It's a blue world of flying fish, big bubbles and quick sex changes

Some of TV's finest work has gone into the various "Planet Earth" projects. BBC people mix technical skill, esthetic brilliance and solid science. Now the second underwater edition is Saturdays on BBC America; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Deep below the
surface, there are worlds we never imagined.

There are clever
fish that crack shells ... leaping ones that snag birds ... and
pleasant ones that then change sex and attitude.

“Changing sex is
commonplace in the ocean,” said Mark Brownlow, a producer of
cable's lush “Planet Earth: Blue Planet II.”

are even “gender-fluid fish” that change often, said producer
James Honeyborne. Still, he's struck by the kobudai, which does it
spectacularly. As a female, it's gentle; then comes the
transformation: “That male is an extraordinary expression of
testosterone, with a huge head and wobbly chin” and aggressive

the experts find new things
Brownlee is struck by the
tusk fish: “It picks up a clam and smashes it against its coral
anvil, to open it up and get to the meat inside .... We never really
thought that fish were capable of these levels of complex behavior.”

David Attenborough, 91, can still be surprised. He marvels at a
trevally, leaping at low-flying birds. They “have to calculate
where it's going to be,” he said. “It would take a bank of
computers to do that, but that's what the trevally does. It comes out
of the water and wallop! It's quite extraordinary.”

started in TV's black-and-white days, far from this mega-project

took over four years,” said BBC America president Sarah Barnett.
“The teams mounted 125 expeditions, visited 39 countries and filmed
on every continent.”

means every one; Antarctica is prominent in Saturday's episode.

expeditions were “utter disaster,” producer Orla Doherty said,
and some brought bonuses. Had one arrived a day later, it would have
found nothing. Instead, it filmed a spectacle -- “giant bubbles,
just shooting out like rockets. It was like we had landed on another

-- “Planet Earth:
Blue Planet II,” 9 p.m. Saturdays, BBC America.

-- Second episode,
Jan. 27, includes Antarctica. It's surrounded by a rerun of the
original, 11-hour “Planet Earth,” from noon to 9 p.m. and 10:30
p.m. to 12:30 a.m.

Well, maybe we don't have to get physical

Sometimes,TV just goes for the fun. Tha's the case with "Let's Get Physical," a broad comedy starrig people who have varying attitudes about their bodies and the gym. Here's the story I sent to papers.


By Mike Hughes

OK, we can forget
one new-year's resolution.

That's the one about
going to the gym. The stars of cable's new “Let's Get Physical”
downplay that.

“You could never
go to the gym, (but) eat correctly,” Chris Diamantopoulos said.
“And ... people would think (you spend) hours at the gym every

The comedy has a
chunky chap (Matt Jones, who plays Baxter on “Mom”) inherit an
old gym, which he runs with his mother (Jane Seymour). His former
girlfriend (AnnaLynne McCord) and his old nemesis (Diamantopoulos)
are married and have a competing gym.

“Our gym kind of
represents the '80s (and) the cheesiness of aerobics,” Jones said.
Theirs is “very scientific and soulless.”

That seems to work
for them. Diamantopoulos, 42, and McCord, 30, look sleek and slick;
we assume they've spent a lifetime working out.

“I hate the gym,”
McCord said. “I hate it ... Getting up and having to do something
where I sweat sounds just terrible.”

Diamantopoulos does
it, but not voluntarily. “My brother runs a strength facility and
... I'm sort of his guinea pig.”

But he mostly
credits food -- “lots of vegetables and some fruits” -- and mere
luck. “Having good genes is a good place to start.”

And instead of gyms?
“I like the brain gym,” McCord said. “I would rather spend my
time reading.”

Onscreen, she plays
seductresses – Eden in “Nip/Tuck,” Naomi in “90210,” even
The Siren in “Bad Girl Island.” Offscreen, she talks fondly about
Scrabble. Her scores are in the 350 to 400 range, she said, and her
best for one play is 78. In Scrabble circles, those are great

What all of the
“Let's Get Physical” people do have in common is a different sort
of activity – the fierce energy of song, dance and musicals:

-- McCord grew up in
a modest-income home, where her father -- “very altruistic, always
talking to people” -- sometimes was a pastor in Seventh Day
Adventist and other churches. She memorized and recited all the lines
in a school play, until her sister simply gave her the role she was
going to have. At 15, she graduated from high school, started
modeling and became an actress.

-- Diamantopoulos
split his childhood between Toronto (where his dad ran a Greek radio
station) and Athens. “Greek was my first language,” he said. He
started theater early and persisted as a pro -- “eight shows a week
for 12 years.” That peaked last month, with Fox's live production
of “A Christmas Story” ... after several troubled rehearsals.
“The only time we got it right was that night.”

-- Seymour, 66,
takes more easily to the work-out world. “I used to be a ballet
dancer, back in the day, and I actually was on the cover of Jane
Fonda's workout book for pregnancy – in a striped leotard.” Now
she races between roles, business and more; on the day after this
interview, she was flying overseas for a charity project. “She
can't stay still,” Jones said.

-- Jones, 36, can
stay still, quite happily. “I'd rather eat and have a drink than
wake up and go to the gym .... Food is really great,” he said. But
he has stayed busy, doing theater and singing in a rock band. “He's
got a great voice,” Diamantopoulos said. “Really, truly.”

Jones said he does
sometimes go to the gym and finds the habit understandable. “A lot
of people ... want to feel part of something, want to feel like in a
club, want to feel like they're being proactive.”

Maybe we shouldn't
dump that resolution after all.

-- “Let's Get
Physical,” 8:31 p.m. Wednesdays, Pop (formerly TV Guide), after
“Schitt's Creek”

-- Debut repeats at
11:31 p.m.; then 11:30 a.m. Thursday and that night at 12:30 a.m.

From "Waco" to "Yellowstone," the Paramount Network arrives

A new name popped up in TV listings Thursday (Jan. 18), leaving viewers with a question: What is the Paramount Network, anyway?

Well, it's a little like Spike (which it replaces, after Spike replaced The Nashville Network and The National Network) and a little like Paramount Pictures, its owner. Its image may be clearer when the "Waco" mini-series starts Wednesday (Jan. 24); here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

The name “Paramount
Pictures” represents a century of Hollywood history.

And the name
“Paramount Network”? It represents a week of viewer confusion.

Eventually, the
images might start to merge. That could be when the network wraps its
six-week “Waco” mini-series ... or when it debuts a “Heathers”
series March 7 ... or when it launches Kevin Costner's “Yellowstone”
series this summer.

Those point to a
goal. Kevin Kay, the network president, calls for shows that are
“cinematic in scope.”

In short, he wants
ones that are kind of like Paramount movies. That's a stretch for a
network that has previously been know as The Nashville Network, The
National Network and Spike.

Spike's image was
clear, Kay said. Its audience was “sometimes 70, 80-percent male in
prime time.” But it was owned by Viacom, which also has Paramount
Pictures; now comes the makeover.

The new name brings
lots of memories. Paramount is the studio of “Gump,” “Grease”
and “Godfather,” of the “Star Trek” and Indiana Jones films,
plus “Titanic,” “Top Gun,” “Airplane” and more. The
network doesn't particularly have access to any of those, but it does
have the tradition.

Among the major
studios, Paramount is the second-oldest – it's 102, Universal is
104 – and the only one still based in Hollywood. Costner remembers
making “The Untouchables” there and feels movie tradition is
important. “I like our history,” he said. “It's flawed and it's
great and it's a lot of things, but we're all standing on the
shoulders of people.”

The flaws have been
obvious lately. (“Waco” and “Yellowstone” were co-productions
with Harvey Weinstein's company, which is being extricated from both
shows.) So have the strengths; the new network will have:

-- Some reality
shows -- “Lip Sync Battle,” “Bar Rescue,” “Ink Masters”
-- carried over from Spike.

-- Comedies. Coming
are “American Woman,” an Alicia Silverstone show based on Kyle
Richards' eccentric childhood, and possibly an adaptation of “First
Wives Club.” First is “Heathers,” adapted by Jason Micallef,
who watched the 1989 movie on homevideo – often. “'Heathers' was
my 'Star Wars' .... I loved that it was a dark-but-funny view on

-- Documentaries.
Keith Cox, the network production chief, said that includes films on
Trayvon Martin and, April 2, on Martin Luther King, “told through
the prism of Dr. King's most iconic speeches.”

-- Movies and
reruns, a key for most cable networks.

-- Dramas, which is
where Paramount may finally seem like Paramount. That could peak in
June with “Yellowstone,” which has Costner owning a mega-ranch
near the national park.

Fresh from
triumphing with the low-budget “Wind River,” writer-director
Taylor Sheridan found several networks interested. He said he chose
Paramount because it offered “complete creative freedom ... almost
too much of it. I told them my vision, I told them how I wanted to
make it, and they agreed.”

Before that, there's
“Waco,” sprawling over six Wednesdays, with Taylor Kitsch as
David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidian complex. Producers leaned
heavily on David Thibodeau and Gary Noesner, who wrote books about
the 1993 siege.

Thibodeau – one of
only nine people to survive the compound fire – speaks well of
Koresh. “He was always a reasonable individual the entire time that
I (knew) him. I think what happened was the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) messed up horribly on the first
day. And then the FBI came in and the miscommunication was so

Noesner, the
government negotiator, tried to bridge the gap. “I couldn't get
David Koresh and my on-scene commander to act reasonable at the same
time,” he said.

The final
confrontation was giant in scale and impact ... something that may
define a new cable network that bears an old studio's name.

-- “Waco,” 10
p.m. Wednesdays, Paramount; six weeks, beginning Jan. 24


Friends in an age of bias, they meet again after 75 years

It's time for some real-life stories that stir genuine emotion. When Ann Curry's "We'll Meet Again" debuts Tuesday (Jan. 23), it shows reunions of people who met during a time of World War II rage. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

For two decades,
Reiko Nagumo has told the story to schoolkids.

She was a California
kid, just like them, when her world changed instantly. Japan bombed
Pearl Harbor; as a 7-year-old with Japanese roots, she was bullied by
many kids, befriended by one.

“Mary Frances had
been a very strong friend and a beacon to me,” recalled Nagumo, who
is featured in the opener of Ann Curry's “We'll Meet Again”
series. “I depended on her friendship.”

She told the story
often – usually while telling 5th-graders about her
years in a Japanese internment camp. Everyday gestures, she told
them, can make a huge impact.

But she had no
answer to their logical question: Whatever happened to Mary Frances?

Some attempts to
find her had gone nowhere. “I was going to have to die before
telling Mary Frances ... how much she meant to me,” Nagumo felt.

Then the
London-based producers of Curry's series heard about it. They linked
her to genealogists, who found a cousin; that's when the friend first
heard that someone from grade school was looking for her.

“I said, 'Well,
it's got to be Reiko,'” said the friend, now named Mary Peters. “I
had never forgotten her; I just wasn't looking like she was looking.”

Both women have had
busy lives. Nagumo was a nurse, working in Cambodia and Egypt and
then in California; Peters was a business executive, retiring in
Kentucky. She admits that those school days aren't vivid to her. “My
memory of my childhood is very slim.”

As Curry sees it,
that makes this even more impressive. It's “the idea that you could
do something that you can barely even remember now” that might
change someone's life.

This is the sort of
story British producer Justine Kershaw was looking for. She has her
own reunion story, involving the Greek goat-herder who rescued her
after a fall, and suspects many others do, too.

The first step was
finding the right news person to link with. She found Curry by
“literally, just Googling .... Every piece I saw just convinced me
that this was the person.”

The series arrives
at a vibrant time for newswomen. Curry worked at “Today” for 15
years and in 2011 became the anchor with Matt Lauer; she was dropped
from that job a year later and left NBC in 2015.

As her show arrives,
she faces questions about Lauer. Responding carefully in a “CBS
This Morning” interview, Curry said “there was a climate of
verbal harassment” at NBC and “I am not surprised by the
allegations” of sexual misconduct that led to Lauer being fired.

Speaking to the
Television Critics Association before the sexual-harassment issue had
broken open, Curry did indicate disappointment in TV news. “I am
getting a lot of my news, actually, from print.”

But she also was
optimistic. “I suspect we are heading toward a potential
renaissance .... To me, journalism is church and I'm very hopeful for
its future.”

-- “We'll Meet
Again,” 8 p.m. Tuesdays, PBS; then at

-- The opener, Jan.
23, has World War II stories -- Reiko Nagumo's search for a friend
who resisted girlhood bias, Peter Engler's search for the daughter of
the people who befriended him in a Jewish ghetto in Shanghai.

-- Runs for six
weeks; other stories range from Vietnam to the aftermath of the Sept.
11 attack.


A brief, brilliant life gets a superb TV portrait

The upcoming "American Masters" (Friday, Jan. 19) is one of the best TV films I've seen in a long time. (And yes, I've seem a lot of TV.) It beautifully portrays the short, brilliant life of playwright Lorraine Hansberry. Here's the story I sent to papers.

By Mike Hughes

Almost 60 years ago, theater producers were fretting about a landmark

“A Raisin in the
Sun” -- the first Broadway show written by a black woman -- was an
intensely realistic look at a family on Chicago's South Side.

“There was a
fear,” recalled Lou Gossett, then a 22-year-old in a supporting
role. “Mostly, a fear that started with the Schuberts (who owned
the theater) .... Who was going to understand it? Are people who buy
the tickets going to be insulted?”

As the first act
ended, he said, the audience was silent. “We thought we had

People had simply
been too emotional to react, he soon found. As the show ended, there
was a thunderous ovation. “That was a magic night.”

Hansberry would win
the Pulitzer Prize, become an instant New York celebrity ... then die
(at 34, of cancer) six years later, shortly after her second Broadway
show had failed.

however, lingers -- two Broadway revivals, a musical, a movie and two
TV movies. And now Hansberry's story is vividly told by PBS filmmaker
Tracy Heather Strain. “This is something I've wanted to do for
almost 40 years,” she said.

Strain was a
teen-ager in Harrisburg, Pa., when her grandmother announced they
were going to “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” a play molded from
Hansberry's essays.

“I don't know what
it was about Lorraine, but it was like a thunderbolt,” she
recalled. “Here was a young, black woman who had thought about the
same issues I had.”

Strain was
Harvard-bound; her grandmother had worked as a domestic. Both were
moved by the words of Hansberry – who grew up in a prosperous black
family and kept fighting for her neighbors.

Eventually, Strain
would dump her advertising/marketing major and switch to filmmaking.
She's worked on several “American Experience” documentaries and
started compiling a Hansberry film – gradually. “It's been a long
journey,” she said. “It's been 14 years.”

It took five years,
Strain said, to get an interview with Sidney Poitier, the original
“Raisin” star. She caught several key people (including director
Lloyd Richards) before their deaths. Others are still around, with
vivid memories of Hansberry.

“I always saw
sparks of that fire in her,” Gossett said. “It scared me from
time to time .... She was not easy to get to, so I just looked at her
as somebody quite brilliant.”

-- “American
Masters -- Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes, Feeling Heart”

-- 9 p.m. Friday,