Friday TV: More Late Night Farewells

a - CraigFerguson_0It’s another big night of late night transition. Following the final episode of “The Colbert Report,” with its cast of 100 or so singalong celebrities Thursday, tonight is also the last night of “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” (CBS, 12:37 a.m.).

The Scottish import acquitted himself well in a redeye-slot where he could spin out his own personal yarns and top-of-the-head monologues as well actually converse with guests rather than have them recite planned topics or plug current projects. He had his own extreme quirks, including a long running co-host who was a skeleton puppet and he’s skipping on, taking a lead from the lead-in, while he has time to tackle many other things. Ferguson’s last guest is someone who knows a little bit about leaving late night: Jay Leno. Fergie’s replacement in March will be another member of the UK not well known stateside, the comic actor James Corben, whose new bandleader will be Reggie Watts, who happens to be part of the season finale of “Comedy Bang! Bang!” (IFC, 11 p.m.) with Scott Aukerman.

Ferguson’s departure is part of a whole cloth Worldwide Pants change in 2015 marked by next spring’s final “The Late Show with David Letterman” (CBS, 11:35 p.m.) in May. Tonight, though, is the final time for one of TV’s great holiday traditions. It means Jay Thomas (who is scarcely seen on TV otherwise) will tell his tale about the Lone Ranger, he and the host will throw a football at the meatball atop the Christmas tree, and especially, Darlene Love will belt out “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” with Paul Shafer and the band, a gooseflesh-raising event that should probably be topped by “Auld Lang Syne” for the occasion.

What a swell night for TV (for a Friday, too): It’s the surprise broadcast return of my favorite animated holiday special, one that predated Charlie Brown’s by two years, “Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol” (The CW, 8 p.m.), which for all the many variations of the Dickens story, may be the best. It certainly has the best score with songs by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill that are just now starting to get wider recognition — a concert of the songs was just staged this week in New York. There is more reason to cheer tonight’s return: Unlike NBC’s 50th anniversary showing which chopped eight minutes off the original hour (essentially the whole Broadway framing device and more), this one has plenty of time to show the whole thing within 90 minutes and still have time for a half hour of ads. It’s all because DreamWorks owns the right to the classic now — and will be following it with its own “Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special” (The CW, 9:30 p.m.).

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Colbert’s Big Final Singalong

The way to show clout on late night, it is clear, is not just to have a sitting President of the United States at your desk, which Stephen Colbert did last week, but to have a long line of stars show up and bear witness. It happened when Jimmy Fallon kicked off his “Tonight Show” gig in February and Colbert, on his way to take over for David Letterman next year, did it Thursday in his final edition of “The Colbert Report.”

In an episode that was in many ways with keeping with nine years of his shows (except for a battle with the Grim Reaper), the musical theater buff closed by taking microphone and singing “We’ll Meet Again” the old wartime song, with a hundred or more of his closest friends from a huge array of fields, a testimony to the ground he covered, the friends he made and the clout he takes with him from cable to broadcast:

These are some who we identified:

  • Jon Stewart
  • Randy Newman (on piano)
  • Willie Nelson
  • Bryan Cranston
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • Tom Brokaw
  • Mandy Patinkin
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson
  • Sam Waterson
  • Jeff Daniels
  • Cyndi Lauper
  • Keith Olbermann
  • Andrew Sullivan
  • Katie Couric
  • Ken Burns
  • Ric Ocasek Read More »
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‘Survivor’ Twinnie on Winning

Natalie-SurvivorAs in control as she seemed going into the two hour finale of “Survivor: San Juan del Sur,” Natalie Anderson was never sure she’d go on to actually win the $1 million prize.

After all, her sister was the first to be voted out, and as twinnies on two different seasons on “The Amazing Race,” they had annoyed vast audiences and flubbed a number of challenges as they bickered like sisters.

But twinnie turned to winning Thursday with the big prize for the 28-year-old Crossfit coach and physical therapy student from Edgewater, NJ.

In an interview from a car in L.A. the day after the win, Anderson said she wasn’t going to split the $1 million with her twin sister Nadiya, though she’ll certainly get something. “I don’t’ know how much I’m going to give her,” she says, “but she’s got a check coming her way.”

Things were touch and go on the finale, when Keith won the first immunity challenge, and then, perhaps to show how much power she did have, Anderson played her hidden immunity idol on behalf of Jaclyn, who others were voting for, only after she got a verbal assurance that Jaclyn voted out the person they had privately discussed – Baylor — for Anderson’s third straight blindside.

But that left Anderson open in the next tribal, when, with Jaclyn winning her first immunity, she could have easily been a target instead of Keith. After all, Anderson had just engineered the blindside of Jaclyn’s boyfriend Jon.

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Thursday TV: Deal With It, Nation

Colbert“The Colbert Report” (Comedy Central, 10:30 p.m.) comes to an end, at the peak of its considerable power: Snappy and consistently funny political commentary, delivered in the guise of a singular (and familiar) pundit blowhard, who will upstage any guest for applause (including the President earlier this month). We will find out who the actual Stephen Colbert is next year, when he takes over the desk of David Letterman’s “Late Show.” Tonight, it’s a farewell to the character he’s been playing for nine years, also named Stephen Colbert. Not that he’s leaving subtly: His final guest is Grimmy, his name for the Grim Reaper.

Another needless awards show makes its debut with “The People Magazine Awards” (NBC, 9 p.m.). live from the Beverly Hilton Hotel, in which we imagine celebrities like Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm and Michael Keaton are given free subscriptions. Two bands with the number five in their names perform: Maroon 5 and 5 Seconds of Summer as well as Gwen Stefani and Pharrell Williams. Nick Cannon hosts.

Pharrell Williams and Maroon 5 are also part of “The iHeartRadio Jingle Ball 2014″ (The CW, 8 p.m. from  New York’s Madison Square Garden last Friday with Taylor Swift. It also features Ariana Grande, Iggy Azelea, Charli XCX, Rita Ora, Sam Smith and Meghan Trainor.

You may not know it but Laverne Cox of “Orange is the New Black” is a fashion expert; enough of one anyway to be a guest judge on “Project Runway All Stars” (Lifetime, 9 p.m.), where the task is to make clothes for members. “Project Runway: Threads” (Lifetime, 10 p.m.), the competition for kids, ends its first season.

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Review: ‘Famous Puppet Death Scenes’

famouspuppetdeathscenes“Please endeavor to care as much as possible,” the program for the Old Trout Puppet Workshop’s “Famous Puppet Death Scenes” at D.C.’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre implores.

And so we shall.

The quirky Canadian troupe have set up their stately wooden puppet theater at the Woolly Mammoth stage, which had misleadingly advertised the stint with a poster showing a man with goggly Muppet-sized eyes with an axe in his head.

Old Trout is not only more subtle in its (literal) executions, its visual approach is much more old world, with carefully mottled characters that are a cross between antique puppets and folk art crabapple dolls.

Working in the deliciously macabre tradition that recalls everything from Edward Gorey (who has a volume on sale in the lobby) to the Monty Python animations by Terry Gilliam, the witty troupe trot out a couple dozen sardonic blackout scenes that largely end badly for its characters.

The most recurring figure in “Famous Puppet Death Scenes” is the grim, bald-headed star from something called “The Feverish Heart” by Nordo Frot. As he tries to sing opera, he is squashed by a giant fist of Fate. Repeatedly.

It’s Punch and Judy by way of an Alberta clipper.

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Wednesday TV: Bublé and Babs in Special

BubleNothing new about having a Michael Bublé Christmas special. What may be notable about his fourth one, “Michael Bublé’s Christmas in New York” (NBC, 8 p.m.), is that it also has Barbra Stresand, as well as Ariana Grande, Miss Piggy and the Radio city Music Hall Rockettes.

There’s still a lot of “Survivor” (CBS, 8 p.m.) with five people still in the mix as the two hour finale starts. A winner won’t be named until shortly after 10 p.m., however, when we’re already into the reunion show. A prediction lies below.

Opposite that will be another two hour reality competition finale “Hell’s Kitchen” (Fox, 8 p.m.) with just four contestants left, vying for the chance to run a Gordon Ramsay restaurant in Atlantic City.

The closest thing to a Bob Hope Christmas Special is “WWE Tribute to the Troops” (USA, 8 p.m.) and mostly because of the troops. The event at Fort Benning, Ga., hosted by Hulk Hogan and John Cena also features Florida Georgia Line and singers from “The Voice.”

Speaking of “The Voice,” that show hadn’t brought us any big recording star yet, but the old seasonal series “The Sing-Off” (NBC, 9 p.m.) has brought the No. 1 Christmas album, Pentatonix. They aren’t part of the one shot, two-hour special for “The Sing-Off” (NBC, 9 p.m.) though which includes Jewel and Shawn Stockman as judges, along side a new one: Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy.

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Natalie Our Pick for ‘Survivor’ Win

Natalie_612x380It was in many ways the most frustrating season of “Survivor” in memory. Those capable of shrewd game play, from Jeremy to Josh, were unfortunately the first to sit on the jury. John Rocker was gone way before that.

Jon and Jaclyn were treated like royalty for some reason through most of the season even though their free agency coupling had them low on loyalty. It was especially annoying since he seemed to not even think particularly deeply about strategy. He was the guy who lost the flint on one of the first days of his camp, and didn’t take into account that sending Jeremy to exile island would only prove that the hidden immunity idol had already been found – by him.

Jon would have been voted out a few weeks back if Natalie hadn’t told him at the last minute to play his first hidden immunity idol. (He claims it was Jaclyn who had told him to play it).

It was all part of Natalie’s plan to string him along so she could better blindside him, which she finally did quite masterfully last week.

That means Natalie’s scheming makes her the odds on favorite to win “Survivor San Juan del Sur” tonight.

Which wouldn’t have been predictable early in the season since, as one of the “twinnies” on two different seasons of “The Amazing Race” she and her sister Nadiya , constantly bickering, seemed the worst suited competitors.

Their losing streak seemed to stretch to this CBS franchise too, with Nadiya first to be voted off “Survivor.” But playing solo has been good for Natalie, even in a “Blood vs. Water” season minefield of couples who stuck together no matter what.

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Tuesday TV: ‘Elf’ as an Animated Musical

BuddyThe No. 1 Christmas film at my house has somehow become “Elf.” Even so, a new animated special based on the movie and especially its Broadway musical adaptation, “Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas” (NBC, 8 p.m.) may not please them. After all, every single voice has changed except for Ed Asner as Santa.

What was Will Farrell’s most exuberant role is now played as a tall goofball with a slight Southern lilt with a voice that may well be familiar: Jim Parsons of TV’s most popular comedy “The Big Bang Theory.” Mark Hamill is unrecognizable as the humbug businessman dad Walter Hobbs; and Kate Micucci of Garfunkel and Oates must be fulfilling some personal dream by becoming a character in a stop action special. Also pitching in are personalities from Fred Armisen and Gilbert Gottfried to Jay Leno and Matt Lauer in cameos (the latter as Mr. Sea Serpent).

While the movie’s story has been streamlined, the songs by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin are pretty forgettable. There’s a nice retro feel to the production, though, mostly through the revival of stop-action.

A winner is named on “The Voice” (NBC, 9 p.m.), at the end of a two hour extravaganza in which the finalists will all get to sing with a musical hero: Damien with Jennifer Hudson, Craig Wayne Boyd with Lynyrd Skynyrd and Chris Jamison with Jessie J. Also: Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars with Mark Ronson, Hozier and Fall Out Boy.

A winner is also named on the second season finale of “MasterChef Junior” (Fox, 8 p.m.) after the top two — Logan Guleff, 11, of Memphis and Samuel Stromberg, 12, of Greenbrae, Calif., make a three-course dinner.

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Uploading the Whole Museum

digititalizationWith a ceremonial click with a foot pedal, the last of the 40,000 items of 2-D art being uploaded for free public use was digitally photographed last week.

Starting Jan. 1 the whole of the Smithsonian’s repository of Asian art, the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery will be available for noncommercial use online in high resolution and without copyright restrictions.

They are the first Smithsonian and only Asian art museums to so release their collections virtually.

Museum officials who organized a media presentation of the completion of the backlog photography last week said they assumed it would be scholars and Asian art aficionados who will mostly use the resource.

But they were also throwing out ideas for the intricate and often colorful patterns they’d been shooting: laptop backgrounds, digital wallpaper and actual wallpaper, posters, T shirts and lots and lots of phone cases.

The kinds of things, in other words, that would never have been imagined by the artist behind this ceremonial final object, a 44 x 31 cm illustration from 1600 Iran.

“It’s part of the democratization of knowledge,” Julian Raby, the Dame Jillian Sackler Director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art, said at the event.

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Monday TV: Environmental Concerns Amid Extreme Christmas Lighting Displays

saving-my-tomorrow-speech-1024Television strives to save the environment tonight by addressing children, and by addressing adults who like movie stars. “Saving My Tomorrow” (HBO, 7 p.m.) is the kids’ program, showing various grade schooler leading protests and making speeches — some more articulate than others, who just say pollution is bad.

There is also a jaunty theme song from They Might be Giants and a tune by Stephen Merritt called “A Million Trillion Bugs.” Tina Fey and Liam Neeson do readings. And the special kicks off a four part series on HBO next year.

For grownups, Matt Damon narrates the latest in public television’s “Journey to Planet Earth” (PBS, 10 p.m., check local listings) by focusing on extreme weather aspects of climate change.

But will both be blown out by the electrical grid excess of the season’s second two-hour edition of “The Great Christmas Light Fight” (ABC, 8 p.m.)? Tonight’s second , they travel  from Owensboro, Ky.; to Newark, Vallejo and Fresno, Calif;  San Antonio and Dallas, Texas; Columbus, Ga.;  and Jacksonville, Fla..

A finale comes for “The Voice” (NBC, 8 p.m.) as the final four sing their final performances for votes. Four men are left in the contest — two of them from Adam Levine’s team — Matt McAndrew, 23, of New Jersey and Chris Jamison, 20, of Pittsburgh. Craig Wayne Boyd, 35, of Nashville, started on Blake Shelton’s team, was saved by Gwen Stefani, then stolen back by Shelton. The wild card entry in the finals is the single-named Damien, 35, of Monroe, La. Performers in the the finals week include Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson, Ed Sheeran, Jessie J, Fall Out Boy, Jennifer Hudson, Lynyrd Skynyurd and Hozier.

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