Her Kitchen Rules

Iron Chef and Santa Barbara local Cat Cora is certainly on a roll! Her new burger joint, Mesa Burger, is constantly packed with locals craving the award-winning chef’s crave-worthy burger creations.

So far, my favorites are the Montecito (made with griddled goat cheese/bourbon glazed mushrooms/house onion ring/truffle aioli/arugula/grilled onions) and the Goodland (with double cheddar/sliced & grilled 805 beer brat/crispy onion strings/applewood smoked bacon/smoked bbq sauce), but we’re slowly working our way through the entire menu.

It’s all good, and a welcome addition to the Mesa neighborhood.

Mesa Burger'sFunk Zone: sunny side up fried egg/applewood bacon/bourbon glazed mushrooms/bbq sauce/cheddar cheese/roasted tomato . Paired with their original sweet potato waffle fries. Courtesy photo.

Mesa Burger’s Funk Zone: sunny side up fried egg/applewood bacon/bourbon glazed mushrooms/bbq sauce/cheddar cheese/roasted tomato. Paired with their original sweet potato waffle fries. Courtesy photo.

That’s not all the busy Cat has been up to. She also has a new Fox television show, My Kitchen Rules, which she co-hosts with Curtis Stone.

At last week’s premiere party (at Mesa Burger) it was a little hard to follow with the lively crowd of friends, but from what I can gather it’s a celebrity dinner party contest, with different celebs entertaining each other each week. Cat and Curtis provide the culinary expertise and the cast—which includes Andrew Dice Clay, Naomi Judd and Lance Bass, among others—provides the comedy. It’s definitely worth checking out on Thursdays at 9 p.m. on Fox.

—Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on January 18, 2017.

 

Cocktail Corner: A Toast to Downton Abbey

Downton-Abbey-Wine-232x300A spirited toast to all things alcoholic! by Leslie Dinaberg

One of my favorite television shows recently had a wonderful plot twist: Downton Abbey, the wonderful British period drama which returned this month to PBS, now has its own wine label, believe it or not!

Available at www.Wine.com and www.DowntonAbbeyWine.com as well as select retailers, the Downton Abbey Wine Collection features two blends from the Bordeaux region of France: a “Blanc” white wine and a “Claret” red wine. Downton Abbey Blanc is a light and crisp white blend, while Downton Abbey Claret is medium-bodied red with bright fruit and a silky finish.

Made in the finest Bordeaux winemaking tradition by the Grands Vins de Bordeaux, a family-owned winery with more than 130 years of winemaking experience in the prized Entre-Deux-Mers region of Bordeaux, France, both blends are finely balanced, elegant wines that are eminently drinkable. According to the manufacturer, they’re even using the same vines, soil and region used to produce the wines from the Downton Era.

In addition, other offerings from the collection include a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon. These new world bottlings take their inspiration from Lady Cora Crawley, the thoroughly modern, American-born wife of British aristocrat, Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham.  Bold-flavored and fruit forward, the new wines are a counterpoint to Downton Abbey Wines’ more classically restrained Bordeaux offerings.

Lady Mary would most certainly approve.

Cheers!

Click here for more cocktail corner columns.

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on January 23, 2015.

Leslie Dinaberg

Leslie Dinaberg

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”

Cocktail Corner: Everything You Need to Know About Molecular Mixology

Parks and Recreation, courtesy NBC.com

Parks and Recreation, courtesy NBC.com

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic! by Leslie Dinaberg

Want to know about Molecular Mixology? Here’s the real lowdown from Parks & Recreation.

And by the way, this hilarious show just started its final season. (Pawnee drinking game, anyone?)

Cheers!

Click here for more cocktail corner columns.

Published in Santa Barbara Seasons on January 16, 2015.

Leslie Dinaberg

Leslie Dinaberg

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”

John Hodgman on Starring as John Hodgman

UCSB Student Appreciation Event Puts the Real John Hodgman Front and Center in Comedy Show I Stole Your Dad

By Leslie Dinaberg

Talking on the phone with John Hodgman while he’s on the set of The Daily Show is a bit surreal. The guy who usually trades witty bon mots with Jon Stewart is now bantering with ME! That same guy who plays the nerdy PC sidekick to Justin Long’s much cooler Mac, the whack-job Deranged Millionaire and the pompously Insane Academic Resident Expert turns out to be every bit as funny when he’s playing himself. He describes it as “doing my John Hodgman impersonation,” which is essentially what he’ll be doing in I Stole Your Dad, his new comedy show that is coming to UCSB Campbell Hall on April 1.

John Hodgman, courtesy photo

John Hodgman, courtesy photo

The show is a bit of a departure for Hodgman. “Ever since the world did not come to an end as I predicted it would in my last stand-up comedy special called Ragnarok (an apocalypse-themed stand-up comedy routine and NetFlix special revolving around his interpretation of Ragnarök, the Norse end of the world), I have been doing somewhat more personal kind of comedy, comedy where at least on the page I am not performing as an insane academic resident expert or a deranged millionaire but instead as John Hodgman, a person who has done those things, and other things, and is also just a normal human being with a normal family and two normal human children. So essentially I’m now doing my John Hodgman impersonation,” says Hodgman, who in addition to being a New York Times Magazine columnist, wrote the Complete World Knowledge trilogy: The Areas of My Expertise (2005), More Information Than You Require (2008) and That Is All (2011).

The 42-year-old writer/comedian says he decided to step away from the character concept and do his John Hodgman impersonation “mostly out of desperation.”

“To some degree I felt like I had told every hobo joke and fake history joke that I knew how to make, and to some degree I had made every deranged millionaire slash apocalyptic harbinger joke that I knew how to make. … At the same time I had started doing stand-up comedy, which you know I had been doing an imitation of for some years but usually reading portions of my book and/or performing little bits from it. But by the time I came out with my stand-up special for Netflix I really had given up using any scripts or nets—literal or figurative—and was really just doing comedy.  And I felt an interest in speaking a little bit more plainly and just being a little bit more vulnerable onstage,” he says.

“So part of it was, I had to make jokes about something and what else is there … oh yes, my real life,” he continues.

I Stole Your Dad includes Hodgmanesque observations on topics from how to dress like a young and relevant person to fax machines and other obsolete technology, to how to spend your time now that the world hasn’t ended, contrary to the Mayan prophecy. Also on the agenda: Downton Abbey, the state songs of Tennessee and the film criticism of Ayn Rand, done with an Eastern European accent, he promises.

When asked if it’s more or less difficult to be in front of an audience as yourself rather than being a character, Hodgman says, “The characters that I was playing were always exaggerated versions of myself, in the sense that I am someone who loves trivia and had picked up a lot of dumb knowledge along the way and then I loved pretending to be a deranged millionaire. It’s a little bit easier (to play John Hodgman) I suppose in that … characters have to be consistent whereas humans don’t have to be.”

He continues, “At no point when I am just talking on stage and telling stories am I ever forced to say ‘oh my character would never say that or say that in that way’ because it’s just me. And similar to the fact that you know those deranged characters are versions of myself, so it is also true that my real self is often somewhat deranged. Just because I will be telling more or less true stories from my life does not mean that I won’t get dressed up as Ayn Rand as she may or may not have appeared on Phil Donahue’s program in 1980 and rant in a vague Eastern European accent about Charlie’s Angels. That’s me too.”

A prolific writer as well as a performer, Hodgman claims that “my natural state is to avoid writing until the end of time,” but he tricks himself into writing “by booking small secret unannounced shows in a basement in Brooklyn that I call Secret Society, with a challenge to come up with something new to say at each one of these things. I would say that this has been a creative godsend, or if you don’t believe in god, me-send in so far as it allows me to pretend that I am not writing, just sort of sketching and drafting and coming up with things to say until the very last possible second—and the final writing happens on stage.”

Having appeared in guest roles as “the person wearing glasses” in a variety of films and TV shows, including Coraline, The Invention of Lying, Arthur, Baby Mama and Flight of the Conchords, as well as famously giving the Vulcan salute to President Obama at the Radio-Television Correspondents Association Dinner in 2009 (and receiving it back), Hodgman says, ” there’s not much left on the pop cultural bucket list.”

“I’ve pretty well wormed my way and insinuated myself into everything that I’ve ever wanted to be a part of from Battlestar Gallactica to Parks and Recreation and Community and all of my favorite things and projects, including The Daily Show for that matter. In many ways my career is just a series of times that I’ve insinuated myself into things that I love,” he says.

When pressed he does offer, “I was not consulted by J.J. Abrams on the new Star Wars movies, and I think rather than be offended, I think on balance I respect his restraint. If I were to push myself into the Star Wars movies in some way, it would be too much. The world is already struggling enough with the question of whether the new Star Wars movies are necessary. I don’t want to make J.J.’s fascinating task any harder.”

Hodgman has never been to Santa Barbara before and says he looks forward to finding a good gin martini (I gave him some tips) as well as seeing the UCSB campus. When warned about the busy bike lanes and skateboard lanes on campus, a light bulb goes off. He asks, “Is there any way that I could arrange for students to sort of build a skateboard rickshaw to take me on a tour of the campus? … I don’t skateboard myself but it seems like a great way to see the campus. Maybe someone could build a skateboard sidecar for me or a trailer.”

I promise to pass the request on to the folks at UCSB Arts & Lectures, who are presenting the show as a UCSB Student Appreciation Event. By hosting free and low-cost Student Appreciation Events, UCSB Arts & Lectures expresses its gratitude to UCSB students for their ongoing support; including the quarterly student lock-in fees students contribute to help sustain the program.  For more information or to purchase tickets to John Hodgman’s I Stole Your Dad on April 1 at 8 p.m., call 805/893-3535 or visit ArtsAndLectures.UCSB.edu.

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on March 18, 2014.

Paul Reiser is the Perfect Date for Valentine’s Day

It turns out that stand-up comedian, actor, and writer Paul Reiser isn’t just funny on TV and movie screen or on stage, he’s equally funny via email. He’ll be appearing at the Lobero Theatre  (33 E. Canon Perdido St.) on Friday, February 14.

Paul Reiser, courtesy photo

Paul Reiser, courtesy photo

Reiser is probably best known as the star and co-creator of the beloved TV series Mad About You, but more recently he’s been doing movies. This year he starred opposite Matt Damon and Michael Douglas in the Steven Soderbergh-directed HBO movie Behind The Candelabra, a film about Liberace that won 11 Emmy’s. He also appears in two highly anticipated Sundance Film Festival contenders this year, Life After Beth and Whiplash.

Reiser is also a talented musician. He wrote the Mad About You theme song (with Grammy-winning producer Don Was) “The Final Frontier,” which has the unique distinction of having been broadcast on Mars. NASA mission directors chose the song as the “wake up call” for the Sojourner Rover on Mars. He recently collaborated with British singer/songwriter Julia Fordham on Unusual Suspectsan album of original songs on which Reiser also arranged and played piano.

I interviewed Reiser via email this week. Here are few tidbits:

SEASONS: Your publicist mentions your musical talents. Will there be music in the Santa Barbara show or will it be strictly stand-up?

Paul Reiser: Just standup, maybe a little Q&A at the end—but no music. However people are invited to sing along at any point, should they be so moved.

SEASONS: Your show takes place at the Lobero on Valentine’s Day. What will your wife be doing while you’re in Santa Barbara entertaining all of us?

Paul Reiser:  That’s a good question. Your guess is as good as mine. The woman remains a mystery. Though seeing as how it’s Valentines Day, I might persuade her to come along for the ride.

SEASONS: Any chance of a creative reunion of some sort between you and your TV wife Helen Hunt?

Paul Reiser:  Well, that depends on what you call ” creative.” We get together for lunch pretty regularly, and while I like to think we order pretty creatively (for example, I recently had soup, she had a salad, and then—wait for it: we split a couple of sides) – which I thought was a bit outside the box—these events are generally not broadcast for public consumption and probably not what you had in mind.

SEASONS: No, not exactly.

But we are excited that after all of these years of having Reiser make us laugh on TV and movies (and most recently on email), we’ll finally get to him perform live, up close and personal. Not only that, we have a few tickets to give away.

Check out our Facebook page on Thursday, February 6, Tuesday, February 11, and Thursday, February 13 to see how you can win a pair of tickets to celebrate Valentine’s Day with Paul Reiser at the Lobero Theatre on Friday, February 14 at 7:30 p .m.

To purchase tickets call 805/966-4946 and visit www.lobero.com.

—Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on February 6, 2014.

“The Bachelor” Wedding Comes to The Biltmore Santa Barbara

"The Bachelor" Sean Lowe proposes to Catherine Giudici (courtesy ABC.com) "The Bachelor" Sean Lowe proposes to Catherine Giudici (courtesy ABC.com)

“The Bachelor” Sean Lowe proposes to Catherine Giudici (courtesy ABC.com)

Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara will be live in primetime on January 26, when “THE BACHELOR: SEAN AND CATHERINE’S WEDDING,” airs, featuring former Bachelor Sean Lowe and fiancée Catherine Giudici in a live telecast of their nuptials.

The program airs live on Sunday, January 26 at 8 p.m. on ABC. This will mark the first time ever that a “Bachelor” wedding has been telecast live.

The Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara has been a dream setting for weddings since 1927. This legendary property practically bursts with romance and classic elegance, not to mention 20 acres of lush botanical gardens, and an incomparable ocean view.

“It’s a truly special place that has served as inspiration and fairytale wedding destination for thousands of brides and grooms over the decades,” says Karen Earp, general manager. “We are so happy to be the location for Sean and Catherine’s wedding celebration and honored to forever be a part of their love story.”

Lowe and  Giudici became engaged in beautiful, exotic Thailand at the finish of filming Lowe ’s edition (Season 17) of “The Bachelor” in November 2012. Hosted by Chris Harrison, the show will let viewers in on all the exciting festivities, from planning the big day to the next stage of their romantic journey with a beautiful wedding ceremony in the perfect location.

—Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on January 16, 2014.

In a lather

MV5BMTg1NTc4Mzk1N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjc4NjY4MQ@@._V1_SX214_I have a really, really, really embarrassing confession to make. I hope you won’t think less of me, but I’m trying to come to terms with something I’ve kept hidden for far too long. I’m addicted to teen soap operas.

Gossip Girl,” “One Tree Hill,” “Privileged,” I’ve got the whole CW oeuvre on my DVR.

I haven’t been a teenager for more than two decades and I don’t even have a teenager to watch these shows with–or a tweenager for that matter–but that doesn’t stop me from obsessing about these shows.

I wish I could blame my family, but my son would rather kick a ball or read books or even do homework than watch such ridiculous TV. And my husband, well, let’s just say that watching any of these shows with my husband would be opening myself up to a level of ridicule far greater than a combination platter of split ends, zits, and the wrong kind of hair band.

I blame it all on Jason Priestly and his sparkly blue eyes. If it wasn’t for that innocent-but-not-so-innocent twinkle, I would have never become addicted to “Beverly Hills 90210,” and then “Melrose Place” and “Dawson’s Creek” and all of those painfully captivating shows. Forget the fact that I had already graduated from college the first time I laid eyes on Brandon Walsh. Here was the nice, smart guy I’d been looking for, the one who has no idea how incredibly good looking he was.

Forget that I was way out of high school and shacking up with my husband in “Beverly Hills 90210’s” heyday. If Jason Priestly could still play a high school kid at age 27, then I could certainly ogle him.

That’s what got me hooked and has kept me hooked for all of these years. If it’s a soapy show set in a suburban high school, I just can’t stop myself from watching it.

After all, every single one of those shows has a Brandon Walsh character, which means I just can’t look away.

Over the years there’s been “The OC,” “My So-Called Life,” “Party of Five,” “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” “Hidden Palms,” “Roswell,” “Felicity“–an irresistible lineup of interchangeable shows with semi-riveting plots about bullies, foster kids, teen pregnancy, shoplifting, back stabbing girlfriends and the underlying theme that life is rough for adolescents, especially the affluent ones with $500 purses and $900 shoes.

The quality of the shows even got better for a while, not that it was ever about quality–and for a time there was “Veronica Mars” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which my husband would actually watch with only minor mockery.

Despite the varying levels of quality in teen soaps, there are always a few constants I can rely on: a bunch of pretty, stylishly dressed people living out a make-believe existence in which high school kids reside without parental supervision, except for the one intact family with a telegenic kitchen where “the gang” can gather for holidays and special episodes.

Watching is a guilty pleasure but it feels good to come clean.

I haven’t missed an episode of the new “90210,” where a few of the original characters are still hanging around West Beverly High and the Peach Pit. It’s not fabulous television, but it’s fun and reliably entertaining and a great way to decompress after a long hard day of trying to be a grown up.

Plus I hear Jason Priestly’s going to direct a few episodes.

Share your guilty television pleasures with email. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com.
Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on October 24, 2008.

The Roar of the Cougar

Cougar TownWatching “Cougar Town” makes me feel dirty-and not in a good way. I really wanted to like this show. Despite the high concept potential for disaster, when I heard about it I had high hopes. The star, Courtney Cox, was my third favorite “Friends” actress and her last series, the short-lived “Dirt,” was delightfully trashy. I figured “Cougar Town” would be more of the same.

Besides, clearly this show and I were made for each other. I’m over 40 and I’m married to a hot younger man, so I should be able to relate, right?

Of course being a 40-something woman in real life means juggling work between laundry loads, driving car pool, supervising homework, and putting away groceries. I still go out to bars occasionally, but mainly with girlfriends, and I can’t remember the last time I wore three-inch heels, let alone recall how to walk in them. But on TV the 40-something women-whether judges, detectives, game show contestants or in the case of Cox’s “Cougar Town” character, real estate agents-all have one thing in common: they’re on the prowl for hot, lusty sex with ripped guys only a few years older than their children.

Not that there’s anything wrong with this.

When I see an obviously older woman with a younger guy-and can safely rule out the idea that he’s her son-I usually think “more power to her.” Or, if I’ve had enough cocktails and there’s 80s music playing, “you go girl.”

I also don’t automatically assume the guy’s a himbo, just because he’s young.

Six-pack abs are great, but intelligent conversation is a must, as is a sense of humor, and the second two don’t necessarily fall exclusively in the province of people born before the Reagan administration. Unlike a lot of men, who are happy to be in the company of women who simply look pretty and have absolutely nothing of interest to say, I don’t know a lot of women who aren’t interested in talking, both before and after sex.

According to author Valerie Gibson’s “Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men,” “a cougar is the new breed of single, older woman-confident, sophisticated, desirable, and sexy. She knows exactly what she wants. What she doesn’t want is children, cohabitation, or commitment.”

That I can understand.

I love being married, but if anything ever happened to my husband, getting another one wouldn’t be high on my list of priorities.

I was expecting “Cougar Town” to be a funny, fantasy show about the road not taken. What would it be like to be a woman my age dating a hot younger man? And what would it be like to be living in a “Cougar Town” where this was as commonplace as it is for men to be squiring around much younger women?

Boy was I disappointed.

Instead “Cougar Town” makes turning 40 look like a life sentence at a sadistic day spa where your life is all about nipping, tucking and sucking it in. Rather than simply enjoying being who she is, Cox’s character is constantly commenting on how old she is, how pretty she used to be and how uncomfortable she is in her own skin.

“If aliens learned about our culture by watching our newest television shows, they might assume that planet Earth was terrorized by predatory middle-aged women with hairless, bony bodies and the same blank expression on their overly Botoxed faces, a look of creepy awe at the joys of 20-something tenderloin,” wrote Heather Havrilesky in Salon.

Ick! She’s right.

This is just the opposite of the vast majority of 40-something women that I know.

Getting older is about knowing who you are, and finally, finally, FINALLY being comfortable in your own skin-no matter how wrinkled it may be. Unfortunately the writers of this show-who are mostly middle-aged men-just don’t get that.

When Leslie isn’t trying to find something worth watching on TV, she can be reached at Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com.  Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on October 30, 2009.

I Like to Watch

9fb5e72e6e4eae69_FoodnetworkchefI have a confession to make.

I like to watch people play with exotic tools like drizzlesticks, poach pods, mincers and mandolins. I find the sight of a grown man rubbing naked chickens down with butter dangerously alluring. In fact, I’d rather have Duff Goldman whisk my eggs and Bobby Flay pinch my salt than watch Skin-a-Max any night of the week.

Whether it’s Nigella Lawson lustfully sucking up oil-soaked spaghetti, Guy Fieri ferociously French-frying a potato, Paula Deen daintily deboning a chicken, or Michael Symon taking mucho macho control of an impossible mission, I love to watch the Food Network.

Food porn is my porn of choice.

“Just like sexual porn, food porn is something that you watch but not necessarily with the view of doing or putting in practice,” said a story in “The Montreal Gazette,” which quoted Valerie Bourdeau, a Concordia University student who did her master’s thesis on the subject. “The watching is the entertainment.”

I couldn’t agree more.

But my predilections aren’t limited to the small screen. “Big Night” is one of my favorite movies, as are “Chocolat,” “Ratatouille” and especially “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

I appreciate print as well. One of my favorite times of the year is chocolate catalog season. Though I’ve never actually ordered anything from Hickory Farms, their catalog has kept me company through many a long winter’s night.

Yes, I’ll admit it. I am addicted to food porn.

And just like some people who like to watch that other kind of porn (or so I’m told), just because I like to watch other people do it, doesn’t mean I want to try that at home.

With all of these joy of cooking shows on TV, “Julie & Julia” lighting up the big screen and everyone from Maureen Dowd to Barbara Kingsolver writing about food, it’s a culinary orgy out there-but I just like to watch.

Watching other people cook is, well, potent. Watch Giada or Ina or Mario for a half hour and then go shopping. You’ll see that even a fairly standard grocery store can feel like a glutton’s paradise, with the smells and the colors and the labels of the food romancing your senses.

But while I lust for all things gastronomic, I have absolutely no desire to bisect a living lobster, truss up a pheasant or go anywhere near a sweetbread, despite it’s deceptively enticing sounding name. Like the best of pornography (or so I’m told), food porn depicts beautiful things arranged in ways you might not have previously thought of, with star chefs doing things onscreen that few amateurs like me would ever try at home.

In fact, if my husband told me he wanted to take over ALL of the cooking tomorrow and forevermore, I could quite happily never set foot in my kitchen again.

Sadly, that’s not going to happen.

We both admit to marrying poorly in the kitchen department. While I cook more than I used to out of necessity, my most used recipe card is still the one my sister-in-law gave me, with phone numbers for all the local takeout places that deliver. The only thing I truly “like” to make is reservations. In fact, we once joked about holding a Plastic Chef competition at our house. Hey, if the Chairman lets us hold it in Kitchen Stadium with Alton Brown doing the play by play, then “let the battle begin.”

That’s something I’d really like to watch.

When Leslie’s not perusing the Food Network, she’s online at Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on August 14, 2009.

Reality Bites

Photo Ambro, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo Ambro, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Am I the last person in America who hates reality TV?

My head starts to throb every time I flip through the channels and I feel my brain’s gray matter transform into a gelatinous oozy substance, perfect for the aliens to come take it over. I’ve got 900 channels and most of them are filled with so-called “reality” shows.

Why are these shows called “reality television” when they are so far detached from reality anyway? Reality is not competing for a prize on an island and it is not trying to become the biggest pop sensation in the country. Just writing these words makes my head spin. I’m literally dizzy with annoyance, that’s how much I hate those shows.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those alternative school parents who drives around with a “Kill Your TV” bumper sticker on my minivan, like ahem, one of my dearest friends.

I’m not against TV. I watch plenty of television, and most of it’s not on PBS. And it’s not that I have a problem with lowbrow entertainment-anyone who has met my husband can testify to that. But there’s something about the cheesy search for stardom on American Idol,  and the ridiculous search for romance on The Bachelor that I truly loathe. These show are more than just “not my cup of tea,” I despise them with all of my heart. They make my skin crawl.

Partly it’s the desperation to be in the spotlight that unifies the “stars” of all of these shows that makes my stomach churn. When I was six I wanted to be a ballerina, when I was eight I wanted to play on center court at Wimbledon, and when I was nine I wanted to sing on Broadway. But when I was 12 I accepted the reality that I didn’t have the talent to do those things, so I went on with my life.

These reality TV people need to realize it’s time for them to go on with their lives too.

But no, instead we now have this new group of overnight celebrities who are famous because they slapped someone, stole their boyfriend or spit in their face. That used to be how you became famous in junior high, not the pathway to fame in America. Now all of those overgrown teenagers are chatting up Leno, Ellen, and Regis and Kelly. Not to mention all the airwaves that are filled by wannabe/has-been actors trying to stretch their 15 minutes of fame to the breaking point by humiliating themselves on reality TV.

Here’s the thing: real stars have real talent. I don’t know what reality “stars” have. Chutzpah? Balls? A deluded sense of their own importance? Sure, some reality “stars”-albeit very few-may actually have some talent, but the only thing I’m sure they all have is the ability to really, really annoy me.

It’s not just that these shows are so popular and I can’t understand why; it’s also that as a writer I know that the cheap production values and nonexistent writing staffs of these shows are forcing the professionals out. It’s always been an uphill battle to get a well-written comedy or drama onto network television, but the success of these reality shows has made it almost impossible to get good shows on TV.

I can’t wait for the day when America’s fascination with reality TV finally runs its course. While I too enjoy watching my favorite characters claw their way to success through conniving, backstabbing, lying, cheating and stealing-I prefer to watch them do it gracefully via the piquant prose of  Mad Men, the dexterous dialogue of Damages or even the morose monotones of CNN.

When Leslie’s not ripping into reality TV, she can be reached at email . Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on April 3, 2009.