Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Good to see y'all again and nice to be back. The weekend was exhausting, but great fun. After spending the night at Cornfed's crib in LeRoy Thursday night, he, Bub, Jimmy the Buddha, Scatchy and I got off to an early start for Rosemont and the Wizard World Chicago 2006 convention Friday morning. I'm happy to say that, during the entire weekend, we had no major squabbles, obstacles, slip-ups, mishaps or disasters. Besides Tolemite (who joined us late Friday night, Saturday and Saturday evening) getting us temporarily lost on the interstate quagmire on the way to dinner Saturday night, the only snafu was me checking myself into the wrong hotel. We usually stay at the Hyatt that is connected through walkways to the convention center, so when I made my hotel reservation back in April, I did a quick Google search for "Hyatt Rosemont," and--ta da--got the Hyatt Rosemont hotel on River Road, which is where the convention center is. Well, I was surprised when we all checked in to our rooms that we were actually at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare. The Hyatt Rosemont is about a mile down the road. Why there are two Hyatts so close to one another, I can't say, so while those guys got into their rooms, I had to take the shuttle down the street. Not a major problem, although it was a bit of hassle to take taxis back and forth and to not hang out with the guys as long in the evenings. On the whole, though, it was a grand time. We spent three days surrounded by comic books, poor lighting, fat dudes in skintight costumes, overpriced food, body odor and hot chicks.

The Story Of The Weekend involves Lou Ferrigno, the one and only Incredible Hulk, who has been to more of these Wizard World shows than I have. It's not even a thrill to see the guy anymore, I've seen him there so many times. We were standing near the restrooms on Friday, when we saw big Lou shamble into the growler. He was only in there maybe a minute before he exited and headed past a long table to get back to his post. On this table were a stack of plastic takeout food containers, some plastic utensils and other miscellaneous objects. While we watched, Lou walked by the table, stopped, and walked over to it. He picked up one of the plastic knives, held it up to look at it for a few seconds, then turned and threw it onto the floor and walked away. Bub and I laughed our asses off. He said, "What the fuck, the Hulk just littered!" And I was all, "Why did he pick that knife up in the first place?" It was one of the strangest celebrity encounters we've ever had, although Bub's odd conversation last year with Sam Jones (FLASH GORDON) is damn funny too.

NBC might have a promising fall season. Tonight I watched pilots of two of their most heralded new shows: STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP and KIDNAPPED. STUDIO 60 is run by executive producers Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme, the brilliant writer/director team who worked together on SPORTS NIGHT and THE WEST WING, which are just about as good as episodic television gets. With that pedigree, it's a cinch STUDIO 60 was something to look forward to, and that's not even mentioning its impressive cast.

STUDIO 60 is about life backstage at a late-night TV comedy series not dissimilar to SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. In the opener, the show's creator, Wes Mendell (played wonderfully by guest star Judd Hirsch, moonlighting from NUMB3RS for a couple of days), has an on-air meltdown where he barges onto the set during a live telecast and delivers a NETWORK-style condemnation of the soggy depths to which television quality has plummeted (and, yes, Chayefsky is referenced later in the show). Mendell is, of course, fired, and new network president Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet), on her first night at the job, immediately replaces him with comedy writers Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford) and Matt Albee (Matthew Perry), regarded as former TV wunderkinds who are obviously meant to be Schlamme and Sorkin. Not only are they rapidly recruited to save the series, but also, it's implied, to save television.

STUDIO 60 is exactly what WEST WING would have been if it had been set at a TV network. It has the same terrific cast, gliding camerawork, intelligent characters behaving intelligently...hell, the titles even use the same font. And since WEST WING, before Sorkin's personal problems led to his dismissal, was the finest network drama of its time, there's all the reason in the world to give STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP some of your TV-viewing time. Also in the cast are Sarah Paulson (very good in DOWN WITH LOVE) and DL Hughley as cast members of the show-within-the-show (which I think is called FRIDAY NIGHT IN HOLLYWOOD), Timothy Busfield as the director and Steven Weber (the weak link) as the network chairman. Edward Asner showed up in the pilot as the owner of the conglomerate that owns the fictional network, NBS (for National Broadcasting System).

I'm surprised it took the networks five years to rip off 24, but that's what NBC has done with KIDNAPPED, which is about a child kidnapping that will take 22 episodes to solve. Set and shot in New York, it stars Jeremy Sisto as Knapp, a former FBI agent who works independently to rescue kidnap victims for a non-negotiable fee due only if he brings his objective home alive. Knapp has no interest in capturing the kidnappers or retrieving ransom money, only in the safe return of the victim. Sisto, formerly on SIX FEET UNDER (which I've never seen), appears to be a solid dramatic lead. He has the gravitas of an older man (he's 31) and looks believable whether he's shooting three bad guys or handling dramatic dialogue with his colleague Turner (Carmen Ejogo).

KIDNAPPED also brings out some big guns to fill out its cast list. Timothy Hutton and the always-good Dana Delany play the wealthy parents of the kidnapped 15-year-old boy. Delroy Lindo plays a not-yet-ready-to-retire FBI agent who will undoubtedly come to odds with Knapp, who's basically his competition. The cool Mykelti Williamson appeared in the pilot as the boy's bodyguard, and although he disappears from the action fairly early, the implication is that his character will play some role in the investigation. The pilot asks more questions than it answers, but we learn that the mastermind (Doug Hutchison, who was the creepy killer Tooms on THE X-FILES) murders his accomplices, presumably to ensure they can never squeal to the cops.

The pilot was directed by Emmy-winner Michael Dinner (THE WONDER YEARS) and written by its executive producer, Jason Smilovic. Since Smilovic's previous televison experience was as showrunner and writer of KAREN SISCO, the deliciously clever crime series starring Carla Gugino as a sassy and saucy U.S. marshal, I have high hopes for KIDNAPPED's success.

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