to the disaffected. those out of work, those in work. And he's been quite effective at it. Now he's got CNN behind him. Check out some interviews, and by all means, go to his website. If you don't know who he is, a good place to start....

And of course, he's already got his own Youtube channel...

 

CNN shakeup: 'Dirty Jobs' host, Mike Rowe, joins; 9 p.m. interview series dropped

Mike Rowe on location at Meadowbrooke Farms in

(Credit: Aurora Photos)

In one of the most dramatic overhauls of CNN's primetime in recent memory, the network today announced that it will drop the long-running 9 p.m. interview series - made famous for so many years by Larry King, and more recently hosted by  Piers Morgan.  

 In lieu of interviews, Mike Rowe - the host of Discovery's "Dirty Jobs" will join, as part of a new 9 p.m. lineup that will also include John Walsh and  Lisa Ling. Rowe's new show is called "Somebody's Gotta Do It" - one of those series that spotlight people who have a passion, talent, compulsion,...

 And no, this is not "news" in the traditional sense of the word certainly...

 Here's the core part of the announcement from CNN. (See below)..But the watchwords are "original series" - those have done well for CNN, which continues to struggle when "breaking news" fails to "break..."

 Meanwhile, the network will add a new 10 p.m. program to the  mix.

 To say this is historic is not quite an overstatement - the 9 p.m. "Live" program has been a core part of the entire cable news spectrum for decades. But clearly CNN chief Jeff Zucker discovered what others before have - that finding someone who can actually do this sort of show and draw huge audiences is exceedingly difficult and costly. Jay Leno was rumored as a potential Morgan replacement - but he made clear he had no interest in returning to a regular TV berth. Many other names have been floated, but a "killer app" personality so to speak remained illlusive.

 Now it's up to gravel-voiced Rowe (et al) - a one-time pitchman who made "Dirty Jobs" a TDC success and has been off the tube (as best I can tell) for a couple of years....   

The press release: As part of the announcement, the network is bringing Mike Rowe (Dirty Jobs) back to series television, in a new program called Somebody’s Gotta Do It. In addition, proven television personalities John Walsh (America’s Most Wanted) and Lisa Ling (Our America with Lisa Ling) will also join CNN, with their own new, original series. CNN will also premiere The Jesus Code, which will take viewers on a forensic and archaeological journey through the Bible. And CNN announced that the ten-part original series The Sixties, from Playtone and acclaimed producers Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, will premiere in late May. The network also announced that its Peabody and Emmy-award winning hit Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown has been picked up for an additional four cycles in 2015 and 2016 and its critically acclaimed series Morgan Spurlock Inside Man has been renewed for another cycle in 2015. CNN has also entered into a development deal with the producers of Chicagoland to tell the story of another great American city. All of those original series, plus a weekly documentary from CNN’s in-house documentary unit, will air at 9pm, ET beginning this summer.

What did Bill O'Reilly's rip of Stephen Colbert mean, exactly?

Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, seen on Dec.

(Credit: Getty Images / Slaven Vlasic)

The culture wars bled into the late night wars the other evening when Bill O'Reilly went after Stephen Colbert -- calling him a "deceiver" who has damaged the country. Yes, this news was everywhere Wednesday -- and sorry about getting to it so late -- but better late than never, and it's not going away, so . . .

This broadside arrived on the Talking Points segment on Tuesday's "Factor" --...

Read more »

Lindsay Lohan on 'Late Show with David Letterman': A clip

Lindsay Lohan and David Letterman give a call

(Credit: CBS / Jeffrey R. Staab)

Lindsay Lohan appeared on "Late Show With David Letterman" Wednesday night -- their full encounter aired well past deadline -- but one little surprise was announced earlier in the day: Oprah Winfrey was on the show, too.

At least her voice was -- the former talk-show legend-turned cable mogul was on the receiving end of a phone call from Lohan and Letterman.

Letterman appeared not to be keen on the idea at first. After some prodding by Lohan and an audience chanting "Op-rah! Op-rah!" Letterman called Winfrey on the actress' cellphone, identifying himself in a disguised voice as "Lindsay Lohan's secretary."

"Who is this?" Winfrey asked, and Letterman, finally using his regular voice, admitted, "It's Dave, Oprah, it's Dave." "Oh my God," Winfrey laughed. "Very good, Dave! The David Letterman who's retiring?"

Letterman asked the chief executive of OWN how Lohan -- currently in the channel's low-rated "Lindsay" docuseries -- was doing months after production on the series wrapped, and nine months after the troubled actress left rehab.

"I think she's doing really OK," a somewhat muted Winfrey responded, adding "I think, you know, to have cameras following you around for every phase of your life, and you are trying to pull your life together, I think that's a really difficult thing, so, yeah, we're really pleased that she's making some progress."

Lohan started to tear up, and Letterman then quickly changed subjects: "Oprah, I've spent 30 years trying to pull my life together. Where the hell have you been?"

Winfrey then reminded him that they both share the same "meditation teacher." To which Letterman responded: He has switched to something "that's really fantastic: Scientology."

'The Simpsons' marathon on FXX: But why?

Judd Apatow, Will Arnett and others guest on

(Credit: Fox)

But why a "Simpsons'"  marathon on FXX - the largest one of its kind and which will extend roughly 11,484 minutes, not including commercials, or roughly eight days (again, not including commercials)? 

 Because FXX can - that's why. It recently paid $750 million for syndication rights. Nothing like a marathon to help start earning some of that money back... 

In an unusual announcement today at FXX's upfront - timed clearly to draw attention to the new network and its new offerings - FXX air this twelve-day marathon in August. All 522 "Simpsons" episodes over twelve days which means four days of commercials...

Many of those commercials will be devoted to some new show teases, like "The Strain," from Carlton Cuse and Guillermo del Toro - based on the Chuck Hogan/Del Toro vampire novel of the same name. The show will air on FX....Or Howard Gordon's thriller, "Tyrant," also coming on FX; or "The Comedians," on FXX, with Josh Gad and Billy Crystal; or the new Tracy Morgan comedy, also on FXX...

The network also announced that an all-things-"Simpsons" app will be launched shortly...  

'Game of Thrones' gets a 5th, 6th season pick-up from HBO

"Game Of Thrones" will be back for a

"Game of Thrones" - which may be the hottest show on television although in my humble opinion is indisputably the best one - just got a pickup from HBO for two more seasons, the fifth and sixth, according to a statement:

“GAME OF THRONES is a phenomenon like no other,” noted [HBO programming chief, Michael] Lombardo. “David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, along with their talented collaborators, continue to surpass themselves, and we look forward to more of their dazzling storytelling.”

  "GoT" - the fourth season of which just launched - was seen by 6.6 million viewers Sunday, the biggest number for HBO since "The Sopranos'" wrap (11.7 million.) I suspect most notable here is the fact that Sunday's opener was 52 percent higher than the third season opener.  

'Princesses: Long Island' has been canceled

Bravo's "Princesses: Long Island" won't be coming back

(Credit: Bravo)

Bravo's "Princesses: Long Island" -- which last summer seemed to infuriate half of LI and intrigue the other half (though in truth, quite a few more of the former than latter) -- is not returning to the network.

In plain English, "Princesses" has been canceled. 

The network declined to comment, but a Comcast-NBCUniversal source confirmed the end. Bravo today announced a full slate of new programs and returning ones -- and "Princesses" was not among them. In itself, that sort of omission doesn't exactly mean cancellation; other shows, including potentially returning ones, are not in the announcement. 

Even so, Bravo's studied months-long silence on the controversial show was notable, and the fact that a "Princesses" reprisal failed to get the slightest hint today was even more so.

"Princesses" was a problem from even before the beginning -- the title an indication that Jewish stereotypes would be deployed, or that some sort of pernicious "Jersey Shore"-like style would smear all Long Islanders.

In fact, "Princesses" managed to offend in ways people never even imagined, even though certainly many viewers did take umbrage to the show's apparent stereotypes, including Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), who torched the show and Bravo in a letter last summer, saying (in part) that "Jews have spent thousands of years trying to dispel stereotypes."  

But "Princesses," which performed well for Bravo and built a real fan base, made a handful of missteps, including an opening bobble that infuriated the Village of Freeport, and, later, another which perhaps even sealed its eventual doom.

During a shoot at Great Neck Plaza Park, a cast member told a model she was with to offer beer to a statue of 9/11 firefighter Jonathan Lee Ielpi:    

"Now kiss the fireman, and try to feed him the beer, and wipe it off and act like scared... awesome..."

Ielpi, 29, assigned to Squad 288 in Maspeth, was killed in the south tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

The footage was later removed. The damage however was done -- and so was the series. 

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