One of cable's deadliest traditions is the interview with a faded old star, conducted by a starchy James Lipton type. The only drama in such shows is waiting to see if either interviewee or host lapses into a coma.
Alec Baldwin's interview with Gene Wilder in Role Model (Tuesday, 7 p.m., TCM) is altogether different. This isn't a stiff hour of hero worship, but a lively conversation full of anecdotes and insight. Baldwin is masterful in the interviewer's role (someone please sign this man up for his own talk show immediately), and Wilder responds with candor and eloquence.
He admits to being "a very mixed-up fellow" as a young man. Years of therapy straightened him out, and years of training in the Actors Studio and Broadway productions prepared him for a career in movies. Wilder tells memorable stories about making The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Willy Wonka and Young Frankenstein, the latter featuring his own script. It's startling to hear this gentle man admit that he worked up Dr. Frankenstein's maniacal frenzy by tapping into "rage at my first wife."
Remind me never to marry Gene Wilder.
Friday, 8 pm (NBC)
At last year's Miss Teen USA, Miss South Carolina babbled incoherently in her Q&A and became an instant airhead celebrity. She appeared on talk shows, news shows and awards shows as America paid tribute to her formidable stupidity. Meanwhile, the articulate young woman who actually won the pageant was forgotten within seconds.
I'm sure the lesson was not lost on the current Miss USA contestants. Don't expect any of them to make a lick of sense in the interview segment.
The Memory Keeper's Daughter
Saturday, 8 pm (Lifetime)
This TV movie lives up to its awkward title. Based on Kim Edwards' bestseller, it's an over-the-top melodrama about a doctor (Dermot Mulroney) who delivers his own twin babies in a howling snowstorm. He's horrified to see that one of them has Down syndrome, so he orders the nurse (Emily Watson) to take it to an institution, then tells his wife (Gretchen Mol) that the baby died during the delivery. But the nurse smuggles the baby to another city and raises it as her own.
The movie takes itself very seriously, with an abundance of tears, rain, flashbacks and accusing glances. There's not a hint of laughter, unless you count your own.
Monday, 8 pm (WHA)
Walt Whitman's words still leap off the page, but Whitman himself doesn't leap off the screen in PBS's profile. It's a solid enough introduction, but when the subject is America's first great poet, would it be too much to ask for a bit of poetry in the filmmaking? And, no, shots of floating swans and waving grass don't count.
We get conventional talking heads discussing the stunningly unconventional Leaves of Grass, and it's kind of a letdown. You sense that the filmmakers were afraid to take off their shoes and roll around in the mud, à la Whitman. Not me, though - I'm sitting naked in the forest as I write this blurb.
Deion & Pilar: Prime Time Love
Tuesday, 9:30 pm (Oxygen)
Deion Sanders wants a piece of the reality-show pie. So the sports great follows in the footsteps of other former stars to play a husband and father for the TV cameras. I'd emphasize the word "play," because nothing feels real in Prime Time Love. The candid family scenes are clearly staged: Sanders threatening his teenage daughter's date with a baseball bat, engaging in a battle of the sexes with his wife, etc.
You might forgive the artifice if Sanders were an intriguing screen presence, like Ozzie Osbourne. But he's just your standard arrogant jock. He strides around the family mansion referring to himself as "Prime Time," wears a T-shirt that says "I'm a King" and refuses to help his wife make the bed. Anybody dying to hang out with a guy like that?
As a TV star, Sanders clearly isn't ready for Prime Time.
Tuesday, 10 pm (Bravo)
One is tempted to cheer a reality series that shows gay men and lesbians as normal people, in normal relationships, with normal make-out sessions. But the "hurrah" dies in your throat over the course of Work Out's season premiere. It's impossible to root for shallow, humorless gym owner Jackie Warner or her similarly unappealing staff of trainers. These people talk obsessively about their banal workplace soap opera, but they have nothing interesting to say about themselves or each other. Nevertheless, they blab on and on.
Jackie is the worst. Working out is by nature a narcissistic activity, and this legend-in-her-own-mind has disappeared up her own navel. She bores us with the details of her "growth as a person." She lets Bravo film her self-congratulatory therapy sessions. "I'm just living in the now," she says triumphantly.
Does it really count as "the now" when you have to do a camera setup for each new act of would-be spontaneity?