- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 29, 2006

‘Cracker’ returns

Scottish actor Robbie Coltrane has had roles in dozens of notable films, including “Harry Potter,” “Ocean’s 12” and “Golden Eye.”

But on this side of the Atlantic, he’s probably known best for his starring role in television’s “Cracker.” The series ran from 1993 to 1995 (a 100-minute special also aired in 1996) and returns tonight with the U.S. premiere of a feature-length episode airing at 9 on cable’s BBC America (a director’s cut of the episode will be available starting at midnight on BBC America through Comcast’s On Demand).

“Cracker: A New Terror” puts the sarcastic criminal psychologist Dr. Edward “Fitz” Fitzgerald (Mr. Coltrane) in the post-September 11 world. Fitz and his long-suffering wife Judith (Barbara Flynn) return to Manchester from Australia, where they’ve been living for the past 10 years. The homecoming, of course, presents a new challenge: An American comic is murdered in a comedy club after delivering a routine filled with political barbs, and the police ask Fitz to help catch the killer.

Tonight’s two-hour episode also features Anthony Flanagan as an ex-soldier who’s resentful that his friends’ deaths in Northern Ireland aren’t seen as important with the war on terror making headlines. Richard Coyle (“The Libertine”) and Lisa Eichhorn (“The Talented Mr. Ripley”) also appear in the episode.

Vintage ‘Sesame’

It’s hard to believe “Sesame Street” is 37 years old.

And now viewers who remember the classic PBS show from the beginning can relive their childhoods with the DVD release of “Sesame Street: Old School Volume 1: 1969-1974.”

The first five seasons of the children’s show features the introduction of classic characters who remain beloved to this day. Sadly, though, the set doesn’t include every installment from these years. But the three discs do contain more than seven hours of content, including Big Bird meeting Snuffleupagus, Oscar the Grouch singing “I Love Trash,” Ernie singing “Rubber Duckie” and Kermit singing “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”

The best part of this release is the celebrity appearances, and many big names have visited Sesame Street over the years. This volume has Bill Cosby reciting his ABCs and James Earl Jones counting to 10, while Johnny Cash sings a song with Oscar and Lena Horne sings with Grover.

The box set also includes a booklet filled with facts and photos from each season and an eight-page activity pullout that parents can share with their children.

Comedy night on NBC

NBC is bringing back its trademark two-hour comedy block on Thursday nights with the enduring “Scrubs” and new series “30 Rock” joining “My Name Is Earl” and “The Office,” Reuters news agency reports.

The move comes as another new network comedy, “Twenty Good Years” (starring John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor), was yanked from the schedule due to low ratings in its first two weeks.

“30 Rock” will move to Thursdays on Nov. 16, when the network will air 40-minute episodes of “Earl,” “The Office” and “30 Rock.” The network’s lone Thursday night drama, “ER,” will air in its usual 10 p.m. slot.

Beginning Nov. 30, the four comedies will fall into their new regular slots. “Earl” and “The Office” remain at 8 and 8:30 p.m. respectively, followed by “Scrubs” at 9 p.m. and “30 Rock” at 9:30 p.m. “Scrubs,” in fact, is returning to Thursdays, where it aired behind “Friends” during the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons.

There are no immediate plans to return “Twenty Good Years” to the schedule. The comedy is in production on its 13-episode order and could return in midseason, Reuters reports.

For nearly 20 years, NBC’s “Must See TV” comedy lineup dominated Thursday night viewing with such blockbusters as “Friends,” “Seinfeld” and “Cheers.” But the formidable block began to show signs of vulnerability in the late 1990s, when the network repeatedly failed to air a new hit comedy behind “Friends” and “Seinfeld.” In 2001, CBS challenged NBC’s Thursday night dominance by scheduling two of its biggest hits, “Survivor” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”

“30 Rock,” created by and starring former “Saturday Night Live” head writer Tina Fey, takes place behind the scenes of a late-night sketch comedy show. Critics have responded well to the series, but so far, viewers haven’t been tuning in.

Short takes

• A new talk show may be on the horizon for “Kill Bill” co-star Vivica A. Fox, who was recently voted off this season’s “Dancing With the Stars.” According to Essence magazine, the glamorous fortysomething actress is said to be pitching a daytime chatfest to Hollywood honchos.

• Production will begin in Los Angeles next month on six episodes of the second season of Bravo’s original series “Work Out,” thefutoncritic.com reports. The show will again follow Jackie Warner, owner of Sky Sport and Spa — an upscale fitness facility in tony Beverly Hills — as she juggles her business and personal life. More than 1 million viewers tuned in to watch the first season finale as Miss Warner expanded her business, staged a fashion show featuring her new line of trendy sportswear and made an emotional decision about the future of her relationship with her fiery girlfriend, Mimi.

• Clay Aiken is about to enter a world of back-stabbing, scandal and diva fits — and no, it’s not backstage at “American Idol.”

The 2003 “Idol” runner-up is taping an appearance on NBC’s “Days of our Lives,” Associated Press reports. Mr. Aiken, 27, will perform two songs — one from his new album “A Thousand Different Ways,” and “O Holy Night” from his 2004 CD “Merry Christmas with Love.” During the show, scheduled to air Dec. 22, he’ll take the stage for a private concert for Steve (played by Stephen Nichols) and Kayla (Mary Beth Evans) at the club Dune in the fictional town of Salem.

Compiled by Kelly Jane Torrance and Robyn-Denise Yourse from staff and wire reports.

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