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TNN's 'Pop' talk show fizzles with premiere in Pittsburgh

Friday, August 24, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Given the atrocious quality of TNN's new traveling talk show, "Pop Across America" (8 p.m.), it's a dubious distinction that Pittsburgh is the city featured in tonight's premiere.

Filmed here last month, the first half-hour includes glimpses of prominent Pittsburgh landmarks and some good-natured ribbing of the city's tonsorial reputation (mullets) and sports teams.

"We're here at the home of the Pittsburgh Penguins," says host Steve Marmel standing in front of Mellon Arena. "Yes, Penguins, because there's nothing more frightening than a wobbling, flightless bird. What? Was Gerbils taken?"

Marmel, who thinks he's much, much funnier than he really is, implies Pittsburgh's three rivers are engaged in some sort of kinky sex act. He also goes on a tour of the Pittsburgh Brewing Company.

The audience that turned out in the PNC Park parking lot for the talk show taping -- from the back of a flatbed truck -- seemed amused by one genuinely funny quiz (guess which colorful names belong to porn stars or Pittsburghers).

But a segment taped Downtown of several young women behaving like guys (spitting, adjusting their crotches, etc.) was so poorly shot, it's sometimes tough to figure out what viewers are supposed to be looking at on the screen. Even when you find it, it's not funny.

"Sopranos" actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler appears rightfully embarrassed to be the show's celebrity guest.

It's not just the crudity that makes "Pop Across America" a disaster. Lame jokes, pedestrian writing and low-tech production values do that trick.

The second half-hour, airing tonight at 8:30, supposedly features a ketchup-drinking contest, but TNN refused to make the second show available for review. It's hard to imagine it could be worse than the first episode, and if it is, I'm glad I didn't waste time watching it anyway.

"Free to Be You and Me"
(8 tonight, TV Land)

Channel surfers will feel like armchair anthropologists if they surf across this fossil: A '70s-era equal rights show for children. There's nothing wrong with the program's message -- though today it seems unnecessary, perhaps due in part to efforts like this 30 years ago -- but the delivery is so, so ... '70s.

The theme song remains catchy, and some of the sketches (especially Mel Brooks and Marlo Thomas as the voices of boy and girl baby puppets) will still appeal to children today, but the rest of the show is too dated.

I listened to the "Free to Be You and Me" record as a child, but I didn't remember the part of the TV special with Rosie Grier (!!) cradling a guitar and singing about feelings. Still, that wasn't as bad as the scene of Thomas sitting with a bunch of hippie-looking folks, swaying to music. Kumbayuck.

Maybe some things are better off staying in mothballs.

"Kindergarten "
(7:30 a.m. Sunday, HBO Family)

It would be easy to rant about exploitation of children when reviewing this 13-episode documentary series about 23 boys and girls in a kindergarten class. But it's a fairly bogus argument. After all, children nowadays grow up with their parents' video cameras trained on them constantly.

Airing daily at 7:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., "Kindergarten" is a cute look at society's most innocent as they begin their education.

"I don't know how to read long words yet," one child candidly admits.

It's interesting to see them worship their adoring teacher. You realize they haven't yet learned to disdain authority figures.

Instead, they engage in the important pursuits of childhood, like choosing a name for the class guinea pig.


You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com Post comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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