"True Blood," true sheriff

A new "True Blood" season begins Sunday, with Sookie having every reason to be upset at her lover Bill.

There's a flirty 17-year-old girl living in his house. People seem to die (violently) whenever Bill hears they've upset her; he might be over-reacting.

Then there's that age difference. She's in her 20s, he's 173; dating a vampire can be tricky.

She finally confronts him, late in the first hour (which debuts at 9 p.m. Sunday, then reruns at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday and 10 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday on HBO). It's a great scene, well worth catching. Meanwhile, here's a story I wrote about William Sanderson, who plays the sheriff:

William Sanderson has a phrase for many
of the people he's played. They are, he says, “prairie scum.”

They are misfits and miscreants and
misanthropes. He's played them in “Coal Miner's Daughter,”
“Raggedy Man,” “Lone Wolf McQuade” and more.

Now comes “True Blood” and a
surprise – he's the voice of reason. That's a pleasant bonus,
Sanderson said. “That and getting to be clean-shaven.”

Hey, viewers like to see Sanderson with
a scruffy face and/or scruffy soul. On TV, he's been Larry (Darryl
and Darryl's brother) in “Newhart” and E.B. Farnum (“kind of a
potty-mouth”) in “Deadwood.”

But now here he is as Sheriff Bud
Dearborne. “He tries to do the right thing,” Sanderson said.

That isn't easy in this fictional
world: A synthetic blood has been created and vampires are free to
live openly. Except that they're new to rural Louisiana, where
emotions seethe.

As the second season begins, a
heartless (literally) corpse is found by a drunken deputy. For Bud,
being calm and reasonable is a challenge.

And for Sanderson, 65, life has been
full of odd twists.

He grew up in Memphis, went to the Army
and then to college, and got a law degree that he's managed to
ignore. Instead, he went to New York for serious study of acting

Then came lots of miscreants, plus the
first of his classic roles – as a toymaker used for evil purposes
in “Blade Runner,” a 1982 science-fiction film. “It was two
hours of Latex every day, (but director Ridley Scott) is a real
genius,” Sanderson said.

The other classic role came by
accident. The “Newhart” role of Larry was written with actor
Tracey Walter in mind; Walter auditioned eccentrically and Sanderson
got the job.

This is success that doesn't fit his
understated persona. Even after Larry had become a viewer favorite, a
“Newhart” producer once said, Sanderson worried about whether
he'd be back the next season.

Actors always worry about work, he
said. “There's never enough.”

He's busy for now, with “True Blood”
emerging as a hit with critics and viewers.

“All the elements are there,”
Sanderson said, “including a young and attractive cast – myself

Hey, someone has to stand between all
those angry, attractive people, trying to be the voice of reason.

"So You Think You Can Dance": The cuts begin

As "So You Think You Can Dance" made its first cuts tonight, I had the expected reactions.

I was upset, I was surprised, I was disturbed ... but I didn't really have an alternative. A few comments; please add yours:

1) Paris departing? Maybe. She's good, but not terribly memorable; I'll get over it.

2) Tony is another matter. The guy brought something -- a goofy kind of charm and humor -- that the show often lacks. He's a big, clever guy with great charisma and limited moves; we'll miss him.

3) Why only 30 seconds for dance-for-your-life solos? They could make each one a minute and still only add three minutes to the show; there's plenty of chit-chat places to take that out.

4) How good is the competition? Vitolio was sensational, Jonathan was very good ... and afterward, the judges said they were kind of disappointing. It's going to be a tough summer.


"So You Think You Can Dance": First impressions

Tonight (Thursday), the first two people will be ousted from "So You Think You Can Dance." Here were a few of my early impressions from Wednesday; please add yours:

1) Kayla is sort of the Kellie Pickler of dance -- a sweet-spirited blonde who was raised by her grandmother and has way more talent than people might guess. She closed the night beautifully, with a great pairing with the Russian-born Max.

2) I love the pairing of Evan and Randi, the tiny dancers who barely reach Cat Deeley's shoulders when she's in heels. Evan was previously terrific when working with his brother's choreography, now he's great on his own.

3) Still, pairings don't always have to involve similar people. There was a magical look to the combination of Melissa, the pale-skinned ballerina, and the ebony-skinned Ade; coming from different danbce worlds, they moved together beautifully.

4) Others I was especially fond of: Karla and Jonathan in a swirling and sensual number; Caitlin and Jason, two former athletes, doing amazing things with Bollywood; and Ashley and Kupuno as crash test dummies.

5) That last one was choreographed by Wade Robson, who has done amazing work on the show. That may be one of the best things about "Dance" -- it elevates choreographers to superstar status.

6) Mary Murphy was at her wildest, filled with fresh information. She declared "I like my cha-cha rough"; she also said she can't really raise her eyebrows, because she's had too much Botox.

7) I hope Tony makes it through, despite the fact that judges were cool to his performance Wednesday. He gives the show some much-needed variety.

8) We'll see what happens at 9 p.m. today; this does, however, seem likely to be a terrific season.

The Tonys: Now, THAT is show business

As the opening number of tonight's Tony Awards concluded, we could only drop our jaw. OK, now what do you do for an encore?

Onstage were somewhere between three zillion and four kajillion people. I haven't seen a stage that crowded since ... well, since the writing staff of "Saturday Night Live" won an Emmy.

There were a few flaws -- songs overlapping in a way the human ear can't discern -- but not many. That was the start of what was basically a great night. Here are my comments; please add yours:

1) Mostly, the musical numbers did a tremendous job of selling the shows. "Next to Normal" (especially), "Billy Elliot" and even "Rock of Ages" all looked terrific.

2) The exception? "Shrek" mostly gave us a collection of short-guy jokes. That didn't have many people reaching for their credit cards.

3) Also, the performance by the "Mamma Mia" road cast seemed like bad karaoke.

4) Yes, Angela Lansbury has been a while. She's 83 now and has just won her fifth Tony. Now think about this: She received her first Academy Award nomination when she was 19; that's 64 years ago.

5) The night's biggest hero? That was probably the guy who ran out with a hand-held mike, when the "Guys and Dolls" guy had a crackly clip-on mike.

6) The night's second-biggest hero? Maybe Frank Langella, who showed up as a presenter and gave a hilarious lecture on not being nominated. You don't expect that from old theater guys; in fact, many of them wasted their acceptance time reciting a listless list of people.

7) Others dropped in fine bits of humor. Neil Patrick Harris closed the show by singing a brilliant piece -- part of which had to be written while the show was going on. (We have to find out who wrote it.) He didn't have much time on stage, but he did drop in a few other good lines. That included his note that one play ("Joe Turner") was boosted by a visit from the president; his suggestion was that other shows change their names to presidential ones -- "Barack of Ages" and "Obama Mia" and "Phantom of the Oprah." ("Well, she's almost president.")

8) How cool is this, for people around Michigan? Jeff Daniels, the guy who created the wonderful Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, is on Broadway in a Tony-winning play. "God of Carnage" was named best play; all four actors (including Daniels) drew nominations and Marcia Gay Harden won, promptly giving a fun speech.

9) In the old days, the Tonys never gave much time to revivals. Now those shows are treated as virtual equals. Tonight's numbers reminded us that "Hair" (the best-revival winner) and "West Side Story" are true classics; they're astounding shows for the ages.

10) And from what I've seen so far, "Billy Elliot" might be up there with them. It was great to see it win -- and to see the "Next to Normal" actress get a personal Tony. On nights like this, we're reminded how good theater can be. 




What? Heidi and Spencer behaved badly?

OK, NBC has managed to stir up quite a reality-soap-opera plot. Its weird "I'm a Celebrity" mixes together some good people, plus Heidi and Spencer and a Blagojevich. Here's the story I wrote today (Friday) on the first person officially ousted:

Officially, Angela Shelton is now the first person off of NBC's "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here."
Unofficially, of course, that honor goes to the husband and wife, Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag.
"They quit a good 10 or 20 times," Shelton said by phone today (Friday). "The last time, it was, 'Oh yeah, we'll see you in the morning.'"
At one point, the other cast members had a chance to vote on whether to take them back. "We voted no, so you see how much good that did."
Monday's edition -- expanded to two hours -- will decide whether to let them return yet again. There won't be repercussions from the others, Shelton predicted. "These are good people ... They're going to give them a second chance."
Or a 21st chance, depending on how you count.
Montag and Pratt, known from tabloids and the reality show "The Hills," grew up rich in Beverly Hills. "It is true that there is someone on this planet for everyone," Shelton said. "They cuddle, they are very loving to each other in some evil way."
What they haven't done, she said, is help do work in the Costa Rican jungle. "I'm not sure if they really are familiar with what work is."
They've raged and insulted. Pratt also slapped a water bottle out of Shelton's hand.
She says he hit her hand; videotape replays leave that in doubt, but she says that's not the issue. "He was trying to be physically intimidating and I think that's reprehensible."
Shelton and her comedy partner, Fran Callier, were late additions to the show, after producers saw them doing a presentation for another show. Shelton says she's strictly a city kid; Sanjaya Malakar even had to show her how to stack wood for a fire.
So it was logical that she was the first person viewers voted out. Shelton said she instantly had a cheese sandwich, went to a bungalow and "showered for about an hour."
She's high on everyone in the show, except Pratt and Montag. Her comments include:
-- John Salley and Lou Diamond Phillips are "like Buddha; nothing seems to faze them." Indeed, Salley was upset with himself after his angry confrontation with Janice Dickinson. "He is a very peaceful man."
-- Quirks and all, Dickinson is fun. "We've been calling her Crazy Aunt Janice."
-- Malakar seems to savor the setting; "he's one with the jungle." Still, he faces two problems -- he needs to sing constantly, but can't because the rights to the songs would have to be cleared. Also, he has endless energy. "He needs a 19-year-old friend to play with."
-- When Daniel Baldwin was suddenly added (joining his brother Stephen), it was helpful. "He is such a hard worker .... And the stories he and his brother tell are wonderful."
-- Torrie Wilson may be the top prospect to win, but any of the others could do it, especially Malakar. "And don't count Patti Blagojevich out."
Anyone could win, Shelton said. And anyone could be her friend afterward, "except Heidi and Spencer."

-- What: "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here"
-- When: 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, through June 24; coming up, the Monday (June 8) edition has been expanded to two hours and the Tuesday one will be pre-empted by hockey
-- Where: NBC