Bobby Brown: A "bad guy" (onstage, at least) seeks a good image

Of all the interview sessions during the recent Television Critics Association weeks, none had quite as much emotion as the one with Bobby Brown. Now his mini-series runs Sept. 4-5; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

For Bobby Brown,
this was an uncomfortable moment.

He was talking to
the Television Critics Association about the Sept. 4-5 “Bobby Brown
Story” mini-series. The TCA happened to be at the Beverly Hilton,
where his ex-wife Whitney Houston died six years earlier.

“The spirit of my
ex-wife is probably still here,” Brown said.

A few minutes later,
his discomfort grew. A reporter asked if the film would show his
violence toward Houston. “There were no violent incidents between
me and Whitney,” Brown said flatly.

Another reporter
read accounts of Houston's 9-1-1 call (finding her with a bruise and
a cut lip) and pointed out it was in the public record. “The public
record is wrong,” Brown said. A moment later, the planned time for
follow-up questions was canceled.

That overshadows
what could be a feel-good mini-series about a triumphant life. “Bobby
never really (explained) his side of the story,” said producer
Jesse Collins.

Brown agreed that
he's misunderstood. “If you see me in concert, then you can call be
a 'bad guy.' You see me in person, ... you won't call me a bad guy.
You'll call me Bobby.”

He was 12 when he
joined the Boston pop group New Edition and 17 when he was ousted.
“That defined it for me, being able to do my own music, write my
own songs”

Brown's “My
Prerogative” and “She Ain't Worth It” reached No. 1 and others
hit the top 10. Still, TV ignored him. “If we had social media,
it'd be way bigger .... There were not many shows that we could go
on,” Brown said.

Back then, the BET
was struggling. Now it's thrived with “The New Edition Story”
(rerunning Sept. 4) and this follow-up. “His personality is super,”
said Woody McClain, who plays Brown in both. “It's super big.”

Gabrielle Dennis,
who plays Houston in the Brown mini-series, said he was emotional
even when the actors first read the script. “In the core of this
movie is heart.”

-- “The Bobby
Brown Story” first half, 9 and 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 4, BET

-- Second half, 9
and 11:30 Wednesday, with first half rerunning at 6:30

-- Both rerun at 5
and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 6:55 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, 3 and 5:30 p.m.
Sunday (Sept. 9), 8:30 and 11:30 p.m. Sept. 11

-- Three-part “New
Edition Story” reruns at 7:05, 9:25 and 11:29 p.m. Monday (Sept.
3), 2:35, 4:55 and 7 p.m. Tuesday


"RBG": A solemn, serious Supreme Court justice becomes richly human

As the summer TV season ends, a truly great film arrives. Some people have already seen "RBG" -- a deep and deeply engrossing portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- in movie theaters; now others can see it on Labor Day, via CNN. Here's the story I sent to papers:


By Mike Hughes

As they started
their “RBG” documentary, Julie Cohen and Betsy West seemed on
familiar turf.

Supreme Court
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was already famous. She was “The Great
Dissenter,” with strongly worded objections to the conservative
majority; some law students – via Internet and then a book – had
even made her “The Notorious RBG.”

Still, there were
fresh surprises, West said. The movie, which reaches CNN on Labor
Day, points to:

-- “The depth of
her romance with Marty (Ginsburg). And the role he played as the
supportive spouse.”

-- Her affinity for
people who seemed to be her opposite. Ginsburg, 85, has often seemed
stern, solemn, silent. Her late husband was none of those things;
neither was her late friend Antonin Scalia.

-- And the extreme
impact she had on women's rights. In the film, Gloria Steinem calls
her “the closest thing to a superhero I know.”

West – a
generation younger than Ginsburg – echoes that. “My life was
transformed by Judge Ginsburg,” she said. “Opportunities were
opened up that weren't available to our mothers.”

When Ginsburg
started Harvard Law School, she was among nine women in a class of
more than 500. When her granddaughter started, the class was 50
percent female.

And when Ginsburg
finished school (tied for No. 1 in her class), no New York firm would
hire her. She took alternate routes – a clerkship, co-authoring a
book on Swedish law (for which she learned Swedish), then teaching at
Rutgers. In 1972, she co-founded the ACLU's Women's Rights Project.

Many people know
Thurgood Marshall's role in civil rights; fewer had heard of
Ginsburg's. “She modeled her approach after Thurgood Marshall,”
West said. “It was a step-by-step approach.”

She took six cases
to the Supreme Court and won five times, creating building blocks for
gender law.

During this time,
Martin Ginsburg, a prominent tax lawyer, stepped happily to the
background, West said. “She had been a supportive spouse to him and
now he did the same.”

When she was a
17-year-old Cornell freshman, he had quickly impressed her, West
said. “He was a very gregarious, outgoing guy.”

She married him a
month after graduation and took a job near his Army base. Later, when
he landed a New York job, she transferred from Harvard to Columbia.
At one point, she was averaging two hours of sleep while studying,
nursing him through an illness and caring for their baby.

But as her career
soared, he stepped aside. In the film, one person recalls their
daughter explaining that “her father did the cooking and her mother
did the thinking.”

Ginsburg was
appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1980 and was sometimes
viewed as a moderate, finding consensus with Scalia and Robert Bork.
“She wasn't a flaming liberal,” West said.

But after she
reached the Supreme Court in 1992, subsequent appointments nudged it
to the right. Ginsburg became the dissenter, sharply disagreeing with
Scalia, a guy with qualities like her husband's.

“Justice Scalia
was a very funny guy,” West said. He and Ginsburg “both loved
opera; she is very knowledgeable about opera. They had great respect
for each other as equals.”

Martin Ginsburg died
in 2010 at 78, Scalia in 2016 at 79. But Ruth Bader Ginsburg has
survived colon cancer and pancreatic cancer; she has even revealed a
comic side that many people weren't aware of. “She has a great
sense of humor,” West said. “Julie and I love to see her laugh.”

That's not the first
impression people have. “She is absolutely intimidating,” West
said. “She's small (5-foot, one-half inch) and quiet; she doesn't
fill up a lot of space.” Except in law books and history books.

-- “RBG,” debuts
9 p.m. ET Monday (Sept. 3), CNN, repeating at midnight.

-- Also, 8 p.m.
Sept. 9; times could change with breaking news




In cozy Oak Park, black students face a swirl of emotions

Oak Park, Ill., is a gorgeous place. I've gone there to admire the Frank Lloyd Wright creations; I'll return to see some of the Hemingway roots. But even in this good-natured town, known for segregation and diversity, black teens can feel ill-at-ease. Now a well-made  documentary series focuses on them. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Charles Donalson
figured he was an odd choice for a big-deal documentary.

“They should have
never put that camera on me,” he said with a grin. “I didn't take
it seriously.”

But it was serious
stuff: Steve James, a two-time Oscar-nominee, was starting “America
to Me,” a year-long project that followed black and biracial
students in Oak Park, Ill.

Some of the teens
found that imposing. “I felt like, because the camera was there,
other students would act differently,” Jada Buford said. “But
after a while, it just became natural.”

Donalson took a
different approach: “I went around the school telling people that
the cameras were really for the show 'Cheaters' ... and that they
weren't doing a good job of (secretly) following me.”

And in a way, he was
perfect for this. Beyond his light-hearted surface, Donalson brings
strong views.

“The people in
power don't ... want to give us the privileges they have,” he said.
“They don't even wanna give us books .... I've been in the
college-prep classes, I've been in the honors classes and I stopped
seeing people who looked like me in the honors classes.”

And that's in a town
that prides itself in fair play racially.

A Chicago suburb of
52,000, Oak Park is now ordinary town. Ernest Hemingway grew up there
... Frank Lloyd Wright moved there, creating gorgeous houses near his
own ... Others have ranged from Bob Newhart to the founders of Sears
and McDonald's.

Percy Julian, a
chemistry pioneer, moved there in 1950. His was the first black
family in Oak Park, greeted by firebombing ... and then by a
community segregation effort. Now blacks make up 22 per cent of the
city. “It's a diverse community,” said James, who is white. “It's
a very liberal community.”

He lives in Oak Park
and his top documentaries – “Hoop Dreams” (basketball) and
“Life Itself” (Roger Ebert) – were made nearby. His kids went
to school there; “it's a well-funded public high school.”

So James was
surprised when a racial controversy began, after the school scheduled
an assembly only for black students. He decided to have crews follow
some students for an entire year.

Donalson, now 19,
had a breezy approach. “I take it very lightly in the documentary,
but that's because I had a whole bunch of white people following me.
When I was 16, that was the most fun thing.”

What people will
also see, he said, are the sacrifices. Parents struggle to live in an
expensive suburb; for he and his mother, that often meant a
one-bedroom apartment. “My mom worked two full-time jobs, for us to
stay in Oak Park.”

That led to
extraordinary opportunities. Not every school has a spoken-word
teacher, guiding poets and rappers. “I wouldn't have been the poet
I am” without the help of Peter Kahn, Donalson said.

But most of the kids
from his old Chicago neighborhood will never have that, he said.
“Those are my friends (who) aren't allowed the same privileges as
me, just because their parents couldn't afford to live in this
neighborhood .... Go put a camera on them.”

That's a good idea,
James said – but not what this series is about. “I've done those
kinds of stories and those stories are very important and compelling,
(but) we wanted to try to look at a different part of what it means
to be black and biracial in America.”

That includes
Donalson, still scrambling. He received a scholarship to Wiley
College, a historically black school in Texas, known for its debate
teams in the past (depicted in “The Great Debaters,” Denzel
Washington's 2008 film) and present (2014 national champions).
Currently, however, he's taking a break from school; he's working
part-time and preparing a short (six or seven-song) album.

And he's observing
the world around him. Donalson was talking with the Television
Critics Association at the Beverly Hilton, home of the Golden Globes
and a golden lifestyle.

“Do you all know
how much food there is out there?” he asked. “When I was in here
yesterday, I'm watching all the money it probably takes to just set
up this room .... We're hoarding wealth, and that's the same thing
that Oak Park is doing.”

-- “America to
Me,” debuts 10 p.m. Sunday (Aug. 26), Starz

-- Reruns include 7
p.m. Monday, 10 p.m. Tuesday, 8 p.m. Friday, 3:56 and 11:27 p.m.


In a not-so-innocent world, shapeshifting can be precarious

My own physical transformation came kind of early. I reached almost 6-foot by 8th grade and then abruptly -- too abruptly, I felt -- stopped. Any mental or emotional transformations -- a small-town kid in a big-city world -- would be much more gradual.

But for many teens, especially, transformations can be overwhelming. That's why we need fantasy fiction, to push it to the extreme. Now "The Innocents" arrives Friday on Netflix; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

For teenagers,
transforming can seem creepy.

Their shape might
change a little; their height might spurt a lot. At the same time,
minds are growing and emotions are swirling.

It can be
overwhelming ... but not as much as what happens to June in
“Innocents,” the new Netflix series. One moment, she's a slender
teen; the next, she's a burly Scandinavian man.

“It's difficult
and stressful,” said Sorcha Groundsell, 20, who plays her. “It's
this medical condition that's brought on by extreme emotional

As the story starts,
the emotions are definitely extreme. She and Harry have fallen in
love and are fleeing their abusive parents. “I don't think it's
ever presented as happy-teens-run-away-together or crazy special
effects,” Groundsell said. “It's very much exploring the
psychological consequences.”

Their world is
changing anyway, as they go from quiet Yorkshire (of pudding and
terrier fame) to London. Now June is suddenly played by Johannes
Haukur Johannesson, a beefy, Icelandic actor who was Thomas in “A.D.”
and Lem in “Game of Thrones.”

Percelle Ascott, 25,
who plays Harry, must love them both. “Johannes is a phenomenal
actor who can portray June's characteristics,” he said.

For co-creators
Simon Duric and Hania Elkington, this suggests emotions that go well
beyond teens. “Even now, at 39, I'm gonna carry on changing for the
rest of my life,” Duric said.

They decided to make
it a malady that affects females. “Women's bodies change,”
Elkington said. “They go through childbirth. The female body,
particularly, is capable of extraordinary things.”

As men and women
change, their loved ones adapt. For Harry, Ascotte says, the
adaptation is extreme: “It's a case of: Can you ever love someone

This is like real
life, Groundsell said. “It's magnified, but it is a very relatable

Or, perhaps,

-- “The
Innocents,” eight-episode season arrives Friday (Aug. 24) on



"Mercedes" drives back into the drama Kingdom

"Mr. Mercedes" could easily have been a one-shot mini-series ... and a good one. But TV prefers series, so now it's back, opening Wednesday (Aug. 22). It has the same A-level writers (David Kelley adapting Stephen King) and the same stars ... but a much different approach, what with a key character being in a coma. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

A mind is a terrible
thing to wake.

At least, this mind
is. It belongs to Brady, who crashed a Mercedes-Benz into a crowd.

As the new “Mr.
Mercedes” season starts, he's been in a coma for a year.
Unfortunately, a scientist is doing experiments that could awaken

This is, after all,
a Stephen King tale; does that make it supernatural? Jack Bender, the
director, calls it “a character-rich show (that visits) what you
called 'supernatural,' but I'll call 'Stephen Kingdom.'”

All of that is
remixed by David Kelley, who's ranged from “Ally McBeal” to “The
Practice.” As actress Breeda Wool (who plays Brady's former work
colleague) says, for “Stephen King world, David Kelley is one hell
of a bridge.”

Kelley gave the
story a makeover, because the books' comtemplations were hard to
dramatize. He:

-- Juggled the plot,
to make retired cop Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) the main character.
In the first book, Bender said, Hodges “didn't come in ... until
about Page 250.”

-- Added a dream
scene in the season-opener, allowing Brady to walk, talk ... and even
dance. The goal, Bender said, was “to keep him active and not just
lying in a hospital bed.”

-- Manufactured a
major character, a neighbor who becomes Hodges' friend and
confidante. The old cop “needed to have some human being who is
dependable and sane and is some kind of safe haven,” said Holland
Taylor, who plays her.

Kelley also found
fun with a quirky character. Holly Gibney (Justine Lupe) is Hodges'
young, obsessive-compulsive partner in the Finders Keepers detective

“Every one of
these characters has challenges,” Bender said, but hers “are a
little more on the outside.”

Holland's character
even asks: “How weird are you?” In the “Stephen Kingdom,”
that's a key question.

-- “Mr. Mercedes,”
10 p.m. Wednesdays, Audience Network, via DirecTV or AT&T
U-verse; second season starts Aug. 22