End of the Madness

Tonight (Saturday, May 16) marks the end of a TV tradition. "MADtv" has its last new show, after 14 seasons, from 11 p.m. to midnight on Fox.

Even if you missed the first 13-plus years, you might want to catch tonight's farewell. It only overlaps on part of the season finale for "Saturday Night Live," which is from 11:29 p.m. to 1 a.m. on NBC.

Anyway, here's a recent story I wrote about the show and its finale:

In TV terms, Fox's "MADtv" is almost ancient.
"The idea actually pre-dates the existence of Fox," said David Salzman, the show's producer and co-owner.
The notion was tossed around in the 1980s and finally got a schedule spot in 1995. Then -- as it often does -- Fox got a new programming chief. "He told me, 'It just doesn't fit the new Fox," Salzman recalled,
He disagreed and won the argument. "MADtv" has outlasted many programming chiefs and stayed 14 seasons -- until now.
Saturday's show is the final new one on Fox and probably anywhere. "Something told me to be on the show this year," said Erica Ash, one of the regulars.
She had turned down a spot last season, but jumped in this time. That let her ride out the final year of a brassy show.
"It's edgy," Ash said. "It doesn't compromise the funny."
It is, at least, more quick and youthful than most shows. "We'll have 14 or 15 elements in a 60-minute show," Salzman said.
The idea was to capture the frenetic quality of Mad magazine. Salzman seemed in a position to push it through; he ran the Lorimar company, back when it was stocked with future network chiefs.
Still, the idea floundered for years. In 1995, Fox -- a youthful network with "Beverly Hills 90210," "X-Files" and "Melrose Place" -- seemed to fit the "MADtv" style.
That first year introduced Nicole Sullivan, Orlando Jones and others. In the years that followed, humor ranged from the broad Michael McDonald creations (Dr. Phil, etc.), to Alex Borstein's Miss Swan, tiny, quiet and dense.
Ash finally got to meet Borstein when past stars returned to tape the finale. "She's a sweet, sweet lady," she said.
By then, "MADtv" had accepted its fate. For its final season, Salzman said, its budget had been slashed in half. He's been trying to find a new home; so far, however, he hasn't succeeded.
Still, "MADtv" had a long run. Fourteen seasons? That ties "Dallas," "Bonanza" and "Ozzie and Harriet"; it beats, by two years, "NYPD Blue" and "Murder, She Wrote."
And it beats, by 13 years, "Misery Loves Company," "The Preston Episodes," "Strange Luck" and "The Crew." Back in 1995, all of those were deemed to fit the new Fox.

A great "Idol" moment

Even on a show that tries endlessly to manufacture emotion, nothing can match the real thing. The final moments tonight were "American Idol" at its best.

Here was Danny Gokey, a man who had entered the competition shortly after the death of his wife. Buoyant, outgoing, he was immensely likable. And the song he sang (wonderfully) at the end was perfect for this widower -- "You Are So Beautiful."

Danny had picked out that song for Tuesday's performance, a great choice. Paula Abdul had picked his other song, an awful choice.

That may have been one reason for his surprise ouster tonight. A bigger reason is more basic: Kris Allen, also a fine singer, is cute as the dickens, with a shy manner and a slight smile that warms old people's hearts and sends little girls rushing to the phones.

Here are a few of my comments; please add yours:

1) No matter what happens, of course, the essentials remain: Adam Lambert is a spectacularly good singer and performer. Kris is likable; Adam is a star.

2) It was a great touch to show Adam back at the Metropolitan Education Theatre, in San Diego. This is where he had his first starring role, back when he was 10. "Idol" used to think of theater as a bad thing; Adam has reminded us that rock 'n' roll can be wonderfully theatrical.

3) Tell me this: Wasn't this the first time we've seen an enormous American flag, Patton-style, fronted by a man with Goth hair and two black earrings, singing the National Anthem?

4) Consecutive promos -- for a movie, a car and a charity -- were then followed by commercials. I would have objected, except that charity is a good thing and any promo done by Ben Stiller is fun.

5) Jordin Sparks has become a great singer; Katy Perry is an OK singer who knows how to stir up a storm.

6) In his visit home, Adam had approximately the scariest bodyguard ever.

7) The going-home stuff was a mismatch, as expected. Danny (Milwaukee) and Adam (San Diego) seemed to mostly be visiting strip malls. By comparison, Kris -- going to Conway, Ark., his college town and adopted home -- seemed to be in a real place.

8) That was the place where his shy, cute-guy smile seems to fit perfectly.

9) I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but Kris' wife is really, really cute.

10) All of that cute-guy, cute-wife, shy-smile, nice-voice stuff makes Kris a worthy contender. He's an ideal choice to stand alongside, when Adam Lambert -- one stunning talent -- becomes the next American Idol.

Hey dude, they HAVE a piano player

On a night filled with great "American Idol" performances, the only mistakes came when people didn't do enough to show off their talent.
Two judges (Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi) chose "Apologize" for Kris Allen, expecting him to deliver beautifully muted emotion. Instead, he buried himself behind a piano. He played competently; he sang competently. It wasn't the kind of thing to do when everything is at stake; dude, they have plenty of other people to play the piano for you.
Another judge (Paula Abdul) inexplicably chose "Dance, Little Sister, Dance." It was a good showcase for the sax player and had a nice closing riff for the trumpeters. All Gokey could do was shout out the melody adequately.
Adam Lambert had no such problem. Simon Cowell chose the perfdect song for him ("One"); then -- as usual -- Lambert chose the perfect song for himself.
As it happens, the other two bounced back when they could choose for themselves. Allen's "Heartless" was a good, gutsy choice -- forsaking a brilliant band and great back-up trio to sing alone on that big stage with his guitar.
Gokey did even better, choosing "You Are So Beautiful." Cowell summed it perfectly when he called it "a vocal master class."
Cowell also summed up the night neatly: There's a danger that people will assume Lambert is in the finals and will try to choose his opponent; he'll accidentally be voted out.
Let's hope not. This guy is already a complete rock-pop star, ready to happen. We'll say Lambert should and will be in the finals next week with Gokey. It will be a great night, a fine time to crown Lambert as champion.

Valuable life lessons

Here are things I've learned today:
1) You know that old myth about how if you spill Pepsi on a computer, the whole thing will be ruined? (They even had a "Saturday Night Live" sketch once, with a NASA disaster.) Well, it turns out that it's not a myth.
2) One really needs a computer. Especially if what one does is write and send newspaper stories.
3) One also needs Pepsi (or Coke), of course; those two needs will remain in constant conflict.
4) Many computer-repair places don't answer their phones or return voice-mail messages. That may be a promising field to be in -- far more promising than newspaper work.
5) Dusting off the former computer is a narrow solution, at best.
6) One REALLY needs a computer ... and a Pepsi. Maybe one has a drinking problem.

"Idol" has homecoming week

This is homecoming night for the final three "American Idol" contestant. We'll see Danny Gokey in Milwaukee and Kris Allen in Arkansas; chances are, crowds will go ga-ga.

And we'll see Adam Lambert in Los Angeles or San Diego. Hopefully, someone will notice.

Being from California sometimes seems like not having a home town at all. We sort of noticed that when Katherine McPhee returned to LA in 2006; it was the exact opposite of the civic glee that greeted Taylor Hicks in Alabama.

Maybe that's the one good thing about Allison Iraheta being undeservedly dumped last week: Had she survived, there would have been two California homecomings.

Anyway, here's the story I wrote after interviewing Iraheta, the day after she was dropped:

Allison Iraheta's final "American Idol" week was surrounded by chaos.
"That day was not going well," Iraheta said of the Tuesday events. "A lot of things were not going the way they should."
The most serious came when stage manager Debbie Williams fell from near the top of the set's massive stairs, about two hours before show time. The contestants worried -- "Deb is a friend of ours," Iraheta said -- but eventually got word that she was recovering.
After that fall, part of a stage tower collapsed and there was no chance for a final run-through. Still, Iraheta doubts performances were affected.
For her, this was a typical time. "I've been in the bottom ... so may times," she said. "I was really prepared for anything."
On Wednesday, she learned that she was through. She finished fourth for the season -- the same spot Chris Daughtry finished three years ago, before launching a string of hits. "Which is really cool for me," Iraheta said. "I'm like, 'Yeah ... maybe something will happen for me.'"
Daughtry was a guest star Wednesday. A few minutes later, Iraheta was ousted and got to sing one more time. "It was funny, because I was crying and singing a song called 'Cry Baby.'"
This strange week did bring some good for her. She was mentored by Slash, one of her guitar heroes; she also formed an alliance with Adam Lambert.
The singers got to choose their duet pairings, Iraheta said. She paired with Lambert (whose hair stylist she also borrowed) on a powerhouse song. "We're even planning on doing it on the 'Idol' tour."
With rehearsals -- for the May 20 finale and then the tour -- coming soon, Iraheta plans to stay close to the show. "I really like the classes at the 'Idol' school," she said.
Iraheta had been home-schooled and expects to take her GED exam. Then comes her career, including recording in Spanish and English; she had already won a national contest on Telemundo, a Spanish-language cable channel.
"Idol" judges praised Iraheta's singing, but one (Simon Cowell) criticized her lack of personality. There is, apparently, lots of personality to unveil. "From the minute we wake up, she makes me laugh," Megan Joy, her "Idol" roommate, said after being ousted.
Now they'll be back together on the tour, along with Lambert and seven others. The laughter can resume.