Smithsonian Networks takes us inside the world's most famous home office in "White House Revealed," a DVD out on July 20. Narrated by Martin Sheen, who played a president on TV, this light confection has just enough glimpses of real history with its archival photos and interviews with the likes of President George Herbert Walker Bush to satisfy. No state secrets are revealed, but the resident pastry chef dishes on the sweet tooths of chief executives from Reagan (loved chocolate) to Clinton (also loved chocolate) and Bush (the first was the most adventurous eater of the lot).
Yes, the geniuses at Pixar have yet another megahit on their hands. But may we turn the spotlight on one of the "Toy Story" trilogy's most valuable players? That's right, the composer of the delightful "Toy Story" soundtracks, Randy Newman. His "Toy Story Favorites" CD (Walt Disney Records, $6.99) features six of his most memorable songs, including the heartbreaker "When She Loved Me," sung by Sarah McLachlan, as well as two new songs from "Toy Story 3."
Love and war in Old England
Starz proves it can compete with those lusty Showtime Tudors in its own ambitious period drama, an eight-part miniseries, "Pillars of the Earth," starting July 23. Based on the bestselling Ken Follett novel, this $40 million show, produced by Ridley and Tony Scott, stars such veterans as Ian McShane, Donald Sutherland, and Rufus Sewell. Set in 12th-century England, the tale of the power struggle after the royal heir dies (mysteriously) pitches its history – and histrionics – at just the right midsummer melodramatic tone.
Life on the margins
Underneath James McMurtry's fedora, scraggly hair, and wire-rimmed specs is one of America's finest songwriters telling literary-worthy stories about life on the margins with razor-sharp detail and poker-faced wit. The CD/DVD release "Live in Europe" (Lightning Rod) features a band that delivers his songs with country-rock grit, resulting in a night of heartland noir that tells the news better than the headlines.
Singing for Congo
"Raise Hope for Congo" (Downtown Music), an 18-track collection that benefits the Enough project, raises awareness about the violent blood diamond culture in the Congo and its oppression of women and young girls. That serious intent is heard here, collecting live songs and new hip-hop, Afro-pop, indie rock, and Brit-pop from both the West (Norah Jones, Damien Rice, Travis) and Africa (Angelique Kidjo, Amadou & Mariam), as well as original, spoken-word reportage from Sheryl Crow and Omékongo Dibinga & Shahin Shahida.