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Rush for the gush

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You and I and everyone who isn't CEO of a petroleum conglomerate knows the price of oil is too bloody high. For some, however, the cost is far greater than $4.50 a gallon.

Gerald, a West Texas oil driller who bears an uncanny resemblance to Tigers skipper Jim Leyland, has lost the best part of a thumb and one whole toe; he once tumbled 63 feet off the top of an oil derrick in pursuit of the stuff. The latter exploit earned him membership in Texas' fanciful "16 Club," named for the number of people who have fallen off a derrick and lived to describe the feeling. "It's a small club," drawls Gerald, the most colorful participant of Black Gold, an obviously timely and engrossing new reality series premiering at 10 tonight (June 18) on truTV. "It's one you don't try to get into, that's for damn sure."

The language is filthy and so are the men; for television, this seems about as real as reality programming can get. In fact, you get the feeling most of these dudes would rather be anywhere else than in front of a camera — preferably up to their armpits in grime, grit and oil.

To simplify matters for us, Black Gold presents three distinct teams, each consisting of a "driller," or leader, and three "roughnecks" in his crew. First squad to drill down to 10,000 feet presumably hits the gusher; this is Survivor as game show. But each team, of course, has its problems. The Longhorn crew, led by Gerald, has a newcomer nicknamed "Peanut" with punctuality issues, the Viking team has new state-of-the-art equipment that constantly breaks down, and the Big Dog squad suffers a crisis of leadership. Think this show is sugarcoated for TV? By the end of the first episode, someone already loses his job.

The producers go out of their way to explain drilling terms so you don't feel out of place, but the raw emotion of hardworking men under stress needs no explanation. Black Gold just might strike it rich.

Meet the Mess: Hey, did you hear Meet the Press host Tim Russert died last Friday of a heart attack? If you haven't, don't you get lonely in that dark cave every day?

It's hard to envision any other current TV personality this side of Oprah garnering the outpouring of tributes and accolades — nearly to the brink of overkill — that Russert has received since keeling over at age 58 while doing voiceovers for his Sunday morning NBC tradition. CNBC, MSNBC and CNN aired hours of weekend memorials; Larry King Live immediately devoted an entire show to his legacy; competing Sunday news series Face the Nation and This Week paused to honor him; and Tom Brokaw came out of retirement to preside over an hour of Russert anecdotes from colleagues and friends on last Sunday's Meet the Press. Can you see ABC's George Stephanopoulos or CBS's Bob Schieffer receiving this kind of gushing cross-network adoration? Or Larry King?

It's obvious Russert was deeply respected and admired by his peers, but as shocking as his death was to them, it is utterly devastating to NBC News. Besides hosting Meet the Press for 17 years, Russert also was senior vice president and Washington bureau chief for the network. Imagine your team losing its star quarterback on the eve of the Super Bowl: Just as this most historic presidential race in nearly a half-century is crystallizing, NBC loses the on-air face of its political coverage and the architect of its news philosophy. His memories and institutional knowledge of D.C. were invaluable. Could his passing possibly have occurred at a worse time for the network?

As of Monday, NBC had not announced who will be hosting Meet the Press, the longest-running program in television history, next Sunday or in the weeks to come. It will be fascinating to watch what the network does, beginning with its coverage of the party conventions this summer, to rebound from this crippling loss.

Watching the Detectives:The popular PBS series History Detectives, returning for its sixth season at 9 p.m. Monday, June 30, on WTVS-Channel 56 (repeated at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday), will have a Detroit flavor in one of its upcoming episodes.

A Rochester Hills man, Jeb McIntyre, claims to have a Guild brand acoustic guitar given to him as a youngster by legendary folk singer Josh White. He says White told him the Guild company was planning to market a signature guitar made to White's specifications and sold under his name; if that's true, the instrument could be the prototype for the first guitar ever created for an African-American musician in the United States. Detectives co-host Elyse Luray caught the case; White's son, Josh White Jr., lives in suburban Detroit.

This season, for the first time, viewers are invited to join the investigations online at pbs.org/historydetectives; as soon as an air date is set for the Josh White story, you'll be the second to know.

Jim McFarlin watches an awful lot of TV and shares his insights with Metro Times readers. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com

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