On TV

Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 21, 2005; 1:00 PM

Post TV Columnist Lisa de Moraes takes a look at what's on the tube in a fast-paced give and take about reality, non-reality, cable and you name it.

Lisa was online Friday, Oct. 14, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the latest on TV.

Columns:

Nickelodeon Takes On Kids' Battle of the Bulge (Post, Oct. 21)

Kutcher Sells His Older Wife Tale (Post, Oct. 20)

Prinze Wins; 'Nightstalker' Stumbles in the Dark (Post, Oct. 19)

Ted and Tyra's Synchronized Exits (Post, Oct. 18)

De Moraes has written "The TV Column" for The Post since 1998. She served as the TV editor for the entertainment industry trade publication the "Hollywood Reporter" for almost a decade.

A transcript follows.

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Critic vs. Columnist: I'm a little fuzzy on the distinction between your role and that of Tom Shales. I know the words: He's the critic, and you're the columnist. That he's a critic is clear, but sometimes you sound like a critic too -- not in such an artsy way, perhaps, but you certainly tell us what you think of lots of shows. So where's the boundary?

And, by the way, where is Shales? Doesn't seem like he's been around much lately, and I miss reading his work.

Lisa de Moraes: Hi. The Boundary is sort of like a levee in New Orleans. There it is, a little rickety, but holding firm, then some particularly dreadful new series comes on the scene and churns up a category 5 storm in my head. Levee can't stand the strain, breaks, TV Column pours forth about dreadful new show, levee quickly repaired, order restored. Seriously, it's hard to write a column about the TV industry without opinions about the product creeping in, and the paper's TV critic, Tom Shales is very generous about it, though -- as you said -- he is definitely the person to go to for a thoughtful, well written, as you said "artsy," review of a show. And speaking of my esteemed colleague, he was feeling under the weather right around the time he penned TV Preview issue story, a few days before the official start of the new season. By the time the season kicked off, he was in the hospital with pneumonia. Fortunately, he is feeling much better now, which makes us very happy.

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Washington, D.C.: The "Law a Order" shows do a few crossover episodes with each other now and then. Will the "CSI" shows do the same eventually?

Lisa de Moraes: Wow -- It's like you're from CBS's PR department! The network recently officially announced (though there had previously been reports about it in the press) that there will be "CSI" crossing over -- and not in a Jennifer Love Hewitt way -- during the November sweep. "CSI's" Miami and NY shows are crossing over in a storyline -- something having to do with explaining why David Caruso always puts his hands on his hips when he wants to signify "dramatic moment."

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Those Numbers: I know the networks care about the ratings, but do we have to hear so much about who was the winner among 18-34-year-olds in the Tuesday evening 9 p.m. time slot?

Your columns are great, but they're not much more fun when they're about the shows and the behind-the-scenes action than when they're about who got what numbers. Are those columns like, I dunno, what you have to write before you get to write about something fun.

Keep up the snarkiness. We love you for it.

Lisa de Moraes: Little confused by your question because of the "not" in second sentence, but I'm going to assume you're not a fan of numbers. I, on the other hand, am completely obsessed with the numbers. The TV industry is a numbers game -- I know, you thought showbiz was about being creative or, dare I say, artistic. Numbers up -- your show is safe. Numbers down -- cancelled. Since the broadcast networks have had to concede so much audience to cable and because advertisers pay such a premium for certain demographic groups, a show can live or die based on its 18-34 audience, or its upscale audience, etc. Column readers, meanwhile, have their fave show, they want to know how that show is doing and I, of course, live to serve TV viewers. When I do these chats I get loads of questions asking "How is [fill in show name] doing in the ratings, it's my favorite show." So hang in there -- the start of the TV season, when dozens of shows are being launched, is really a lot about numbers, but I promise it'll get a lot better for you non-number people very soon... For instance, we're now entering the season when TV suits tend to get fired -- that's always fun...

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Charleston, S.C.: Am I imagining things, or did they have the laugh track turned up way loud for the Colbert Report?

Lisa de Moraes: Maybe THAT's why they won't let the press in to the audience for the first couple weeks of the show...I hadn't noticed, but by that hour I'm not noticing much.

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Washington, D.C.: Lisa,

I had to laugh at Brent Bozell saying Ghost Whisperer only has mild sexual content. Has he not seen how they dress Jennifer Love Hewitt? For that matter, has he not seen Jennifer Love Hewitt?

Lisa de Moraes: You're suggesting that Jennifer Love Hewitt is the very personification of "sexual content"? How dare you, sir/ms! Jennifer Love Hewitt is one of our country's most accomplished thespians. Did you not see her in the title role in "Anna Karenina" on Lifetime? "Madame Bovary" on E! Entertainment? She stole the show in "Crime and Punishment" on Game Show Network.

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Rockville, Md.: Hi Lisa. What happened to "My Wife and Kids?" Surely it didn't bite the dust before "According to Jim."

Lisa de Moraes: Alas, that is exactly what happened.

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Burtonsville, Md.: Hi Lisa, What's the word on "Over There," which just aired its penultimate episode on FX? Like a train wreck, I can't seem to stop watching it. And I've come to care about the characters, strange, since I oppose the war. Also find myself riveted to "Commander in Chief," though I never got into "West Wing." Has that "Mr. Sterling" vibe, though I hope it doesn't suffer the former's fate.

Lisa de Moraes: I think it's averaging about 1-2 million viewers, which is good for that network. Last I checked, no word on another pickup...sorry I don't have more information for you.

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Rocky Mount, Va.: Lisa --

I'm curious why you and your colleagues have given PBS President Pat Mitchell such "free ride" during her 5+ years heading that organization.

There's quite a story there that has been missed while the Post has been sending her bouquets:

- A CEO who plays programmer (while Rome burns); isn't it odd a network CEO is always front and center at the TCA Press Tour?-- Continued declining ratings during her tenure (no apparent accountability)--Her dependence on a "culture of personality" in that her style is that of "performer" without much substance ... she "plays" the role of thoughtful network CEO-- Her alienation of PBS stations by ill-timed and uninformed comments in the press -- the stations can't wait to see her go.-- Egregiously poor -- and expensive -- programming decisions (e.g., "American Family," "High School")-- No visible leadership in a variety matters vital to the health and welfare of the pub TV system

Now that she's leaving the job, how about a good strong story about what little she's accomplished (and, arguably, the damage she has done) instead of a puff piece? This woman has been a disaster nearly unparalleled in the broadcast industry ... and the story is right under your nose. Thanks.

A.

Lisa de Moraes: I'm posting this "question" in hopes some at PBS sees it -- they they think I'm quite hard on Pat Mitchell.

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Foggy Bottom, Washington, D.C.: What are the chances that we'll see a new administration on the West Wing next season?

Lisa de Moraes: Not terrible. Yes, the show's overall numbers aren't great, but the concentration of upscale viewers is good -- see answer above about demographics saving low-rated shows. Assuming we see another season of "West Wing," the real question is will we see a Jimmy Smits administration or an Alan Alda administration. Personally, I'm intrigued by the idea of Hawkeye Pierce in the White House.

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Charlottesville, Va.: Is this an unfair characterization of ABC's new hit series, "Commander in Chief"?

The worst show ever.

Lisa de Moraes: I'm posting this question so you can compare it to the next one:

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Durham, N.C.: How would you compare the Commander to the West Wing? How are they stacking up in the ratings? Me personally, I stopped watching TWW after the first episode of the Commander. Great Show!

Lisa de Moraes: ...and here it is. People seem to really hate or really love this new ABC series -- no in between. Actually, the haters fall into two groups: So Bad I Can't Watch and So Bad It's Good. I am a member of the latter. For those who hate it and can't watch: try again in a few weeks; Steven Bochco has taken over as show runner, let go a bunch of the writers and brought in his own people. For people who love it, sorry, but some changes will probably be made with Bochco taking over. I'm still amazed that The Great and Powerful Steven Bochco agreed to take over as showrunner on someone else's series...

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Where's the Love?: So, the esteemed Mr Bozell is also a fan of J. Love, as noted in today's column. And her Hepburn was memorable enough for you to make mention of it earlier this week. I know you think she's as smart as hair, but so what, it's not like she's running for president ... oh, er, never mind. Anyway,I think she's the next Suzanne Sommers; agree?

washingtonpost.com: Nickelodeon Takes On Kids' Battle of the Bulge (Post, Oct. 21)

Lisa de Moraes: Yes, I'll agree. She is the next generation of Suzanne Somers.

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Kutcher vs. Drescher: Loved your piece on the new Kutcher show (especially thanks for using the word "Kerfuffle"). But you seem to have taken a decidedly feminist stance in other writings lately (like CiC pieces, e.g.). Couldn't it be that the Kutcher show will also be canceled quickly? Or maybe the reason the Kutcher show is more appealing is because Fran is an annoying has-been while Demi is a hot mom, and both Kutcher and Demi are movie stars. And not all older-women sitcoms fail. Remember Roseanne? She was older than John Goodman on the show. And Lily was at least 100 years older than Herman Munster.

Lisa de Moraes: I'm sorry, but Fran Drescher is also a huge movie star. "Beautician and the Beast" -- hello? And I'm totally creeped out just thinking about Roseanne, John Goodman and their ABC sitcom being part of a discussion about shows in which hot older women shacks up with younger man. But I do take your point about Lily and Herman Munster.

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Ballston, Va.: I know you favor Lost on Wednesday at 9:00, but please tell me you at least TiVo Veronica Mars so I won't think you're a total ditz who is completely undeserving of her job.

Lisa de Moraes: Notwithstanding the fact that I am a total ditz who is completely undeserving of her job, I watch Veronica Mars which, I'm happy to note, is having a pretty good season, ratings wise (with apologies to non-numbers chatter).

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Springfield, Va.: Are Mark Addy and Jami Gertz really off-air lovers in addition to on-screen husband and wife? And if you were in Gertz's shoes, would you be all over Mark Addy?

Lisa de Moraes: ick, ick, ick!

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Amazing Race zzzzzzz.: Submitting early: This season's Amazing Race is borrrring! Not only for the lack of international travel but also because the teams are too large and no one wants to watch people yell at their moms/dads/kids for an hour. If we wanted that, we wouldn't need to watch TV. The fun is watching hot young couples mistreat each other and break up. What do you think? I think the show has lost George Clooney (my replacement saying for "jump the shark").

Lisa de Moraes: Family thing not working so much for me either. And I saw somewhere that "jumped the couch" is the new "jumped the shark" -- a reference to when Tom Cruise officially lost his sanity on "Oprah" and kept jumping on and off the couch and "Oprah" officially..well, jumped the shark, actually.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: I'm so happy! Tuesday has stayed my fave night of TV! I was scared after "Judging Amy" was cancelled, but now ... I have my "Gilmore Girls" at 8, and then I flip on over to my new fave, "Commander in Chief" at 9. That's finished by watching "Great Chefs of the World" on Discovery Home at 10!

FANTASTIC!

Lisa de Moraes: I! Am! So! Happy! For! You!!! But, no House? No Earl? Tuesday has become a really hot night of TV.

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Fairfax, Va.: It was a long time ago, but did you see the star of Grey's Anatomy on Letterman?

Is she as dumb and immature as she came off on that show?

It was bad.

Lisa de Moraes: Sorry I missed it. was it good bad or bad bad? And, more important, did Dave find a way to wind up with his hand on her leg at any point?

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Boredom-ville, Calif.: I'm bored to tears by all the shows that I loved before ...

Desperate Housewives ... Bah ... dullsville ... (but at least they have Eva)

Martha-prentice ... annoying ... are they keeping Jim on just for the irritation value?

Donald-prentice ... snoozefest

All I have to look forward to is "My Name is Earl" and "Everybody hates Chris" ...

sigh ...

maybe I need to get a hobby for the rest of my week ...

Lisa de Moraes: Marc Cherry better get back to writing "Desperate Housewives" lickety split -- lots of viewers and loads of critics are unhappy with this season so far. And it has become painfully clear that they are deliberately keeping crazy Jim on Martha's "Apprentice" for enteratinment value; he so obviously should have been whacked weeks ago because he's completely nuts. I actually think The Donald's version of The Apprentice has been pretty good this season, better than last. And, in conclusion, don't be sad, "Earl" and "Chris" is a great viewing list for the week. Maybe you could take up reading?

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Washington, D.C.: Re: star of Grey's Anatomy. You would be dumb and immature too if you starved yourself. Have you seen her? She will break into two at some point on that show.

Lisa de Moraes: I did not realize that starvation made one dumb and immature. But I did not do well in science, in school. Refused to pith the frog, actually.

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Chantilly, Va.: This is a very important question, Lisa, so you must answer it:

What do you think of Miffy?

Lisa de Moraes: I think Miffy is one smart little bunny!...

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Letterman and Greay's Anatomy ...: It was uncomfortable bad, but in a way, fun to watch Letterman struggle to make it an interesting interview.

As for hand on leg, I think he had to settle for her shoulder or arm.

Lisa de Moraes: well, then you can't take a drink. Only when he puts his hand on the leg of a pretty young thing he's interviewing do you get to have a drink. Those are the rules of the David Letterman Drinking Game....

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Wisteria Lane: Lisa, I've carefully analyzed what's wrong with Desperate Housewives this season, and my conclusion is that the show has lost the careful balance between love and hate in each of the Housewives' most important relationships. Who wants to see Gabrielle unequivocally in love with Carlos? Yawn. Where's the seething resentment underlying Lynette's relationship with the one kid she seems to have left?

The biggest mistake, though, was killing off Rex Van De Kamp. The relationship between him and Bree was exquisitely balanced on the knife edge between adoration and rage. Without that central dynamic, the show has lost a lot of its frisson, IMHO. What do you think?

Lisa de Moraes: Yes, yes, yes...and yes.

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Chicago, Ill.: Why isn't there anything good on Monday nights? I mean nothing at all, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are chock full of stuff to watch, but Monday is so completely barren I end up watching Medium with my wife.

Lisa de Moraes: Two and a Half Men? It's fun. the kid makes me laugh. Cryer does too. Even Sheen is funny...

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Arlington, Va.: I'm really digging Earl. I'm a fan of Giovanni Ribisi and am glad he was on it this past Tuesday. Pretty much sealed the deal for me to put it on my must watch list. And I can't believe that the Office isn't nearly as bad as I thought it was. This last week's episode was one of the first that I watched and thought ... wow, this isn't that bad even though I'm a huge fan of the original

Lisa de Moraes: see? If you can just put aside how much you love the British version of The Office, which was practically perfect, you can enjoy the U.S. version... And glad to see your must-see-TV list includes "My Name is Earl" -- or, as NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly calls it, "My Job Security."

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Philadelphia, Pa.: The ABC affiliate in Philadelphia repeatedly displays advertisement banners for the upcoming local news on the bottom of the screen during network programs, even covering over subtitles during ALIAS last season. I e-mailed my complaints to the station a number of times but the practice continues and no one had even had the courtesy to write me back. Is there any way to get my complaint through to station management that won't be ignored by whoever is responsible for reading e-mailed complaints?

Lisa de Moraes: Yes, contact one of the people who cover television in Philly and hope that they will write about it and embarrass the station into changing it. Gail Shister or Ellen Grey....

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Jennifer Love Hewitt: always reminds me of Jack Paar's famous introduction "And now here they are ... Jayne Mansfield"

Lisa de Moraes: Jack Paar was the best. Tonight Show hasn't been the same since....I was actually thinking after last week's chat, when someone asked me what I thought was the best series ever, that I should have mentioned Tonight Show when Jack Paar was the host...He was brilliant.

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Re:Two and Half Men: While I like John Cryer, I refuse to watch anything on CBS, I haven't watched that network in three years, and will not until Yes, Dear has been off the air for at least four years.

Lisa de Moraes: Ah, you are a man/woman of principle. I admire that. Do you also refuse to watch anything on ABC until "According to Jim" has been off the air at least four years? Just trying to figure out what exactly the principle is....

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College Park, Md.: Hi Lisa,

If you were going to pitch a TV show to network execs, what would it be about?

Lisa de Moraes: That's easy. A reality series called "Celebrities You Thought Were Dead But Aren't." It would be a half-hour show, packaged with another half-hour reality series: "Celebrity Autopsy." Just think of the sweeps cross-over episode possibilities!

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Re: Shales and Lisa: And who is this new Chip person who started writing some reviews?

Lisa de Moraes: "This new Chip person" is the charming Chip Crews, who most recently was one of Style's editors, but decided he wanted to go back to his first love, writing...

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Arlington, Va.: I am a 18-34 y.o. male. I do not watch network TV. The only time I watch TV is when I watch sports.

That being said, The Office is a great show and I can't wait for it week after week. Smart and hilarious.

Lisa de Moraes: This is what I don't get about 18-34 year old men. If you say you do not watch network TV, then how do you watch "The Office"? Really, men aren't from Mars -- they're from Colney Hatch... Look it up.

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Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: "I'm intrigued by the idea of Hawkeye Pierce in the White House."

But which Hawkeye Pierce are you referring to? CiC's Donald Sutherland, who played Hawkeye in the movie of MASH and wants to succeed Geena Davis in the White House? Or Alan Alda, TV's Hawkeye, who wants to succeed Martin Sheen? Or both? That would have to be a first.

Lisa de Moraes: How clever of you to notice. I want Alda to become president on "West Wing" and Sutherland to become president on "Commander in Chief" which, given that Steven Bochco has taken over that show is not out of the realm of possibilities....

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Earlysville, Va.: Rosie O'Donnell at the Actor's Studio!

Has April Fool's come earlier. Have they run out of semi-decent actors?

Lisa de Moraes: they put someone else on the other day who has never acted. I wish I could remember who it was. Let's face it, this show is not about acting, or actors, it's about Lipton, America's Greatest Living Gasbag.....

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Dumfries, Va.: Where do you see Fred Savage in 10 years?

Lisa de Moraes: On Inside the Actors Studio....

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Arlington, Va.: I'd like to take a moment to honor one of the underappreciated titans of the TV industry: Adam Carolla's agent. No one but a true genius could have gotten a marginal celebrity like Carolla not one but TWO crappy TV shows all his own. His talk show is inert, and his home-repair reality show is a slapdash, narcissistic disaster.

I'm not a hater; I actually like Carolla (yes, I'm a guy). He's a reasonably entertaining sidekick for Jimmy Kimmel and the radio sex doctor. But he can't carry a show by himself! How is it that he can find TV executives willing to throw so much airtime at him?

Lisa de Moraes: I think you answered your own question. It's clearly because his agent is one of the underappreciated titans of the TV industry....

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Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: Third times the charm, I hope. Why don't the networks advertise that they will be repeating new episodes later in the week or on sister stations? Lost and Commander in Chief on ABC Saturday night, and NBC shows show up on USA, Bravo, and CNBC. What's up and can we count on this to continue?

Lisa de Moraes: The broadcast networks have given up on programming Saturday night and now run mostly reruns of programs that have aired elsewhere during the week. CBS even gave it a name "Crimetime Saturday" or something like that, because they rerun episodes of "CSI" shows and "Cold Case" etc. For those without TiVo and who don't know how to program their VCRs, it's a public service, as I see it...

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Herndon, Va.: The Divine Ms. dM: your chat is pulling an 85 percent share of readers with taste who appreciate that extra little soupcon of "withitnis."

Lisa de Moraes: Yes, I may not have tonnage, but my demos are great.

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Boondocks, Utah: Who, or what, is Miffy?

Lisa de Moraes: Miffy the bunny. Noggin series. You don't have kids?

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Arlington, Va.: Lisa,

Re: Rosie question. Were you thinking of the appearance of Sir Elton John on "Actor's Studio?"

Lisa de Moraes: That's it! Thank you, it was driving me crazy....

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C'ville, Va.: Geena Davis, I use to find her very attractive, is it just me or has she become less sexy because she playing a politician or is it the trite sound words she is forced to speak, perhaps the new big lips.

Though I really like Sutherland in the role of Speaker of the House.

Lisa de Moraes: You should have been her at the ABC party during the Summer press tour. She is definitely still extremely sexy and attractive. Not sure why they turned her into a frump for the show, but, I can not say it often enough, with Bochco now in charge, that will (hopefully) change....

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Montclair, N.J.: Lisa: You are the best, but did I miss something? I thought you said we would have a televised hour of Hugh Laurie and Colin Firth reading the Alameda County phone book this week. Surely that stellar event would have put a dent in Commander in Chief's mysteriously strong ratings. Baseball can't end soon enough for me.

Lisa de Moraes: That would be a brilliant television show. I would watch that show. I would record that show. I would buy the DVD of that show. I would become a subscribing member of whatever network broadcast that show....

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Herndon, Va.: Ms. dM: I remember watching Paar when I could in high school and college. His final show (just Friday nights in prime time) was superb. I preferred Carson, who was much more of a comedian than raconteur, but I think what made many prefer Paar was his always being on the edge -- which, of course, is why he wore down so soon. If you're "cool," rather than "hot" your TV career is likely to last much longer.

Lisa de Moraes: Every year the Museum of Television and Radio has a TV festival in Los Angeles in which, for many nights, they have Q&A sessions with cast and crew of some of the better TV programs, some old, some new. One year they had a Jack Paar night. I made a point of viewing Paar's old Tonight Show broadcasts before covering the event for the paper I worked for at the time. That was my intro to Paar on Tonight Show. The evening was one of the best times I have ever had covering this industry.

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Re: Colney Hatch: Hey, we may be crazy, but at least the grounds are nice!

Lisa de Moraes: You knew!....I'm out of time. bye...

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