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Test Pattern: ‘Star Wars’ inside jokes

"Star Wars" inside jokes; "Star Wars" costumes; "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Holy Grail" sound clips, "Lost" sneak peek; "Lost" adventure game.  By Gael Fashingbauer Cooper

Five-link Friday

Hey, how about that? I was away for a week, and came back just in time to do my second five-link Friday in a row.

• If you haven't seen "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith," skip this link. For those who have seen it (I just caught it this week), here's a in the film. (The story covers three pages, and much of it went over my non-Jedi head, but it was fun to read anyway.)

• Another "Star Wars" link: This impressive site tells you how to copy in the new movie. I have to say, Padme's is quite the outfit, although I won't be imitating many of her goofy .

• A co-worker of mine is quite enchanted by this (click on the phrase you want to hear it spoken). I'd like it better if it had the great bit about the liger, myself, or am I just missing it? Also fun: . Bring out your dead!

• Still wondering about the ? ABC has a clever site for , the doomed carrier that brought the castaways to Mystery Island. If you go to the and click on the rows that correspond to Hurley's mysterious lottery numbers (4 8 15 16 23 42), you'll get a video sneak preview of the next season. (It doesn't give away anything as far as I can see.)

• Those of us who've played a text adventure or two in our time will appreciate . (Spoilers for the show finale, if you haven't seen it, good old-fashioned gamer humor if you have.) Thanks to for the link!

Five-link Friday

I'll be taking a few days off after Memorial Day, so don't look for another Test Pattern update until late next week. Happy holiday weekend, all!

•  . (Uh, it's sponsored by a certain fast-food franchise, so take that with a grain of French fry salt. Still fun, though.)

• I am floored and amazed by the sheer number of hours it must have taken to create this: . My favorite is when one of the monsters pushes aside the manhole cover, but really, the whole thing is amazing.

• I cannot get over . I guess the problem is that I just never knew he was in the .

• The Onion presents a list of (content warning: one profanity). My favorite one: "Remember Me? I was Epstein in 'Welcome Back Kotter.' No?" as given by Robert Hegyes.

• Reader link of the week: Thanks to Emily for submitting , where you're asked to guess which product or corporate logo each letter is from. I got G! Otherwise, yeah, not so much good with the corporate-logo identifiying.

Blogging ‘American Idol’ finale

I blogged the "American Idol" finale live as it happened. If you want to read the whole Weblog from the beginning, start here and scroll up. And if you haven't seen the show yet and don't want spoilers, avert your eyes now!

9:55: Well, really both of them will make television history because the second-place finisher will -- oh never mind, it's CARRIE! Which we predicted, but it's nice to see anyway, because she legitimately seems stunned, and looks a bit like every Miss America winner ever as she sobs and carefully touches her eyes. And she sings "Inside Your Heaven," somehow managing to pull up some composure, while confetti falls and the lights spin. That's it, folks! Carrie's your Idol, and she kind of loses it in the final seconds of her song, but you and I would too, if we were being choked by confetti and glitter. That's it! See you next year! Mikalah, please don't come looking for me!

9:54: The judges. Randy babbles. Paula gushes. Simon recycles his line about America getting it right by agreeing with him. A very tall accountant guy announces that 500 million votes have been received over the season. And the show's fans huff that it would be nice if the actual amount of votes each singer received was actually announced, but their complaints fall into an empty room and dissolve.

9:53: And...we're back. Heh, they're hyping the Marquis Jet card, which was the subject of a task on "Apprentice" a season back. You go, "Idol," cram in those product placements!

9:45: Bo Bice with who else but ... Lynyrd Skynyrd, and what else, but "Sweet Home Alabama." The audience goes nuts for the "in Birmingham we love the governor" line, which has always creeped me out a little bit, then goes dead silent for "Watergate does not bother me," since Watergate was probably 15 years before most people in the room were born. Wow, how many members are in Skynyrd these days, anyway? Oh wait, they just brought everyone back out on stage. There are now 12 minutes left in the show, so it's time to ... go to commercial! I have to admire how they can take the reading of one name, which is really all they have to do tonight, and stuff two hours of show around it. Parodies! William Hung! Bad auditioners! Babyface! Hasselhoff! Randy babbling! The Osmonds! Matt Rogers! Mikalah! Random Southern mayors! Crunk teeth! Don't let anyone tell you this show doesn't have it all.

9:43: Lindsey, Mikalah, and Babyface? Oh, Lindsey is just all over the place with the warbling and the random notes, there. Oh wait, that was Mikalah. That's OK, really, this is quite skippable.

9:42: Vonzell and Billy Preston. You know, Carrie is lovely, but Vonzell is drop-dead gorgeous. I have nothing bad to say about this pairing, because it's kind of awesome.

9:39: Scott and Nikko with George Benson. Singing "On Broadway," perhaps in a dig to Scott's delusions of grandeur that he was Broadway-bound. Scott is walking like he has huge lifts on the bottom of his shoes or something. However, George Benson is rocking out. More George!

9:37: Constantine, Jessica, Nadia and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Who may be available for your next event, according to this. No really. Birthday parties, bat mitzvahs, Christmas parties, call him. Constantine really, really wants to be Steven Tyler here.

9:35: Anthony and Anwar with .. Kenny G. Well, he might just be their Idol, so who am I to knock them? And Anwar is still rocking the dreadlocked ponytail look.

9:32: The finalists perform an "all-star" medley "with their own Idols." Which means Carrie and Martina McBride, right? OK, no. Couldn't get Martina. We got Rascal Flatts, though! Carrie actually does quite a pretty duet with the RF guy. Can I call you "Rascal"? Although every time she says "that God blessed the broken road" she says it like "that guy blessed the broken road."

9:21: They're spoofing the ABC "Primetime Live" special about Paula Abdul and Corey Clark, which is ... not the worst idea ever. "We never let the truth get in the way of our ratings," they brag. Get it? They're saying the "Primetime Live" special was ... all about the ratings. Because this show would never do anything for ratings, being pretty much as close to a pure PBS-style documentary as you can get. Although I give them credit for the bit where they ask Randy if anyone ever scripted his lines, and then cut to a couple of clips of him stammering his way through criticism of some poor singer. At least they had the good sense to mock one of the stupidest parts of the ABC special, the fact that Corey Clark named a song "Paula-tics." Wow, this is just going on and on. Randy wears a "buy my CD' T-shirt. Take that, Corey Clark! And the producers fuss "Where are we going to find something who knows as much about music as Simon?" So they call...William Hung. Raise your hand if you saw that one coming. William Hung hasn't had nearly as much time on-air this season as the crunk-teeth guy, and you know he has it in his contract that that cannot happen.

9:08: "Idol" loves the bad auditioners. So far, the rejects have gotten more time than Bo and Carrie combined, it seems. Reel of bad auditions. Goatee guy. Braxton guy.  Five-point-nine percent guy, who looks even thinner in front of that huge photo of Ruben. "Sweet Music" guy. Las Vegas psychic. Guy who thinks he sings like Brian McKnight. LeRoy, who got waaaaay too much time for his 15 seconds of crunk-teeth fame. When Adam met Dirk. Man, I just feel like I've seen all these bad auditioners ten times each across the season, don't you? There's a point where you realize that not that many people can be delusional about their talents, they knew a bad song would get them on TV, and the show bought that for a dollar. And ... Adam and Dirk are in the audience, and I'm sure they weren't embarrassed by that little film clip at all. And they bring out David Hasselhoff, because the show's not getting any fresher, so why not? The 'Hoff looks a wee bit like a younger Donald Trump these days. Wow, that burned a generous 9 minutes off the clock.

9:02: Bo medley. Are they going to say that his real name is Harold? And that he got the nickname "Bogart" as a kid from supposedly looking like Humphrey? Apparently not, but they are showing him carrying the mike stand around. I'm sure that footage was hard to come by.

9:01: Of course, they play the Osmonds' "Little Bit Country, Little Bit Rock and Roll." Now a medley of Carrie singing "Independence Day," which seems to be her favorite song. And I can't even argue with that, I don't love country, but she almost makes me like it here.

8:56: Time to roll the credits! We must be done, good night all! Oh, wait. We're only halfway through. And Carrie and Bo are going to sing the truly awful "Up Where We Belong." Oh, OK, I liked it when "Officer and a Gentleman" came out. In 1982. Aw, and at the end, Carrie lays her head on Bo's shoulder, tres sweet. Is Bo wearing leather pants? And Carrie a green satin slip? Hey, they both win cars, and Carrie shrieks like she's on "The Price is Right."

8:53: Let's embarrass more sad sack auditioners! The poor girl singing is certainly not the worst singer who has ever tried out for this show, although she is YELLING and doesn't quite KNOW THE WORDS. Is this really necessary? Oh, and now they bring the real girl out, with a fancy dress on and highlights in her (now combed) hair. What an odd bit.

8:47: Time for more flashbacks, we still have an hour to kill.Remember Regina, who pawned her wedding ring to get on the show? Remember the mom who was more excited than her son? Yeah, yeah, we remember. Are there people named Carrie and Bo still on this show? Forgot about them for a minute.

8:46: Matt Rogers in Oklahoma with Carrie's oldest fan and a tiny little dog. I don't even get this. Seacrest tells Simon "your segment has been the worst on the show." Well, yeah, but he didn't wear the boa or coach the kid/old man/dog. You can blame him for a lot, but maybe not for this.

8:42: Time for the Simon Ego Demonstration. You're still missing nothing, really. Now Simon comments on Bo seeming uncomfortable last night, saying Carrie handled things better and she'll win. I think he's right on both, although Bo's nerves were almost imperceptible to me. Simon campaigns for a co-host...Matt Rogers. No! But Brian Dunkleman might be available. They cut to LaToya in her hot-pink boa. Simon accuses her of being drunk, which is exactly what I was thinking. Some little Alabama kid yells a question into the mike, something about "reverse psychology." Yeah, that kid came up with that on his own. What a weird segment. The kid asks a nonsensical question, Simon says it's nonsensical, and the kid yells it again. Someone's drunk, that seems possible.

8:41: And...roll the medley of "Idol" car commercials! No really, you can stay in the kitchen, pop some popcorn or whatever. You're missing nada.

8:36: Seacrest magically materializes in Paula's dressing room. Yikes! Her hair looks nice, though, I'll give her that. She dogs Simon for thanking America for agreeing with him last night, which...whatever, I know this is all staged and stupid, but either she's saying that Bo and Carrie don't belong in the final two, or she's saying that Simon was right. So he's got that going for him. But again, why do I care? The stagey interplay between the judges is one of the many things that could get tossed out the window on this show and no one would miss it, not even whatever poor writer has to script it.

8:30: Seacrest takes viewers on a tour of the judges' dressing rooms, which are the size of small apartments. Randy Jackson's white shoes would have fit right in in the opening medley with the ice-cream style suits. Oh sheesh, now they're discussing the Simon-Paula relationship, complete with footage of open-mouthed kisses. Yikes. If you need a bathroom break or to refill your beverage, now would be the time.

8:22: Carrie drinking a product-placed beverage. She is a lovely girl, but why did they make her put her hair in a curly-fry machine before the show? She laughs at one Oklahoman with a "Marry Me, Carrie" sign. If only she knew how many emails we got asking for her phone number. (We don't know it! Don't email us!) Matt Rogers? Why did they bring him back? Time has not been good to him. Seacrest cracks that Rogers has been to the tanning bed. Yeah, something. Carrie sings, finally. The crimped hair doesn't actually look that bad.  She sings "Angels Brought Me Here," and seems a little more nervous than when she sang it last night, jumping up and down in one spot quite a bit. But her voice is strong and as much as I hate this song, she handled it well. The costumers must have been down with the country casual vibe though, with the jeans and red plaid jacket. Not that Bo was dressed up either.

8:15: A completely unstaged visit with Bo in his dressing room! Is LaToya in Birmingham, or is she at Mardi Gras? Whoops, LaToya just called him "Bo Brice." Hear that, Alabama? Every day in Alabama is Bo Bice Day! Everyone, get a mike stand and carry it around with you! And on to Bo doing "Vehicle," which I'm actually starting to like, he's done it so many times. And if he could start selling Bo Bice creme rinse, he could make a mint and forget the music business, the man has gorgeous hair. Oh, right, the song. Well, he's done it three times now, and he knows his stuff. I wouldn't say this song knocks me out, but it shows off his voice well, and he gets to strut the stage and prowl and growl, so it was probably a good choice.

8:08: Flashback reel. Crazy people we don't know. National landmarks. That nutty guy (which one?). Bad outfits. Cows. Nuns. Mary Roach in her red shirt. 193 went to Hollywood? And we maybe saw...30? People crying. Mikalah screeching. The top 12. Audience sign: "Don't fire the phone-number guy!" Heh. Mikalah bites it (why so much Mikalah tonight?). Paula thinks everyone rules. And ... there we are, Bo and Carrie, finally. That was actually a relatively condensed season summary, by the standards of these kinds of shows.

8:06: Mikalah Gordon is their red-carpet interviewer? Her speaking voice just never got any better, did it? Constantine demonstrates the Maroulis Snarl. Bo looks like he just rolled out of bed.

8:05: Ryan Seacrest in a black suit. Not quite a tuxedo, but you know, close enough for Cowell. Lynyrd Skynyrd is here! Everybody get your lighters ready! Come on, Bo, "FREE BIRD"! I won't comment on the fact that Kenny G is also appearing.

8 p.m. ET: Finally, it begins! Oh, wait. They are kidding us with this, yes?The kids singing a '60s medley dressed up like ice-cream salespeople? Scott Savol in orange? Looks like a Seventeen magazine advertisement: Whites and brights are your clothing colors for summer '05, people! At least Anthony Fedorov got to wear blue pants (are those light jeans, or just light blue slacks?) instead of white pants. Heh, they give Constantine the rockin' (relatively speaking) "I Get Around" chorus. That whole medley reminded me of something I once saw on "The Simpsons."

• May 25, 2005 | 1:30 p.m. PT

‘American Idol’ finale tonight

Bo vs. Carrie, rock vs. country, experience vs. innocence. After nearly six months, from really bad auditioners through all kinds of controversy, it's finally upon us. Join me here when the finale kicks off at 8 p.m. ET when I'll be blogging the "American Idol" finale live.

Even if you're not watching the finale tonight, it's a good bet many of your neighbors will be: 27.7 million tuned in for Tuesday night's sing-off, in which each contestant sang three songs. Viewers who've followed the show since January, through excruciating auditions and controversial vote-offs, though revealed criminal records and supposed scandals, are ready to see a new "Idol" crowned.

While some fans are still nursing wounds from rocker Constantine Maroulis getting the boot some weeks back, I have to say: I think the two most qualified singers made the finale.

Country girl Carrie Underwood shone from audition day on, and in many ways, she's exactly what "American Idol" claims to want to find. An all-American girl with no formal singing training and an air of innocence about her, she could never have found this level of fame (and, soon to come, fortune) without the show.

Bo Bice, on the other hand, is a seasoned 29, and has performed live with bands for years. Yet watching him on stage, swinging his long hair and his microphone stand with equal aplomb, it's easy to root for him too. He may be the show's rocker, but he's unfailingly polite to judges and fellow contestants alike, winning hearts some weeks back when he refused to single out from two groups of competitors the one he thought would be sent home. And he also won points for his risk-taking last week when he sang Badlands' "In a Dream" with no musical accompaniment.

I'm predicting a Carrie victory tonight: The show's been hers to lose all along, and she hasn't done it. But I'd be happy with either as the "Idol." As we all know from Clay Aiken's fame, sometimes coming in second is just not that bad.

Readers on spoilers

Thanks for all your feedback on the Web spoilers issue discussed yesterday. From your feedback, I learned something very important: That some viewers had “Survivor” spoiled for them not by surfing MSNBC, but by simply running MSN Messenger, which apparently sent a pop-up MSNBC news story with word of the winner.

This isn’t something I knew about, and I’m not familiar with how MSN Messenger sends out its news, but I’m investigating the process right now to see if we can prevent this from spoiling finales for people in the future.

Here are some more of your thoughts on Web spoilers.

“I read the last page of a book first and then read the book to see how it ended up there. I love to know in advance just what is happening. … No problems with spoilers for me. The more the merrier!”    --Brenda

REAL TIME OK“Don’t stop reporting and blogging in real time. Even though I live on the West Coast, I want to read your reporting before I actually get to see the show. Thank You, and don’t stop.”    --Robyn

WAIT, HE’S LUKE’S FATHER?“A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, a buddy of mine told me about his brother who, upon walking out of Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back, announced to the crowd waiting in line, “Darth Vader is Luke’s father!” That was low. What you do is not. People have a choice of reading, or not reading. They are not forced, by circumstances, to learn of spoilers before they’re ready. You just keep doing what you’ve been doing. Caveat emptor.”    --Glen

TECHNOLOGY ADVANCES“Yes, MSNBC has spoiled several shows for me. I am seriously considering changing my homepage before the next season of shows starts so that MSNBC does not ruin anymore shows for me. It is as simple as not giving away the excitement of the show in the title of an article. I will decide if I want to read the article. The world has encouraged us to progress with technology...Media Center...TIVO... But when we use these technologies we end up missing the excitement because MSNBC posts articles that give away the plot or results of a show in the title of articles that are listed on the front page.”    --Jeanne

“Basically I feel that if someone is willing to click on the article which will most likely reveal the ending then they are simply “ruining” the ending for themselves. I know that if I am waiting to watch a particular episode at the west coast time or on another day, I avoid reading the articles about that show until later. People need to start taking responsibility for their own actions. It’s like deliberately cutting one’s finger with a knife and then blaming the manufacturer for making the knife sharp. C’mon people, grow up!”  --Sarah

EARLY BEDTIME“I live on the West Coast and appreciate being able to find out the American Idols results early—my 9 year old daughter watches the Tuesday show when it comes on at 8pm but the 9pm Wed. results show starts at her bedtime. This way she knows the result and doesn’t balk at going to bed on time. Thank you! The way you don’t put the result on the main page works fine for me—I have no problem clicking through to read the story.”    --Sue

KEEP HEADLINES VAGUE“I have your site bookmarked as my homepage so when something is “spoiled” I’m also at fault. The problem I have, which I doubt is fixable, is that the news is always at the top and the headline ALWAYS reveals the winner. I think it would work better if you had to read the article to get the results. I suppose you could use non-descript headlines -“Idol selected in closest vote ever”- or something like that, which would reduce the number of people who are “victims” of having msnbc as their homepage.”    --Anonymous

OLYMPIC PROBLEM“I completely understand posting results on the internet shortly after a show like Survivor has aired - especially with a headline like “and the winner is...” Good idea to help those on the West Coast. However, I struggled with coverage of the Olympics this past summer/fall. Winners were posted on the cover of hours before any of us in the U.S. had a chance to watch (due to the time delay from Greece). Why would I want to watch a race when I already know who the winner will be? I stopped checking your website for those 2 weeks last fall for fear of running across an Olympics spoiler.”    --Sara

APPRECIATE THE UPDATES“I think it’s great that you have such fast responses to the TV show endings. I don’t get to watch finales or episodes as often as I’d like of some shows that I really do like, so I like that you have an update there for me first thing in the morning.”    --Kristy

NET ETIQUETTE“Well, I certainly didn’t get an apology when I complained about an Apprentice episode getting spoiled front and center on the main MSNBC page. And if this whole sort of issue is new to you, maybe you should hire a consultant or two with extensive online experience. Appropriate net etiquette with respect to spoilers was pretty much decided almost twenty years ago now (verdict: spoilers, even small ones, should be clearly labeled as such, and anyone who presses onward anyway has no right to complain). After reading your entire column, it’s not the fact that you guys slip occasionally that surprises me ... it’s how naive you still are about the entire issue. You mention time zones. Yes, that’s a big problem. But what about video tape and TiVo? With regards to automatically publishing from newswires, spoilers are the least of your worries. I predict that, within ten years, a newswire will be hacked, and you will publish profanities on the MSNBC front page. Possibly in large letters. Online publishers ignore the expertise of experienced netizens at their own peril. Don’t make us tell you we told you so.”  --Tim

DON’T REPORT ON TV AT ALL“I think this obsession with reporting on television shows is simply irrelevant. Report on something that matters. You pick- the war, homophobia, the millions of hungry americans, the shame of our health care system, the increase in autism, environmental disasters, genocide in Africa, or any of the other many important issues.”    --Kim

TV spoilers on the Web

It's that time of year: TV shows are ending their seasons all around us, with "CSI" and "The Apprentice" last week, "Desperate Housewives," "Lost" and "American Idol" this week, among others.

At MSNBC, we try to cover the show finales that are of most interest to our readers, usually with a commentary on the finale, live votes, charts, and sometimes a live Weblog, as I did with "Survivor" and "Apprentice." We try to cover them quickly, meaning that we watch on East Coast time, and do our best to put up our stories while the show's ending is still fresh in viewers' minds.

And without a doubt, we will always receive at least one or two e-mail messages from readers who are furious with us for doing so.

Sometimes they sign their names, but often they're anonymous. Often the messages are pretty profane, but sometimes they're just eloquent. The content is always the same: We've ruined the show for them, because they read our article on the episode in question before the show aired in their time zone, or before they got around to watching the episode they'd recorded for later use.

If the readers leave a real email address, I try to respond when I see their messages. I want to find out how they happened to stumble on the story and if there's something I can do in the future to stop it from happening again.

We've learned from past mistakes, as I think all online sites have. We don't reveal the name of the person who wins a particular reality show on our cover until after that show has aired on the West Coast of the U.S. Before then, I ask that our cover editors use something like "And the winner of 'Survivor' is..." I figure if you're willing to click on that headline, you've got to anticipate that you're about to read spoilers.

But some readers have already bookmarked the Entertainment front page, and we're less willing to protect spoilers there. Part of that has to do with the layout of the page itself. On the Entertainment front, you'll see a photo, a headline, and a short summary of whatever is the main story in the entertainment world at that moment. And if that story is that Tom Westman has just won "Survivor," well, you're likely to see a photo of a delighted-looking Tom.

There are some things, too, that are just out of our hands when dealing with news like this. Some of our systems pick up wire stories (stories from the Associated Press and Reuters) automatically. That's fine 90% of the time, but the wire services send results of reality shows quickly after the winner's announced on the East Coast, and those stories automatically feed into our system (though they're not usually prominent).

We're still learning. I rarely put a winner's name in the headline until a few hours after a show ends. And for stories like this one, my commentary on the "Desperate Housewives" finale, I noted right at the beginning that spoilers will be revealed. Yet for some readers — not many, but some — that's not enough. I've received mail from folks who were angry about being spoiled even though they admitted they chose to click on a headline that was clearly about to give everything away. And I've had some tell me that they watch a certain show (OK, "The Sopranos") on DVD only, and that therefore we should wait until the show has come out on DVDs before we reveal anything that was central to the plot.

Trust me, we don't want to ruin the fun for any TV viewers. I've had movie spoilers ruined for me by overzealous movie reviewers, and I'm still mad at them. And generally, for the few messages we received from angry viewers, we receive hundreds more from those who appreciated our immediate coverage.

Web news is still a new and evolving medium and we'll continue to try things out and get some right and some wrong. And while I'd never intentionally chase away any readers, consider this a forewarning: On Wednesday night, we'll be covering both the "Lost" and the "American Idol" finales prominently. If you're planning to wait to watch those, I'd suggest you limit your Web surfing until you've had time to watch your tapes. Forewarned is forearmed.