From "Waco" to "Yellowstone," the Paramount Network arrives

A new name popped up in TV listings Thursday (Jan. 18), leaving viewers with a question: What is the Paramount Network, anyway?

Well, it's a little like Spike (which it replaces, after Spike replaced The Nashville Network and The National Network) and a little like Paramount Pictures, its owner. Its image may be clearer when the "Waco" mini-series starts Wednesday (Jan. 24); here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

The name “Paramount
Pictures” represents a century of Hollywood history.

And the name
“Paramount Network”? It represents a week of viewer confusion.

Eventually, the
images might start to merge. That could be when the network wraps its
six-week “Waco” mini-series ... or when it debuts a “Heathers”
series March 7 ... or when it launches Kevin Costner's “Yellowstone”
series this summer.

Those point to a
goal. Kevin Kay, the network president, calls for shows that are
“cinematic in scope.”

In short, he wants
ones that are kind of like Paramount movies. That's a stretch for a
network that has previously been know as The Nashville Network, The
National Network and Spike.

Spike's image was
clear, Kay said. Its audience was “sometimes 70, 80-percent male in
prime time.” But it was owned by Viacom, which also has Paramount
Pictures; now comes the makeover.

The new name brings
lots of memories. Paramount is the studio of “Gump,” “Grease”
and “Godfather,” of the “Star Trek” and Indiana Jones films,
plus “Titanic,” “Top Gun,” “Airplane” and more. The
network doesn't particularly have access to any of those, but it does
have the tradition.

Among the major
studios, Paramount is the second-oldest – it's 102, Universal is
104 – and the only one still based in Hollywood. Costner remembers
making “The Untouchables” there and feels movie tradition is
important. “I like our history,” he said. “It's flawed and it's
great and it's a lot of things, but we're all standing on the
shoulders of people.”

The flaws have been
obvious lately. (“Waco” and “Yellowstone” were co-productions
with Harvey Weinstein's company, which is being extricated from both
shows.) So have the strengths; the new network will have:

-- Some reality
shows -- “Lip Sync Battle,” “Bar Rescue,” “Ink Masters”
-- carried over from Spike.

-- Comedies. Coming
are “American Woman,” an Alicia Silverstone show based on Kyle
Richards' eccentric childhood, and possibly an adaptation of “First
Wives Club.” First is “Heathers,” adapted by Jason Micallef,
who watched the 1989 movie on homevideo – often. “'Heathers' was
my 'Star Wars' .... I loved that it was a dark-but-funny view on

-- Documentaries.
Keith Cox, the network production chief, said that includes films on
Trayvon Martin and, April 2, on Martin Luther King, “told through
the prism of Dr. King's most iconic speeches.”

-- Movies and
reruns, a key for most cable networks.

-- Dramas, which is
where Paramount may finally seem like Paramount. That could peak in
June with “Yellowstone,” which has Costner owning a mega-ranch
near the national park.

Fresh from
triumphing with the low-budget “Wind River,” writer-director
Taylor Sheridan found several networks interested. He said he chose
Paramount because it offered “complete creative freedom ... almost
too much of it. I told them my vision, I told them how I wanted to
make it, and they agreed.”

Before that, there's
“Waco,” sprawling over six Wednesdays, with Taylor Kitsch as
David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidian complex. Producers leaned
heavily on David Thibodeau and Gary Noesner, who wrote books about
the 1993 siege.

Thibodeau – one of
only nine people to survive the compound fire – speaks well of
Koresh. “He was always a reasonable individual the entire time that
I (knew) him. I think what happened was the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) messed up horribly on the first
day. And then the FBI came in and the miscommunication was so

Noesner, the
government negotiator, tried to bridge the gap. “I couldn't get
David Koresh and my on-scene commander to act reasonable at the same
time,” he said.

The final
confrontation was giant in scale and impact ... something that may
define a new cable network that bears an old studio's name.

-- “Waco,” 10
p.m. Wednesdays, Paramount; six weeks, beginning Jan. 24


Friends in an age of bias, they meet again after 75 years

It's time for some real-life stories that stir genuine emotion. When Ann Curry's "We'll Meet Again" debuts Tuesday (Jan. 23), it shows reunions of people who met during a time of World War II rage. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

For two decades,
Reiko Nagumo has told the story to schoolkids.

She was a California
kid, just like them, when her world changed instantly. Japan bombed
Pearl Harbor; as a 7-year-old with Japanese roots, she was bullied by
many kids, befriended by one.

“Mary Frances had
been a very strong friend and a beacon to me,” recalled Nagumo, who
is featured in the opener of Ann Curry's “We'll Meet Again”
series. “I depended on her friendship.”

She told the story
often – usually while telling 5th-graders about her
years in a Japanese internment camp. Everyday gestures, she told
them, can make a huge impact.

But she had no
answer to their logical question: Whatever happened to Mary Frances?

Some attempts to
find her had gone nowhere. “I was going to have to die before
telling Mary Frances ... how much she meant to me,” Nagumo felt.

Then the
London-based producers of Curry's series heard about it. They linked
her to genealogists, who found a cousin; that's when the friend first
heard that someone from grade school was looking for her.

“I said, 'Well,
it's got to be Reiko,'” said the friend, now named Mary Peters. “I
had never forgotten her; I just wasn't looking like she was looking.”

Both women have had
busy lives. Nagumo was a nurse, working in Cambodia and Egypt and
then in California; Peters was a business executive, retiring in
Kentucky. She admits that those school days aren't vivid to her. “My
memory of my childhood is very slim.”

As Curry sees it,
that makes this even more impressive. It's “the idea that you could
do something that you can barely even remember now” that might
change someone's life.

This is the sort of
story British producer Justine Kershaw was looking for. She has her
own reunion story, involving the Greek goat-herder who rescued her
after a fall, and suspects many others do, too.

The first step was
finding the right news person to link with. She found Curry by
“literally, just Googling .... Every piece I saw just convinced me
that this was the person.”

The series arrives
at a vibrant time for newswomen. Curry worked at “Today” for 15
years and in 2011 became the anchor with Matt Lauer; she was dropped
from that job a year later and left NBC in 2015.

As her show arrives,
she faces questions about Lauer. Responding carefully in a “CBS
This Morning” interview, Curry said “there was a climate of
verbal harassment” at NBC and “I am not surprised by the
allegations” of sexual misconduct that led to Lauer being fired.

Speaking to the
Television Critics Association before the sexual-harassment issue had
broken open, Curry did indicate disappointment in TV news. “I am
getting a lot of my news, actually, from print.”

But she also was
optimistic. “I suspect we are heading toward a potential
renaissance .... To me, journalism is church and I'm very hopeful for
its future.”

-- “We'll Meet
Again,” 8 p.m. Tuesdays, PBS; then at

-- The opener, Jan.
23, has World War II stories -- Reiko Nagumo's search for a friend
who resisted girlhood bias, Peter Engler's search for the daughter of
the people who befriended him in a Jewish ghetto in Shanghai.

-- Runs for six
weeks; other stories range from Vietnam to the aftermath of the Sept.
11 attack.


A brief, brilliant life gets a superb TV portrait

The upcoming "American Masters" (Friday, Jan. 19) is one of the best TV films I've seen in a long time. (And yes, I've seem a lot of TV.) It beautifully portrays the short, brilliant life of playwright Lorraine Hansberry. Here's the story I sent to papers.

By Mike Hughes

Almost 60 years ago, theater producers were fretting about a landmark

“A Raisin in the
Sun” -- the first Broadway show written by a black woman -- was an
intensely realistic look at a family on Chicago's South Side.

“There was a
fear,” recalled Lou Gossett, then a 22-year-old in a supporting
role. “Mostly, a fear that started with the Schuberts (who owned
the theater) .... Who was going to understand it? Are people who buy
the tickets going to be insulted?”

As the first act
ended, he said, the audience was silent. “We thought we had

People had simply
been too emotional to react, he soon found. As the show ended, there
was a thunderous ovation. “That was a magic night.”

Hansberry would win
the Pulitzer Prize, become an instant New York celebrity ... then die
(at 34, of cancer) six years later, shortly after her second Broadway
show had failed.

however, lingers -- two Broadway revivals, a musical, a movie and two
TV movies. And now Hansberry's story is vividly told by PBS filmmaker
Tracy Heather Strain. “This is something I've wanted to do for
almost 40 years,” she said.

Strain was a
teen-ager in Harrisburg, Pa., when her grandmother announced they
were going to “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” a play molded from
Hansberry's essays.

“I don't know what
it was about Lorraine, but it was like a thunderbolt,” she
recalled. “Here was a young, black woman who had thought about the
same issues I had.”

Strain was
Harvard-bound; her grandmother had worked as a domestic. Both were
moved by the words of Hansberry – who grew up in a prosperous black
family and kept fighting for her neighbors.

Eventually, Strain
would dump her advertising/marketing major and switch to filmmaking.
She's worked on several “American Experience” documentaries and
started compiling a Hansberry film – gradually. “It's been a long
journey,” she said. “It's been 14 years.”

It took five years,
Strain said, to get an interview with Sidney Poitier, the original
“Raisin” star. She caught several key people (including director
Lloyd Richards) before their deaths. Others are still around, with
vivid memories of Hansberry.

“I always saw
sparks of that fire in her,” Gossett said. “It scared me from
time to time .... She was not easy to get to, so I just looked at her
as somebody quite brilliant.”

-- “American
Masters -- Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes, Feeling Heart”

-- 9 p.m. Friday,

Vesace story: An epic tragedy reaches TV

To me -- and to many people -- "Versace" was just a name on upscale fashions. Now we'll know much more; a beautifully crafted mini-series starts Jan. 17 and continues for eight Wednesdays; here's the story I sent to papers: 

By Mike Hughes

PASADENA, Cal. -- When “The People
vs. O.J. Simpson” arrived, it caused a stir.

Here was a
confluence of quality – 22 Emmy nominations, with nine wins – and
a familiar subject.

Two years later,
“The Assassination of Gianni Versace” has the same producers,
network (FX) and umbrella title (“American Crime Story”). The
quality is there; the familiarity is not.

Versace? Many people
know he was a prominent designer whose brand persists, 20 years after
he was killed in Miami Beach. There is much more, people say, in his:

-- Work. “He
combined sexiness and glamour and opulence, like no one has ever done
before,” said Edgar Ramirez, who portrays him. “He could see the
sexiness of the '70s and then all the opulence of the '80s and ... in
the '90s he combined it and everybody went crazy.”

-- Social views.
This was the first major designer to acknowledge he was gay, said
producer Ryan Murphy said. That was when his company “was about to
go public, and he was terrified of anything coming out negative about
his personal life .... It was a huge thing to announce that he was

-- Relationships.
This was a family guy, Murphy said. “His relationship with (his
sister) Donatella is particularly moving. And I think his
relationship with Antonio was very moving.”

Antonio D'Amico was
Versace's lover for 15 years. “Gianni was surrounded by 'yes'
people,” said Ricky Martin, who portrays him. But “Antonio would
say, 'I'm sorry, but you're wrong.' (He) would push him to live to
the fullest.”

Yes, that's the
Ricky Martin who's a music superstar. Another singer – Darren
Criss, who co-starred in Murphy's “Glee” -- plays Andrew Cunanan,
who shot Versace.

“Andrew was so
many different personalities to so many different people,” Criss
said. “We see him at his best, we see him at his worst. We see him
at his most charming; see see him at his most hurt. ”

Cunanan had grown up
near San Diego, with a genius-plus IQ and a reputation for lies.

“A lot of people
close to him absolutely knew he was lying, that he was an inveterate
liar,” said Maureen Orth, a reporter whose book (“Vulgar Favors”)
was the basis for the mini-series. “But they didn't care, because
he was very witty about it; he was able to charm people.”

Orth was writing
about him in Vanity Fair, before he shot Versace. He was already
accused of killing four people, starting with friends and lovers.

For a potential
high-achiever, life had gone wrong. When Cunanan was 19, his dad was
accused of embezzling and fled. Later, his mom fought with him after
learning he was gay.

Cunanan was also
making no impact on the world, something he wasn't used to. “In his
high school yearbook, he was named 'most likely to be remembered,'”
Orth said.

Now the killings
began and he was on the FBI's 10-most-wanted list. Still, Cunanan
“was able to make his way across he country and pick off these
victims – many of who were gay – because of the homophobia of the
time .... Police organizations refused in Miami to put up 'wanted'
posters, even though they knew (Cunanan) was probably headed that

Miami Beach was
Versace's new world. He had grown up in Southern Italy and didn't
move to the Milan fashion center until he was 26. He was 45 when he
moved to Miami, turning the Amsterdam Palace apartment house into his
spectacular estate. He “lived outrageously and daringly” in his
leisure time, Murphy said, but not in his work.

“He was rather a
quiet person (who was) extroverted but shy at the same time,”
Ramirez said. “He would got to bed rather early and had more the ..
life of a craftsman.” It was a busy life, which was ended suddenly
when he was 50.

-- “The
Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story – The Man Who
Would Be Vogue”

-- 10 p.m.
Wednesdays, FX; the Jan. 17 debut reruns at 11:14 p.m. and 12:26 and
1:39 a.m.


Black Lighting arrives as a much-needed superhero

Here's another interesting story I sent ti papers from the TV Critics Association sessions.

By Mike Hughes

PASADENA, Cal. -- In
the old days, comic-book heroes had simple TV lives.

They were quite
super, kind of spider-y and bat-like and hulky. They beat up bad

And now? We're in an
era when even Archie Andrews has depth. This is clearly the time for
“Black Lightning” and black hero, Jefferson Pierce.

“Jefferson is
already a community-based superhero,” said producer Salim Akil.
“He's already a (school) principal; he's already a father. It gave
me the opportunity to talk about things that are personal to me.”

Back in 1977, the
character debuted in a comic-book world that was mostly white. “I
did love superheroes,” recalled Cress Williams, who plays him now.
“Unfortunately, I was 'po,' so I didn't buy a lot of comics,
because that's a lot of money. So I relied on television.”

There, Black
Lighting appeared occasionally, voiced by Bumber Robinson, Blair
Underwood, Khary Payton and LeVar Burton. Now it's his time. “I
think it's beautiful that we have 'Luke Cage,' that we have us and we
have 'Black Panther,'” Williams said.

The other two are
Marvel Comics characters; this year, “Cage” has its second
Netflix season and “Panther” reaches movie theaters. Meanwhile,
“Black Lightning” is from DC Comics, which fills half the CW
network schedule; it's from the married duo of Salim and Mary Brock

He started in drama
(“Soul Food”), she started in comedy (“Moesha,”
“Girlfriends”), but they've combined for both the comedy “The
Game” and the drama “Being Mary Jane.”

A key was finding
the right star. Williams, 47, has ranged from “Nash Bridges” to
“Hart of Dixie,” in a long career, “When you walk down the
halls of Warner Brothers, there are pictures of their shows,” Akil
said. “Evey time I would (see) Cress, he would be on a poster with
all these white people.”

Now he's the star,
with two more heroes coming. The first two episodes – with Pierce
reluctantly returning to crimefighting – hint at the powers his
daughters don't realize they have.

One (played by
Disney Channel star China Anne McClain) is still a teen looking for
fun. The other is an intense teacher and activist; she'll become
Thunder, TV's first black lesbian superhero.

Tougher to cast was
the albino villain who emerges in the second episode.“I was
surprised to see how similar my life is to Tobias Whale ... being a
black man with albinism,” Marvin Jones III said.

Jones grew up in
South Central Los Angeles and turned to rap when he was 18. “It
allowed me to really be myself, with a platform,” he said.

In 2003, the group
SAS (Strong Arm Steady) emerged, gradually sifting to three people –
Krondon (Jones' stage name), Mitchy Slick and Phil Da Agony. It's
done well, but Jones tried to get into acting. He landed exactly one
role – a guest shot on “Harry's Law,” six-plus years ago.

Then came a role
that may be his exact opposite. Tobias is fiercely evil; in person,
Jones seems gentle and friendly. “Everyone has a villain inside,”
he said. “It allows me to exorcise that.”

Besides, he's used
to contrasting images, as an albino who's proud of his African
heritage. “It goes back to what Dr. (Martin Luther) King said about
not being judged by the color of your skin.”

-- “Black
Lightning,” 9 p.m. Tuesdays, CW; the opener airs Jan. 16, then
reruns at 8 p.m. Jan. 19