Take a dive 

Earlier this year, David Mamet’s comedy State and Main told of a small New England town corrupted by the Hollywood film crew making a movie there. The underlying theme was that even the small-town virtues of the average American can be compromised by the allure of fame and notoriety. Mamet meant his film to be a tongue-in-cheek satire. But if you’ve been following the recent Survivor scandals, you’ll realize that he wasn’t too far off the mark.

Recently, former contestant Stacey Stillman sued creator Mark Burnett, claiming that Burnett had been in collusion with two other contestants to ensure her being voted off the island. In a move that surely can’t help his case much, Burnett has countersued Stillman, claiming that she has violated her contract by revealing the inner workings of the show (like it was the Pentagon or something). Basically, Burnett is saying, “Yes, I manipulated your removal from the show, but you weren’t allowed to tell anyone that.”

Even more amusing is the fact that apparently there was a penalty clause in the cast’s confidentiality contract stating that if they did reveal anything, they owed the show $5 million. Considering the producers were dealing with 16 people who volunteered to live on a remote island with no food just to win $1 million, this seems a little unreasonable.

Personally, I think Stillman should get every dime she wants out of Burnett. Not necessarily because I think she’s telling the truth, although it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. No, I think she deserves to win because Burnett is a smug, egotistical bastard who’s far too self-satisfied with this degrading monster he’s created. It’s fitting that it’s Stillman who’s suing, since she was one of the earliest contestants to be ousted and was therefore denied the lucrative exposure the others got. Being a lawyer, once she saw how badly she’d gotten screwed by her short tenure, she figured out a way to get that million dollars she never had a shot at.

More and more, it’s becoming apparent what a rigged fix this entire show is. It makes sense that Burnett had Stillman ejected. How else would the pompous and overbearing Richard Hatch have actually made it to the end of the game?

But now things are really starting to get fishy. Animal-rights activists are up in arms about the recent slaughter of a boar on the show—so much so that the Australian government is investigating the matter. Apparently, docile boars don’t typically roam, especially on their own, in that part of the outback. This is a subject Burnett was curiously tight-lipped about on The Early Show last Friday.

But what really disturbs me about the show’s new season is the subtle corporate corruption that appears to be taking place. In one of the first couple of episodes, Knoxville native Tina complained about the hunger she was experiencing and her surprise at how much she was craving Doritos. When the show cut to a commercial a couple of minutes later, it was for—you guessed it—Doritos! During an interview on E! News Daily, an ousted Ogakor Tribe member told the interviewer that the first thing he ate when he got to his hotel room was—drum roll, please—Doritos! Then last week, the prize for completing a challenge was a picnic featuring Mountain Dew and—I think you’re with me here—Doritos!

Probably just a coincidence, right?

Bleeding money

Reports from Rome and an exposé in the upcoming GQ indicate that national treasure Martin Scorsese may be turning in the first official Heaven’s Gate of the new millennium this Christmas. Gangs of New York has experienced more production problems than possibly any film since Apocalypse Now. Star Liam Neeson was in a terrible motorcycle accident that delayed his participation. Star Leonardo DiCaprio’s tardiness due to late-night partying so aggravated Scorsese that the director made him apologize to the entire crew one morning. In addition, horrendous weather, problems with extras, and Italian workday restrictions have pushed the production way off schedule and way over budget.

In other ridiculous Hollywood expenditures, both Harrison Ford and Mike Myers are looking at a $25 million payday for upcoming projects—Myers for another Austin Powers sequel and Ford for a film in which he’ll play a Russian submarine commandant (?) and appear in the film for only about 25 minutes. So essentially Han Solo will earn $1 million a minute. And we wonder why those Survivor folks are so desperate to be famous....

Meanwhile, Loews Cineplex announced last week that it will be raising its ticket prices by 50 cents, lifting movie admissions in major markets like New York to $10 per person. Don’t you love overpriced crap?

Programming notes

One of the more daring midseason replacements will be debuting this Wednesday on ABC. The Job distinguishes itself by being the first network show since NYPD Blue really to push the language-content barrier. One of the obvious reasons for this is that it’s headed up by volatile hothead comic Denis Leary.

The show follows a group of New York detectives through the absurdities of New York crime—sort of like Barney Miller with an attitude problem. Leary’s Det. Mike McNeil is the focus, a flawed hero who is husband, father, philanderer, and self-righteous cynic. What will also set The Job apart from the usual half-hour Hollywood-churned sitcoms is its one-camera approach and location shooting in New Jersey and New York. It sounds a tad overly ambitious, but the fact that Leary is working with Peter Tolan, a former Larry Sanders Show scribe, adds to the possibilities.

Speaking of outstanding HBO programs, I have to confess that I am somewhat remiss for not paying more attention to the season premiere of The Sopranos last week. If you haven’t taken the time to subscribe to HBO and watch this show, then your TV is by and large a waste of your money. What makes the show so engrossing is the contrast it offers between the glamorous appeal of Mob power and the mundanity of suburban family life. Credit creator David Chase with obviously using the model combination of ruthless gangster myth and complex human emotion that made The Godfather films landmarks.

But the show is also captivating because Chase is able to push the envelope in ways he’d never be able to on network TV: He can make these characters likably unlikable. He can vividly show the degree to which Tony Soprano lives in a world where despicable acts of violence and amorality are balanced by motives of self-preservation and personal ethics. And what’s more, Chase doesn’t have to wrap up each show with a pleasant resolution. Tony does not learn that crime doesn’t pay, which is something a network program could not allow.

It’s this type of artistic freedom that makes network shows look like cookie-cutter chump change. But it makes sense that in a watered-down, Britney Spears society like America, you have to pony up for the best television can offer.

Quotidian Challenge

“If I had a tumor, I’d name it Marla.”

E-mail the origin of this useless bit of trivia to poplife the shame of your name printed in the paper and some free useless crap from the Nashville Scene!

Previous week’s answer: “Paul Revere,” by the Beastie Boys.

Winner: Natalia Marek.

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