Quietly (of course), "British Bake Off" nears its PBS finale


Lately, PBS has offered dazzling settings ("Kingdoms of the Sky"), complex dramas ("Endeavour") and a gripping look at modern-day hatred ("Frontline"), Still, some of its success comes from quiet shows like "Antiques Roadshow" and "The Great British Bake Off." Now the latter is ending its PBS run, Aug. 10 and 17; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

LOS ANGELES -- For
TV people, life is a grand guessing game.

They try big things
– epic shows that span the globe and span centuries. And then ...
well, they succeed with old reruns that have pleasant folks baking
things in the English countryside.

That's been the
experience for PBS, which is down to its last two “Great British
Bake Off” episodes.

“We knew it had
been successful in the U.K.,” said Paula Kerger, PBS' president. “I
had no expectation that it was going to be as successful here as it
turned out to be. I think people really loved it.”

It was so popular
that PBS dug out an old season. The one airing now ran six years ago
in England.

(Yes, that means you
could search Online and learn who won. But that's always been the
case; PBS ran other seasons a year after the British. That's why you
shouldn't have “Bake Off” pools at your office.)

Other networks have
also pointed to hardy audiences for food shows. At recent Television
Critics Association sessions, there were comments about:

-- Individual shows.
“Gordon Ramsay's '24 Hours to Hell and Back' is the No. 1 new show
of the summer,” said Dana Walden, CEO of the Fox Television Group.

-- An entire
network. “Our network is on fire,” said Food Network president
Allison Page, “with second-quarter ratings up 14 percent over last
year, for adults 25-54.”

-- And public-TV,
which has had food success since launching Julia Child's show 55
years ago.

“Food is a
powerful thing,” Kerger said, “both from the creation of it –
which 'Great British Bake Off' represented – but also the cultural
role that food plays, in bringing people together.”

The latter concept
was clear as the late Anthony Bourdain traveled the world; his reruns
have continued on CNN and the Travel Channel.

And it's been
reflected in PBS' “No Passports Required” with Marcus Samuelsson,
who was born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, then thrives as a
Harlem chef. It “has done extraordinarily well this summer, as
another way of looking at food,” Kerger said.

By comparison, “Bake
Off” is stationary: Under a tent in rural England, a dozen laymen
tackle challenges amiably. The group this season (actually 2012)
ranged from a gym teacher to a vicar's wife.

After eight seasons
on England's public-TV networks, the show has moved to a commercial
one. Both hosts and judge Mary Berry dropped out; so did PBS. Kerger
calls it “sort of the legacy of public broadcasting, with many
things that we have started (moving) to commercial television.”

Instead, PBS went
way back, grabbing the only available season it hadn't shown. (here
were two others, from 2010 and 2011, but they weren't shot in
high-definition.).

So things will end
with 2012. Over these final two weeks, we'll see a semi-retiree
compete with an intensive-care specialist, a law student and a
medical student.

At least, they were
students back then. Don't look it up; it's more fun this way.

-- “The Great
British Bake Off,” 9 p.m. Fridays, most PBS stations.

-- Aug. 10 has the
final four doing petits fours, fraisier cakes and choux gateaus; Aug.
17 has three going for the championship.

-- Still in the
running are the oldest contestant (Brendan Lynch, who was then 63 and
a recruitment consultant) and the two youngest, James Morton, 21, a
medical sudent, and John Whaite, 23, a law student. Also, Daniele
Bryden, 45, an intensive-care specialist.

-- “No Passport
Required” concludes its first season at 9 p.m. Aug. 7 (the Haitian
community in Miami) and 8 p.m. Aug. 14 (Ethiopian community in
Washington, D.C.). Check local listings.

-- Other
food-related shows: Gordon Ramsay at 8 and 9 p.m. Wednesdays on Fox,
plus a rerun, 8-10 p.m. Aug. 9... “Sugar Rush” on Netflix ... All
day on Food Network and Cooking Channel ... and more.

 

In T.I.'s show -- and in his life -- it's all about the hustle


Even if rap music isn't one of your favorites, you'd find Tip "T.I." Harris interesting. The guy has a high-octane life -- something he's teaching in his reality competition show, "The Grand Hustle." Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

LOS ANGELES -- Lots
of folks can't rap or write or act. What they can do, they think, is
hustle.

Or maybe not. Just
ask Tip “T.I.” Harris, who has mastered all of those skills and
now has a TV show about the art of the hustle.
“Your hustle
(should) maintain the speed of your city,” he said. Atlanta has “a
tenacious energy in the air. As soon as you get out of the airport in
Atlanta, you kind of can feel people moving to accomplish goals and
reach their dreams.”

That's where he's
built a big-deal career. He's had three albums reach No. 1 on the
Billboard charts and four more reach the top five .... He's been in
movies, including two big-budget “Ant-man” films as Dave, the
hero's friend and crew member .... He's done three reality shows
(including the current “The Grand Hustle”), plus fashion, real
estate and more.

“Tip has never
stopped since the moment I met him,” said Brian Sher, who is his
agent and produces “Grand Hustle” with him. “He's always,
always moving.”

That really is
“always,” Sher said, complicated by the fact that they live three
time zones apart. “I'll wake up in the morning and I'll have missed
calls from him – one at 2:15 a.m., one at 4:15 a.m. and one at 5.
And texts saying, 'Call me. Where are you? What are you doing?'”

That's the sort of
approach Harris, 37, expects from “Hustle” contestants, as they
vie for a job in his company. One task involved a music event to show
off his new performers.

“They spent so
much time on decorations and refreshments,” Harris said, “that
they didn't spend enough time getting bodies in the room.”

He soon gave them an
angry lecture. “That is Tip being Tip .... He was genuinely
furious,” Sher said.

The hustling began
early, Harris said. “I started selling candy in 4th
grade. I'd get $100, break it into five twenties. (With) each $20,
I'd get $100 worth of candy .... I did that in 4th, 5th,
6th grade. And that's how I got all my bike accessories
and all of my little toys and such.”

The toys are bigger
now, but he says the key is the same: “Work ethic. You had to be
willing to show up early, leave late, accept opportunities others
passed up.”

Still, let's not
confuse Harris with a Boy Scout. This is a high school drop-out who
has been arrested often (mainly for drugs and probation violation),
once sentenced to three years in prison. Even after his success in
music, he wasn't bringing a work ethic to his movie career.

“'ATL' was my
first movie,” Harris said. “They probably paid me about 75 cents.
(In music), I was at the height of my career, probably had just
received $12-13 million. So I'm showing up late, just doing all the
things that people who shoot movies hate to see ....

“Finally, Brian
had to break it to me that, 'Man, if you're late agan, you're going
to get fired.'”

He promptly changed
his ways, he says, and expects the “Grand Hustle” people to do
the same.

“T.I. and his crew
will choose one person to be named king or queen of the hustle,”
said Connie Orlando, BET's programming chief. “The winner will
land a six-figure project managing one of T.I.'s companies.”

It will be an
enviable job ... assuming that person doesn't mind getting lots of
late-night phone calls.

-- “The Grand
Hustle,” 10 p.m . Thursdays, BET, rerunning at 11.

-- Began, with 16
contestants, on July 20

 

A low-key guy finds life behind the lodge door


Chances are, you really want to see the "Better Call Saul" season-opener Monday (Aug. 6) ... so you might as well stick around afterward for the debut of "Lodge 49." It's slow and quiet, as a low-key guy stumbles into a new direction for his life. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

LOS ANGELES --
Television is full of hard-charging, high-octane types.

Its people –
lawyers and doctors, cops and crooks – try to save or destroy each
other and/or the world.

Then there's “Lodge
49,” the new cable drama. “We're proud of having the least
aspirational characters,” said showrunner Peter Ocko.

They aspire to get
by. Dud (Wyatt Russell) surfs; his sister Liz (Sonya Cassidy) works
in a restaurant and chokes in debt.

He's “optimistic
and looking forward to (finding) a way out of the unhappiness,”
Cassidy said. “Whereas she (is just) existing.”

Then he finds a
lodge he never knew about and people he couldn't imagine.

At the root was
writer Jim Gavin's curiosity about the fraternal lodges he saw.

“Driving by all
these dusty, old places in Southern California,” he said, he was
“amazed that they're still there” and wondered what happened
inside. An image formed “of a young man knocking on a door and an
older man opening it.”

Somehow, that seems
to fit a changing world.

Some generations had
lots of personal ties – lodges, churches, military buddies, sewing
circles, extended families; some modern ones don't. “You can ...
see your natural tendency of closing yourself off to other relations
as you grow older and as your ideas become more set,” Russell said.

And that loneliness
can somehow be greater in a crowded place and in a tech world. “In
many ways, social media ... isolates us,” Gavin said. By
comparison, there's the lodge, where “people can actually meet
face-to-face, (as opposed to) a world where people are armed with
digital hate cannons.”

This is “a
blue-collar country club,” said Brent Jennings, who plays one of
the older guys. “These are people who have had their ups and downs,
(but) they're always getting back up ... They suffer with joy.”

-- “Lodge 49,”
10 p.m. Mondays, AMC

-- Debut (after
“Better Call Saul” season-opener) 10:05 p.m. Aug. 6, rerunning at
12:21 and 2:37 a.m.

 

British actresses juggle genres ... and streaming services


When summertime TV and movies are at their silliest, we need some serious British moments. Fortunately, two streaming service are available. Here's the story I sent to papers, about the serv ices and the actresses.

By Mike Hughes

LOS ANGELES -- Each
August, Americans can grumble about reruns and reality shows.

Or they can try a
handy solution to many problems: Turn to the British.

Two streaming
services offer huge troves of scripted British shows, past and
present. They are:

-- Acorn, the older
one. It's been around for 24 years (first via VHS) and has a huge
library.

-- Britbox. It's
only in it second year, but its owners (BBC and ITV) provided a big
backlog.

Acorn is now
pillaging the rest of the British empire, adding shows from
Australia, New Zealand and even Canada. Britbox remains “proudly
and unapologetically British,” said Soumya Sriraman, the channel's
president for North America. “We are the English channel of English
channels.”

Both stream piles of
scripted dramas and comedies, low on special effects and high on
clever dialog delivered by gifted actors. Let's meet two who leap
between both channels and both genres.

-- Rachael Stirling
now stars in Britbox's “Bletchley Circle: San Francisco,” a
spin-off of a series that was on PBS. But she also co-stars in the
quiet comedy “The Detectorists,” in the Acorn library.

-- Joanna Scanlan
stars in “No Offence,” a brash cop show that brings its new
season Monday on Acorn. But she's also in Britbox's upcoming “Hold
the Sunset,”alongside comedy legend John Cleese.

The two are
opposites in many ways. Stirling is tall and thin; Scanlan is
neither. Stirling spent her teen years at boarding school; Scanlan
spent hers working at her parents' small hotel. “It helped my
writing, my storytelling,” she said. It let her overhear odd
stories and odd lives.

Scanlan 56, would
use that skill to create and star in “Getting On,” a hospital
comedy-drama that brought British nominations for her writing and her
acting. She almost starred in the American version on HBO, she said;
“then they found Alex Borstein, who was amazing.”

But she didn't start
writing until she was 30, in a career that has advanced gradually.

By comparison,
Stirling, 41 – the daughter of Dame Diana Rigg – started fast.
She was Desdemona for the National Youth Theatre and did her first
movie (“Still Crazy”) at 17, while in school. “I turned in my
thesis from the Winnebago” trailer on the movie lot.

A decade later, she
starred in “Tipping the Velvet,” doing passionate lesbian scenes.
That drew praise, but slowed her career. “Every script I got had me
taking off someone's knickers in the first 10 minutes .... I decided
to put my pride aside,” taking supporting roles in film and
starring ones onstage.

That has served her
well, including two nominations for London theater's Olivier Awards.
It's an art form that Dame Diana also masters. “I just saw her in
'My Fair Lady.' At 80, she's fantastic.”

One difference is in
parenting. Boarding school used to be standard for the children of
busy British actresses. Now Stirling is married and takes her
1-year-old to work “He's our mascot,” she said.

Now she has some
extra TV stardom: In “Bletchley,” Stirling and Julie Graham play
former World War II codebreakers who find new mysteries in San
Francisco.

By comparison,
Scanlan didn't expect starring roles, unless she wrote them herself.
Then her agent insisted she try for the “No Offence” lead. “Just
to shut her up, I agreed to do (the audition).”

She got the role,
complete with blonde wig and big attitude. The character has little
in common with her “Hold the Sunset” character, whose confidence
crumbles when she's back home. Stiill, she says, “Sunset” is
“closer to (playing) myself than a lot of roles I've had.”

That's British-style
acting – from Desdemona to knickers-grabbing to code-breaking, from
running a police station to being hesitent at home. It's the sort of
acting that propels the streaming services.

-- Britbox,
www.britbox.com. Stirling's
“Bletchley Circle: San Francisco” has a new episode each
Thursday; Scanlan's “Hold the Sunset” is coming later this year.

-- Acorn,
www.acorn.tv. Scanlan's “No
Offence” arrives Monday (Aug. 6); three seasons of “The
Detectorists” (with Stirling in support) are in its library.

-- Both have monthly
fees, with a free trial period.

 

Life at Hallmark: Usually pleasant, always busy


At 9 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5, two new shows collide -- "Chesapeake Shores" and a "Garage Sale Mysteries" movie. Both are pretty, both are pleasant (usually) and both are Hallmark.

Even in summer, Hallmark is busy. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

LOS ANGELES -- This
is the world of the 10-week Christmas.

It's the spot for
secret princes, long-lost loves and good intentions. In pretty
places, pretty people confront mildly ugly problems, then resolve
them.

It's the land of the
Hallmark channels, which have been busy lately.

In her semi-annual
dinner with the Television Critics Association and the Hallmark
stars, programming chief Michelle Vicary offered extreme numbers: In
a one-year stretch, her two channels will have 90 new movies ... four
scripted series ... a dozen specials ... a Christmas marathon that
stretches for 10 weeks ... and a two-hour block each weekday morning.

Personifying that is
Cameron Mathison, who could be the Hallmark prototype. He's tall,
handsome, cheerfully Canadian and fully employed; he's making two
Hallmark movies and taking over as the new co-host of the daily “Home
and Family.”

That requires him to
chat about endless subjects. Mathison has had experience with some of
them – especially parenting and do-it-yourself projects – but not
all. “I don't know anything about cooking,” he said, “but I'm
looking forward to surprising my family.”

He'll start in
September; before that, Hallmark gets a jump on competition. Each
Sunday in August – a sleepy month for other channels – it has:

-- A new “Garage
Sale Mystery” on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel. Lori
Loughlin – who also co-stars in Hallmark's “When Calls the Heart”
-- plays a crimesolving antiques dealer.

-- A new season of
“Chesapeake Shores” -- a four-generation drama – on Hallmark.

Before Vicary's
speech, two “Chesapeake” stars – Treat Williams and Jesse
Metcalfe – chatted cheerily. Williams had been back to New York; he
recalled doing Broadway shows (including three years in “Grease”)
and then grabbing the bus to his apartment. “That was my life for
nine years.”

A few minutes later,
Vicary was showing a clip of them in verbal combat: Mick O'Brien
(Williams) was battling Trace Riley (Metcalfe), his daughter's true
love.

Mick does that a
lot. In the season-opener, he shatters his son with a sharp business
deal. In another episode, he demands that a daughter (a successful
playwright) ditch the novel she's written.

In Hallmark's
low-stress world, those are major problems. And by Hallmark
standards, the “Home and Family” change was startling: On May 31,
Mark Steines was suddenly dropped as host.

Steines had been
there from the start, hosting more than 1,200 episodes over six
years, alongside Paige Davis, then Cristina Ferrare and then Debbie
Matenopoulos. Both sides insisted there was no scandal – just the
usual talk of “creative differences”; but the change was abrupt
and ... well, un-Hallmark.

The show promptly
had a summer of guest hosts ... then chose close to a Steines copy:

Steines, 53, and
Mathison, 46, have both been “Entertainment Tonight” hosts. Both
are athletes; Steines was an all-state linebacker and played at
Northern Iowa; Mathison played basketball at McGill University, golfs
with a 5 handicap and recently tied Terrell Owens for a celebrity
dunk championship.

Both bring the
direct manner you expect from Iowans and Canadians. Mathison hopes to
learn a little about parenting – his kids are 15 and 12 – and a
lot about food.

And linking with
Matenopoulos? “Debbie and I are great friends,” he said. “And
we hosted a show on the Style Network.”

The world promptly
forgot Style's “Instant Beauty Pageant.” On Hallmark, things seem
to last longer.

-- “Chesapeake
Shores” season-opener, 9 p.m. Sunday (Aug. 5), Hallmark

-- “Garage Sale
Mysteries: The Pandora Box Murders” debut, also 9 p.m. Sunday,
Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, preceded by previous “Garage Sale”
films at 1, 3, 5 and 7 p.m.

-- Three more
“Garage Sale” movies will follow on consecutive Sundays; also,
the Hallmark Channel promises it will have something new (series or
movie) every remaining Saturday and Sunday in 2018.

-- “Home and
Family,” 10 a.m. to noon weekdays, Hallmark. New episodes resume in
September