- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Life’s ‘Sacred Balance’

PBS takes a “big picture” look at life on Earth this weekend with a new series promising to shed new light on Earth’s existence.

“Sacred Balance,” created by Canadian science broadcaster David Suzuki, presents an inclusive picture of nature in which humanity is interwoven with all of the planet’s life processes.

The series, in development for nearly five years, was filmed over two years and shot on five continents.

Sunday’s episode, the first of a four-part series, looks at such disparate topics as salmon runs and the music made by the rhythm of a healthy heart. Mr. Suzuki also checks in with Canadian space shuttle astronaut Julie Payette for her unique view on the world.

Miss Payette tells her interviewer of viewing the Earth from above: “You’re awed first by the splendor, by the beauty of the planet. And then you look down, and you realize that this one planet is the only thing we have.”

The first installment of “Sacred Balance” airs at 7 p.m. on WETA-TV (Channel 26).

‘Sex’s‘ Big is back

“Sex and the City’s” enigmatic Mr. Big (Chris Noth) returns this weekend on a new episode — titled “The Domino Effect” — of the naughty HBO hit.

Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) learns yet another lesson about love when Big pays her a visit, this time seeming kinder and gentler than ever before. Meanwhile, Charlotte’s (Kristin Davis) plans for reproductive nirvana rest on the work of a famous acupuncturist, and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) bumps into old flame Steve while hanging with her new amour, Robert (Blair Underwood).

“Sex and the City’s” most notorious cast member, wild child Samantha (Kim Cattrall), finds her new lover’s idea of intimacy unsettling.

Miranda’s new relationship has drawn praise from critics who claimed that, for a show set in New York City, precious few minority characters have made regular appearances. Mr. Underwood, who is black, is best-known for his work on television’s “L.A. Law” but also appeared in last year’s “Full Frontal” and the recent “Malibu’s Most Wanted.”

“Sex and the City” wraps the first half of its final season Sept. 14. The show’s final eight episodes begin airing in January.

“The Domino Effect” episode airs at 9 p.m. Sunday, with repeats to follow at 11 p.m. Tuesday and 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Look who’s talking

Los Angeles Daily News TV talk shows are a tough racket. Newcomers must maintain a brave and happy face amid critical barbs, low ratings and high expectations from local stations.

The failures litter the TV landscape like carcasses on a cattle drive (Roseanne Barr, Magic Johnson), but the talkers keep coming.

Tom Green this summer began a late-night talk show on MTV, as did Orlando Jones on FX. Ellen DeGeneres, Sharon Osbourne and the duo of Ali Wentworth and Jack Ford join the fray this fall. Longtime NBC news anchor Jane Pauley will jump in a year from now, and even pop divas Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez want a piece of the talk-show action.

“Everybody keeps doing talk shows because they work. The audience really likes them. These hosts become part of these people’s lives. [Viewers] develop a personal, emotional bond with them — much the same as they do with local news anchors,” said Jim Paratore, president of TelePictures Productions.

There’s been a lot of talk about who might be the next Oprah. The truth is Miss Winfrey herself will continue to be the one and only Oprah through 2008, the latest terminus of her oft-extended contract with her distributor, King World Productions.

The issue isn’t so much about replicating the Winfrey show’s formula, which has changed considerably in 17 seasons from a Phil Donahue-style three-way topical discussion to an hour often built around personal reflection and self-empowerment. It’s about aiming for her heights in terms of audience loyalty (an average 7.2 million viewers daily), advertiser demand and station satisfaction.

“There’s a whole generation of women that has grown up with Oprah, whose show has evolved to meet their changing needs over time,” said Mr. Paratore, whose company gave us “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” and now both Miss DeGeneres’ and Miss Osbourne’s chat fests. “That’s what you strive for — a host who can take the audience along with them on this ride of their lives. That’s what makes the great ones great and the others not.”

While King World basks in the successes of Miss Winfrey and her spun-off pop psychologist, “Dr. Phil” McGraw, it will add another title to its talk roster with “Living It Up! With Ali & Jack.”

Viewers and critics are sure to compare the newcomer to “Live With Regis and Kelly,” which has fared well in the ratings throughout Mr. Philbin’s 19 years of talking and is managing to attract younger viewers since Kelly Ripa replaced Kathie Lee Gifford, according to Buena Vista Television.

A handful of shows that debuted last fall are returning, primarily because they broke the old molds. “The John Walsh Show” thrives on its host’s anti-crime crusader image and his empathy with victims and survivors, while “Dr. Phil” dishes the host’s no-nonsense advice to individuals willing to bare all before millions of viewers.

Talking with the hosts and their packagers, the same terms come up again and again: “new,” “different,” “entertaining,” “informative.”

That seems to be a step in the right direction; away from the dysfunction, disease and psychosis that have characterized the Jenny Jones and Jerry Springer shows. The fights and shouting matches that used to be part of the daytime talk formula have all but disappeared. Even Sharon Osbourne has promised to watch her language on her new program.

Just as Miss O’Donnell did with her show, Miss DeGeneres, Miss Osbourne and the rest will be trying to recover a big share of that upscale audience for their respective stations.

Bob Gustafson, director of the Entertainment Industry Institute at California State University at Northridge, said talk shows will always have tremendous appeal for celebrity watchers as well as stay-at-home parents and others who may use them as background entertainment while doing housework or caring for children.

“They’ve had their flops — who hasn’t?” he said of the talk business. “That genre has so much life in it that I don’t blame anyone for trying, trying, trying.”

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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