By Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist Published Aug 16, 2010 at 11:00 AM
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"The Big C" -- debuting tonight at 9:30 on Showtime -- isn't exactly a sitcom, although the new half-hour show about a woman (Laura Linney) dealing with a diagnosis of terminal cancer is supposed to be funny.

There are some entertaining and touching moments as high school teacher Cathy Jamison, played by Linney, negotiates life after receiving the word. But she's surrounded by a supporting cast full of quirky caricatures.

There's her crazy, homeless brother, Sean (John Benjamin Hickey), who's wiser than wise. There's her pathetic, sad husband, (Oliver Platt). There's their obnoxious, insensitive teenage son (Gabriel Basso).

A couple peripheral characters are more interesting. The young doctor treating Linney's character, played by Reid Scott of "My Boys," is refreshing. Gabourey Sidibe is also entertaining and believable as one of Linney's high school students.

Other than her doctor, none of the supporting cast knows why Linney's character is acting as she does in the first three episodes available for screening. Her behavior merely seems crazy to them. Her lack of honesty in sharing her illness with those close to her isn't really dealt with and presents a roadblock in connecting with her.  

Some may see courage in Cathy Jamison's independent stand as she battles cancer by declining treatment and trying to live life on her own terms. But I found her, at times, unlikable and mercurial. That may be real, but it's not entertaining or watchable.

I've had experience watching how people have dealt with cancer, and it's not a pleasant thing to experience, even if the ending is a happy one. I know there's a basic human drive to find humor in tragedy. But the equation doesn't work well here.

Linney is, of course, a masterful performer. But for the most part, the story and much of the cast can't provide the support she needs to carry a show that can ultimately end only in her death.

Showtime is offering an edited version of the first episode online. You can watch it here:

On TV: Travel Channel's "Food Wars" returns to the schedule at 9 p.m. Wednesday, but the Milwaukee episode featuring AJ Bomber's and Sobelman's hasn't been scheduled for at least the first two weeks of the season.

  • Former CNN producer Aarti Sequeira, whose shtick was blending Indian flavors into American food, won Sunday night's season finale of "Next Food Network Star." Wisconsin-born Aria Kagan got cut from the competition for a Food Network cooking show last week, ending up in fourth place.
  • Deadline Hollywood reports ABC is remaking the British "MI-5." The original show, known as "Spooks" on the other side of the pond, has aired in the U.S. on A&E, BBC America, and public broadcasting outlets.
  • Chicago Tribune TV critic Mo Ryan has left the paper after 13 years to go over to AOL Television. She announced her departure from the Trib via Twitter.

"Dr." Laura's latest mess: "Dr." Laura Schlessinger's radio show died in Milwaukee years ago, but she used to be a pretty big deal. She's still on a couple hundred stations, although she isn't on in some big markets, like Chicago.

Her latest blip of publicity came last week when she used the ultimate racial slur repeatedly on her show. She was trying to make a point, but failed miserably, leading to an on-air apology

If you haven't followed this story, Media Matters lays out what she said with transcripts and audio.

Yes, lefty Media Matters is hardly friendly to the good "Dr." (that title has nothing to do with her radio character as a moral adviser, but comes from a PhD in physiology).  But the information is accurate and provides the background if you're interested in this story, which doesn't seem to be over just yet.

Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist

Tim Cuprisin is the media columnist for He's been a journalist for 30 years, starting in 1979 as a police reporter at the old City News Bureau of Chicago, a legendary wire service that's the reputed source of the journalistic maxim "if your mother says she loves you, check it out." He spent a couple years in the mean streets of his native Chicago, and then moved on to the Green Bay Press-Gazette and USA Today, before coming to the Milwaukee Journal in 1986.

A general assignment reporter, Cuprisin traveled Eastern Europe on several projects, starting with a look at Poland after five years of martial law, and a tour of six countries in the region after the Berlin Wall opened and Communism fell. He spent six weeks traversing the lands of the former Yugoslavia in 1994, linking Milwaukee Serbs, Croats and Bosnians with their war-torn homeland.

In the fall of 1994, a lifetime of serious television viewing earned him a daily column in the Milwaukee Journal (and, later the Journal Sentinel) focusing on TV and radio. For 15 years, he has chronicled the changes rocking broadcasting, both nationally and in Milwaukee, an effort he continues at

When he's not watching TV, Cuprisin enjoys tending to his vegetable garden in the backyard of his home in Whitefish Bay, cooking and traveling.