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THE TINY SCREEN: No, No, Martha!:

The good news that Martha Stewart was back on TV came at a time when the world sorely needed the domestic diva – well, those of us looking for new and improved ways to host a Halloween party or serve a proper tea anyway.

Maybe Martha’s coming out party was soiled by the recent troubles of late – hurricane Katrina or the recent political upheavals, but was that going to stop this woman? Look, if prison, an ankle bracelet and near personal and financial ruin didn’t stop her, no amount of turmoil is going to stop her either.

Fresh from home confinement, her ankle bracelet cast asunder, twenty pounds shed like a snake’s old skin, Martha emerged on the premiere of “Martha!” her daily talk/how-to show. The new Martha is seen in the opening credits in various stages of her life, various incarnations of herself from child to woman to mother to media mogul to prison inmate. No kidding, they don’t try to hide it, they embrace it.

Martha greets her audience (all women, of course) looking an awful lot like Dinah Shore. Creamy skin, silken hair, pastel from head to toe – she is a testament to the power of our prison system to transform even the most hardened criminal into an upstanding citizen and valuable member of society.

“Martha!” is mostly a talk show – Martha talks about prison, about the tragedy in New Orleans, about the plans she has for the show and in essence makes an admirable attempt to pretend is she just one of us. Well, unfortunately, the ruse isn’t working. It is like watching Queen Elizabeth try to do Oprah for a day.

No, bring back the old Martha, when she had an obsessive control over the show’s content, editing, art direction. Don’t make her wing it live, that is not her gift. She flails. Martha Stewart is many things. Too many things, in fact, to list. And most begin and end with her curiosity about the world, her absurd attention to detail, her clever solutions to life’s most complex predicaments, like how to brew the perfect pot of tea! But a funny, charismatic talk show host like Ellen or Jay Leno? It’s not going to happen.

No, “Martha!” falls flatter than a pancake (even it’s buttermilk blueberry from scratch). Part of the problem is the color scheme. That washed out pastel was good for the kitchen segments of her taped show – time spent in that color scheme was balanced by other segments in her brightly colored garden or her sultry, warm dining room. But this, oh, it’s got to go. If we’re going to have to endure poor Martha struggling through an hour’s worth of banter, please let the set be vibrant and easy on the eyes.

All of Martha’s guests are forced to wear pastel as well – even the two Italian ladies she drags on to teach her how to make meatballs. How much pastel can one person look at? It’s fall, for god’s sake, can we have some autumn colors?

Perhaps Martha will find her stride in time. Maybe she’ll go back to taped versions of her show (pretty pretty please?). But if it doesn’t work out for Martha, if her audience isn’t up to all of that pastel, perhaps she’ll have better luck with her version of “The Apprentice.” At least there, Martha is being used in an innovative, honest way rather than a rehash of who she used to be.

The truth is, Martha doesn’t need a live audience. She doesn’t have to connect with people. We don’t want her to be Oprah. We need her to give us handy tips and enrich our lives with domesticity on a daily basis. Surely that is not too much to ask for.

“Martha!” airs at weekdays at 3 p.m. on NBC.

Notable TV

This Week

Thursday, September 15

Survivor: Guatemala, premiere, 8 p.m., CBS.

The Emperor’s New Groove (***), 8 p.m., DISNEY.

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (****), 9 p.m., KCET.

The Shop Around the Corner (****), 9 p.m., TCM.

Friday, September 16

Good Will Hunting (***), 8 p.m., BRAVO.

The Fugitive (****), 9 p.m., TNT.

Threshold, when aliens threaten earth, 9 p.m., CBS.

The Piano (****), 9 p.m., SUNDANCE.

Saturday, September 17

The English Patient (****), 8 p.m., KCOP.

Unforgettable Moments in Television History, 8:30 p.m., NBC.

The Last Temptation of Christ (****), 9 p.m., SUNDANCE

Fine Cut: A Festival of Student Film, 10 p.m., KCET.

Sunday, September 18

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, 7 p.m., KTLA.

Dazed and Confused (***), 7:30 p.m., AMC.

The Emmy Awards, 8 p.m., CBS.

Mystery! More Foyle’s War, 9 p.m., KCET.

Monday, September 19

Jurassic Park (***), 9 p.m., USA.

Tarnation (***), one of the most talked-about documentaries of last year, 9 p.m., SUNDANCE.

Medium, the wonderful new show with Patricia Arquette returns at last, 10 p.m., ABC.

CSI: Miami, season premiere, 10 p.m., CBS.

Tuesday, September 20

Phone Booth (***), 8 p.m., FX.

Dancing with the Stars: Dance Off, 8 p.m., ABC.

Martha Stewart Living, hopefully will be as good as her last show, 9 p.m., STYLE.

The Office, new episode, 9:30 p.m., NBC.

Garbo. Turner Classic Movies’ tribute to Greta Garbo continues with more of her films and a reprise of TCM’s new documentary about her, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Wednesday, September 21

Mildred Pierce (****), 8 p.m., TCM.

Lost, the series FINALLY returns, 9 p.m., ABC.

CSI: NY, new episode, 10 p.m., CBS.

Law and Order, season opener, 10 p.m., NBC.

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