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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 22, 2010

Welcome to the year of rattle and shake

By Wayne Harada

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Jay Leno.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Sarah Palin.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Mark McGwire, Conan O'Brien, Kate Gosselin and Simon Cowell some of this year's movers and shaken.

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Call it the January jitters. The month is not yet pau, but it's already jammed with jawbreakers, jolts and juggernauts a number of bewildering, unexpected, even disastrous developments.

Am I alone to wonder if the first month of a new year, and the first year of a new decade, is off to a wobbly start? Changes, challenges, suspense and shock abound.

Some things are unsettling, like the reality that Simon Cowell will be out of "American Idol" after this season. Newcomer Ellen DeGeneres, understandably, is wondering if she's the reason he's bidding aloha (no, but she has reason to be concerned).

She won't appear on camera till Feb. 9 but she knows, and we believe, it ain't gonna be much of a show without the scowls of Cowell. He is acerbic, but has the astounding, uncanny and inherent wisdom to pluck out a star-in-the-making with precision and honesty. OK, add brutality, too.

He has been the X-Factor of "Idol," the key reason ratings have soared, and with Paula Abdul already history and Cowell's clock ticking, the chemistry of judges is changing. DeGeneres and what's-her-name (OK, it's Kara DioGuardi, but do you really care?) will hold court with Randy Jackson and it doesn't appear that Cowell will change his mind and stay. If he waffles and stays, great; if not, it's finally time for Fox to idle "American Idol."

Speaking of Fox: Sarah Palin has been seesawing from reputable to repulsive, from darling to damned, ever since she emerged as Alaska's best-known politico and a failed veep candidate. Palin stands to become a media star on the Fox network, which has signed her on, which shouldn't give CBS' Katie Couric any cause to fret.

Palin's credentials may become an issue a politician who also is a self-proclaimed rogue, a loose cannon who can see Russia from wherever. Her unpredictability will work in her favor, providing viewers with a troubling new kind of reality show-and-tell, where news and views are personality-driven.

Late-night TV is in deep kim chee. It's not surprising that NBC is abolishing Jay Leno's primetime show (9 p.m. here). Because it sucks, viewers have stayed away in droves.

The debacle is turning into a soap opera that should be taped and aired, reality series-style, with plans changing and the schism widening with each passing day. Give Leno back his old time slot, albeit without the "Tonight" stamp? Slam his successor, Conan O'Brien, to the wicked midnight hour, which would no longer be "Tonight" but more like "Early Tomorrow"? It's a mess, with present NBC brass dismantling a Peacock franchise, ruffling feathers everywhere.

CBS' David Letterman, moving on with no more indiscretions to apologize about or extortion attempts to reveal, has been enjoying the fray. Point is: Leno's weekday prime-timer was contrived, boring, intrusive, taking away airtime from other series, and O'Brien's eroding audience has helped the CBS eye.

The stinkeroo exchanges slightly bumped up ratings for NBC, which late-nighters joke stands for Never Believe your Contract.

The buzz that O'Brien may jump ship to Fox may play out the script changes by the hour but talk shows, generally, have become snoozefests. Wonder if O'Brien's hair red and in that North Shore 30-foot-pompadour style kept audiences at bay?

Speaking of hair: First lady Michelle Obama debuted a shorter bob when she accompanied the president to the funeral of Jean Biden, the mother of Vice President Joe Biden; the cut is a skosh shorter, at neck level, compared to the longer mane that brushed her shoulders. And both Kate Gosselin (with her ridiculous waterfall bob) and Billy Ray Cyrus (with his monster mullet) changed their coiffures in recent weeks. She did it to refresh and reinvent herself after splitsville with Jon; Cyrus got shorn for a Christmas TV role. Bad hair day is definitely out.

And striking out: Mark McGwire has admitted he took steroids, too. Yeah, he's 'shamed and should be. Coming clean after playing dirty not a role model for the ages. Must be a relief to out yourself before someone beats you to the bat, but will his disclosure ignite the fuse for others asking forgiveness this year? Hmmmm.

Arachnophobia, anyone? With Sam Raimi (director) and Tobey Maguire (Peter Parker) bailing from the "Spider-Man 4" project, the future of the franchise is in jeopardy. Think "Batman," with different actors at bat; or "Superman," with a newbie in the title role. Sony Pictures is leaning toward a prequel with a younger, likely unknown, actor portraying Peter Parker. Yikes!

Lest you forget: 2010 is the Year of the Tiger but whoa! Not Tiger Woods' year, that's for sure. He's been quiet, personally and professionally, this month and no more out-of-the-Woods embarrassments from his private life. The world's most famous golfer is grounded. But fore! The year's still young. ...

Finally: Last week's dreadful Port-au-Prince earth-quake in Haiti, demolishing buildings and decimating the population, already has scarred January. If you recall, in January 2009, there was a Costa Rica quake, too. Whole lotta shaking you don't want to be going on.

Is January jinxed? Share your thoughts.

Reach columnist and blogger Wayne Harada at wayneharada@gmail.com.