Morgan Freeman views love, hate and the tribal quest for humanity


Last season's "The Story of God" was a terrific documentary series. Now the same people -- including Morgan Freeman -- are back for "The Story of Us," another show that's huge in scope and high in quality. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Morgan Freeman has
become our consummate authority figure.

He's been a senator,
a vice-president, speaker of the house and chief justice ... a
sergeant major, a lieutenant, a colonel ... a professor, a judge,
several doctors, a shiek and Batman's research chief.

He's also been
Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela. He's been a messenger from God once and
God twice. When he speaks, we listen. And now we hear a central
notion of his “Story of Us” documentary series: There are a lot
of good people out there.

But what about
growing up as a black kid in 1940s Mississippi? Surely, he felt
hatred then.

“Not hatred,”
Freeman said firmly. “Never. Segregation was numbing, but I never
felt hatred.”

Instead, he said, he
felt love. As an infant, he was sent to his father's parents. “I
was raised by a small group of people, It rook a village, really ....
Everyone in my neighborhood knew everyone else.”

It was a warm family
that encouraged him. At 9, he had the lead in a school play .... At
12, he won a state drama competition .... In high school, he did a
radio show ... Throughout, he savored movies.

“I grew up in the
movies – watching them and not seeing enough of me, none of me,”
Freeman said. “So my film career is actually predicated on being
able to see me.”

That would take a
while. He joined the Air Force in the mid-50s; told there were no
black pilots, he became a radar repairman. He studied theater and
dance in San Francisco and recalls a time in 1962 when he was
crashing with friends, penniless and homeless.

That comes to mind
as he discusses “Story of Us,” which tackles a different theme
each week. The opener, on freedom, includes a man born into North
Korean slavery, a woman imprisoned in Russia and Albert Woodfox, who
seems at peace after 43 years of solitary confinement in Louisiana.

“I grew up in the
South, single-parent situations, having the opportunity to take the
wrong path,” Freeman said. “When I sit with Albert, (I feel):
''There, but for the grace of really good luck (go I).”

Others in the series
are people he can admire from a distance. Consider:

-- Joshua Coombes, a
London hair stylist who gives free haircuts to the homeless. “The
greatest feeling you have is when you share love with someone,”
Coombes said. “Often, that's reserved for family or a loved one.
But it's about trying to stretch out a bit and actually make that
work in communities.”

-- Megan
Phelps-Roper, whose grandfather (the late Rev. Fred Phelps) preached
hatred of gays, even protesting at funerals. She's broken from her
family, a change that she says came after social-media conversations
with people. “They are tired of endless yelling and lack of
communication.”

Such divides are
part of human instinct, Freeman said. “We are naturally tribal.”

But the second hour
(on peace) views successful efforts to blend opposite sides in
Rwanda, Ethiopia, Belfast and beyond. And not included in the series
is an example closer to his life:

In 1991, Freeman
moved back to his boyhood home of Charleston – a Mississippi town
of 2,200 that had two proms, one black, one white. In '97, he offered
to pay for an integrated prom; the offer was finally accepted in 2008
– amid some dissent, including a small, private prom for whites.

“It was the
parents, not the kids, who caused the problem,” said Lori McCreary,
the producer of “Story of Us” and some other Freeman films.

The kids mostly
partied peacefully in Charleston; the grown-up eventually got
together in Rwanda and Ethiopia. Sometimes, hatred fades.

-- “The Story of
Us,” 9 p.m. ET Wednesdays, National Geographic; reruns are 11 p.m.
Wednesdays, 10 p.m. Sundays, 8 p.m. the next Wednesday.

-- Starts Oct. 11
with “The March of Freedom”; Oct. 18 is “The Fight for Peace.”

 

After sports stardom? Go jump in the (icy) lake


Retirement can mean whittling or checkers or solitaire or such. Or, for some retired athletes, it can mean swooping down hills or plunging into icy lakes. That's in "Advenure Capitalists," which starts its season Tuesday (Oct. 10). Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

So let's say you've
finished that pro-sports career you dreamed of.

You've made big
money, drawn big cheers. Now what do you do?

How about plunging
into ice-cold water ... or zooming downhill ... or racing through the
wilds? Those are things people do early in the new “Adventure
Capitalists” season.

“They're all new
experiences .... You get to evolve,” said Dhani Jones, a former pro
linebacker.

And sometimes you
invest in the company. “If 'Shark Tank' and 'Survivor' had a secret
love child, it would be 'Adventure Capitalists,'” said Jim
Ackerman, the CNBC programming chief.

Three athletes –
Jones, skier Jeremy Bloom and gymnast Shawn Johnson East – try
outdoor products, then listen to the pitch and sometimes invest.
“It's like a sibling rivalry, a little bit,” Bloom said. “Shawn
and I trained for the Olympics, Dhani spent 11 years in the NFL, so
we are used to putting our bodies at risk .... There's no instruction
manual; we just jump on them.”

These are type-A's,
in sports and in business. “We are always talking over each other,”
East said.

That may surprise
people who expect athletes to be one-dimensional. But consider:

-- East, 25. In the
five years since retiring, she's been a “Dancing With the Stars”
champion, written books and taken a long list of endorsement deals.

-- Bloom, 35. He
launched a big tech and advertising firm – something he was
prepared for: He's a Wharton grad, his dad is a psychologist ... and
his sister ran a Hollywood poker ring; she's being portrayed by
Jessica Chastain in the Aaron Sorkin movie, “Molly's Game.”

-- Jones, 39. His
mom is a doctor and his dad was a Navy commander; he grew up in
Maryland (and sometimes Japan), but traveled worldwide.

He learned some
discipline ... and entrepreneurship. At Potomac events, “I was the
kid who sold water at the side of the road. My friend and I would
bring a wagon and sell water.”

After prep school,
he wanted to choose a college for academics, not athletics. He
recalls seeing a pamphlet that showed the University of Michigan
symbol on top of a globe. “I liked the audacity of the school; they
basically said they ARE the globe.”

So he went to the
school whose alumni include Arthur Miller, Gerald Ford, 21
billionaires and the unabomber. “I can go to New York City and
already know people,” said Jones, who had a major
(“self-representation”) he fashioned himself. “Or to Sioux
City.”

But yes, they play
football at U-M. He was an all-Big Ten linebacker three times
(1997-99); during that stretch, U-M was 32-5, winning the Rose,
Citrus and Orange bowls and a national championship.

Then came 11 years
in the pros, the final four with the Cincinnati Bengals. “I look at
Cincinnati and all the things going on there.I see a real renaissance
going on that I want to be part of.” So he's stayed there with his
love interest, plus two kids (4 and almost 2), a cafe (Bow Tie Cafe),
an investment firm (Qey Capital) and a creative agency
(Proclamation).

And he flies off for
“Capitalists,” which can be risky. “That's what the hospitals
are there for.”

But yes, some things
are scary the first time you do them. “He was freaked out riding
his first motorcycle,” East said.

And quite upset when
he was supposed to try a cold-defying fabric. Jones was reluctant to
jump into the ice water ... so he was pushed in. “I popped out of
the water, couldn't talk, and then guess what happened? They pushed
me right back in.” Sibling rivalries can be tough sometimes.

 

-- “Adventure
Capitalists,” 10 p.m. ET Tuesdays, CNBC; season-opener is Oct. 10.

-- Opener reruns at
1 a.m. ET, then at 11 p.m. Wednesday, noon Saturday, 9 p.m. Sunday

 

CW fills its week with super women


Oveshadowed by bigger (much bigger) networks, it's hard for CW to get noticed. It tries hard, with superheroes and, at times, super women. Now its season starts Monday (Oct. 9); here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

After giving the big
networks a two-week head start, little CW is ready for its season.

In one busy week, it
launches all 10 of is shows. Mostly, it gives us lots of women; many
are strong and smart, some are scheming, one is super.

After viewers see
Supergirl hoist a submarine over her head in the opener, the rest
might seem minor. But there are two clever, female-centered shows on
Fridays -- “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and “Jane the Virgin,” both
Golden Globe winners – and two new shows:

-- “Valor,” at 9
p.m. Mondays, with Christina Ochoa as Nora, a helicopter pilot for a
special-ops unit. “This is a female-driven military drama, which I
think does set it apart,” said producer Anna Fricke.

-- “Dynasty,” at
9 p.m. Wednesdays. This remake puts much of the focus on Fallon
Carrington, Blake's ambitious daughter. “She has a biting wit ... I
lover her strength and I think that's what really drew me to the
role,” said Elizabeth Gillies, who plays her. “I'm having to kick
it up a notch.”

Yes, “Dynasty”
is clearly a soap-opera ... and an over-the-top one at that. “Valor”
also slips in some hyper moments. “It's going to be a great soap,
on top of having a military background,” said Mark Pedowitz, the CW
programming chief.

Still, they're
sharply different worlds. In “Valor,” life is conducted amid
discipline. “Nora and her boyfriend can't touch each other when
they're in uniform and when they're on base,” Fricke said.

By comparison,
Fallon and her rival Cristal have fancy hair and gowns ... which
doesn't stop them from having a fierce fight, seeming like a
throwback to the old “Dynasty” days.

“If modern women
today (fight) for equal pay and to be treated equally and seen
equally as men,” said Nathalie Kelley, who plays Cristal, “why
can't we also have the right to fight like men? .... That's my
feminist take on why we pull each other's hair out (in) Episode 1.”

The key women offer
international roots:

-- Kelley is a
Peruvian native who grew up in Australia. She had supporting roles on
“Body of Proof,” “Unreal” and CW's “Vampire Diaries.”

-- Gillies grew up
in New Jersey and was on Broadway at 15. Then came Nickelodeon's
“Victorious” and FX's “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll,”
vigorously tackling all of the elements in the title.

-- Ochoa is from
Spain and fits that new ideal of a modern woman – tall (5-foot-10)
and confident, conquering multiple fields. Her grand-uncle (Severo
Ochoa) was a Nobel prizewinning biochemist ... her father (Victor
Ochoa) is a noted sculptor. She's a member of Mensa, studied marine
biology and physics, speaks at scientific conferences, writes
articles ... and then does make-believe, jumping straight from
“Animal Kingdom” to this summer's “Blood Drive” and beyond.

“The intellectual
and the mental side are satisfied by my philanthropic endeavors and
science,” Ochoa said. But then there's “the creative side of my
life, where I smile the most. I get to play.”

Especially in
“Valor,” where Nora unleashes fierce emotions. For one scene,
Ochoa had to learn to bang a drum fiercely. “That was a skill that
I was not familiar with.”

For another, she
pounded walls of an abandoned house with a hammer. “They kind of
let me run wild with it .... They actually had to rebuild the wall
several times, because we got so carried away,”

That's modern life,
perhaps. Some people pull hair and rip gowns ... some batter walls
and fly helicopters ... one lifts a submarine. They're CW's
superwomen.

-- CW season starts
Oct. 9-13; “Valor” (9 p.m. Mondays) and “Dynasty” (9 p.m.
Wednesdays) are new.

-- Mondays:
“Supergirl,” 8 p.m., “Valor,” 9; Tuesdays: “The Flash,”
8, “Legends of Tomorrow,” 9; Wednesdays: “Riverdale,” 8,
“Dynasty,” 9; Thursdays: “Supernatural,” 8, “Arrow,” 9;
Fridays: “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, 8, “Jane the Virgin,” 9.

 

Deep in the family roots, there's joy and agony


("Finding Your Roots" tends to be a fascinating journey through the lives of people's ancestors. This season's opener -- 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 3, on PBS -- is particularly good, finding joy and tragedy in the family trees of Larry David and Bernie Sanders. Other good ones are coming up; here's the story I sent to papers.)

By Mike Hughes

Larry David is not
the sort of guy to be jolly or ... well, enthused.

But during “Finding
Your Roots,” his joviality grew. Here was family history, unfolding
before him. “I'm sure everybody's curious about their roots,”
said David, featured in Tuesday's season-opener.

Well, maybe not
everyone. “That's insane,” said Jeff Garlin, David's “Curb Your
Enthusiasm” co-star. “I'd never want to be on that show.”
Others
jump at the chance, with genealogy pros finding deep details. “I
felt like I had won the lottery,” said Ana Navarro, a CNN and ABC
commentator. “I still don't understand how anybody says no.”

People on the show
do, however, have to be prepared for surprises. David got a big one,
but we won't mention that until after a spoiler alert, at the end of
the story.

One surprise – at
least for viewers – came last season, when husband-and-wife Kevin
Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick learned they're distant cousins. Sedgwick
said she kind of expected it.

“My dad's a WASP,”
she said. “The Sedgwicks are from New England and from England and
his family (is the same). I wasn't surprised, honestly, (but) I had
to act surprised.”

One unsettling
surprise comes when people learn their ancestors owned slaves. Ben
Affleck even convinced Henry Louis Gates (the producer and host) to
scrub any reference. When news of the change reached PBS, the network
said that won't happen again and temporarily halted production.

“We introduced
more fact-checking, a broader range of consultants -- academics and
scientists and genealogists – and made it a better show,” Gates
insists.

This year, David
learns he has slaveholders in his family. (“I figured that,”
dead-pans J.B. Smoove, another “Curb” co-star,) And Ted Danson
learns the same.

“Just my luck,”
Danson quipped. “My ancestor had a slave who wrote a tell-all
book.”

Not just any any
book. Venture Smith bought his freedom and then wrote a book
(speaking quite well of Danson's kin) that became a key chunk of
history. “All scholars of African-American literature know about
Venture Smith,” Gates said.

On the flip side is
Navarro. Growing up in Guatemala, she said, she had never seen a
black person until she was 7 or 8 ... so she was startled to find her
family tree has two generations of Costa Rican slaves.

Her father was even
more surprised, she said. “My dad was convinced we were going to
find out we were Spanish royalty.”

Janet Mock – a
writer and transgender-rights activist – also learns this season
that an ancestor was a slave. “It was incredibly emotional to see
this young boy – I believe ... my great-great-great grandfather --
was someone's property.”

Gates has been aware
of such extremes, ever since a West Virginia childhood in which his
mother wrote eulogies. “I would go as a little kid and just watch
this beautiful black woman read these stories.”

He delivers dark and
bright news. In this season's opener, Sen. Bernie Sanders hears of
ancestors' deaths in the Holocaust; later this season, Danson learns
that his 10th-great-grandmother fought the Puritans for
women's rights in religion. “I've been surrounded by women all my
life,” Danson said, “and it kind of makes sense that Anne Marbury
would be way back there kind of leading the way.”

Then – SPOILER
ALERT – there was the surprise for David ... and Sanders.

They learn of a DNA
link, suggesting they are third or fourth cousins. David – who
impersonates Sanders on “Saturday Night Live” -- offered uncurbed
enthusiasm. “I love Bernie,” he said.

-- “Finding Your
Roots,” 8 p.m. Tuesdays, PBS; the Oct. 3 opener has Larry David and
Ted Danson

-- Oct. 10 has Carly
Simon, Fred Armisen and Christopher Walken.

-- Continues through
Nov. 21; Danson is Oct. 17, Mock is Oct. 24, Navarro is Nov. 14

 

 

Togetherness can be a good thing ... sometimes


There are plenty of troubled, tortured souls out there who produce great comedy. But there are also guys like Mark Feuerstein; he talks lovingly about his wife, his life, his parents and more. Fortunately, he also sees some humor in his parents -- portrayed by Elliott Gould and Linda Lavin in "9JKL," which debuts Monday (Oct. 2) on CBS; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

When it comes to
family, Mark Feuerstein decided, there can be too much of a good
thing.

But maybe not too
much of a funny thing. His personal chaos led to his CBS series,
“9JKL.”

Back in 2009,
Feuerstein was a grown adult -- 38, married, starring in his fifth
series, “Royal Pains.” But his apartment had his parents on one
side and brother on the other.

“I would wake up
to my father coming in his tidy whities, going, 'Mark, what would you
like for breakfast?” Feuerstein recalled.

Later, after a
15-hour shooting day, his mother was there. “The second my hand
would touch the doorknob, she'd ... go, 'Hi, Mark. Would you like to
come in for a salad?'”

He was well-fed, if
not well-slept. Clearly, this could be a situation-comedy.

Feuerstein's wife
agreed. Dana Klein is a sitcom writer (“Friends,” “Becker”)
who created “9JKL” with him ... and sort of gave her husband a
divorce.

In real life, he
would fly from New York to California on weekends, to be with his
wife and kids. For the show, she said, “we thought having the
parents next door would really complicate his dating life.”

So Feuerstein has
spent time re-assuring his kids – and his parents – that this is
make-believe.

His real childhood
was quite enviable, actually. His dad was a lawyer; his mom was a
teacher whose skill involves nurturing, not cooking. (“She's good
at making reservations.”) He was a state wrestling champion and
went to prep school and Princeton.

But they are also
funny people. Feuerstein talks of “my father's collection of 600
bow ties”; on the set, he points to a refrigerator covered with
Post-it notes. “That is my parents' idea of an address book.”

They're bright,
caring and odd. That's sicom turf.

-- “9JKL,” 8:30
p.m. Mondays, CBS.

-- Debuts Oct. 2; in
the early weeks, it will start at 8:31, with “Big Bang Theory” as
the lead-in.