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Summer Jewels
A hot TV season.


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Bravo’s Tabloid Wars, an engrossing new six-part series that looks at the old-fashioned, shoe-leather-intensive newsgathering efforts of the New York Daily News, is a welcome reminder that not all newspapers now are complacent enclaves that cater to isolated liberal elites. Of course, while the News may be traditional media it’s no longer really mainstream — not when its core audience of blue-collar subway riders seems increasingly exotic to the intellectual establishment.

The Daily News used to have a famous slogan, “Tell it to Sweeney — the Stuyvesants Will Understand,” that urged advertisers to reach the broadest possible market. Few remember it now, and it does seem rather antique in this new world of ever more fractionalized niche media.

Tabloid News, which premieres July 24, sometimes brings on the sad feeling of witnessing a vanishing breed. Police reporter Kerry Burke, for instance, seems almost archaic as he trudges around the city, getting doors slammed in his face as he tries to track down a possibly Howard Beach-like racial crime. Even in the prole-friendly News, gossip columnist Lloyd Grove’s hip assistant Hud Morgan seems like a far more typical tabloid newspaper employee.
My favorite scene in the series is when the callow Morgan — visibly bored as he’s taken off the party beat for a day and forced to cover a News-sponsored cancer-screening clinic — becomes, in spite of himself, engrossed in the stories of the people he meets there. Before your eyes, Morgan changes from the hack you love to hate to a real human being.

The FX Channel’s excellent 30 Days, which returns with new episodes July 26, is full of such moments. In fact, getting to know the people behind the stereotypes is the essential point of Morgan Spurlock’s documentary series, a sort of Wife Swap that deals with political issues instead of individual families.

The new season kicks off with an episode about a Minuteman living for a month with a hardworking illegal immigrant family in Los Angeles. Do they begin to understand each other? Yes, indeed, even if no one really changes. (Or at least, wants to admit it.)

“These are loveable, wonderful people,” Frank George, the Cuban-born anti-illegal immigration hardliner, said at the 30 Days press conference about the family he lived with in East L.A. for a month. Still, his views remain the same: “No amnesty, deport all illegal aliens — even the ones I love. But I extended an offer: If they all went back to Mexico, all seven of them, I’d be a sponsor [to help the family move to the U.S. legally.]”

As Frank spoke, the family’s college-bound daughter, Armida, made a face. “You know what? He’s not going to admit he changed, but he changed,” she said. And no, she has no plans to leave the U.S., where she’s lived since her parents brought her here as a baby. “Not to offend anyone, but if I do get thrown out of this country, I will, most likely, come back. I’m here — I’m undocumented; I’m in Mexico — I’m too white. So where do I belong?”

National Geographic Channel begins Dog Whisperer week June 30, with three new episodes of the breakout hit starring Cesar Millan, who’s lately become something of a media star. (NGC also hosts a live webcam chat with Millan July 28.) As a trainer, Millan often seems supernaturally gifted — he transforms a nasty, snapping lapdog in minutes, just by confidently flashing his fingers in the dog’s face. (The fingers, Millan explains, seem like an alpha dog’s flashing teeth).

But much of his advice to owners is just simple common sense. Millan’s trademark signoff is, “Until next time, stay calm and assertive,” qualities noticeably lacking in his human clients.

Although the show is sort of a Supernanny for dogs, and I suspect that Milan is also very effective with children, he makes it clear that child-training techniques don’t always translate to the canine world. Timeouts, he for some reason has to explain to a mother and daughter living with a dachshund they’ve allowed to take over their home, don’t work with dogs.

Neither do apologies and guilt. You don’t gain points with dogs, he explains, for saying that you love them so much and you’re so sorry you didn’t (yet again) take them for a walk. And I hope everyone who read the recent Malcolm Gladwell profile of Millan in The New Yorker takes to heart Millan’s advice there to lazy humans who assume that dogs with backyards don’t need walks. A yard, scolds Millan, doesn’t represent fun and freedom to a dog. A walk does.

But the dog owners Milan meets could certainly use more than dog-training advice, and he doesn’t hesitate to offer it. “Do you always stand like that – shoulders forward?” he asks one of the droopy women bossed around by her dachshund. “Stand up straight! Shoulders back!”

And after he’s amazed another woman (who lives alone) by changing her pug’s horrible behavior, he remarks optimistically, “Now you can handle a man.” I doubt that remark will go over well with the feminists. But I kind of like the idea of a Dog Whisperer spin-off, with Milan changing the behavior of hapless women in general, dog-owners or not.

Next month brings Gene Simmons Family Jewels, a new A&E reality show obviously intended to play off the success of MTV’s The Osbournes. But whereas Ozzy is the dissolute joke in the Osbourne family, the joke in Family Jewels (which premieres Aug. 7) is that the equally flamboyant rocker Simmons, out of KISS costume, is a traditional-values family man.

“Our responsibility is to protect our kids, supply the money and the structure and the love, and their job is to do well in school and behave, period. This notion of parents having to go negotiate with their children who just learned to wipe their butts is out of the question,” Simmons said at the Family Jewels press conference.

And no, he added, just in case you were wondering, he’s not a hypocrite. “I’ve never been high, drunk, never smoked in my life,” Simmons told reporters gathered at the Television Critics Association in Pasadena last week. True, he and Shannon Tweed, the former Playmate mother of his two polite and apparently well-adjusted teenagers, Nick and Sophie, have never actually married. But, he pointed out, they’ve been together more than two decades and have also never been divorced. That’s better than your average Hollywood track record.

For the record, said their 17-year-old son Nick, “he doesn’t cheat on her.” Added Shannon Tweed: “I’m not a stupid girl, nor am I a doormat. If all those rumors about groupies were true, “he’d be missing a limb.”

Simmons’ traditional-red state attitudes about family life shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with his general political beliefs: He supports the war in Iraq, and has little patience for artists who make apologies for radical Islam or hold themselves above the tastes of average Americans. That goes for his own music too.

“The one that sells the most is my favorite,” he said, when asked about his own work. “Because I believe in ‘of the people, for the people, by the people.’ If the people like something more than they do something else, that’s my favorite. Whatever you guys want.”

Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy’s World. She is an NRO contributor.



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