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Chicago narrowly missed out on being the home of Meredith Grey.
Shonda Rhimes, creator of the ABC hit "Grey's Anatomy," thought about setting the medical drama in her hometown, the Windy City, but eventually nixed the idea because of a "certain medical drama" that is already set in Chicago (could she be referring to "ER"?).
"My best friend lives there; I come back there all the time," says Rhimes, a former resident of University Park and a 1987 graduate of Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights (also my alma mater; our time there overlapped for one year, but we didn't know each other.).
Chicago's loss was a gain for Seattle, where Grey (Ellen Pompeo) and four other interns are struggling through a grueling internship at the fictional Seattle Grace Hospital.
Though the show has its soapy elements - Grey is in a tangled relationship with one of her superiors, Dr. Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) - "Grey's Anatomy" is actually a refreshing oasis of intriguing, nuanced characters.
In particular, "Grey's" offers a compelling range of female characters in a TV season in which many of the women on hour-long dramas are lawyers, crime fighters of some kind or crime victims. Then again, "Grey's Anatomy" is one of the few network dramas created and written by a woman.
"I think there are men who can write fantastically for women," Rhimes said, "but a lot of times, women have been modulated to be fantasies, not necessarily in a sexual way, but they're written to be what men would like a woman to be like, not what women are really like."
In the first episode of the new season, intern Cristina Yang (Emmy nominee Sandra Oh) talked with her friend and fellow intern, Grey, about Yang's unexpected pregnancy. "Cristina says, said, `Surgery is my life. I'm too talented [to quit],' Rhimes notes. "People were surprised at that line, but it's only because it was a woman saying it."
Grey has her own personal struggles to deal with. Her mother, a renowned surgeon in her own right, has Alzheimer's disease, and Rhimes says Grey's family problems will come to the fore in the next few episodes of the show.
Rhimes "can understand how people think and feel and also understands the difficulty of how you protect yourself in the world," says "Grey's" executive producer Betsy Beers, who laughingly characterizes Rhimes' worldview for "Grey's" as "not too much hugging, not too much crying. No whiners."
The women of "Grey's" "absolutely screw up sometimes, and they have great days too," Rhimes noted. "They enjoy the competition of the job.
"I wanted these characters to be characters who liked what they did and were unapologetic about it. It's not `Oh, she's powerful, but she's deeply hurt inside,'-" Rhimes says. "And I like the fact that Cristina and Meredith have this friendship, and Cristina is a person who is very competitive - but she's not incapable of having a friendship with another woman. That was really important to me."
More from Shonda Rhimes:
Will Meredith's mother come to the fore in upcoming episodes? "Yes, she will have a much larger role coming up. We originally shot 13 episodes [and not all of those episodes have aired yet], and some of those were going to finish off that [13-episode] season. So four of the first five episodes of this season will be from last season, and we'll be seeing Meredith's mother fairly soon."
On the diversity of the cast: "It's a diverse world. I wanted this hospital to look like the world I live in and work in."
On the medical situations on the show: "It's not a medical solution of the week. We don't do the medical mystery show. It's not about how we solve the problem. I always say, it's not about the patients or how the patients feel about their issues, it's about how the doctors feel about how the patients feel about their issues." [Still, the show has an extensive medical staff and experts on call to help with the medical information and procedures on the show].
Do you have a long-term concept or story for the show? "Yes. I feel like I know what the last scene in the last episode of the show will be. We just have to get there first."
Have you thought about having to add new characters yet? "Not really. Not all interns survive, not all of them make it through these kinds of programs. But we've got such a large group of people already, why would we add anyone yet?"
On casting the leads, Ellen Pompeo [Dr. Meredith Grey] and Patrick Dempsey [Dr. Derek Shepard, a.k.a. Dr. McDreamy]: "I kept saying we need a girl like that girl from 'Moonlight Mile,' and after a while, they were like, 'We think we can get that girl from 'Moonlight Mile.' I spent time with her and got to know her, and then we started casting for the men.
"We brought in a lot of guys [for Shepard]. Ellen wasn't an easy role to cast, but Derek was really not an easy role to cast either. You had to believe he was intelligent, so you can believe he's a brain surgeon. And while you're watching, you'd be like, 'I wish my boyfriend looked like that.' [laughs] But he had to be rugged, not pretty. Handsome, sexy, but not in an obvious way, sexy in a smart way.
"He had to be able to pull off being really witty and you had to believe he'd care about people too. This was not easy to find! Patrick came in and he was just perfect. It was one of those moments when you're like, 'This is why I'm a writer.' There was just great chemistry, they were fun and flirty and it was just right."
The cast as a whole really seems to gel well. "They really do. For me the fun is to put different combinations together and discover things. For instance in the premiere episode for this season, it was the first time we had George and the chief of surgery together. And they had such great comic timing together. Later in the season, Izzie and Dr. Burke have their first real [work together] and their interaction is really dynamic. It's fun to discover that chemistry."
People online are pairing up various combinations of interns and supervising doctors, interns with other interns: "There is this consistent and intense need to pair people up."
Will Izzie and Alex get together, as has been hinted? "I don't like to say. They could get together, it's not something I've planned out or written out. Sometimes it's a matter of seeing how the journey progresses, how it progresses. The relationship between Dr. Burke and Christina came about from watching these two actors and their great banter together back and forth. [With those two characters] there's great humor and pain and pathos watching these two people who don't know how to communicate try to communicate.
I think one thing that may be a factor in the show's success, and its appeal to women, is that it's a show largely about women written by a woman. Not that a man can't write for a woman and vice versa, but so much of the show rings true for me, and that's a factor for a lot of women I talk to. "I hope it's a factor, in a way. I really wanted this show not only to be something other people would watch, but something I would watch. The way women talk, my friends and I, the conversations we have with my best friend or my sister on the phone or my friends out here [in Los Angeles], I want to hear that conversation, in which women aren't victims or afraid to be strong.
"In the episode that just aired, Cristina was talking about what to do about her baby [she's pregnant], and she says, 'Surgery is my life. I'm too talented [to quit].' People were surprised at that line, but it's only because it was a woman saying it. It's how women speak now.
"I think there are men who can write fantastically for women, but a lot of times, women have been modulated to be fantasies, not necessarily in a sexual way, but they're written to be what men would like a woman to be like, not what women are really like. Women can be flawed, nasty, strong, good. The definition of female is as broad as the definition of male. What's revolutionary is that we're letting ourselves be women, not having to represent anything. They're just women trying to make it through the day at work.
"They absolutely screw up sometimes, they have great days too. They enjoy the competition of the job. I wanted these characters to be characters who liked what they did and were unapologetic about it. It's not 'Oh, she's powerful, but she's deeply hurt inside.' I like the fact that Cristina and Meredith have this friendship and Cristina is a person who is very competitive, but she's not incapable of having a friendship with another woman. That was really important to me."
You're from Chicago, right? "Yes, I went to Marian Catholic, I graduated in 1987. I was in the band, I lived in Park Forest South, now it's called University Park. My best friend still lives [in Chicago], I come back there all the time. It was where I wanted to set the show, but there is that certain other medical show that films there."
Rhimes on the show's music, which just came out on a "Grey's Anatomy" soundtrack CD: "I love the music. What Alex [Alexandra Patsavas, who is also the music supervisor for 'The O.C.'] does for us is give us a great pool of music to choose from. Placing the music in the episodes is one of my favorite things to do. It's really fun. Alex introduces us to all these amazing bands. I'm not a music aficionado, but Alex puts us in touch with this great world of music."
Executive producer Betsy Beers on the show's music: "We were incredibly happy to get Alex on the show. She's been with us since the pilot. Very very early on, we knew that the music would be incredibly important. We try to find songs that have not been heard too much and really seem to get into the spirit of the show, songs that sort of say, 'I may be hurt but I don't wear my heart on my sleeve.' The tone of this show is very different from 'The O.C.,' and Alex really got the spirit of it. These are people working at hard jobs and are determined not to let anyone see their pain. The music can underscore the frustration, the emotion, the humor."
CHANGE AHEAD FOR 'EVERWOOD': This fall, the annual shuffling of the TV schedule put fear in the heart of hard-core "Everwood" fans. The WB moved the acclaimed family drama, which just began its fourth season, to Thursdays, where it's up against "CSI" and "The Apprentice" as well as highly touted newbies such as "Reunion" and "Night Stalker."
"We didn't expect [the move] at all, because everyone was so happy with our Monday nighttime slot. It kind of threw us a bit;, we were all a little nervous," said "Everwood's" Emily VanCamp (Amy Abbott), who was in Chicago on Thursday promoting the show. Still, she noted that "we have a pretty strong core audience who have been pretty faithful to the show."
Her co-star, Chris Pratt, who plays her TV brother, Bright Abbott, saw a bit of a silver lining in the move. "Thursday night, that's the night for all the big advertisers, for all the [commercials for] movies for the weekends. That's the spot where the networks bring out the big guns," Pratt said. "So to be considered the big gun could be looked at as a compliment." More from Emily VanCamp and Chris Pratt:
Do you think the show is changing at all this year?
Chris: "When you have the first season of Everwood, the pilot was just awesome, just perfect. There was this 30 episode arc in his head that was his vision. If you see the first couple season on DVD, you can really see how awesome that was. The show totally had its stride, and it's like passing the baton to someone and keep that stride, it's difficult. Because a lot of the stories that kept the show so compelling, you have to stop telling after a while. Ephram and Amy only works as long as it takes to get them together, then its like, 'Now what?' it's like [trying to create] part two of 'Romeo and Juliet.' The [strength] of the show [has been] that it's something that's it's a little atypical of the WB, which is why we have fans outside the typical demographic recognize us. I don't know, I think we're becoming a little more close to what their core audience is used to, and that's definitely a change from what it was in the beginning.
Emily: "There's less John Beasley, for instance, who I think is one of the most amazing characters on the show. I love watching him, I love working with him. And Debra Mooney."
Chris: "The voiceover."
Emily: "The voiceover. We're certainly lacking things that I loved as if I was watching as a viewer. But then we have new characters that are wonderful as well. I think that that's one thing I'd like to see more of, John.
I have every bit of faith, though, that the people behind the show and the passion that all of us actors have, that if we do go off track, we'll get back on. It'll always work out.
"Amy's entering this whole new world of college, and that experience is a frightening, and Ephram's realizing all these things. They're trying to maintain a friendship, which I think happens a lot in relationships that don't turn out particularly well, you try the friendship thing and that can be tough, but it's realistic."
Chris: "Bright will try to become more self aware and try to become a better person."
Emily: "And there's the whole Nina-Jake-Dr. Brown triangle, which is fun. And Tom [Amandes, Dr. Abbott], who's just Tom, who can just be his own storyline and still be the most interesting thing about the show. He doesn't really need anything to play off of, he can just walk around."
Chris: "He's so great."
And there's the fact that your characters' mother has cancer. It's funny, there has been all this tragic stuff on "Everwood," yet it never feels exploitative about the bad things that happen.
Emily: "I was on '[Late Night with] David Letterman' and he summed up the show in this extravagant, funny way. He hit all the key dramatic points and that's how he summed up the show, and it was so funny because it sounded completely melodramatic. If you watch the show though, they do those things very nicely and thoughtfully. You can't just have someone's mother have cancer and not approach that with grace and delicacy, because so many people know someone who's had it or who has experienced it."
Chris: "The day we filmed the episode on Rose's surgery, Tom's own mother went into surgery for cancer, that same day."
Emily: "It's amazing how close to home those things can be, you have to be careful."
But other shows aren't. People on other shows get cancer and get over it in two weeks.
Emily: "They do, yeah, on other shows. There's an integrity that we all really try to maintain on the show. That's something that's really important to us. [To Chris] Would you agree?"
Chris: "Yes, totally."
Emily: "Sarah [Drew] and I are constantly fighting to not take our clothes off. It's like this ongoing battle. Obviously, that stuff sells."
Chris: "Especially on the WB."
Is that coming from the network? The producers?
Emily: "I don't know who that really comes from."
Chris: "It wasn't like that always, was it?"
Emily:"No, it wasn't always like that, but it's just, you know, there are moments, that all the young women [encounter]. Thankfully they brought in someone like Sarah who is just as adamant about that stuff as I am."
Chris: "I'm always fighting to take my clothes off [laughs]."
Emily: "It's all bout maintaining that integrity, that's what holds it all together, I think."
What do you think will happen with Bright and Hannah - are they too different?
Chris: "I've been so lucky to work with Sarah, she's classically trained, she's been on Broadway, she's 25, which you would never know, playing a 16 year old. [As far as Bright and Hannah], it's one of those situations where Bright is the kind of guy who does best when there's someone who's proud of him. Now he's got Hannah, and he wants to make her proud. He wants to do things that would make him character, and himself happy too. He was existing in this world where it was okay for him to do whatever he was doing because he was Bright, 'Oh, that's just Bright, he's funny,' you know? But he was really saved by Hannah, I think."
Where would you like Bright to end up?
Chris: "I bet college wouldn't be right for him, but I'd like to see him do something like become a hero of Everwood again somehow, become a firefighter or EMT, and [have] the community be proud of him somehow. Helping people, but
I don't know if he saw blood, he might be queasy. There's been a lot of stuff written [that implies Bright might not deal well with the sight of blood]."
It looks like Amy has a new love interest in Bright's new roommate, the medical student.
Emily: "Yeah, that's Justin Baldoni, he plays the new love interest. It's kind of interesting at first, there's a misunderstanding and she thinks he's gay. She finds out that he's not, and that turns into something, but Ephram ends up moving in with those two boys, so it's like this weird thing where Ephram sees us and we're together and there's this whole triangle thing.
"I think that politically, Amy starts to get involved with her university, I'm not certain if that's going to happen, but I really hope that that happens. There's conflict with Hannah and Amy, there's all sorts of conflict all the time on 'Everwood.' [laughs]"
Do you have input into your characters?
Emily: "Not particularly, that's what's scary [laughs]."
Chris: "We'll get little tidbits."
Emily: "You never quite know what they're going to throw at you until you get the script. But we have this great executive producer, Mickey Liddell, he's just awesome and easy to talk to and takes everything into consideration. It's really nice to have someone like that you can go to, [someone] who's involved and knows what's going on. And we also talk amongst each other, we're a pretty tight family. I'll talk to Tom [Amandes] about concerns and he'll give me dad-like advice."
Chris: "And we'll stick together. There's something that just recently came up in a script, where Sarah [Drew] was concerned about something, they were going to have us almost being naked together
And then it just turns out that all we had to do was have a conversation with everbody and they totally made everything work out to make her happy."
But isn't the character of Hannah not into premarital sex?
Emily: "I know, that's why we didn't get it. I don't know. Sometimes they forget we're not like a mountainous 'O.C.'- [laughs] 'No wait, this is just actually just 'Everwood.'"
What would be your ultimate wishes for your characters, just your own personal wishes?
Chris: "I wish for Bright to marry Hannah. Marry her, then he can finally get down [laughs]. No, no. Marry her, hang around Everwood and be a fixture of the community, open a sporting-goods store, coach the football team."
Emily: "I think Amy needs to spread her wings and get out of Everwood and see some of the world, put things into perspective. And then come home, and I bet her and Ephram will end up together and have a happy family."
Emily and Chris then told me what happens regarding Rose Abbott's bout with cancer, but I promised not to tell and I won't.
Some random TV quotes and observations:
YOUR TURN: Time to turn the table on you, dear readers, with three questions. Selected answers will be printed in upcoming Watcher columns.
- Her first week in the reality TV arena, Martha Stewart used the phrase "You just don't fit in" to get rid of "Apprentice" ejectee Jeff.
This week, however, Matchstick team member Chuck was bounced with "I wish you good luck and goodbye." So did Stewart change her mind about her firing phrase, which had been criticized for being too catty? Hmmm.
When asked about the disappearance of "You just don't fit in," a spokesman for "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart" said, "Who is to say that is the catchphrase?"
By the way, if you've written off the show, don't. If you're a reality fan, you might just get a kick out of the operatic obnoxiousness of Matchstick's non-stop talker Jim, who has kicked into such high gear that the motormouth contestant can barely speak already.
- Writing on Salon.com, Judd Apatow, the writer/director of "The 40 Year-Old Virgin" confessed his love for reality TV, especially the recently concluded "Rock Star: INXS." He did have one quibble with the "Rock Star" finale, though: "The band seems supercool, they appeared to pick the right guy to win, and then they ended the show with him singing their new single. The only problem was that the new song is terrible. There you had this young guy - so excited to be in this band - and they make him play a song as bad as something you would hear on one of the albums the Doors made after Jim Morrison died."
- The video-game firm Gameloft announced last week that the company is working on a Sims-style game based on "The O.C.," which produced a bit of snickering in the gaming community. As Joystiq.com noted, "What button combination approximates 'Become jealous and totally diss Marissa behind her back while pretending you're not an alcoholic'?"
- Wouldn't it be totally weird if the guy who's locked in Mrs. Applewhite's basement on "Desperate Housewives" was named Desmond?
- Great news: "Veronica Mars" got its best-ever ratings in its season premiere Wednesday, when it was up against "Lost." By the way, thanks to reader Dave Juhl of Naperville, who points out that WPWR-Ch. 50 rebroadcasts each episode of "Veronica Mars" at 9 p.m. Sunday.
- I don't know about you, but when that full-scale riot broke out on "Prison Break" on Monday (and how cool was that episode, by the way?), I was most concerned about the older prisoner's pet cat, which ran off during the melee.
- I was sad to hear that Kathy Griffin and her husband Matt Moline are divorcing. Based on what I saw on her reality show, he seemed like an incredibly nice guy and very supportive of his wife's career in an extremely cutthroat industry. What a shame.
- I'm obsessed with how "The Amazing Race" is filmed. When I saw a bit of the sixth edition of the show being shot here in Chicago, each team had its own sound person and camera person, and from watching the show, I've always assumed that, when the team is driving, the camera person rides up front and the sound guy sits in the back. But given that there are four-person teams on the current Family Edition of the race, I've been wondering where the sound person sits when the team is driving, because the back seat is occupied by three team members. Maybe there isn't a sound person this time around? As I predicted, CBS wouldn't answer questions about how the show is produced or whether there is a sound person hidden somewhere in the car. Oh well.
- There's a long profile of Conan O'Brien in a recent issue of New York magazine, and in it, writer Vanessa Grigoriadis notes that O'Brien resents the attention lavished on "The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart for his "far less complex, toilsome, and popular show." That's Grigoriadis' characterization, and it strikes me as really off-base. Yes, Stewart's show is half the length of O'Brien's, but it's twice as funny.
- The "Battlestar Galactica" cliffhanger Sept. 23 left me completely dying to know what happens next on the show. Aggh, what a cruel cliffhanger! And Tricia Helfer and Grace Park gave outstanding performances in their harrowing scenes as victims of rape and near-rape. In the wake of the brutal attacks on these characters, though, I will be very interested to see if we see some serious emotional consequences for them. The reason I wonder is because the cliffhanger only focused on the consequences for the two Galactica crew members who rescued Park's character, and we still have not seen any follow-through regarding what happened to Kara "Starbuck" Thrace on the creepy body-part harvesting episode, "The Farm."
- On HGTV's upcoming "Bad Baths USA," which premieres Oct. 9, families with world-class ugly bathrooms will get some help from the how-to network. Some of the nasty baths from the show (leopard-print wallpaper - in the bath?) are on display at www.hgtv.com/uglybathroom; you can vote on which is worst starting Wednesday.
If you do write in, if you want your name used, please let me know your hometown as well. Thanks!
- Speaking of "Rock Star," what band do you think should be featured on the next edition of the CBS show (and I'm betting there will be another version next year)? Of all the rock bands without lead singers, I really can't think of any whose back catalog I'd really want to hear every week (except Nirvana, but I'm not really thinking that's going to happen.) What bands do you nominate?
- In the new BBC America program "The Robinsons," a character contemplates breaking up with her boyfriend simply because he doesn't like "Fawlty Towers" (personally, I'm in the boyfriend's camp - so sue me). Do you have any "dealbreaker" TV shows? Let's say a potential or actual significant other said he or she had seen one of your all-time favorite shows and disliked it, or even hated it. Would that give you pause?
- Finally, what are your favorite - and least favorite - new shows of the fall TV season, and why?
September 23, 2005 2:10 PM CDT: What to watch this week and a 'House' party: Plus, what the heck is up with Martha?
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. The Webcast preview, a first for NBC, won't contain the entire season premiere, which will air on TV 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.
, and Joss Whedon, the "Buffy," "Angel" and "Firefly" creator whose word is law in the genre world, shared his
of the show with the world a few weeks ago.
that he's set to make an appearance as a testy rental-car manager in episode six of the second season of "Mars."
I can exclusively reveal here that his name will be Douglas, and his scene will be with Kristin Bell.
Now, if they could just snag Smith to play a substitute teacher at Neptune High. It's not so farfetched - Smith just guested on "Degrassi."
I know this isn't a reason to watch a show, but I found it kind of cool that the male actors on "Out of Practice," the new CBS sitcom that debuts Monday," actually look like they could be family members. Henry Winkler, Christopher Gorham and Ty Burrell all actually look a bit alike, which is cool, because a very minor TV pet peeve of mine is shows where blood-related "family members" don't look even remotely like each other.
The first three episodes of HBO's "Rome" repeat starting at 7 p.m. Friday.
My favorite line from last week's episode is Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson) on women: "Of course, your best method for pleasing a woman is the warm beating heart of an enemy. I mean, women will say they don't like it, but they do."
Here are a few nuggets from an interview that HBO sent out about "The Office" creator Ricky Gervais' new series, "Extras," which premieres Sept. 25.
"Question: How did you recruit the celebrities who appear as themselves on `Extras'?
"Gervais: Every time we read an article about 'The Office,' and a celebrity said it was their favorite show, we made a note to call them. First, they shared our comic outlook. Second, they liked us. Third, they might want to put their career in jeopardy!
"Gervais: No, it's very slow and a joy. If [co-creator] Stephen [Merchant] and I get a minute a day, we're happy. If we sit down for four hours, three hours is talking about what we saw on telly last night or what we hate.
"When I came to this business and started writing `The Office,' I had a much bigger list of don't's than do's. In fact, my list was only don't's. It was things that I hated: bad exposition, bad acting. Don't hang around too long. Don't do this because you want to be famous. Don't do it for the money."
Gervais also said he's working on Christopher Guest's next film, "For Your Consideration," which Gervais said is "going to do for Oscar frenzy what `Spinal Tap' did for heavy rock."
I have a few wishes for Sunday's Emmy broadcast, which begins at 7 p.m. on WBBM-Ch. 2:
, Time's James Poniewozik weighs in on the premiere of "Survivor: Guatemala": "If I wanted to watch desperate stunt casting, I'd watch 'Will and Grace.'"
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, on cbsnews.com. A CBS press release says it will allow "a candid and robust dialogue between CBS News journalists and the public." The site will be edited by Vaughn Ververs, "most recently editor of The Hotline, a daily Web briefing on politics published by the National Journal."
WTTW-Ch. 11 is broadcasting the 1975 made-for-television film "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman" on Thursday [July 15]. In honor of the film's 30th anniversary, Queen Latifah has taped an introduction that will air before the film.
From the PBS press release on the film, which stars Cicely Tyson: "Based on the best-selling novel by Ernest J. Gaines, 'The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman' is an inspiring story of human dignity. This fictionalized historical drama from director John Korty follows Jane Pittman on her incredible life journey from the end of the Civil War in the 1860s through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Through the years Jane survives the last vestiges of slavery in Louisiana, Jim Crow laws, encounters with the KKK and the slaying of her husband, only to triumph in the end over social injustice."
in Saturday's Tribune noted, key information was left out of my Sept. 9 article on Oprah Winfrey's trip to New Orleans and other flood-damaged areas of the South. As the clarification stated, the article "contained comparisons of Winfrey to President Bush that were unfavorable to Bush." It goes on to state that last year, I contributed to the presidential campaign of Bush's opponent, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), and that "Tribune standards require disclosure of any such conflict of interest."
You should have had that information up front. I am sorry you did not.
Having said that, I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that if Kerry had been elected, and events in New Orleans played out exactly the way they did last week, I would have written the same piece, substituting Kerry's name for Bush.
Though I contributed to a Democratic cause, last week I praised Fox News' coverage of the post-Katrina disaster. Though I celebrated Oprah Winfrey's actions after the flood, I have written articles critical of her in the last year.
As I have in the past, I will continue to attempt to be as honest and as fair as I can be in my television coverage, and I would feel honored if you could forgive this unintentional oversight and continue to share this space with me.
Because you readers -- even those of you who disagree with me -- are the reasons I do what I do.
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on Thursday's extended NBC Nightly News broadcast set a new standard for impassioned reporting. Having spent the better part of the day inside the hellish New Orleans convention center, he appeared near tears as he talked of babies dying. "I just tell you, I couldn't take it."
Minutes after Zumbado's wrenching testimony aired, NBC News anchor Brian Williams interviewed Michael Brown, head of FEMA.
Williams: "Why can't some of the
helicopters that we have heard flying overhead for days and days and days simply lower pallets of water, meals-ready-to-eat, medical supplies right into downtown New Orleans? Where is the aid?"
Brown: "Brian, it's an absolutely fair question
The federal government just learned about those people today."
A millisecond later, Williams' jaw hit the ground, metaphorically speaking. And that's when everything changed.
Williams' incredulity matched that of CNN's tireless Paula Zahn less than an hour later, when she grilled Brown about the situation at the Superdome and at the convention center, where bodies were left to rot and children went without food and water. Brown said again that federal officials had just learned of the suffering thousands at the convention center that day -- Thursday.
"You're not telling me that you just learned that the folks at the convention center didn't have food and water until today, are you?" Zahn asked. "You had no idea that they were completely cut off?"
He didn't know. But anyone who'd been watching at home did. And clearly, the anger of the reporters and anchors was not a case of "What, you haven't been watching our reports?" but "Can you tell me what planet you've been on all week?"
What was more frightening than Brown's admission was the fact that that he spent much of Thursday doing interviews. If you were glued to the news coverage -- and it was nearly impossible to wrench oneself away Thursday and Friday, so heartrending were the stories and so impassioned were the reports -- you had to wonder who was in charge of the relief efforts while Brown was making the TV rounds.
On Friday, the alternate media universe became truly mind-blowing. It's not exactly a state secret that the Bush administration can usually count on getting a reasonable amount of support from the anchors and reporters on the Fox News Channel.
Not so post-Katrina. Fox News reporter Shepard Smith, who'd spent a week reporting from New Orleans' fetid, makeshift refugee centers, wore a look of outrage Friday that would have made even Dick Cheney quake.
Fox's Geraldo Rivera, for his part, shed tears as he held up a 10-month-old baby, who'd been trapped with family members at the squalid convention center for six days, and ranted at Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes on the Friday edition of their Fox News show.
"Let them walk out of here. Let them walk away from the filth.
Let them walk away from the dead bodies," he ranted. "What has happened since [the hurricane] is as bad or worse than what mother nature did."
"It's not a question of subjectivity," Rivera said, and for once his hyperbolic delivery matched the horror of the situation. "It's about reality."
If anything, Smith's stunned, almost resigned anger during much of the same broadcast was more terrifying. Whom does one ask for official information, Hannity asked Smith at one point. "I don't know," Smith said, stone-faced. At another point, Hannity tried to interrupt Smith, who'd been reporting from New Orleans for days ("We've seen this," he said, grim-faced. "We can smell it.")
Hannity wanted to step back and "get perspective" on the situation. "This is perspective," Smith shouted, losing his cool once and for all. "This is all the perspective you need!"
That same evening, Kanye West interrupted the flow of professionally written charity solicitations on the NBC telethon that aired Friday night.
"George Bush doesn't care about black people," West stated, as stunned co-presenter Mike Myers looked on.
It was one more jaw-dropping moment in a week when everyone's mask dropped and raw honesty was everywhere. Whether you agreed with West, it was a riveting moment of live television (though one that was not audible to West Coast viewers).
Surely George Bush doesn't share West's view, but he didn't show any of the musician's directness.
All week long, Bush seemed to weave in and out of different personas; at one point, he jocularly joked with Sen. Trent Lott about how, down the road, the two men would one day enjoy the porch on Lott's rebuilt southern Mississippi home, which was destroyed in the storm.
At another point, on Friday's flying visit to the region, he hugged bereft Mississippians like a concerned uncle. He was grim and tough in press conferences as the political crisis deepened later in the week, then signed autographs like a rock star at a Baton Rouge evacuee center on Monday.
It's a good thing that Bush didn't cross paths with Anderson Cooper, who didn't mince words with Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) on that fateful Thursday.
The platitudes that usually go unchallenged on cable news channels (the unchallenged platitudes that usually air just before the latest update on a missing white woman) were savagely torn apart by Cooper, who, like Smith, could smell a whole lot more suffering from where he was sitting than Landrieu could from her operations center in Baton Rouge.
Like an award winner on Oscar night, Landrieu tried to launch into a laundry list of all the good things that had happened that week.
"I have to tell you, there are people here who are very upset and angry," Cooper cut in, "and when they hear politicians thanking one another, it just, you know, it cuts them the wrong way right now, because there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats, because this woman has been laying in the street for 48 hours, and there is not enough facilities to get her up. Do you understand that anger?" Cooper said.
When "The Daily Show" finally returns from its weeklong Labor Day break, expect Landrieu's tepid response to get withering treatment.
While it was impossible to watch some of the coverage -- in particular the Penn-van Susteren exchange -- without thinking of what "The Daily Show" writers would make of it, what one was left with, as the week of outrage wore on, were the holes that Katrina -- and the subsequent bungling -- left in the hearts of real, live people.
Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard's appearance on "Meet the Press" on Sunday put everything into perspective, if, by that point, perspective was still needed.
"Shouldn't the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of New Orleans bear some responsibility" for the tragic events in that city, host Tim Russert asked Broussard.
"They were told, like me, every single day, the cavalry's coming, been promised the cavalry was coming," Broussard shot back. "I have just begun to hear the hoofs of the cavalry
and we're almost a week out."
And Broussard wept, as veteran CNN correspondent Jeanne Meserve wept on Tuesday after hearing the cries of scared people trapped in their homes.
Through his tears, Broussard put a face on the tragedy.
"The guy who runs this building I'm in, Emergency Management, he's responsible for everything," Broussard told Russert. "His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home and every day she called him and said, `Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?' and he said, `Yeah, mama, somebody's coming to get you.'
Somebody's coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday
and she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night!"
At that point, Broussard was sobbing.
"I'm sick of the press conferences. For God's sake, just shut up and send us somebody."
If the role of journalism is to shine a light in dark places -- Broussard, Smith, Rivera, Meserve, Cooper, Zahn, Williams, Zumbado
they all did their part last week.
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Brian Williams' introduction: "Those scenes that emerged today at the convention center in downtown New Orleans. NBC News photojournalist Tony Zumbado made it inside, and here is his description of what he found there in his own words."
Zumbado: "I gotta tell you, I thought I'd seen it all, I've never seen anything in my life like this."
Zumbado: "And you will never, never imagine what you saw in the convention center in New Orleans. I just don't know how to tell you just how bad it is and how they need help yesterday."
Man with baby: "You got a three-week old infant out here, how is a three-week old infant going to be able to survive out here with no milk, no water?"
Zumbado: "These are the families who listened to authorities, who followed direction, who believed in the government. They were told to go to the convention center, they did. These are law-abiding citizens who've been left behind. They did everything they are told. They are just left behind.
"There's nothing offered to them, no water, no ice, no C-rations. Nothing, for the last four days. It's getting very, very crazy in there, and very dangerous. I don't want to sound negative against anybody or any official, but according to them, they're there on their own. There's no police, there's no authority.
"They've been behaving, they have not started any melees, any riots, nothing. They just want food and support. There's no hostility there, so they don't need to be bringing any guns or anything like that. They need support."
Woman: "People are dying. They're dying. Babies are dying."
Zumbado: "There's no support here. There's no foundation. There's no Plan B, Plan A. These people are very desperate. I saw two gentlemen die in front of me because of dehydration. The sanitation was unbelievable. The stench in there, it was unbelievable. Dead people around the walls of the convention center, laying in the middle of the street, in their dying chairs, where they died, right there in their lawn chair.
"They were just covered up. In their wheelchair, covered up. Laying there for dead. Babies, two babies. Dehydrated and died.
"I will keep this short and sweet....
"As a parent and American I am fully disgusted by what I am seeing on the news. I am ashamed in our Federal Government and in the individuals trying to make a profit to this terrible catastrophe. However, I am most at shock and appalled at the choices we are making as a nation. When I see that the babies and children are dying I am disgusted and heartbroken. I don't know if anyone else feels the way I do, but to me they should be the priority that we are saving!
"These 'critical' patients that are elderly and dying, I have the utmost respect and compassion for them. However, if I was ever in this type of a situation I would rather them save the life of a child/infant rather then my own. An child/infant has their whole life ahead of them, most of these 'critical' patients are adults and have lived a much longer life.
"I have never written to a columnist, I do not expect a response. However, I just felt I needed my words to be heard by someone!!!!
"SAVE THE CHILDREN FIRST!!!!! If I could take them into my home temporarily until their family(ies) were taken care of I would. NO child should be tortured like this for this length of time."
"I have been watching a lot of television and it seemed that CNN, for a time, became the conscience of the country and in no small way prodded the government agencies to get their collective butts in gear. We owe the network a debt of gratitude.
"Also, there seemed to be something obscene by going ahead with the broadcast of the Packers-Titans football last night on ABC. I did not, and could not watch it. I may be getting a little soft, in the heart and in the head, in my old age.
"I agree with Kathy Tolomeo that we, as a nation, should be appalled at our government and how this tragedy has been handled. But I do NOT agree that adults/elderly have less to offer this nation than children and infants. No one should be treated first, second, last based on gender, race, age. EVERY human is of utmost importance. Children have their whole lives ahead of them. Elderly have lived and shown us how to live. They are to be respected, revered, protected. They have helped us all to grow. The elderly AND the children should be saved. They are of equal importance in this country. When will the American people learn that?
"President Bush's agenda is with the war in Iraq. A supposed war against terrorism in Iraq. Do we put more weight on saving the people of Iraq, before saving the people from a national disaster, in our own country?
"As I see it, the exodus of the people from Mississippi has been handled poorly by the United States Government. And I wonder why? Why have they been left to die? Why? I don't understand. I don't understand why Bush had to wait until Friday, September 2nd to go to Mississippi. I watch what is happening with my heart in my throat. "I feel so helpless, ashamed. In my eyes, this situation is worse than the tsunami in Asia because, here, we could have helped sooner. They are right here in our country. And yet, people are dying. We could have helped them sooner. What happened? What IS happening? Please tell me why."
"Our country is so vulnerable right now. It scares the hell out of me thinking about how vulnerable and open we are for terrorists. The terrorists are sitting back and laughing at how we can't even take care of Louisiana and Mississippi. Can you imagine what they are thinking? We can't handle this disaster, can you imagine having to handle a full blown terrorist attack?? I am at a total loss for words."
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are places to start. The telethons that NBC will air Friday and MTV and VH1 will broadcast Sept. 10 will surely have more information on charities accepting donations.
Will that cash reach the people in immediate need right now, and can New Orleans ever be rebuilt into what it once was?
Who knows? Lives are irrevocably changed by this event; seeing the devastation on our TV screens makes that clear. People are not just without food and water and medicine, their homes are just gone. It's a terrible picture.
It's impossible to truly comprehend what the situation must be like, especially for a town such as New Orleans, home of
for music lovers, food lovers and Mardi Gras revelers for centuries.
But if nothing else, Katrina and her terrible aftermath have driven the silly, the vapid and the tangential from the national news channels. The world stepped up to the challenge after the tsunami crisis, and Americans are doing are doing the same with the post-Katrina disaster.
And for the most part, the broadcast news media has shown what it's capable of when the chips are down. The broadcast coverage provided by the big networks and the cable news channels has, for the most part, been exemplary and truly informative.
That's a small thing, compared to the suffering in the South, but it is something.
On a completely different - and vastly less important - subject, it's nice to see "Rock Star" rise in the ratings over the last few weeks. The singers left - with the exception of J.D. Fortune, in my humble opinion - are all excellent, and, after her blistering version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" this week, I am a Suzie McNeil true believer now.
Then again, Marty Casey has that certain something, and I'm a serious Jordis Unga fan, despite her weak performances the last couple of weeks.
I can't wait to see the remaining contestants take on the INXS catalog, which, as we've seen week after week on Wednesdays, is deceptively difficult to sing (I know nothing about music theory, but I've come to think that Michael Hutchence's voice must have been in a very rare and distinctive tonal range).
I wasn't sad to see Ty Taylor go Wednesday night, and I think the eminently ejectable J.D. will most surely go next. Check out the poll at the right to vote on who you think will ultimately be right for their band, INXS.
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