Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle TV Eye

By Margaret Moser

JUNE 8, 1998:  The MTV series Austin Stories is officially not being renewed. The decision was announced by the network on June 1.

"I do feel a sense of loss," sighed series star-scriptwriter Laura House over the phone. "But, the possibilities [for the future] are endless."

The female lead of Austin Stories sounded thoughtful and a bit sad, unsurprisingly, about the fate of the show she had worked on for four years. She also sounded a little relieved as well as optimistic. After all, she did have a life and a career before MTV. It's just the life afterward that will be different.

When Austin Stories debuted on MTV last fall, it was greeted with as much interest as suspicion. Much of the Austin audience hadn't had as much fun recognizing local landmarks onscreen since Dazed and Confused. I wasn't very impressed with the first episode even though Weezer liked it. I was afraid it would inspire people to think of this as Slacker Central and move here. But by episode three, I was hooked.

Their debut was auspicious. Austin Stories garnered MTV the highest rating ever for a non-video show. The New York Times loved it. And for 12 episodes, House, Howard Kremer, and Brad "Chip" Pope hilariously schmoozed, bumbled, and schemed their way through various tried-and-true situations and jobs. (Except for House, the only cast member with a regular job was Chloe, the long-suffering waitress [Heather Kafka].)

"Neat but weird," is how House described the rollercoaster process of taping shows last fall. "It was my whole world for those few weeks. You'd see [the cast] every day, every week, then... then it's over. Then I felt mind-fucked and needed to de-compress. I was glad it was over but still, it was my world for a while."

"It was," House said, choosing her words carefully, "...a trip." She was speaking of the extended letting-go process that started when MTV flew House, Kremer, and Pope to L.A. in March to write "two scripts in three days, which is like building a bridge with toothpicks and chewing gum." MTV had even kept them on after their contract was up in early May.

"I thought it would be 'thank you and goodbye' on May 8 but MTV said 'let's extend this three weeks,' so I was still thinking I was gonna be rich," House chuckled in irony. "Life is easier when you have money even if you're not spending it. At least, I didn't buy a boat."

I hate to see the show go. I will also miss Austin Stories because I think Laura House was a much better role model for the average female MTV viewer than, oh, say... Jenny McCarthy. She's more Janeane Garofalo. Of course, if you are looking to MTV for female role models, the pickings are pretty slim. That doesn't faze House much, whose L.A. agent told her, "Nobody watches MTV."

I'm your Bette Midler:

While looking for stories on the web about the The Larry Sanders Show finale, I did notice some poor schmuck who has the "Larry Sanders Realty" company and a webpage for it. I bet he gets a lot of curiosity hits.

Yes, it will go down as one of the truly great television finales, like The Mary Tyler MooreShow, like M*A*S*H, like Newhart. The Larry Sanders Show went out with class because it didn't veer from its wicked concept one iota. And it was a fitting ending for the show that figuratively bit the hand that fed it.

"Who's gonna sing to Larry?" was the question of the show. Clint Black was the first answer. "A guy is gonna sing to me?" Larry looked appalled. "I thought I was gonna be your Bette Midler," sulked Tom Petty, just before he threw a punch at Greg Kinnear in the green room. But it was Jim Carrey who stole thunder with his over-the-top rendition of the Dreamgirls' showstopper "And I'm Telling You I'm not Leaving."

So who was Larry's Bette Midler? At the end of the show, a lilting acoustic version of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" accompanied the credits. "Who is that?" I nudged Weezer, who was almost as choked up as me. "It's gotta be Shawn Colvin if I know this show," he said, and sure enough, her name rolled up at the end of the credits. Colvin had appeared twice on Larry, charming the host onstage and off.

(Attention Dudley, Bob, and Debra: I am forever grateful to you three for introducing me to Laura House but stop trying to stir up a fight between me and Shawn Colvin. Yes, I tweaked Colvin in print just before the Grammys because she never comes to SXSW or the Awards Show but y'all made it sound like I had it in for her. Here's what I really think about Shawn Colvin: I think she is an enormously talented singer-songwriter. I am proud she calls Austin home. I think she handled with grace Old Dirty Bastard upstaging her wonderful win at the Grammys. Plus, she looked utterly fabulous radiant and stylish. And I was totally thrilled when she won Best Songwriter at the Austin Music Awards this year. If that's not enough, her appearances on Larry Sanders have endeared her to me forever, and her poignant performance at the end of series was most fitting. So there. Nyah.)

Better than Seinfeld, I say.

My best friend E.A. and I conducted our own private tribute to comedian/actor Phil Hartman last week. We had been Hartman fans from well before Saturday Night Live, when he played Captain Carl on the original HBO version of Pee-wee's Playhouse. I called her from work to commiserate about his death because I was glum. "Let's sing Captain Carl's song!" she suggested. I could hardly resist, even though my long-suffering officemate Marjorie was sitting mere feet away. This song was sung when the Captain appeared at the Playhouse and Pee-Wee asks if he has washed his hands:

Oh, a sailor travels to many lands

Any place he pleases!

And he always remembers to wash his hands

So he don't catch no diseases!

Phil Hartman is gone, but I really did feel better after singing it.

Final grousing about

Larry Sanders: HBO has sold Larry Sanders down the river to be syndicated and censored just like Dream On. Have you tried to watch Dream On since it was bowdlerized for Comedy Central? What was once adult-oriented humor with adult words is now sniggering situation comedy with puerile dialogue. What a difference the judicious use of the word "fuck" makes.

You may now flip.

I vote for Larry Sanders as the best finale for the 1997-98 television season. What was your favorite, or least favorite, finale? Write TVEye@auschron.com

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