A passionate pioneer keeps organizing at 87


The first surprise is that Dolores Huerta is still quick, vibrant and busy; we don't expect that from an 87-year-old. The second is that she has accomplished so much, without becoming well-known. Now more people will know her, after an excellent documentary airs Tuesday (March 27) on PBS. Here's the story I sent to papers: 

By Mike Hughes

Dolores Huerta grew
up in a world of limits and barriers.

This was before
powerless people had a voice, long before teens would lead their own
march. Many people – including Latinos, farmworkers and women –
were on the outside.

Then Huerta went
into action. “I learned that you could really make policy changes
by organizing people and having them come together .... That was
exhilarating,” she said.

Agreements were
signed; bills were passed. “She was like a folk hero,” said Peter
Bratt, whose “Dolores” airs Tuesday on PBS.

A folk hero that
many of us had never heard of; her colleague's name is now on street
signs and schools and more. “History tells us that Cesar Chavez
transformed the U.S. labor movement, (but) he did not do it alone,”
said Marie Nelson, a PBS vice-president. “He had a partner, an
equal partner.”

That was Huerta, now
87. In 1962, the two of them created what would become the National
Farmworkers Union. Back then “everybody just assumed that men
always had to take the leading role,” she said. So “Cesar said to
me, 'One of us has to be the spokesperson. Is it OK if it's me?'”

“And I said, 'Of
course.' And looking back, I think I would have said, 'You know what,
let's go 50/50.'”

Huerta had grown up
in New Mexico and – after her parents' divorce when she was 3 –
Stockton, Cal. Her dad, the son of Mexican immigrants, was a miner;
her mom owned a restaurant and hotel. She went to community college,
taught elementary school briefly and headed to a middle-class life.

She had long
American roots; ancestors, she said, fought in the Civil War (for the
Union), World War II and Korea. “But that doesn't make any
difference if you're a person of color.”

Added was another
bias. One labor leader told her “farm-labor organizing was no place
for a woman,” Susan Ferriss and Ricardo Sandoval wrote in “The
Fight in the Fields” (Harcourt Brace, 1997).

But Huerta
persisted. It was tough, she said, “to leave the job as a school
teacher, with a safe, secure position, and to go down and organize
(with) no income and seven children.”

Three years later,
her group launched a national grape boycott. Ronald Reagan called it
“illegal and immoral”; Richard Nixon said, “I stand firmly
against it.” But Robert Kennedy backed it; on June 5, 1968, he
stood alongside Huerta as he spoke to a Los Angeles crowd.

“He was actually
supposed to go with me to a ballroom,”she said. “We had a
mariachi waiting.”

That's when he was
killed. “It was very devastating to everyone .... A lot of people
became very cynical and stopped being engaged in political activity.”

She didn't have that
luxury. “We were right in the middle of a big fight with the grape
boycott and the farmworker momement, so we had to continue. There was
no way we could stop.”

Two years later, the
strike ended; as chief negotiator, Huerta got benefits for
farmworkers. “Many of them now have a pension plan and a medical
plan and they got the toilets that they needed in the field.”

She also had major
successes as a lobbyist, in California (benefits for non-citizens)
and nationally (the 1986 immigration amnesty bill).”We actually had
to cut many, many chapters of Dolores' work,” Bratt said of his
film. “Her work in the LGBT community started way back with
Stonewall.”

Huerta was slower to
align with feminists. “Like many Latinos, I was very much
influenced by the Catholic church, in terms of thinking of abortion
as being a sin.” She eventually marched with Gloria Steinem and
favored choice. “It was a difficult decision for me.”

Her own life has
included 11 children from two marriages and then a long relationship
with the late Richard Chavez, Cesar's brother. Some have struggled;
others include a doctor and lawyer.

When Cesar died in
1993, Huerta was passed over for presidency; in 2002, she resigned
with a warm speech. Cesar Chavez “didn't have the privilege of
saying goodbye,” she said. “I have that privilege.”

She was 72 then and
promptly started a new foundation, plunging back into community
organizing. She resisted movie and TV ideas – until a star called.
“You can't say no to Carlos Santana.”

He produced
“Dolores”; Bratt directed and his younger brother (actor Benjamin
Bratt) consulted.

“We were raised by
an activist mother (a Peruvian native), who actually marched with
Dolores,” Peter said. “We were shocked that people didn't know
who (Huerta is).” Now they might.

-- “Dolores,”
9-11 p.m. Tuesday on PBS, under the “Independent Lens” title

-- Previously won
awards at five film festivals and was nominated at the Sundance
festival

Shandling: Comedy and kindness blended in a busy life


When I first met Judd Apatow -- 25 years ago, when he was a writer-producer for "The Ben Stiller Show" -- I could tell he was special; he was a good guy, with a sense for other people. Now we find that he had a good example to follow -- his mentor and friend, Garry Shandling. Apatow's richly detailed profile of Shandling debuts Monday on HBO and reruns often; here's the story I sent to papers.

By Mike Hughes

A generation ago,
these friends-to-be met.

Both followed the
Jewish tradition of comedy, but that was all they had in common.

Gary Shandling was
34 and had just guest-hosted Johnny Carson's show; Judd Apatow was
16, interviewing comedians for the radio. Shandling had grown up in
Arizona, Apatow in Long Island. Shandling was spiritual; Apatow ...

“My parents didn't
believe in God,” he recalled. “I wasn't Bar Mitzvahed. The only
religion in my house was every once in a while, my mom would go,
'Nobody said life was fair.'”

Shandling would
later be his mentor and friend. Now, two years after his death (at
66, of myocardial infarction), he's remembered in Apatow's two-night
HBO biography.

This was someone
with a deep view of life, Apatow said. “He talked about Buddhism
and he gave me a book (by a Buddhist monk). That really changed my
life. He was a great friend .... He liked to talk a lot about being
kind and trying to be a loving person.”

In that long-ago
interview, Shandling discussed his early obsession (“I had a total
interest in comedians when I was 10”), his detour (at first,
majoring in electrical engineering), his success as a TV comedy
writer and his abrupt change: “I was sitting at my typewriter one
day and I realized this was not what I wanted to do the rest of my
life. I had a mid-life crisis at 28.”

He did stand-up,
then cable comedy for Showtime (“It's Garry Shandling's Show”)
and HBO.

“'The Larry
Sanders Show'” kind of lit the way for what HBO could be, (with)
very high-quality work,” Apatow said.

Apatow would
continue that, producing HBO's “Girls” and “Crashing,”
alongside movie hits from “40-Year-Old Virgin” to “Trainwreck.”
Now he's using HBO to recall a philosophic friend.

-- “The Zen
Diaries of Garry Shandling,” two-part, four-hour documentary, HBO

-- First part is 8
p.m. Monday (March 26). The two parts together are 6-10 p.m. Tuesday,
2-6 p.m. Friday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, 3-7 p.m. April 5.

-- Also, first part
reruns at 11:15 p.m. Wednesday, second part Thursday night at
midnight; more reruns are on HBO2

-- Apatow's
interviews with Shandling and other comedians are in “Sick in the
Head” (Random House, 2016)

Here are outer-space views -- tears and all -- of our planet


"One Strange Rock" is definitely not your ordinary TV series. The opener (10 p.m. ET Monday, March 26) has gorgeous visuals and music, smart writing ... and the perspective of astronauts. Several of them were at a Television Critics Association session; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

It's tough enough to
float in space, tethered to a ship. Now try it when you're
(temporarily) blind.

That happened to
Chris Hadfield, one of the astronauts commenting in the “One
Strange Rock” series.

“There was
contamination in my suit,” Hadfield recalled. “It's going in one
eye. But without gravity, your tears don't drain out of your eye. So
the tear got bigger and bigger, until it ... contaminated both my
eyes. I was outside, blinded.”

The solution?
“Mission Control said, 'Open up the valve in your spacesuit and let
your oxygen hiss out to space, and maybe that will evapoate your
tears faster.'” It did.

Hadfield recalled
this in a calm way that seems very astronaut-like or very Canadian.
He's both, actually, the first Canadian to command the International
Space Shuttle. “We train ... in preparation for things to go
wrong,” he said.

But often, things go
right. Peggy Whitson said the space experience is like “I've lived
my whole life in a semi-dark room, and somebody turned on the
lights.”

Jeff Hoffman echoed
that. “It was that moment in 'The Wizard of Oz,' when Dorothy opens
the door and black-and-white turned into color.”

Added Nicole Stott:
“It's colors like you've never seen before, that brightness.”

She became the first
person to paint in space, Whitson had the most days in space (665),
Hoffman and Mike Massimino – who later did six “Big Bang Theory”
episodes -- fixed the Hubble Space Telescope.

Now “One Strange
Rock” views facets of the planet, aided by host Will Smith, lush
music and the spectacular visuals of director Darren Aronofsky
(“Black Swan,” “Pi”).

Then there are the
astronauts; Aronofsky feels that they bring a unique perspective.
“When we went to the moon, we actually discovered the Earth for the
first time.”

-- “One Strange
Rock,” 10 p.m. ET Mondays, National Geographic Channel.

-- Each hour
includes the perspective of one astronaut; the opener (March 26,
rerunning at 11:01) has Chris Hadfield

 

Here's Superman before he was super ... and before he was born


A cable series about Superman's grandpa? Yes, I was skeptical; still, the "Krypton" opeer is impressive, both visually and with its sharp story and well-played characters. The series debuts at 10 p.m. Wednesday (March 21) on Syfy; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

For 80 years,
Superman has triumphed. Part-Krypton, part-Kansas and all-American,
he's stopped bank robbers, rescued passers-by and intermittently
saved the world.

But now it's time to
go further back. The new “Krypton” series goes back to before he
was super; in fact, it goes to well before he was born.

“It's an untold
story,” said David Goyer, the show's writer-producer. And “because
there's a time-travel element, we have a tremendous amount of free
rein.”

Goyer has written
“Man of Steel,” “Batman v Superman” and other movies with DC
Comics characters. He's done some origin stories ... but now he sort
of has a pre-origin story.

On Krypton, we're
told, Superman's great-great-grandfather is a heroic scientist. He's
killed; his family is banished to the lowest order and given the “S”
symbol that would later be viewed so highly. “It actually is this
symbol of shame,” said Geoff Johns, the creative chief of DC
Comics.

That scientist's
grandson becomes, as “Krypton” producer Cameron Welsh puts it, “a
rankless street hustler.” Then he gets word from time-traveler Adam
Strange: He must protect the future of his not-yet-born grandson, who
will become another planet's greatest hero.

All of this
requires:

-- Spectacular sets,
at a Belfast studio. “It's like being on the set of 'A New Hope' or
'Empire (Strikes Back),'” said Cameron Cuffe, who stars. “It's of
that caliber.”

-- Visual effects,
as ships careen through that world. The pilot was shot in 2016, then
waited for whiz-bang touches. “The post-production period is almost
double that of your average show,” Goyer said.

-- Sharp writing. In
“Da Vinci's Demons,” particularly, Goyer showed that's possible
in a weekly series.

-- And the right
actors to say those lines. That's one reason this is being done in
Belfast, Goyer said.

“There's an
incredible history of acting talent over in the UK (United Kingdom).”
He was able to use many of the supporting actors and crew members
from “Da Vinci's Demons.”

For the lead role,
however, he chose a near-unknown. “I started out in London, in
theater and film .... I thought, 'I'm ever going to get this; there's
not a chance,'” Cuffe said.

Then he got the
role, joining the parade of stars – from George Reeves to
Christopher Reeve, Marlon Brando, Dean Cain and Henry Cavill – to
play Superman and his kin.

Goyer even advised
Cuffe to be well-behaved in public, for fear of super scrutiny. Does
that mean he'll avoid drinking and nightlife? “I'm a British
actor,” Cuffe said. “It's very hard to get me out of a pub.”

-- “Krypton,” 10
p.m. Wednesdays, Syfy

-- Debuts March 21;
first season runs 10 weeks

-- Opener reruns
that night at 2:30 a.m., Thursday night at midnight, Sunday at 10:55
p.m.

-- Opener also
reruns at 10 a.m. Saturday on Bravo and 11:05 p.m. Mondaty on USA

Quality overload: Two top shows debut simultaneously


Since life is never
easy for TV viewers, here's a new complication: Two excellent shows –
maybe the best new ones this season – debut simultaneously.

That's 10 p.m.
Tuesday (March 13). A week later, one moves to 9 p.m., the other
stays at 10. Here are the two short stories I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

For Auli'i Cravalho,
this is a huge leap – from Hawaiian sunshine to Pennsylvania grit.

Still, she's made a
bigger jump – from obscurity to stardom in Disney's animated
“Moana.”

And now? At 17, she
has her first on-camera role, in NBC's passionate “Rise,”
stepping into a world that's far from her own.

She plays a teen
waitress, auditioning for the school musical. Lilette is “an
introvert, quite unlike me,” Cravalho said. She faces a bleak
economy and a critical mother.

That's far from
Cravalho's world, but there are some links. “She grows up in a
single-parent household, as I have,” Cravalho said. “She has big
dreams, but grows up in a small town.”

Many teens are like
that, with mega-dreams about sports or show business.

For Josh Radnor,
that began in a high school “Cabaret” in Columbus, Ohio. “I
had a guidance counselor who pulled me aside and said, 'You are not
allowed to stop acting.'”

Rosie Perez recalls
a field trip when she was about 12, to see “The Wiz” on Broadway.
“I remember ... this young, black girl talking about 'Home,' and it
resonated with me. It was the first time I cried in public and I
wasn't embarrassed. It changed me as a person.”

In “Rise,” they
play a theater director and his assistant, with Lilette as their
star.

This is a small
town, Cravalho said, with bleak expectations. That's “something
(Lilette) doesn't want for herself – but something that she's used
to other people putting on her.”

It's nothing like
Cravalho's sunny childhood. “I've been singing for as long as I can
remember.”

She was a big reader
(her family didn't have a TV) and occasional performer who was an
understudy in her school musical. Then came “Moana” and a chance
to rise to fame.

(The other story)

By Mike Hughes

In many places,
lawyers might face a blur of dull words and drab cases .

Then there's the
setting for ABC's “For the People” -- the federal court for the
Southern District of New York.

Its real-life cases
have ranged from the sinking of the Titanic to the deflating of
footballs, from treason and terrorism to the Watergate and Teapot
Dome scandals. Its defendants have included Bernie Madoff, Martha
Stewart, Bess Myerson, Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs.

And now we see it
through the eyes of young lawyers on both sides. “It's a very, very
personal show,” said Rege-Jean Page.

Three young actors
(including Page) play prosecutors; three play public defenders. They
are smart, but inexperienced, thrust into a big-stakes arena.

They “are doing
their best to run the machine right,” Page said. “I think seeing
people struggle to serve ... justice is hugely inspiring to me.”

And to others.
“Every episode, halfway through I'm thinking, 'Maybe I'll quit
acting and become a public defender,” Jasmin Savoy Brown said.

She plays Allison, a
public defender with a tangled personal life. As the show starts, she
shares her apartment with another defender (Sandra, played by Britt
Robertson) and a prosecutor (Seth, Ben Rappaport).

Seth is Jasmin's
lover, of course. That happens a lot in shows from Shonda Rhimes.

Other producers may
shy away from sex-in-the-workplace issues, but not Rhimes. “I think
it's very clear what's OK and what's not,” she said.

In her “Grey's
Anatomy” and “Scandal,” doctors and politicians are romantic
and lustful, but they approach their work diligently. So do the
“People” lawyers.

That reflects
reality, said Hope Davis, who plays a supervisor. She followed some
real-life public defenders, who are often outmanned and outspent.
“They're fierce and they're fighters .... They're so passionate
about it.”

-- “Rise,” NBC;
and “For the People,” ABC.

-- Both debut at 10
p.m. March 13; a week later, “Rise” moves to 9 p.m., “People”
stays at 10.