Shales on TV Live: Discovery's 'Life' series, ABC's Amanpour judgment

Tom Shales
Washington Post TV Columnist
Tuesday, March 23, 2010; 12:00 PM

Washington Post Style columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Tom Shales will be online Tuesday, March 23 at Noon ET to discuss television, its cultural impact and his columns.

Latest columns: ABC's choice of Amanpour for 'This Week' has critics inside the network and beyond (Post, March 23) andTV preview of 'Life' on Discovery (Post, March 21)

Submit your questions and comments before or during today's discussion.

Shales, The Washington Post's chief television critic for 30 years, is the author of several books, including "On the Air," "Legends" and "Live From New York." His column, "Shales on TV," appears in the paper every Tuesday.


Tom Shales: Hello and apologies we've had technical troubles that delayed signing on until now, 12:14. Let's go to the videotape, I mean, the questions.....


Arlington, Va.: I think Jake Tapper and Terry Moran a bit bland. I agree with your colleague, Lisa Moraes, that C.A. is a smart choice. ABC snags foreign reporter Amanpour from CNN to host 'This Week' (Post, March 19)

Tom Shales: Lisa said Christiane is a smart choice? I didn't know we were having a feud about it. I think Christiane is one of the most over-rated and hyped personalities of our day. There's a reason that 60 Minutes didn't pick up her contract; she disappointed them. Anyway c'est la vie


Detroit, Mich.: I'll start off by just stating I think Amanpour is good choice.

This is the year of nobody wanting to be associated with Washington, so why would the Sunday shows be any different.

The fact that Amanpour doesn't speak that much during CNN moronic over-the-top election and debate coverage is an asset for me. I mean think of all the big talkers on those panels like Gloria Borger, Roland Martin or Alex Castellanos. I can't remember anything they've said 5 minutes after they've said it.

One more point. I think Beltway folks think that between Finance and Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Baucus is the better "get" for a Sunday Show. But honestly, I and so many people I know can't stand listening to senators and don't consider them experts on much of anything while having actually seen interviews with Kagame, he's more interesting than Baucus or McConnell or McCain any day of the week, but sadly nobody gets to know that.

Tom Shales: Okay here's another vote for Amanpour........


D.C.: Tom, as a boy growing up, did you know every verse to the "Davy Crockett" theme song? Lyrics in article: Fess Parker, TV's Davy Crockett, dies at 85 (Post, March 19)

Tom Shales: Now this is what I like, meaty and substantial questions. I think I did know the song and I seem to recall having one of those ratty coonskin caps. The song ... the song ... Davy, Dave Crocket, kind of the wild frontier ... Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee, cleanest state (??) in the Land of the Free, kil't him a bar (bear) when he was only three, the rest of the song is a mystery to me ... Davy, Davy Crockett etc etc -- how'd I do????????


NBC question: I'm so happy the show shuffling with Leno moving back to 11:30 resulted in the Trama shows being dug out of the bin. Any chance the show will continue next season?

Tom Shales: It doesn't look good, it's a very expensive show to produce and is has to do better than borderline ratings.....


New Orleans, La.: Tom,

I normally consider your views to be nearly infallible, but I think you've struck out on the Amanpour selection. With our country still involved in two overseas wars, our country's increasing tensions with China and Russia, why shouldn't we have someone who has some serious knowledge of foreign affairs discussing them. NBC's and CBS's shows focus on domestic inside-the-beltway politics. Why not differentiate yourself and make a show that can look a little more broadly? It might also help to have a roundtable that includes at least one person under the age of 65 who isn't the son or daughter of a career politician.

Tom Shales: Well you're talking about reworking the whole show -- so not discuss domestic politics? It's George Will's specialty though of course he can discuss international affairs as well. But it was conceived (for David Brinkley) as a discussion show about Washington DC, capital city....... I wonder if ABC is really going to revise the show or if they aren't going to try to turn Amanpour into Little ms Politics


Plattsburgh, N.Y.: So basically Jake Tapper, who has a few YouTube-worthy dustups with Robert Gibbs, would moderate a Sunday show?

That work out so well with David Gregory over at NBC? Oh wait, despite being a good reporter, Gregory is awful on Meet the Press.

Tom Shales: Do you think Gregory is awful on Meet the Press? Or do I? (did I say that at some point ? I don't remember ever calling him 'awful,' just not exciting.....


Bethesda, Md.: Who will be the next eliminated AI judge, Kara, Randy or Ellen? Is Seacrest replaceable, and by whom?

Tom Shales: I don't think Ellen is so hot on the show, do you? If she didn't have use of the word "adorable," she wouldn't say much. It's condescending the way she talks down to the contestants. Plus she doesn't like Simon. I CAN'T BELIEVE I AM TALKING ABOUT THIS !


DWTS: Wouldn't it be easier for Buzz Aldrin to compete on the moon. The gravity is only 1/6 that of Earth's.

Tom Shales: You're referring to his stomp-fest last night on Dancing with the Stars (Stomping with the Stars?). I think Buzz is taking too much upon himself -- the honor of all 80-year-olds all over the world. But it can't be easy for a man who is 80 to compete with the younger, stronger contestants. I hope he does better next week than he did last night. I feel like I'm 80 right now myself......


Alexandria, Va.: I don't own an HDTV. I have a 21" NTSC- resolution CRT. Is there any point in my bothering to watch "Life"? Your review seemed to be primarily, "Wow, this looks sharp on HDTV!"

Tom Shales: It will look very nice on your TV. But I think you should run right out and buy a better one. Hurry up, chop-chop! Oh, you don't WANT to buy a better one?! Well don't you think that decision should be up to ME as your trusted old television critic? Seriously, it will look beautiful as can be, well no, not "as can be" but "almost as can be."


Chantilly, Va.: Hi Tom -- I recently picked up the first season of Route 66 on DVD and last night watched the first episode. (Guest stars included Everett Sloane, George Kennedy and a very young Patty McCormack.)

I've never seen the show before (the closest I came was the parody in MAD magazine). I think I'm really going to enjoy it.

What do you think of Route 66? They don't make TV shows like this anymore!

Tom Shales: Chantilly Lace-- did you ask about Route 66 during a previous chat session here? Someone did. Enjoy yourself, you may be in for a good -- if not precisely fast-moving -- time. Good theme song too ....No I won't sing it, I don't think there are any lyrics. How come no one has sent in a correction on Davey Crockett? I'm sure the correct lyric is NOT -- "Cleanest state in the land of the free." Tennessee is very nice I'm sure but -- oh well.


American Idol: AI needs professional judges who provide real critique, like the judges on Dancing with the Stars.

I stopped watch AI after its first season.

Tom Shales: Oh I don't know - you think that little spastic pipsqueak is so professional? Every time he starts to speak I grip the arms of the chair (if I'm IN a chair) because I know it's going to be embarrassing. And the old goat in the middle is quixotic as can be, The woman on the far left is great and civilized -- but honestly, do you think the Dancing Judges are really so much better???


Herndon, Va.: Mr. S: I was 12 when Disney rolled out Davy Crockett on "Disneyland." I sang the theme along with everybody else, always missing on "Greenest state in the land of the free." Two bits of Davy/Fess Parker trivia - 1) the great director John Ford was interested in Fess for what ended up as the Jeffrey Hunter role in "The Searchers," but Disney, who had Parker under contract, said "no." That's one of the reasons Parker wouldn't renew his contract with Disney when it expired. 2) (I trust this isn't too racy) I well remember the high schools kids coming up with many parodies on the "ballad," in one of which Davy had a social disease and "Davy, Davy's got it, and gave it to the whole frontier." Ah, then in was hot stuff, now it's not even PG.

Tom Shales: AHA -- GREENEST state in the Land of the Free. Well there you are. And no, I had not heard the bawdy alternate lyrics they sang at your high school, but they are certainly worth reprising now! THANK YOU very much. I tip by coonskin hat's tail to you.....Wheeee

_______________________ Full Song Lyrics: The Ballad of Davy Crockett (ST Lyrics)


Arlington, Va.: While it's true that conservatives generally complain about the moderators, when they formerly employed by the Democratic party, isn't this a justifiable comment. How can anyone say with a straight face that Stephanopoulos does not want the Dems to succeed. It seems increasingly like anyone on the left can say they are "unbiased" and the media gives them a pass, but if anyone conservative makes the same statement, they are quickly attacked. Its a bit of a double standard.

Tom Shales: Hmmm. Well liberals and conservatives are close to equal, aren't they, in their desires to go on television and begin making big bucks? Probably the desire for money supercedes any political-propaganda issues. Perhaps what you say about liberals being more readily tolerated is true, but conservatives have an entire network to call their own, and all those radio stations too, all over the country.


"Cleanest state in the land of the free.": No, you silly boy. It's the "greenest" state in the land of the free.

Tom Shales: yes thanks, we've had that straightened out Say wait a minute - ARE YOU SAYING TENNESSEE IS NOT CLEAN??? You may get some disagreement there, pal !


Tennessee: "Greenest" state in the Land of the Free.

Tom Shales: The answers are POURING in !


Chantilly, Va.: Tom -- I might have asked about Route 66 previously, but my memory isn't what it used to be. I'm as old as this show (also born in '60).

The theme song is great. Gotta love Nelson Riddle!

Tom Shales: Someone has been asking about Route 66, if not you, then I hope they're out there in ComputerLand this week. I tried to tell them that the show was available on home video but would they listen?!? As a matter of fact -- yes, I think they would. And did.


Montclair, N.J.: What do you know about the new Rosie O'Donnell show said to be in the works? Will it be like the old one? Will it end up in the soon-to-be-vacated Oprah slot? I think Rosie has lost her appeal over the years. But I suspect I'm in the minority.

Tom Shales: If you're in the minority on that, I'm in there with you. CAN'T STAND HERE any more. I interviewed her right before her last talk show success and she said she would just do the show for a few years, sock away the money, and then drop it, which appears to be just what she did. I admire her ability to decide to do something and then going ahead with it..... but she has become so oppressive with her 24/7 righteous indignation, it's tiring


Montana: I disagree with the others here. I think Tapper had (and still has) great potential as host of "This Week."

I predict Amanpour will be a real bust. I don't think she has the right personality or background. And though many people say they want more foreign news, when push comes to shove, the vast majority of news consumers want to hear about issues that directly affect them (health care, jobs, economy, education, and so on).

Amanpour is a popular choice on the Manhattan cocktail circuit, but I think this decision will go down as one of the most dunder-headed in network history.

Tom Shales: THANK YOU, isn't Montana "the cleanest state in the land of the free"? Well even if not -- clear thinking out there. You make excellent points about Amanpour's unsuitability for the job. And neither you nor I has stooped to mentioning that hair of hers -- yipe. What's the deal with that, as David Letterman might say.


St. Paul, Minn. : Hi Tom -- I don't know how much of the wall to wall Sunday coverage of the health-care vote you caught, if any, and maybe this is more of a Howard Kurtz-type question, but MSNBC made heavy use of Luke Russert, son of the late Tim Russert, as a reporter. He seems like a very nice young man, but I didn't have a sense of whether this guy is a great reporter or not, even though the anchors were extremely effusive about the job he was doing (to the point where I thought it was a little much). Something about it just didn't feel right to me, like they were trying to cash in his name. Maybe that's just me, but what do you think?

Tom Shales: I think you make a good point. There was something eerie and bizarre about the whole thing. As if they were saying, "Wait - we had Tim cloned just before he passed away," and now you'll see the happy result.... except he wasn't especially good, just glib.


Eugene, Ore.: Didn't Ms. Amanpour say she only broaden This Week, but the central focus on domestic issues would remain the same?

Tom Shales: I don't know, I didn't know she'd said anything yet about her "new job."


Baltimore, Md.: Good day Tom. Do you know of any Web sites that list what new shows are going to be premiering soon, what network/channel they'll be on, and exactly what time? I like to plan ahead and have actually picked a new film to see every weekend til August, but often find myself forgetting to watch or record new shows because I haven't found a TV equivalent to IMDb (their TV section is lacking). You wouldn't happen to know of anything I could use to look ahead, would you?

Tom Shales: No and I think you should reconsider the whole plan. You really want to know what you'll be watching ahead of time for the next 6 months or whatever? Television is volatile and shows they might promote now may disappear before the scheduled premiere dates! Television and life should both have surprises; maybe you're trying to tame them too much. And yes, I know this letter COULD BE a practical joke from some wacky college kids somewhere.......


McLean, Va.: Greenest state in the land of the free? Did Al Gore (Sr. or Jr.) have anything to do with that?

Tom Shales: Right. Davy Crockett was ahead of his time. I believe the trusty WaPo Dot Com staff has located the complete lyrics to the song -- not THAT much different from the Shales version -- and that you can use that link to brush up on the words. Enjoy!

_______________________ Full Song Lyrics: The Ballad of Davy Crockett (ST Lyrics)


Plattsburgh, N.Y.: I'm aware of what you think about David Gregory. That was my own opinion.

Tom Shales: Thanks for the clarification. Yes it's true -- I can't even remember what I have written about people, and sometimes i can't remember whether I like them or not (!)


Baltimore, Md.: Tom,

Departing from the theme of the hour, which seems to be "this hour, right now" -- thanks so much for your recent sit-down with and write-up on TCM Emperor Robert Osborne! I agree with everything you said about the channel, and I adore Robert. I'm very disappointed that, according to the TCM Web site, he won't be making a D.C. appearance in the run-up to the L.A. film festival next month. His fans are legion, even here. Thanks again!

Tom Shales: Thank you. I admire him tremendously. I think those little intro's and outros are usually Just Right - not too long, not too short, not silly, not scholarly and dull either. Anyway, I didn't realize he was skipping DC - What A Snub! This is worse than taxation without representation!


McLean, Va.: I see no reason why Christian A., or for that matter 30 percent of the people in the phone book, couldn't be an adequate host of a Sunday morning gab fest. I mean, how hard can it be?

Tom Shales: now THERE'S an interesting angle-- how easy can it be though? you have to make sure the commercials get on and off on time, that's the essence of the job (no not really)


Re: Conservatives vs. Liberals: Have you actually tuned into MSNBC? As your colleague Howard often points out, it's just a liberal and they have the rest of TV, which is what your article was about. You didn't have a post about radio.

Tom Shales: Howard who? And I don't deal with radio, life is too short and there's more than enough TV and cable and such to deal with.....


Arlington, Va.: My husband and I recently discovered the BBC's Wire in the Blood and love it. Have you heard of this great show? Any others that are similar you would recommend?

Tom Shales: I've heard of it, heard it praised highly, haven't seen it myself. Congratulations for finding it basically ON YOUR OWN......


do you think the Dancing Judges are really so much better? : Absolutely! They've all been choreographers, and Len was a competitive ballroom dancer back in the day. I know enough re dance to say that they do know what they're talking about. Yes, all three judges kind of play characters on the show to make it more entertaining, but peel that away and there's still real substance to most of their critiques.

Tom Shales: Thank you -- this question was inadvertently omitted by yours truly, the klutz. Good points made about the judges on "Dancing" vs those on Idol. I am certainly sick of Randy saying everybody "went pitchy" at some point. All right, already! But Simon Cowell is a very smart guy and fairly savvy about being entertaining without having to play some sort of gross caricature.


This Week: I miss David Brinkley. He was the reason I watched This Week. I think the problem they have had in replacing him (and Russert later) is there isn't anyone in his class out there.

Tom Shales: I miss David Brinkley too. He had such a great attitude toward politics, always aware of the ridiculousness inherent in much of it and in the behavior of politicians. The show This Week was created specifically for Brinkley by Roone Arledge and Arledge used it to lure Brinkley over from NBC, where Brinkley was having a hard time with the president of News.


State of hilarity: "Davy, Davy's got it, and gave it to the whole frontier." I knew there was a reason I tuned in today. Priceless.

Tom Shales: Yes we're a witty bunch....


Washington, D.C.: I have always wanted to like Amanpour, and I try to watch her specials on CNN because I'm interested in the topics she focuses on; but I always end up getting turned off because - like much of CNN's programming - she always ends up personally overshadowing what she's covering (as does Anderson Cooper, and Rick Sanchez and everyone else on CNN).

That being said, if her "This Week" angle is going to be inside-the-Beltway foreign policy machinations, I'd watch it. For example, I'm really digging the whole "Bibi vs. Hillary and Joe" show...

Tom Shales: There you are, another opinion...


Herndon, Va.: I enjoy your work and almost always agree with your take on things. What is your favorite TV show/series of all time?

Tom Shales: Too hard to pick a favorite TV show of all time, sorry. If I said "I Love Lucy" it would be such a cliche, and I don't even think that IS my favorite, though I've probably seen those episodes more times than I have those of any other show ... My fave now is Curb Your Enthusiasm, I guess, but i don't think it's really "Great" -- just very very good


D.C.: Whether or not Amanpour is the right choice for 'This Week' (and you've made a good case that she isn't), can't ABC justify spending money on a big name by pointing out that if the show's ratings and advertising revenue (and the news division's image) get a boost from it, everyone at ABC News benefits? ABC's choice of Amanpour for 'This Week' has critics inside the network and beyond (Post, March 23)

Tom Shales: Good point and one on which we must close. I am sorry that because of an inexplicable technical snafu we started late There are many questions waiting - please come back to our little shop around the corner here. Seriously, thanks to everyone who participated or just observed. Next week we will try to start on time.


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