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Tuned In: Maxwell's House

Friday, January 09, 2004

By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Hollywood -- Sometimes Q&A sessions here on the TV critics press tour take on a surreal quality that's not easy to convey in print. That was the case this week when Style Network introduced a new series, "The Brini Maxwell Show" (10:30 p.m. Jan. 23), hosted by the fictitious Maxwell, who looks like Doris Day and speaks in a cadence reminiscent of WQED's "LifeQuest" host Eleanor Schano.

But Maxwell is actually a man in drag, and he stays in character so completely and plays it so, ahem, straight, it's quite a sight to see.

Brini Maxwell -- Brini is short for Sabrina -- is a retro-obsessed domestic diva who began her TV career on a New York cable access show.

"The audience we had for that show was very broad," Maxwell said. "We had a lot of women, young women. We had married couples. And my core audience, surprisingly -- I don't understand it -- was gay men."

She was joined at her press conference by actress Finola Hughes, host of Style's "How Do I Look?" (9 p.m. Jan. 16), another makeover series. The pair hit it off, with Maxwell frequently complimenting Hughes and gently touching her arm. Maxwell's real gender was something no critic seemed willing to touch, until one asked Hughes if there was any truth to the rumor that she is a man.

"I just wanted to say, I wore these pants and they really hide my penis," Hughes joked, rising from her seat to adjust her slacks.

Each single-themed, half-hour episode of Maxwell's Style series will feature the host's "unique retro/classic approach to lifestyle," including household tips and secrets to being thrifty. In one episode, a survivalist suggests ways to make it in the wilderness using only the contents of Maxwell's purse.

"What was in my purse? Well, let's see, an extra pair of hose, which is perfect for use as a rope. And hair spray, which can be used as mace."

Maxwell said she's been fascinated by period fashion for quite a while.

"[The period from] the late 1950s to the early 1970s represents a time in America that was very forward-looking," she said. "And the popular culture of that era reflects that. What we have taken as the popular culture of that time period was actually the counterculture of Jim Morrison and The Doors and The Who and that sort of thing. But what was going on at the top of that strata was popular culture that I find fascinating, which is the fashion and the movies that Hollywood was putting out at that time and the advertising."

Maxwell on Martha Stewart: "You know, Martha Stewart when she started out was a single model living in New York City, which I find rather fascinating because, well, that's the kind of girl I speak to. She wants to make a gracious existence for herself and that's exactly what Martha Stewart was about. And she certainly did it, didn't she?"

Maxwell on whether she's ready for further fame: "You might not recognize me on the street, but then again you might. Who knows?"

Maxwell on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy": "You know, those boys seem so nice and ordinary, it's hard to imagine they're gay."

MORE 'QUEER EYE'

New episodes of Bravo's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" return Feb. 17. In addition to making over New York heterosexual men, the series will go on the road for the first time, making over men in Texas.

"What could make for better television than a cowboy's reaction to Carson in chaps?" asked Bravo executive Frances Berwick.

Bravo has also acquired the rights to HBO's "Project Greenlight." Bravo will produce nine episodes of the series, which chronicles the making of a movie. Rather than a coming of age story, as in the two previous editions of "Greenlight," the new version will go behind the scenes to show the making of a thriller or horror flick.

'MONK' RETURNS

Another seven new episodes of USA Network's "Monk" begin airing next Friday at 10 p.m.

USA is also developing an original movie, "36 Candles," a sequel to the 1984 cult classic "Sixteen Candles." So far none of the original cast is attached.

SCI FI CHANNEL UPDATE

Production on the "Farscape" miniseries has begun in Australia, but an American distributor has yet to be announced. Sci Fi Channel, which aired the series, has not been contacted about presenting the show for American viewers, said Sci Fi Channel president Bonnie Hammer. "We have not been officially approached, but of course we'd have the conversation."

Meanwhile, Sci Fi has yet to make a decision about picking up "Battlestar Galactica" as a series. A miniseries/backdoor pilot aired in December, and Hammer said a decision on its future will be made in 60 days.

"Can we afford to do it with the same level of quality?" Hammer said, explaining cost will be a deciding factor about whether to take "Galactica" to series.


Post-Gazette TV editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com .

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