TV 's dance world leaps from a tiny ex-ballerina to booming b-boys


Two of the best things about summertime TV are the dance shows -- the long-running "So You Think You Can Dance" (8 p.m. Mondays on Fox) and the new "World of Dance" (10 p.m. Tuesdays, NBC). Both have astoundingly talented an cers. Now "World" is starting its second round on June 20 and reruns its final audition-hour at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 17. Here's the story I sent to papers, looking at two extremely different -- and extremely skilled -- acts.

By Mike Hughes

At first, there was
street dancing. It was done ... well, in streets or in parks or near
homes.

“It pretty much
was in my garage,” Jon “Do-Knock” Cruz recalled. “My garage
was my dance studio.”

And then it leaped
to bigger and fancier places, filled with lights and commotion -- Las
Vegas and rock tours and now “World of Dance” on NBC. “It's
definitely still a shock to us,” said Ben Honrubia.

They're founders of
Super Cr3w, a high-octane “b-boy” crew that's back in the
spotlight. In 2008, it became the second-season champion of
“America's Best Dance Crew”; now it's in the new NBC show,
alongside first-season “ABDC” winner Jabbawockeez ... and some
very opposite performers.

“It's definitely
different for us, because every genre is there,” said Ronnie
“Ronnieboy” Abaldonado. “You'd see a 12-year-old contemporary
dancer who was really good.”

Actually, Diana
Pombo won't turn 12 until November. She's in a different category
(juniors), but on the same show as Super Cr3w and Jabbawockeez; “they
are actual legends of the dance world,” she said.

Her roots are 2,600
miles from Cruz's. She lives in Miami, the daughter of Colombian
immigrants, and emulated her ballerina sister. “When I was 4, I
would put on a tutu and walk around, so I started in ballet class
.... I was also very hyper.”

Now she goes to
school Online, so she can have time for fun – rollerblading,
cooking, playing with slime – and for spending 5-6 hours a day on
her craft.

It's contemporary
dance now, with ballet and gymnastics influences. In one move, she
massages her face with her foot. “I really just experiment with my
body .... I improvise a lot.”

That dazzled the
judges – including Jennifer Lopez (“my idol,” Diana said), who
hugged her. “I don't think we realized how big this would be,”
said the girl's mother, also named Diana.

Or how varied. A
tiny soloist – 5-foot-1, 85 pounds – shared attention with 11
muscular b-boys.

Sometimes called
“breakdancing,” that style started in the Bronx in the 1970s,
then added a West Coast flavor. Cruz grew up in Moreno Valley, a
California city near San Bernardino, trying to match his brother's
dance moves; he soon led the three-person Battle Monkeys.

Honrubia and
Abaldonado were in Las Vegas, where show-business seemed natural. “I
always thought I'd be a performer,” Honrubia said. “My uncle was
a juggler; he took me to shows a lot.”

He started the
Knucklehead Zoo duo; Abaldonado started the six-guy Full Force Crew.
Then the three groups merged into one Cr3w. “We wanted to collect
the best in the b-boy generation,” Honrubia said.

That was in 2000,
when most of the guys were just finishing high school. Eight years
later, they won their TV championship and were surprised by the fame
it brought.

“It was the first
time for everything,” Abaldonado said. “We were doing mall shows
and people treated us like celebrities .... We met people with Super
Cr3w tattoos.

In addition to
backing rock stars, the Cr3w had its own tours, with others as the
opening acts “None of us really imagined this,” Cruz said. “It
keeps on getting bigger and bigger.”

What began with
teens now has guys near their mid-30s. What began as talented
individuals now has elaborate group choreography.

“You take b-boys
who didn't know how to perform,” Cruz said. “We pretty much had
to wing it. Now we've learned how to put a show together .... And
there's not just one choreographer in the room; we all work on it.
That's the best thing – everyone in Super Cr3w gets to be
creative.”

It's still an 11-man
group, but the make-up has changed. Now Cr3w includes individuals
from Brazil, Japan, Korea and Venezuela; it really has become a world
of dance.

-- “World of
Dance,” 10 p.m. Tuesdays, NBC

-- With the audition
rounds concluded – the final one reruns at 8 p.m. Saturday (June
17) – the “duels” round starts June 20, with judges choosing
between match-ups of two acts

 

 

The big shift: Suddenly, the comedy capital moved west


Like most comedy acts and comedy careers, "I'm Dying Up Here" has its ups and downs. It's an ambitious attempt to catch the full range of stand-up comedians in 1973 Los Angeles.Jim Carrey, who arrived a decade later, is one of the show's producers; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

There was a time, 45
years ago, when the comedy capital switched coasts.

It had been in New
York, alongside the poets, folksingers and mezzo-sopranos. Then came
the shift.

“When (Johnny)
Carson moved 'The Tonight Show' to (Los Angeles), that became the
scene,” said Michael Aguilar, producer of a new cable show (“I'm
Dying Up Here”) that captures the era. “It shifted from New York
to L.A.; everything changed.”

Soon, stand-up
comics were looking west. “There was a beam, you know, that could
catapult people to the stars,” Jim Carrey recalled. “And that was
'The Tonight Show.' And we all came out and gathered around the heat
of that.”

Most had to grind
their way through the L.A. comedy clubs, like the one depicted in
“Dying.” But as a 21-year-old Canadian, Carrey seemed to have an
express route.

“I was a big deal
in Toronto,” he recalled, “and they booked me on the show.”
Then he did a random night at a Los Angeles comedy club. “I had a
kind of a lukewarm night. And then I heard the news that I had lost
'The Tonight Show.'”

He had gone
instantly from a national spotlight to living in a closet –
literally.

At a comedy club,
Carrey recalled, someone “said he had a room, and it turned out to
be a closet. So the first year or so I was here, I lived in that
closet .... I woke up the first morning that I lived in the house, to
walk out in the kitchen and find a beautiful young girl making bacon
with no pants on.”

Carrey offered such
memories to the “Dying” producers, who paid attention. The first
episode includes a closet and a pantless cook; the second sees a
“Tonight” invitation yanked away.

Alongside that is
the heart of the series – Oscar-winner Melissa Leo as a comedy-club
owner. “She's not playing Mitzi Shore,” Carrey insisted, “but
she is a tribute to women like Mitzi.”

In 1972, comedian
Sam Shore and his wife created The Comedy Store; two years later, she
received the business in a divorce settlement. It became a favorite
spot for “Tonight” to scout.

Now we see a
fictional version named Goldie. “She has a marriage of commerce and
creativity,” said Dave Flebotte, the “Dying” creator. “She
loves comics, (but) it's also her bread and butter.”

So she has a mixed
relationship with them,Aguilar said. “She nurtures them, she trains
them. She pushes them when they need to be pushed .... She knows the
moment when they are ready.”

And in real life,
Carrey was ready. During his post-rejection, closet-living time, he
found another express route: He was cast as the star of the “Duck
Factory” situation comedy. That was on NBC, the “Tonight”
network; still just 21, Carrey was on the show.

That was in 1983,
when comedy and Carson had been thriving for a decade in Los
Angeles. Now Carrey produces and advises a show set in 1973, when
this was starting.

“The '70s
(brought) the golden age of stand-up comedy,” said Gary Levine, the
Showtime programming chief. That brought “comic geniuses like
George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Dave Letterman, Jay Leno,
Andy Kaufman and Robin Williams.”

It was a time when
big talents were working in small clubs – and maybe sleeping in
small closets.

-- “I'm Dying Up
Here,” 10 p.m. Sundays, Showtime

-- Debuts June 4,
rerunning at 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.; then reruns nightly

-- Also: 9 and 11
p.m. Monday and Tuesday; 10 p.m. Wednesday; 9 p.m. Thursday,
rerunning at midnight; 7 p.m. Friday, rerunning at 9 p.m. and 1 a.m.;
7 and 10:30 p.m. Saturday

 

In Flint, the tragedy continues and the cameras return


For more than three years, the Flint water cisis has offered a compelling story of official failure and citizen success. Now comes a fresh focus via TV -- a PBS documentary soon (May 31), a Lifetime movie later. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

To some people, the
water crisis in Flint, Mich., is old news, now resolved.

The national stories
have been written. The original water source has been re-instated.
Officials have been rebuked, in some cases indicted. “When the
lights went out and the cameras (left), the narrative ended,” said
the Rev. Lee Bailey of Flint.

But now the cameras
are back. On Wednesday, PBS' “Nova” has a fresh hour on the
subject; meanwhile, filming has started on a cable movie starring
Queen Latifah.

The story lingers,
Flint people say. “The crisis is over,” said Gina Luster. “Now
it's a disaster.”

Much of the impact
remains with kids. Marla Garland, 43, says her teens have been
hospitalized recently with stomach pains, diarrhea and more.

But adults have also
been impacted. “I'm still in constant pain,” said Luster, also
43. “Out of a month, I might have three good days.”

Her father, Veo
Luster, 61, happens to be one of the contractors digging up old pipes
and putting in new ones. “You're in the infancy stage of it,” he
said. “I give it seven years.”

But this new
attention also brings good news. “Americans really owe Flint a huge
debt of gratitude,” said Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech professor
who sees other cities having similar problems.

A similar crisis
gripped Washington, D.C., for a decade, Edwards said, but officials
denied it. “It really showed you why a lie is so powerful .... If
you get away with it, you keep your job.”

In Flint, people
didn't let that happen. “LeeAnne (Walters) is a classic example of
someone who would not take no for an answer,” said Siddhartha Roy,
who works with Edwards at Virginia Tech.

Edwards calls
Walters a “hero mom” and “Erin Brockovich on steroids”; Paula
Apsell, the “Nova” producer, sees her as “a real citizen
scientist.”

Walters, 39, had
taken a one-year medical-assistant course and worked for a half-year.
Tthen, with her husband in the Navy, she stayed at home with her
pre-school twin sons and teen-aged daughter.

That's when she
noticed the problems, after the city switched its water source to the
Flint River. Soon, one twin was undersized and often sick.

Others also had
problems with the water. “It was brown,” said Robert Mitchner,
45. “It started smelling bad .... My son was afraid to take a
bath.”

Officials at the
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality were unresponsive,
Walters said. “Their approach was, 'We've got the education and you
don't. Know your role.'”

Then she contacted
Miguel Del Toral, an Environmental Protection Agency manager in
Chicago. “Miguel was the first person who didn't treat me like I
was crazy or didn't know anything,” she said.

She read scientific
reports and faxed reports to him. It was the first time, she said,
anyone realized that officials – despite their reports to the
contrary – hadn't added the required corrosion-control chemicals.

A year after the
water-source change, Walters was pointed toward Edwards. “When she
called me in April 2015, all the science was done,” he said.
“LeeAnne figured out everything (including) that the state had lied
to the EPA in writing about using corrosion control.”

He brought an army
of student volunteers from Virginia Tech, to bring a new round of
Flint testing. In October of 2015 – 18 months after the original
switch – Flint went back to its original water source. The next
step involves water filters and the replacement of pipes battered by
corrosive water.

The “Nova” film
was greeted enthusiastically at a Flint screening last week. “I
started to cry,” said Michael Vincent, 53, a Flint chiropractor.
“We got answers.”

Some wished it had
focused on the actions of public officials. That issue is still
debated.

Edwards, furious
about the failures of his fellow scientists, feels others are
relatively blameless: “Scientists ad engineers turned into
environmental criminals .... The officials did the right thing. They
reached out to the appropriate people at the EPA and (MDEQ) and,
unfortunately, they were lied to.”

Still,Walters
argues, officials shouldn't have been so quick to believe the
scientists and ignore the public. “When all those people tell you
there's a problem, you have to do something.”

-- “Nova: Poisoned
Water,” 9 p.m. Wednesday (May 31), PBS

-- “Flint” is
now filming in Canada and Lifetime hasn't set an airdate. Bruce
Beresford, who directed the Oscar-winning “Driving Miss Daisy,”
has a cast led by Queen Latifah. Betsy Brandt (“Life in Pieces”)
plays LeeAnne Walters, with Rob Morrow (“Northern Exposure”) as
Marc Edwards.

 

Teens soaring -- Scotty and Auli'i found dizzyig route to the top


Each year, on the eve of Memorial Day, PBS delivers a terrific blend of music and emotion. Sunday's concert happens to include two people who found teen stardom -- Scotty McCreery an d Auli'i Cravalho; here's the story I sent to papers.

By Mike Hughes

In the swirl of
show-business, this keeps happening:

A talented teen from
nowhere (or nearby) is suddenly everywhere. It's dizzying and fun and
scary.

Scotty McCreery, who
sings Sunday in PBS' Memorial Day eve concert, knows that. He'd done
other intense things – pitching in baseball, winning “American
Idol” at 17, singing at the Opry -- before the first time he went
to Washington and met the president. “It's a different kind of
scary,” he said.

Now Auli'i Cravalho,
16, arrives. She'll open the concert with the National Anthem – her
first time performing it in public. “I've been practicing it every
day,” she said. “I tend to worry.”

Yes, it will be her
first time in Washington; until the “Moana” movie made her a
star, she'd rarely left Hawaii. Now she'll share a stage with Renee
Fleming, Vanessa Williams, McCreery and more. “I've been reading up
on all the people who will be there,” she said.

She has to, because
she hasn't seen them on television; she grew up without a set. “My
parents thought it was more important for me to be reading than
watching TV.”

So she did; early
on, she became an “Aesop's Fables” fan. She also started early
inn music and theater programs. “I suppose I was a slightly
dramatic person,” she said.

And then her world
spun more dramatically. A talent scout saw her at a competition and
advised her to audition for “Moana”; she was reluctant, then did
and was chosen to voice and sing the title role.

During recording
sessions, Cravalho never met the star (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson)
she did duets with. But she often met – via Skype – Lin-Manuel
Miranda, who co-wrote the songs.

Here was a
long-distance merger. A teen-ager who had never done a school musical
(“I was the understudy to the understudy”) was talking to the
most important person on Broadway. At times, he was already dressed
in his “Hamilton” coat, ready to go onstage.

“I've always been
a fan of 'In the Heights'” (Miranda's previous musical), because
I'm Puerto Rican,” Cravalho said.

Well, she's many
things, in the Hawaiian tradition, but Puerto Rican is one of them
... and is something she has in common with McCreery. Both grew up in
towns of 27,000, where there were plenty of chances to sing. Both had
career military men in the family, making Memorial Day feel
important. And both have roots in Puerto Rico.

That's where Bill
McCreery was stationed when he met Paquita Rivera. They eventually
moved to North Carolina; Scotty McCreery talks warmly about both
grandparents.

These days, he's
often focusing on golf, which was his granddad's favorite sport. “I
like baseball, but you just can't get 18 guys together that often.”

His grandparents
were married 57 years, before Bill's death last summer; Scotty then
wrote “Five More Minutes” and debuted it at the Grand Ole Opry.
“That was two weeks after my Grandpa Bill died. It was pretty raw
emotions.”

At 23, his life has
settled down a bit. He's had a steady girlfriend for six years -- “I
met her in kindergarten and we've known each other forever” -- and
she now has a nursing degree.

And at 16, Cravalho
is nowhere near settling down. She's learning how to sleep in
airplanes, she said; she'll live in New York for “Rise,” a
mid-season NBC show set in a high school theater program. If she has
an album some day, it might surprise people. “I love Nat King Cole;
that era was so pure.”

And was any of this
what she'd envisioned as a kid? “I still am a kid,” she
corrected.

-- “National
Memorial Day Concert,” 8-9:30 p.m. Sunday, PBS; reruns at 10 (check
local listings)

CBS' fall: Fantasy-free and kinda macho


By Mike Hughes

While others leap
into space and fantasy, CBS is aiming for down-to-earth action.

That was clear as
scheduling chief Kelly Kahl started to assess his three new fall
hours. “SEAL Team,” he said, is “a high-octane drama.”

Then again,
“S.W.A,T.” is, too. “This is a noisy show ... We're knocking
down some doors,” he said.

Those are two-thirds
of CBS' fall dramas. The third show, “Wisdom of the Crowd,”
partly takes a notion that Fox tried with “APB” -- a tech whiz
putting his skill to use in crimesolving.

Yes, all three have
a familiar feel to them, with familiar people at the top. The SEALs
are led by David Boreanaz ... the tech guy is Jeremy Piven ... “SWAT”
stars Shemar Moore and is based slightly on a 1975 series. It will
have little in common with the original, said CBS CEO Leslie Moonves,
except “maybe the theme song at the end, which is pretty cool.”

On the comedy side,
CBS tends to grab a younger audience. “The Big Bang Theory” is
aleady renewed for two more seasons and now has a spin-off, “Young
Sheldon.” Narrated by old Sheldon (Jim Parsons), it will catch him
as a 9-year-old high school freshman in Texas.

“They're tonally
very different,” Moonves said, “but they're both very funny.”

And they'll start
the season for CBS. On the opening night (Monday, Sept. 25) they'll
be at 8 and 8:30 p.m.; after a five-week run of football, they'll
start Thursday nights.

The other comedies
are on Mondays. In “9JKL,” Mark Feuerstein relives a time when he
was living next to his parents and brother; “Me, Myself and I”
follows the same person at age 14 (Dylan Grazer), 40 (Bobby Moynihan)
and 65 (John Larroquette).

To make room for
those, CBS will have an unusual pack of returning shows on the shelf
– two dramas, “Elementary” and “Code Black”; a comedy, “Man
With a Plan”; and reality shows “Amazing Race” and “Undercover
Boss.” Other shows, led by “2 Broke Girls” and “The Great
Indoors,” were cancelled.

The line-up, after
the five football Thursdays, will have:
-- Monday: “Kevin Can
Wait,” 8 p.m.; “9JKL,” 8:30; “Me, Myself and I,” 9;
“Superior Donuts,” 9:30; “Scorpion,” 10.

-- Tuesday: “NCIS,”
8; “Bull,” 9; “NCIS: New Orleans,” 10.

-- Wednesday:
“Survivor,” 8; “SEAL Team,” 9; “Criminal Minds,” 10.

-- Thursday: “The
Big Bang Theory,” 8; “Young Sheldon,” 8:30; “Mom,” 9; “Life
in Pieces,” 9:30; “S.W.A.T.,” 10.

-- Friday:
“MacGyver,” 8; “Hawaii Five-0,” 9; “Blue Bloods,” 10.

-- Saturday: Drama
reruns, 8 and 9 p.m.; “48 Hours,” 10.

-- Sunday: “60
Minutes,” 7 p.m.; “Wisdom of the Crowd,” 8; “NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9; “Madame Secretary,”10.