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"America's Next Top Model"

 "America's Next Top Model"

Credit: The CW

'America's Next Top Model' returns with a two-hour premiere this August

The 20th cycle will be the first ever guys and girls edition
"RuPaul's Drag Race" may have wrapped up another season, but never fear. "America's Next Top Model" is set to return for a 20th cycle (not season, people, cycle) on the CW Fri. Aug. 2 at 8:00 p.m. This cycle will be the first ever featuring both male and female contestants. How that will play out is still unclear, but it should make for some potential sexy time back at the model apartments, right? 
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J.J. Abrams to adapt Rod Serling's final screenplay as a miniseries


J.J. Abrams to adapt Rod Serling's final screenplay as a miniseries

Abrams has acquired the rights to "The Twilight Zone" mastermind's " The Stops Along the Way," details of which are being kept under wraps.


"The Colbert Report" sets a 1-hour music special with Paul McCartney

McCartney will sit down with Stephen Colbert then perform on next Wednesday's show.


Ricky Gervais: I'd host the Oscars if asked -- with no strings attached

 "On the one hand I would be incredibly flattered and whatever you think of those sort of things, it would be a thrill and an honor to be asked," says Gervais. "On the other hand I doubt the job offer would come without some strings attached."


"America's Next Top Model" returns in August with "Guys vs. Girls"
Cycle 20 debuts on Aug. 2.


HBO announces a 15-minute "True Blood" pre-show before the premiere

Cast members will answer questions from Twitter on "#TrueBlood: Live from Set."


Check out the "SNL" cast, illustrated
Illustrator Matt Hirschfeld drew up the cast for "SNL's" Emmy campaign. PLUS: See more illustrations for "Parks & Rec" and "30 Rock" and "The Office."


Kim Zolciak pregnant 9 months after giving birth
The Bravo star is reportedly expecting her 5th child nine months after giving birth.


Howard Stern disses The Spice Girls on his 1st "America's Got Talent" show with Mel B
The shock jock told one dismal act: "You remind me of the Spice Girls." To which Mel B responded: "Oh my God! Stop that!"

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<p>&nbsp;'20 Feet From Stardom'</p>

 '20 Feet From Stardom'

Credit: Tremelo Productions

Review: 'Twenty Feet From Stardom' puts back-up singers in the spotlight

Meet some of the greatest voices you've ever heard

In “Twenty Feet From Stardom,” back-up singers step out of the shadows into the spotlight. It’s an illuminating, if not totally satisfactory, look at their lives on and off stage.

The Morgan Neville-directed documentary, which premiered at Sundance this January and opens in theaters June 14, takes a look at the history of the modern back-up singer and what it is like to live life in proximity of fame.

Just like the underscore in a movie, great backing vocals are often integral to the finished product, but the listener’s mind doesn’t consciously register them until they are stripped away and emptiness remains. Think about Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side” and how it would sound without the “Doo do doo, doo do doo doo do doo,” or the wailing refrain of “rape, murder, it’s just a shot away” during The Rolling Stones’  “Gimme Shelter”  or “Hit The Road Jack” by Ray Charles.

In the late ‘50s/early ‘60s, as rock and roll blossomed, back-up singers transitioned from the polite, demure vocals sung by bland white girls to the gritty, full-throated singing made famous on Phil Spector’s productions. 

The story really starts with Darlene Love, lead singer of the Blossoms, and one of the all time great cautionary tales in music. Love was repeatedly screwed over by Spector, who would use her vocals, most notably on “He’s A Rebel,” but credit the song to his latest girl group (in that case, The Crystals), who would then lip sync the song. She could never get out from under his thumb. She eventually working as a maid, until in a Cinderella moment, she was cleaning a house when her signature song,  “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” came on the radio and she knew she had to go back to singing even if it broke her heart again. She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, a grand acknowledgement of her accomplishments that had been long denied.

That lineage goes through other greats such as Merry Clayton, Claudia Lennear, Lisa Fischer and several others up to Judith Hill, a contestant on “The Voice” this season. Hill sang back up for Michael Jackson on the ill-fated “This Is It” tour and became a break-out star after singing at his memorial service. Eager to make it as a lead singer, Hill’s efforts to transition from the background to the foreground, in a story whose ending has yet to be written, frame much of the film.

If history serves as an example, Hill has a hard row to hoe. Few make it to the front lines with any great success, in part because they may possess great voices,  but they don’t play instruments or write their own songs and aren’t self-contained artists.  Sheryl Crow and Luther Vandross are the notable exceptions in the film who went from support to main attraction. While there’s no footage of Crow singing back-up for Michael Jackson with hair as high as heaven, there is magnificent film of Vandross singing backing vocals for David Bowie on “Young Americans” in 1973 as well as footage of Vandross, then a star, working with his backing vocalists: his nebulous instruction to them: “Can you give me more air?”

 But for the most part, these singers either don’t want the pressure of carrying the lead role and everything that comes with it, such as the responsibility of being a boss. Or they tried and failed, such as Tata Vega, who now tours with Elton John, or Lisa Fischer, whose excellent solo album received rave reviews and a Grammy, but she was never able to follow up. Instead of being a star of her own, she retreated to being a superstar among backing vocalists. For the last 20 years, she’s toured with The Rolling Stones.

As much as the documentary is about singing, it’s also about race and gender.  The vast majority of the back-up singers in the film, as in real life, are African American and they learned to harmonize by singing in church choirs.  Clayton talks about the conflict, as a black woman, of singing backing vocals on Lynyrd Skynyd’s seminal southern anthem, “Sweet Home Alabama.” However, she brings up the very nuanced (so nuanced that most folks missed it) “boo, boo, boos” that follow the line  “In Birmingham, they love the governor,” as a sign that the song is actually anti-racist. There’s unmined gold there in not developing the race issues further, especially for the singers in the ‘60s as the civil rights movement was coming to the fore.

Additionally, the overwhelming number are also female and that phenomenon goes unquestioned. To be sure, there are a few of male backing vocalists —the documentary includes David Lasley, who sings with James Taylor, but not the astounding Arthur McCuller (he’s the powerhouse voice you hear at the end of “Shower The People”). Why is that?  Are women’s voices better suited for backing vocals? Are men not willing to take a backseat and prefer to be the lead?

What’s missing from the film is the actual process. The backing vocalists talk about “the blend,” the magical moment when all their voices mesh to create something greater than the individual parts, but we rarely  see background singers working out their parts, showing us how it’s done. There are scant footage of  a producer or artist giving direction, but the movie focuses way more on the love of singing  than the nuts and bolts.

Furthermore, instead of hearing major artists like Bruce  Springsteen, Sting and Stevie Wonder talk about the role of backing vocalists, it would have been far more instructive—and entertaining—to have one of them break down a tune and explain how and why they decided to add backing vocals.  There is one scene with Sting rehearsing with Fischer on “Hounds Of Winter” and encouraging her to vamp and then the film cuts to her wailing on the song in concert as Sting totally cedes the spotlight to her.  The film would have been a much richer experience with more behind-the-curtain scenes such as that.

While it sounds like I didn’t like the film, I did, but it left me wanting because there’s so much potential in the topic.

Many of the singers are still patching together careers, going from song to song as hired guns. There’s a fun segment where the Waters Family talks about the odd jobs they’ve done, including vocalizing birds in “Avatar,” or African chanting in “The Lion King.”  But others tired of the road or with too many obligations to tend to have switched to more stable careers. For example,  Lennear has  taught Spanish for the last 15 years. “I never said it wasn’t for me,” she says of singing, still slightly heartbroken that she is no longer on stage, even if the spotlight was never on her.

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"Top Chef Masters"

 "Top Chef Masters"

Credit: Bravo

Bravo's 'Top Chef Masters' to whip up new twists this July

Sous chefs will be influencing the game to punish or please their bosses
Ready for good eats? Or at least looking at good eats? “Top Chef Masters” is returning for a fifth season with 13 award-winning chefs (some of whom you're sure to recognize) competing for the title of ‘Top Chef Master’ and $100,000 for their charity. The new season premieres Wednesday, July 24 at 10 p.m. ET. 
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TBS brings Keith Olbermann back to TV -- at least for 1 month


TBS brings Keith Olbermann back to TV -- at least for 1 month
Olbermann, who will anchor TBS' postseason baseball show, says of his new gig: "My season is about a month long. And if you check, if you go through the 37 pages of my resume, you'll see that every one of my jobs has lasted at least one month."


Is Katie Couric's talk show in trouble?

"Katie" already has been renewed for Season 2, but Fox News reports that ABC has been disappointed in Couric's ratings and its sources say they don't expect "Katie" to be around for Season 3.


"America's Got Talent" returns to its lowest premiere
Despite topping the night with new additions Heidi Klum and Mel B, "AGT" was down 16% in the key demo vs. last year's premiere. PLUS: Female comic appears on "AGT" and "Inside Amy Schumer" on same night.


Pregnant Jennifer Love Hewitt gets engaged

She and "Client List" co-star Brian Hallisay are set to marry.


"Parks and Rec's" Nick Offerman coming out with his 1st book
"Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man's Principles for Delicious Living" is due out Oct. 1.


John Oliver gets tips from Letterman on how to interview actors
"The Daily Show" correspondent, who fills in for Jon Stewart beginning next week, has no experience interviewing actors.


"Psych" books Vinnie Jones, Olivia d'Abo, Kali Hawk
All three will guest in the 3rd season.


Meet your new "Top Chef Masters"

Here's the lineup for Season 5.

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<p>Federal agents Aaron Tveit and Daniel Sunjata hit the beach in &quot;Graceland.&quot;</p>

Federal agents Aaron Tveit and Daniel Sunjata hit the beach in "Graceland."

Credit: USA

Review: Daniel Sunjata and Aaron Tveit go undercover for USA's 'Graceland'

'White Collar' creator pushes the USA formula in a more serialized direction

A successful undercover cop show, like a successful undercover police operation, requires patience. You need time to establish your characters, develop a relationship with their target, and plausibly get in deep enough for the real action to take place.

Most undercover cop shows — like most of the TV business in general — don't have that patience. They want instant gratification, and throw their heroes into new identities and operations with such speed that it's hard to believe in or care about anything that's happening. Every now and then you get a gem like "Wiseguy" (the '80s classic featuring lengthy guest arcs built around villains played by the likes of Ray Sharkey, Jerry Lewis and a young Kevin Spacey) or "Sleeper Cell" (the great but short-lived Showtime drama about an FBI agent infiltration an extremist Muslim terrorist group), but more often you get completely forgettable dramas like "Prince Street" or "The Handler" or "Dark Blue," where the cops tended to slip in and out of assignments so quickly as to not be worth the bother.

"Graceland," the new USA drama debuting tomorrow night at 10, is attempting to split the difference — just as it's trying to both embrace and expand upon the familiar USA "blue skies" formula.

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"America's Got Talent"

 "America's Got Talent"

Credit: NBC

What did you think of Heidi Klum and Mel B on 'America's Got Talent'?

The new judges show spunk, humor at the judges' table

Last night Heidi Klum and Mel B took their places at the judges' table of "America's Got Talent," and while the focus was theoretically on the performers, the good news is that the new kids blended in seamlessly. Of course, both have plenty of experience offering criticism. Mel B was a judge on the Australian version of "The X Factor," and we all know Klum as both a host and judge of "Project Runway."

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Bobby Cannavale closing deal to star in HBO's Rock 'n' Roll drama


Bobby Cannavale closing deal to star in HBO's Rock 'n' Roll drama
He would play an A&R exec in a drama from Mick Jagger, Martin Scorsese and "Boardwalk Empire's" Terence Winter.


Bruce Jenner confronts Jimmy Fallon (again) over plastic surgery jokes
At the London Olympics, Fallon and Jenner had a run-in the NBC commissary when the E! star told the "Late Night" host to stop making fun of his face. So Fallon invited Jenner on his show Tuesday, allowing Jenner to tell his side of the story. "You were such a wimp," Jenner told Fallon.


See Dominic West & Helene Bonham Carter as "Burton & Taylor"

The BBC America film focuses on Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton's onstage reunion in 1983.


"Sons of Anarchy" adds C. Thomas Howell
He'll be joined in Season 6 by "Shameless'" Steve Howey.


Justin Chatwin is done with "Shameless" as a series regular

The actor, though, may return for one or two episodes in Season 4.


Jerry O'Connell to visit wife Rebecca Romijn's TNT series

He'll guest-star on an episode of "King & Maxwell."


Joan Rivers cancels her 80th birthday party after her sister dies
The "Fashion Police" star, who turns 80 on Saturday, was to have a birthday celebration tonight.

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<p>Ethan Hawke watches for his agent, who he invited to his house with every intent to 'Purge' his agent just for pushing him to be in 'The Purge.' Seems fair to me.</p>

Ethan Hawke watches for his agent, who he invited to his house with every intent to 'Purge' his agent just for pushing him to be in 'The Purge.' Seems fair to me.

Credit: Universal Pictures

Review: 'The Purge' squanders its few good ideas as well as Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey

Witless horror film fumbles completely

One of the reasons I fell in love with horror films early in my development as a film fan was because I realized that you could tell any story and grapple with any topic, and you could do it by dealing in metaphor. The horror films that I think cut the deepest are the ones that have something real to say about who we are and what marks us, and just because they feature corpses or werewolves or creatures from space, it doesn't mean they are any less emotionally or intellectually valid than any other form of film. They just smuggle their meaning a little more.

The flip side of that is when you see a horror film that thinks it's doing something profound while completely and utterly missing the mark, and "The Purge" is a fantastic example of that. Written and directed by James DeMonaco, the film starts with a pretty hefty premise for audiences to swallow. Set in the near future, the US government has decided to pick a single day of the year where they suspend all emergency services for 12 hours, and everything is legal. That includes murder, although there are a few rules. Nothing above a certain category of weapon types (so I'm assuming no nukes) and there are several Federal employees including The President who are off-limits. Otherwise? Feel free.

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<p>&quot;Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.&quot;</p>

"Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."

Credit: ABC

DVR Gridlock 2013-14: Tuesday Nights

How will Joss Whedon's 'Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' impact the night?
[Over the next six days, I'm going to be glancing, night-by-night, at how the primetime schedules have changed after the network announcements at upfronts. I'll be looking at how the various changes will impact the ratings races on each night, as well as my own DVRing habits. Readers can chime in on how their own DVRs will be impacted. And yes, this brief series assumes that anybody still watches TV on their TVs. I'm old-fashioned. Check out last year's DVR Gridlock installments.]
 
TUESDAY NIGHTS
 
8:00 p.m. 
ABC: "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."
CBS: "NCIS"
The CW: "The Originals"
FOX: "Dads," "Brooklyn Nine-Nine"
NBC: "The Biggest Loser"
 
 
9:00 p.m.
ABC: "The Goldbergs," "Trophy Wife"
CBS: "NCIS: LA"
The CW: "Supernatural"
FOX: "New Girl," "The Mindy Project"
NBC: "The Voice"
 
 
10:00 p.m. 
ABC: "Lucky 7"
NBC: "Chicago Fire"
 
 
What's Changed: Well, if you're ABC, *everything* has changed, as the network is going down the rare path of an entire night of newly introduced original scripted programming, all anchored by perhaps the most anticipated premiere of the fall, assuming you trust the Interwebs. Yup. Kids online are *psyched* for "The Goldbergs." After trying to launch a slew of new dramas out of "NCIS" and "NCIS: Los Angeles," CBS bucked conventional pre-upfronts wisdom and moved established hit "Person of Interest," rather than ordering "NCIS: Red." NBC is doubling up on reality by moving "The Voice" to 9 p.m. and putting in "Biggest Loser" at 8 and then hoping to turn "Chicago Fire" from NBC-sized hit to bona fide hit. FOX is keeping established success "New Girl" and established ratings failure "The Mindy Project" at 9 p.m. but leading into the two female friendly comedies with a pair of male-friendly comedies. And, finally, The CW is putting "Supernatural" on yet another new night, hoping that it'll combine with "Vampire Diaries" spinoff "The Originals" to produce a big bump. But really... It's all about "S.H.I.E.L.D." Duh.
 
How the Ratings Race Is Impacted: Everybody I know is psyched for "S.H.I.E.L.D." Everybody you know is psyched for "S.H.I.E.L.D." But honestly, are we making a big assumption that just because "The Avengers" was a mind-boggling smash that there's a mammoth mainstream audience out there eager to watch a not-exactly-superhero drama fronted by Clark Gregg and featuring a grand total of "zero" of the established Avengers? It's an astoundingly big question mark and it all comes down to a matter of scale, particularly when it comes to perception. Is "S.H.I.E.L.D." going to be a true phenomenon -- i.e. 15 million viewers and a 4+ rating in the 18-49 demo? Is it going to be a reasonable hit -- 10+ million and a 3+ rating in the 18-49 demo? Or is it going to get clobbered by "NCIS" and then have to pick up a huge DVR bump in order to be considered any kind of success at all? If it's either of the two formers, it could set up a good comedy block for ABC, but what are the odds that that will ripple all the way through to 10 p.m. with a no-name ensemble drama about lottery winners? Very low, I'd guess. CBS will continue to be a total viewer juggernaut thanks to the "NCIS" double-dose and "Person of Interest" has a fanbase of its own after two strong seasons of growth on Thursdays. Even if "PoI" falls from Thursday in a time period with lower TV usage and whatnot, it's certain to improve on both the audience and key demo numbers for "Vegas," "Golden Boy," "Unforgettable" and "Good Wife," among recent time period "favorites." So that makes CBS tough, while NBC will also be tougher, with "Chicago Fire" showing real growth potential with a boost from "The Voice." Heck, even The CW is going to be bigger, since even if "The Originals" doesn't approach "Vampire Diaries" levels, it only needs to approach "Hart of Dixie" level, while "Supernatural" will definitely improve on "Emily Owens" and "Cult" from last season. All of that means that with the other four networks growing, FOX could be in trouble. On the bright side, "New Girl" should be steady and "The Mindy Project" probably will be as well, although that's not so bright. "Dads" is going to struggle to even do steady "Raising Hope"-level ratings. So FOX's entire hope for improvement hinges on "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," which puts a lot of pressure on Andy Samberg, since as awesome as he is, we know Andre Braugher brings more positive reviews to the table than viewers.
 
My Predicted DVR: I haven't been overtaxed on Tuesdays for a while, but a bit of a logjam could be forming. "S.H.I.E.L.D." is a lock to get a DVR slot and I'll watch "The Originals" as a "Vampire Diaries"/Phoebe Tonkin fan. So that means "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" will have to be a Hulu/OnDemand regular. I'll stick with FOX's comedies at 9 p.m. and maybe add the ABC comedies depending on how they progress. In the 10 p.m. hour, with "Person of Interest" and "Chicago Fire," I have two series recordings, both both for what are effectively laundry shows. I'm not sure I do that much laundry. 
 
How have the new schedules impacted your Tuesdays?
 
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"Pretty Wicked Moms"

 "Pretty Wicked Moms"

Credit: Lifetime

'Pretty Wicked Moms' proves that mean girls grow up but don't change

These women spend more time on their hair than their kids

Okay, Lifetime, you win. Somehow you've found women more vile, more petulant, and possibly dumber than most of the women in "The Real Housewives" franchise. Congratulations. I think "Pretty Wicked Moms" may be a sign of the coming Rapture, or maybe just confirmation that at least some of the mean girls we all remember from high school didn't change or mature in any way unless you count their breast implants. In the past, these horrible women with perfect hair would have faded into obscurity, cursed to recycle the same tired, childish arguments at their local country club or Mommy & Me yoga classes. These days, they get their own TV shows. Lucky us.

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"So You Think You Can Dance"

 "So You Think You Can Dance"

Credit: Fox

'So You Think You Can Dance' recap: It's off to Memphis

Wayne Brady joins the judges' panel for auditions in Tennessee

Man, these auditions just keep going and going, don't they? This week, "So You Think You Can Dance" heads to Memphis, where there are many good dancers, a few great ones, and a lot of crazy people. The good news is that we don't spend much time with the nuts, but see them in a montage of suckitude. Thus, we get to indulge briefly in their delusions, but don't get so fully doused in them we feel the lingering side effects of depression and possible mental illness. Yay?

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