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Ellen Gray: SNL funnyman makes some serious picks for TCM

TCM ESSENTIALS JR. 8 p.m. Sunday, TCM. THE NEW HOST of "TCM Essentials Jr." doesn't claim to know what classic movies parents should be introducing to their children this summer.

TCM ESSENTIALS JR. 8 p.m. Sunday, TCM.

THE NEW HOST of "TCM Essentials Jr." doesn't claim to know what classic movies parents should be introducing to their children this summer.

He just knows what he likes.

"The picks weren't so much about like what, oh, what will parents like, what will kids like, whatever," said "Saturday Night Live" player Bill Hader in a recent phone interview. "It was mostly just personal preference and what I was into and stuff that I have like a personal story on."

Hader, who'll be 33 on Tuesday, is enough of an old-movie buff to have done a stint as one of TCM's guest programmers, and his new gig, in which he replaces actor John Lithgow, grew out of that one, he said.

"SNL" fans may note at least one glaring omission in the 13-film summer series, which kicks off Sunday with 1938's "The Adventures of Robin Hood": There's not a Vincent Price movie in the bunch, despite the comic's recurring "SNL" role as the late horror-movie star as TV host.

"That's right," Hader said, laughing. "They gave me a list of 30 movies and none of them were Vincent Price movies, and I picked 13 out of there."

It's an eclectic list, one that includes "The General" (June 12), "Stagecoach" (June 19), "Singin' in the Rain" (June 26), "King Kong" (July 3), "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (July 10), "Horse Feathers" (July 17), "The Thing From Another World" (July 24), "Road to Utopia" (July 31), "His Girl Friday" (Aug. 7), "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (Aug. 14), "Gunga Din" (Aug. 21) and "My Man Godfrey" (Aug. 28).

"King Kong," naturally, is the 1933 edition.

"What I love about that movie is not only the stop-motion in it, the Willis O'Brien stuff [animating the giant ape], I think, is great to watch," said Hader of why he'd picked it. "I love the simplicity of the story and stuff, but [also] how they use their special effects."

What he learned: "It's not so much how realistic and cool [the effects are], but if what they're doing isn't interesting," then the special effects don't matter.

"What I find so interesting in the 'King Kong' one is that it's, if not the first, one of the first big special-effects monster movies, [and] they were drawing off of real wildlife," he said.

"It's very violent in a very real kind of animalistic way, like the fight between King Kong and the T. Rex is really vicious and it's not stylized at all. There's nothing cool about it. It's like these two things trying to kill each other, and that's the way it would look. It's almost the way it would look in a National Geographic documentary."

OK, he conceded, it's unlikely that a giant ape would be fighting any kind of dinosaur in a National Geographic documentary, but "you know what I mean - it had that kind of realism to it."

Plus, "King Kong bites the head off natives and squishes them. It's great. That's what a giant gorilla would do, I think."

Giant gorillas he understands, but Hader, who reportedly has a young daughter but didn't wish to discuss his family - can't say what kids might take to.

"I don't know if kids will like them, to be honest," he said of his selections.

"I think they're all great movies. But it is hard. I mean, certain firms like 'My Man Godfrey' or 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,' they might not get some of that stuff. But you know what? That's not true. Because I saw 'My Man Godfrey' when I was a kid, and I thought it was great."

In six seasons on "SNL," Hader's amassed an impressive list of recurring characters, but only one - the hipster Stefon - regularly causes him to break up on camera.

In Stefon's Mother's Day visit to "Weekend Update," Hader, I suggested, appeared to be seeing some of his cue cards for the first time.

"Yes, that's pretty much exactly what was happening," he said.

Writer John Mulaney (who co-writes Stefon with Hader) "changes not everything, but he'll change a joke here, a line there just to throw me off balance" during the performance, citing as an example the name "Baloney Danza," which he saw only when it appeared on the cue card.

"Always in that character. That's the only character that they do that . . . I break up in. Because I'm seeing" some of it for the first time, he said.

'Breaking Bad' heads back

AMC's "Breaking Bad" returns - at last - for Season 4 on July 17, the network announced yesterday.

Those who can't wait can check out a trailer for the new season at

For those still playing catch-up with the series, for which Bryan Cranston has won three consecutive Emmys for his portrayal of a high-school chemistry teacher-turned-meth dealer, Season 3 debuts on DVD and Blu-ray next Tuesday. It will be available through On Demand from June 20 until the new season premieres. AMC also will rerun every episode of the series, beginning with Season 1, in late night, starting July 5. *

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