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THE TINY SCREEN: The Look of Love – Tom Cruise Goes Wild on Oprah:

Who knew that a few minutes on Oprah would cause a crisis in the Tom Cruise institution, a heretofore sacrosanct establishment that has sped past the gay rumors, zoomed over the weirdness of Scientology and kept Cruise firmly atop the A List, on every power list, and, by anyone’s estimation, a box office champ.

But lately, Cruise seems to have become the wounded swimmer and the sharks are circling. What was the god-awful, horrible thing he did? Well, he’s decided, like Britney Spears before him, that he knows what’s better for his image than his handlers. Cruise dumped his longtime, top notch publicist, Pat Kingsley, for his sister, Lee Anne DeVette. And from the looks of it, it’s blowing up in sis’ face.

When Cruise appeared on Oprah, everyone was expecting the usually reserved, controlled, robotic Cruise to talk about and promote his movie and maybe make a one or two-line comment about his already over-publicized romance with Katie Holmes, you know, like stars always do. Movie stars are supposed to keep their relationship hidden. How else can they get paparazzi chasing them in helicopters, digging through their trash and wiretapping their phones? They never put their relationship out in the wide open, otherwise, their public will be left scratching their heads. It isn’t a dirty little secret they’ve uncovered, but a reality almost too big to handle.

But no, shirking convention and any warnings from publicists, Cruise went all out bananas on Oprah for Holmes – falling to his knees to give thanks numerous times, hopping up on the couch, giggling, acting as if he had suddenly been given Prozac for the first time (Scientologists are adamantly against psychotropic drugs). Word got out and spread like wildfire on internet gossip blogs (like gawker.com and defamer.com) and eventually, the story got so big, it made it all the way to the New York Times. Sound familiar? It’s much the same way the Howard Dean scream started as gossip and grew into the monster that derailed his White House bid. Can this Oprah incident derail the Cruise gravy train? And if so, what does that say about us?

The common denominator in the two incidences is the television camera, which excavates the action from the context. In both cases, Cruise and Dean were reacting to the excitement of the crowd, not to the camera. Weirder for Cruise, since he’s lived nearly twenty years in front of the camera – but the women on Oprah were screaming like they’ve never screamed before. And Cruise, appearing seemingly without an agenda, responded. He was, in his own weird way, giving the people what they wanted – and lead a pep rally in the process. Eventually, all of Cruise’s excitement brought Ms. Holmes out in the flesh – and the two hugged and stared at each other, with Holmes mouthing “I love you” to Cruise.

Perhaps if it were only the Oprah incident, fans would accept the new Cruise as a wildly passionate man, but the other half of the story is that Cruise has been more outspoken than ever about Scientology, the religion that still gives most people the heeby jeebies. Under Kingsley’s watch, Cruise was the only big star who didn’t regularly talk about his religion. All of that has changed under sis. And it turns out that Kingsley was right: people aren’t quite ready to accept Scientology as something normal.

All of this is adding up to serious image problems for Cruise. At worst, it will affect the potential box office for War of the Worlds. At what cost a person’s happiness? Sooner or later, even the most powerful among us has to be honest about who we are, profits be damned.

Anyway, perhaps his evil plan is working – after all, no publicity is bad publicity.

Tell that to Michael Jackson.

This Week’s Notable TV

Thursday, June 9

The Cut, yet another reality show, ho hum, The contestants meet Tommy Hilfiger, are split into teams and then sent to the Big Apple to design billboards for Times Square, 8 p.m., CBS.

8 Mile (***), Eminem stars in the Eminem show, 8 p.m., VH1.

The Asphalt Jungle (***), an early Marilyn Monroe movie, 9:30 p.m., TCM.

Bracing for a Quake, a little uplifting late night TV, 10 p.m., KCET.

Friday, June 10

The Age of Innocence (****), Martin Scorsese’s Edith Wharton film, 7:30 p.m., TCM.

Fahrenheit 451 (***), 9:15 p.m., TCM.

Biography on the Krays, 10 p.m., BIO.

Law & Order: Trial By Jury, here’s to hoping this one stays on the air, 10 p.m., NBC.

Saturday, June 11

The Big Sleep (****), 7:30 p.m., TCM.

I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (***), 8 p.m., BET.

The Thomas Crown Affair (***), with Pierce Brosnan, 8 p.m., NBC.

Tarzan (**), 8 p.m., ABC.

Sunday, June 12

Platoon (***), 7:30 p.m., SPIKE-TV.

Forces of the Wild: A `Nature’ Miniseries, 8 p.m., KCET.

The Next Food Network Star, 8 p.m., FOOD-TV.

Reservoir Dogs (****), and Quentin Tarantino bursts onto the scene, 8 p.m., IFC.

Monday, June 13

The Scholar, 8 p.m., ABC.

Men in Black II (**), 9 p.m., ABC.

Great Performances: “Operatunity,” 9 p.m., KCET.

Heaven Can Wait (****), 9:15 p.m., TCM.

Tuesday, June 14

Around the World in 80 Days (**), 7:30 p.m., FMC.

Pulp Fiction (****), 7:30 p.m., SPIKE-TV.

Fire Me, Please – Two people begin new jobs with the goal of being fired by 3 p.m. the same day, with a $25,000 prize to the person who is fired closest to the deadline, 9 p.m., NBC.

Frontline: Is Wal-Mart Good for America? 9 p.m., KCET.

Wednesday, June 15

Jerry Maguire (****), 7:30 p.m., TNT.

Blood Simple (***), early Coen brothers movie, 8 p.m., IFC.

The Inside, 9 p.m., FOX.

An Officer and a Gentleman (***), 10 p.m., AMC.

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