Category: Recap

'Mad Men' recap: 'A moment before you need more happiness'

Mad Men Don Lane

The specter of death has loomed over “Mad Men” from the very beginning of Season 5, and now we know why. Despondent over the discovery of his embezzlement and facing almost certain financial ruin, Lane decides to take his own life. Though it’s not as thematically unified as last week’s “The Other Woman,” “Commissions and Fees” is all about life passages: While Lane is dying, Sally and Glen are moving into adulthood. As the title suggests, the episode also explores a question that has lately become central to “Mad Men”: What price are we willing to pay for success?

By my count, Lane’s suicide is the third tragedy to befall the agency during business hours. Two seasons ago, there was the maiming of Lane’s nemesis — and fellow Englishman -- Guy Mackendrick. Then came the unceremonious death of Miss Blankenship near the end of last season. By now, you might think the employees of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce would be inured to this kind of human suffering in their midst, but no: Even the weasely Pete Campbell, who was far from friendly with Lane, is stunned and upset by the news. 

For the viewer, however, Lane’s demise was somewhat less shocking. His storyline was forced to the back burner for most of this rather crowded season, but Lane came back with a vengeance two weeks ago in “The Christmas Waltz.” At the time, I complained that Lane’s financial crisis was overly manufactured, and I still believe it was. His scheme was transparently stupid, to be sure, but the basic impulse wasn’t entirely out of keeping with what we know of Lane, a man who will do anything to preserve his dignity. From the moment he forged Don’s signature, we all knew this wasn’t going to end well for poor old Lane.

If anything, it’s something of a miracle that it’s taken so long for Lane’s malfeasance to come to light (it’s also odd that Bert Cooper, and not Joan or Scarlet, is the first person to notice the check). Bert assumes that Don went behind the backs of the other partners and gave Lane a bonus. It’s a convenient assumption, one that allows Don to quietly ask Lane for his resignation without anyone being the wiser. The scene is wrenching, not quite as devastating as Peggy’s farewell last week but difficult to watch nonetheless. When Don asks why Lane didn’t just ask for the money -– an entirely reasonable question –- Lane’s explanation speaks multitudes: “Why suffer the humiliation for a 13-day loan?”

Though Lane’s excuses are not terribly convincing, it’s hard not to sympathize with him somewhat. “I have never been compensated for my contributions to this company,” he complains, his sense of entitlement no doubt inflated by his appointment to the 4A’s financial committee earlier that day. While Lane was dutifully tending to the company’s books, Roger was busy taking three-martini lunches, napping in his office and bungling the Lucky Strikes account -– a screw-up almost as egregious and far more destructive than Lane’s. Can you blame the guy for getting mad? 

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'Game of Thrones' recap: All men must die

"Game of Thrones" resumed its Carmen-Sandiego-style world tour of Westeros for a season finale that left surprisingly few of its characters hanging off cliffs and focused far more on resolutionAfter last week's climactic episode, which remained laser-focused on Kings Landing and the bloody Battle of the Blackwater, "Game of Thrones" resumed its Carmen-Sandiego-style world tour of Westeros for a season finale that left surprisingly few of its characters hanging off cliffs and focused far more on resolution and begrudging acceptance: of failure, of death, of change. There's a lot of ground to cover in this extra-long 65-minute episode, so let's get started.

Those concerned about Tyrion can breathe a sigh of relief as he wakes up relatively unharmed, although he's now Battle Damage Tyrion thanks to a rather nasty scar across his face. Turns out the man who attacked him was Mandon Moore, a member of the Kingsguard sent to kill him at Cersei's behest.

But the greatest blow to Tyrion is not physical, but political: As Master Pycelle informs him quite gleefully, Lord Tywin has taken over his position as the King's Hand, relieved Bronn as commander of the City Watch and sent Tyrion's hill-tribe warriors home -- transforming Tyrion instantly from one of the most important players in the game to a powerless bystander.

CHEAT SHEET: Who's who in 'Game of Thrones' Season 2?

One of his few remaining allies appears to be Varys, who goes out of his way to acknowledge that Tyrion saved Kings Landing from certain destruction, because neither the history books nor Lord Tywin will ever do so.

Cut to Lord Tywin's horse crapping all over the stone floor outside the throne room, a rather unsubtle but apt metaphor for how the Lannister patriarch has always treated his youngest son. Joffrey offers Littlefinger all the lands of Harrenhal as a reward for coordinating the partnership with the Tyrells, and grants an even bigger boon to Ser Loras by breaking off the engagement with Sansa in favor of marrying his sister, Margaery.

Sansa is over the moon about the idea that she might finally get away from that tow-headed psycho, but Littlefinger quickly quashes her tiny moment of sunshine and disabuses her of that notion. Although the betrothal may be over, it's not going to end the beatings, plus he adds that there's all kinds of exciting rape to look forward to now that she's finally "a woman"! Littlefinger promises to help Sansa escape because of his affection for her mother, so here's hoping that bargain works out better here than it did for Ned!

CHEAT SHEET: Who's who in 'Game of Thrones' Season 2?

Brienne and Jaime encounter three dead women hung along the road with a sign that reads: "They lay with lions." The three men who killed them for consorting with Lannisters amble back down the road and go into laughing fits when they see Brienne in armor, a situation she seems sadly accustomed to. Clearly bound as a prisoner, Jaime tries to slide under the radar by pretending to be a pig thief, but one of the men sees through the ruse and recognizes him. Brienne steps in with astonishing speed and eviscerates all three of them with such ferocity that even Jaime seems shocked.

I'll admit to freeze-framing on his hilariously shocked expression several times, as it is priceless. Maybe it's time to cut back on those jokes about her sexuality, eh Kingslayer?

Jaqen appears once more to say farewell to Arya after her escape from Harrenhal, and she takes this opportunity to tell him how impressed she's been with his awesome murdering, and how wants to learn how to do it herself! Jaqen says she'd need to come with him to the faraway city of Braavos, but because she's not ready to give up on finding her family, she declines.

Instead, Jaqen gives Arya a strange silver coin and the words "valar morghulis" as consolation prizes, and tells her that if she ever wants to find him again, she need only give them to any man from Braavos. And then he leaves, but not before he kills one final person: himself. "Jaqen is dead," he tells Arya, before turning his head away and turning it back -- to reveal an entirely different (and slightly less hot) face.

Things looks grim for Theon, whose twenty men holding Winterfell are now surrounded by 500 enemy soldiers with no help from the Iron Islands forthcoming. He seems very much like the old Theon here, and Master Luwin gently counsels him to flee and join the Night's Watch. Theon says it's too late; he's "gone too far go pretend to be anything else," and there's nowhere to go now but through. He gives a very stirring Braveheart sort of speech about dying gloriously and it seems like his men are rallying... until someone bonks him on the back of the head and prepares to deliver him to the enemy outside the walls, presumably per Robb Stark's offer of leniency.

Daenerys arrives at the House of the Undying to reclaim her dragons, and finds herself drawn into strange, tempting visions as she moves from room to room. In one, she walks across the throne room of Kings Landing, empty and dark with snow falling from a ruined ceiling open to the sky. Then she finds herself in a tent where she has an emotional reunion with Khal Drogo and the child they lost. When she finally finds her dragons chained to a table, the warlock appears and explains that the dragons have fueled the revival of magic, and because she makes them stronger, they're going to imprison her with them... forever.

Much like Brienne, her response is swift and lethal, ordering her dragons to shoot fireballs at the warlock, consuming him in flames and dissolving their chains. She returns to the villa of Xaro Xhoan Ducksauce, finds him in bed with her handmaiden, and locks both of them in Xaro's empty vault to die a slow death while her khalasar loots everything he owns. It will be enough, says Mormont, to buy a ship.

Robb Stark, much like his father, is an honorable idiot who can't help but make the wrong decisions for the right reasons, which is why Robb's decided not only to have hot, spontaneous tent sex with Talisa, but to put aside the Frey betrothal and marry her.

Oath-breaking is kind of a big deal here, not just in terms of personal honor but the rather intense political fallout this is going to create, particularly from Lord Walder Frey. But Robb doesn't care because he's in looooove and somehow thinks he's on a show in which love is treated as a formidable power that conquers all, rather than a profound weakness more likely to destroy you.

Speaking of powerful men under the sway of alluring foreign women, Stannis is understandably pretty upset about his massive military failure at Blackwater and the Lord of Light's inability to seal the deal, which he expresses by choking Melisandre rather vigorously and screaming, "Where is your god now?" She maintains that he will still ultimately become king (after betraying everything he once held dear, a qualification that doesn't faze him but probably should?). There stare into a fire together for a while; sadly there are no S'Mores.

Finally, Jon continues his march toward Mance Rayder with the wildlings and ranger Qhorin Halfhand, who had previously urged Jon to become a spy within the wildlings for the Night's Watch. Qhorin contrives a fight with Jon that forces him to kill the ranger, which earns him trust from the wildlings. Moments later, Ygritte brings him to see the armies of wildlings gathered together in a frozen valley below. Their numbers are not small.

Meanwhile, the men of the Night's Watch must face another, even bigger threat as the third horn finally sounds and the White Walkers finally rise up en masse, shambling forwards in the undead hundreds for the final dramatic shot of the season.

That's it for Game of Thrones until 2013! Now that it's all over, what were your favorite moments of Season 2?

Sex and violence tally:

Violence: Brienne kills three Stark soldiers, Jon kills Qhorin Halfhand, Stannis chokes Melisandre, Master Luwin gets stabbed, the warlock burns to death and, though this isn't violence in the traditional sense, Daxos gets buried alive in a vault, which is a pretty messed up way to die. 

Nudity: A prostitute strips pointlessly for Varys.

Extra-credit book report:

Tyrion's wound was actually far more disfiguring in the book, with three-quarters of his nose and a chunk of his lip lost. Robb didn't set aside his marriage to the Frey girl for Talisa -- who is not a character in the book -- but rather a high-born girl from a minor family named Jeyne Westerling. Luwin was killed by Bolton's men, not Iron Islanders (or Osha). And Daenerys went to the House of the Undying accompanied by her dragons, and she had very different visions and ultimately burned not the warlock, but the entire building.

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Photo: Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) in "Game of Thrones." Credit: HBO

Late Night: Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert mock Bloomberg's soda ban

 
 
 
     

On Thursday night, Comedy Central colleagues Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert piled on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his widely criticized plan to ban large-sized sugary drinks from the city's delis and concession stands. (If David Letterman weren't in reruns this week, no doubt he would have joined in the fun too.)

First up was "The Daily Show," where Stewart -- who is nothing if not passionate when it comes to the subject of New York food culture -- argued that unhealthy eating is an essential part of the Big Apple experience. He pointed to the futility of banning sodas over 16 ounces in a city where you can get a "14-pound" pastrami sandwich garnished with "7 pounds of beef tongue" from the Carnegie Deli. (Also problematic for Stewart: The proposed ban put him in the unpleasant situation of agreeing with conservative commentator Tucker Carlson.)

Stewart blamed another overreaching mayor for the obesity crisis: Rudy Giuliani. Back when Times Square was full of strip clubs and porn shops, rather than places like the Olive Garden or the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., New Yorkers were thinner, he claimed. "Mr. Mayor, pick your poison," he advised. "Obesity's the problem now. Fine, I think I know how to solve it. Reintroduce crack. It may be whack, but when that weight comes off, it stays off."

As is his wont, Colbert took a slightly more absurdist approach to the subject. He bemoaned Bloomberg's transformation of the city into "an organic, slow-food, nanny state," and suggested the prohibition was contrary to the American can-do spirit because "we haven't even achieved type-3 diabetes yet."

Colbert reluctantly conceded that he, like other New Yorkers, would have to make some major lifestyle changes if the ban goes into effect. First order of business: Putting "Drinky," his 6-foot-tall pet giant drink, out of his (its?) misery. The grim task wasn't easy for Colbert, who wept as he brandished a pistol and fired a single shot at the back of Drinky's head.

We all like a little sugar now and then, but who knew giving up soda could be quite so difficult?

 

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Late Night: For Jon Stewart, Trump a gift from the comedy gods

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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He's baaaack!

Just as the general election campaign was getting underway this week, reality star Donald Trump emerged from whatever gold-plated cage he's been hiding in for the last few months to try, once again, to revive the "birther" controversy. 

While most of us just rolled our eyes at Trump's latest round of grandstanding -- which included a heated interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer and a tweet calling conservative pundit George Will the "dumbest political commentator of all time" -- Jon Stewart welcomed the return of the Donald. 

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Until this week, Stewart had been concerned that the two-man race between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama would be a tedious slog, unlike the three-ring circus of the Republican primary.

He needn't have worried.

Stewart noted the fortuitous timing of Trump's reemergence: "The comedy gods deliver. On the day Mitt Romney celebrates clinching the Republican nomination, he also holds a fundraiser with reality TV host and antique doll hair thief Donald Trump."

For Stewart, the most amusing thing about Trump's latest round of publicity-mongering was his refusal to answer any questions about President Obama's allegedly suspicious birth certificate, only hours after he'd chastised the press for not asking these exact questions.  

As Stewart put it, "No one’s mad enough to bring up the birther issue, and [bleep] you for bringing it up!"

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Late Night: Jon Stewart clarifies his support for 'socialism'

 

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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After two seemingly interminable weeks off the air, “The Daily Show” returned last night with a bang. First Lady Michelle Obama stopped by to promote her new book, “American Grown,” and was her usual charming self, gracefully deflecting Jon Stewart’s questions about Joe Biden and her husband’s approval ratings.

But, no offense to Ms. Obama, the real highlight of the episode was a segment Stewart did about the rather elastic definition of the word “socialism.” The bit was prompted by recent statements from Fox News chief Roger Ailes, who claimed “The Daily Show” host once admitted to being a socialist during a barroom conversation between the two men.

Stewart didn’t recall the meeting, but he did play a tape from a 2000 appearance on “Larry King Live” in which he confessed to having some “socialist” political leanings. So was Ailes right? Not exactly, according to Stewart, who spent the next 7 minutes or so clarifying his definition of the word.

“I don’t believe in state control of industry or collectivizing farms, but I do believe that there is value in some policies that derive from a more socialist ethos, like, uh, um …” he trailed off, then cut to debate footage of Mitt Romney describing Social Security as “an essential program.” Next up was a clip of Sarah Palin defending Medicare.

“See you at the meeting, Sister Sarah!” Stewart quipped, but his joke had a point: Like him, plenty of conservatives support programs with a socialist bent.

Stewart wondered why, if some conservatives are fine with Medicare and Social Security, then why do they get so bent out of shape about “Obamacare.” 

He argued it’s ironic that Republicans have called Obama’s healthcare overhaul, which would require citizens to buy health insurance from private companies in a competitive marketplace, the equivalent of “unadulterated socialism.” “It’s a Marxist dream,” Stewart said sarcastically, then continued, “Some would say, isn’t our current system of healthcare more like socialized medicine because we’re all currently subsidizing the millions of citizens without health insurance?”

Stewart reserved his harshest criticism for Romney, who recently took credit for the government bailout that helped revive the American auto industry and who has attacked the president’s financial support for solar energy but who himself is a staunch backer of ethanol subsidies.

 “Can’t we just admit a socialist is someone who wants to spend government money on things you don’t like? And then we can dispense with the name-calling and find an industry we can all agree is great,” Stewart concluded.

So is there any industry we can all agree on? How about that most American of sports, professional football? As Stewart discovered last night, it turns out the NFL already uses a profit-sharing model that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has described as “a form of socialism.”  

Off with his head!

 

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'America's Got Talent' recap: St. Louis shows its spirit

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St. Louis showed its spirit Tuesday night as "America's Got Talent" took in all the talent under the Arch. Apparently the judges liked so much of what marched across the stage in the Gateway to the West (Howard Stern posited that they'd scrubbed the whole city clean of talent, leaving none behind), only a fraction of it could be shown in an hour.

So we were treated to a bevy of people celebrating the fact that they'd snagged a ticket to Las Vegas without seeing more than a second or two of the performances that earned them that privilege. I wouldn't have minded seeing more of a hip-hop violinist that Stern said was the best fiddler he'd ever heard. Then again, a few seconds was quite enough of, just for example, a group of curly-wig-wearing, Irish-step-dancing kids, the youngest member of which capped off the performance with what Howie Mandel noted was an Angelina Jolie leg move. 

Not all the acts were waved through to the Vegas round, of course, though some were offered consolation prizes that seemed to please them nearly as much. A pint-size Ozzy Osbourne impersonator earned a hug from Ozzy's wife, "AGT" judge Sharon Osbourne. "I would die," he said, when offered the opportunity to clinch his hero's spouse.

A guy named Ron Christopher Porter Jr., whose dream is to do movie trailer voice-overs ("I don't see where this would be an act … I don't think you can go onstage with this," Stern wisely intoned) was invited to "hang out" with "AGT" host Nick Cannon. "Really? Oh my god!" Porter said, jumping up and down as if he'd just won the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. Porter was further rewarded with more stage time and a ride in Cannon's limo.

There were other seriously buzzer-worthy acts: a female drummer who'd lost her band, a woman who crushes soda cans with her bare hands ("This chick almost hit me in the face with her cans," quipped Mandel), a guy in a chicken costume, some dude with a lasso and a small plastic bull.

But the ones worth all the judges' fuss? They were …

Isaac Ryan Brown: A beyond-cute 6-year-old boy with personality to burn who sang the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" and had what the judges rightly noted was serious "star quality." "As long as it's coming from your heart, that's the only thing that really matters," Brown said of performing, prompting universal "awwws."



Spencer Horsman: The self-dubbed "world's youngest escape artist" (Stern observed that he looked 14, though he's actually 26) managed to wriggle free of a straitjacket while hanging upside down just before a flaming rope keeping a jagged trap from clapping shut on him burned through, spelling his doom. It was dramatic, and he had a sweet onstage demeanor. As long as he's got some good follow-up stunts, this young Houdini could stick around a while.



The Cut Throat Freakshow: This act included a woman named "Candy Pants" who walked and did a handstand on crushed glass, a guy who picked up a chair with his eyelids and a sword swallower – and that's pretty much all the details I could make out through my fingers.



What did you think of the acts that auditioned in St. Louis?

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Photo: From left, Ron Christopher Porter Jr., Nick Cannon, Curtis Cutts Bey at "America's Got Talent" auditions in St. Louis. Credit: Virginia Sherwood/NBC

'America's Got Talent' recap: Tampa, Fla. auditions not so hot

The Distinguished Men of Brass on "America's Got Talent"
The judges were hot during the Tampa stop of the "America's Got Talent" auditions Monday night —  Howard Stern complained he was sweating "like a pig" — but apart from a few exceptions, the talent onstage was less so.

After the requisite upbeat urban-youth-saving crew, Inspire the Fire — complete with cheery cardigans and uplifting video intro in which they call the group "a family" — did its singing/dancing thing and made it to Vegas (the judges found it less "corny" than "Glee"), we got some guy wearing a doll in a Baby Bjorn, a self-dubbed "Scissorhands" who did something unclear to a woman's hair, and some other dude who said he was "America's escape hero" but may have been our nation's least-impressive escape artist.

We also got "bikini bombshell" dancers who couldn't dance. Howie Mandel said that, even though he added that although the women were "atrocious" hoofers with "no talent whatsoever," he "still loved" their act. But Stern, to his credit, was unmoved. "My Aunt Sally … at 95, she moved better than you," he said. "At least if your implants had exploded we would have had excitement."

Those acts may have left viewers cold, and a few other promising acts (Hawley Magic and Alesya Gulevich the hula-hoop artist, to name two) were coolly given only a few seconds of air time by producers.

But a handful of performers managed to generate at least some heat:

All That: A burly male clogging group who Mandel hailed for exciting the audience. "When you can bring them to their feet with just your feet, I think you've done something," he told them. Sharon Osbourne even wondered if they could teach her husband, Ozzy, to clog. (Now that could be a million-dollar act.)



The Distinguished Men of Brass: A sharp-suited band of talented fellows who'd lost their jobs and come together to make music and chart a new path, inspiringly. "Thank God for bad times because they brought you guys together," Stern half-joked.



Ulysses: This peculiar-haired, round-bellied, lucky-sweater-wearing guy proved himself to be an able singer of vintage TV theme songs. He treated the audience and the judges to "The Love Boat,"  "Green Acres" and "The Addams Family," failing to win Stern's love but advancing to Vegas thanks to Mandel and Osbourne, who saw the nostalgic entertainment value in Ulysses' peculiar talent. Yes, they were drawn to Ulysses' siren song.



What did you think of the acts on Monday's show?

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Photo: The Distinguished Men of Brass at "America's Got Talent" Tampa, Fla. auditions. Credit: Virginia Sherwood / NBC.

'Mad Men' recap: A woman's worth

In this week's episode of "Mad Men," Joan and Peggy each learn the hard way exactly what they're worth
You know you've got a dramatic "Mad Men" when Peggy leaves the agency and it’s only the second most stunning thing that happens in the episode. In "The Other Woman," Joan finally gets the partnership she's long deserved but she has to pay an almost unimaginable price to make it happen. Meanwhile, Peggy makes the painful decision to leave Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce -- or should I say Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Harris? -- because someone else is willing to pay her what she's actually worth.

The episode's title is, of course, an allusion to the misogynist Jaguar pitch, and to Joan's degrading but profitable tryst with the repellent Herb Rennet -- a character so thoroughly vile he's named after the gunk they use to make cheese. But to me, it also hints at the stark contrast between Peggy and Joan, two characters who have so very much in common yet, when it comes down to it, are playing by diametrically opposite rules.

Joan, a woman whose considerable business savvy will always be secondary to her sex appeal, represents the endgame of the pre-feminist playbook. She's essential, but she'll always be devalued because she does "women's work." Peggy is every bit as competent as Joan, but she's a creative and therefore gets ahead by effectively neutering herself -- by dressing like a boy and tossing back whiskey like it's water.

Both women grapple with the same question in "The Other Woman" -- just how much am I worth? -- but they come up with completely different answers. This may be the saddest thing in one of the saddest episodes of "Mad Men" I can recall: Despite their shared experiences, there's a gulf between Peggy and Joan that can never quite be bridged.

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Joan has long been one of my favorite characters on "Mad Men" because of her tragic mix of confidence and vulnerability. When I think of the most poignant moments in the history of the series, I inevitably go back to Joan -- to her brief tenure as a script reader, to that heartbreaking accordion performance, to the time her fiance raped her on the floor of Don Draper's office.

But Joan beats her own record in "The Other Woman" by agreeing to sleep with Herb in exchange for a 5% stake in the agency. Like Lane's miraculous back taxes from last week, it's a plot development that feels schematic and rather contrived. (It reminds me of nothing so much as "Indecent Proposal.") It's hardly subtle, but it's also in keeping with the blunt direction the series has taken this season. Joan has always used her sexuality to get ahead, but now she's literally sleeping her way to the top.

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Late Night: Jimmy Fallon and Will Smith get jazzy with it

 

Will Smith stopped by "Late Night" on Thursday to plug his latest movie, "Men in Black 3" -- perhaps you've heard of it -- but little did he know he'd uncover some family secrets, too. 

Jimmy Fallon explained that studio 6B, where "Late Night" is taped, has a long and colorful broadcasting history, dating back to the early days of television and radio. The space was even home to a radio show hosted by their "grandfathers," Will "Sunnyside" Smith and James "Fatty Monroe" Fallon. 

The jazz duo had clearly influenced Smith's musical career, Fallon suggested. As evidence, he played "long-lost" black-and-white footage of grandpas Smith and Fallon performing ragtime versions of "Parents Just Don't Understand" and "Gettin' Jiggy With It."  

As with all of Fallon's musical parodies, this one was spot-on, from Fallon's slightly nasal vocals to the exclamation -- "Hot peanuts!" -- with which Smith ended each of the songs. Quick, someone get these two on "Boardwalk Empire."

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Late Night: Bill O'Reilly reluctantly fist bumps David Letterman

Any time Bill O'Reilly visits "The Late Show," it's pretty much guaranteed to get testy. While David Letterman is first and foremost a comedian, he's also fairly outspoken when it comes to politics, and he's certainly not afraid of grilling his guests. And, well, we all know O'Reilly is hardly a shrinking violet, either. 

On Wednesday night, Letterman welcomed O'Reilly then jumped right into the fray, asking O'Reilly about his feelings about the Iraq war and the death of Osama bin Laden. O'Reilly admitted that, "in hindsight, absolutely we should have done that Iraq thing in a different way," even going so far as to say, "I really wish that didn't happen."

But he stopped just short of agreeing with Letterman's suggestion that the war had delayed the quest for Bin Laden. 

"At some point George W. Bush said, 'I don't really think about Osama bin Laden anymore,' " Letterman argued. At first, O'Reilly claimed Bush had never said such a thing, but Letterman stuck to his guns. "We got it on video," he said.  

"All right," O'Reilly finally conceded, throwing his hands up in the air. 

"So we're together so far. Get in here," Letterman said, extending his fist in a gesture of goodwill. O'Reilly wouldn't budge, so Letterman grabbed his guest's limp hand and bumped it. 

Later in the interview, Letterman also asked why President Obama doesn't get more credit for what he's accomplished. O'Reilly gave Obama high marks for his handling of foreign policy and for saving the auto industry, but he said that the economy as a whole was still suffering. As for the election, O'Reilly predicted the outcome will come down to the three head-to-head debates. 

'American Idol' finale recap: Phillip Phillips takes the win

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After a record-breaking 132 million votes were tallied -– and just for perspective, that's more votes than were cast in the 2008 presidential election -- the winner of "American Idol" Season 11 is Phillip Phillips.

Not Jessica Sanchez.

Most of us probably aren't terribly surprised -– yes, the cute white guy won again, for the fifth straight year -– but perhaps, we can be forgiven for feeling a little disappointed. It would not only have been gratifying to see a young woman snap that streak; it would have been particularly pleasing to see Sanchez, the 16-year-old singer with the preternaturally powerful voice, be the one to snap it.

VIDEO: A season of songs from Phillip and Jessica

She was a hard worker, a proud child of a military man, an American of Mexican and Filipino heritage, a come-from-behind contender who had returned strong after her near-elimination. Sanchez was the antithesis of the white male who coasts to victory –- or perhaps is carried there by a bevy of smitten teenyboppers.

Which is not to say that Phillips, of whom I am an avowed fan, didn't earn his win. Struggling with health issues throughout the competition and eschewing some of the show's more crass aspects, he stayed unwaveringly true to himself and his talent. But he also allowed himself to grow, stretching his range, testing his voice, embracing different sorts of music and bigger production values.

Both contestants, the winner and the runner-up, in their best performances, could make the fine hairs on the backs of your arms stand up. (Jennifer Lopez has ruined that gauge of talent with her "goosies" references, but that doesn't stop us from feeling that tickle.) And yes, both stand to stake out stellar careers in the music biz.

Each of their talents was amply on display during the finale Wednesday night. Phillips' guitar-strumming duet with Creedence Clearwater Revival's John Fogerty –- on "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" and "Bad Moon Rising" -- seemed to suit him like a favorite flannel shirt. Sanchez's "I Will Always Love You" solo was impressive, but her duet with "Dreamgirls" star Jennifer Holliday on "And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going" blew the roof off the place.

On a night that also included performances by Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, Aerosmith, Fantasia Barrino (who sang with third-place-finisher Joshua Ledet), Chaka Kahn, Neil Diamond, Jordin Sparks (who performed with Hollie Cavanagh, who came in fourth this season), Reba McEntire (who sang with Skylar Laine) and (repeatedly) this season's top 12, the Sanchez/Holliday number was unrivalled in its power and excitement and pure vocal virtuosity.

It was a propitious marriage of voices, and the evening also offered the promise of a real marriage between two former "Idol" contestants: Diana DeGarmo (second place, Season 3) and Ace Young (seventh place, Season 5). Yes, with Ryan Seacrest supervising from just a few feet away, Young got down on one knee and proposed to DeGarmo, ring and all. (After Seacrest faked us out, making us briefly think he was proposing to his girlfriend, Julianne Hough, the other week, it may have taken viewers a few seconds to believe Young was popping the question in earnest.)

But the biggest moment of the evening, of course, was the big reveal. After a few words of thanks from the two finalists, Seacrest issued his request that the lights be dimmed.

"After a record-breaking 132 million votes, the winner of 'American Idol' Season 11 is … Phillip Phillips."

How did Phillips take the news? He wept like a champ, getting through only part of his "winner's song," "Home," which we can probably look forward to hearing under next season's departing-contestant highlight reels, before becoming too overcome with emotion -– as the confetti tumbled from above –- to continue. So he left the stage and headed straight into the audience, where his family awaited him.

The 21-year-old crooner from Leesburg, Ga., had brought home the win and was heading home a victor. But the music and his bright future would have to wait. First, he just needed a hug from his mom.

I hope Sanchez got one from her mom too.

RELATED:

Full coverage: 'American Idol'

INTERACTIVE: 'Idol' vs. 'The Voice'

VIDEO: A season of songs from Phillip and Jessica

'American Idol' recap: Jessica Sanchez, Phillip Phillips vie for the win

-- Amy Reiter

Photo: Runner-up Jessica Sanchez embraces Phillip Phillips on "American Idol." Credit: John Shearer / Invision / AP

'America's Got Talent' recap: It's Howard Stern's world

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"America's Got Talent" may continue to hype the addition of Howard Stern to the judging table as a "Revolution," but the shock jock already has evolved into feeling right at home in his new gig. On Tuesday night's show — the second night featuring auditions in New York, Stern's home turf — the talent show's newest judge ratcheted up his attitude that the stage was his to do with as his pleased.

Before the evening was over, Stern had brought his own dad up onstage to give a "nudnik" contestant a little helpful advice of the sort Papa Stern has apparently long given his son: "Don't be stupid, you moron."



He also titillated his hometown audience with a little sexy dancing.



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