It was a grand, golden age ... for one-percent of us

Yes, this is a big time for the commercial networks -- Grammys, Super Bowl, Winter Olympics, more. But PBS is countering with three nights of terrific documentaries. It's Winnie Mandela on Monday (Feb. 5), "The Gilded Age" on Tuesday and the oldest human remains in the Americas on Wednesday. Here's the "Gilded" story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

As the 19th
century ended, Americans were known for wealth and power.

This was “a
country rising to become the economic powerhouse we know today,”
said Mark Samels, producer of PBS' “American Experience” series.

And it was
transforming. The rich – Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Morgan
– were becoming much richer; the others were overwhelmed.

That's the focus of
Tuesday's “Experience” film. “The Gilded Age” sees the wealth
gap hit a dizzying extreme.

“In 1890, 51
percent of the wealth in this country was owned by the one-percent,”
said Edward O'Donnell, a history professor at College of the Holy
Cross. “It was reduced to 20 percent by 1980 – and it has since
rebounded to almost 40 percent.”

Back then, no
individual could stand up to the industrial giants. What about
unions? Or governments?

“The presidency
was so weak at this time,” Samels said. “I mean, really: Name the
presidents from 1865 (to the end of the century). They all have
beards and you can't remember their names.”

That was clear when
the financial system plunged. J.P. Morgan convened other money men to
prevent a collapse; the president was helpless.

“Nothing stopped
Grover Cleveland from grabbing the controls,” said Mark Zwonitzer,
the film's writer. “But when he grabbed them, they didn't connect
to anything”

And the workers?
“Industrialists in this period ... try to depict unions as
tyrannical,” O'Donnell said.

This was an era of
open arrogance, he said “Jay Gould said, when asked about the rise
of (a) labor union on his railroad: 'I could pay one-half the working
class to kill the other half.'”

One steel mogul was
an exception, he said. “Nobody in America of that status was more
aware of public relations than Andrew Carnegie.”

He was photographed
often and “always looks like Santa Claus; he's very genial.” He
said the right things and “probably did treat his workers better
than some major industrialists.” But in 1892, as a union contract
expired: “He said, 'Smash it. I'm going to Scotland. I don't want
the bad PR. Henry Clay Frick, you are my muscleman. You smash the
union, by hook or by crook.'”

Then the aftershocks
began – union-protection laws, political movements, government
controls. “What we learned was that people have to get involved in
politics,” said Nell Irvin Painter, a retired history Princeton
history professor.

It was the end of
the gilded age – at least, for a while.

-- “American
Experience: The Gilded Age,” 9-11 p.m. Tuesday, PBS

Roy Wood's world: serious satire and strip-club tales

If you see Roy Wood's stand-up special ("Father Figure") or his best "Daily Show" bits, you'll realize this is a sharp comedy mind, able to make dead-serious issues seem funny. Now Wood is also hosting the loose-spirited "This Is Not Happening." Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

The funny-serious
world of Roy Wood Jr. is filled with opposites.

It involves
presidential politics and baby business, state-of-the-world issues
and beer buddies.

“The serious side
usually comes to me first,” he said. “Then I have to figure out
how to make it funny.”

That's his “Daily
Show” job. Now comes extra duty as the new host of “This is Not

The show has
comedians simply recount real-life moments. Some are quite adult,
which explains the odd time (Friday nights at midnight) and setting.
“We filmed (the season) in two or three weeks, in this wonderful
strip club .... It feels right to be doing it in a dark place.”

Wood adds his own
stories. He has plenty, he said, as do most traveling comics. “When
you spend your life drinking with strangers, a lot of things happen.”

By comparison, his
“Daily Show” job can be sobering. Just two days before his “Not
Happening” debut, Wood was presenting his State of the Union
variation – the State of Black (Bleep).

His own life
prepared him for the serious side. He talks fondly of his home state
(Alabama), his mother (who worked in college administration) and his
father, a “pretty dope guy who was a radio personality and a civil
rights activist (and) had about 15 different careers.”

Both parents went to
historically black colleges and his mom worked at one. It was no
surprise that he went to Florida A&M; “it was a very good
environment ..., with a sort of village concern for you.”

A bigger surprise
was that his first success was in his dad's field, radio. “That
just happened. I wasn't planning it; I went there to study

But he started doing
comedy on a Tallahassee station, then back home in Birmingham; he
continued until he was cast as one of the bar flies in “Sullivan &
Son.” It was an undemanding job -- “just fake drinking” -- but
things got much better when he joined “The Daily Show” in
September of 2015. “I got to have a one-year start, before it all
broke loose.”

That was the
presidential election. “Nobody thought Trump was going to win;
Trump didn't think he was going to win ... I didn't really process
the comedy part for a few days.”

Then came the comedy
explosion. “The show definitely ratcheted up the satire. (Viewers')
appetite for satire got a lot stronger.”

All of this happened
alongside fatherhood. His son is now 20 months old and, Wood said,
has altered his comedy outlook. “It's more now about the future and
not just about me.”

-- “This Is Not
Happening,” Friday nights at midnight, Comedy Central;
season-opener follows a rerun of the “Roy Wood Jr. Father Figure”
stand-up special, at 11 p.m. Feb. 2.

-- “The Daily
Show,” 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, Comedy Central, rerunning
at 1:35 a.m.



Super Bowl Sunday: A time for Brady, booty and frozen fun

OK, many people are already hyped up for the Super Bowl game itself. For the rest of us. the event brings a mixture of quirky fun; here's the story I sent to papers.

By Mike Hughes

Each year, the Super
Bowl has a sort of double identity.

“You have every
big football fan in America,” said Al Michaels, who will do NBC's
play-by-play Sunday. “But you have people who only watch one game a

The big fans have
plenty to buzz about, including an extreme contrast: One quarterback
(Tom Brady of the New England Patriots) has already started in seven
Super Bowls; the other (Nick Foles of the Philadelphia Eagles) only
started four regular-season games in the past two years.

But what about all
the casual viewers? They get Justin Timberlake, clever commercials,
“This Is Us” and what passes for fun in Minnesota. Here's an
entertainment guide:

Halftime show

Justin Timberlake
was a young lad the first two times he did the Super Bowl's halftime

He was 19 when he
did it in 2001 as part of NSYNC; the group was alongside Britney
Spears (his former “Mickey Mouse Club” colleague), Nelly, Mary J.
Blige and Aerosmith. He'd just turned 23 when he was in support of
Janet Jackson and ripped part of her costume off, revealing a breast;
afterward, he coined the phrase “wardrobe malfunction.”

Now, at 37, he'll be
the first person with three Super halftimes. This time, it's his
show; he has about 13 minutes, which may or may not include surprise
guests and a Prince tribute.

It also could be
high-energy; in one interview, Timberlake spoke to the camera: “Al
Michaels, if we can get you to shake your booty at the Super Bowl

Michaels reaction to
that now? At 73, he could plead generation-gap. “Can you shake your
booty with the fox trot?” he joked.

In truth, Michaels
is a pop-music fan. (He was singing Katy Perry tunes off-camera,
years before she did the halftime show.) But he said he'll stay out
of the booty business.

“I have an
8-year-old granddaughter who now wants to give Pop Pop lessons. I
said, 'Honey, it's hard to do that with spinal stenosis.'”

The pre-game

That starts at noon
ET Sunday with “Road to the Super Bowl,” an annual creation of
NFL Films.

“It's the season
set to the sounds of the players who wear microphones during the
games,” said Fred Gaudelli, who produces NBC's football coverage.
A “great musical score kind of recaps everything.”

And then ... well,
the pre-game show goes on and on (and on). It runs from 1-6 p.m. ET.

Some people skip
that part ... and could skip it this year out of general principle:
Bob Costas – the best and most-honored sportscaster in TV history –
isn't included.

Costas, 65, had said
earlier that he's cutting back – no more Olympics and just this one
more Super Bowl. But NBC decided not to invite him ... apparently
linked to comments he made at a sports conference. Due to
concussions, he said, he wouldn't let a son play football; “the
reality is that the game destroys people's brains.”

Instead, NBC will
stick with its regular pre-game crew – Dan Patrick and Liam McHugh
hosting, with Tony Dungy, Rodney Harrison, Mike Florio ad Chris

Some frigid fun

Alongside the
football talk, there will be lots of promotion for the Winter
Olympics, plus coverage of the host city ... which sort of looks like
the Winter Olympics.

Minneapolis is going to really turn into a winter wonderland,”
Gaudelli said, “with mini ski slopes and rock concerts.” He'll
even have drones taping some of it. “We want to really cover what
it's been like that week in Minneapolis.”

There have been
predictions of temperatures hitting 7-below-zero on the eve of the
Super Bowl. That doesn't affect the game (wisely, played indoors) and
Gaudelli didn't expect it to affect the pre-game fun. “Things that
would paralyze other states ... pretty much go unfazed in that part
of the country.”

Almost gametime

At 6 p.m., the
coverage moves to the stadium, with Michaels and Cris Collinsworth.

Pink will sing the
National Anthem and Leslie Odom Jr. -- who won a Tony as Aaron Burr
in “Hamilton” -- sings “America the Beautiful.” Kick-off is

After the game

First we have the
trophy and interviews and such. Then – NBC estimates 10:15 p.m. PT,
which tends to be wildly optimistic – comes the post-game show.

This used to be a
time to debut a new series. After a few early successes (“The
A-Team,” “The Wonder Years”) that fizzled; now networks simply
show off their best.

For NBC, “This Is
Us” was the obvious choice. “These kind of game-changers just
don't come along very often,” said Bob Greenblatt, chairman of NBC

That's no
exaggeration. The show has best-drama-series nominations from the
Emmys and the Golden Globes, breaking a cable monopoly; Sterling K.
Brown, as Randall, has won best-actor awards in both.

In this episode,
Randall hosts a Super Bowl party and we get flashbacks, possibly
telling us how the dad died. (The previous episode ended with a house
fire caused by a faulty crock pot.) These people are big Pittsburgh
Steeler fans ... and the Steelers, alas, lost the 1996 Super Bowl to
the Dallas Cowboys.

Even later

After the show,
there's a 35-minute break to allow for local news ... and for “This
Is Us” fans to possibly dry up their tears. Then – NBC says 11:30
p.m., again optimistically – is “Tonight.”

This one will be
live from the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. Jimmy Fallon will have
Timberlake, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and the “This Is Us”


After a lifetime of preparation, McGowan gets her activist focus

The first time Rose McGowan talked to the Television Critics Association, she was an impressive person in a semi-impressive show. She was the new witch on "Charmed," on the WB network; she also seemed like a bright person, worth listenig to.

Now, 16 years later, WB is gone and McGowan has a very different mission, discussing sexual abuse and more. Her special is Tuesday (Jan. 30) on cable's E; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

For many people,
this can be unsettling: Suddenly, they're in the swirl of a
hot-button issue.

For Rose McGowan,
however, it's a natural. “My father said I was born with my fist
up,” she said.

She's been at the
core of the sex-abuse charges in Hollywood and beyond. Now comes her
“Citizen Rose” special; Amy Introcaso-Davis, development chief
for the E cable channel, calls it “an unfettered view into her
incredible mind and what propels Rose the activist.”

And yes, E – home
of the Kardashians and surface flash – may seem like an odd place
for activism. McGowan, however, has existed in both worlds.

She modeled as a kid
and, later, for the Bebe clothing line. Alongside lots of serious
roles, she spent five years as a witch in “Charmed” and was
Ann-Margret in the “Elvis” mini-series. She's known the flashy
side of show business.

But there's the
other side of her, as professed by her dad: “My birthday card from
him, when I was 10, said, 'Dear Rose, I've always admired your sense
of justice. Happy birthday.'”

That was the year
her family moved from Italy to Oregon. (Her parents, a writer and an
artist, were American-born, but lived in Italy, sometimes in a
Children of God commune.) Her rebellious side continued; she was
reportedly a teen runaway, becoming legally emancipated at 15.

But it wasn't until
her early 40s that the outspoken side fully emerged. “I started
shooting footage three years ago,” McGowan said. “I realized that
I could not speak on camera without a script .... I had to train
myself to just exist as me.”

In August, she took
the footage to Bunim-Murray Productions, the reality-show pioneer.

“Rose came in to
talk to us before the New York Times article (and) the New Yorker
article came out,” said producer Andrea Metz. “I personally was
intrigued by her and her story and the fact that she hasn't been
given the opportunity. She's been talking, but nobody has been

The company –
which created MTV's “The Real World” in 1982 – seems to fit a
feminist focus. “Probably 70 percent of our showrunners are female
and ... 20 percent are gay men,” said Jonathan Murray, who
co-founded it with the late Mary-Ellis Bunim.

It began filming
McGowan in September, Metz said, without knowing what the project
would be about. “She kept saying, 'It will be worth it. I

The next month, the
Times and New Yorker stories broke, with McGowan among the people
accusing producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual abuse. A flurry news
stories followed.

Now some of the
footage, old and new, will be sifted into a four-week series this
spring and the two-hour special Tuesday.

In some time zones,
that special overlaps with an accused sex-abuser delivering the State
of the Union address. Talking to the Television Critics Association,
McGowan avoided mentioning individual names and stuck to the broader

years ago, equal pay for women was voted down on the Senate floor,”
she said. “We're the only First World country that has no
constitutional protection for women. So this is so big.”

-- “Citizen Rose,”
8-10 p.m. Tuesday, E; rerunning 10 p.m. to midnight.

-- In some time
zones, that overlaps with the State of the Union address, at 9 p.m.

-- Other reruns are
8 p.m. Thursday, 2 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 3.


Hey, these Brits seem to know about acting

On one level, "Girlfriends" is kind of brash and soapy; on another, it has gifted British actors, bringing these flawed-and-interestinng characters to life. It's one example of why people like to catch British shows via PBS or streaming. Now "Girlfriends" reaches Acorn on Monday (Jan. 29); here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

We've always
suspected that the British are better at some things – playing
cricket and croquet ... using long words ... remembering World War
II ... and, especially, acting.

That last part is
clear to PBS viewers, but now there's more: Two streaming services –
Acorn and Britbox – deliver the rest of the British shows ...
which, it turns out, are skillfully acted.

The latest example
is the six-part “Girlfriends,” via Acorn. It's written and
directed by Kay Mellor, who has been making British TV series for 27

“It was her
passion project, she always says,” said Phyllis Logan.. “And the
commissioners at ITV (network) let her do it, because of her track

Mellor created three
women who were in a long-ago singing group, split into wildly
different lives ... then re-united after a tragedy. More crises
follow, in a show that veers perilously close to soap opera, rescued
by the skill of its stars:

-- Miranda
Richardson, who got her Oscar nominations (“Damage,” “Tom &
Viv”) more than 20 years ago. She plays Sue, the flashy one. “She's
driven; she's single-minded .... She loses just about everything in
the first episode, but then she regains two girlfriends,”
Richardson said.

-- Zoe Wanamaker.
She plays Gail, the sad one – working as a crossing guard and
claiming that her son is back from Indonesia, not prison.

-- Logan. She plays
Linda, who was doing fine until the perplexing tragedy struck.

PBS viewers have
seen Wanamaker in lots of one-shot roles ... and Logan as the earnest
Mrs. Hughes, head of the abbey's housekeeping staff. “I never
planned that I was going to be doing six years of 'Downton Abbey,'”
she said. “None of us did.”

And that's one
reason they're so good at this. Americans might get tied into an
unchanging character; the British juggle tiny seasons (“Girlfriends”
has six episodes) on TV, plus movies, theater and more.

That's a tradition
that starts with repertory theaters, leaping between shows.

“You played
several characters throughout the season,” Logan said. “Old
grannies, young blokes .... I used to play a series of Shakespearean
youths with penciled mustaches and stuff. That was all part of the
deal, that you just have an array of different characters and
different jobs.”

Eventually, the
Brits get noticed by Americans – as evidenced by others in
“Girlfriends”: Matthew Lewis played the heroic Neville Longbottom
in Harry Potter movies; Anthony Head was propelled by coffee
commercials, before becoming the mentor of Buffy, the vampire-slayer.

Now they reverse
direction: Head plays Richardson's self-possessed boss and ex-lover;
Lewis plays Wanamaker's non-heroic son. “He's got a good soul, as
it were,” he said, “but ... he needs to grow up.”

He's a perpetual
screw-up who is liked by many people and loved by Logan's daughter
... played by Daisy Head, Anthony's daughter. It's a two-Headed,
multi-dimensioned, very British bunch.

-- “Girlfriends,”
six-part British drama. Episodes reach
on six Mondays, starting Jan. 29