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TV Notes: 8/20/03

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Casting about

Daily Variety reports that Gary Cole has been cast as the new vice president on "The West Wing." He'll play Colorado Rep. Robert "Bingo Bob" Russell, who is appointed to the position following the resignation of John Hoynes (Tim Matheson). Cole was on a West Wing set just last year in the Fox TV movie "The Brady Bunch in the White House.".... Linda Cardellini, late of NBC's "Freaks and Geeks," will join the cast of "ER" as a nurse/single mother.

(Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor)

Local children's TV update

"The Magic Woods," a locally produced nature show for children, will go into production on two new episodes next month.

The pilot was filmed in 2001 and aired on WQED last year. Producers continue their attempts to secure funding for a full season of episodes. Earlier this year, American Public Television sent co-creator/host Matthew Craig a letter of intent to distribute a "Magic Woods" series, pending funding.

APT has made a similar commitment to WQED's "BrainFood," a half-hour cooking show that helps teach math and science to middle school pupils. Producers of that series have gotten some interest in funding from the National Science Foundation, according to Laura Seliy, special projects coordinator in WQED's Education Resource Center.

"BrainFood," which premiered on Channel 13 earlier this year, is up for a regional Emmy Award.

Monroeville-based Millennium Education Company of America announced plans this week to film a pilot episode of "The Amazing Adventures of Grammar Man" later this month.

Native Pittsburgher Chuck Herring, executive director of MECA, stars as the title character in this proposed series, which has yet to gain a distribution platform.


California election a big target for comics

When it comes to the California recall election, who needs a punch line?

With the Terminator, Gary Coleman, Gallagher and Larry Flynt as opponents, the governor's race is a midsummer night's dream for late-night TV comics.

Aside from the process itself, add in jokes about bodybuilders (Arnold Schwarzenegger), short people (Coleman) and unintelligible accents (Schwarzenegger and Arianna Huffington) and you've got a mother lode of humor.

"Arnold Schwarzenegger is being criticized by the press," NBC's Conan O'Brien said, "because instead of discussing issues, he keeps reciting catch phrases like, 'Hasta la vista, baby.' When reached for comment, Arnold said, 'Hasta la vista, baby!' "

David Letterman presented a list of "Top 10 Arnold Schwarzenegger campaign promises."

No. 1: "Speak directly to the voters in clear, honest, broken English."

Comedy Central's Colin Quinn -- who has riffed about Schwarzenegger acting as governor in a steroid rage -- said the whole situation is actually too easy for comics. And that can be a problem.

"Schwarzenegger was already such a big joke in comedy for 15 years," said Quinn, whose late-night roundtable, "Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn," was just renewed through the end of 2004. "It's almost like a trick. This is so easy that anybody can make the same jokes that we are trying.

"You really have to start getting ugly and personal," he added.

Quinn's Comedy Central comic teammate, Jon Stewart, has already made the topic a regular feature of his mock newscast, "The Daily Show."

"Critics have noted Schwarzenegger's only previous government experience was serving under President Bush senior as chairman of the Council of Physical Fitness -- a largely symbolic office where his primary responsibility was doing hundreds of jumping jacks he was going to do anyway," Stewart said.

Schwarzenegger barely made his announcement, CBS's Craig Kilborn said, "and already people are chanting, 'Four more vowels. Four more vowels.' "

It was on Jay Leno's California-based "Tonight" show that Schwarzenegger announced his intention to run, drawing the show's second-biggest rating of the year (behind Katie Couric's guest host turn).

Leno has invited each candidate for governor to appear in his audience Sept. 22 -- the 135 certified contenders will take up nearly half of the 300 available seats.

He told Coleman not to worry: "We will have a booster seat."

Leno's role has even made him a target of jokes, some perhaps tinged with envy.

Letterman, who has a legendarily prickly relationship with his late-night rival, said he missed Schwarzenegger's announcement. "The one night that I forget to watch Leno and this happens," he said.

(David Bauder, The Associated Press)

Fox v. Franken

Oral arguments have been scheduled for Friday for the Fox News Channel's lawsuit against humorist Al Franken.

Last week, Fox sued the former "Saturday Night Live" performer and his publisher, the Penguin Group, to stop them from including "fair and balanced" in the title of his upcoming book.

The trademark infringement lawsuit seeks to force Penguin to rename "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right." It also asks for unspecified damages.

Fox registered "Fair & Balanced" as a trademark in 1998.

Penguin said the suit is "lacking in merit" and "antithetical to free expression concerns protected by the First Amendment."

So far, the legal action has only helped sell the book, which for the past week has been in the top 10 on Penguin originally planned a print run of 250,000 but has ordered an additional 40,000 copies.

Penguin also moved up the publication date from Sept. 22 to the end of this week, meaning books will likely be on sale by the time of Friday's hearing.

(Hillel Italie, Associated Press)

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