The Border Debuts; Stewart and Colbert Return, Dave Shaves and Conan Kick’s Ass

Busy night of new TV, with more late night returns, new CBC offerings and one close shave. Here are the headlines:
The new CBC drama The Border starts tonight at 9 p.m. The 24-like drama looks at “the world’s longest undefended border,” which, as anyone who has tried to cross recently at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo can attest, is not so undefended anymore. Trafficking, terrorism and human cargo are all part of the mix. James McGowan, Sofia Milos (who plays a Homeland Security agent based in Toronto!), Graham Abbey and Nazneen Contractor (above, with the rest of the cast) star. There’s an impressive pedigree of producers and writers, including executive producer Peter Raymond (Shake Hands With The Devil) as well as contributions from that HeyWriterBoy script machine Denis McGrath (Across The River From Motor City; Blood Ties). I’ll post a full review here tomorrow.
The Border is part of a wave of new CBC shows hitting the air at the best possible time–Week Nine of the writers strike. Instead of running smack up against a brand new episode of Two And A Half Men, The Border faces a repeat of that show as well as another airing of NBC’s overused Deal Or No Deal. A new U.S. reality show, Dance War: Bruno vs. Carrie Ann, does debut tonight at 8 p.m. Still, The Border has a decent shot at getting sampled by Canadian viewers. A few other CBC series, including comedies jPod (Tuesday), Sophie (Wednesday) and the sexy hockey wives drama MVP (Friday), also debut this week.
Tonight is also the return of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report–without writers. Maybe without guests, too. The New York Observer reports that Canadian-born author Naomi Klein and editor Katrina vanden Heuvel have both refused to cross the WGA picket line to appear on Colbert. Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has also reportedly ditched Colbert after being razzed in the press for crossing picket lines to appear on Leno. Andrew Sullivan is the scheduled guest tonight.
Even crappy, writerless versions of Daily and Colbert will be welcomed back by CTV, which airs both shows at midnight. The Canadian network learned today that plans to televise the Golden Globes next Sunday have officially been ditched by NBC, leaving Ben Mulroney to wander red carpets aimlessly, or, rather, even more aimlessly.
Also tonight, David Letterman is supposed to shave off his ratty strike beard, giving his writers one less thing to goof on each night. And there’s word that Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel, who have been having trouble getting guests to cross the picket lines, are going to appear on each others shows this coming Thursday night. It’s a brilliant idea. Kimmel, especially, has made no secret that he is “pissed” with the Guild for sandbagging guests from the writer-less late night shows. Leno has apparently threatened to go “Fi-Core”–financial core status–an extreme measure which apparently means you can divorce yourself from the union action. Both will likely make their case that Letterman’s deal is an impossible competitive disadvantage and that the WGA pickets are crippling their shows. That would be more persuasive if Leno wasn’t still beating Letterman in the ratings, even without his writers.
Not shaving his beard, or cutting his throat, is Conan O’Brien, who has been the most live and dangerous late night host of them all since the shows returned. O’Brien has walked the tightrope every night so far, ditching his monologue and other sketches and just winging it. Friday he picked up a guitar, threw on a cowboy hat and ripped into “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”
It was fantastic, full of energy and pretty damn entertaining and reminded me of the good old days when O’Brien used to warm up his studio audience before each taping by morphing into Insane Elvis. It gives his show a “what will he do tonight?” quality that, writers or no writers, is late night TV at its best.

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