The long, contentious ratings war between NBC's Today
and ABC's Good Morning America
has occasionally gotten so hot you could pour batter over the TV and make flapjacks. For viewers, the fight boils down to Today
's Katie Couric vs. GMA
's Diane Sawyer. To that end, the public debate would be greatly benefited by an astute critical parsing of the two women. Which is why I'm now going to rate them using scoring paddles stolen from Bruno Tonioli, the excitable Italian judge on Dancing with the Stars
1. On-air persona: Katie, you are bright and sharp, and your eyes have the eager shine of a little animal in the woods. But sometimes I fear you are like peanut brittle: very sweet, but you might break. And when you interview Tony Blair, dear, sit up straight as a general! I give you a 7.
Diane, your voice is wonderful—cool but also warm and dry. It is like an antibacterial gel to the ear. And I adore your eyes: They are so deep, so wise with experience, so commanding. You remind me of a head psychiatric nurse wearing beautiful glowing pastels. I like! 8.
2. Exclusive "gets": Katie, I looked forward to your special with the Runaway Bride, but that girl is a riddle inside an enigma inside Tupperware! I still don't get it. But you tried! 7.
Diane, you followed Brad Pitt
to Africa, but he was as revealing as Katie's Bride. All I could think about was your hotel accommodations. 6.
3. Chemistry with male colleague: Katie, you and Matt Lauer are good, yes, but sometimes you look like two people on a blind date, waiting forever for your table at the restaurant. Tango, kids! 7.
Diane, my darling, you have no chemistry with Charlie Gibson—but, really, who expects it? You are like old neighbors in the Hamptons, and a gong rings and it's martini time on the terrace. 6.
Score: Katie, 21. Diane, 20. Katie wins!
MTV (Tuesdays, 10:30 p.m. ET)
In PBS's hit series Colonial House
, the pretend settlers had to live like it was 1628, complete with manual labor, no electricity and chamber pots. Living 1970s-style doesn't come close on the roughin' it scale, but for the dozen college-age kids who unwittingly land on MTV's own era-switch series, cell phones and e-mail are as crucial to survival as food or water. "My iPod is like my sanity," says one, after all modern gadgets are carted away. "My cell phone is literally like my child," moans another. The whole gang is soon in head-to-toe polyester, learning to work an 8-track and getting the low-down on '70s lingo from the show's hostess, Dawn, played to great, oversexed effect by Natasha Leggero. If the kids don't live authentically to the era, they risk being eliminated, as one guy learns after discussing plans to be Botoxed. (Last one standing wins a 2005 Beetle, among other prizes.) Chock-full of challenges, the show could use more downtime and less Dawn time. Best moments: all 12 dancing an impromptu Hustle and trying to appreciate gooey fondue. As one guy puts it: "This is a fun-don't. The show however, is a fun-do.
Bravo (Thursdays, 10 p.m. ET)
"Its a new day," Bobby Brown tells his wife, Whitney Houston, on vacation in the Bahamas. "We got to think about nothing from the past." Actually the couple's volatile history together is all I could think about while wading into this edgy, eight-part cinema-verité portrait. In 2003 Brown, an R&B singer of fading renown, was arrested for allegedly hitting Houston, the Grammy-winning pop diva. The charge was eventually dropped with her support. Houston, meanwhile, has had two stints in drug rehab, the most recent this spring. Being Bobby Brown, shot during a six-month period last year, glosses over the couple's troubles while portraying them as teasing and affectionate with each other. In the first two episodes, though, there's an underlying tension, hints of wounds unhealed. Mindful of his bad-boy image, Bobby seems anxious to recast himself as a lovable rogue—horsing around with his kids (he has four, three from previous relationships), flirting with his masseuse and blustering about his maturity. At 38, "I'm growing up, man," he says. That's debatable. Whitney has to rein him in with blunt reprimands (she threatens to punch him over that masseuse). She also displays some unflatteringly diva-ish behavior, shooing away a fan who dares to interrupt her meal. For all the unwanted attention, she and Brown are drawn to the camera like a pair of preening lions. They are never more on—and more spontaneously themselves—than when slow-dancing in the middle of a hotel lobby before a gaggle of tourists. To watch them revel in their tarnished celebrity is oddly uplifting.
Macy's Fireworks Spectacular
(NBC, July 4, 9 p.m. ET) Mariah Carey
performs live from New York in honor of the nation's 229th birthday.
Dancing with the Stars
(ABC, July 6, 9 p.m. ET) It's down to two couples as the surprise summer hit winds up for the season with a dramatic dance-off.
Mind of Mencia
(Comedy Central, July 6, 10:30 p.m. ET) Comedian Carlos Mencia parodies current events and pop culture in this new variety-comedy series.
Big Brother 6
(CBS, July 7, 8 p.m. ET) In the sixth go-round of the reality show, contestants hole up in a brand-new house with a bigger pool and built-in outdoor Jacuzzi.
(USA Network, July 8, 10 p.m. ET) Obsessive-compulsive sleuth Adrian Monk (Emmy-winner Tony Shalhoub) continues to bond with his new assistant (Traylor Howard) in the fourth-season premiere.
THE 4400'S BILLY CAMPBELL
AGE: Turned 46 on July 7
HOMETOWN: Charlottesville, Va.
LATEST GIG: After a sci-fi stint, sailing around the world
•E.T.—The Extra-Tricky: He's still best known as a family man on ABC's Once and Again
, but his boyish good looks make him ideal for morally deceptive characters. Fresh from a role on The O.C.
—as a magazine editor who put the moves on married Kirsten—he's now casting his 6'4" shadow on The 4400
. In the new season of the sci-fi hit about UFO abduction, he plays a billionaire trying to help the returned abductees readjust. Or is he up to some shadier game? "I'm not sure if this is a good guy or not. He sure smells like a bad guy."
•U Believe in UFOs? "The jury is out. I sure hope we're not the only intelligent life in the universe, because it doesn't say much for the universe if we are."
•Voyager: With his shooting already done for this season, the never-married actor is off for a yearlong working vacation on a 179-ft., three-masted boat, The Picton Castle. The trip, which cost $36,000, takes him from Nova Scotia around the world. "Nobody comes along just for the ride," says Campbell, who has spent the past four summers on a square-rigger in Norway. "You've got to run up the rigging, put up the sails and take 'em down, scrub toilets, paint chipped rust, cook, scrub the deck." Says 4400
costar Jacqueline McKenzie: "I've got to hand it to him, he's a braver man than most."
•And the Mother Ship?: "I'm not worried about Hollywood," says Campbell, who plans to return to shoot 4400
in '06. "I don't feel like I'm unplugging from something. I feel like I'm plugging in."
- Tom Gliatto,
- Jennifer Wulff,
- Mike Lipton.
Smiles wide, they duel at sunrise. Who's best?