Flipping Channels: Michael Bay Delivers Yarr-Mageddon with Pirate Saga Black Sails

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From Armageddon and The Rock to the Bad Boys and Transformers franchises, the name Michael Bay is synonymous with extravagant action vehicles, long on macho posturing and violence, short on character development and memorable performances. But he has also been among the most profitable filmmakers of all time — something not lost on studio bean counters.

So it's no surprise Bay's been enlisted for the renegade world of pay cable, where anything goes and the profit and audience needed for success are much lower than in cinema. There's been buzz since last summer about Bay's new pirate series Black Sails, which hoists its Jolly Roger on Starz 8 p.m. Saturday. Given the often lurid excesses of such past shows as Spartacus and Boss (though that one was balanced by superb acting from Kelsey Grammar and a knockout cast), Starz appears a welcoming harbor for Bay, and Black Sails looks to continue their mutual tradition of over-the-top violence, extensive profanity and nonstop nudity.

Deemed a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, Black Sails takes place in 1715 in a universe of pillage and combat. The show juggles fact and fantasy, setting real figures from the era such as Charles Vane (Zach McGown) and Anne Bonny (Clara Paget) at crossed swords with fictional ones like Captain Flint (Toby Stephens) and Long John Silver (Luke Arnold).

While we should all be grateful Stevenson isn't around to see Bay and company mangle his classic, there's no doubt at least this one won't be boring.

Grammy grab for ratings
There are three awards shows which usually dominate the ratings: the Oscars, the Country Music Association Awards, and the Grammys. Of the third, there was a time when the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences used the show as a celebration of musical diversity and excellence, juggling performances and appearances to ensure representation across the board while satisfying the need for current stars and hits.

But those days have long since passed. The program is now firmly in the hands of the bottom-liners, and it will be almost completely given over to those vocalists and groups whose songs were chart-toppers and constant favorites on commercial radio during the year.

Still, for those who plan to watch next Sunday's live show (WTVF-5, 7 p.m.), there's always the possibility something unexpected will happen. If it does, with all the live tweeting and social networking that accompanies the program, whatever's exploded can be found online very quickly without having to watch the whole program — good news for those addicted to Downton Abbey, True Detective, Girls, Sherlock and other Sunday-night favorites.

Piers Morgan answers his critics
When CNN announced in the summer of 2011 that former British tabloid editor and America's Got Talent panelist Piers Morgan would be replacing Larry King, reactions were mostly either "who?" or "why?" Those who were familiar with Morgan's background as a former (and youngest) editor of Rupert Murdoch's News of the World were appalled.

King's legion of fans weren't thrilled either, although even his most hardcore supporter had to acknowledge it was time for the legendary broadcaster to pass the torch. But it is doubtful anyone expected Morgan would become the biggest proponent of gun control among weeknight prime-time hosts, or would also become an outspoken advocate for gay marriage.

Shooting Straight: Guns, Gays, God and George Clooney (Gallery) offers Morgan's views on his transition onto the show. It spotlights notable battles he's had with NRA members and ardent gun rights supporters, plus details of behind-the-scenes machinations at the network (he's had three bosses in less than four years).

Written in diary format, Shooting Straight begins with the first day he officially had the job (June 15, 2010) and continues through May 7, 2013, the night he was honored by the Brady campaign for his efforts on behalf of gun control. (That period also encompasses the phone-hacking scandal that destroyed the News of the World, but you'll have look elsewhere for much insight.)

The book's best parts detail remarkable on-air faceoffs between Morgan and members of such groups as The Second Amendment Foundation and NRA, plus right-wing radio types like Alan Jones as well as GOP senators such as Lindsey Graham.

Morgan makes no pretense at objectivity, nor any attempts at understanding those who don't agree with his passion for more limits on access to guns. Likewise, his foes detest his strident attitude, not to mention the very idea of someone from England offering solutions to American problems. The resulting exchanges are frequently electric, if seldom productive.

The rest will appeal only to fans of celebrity insider talk, party gossip, and recitations of half-drunken behavior. Morgan walks a fine line between being a staunch political advocate (his enemies label him an ideologue) and operating like a stringer for Entertainment Tonight.

But even though it's clearing a lower-than-limbo bar, Shooting Straight proves a somewhat better book than expected. Morgan's final words are a promise he won't stop stumping for gun control or same-sex marriage — something that should ensure more controversial live shows when Piers Morgan Live airs weeknights at 8 on CNN.

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