In Flint, the tragedy continues and the cameras return


For more than three years, the Flint water cisis has offered a compelling story of official failure and citizen success. Now comes a fresh focus via TV -- a PBS documentary soon (May 31), a Lifetime movie later. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

To some people, the
water crisis in Flint, Mich., is old news, now resolved.

The national stories
have been written. The original water source has been re-instated.
Officials have been rebuked, in some cases indicted. “When the
lights went out and the cameras (left), the narrative ended,” said
the Rev. Lee Bailey of Flint.

But now the cameras
are back. On Wednesday, PBS' “Nova” has a fresh hour on the
subject; meanwhile, filming has started on a cable movie starring
Queen Latifah.

The story lingers,
Flint people say. “The crisis is over,” said Gina Luster. “Now
it's a disaster.”

Much of the impact
remains with kids. Marla Garland, 43, says her teens have been
hospitalized recently with stomach pains, diarrhea and more.

But adults have also
been impacted. “I'm still in constant pain,” said Luster, also
43. “Out of a month, I might have three good days.”

Her father, Veo
Luster, 61, happens to be one of the contractors digging up old pipes
and putting in new ones. “You're in the infancy stage of it,” he
said. “I give it seven years.”

But this new
attention also brings good news. “Americans really owe Flint a huge
debt of gratitude,” said Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech professor
who sees other cities having similar problems.

A similar crisis
gripped Washington, D.C., for a decade, Edwards said, but officials
denied it. “It really showed you why a lie is so powerful .... If
you get away with it, you keep your job.”

In Flint, people
didn't let that happen. “LeeAnne (Walters) is a classic example of
someone who would not take no for an answer,” said Siddhartha Roy,
who works with Edwards at Virginia Tech.

Edwards calls
Walters a “hero mom” and “Erin Brockovich on steroids”; Paula
Apsell, the “Nova” producer, sees her as “a real citizen
scientist.”

Walters, 39, had
taken a one-year medical-assistant course and worked for a half-year.
Tthen, with her husband in the Navy, she stayed at home with her
pre-school twin sons and teen-aged daughter.

That's when she
noticed the problems, after the city switched its water source to the
Flint River. Soon, one twin was undersized and often sick.

Others also had
problems with the water. “It was brown,” said Robert Mitchner,
45. “It started smelling bad .... My son was afraid to take a
bath.”

Officials at the
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality were unresponsive,
Walters said. “Their approach was, 'We've got the education and you
don't. Know your role.'”

Then she contacted
Miguel Del Toral, an Environmental Protection Agency manager in
Chicago. “Miguel was the first person who didn't treat me like I
was crazy or didn't know anything,” she said.

She read scientific
reports and faxed reports to him. It was the first time, she said,
anyone realized that officials – despite their reports to the
contrary – hadn't added the required corrosion-control chemicals.

A year after the
water-source change, Walters was pointed toward Edwards. “When she
called me in April 2015, all the science was done,” he said.
“LeeAnne figured out everything (including) that the state had lied
to the EPA in writing about using corrosion control.”

He brought an army
of student volunteers from Virginia Tech, to bring a new round of
Flint testing. In October of 2015 – 18 months after the original
switch – Flint went back to its original water source. The next
step involves water filters and the replacement of pipes battered by
corrosive water.

The “Nova” film
was greeted enthusiastically at a Flint screening last week. “I
started to cry,” said Michael Vincent, 53, a Flint chiropractor.
“We got answers.”

Some wished it had
focused on the actions of public officials. That issue is still
debated.

Edwards, furious
about the failures of his fellow scientists, feels others are
relatively blameless: “Scientists ad engineers turned into
environmental criminals .... The officials did the right thing. They
reached out to the appropriate people at the EPA and (MDEQ) and,
unfortunately, they were lied to.”

Still,Walters
argues, officials shouldn't have been so quick to believe the
scientists and ignore the public. “When all those people tell you
there's a problem, you have to do something.”

-- “Nova: Poisoned
Water,” 9 p.m. Wednesday (May 31), PBS

-- “Flint” is
now filming in Canada and Lifetime hasn't set an airdate. Bruce
Beresford, who directed the Oscar-winning “Driving Miss Daisy,”
has a cast led by Queen Latifah. Betsy Brandt (“Life in Pieces”)
plays LeeAnne Walters, with Rob Morrow (“Northern Exposure”) as
Marc Edwards.

 

Teens soaring -- Scotty and Auli'i found dizzyig route to the top


Each year, on the eve of Memorial Day, PBS delivers a terrific blend of music and emotion. Sunday's concert happens to include two people who found teen stardom -- Scotty McCreery an d Auli'i Cravalho; here's the story I sent to papers.

By Mike Hughes

In the swirl of
show-business, this keeps happening:

A talented teen from
nowhere (or nearby) is suddenly everywhere. It's dizzying and fun and
scary.

Scotty McCreery, who
sings Sunday in PBS' Memorial Day eve concert, knows that. He'd done
other intense things – pitching in baseball, winning “American
Idol” at 17, singing at the Opry -- before the first time he went
to Washington and met the president. “It's a different kind of
scary,” he said.

Now Auli'i Cravalho,
16, arrives. She'll open the concert with the National Anthem – her
first time performing it in public. “I've been practicing it every
day,” she said. “I tend to worry.”

Yes, it will be her
first time in Washington; until the “Moana” movie made her a
star, she'd rarely left Hawaii. Now she'll share a stage with Renee
Fleming, Vanessa Williams, McCreery and more. “I've been reading up
on all the people who will be there,” she said.

She has to, because
she hasn't seen them on television; she grew up without a set. “My
parents thought it was more important for me to be reading than
watching TV.”

So she did; early
on, she became an “Aesop's Fables” fan. She also started early
inn music and theater programs. “I suppose I was a slightly
dramatic person,” she said.

And then her world
spun more dramatically. A talent scout saw her at a competition and
advised her to audition for “Moana”; she was reluctant, then did
and was chosen to voice and sing the title role.

During recording
sessions, Cravalho never met the star (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson)
she did duets with. But she often met – via Skype – Lin-Manuel
Miranda, who co-wrote the songs.

Here was a
long-distance merger. A teen-ager who had never done a school musical
(“I was the understudy to the understudy”) was talking to the
most important person on Broadway. At times, he was already dressed
in his “Hamilton” coat, ready to go onstage.

“I've always been
a fan of 'In the Heights'” (Miranda's previous musical), because
I'm Puerto Rican,” Cravalho said.

Well, she's many
things, in the Hawaiian tradition, but Puerto Rican is one of them
... and is something she has in common with McCreery. Both grew up in
towns of 27,000, where there were plenty of chances to sing. Both had
career military men in the family, making Memorial Day feel
important. And both have roots in Puerto Rico.

That's where Bill
McCreery was stationed when he met Paquita Rivera. They eventually
moved to North Carolina; Scotty McCreery talks warmly about both
grandparents.

These days, he's
often focusing on golf, which was his granddad's favorite sport. “I
like baseball, but you just can't get 18 guys together that often.”

His grandparents
were married 57 years, before Bill's death last summer; Scotty then
wrote “Five More Minutes” and debuted it at the Grand Ole Opry.
“That was two weeks after my Grandpa Bill died. It was pretty raw
emotions.”

At 23, his life has
settled down a bit. He's had a steady girlfriend for six years -- “I
met her in kindergarten and we've known each other forever” -- and
she now has a nursing degree.

And at 16, Cravalho
is nowhere near settling down. She's learning how to sleep in
airplanes, she said; she'll live in New York for “Rise,” a
mid-season NBC show set in a high school theater program. If she has
an album some day, it might surprise people. “I love Nat King Cole;
that era was so pure.”

And was any of this
what she'd envisioned as a kid? “I still am a kid,” she
corrected.

-- “National
Memorial Day Concert,” 8-9:30 p.m. Sunday, PBS; reruns at 10 (check
local listings)

CBS' fall: Fantasy-free and kinda macho


By Mike Hughes

While others leap
into space and fantasy, CBS is aiming for down-to-earth action.

That was clear as
scheduling chief Kelly Kahl started to assess his three new fall
hours. “SEAL Team,” he said, is “a high-octane drama.”

Then again,
“S.W.A,T.” is, too. “This is a noisy show ... We're knocking
down some doors,” he said.

Those are two-thirds
of CBS' fall dramas. The third show, “Wisdom of the Crowd,”
partly takes a notion that Fox tried with “APB” -- a tech whiz
putting his skill to use in crimesolving.

Yes, all three have
a familiar feel to them, with familiar people at the top. The SEALs
are led by David Boreanaz ... the tech guy is Jeremy Piven ... “SWAT”
stars Shemar Moore and is based slightly on a 1975 series. It will
have little in common with the original, said CBS CEO Leslie Moonves,
except “maybe the theme song at the end, which is pretty cool.”

On the comedy side,
CBS tends to grab a younger audience. “The Big Bang Theory” is
aleady renewed for two more seasons and now has a spin-off, “Young
Sheldon.” Narrated by old Sheldon (Jim Parsons), it will catch him
as a 9-year-old high school freshman in Texas.

“They're tonally
very different,” Moonves said, “but they're both very funny.”

And they'll start
the season for CBS. On the opening night (Monday, Sept. 25) they'll
be at 8 and 8:30 p.m.; after a five-week run of football, they'll
start Thursday nights.

The other comedies
are on Mondays. In “9JKL,” Mark Feuerstein relives a time when he
was living next to his parents and brother; “Me, Myself and I”
follows the same person at age 14 (Dylan Grazer), 40 (Bobby Moynihan)
and 65 (John Larroquette).

To make room for
those, CBS will have an unusual pack of returning shows on the shelf
– two dramas, “Elementary” and “Code Black”; a comedy, “Man
With a Plan”; and reality shows “Amazing Race” and “Undercover
Boss.” Other shows, led by “2 Broke Girls” and “The Great
Indoors,” were cancelled.

The line-up, after
the five football Thursdays, will have:
-- Monday: “Kevin Can
Wait,” 8 p.m.; “9JKL,” 8:30; “Me, Myself and I,” 9;
“Superior Donuts,” 9:30; “Scorpion,” 10.

-- Tuesday: “NCIS,”
8; “Bull,” 9; “NCIS: New Orleans,” 10.

-- Wednesday:
“Survivor,” 8; “SEAL Team,” 9; “Criminal Minds,” 10.

-- Thursday: “The
Big Bang Theory,” 8; “Young Sheldon,” 8:30; “Mom,” 9; “Life
in Pieces,” 9:30; “S.W.A.T.,” 10.

-- Friday:
“MacGyver,” 8; “Hawaii Five-0,” 9; “Blue Bloods,” 10.

-- Saturday: Drama
reruns, 8 and 9 p.m.; “48 Hours,” 10.

-- Sunday: “60
Minutes,” 7 p.m.; “Wisdom of the Crowd,” 8; “NCIS: Los
Angeles,” 9; “Madame Secretary,”10.

 

ABC's fall line-up: Family Fridays, via fantasy and fairy tales


By Mike Hughes

When the new TV
season starts this fall, two of ABC's nights will transform
drastically:

-- Fridays once
seemed like an afterthought. Now they'll be a family time for fantasy
and fairytales.

-- Sundays, however,
will be lower-budget, at least durinng football season. There will be
games and reality and such, but only one scripted show.

This is a plan that
took some late re-working. In the final days, the network agreed to
take the “American Idol” revival -- “advertisers like shows
that people watch live,” said programming chief Channing Dungey –
and a shortened season of “Quantico.” Both will wait for
mid-season, alongside a large pile of new shows and “The Bachelor.”

ABC's best nights –
Mondays through Thursdays – will have only modest changes.

On Mondays, Freddie
Highmore (“Bates Motel”) will play a brilliant-but-autistic
surgeon in “The Good Doctor,” from “House” creator David
Shore.

Tuesdays have two
high-concept shows: In “The Mayor,” a rapper runs for office as a
gimmick and is elected; in “The Gospel of Kevin.” Jason Ritter
plays a self-centered guy, suddenly getting a celestial nudge. “It
takes spirituality in a way that is fresh and heartwarming,” Dungey
said.

But two other nights
will change their identity. Instead of throwing big-budget shows
against football, ABC will have “America's Funniest Home Videos,”
“To Tell the Truth” and “Shark Tank,” followed by the Kyra
Sedgwick mini-series, “Ten Days in the Valley.”

That lets it move
the cinematic “Once Upon a Time” to Fridays, in what's virtually
a reboot. Henry will be grown up now, Dungey said; there will be
mostly new characters, with only a few – Rumpole, Hook, the Evil
Queen -- continuing.

Two Marvel fantasies
will follow it -- “Inhumans” this fall and the return of “Agents
of SHIELD” later.

The acclaimed
“American Crime” has been cancelled, as have the comedies “The
Real O'Neals,” “Last Man Standing” and “Doctor Ken.” For
now, that leaves ABC with no comedies taped in front of an audience;
Carol Burnett's “Household Name” is on hold and the “Roseanne”
remake is aimed at midseason. The fall line-up is:

-- Monday: “Dancing
With the Stars,” 8 p.m.; “The Good Doctor,” 10.

-- Tuesday: “The
Middle,” 8; “Fresh Off the Boat,” 8:30; “Black-ish,” 9;
“The Mayor,” 9:30; “The Gospel of Kevin,” 10.

-- Wednesday: “The
Goldbergs,” 8; “Speechless,” 8:30; “Modern Family,” 9;
“American Housewife,” 9:30; “Designated Survivor,” `10.

-- Thursday: “Grey's
Anatomy,” 8; “Scandal,” 9; “How to Get Away with Murder,”
10.

-- Friday: “Once
Upon a Time,” 8; “Inhumans,” 9; “20/20,” 10.

-- Saturday: College
football, 8 p.m. ET.

-- Sunday:
“America's Funniest Home Videos,” 7; “To Tell the Truth,” 8;
“Shark Tank,” 9; “Ten Days in the Valley,” 10.

Einstein: A life of math and music, rebellion and romance and pure genius


At times -- but not too often -- cable TV lives up to its potential. It tries something large and ambitious. The current example is "Genius," a scripted mini-series Tuesdays (rerunning Saturdays) on the National Geographic Channel, Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

There are lives that
seem too large even for Hollywood.

Albert Einstein
sprawled across history – from the rise of Hitler to the birth of
Israel – and across modern thinking. “His fingerprints are on
every great invention – lasers, micro-chips, atomic power, GPS,”
said Walter Isaacson, whose biography has been adapted into the first
season of “Genius.”

This wasn't a
two-hour life, he said. “I thought it was wonderful to do it as a
10-part series.”

Yes, Isaacson thinks
his other biographies would work as subsequent “Genius” seasons.
Maybe not Steve Jobs (too soon), but definitely Ben Franklin and his
upcoming subject, Leonardo da Vinci.

What do these people
have in common? “They were rebellious, questioning authority ....
They had imagination and creativity,” Isaacson said.

And they mixed arts
with science. Jobs ran Pixar, da Vinci painted (quite well, we're
told), Franklin wrote witticisms ... and Einstein played the violin
passionately. “Mozart's music is so pure and beautiful,” he once
said, “that I see it as a reflection of the universe itself.”

This became a
classic image of genius – the violin, the sprawling hair, the
surprising twinkle. “Einstein looked like an Einstein,” Isaacson
joked. And his life backed up that image.

He was clearly an
outsider in Germany – partly because he was Jewish and partly
because of his individualist nature. Einstein disliked regimen in
education, religion and relationships. “He ran away from Germany,”
Isaacson said, “but they brought him back” by offering the
professorship he cherished.

Alongside many
affairs, Einstein had major romances with three women who seemed
wildly disparate:

-- Marie Winteler
was a teen-ager at the Swiss home where he lived as a student. She
may have seemed sweet and simple, but that wasn't a dealbreaker.
“Einstein had a sweetness to him,” Isaacson said.

-- Elsa Einstein
Lowenthal was his cousin, an eager cook who became his second wife.
He was 40 when they married -- “he needed a domestic partner,”
Isaacson said – and she died 16 years later.

-- And in between
was the marriage that defined him. “I admire him for falling in
love with Mileva Maric, who was not known for her beauty ... but was
known for her beautiful mind,” Isaacson said.

Experts have debated
how much she had to do with his breakthroughs. Isaacson's book
(“Einstein,” 2007, Simon & Schuster) gives her credit for
many things – research, copyediting, debating ideas – but says
the theories were his.

Still, she was the
one who was there for what was called the “miracle year” -- when
a 26-year-old patent clerk published four papers that shook academia.

Some scholars
resisted, Isaacson said. “They labelled relativity as 'Jewish
science.'” In 1933, Einstein emigrated, as did many others –
changing history. “When they came to the U.S., he and his fellow
refugees” would develop the nuclear power that Hitler's own
scientists had been racing to create.

Einstein became a
folk hero at Princeton, even if his breakthroughs were behind him. He
spent years attacking some of the same quantum mechanics theories he
had helped develop.

This was someone who
always second-guessed the accepted reasoning, Isaacson said. “He
said that God must have played a joke on him, by making him an
authority figure.”

There were many such
contrasts. Einstein balked at the orderliness of society ... but
savored precise music and searched futiley for a way to bring all the
theories into a unified whole. He distanced himself from religion ...
but championed the Jewish state. He was a romantic who botched his
romances. He was a far-flung figure, the sort who needs a 10-episode
mini-series.

-- “Genius,” 9
p.m. Tuesdays, rerunning at 11, National Geographic; Saturdays, 10
p.m. and midnight.

-- A scripted
mini-series, co-produced by Ron Howard. The May 16 episode catches
Einstein's “miracle year”; it's the fourth of 10, with the
previous ones rerunning at 5:45, 7 and 8 p.m.

-- In the May 23
one, Einstein re-meets Elsa. The most recent episodes will rerun at
6, 7 and 8 p.m.