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Land of the Free... Home of the Brave
July 8

Also available as a podcast. Click to listen!

We start this week with a thank you. I record this podcast before Independence Day on July 4th. So, as you have your cookouts and go to the fireworks display, please remember that this is the 232nd birthday of our nation. There are so many people around the world who do not enjoy the freedoms and the bounty that we have. Read the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence. Thank a soldier, or a veteran. Appreciate the great wonder this country has to offer, even with all the disagreements we may have. So, thank you to all the soldiers who fight and have given their lives to allow me the right to broadcast and express my opinion every week here.

Next, we hop across the pond to the country we got our independence from and that is England. And they have put on a reality show that is shocking in a very good way. This is from Blond hair, blue eyes. 5 foot 11, 130 pounds. One arm. They're not the typical stats of a would-be model. But "Britian's Missing Top Model" hopes to change all that. The reality competition, premiering July 1st, in Great Britain on BBC Three follows eight hopefuls vying to prove they have what it takes to make it in the mainstream fashion world. The deal: Contestants pack into a Chelsea penthouse and, over the course of three weeks, get whittled down through a series of challenges. The prize: a high-fashion photo spread in the British edition of Marie Claire magazine.

The difference between this show and "America's Next Top Model": All the women have a disability. Kelly Knox was born without a left forearm. Lilli Risner is deaf. Debbie Van der Putten is missing most of her right arm. Jenny Johnson is partially paralyzed. "I was in a very serious car accident in December 2002," said Johnson, 22, a Seattle native who auditioned for the series after a photographer friend noticed an ad on

"Because of my brain injury, I have a slight limp in my gait. It's a little off. I still walk, I still talk -- too much actually -- but my personality is not anything like it was before the accident. Modeling was a dream I had been working toward for so long," Johnson said.

It's a novel idea for both the modeling industry and reality TV. There are very few disabled models working in mainstream fashion -- Brazilian Brenda Costa, who is deaf, is probably the most famous -- and disabled contestants seldom sign on to reality competitions. And it's timely, with the fashion world under the gun for displaying too little diversity on its runways (Italian Vogue's July issue features all-black models in an attempt to combat that criticism) and, perhaps, too little compassion for the young beauties it absorbs (as in the apparent suicide of 20-year-old Ruslana Korshunova).

"On the one hand [the goal of the show] is to give the girls taking part a shot in the mainstream industry. On the other, it's to challenge general perceptions of what is and isn't beautiful," said co-executive producer Doug James. "Why can't an extremely attractive model in a wheelchair be used to sell the latest Prada outfit?"

While James said the "Missing Top Model" judges won't "say this person is better than this person because they worked harder to overcome their disability," he admitted that "challenges for individuals will be different" based on physical limitations. Johnson felt a recent surgery put her at a disadvantage.

"I had a cast that went clear past my elbow. It held my arm in a certain position, and it was very hard to deal with," she said. But "Missing Top Model" mentor Jonathan Phang, a former agent whose past clients include Naomi Campbell, Jerry Hall and "America's Next Top Model" host Tyra Banks, said the only thing holding back the show's contestants is the industry's perception of them.

"At this point, people might use a disabled girl for a gimmick. They might exploit it. I don't think the industry uses disability in a positive way right now. But I hope our show will change that," he said. "The girls that we have on this show have all the qualities that a fledging model should have. The disabled girls don't have a problem with their disability. It's the industry that has the problem accepting them."

It's possible a similar series could make it to American screens. Ken Mok, executive producer of "America's Next Top Model," has cast partially blind and mentally disabled contestants before, and he's open to the idea of a competition among all-disabled models. "If it allows people to see disabled people in a different light than they normally would, I fully applaud that," he said. "That's something Tyra [Banks] and I have always tried to do."

"Missing Top Model's" six-episode run begins tonight, and at the moment, there are no plans to commission a second season. Phang hopes six hours will be enough to show the industry disabled models are employable -- perhaps more so than the girls on the runway now.

"It's easier to accommodate the problems of our girls than the problems of a spoiled teenage model making vast amounts of money with no value for it," he said. "If you don't want to show someone with a missing arm, you just put her in a different position."

But consider this: Months after countries like Spain and Britain instituted rules banning too-thin models from their runways, the skinny, heroin-chic aesthetic still prevails. Sea change doesn't come fast in fashion, regardless of whether its well-meaning and politically correct.

"Fashion is a very perverse, very limited kind of world that has its own sort of ungovernable aesthetic. Historically, it's not a very accommodating place," said Simon Doonan, creative director of Barney's and author of "Eccentric Glamour." "That's why when people try to inject it with some healthy, normal ideas, it doesn't work. There's no reason people can't challenge that aesthetic at any given time, but fashion tends to evolve on its own terms."

I am proud of the BBC for doing this. This turns the "Pretty People Syndrome" upside down. Bravo, bravo, standing ovation.

Well, the deadline for the SAG strike has come and gone...and well...nothing has happened. Here is the latest from Broadcasting and Cable. As expected, the final day before the expiration of the contract between the Screen Actors Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers produced little more than posturing from both sides.

With the deal expiring at midnight Monday night/Tuesday morning, both sides exchanged public statements but are expected back at the bargaining table Wednesday.

The AMPTP released a statement saying that it put forth a "final offer" to SAG and claiming that the industry is "now in a de facto strike, with film production virtually shut down and television production now seriously threatened." It claimed that its "$250 million offer is consistent with the four other labor agreements already reached this year with DGA [the Directors Guild of America], WGA [the Writers Guild of America], AFTRA [American Federation of Television and Radio Artists] Network Code and AFTRA Prime-Time Exhibit A."

SAG responded in a press release that the offer "does not appear to address some key issues important to actors. For example, the impact of foregoing residuals for all made-for-new-media productions is incalculable and would mean the beginning of the end of residuals."

Both sides said they would continue to work under the terms of the expired contract for the time being.

So far, so good. But will they get the deal done? Stay tuned.

Well, we have another big time game show failure in Australia to talk about. And this is from in Australia: The Nine Network's attempt to revive the classic TV game show Wheel of Fortune has failed. The network has announced it has stopped production on Million Dollar Wheel of Fortune, with the final episode to air today.

Hosted by former Home and Away actor Tim Campbell and model Kelly Landry, it premiered just a month ago, and was one of the station's big local production hopes. "We are disappointed that Million Dollar Wheel of Fortune has not done as well as we had hoped," Nine said in a statement this afternoon.

"It is best in these circumstances to make the tough decisions and move on so we have." It's the latest in a number of locally produced flops for Nine this year including game show The Power of 10. Others include the reality sitcom Monster House and the talent contest My Kid's A Star.

It was hoped that the reinvention of Wheel of Fortune, which ran for 25 years on Seven, would knock off rival game show Deal or No Deal on Seven in the 5.30pm time slot. But it struggled, as Deal or No Deal brought in about 300,000 more viewers each day. A recent promotion to try out celebrity Million Dollar Wheel of Fortune also failed.

Nine said Campbell and Landry would both stay on at the network, Campbell on The Singing Bee and Landry on Getaway. "The show has brought two great talents to the network in Tim Campbell and Kelly Landry, who are both staying at Nine."

Speaking of Million Dollar Wheel of Fortune, if you have been catching the reruns of the Wheel in the US you have seen the teasers for the fact that as of the 26th season of Wheel we are going to have a bonus round spin for a potential ONE MILLION DOLLARS. Now, checking my stats, the big amount was hit 11 times last year out of 195 episodes and won twice. The only question is the Million going to be obtained? How hard will it be?

As of now, there has been only rumor and conjecture as to how it will happen...but as soon as official confirmation happens...we at the Block Party will let you know.

And we end with my favorite story of the week. Drew Carey is an everyman, a guy’s guy. And he never forgets where he comes from. Check this out from Antonio's pizza, come on down! You're the next entree for "The Price is Right!" Grace Loschiavo was so flustered Wednesday preparing a big order for her favorite customer -- "The Price is Right" host Drew Carey -- that she put the plastic coffee filter basket on top of the burner, melting a giant hole in it.

What will it cost to replace? $10? $15? $15.01? Who cares?

"It's like somebody wound me up!" said Loschiavo, who is sending 45 pizzas -- some plain, some pepperoni -- to Los Angeles for the "wrap party" Saturday marking the end of the show's 36th season, the first with Carey as host. UPS will deliver. Carey stops at Antonio's for a pepperoni pizza and a pitcher of beer when he's in town and has given it free publicity on his former sitcom and on the game show. He shows the love off camera, too.

"His bill could be $20. He still leaves a $100 tip," said Loschiavo's granddaughter, Danielle Hodgins. He can expect a heftier tab this time: About $450 for the pies and three times that for the delivery.

"He never forgot where he came from," said Loschiavo. "Thousands of pizza places from here to California and he picked us."

Drew my man, very very cool move. And next time you are in Brooklyn...I will take you to L&B Spumoni treat! Now that’s a slice!

Time for the Random Newsbits:

–Filipino Deal or No Deal Host has a bit of marital trouble.

–In Idol News: Kady Malloy, Alaina Whitaker and her sister Brittney release some music on MySpace. Taylor Hicks signs with Vanguard Records, Kristi Lee Cook signs with 19 Entertainment, Ruben Studdard gets married, and Paris Bennett is pregnant.

–Cash Cab’s format is going to India and Japan, while Wipeout is sold to Turkey.

–Bob Saget of 1 v. 100 gets roasted on Comedy Central.

–Bunim-Murray are the new producers of "Project Runway" when they move to Lifetime.

–The couple in "Farmer Wants A Wife" are still together. However, in the finale of "Shot of Love II with Tila Tequila", Tila chose Kristy over Bo...but Kristy told Tila she isn’t ready for the responsibility of being with Tila! Season 3...anyone?

–"She Got The Look" is renewed for a second season in 2009.

That’s all for safe, don’t drink and drive and for the Block Party podcast this is Jason Block saying...don’t just play to win.

Jason Block thinks he can beat 45 pizzas. E-mail him at