This "rookie" knows about re-invention ... and about sore knees

"The Rookie" arrives Tuesday (Oct. 16), with much to recommend it. The best new show of the broadcast-networks' season, it has action, drama, humor and Nathan Fillion. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

There are roles that
require an actor to stretch far beyond his own reality. Carroll
O'Conner had to be a bigot, Sally Field to be giddy, Warren Beatty to
be impotent.

Then there's Nathan
Fillion's duty in “The Rookie,” the new ABC show about a
middle-aged Los Angeles Police Department rookie. He must seem like
he gets winded when running.

“That is not far
away from my truth,” he said.

One scene in the
pilot had him trying to outrun a suspect and to climb a fence,
neither with any success. Fillion, 47, recalls needing “six pounds
of Epsom salt, (with) bruises up and down my thighs.

“I'm at the point
in my life where if I can have a stunt guy run down the street for
me, these knees will appreciate it .... Kneeling is a stunt for me.”

That fits the show.
Alexi Hawley says this began with a call from a producer who “had
the life rights to a guy who (became) the oldest rookie in the LAPD
and was I interested in putting together that show?”

Definitely. With the
current overflow of TV shows, he saw “how hard it is to find a
fresh way in, especially to a cop show.” Here was a fresh approach;
besides, Hawley is fond of:

-- Shows that can
drop humor into a drama. “Castle” -- which he used to write and
produce -- was like that; so is the “Fargo” series, from his twin
brother Noah Hawley.

-- Fillion, who
showed in “Castle” that he can handle comedy and/or drama. “It's
really hard to make people laugh,” Fillion said. “I think it's
easier to let people laugh at you.”

Hawley envisioned
the central character as 45, but his pilot script had one person
deride the “40-year-old rookie.” Either way, the first hour
allows Fillion to be a hero, a lover and a comic foil.

This also represents
a modern trend. “It used to be that you would get a career and
stick in it no matter what,” Hawley said. “And then maybe you'd
get to your 40s and have a midlife crisis.”

When called a
“midlife crisis,” it's considered a bad thing; when called
“reinvention,” it's an admirable approach to modern life. And
actors are all about reinvention.

The son of two
English teachers, Fillion grew up in Alberta. That's where he went to
college ... and it's where a Richard Chamberlain TV movie was filmed:
“'Ordeal in the Arctic' came to my home town,” he said. “I died
in a plane crash at the North Pole. It was tragic.”

The next year, he
moved to New York for a steady role on the “One Life to Live”
soap opera. He became the fourth actor (and the first adult) to play
Joey Buchanan, the son of the show's protagonists.

Soon, Joey had a
secret affair with his mother's nemesis ... who (while undergoing an
alternate personality) held him hostage in a secret room under his
mom's mansion.

Soaps are like that
sometimes; they're also good training, Fillion said. “You make a
44-minute program every day .... By the end of it, you are ready to
attack anything.”

He stayed almost
four years, got a Daytime Emmy nomination (in the “younger actor”
category), landed some guest roles, moved west ... and sputtered. “I
couldn't get a job .... It was like a year.”

The drought ended
with “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place.” (He was none of those,
but was the boyfriend of the “girl” in the title.) That propelled
a TV career that has included “Firefly” and beyond.

Many of the key
stops have been on ABC, from the first ones (“Ordeal” and the
soap) to “Two Guys,” a “Desperate Housewives” season, “Castle,” several "Modern Family" episodes and now the new series.

“I have been
working for ABC since Jan. 28 of 1994,” Fillion said. There have
been plenty of pauses, but he's become a network veteran ... the sort
who wheezes when he chases a suspect.

-- “The Rookie,”
10 p.m. Tuesdays, ABC, starting Oct. 16

America's favorite novel? Here are the leaders

By Mike Hughes

As voting nears its
final days for “The Great American Read,” one thing is clear: It
helps if a book has a double appeal, to kids and grown-ups.

PBS' “Read”
asked people to choose from a list of 100 favorite novels. A week
before the voting deadline (Oct. 18 at 11:59 p.m. PT), it released a
list of the 10 leaders, in no particular order.

Half of them fit
that youth-or-grownups description. There's “Charlotte's Web,”
“Little Women,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and the “Harry
Potter” and “Chronicles of Narnia” series.

Another one – the
“Lord of the Rings” series – could also fit. That leaves four
books with mainly adult appeal ... all with romance as key parts:
“Gone With the Wind,” “Jane Eyre,” “Pride and Prejudice”
and the “Outlander” series.

That top-10 was
compiled from 3.8 million votes, but the count continues, with voting

The “Read”
series has been running at 8 p.m. Tuesdays on PBS. The Oct. 16
episode will look at books that visit other worlds; the Oct. 23 one
will reveal the winner. If you scroll down a ways, you'll find three stories I did last month, when the series was starting.

Surprise: Teeny-tiny CW network grows (a little)

The good news is that the CW network -- always an interesting one -- is adding a night; that starts Sunday, Oct. 14. And the better news is that it's doing it with some good shows, "Supergirl" and the new "Charmed." Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

The CW has always
been a mini-network, a speck alongside the Disney/Netflix/NBC giants.

It went from two
networks (WB and UPN) to one (CW), from six nights to five. It seemed
settled on 10 hours a week, with micro-ratings.

Now comes the
change: The network is adding a sixth night, with two of its best
shows (“Supergirl” and “Charmed”) on Sundays. It has at least
five more scripted series in reserve, making reruns rare, even in the

“It's what we
wanted to do,” said Mark Pedowitz, the programming chief. “We
want to stay in scripted as much as we can, throughout the year.”

His network tends to
be awash in superpowers and the supernatural. One old show (starting
its 14th season) is literally called “Supernatural”; a
new one (debuting Oct. 25) has a teen who's the world's only
witch/werewolf/vampire tri-bred.

Its fans tend to be
young, female and tech-savvy, providing less emphasis on same-day
ratings. “We view the world from a linear, streaming point of
view,” Pedowitz said.

There's delayed
viewing ... and subsequent Netflix runs ... and sales to other
countries, where fantasy does well. Those Sunday shows are prime

“Supergirl” fits
the modern emphasis on strong women; so do the three “Charmed”
characters – bi-racial half-sisters who learn they're witches.
“They're in a university town ... that is really a cultural melting
pot of different ideas, different beliefs,” said producer Jennie
Snyder Urman.

For that matter,
there are different beliefs among the show's writers, said producer
Jessica O'Toole. “We meditate at the beginning of the day.”

The writing staff
even includes a Latino witch, she said. “He and his friends ...
would meet once a week and do spells and put energy out there toward
goals.” It's a CW kind of thing.

CW in brief

-- New night,
Sundays: On Oct. 14, “Supergirl” has its season-opener at 8 p.m.,
“Charmed” debuts at 9.

-- Also new: “All
American,” 9 p.m. Wednesdays; “Legacies,” will be 9 p.m.
Thursdays, starting Oct. 25. The former isn't supernatural; it's the
culture-clash tale of a teen football star moving from a tough
neighborhood to Beverly Hills. The latter is very supernatural,
centering on a witch/werewolf/vampire.

-- Still coming:
“Arrow” opens its season at 8 p.m. Monday (Oct. 15); “Legends
of Tomorrow” starts a week later, a 9 p.m. Oct. 22.

-- The other shows:
“The Flash” and “Black Lightning” on Tuesdays; “Riverdale”
at 8 p.m. Wednesdays; “Supernatural” at 8 p.m. Thursdays;
“Dynasty” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” on Fridays.

-- In reserve:
Three returning shows -- “Jane the Virgin,” “iZombie” and
“The 100” -- plus two new ones, “In the Dark” and a “Roswell”
reboot. Other shows are in the works, including “Batwoman,” and
CW tends to add lower-cost summer shows.

-- Tough times: On
“Arrow,” Oliver Queen is currently in prison for his vigilante
deeds as The Green Arrow ... On “Riverdale,” Archie Andrews is in
juvenile detention for a murder he didn't commit ... On “Black
Lightning,” our hero is sought by police. It's tough to be a good
guy on the CW.

An epic show-business world was (really) based in Baraboo

For the next couple days (Oct. 8-9), PBS has a terrific "American Experience" film about the circus. If you scroll down one, you'll find the story I sent to papers. But now please oblige me for a brief Wisconsin detour. I'm from Wisconsin -- yes, I've had cheese on my head and Alan "The Horse" Ameche in my heart; I've also played the tuba -- and I enjoyed seeing how guys from there ended up dominating the circus. they still dominate memories, thanks to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo. Here's the story I sent to a Wisconsin paper.

By Mike Hughes

As the 20th
century began, this was clear: The circus would be dominated by
Wisconsin people – again.

In the first half of
its “Circus” documentary, PBS focuses heavily on the center of
all Big Top/big deal commotion, P.T. Barnum.

But Barnum died in
1891 and his business partner, James Bailey, struggled. As the film
begins its second half (8-10 p.m. CT Tuesday), he's taking the Barnum
& Bailey circus on a risky European tour.

Other risks were
ahead, as the show kept bloating. After Bailey's death (in 1906, at
58), the circus would be sold to five Baraboo brothers for $510,000;
the two shows finally merged in 1917.

The Ringling Bros.
and Barnum & Bailey Circus would last for another century, before
closing last year. Its impact lingers at the Circus World Museum in

Wisconsin's circus impact goes back much further. In 1847, a touring
circus chose Delavan as its winter headquarters; eventually, a
reported 28 circuses stayed there ... including one owned by W.C.
Coup. In 1871, he linked with Barnum (who was already 60) to create
Barnum's first circus. By the end of the century, the PBS fays says,
there were about 100 American circuses; soon, the Ringlings would
have the biggest.

These were
small-town guys who ran a family-friendly show, the film says, but
they were also willing to tak chances ... sometimes too willing: In
1929, the Ringlings borrowed $1.7 million to buy five Indiana
circuses; five weeks later, the stock market crashed.

That slowed their
business – just as World War I and the flu epidemic had done. In
1936, John Ringling – the last of the five founding brothers –
died at 70.

His nephew, John
Ringling North, took over in 1938 and continued to try bold srokes.
He even had a ballet – composed by Igor Stravinsky, choreographed
by George Balanchine – for elephants in tutus.

But there were more
tragedies, including a 1942 circus-tent fire that killed 158 people
and seriously injured almost 500 more. And there was increased
competition from TV and movies.

In 1956, in
Pittsburgh, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus had its
last touring tent show. That's when the PBS film stops, calling it
the end of an era.

Still ... a new era
would do fine for a while. Sticking to arenas, the Ringling show
would continue for six more decades. On May 21, 2017, it had its
final performance. Still, it would linger in memories, in history and
in Baraboo.

-- “American
Experience: The Circus,” 9-11 p.m. Monday and Tuesday (Oct. 8-9),

-- Circus World
Museum, in Baraboo, Wis. This year, its exhibits – including spectacular
wagons – are open through Oct. 31 (except for Oct. 13-14). They'll
re-open March 19; from May 17 to Sept. 1, there will be daily circus
perormances. See


It's the Big Top, the big show, the big lie ... and epic Americana

For all of its flaws, the circus tends to deliver epic Americana. It's has dazzle, daring and a sense of sheer fun. Much of that is also delivered in the season-opening "American Experience" documentary, Monday and Tuesday (Oct. 8 and 9) on PBS. It does capture the flaws and quirks of a circus, but it also reflects centuries of invention and ingenuity. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

For Johnathan Lee
Iverson, the important advice came straight from the top.

He had just joined
the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, he said, when its
CEO told him something essential. “He said, 'There's the truth and
then there's circus truth.'”
Then again, Iverson already knew
that ... ever since 1985, when Ringling claimed it had a unicorn. “I
was about 9 and I'm ready to see a unicorn .... And this little goat
comes out.”

Later, reporters
pieced together the story: A ma had found a way to alter young goats,
so a single horn grew; he took them to Renaissance fairs; then the
Ringling people bought them and bought his silence.

Iverson was
recalling that, while telling the Television Critics Association
about PBS' new “Circus” documentary. For four hours, viewers will
hear about dazzle, sparkle, skill ... and, alas, lies.

“The tendency
toward exaggeration is absolutely a part of what (P.T. Barnum took)
to another level,” said Janet Davis, a University of Texas
historian and author.

For Barnum, that
started in 1835, when he bought an exhibit supposedly involving
George Washington's former nursemaid, now 161 years old. (She died
the next year, at about 79.) He would continue his museum, Davis
said, “predicated upon all of these incredible falsehoods .... When
he enters the circus business in 1871, He's all-out with the

But alongside the
lies, she said, there were people with true talent. The circus has
had the “funny juxtaposition of extraordinary exaggeration with ...
viscerally real entertainment.”

The first American
circus, in the pre-hype days, was in 1793 Philadelphia. An
Englishman, Davis said, was “riding a horse and doing incredible
acrobatics .... A lot of death-defying skill goes into that.”

Washington went
there on his birthday. In the centuries that followed, other
Americans were dazzled.

“I tasted life,”
Emily Dickinson wrote of the circus. “It was a vast morsel.”

“It enables us to
lose ourselves, to dissolve in wonder and bliss,” Henry Miller

Others agreed, said
Sharon Grimberg, director of the PBS film. They include writers
(Nathaniel Hawthorne, E.B. White, Walt Whitman) and a dour president.
“Calvin Coolidge loved the circus.”

In a sprawling,
young nation, Barnum and others perfected the traveling show. A drab
town would have spectacle, Dominique Jando said ... then would be
back to normal “and it's boring again.”

His own experience
was in France, where circuses were stationary. He was 5, he said,
“when my father took me to see Buster Keaton at Cirque Medrano in
Paris. It's why I became a clown.”

Jando was performing
in circuses at 18, married a trapeze star and later became a circus
historian and, at one point, associate artistic director of the
low-hype, high-skill Big Apple Circus.

American circuses
seemed to reflect this country's virtues – imagination, innovation,
daring – and its flaws. There was the exploitation of animals
(especially by the people who sold them to the circuses) and of
outsiders. And there were biases, Grimberg said.“Very rarely did
African-Americans get to perform in the Big Top in the 1950s.”

Much of that had
changed by 1999, when Iverson got a surprise phone call, asking him
to audition for the Ringling show. He had sung with the Boys Choir of
Harlem, attended the “Fame” high school in New York and aspired
to opera, but had given no thought to the circus. “I was 22 at the
time. I just kept hearing 'ringmaster,' and (thinking), 'Man, that's
a great pickup line.'”

He promptly became
the first black ringmaster of a major circus and kept the job until
the Ringling show closed last year – ending its 146-year tradition.
“The minute we made that announcement, suddenly, it was 'Oh my
gosh, Santa Claus is going away.' .... Everything was sold out, all
of a sudden.”

It was the end of
the mega-circus ... but not of the concept. “A lot of small
circuses (are) popping up, regional circus,” Jando said. “So it's
a revival of a different sort.”

-- “The Circus,”
9-11 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, PBS; season-opener for “American