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Hopelessly hooked on ''Big Brother''

See the DVDs that go unwatched while Dalton waits for Julie Chen. Plus: obsessing over co-worker Josh Wolk’s book ”Cabin Pressure,” the five best pre-”Sopranos” series finales, and your mail

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Julie Chen, Big Brother
John P. Filo

Hopelessly hooked on ”Big Brother”

Oh, no. Here we go again. Summer means many things — long days, short sleeves, and the return of the Chenbot. That last one would signify Julie Chen, host of CBS’ Big Brother, now on the verge of entering its eighth season. Past readers may be well aware of my love/hate relationship with the show. I love it and hate myself for loving it. There is so much about the show that is so bad — the cheesy contestants, shameless product placement, lame-ass food competitions, horrible exit interviews, nonsensical twists…OK, you get the picture. Yet I can’t help but watch three hours a week, and then spend another three hours emailing back and forth about it to equally obsessed coworkers. Now, wasting this much time is pathetic enough, but I never truly realized what a sorry state I was in until I glanced up at my overflowing shelf of DVDs that have sat there (often for years) unwatched. If I could skip just one summer of houseguests stuffing slime into their bathing suits, I could finally put a dent into the stack of DVDs mocking me from across the room. Here’s just a few of the hundreds — yes, hundreds — of titles playing second fiddle to the Houseguests:

Rodney Dangerfield: No Respect

True, this collection of network and cable TV specials features guests like Jeff Foxworthy and Andrew Dice Clay, but there’s also Andy Kaufman, Bill Murray, and Jerry Seinfeld. And let’s not forget about the star of the show. I thought Rodney was the funniest human alive when I first saw Caddyshack. Hell, I even thought he was funny when he yelled at his wife to hang up on me a few years back. So why does this three-disc set remain in its shrink wrap? I blame Big Brother.

Team America: World Police

Puppets having sex?!? How can I not be watching this?

Epitafios

This Spanish-language HBO series is supposed to be as excellent as it is gruesome. But why spend all the effort reading subtitles when there are wannabe actresses with breast implants putting oversized keys around their necks?

From the Earth to the Moon

Another HBO series, but from before I had cable. I’m a sucker for pretty much anything that takes place in outer space, and stuff on HBO is pretty reliable as long as Robert Wuhl is not starring in it. I probably could have traveled from the Earth to the moon myself in all the time I’ve wasted on Big Brother over the past seven years.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Season 1

I’ve made it through most of these episodes (including the one with a struggling young actor named Aaron Spelling) but never polished it off. Hitchcock would probably have me killed if he knew he was taking a back seat to people named Boogie and Bunky.

Crime Story

Great 1980s cop-meets-Mob drama starring Dennis Farina. Watched Season 1. Never made it to Season 2. I suppose there’s only so much Farina one man can take at a time.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith: Unrated

I actually saw the ”rated” Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and although I’m quite aware that this version will not feature Miss Jolie rolling around with her gozongas hanging out, one can’t help hoping that there might be a little more Angelina to take in, and a little Angelina goes a long way.

The Docurama Awards Collection

Now, this is just embarrassing. This box set of 12 Academy Award-winning or nominated documentaries has remained unopened for over two years now. The thing is, I love a good documentary, and all of these (including Murder on a Sunday Morning, Scared Straight!, The Weather Underground) are supposedly top notch. It just seems like there is always something else I need to watch instead. Like houseguests competing to win a private screening for a not-so-subtly product-placed motion picture, for example.

Evel Knievel

Why is Evel Knievel sporting such a bitchin’ tan? Because George Hamilton is the one playing the legendary stunt cyclist in this 1971 film told mostly through flashbacks. I too enjoy flashing back to before the year 2000, when my summers were my own.

Viva Knievel!

There are a few things that Viva Knievel! has going for it over Evel Knievel. For one thing, it stars the actual Evel Knievel. For another, it features an all-star cast including Red Buttons, Leslie Nielsen (as someone who is trying to kill Evel and use his truck to smuggle cocaine back into America — I don’t get it either), Lauren Hutton, and even Gene Kelly, who is in full-on slumming mode as a mechanic who may or may not be mentally retarded. (I’m not saying this to be funny. I seriously can’t tell.) I caught most of this genius piece of filmmaking on cable — including the part where Evel somehow heals a crippled boy — but missed the very beginning. In fact I could probably scan that part during one of Big Brother‘s boring-as-hell food challenges if I could just tear myself away.

It would be nice if I could commit to Big Brother abstinence and plow through these and the hundreds of other titles (Man on Fire, Patton, Ali G Indahouse, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, etc….) that have been gathering dust, but I’m a realistic man. If I can just get through the two Knievel movies and catch some kinky puppet intercourse while still sitting through my summer obsession, then everyone’s a winner.

OBSESSION OF THE WEEK

I hated summer camp, I mean hated it. Back when I was 11, my parents shipped me off against my wishes for eight weeks to North Carolina while they tried to save their marriage. It turned out we were all miserable. I was homesick as hell, split my thumb open with a Swiss Army Knife, and my best friend was a tape recorder that played ”Eye of the Tiger” over and over again. To make matters even worse, my parents split up soon after, so the two-month jail sentence was basically for naught. Now, as if my camp memories aren’t painful enough on their own, I also can’t help lumping them in alongside ones of my family splintering apart. It’s a bad place and I don’t go there often. So I was a bit hesitant to jump into Cabin Pressure, a book authored by EW coworker Josh Wolk, about his return to his boyhood camp as an adult counselor. We all know Josh is a brilliant writer (as evidenced by his Real World and Amazing Race recaps right here on EW.com), but still…camp? The only subject matter than could scare me off more is if he wrote about his enduring love of hospitals. The problem is, Josh sits in the office right next to me. He had already given me a copy of his book so he knew I had it. Every day I showed up for work and didn’t comment on it, was a personal dis and dismissal. Things would become way too awkward if I didn’t offer some kind of feedback. I really had no choice. Bastard! But here’s the thing: I finally sat down with it over my vacation last week, and it’s terrific. The humiliation, the dread, the overwhelming feeling of insecurity — it’s all there! For some odd reason, Josh seemed to revel in it, however, while I hid under a blankey and cried over the fact that I wasn’t tough like Clubber Lang. In any event, for anyone who went through a camp experience — either good, bad, or ugly — I heartily recommend you pick it up. To give you a little taste of the man behind the mission, I decided to pepper the author with a few probing questions. Although I suppose I could have just yelled them from my office to his, I decided to be even lazier and more impersonal and email them instead.

GLUTTON: When I first met you, your face was as smooth as a baby’s ass, yet for the past few years you’ve busted out a hairy beard. Why the decision to go all Brawny Paper Towel Guy on us

JOSH: I started growing the beard at camp. There is no incentive to keep yourself remotely presentable or hygienic when you’re at a boys’ camp, and you start letting yourself go fast. By the end, people around me were just lucky I pulled my pants down to go to the bathroom. But I got used to the full hairy, and when I re-entered society I thought it made me look distinguished. Upon returning to work, I added a tweed jacket and a giant Sherlock Holmes pipe, but was beaten up at the first EW meeting. My coworkers let me keep the beard only because it was harder to tear off — EW writers typically have little upper-arm strength. Don’t think I haven’t seen you struggle to lift your mail, Ross.

In your book, you write about taking part in a bonding exercise called ”Toilet Tag” in which you (upon being touched) have to assume the position of a toilet and wait for someone to come sit on your lap and flush you. Please tell me you’re not going to introduce this at the next EW retreat.

No, but I am waiting for my chance to pair everyone off for Trust Falls. But here’s the twist: While you’re all learning to support each other, I’ll split off to ransack all of your offices and take your choice DVDs. Trust that, suckas!

On the back of the book, I see raves from other notable authors as well as David Hyde Pierce. I don’t exactly how to say this but…what the hell?!?

Clearly you have not seen Wet Hot American Summer. Starring in that alone makes him a foremost authority on camp. And the guy just won a Tony. All I ever won was a pro-marksman riflery badge.

Sounds like you had a great time at camp that summer, which in turn led to lucrative book and movie deals. However, as a result, you also missed an entire summer of Paradise Hotel. Still think you made the right decision?

Actually, what bothered me more was missing Big Brother 4. Having seen every show before and after, I know with great sadness that I will never be the full BB authority that I have always dreamed of. Actually, what was surreal is that when I first arrived back at my old camp that summer, I was completely disoriented because the place looked exactly the same from what I remembered, but none of the old familiar faces were there. And at the end of the summer, when I finally felt comfortable at camp again, I got home and turned on the TV: there was the Big Brother house, looking so familiar with its tiny pool and crappy IKEA furniture…but none of the old familiar faces. The only thing I had to ground me was Julie Chen. Thank God she wasn’t at my camp, too.

NEXT PAGE: The Five Best (Pre-Sopranos) Series Finales and Reader Mail

THE FIVE

I’ve made my feelings clear in this column and in the magazine about The Sopranos finale. I loved it and I’ll try to stop talking about how much I loved it. But it does provide fodder for this week’s Five: The Five Best (Pre-Sopranos) Series Finales.

1. Newhart

Unlike the Bobby Ewing it-was-all-a-dream shower scene on Dallas, having Bob Newhart wake up in bed with his previous sitcom spouse Suzanne Pleshette was pure comedic genius.

2. Cheers

It looked like it would be predictable as hell with Sam and Diane finally running off and getting married, but then Sam turned around and headed back home, taking time out to honor the departed Coach before turning off the lights. Just plain swell.

3. The Fugitive

Not only did Dr. Richard Kimble finally confront the One-Armed Man, but their fateful duel took place in an abandoned amusement park, setting the stage for countless knock-off scenes for years to come.

4. M*A*S*H

I was kinda young when this happened and couldn’t figure it all out, but I knew it was poignant, especially when B.J. laid out that farewell message in stones to Hawkeye.

5. The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Sappy? Sure. But sometimes you just have to put your inner cynic on lockdown — this is especially difficult for yours truly — and simply reach for the Kleenex.

READER MAIL

Apparently, folks at the Sci Fi Channel were none too thrilled with my implication last week that the network, not the executive producers, were the ones truly responsible for ending Battlestar Galactica after one more season, but the fact remains that if the space drama had better ratings, they would have found a way to keep it on the air. Of course, the ”cancellation” (or whatever you want to call it) of the show continues to raise questions. When should solid shows call it quits? How accurate is the ratings system? Questions you all raised in this week’s Reader Mail, along with thoughts on my list of the Top Five New Jersey Celebrities and excitement over the return of Paradise Hotel.

I’m one of those people that didn’t start watching Battlestar Galactica until this past fall; my nerdy husband and I caught up on the miniseries and seasons 1 and 2 before we could even begin watching season 3 (we in fact had to catch a December marathon of the first half of the season). Normally, we would have Netflixed the DVDs, but we actually had to borrow them, because the wait on Netflix was so incredibly long. Other people that I know who also watch Battlestar Galactica are the [kind of] people most likely to use ”alternative” methods in order to watch the show, and to actually buy the DVDs. It seems like people are watching the show that just aren’t being reflected in the numbers. — Bridget

You’re right, Bridget. The ratings system does not truly reflect how many people are actually watching Battlestar. Many are catching up with (or waiting for) the DVDs, watching on their computer, or viewing it much later on a DVR. Executive producers of other geeked-out shows like Lost and Heroes have similar complaints. However, until the system can be tweaked somehow to truly reflect a total audience, then advertisers are going to continue to be wary of spending their money on what they view as a niche show. If Battlestar was a cheap show to produce, maybe this would not be as big of a problem, but like Farscape before it, the show is expensive, and the numbers most likely just aren’t adding up.

I’m sure that one of the biggest reasons Battlestar is ending is due to lower-than-desirable ratings. I agree with you that the series draws in many viewers who wouldn’t otherwise watch the Sci Fi channel. I’m one of them. That said, serial dramas rarely manage to stay good when they last more than three or four seasons. Many of the story arcs get stretched out and annoying and the characters become almost unrecognizable. Only a few serial dramas that I can think of managed to stay good all the way to the end. We can hope that this will be the case for BSG. Better the show end well than stay on the air for another three or four seasons and end poorly. — Kelly West

That’s a solid point, Kelly. Most dramas do lose steam around season 3 or 4. But they can also rebound. Season 5 and the second half of season 6 of The Sopranos were among its strongest, and the last two seasons of The Shield have been nothing short of spectacular. The Wire has also proved to be a consistently excellent program, so with the talent on Battlestar, I would hope the show could have a few more seasons in it. Now it appears we’ll never know.

While I have to admit being a bit disappointed that neither Queen Latifah nor Whitney Houston made your Jersey Five, you definitely nailed it with Joe Piscopo. I recently saw him sitting in his Hummer outside a hotel in Times Square…and the license plate? JRZBORN, of course. —Sean McMahill

Piscopo is obviously not the most famous person to come from Jersey, but he has to be the most Jersey famous person, if you get what I’m saying.

You dared to put Tara Reid on your Five over Kevin Smith? Let’s consider: phenomenally gifted actor/director/writer/producer vs. drunken actress. In roles, he’s got her beat: Silent Bob vs. Whiny Co-ed. Now, yes, she has her own E! True Hollywood Story, but he’s got Sucks Less With Kevin Smith, where he actually taught a class on cinematography at UCLA! She was on The Tyra Banks Show, but he was on the much classier The Daily Show! Plus he was on an episode of Space Ghost Coast to Coast! You can’t beat that! Watch your mail for the shipment of nuts I’m sending. —Cindy Lee Romback

Okay, Kevin Smith was an oversight on my part. The dude bleeds Jersey swamp water. On second thought, that kind of makes him sound like a zombie or something, so scratch that. The point is, he probably should have been on there. All you Smith fans will be happy to know that I watched the pilot episode of Reaper that he directed for the CW and it is awesome. Jersey pride, baby!

Oh, Paradise Hotel. I loved that show. My friend and I were all set to go as Charla and one of the other girls for Halloween, but then I chickened out of cutting my bangs to achieve the patented Charla up-do. I will totally watch another round of this show, though I really hope they ditch the blatant manipulation and constant rule-changing, so clearly designed to keep certain characters (DAVE) on. —Joslyn Hansen

Joslyn, I hereby decree that the Glutton now be designated the Unofficial Paradise Hotel Party Zone! Any and all Paradise Hotel musings and tributes are welcome, free from judgments and mockery. United we stand in our love of manipulated reality television — united for-evvvvvvvvvvaaaaaaaa!!!

Have your own DVDs that have been sitting around unwatched while you subject yourself to mindless television? Have a camp horror story to share? And what’s your favorite TV series finale? Send your questions, comments, and quibbles to theglutton@ew.com, or just fill out the handy-dandy form below. I’ll be away next week and back on July 11 with more musings. See ya then!

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