Let's visit the "CSI" set

The sets for some TV dramas offer grit and grime. Things are muddied, to seem realistic.

Don't expect any of that on the "CSI" set. "This isn't a police station or an ER," said Louis Milito, one of the show's producers. "These people are scientists."

Scientists like neat and clean. That's how the "CSI" set looks.

I visited it the other day, as part of the Television Critics Association tour. In other blogs, I'll talk about other sets -- "Trust Me," "The Mentalist," "Big Bang Theory" and the Peach Pit from "90210."

The original "CSI" design was sort of sandy-drab, Milito said, but then Jerry Bruckheimer, the show's executive producer, intervened. "He wanted slick and shiny."

He got what he wanted; he tends to. The walls -- deep green and bluish grey -- look like they'd been painted yesterday. They always do, apparently.

Inside those rooms are modern machines. Some are just shells, said producer-writer Richard Catalani, but most can function. "The people where I used to work wish they could have these when we're done with them."

He spent 16 years with the Los Angeles County investigation unit. However, "CSI" portrays a better-funded one in  Las Vegas.

The show gets new attention now, because Laurence Fishburne is stepping in as its star. He was introduced in an episode that reruns at about 8:15 p.m. (after the presidential address) Thursday (Jan. 15) on CBS; in a pretty good episode at about 9:15, he steps in and William Petersen departs.

Fishburne brings an imposing presence, said actress Liz Vassey. "But he looks you straight in the eye and asks about you."

Of course, many guys look Vassey, who's 5-foot-9 and very impressive, in the eye.

What she found intimidating was playing a corpse in one episode filled with dream scenes. "I was the worst corpse ever," she said.

At least, she got to do it in a slick-and-shiny place. In fact, Catalani said one piece of scientific equipment is worth $100,000; another is worth $500,000.

I resisted the temptation to steal either one. TV people get very picky about that, I'm told.


Ahh, Ozzy


An Ozzy Osbourne interview is fun, in its own odd way.

There was Ozzy on stage with his wife Sharon and two of their kids, Kelly and Jack. They were talking about their upcoming variety show, which Fox's Mike Darnell describes as "fun raunch."

Often, Sharon had to repeat questions in Ozzy's ear. The hearing loss came from decades of rock 'n' roll, his kids said.

But the stories were worth the trouble. Sharon said she had just returned to the U.S. the night before and met someone grumbling about one woman's comments about Ozzy:

"The immigration officer said ..., 'How dare
she say that about our Ozzy.
Everybody adores Ozzy.'”

That's when Ozzy piped up: "Why didn’t everybody adore me when I was pissed drunk all the time?"

Sharon shrugged. "You see how he hears what he
wants to? That’s very convenient. He has selective

Feeling good about Fox

Until now, I'd been feeling so-so about this TV season. Still wobbling from the strike, networks have had weak line-ups.

Now, however, there's good news: Fox is on a roll.

Some of that was expected. "24" had a terrific debut Sunday and Monday (Jan. 11-12); "American Idol" is off to a good start tonight (Tuesday, Jan. 13, see the preview/review in my previous blog).

But that's just the start. I've just seen three of Fox's mid-season hours. Each is fresh, bracing, well-made and -- this is the good part -- really original. They are:

-- "Dollhouse," in which Joss Whedon ("Buffy") has crafted a wondrous showcase for Eliza Dushku. She plays an open vessel, someone who continually has her own memories wiped out and is given a personality melded from others. The opener requires a huge coincidence, but we'll forgive that. This is a fascinating hour, both visually and in Dushku's wide-ranging performance.

-- "Lie to Me," in which Tim Roth plays an expert on the body language of truth and lies. This gets creepy at times, but pulls viewers into an engaging mental journey, "House"-style.

-- And my favorite, "Glee."

You really don't expect a drama about a high school glee club, but this has been pulled off with the style and flair of "Pushing Daisies."

It also has a bonus -- a chance for Tony-nominated singers to become Fox stars. Matthew Morrison ("Light on the Piazza") plays the teacher; Lea Michele ("Spring Awakening") is his star student.

Both play immensely likable people who sing pop tunes . They do it beautifully, but the show also adds wonderful detours -- including one school doing a cheery, chirpy, glee-club version of "Rehab."

Moments like that add to a show that already had my attention.  For the rest of this season, Fox will be be fun to watch.




A peek at the "American Idol" opener

"American Idol" starts its eighth season tonight. What can we look forward to?

Well, a guy named Michael Gurr has a voice that's closer to "Grr." Lea Marie Golde looks so good in her pink shirt and pink cowboy hat that we really wish she could sing. Elijah Scarlett has a deep bass voice, but no idea what to do with it. Others are cruel to songs by Celine Dion and Carrie Underwood and Tears For Fears and more.

Then again, you always see a few such quirks. This opener from Phoenix -- 8-10 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 13, on Fox -- also has happy surprises.

There's a beefy Texas oil-rig worker with a sweet voice. And Cody Sheldon, a teen horror-film fan from Detroit who sings gracefully. And Scott MacIntyre, an almost-blind pianist (his range of vision is equal to about one piano key), who isn't used to being away from his piano, but sings beautifully.

These are the sort of people who keep the show interesting. Tonight's opener is typical "Idol" -- some laughs, some warmth, some bitterness, lots of slick and clever editing.

Kara DioGuardi fits in neatly as the show's new judge. The only problem is that this brings the total to four -- and Simon Cowell has the tiebreaker vote.

So one singer advances strictly on her peppy spirit, another (Katrina Darrell) strictly on her wardrobe choice. She chose to wear a bikini throughout the day; it wouldn't be a good choice for everyone, but worked for her.

It also worked with Cowell and Randy Jackson and, well, me.

DioGuardi protested that she's just a beautiful girl who can't sing. Hey, let's correct that: Katrina is not that beautiful and doesn't sing that badly; she also knows how to dress to impress. 

Golden Globe ramblings

Here are some random thoughts on the Golden Globes; please add yours. Bear with me, because I'm doing this while watching the West Coast telecast. It would be cheating to peak at the list of winners:

1) It should be mandatory to have one clever Englishman at each awards ceremony. Two years ago, Sacha Baron Cohen was delightful; tonight, Ricky Gervais matched that.

2) The comment Gevais made was true, incidentally. In a hilarious "Extras" scene, he had Kate Winslett insisting on doing a Holocaust movie so she could win an award. Now she's done one and won one.

3) Not all English folks are great at getting or presenting awards though. Please tell Winslett this: You could have thanked those people afterward, at the party.

4) This is the part I hate. The star of "Happy Go Lucky" spent most of her time crying.

5) As all those awards pile up, remember this: "John Adams" was a good miniseries, but far from a great one. It started wonderfully, then got dragged down in the lethargic nature of its lead character.

6) Then again, also remember: "30 Rock" IS a great show. It's erratic -- all comedies filmed without an audience seem to be -- but often wonderfully funny.

7) Tina Fey had the best line: "If you ever feel too good about yourself, there's this thing called the Internet." I won't prove that here. Fey is a good actress, a fine producer and a terrific writer.

8) Also, letting Tracy Morgan do the acceptance speech for "30 Rock" was a master stroke.

9) Rumor Willis has the rare distinction of being Miss Golden Globesfor two straight years. She was chosen last year, but the strike scuttled everything. NBC's dim-witted presentation, hosted by Billy Bush and Nancy O'Dell, was one of the awful moments in TV history.

10) It's easy to make fun of those Miss Golden Globes people over the years, assuming they are dull, big-globed heiresses. Let's not be so sure, though. Laura Dern -- a brilliant and gifted actress who just won her second Globe -- was Miss Golden Globe in 1982.

11) If I understand this correctly, Don Cheadle has gone from "Hotel Rwanda" to "Hotel For Dogs." This is not, presumably, an upgrade.

12) The comments by Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese were terrific, as they urged people to avoid the easy, mainstream way. Still, let's remember this: In all of Hollywood history, Spielberg is absolutely the finest craftsman of popular, mainstream movies.

13) Let me recommend a couple of the non-winners in the movie-comedy category. "In Bruges" isn't quite a comedy, but it is interesting and original. And "Burn After Reading" is a delight.

14) Things get kind of quiet when anyone mentions "In Treatment"; reaction to Gabriel Byrne's win was muted. Very simply, not many people have seen the HBO show. It will be back soon; the first season was subtly written and superbly acted.

15) Hey, "In Bruges" did win something after all. Colin Farrell didn't have to do a lot of acting in it, but he was perfectly cast and gave a neatly subtle performance. It was good to see a former bad-boy type being honored for good work.

16) Winslet won again and was just as bad the second time. She's a great actress, but now she's on my no-more-awards list.

17) You can probably do well, just by predicting upset wins by Anna Paquin. She did that 15 years ago at the Oscars for "The Piano" and did it again now for "True Blood." She's just right in a terrific show.

18) Mickey Rourke AND Colin Ferrell both won? Two self-destructive, crumbling guys have turned it around. Comebacks are great.

19) OK, I get the message. I promise to watch "Slumdog Millionaire" as soon as it gets to town.

20) Last year, "Mad Men" won and nobody was watching. Maybe this year will make a difference. In its own oddly restrained way, this is a fine show.