A better Conan


OK, Conan O'Brien's third "Tonight Show" was much better than the first two.  That's because:

-- He finally had two people on the couch, the way Johnny Carson used to do it. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Bradley Cooper were able to have some exchanges; that sort of thing happened a lot, back when these were called "talk shows."

-- Instead of having a complex and semi-funny filmed bit, he did a variation on "The Year 2000." That is, simply, joke after joke after joke; it's fun.

My only gripe? Just before showing an unfunny clip from "The Hangover," Conan announced that he'd seen the movie and it's very funny. This announcement was tainted  by the fact that he had claimed Tuesday that "Angels and Demons" is a good movie. We're just lucky he wasn't around in the old days, to endorse "Plan Nine From Outer Space."

Conan, Day Two: Barely OK



The second night of Conan O'Brien's "Tonight" feels like more of the first:

1) Yes, he works hard. Still, an elaborate taped bit -- a "Pretty Woman" sort of shopping spree on Rodeo Road (in South Central Los Angeles) instead of Rodeo Drive -- was maybe half as funny as a guy would be telling really good jokes.

2) The guests sort of save him so far. It's great to have Will Ferrell pleading for Tony voters to avoid a competitor in his category. ("Liza Minnelli is a Communist.") And it's fun to have Tom Hanks show us what it would be like to have a song from "Turner and Hootch: The Musical."

3) The great guests will continue for a while. (The next two days bring Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.) Soon, however, we'll be left with the basics: For all his hard work, Conan has to be funnier than this.

4) Still, it's a fairly enjoyable show, enough to keep me watching the second show. In previous blogs, you'll see reviews of Monday's episode of Conan and "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here." You will not, however, find any indicationg that I saw the second "Celebrity" hour.

5) Wait a second: Conan just told Tom Hanks, in a reasonably serious tone, that he enjoyed "Angels and Demons." That's reason enough to reclaim Conan's Harvard diploma.

Conan: Hard work, good-enough results

You've probably met someone like this: He works terribly hard, to get where others get easily.

That, roughly, is Conan O'Brien. His opener tonight was pretty good; to get there, however, he had to work 10 times as hard as Jay Leno or Johnny Carson ever did. Here are a few of my comments; please add yours; also, please do the same for my previous blog, on tonight's debut of "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here":

1) What Leno and Carson did was basic. They simply stood there and told jokes. Many were funny; laughter was huge.

2) O'Brien, instead, had only a few stand-up jokes. Instead, he tried hugely elaborate visual stunts. Conan running across the continent? Conan driving around Los Angeles in an old Ford Taurus? The letter "D" from the "Hollywood" sign being hauled off? These were fairly funny, but Leno and Carson got bigger and quicker laughs by just talking.

3) Another filmed bit -- Conan as the announcer for a Universal Studios tram line -- was relatively lame. Twice, O'Brien pretended at length to cry with fear; it was only semi-funny the first time.

4) The set, however, is gorgeous. And there may be better things ahead from the location, in the midst of the Universal lot.

5) Pearl Jam was great and the camerawork on its song was first-rate.

6) Did you see what Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam did shortly after the song? instead of standing next to O'Brien, he scampered up one step. That's helpful; O'Brien (6-foot-4-and-a-half) can make people seem tiny.

7) One person who can stand next to him is Will Ferrell (6-foot-3). Ferrell was a good first guest tonight; he even sang a farewell song, explaining that "literally, no one thought you could do it."

8) We knew he could do it and do it pretty well -- just not with the ease and laughs of a Leno or a Carson.

9) The best line came early, when O'Brien explained that his timing is perfect. "I'm on a last-place network, in a state (California) that's bankrupt and this is sponsored by General Motors.

10) Tuesday may be better -- with Tom Hanks and Green Day -- could be be better. The first show was fairly good.

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.