Traci Lords' 'amazing' journey leads her to some Swedish dicks


There's a droll charm to "Swedish Dicks," the offbeat cable comedy that starts its second season Thursday (July 26) on Pop. That nigh's second episode brings back Keanu Reeves ... this time as a ghost image. Its first has Traci Lords, who's a fascinating figure on her own Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

It's nice when
someone sends you a script directly, skipping all the agents and
such.

And it's weird when
the script bears an odd title. “I thought, '”Swedish Dicks”?
What in the world is this?'” Traci Lords recalls.

That could have been
almost anything ... especially considering her previous career as a
teen porn star. Fortunately, it was about two Swedish guyes who are
detectives in Los Angeles.

When Peter Stormare
sent it to her, Lords said, it almost caused a work-related injury.
“I read it on my treadmill, which I usually do. I started laughing
so hard I had to stop before I fell off.”

The show – which
starts its second season Thursday – doesn't have the usual,
straight-ahead humor. Some of it is quietly deceptive, some is just
odd. “It's sort of like 'Fargo' or John Waters,” Lords said.

Such comparisons
aren't random. Lords did Waters' “Crybaby”; as an actor – “he's
been in everything,” she said – Stormare did the “Fargo”
movie.

Then he wrote
“Dicks”; he told an interviewer that he created the main nemesis
with Lords in mind. “I had never met her, but whenever I saw her in
a photo or anything, I just felt a connection to that face.”

So he wrote Jane
McKinney as the glamorous but steel-strong head of a rival detective
agency. That was inspired partly by reading Lords' memoir, he said:
“How that girl survived is a miracle.”

Lords doesn't
disagree. “I look back at it all and it is kind of amazing.”

As she has told it,
she moved from Ohio to California with her mother when she was 12,
then was soon molested by her mother's boyfriend. She dated his
friend, had an abortion at 13 and (with fake ID) did porn modeling
and films at 15. When her true age was discovered, child-porn laws
required producers and stores to throw out or edit all of her films.

There are serious
issues here, Lords said. “The subject of children and lack of
protection is very impotant to me.” And there's also a story of
re-invention.

Marilyn Monroe was
29 and a movie star when she moved to New York and studied
method-acting with Lee Strasberg. (“In her eyes, and in mine, her
career was just beginning,” Strasberg said in his eulogy, seven
years later.) Lords was 18 when she did the same.

How did her
Strasberg Institute classmates react to an ex-porn-star teen-ager?
“There was a bit of fear and there was a curiosity,” she said.
“They didn't want to offend me, but they asked about it.”

After she chose her
first acting piece – one that “let me go crazy onstage” -- she
was accepted, she said. After three months, she left to start a
career that has been busy, if not spectacular. She's had recurring
roles in many TV shows -- “Profiler,” “Roseanne,” the
original “Melrose Place” -- and finally landed a regular one
alongside a couple Swedish dicks.

At 50, her life
looks almost normal. “I have an amazing family, a 17-year
marriage.” She also has a son, 10, and her upcoming movie-director
debut.

This will be a ghost
story, but Lords said she savors dark humor. “Don't we all find
ourselves laughing at the strangest times?”

Once, a friend was
getting way too worried about minor surgery. Lords re-assured her ...
then, in parting, asked: “So, any last words?”

Both started
laughing loudly. The Swedish dicks would have enjoyed that, too.

-- “Swedish
Dicks,” 10 and 10:30 p.m. Thursdays, Pop (formerly TV Guide
Channel)

-- New season starts
July 26

 

A 35-year journey -- from "wrong element" to "artistic achievement"


Each year, PBS' 4th-of-July concert offers a vibrant mixture of music, firewoks and fun. This year, it also adds something else -- a neat little postscript to a controversy that began 35 years ago. Hee's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Some noisy
controversies get settled in a few hours. Others ...

Well, there was the
whole thing with the Beach Boys and July 4; that one gets a neat
postscript Wednesday on PBS. “It's been a while in coming, hasn't
it?” Mike Love said with a laugh.

It's been 35 years
since Secretary of the Interior James K. Watt announced that the
Beach Boys were not welcome at the Fourth concert on the Capitol
Lawn. They “attracted the wrong element,” he said, and the
Capitol didn't want to “encourage drug abuse and alcoholism, as was
done in years past.”

Much of that was
resolved quickly. “I don't think James Watt's musical tastes
reflected the nation,” Love said. And didn't reflect the White
House; Ronald Reagan, Watt's boss, promptly intervened.

Now comes an extra
touch Wednesday, with the National Artistic Achievement Award. “It
shows how beloved the Beach Boys music has become,” said Love, a
key part of the group for all of its 57 years.

That will be during
PBS' “Capitol Fourth” concert, which will include pop, rock,
country and beyond.

It's sort of what
Love pushed a year after the Watt controversy, when he helped round
up an all-star show. “My idea was: 'It's July 4th; let's
make it an American celebration.'”

That plan continues.
Wednesday's show starts with gospel's Kyla Jade (from “The Voice”)
doing the National Anthem. It has another gospel star (CeCe Winans),
plus people from pop (Pentatonix, Temptations, Andy Grammer, Beach
Boys) and country (Luke Combs, Lauren Alaina).

And it has Broadway,
mixed with classical. Renee Fleming will do her “Carousel” solo
... Chita Rivera will introduce a Leonard Bernstein tribute, with
Joshua Bell doing “Tonight” from “West Side Story” -- which
Rivera starred in, 61 years ago ... And Jimmy Buffett joins his
“Escape to Margaritaville” cast.

Love also hopes
Buffett will join the Beach Boys for “Kokomo.” Those two musical
forces both represent sunny, coastal music ... albeit from coasts
3,000 miles apart.

He also feels a link
with another group: “The Pentatonix have had enormous success”
with vocal harmonies, he said. That was the Beach Boys' starting
point. “Really what got us together was doing these beautiful and
creative harmonies.”

They were the
province of Brian Wilson, singing with his younger brothers, Dennis
and Carl, plus their cousin Love (his mother and their father were
siblings) and a friend, Al Jardine. Bruce Johnston joined in 1965, in
time for “California Girls”; at 74, he's one of only two
old-timers in the group.

The other is Love,
77, who wrote many of the early lyrics, about the life they knew. “We
all lived just a few miles from the beach,” he said. “We sang
about the sun and the cars we wanted to drive.”

Ironically, many of
the cars he's owned have been British – a 1948 MG, a '39 Rolls,
some Jaguars. “I've also had my fair share of Corvettes,” he adds
quickly.

Individually, the
Beach Boys did have problems with drugs and alcohol. Their music,
however, was sunny. “Beach Boys music represents joy of life,”
Carl Wilson said, the day after Watt's comments.

Other agreed, Brian
Wilson recalled in “I Am Brian Wilson” (2016, Da Capo): “Nancy
Reagan said that if we attracted the wrong element, then she was the
wrong element, because she was a huge fan.”

The group was
invited to the White House and a year later headlined the Fourth
show, drawing a standing ovation – before the first song – from a
crowd officially listed at 565,000.

Sometimes “publicity
– the good kind – just falls from the heavens,” Love wrote in
“Good Vibrations” (Blue Rider Press, 2016). “That's what
happened in 1983. We hadn't had a hit song in seven years.”

And suddenly, people
were talking about the Beach Boys, past and present. That has
continued, he said. “We did 185 performances last year; we did a
couple months all over Europe.”

Now they'll be back
on the Capitol Lawn. John Stamos, who hosts (and is “a great
drummer,” Love adds) will present the award. The previous winners
were Stevie Wonder, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Reba McEntire, Josh
Groban and John Williams ... none of them attracting the wrong
element.

 

-- “A Capitol
Fourth,” 8 p.m. Wednesday, PBS, rerunning at 9:30. From the Capitol
lawn, includes Beach Boys, Pentatonix, Temptations, Jimmy Buffett,
Andy Grammer, CeCe Winans, Kyla Jade, Renee Fleming, Luke Combs,
Lauren Alaina, Josh Bell, John Stamos, plus National Orchestra and
fireworks.

-- Also, NBC will be
in New York from 8-10 p.m., with highlights from 10-11. That includes
Brad Paisley, Lady Antebellum, Sheryl Crow, Charlie Puth, Hailee
Steinfeld and fireworks.

-- In a late
addition, Hallmark will be on the White House lawn, from 8-9:30 p.m.
That includes country's Sara Evans, pianist Lola Astanova, military
bands and two “American Idol” alumni, Jonny Brenns and Jax.

 

Detroit comeback: A familiar story, but with higher highs and lower lows


Living fairly near Detroit, I've known that this is a place where big things -- yes, good things -- can happen. Now other people are finding that, in a documentary that airs Sunday (July 1) on the History Channel. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

In many ways,
historian Steven Gillon says, Detroit's story is familiar.

“It happens in
waves,” he said. Cities slump, prices drop; there are new people,
new ideas, new construction. “You go into most cities in America
and the first things you see are cranes.”

He's seen that in
Newark and Philadelphia and now Detroit, which he visited for a
History Channel film Sunday. But Detroit is different, because:

-- The extremes are
more pronounced, with the city soaring -- “Detroit, more than any
other city, helped America win World War II” -- and crashing.

-- There's a
convenient symbol -- Michigan Central Station, which opened in 1914
and closed in 1988.

“You see what
(Detroit) once was,” Gillon said. “You see the pillars; you see
the grandeur .... You see what it has become. The walls are covered
with graffiti; everything that can be stolen has been.”

Now Ford has bought
the building, with plans for an innovation hub.

Certainly, that only
touches part of the problem, Gillon said. Like other cities, Detroit
suffers from a “stratification,” with middle-class people (black
or white) improving and others left behind.

Still, he found
things upbeat. “There is a sense of optimism .... People feel
Detroit is coming back.”

Gillon brings an
overall perspective. He has a doctorate at Brown, is a history
professor at Oklahoma University, but lives in New York and has
written books ranging from baby-boomers to Pearl Harbor.

“We won the war,”
he said, “because Detroit could turn out more planes and tanks and
bullets.”

Even then, one of
the flaws was obvious: “Detroit has been a profoundly segregated
city, with massive riots in 1943 and 1967.”

It recovered quickly
from the first and is returning gradually from the second, with
Central Station as its symbol.

-- “Detroit:
Comeback City,” 9-10:03 p.m. Sunday, History Channel; reruns at
1:03 a.m.

-- Produced by Big
Sean, a Detroit rapper, and others; narrated by J.K. Simmons, the
Oscar-winner who grew up in Grosse Pointe

-- Interviewees
include people who grew up in Detroit – astronaut Jerry Linenger,
Pulitzer Prize-winner Heather Ann Thompson, musician Alice Cooper –
and others, including historian Henry Louis Gates

 

 

 

"Yellowstone": An epic series tries to define a struggling network


Sometimes, we expect films to be big and stupid or small and smart. (Sometimes, we expect the same of people; sometimes, we're right.) But "Yellowstone" beats all expectations.It's big, sprawling, ambitious and intelligent; it's also the best bet for the struggling Paramount Network to define itself. The show has its impressive debut Wednesday (June 20); here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

In an era of
re-invention, we should be used to this: Cable networks change their
names and identities with the ease of a master spy or a third-rate
scam artist.

The Christian
Broadcasting Network became The Family Channel, then Fox Family, ABC
Family and Freeform. The Nashville Network became the National
Network, then Spike and now Paramount.

That leaves viewers
perplexed. For its first five wobbly months, they had nothing special
to identify the Paramount Network with. Now they do: “Yellowstone”
starts Wednesday.

“It truly
encompasses everything we want Paramount Network to be .... It looks
like a movie, trust me,” said Keith Cox, the network's production
chief.

In this rare case,
you can trust a network guy. Cox can be wrong about other things,
including the “Heathers” series. (“The show's so phenomenal, it
needs to get out; people have gotta see that show,” he said in
January ... before Paramount decided people shouldn't see it at all.)
But his enthusiasm for “Yellowstone” is justified. “That could
be on HBO,” he said. “That could be anywhere. It's so epic.”

It's filmed in the
expanses of Montana and Utah. “We have a very good job,” said
Kevin Costner, who stars. “(We) wake up in a place as beautiful as
that.”

But this isn't one
of those shows with big vistas and small ideas. It's from Taylor
Sheridan, who wrote “Sicario,” “Hell or High Water” (drawing
an Oscar nomination) and “Wind River,” which he directed.

The acclaimed “Wind
River” has much in common with “Yellowstone,” including Gil
Birmingham and Kelsey Asbille in key American Indian roles. Still,
Sheridan sees that movie as “the opposite of what 'Yellowstone' has
been. We had no money; we had no time.”

Now he has the
backing of a big-time studio, eager to give its namesake network a
strong start.

Paramount Pictures
has been around under various names since 1912. (Universal is the
only older studio, and that's only by eight days.) It has bought
various cable networks, including MTV, CMT, BET, Comedy Central,
Nickelodeon ... and what was then The Nashville Network.

After Paramount took
it, that became The National Network in 2000. In 2003 it became
Spike, inexplicably calling itself “the first network for men,”,
with lots of movies and wrestlers and such.

Since then, it's
created few essential series. When the Paramount Network began in
January, Kevin Kay (its president) said “We don't want the Spike
audience to go away” -- but he kept only a few Spike shows: “Bar
Rescue,” “Ink Master” and “Lip Sync Battle.”

That leaves
Paramount trying to define itself. Its first effort (a mini-series
about the Waco stand-off) was well-received; its second (“Heathers”)
was not. Some critics savaged the dark high school drama; Paramount
pulled it before its debut (citing the Parkland shootings),
re-scheduled it for July 7, then pulled it again and began looked for
another network to sell it to.

A third show
(“American Woman”) has been OK, but “Yellowstone” is the one
that could fit the network name. As a movie studio, Paramount is the
home of “Gump,” “Grease” and “Godfather,” plus the
Indiana Jones and “Star Trek” films and more. And “Yellowstone”
feels like a mega-movie.

Costner says he
plays “a pretty complicated guy” with a giant ranch and a life he
lives by helicopter and by horseback. “He's half in the Western
world and half modern-day CEO,” Costner said.

His daughter is a
fierce businesswoman, one son is a lawyer and the other had a falling
out. “I've come back from war,” said Luke Grimes, who plays him.
“I served as a Navy SEAL, so aspects of normal life are tough for
me .... I've moved onto the reservation with my wife.”

That's Asbille's
character. “She's a young working mom,” Asbille said. “She's
been through Hell this season.” But, at least, she's done it in a
heavenly setting.

-- “Yellowstone”
debuts 9-10:56 p.m. Wednesday (June 20). That reruns at 10:56 p.m.
and 1 a.m., then Saturday night at 1 a.m. and Sunday at 11:01 p.m.;
also, 11 p.m. June 20 on CMT.

-- After that, the
10-hour season is 10 p.m. Wednesdays, rerunning at 1 a.m.

-- On Thursdays,
Paramount has “American Woman” at 10 p.m. (rerunning at 1 a.m.)
and “Lip Sync Battle” at 10:30 and 11. “Lip Sync Battle”
reruns often.

-- “Bar Rescue”
is 10 p.m. Sundays, preceded by a rerun marathon starting at 11 a.m.
It also has reruns on weekdays, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. “Ink Master”
has finished its 10th season. Beyond that, Paramount has
lots of “Friends” reruns and action movies.

 

It's been a re-invention era for PBS and its president

Keywords

Somehow, we don't expect change at PBS. We expect the same faces -- from Fred Rogers to English kings -- to be there eternally. But during her 12 years as head of the network, Paula Kerger has brought a subtle transformation. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Lately, PBS has been
asking people to name their favorite book.

So let's aim that
question at the PBS president: What is Paula Kerger's favorite book?

“Every time I'm
asked that, I seem to have a different answer,” she said. “But
I'm starting to realize it's 'The Great Gatsby.'”

She's read it at
least three times -- PBS people are the ones who read – and keeps
finding something different. “It's beautifully written and speaks
to the power of re-invention,” she said.

That fits the fact
that Kerger and her network have been sharply re-invented. “This is
such an interesting time to be in the media .... It's a time when
everything seems new,” she said.

Sure, PBS has lots
of the old. It has the 30th season of “American
Experience,” 36th of “Frontline,” 40th of
“Antiques Roadshow,” 44th of “NewsHour,” 47th
of “Masterpiece,” 48th of “Sesame Street.”

But Kerger was soon
talking about the network's digital studio and an online emphasis
that ranges from kids' games to “Frontline” interview
transcripts. And PBS' line-up has made profound changes; it has:

-- Arts programs
every Friday. Some are documentaries, but viewers often can catch
theater or a concert – ranging this season from country to hip hop.

-- Other designated
nights – history and current affairs on Tuesdays, science on
Wednesdays.

-- A new, all-day
kids' channel. “If you've ever had a kid who's sick, you know how
important that is,” Kerger said. This isn't just fluff, she said.
“It's all built to help kids succeed in school” and in life.

-- And a surge of
Sunday drama. The night now has more shows and higher ratings.

In the process, PBS
has managed to be both sturdy and popular. One survey shows it's the
most trusted national institution; Nielsen shows it has jumped from
No. 15 to No. 6 in total audience.

You could argue that
Kerger has benefited from perfect timing. Her 12 years as president
have included the big boost that came when “Downton Abbey”
debuted in 2010. Her shows -- “NewsHour” and “Frontline” and
such – are part of the current surge in serious reporting.

“More Americans
are hungry for substance over soundbites,” she said, adding later:
“People are done with the Kardashians .... They're done with the
circus.”

Isn't this also a
promising era for women? “It still is a hard time for women in
media,” Kerger insisted.

You can't tell that
at PBS; as “Masterpiece” chief Rebecca Eaton put it: “This is a
network that is led by a strong woman -- and programming decisions
are made by Beth Hoppe, another strong woman.”

Women lead many of
the most substantial shows -- “NewsHour,” “Nova,”
“Frontline,” “Masterpiece” and more. When Charlie Rose was
dumped from latenight amid sexual-abuse accusations, Christiane
Amanpour was chosen to replace him, in a show that starts in July.

For Kerger, there's
also been personal re-invention. When PBS chose her a dozen years
ago, she was nearing 50 and had mainly worked in “development”
(fundraising, mostly), not programming.

Still, she says, the
interest was there. “I grew up (near Baltimore) in an area where we
didn't have a chance to go to a lot” of theater and concerts. But
the school arts program was strong; so was public-TV. Her favorites
were early “Masterpiece” and a local nature show called “Hodge
Podge Lodge.”

At the University of
Maryland, she switched from pre-med to business administration.
Kerger did development, including for the PBS station in New York.
She became its station manager in 2000 and COO in 2004, then moved up
in 2006; at 61, she's the longest-running president in PBS history.

An adopted New
Yorker, she knows life is different elsewhere. “When you look at
something like 'Hamilton,' you realize the relatively small number of
people who actually get to see it.”

So PBS did
“Hamilton's America,” a ratings success. It's done some full
musicals, the usual operas and dance shows and lots more pop
concerts. It has ranged from poetry to “The Great American Read,”
which chose Americans' 100 favorite novels and will eventually name
the No. 1.

It has re-invented
itself. Jay Gatsby would approve.