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Dunedin couple to appear tonight on Marriage Boot Camp: Bridezillas

Seth Walker (left) and wife Kirsten Stiff Walker (right) say they appeared on We tv's Marriage Boot Camp: Bridezillas to help fund therapy for daughter Karsen Stella (center).

Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Times

Seth Walker (left) and wife Kirsten Stiff Walker (right) say they appeared on We tv's Marriage Boot Camp: Bridezillas to help fund therapy for daughter Karsen Stella (center).

She knows what’s she's saying sounds phony as a $3 bill.

But Kirsten Stiff Walker insists she and husband Seth Walker had good reasons for appearing on We tv’s bluntly-named Marriage Boot Camp: Bridezillas show, despite telling a reporter less than a year ago doing such "reality TV" series was one of the worst decisions in her life.

There were two goals: to earn money for therapy aiding their daughter Karsen Stella, an active 2 year old struggling with developmental issues. And to somehow inspire other couples who might see their marriage founder while caring for a special needs child.

But a look at tonight's first episode -- with five couples from past Bridezillas episodes stuck in a house with marriage counselors -- reveals a different reality. The show’s four other couples already had made fun of the Walkers before they arrived. Kirsten is shown drinking steadily, clashing with one wife in particular. And her high-pitched voice is lampooned for comedic effect.

Even for a woman who admits playing an exgerrated version of herself on Bridezillas in 2009, this was new territory.Full Story

Fixing American Idol: What's next now that the brutal Mariah/Minaj experiment is officially history?

The judges and host of this year's American Idol.


The judges and host of this year's American Idol.

Now that Mariah Carey has left the building – via a half-line reference in a tweet from her publicist – and Nicki Minaj has confirmed she’s outta here, the hard work begins for American Idol.

How to rescue a show once known as the most powerful brand on television?Full Story

Showtime's Richard Pryor biopic Omit the Logic remains compelling, amid criticisms from the comic's widow

Legendary comic Richard Pryor is profiled in Showtime's documentary, Omit the Logic.


Legendary comic Richard Pryor is profiled in Showtime's documentary, Omit the Logic.

It is obvious, after a few questions, that Jennifer Lee Pryor is not going to give the interview either of us expected.

As the fourth and seventh wife of famed comedy innovator Richard Pryor – and the woman who returned to care for the comic as he was struggling with multiple sclerosis in 1994 – Jennifer Pryor is now the guardian of his estate and a producer of Showtime’s crackling documentary about his life and career, Omit the Logic.

In that capacity, it might be considered her job to say nice things about the movie, which has already gotten admiring reviews and write ups everywhere from Variety to Rolling Stone magazine.

But Pryor also can’t hide her disappointment with many aspects of the film, which she says gives short shrift to important episodes in the legendary comedian’s life, blaming director Marina Zenovich for focusing on the wrong interview subjects at times and inaccurately condensing aspects of his sprawling story.

“I think that it failed in revealing what really was going on with Richard,” said Pryor, who added she hopes to insert additional material to any DVD release. “I’m a survivor and I earned the right to tell the truth. I loved Richard madly; I married him twice. And one of the things I leaned from Richard was that I had my own sense of truth and my own moral compass and I had to follow it no matter what.”Full Story

May sweeps ratings: ABC Action News and Fox's WTVT-Ch. 13 score as every Tampa Bay area station spins the data

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Looks like St. Petersburg CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10 won May’s competitive “sweeps” ratings period, according to a press release pronouncing it “Tampa Bay’s most-watched television station.”

But hold on. Across the pond, Tampa Fox station WTVT-Ch. 13 claims to be “the dominant source overall in key adults” during early newscasts.

And Tampa ABC station affiliate WFTS-Ch. 28 trumpets a “historic change in Tampa Bay area TV news,” noting it has beaten all other late night newscasts among the most sought after viewers for the third year in a row.

Welcome to the most popular sport after a “sweeps” ratings period; citing ratings data which makes your channel look good as possible.Full Story

The verdict on Netflix's Arrested Development: New series mostly for fans who have already guzzled the Kool Aid

The cast of Fox's Arrested Development returns in new Netflix series, nearly seven years after cancellation by Fox.


The cast of Fox's Arrested Development returns in new Netflix series, nearly seven years after cancellation by Fox.

Before going too far, it’s worth noting one thing from the outset: I was never on the Arrested Development fan train.

For me, the show was little more than an amusing curiosity, remarkable for the talent of its sprawling cast and the oddity of stuff the show’s creators made them do. Ultimately, a comedy about a family too stupid, venal, self-obsessed and unlucky to climb out of the dregs of Southern California middlebrow society just wasn’t my thing.

Netflix’s revival of the show after it was dropped from Fox's schedule nearly seven years ago was another bite at the apple; a chance to jump on the bandwagon for a series many TV critic friends spent years demanding the showbiz gods give another chance.

But after bingeing on eight of the 15 new episodes created for the online streaming service -- watching storylines ranging from a sweat lodge in Mexico to a four-star resort in India -- I gotta say; I’m still not on that train.

At times, the Netflix episodes are masterwork of interlocking storylines and details. Each episode focuses on a different member of the punishingly dysfunctional Bluth clan, with narrator Ron Howard providing a tweaked introduction to set up the showcase.

(Fanboys and girls listen up; because the series has been online for days, I’m not going to wory about spoilers, so read on with care if you feel differently.)

Portia de Rossi’s Lindsey Bluth, for example, goes on a spiritual trip to India at the same time as her husband, David Cross’ sexually confused doctor-turned-actor Tobias Funke. But viewers don’t learn that until we get past Lindsey’s episode to Tobias’ showcase, and see the guy who kept bumping Lindsey’s seat from behind was Tobias, so wrapped up in his own drama, he missed his wife sitting one seat ahead.

The guest stars here are amazing, from Kristen Wiig and Seth Rogen as younger versions of certain Bluths, to Henry Winkler, Conan O’Brien, Andy Richter, Ed Begley, Jr., Lisa Minnelli, Tommy Tune, Christine Taylor, Brian Grazer and many more celebs. Like watching cameos on Saturday Night Live, these performances have the allure of seeing established performers let go in zany storylines that allow them to bounce off other characters with abandon.

But the ultimate barometer of any TV comedy is whether it’s funny. And despite all the loving, intricate care delivered here, that’s where Netflix’s Arrested Development failed most significantly for me.

I chuckled a lot through the episodes I watched: seeing Jeffrey Tambor toggle between playing his mercenary patriarch George Bluth Sr. and idealistic twin brother Oscar; seeing Richter shamed into agreeing to appear in a movie on the Bluths by boss O’Brien’s insults; watching Lindsay travel to India for spiritual enlightenment and never leave her four-star resort; seeing Tobias unfairly nabbed in a horrifically inept Orange County version of To Catch a Predator.

But none of this really impacted with the force of more compelling TV comedies. In part, it’s because the gags go by so fast, by the time you’ve processed one, five more have flown by.

But it’s also because I’m not particularly invested in the characters. The other by-product of creating such fast-paced comedy, is that you don’t get much time to bond with characters or identify with their struggles.

For those wanting advice on how to partake of this comedy deluge, I'd suggest watching the 15 episodes as fast as makes sense for you, just to get the overall plot structure and story points. Then, if you're still hooked, watchi it again for all the stuff you missed the first time around becaue you were too busy asking "Why is Andy Richter in a bad wig here?" Or "isn't that woman advising Liza Minnelli's character the lady who played Marsha in the Brady Bunch revival movies?" 

These Netflix episodes, at least initially, seem crafted for longtime fans who have already guzzled the Arrested Development Kool Aid.

Winning over new fans will take something else, I fear – unless the hype of online video convinces enough newbies to pay attention.

I await the avalanche of condemnation from avowed AD-faniacs.Full Story

Talking Amazon's crowdsourced TV pilots on NPR and Netflix's new Arrested Development episodes on PBS' NewsHour

Netflix debuts 15 news episodes of Arrested Development on Sunday.


Netflix debuts 15 news episodes of Arrested Development on Sunday.

You know online TV shows have reached a tipping point when NPR and PBS' NewsHour taps you to talk about them on the same day.

It's also because we're on the cusp of Memorial Day weekend and no one has much news going on, I'm sure. But we're all also trying to figure out exactly how having high-quality TV shows available through streaming video online just might change how we watch TV overall.

I told NPR that Amazon's gimmick allowing the public to vote on pilot episodes for new shows feels like exactly that -- it's pretty obvious which shows are best among the eight comedies they've placed online.

I told PBS that Netflix's move to debut new episodes of Arrested Development is so new, it's hard to know whether the project will ultimately pay off for netflix. so far their stock price is doing well and the buzz they've generated is spectacular -- just like the playbook HBO followed in building its channel around hip, critically-loved shows such as The Sopranos and Sex and the City.

Both companies are withholding crucial details journalists can use to judge their true success, allowing spin and hype to replace facts about viewership and revenue. In the end, that may be their biggest legacy -- moving the yardstick we journalists and critics use to judge TV projects into the realm of secret, proprietary information.

Below are embedded players for the NPR and PBS appearances; consider them my gift to you for the Memorial Day holdiay. Have and safe and fun weekend, especially if you're spending much of it in front of a video screen.



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Even the stars of Netflix's 'Arrested Development' revival aren't sure how fans should watch online


It’s the most-anticipated TV series salvage attempt in recent history, with the added possibility of reshaping how we all watch television.

Indeed, Sunday’s debut of a new season from cult comedy Arrested Development on Netflix – which will unveil all 15 episodes in a rush at 3:01 a.m. eastern time – is so unorthodox, even creator and executive producer Mitch Hurwitz has no idea what he’ll do when the show finally hits the public.

“I’m going to wake up Sunday morning, and I won’t know anything,” said Hurwitz, a creature of network TV, where viewership and ratings reports flood the industry the day after a show airs. “I thought at first I could do a live Twitter thing (for the debut). But then, people would just register their complaints with me. Why should I offer them that opportunity?”Full Story

John Fleming to retire as Tampa Bay Times performing arts critic after 28 years at the company

Tampa Bay Times performing arts critic John Fleming

Tampa Bay Times

Tampa Bay Times performing arts critic John Fleming

It's on a par with hearing Carnegie Hall has closed its doors or the Rolling Stones are breaking up.

But after nearly three decades documenting local and national fine arts stories for the Tampa Bay Times, performing arts critic John Fleming has decided to retire.

John's been an inspiration and a great grounding influence on the newspaper's arts staff; in my jobs as pop music critic and TV critic, I've loved trading stories and ideas when our various worlds intersect.

What I've admired most about John is his ability to write sharp, opinion-filled reviews in one moment and turn out deeply-reported, substantive features stories the next and follow that with a front-page news story, if needed. At a time when so many newspapers have made the short-sighted decision to lay off arts critics -- especially those who don't work often in the worlds of pop culture -- John's work always provided a potent argument for why such coverage is crucial for a news publication in a thriving city.

Editors announced John's impending departure, scheduled June 30, with an email to the staff sent out earlier today. You can read it below:Full Story

HBO's Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra smothers sharp acting in a flabby story

Michael Douglas (left) and Matt Damon portray star musician Liberace and his lover Scott Thorson in HBO's new film Behind the Candelabra.


Michael Douglas (left) and Matt Damon portray star musician Liberace and his lover Scott Thorson in HBO's new film Behind the Candelabra.

On the surface, Behind the Candelabra is the perfect HBO movie.

It has a gleaming creative pedigree, led by superstar director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Magic Mike) and uber producer Jerry Weintraub.

It has a scandalous story with a new look at an old time, exploring the relationship of closeted, pop-classical pianist Liberace with house husband Scott Thorson in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

And it has bravura performances from film stars Matt Damon as a hunky, often bewildered Thorson and Michael Douglas as Liberace himself; letting his middle-aged paunch show in an explicit depiction of a sex and drug-laced relationship that puts a new,  jarring vision of the easy listening pop culture icon onscreen.

But what this movie doesn’t really have, is the most important element of all: insight.Full Story

As Amazon uses public feedback to choose new series I wonder: Can a TV outlet outsource its gut to consumers?

The John Goodman-led comedy Alpha House is reportedly to be among the first original series produced by online retailer Amazon.


The John Goodman-led comedy Alpha House is reportedly to be among the first original series produced by online retailer Amazon.

Now that news is starting to trickle out about which pilot episodes online retailer Amazon is picking up as its first original series, I have just two questions.

Is the general public really the best judge of which pilots will make the best series? And is a pilot process really transparent when the company conducting it offers little public information about the process?



At first, the setup sounded like a perfect reflection of our on-demand TV age: Amazon placed 14 pilot episodes online last month, featuring eight comedies and six kids shows. Users of the retailer’s Amazon Prime service could watch each pilot and weigh in on how they felt, writing reviews and giving out 1 to 5-star evaluations like any Amazon product.

Judging the pilots was really no challenge. Only one, Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau’s Alpha House, starring John Goodman as the lead dog among four GOP Senators sharing a house in the nation’s capital, seemed good enough to land on any cable channel’s schedule (with its cursing, including a cameo by Bill Murray consisting mostly of the f-word, network TV seems an unlikely fit.)

Others, including the second-most popular pilot – a comedy about app developers dubbed Betas – seemed promising. But you’d expect a cheeky comedy about cybersavvy millenials to resonate with people willing to rate untested videos online; does that really reflect whether a series is a good idea?

News about which series have been picked up or rejected has mostly come from the show’s creators; Rhett Reese, co-creator of a pilot based on the cult hit film Zombieland, made headlines last week tweeting that the series “will not be moving forward” and grousing about fans who "successfully hated it out of existence." Deadline Hollywood also reported the next most-criticized pilot, a musical set in a parody of the Huffington Post called Browsers, also wasn’t going forward.

But, since Amazon hasn’t said anything publicly about the results of the process, it’s tough to know if these shows got dropped because their pilots were terrible, fan reaction was negative, their production price tag was too high or some combination of the above.

Experienced critics will note that comedies are most likely to have crappy pilot episodes. The best humor comes from well-formed characters bouncing off each other, and that rarely emerged in a first episode. My roster of classic series which started badly includes Cheers, All in the Family and Seinfeld, all of which had a wobbly start but matured into TV’s best.

Amazon’s tight-lipped behavior is in keeping with the modern stance of rivals such as Netflix, which has avoided giving many viewership details on its buzzed-about first series House of Cards and declined to even give critics an advance look at its reboot of Arrested Development, bowing at 9 a.m. Sunday.

In a business where knowledge literally equals power and profit, the typical yardsticks of ratings and advertiser revenue are shielded from a prying media and public. But it also means we don’t know basic facts; like how many series Amazon might pick up, how long they might run, or how the service ultimately judges success or failure.

A few things are obvious after watching Amazon’s series. They aren’t spending the kind of money Netflix is to create super high-quality shows; these comedies are mostly built around casts of unknowns with a well-known character actor or two tossed in for good measure. They’re comedies, filling a niche a little less traveled by rivals such as YouTube, Netflix and Yahoo.

And too many of them seem to confuse pop culture-friendly premises and cursing for edgy content.

TV networks, for all their focus group testing and experience, have a supremely high failure rate. So giving consumers keys to part of the development process might not be bad.

But, as creators of groundbreaking shows such as The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy will tell you, success in their universe often boils down to a savvy TV executive following his or her gut to give the audience a series they didn't know they wanted until they saw it.

Can Amazon succeed by outsourcing its gut to users? And what will happen to the TV business if it does?

Full Story

WTSP-Ch. 10 morning anchor Ginger Gadsden to leave St. Petersburg's CBS affiliate June 30

Ginger Gadsden, morning anchor at St. Petersburg CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10, is leaving the station at the end of June.


Ginger Gadsden, morning anchor at St. Petersburg CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10, is leaving the station at the end of June.

Ginger Gadsden, morning and noon anchor at St. Petersburg CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10, will be leaving the station when her contract expires on June 30.

But at this time of layoffs and cutbacks in media, Gadsden, who has tired of working the morning shift, has no other job lined up. And she’s still committed to leaving.



“You know that feeling you get when you’ve made up your mind and you’re at peace with it?” said Gadsden, who came to work at WTSP in 2006. “That’s what I’m feeling. For me, it’s not sad, it’s exciting.”

After seven years of waking up at 2 a.m., Gadsden explained, she decided it was time to leave the morning shift. But WTSP, which placed former Miami anchor Charles Billi alongside longtime anchors Heather Van Nest and Reginald Roundtree in the station’s evening newscasts, declined to move her to a later schedule.

“I don’t think your body is made to wake up at 2 a.m., no matter how long you do it,” she said. “But (WTSP) has solid anchors in the evening; if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, I understand. I’m just grateful I got a chance to work with such great people.”

Gadsden has been the most consistent element of WTSP’s morning show, which has changed co-anchors and format during her tenure while struggling in the ratings against rivals. She came to WTSP after a stint anchoring USA Today Live from Virginia. 

WTSP news director Peter Roghaar said weekend morning anchor Allison Kropff would succeed Gadsden; the station is currently looking for someone to replace Kropff, who came to the station from WVLT-TV in Knoxville, Tenn., in 2011.

“Ginger’s a wonderful person and we’re sad to see her go,” Roghaar said. “We offered her an opportunity to remain as the morning anchor and she chose differently."

Full Story

As world mourns death of Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, my story on helping with his memoir

The cover for Ray Manzarek's 1998 memoir, Light My Fire: My Life with the Doors

Century books

The cover for Ray Manzarek's 1998 memoir, Light My Fire: My Life with the Doors

As the music world expresses sorrow over the death today of Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, I can’t help remembering a personal story about my brief time working with a member of one of the best classic rock bands in history.

The short version: I think I convinced Manzarek to write his best-selling 1998 autobiography, Light My Fire: My Life with the Doors.


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New Charlie Rose Weekend show likely won't derail airtime for WEDU-Ch. 3's Florida This Week

Anchor Charlie Rose to host new prime time show for PBS on Friday nights.


Anchor Charlie Rose to host new prime time show for PBS on Friday nights.

When I first saw that Charlie Rose would be hosting yet another television interview show, my reaction was likely a bit different than many other media critics nationwide.

Because PBS suggested stations nationwide air the program at 8:30 p.m. Fridays, which just happens to be the timeslot of Tampa PBS affiliate WEDU-Ch. 3’s local politics show Florida This Week.

But fear not, local politics fans; a spokeswoman for WEDU says the station likely will not adjust FTW’s timeslot to air Charlie Rose Weekend, a half-hour show pieced together with new interviews and material from Rose’s 20-year archive of talks, due to begin in July.Full Story

Mad Men recap: Drug-fueled antics in "The Crash" may leave some fans out in the cold

Don Draper stumbles trough a drug-fueled weekend on Sunday's Mad Men episode, "The Crash."

Mad Men fans can be a fickle, exacting bunch.

Two weeks after swooning over an episode featuring a merger of the Sterling Cooper ad firm with a competitor, some Mad Maniacs online were already fed up with the series, courtesy of Sunday’s surreal, drug-fueled episode, “The Crash.”
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As SNL says goodbye to Bill Hader, Fred Armisen and Jason Sudeikis I wonder: Why don't they get better finales?

Bill Hader, who played James Carville and many others on Saturday Night Live, appeared in his final episode Saturday.


Bill Hader, who played James Carville and many others on Saturday Night Live, appeared in his final episode Saturday.

No James Carville. No Barack Obama. No Joe Biden. No unctuous game show host leading a bizarro competition, like “What's My Name?” ($10 million to provide the name of your apartment building doorman.)

Still, Saturday Night Live’s presumed farewells to three of its most prominent players did manage to be touching in an odd way, offering backhanded goodbyes to guys who have been on the show since the Bush administration.Full Story