Catch some Burt Reynods memories this weekend


We can catch some quick Burt Reynolds reruns this weekend,

After Reynolds' death -- Thursday (Sept. 6), at 82, of cardiac arrest -- Antenna TV (a digital channel) quickly scheduled some of his visits to Johnny Carson. Another digital channel, MeTV, is rerunning some of his "Gunsmoke" episodes. And CMT scheduled "Bandit," a documentary about the "Smokey & The Bandit" movies.

Those are the ones that solidified Reynolds' image as the good-ol'-boy Southern hero. Ironically, he was originally a Northerner.

Reynolds birthplace used to be listed as Waycross, Ga. In truth, he's said, he was born in Lansing, Michigan. He was about 10 when his family moved to Florida, where his dad was a small-town police chief.

And yes, that was a big change for a Northern family. “It was in the
dead of summer,” Reynods recalled in 1990. “My sister ... got out
and she said, 'Dear God, I'm in Hell.'"

The quickly scheduled shows are:

-- “The Bandit,”
8 and 10 p.m. Friday (Sept. 7), CMT; then noon Saturday.

-- Johnny Carson
reruns, 11:30 p.m. ET, Antenna (via digital and cable); through Sunday, each will be an episode
with Reynolds as guest

-- “Gunsmoke,” 1
p.m., MeTV, will start Reynolds episodes Monday (Sept. 10) and continue them
through next Saturday, Sept. 15.

 

Favorite book ever? It's a tough choice for most ... but not for a Potterphile


PBS' "Great American Read" is an  ambitious project, complete with six specials, a finale, a book and more ... leading to an announcement of Americans' most-loved book. Here is the mainbar in a three-story package I sent to papers. Scroll down and you'll find a profile of two of the modern authors, and then a set of interesting little facts.

By Mike Hughes

Right now, Americans
are busy picking their favorite novel.

They have an advance
list – 100 books, spanning 411 years – from a survey. They can
vote Online, while watching PBS' “The Great American Read.” And
yes, there are lots of opinions; let's try:

-- Meredith Vieira,
host of “Read,” which will announce a winner Oct. 23. She's liked
“To Kill a Mockingbird,” ever since reading it in her early
teens. “It really changed my life and the way I looked at things. I
grew up in the suburbs, I didn't know about racism; I didn't know
about intolerance.”

-- Wil Wheaton,
who's both a sci-fi actor and writer. “Heart of Darkness” and
“Ready Player One” (both of which he praises on PBS) are great,
he says, “but I'm really pulling for 'Dune.'”

-- Nicholas Sparks,
whose own book gets his vote. “Hey look, I'm biased. I like 'The
Notebook.'”

-- Diana Gabaldon.
She also has a book (a series, actually, “Outlander”) on the
list. But for her vote, “it's a dead heat between 'Alice's
Adventures in Wonderland' and 'Lonesome Dove.'”

That leaves her
wondering: Could those stories – whimsy about a little English girl
and a dusty tale of old American cowboys – possibly have anything
in common? Gabaldon said they're “what my husband refers to – in
reference to my work – as the one-damn-thing-after-another school
of fiction.'”

Many people, like
Gabaldon, feel torn. Vierra is also fond of “And Then There Were
None” and other mysteries. “I didn't realize 'til I was really
looking at it that I like a dead body. I like murder.”

Even Paula Kerger,
the PBS head and “a very big and voracious reader,” is undecided.
She leans toward “Great Gatsby,” but “at different moments,
different books have had great impact on me.”

Indecision is
understandable, said Jane Root, the series producer. “It's an
incredibly varied list (with) some literary classics” and some
newer books.

Compiled with a few
rules -- one book per author; a series counts as one – it's varied,
indeed. One book (“Don Quixote”) is 413 years old; eight arrived
in the past decade. including “Gone Girl” and “Ghost.”

The choices are
diverse, so many people are undecided ... and all of them are dead
wrong, says Eliyannah Ysrael. There should be only one choice: “Harry
Potter and I are going to take this thing.”

Her enthusiasm is a
beacon for the series: Many people love their books ... but few more
than Ysrael.

This started 14
years ago, when she was 20, a Chicago State University student in her
home town. Her brother, a 6th-grader, had borrowed a
Potter book from a friend. “My mom had some concerns, because she
had heard ... the book may be too dark.”

Since the mom was
busy – two jobs AND college classes – Ysrael volunteered to look
at it.

“To be honest, I
was going to read a few chapters and just kind of fudge the whole
thing and just say, 'Go for it.' And I took it to my college campus.
I started reading at 7 a.m. in the cafeteria and at 10 that night, I
was getting kicked out. I hadn't left the cafeteria. I had missed all
my classes.

“I couldn't stop,
so I drove to an all-night diner and I stayed up until 7 a.m. and
finished the book.”

She associated
deeply with Harry's friend Hermione. (“Obviously, we were identical
twins,” said Ysrael, semi-joking; she's black and American,
Hermione is white and British.) But she's savored all the characters
... as have her two brothers and two sisters. “You couldn't set the
book down, because someone else would take it.”

Today, Ysrael has a
communications degree and Hollywood jobs as a production secretary
for projects. “But they're not my TV show and movies, so they're
not as important.” Most important is becoming a filmmaker ... and
currently making a YouTube series, “Hermione Granger and the
Quarter Life Crisis.”

Yes, it's about
Harry's friend, now cast as a black Englishwoman in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, Ysrael rereads all the Potter books, at least once a year.
We're pretty sure we know how she's voting.

 

Life alongside Twain and Dickens and such: Modern authors savor spotlight


Here's the mid-section of a package I sent to papers, on "The Great American Read." Scroll up and you'll find the mainbar; scroll down  and you get te details, some essential and some not.

By Mike Hughes

For modern authors,
this is big. “The Great American Read” puts them with the old
masters.

Diana Gabaldon (the
“Outlander” author) recalls her first reaction: “I said, 'Who
else is on the list?'”

Well, all the top
names -- Twain and Tolkien, Dickens and Dostoyevsky, Hemingway and
Heller, Jane Austen and J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee and the Brontes
and more. All made the 100-book list.

We've learned about
them in school, but some of these modern masters bring surprises.

Gabaldan, who writes
Scottish-English epics, is a Latina from Arizona. Nicholas Sparks,
creator of romances, is a former drug rep and champion runner.
Neither fits the image of writer as solitary soul.

Sparks, 52, says
being a drug rep was fairly easy for him. “I'm optimistic; I'm
outgoing.”

And Gabaldon -- 66,
with ebony hair and quick smile -- could pass for a romance-novel
heroine.

She describes her
lead character, Claire Randall, as “still very tentative in
everything she does” ... then adds: “This is not me, by the way.”

Not even close.
Gabaldon describes her parents as “friendly, gregarious people”
and seems to fit that description herself.

These two modern
authors have something else in common: “For both of us, it was our
first novel that was chosen” for the list, Sparks said. Here are
sketches of both:

Nicholas Sparks

Sparks needed his
outgoing nature, when his dad's graduate studies kept him on the
move. Early on, he lived in Nebraska (twice), California (twice) and
Minnesota. But then his dad landed a job on the business faculty of
California State University, Sacramento; at 8, young Sparks settled
down.

He found success as
a runner. In California's state high school meet, he finished fourth
in the 800-meter. Then he landed a scholarship to Notre Dame and
peaked in the four-by-800 relay; Sparks ran his leg at 1:50.3, the
team was 7:20.11 – still a school record, 33 years later.

Injuries slowed him
after that, but Sparks views it philosophically. “You learn a lot
from running.”

There's the
introspection of long runs. Sparks' first published book was
go-authored with Olympic distance champion Billy Mills -- “Wokini:
A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Self-Understanding.”

That came out in
1990, after a couple unpublished novels and stabs at other careers.
But the big change had come a year earlier, when he really got to
know his wife's parents.

“They couldn't go
to our wedding” because of illness, Sparks said. “They told us
the story of how they got together .... It was just the way he looked
at her. He was in love with his wife of 60 years.”

So Sparks wrote “The
Notebook” in the evenings. “The agent I addressed it to had
passed on,” he said.

It was found by
another agent, who made a million-dollar deal. “It was
mind-blowing,” Sparks said. “And then, of course, the fear sets
in: 'Can you write a second one? Is anyone going to read this one?'”

He could; they did.
So far, 11 of his 19 novels have been made into movies.

Diana Gabaldon

When she was 3,
Gabaldon had her first moment with literature: “'Mr. Mixie Dough,
the Baker Man' (was) the first book that I read by myself. I was 3
and it was amazing.”

She grew up in
Flagstaff, where her dad was state senator for 16 years. She savored
books, but her degrees – zoology, a master's in marine biology, a
doctorate in behavioral ecology – were in science. Her thesis --
“Nest Site Selection of the Pinyon Jay” -- wasn't a best-seller.

“I had always
known I was supposed to be a novelist,” Gabaldon said, “and when
I was 36, I said ... 'Mozart was dead at 36; you'd better get
started.”

She chose to write
about an English nurse in the late 1940s, accidentally traveling to
18th-century Scotland ... a place and time Gabaldon had
never seen. Still, she did have:

-- Experience with
love amid opposite cultures. Her mom's roots were English, her dad's
were Mexican. “It was like living in two cultures .... I had
grandparents who didn't speak English at all.”

-- Her research
skills. “You can look up anything; it's really easy.”

Gabaldon wrote parts
of the story -- “I don't write in a straight line and I don't plan
stories” -- with no endgame. Then – after an Internet discussion
– she showed a sampling in a CompuServe chat room.

One person showed it
to another, who contacted an agent, who wanted the rest. Six months
later, she sent him a finished story. “He emerged with a three-book
contract and bing, I was a novelist.”

And a successful
one. The books, starting in 1991, did well ... and found new
audiences when the cable series began in 2014. “Starz was taking
out ads that covered entire skyscrapers.”

So she continues to
thrive, a gregarious person who somehow enjoys writing and
researching alone. “I'm 66; it's been 30 years (and) it's still my
favorite thing to do.”

 

Ready for "Read"? Here's an overview


This wraps up the three-part package I sent to papers, previewing PBS' "The Great American Read." For the other two, scroll upL

By Mike Hughes

Here are glimpses of
“The Great American Read”:

The list

-- A survey asked
7,200 Americans for their most-loved novel. A top-100 was compiled,
but there was also a committee of 13 experts. Each could pick one
book from further down, for possible inclusion.

-- The only rules:
One book per author ... a series counts as one ... any book from any
language, as long as there's an English-language edition.

-- The 100 and other
details are at www.pbs.org/greatamericanread

-- People can
continue to vote, one per day, Online or via app

TV show

-- 8 p.m. Tuesdays,
PBS, from Sept. 11 to Oct. 23

-- Opener is an
overview; others follow themes: “Who am I?” on Sept. 18;
“Heroes,” Sept. 25; “Villains and Monsters,” Oct. 2; romance,
Oct. 9; “Other Worlds,” Oct. 16; and the finale, announcing the
winner, Oct. 23.

Book

-- “The Book of
Books,” by Jessica Allen; 2018, Black Dog & Leventhal
Publishers, $29.99.

-- Brief portraits
of the 100 books, plus some interesting digressions.

Trends in the 100

-- Two are from the
17th century -- “Don Quixote” (1605) and “The
Pilgrims Progress” (1678); 18 are from the 2000s, most recently
“Gone Girl” (2012), “Americanah” (2013) and “Ghost”
(2016).

-- Two authors –
Charlotte and Emily Bronte – are siblings. Diana Gabaldon and
George R.R.Martin are good friends; so were Ernest Hemingway and F.
Scott Fitzgerald ... until their falling-out.

-- 33 authors are
women ... but readers weren't always aware of that. The Brontes at
first used male names; others – L.M. Montgomery, S.E. Hinton, V.C.
Andrews, E.L. James – used initials.

-- 64 are by
Americans, but only 51 of the stories are set here.

-- Some of the
authors had day jobs far from writing, the book says. Kurt Vonnegut
sold cars, Herman Melville was a customs inspector, Jean Auel was a
keypunch operator. Charles Dickens worked in a factory at 12 and
later was a court stenographer. And Harper Lee worked at an airline
ticket office ... until friend gave her money to take a year off and
write “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

-- Many of the books
– from “Mockingbird” and “Catcher in the Rye” to “Hunger
Games” -- have been banned somewhere. In all, PBS says, 21 of the
authors have had this or another book banned.

-- And some of the
books ave been savaged by legitimate critics. The book gives
examples: “The Sun Also Rises” is “boring, boring and more
boring” .... “The Call of the Wild” was “the worst book
ever.” But the harshest criticism may have been by Mark Twain,
aimed at Jane Austen: “Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice,' I
want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own
shin-bone.”

 

When smart guys go bad: "Mayans" series and James' life


There is one scene in the "Mayans MC" opener that is virtually unwatchable -- a deeply disturbing and disturbed torture scene. And there are many scenes that are immensely watchable. This "Sons of Anarchy" series has the same mix of personal drama and fierce action. It starts Tuesday (Sept. 4); here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

When “Sons of
Anarchy” had its lethal conclusion, some things were clear:

Viewers want more;
so does the network. This was “the most-watched regular drama
series in FX history,” said spokesman John Solberg. “I think it
averaged about 12 1/2 million viewers.”

Now “Mayans M.C.”
begins ... four years after “Sons” ended. Its debut was nudged by
a convenient failure. “I planned on 'Bastard Executioner' bombing,”
joked Kurt Sutter, creator of all three series.

“Executioner”
debuted in 2015, promptly proving what most TV critics had suspected:
There is not a wellspring of American interest in 13th-century
English warfare.

That failure freed
Sutter for his next plan – a series based on the Mayans, the
Mexican-American motorcycle club that befriended the Sons.

The next step? “I
was very aware that a white guy from Jersey shouldn't be writing a
show (alone) that takes place in the Latino subculture,” Sutter
said. That's not because of political correctness – “I don't
really give a (bleep)” -- but because he wanted “to honor this
world and be authentic.”

So he talked to
Latinos. One day, Elgin James came in to meet Sutter and some other
writers. “Within minutes,” Sutter said, “I was so aware that I
was no longer the smartest guy at the table.”

Sutter hired James
as co-creator and thought about him when imagining the lead
character. James, after all, is a brilliant person whose life
skidded; he's been in gangs, in prison, in juvie, in intensive care.

He reflects the idea
of “somebody who is a bright light, who is supposed to have a
different destiny, (but) that energy and that intelligence (is)
applied to an outlaw culture,” Sutter said.

That became the
central character, EZ Reyes. He was the smart one, the star athlete,
the Stanford student with a great girlfriend. Then something went
wrong and he was convicted.

“Survival is all
that counts then,” said JD Pardo, who plays him. “In prison, all
you have is your word.”

Now EZ is out –
the reason soon becomes clear – and is a rookie in his brother's
motorcycle club.

Pardo fits the
golden-guy image, giving EZ a leading-man look and a pensive stare.
He first became a TV regular in the 2004 “Clubhouse,” playing the
ballboy with a Yankees-type team. But the next year, he startled his
agent by seeking “A Girl Like Me,” based on the true story of a
transgender murder victim. “When I read the script, I said, 'I'm
not going out for any pilots this year. I have to do this.'”

He got the role and
established himself as a serious actor who looks like a macho hero.
But could a guy as gifted as the fictional EZ really have his life go
so badly? Perhaps ... as James' own life has proven.

James went from an
orphanage to foster homes to, he says, battles with other kids -- “I
grew up being called (insults for blacks and Latinos) my whole life”
-- and with “my 350-pound father.” He became, he says, like other
guys. “We didn't know how to be men; the only way we knew was to
fight.”

He did, often. He
was first arrested at 12, was sent to juvenile hall at 14, but read
Malcolm X and others. “I wanted to be Morris Dees (the civil rights
lawyer). He was a huge hero to me.”

Instead, James
missed a chance to go to Antioch College. In a fight back home, he
was beaten on the head with a baseball bat. After a long recovery –
he still wears hats to cover the injury – James was homeless, then
a member of what he openly calls a “gang.” (Others involved with
“Mayans” and “Sons” have carefully used the word “club.”)
His gang, FSU, battled white-supremacists.

James got a break
when he entered a Sundance screenwriters' lab. He wrote, directed and
scored “Little Birds,” a movie about two teen girls. It drew
praise (but few moviegoers); producer Brian Grazer hired him to write
a movie script ... and then James was arrested and convicted.

The crime –
blackmailing a supremacist – was true, he says. (“I was the only
guilty guy in there.”) But it reflected his past life; in prison,
he wrote Grazer's script, “Lowriders.”

Then he met Sutter,
who saw him as fiction personified. “The characters I like to
create are damaged,” Sutter said. “They live outside the
parameters .... There's a rogue component, an outlaw component.”

Still, Sutter said,
there's more to it than that. “People didn't show up for 'Sons'
because it was about (bleeping) outaws. (They did) because it was
about a (bleeping) family.”

This new family,
like the Sons, happens to ride big bikes, shoot guns and administer
brutal beatings.

-- “Mayans MC,”
10 p.m. Tuesdays, FX

-- 90-minute opener,
Sept. 4, reruns at 11:30 p.m. and 1 a.m; then on Wednesday night at
midnight, Friday at 11:30 p.m.. and more

-- Rated TV-Mature,
with crude language and an extreme torture scene