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There's No Business Like This Show 'Business'

August 31, 2006 By:
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Viewer alert: Giving them the "Business" on IFC.

Nu, Phil Price, so how's "Business"?

"Pretty good," he says. "Pretty good reviews."

In a wacky way, it's the sail of the century as Price proffers an insider's look at Hollywood and finds rocking the boat can really rock.

"The Business," now midway through its eight-part run, is "Priced" to go on cable's IFC, shown Friday nights at 11:30 with encores on Sundays at the same time.

An offshoot of last season's acclaimed "The Festival," "The Business," produced and directed by Price, is even more of an officious "The Office," this series one in which a ragtag team of filmmakers, whose success has come from smut, work in a schmutz-laden office trying to fly legit with "The Unreasonable Truth of Butterflies."

An insider's "Entourage"?

"No, the group from 'Entourage' wouldn't take this group seriously."

Aquamen they're not; waterlogged they are, as each episode epitomizes the notion that, fortunately, there is no business like show business and its sleazy, slacker sideshows.

But the best of all is how the filmmaker's front man follows his role so religiously: Meet Vic Morgenstein, a recent convert to Judaism who just can't convert his newfound religious roots to the respect he was hoping to garner by going from gentile to Jew in a shake of a mohel's mincing.

Today he is a man, tomorrow still the same smut and porn producer promoting himself as pure as kosher shrimp.

"For Vic, the whole idea of becoming Jewish works," says Price, himself not Jewish.

"Everyone in the business he meets is Jewish," and he doesn't want to be dead meat, so he pays the price. "It's the simplest remedy."

Why is this knight errant different from others? "He learns a lot about himself, he's pushed to go places he wouldn't go before. Suddenly, he's a producer with taste."

Try this ... tastes like a shtickel of satire? Better yet, try this ... "The Business" offers one character whose business is the bimah: a rabbi who advises Vic to play Jewish as winner not victim.

And yet ... "The rabbi finds him amusing; sure, he takes him seriously -- he's a rabbi. But he gets the joke."

Not since "Seinfeld" has a TV rabbi had such an unusual Ark. Lay some tefillin on him: "Of all the rabbis I've ever met," says Price, "they are the most with it," proudly adding: "I am an honorary Jew."

And a very real Canadian. "We Canadians only do parody," he says of the series' sense of direction in which the mirth-men always get their man.

But why one with a "botched circumcision," which is the band-aid put on Vic's cut-up of a character? Why a Jew? Why not, Bubbe? "What else? Scientology? We found that boring. Besides, Tom Cruise wouldn't work for scale."

And, besides, who would play Vic's daughter ... Suri? No one's seen her ... act. "As for Jewish stereotypes, well, there are a lot in show business. And since we're Canadian, we can afford to be a lot less P.C."

How about M.G.? "Oh, we would love to have him," says the producer of what it would mean to nail Mel Gibson. "But I think he would find us distasteful."

Especially, he concedes, if Vic ever gets his mind around a "Rebbitzen Gone Wild" video.

But that's the future. As for now, everything sounds just about right and slightly raunchy. And, in tune. It is no accident that the soundtrack used is klezmer. "I adore klezmer," reveals Price.

And why not? "After all, says its producer, "the show itself is a klezmer song!"

· · ·

Getting a child ready for day school?

First, books. Check.

Kosher snacks. Check.

Feeding the grazing herds?

Check this out: "Back to School" puts a wide angle on what it means to answer the school bell when it's rung by a sheep herder.

If at all.

This PBS "Wide Angle" presentation, to be shown Tuesday, Sept. 5, at 10 p.m., on WHYY-TV12, is part two in the 12-year documentary project, projected to end in 2015, which is the United Nations "Target Date for Achieving Universal Education."

What "Back to School" achieves is a running -- and herding -- account of what school daze means to kids in impoverished and underprivileged environs, where the 3Rs are more apt to refer to what these children are not -- rich, redeemed and rewarded.

In revisiting this magnificent seven of students -- some who start first grade at an age closer to Bar Mitzvah age than normal enrollment -- "Back to School" shows what it means to have their back to a wall educationally.

After all, one-sixth of the global population is illiterate, and that reads like a road map for future failure.

In this second installment, producer Judy Katz rings the alarm bell along with the school bell, making for compelling TV and sad commentaries on a world weaned from the security afforded by education.

In a way, the series is similar to Michael Apted's ongoing "7 Up" documentary series, examining kids-cum-adults through the time lapse of the screen as their own worlds lapse around them.

Is this the "7 Up" for the uncola kids of the world, those whose drink of choice may be silt water?

"It is a little bit," says Katz, who concedes that the original idea for the series was not hers -- that honorific belongs to visionary Pamela Hogan -- "but an idea near and dear to my heart."

At the heart of the series are the kids, seen in their at times horrid habitats in such locales as Afghanistan, whose Taliban-taught rulings linger still long after the region had reportedly been swept of terrorism.

There are also stories from Kenya, Romania, India and Brazil, where the beat on the streets is the sound of the beaten-down, living under the thumb of a drug lord.

The topic is of particular interest to the protean producer, who's "done some teaching" herself albeit she recognizes that the kids in the United States "could not be more different" than those depicted onscreen.

"Mention the word school here and they go ... aaah!"

Not that Katz was any different as a kid. "I faked the thermometer thing, too," she laughs about trying to skip out on school by playing sick and upping the ante -- and the degrees -- with her thermometer.

But if education is a hot topic in this country, it's a meltdown in those shown in this fine documentary. "You have a sense that these children are so happy to have a shot at learning," she says.

Not that the series is trying to teach Americans a lesson that their kids are spoiled rotten. No, says the producer; not at all.

But the project did produce some lessons for its own producer.

"It was kind of shocking," says Katz, "to see how every kid of a certain age is so full of curiosity and wonder, and then how their circumstances can wreak havoc on all that."

A seasoned producer whose bio brims with accomplishments from working at PBS, Oxygen and National Geographic Television, Katz considers the geographical distance between the "Back to School" kids and our local back-to-schoolers with backpacks in tow.

"This should be required viewing for them," says Katz of the eye-opening series that provides education with all the respect Rodney Dangerfield found lacking in his own film.

"It may give our students a different attitude about school."

· · ·

It's a "Survivor" that smacks of a Larry David idea.

Curb your enthusiasm for this one: The next "Outwit, Outplay, Outlast" is really out there. And when "Survivor" begins broadcasting on Thursday, Sept. 14, it seems that only a David would have been able to divine such a divide and conquer strategy.

Alliances? Even NATO would need help here.

For the first time, the "tribes" are being divided along racial lines, responding to John Daly's question of "What's my line?" by answering: Hispanic, African-American, Asian-American and that old standby ... White.

Immunity from imbecilic ideas? Raise the flag!

In a particularly nettlesome social setting, such as now, this setup could net more problems than most. Has "Can't we all get along?" been replaced with "Stick to Your Own Kind"?

Who cooked up this Cook Islands idea? Surely, CBS has its eye on numbers, and, most likely, after some ratings fall-off the last series, will get more eyes for this version.

Turn up the stereotypes; that tribal music is bound to cause some discord.

Too many cooks stirring up Cooks Island? There goes the neighborhood. It's not so much they're throwing the babes out with the bathwater; more like melting down the whole melting-pot idea.

Depending on the winner, will they convert the million bucks grand prize into pesos or yen -- or has the network deemed that too insensitive?

Survive the odds? How about sink or swim in stereotypes: A major study "confirms that young blacks, especially males, are much more likely to drown in pools than whites."

Thanks, Rush Limbaugh, for the enlightenment. Now drop your trunks and go to the tool shed.

That is, if the Hispanics haven't stolen it already. And certainly they get around. Because, as the broadcaster with broad interpretations of civility also noted on learning of the barbaric shop quartet: Latinos "have shown a remarkable ability to cross borders."

What will the Asians bring along as the lone ingredient in their survival bag? MSG?

This version has all the potential of turning TV into an old "Amos and Andy ... and Pablo ... and Mao ... and Biff" rerun.

And, by the way, where are the Jews?

Now, if the network really had courage -- where's Dan Rather when you need him? -- they'd want to go full-blast with clichés: If you really want people to outwit the others, ya just gotta have your Jews.

Wait ... "TV Turn-Ons" has just found out they've beaten him to the blintze.

According to a news release just handed me, next season's "Survivor" edition will be made up of four warring factions of Jews: Meet the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist tribes.

The theme? What else but ...

Lost Tribes of Israel.  

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