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Sen. McCain Becomes Gov. Palin's Lifeline

In Tina Fey's latest hysterically funny portrayal of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on "Saturday Night Live," the Republican vice presidential nominee asked for a "lifeline" when she had trouble answering a question from "CBS Evening News" anchor Katie Couric (played by Amy Poehler).

On Monday night, Sen. John McCain, who chose Gov. Palin as his running mate, essentially acted as her lifeline in the latest installment of the Couric interviews.

A short story in today's News on page A4 doesn't do justice to the exchange in Couric's joint interview with Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin.

Couric asked Palin if she was on the same page with Sen. McCain after she made a comment about attacking terrorist targets in Pakistan that was very similar to a statement from Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama that Sen. McCain has criticized.

After Palin's answer didn't include a direct response to Couric's question, the anchor asked Sen. McCain "is that something you shouldn't say out loud?"

"Of course not," said Sen. McCain. "I understand this day and age 'gotcha' journalism. Is that a pizza place? In a conversation with someone who you didn't hear... the question very well, you don't know the context of the conversation. Grab a phrase. Gov. Palin and I agree that you don't announce that you're going to attack another country."

When Couric asked Palin if she was sorry she said it, Sen. McCain broke in to repeat his claim that it was 'gotcha' sound bite and the governor never had to answer the question.

"It wasn't a 'gotcha,'" explained Couric,. "She was talking to a voter."

"No," said Sen. McCain, "she was in a conversation with a group of people and talking back and forth. And ... I'll let Gov. Palin speak for herself."

Apparently, he realized by then he was defending his running mate a little too much.

Later, Couric asked Palin what she learned from the experience in the pizza place.

"That this is all about 'gotcha,' journalism," she replied. "A lot of it is. But that's OK, too."

I suppose that means that anytime a voter asks a question in a public place that he or she instantly becomes a journalist. No need to go to college, get a degree, work for a publication and be trained in the field.

Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin were just playing the Republican game of getting off the defensive by going on the offensive against the media. This time, the ploy seemed transparently silly.

-- Alan Pergament

Gov. Palin Gets the Couric Treatment

Gov. Sarah Palin is getting the Katie Couric treatment in more ways than one.

After the second night of Couric's interview with the Republican vice presidential nominee ran on The CBS Evening News, MSNBC commentators Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann began speculating Thursday night that Gov. Palin eventually could be removed from the ticket led by presidential nominee John McCain.

The speculation by commentators who have supported Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama didn't appear to be fueled by anything other than the commentators' belief that Gov. Palin had performed poorly in her third network interview.

Couric knows all about speculative news stories, having been the subject of several that claimed she was on her way out of the anchor seat because of the sinking ratings of The CBS Evening News since she got the job.

Couric has survived those stories. She certainly was in her comfort zone with Palin, following up on the Alaska governor's vague answers and telling her that former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger agrees with an Obama stand on negotiations with the leaders of Syria and Iran that Palin had called "naive."

On Wednesday night, Couric pressed Gov. Palin to give one specific example of Sen. McCain pushing for more regulation in his 26 years in office.

"I'll try to find you some and I'll bring them back to you," answered Gov. Palin.

Couric was courteous and respectful on both nights. That meant her demeanor wouldn't become an issue, as Charles Gibson's superior attitude had in ABC's earlier interview with Gov. Palin. All in all, Couric's impressive performance should boost her anchor stock -- or at the very least halt more speculative stories on her departure from the anchor seat.

While anti-Republican comments on MSNBC often are taken with a grain of salt, Gov. Palin's performance with Couric also received low grades on CNN, which prides itself on fairness.

CNN host Anderson Cooper promoted footage of the Palin-Couric by saying "you've got to kind of see it to believe it."

On a CNN panel, even Republican strategist Ed Rollins conceded that Gov. Palin has lost her confidence and added the McCain campaign had made a mistake to keep her away from the media for so long before sending her out to be interviewed by the biggest news interviewers.

Paul Begala, the outspoken Democratic strategist who Thursday called President Bush "a high-functioning moron," added that Gov. Palin didn't have good answers for questions she had been asked before (by Gibson).

Gloria Borger, the CNN analyst, agreed that the McCain campaign hasn't  helped Gov. Palin by managing her.

"They took away Sarah Palin," said Borger. "She doesn't know who Sarah Palin is and what she thinks, either."

Of course, the big question is what does America think of Sarah Palin now? Your thoughts on the Couric performance and the MSNBC speculation?

-- Alan Pergament

Gearing up for 'Californication'

Showtime's raunchy series, Californication" won't be very entertaining if last season's happy ending is without some bumps in the road in its second season, which begins at 10 p.m. Sunday on the pay-cable channel.

The question is how long it will take author Hank Moody (David Duchovny) to ruin his relationship with his longtime lover Karen (Natascha McElhone). In last season's finale, she bolted from marrying another guy to jump into Hank's convertible with their rebellious and incredibly smart teenage daughter, Becca (Madeleine Martin). Judging by the first three episodes in which Hank befriends a legendary record producer with his taste for adventure, it won't take long.

The show's raunchy content remains extremely high, sometimes laughably so. But it may have been more fun watching Hank last season trying to re-claim the woman he loves than it will be watching him give in to temptation and mess things up again this season.

Sunday's opener takes the low road by trying to get a laugh-fest out of vasectomy pain and there are moments that it is so funny that it hurts. But be warned, the content of this sexually-charged series is aimed at viewers who aren't easily offended.

--Alan Pergament

Luke Russert Takes Some Political Heat

NBC News reporter Luke Russert was given a lesson this week about the dangers of telling the truth in a less than perfect way in a political year.

The 23-year-old son of the late "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert quickly apologized for a statement he made to "Today" host Matt Lauer after a Wednesday report about how the presidential race is viewed by students at the University of Virginia.

"The smartest kids in the state go there so it is leaning a little bit toward (Democratic presidential nominee Barack) Obama," Russert told Lauer.

Afterwards, Russert was reportedly criticized in blogs for the implications that students at other Virginia colleges weren't as smart and that you're dumb if you don't support Sen Obama over Republican nominee John McCain.

In fairness, Lauer is the one who actually set up that quote in his question to Russert.

"This is a very top-notch school," said Lauer. "Is it representative of what's happening in other schools with the youth vote all around this state and maybe the country?"

The truth is the University of Virginia is a top-notch school and attracts many of the state's smartest kids because it is difficult to get accepted into. And Russert was reporting that students there support Sen. Obama.

Lauer didn't think anything of Russert's answer immediately or he might have tried to save him by getting him to clarify his remarks.

Russert's mistake was tying two truthful comments together. He smartly did what any politician would do. He played damage control by almost instantly apologizing in a blog, saying he misspoke and made "what is without a doubt, quite simply a dumb comment."

"Today was one of my first lessons in the perils of live television," he said. "Lesson learned."

And what is that lesson?  In broadcast journalism, be careful how you speak the truth.

-- Alan Pergament

"NCIS": Did they "House" it up (that is louse it up)?


In a word, no. It was just another of last season's silly "cliffhangers" that have come to land on solid ground this week.

"NCIS" watchers at last season's end were suddenly confronted with their much-loved surly boss whose staff had been broken up and exiled a la the staff of Gregory House, M.D. On "House" last season, it amounted to "fixing" a show that was never broken -- and therefore sending viewers into a surliness of their own that almost matched that of its Vicodin-popping hero.

They were too smart for that on "NCIS" on Tuesday night. Yes, the staff of Gibbs (Mark Harmon) had all been sent away on assignment at the end of last season, but they were all together for the beginning of the new one. Even Michael Weatherly, as Tony supposedly now on board a Navy ship, will get a big episode next Tuesday and, you can bet the farm, safe conduct back to the warm bosom of a show that (you have to remember) has always held its own against reality juggernauts like "Dancing With the Stars" and "American Idol."

Messing with success like that would be sheerest insanity. So they didn't. And unlike Monday's first new episode of "CSI: Miami," the return of "NCIS" was pretty good, too. There was a bit too much sloshing around in techspeak, but it was a nice way to introduce us to a familiar character on the show who, it seems, was always a traitor.

No, it's not one of Gibbs' usual team of cute-talkers but rather the lawyer who's always telling everyone what they can't do and then going off for nooners with the morgue attendant. Gibbs never really liked her. Me neither, if you must know.

Meanwhile, on CBS' new "The Mentalist," they've combined "Psych," "Shark" and "Dexter" -- that trio of one-word titles -- into a pretty good show that's utterly ridiculous but, hey. The "Psych" part is a high-flyer for the California Bureau of Investigation who used to pretend to be a psychic but was merely attentive to all the little revealing details most of us miss. Attentive, then to all the things that Sherlock Holmes and Gregory House take in routinely. The "Shark" part is a fellow who used to be financially successful in his former profession but is now devoted to law and order. What that means TV-wise is that he gets to go home to a big house (cf. Rossi on "Criminal Minds") and not the kind of house other people in his profession make do with.

The "Dexter" part is that everything he does is in response to a trauma inflicted by a serial killer. In this case, it's the murder of wife and daughter by a killer who's still out there.

It's a clever show, so much so that it completely threw away Gail O'Grady in its opening five minutes. One minute she was there, a grieving mother of a murdered teen daughter. One gun shot later, she was gone, a vigilante who knocked off her child-abusing husband.

A new development here to pay close attention to as the season proceeds: usual series guest stars are now showing up in the cameo business.

--Jeff Simon   

"Mad" and "Bad" Happenings at AMC

If you were one of the viewers of Sunday's Emmy telecast who wondered what winners "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad" are about, AMC is going to give you another chance to find out.

The first eight episodes of season two of "Mad Men" -- which is set in the advertising industry in New York City in the 1960s -- will be part of an AMC marathon that will start at 4 p.m. Thursday. Season one was named the year's best drama.

The entire first season of seven episodes of "Breaking Bad" -- in which Emmy winner Bryan Cranston played a terminally-ill chemistry teacher who got caught up in the world of crystal meth -- will air on AMC starting at 8 p.m. on Oct. 1.

-- Alan Pergament

'CSI': Surprise, surprise, Dave's alive and well


You should always watch "TMZ" -- not every night, but at least once or twice a week. It's not the place to go to discover the most pertinent truths about contemporary Hollywood or even current celebrity, but it's certainly what you need to see to check up on the state of malice in America.

One of my favorite recent "TMZ" reports showed us David Caruso arriving at an airport. The smirky ex-surfers, lawyers and fame-dishers of "TMZ" just couldn't get over the fact that Caruso, apparently, travels with a hefty supply of autographed pictures of himself for those fans (or even innocent, unworshipful bystanders) he might encounter -- someone, say, who upon a sudden Caruso meeting might suddenly rhapsodize over how much fuller their life had become.

What ego, said the sluggardly tsk-tskers of "TMZ." What crazy, hard-headed practicality I thought, marveling, as always, at David Caruso's continually hilarious engagement with prime-time TV and what it brings him. Let other stars sign autographs for fans and leak noblesse oblige all over everyone; Caruso merely has to reach into his pocket and hand over a pre-autographed pic without saying a word while going on about his intended business. Why bother pretending that he actually cares about -- oh, you know -- FANS, especially if you're an actor and have to pretend things all the time for a living?

The man's a genuine legend, I tell you.

I love everything about David Caruso on "CSI: Miami": the stylized lunacy of his performance, with his arch line deliveries and constant sideways stances at right angles to other cast members; the sunglasses, which have increasingly come to symbolize his character, Horatio Caine, the way a black mask stood for the Lone Ranger. It's all joyously nuts.

When last we left Horatio Caine at the end of last season, he was face down on the airport tarmac in a pool of blood -- shot and apparently dead.

And anyone who believed Caruso was actually gone from "CSI: Miami" has an Alaska governor to vote for as vice president in the next election.

It took 17 minutes for Monday's "CSI: Miami" to inform us that, yes, Horatio Caine is still alive and David Caruso is still making Monday night a home for the wackiest and most absurd "CSI" show of them all.

It took a half hour to fully impart the information that the episode was lousy -- not quite Sunday Emmy lousy but a profoundly crummy chase after "fused alloy" bullets involving all manner of people who should know better.

Meanwhile, across the dial on "Boston Legal," James Spader was having erotic daydreams about Ally Walker, which only made our hourlong commitment to Caruso's Caravan that much more painful.

Thank God for DVRs. Otherwise, Dave and his autographed pictures might be in trouble.

And by the way, if you ever run into Caruso at an airport or buying a Diet Coke at a Burger King, get an extra pre-autographed picture for me, will you?

I never ask anyone for autographs. But, honest, I'd cherish one of those.

--Jeff Simon 

Bumpy Local Start for NBC's "Heroes"

The low local ratings for the return of NBC's confusing drama "Heroes," may be as scary to the network as some of the suspense in the show's two-hour season premiere was to fans.

Up against the extremely popular CBS and ABC Monday night lineups, "Heroes" finished third in its time slot here and only averaged about a 5.2 rating on Channel 2 for its one-hour clip show of the past two seasons and its two-hour premiere. However, the true tale will arrive with the demographics, a category where "Heroes" usually does better than it does in household rating.

The two-hour premiere of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" -- which was "highlighted" by the comic performance of 82-year actress Cloris Leachman -- tripled the ratings of "Heroes" with a 16.0 rating on Channel 7. However, that lead-in didn't help "Boston Legal," which averaged a 6.2 rating at 10 p.m. in its new time slot. Still, "Legal" beat "Heroes" here.

Of course, the big 10 p.m. winner was CBS' "CSI Miami," which received an 18.0 rating on Channel 4 for an episode that explained how Horatio Caine (David Caruso) faked his death in last season's finale. It was the highest-rated CBS series Monday. All the CBS comedies did well here, with "Two and a Half Men" getting a 15.1 rating and the premiere of the new comedy "Worst Week" getting an 11.4 rating.

-- Alan Pergament

Fichtner Heading to TNT Series

William Fichtner, the actor from Cheektowaga who stars in the Fox drama, “Prison Break,” already has his next role lined up.

TNT, which recently renewed Steven Bochco's legal series, "Raising the Bar," for a second season, announced today that Fichtner will be the lead in a new drama pilot, “Night and Day” created by Joel Surnow (“24”) and Todd Robinson (“Lonely Hearts”).

He’ll play a veteran agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Sherry Stringfield (“ER”) will play his wife.

-- Alan Pergament

Another Goofy Suggestion During Bills Game

To borrow a line from Art Linkletter, NFL analysts say the darndest things. I almost fell off my chair Sunday when CBS analyst Dan Fouts suggested the Bills think about kicking a field goal when they had a first down on the Oakland 14-yard line with about four minutes left in their 24-23 victory over the Raiders.

Fouts was saved by play-by-play Don Criqui, who asked him if he would kick with Oakland ahead, 23-14, and the Bills needing two scores. Fouts then backtracked, saying that Bills quarterback Trent Edwards was on such a roll that he would go for a touchdown now and worry about a field goal later.

In asking the question, Criqui seemed to realize that the Bills probably were in a better position to score a needed touchdown on the 14-yard line than they might be if they immediately kicked a field goal and eventually got the ball back.

The Bills scored on the play after Fouts' bizarre suggestion, stopped the Raiders offense on their next possession and got in position for Rian Lindell's winning 38-yard field goal at the buzzer to win 24-23.

What did you think of Fouts' comment?

-- Alan Pergament   

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About Talkin' TV

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament has continued to blog about television topics since retiring in 2010 as The News' television writer after 28 years on the beat. From local on-air personalities to ratings to the latest on network and cable programming, he keeps you informed.

@StillTalkinTV |