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.


Kris Allen, meet Antonio Salieri

Sort of by accident, Kris Allen has become the 21st century's Antonio Salieri.

I don't mean all the negative baggage. The brilliant play (and splendid, Oscar-winning movie) "Amadeus" depicted Salieri as cruel, envious, narrow and vindictive. Kris is none of those; by all accounts, he's an extraordinarily decent guy who deserves much of the good fortune -- cute face, super-cute wife, "American Idol" championship -- that has happened to him.

What I mean is the theme at the core of the mostly fictional "Amadeus": Salieri was more popular and successful than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Still, he was a good enough musician to realize that Mozart was much better. Knowing that -- while the public didn't -- haunted him.

That, sort of, is Kris. "Adam was the most consistent person all year," he said Friday, two days after winning. "He is one of the most gifted performers I've ever seen."

In short, he's in awe of Adam. So are we.

This is a guy who grew up in the San Diego theater world. At 10, he was Linus in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. He did "Peter Pan" and "Grease" and more; he got his Equity union card doing "Brigadoon" in Houston. He settled into the Los Angeles theater world; in "Wicked" -- a big-deal, long-term production -- he was in the chorus and sometimes got to step in as understudy for the role of Fiyero, the pleasure-loving playboy.

"It was a great job and I had lots of friends and it was paying the bills," Lambert said Friday. "But I thought, 'Is this it? Is this my life?'"

It wasn't. He soon became the most complete performer in "Idol" history. Since the show is based in Los Angeles, he could even use his own hair-and-makeup stylist and his own costumers -- three friends of his, under the business name Skin Graft -- who designed his "Idol" jackets.

That gave him the visual flash, but there was much more. Lambert hits notes beautifully, throwing in flair. There's nothing wrong with theatrical rock 'n' roll, he said, citing David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Madonna and more.

Allen, by comparison, avoids all flash. "I've always been a procrastinater ... I'm kind of laid-back and low-key," he said.

His real passion is sports. ("That's kind of my life during football season.") As for music -- well, he actually dropped out of the University of Central Arkansas for two years and tried to make it as a musical professional. It didn't take hold; it rarely does for laidback guys."

He was back in college when he auditioned for "Idol" (waiting 14 hours while "really, really sick") and got on.

Even then, he was too laidback to get any screen time. "There was a little bit of 'Wait, they're not showing me. But that's the way I live my life."

How did he beat the amazing Adam? Was speculation about Lambert's sexuality a factor? "Probably," Lambert said.

He said it without a hint of rancor. "I'm totally OK with this," Lambert said of Allen's victory. "I'm happy for Kris. He's a good friend."

Besides, there are easier explanations. Kris is a cute guy, the sort that little girls love to vote for. He has that shy, apologetic smile. He's mainstream.

It's not terribly surprising that he would win. It's nice to know he'll have a pleasant career. The only problem is the same one faced by Salieri -- the knowledge that he's a decent, pleasant talent who was in the company of genius.

So very wrong, but ...

Of course, tonight's "American Idol" result was flat-out wrong.

Adam Lambert is simply on a different plain than any other "Idol" contestant, past or present. He proved that tonight when he fit in perfectly with Queen and Kiss. This guy is a rock star, with the voice, the showmanship and the smarts.

Still, we can't hold anything against Kris Allen. It's remarkable how this likable kid, almost invisible in the early weeks, kept getting bigger and better. His quiet calm -- like Adam's flash and flair -- almost concealed the presence of great talent.

So I won't grumble too much -- especially since I know Adam will keep dazzling us, in the best Elvis-Mick-Bowie tradition of big-deal stars. Here are a few of my comments; please add yours:

1) The theme tonight was "kiss." Kris sang (with Keith Urban) "Kiss a Girl." Kiss sang. Also, I'm pretty sure I wanted to kiss Fergie. And Megan Joy. And Allison Iraheta. And ...

2) You do realize that "kiss" is a euphenism here, don't you?

3) How come Keith Urban sings about kissing a girl and people just shrug? Katy Perry does the same and it's a big deal.

4) The bad news? Alexis Grace has lost that red swirl in her hair that made her stand out. The good news? Megan Joy looks better than ever.

5) It would be even better if Megan could also sing. And that Steve Martin tune was one of the few detours in an otherwise terrific night.

6) Those special awards? Well, Tatiana is still a basket case, but I think Nick Mitchell (also known as Norman Gentle) is a gifted comic-performance-artist with a decent-enough voice. As for Katrina Darnell, the plastic surgeons did fine work on what was already an appealing palette. I might want to kiss her, too.

7) That thing over Kris' lip is now coming dangerously close to being a mustache. Somebody stop him while it's still possible.

8) There were few bad moments tonight and several great ones. One of the best had people singing "Black Magic Woman" with Santana.

9) The first vocalist on that was Matt Giraud. A half-year ago, he was singing at a Kalamazoo dueling-piano bar; now he's alongside Carlos Santana. That's the glory of "American Idol."

10) And yes, Adam Lambert sounded like he belongs in the turf of Santana (and Queen and Kiss and more). I may have mentioned it already, but this guy is a star.