Dalton Ross' tales from the TV upfronts. Plus: EW's senior editor lists his top 5 blaxploitation movies and, by popular demand, spills more details on the live ''Survivor'' finale

By Dalton Ross
Updated September 16, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Brad Garrett: Robin Platzer/

Dalton Ross’ tales from the TV upfronts

Last week, the circus came to town — the circus being the weeklong cheesefest known as the network upfronts. These are the annual springtime affairs where the broadcast television networks stick a bunch of advertisers (and press) in a room and try to convince them how bitchin’ their new fall lineups will be. It’s the first chance to get a sneak peek at the new programs. It’s also pure lunacy.

I actually skipped NBC’s Monday presentation this year because (1) I had a bunch of other work to attend to, and (2) it was NBC. I did watch a few of the pilots, however, and was none too impressed. ABC’s was on Tuesday, but apparently ABC doesn’t deem me cool enough, because I didn’t get a ticket. That meant I made my 2006 upfronts debut Wednesday at CBS’ Carnegie Hall gala. The start of the show illustrated just what head-scratchers these events can be; instead of trotting out one of its stars, or anything even remotely related to anything on the network, CBS had the cast of the Broadway musical Jersey Boys come out to perform. Jersey Boys! Even as a registered Jersey Boy (I moved to Montclair a few years ago), I couldn’t make heads or tails of what the hell this was about. The whole thing was made worse by the fact that every time the lead singer hit one of Frankie Valli’s high notes, he squished his face up real tight, as if he were about to go to the bathroom on the middle of the stage. (Which, come to think of it, would have been the most entertaining thing about the whole affair.)

CBS presented four new shows, and they all looked pretty brutal. There was an awful comedy called The Class. There was James Woods as a lawyer who doesn’t play by the rules, teaching a bunch of neophytes to…well, not play by the rules, in Shark. There was Ray Liotta as a thief looking for just a few more big-time scores in Smith (think Heist…and Thief…and Hustle). And then there was Skeet Ulrich in Jericho, which raises two questions: Why would anyone want to rip off Push, Nevada? And what the hell happened to Skeet Ulrich?

I even added to the embarrassment of the proceedings. At one point, CBS presented a montage about its website and other digital platforms, even going so far as to show a clip from Survivor: Live, a show I make a feeble attempt at co-hosting along with Jenna Morasca. ”Oh, that’s cool,” I thought to myself. Until I noticed the people around me were all giggling. Turns out I was sitting there wearing the exact same shirt I had on in the clip — which I suppose is what happens when you only own about three dress shirts. Busted. On a more positive note, Mariah Carey performed, although I have no idea what she sang, because I’ve never listened to Mariah Carey before in my life. At least not knowingly.

The next day brought two (count ’em — two!) upfronts. In the morning, The CW (formerly The WB and UPN) presented its first-ever lineup… but not before another nonsensical musical concert. Proving it’s ever-so-hip and in touch with the always important youth demo, The CW trotted out the Black Eyed Peas to sing songs that any teen I know stopped listening to about 11 months ago. Their gig was not aided by the fact that Fergie (who was dressed in a track suit with the word ”FERGIE” printed in huge letters down one leg, lest anyone forget her name) gave perhaps one of the worst lip-syncing performances of all time. Seriously, it was actually impressive in its awfulness.

After that debacle, the network presented its new schedule. People actually cheered when execs announced the return of Veronica Mars, and I had the honor of sitting next to the only heckler in the room, as EW’s own Kristen Baldwin insisted at one point on yelling out, ”Where’s Everwood?” (For more on the perpetually smack-talking Baldwin, see this week’s Reader Mail.) Since it already had two networks to pull from, The CW introduced only two new shows: The Game, which is a football-related spin-off of Girlfriends, and Runaway, which is just like The Fugitive, only with Dr. Richard Kimble replaced by a New Kid on the Block (in this case, Donnie Wahlberg).

But the worst was clearly saved for last: Fox. First off, Fox had its presentation in the Armory on Lexington Avenue. Nice joint. Too bad it was about 312 degrees. The long week and ridiculous temperature left the crowd in a foul mood — a mood that didn’t improve thanks to an opening Seth MacFarlane song-and-dance number. Things then just went from bad to worse. Brad Garrett came out to promote his new show, ‘Til Death, asked if Ryan Seacrest was gay, and then claimed to have ”f—ed him anyway.” Ooooooooooookay. At least Garrett got a laugh. That’s more than can be said for Spike Feresten. He’s the network’s new face of late-night television, with a new Saturday-night talk show on the way. Since no one knew who the hell he was, the folks at Fox figured they’d let him do a little stand-up. Big mistake. Feresten bombed. I mean, you would have heard crickets in there…if they hadn’t already shriveled up and died from heat exhaustion. Things got so bad that when the American Idol judges took the stage in a painful bit, Simon broke from the script and announced, ”This has to be the most bored-looking audience I have ever seen in my life.” Which is why he got the biggest applause of the day.



In the EW coming out on Friday, you’ll see that I reviewed a little movie for ABC Family called Karate Dog. I knew it would suck. I knew it would be a waste of two hours of my life. But I also know that the day I pass up reviewing movies titled Karate Dog is the day I should quit this biz altogether. Plus, I’m already kind of an expert on the supercanine genre, having also reviewed the one and only Cybermutt, starring Judd Nelson, so there’s no turning back. I’m not gonna lie to you: This movie is horrible, and Chevy Chase (as the voice of Cho-Cho the Karate Dog) gives perhaps one of the worst vocal performances in the history of kung-fu-practicing, talking-dog cinema. But I can’t help but be obsessed that this film got made. Basically, it involved some guy saying, ”Hey, I have this awesome idea for a film about a dog that not only talks, but performs karate and uses his awesome kung fu skills to avenge the murder of his master.” And then another guy saying, ”I don’t like it… I LOVE IT!!! How much money do you need?” And then people like Jon Voight, Chevy Chase, Jaime Pressly, Simon Rex, and the late Pat Morita saying, ”Hell, count me in!” And then a cable channel agreeing to air it after it sat on a shelf somewhere for two years. Speaking of Voight, in what has to be a career low, he actually has to fight — and, of course, lose — to the Karate Dog in the climactic battle. I encourage all of you to watch this debacle when it airs on Monday night, and I welcome your comments — and perhaps death threats — after sitting through it. I could teach a whole college course on this freakin’ film.



It’s time to stick a little funk in the trunk, with the Top 5 Blaxploitation Films of All Time:

1) Dolemite 2: The Human Tornado (1976)
Speaking of kung fu, this has some of the craziest fight sequences ever, including the random use of instant replay. And a special shout-out to the classic cutaway shot: Smack-dab in the middle of a sex scene, we suddenly see star Rudy Ray Moore eating ribs. Surreal.

2) Willie Dynamite (1973)
First of all, let’s just talk about the fact that this features Sesame Street‘s Gordon…as a pimp! And not just any old pimp, but a pimp in a purple Cadillac with leopard-skin upholstery who belts out lines like ”The bitches I run are selected to win!”

3) Shaft (1971)
Although Shaft in Africa is so bizarre it almost demands consideration.

4) Truck Turner (1974)
The fact that Isaac Hayes is playing a bounty hunter hired to track down some pimp named Gator is pretty fantastic in itself. But that’s just where things get started. Next thing you know, a whole bunch of other pimps (including Yaphet Kotto as Harvard Blue) seek revenge on Truck.

5) Superfly (1972)
Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack alone puts this in the top 5.



Before we get to the mailbag, I just want to thank everyone for their amazing e-mails. I don’t have time to answer them all — after all, I’m much too busy doing important things like watching Karate Dog — but rest assured they are all read and appreciated. Now, on to this week’s Reader Mail, starting with a few comments about last week’s Survivor finale piece.

Dalton, you can’t make a statement that Aras was wearing pink underwear and not tell the story of how you know this! Also, I was hoping to get the full behind the scenes story about the Survivor finale, but it seems like you’ve just given us a few bullet points. I want to know if Aras is as boring and vapid in person as he seemed during the results show and the season. Were Probst and the producers disappointed that the two most undeserving and heinous people were left as the final two? Were there any hook-ups during the show? Did Shane’s ”problem” down there ever clear up? We need answers!!! — Donn McKnight

Well, Donn, you weren’t the only one who expressed disappointment over my abbreviated notes from the Survivor finale. Which is somewhat surprising — I figured you all were sick to death of me writing about that show by now. To answer your first question: At the after-party, Aras was behind me lifting up his shirt to show off his scar. Upon doing so, he exposed the top of his underwear. When I inquired, ”Dude, are you wearing pink underwear?” he replied, ”Yeah! Totally!” And proceeded to drop his pants a few inches to show me even more of it. Honestly, it was the most excited I saw him all night. As for whether the producers were disappointed with the final two — you betcha! As one producer told me, ”Why do you think we did that cliff-hanger episode that kept Cirie around for a little longer?”

Dalton, who do you think was the most deserving Survivor Final 2? The Final 2s are always either one strong, one weak, or two weak people. What Final 2 featured two strong players? — Michael McKoy

Great question, Mike. Even some of the best Survivor seasons (like the Amazon and Pearl Islands) have featured weak final twos. Guatemala was a pretty lame season, but it’s hard to argue that Danni and Stephenie didn’t deserve to be there. As for the strongest final two, I think you’d have to say Tina and Colby. No one played that season better than they did. I know Probst considers Tina the most underrated Survivor ever.

It was nice to read that ”It makes me feel awkward and uncomfortable reading the words chin pubes,” in your assessment of your fellow EW writer’s assessment of American Idol‘s Elliott Yamin. It made me feel awkward and uncomfortable, too. Why do people think it’s okay to share such skeevy imagery? It is them, right? It’s not that we have weak stomachs or something, is it? — E. B. Berman

To answer your first question, I went straight to the source: EW’s Kristen Baldwin, who made last week’s remark in question. Her response follows: ”Well, if he didn’t have chin pubes Elliott would probably still be on the show.” Kristen Baldwin, ladies and gentlemen!

Dalton, haven’t you noticed all of the celebrities ALSO naming their daughters Violet? You are influencing the trendsetters, and that’s got to feel pretty darn good. — Miranda Duncan

Yes, I am such a trendsetter. Next thing you know celebrities are also gonna start drinking Milwaukee’s Best, collecting Vanilla Ice paraphernalia, and driving around in a Ford Focus. Or not. First off, I can’t take any credit for coming up with the name Violet — that was all my wife’s doing. But it is kinda annoying that my poor daughter will now have to go through life carrying around her birth certificate to prove that her parents weren’t lame celebrity-bandwagon-hopping lunatics. Freakin’ Affleck.

I don’t have a Top 5 Killer-Robot Movies of All Time list, but I have a best performance by a robot: Sofia Coppola in Godfather III. — Roe Luv

First off, Roe Luv, congrats on being the first Glutton repeat offender, since this is your second letter to make the Reader Mail section. Secondly, I couldn’t agree more. If only she had killed someone, she could have made The List.

I was wondering which TV shows would make your list of Criminally Axed Too Early (see, this is why I’m not in journalism, I think of crappy list titles). Anyway, I think we’d agree on Freaks & Geeks and I’m sure you’d throw Arrested Development on the list. I just hope and pray you wouldn’t fail me by omitting Firefly. What do you think? — Dawn Meling

Oh, Dawn, hate to go all Survivor and pull a lame ”To Be Continued…” on you, but that sounds like next week’s List to me. Check back then for your answer.

Until then: Questions, comments, and quibbles are always welcome. Just e-mail them to, or fill out the form below.