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Dalton Ross on ''Xena,'' ''Big Brother,'' and the best spin-offs

Dalton Ross on ”Xena,” ”Big Brother,” and the best spin-offs. The EW senior editor gives his take on the global evolution of reality TV. Plus: an update on the Australian Barry Manilow wars

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Lucy Lawless: Everett Collection

Dalton Ross on ”Xena,” ”Big Brother,” and the best spin-offs

I love America. I love pretty much everything about it. I love football (as opposed to fútbol). I love the fact that you can drive a car as big as a tank down a quiet residential street blaring ”I’m Too Sexy” out of a stack of Marshall speakers affixed to the roof, and I love the fact that we have T-shirts with awesome slogans like ”These Colors Don’t Run.” But it has become increasingly obvious to me over the past few years that our country is clearly lagging behind the rest of the world in one crucial category: crazy-ass reality-TV contestants. Now don’t get me wrong: We have our share of loons. We all remember wacky Jonathan Baker from the Amazing Race shoving his wife. Toni of Love Boat/Paradise Hotel/Kill Reality/any-other-program-that-will-let-her-show-up fame had this neat trick where she pressed a secret button that allowed her eyes to pop three feet outside her face (not unlike a cartoon character after eating a jalapeño pepper). And I have been told that some of the people that show up on VH1’s Flavor of Love are borderline certifiable.

Of course, the gold standard for televised depravity here in the U.S. for the 21st century has been Big Brother. Back in season 2, a chivalrous young man with dental problems from Bayonne, N.J., named Justin decided it would be simply hilarious to get drunk and hold a knife up to a female housemate’s neck. Actually, the scariest part about the whole episode was that the woman (Krista) didn’t seem fazed in the least by the whole thing. And then there was Scott of Big Brother 4, who started tossing furniture and tearing up the house when his former girlfriend, Amanda, flirted with another guy, who, in a U.S. Big Brother first, she then slept with as cameras rolled. All around, pretty classy stuff.

But compare that to what has happened in England. Last summer I talked with Ricky Gervais, who was simultaneously fascinated and depressed over the fact that the U.K.’s Big Brother had just shown a woman getting off — with a bottle. Of course, that was nothing compared to another British reality show called The Farm, where B-list celebs worked on a farm, and, according to Gervais, one of them ”masturbated a pig” (I’m not sure who to feel sorriest for — the celebrity, the swine, or Gervais for watching the whole thing go down.) And for English celebrities who don’t feel like getting jiggy with Babe, there is Celebrity Detox, in which the has-beens have enemas for viewers’ enjoyment. Because, as everyone knows, enemas = entertainment.

All this stuff, while disgusting, is relatively harmless, but there is a darker side as well. According to Yahoo! News, two men were booted off Australia’s Big Brother recently when one held a female housemate down and the other rubbed his, um, ”manhood,” on her face. Much like Krista in the States, the female victim in Australia evidently was very upset… over the fact that the men were forced out of the game. Even more disturbingly, the host of the show, Gretel Kileen, described the men as ”fantastic housemates, bringing joy not only to their fellow housemates, but to Australia as a whole.” (All of a sudden, the Chenbot doesn’t seem quite so bad, does she?)

What the hell is going on? I have a theory. We know that the U.S. came a bit late to the reality-TV game. Other countries have a head start on us, so they are further along in the evolution process than we are. Which means that, by my calculations, people in American reality shows should be maiming each other on TV by the year 2017. Or at least committing random acts of bestiality. Of course, such an evolution has been considerably slowed by the cancellation of such shows as Paradise Hotel and Married by America, but if what is happening elsewhere in the world is any indication, it still is only a matter of time. God bless America. And Heaven help us.



A few weeks ago, I wrote about an Australian plan to drive away hooligans from public areas by blasting Barry Manilow songs over loudspeakers. You may have noticed I am a little obsessed with the whole development. Well, the good news is, according to Rockdale, Australia, Deputy Mayor Bill Saravinovski, ”It seems to be working. Barry’s our secret weapon” — a weapon, it turns out, that has also been turned on residents of the neighborhood. Here’s a shocking fact: It seems neighbors who live there also don’t want to hear ”Copacabana” blasting from 9 p.m. to midnight every weekend night. Who’da thunk it? As a result, district council members have agreed to turn the volume down, with Saravinovski even acknowledging that ”I can’t swallow some of the tracks, like ‘Mandy.”’

So, as far as I can tell, here’s where Barry Manilow currently stands in Australia: The hooligans don’t like him. The law-abiding residents don’t like him. Even elected officials are publicly criticizing him. Now, I’ve never been a big Manilow fan (although I loved his work as Tony Starr in the 1985 Copacabana TV movie), but I’m not gonna sit back and let an entire country (a country in which reality-TV contestants rub their private parts all over one another, I might add) sit back and dis one of our own. If anyone is going to dis Barry Manilow, it’s me, damn it! So, back off, Australia! Don’t make us bust out the Men at Work catalog, because, trust me, there is serious damage we could do with ”Dr. Heckyll & Mr. Jive.”



Last week Heather Delity wrote in asking for my list of superior spin-off shows. I invited all of you to submit your nominees, and let me just say — there are a lot of Angel fans out there. Like a scary amount. I liked Angel, but it didn’t quite make my List of The Top 5 Spin-Off Shows of All-Time:

1) The Simpsons (from The Tracey Ullman Show) Originally appeared as animated shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show. Went on to become the best show ever (at least for the first 8 seasons).

2) The Jeffersons (from All in the Family) There are certain shows you loved as a kid and then go back and watch them later and realize how crappy there are (I call this ”Welcome Back, Kotter disease”). The Jeffersons is not one of those shows. Sherman Helmsley is a genius, and watching him belittle silly white people is a joy to behold.

3) Star Trek: The Next Generation (from Star Trek) I suppose this is a borderline call as some may see this as more of an update than a spin-off, but one of the perks of having your own column — okay, the only perk — is that you can make any damn decision you please. I actually never really got into the original Trek (okay, hate mail battle between Trekkies and Angel fans — go!), but loved everything about The Next Generation. Well, everything not Whoopi or Wesley related.

4) Xena: Warrior Princess (from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys) I’m not a lesbian (at least last time I checked), but I did make it a point to hang out in a New York City lesbian bar that sponsored a weekly Xena night. In fact, they may have finally canceled this show just so I’d stop showing up.

5) Lou Grant (from Mary Tyler Moore) Man, Ed Asner is hairy. Like sasquatch hairy.

Honorable Mention: Frasier (from Cheers) A solidly written sitcom with plenty of good laughs. Probably should be on the List, but I just never made the connection with this show that I did with Cheers. Maybe because it didn’t revolve around drinking.



As previously mentioned, a lot of mail this week on the spin-offs question, as well as my list of the Top 5 Simpsons Episodes Ever. Let’s get this party started — and we all know how off-the-hook reader-mail parties can get — with Cassie.

While The Simpsons and Frasier may be two of the best spin-offs, I’m a little partial to The Golden Palace, the spin-off of The Golden Girls. I don’t know, maybe it’s just the fact that Don Cheadle is acting opposite three geriatrics who should have never sold their house and bought a hotel. Oh yeah, Cheech Marin’s in it too. —Cassie Belek

Sorry, Cassie, but I only checked into The Golden Palace once, and it was one time too many.

Hey, Glutton. Here’s my sarcastic favorite spinoff list:
1. Models, Inc. (Melrose Place) — Come on! They LEFT us with a friggin’ cliffhanger about a sniper at a wedding!
2. Joey (Friends) — He actually needed likable friends to keep this spin-off afloat.
3. The Golden Palace (Golden Girls) — A spin-off without Dorothy?! BLASPHEMY! And I thought Empty Nest was bad enough for blatantly stealing Estelle Getty! — Brett Colbo

What is it with you people and The Golden Palace?!? The ghost of Rue McClanahan smiles upon you…. What? She’s still alive? Well, then I suppose you’ll have to go to a mirror and smile at yourself.

What was your take on this year’s Emmy nominations. Do you feel they are as hideous as I do? So much great talent overlooked for the usual dreck. —Craig Phillips

Craig, I was (unsurprisingly) very disappointed in the Emmy nominations. The most egregious snubs: James Callis as Dr. Baltar on Battlestar Galactica (the best performance on TV’s best drama), Forest Whitaker as Jon Kavanaugh on The Shield (what an addition to the cast he was — you couldn’t take your eyes off of him), and Edie Falco on The Sopranos (lackluster season for the show, but she was marvelous as always). And how does Lost (as well as Battlestar and The Shield for that matter) not get nominated for best drama? Among the actual nominees were a host of head-scratchers, like Alfre Woodard and her one facial expression on Desperate Housewives. Whatever. It’s the Emmys — I stopped taking them seriously a long time ago.

See, the problem with your lame white-boy rap is that you did not begin with something along the lines of ”My name is Dalton and I’m here to say…”. This is how lame white people apparently believe rap goes, if the last 10 years of TV-watching are any indication. Also, you would finish by folding your arms across your chest, like Run DMC did in 1986. Otherwise, great column, but the ”Marge vs. the Monorail” episode is the best Simpsons episode ever, because Batman is a scientist. —Tim Heaney

”Monorail” is a classic, just for Homer’s reaction while reading the funnies (”Oh, Andy Capp, you wife-beating drunk…”). As for my lame white-boy rap, I evidently need to work on my skills…excuse me, skillz. But I’ll be sure to include more dated terminology like ”funky-fresh” and ”milky” — which a friend of mine from school once tried to convince me was primed to become the next great American slang word. Apparently, to him, milky meant, basically, the same thing as, well, funky-fresh.

Have some suggestions on how I can launch a rap career? Send them, along with any other questions, quibbles, or comments to theglutton@ew.com. Or just fill in the handy-dandy form below. It’s just that easy, people.