Here's Superman before he was super ... and before he was born

A cable series about Superman's grandpa? Yes, I was skeptical; still, the "Krypton" opeer is impressive, both visually and with its sharp story and well-played characters. The series debuts at 10 p.m. Wednesday (March 21) on Syfy; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

For 80 years,
Superman has triumphed. Part-Krypton, part-Kansas and all-American,
he's stopped bank robbers, rescued passers-by and intermittently
saved the world.

But now it's time to
go further back. The new “Krypton” series goes back to before he
was super; in fact, it goes to well before he was born.

“It's an untold
story,” said David Goyer, the show's writer-producer. And “because
there's a time-travel element, we have a tremendous amount of free

Goyer has written
“Man of Steel,” “Batman v Superman” and other movies with DC
Comics characters. He's done some origin stories ... but now he sort
of has a pre-origin story.

On Krypton, we're
told, Superman's great-great-grandfather is a heroic scientist. He's
killed; his family is banished to the lowest order and given the “S”
symbol that would later be viewed so highly. “It actually is this
symbol of shame,” said Geoff Johns, the creative chief of DC

That scientist's
grandson becomes, as “Krypton” producer Cameron Welsh puts it, “a
rankless street hustler.” Then he gets word from time-traveler Adam
Strange: He must protect the future of his not-yet-born grandson, who
will become another planet's greatest hero.

All of this

-- Spectacular sets,
at a Belfast studio. “It's like being on the set of 'A New Hope' or
'Empire (Strikes Back),'” said Cameron Cuffe, who stars. “It's of
that caliber.”

-- Visual effects,
as ships careen through that world. The pilot was shot in 2016, then
waited for whiz-bang touches. “The post-production period is almost
double that of your average show,” Goyer said.

-- Sharp writing. In
“Da Vinci's Demons,” particularly, Goyer showed that's possible
in a weekly series.

-- And the right
actors to say those lines. That's one reason this is being done in
Belfast, Goyer said.

“There's an
incredible history of acting talent over in the UK (United Kingdom).”
He was able to use many of the supporting actors and crew members
from “Da Vinci's Demons.”

For the lead role,
however, he chose a near-unknown. “I started out in London, in
theater and film .... I thought, 'I'm ever going to get this; there's
not a chance,'” Cuffe said.

Then he got the
role, joining the parade of stars – from George Reeves to
Christopher Reeve, Marlon Brando, Dean Cain and Henry Cavill – to
play Superman and his kin.

Goyer even advised
Cuffe to be well-behaved in public, for fear of super scrutiny. Does
that mean he'll avoid drinking and nightlife? “I'm a British
actor,” Cuffe said. “It's very hard to get me out of a pub.”

-- “Krypton,” 10
p.m. Wednesdays, Syfy

-- Debuts March 21;
first season runs 10 weeks

-- Opener reruns
that night at 2:30 a.m., Thursday night at midnight, Sunday at 10:55

-- Opener also
reruns at 10 a.m. Saturday on Bravo and 11:05 p.m. Mondaty on USA

Quality overload: Two top shows debut simultaneously

Since life is never
easy for TV viewers, here's a new complication: Two excellent shows –
maybe the best new ones this season – debut simultaneously.

That's 10 p.m.
Tuesday (March 13). A week later, one moves to 9 p.m., the other
stays at 10. Here are the two short stories I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

For Auli'i Cravalho,
this is a huge leap – from Hawaiian sunshine to Pennsylvania grit.

Still, she's made a
bigger jump – from obscurity to stardom in Disney's animated

And now? At 17, she
has her first on-camera role, in NBC's passionate “Rise,”
stepping into a world that's far from her own.

She plays a teen
waitress, auditioning for the school musical. Lilette is “an
introvert, quite unlike me,” Cravalho said. She faces a bleak
economy and a critical mother.

That's far from
Cravalho's world, but there are some links. “She grows up in a
single-parent household, as I have,” Cravalho said. “She has big
dreams, but grows up in a small town.”

Many teens are like
that, with mega-dreams about sports or show business.

For Josh Radnor,
that began in a high school “Cabaret” in Columbus, Ohio. “I
had a guidance counselor who pulled me aside and said, 'You are not
allowed to stop acting.'”

Rosie Perez recalls
a field trip when she was about 12, to see “The Wiz” on Broadway.
“I remember ... this young, black girl talking about 'Home,' and it
resonated with me. It was the first time I cried in public and I
wasn't embarrassed. It changed me as a person.”

In “Rise,” they
play a theater director and his assistant, with Lilette as their

This is a small
town, Cravalho said, with bleak expectations. That's “something
(Lilette) doesn't want for herself – but something that she's used
to other people putting on her.”

It's nothing like
Cravalho's sunny childhood. “I've been singing for as long as I can

She was a big reader
(her family didn't have a TV) and occasional performer who was an
understudy in her school musical. Then came “Moana” and a chance
to rise to fame.

(The other story)

By Mike Hughes

In many places,
lawyers might face a blur of dull words and drab cases .

Then there's the
setting for ABC's “For the People” -- the federal court for the
Southern District of New York.

Its real-life cases
have ranged from the sinking of the Titanic to the deflating of
footballs, from treason and terrorism to the Watergate and Teapot
Dome scandals. Its defendants have included Bernie Madoff, Martha
Stewart, Bess Myerson, Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs.

And now we see it
through the eyes of young lawyers on both sides. “It's a very, very
personal show,” said Rege-Jean Page.

Three young actors
(including Page) play prosecutors; three play public defenders. They
are smart, but inexperienced, thrust into a big-stakes arena.

They “are doing
their best to run the machine right,” Page said. “I think seeing
people struggle to serve ... justice is hugely inspiring to me.”

And to others.
“Every episode, halfway through I'm thinking, 'Maybe I'll quit
acting and become a public defender,” Jasmin Savoy Brown said.

She plays Allison, a
public defender with a tangled personal life. As the show starts, she
shares her apartment with another defender (Sandra, played by Britt
Robertson) and a prosecutor (Seth, Ben Rappaport).

Seth is Jasmin's
lover, of course. That happens a lot in shows from Shonda Rhimes.

Other producers may
shy away from sex-in-the-workplace issues, but not Rhimes. “I think
it's very clear what's OK and what's not,” she said.

In her “Grey's
Anatomy” and “Scandal,” doctors and politicians are romantic
and lustful, but they approach their work diligently. So do the
“People” lawyers.

That reflects
reality, said Hope Davis, who plays a supervisor. She followed some
real-life public defenders, who are often outmanned and outspent.
“They're fierce and they're fighters .... They're so passionate
about it.”

-- “Rise,” NBC;
and “For the People,” ABC.

-- Both debut at 10
p.m. March 13; a week later, “Rise” moves to 9 p.m., “People”
stays at 10.

"Idol" is back -- Simon-free, good-hearted and still kind of fun

The first "American Idol" was a phenomenon -- sometimes nasty, always interesting. The new version -- starting Sunday and Monday (March 11 and 12) on ABC -- has lost its venom, but not its entertainment value. I found the opener -- click "TV column" above -- to be breezy and fun; here's the story I sent to papers.

By Mike Hughes

“American Idol”
is back – sort of.

This new version
–talented singers, warm stories, pleasant judges – is a distant
cousin to the “Idol” that caused a sensation in the summer of
2002. That one was partly propelled by venom and failure.

And now? “We want
the humor,” said showrunner Trish Kinane. “But we don't want the

The original was
something Americans hadn't seen before – a caustic Englishman,
telling young singers just how awful they were.

“The tone of my
comments is part of the entertainment,” Simon Cowell wrote in “I
Don't Mean To Be Rude, But ...” (Broadway Books, 2003). “Without
it, 'American Idol' wouldn't be half as much fun, either for me or
the viewers.”

The show was
supposed to reflect reality, he wrote, “and trust me – the music
industry is not nice.”

Viewers approved. On
a network (Fox) that rarely pierced the top-20 in the annual Nielsen
ratings, “Idol” was No. 2 in its third and fourth seasons, No. 1
after that.

It drooped a bit
after Cowell left in 2010 and a lot after “The Voice” caught on.
Fox dropped it two years ago, but ABC has revived the show, keeping
its host (Ryan Seacrest) ... but not its original tone.

“There is only one
Simon Cowell,” Kinane said, “and he was 15 years ago.”

And the new judges?
“I'm blunt,” said Katy Perry, who calls Cowell her favorite
judge. “But I can't be mean, because I'm a woman.”

That last part was,
presumably, in jest. In the opener, it's clear that the others are
more lenient than she is. Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie override
Perry and send a singer to Hollywood, based far more on his back
story than on his current talent.

Strong stories fill
the opener. One singer was 11 when she was mocked as the worst
National Anthem singer since Roseanne; she's now talented. Others
survived tough childhoods in Philadelphia and in the Congo. We meet
lots of teen outsiders, from an affable farm kid to a guy who talks
like a cartoon character and sings like Sinatra.

“We need those
beautiful stories right now,” Perry said, “to help lift us up,
inspire us.”

Bryan – an
easygoing guy who grew up on a Georgia peanut farm – quickly gets
involved. “I'm in there on the emotional ride with these kids,”
he said.

Richie -- who's been
described by his adoptive daughter Nicole as “the happiest person I
know” -- is also into that emotional ride.

“These kids are
showing up at 15 years old,” he said. “At 15 years old, I can't
tell you what I was thinking, except it certainly wasn't standing on
a stage in front of millions of people, being critiqued”

-- “American
Idol,” 8-10 p.m. Sundays and Mondays, ABC, beginning March 11.

-- Tentative plans
have the Monday episodes continuing through April 23; then “Idol”
will be Sundays-only, until the finale May 20-21.


She lived like she was dying ... and found she wasn't

When you hear the plot for the new CW series, you might grimace: A young woman lives zestfully, because she has terminal cancer ... then learns she's not dying, after all.

Yes, that could have been clumsy and cheesy; surprisingly, it's not. "Life Sentence" (9 p.m. Wednesdays, starting March 7) skillfully mixes humor and pain, thanks to sharp writing and the luminous presence of Lucy Hale. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Back in 2004, a
country song offered a basic message: “Life Like You Are Dying.”

Now a TV series
echoes that. In “Life Sentence,” Stella (Lucy Hale) has terminal
cancer. With no long-range needs, she swoops through life zestfully.

“It was fun to get
to step in her shoes and take a chance and fall in love in Paris,”
Hale said.

Then comes the
detour: She's been cured; she's facing a life she never expected.

“It is easy to
live like you're dying when you are,” said Richard Keith, the
show's co-creator. “Then when you're not, to continue to live every
moment to its fullest (is) interesting.”

It's also something
for young people to think about. “Everyone (should) take a note
from Stella and do the things that scare you,” said Hale, 28.
“Travel the world, because nothing's guaranteed.”

But this is about
more than her. Everyone in the story is a cancer survivor, said
producer Oliver Goldstick. “The whole family has been through a
seven-year journey.”

While Stella was
gulping up life, the others had lives on hold. Money dwindled,
relationships crumbled. “All of these things were hidden from
Stella,” Hale said.

Emotions peak at the
end of the second episode, as Stella's mom (Gillian Vigman) rages.
It's a scene packed with pain ... and laughter.

Yes, laughter; “Life
Sentence” has a lot of it..

“My dad suffered
through cancer three times,” Vigman said. “During the bone marrow
transplant, I got him laughing so hard. It felt so good that when I
left, I started crying. They are so hand-in-hand, the laughing and
the crying.”

That's what Hale
found when she visited St. Jude hospital in her Memphis home town. “I
was just blown away by everyone, that they're making the best of an
awful situation.”

-- “Life
Sentence,” 9 p.m. Wednesdays, CW, debuting March 7


A deep thinker lived quietly in Fred Rogers' neighborhood

If you scroll down to the previous blog, you'll see a story about Fred Rogers, who's profiled in a dandy PBS special Tuesday (March 6). Friends describe Rogers' sense of play and fun; alongside that, however, was a philosopher and a skilled writer. We once got a sampling of that; here's an account that I sent to papers, recalling the pensive side of Rogers:

By Mike Hughes

This was not what we
expected from a man who talks to puppets, a man who sang while
putting on his sweater and sneakers.

We weren't expecting
him to be pensive and thought-provoking. Fred Rogers kept surprising

That was 20 years
ago, but it seems timely now for two reasons, one good (the late
Rogers is the subject of a documentary Tuesday) and one not (the
topic that day was school shootings).

It was Jan. 7, 1998,
six weeks shy of a landmark anniversary. “For 30 years, 'Mister
Rogers' Neighborhood' has personified a place where caring and
consideration for others instills good feelings in all of us,”
Kathy Quattrone, then PBS' programming chief, said in her

She had brought
Rogers to a Television Critics Association press conference. This was
friendly turf; a year earlier, he'd received the TCA's Career
Achievement Award.

Rogers could have
viewed this casually; instead, he brought a carefully crafted speech.

“Early last
month,” he began, “a small, 14-year-old boy in West Paducah,
Kentucky, said to his classmates, 'Something big is going to happen.'

“A week later,
that boy walked into school with earplugs in his ears and a gun in
his hand, and he shot and killed three people and (wounded five)
more. That was his 'something big.'

“When I hear that
story and others like it, I wonder how much our society has
encouraged children to idolize the big and the flashy and the loud.”

Rogers was saying
this in his usual manner, which was never big or loud. “He was a
very private person .... I don't think he ever screamed and yelled,”
his widow Joanne said 15 years later.

Here, he spoke of
quiet values. “The most holy people of every tradition have always
encouraged us to celebrate the good, the simple, the modest, the
truthful. Because that's what lasts forever.”

He spoke of Mother
Teresa and of one of his musician friends: “Yo-Yo (Ma) is the most
other-oriented genius I've ever known. His gorgeous music comes from
a place which is very deep within his being. There are times when ...
I'm convinced that he is in touch with the very heart of the

He spoke of TV
“programs which encourage people to believe that big is best, that
loud is necessary, and that violence and cruelty are the ways we
human beings must solve our problems.”

And he spoke of
raising kids who know they are loved, “not because they're big and
loud and noisy, but because they're one of a kind .... And being
able to say to their families and friends, enthusiastically and
without a trace of apology, 'Something little is going to happen.'”

-- “Fred Rogers:
It's You I Like,” 8 p.m. Tuesday (March 6) on most PBS stations