Sunday, December 11, 2005

TV: No VCR Sunday

This week (hopefully) I’m going through my TV viewing habits and listing what I’d watch if I didn’t have a VCR to view everything weeks later when I finally have the time. The only exception is I get to use the time-shifting capabilities of my digital box to add an extra viewing hour between 11 and midnight to my TV night.

Here's the Sunday schedule.

The 7-8pm hour belongs to CBS's 60 Minutes. I got hooked on 60 Minutes late in my teens on a Thursday evening. No, I didn't have a VCR to do my own time-shifting. Back then, 60 Minutes was still a struggling newsmagazine and summer reruns were being shown on weeknights to try and drum up interest for the show. The segment that caught me was a story about Bill Stevenson and the Enigma Machine. Thirty some-odd years later, I'm still a faithful viewer and would be, even if forced to eat a meal while watching the show. I miss the ambush interviews that Mike Wallace specialized in for years. And I really miss the every-man approach Harry Reasoner was famous for. But the true joy is watching Morley Safer turn whimsy into entertaining fact, and that Lesley Stahl seems a spiritual successor to Safer. Football might intrude, but 60 Minutes always has been worth an accommodation and will continue to be.

There's not much competition in the 8-9pm hour either, as the only thing worth watching is West Wing. This show has veered from great to adequate and back to above-average during its run on NBC. I think the show is touching its zenith again this season. Watching Jimmmy Smits and Alan Alda eat up scenes has been entertaining since it got going last year. Brad Whitford's Josh Lyman continues to be the entry point for the viewer, who either agrees with Lyman's politics or thinks Lyman is a typical liberal political screw-up. The characters surrounding Lyman are not as compelling as the past-cast, but Janeane Garofalo is giving it a try. And I’ve lusted after Mary McCormack forever. NBC, hardly on a run, could do a LOT worse than bringing back this show next year. And, despite a difference in politics, I think I'd actually prefer seeing Alda's character in the White House for that season.

Okay, there's some debate about what to watch in the 9-10pm hour. The world watches Desperate Housewives on ABC. Here, I also have a choice of CBS comedies that show on Monday nights or NBC's Law & Order: Criminal Intent. It's hard to deny the compelling viewing that is Terri Hatcher and Eva Longoria. But watching LOCI is usually entertaining for the full 60 minutes. The best part about LOCI this year is the splitting of the show into two concurrent series. Both have the same office setting with the captain played by Jamey Sheridan. But Mike Noth and the scrumptious Annabella Sciorra now get half the episodes while long-time stars Vincent D'Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe get two weeks to turn out their convoluted shows. This is almost a rebirth of the old NBC Mystery Wheel, which featured some of the best mystery shows ever shown. (Columbo and McCloud being the obvious ones). D'Onofrio is the modern-day Sherlock Holmes, who's guilty frequently of playing the character as an over-acting know-it-all. Some find the act grating, I enjoy the insights. Noth is the smart, but temper-challenged cop to Sciorra's steam valve of a partner. The different approach makes a perfect counterpoint. Frankly, LOCI's never been better, because they are getting two weeks to make each story, and that's a wise investment in time. Wonder when Olivia D'Abo's coming back as Sherlock, errrrr D'Onofrio's arch enemy?

The 10-11pm hour really comes down to ABC's Grey's Anatomy and NBC's Crossing Jordan. Jill Hennessy is very fine, and a Canuck to boot. But the women of Grey's Anatomy are all interesting and very pleasant on the eyes. Ellen Pompeo plays the lead, tortured resident Meredith Grey. She has a sexily squeeky voice and a lop-sided grin, which makes a good fit with the always good Patrick Dempsey as Dr. "Dreamy" Shepherd, one of Grey's bosses. And her off-on-off-on-off (I think that's current) paramour. Landlord Grey lives with renting residents played by Sandra Oh, sexy Katherine Heigl and T.R. Knight. Like Grey, Oh's Christina Yang can't keep a boss out of her scrubs, but with much more tragic circumstances. And then there's the parents. Grey's mother, a legendary surgeon slash harridan, spent time hanging around the hospital, her Alzheimer's Disease making her a time bomb to scramble any plot at any time. And recently, we discovered Yang's mother is a disapproving PITA. So far, the medical cases have been within the understanding realm of the average medical drama watcher (see House, for the reverse). This is a good show. P.S. I love the opening notes of the show's opening credits. Not the whole song, but the I love those first few notes.

And now the cheat show. Crossing Jordan or Desperate Housewives? The reality is that I'd prefer seeing Hex, a BBC show, but that's what the internet is for. Nope, I have to decide between Hennessy and Hatcher/Longoria. Counter-intuitive, I know, but the supporting characters in Crossing Jordan are so good, I'll stick with the Canuck ex-pat. Miguel Ferrer has rarely been as good as he is in Crossing Jordan. Hennessy's co-horts under Ferrer's boss, are enough off-kilter, but still earnest, that you come to like and admire them. Jerry O'Connell is trying to Dirty Harry up his image as Detective Woody Hoyt this year, but you know My Greatest Hero's heart still beats in his chest. The show will end the day Hoyt and Hennessy's Jordan Cavannaugh kiss for real, which might be this spring. But I wouldn't mind seeing another year of this fine show.

Well, it's bedtime and time to turn in. See ya' tomorrow night.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

SPORTS: Please, no Aldridge

I've been wrong before. I absolutely thought Channing Frye might be the biggest bomb of this year's draft. Maybe not. But hey, Zeke signed Jerome James and traded for Eddy Curry. So I wasn't exactly lonesome in my feelings about Frye. Still think he's a stiff, but I'll need time to wash out his good early stats.

But enough Frye and self-recrimination. It's time to start banging the drums to stop the Toronto Raptors from drafting LaMarcus Aldridge, the center/forward who will probably declare early out of Texas next spring. If he truly was another Bosh/Villanueva clone, I'd say do it. I think the Raptors could do quite well with a power trio consisting of power forwards. But Aldridge is all flash and potential. He has no back-to-the-basket game and he's easily pushed out from the boards. The Raptors have players like that already. Watching Aldridge get pushed around by Shelden Williams today makes me nervous about the pick, the most important pick since Vince Carter, in Raptor history.

If the Raptors, who will draft from first to sixth, get the first pick, then they have an easy choice in Rudy Gay, the small forward out of UConn. The problems come with picks in the next three. I really, REALLY dislike the idea of Aldridge. Unfortunately, the only other bigs projected atop the draft at this point, is the Italian Andrea Bargnani. His draft card reads like a slimmer Aldridge. He gets pushed around. Same problem with the Brazilian Tiago Splitter (can Babcock really draft another Brazilian?) and Nick Fazekas, the reed-thin Nevada star.

Behind Gay is Larry Bird play-a-like Adam Morrison of Gonzaga. Actually, the description I heard today was a modern-day John Havlicek. That's pretty good praise for the 6-8 SF. Now, here's the problem. Can the smooth-stroking, hard-working Morrison continue to have success against the typical great athlete small forwards he will see in the NBA? I have problems with that. So let me throw one more comparison into the mix. Wally Szczerbiak. Nothing wrong with that. Wally's hit a hot streak of late, averaging about 25 ppg. he works hard, but he's just not athletic enough to sustain those kinds of stats game in, game out. I think Morrison's more Wally than Larry. And I think Joey Graham offers enough not to want a Wally.

Soooo, the Raptors have to take a long look at three players. They all played today against each other. Texas PG Daniel Gibson was outshone by Duke PF Shelden Williams and especially by Duke SG JJ Reddick. Gibson has great measurables. He'd be a perfect running partner for Jose Calderon. That would free the Raptors up to package Mike James and/or the rights to Roko Ukic in trades to help out elsewhere. In fact, if Gibson could get a little better from long-range, the Raptors could pair Calderon and Gibson at times. Williams is too small to play NBA centre. But he does have a down-low game and he is a ferocious rebounder. He's getting smarter as he gets older. Would it be possible to play him with Bosh and Villanueva offensively? Yes. Defensively? Just as resounding a no! He's the least likely of the three to wear Raptor togs come next fall.

Which brings me to Reddick. If I knew Ukic was coming to North America in a year or two, Reddick would be the pick here. No second thoughts about Gibson at all. Reddick is undersized to be an NBA shooting guard. He's not as athletic as you would like. But he's smart. And he's an unconscious shooter, from NBA distance to boot. He creates a weapon that any NBA team with a half-decent drive and dish guard (Calderon) can turn into a killer. He doesn't create his own shot much. But give him a bit of an opening to spot up and you can, "Ring it up!!!" as Chuck Swirsky says at least once a game.

Will Reddick be a Rick Mount or a Jerry West? The worries are there, but gawd does he shoot the ball. If I was picking and only had the probable choices available in this draft, I'd rank Gay, Reddick, Gibson, Fazekas, Morrison and Williams in that order. Wanna bet the Raptors end up with the seventh pick?

Having Denver's first-round pick and an early second-rounder, could the Raptors end up with Reddick, Darius Washington, the PG out of Memphis and Michigan St. centre Paul Davis? If so, the tradeways of James, Eric Williams and eventually Jalen Rose would result in a young and talented Raptor team two years hence.

PG: Calederon, Washington
SG: Reddick, Peterson
SF: Graham, Bonner
PF: Villanueva, Sow
C: Bosh, Davis

Obviously, the money freed up with the trades above could go towards a true centre and Graham would be a better backup than starter at SF. Take the same group, substitute Magloire for Bonner or Sow and ask yourself if it can compete. The answer is an unequivocal YES!

SPORTS: Babcock no Knight-mare

Fans here in the Toronto area love to express their opinion that Mike Babcock, the Toronto Raptor GM is either an idiot or the devilspawn. Methinks he looks nothing like Adam Sandler, but I'm definitely in the minority here in T.O. That said, he's no Billy Knight.

Now, Knight happens to be a good guy. I've talked to him a couple of times and he's a good guy. A pretty good player in his time. But he's the nadir of NBA GMs, without a doubt. In fact, unless Steve A Smith gets a GM job, Knight might be the worst GM of all time. One caveat, he's often made decisions forced on him by management, but there's a limit any GM should do just to keep collecting a paycheck. I mean, even Elgin Baylor has managed to keep getting talent before sending it away at the behest of The Dentist.

The worst moment will come next summer when somebody from the Atlanta organization passes a card to Commish Stern that announces the Hawks have traded the number one pick in the draft to ... well, it doesn't matter at this point. Why is that going to happen? Because the consensus pick come warm weather will be Rudy Gay, a wing from UConn. And wings, the Hawks have. Point guards and tall rebounding types, not so much.

And it could have been really different down in the deep South. The Hawks had their chance this past summer. A team with a plethora of young and athletic wing players had the second spot in the draft. In that draft slot sat Chris Paul, an almost local product that had played one state over in Carolina at Wake Forest. A ready-to-start NBA point guard. Not necessarily an all-star in the making, but Steve Nash wasn't all-star ready out of the college mould either. Paul was the obvious choice to get the ball to those wings.

But the pretty girl at this baller's ball was Marvin Williams. The SIXTH man of the NCAA champeen Tar Heels of North Carolina. Couldn't start for NC, would have to be one of a half-dozen good athletic and young wings in Atlanta, but possessing the most pure talent in the draft. The spectre of Michael Jordan being passed over for needs in his draft year scared Knight into making the nightmare pick. He passed over Paul and took Williams. And he sealed Atlanta's fate for the rest of this decade.

Naturally, having screwed up that deal, he went out and gave max money to ANOTHER wing, Joe Johnson because, as we Toronto fans know too well, he finally found a player that WANTED to come to his town. He never found out if that desire would have existed at half-the-price, he just doled out the max dollars and fought with the lone bright light in management to keep that precious "Wants to be a Hawk" player. Muttered something about playing Johnson at the point.

Now we know. Paul's going to be an all-star some day. Johnson's a great complimentary player that can't lead and can't play the point more than 10 minutes a game. Williams plays the kind of minutes Rafael Araujo plays here in Toronto. Josh Childress, the real victim of all this, has regressed mightily. And Al Harrington crosses off the days until his trade out of purgatory in the New Year. Dunk champ Josh Smith should be playing big minutes, but isn't. And there are other wings who could play too, but don't.

Harrington's not the only one who should be outward bound in a trade. The smart money would have Childress and Smith going elsewhere too. But it will be a buyer's market and the return will hardly be all-star calibre points like Chris Paul. Bottom line, the Hawks have to divest themselves of at least two and maybe three of these players in order to rebuild their roster. And the Hawks certainly can't add Rudy Gay to the mix this summer. That's why the trade, hopefully for the pick a few back of theirs to take Texas guard Daniel Gibson, will be a requirement. After that, the Hawks will owe Phoenix draft picks from that ill-fated Johnson acquisition. That means the Hawks won't be able to get the other two studs they need to compete until 2008 or thereabouts. That's how bad of a job Billy Knight has done.

Makes me appreciate Mike Babcock a lot more.

TV: No VCR Saturday

The projects are coming to a close. I'm getting the itch to play Bridge (stop cheering Danny) and I've got a LOT of taped TV to catch up on. I have a lot of VCRs and I watch sports and that's about it for watching it live. To be honest, I'm not above turning the TV off, taping the Toronto Raptors game while I twiddle away at the keyboard. And THEN watch the game on tape later that night/morning. Can't make it last longer than a night, but I've been known to do it.

Soooo, one of the things I wanted to do was a series of nightly articles on what I'd watch if I didn't have any VCR's to timeshift. My one conceit is I will take advantage of having a digital TV set that allows me to timeshift and watch some other show between 11 and midnight. Thus, the nightly evaluations will allow for four hours of TV, not three.

Here's the Saturday schedule I'd adhere to:

Hockey Night in Canada on CBC. End of discussion. It's the only new TV, but I'd watch it the same. I look forward to Don Cherry bellowing at me between periods in the first game. And the second-period Hot Stove Lounge has been a favourite for fourty years. The hockey's good these days, too ... unless it's those boring Florida Panthers playing. Mike Keenan is demonstrating that an anachronism in today's hockey has zero chances of winning unless Roberto Luongo and Jamie McLellan stand on their head in goal. Good on his thug-loving backside.

Well, that starts the series. Let's see if I can keep it up through the next several days to get at least a week's worth of postings here at Mug Shots.

SPORTS: Is there a GIGANTIC big step still to go?

J.P. Ricciardi has been spending money and making moves. Not the moves I suggested back in August () But some interesting moves anyway.

Instead of Pat Burrell, the Blue Jays finished the winter meetings by acquiring Lyle Overbay. Cheaper, more consistent, less powerful. But with the chance to bang a few more homers as he matures. Plus, he's actually a first baseman, meaning he'll be better defensively. Earlier, the Jays signed the needed pitcher. I'm still not sure Kevin Millwood wouldn't be a more consistent better second man in the rotation than A.J. Burnett. But, Burnett does have the chance to be a whole lot better.

I wrote my piece in August, prior to Miguel Batista's meltdown. Getting B.J. Ryan was far more a necessity than many people think. His teammates had lost confidence in Batista, and big league sports is all about the 3 C's, Capability, Concentration and Confidence. Batista was more fire starter than stopper. And he had to be replaced. Money availability made Ryan, not Billy Wagner, my preference for a new closer. Good for J.P. to grab him.

Sooooo, what to do about my suggestion at getting Ken Griffey to make the power upgrade complete and finish off the major acquisition budget? Obviously, with the Reds ditching Sean Casey this week, the pressure to bounce one of Cincy's outfielders has lessened greatly. Would an offer of Alex Rios, Brandon League and farmhand John Haddig get Griffey? No. Would throwing in Batista? Still no, but a lot closer. Ultimately, no cigar for either Griffey or Adam Dunn. And I'm not so sure Rios by himself isn't better than Austin Kearns.

Sooooo, what to do? I'm nothing if not ambitious and able to change points of view. How's this to float the Blue Jay boat of good hope? Batista, Eric Hinske, Russ Adams and Brandon League to the Baltimore Orioles for Miguel Tejada.

Now, before you jump up and down and say I'm foolish, let me point out Tejada's request to bail, issued to the press this week. When a team leader type like Tejada explodes than it might be very difficult to bring him back on board. The Orioles face a couple of years of rebuilding and paying Tejada 12 mill per year to help them finish fourth might not be prudent. Batista gives them a year to school Chris Ray, the closer of the future. He'll be tradeable at the deadline with his modest 4M stipend. Adams becomes the long term replacement for Tejada. Hinske joins the DH/1B team with Javy Lopez. League gives the Oriole another bullpen option. The quartet's bill comes in at around 8M, a savings immediately of four million a year. Within a year, the savings are at 6M a year. That's money that can be spent on a power-hitting OF when the time to contend comes again.

Can the Jays live with Tejada? The salary hit is $4M, but it does clear power and playing time problems off the to-do list. All it creates anew is a lead-off issue.

How about RF-Rios, LF-Catalanotto/Johnson, CF-Wells, SS-Tejada, 1B-Overbay, DH-Hillenbrand, 3B-Koskie, C-Zaun, 2B-Hudson. There's 35-homer capability in Wells and Tejada. Overbay, Hillenbrand and Koskie can pass 20. And Hudson is the only one of the others (assuming the LF platoon is one player in effect) that won't hit double figures. There's plenty of speed in the top four and Hudson. Aaron Hill leads a slim bench. Maybe John-Ford Griffin, the backup catcher and another spare IF. Hudson's not indelicate.

This group can be decent offensively and pretty good defensively. Left field would be the only clearly sub-par defensive position, and that's only when Catalanotto is out there. Add in the definitely better pitching and the Blue Jays feel like a 92-98 win team.

That means a trade at the deadline will be needed. A go-for-it trade in August to bring in a replacement for a corner outfielder isn't far-fetched. Rios, Hillenbrand and a kiddie pitcher for a ticket might be the route to 100 wins and the playoffs. That would allow Catalanotto to DH, Reed Johnson to play one corner and the new guy to go to the other field.

But that's just me daydreaming about a GIGANTIC step forward. Realistically, Hinske to Baltimore for a minor prospect, Batista and Hillenbrand to Pittsburgh for Craig Wilson and a reliever, and the signing of Reggie Sanders and Mark Bellhorn sounds a lot like the finish to the Blue Jay off-season.