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Tuned In: 'Friends' guest Sarandon bothered by 'Survivor'

Thursday, February 15, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

They've been there for us, but this season, their support has grown a bit tiresome.

I'm still glad to have "Friends," but I'm enjoying "Enemies," er, "Survivor," more.

Now we have "super-sized" episodes of "Friends," which, mercifully, haven't had the bloated feel of their hour-long episodes. Regardless, "Friends" has become predictable and stale. "Will & Grace" generates more laughs per half-hour.

In an effort to draw viewers away from CBS's over-hyped game show, NBC is hyping the marquee-quality guest stars appearing on "Friends" this month.

Tonight it's Susan Sarandon. She plays a soap opera actress who works with Joey (Matt LeBlanc) on "Days of Our Lives," or "DOOL," as Joey calls it in insider's speak.

In a phone interview Monday, Sarandon said this guest spot and recent appearances on Fox's "Mad TV" are not baby steps into a TV career ("I'm saving that for when I'm really old and want to settle down," she said), but an opportunity to appear on shows her children watch. Plus, her daughter got to play her soap character's daughter in the episode.

"My career has really broken all the rules," Sarandon said. "You're not supposed to do TV when you're a movie star, and everybody kind of thumbs their noses at it. My feeling is to not let your career have any limits except for what you find in your heart. This just seemed like fun."

Not that Sarandon is a fan of much of what's on TV. She said her family's station wagon bears a "Kill your television" bumper sticker (I despise those) and that her children are allowed to watch only minimal TV and only on the weekends. (She said they usually tape "Friends.")

She has no problem with the sexual innuendo that airs on "Friends" in the too-early 8 p.m. time slot ("Any kids that would be interested in 'Friends' are getting much more sexual content in conversations with peers," she said), but reserved special condemnation for "Survivor."

"I'm more worried about mean-spiritedness and lack of honesty and a reward system for things I don't think should be rewarded," Sarandon said. "I think 'Survivor' is much more detrimental. It rewards you for surviving at all costs without any kind of moral bottom line, any kind of lessons about loyalty or honesty."

Playing a soap diva on "Friends" harks back to the early years of Sarandon's career, when she had a part on "Search for Tomorrow" in the early 1970s.

"Soaps are really fabulous because women kind of rule, but at the same time the story lines are so preposterous," Sarandon said. On "Friends," Sarandon's character dies and her brain is transplanted into the skull of Joey's "Days of Our Lives" character. "I guess it would be more preposterous if Joey was donating his brain for the brain transplant."

"TARGET" ON TARGET: The Cinemax documentary "The Target Shoots First" (8 p.m. Tuesday) should be required viewing for college seniors planning to work for a corporation after graduation.

In 1993, punk rock-loving college grad Chris Wilcha took a marketing job with Columbia House Record Club in Manhattan and brought his video camera to the office to record what happened every day.

The resulting documentary gives a fascinating look at the absurdities of corporate culture, the minefield of office politics and the pitfalls of success and power.

Wilcha comes off as an overly smug kid at first, but he quickly grows on you. The 72-minute film's only misstep is a disappointingly anti-climactic ending, but until then it offers valuable insights to life in the professional workplace.

"BOSTON PUBLIC" EXPULSIONS: Yep, they're gone.

Monday's episode of "Boston Public," which concluded a crossover story that began on "The Practice" Sunday night, was indeed the swan song for two teacher characters: Milton Buttle (Joey Slotnick) and Kevin Riley (Thomas McCarthy).

Buttle was fired after having an affair with a student. Riley was fired because he knew about the affair and didn't tell school administrators. Both characters may return as guest stars, but the actors will no longer be series regulars.

IMPLOSION EXPLOSION: By 9 a.m. Sunday I'd seen enough replays of the Three Rivers Stadium implosion to last a lifetime. But at 10 that night WPGH showed another view that was actually worth seeing.

Using a 360-degree camera set up in the middle of the stadium, WPGH was able to show the entire implosion on the inside from every angle. It was a unique vantage point, but the station hyped the technology and the local company that provided it so often Sunday and again Monday that I began to detect a whiff of quid pro quo.

Pool cameras from other local stations inside the stadium blinked out before the walls came tumbling down, but it was nice to see the normally combative stations working together to get those shots. Kudos to WPXI's chief photographer for crediting the other stations for their involvement during an interview on Channel 11 Sunday morning.

But what did the implosion shake loose at KDKA?

On Monday's 11 p.m. news, Ken Rice played prop comic. He hoisted the plunger supposedly used in the implosion onto the anchor desk and proceeded to lift the handle. This was accompanied by video of the stadium rebuilding itself as the implosion tape played backward.

It wouldn't have seemed quite so odd at 5 p.m. -- a softer, jokier newscast -- but during the hard news 11 p.m., this gag seemed embarrassingly out of place.

TELLING IT LIKE IT IS: It was admirable to see WTAE air a "buyer beware" report last week about the dangers of ordering products from direct-response ads that air on TV.

It was a bit of biting the hand that feeds you, but that didn't stop reporter Susan Koeppen from detailing the problems of one woman who got a raw deal on a product that had once been advertised on Channel 4. The spot has since been pulled.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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