The boy-next-door at 76: John Davidson's still cute, still busy

Sitting in the audience one night, I spotted the name "John Davidson" in the program for a touring production of the "Finding Neverland" musical.

That's odd, I thought. I wonder if he's related to the famous John Davidson; maybe he's a son or a grandson or ...

Actually, this was THE Davidson, the classic leading-man of a previous TV generation. He's still busy at 76, doing strong work in "Neverland," while also taping some bits for the Game Show Network. The latter may be his ideal niche; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Game shows seem to
be eternal. So do game-show stars.

“I can still look
cute when you clean me up,” John Davidson, 76, said after a Game
Show Network gig.

He said that
whimsically; Davidson has had a mixed relationship with his
cute-choirboy look.

“In my mind, I was
a rebel,” he said. Other people only saw the handsome
boy-next-door, a perpetually polite guy who was the son of two
ordained Baptist ministers. (Yes, two.) That made him perfect for
musicals and game shows ... both of which he's still doing.

Most 76-year-olds
are readily available for employment. But when GSN wanted him to tape
some appearances, he had to squeeze it into his regular job –
touring in the “Finding Neverland” musical.

“I shot it all on
a day off,” Davidson said. “Then I flew back on the the red-eye.”

During his GSN day,
he taped bits for a couple “Classic Saturday” nights -- one aired
Feb. 10, the other is pending -- and for “Daily Draw.” He also
pitched ideas to the network's development people.

“I thought they'd
want some young guy to host,” Davidson said. “But they said, 'You
have to realize, our target audience is over 50 ... I guess that
explains Alex Trebek and Pat Sajak.”

Sajak, 71, and
Trbek, 77, still dominate early-evening ratings with “Wheel of
Fortune” and “Jeopardy.” The games – like the stars – seem
to go on forever.

CBS' “The Price is
Right” and ABC's “To Tell the Truth” started 61 years ago. At
least four ongoing games are in their 50s, three in their 40s. That's
in TV, where five years is considered a triumph.

The games have
thrived by filling the variety-show void, Davidson said. “This is
the new variety.”

His mentor, Bob
Banner, first spotted him in a stage musical. “He said, 'I want to
fashion your career as a variety star. I think you could be the male
version of Carol Burnett.'”

Banner starred
Davidson in the TV version of the “Fantasticks” musical and even
created a summer show (“The Entertainers”) around Burnett and
Davidson. From there, Davidson guested on lots of variety shows and
did some acting – co-starring in the Sally Field series “The Girl
With Something Extra” and with Lesley Ann Warren in two Disney

“I had a crush on
(Field) and on Lesley Ann Warren,” Davidson said. “I was married
at the time, but they were both challenging and intellectual women.”

Meanwhile, variety
shows were fading. A few (Burnett, “Saturday Night Live,” “In
Living Color”) survived with great sketch comedy; the others ended.

Davidson did talk
shows – his own in the daytime, guest-hosting for Johnny Carson at
night – and games. On “Hollywood Squares,” he was both a master
bluffer and then the host; he also hosted “$25,000 Pyramid,”
“That's Incredible” and “Time Machine.”

Increasingly, stars
were glad to do games. “You can be seen with your name right below
your face.”

It's been a busy
life for Davidson and for people close to him. (His dad performed
weddings for Dick Clark, Kenny Rogers and other celebrities.) By all
logic, he would have retired long ago.

Instead, he's done
nightclub shows and musical tours – first “Wicked” and now
“Finding Neverland,” with “just the best role I've ever had.”

In strong voice,
Davidson does the double role that Kelsey Grammer tackled on Broadway
– a producer discouraging J.M. Barrie from writing “Peter Pan,”
Captain Hook telling him to write it.

This isn't just
gimmick casting: In some cities, “Neverland” doesn't even promote
the fact that he'll be there. “People open up their programs and
see my name and say, 'Wow, what's he doing here?'”

Occasionally, he
asks that himself. Traveling with his wife, Davidson is working six
days a week.

“A year can be a
long run,” he said. “You start to look forward to the end ....
I'm looking forward to being back home (in New Hampshire) and playing
Scrabble with my wife by the fireplace.”

Or, to doing a Game
Show Network show. By game standards, he's sort of in his mid-life.

Finding Davidson

-- On stage:
“Finding Neverland” is in Detroit though Sunday, then Milwaukee,
Kansas City, more

-- On video:
Musicals “Fantasticks” (1964), “The Happiest Millionaire”
(1967), “The One and Only Genuine Original Family Band” (1968).

-- Also: Albums (see,
occasional reruns on the Game Show Network.



Hey, dogs get their Olympics too

As I sit here watching the Winter Olympics -- tough start, lots of guys plunking on the ice -- I realize that others need their chance in the spotlight ... especially dogs. Now one cable channel has its Barkfest, another has the Westminster show. I had a chance to talk to two interesting dog owners; here's the story I sent to

By Mike Hughes

Sports fans know the
story: You have years of work and worry; at the end, you get a trophy
or a scholarship or a big paycheck or ... well, a ribbon.

“A 40-cent
ribbon,” said Brandi Ritchie.

That's the prize for
the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which is the centerpiece of a
doggy week on cable. Owners might get other rewards – especially
good breeding fees for a winner.

Still, Remy
Smith-Lewis said, this isn't something to do for profit. “It
doesn't come out. (You figure) the time that we spend, the travel. I
don't think I even share that with my fiancee. She'd probably kill me
if she saw the receipts.”

Smith-Lewis and
Ritchie both have dogs in this year's show and are featured in a
“Road to Westminster” documentary. Both of them – a black man
from California, a struggling mom from small-town Texas -- counter
the dog-show image of wealthy WASPs from New England.

They also contrast
with each other. Smith-Lewis is a front-runner; his dog, Manly, is
the No. 1-rated water dog, making his final trip to Westminster after
twice being runner-up. Ritchie is an underdog; after decades of dog
shows, she's finally landed her first trip to Westminster.

“My parents
dabbled in dog shows when I was young and I was in the ring at 5
years old,” she said. “It was a passion that really grew inside
of me. It was like a fire.”

That fire would face
steep odds, especially when she was a single mom who could only
afford to enter one or two shows a year. Now she's 38, married, with
a kennel business and sons (21 and 17) who are almost grown. She can
go to shows, but has to do the grooming and handling herself; a
couple years ago, when she was 5-foot and 252 pounds, that became too

“It's very
taxing,” she said. “I told my husband, 'I can't do it any more.'
I was crying.”

The answer was
gastric bypass surgery. Today, 101 pounds lighter, she seems vibrant;
so does Donkey Kong, her Chinese crested dog.

Smith-Lewis didn't
grow up with a dog, but he was fascinated. “We'd be playing T-ball
in the park and I would drop the bat and go pat a dog.”

He was intrigued by
the fact that Bill Cosby had a dog in shows. Then his mom took him to
one “and I was just blown away.”

Remy-Lewis began
working at kennels and meeting the handlers, especially Bill
McFadden. “When I was 12, I needed a ride to a dog show. I
cold-called his wife.”

A relationship – a
mixture of mentor, parent and friend – was forming. Now Remy-Lewis
has day jobs (he has a spa business and a jewelry business ) and is
co-owner of Manly; McFadden is the handler.

Usually, both are
there. Remy-Lewis grooms, encourages ... then paces like a nervous
stage mom. “We work hard all week and then you have this 20
minutes,” he said. “And then it's all over.”

Yes, it's stressful.
“For those couple of minutes in the ring, it's everything,”
Ritchie said.

But both insist that
they – and their dogs – are enjoying themselves.

“It's happy, fun,
treats, love,” Remy-Lewis said. “Manly is my dog. He sleeps on my
bed; he runs in my backyard .... Win, lose or draw, I think we are
still winners. We get to take these dogs home.”

Lotsa dogs (all
times ET)

-- Westminster
Kennel Club Dog Show, 8-11 p.m. Monday (Feb. 12) and Tuesday, Fox Sports 1;
reruns, at 8 and 11 p.m. Thursday and Friday, NatGeo Wild.

-- The daytime
portion of Westminster is on NatGeo Wild, from 1-4 p.m. Monday and

-- That's part of
the NatGeo “Barkfest.” A “Road to Westminster” documentary is
8 and 9 p.m. Sunday (rerunning at 11 p.m. and midnight) and 6 and 7
p.m. Friday.

-- Doggy doings start at 5 p.m. Friday (with the new "Science of Dogs" at 8 and 11); 7 a.m. Saturday (with a Dr. Pol marathon at night); 7 a.m. Sunday (with "Road to Westminster" at 8 and 11 p.m.); noon Monday (with
“A Dog Saved My Life” at 8 and 11 p.m.); noon Tuesday (with a
Cesar Millan marathon from 4 p.m. To 2 a.m); 7 p.m. Wednesday; 8 p.m.
Thursday; and noon Friday.


In brief: Here's the TV line-up for the Winter Olympics

If you scroll down, you'll find two stories previewing the Winter Olympics, Feb. 8-25. Those are in a preview package I sent to papers, along with this schedule:

By Mike Hughes

Here's a quick
summary of TV's Winter Olympic coverage; all times are ET:

-- The ceremonies:
The opening is 8-11 p.m. Friday, with Mike Tirico and Katie Couric
anchoring. (Most of the Olympics will be live, but this is
tape-delayed; on the West Coast, it will be shown twice, at 5 and 8
p.m. PT.) The closing ceremony will be Feb. 25; expect some

-- The extra-early
start: From 11 p.m. Wednesday to 10 a.m. Thursday, the NBC Sports
Network will have a lot of curling, plus some Alpine skiing and ski

-- The early start:
On Thursday, a day before the opening ceremony, NBC has a full night
of figure skating and freestyle skiing, from 8-11:30 p.m. Also, the
NBC Sports Network has curling, from 8 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.

-- After that: The
NBC Sports Network has virtually non-stop Olympics. Others vary.

-- The first
weekend: On both days, NBC goes from 3-6 p.m. On Saturday, it's also
8-11 p.m. and 11:30 p.m to 3:30 a.m.; on Sunday, it's 7-11 p.m. and
11:35 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. Also, on both days USA has women's hockey at
7 a.m.

-- Weekdays: NBC
goes from 3-5 p.m., then from 8-11:30 p.m. and 12:05 to 4:30 a.m.
Also, CNBC has curling from 5-8 p.m. and USA has lots of hockey,
including 2:30 a.m. and 7:10 a.m. Feb. 13-14 and 7 a.m. Feb. 16.

-- Figure-skating
(teams). Much of the figure skating will be in prime time, from
8-11:30 p.m. The first weekend involves separate medals for teams:
Thursday has the short programs for men and pairs ... Saturday has
the finals for pairs and the short for women and ice dancing ...
Sunday has the finals for men, women and ice dancing, wrapping up the
team medals.

-- Figure-skating
(individuals). Once the team medals are set, the individual
competition begins. It will be pairs on Feb. 13-14, men on Feb.
15-16. ice dancers on Feb. 18-19, women on Feb. 20 and 22. On Feb.
24, the medalists can shed all the rules and perform in an


Winter Olympics: Americans get their fix of swirling sprites and soaring snowboarders

The Winter Olympics start Thursday (Feb. 8), so it's time to get serious about it. If you scroll down one, you'll see a fun story I sent to papers, focusing particularly on NBC's Apolo Ohno. Now here's a look at some of the events and people likely to draw American viewers. One more thing, with some TV-time details, is next.

By Mike Hughes

As the Winter
Olympics arrive, NBC likes to offer grand vistas and great

Its viewers,
however, often want more. They want events that Americans understand
... and maybe have a chance to win..

Many Americans have
never quite understood the luge, the bobsleigh or the skeleton. NBC's
Mary Carillo once said the two-man luge looks “like a bar bet gone

Some find curling
and cross-country skiing too slow, short-track speed skating too
fast, the biathlon too weird. (Yes, it involves skiers with rifles;
at least they're not texting.)

But there's much
more, with strong American prospects.

“So much of Team
USA's strength involves the female athletes,” said Mike Tirico, who
will be NBC's main anchor. He points to the effects of gender-equity
rules that started 45 years ago. “Title IX's multiple generations
now are yielding strong women's teams in so many American sports.”

Some of the key
events and people are:

Americans have savored this, ever since the wins by Peggy Fleming
(1968), Dorothy Hamill (1976) and Scott Hamilton (1984). This time,
they have a front-runner among men (Nathan Chen), but not among

By comparison,
Americans used to scoff at ice dancing ... until Meryl Davis and
Charlie White won the silver medal in 2010 and gold in 2014. Now the
U.S. again has strong medal contenders, with the brother-sister duo
of Alex and Maia Shibutani.

Boosting NBC is the
relatively recent addition of a team event. That adds three more
days; the 18 Olympic days will include 12 days of figure-skating,
much of it in prime time.

The team portion
starts Thursday – before the opening ceremony -- with the short
programs for men and pairs. Saturday has the pairs finals and the
short program for women and ice dancing; Sunday has the men, women
and ice dancing finals and the team medals.

Then it starts all
over, with individual competition – short program one day, then
finals. Pairs will be Feb. 13-14, bringing some Valentine's Day
passion. Men are Feb. 15-16, ice dancing on Feb. 18-19, women on Feb.
20 and 22 and an exhibition by the medalists on Feb. 22.

-- SKIING: Here's a
prime example of the American women, with an old and new star.

In 2010, Lindsey
Vonn became the first American woman to go gold in downhill. She was
out with an injury in 2014, but is back; in the weekend before the
Olympics, she took her 80th World Cup victory.

And the new star is
Mikaela Shiffrin. In 2014, at 18, she became the youngest person to
win Olympic gold in slalom; now, at 22, she's favored in several

This is another event with old and new stars.

The familiar one is
Shaun White, who went gold in 2006 and 2010, then finished fourth in
2014. He's back at 31, after surviving a tough crash during training.

And the newcomer is
Chloe Kim, who would have made the 2014 team ... except she was too
young (13) to qualify. Now she's ready at 17, with a string of gold
medals in Winter X Games.

-- HOCKEY: For five
Olympics, hockey fans thrived. The National Hockey League took a
break, letting players join their home-country teams.

The Canadians won
three gold medals, the Czechs and Swedes took one apiece. Americans
took silver twice, losing to Canada in 2002 and 2010.

This year, however,
the team owners aren't going along and the pros won't be there.
“Clearly, it does disrupt the NHL season,” said Jim Bell, head of
NBC's Olympic coverage. He talks hopefully of “a good storyline
developing should some young Americans emerge, as they did in

And Tirico points to
the U.S. women, who “might become one of the biggest stories for
both hockey tournaments.” They took gold the first time women's
hockey came to the Olympics (1998), then have been won silver four
straight times, always with Canada going gold.


Olympics are ready to give us new heroes ... and, maybe, villains

Friesh from that high-octane Super Bowl, NBC is ready to deliver the Winter Olympics. That means more actions -- and occasional quirks, like the ones that made Apolo Ohno a hero and (to some) a villain. The games start Thursday (Feb. 8); here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

There are many
things Americans and South Koreans agree on. They like action movies,
for instance, and dislike North Korean leaders.

But there's one
sharp difference: “Short-track speed skating is their obsession,”
Apolo Ohno said.

Americans still view
that event warily; NBC's – which starts Winter Olympics coverage
Thursday -- will give its best times to the favorites. “Many of the
marquee events – figure-skating and Alpine skiing, among others –
will be in the morning in Korea,” which makes them live in prime
time in the U.S., said Jim Bell, head of NBC's Olympics broadcasts.

And no,
speed-skating – like curling and the luge -- is not a marquee event
for Americans. Ohno (a former champion) admits it's “this crazy,
obscure sport of these athletes wearing Superman outfits, skating
around an ice rink going 35, 40 miles an hour, leaning over at these
impossible angles.”

But the host country
knows the sport well ... and knows Ohno. “I was the
second-most-hated person in Korea,” he recalled. “No. 1 was Osama
Bin Laden. That's not a joke .... They started making toilet paper
with my face on it.”

That all goes back
to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. In one event, Ohno was
involved in a pile-up; he got up and skated to a silver medal, the
Korean skater didn't. In another, the Korean was disqualified for
blocking, giving Ohno the gold.

“They came home
with zero medals on the men's side and they took that very
personally,” he said.

Now Ohno has friends
and business connections in South Korea, where he'll be NBC's
short-track commentator. He raves about PyeongChang (“an exciting
place”) and its people. And he went there early to prepare a piece
“focusing on the culture of the Korean short-tracks.”

That's the sort of
feature NBC savors. In another, Mike Tirico went to Wisconsin, to
meet ski champion Lindsey Vonn and her grandparents. It's “a kind
of piece that has become synonymous with the Olympics,” said Fred
Gaudelli, an NBC Sports producer, “where you really get to know the

The Olympics
coverage is rarely about enemies ... which will be scarce anyway.
North Korea has sent a small team that will enter Friday's ceremony
alongside the South Koreans; Russian athletes are included
individually, but their country is being punished for a doping

NBC News will also
be there, to report on any troubles. But winter events – despite
the occasional pile-up, knee-whacking or hockey game – tend to be

That's true of
winter places, Tirico said. “I live in Ann Arbor, Michigan; I went
to college at Syracuse. From all the cold-weather places come really
nice people, because we have to talk to each other.”

So NBC will have
moments of fun – Bell talks about Chef David Chang and about
“K-pop” music -- and goes for pleasant people and pretty places,
captured high-tech.

Bell plans to use
“anything from VR to AR to drones.” They'll catch scenery and
fresh views of action. “When you are coming down the mountain with
the slope-style snowboarder, it's just breathless.”

Technology also
means more events in more places. In 1996, Bell said, “the games
were only available on NBC and there were only 170 hours available.
(In 2014), there were nearly 7,000 hours available .... We put
extensive coverage on NBCSN, MSNBC, USA, CNBC. We stream everything

Some viewers will
stick to main events, helped by a time-zone quirk: If a
figure-skater is swirling at 10 a.m. Friday in Korea, that's 8 p.m.
Thursday in New York ... and 5 p.m. in California. “For the first
time ever at a Winter Olympics, we will be broadcasting in primetime
live across the country,” Bell said.

(That assumes, of
course, that Californians will accept the idea that 5 p.m. is prime.)

And some viewers
will go beyond the basics. They'll find sports like short-track

“You've got speed,
strategy, danger,” Ohno said. “It's one of the fastest ... sports
in the world. The athletes go around each corner, carrying about
two-and-a-half G's of force on each leg .... They go 35, 40 miles an
hour ... It's an exciting sport.”

In some countries,
its stars might be on posters and cereal boxes ... or on rolls of
toilet paper.