- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

Season finales on HBO

This round of “The Sopranos” started with Tony (James Gandolfini) getting gunned down by his trigger-happy uncle.

Just two weeks ago, one of his cronies got caned to death for being homosexual.

So who knows what’s in store for Sunday’s 12th and final episode of the season?

Previews aren’t available, of course, reports Associated Press. But it’s a safe bet that Tony’s physical and psychic recovery won’t be making any giant leaps in this last hour. He’s had a tough time since, in the first episode, his delusional Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) shot him while he was cooking dinner.

Others, too, took the season hard — notably Vito Spatafore (Joe Gannascoli), who, exposed among his fellow wiseguys as a homosexual guy, got whacked.

While remaining mostly tight-lipped about Sunday’s 9 p.m. season finale, HBO has surrendered a few vague details about the episode, titled “Kaisha.” According to the network, Tony (Mr. Gandolfini) gets Carmela’s (Edie Falco) career back on track; Chris (Michael Imperioli) picks up where Tony left off; AJ (Robert Iler) gets a work perk; and Phil (Frank Vincent) won’t let well enough alone.

Also on Sunday, “Big Love,” HBO’s breakout hit about a maverick polygamist set in present-day Utah, ends its first season (at 10 p.m.) with Bill (Bill Paxton) and Joey (Shawn Doyle) blindsiding Roman (Harry Dean Stanton) at a UEB Priesthood Council meeting. They manage to turn the tables on the Prophet — but will their triumph be short-lived?

Ill winds blowin’

As HBO dishes up season finales of “The Sopranos” and “Big Love,” the Weather Channel offers viewers a birds-eye view of real life dilemmas on Sunday at 9 p.m.

The cable channel is kicking off Hurricane Week with “Katrina: The Lost Episode,” a special hourlong edition of the series “It Could Happen Tomorrow.”

Originally produced in April 2005, “The Lost Episode” — projecting what could happen if a major hurricane hit New Orleans — was scheduled to be the premiere episode of “It Could Happen Tomorrow” earlier this year. But after Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August, the episode was shelved due to the sensitivities created by the tragedy, producers said.

TWC also will air two premiere episodes of the network’s award-winning series “Storm Stories,” hosted by Jim Cantore. “Covering Katrina” (Sunday at 8 p.m.) chronicles the amazing and at times heroic efforts of news crews from WWL-TV in New Orleans as they provided live, uninterrupted coverage of the hurricane, even as it decimated their hometown. And at 8:30 p.m. “Katrina Students” tells the story of America’s worst natural disaster as seen through the eyes of two high school seniors who had the “best year of their lives” turned upside down by the monstrous storm.

New Valdez search is on

Juan Valdez is retiring.

Colombia’s coffee ambassador to the world, Carlos Sanchez, is finally quitting after four decades of playing the role of Juan Valdez, AP reports. And the national federation of Colombian coffee producers is searching for a man to inherit his poncho — as well as his trusty mule, Conchita.

Mr. Sanchez has promoted Colombian coffee in television ads since 1969 with a leather bag, bushy mustache and straw hat typical of rural Colombia. He inherited the role from Jose Duval, a Cuban, who became the first Juan Valdez in 1959. The Juan Valdez trademark has become one of the most recognizable in the world. Juan Valdez even made it to Hollywood, sharing a scene with Jim Carrey in the film “Bruce Almighty.”

Colombians have been thankful to Valdez for presenting another side of their country, which often is seen abroad as a haven for drug traffickers and terrorists. “I feel like a flag. I feel like I’ve represented the country,” Mr. Sanchez, 71, said Tuesday at a news conference where he struggled to hold back tears. “There is a big sense of gratitude from Colombians abroad for this.”

Coffee is the national product of this South American nation and was crucial to the country’s early economic development. The bean also is used to make alcoholic drinks, candy and soft drinks.

The new Juan Valdez has a lot of selling to do: Colombia’s coffee industry has taken a beating during the global glut of the past decade. In 2005, coffee exports were about $1.4 billion, or $100 million less than those of a decade earlier.

In searching for a replacement, the federation sent teams across the streets, farms and — of course — cafes in the country’s western coffee region. With the help of U.S. consultants, it narrowed the field from 400 contenders to 10. The new Juan Valdez, the third incarnation, will be announced by June 30.

Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse from staff, Web and wire reports.

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