"Get Shorty" gives us B-moviemaker, D-level mobster, A-plus author


"Get Shorty" -- which debuts debuts Sunday (Aug. 13) -- gives us the best of world, with quirky characters in odd settings. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

LOS ANGELES –
Hollywood keeps trying to turn Elmore Leonard's stories into movies.

It has failed often,
then redeemed itself with “Juastified” and – twice -- “Get
Shorty.”

The first “Shorty”
was a 1995 John Travolta movie. The new cable series is ... well,
semi-similar.

“We've taken the
premise of tough guys, thugs, who fall in love and come to
Hollywood,” said writer Davey Holmes.

And he's borrowed
the basic notion of Leonard, the late novelist: “The juxtaposition
of human frailty with tough guys or with the criminal world is very
funny.”

Miles Daly (Chris
O'Shea) is a thug in Pahrump, Nev. Yes, that's a real name -- “it
kind of sounds like the sound your (butt) makes when you get thrown
out of Las Vegas,” O'Shea said.

It's a place Holmes
knows only from seeing photos on the Internet. It “looked like the
end of the world there,” he said. “So it seemed like a great
place to set our criminal gang.”

Desperate to
re-connect with his wife and kids, Miles finds a blood-soaked script
and takes it to a producer of B movies.

From Roger Corman
and American International to the fictional guy in “Argo.”
B-moviemaking has always been a fun turf. “There's something kind
of kitschy and great about it,” Holmes said.

This B-filmmaker is
a fairly solemn chap, grasping for remnants of pride. It's another
strong role for Ray Romano, who's had several of them lately.

“After ('Everybody
Loves Raymond'), I didn't want to do a sitcom again,” Romano said.
“(But) it's very hard to get people to forget the character they've
seen for nine years.”

Now they might. From
HBO's “Vinyl” to the much-loved indie film “The Big Sick,”
Romano has tackled complex characters. He's an A-level (almost)
actor, playing a B-movie producer.

“Get Shorty,” 10
p.m. Sundays, cable channel Epix; starts Aug. 13

Medical miracles keep happening in Building 10


LOS ANGELES --
Deidra Williams recalls decades of crises. She had “pretty much
from birth lived in the hospital system.”

Then she found a
sort of superhospital, the subject of a new cable series. Simply
called “Building 10” of the National Institutes of Health, it
seeks new approaches.

“The NIH is the
largest funder of medical research in the world,” said John
Hoffman, the Discovery Channel's chief of documentaries and specials.

It seeks huge
challenges; Williams fit that. “The only treatment for
sickle-cell,” she said, “was probably to have pain medication
.... When we found NIH, it was my last end.”

Dr. John Tisdale, at
the NIH, agrees. “There (was) only one FDA-approved drug for sickle
cell disease at the time,” he said, and that was “really only for
pain medication. The average life span is about 42 years in this
disease; Deidra was very close to that age.”

Transplants work, he
said, but usually for kids. “Adults with sickle cell disease have
so much accumulated organ damage, they're just not eligible.”

Williams was saved
by stem cells from her sister. That could lead to bigger things,
Tisdale said. “One can envision ... getting her own cells,
modifying them in some way to fix them, and then putting them back.
(That idea) is moving quickly.”

Not all Building 20
stories have happy endings. Carla Cooper said her son had acute
lymphoblastic leukemia at 20. After five years of treatment and
remission, he joined an NIH study. “He didn't make it, but it gave
us the time with him, which was really important to us.”

These are clinical
trials that can often fail, Tisdale said. Sometimes, however, they
succeed thoroughly.

As Williams
recalled: “A patient there said, 'This place should really be
called the National Institute of Hope.”

-- “First in
Human,” Discovery Channel

-- 9-11 p.m.
Thursdays, repeating at 11, on Aug. 10, 17 and 24

Mystery-by-mail: Stephen King switches genre


The mail, it seems, is still quite important. Now it has led to a new mini-series linking two masters, Stephen King and David E. Kelley.
"Mr. Mercedes" debuts Wednesday; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

LOS ANGELES --
Imagine that a thick package arrives unexpectedly. Inside is a
not-yet-published Stephen King novel.

What do you do then?
“I instantly Xeroxed and sold every copy I could,” Jack Bender
said.

He's joking about
that. What he did was to read it and then call King; the result is
“Mr. Mercedes,” a 10-week mini-series on the DirectTV/AT&T
Audience Network.

Bender, a
producer-director, had previously linked with King on the “Under
the Dome” series. Now the author had sent his new book, involving a
retired cop's search for a serial killer.

“Stephen King was
writing in the detective genre,” Bender said, “which he never had
before .... It was a story about the monster inside of us, as opposed
to the monster outside.”

David E. Kelley,
whose scripts – from “L.A. Law” and “Ally McBeal” to “The
Practice” and “Goliath” -- often focus on lawyers, wrote the
mini-series. Some of the actors were King buffs, some were not.

Brendan Gleeson, who
plays the cop, admits he's not much of a book-reader. “The movies
are where I found my Stephen King.”

Kelly Lynch, who
co-stars, has a different view. “I've read everything,” she said.
“I love him. 'Carrie' changed my life, as a nerdy high school girl”
in suburban Minneapolis. “When (King) showed up on our set to do a
cameo, all 6-foot-4 of him, I didn't know what to say.”

She plays someone
lost in liquor and bitterness. “It was a very hard character to
shake .... I'm not a method actor, (but) she did stay with me, the
darkness and the sadness.”

Harry Treadway plays
her son, the deceptive killer. The result, he said, is a “cul-de-sac
nightmare, that sort of suburban psychopath.”

Which is not
something you'd expect to suddenly arrive in a package from Stephen
King.

-- “Mr. Mercedes,”
Audience Network, via DirecTV and AT&T

-- 8 p.m. on
Wednesdays, rerunning at 11; debuts Aug. 9

 

Soldiers playing soldiers (or advising): Unbroken lives


There's a flood of soldier stories coming to TV this fall. Before they arrive, however, "Night Shift" has been doing well in the Nielsen ratings and has a special episode Thursday (Aug. 10). Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

LOS ANGELES -- Our
TV sets and movie screens are filling up with soldiers now.

Along the way,
stereotypes persist. Just ask some of the former soldiers involved in
a “Night Shift” episode Thursday. Often, they say, shows depict
the extremes:

-- The unflinching
rock. “Some (shows) have a list that says, 'Remember, soldiers
don't get nervous; soldiers don't fidget; soldiers don't' – and I'm
like, 'Well, I do,'” said Josh Kelley, once a Ranger sergeant in
Afghanistan and now a busy actor.

-- Or the opposite.
“They always show the former soldier as (emotionally) broken,”
said Toby Montoya, who was in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Some are, but
most aren't. I'm not.”

He would have every
reason to break down. Eight years ago, he said, a 490-pound explosive
device hit his vehicle in Afghanistan; he's had 22 surgeries and
remains in a wheelchair.

Still, he's a
vibrant force as “Night Shift” military advisor, supervising
“anything that we do that involves (military),” producer Gabe
Sachs said. “He arranges flashbacks; a lot of the sequences are
designed by Toby.”

The show is set at a
San Antonio hospital, surrounded by military bases. Some of the
doctors and patients are active-duty military; others are veterans.

On Thursday, that
peaks when there are injuries during a military funeral. Victims fill
the emergency room, with all of the guest roles going to actors who
are ex-soldiers.

That includes Dan
Lauria, who was a Marine officer in Vietnam, long before being the
“Wonder Years” dad. And it includes Kelly, 35, who enlisted as a
teen-ager in 2000. “I wanted to be the best, so I joined the Ranger
battalion,” he said. That unit – with Brian Anthony, now a “Night
Shift” writer, as executive officer – was in the first wave to
Afghanistan.

Now Kelly is an
actor, best-known for “UnReal,” where he plays the director of
photography and the ex-lover of the show's main character, Rachel.

“A lot of soldiers
are very artsy .... They want to express themselves in dofferent
ways,” Kelly said, pointing to Montoya as a prime example. “I'm
sure this has really expanded (his) situation.”

Montoya was in the
Army from 1992-95, then re-enlisted after the Sept. 11 attack,
fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. As doctors and medics saved him, he
said, “one of the very few things I do remember is somebody holding
my hand, saying, 'Not on my shift. I'm not going to let you die.'”

He got “amazing”
care in military hospitals, he said, lesser care from the Veterans
Administration. Growing bored during recovery, he tried “Night
Shift,” which films in his home town of Albuquerque.

“He started as an
extra,” said producer Jeff Judah. “Gabe was talking to him and we
realized ... he had so much military knowledge.”

Now he has a key
part of a show that has abundant military moments – especially this
week.

-- “The Night
Shift,” 10 p.m. Thursdays, NBC

-- The Aug. 10
episode has military veterans as the writers, the director (Tim
Busfield) and the guest stars (including Dan Lauria and Josh Kelly).

 

After 40 years, the Son of Sam case still makes an impact


Yes, things have been a bit dark during my stay in sunny California. The first story I sent back -- scroll back a few -- was on the Unabomber; this one is on Son of Sam. Along the way, I've also been talking to people about war shows and crime shows and the occasional monster,

Still, I promise that brighter things are coming up. Anyway, here's the Son of Sam story I sent to papers, with some key documentaries this weekend, Aug. 4-6,

By Mike Hughes

LOS ANGELES -- It
was on an October evening, more than 40 years ago, that Carl Denaro's
life transformed.

He was 20, his
girlfriend was 18; they were in her car in Queens, when bullets
shattered the window.

It was “wrong
place, wrong time,” he said. “I had no idea who shot me.”

She sped the car
away and had only minor injuries. He had a bullet in is head and
eventually needed a metal plate. Still, it would be almost a
half-year before he knew he was a “Son of Sam” victim.

Next Thursday (Aug.
10) marks the 40th anniversary of the capture of David
Berkowitz, who confessed, ending a year-long ordeal. “New York City
was truly in a state of panic,” said Henry Schleiff, president of
the Investigation Discovery channel. “It was terrorized.”

Now his channel
takes a fresh look at what became an obsession. “We wound up with a
lot of leads, probably in excess of 2,000 leads,” said Marlin
Hopkins, then a Queens homicide detective.

The first shooting
was in the Bronx on July 29, 1976; one woman, 19, was killed and
another, 18, was wounded. Three months later, Danaro was wounded in
Queens. “The working theory was that it was a drug deal gone
wrong,” he said. “I wasn't a drug dealer, but I couldn't tell the
cops who shot me. So for about six months, I was kind of victimized
twice.”

There were more
shootings – a 16-year-old girl became a paraplegic ... Christine
Freund, 26, was killed. Then things changed on March 8, 1977, with
the death of a Columbia University student.

She “was shot 100
yard from where Christine Freund was shot,” Hopkins said. “When
that bullet was recovered, we matched it .... That started the ball
rolling.”

It matched fragments
in the Danaro case and more. Officials talked of a serial killer who
was shooting young women with long hair; Danaro, who had
shoulder-length hair, may have been shot by mistake.

The panic expanded
on April 17, when a man and woman, 20 and 18, were killed in the
Bronx. This time, the killer left a letter. “He was packaged for
the media,” said Scott Bonn, a Drew University criminology
professor. “He gave himself his own brand name, 'Son of Sam.' He
wanted attention.”

There were more
letters and two more shootings – the first wounded a man and a
woman, the second killed a woman and left a man nearly blind. But
that second one also brought the key clue.

A passerby had
noticed a car getting a ticket for parking near a fire hydrant; she
also saw a man acting suspiciously nearby. Police traced the ticket
and found the car of Berkowitz, who confessed.

“He was stoic,”
Hopkins said. “He was very lucid. He spoke in detail about each
crime.”

Hopkins considered
him “psychotic.” Bonn draws a distinction between “psychotic”
-- a Ted Bundy type who is naturally evil – and a “psychopath,”
turned evil by circumstance. “He had been abandoned by his birth
mother and he grew up to be a frightened and ultimately angry and
rageful individual.”

Bonn and Berkowitz
(now 64) corresponded for two years, then met in prison for four
hours in 2013.

“The images that I
had,” Bonn said, “were this sullen young man ... And the David
Berklowitz today looks like an elf, like a gnome-like character with
bulgng red cheeks. And he came bounding in. He gave me a huge hug. He
insisted that we pray together, because he now calls himself Son of
Hope.”

-- “Son of Sam:
The Hunt For a Killer,” 9-11 p.m. ET Saturday (Aug. 5),
Investigation Discovery, rerunning at midnight; also, noon ET Aug.
10, the day of the capture

-- Also: “The Lost
Tapes: Son of Sam,” 10 p.m. Friday (Aug. 4), Smithsonian,”
rerunning at 1 a.m,; then 2 p.m. Saturday, rerunning that night at 2
a.m., and 2 p.m. Aug. 6.