I'm watching 'Celebrity,' get me out of here


Here are some scattered thoughts on the first night,  of "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here"; please add your comments. Also, we'll do the same thing for tonight's Conan debut:

1) Ever since Patti Blagojevich said "(bleep) the Cubs," I've wanted to see her being swept away by a rapid river. I just didn't realize it would happen within the first 10 minutes of the show.

2) OK, the river slowed down and she got back. Still, it was a good start.

3) Patti: "It was a little faster and deeper than I thought it would be." Her husband knows the feeling ... except his river ride had him plunging down a waterfall; he's still plunging.

4) What constitutes vandalism in Heidi Montag's neighborhood? She said someone had "vandalized my hair product" by taking off the labels; vandals, I believe, have done worse.

5) You realize what Spencer Pratt and Heidi have accomplished, don't you? They actually made a Blagojevich be the not-worst villain. And the collective Blagojevich sins range from bad (discussing selling a Senate seat) to worse (trying to get newspaper people fired) to the truly unpardonable (saying "bleep the Cubs").

6) Janice Dickinson: "I coined the word 'supermodel.' So that makes me the first supermodel." No it doesn't, Janice; it makes you the first person to say "supermodel." I coined the word "sweepeat" when the Red Wings had their second straight Stanley Cup sweep, but I don't recall scoring a single goal.

7) Heidi: "I feel like everything in my life just got taken from me -- and not in a good way."

8) Heidi later: "I feel like I'm being tortured." And not in a good way.

9) I'm about to agree with Spencer on two points. One relates to Angela Shelton and Frances Collier, jointly called "Frangela" and thrown onto the show at the last minute; "I'm sitting next to a couple VH1 people I've never heard of." The other was this comment about Patti and Rod Blajojevich: "I consider you the Heidi and Spencer of politics." They are. And not in a good way.

10) Now I'll disagree with him on something. He called the show "Heidi and Spencer vs. all these nobodies." Hey, from time to time, many of these people have done something -- created a character, slammed an opponent, slammed a dunk shot. Heidi and Spencer have done close to nothing, making them close to nobodies.

11) I can't believe that NBC has told a lie. It has said that this is the "Medium" finale after five seasons and it might be the death of the main character. The network knows full well, however, that "Medium" already has a cozy spot -- a better one, actually -- on CBS next season.

12) Come to think of it, NBC did the same thing last year. It claimed that it was showing the "Scrubs" finale, when the show was moving to ABC; the "Scrubs" people, who had never planned that as a finale, were bitter.

13) One of the hosts made a math error. She was refering to Spencer (who was misbehaving badly) and his wife Heidi. The other people, the host said, are lucky: "They only have to put up with him for three weeks. Heidi has to put up with him for the rest of her life." Not really; this is a Beverly Hills marriage, so "forever" is 2-3 years, tops.

14) Tonight's episode left us with six of the people still dangled in a tank filled with bug, spiders, cockroaches and more. I felt terrible about this; I would have felt worse, except that one of those people once said "bleep the Cubs."

Strange school, strange life

Maybe Gretchen Hillmer's fate was sealed when she went to Strange School. A strange life would follow.

After marrying Danny Bonaduce and having two kids, Gretchen starred with him in the raw reality show "Breaking Bonaduce." Now she has her own show; an interview with her is coming in a minute.

There's a celebrity theme here. The previous blogs (not counting a Stanley Cup interview, right before this) have been on "True Hollywood Story" and "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here." Now here's Gretchen, who is sort of living an alternate-reality-show existence.

I had always heard that Kenosha, Wis., had an elementary school named after my father's uncle, Curtis Strange. (I come from a Strange family.) This was logical, since he was a longtime principal; still, it meant that generations would be graduates of Strange School.

Anyway, here's the story on one of those Strange grads:

At times, this seems like a transporter error: Someone beamed Gretchen Bonaduce into the wrong life.
She spent large chunks of her childhood in middle-class, middle-sized, Midwestern towns. She's the daughter of a nuclear engineer, the step-daughter of a military man. She's had bursts of normality.
Still, there she is in a tabloid, reality-show life. First was the agonizing "Breaking Bonaduce"; now comes "Re-Inventing Bonaduce."
It's been a bizarre ride, triggered by the mini-courtship -- seven hours, total -- by Danny Bonaduce, the volatile former child star.
She was 25 at the time, living in Phoenix, doing promotion work for a psychic fair and looking hip. "I had this huge, Nancy Spungen bleached-white hair," she recalls.
That's a rock-chick look -- Spungen was the girlfriend of Sid Vicious -- and it brought expectations.
Danny Bonaduce has said he was startled when this woman with the hip hair and torn jeans said she didn't believe in sex before marriage. "I figured, 'Well, I'm already $90 into this date.'" They promptly went to Las Vegas and married.
It's a great story, but Gretchen Bonaduce says it's exaggerated. She wasn't preaching abstinence; after being socially active in Tennessee music circles, she was trying to slow down.
Then came that quick marriage and the call home. "My dad said: 'You've always done your own thing.'"
Gretchen, now 43, was born in Waukegon (an Illinois city of 70,000) and spent key years in Kenosha, a Wisconsin city of 80,000, where friends' dads worked at the AMC auto plant.
When she was young, however, there were life-changing events: Her parents divorced ... Her mother remarried and the family moved to Germany, where her step-father was stationed ... Then her mother died.
"It was a horrible accident, but I didn't learn what had happened until I was 22," she said.
She had thought her mother died during childbirth, when Gretchen's half-sister was born. This actually happened several days later, she learned, when her mom fell out of a hospital window.
After moving back with her biological father, Gretchen had a normal-enough life in Tennessee and elsewhere. She sang in Tennessee, went to business college in Arizona and had that psychic-fair job.
That's when she was supposed to contact Danny Bonaduce, the former "Partridge Family" co-star, now working as a radio DJ. There was a helpful intervention:
A psychic who knew her met the DJ at a party and "predicted" he would meet and marry someone named Gretchen. When he spotted a "Gretchen" on his phone list the next day, he jumped at it.
Gretchen says she knew little about him at the time, including the basics: "He was coming off a really bad drug habit."
Other addictions -- alcohol and sex -- followed, she says. For two seasons, "Breaking Bonaduce" showed raw, aching lives.
Still, the marriage lasted almost 18 years. She got the house and alimony; now comes the rest of her life, which is what "Re-inventing Bonaduce" is about.
Gretchen won the show by competing on "Gimme My Reality Show." This focuses on her new life. That includes her two kifd, her line of "Countess Couture" fashions and her attempts to re-start a music career.
One group, called the Muddflaps, doesn't get many gigs, mainly because the members are too busy with other things. "We literally are the world's richest garage band," she said.
The other -- named Ankhesenamen, after the wife of "King Tut" -- is busier. Also, Bonaduce is dating one of the band members, who happens to be her age and, she says, and her disposition. "I'm happy. I have a wonderful boyfriend who is the complete polar-opposite of my ex-husband."

-- What: "Re-Inventing Bonaduce"
-- Where: Fox Reality Channel (generally available via satellite or digital cable)
-- When: New episodes, 9-10 p.m. Saturdays, through June 13; reruns often, including 8 p.m. Thursdays and various times on Sundays -- 10-11p.m. May 31, 9-10:30 p.m. June 7, 7-9 p.m. June 14.       


Let's talk hockey (really)

So there was NBC, dutifully shoveling things into the giant Sunday void it has between football seasons. It planned to rerun the mini-series "The Last Templar" -- great start, lame finish, fine star (Mira Sorvino), big ambitions -- on May 24 and 31.

Then  hockey happened.

The network aired the first half of the mini, but the second half is on hold. In a surprising move, the entire Stanley Cup hockey series was moved ahead by a week.

OK, I'll admit you don't read much about hockey in this blog. (Well, you actually read zero.) Still, this cuts into the TV turf; also, I live in Michigan, surrounded by Red Wing buffs. So here's a story I wrote, viewing the Cup through the views of the sportscasters:

In the big-deal-sports world, the shift of the Stanley Cup is almost unique.
Imagine the Rose Bowl on Dec. 26, the Super Bowl or World Series suddenly starting a week early. That's roughly what happens here, with hockey's title series starting Saturday (May 30), six days earlier than expected.
That came because both teams blitzed through the competition. The Pittsburgh Penguins swept their conference finals in four games; the Detroit Red Wings needed only five.
So they collide sooner than expected. "It absolutely favors the Pittsburgh Penguins," said Mike Milbary, who will anchor the TV studio show. "They've had some time off, a little more than Detroit, and they're not as banged up."
The Red Wings were badly banged, he said. "You're going in with guys like (Niklas) Lidstrom and (Pavel) Datsyuk and a whole bunch of others who were trying to get back."
In all, there were six Red Wings out for Wednesday's game. Now -- earlier than expected -- they face some young and relatively healthy Penguins.
"It'll be interesting to see if Detroit's got enough healthy bodies to play against that," said Pierre McGuire, who is the equivalent of a sideline reporter.
Still, the Red Wings seem to have all the extra factors. Milbary calls this "the most intelligent team I've ever seen, as a group." It's also one "that has enough depth to handle a half-a-dozen players on the injured list."
For the second straight year, the finals start with the Penguins playing two games in Detroit. "In games one and two (last year), they were shut out and they looked hopeless," McGuire said.
He doesn't expect that to happen this year, now that the Penguins are more experienced and less intimidated. And he expects the real turning point to come in games 3, 4 and 5. "That's when you could see some tired legs."
Besides, McGuire said, the Penguins gained a different attitude this season when Danny Bylsma took over as coach. The mood is more positive and optimistic. "He turned them loose on the rest of the league and they're having fun."
That fun doesn't come easily. Doc Emrick, the play-by-play announcer, recalled talking to one player who didn't realize until three days after the Stanley Cup had been won that he had four injuries. Another said he didn't quit hurting until mid-July. Another told him: "I'm excited, but I have two brain cells left."
Perhaps, but for half the players, those woes will be accompanied by a Stanley Cup win.

Here is the revised schedule:
-- Saturday and Sunday: At Detroit, on NBC.
-- Tuesday and Thursday: At Pittsburgh, on Versus, the cable and satellite network formerly known as the Outdoor Life Network.
-- Others (if necessary, all on NBC): June 6 in Detroit, June 9 in Pittsburgh, June 12 in Detroit.
-- All games are 8 p.m. ET, but NBC said Sunday's game could be at 7 or 8.

Silly season begins

As June arrives, TV networks switch moods.
Serious things have already happened. Lives were saved on "ER," the world was saved on "24," murders were solved everywhere. Now it's the summer silly season. It's also celebrity time.

One proof of that came Wednesday (May 27), when E aired its 500th edition of "True Hollywood Story" (see previous blog). Another comes Monda
On Monday (June 1), when NBC debuts a four-week, 15-episode run of "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!"

Ten people will be dumped into the Costa Rican jungle; they'll compete in survival games, with viewers eventually choosing a "King of the Jungle." Contestants, of course, have deemed themselves jungle-worthy:
-- Stephen Baldwin, actor: "I'm the youngest Baldwin brother, so I think I (know survival)."
-- Janice Dickinson, former supermodel. "I have children and (have been) in the fashion industry for the past 32 years."
-- Torrie Wilson, wrestler and pin-up model. "Being an athlete is going to be an advantage. (And) if Janice gets out of hand, I have no doubt I will be tackling her."
If that were guaranteed, of course, all of us would promise to watch. Meanwhile, not all contestants flash that much bravado. Sanjaya Malakar, says he had plenty of doubts, but was persuaded. "Stephen Baldwin said it's an opportunity to go out and be yourself and have no filter."
Malakar had pondered the obstacles. He would be the youngest contestant at 19, barely one-third of Dickinson (54). "A lot of people have had life experiences I haven't had."
He would also be the thinnest, at 5-foot-11 and 135 pounds. "I'm small," he said. "I have muscle mass, but not a lot ... I'm drinking protein shakes and trying to bulk up."
Still, he also has advantages. He's high-energy. His slim body has fewer requirements -- especially compared to Wilson or to John Salley, a 7-foot former Detroit Piston basketball player.
And for a suburban kid, he's been around. He spent part of his childhood in Hawaii, lives in New York City and has taken trips to his dad's roots in Calcutta.
Now -- after waves of controversy in "American Idol" -- he qualifies as a celebrity. He has an autobiography and an extended-play record, now being expanded into an album.
These days, celebrity comes in many forms. Wilson found hers in wrestling: "I probably really realized (I had) celebrity status when ... I first walked into an arena (and heard) 15,000 people screaming my name," she said.
Salley has had lots of arena time in basketball, but Malakar said he was pleased to learn the guy refuses meat and dairy products. "He's really cool and down-to-earth ... You wouldn't think of a guy like that as a vegan; you'd think of him with a big steak."
This show had a failed ABC production in 2003, but has thrived in eight British editions. Producers say it will succeed this time, because they're better at it ... and because there are simply more celebrities these days.
Several of the contestants -- Heidi Montag, Spencer Pratt and Malakar -- are known almost entirely from other reality shows. Baldwin has done many of these shows; so has Dickinson, who was runner-up in the British "Celebrity" and says she's ready for anything. "There are snakes and scorpions. There are mud storms, humidity, heat."
Throughout it, she tries to flash the bigger-than-life personality that she says is made-for-reality. "They're not going to tune in if someone's a bore. I happen to have mastered the art of reality ... I know how to create; wait until you see me clean the forest."

-- What: "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!"
-- When: 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, beginning June 1; it concludes on Wednesday, June 24. The first episode is two hours;the others are an hour apiece.

-- Contestants: Two athletes (John Salley and Torrie Wilson), two actors (Stephen Baldwin and Lou Diamond Phillips), a former model (Janice Dickinson), three people whose fame comes from previous reality shows (Heidi Montag, Spender Pratt and Sanjaya Malakar) and ... well, Patti Blagojevich, who's there mainly because a judge said her husband Rod couldn't be. The 10th person is pending. 

TV cranks up its celebrity machine

There's an admirable efficiency to the TV process: It creates celebrities, then instantly has shows about their new celebrity status.

Proof of that includes:

1) The 500th episode of "True Hollywood Stories," at 10 p.m. Wednesday. My story on that is coming in a second.

2) The continual interest in "American Idol." Please catch my previous blog, which interviews Kris Allen and Adam Larkin and inexplicably invokes "Amadeus."

3) A new round of "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here." It returns June 1, with at least three of the celebrities -- Sanjaya Malakar, Spencer Pratt and Heidi Mondag -- being the product of reality shows.

Reality shows will never run out of celebrities, it seems, if they can keep manufacturing their own. Anyway, here's a story I wrote about "THS," followed by the show's own list of its 30 top stories:

As the O.J. Simpson murder trial concluded, the E cable channel scrambled for an encore.
The audience, alas, loves celebrity murder trials. "Clearly, they don't come around every week," said Betsy Rott, now the network's programming chief.
In the aftermath, "True Hollywood Stories" was born in 1996. On Wednesday (May 27), it has its 500th episode.
During its 13 years, the show has kept adjusting. "The very concept of celebrity has changed," Rott said.
Reality shows and the Internet have added and expanded fame, but the basics remain. That's clear in the network's list of the 30 top episodes. (Wednesday's episode, the 500th, will trim that list to 10.) There is death, crime, sex and glamour -- which is how this started.
E had been a cheery channel about entertainment, when it aired the Simpson trial. Afterward, Rott was asked to produce a profile of actress Rebecca Shaeffer, who was 21 in 1992, when she was killed by a deranged fan.
"It got great ratings," Rott recalled. "Then they asked us, 'What's the next one?' We thought, 'NEXT one.'"
They chose Sam Kinison, the brash comedian who had died in a desert road accident at 39. It wasn't until the seventh episode that the show chose a live celebrity, Macaulay Culkin.
"That's a familiar theme -- child stars who have troubles," Rott said.
Still, this doesn't always require a downbeat ending; Rott cites Robert Downey Jr., who has gone from addiction to last summer's "Iron Man" triumph. "As long as you have ups and downs, you have a story."
And occasionally, the downs aren't needed. Rott likes the story of Eva Longoria Parker, pushing ahead from small-town Texas to Hollywood fame.
"THS" has also detoured. It did classic TV shows, rapper wives, rock wives, more.
Some names keep returning; some don't. "Do you remember Rick and Darva?" Rott asked.
It was just nine years ago that "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire" drew huge rating and huge attention for Rick Rockwell and his choice, Darva Conger. They soon faded; "THS" didn't.

The top 30
"True Hollywood Stories" lists its 30 top episodes online at eonline.com/on/shows/ths. The 500th episode (10 p.m. Wednesday) will pick the top 10. Here are the 30; the arbitrary categories are ours:
-- Posthumous: Princess Diana, Chris Farley, Phil Hartman, John Kennedy Jr., Rebecca Shaeffer, Anna Nicole Smith.
-- Illnesses: Rebekka Armstrong (former Playnmate with AIDS), Michael J. Fox, Montel Williams.
-- Crime stories: Tonya Harding, Laci Peterson, JonBenet Ramsey, O.J. Simpson.
-- Sexual connections: Heidi Fleiss, Hugh Hefner, Jenna Jameson
-- Child stardom: Drew Barrymore, Macaulay Culkin, Mackenzie Phillips, Dana Plato.
-- Family stories: The Kardashians, The O'Neals (Ryan, Tatum, etc.).
-- Classic TV show: "The Brady Bunch"
-- General, up-and-down lives: Gary Busey, Robert Downey Jr., Pee-Wee Herman, Anjelina Jolie, Britney Spears, Donald Trump, Vanessa Williams.