There's political savvy behind this TV movie. One of the executive producers is Gerald Rafshoon, communications director in Jimmy Carter's White House. Former Carter pollster Pat Caddell gets a "consultant" credit. But the pros apparently didn't mind the script's improbable premise: Michigan Gov. James Reynolds Pryce (Tom Selleck), certain to be nominated for President at the Democratic Convention, waits until his acceptance speech to reveal his choice of a running mate. Real-life protocol calls for the nomination and oration of the vice presidential candidate before the standard-bearer addresses the convention. Governor Pryce's approach might make for more suspense, but it doesn't help this drama's credibility.
The key issue here is campaign finance reform. Will Pryce pick an honest John McCain type (Bob Gunton) for veep or yield to a big-business cabal whose sinister leader (Stephen Lang) offers him $100 million (presumably in "soft money") to tap a corrupt Texan (Bruce McGill)? Pryce appears less concerned about the possible repercussions of his sexual history, including relationships with his campaign manager (Laura Linney), a Hollywood fund-raiser (Teri Hatcher
), a boozy senatorial wife (Faye Dunaway) and, lest we forget, his own spouse (Nancy Travis). He seems like a quietly effective leader in private meetings, but his big turn at the podium lacks the force to bring you to your feet.
Bottom Line: Not quite electable
Discovery Channel (Sun., Aug. 13, 10 p.m. ET)
Show of the week
This is the 13th year that Discovery Channel has marked Shark Week, indicating some folks are hungry for anything on marine predators. But you needn't be a Jaws fanatic to enjoy Giants: Sharks, the second of five new offerings during Shark Week Uncaged (Aug. 13-20). British naturalist Nigel Marven, who serves as the week's overall host, gets wet and wild during this exhilarating hour—hand-feeding reef sharks in the Caribbean, swimming with a gentle whale shark near Australia and getting a "prey's-eye view" of a great white off South Africa. Marven may be overly fond of phrases like "absolutely unbelievable," but his enthusiasm is infectious as well as boundless. Giants is preceded at 9 p.m. by Sharks 3-D, with a disappointing gimmick and humans who are comparatively dry.
Bottom Line: Take a bite
NBC (Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m. ET)
This lackluster animated series (premiering Aug. 8) centers on the relationship between a TV actor named James Blake (voiced by, and drawn to resemble, co-creator David Spade) and Sammy, the sponging, randy dad who invades his Hollywood life after a long absence. Sammy might be better in live-action form. I'm open to the idea of Just Shoot Me's Spade zinging a no-account parent on a weekly basis. But the cartoon is visually dull; in fact, James's description of Sammy's bulbous red nose is far more vivid than anything onscreen. And the show suffers from Spade's decision to double as the voice of the father. Deprived of individuality, Sammy simply sounds like Spade doing a weak impression of himself as an old rascal. Maybe the star couldn't allow another voice to get the best lines.
Bottom Line: Oh Dad, poor Dad
Showtime (Sun., Aug. 13, 8 p.m. ET)
"Who the [bleep] is Jonathan Neumann?" Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo (Paul Sorvino) roars as he scans the first of Neumann's newspaper articles about lawlessness and brutality in the city's police department. Like others in this TV movie, the late mayor is byline-conscious.
Based on a real-life scandal of the '70s, The Thin Blue Lie tells a disturbing story that gives historical context to recent allegations of police abuses around the country. (Witness last month's controversial videotape of Philadelphia police beating a suspect.) But as in Showtime's July movie about the Atlanta child murders, the messenger threatens to overshadow the message. Neumann, now an editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer (called the Examiner here), is portrayed by Rob Morrow as a hungry, hyperactive truth seeker whose surpassing integrity compensates for his abrasiveness. Though he's listed as a consultant in the credits, one hopes Neumann would be modest enough to feel some embarrassment at hearing his editor in the film (played by G.W. Bailey) describe him as "driven to right wrongs...maybe—just maybe—one of the last idealists we have in our profession." A drama needs a hero—and as a multiple Pulitzer Prize winner, Neumann fills the bill—but newsroom dialogue shouldn't sound like an award citation.
While Randy Quaid does what he can as Neumann's initially skeptical sidekick, Sorvino makes the strongest impression in the brief but showy role of Philly's profane potentate.
Bottom Line: Reporter's Head Even Bigger Than Story
>Sunday, Aug. 13 THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SPIN AND MARTY ABC (7 p.m. ET) A Disney TV movie gives a fresh spin to the '50s Mickey Mouse Club serial.
Monday, Aug. 14 LIVE BY REQUEST: WILLIE NELSON A&E (9 p.m. ET) The grizzled "redheaded stranger" sings his hits and welcomes surprise guests.
Tuesday, Aug. 15 BULL TNT (10 p.m. ET) Take stock of a new Wall Street drama in its initial public offering.
Wednesday, Aug. 16 BIOGRAPHY: JANIS JOPLIN A&E (8 p.m. ET) Learn how the rock legend lived hard and died young.
Thursday, Aug. 17 BECKER CBS (8:30 p.m. ET) Showing symptoms of midlife crisis in this repeat, the doc buys a motorcycle.
Friday, Aug. 18 LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT NBC (10 p.m. ET) She didn't get the GOP vice presidential nod, but New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman does have a cameo in this rerun.
Saturday, Aug. 19 THE PALLBEARER ABC (8 p.m. ET) David Schwimmer is more than friends with Gwyneth Paltrow
and Barbara Hershey in a 1996 comedy that recalls The Graduate.
TNT (Sun., Aug. 13, 8 p.m. ET)