The Best And The Rest On TV This Fall

Summer is drawing to an end, and so begins the fall TV lineup. What's new? What's back? Entertainment Weekly's Michael Ausiello and NPR's Linda Holmes preview the heroes, vampires, and reality shows that will be making their ways into living rooms this fall.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Linda Wertheimer in Washington. Neal Conan is away. The beginning of the fall TV season always involves a lot of plot cleanup. "Grey's Anatomy," for example, left not one but two major characters hovering between life and death.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Grey's Anatomy")

Unidentified Woman #1: She signed it.

Mr. JUSTIN CHAMBERS (Actor): (as Dr. Alex Karev) I don't give a crap what she signed.

Unidentified Woman #1: Alex, it's not what she wants.

Mr. CHAMBERS: (as Dr. Alex Karev) Get a crash cart.

(Soundbite of beeping)

Unidentified Woman #2: Karev, please.

Mr. CHAMBERS: (as Dr. Alex Karev) Look at her. Get a crash cart.

WERTHEIMER: That's right. The fall TV season is almost here. That is a magical time in which our favorite TV shows have to mop up the mess their cliffhangers created. Networks roll out new shows that they hope, desperately hope, are must-see. And more and more B-list celebrities become brief A-listers with the help of reality television. We'll take you through all the shows you love - birth, deaths, affairs, the whole cycle of life on a TV drama, plus a preview of some of the new shows to come. Most of all, we want to know what really keeps you watching. And how are you catching your favorite shows? TiVo? iTunes? Regular old TV in the living room?

Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. The email address is talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation at our Web site. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later this hour, we're going inside the beloved "Little House" books, with Judith Thurman on Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose. But first, we've got NPR's own Linda Holmes. She writes and edits the Monkey See Blog here at NPR, and she's joined me here in 3A. Hi, Linda.

LINDA HOLMES: Hello.

WERTHEIMER: Also with us is Entertainment Weekly TV critic Michael Ausiello. His blog, the Ausiello Files, is at EW.com. And he is in our New York bureau. Michael, hello.

Mr. MICHAEL AUSIELLO (TV Critic, Entertainment Weekly): Hello.

WERTHEIMER: Now, I want to start, Linda, with you, because you have the same name as me and because there are some things that you're really hoping that TV networks will do this fall season. You have, I understand, high hopes, which you expect will be dashed.

HOLMES: I always have high hopes and I always prepare myself for the dashing of the vast majority of them. If any significant chunk of your hopes are met in the fall season, you're always coming out ahead.

WERTHEIMER: Well, so, regardless of what the networks have done to you in the past, you do have shows that you're kind of looking forward to, I think.

HOLMES: I do. I always have shows I'm going to be happy to see again. You know, some of them aren't - will not be back for a while. I'm very - I became much more of a "Lost" fan this summer. I watched a lot of it on disc, hadn't been able to see all of it. That's unfortunately not back till after the New Year. But, in the fall, there will be some comedies that I love will be back. "30 Rock" will be back and "The Office" will be back and "How I Met Your Mother," and I love all of those. And, of course, "Mad Men" just came back. I was very excited about that. So there are always a few that I'm happy to see, even though they break my heart over and over.

WERTHEIMER: Now, "Mad Men," as I understand it, had an audience of 2.8 million viewers for the season premiere on Sunday. Is that a lot of people? I mean, in the bad old days of network television, that was not a lot of people.

HOLMES: It sort of depends on what you compare it to. It's not a lot of people if you compare it to either how many people used to watch, you know, network shows when there were only three networks. It's also not a lot of people if you compare it to "American Idol." But if you compare it to the past history of that show, even though it's been critically acclaimed since it came on, it nevertheless has not ever had the size of an audience at the beginning of the season. They - I believe it was up about a third from last season. So it's a lot of them, and the more splintered the environment becomes, the smaller of an audience will make it for you.

WERTHEIMER: So you could be niche, or niche, or however we say that. Michael, "Mad Men" has had very few leaks about the third season. Can you tell us any of the secrets of the "Mad Men"?

Mr. AUSIELLO: Unfortunately, that's one of the shows that it's really hard to get any advance information out on. Matthew Weiner, the show's creator, rules that set with an iron fist and has a no-tolerance policy for spoiler leakage. So it's - that's a tough show to get anything out about. In fact, there were a bunch of things that happened in the premiere that I was surprised at.

WERTHEIMER: Now, do you think that this is - does it mean, perhaps, that this new interest in "Mad Men," Linda, that TV - that sort of higher quality television - because of its beautiful - it's beautifully photographed. It's beautifully acted. It has sort of extraordinary sets. Does that mean that "Melrose Place" could be in trouble?

HOLMES: You know, I think they're going for different things. I don't think anybody is anticipating - I don't think they put "Melrose Place" on the air thinking, you know, this is going to be such a great piece of art that it's going to be remembered through the ages. I think that - but I do think that for drama, for drama that intends to be taken seriously, I think the more outlets there are making dramas - and there are more cable outlets making dramas every season, it seems like.

And, you know, AMC, which airs "Mad Men," has only been in the business of making original dramas for a couple of seasons. The more that are out there, the more pressure there is on everybody - if what you're trying to do is do something that will be good and maybe will be, you know, award-winning and will be taken seriously, yeah. I think it has raised the bar - in the case of "Mad Men," especially - with regard to production values.

WERTHEIMER: Now, we're going to get to the new guys, but let me just ask you: In terms of scripted drama, HBO is - perhaps led the way in kind of raising the bar on scripted drama. Is - who is meeting it?

HOLMES: I think HBO is always still a player. I think in some ways, right now, AMC - which airs "Mad Men," also airs "Breaking Bad." I think they're sort of leading the pack right now quality-wise, is my sense. But also, FX has some very good shows. They make "Damages" and a couple others. And Showtime has some good stuff. There are several in the mix.

WERTHEIMER: And then there's - there are a couple good shows on that very peculiarly named network, Syfy.

HOLMES: Oh, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: There are - which I think we're supposed to pronounce sci-fi. Michael, let's talk about new shows. Tell me some of your favorites. I understand - I want to know what you think about "Cougar Town."

Mr. AUSIELLO: I actually liked "Cougar Town." I - the pilot is undergoing some retooling, so I have a feeling I'm going to like it even more the next time I see it. But I'm happy that Courtney Cox is back doing what she does best and, you know, it's sort of silly comedy.

WERTHEIMER: Well, let's just listen to a little moment of Courtney Cox returning to comedy as a 40-year-old divorcee.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Cougar Town")

Ms. COURTNEY COX (Actor): (as Jules Cobb) Oh, look at that cute guy right there. I'd like to lick his body.

Unidentified Woman #3: That's my son.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. COX: Oh. He looks smart. We're moving back just a few rows.

Unidentified Man #1: Ladies and gentlemen, my mother.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Now, that's at a football game, where they're - where she's admiring some young high student - high school, college student? I wasn't sure.

Mr. AUSIELLO: Much younger than her. That's all we need to know. And another thing I like about this show is the creator, Bill Lawrence, he did one of my favorite comedies, "Scrubs." And there's a very similar sensibility between the two shows. Obviously, they're different in many ways but, you know, Bill has a great track record in comedy. He also worked on "Spin City." And I have a lot of faith that he is going to deliver a show that, you know, is good right out of the gate, but also consistently good going forward.

WERTHEIMER: Now, we have somebody - you'll be surprised to hear - with opinions from St. Paul. We're going to talk to Mike(ph) in St. Paul.

MIKE (Caller): Hello.

WERTHEIMER: Hi. You have some favorites in the - sort of the, I guess HBO tradition.

MIKE: Yeah. The new show "True Blood." I think they're on their second season. Excellent show. That - and I actually watch it on the Internet.

MIKE: Yeah, the new show, "True Blood," I think they're on their second season, excellent show. And I actually watch it on the Internet.

WERTHEIMER: And I see - what else do you like?

MIKE: Also "Weeds" from Showtime. That is a huge hit among my friends and age group, twenty-somethings.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Yeah.

MIKE: And finally the Fox show "House," such a great show. That one always keeps me coming. My whole family, we talk about that all the time.

WERTHEIMER: "House" I have noticed, since I actually do watch quite a bit of television - "House" has - they're airing commercials for the opening season of "House" which are almost two minutes long, I mean these - they're like little playlets about "House."

Mr. AUSIELLO: Well, it's fitting because actually the season premiere is a two-hour movie in many ways. It's - as we know it, the season ended with House sort of being admitted to an asylum.

WERTHEIMER: A really horrible-looking one, with turrets and things.

Mr. AUSIELLO: Right, exactly. And the first episode, the two-hour season premiere, is going to be sort of a take-off on "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" starring House. We're going to see sort of what's been going on in this facility with House over the summer, and it was shot, and it was written very much like a movie. In fact, the entire cast isn't even in it, except for House and Robert Sean Leonard's Wilson.

WERTHEIMER: Now I have - we have here another caller, who's weighing in with what she thinks is good. And she wants to talk about something on the channel that I just made fun of, Syfy. Go ahead, Christina(ph) from Tucson.

CHRISTINA (Caller): Hi, yes. I'm a science teacher. So we all watch "Warehouse 13" and "Eureka," the five-year-old, the 13-year-old, my husband and I.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHRISTINA: You know, that's a - and my husband and I also like "Bones" and "House" and "NCIS," but "Warehouse 13" and "Eureka," definitely the favorites.

WERTHEIMER: Well, now, those are pick hits around my house, as well. I especially like "Eureka." I think that's a very funny program.

CHRISTINA: It's brilliant. And what I like about that show is the characters stay true to themselves for the most part. So often, when different writers write different episodes, a character does one thing one week, and they're totally different the next, and that's a kind of disconcerting.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Okay.

Mr. AUSIELLO: I wasn't really into "Eureka" at first, but enough of my readers have been writing and saying that it has improved, and I need to give it another shot. So I'm going to add that to my list of shows I need to give another look to.

WERTHEIMER: Okay, let's go back to newbies. This - a program called "Community," which is, let's see - do we have - I'm not sure that we have a clip from "Community," but tell me about "Community."

Mr. AUSIELLO: Well, it's set in a community-college setting, and it's about an interesting, eclectic mix of students who are brought together at a community college, everyone from Chevy Chase to Joel McHale from "The Soup" on E, and I love this show. I mean, some people feel like it makes fun of community colleges, but I think it just sort of spotlights all the great and wonderful unique things about a community college, first and foremost the fact that so many different age groups come together on an educational setting. It's a very unique situation, but this is one of my favorite comedies by far.

WERTHEIMER: "Mad Men" is already back. "Project Runway" starts Thursday. The month of September is nothing but big premieres: "Survivor," "Heroes," the new Jay Leno show, among others on the list.

What keeps you watching? Give us a call, 800-989-8255, or click away from that episode of "Grey's" and drop us an email. Our address is talk@npr.org. I'm Linda Wertheimer. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Linda Wertheimer in Washington, and I have a list here of maybe 100 TV shows from "Amazing Race" to "House" to "V," all of them kicking off between now and early November. We're talking about the new fall TV series, what's coming back, what's not and what's worthy of your TiVo. And we want to know what really keeps you watching. Our number here in Washington, 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org, and you can join the conversation at our Web site. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our guests are Linda Holmes, who writes and edits NPR's entertainment and pop-culture blog, Monkey See, also Michael Ausiello, TV critic at Entertainment Weekly. You can read his blog, The Ausiello Files, at ew.com.

Now, let's go back to a new show that I know absolutely nothing about, which is called "The Good Wife." It's ripped from the headlines: a politician's wife dealing with the scandal her husband has wrought. Julianna Margulies in this scene is talking to her daughter.

(Soundbite of television program, "The Good Wife")

Unidentified Woman #4 (Actor): (As character) One girl said dad slept with a hooker my age, and I just…

Ms. JULIANNA MARGULIES (Actor): (As Alicia Florrick): What?

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) (Unintelligible), turn that off.

Unidentified Woman #4: (As character) And her dad's a cop, and…

Ms. MARGULIES: (As Alicia) Okay, first of all, they were all over 20, and second, where is the teacher?

Unidentified Woman #4: (As character) It's no big deal, mom. Look, I've got homework, talk to you later.

WERTHEIMER: Now this is sort of in my line of work, covering politics, and I think I've definitely got to look at this. There is - do you think there's appetite for this kind of story right now, Michael? Did you like it? I should've said it's on CBS.

Mr. AUSIELLO: I did like it, but it's actually, it's not a political show at all, although that's the entry point. It's this disgraced wife who, you know, is ensnared in scandal, but it's really about what happens, you know, after the press conference, you know, and…

WERTHEIMER: Where the wife stands there and is by her husband's side, looks slightly tearful and stunned.

Mr. AUSIELLO: Right, and so in this case, it's about Julianna's character going back to her legal roots, and she becomes - you know, she goes back to a law practice. And it's sort of, you know, now she's in her 40's, and she's got this, you know, stink of scandal following her, you know, what that's like, you know, re-entering the work force, specifically the legal profession. I thought it was a really well-done pilot. Julianna is fantastic. I think this is by far her best full-time series role since "E.R."

WERTHEIMER: Now, Linda, let me ask you this. This is a - is there a formula for these kinds of drama shows that you think works in this season? I mean, this one seems to be, as we say, ripped from the headlines, but is there something that you think is, like, working in this climate?

HOLMES: You know, to be honest, what's heartening to me is that I don't think there is a formula for what's working other than good writing and good acting and working really hard on making a good show. The shows that have come out, if you look, you know, if you look at the shows that are well-respected right now, we talked earlier about the shows on AMC. If you look at shows like "House," which was mentioned and some others, you know, they run the gamut from HBO's got a vampire show, Fox has a medical show, you know, "Mad Men" is sort of a period show. It's not a matter of applying a particular formula as much as it is of taking whatever you choose to do and taking it seriously and setting yourself to the task of making it good. And I'm perfectly happy with that, myself.

WERTHEIMER: I would be thrilled to think that you might be right.

Mr. AUSIELLO: I think on broadcast, there is a little bit more of a formula. There's a lot more creative freedom on cable. You know, you can get, like, a talented write like Matthew Weiner to come in and just kind of give him free reign, and we see what happens with that. But on broadcast, it's a little tougher to get your vision out there. And I think what people are finding that works the best are shows that have a procedural element, but in addition to that also have some secondary serialized elements. And I think it's why we see, in this day and age, a lot of shows on CBS doing well.

You know, you don't have to follow it every single week. You can come in and out and still basically know what's going on. And that's why shows like, you know, maybe "Lost" or - I'm trying to think of other heavily serialized shows, like, I don't know, I'm blanking for a second - but like "Lost." I mean, it's tough because you've got to really watch it every single week and, in the case of "Lost," take notes sometimes. Whereas with something like "House" or "CSI" or "NCIS," you can come in and out and not be completely lost.

WERTHEIMER: Speaking of "Lost," there's a new program, which is sort of, I guess trying to make something of what "Lost" has done. Maybe we could call this a formulaic sort of program. It's called "Flash Forward," and the plot is that the world, the entire world, blacks out for a short period of time, and they see the future, a period of the future ahead of them. This is - here's somebody giving an account of what has just happened.

(Soundbite of television program, "Flash Forward")

Unidentified Woman #5 (Actor): (As character) We were in the middle of surgery, and we all lost consciousness, everyone. The patient died.

Unidentified Woman #6 (Actor): (As character) Everyone on the planet seemed to have blacked out at exactly the same time.

Unidentified Man #3 (Actor): (As character) And for the same duration: two minutes, 17 seconds.

WERTHEIMER: Wow, now that is a weird thought, and then they flash forward. And Linda, have you seen any of this?

HOLMES: This particular one I have not seen yet. I tend to watch them a little bit closer to when they air because otherwise I - unfortunately, they tend to mix themselves up in my head.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Well, that can only get worse. Let's go - let's take a look at what some of our callers have to say about television. Alex(ph), who is calling from Tulsa, hello, Alex.

ALEX (Caller): Hi.

WERTHEIMER: Hi. So what do you think about the new season?

ALEX: Well, I'm excited about it, but I think that one of the things that's changed dramatically is about the logistics of watching television. I think that, you know, so much - you know, when we looked at, like, season finales of "M*A*S*H" or "Seinfeld" back in the day, as it were, you know, everybody gathered around the television and would watch it. And now, like "Mad Men," my wife and I were very excited to watch "Mad Men." But we've got two young kids. It came on at nine o'clock here in Tulsa, and we couldn't watch it.

WERTHEIMER: It was just not exactly - I mean, it might be water-cooler material, but it was not sixth - first-grade material?

ALEX: Exactly, but also you've got to get the kids to bed, and then so look, they rebroadcast it again at 10 o'clock. That's something that you don't get on the broadcast television. And then you can take that to the next level, which is, you know, on-demand TV, which cable companies will rerun, you know, "The Sopranos," or they'll rerun the whole last season of "Mad Men" so that you can go back. And even though you know what happened, you can go back say I missed that particular episode, and as you guys were just talking about, you can drop back into it and pick up the nuances of what happened whenever you want to.

Now, we're not into the Hulu, on - you know, watching it on our computer. We haven't quite gotten that far yet.

WERTHEIMER: Well, I think you sound to me like you're technically able to cope with the new world of television. Linda, this is a whole new deal.

HOLMES: It really is, and, you know, what the caller's describing in terms of being able watch things on demand on cable is very much the same as what people experience now with broadcast shows that are available on Hulu, and obviously, there are cable shows that are available there, too. But the networks, you know, several now are on Hulu, and the ones that aren't have their own sites that stream episodes, sometimes long streams of episodes, sometimes short streams.

As it happens, Hulu just put up the whole first four seasons of "Lost." They just - Hulu's deal with ABC is relatively new. So that's a new offering for them, but you know, if you decide now that you want to be a "Lost" viewer, it's much easier to jump in. You can go back and watch it, you know, online. So whether you're doing it online, or whether you're doing it on demand, I agree that it is much less critical that you watch everything at the time of its first airing.

Mr. AUSIELLO: And as a result, the networks are using different criteria. They're looking at the big picture in terms of determining what show is a success and what show is not a success.

You know, there are some programs where not a lot of people watch it the first time it's on, but if you add, you know, all of the different platforms together, you know, streaming video, iTunes, all these different things, you know, you can get to a point where you can, you know, determine that a show is a hit, a show like "Gossip Girl," which doesn't do all that well in, you know, first run when it first airs. But if you look at the whole picture, you know, it's always the first one on iTunes, and just in terms of buzz and everything and what people are talking about, it's just - there's a different way of looking now of what makes a show a hit.

WERTHEIMER: Michael, I was speaking of hits. I didn't get your view on whether you think "Fast Forward"(ph) is likely to be a hit, the science-fiction-y show that's sort of "Lost" and sort of not.

Mr. AUSIELLO: Well, and you know, that's one of those tricky shows like "Lost" that you kind of have to watch every week to get a sense of what's going on. But like "Lost," there's a lot of reward to that.

You know, I saw the pilot of "Flash Forward," and I thought it was fantastic. You know, it set up a mystery that I was really interested in following. And yes, it was a little complicated, but you know, the characters were engaging, and you know, I pretty much decided I'm going to be along for the ride. And I think this is the show that has the best chance of filling, you know, sort of that obsessive, cult sort of void that "Lost" is going to leave when it goes off the air in a year.

WERTHEIMER: Now, we have an email here from Tabitha(ph) in Michigan who says - this is a woman after my own heart - I like explosions, blood, guts and gore, not on the level of horror flicks but stylized in a plot that is resplendent with logic puzzles to keep me guessing until the end of the main question: who did it, how and why. So, are we going to get more of that kind of thing, the sort of "CSI" sort of thing, do you think, Linda?

HOLMES: You know, my sense is - and Michael might have, you know, a position on this too - but my sense is that's not as much what the new shows this year are like. My sense is the shows this year, there's - there are a lot of, like, medical shows and, you know, nurses are very popular right now. And I don't get the sense there are as many new procedurals, in terms of the kind of bloody "CSI" kinds of stuff, among the new offerings. I don't think there's quite as much of that maybe as there was for a while, when "CSI" was first, really popular.

WERTHEIMER: But there is a new "CSI," isn't there, Michael, coming up…

Mr. AUSIELLO: No.

WERTHEIMER: …"CSI" L.A.?

Mr. AUSIELLO: No. That's actually "NCIS: Los Angeles."

WERTHEIMER: "NCIS," I beg your pardon.

Mr. AUSIELLO: But that's understandable how you can get them confused.

HOLMES: Can you believe that those both exist (unintelligible)…

WERTHEIMER: Those shows with all those initials? "NCIS" is about the Navy. And the Navy is - whatever you call it, whatever CIS stands for.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AUSIELLO: Well, you know, "NCIS" was - is such a huge hit for CBS. And it's kind of stealth hit. For so long it was doing so well but no one really talked about it. And they didn't get the headlines that, say, "Grey's Anatomy," you know, or "Desperate Housewives" did. So, it only made sense that CBS would want to sort of expand that franchise. And I know they're going for sort of a younger audience. The one negative to "NCIS" is it skews old. So, you know, they brought in Chris O'Donnell and LL Cool J to try to be - bring in a sort of younger vibe to "NCIS."

WERTHEIMER: Well, I suppose it skews old to some extent because Mark Harmon is not exactly a child. But he is fabulous in "NCIS." He's one of the reasons - and he can still throw a football, I noticed, the other night.

Mr. AUSIELLO: He's great. And also, the cast is great. I mean, that cast really clicks. They have a great chemistry. And also, I think one of the things that makes "NCIS" work is that they have a sense of humor, like, there's a comedy element to that show that I think is important. And that balance of mystery and drama and comedy has really paid off.

WERTHEIMER: One of the callers - let's see. Let's just go for one - for a caller here. Chris(ph) in Syracuse. I'm coming in your direction. Chris.

CHRIS (Caller): Hi. How are you?

WERTHEIMER: Fine. How are you?

CHRIS: Good.

WERTHEIMER: Tell us what's you're - tell us what you're interested in?

CHRIS: Well, I'm interested in shows that I don't have to follow every week. You know, I like to tune in for now - from time to time, especially comedies like "How I Met Your Mother." I think they're written really well and I enjoy watching it. And I enjoy watching it with other people, too.

WERTHEIMER: So, comedies.

CHRIS: Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: Linda, do you think comedies are - is there much on the plate coming in?

HOLMES: It's interesting. I think this year, more than some other years, there actually is a little bit more buzz surrounding some of the comedies than there has been for the last - it's been kind of a slow time for comedies, I feel, like for a couple of years with a couple of, you know, really scattered exceptions. But this year, you know, you talked about "Cougar Town" which has maybe the worst title of a show ever.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HOLMES: But, nevertheless, I have heard - you know, other people say the same thing which is it's Bill Lawrence, you know, so there's a promise there. There's also a show called "Modern Family" which has Ed O'Neill in it and he was on "Married…with Children." And that's - also had some very positive notices. And I think there is a little bit of momentum behind comedy, perhaps, more than there has been.

Mr. AUSIELLO: I have to give a plug to "Modern Family." You know, you mentioned it. It's, by far, my favorite comedy pilot of the new fall season. It really is fantastic. If anything is going to bring comedy back to TV, it's this show. And, essentially, it's three different couples - we follow three different couples through the course of this half hour. And then in the end - spoiler alert - we find out that they're all related. It's actually one big family.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AUSIELLO: But it's so smart and it's so funny, very fast-paced. It has that same documentary style that "The Office" does.

WERTHEIMER: Okay.

Mr. AUSIELLO: I really think - I'm hoping, fingers crossed, that this is going to be a big hit.

WERTHEIMER: All right. Well, we'll keep it in mind.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Now, I'm very interested about something that has just happened. Linda, you pay attention to, among other things, reality television?

HOLMES: I do.

WERTHEIMER: Do you think that Tom DeLay is going to save "Dancing with the Stars" bacon?

(Soundbite of laughter)

HOLMES: You know, "Dancing with the Stars" is not a struggling show. I don't think it's a matter of saving it. I think that, you know, that show, every year, when they put their cast out, they're trying to find somebody to put on it who people will talk about. And there was some suggestion that it might wind up being Paula Abdul who just left "American Idol," supposedly, we think.

But I think Tom DeLay is their big catch this year in terms of you want - they want - so they always want somebody on the list who makes people say, who.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HOLMES: And I think, this year…

WERTHEIMER: Former House leader Tom DeLay of Texas, let me say.

HOLMES: And I think this year it's definitely Tom DeLay. There's really nobody else on the list that's all that surprising to be on "Dancing with the Stars." But Tom DeLay is one that - I had not heard that rumor at all. I had not heard any suggestion that that was what they were - that that was the direction they wanted to go in.

WERTHEIMER: Well, now, we use to call him in the House of Representatives, the hammer. So, maybe flamenco would be Tom DeLay's dance.

HOLMES: Yes. I'm thinking that could be or I, personally, would enjoy seeing Tom DeLay do the jive. I want him to stay on the show long enough to do the jive.

Mr. AUSIELLO: You know, I have to say if Tom DeLay is the most exciting contestant on "Dancing with the Stars," you've got problems.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AUSIELLO: I agree with you. I thought it - I was very underwhelmed by this roster. I feel like they're missing that sort of, like, oh-my-God factor, like, you know, someone who's only got one leg or someone who's deaf, you know? Something to really tune in. You know, Paula would've been great, you know? You've got someone who can't form a full sentence, you know? Something like that, some kind of disability. You kind of needed that, and I feel like you're missing it this season.

WERTHEIMER: Well, okay…

HOLMES: Yeah, I think he has the oh-my-God factor though.

WERTHEIMER: I think I - well, for me, course I'm interested in politics, there's no question about it.

Linda Holmes writes and edits NPR's entertainment and pop culture blog, Monkey See, which you can always read at npr.org. And Entertainment Weekly TV Critic Michael Ausiello joins us as well. His blog, The Ausiello Files, is at ew.com. He was with us from our New York bureau. Thanks to both of you. Thanks very, very much for joining us.

Coming up, we have the women behind the "Little House on the Prairie" and they were no shrinking violets. I hope that you will stay with us and listen to an account of how the women who wrote "Little House on the Prairie" did it. I'm Linda Wertheimer and this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR news.

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