Aug. 11: Give LEFF a chance


This is a very specialized note, for anyone who happens to be reading this on Aug. 11, near Lansing, Mich. Scoot over to the Lansing Eastside Folk Festival; it continues, at Kalamazoo and Allen streets, until 8 p.m., with the Tannahill Weavers -- on a 50th-anniversary tour from Scotland -- at 6:45 p.m.

Earlier today, there was a fine set from Mariachi Femenil Detroit, which has a really terrific siner, alongside its trumpets and guitars. Also, Mick Gavin led a cheery set of Irish music --  no small feat, on a hot Saturday morning. And the ukelele strum has people singing and strumming everything from "Home on the Range" to "Give Peace a Chance." It's a fun place; give it a chance..

"Simpsons" creator joins the Netflix wave


Next month, Matt Groening's "The Simpsons" starts its 30th season on Fox. Before that, however, Groening's "Disenchantment" starts its first year on Netflix. The show starts Aug. 17; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

LOS ANGELES -- For
30 years, Matt Groening's world has been at the core of the Fox
network.

His “Simpsons”
arrived when Fox barely existed. Bart was featured in promos for the
network; he was everything Fox wanted to be – young, clever,
audacious ... and just different.

And he's stayed.
“'The Simpsons is so much a part of the brand,” said Dana Walden,
the Fox programming chief. “There's been such an incredible halo
effect of that show.”

Now Groening is
ready to debut his new series, “Disenchantment” ... not on Fox,
but on Netflix.

Hey, join the crowd.
“We've signed deals with Shonda Rhimes, Ryan Murphy ... and former
President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama,” said Cindy
Holland, the network programming chief. She also mentioned projects
ranging from Spike Lee to Jason Bateman.

Rhimes (“Grey's
Anatomy”) has been the top producer for ABC ... Murphy (“The
People v. O.J. Simpson) has been top for FX ... and Groening is the
symbol of Fox. Now he has a second home.

“I've always loved
fantasy storytelling, since I was a kid .... I keep sketchbooks and
they're full of characters,” he said. “I started drawing other
fantastic creatures that we couldn't do on 'The Simpsons.'”

So he molded them
into a show – a sort of fairy tale for grown-ups that's far from
“The Simpsons” turf. It centers on a princess and her opposite
friends.

“Bean is such an
anti-stereotypical princess,” said Abbi Jacobson, who voices her.
“She's flawed, she gets (messed) up and still has heart. And she
has Luci next to her, who's bad, Elfo next to her who's the good, and
... they're trying to find themselves.”

In their Netflix
home, they have some clear advantages, starting with time.

“On 'The Simpsons'
and 'Futurama,' we were constantly having to cut moments or jokes or
scenes to get down to 21 minutes,” said Josh Weinstein, a producer
on those shows and on the new one. “Now we have complete freedom.
(Episodes) vary from a 35-minute pilot down to 25 minutes and 30
seconds.”

That offers the
freedom to be leisurely, Groening said. “We think in terms of five
seconds. Like, 'Oh my gosh, we can take five seconds to have an
establishing shot.'”

But before
celebrating the rush to Netflix, two things should be noted:

-- The time crunch
on “Simpsons” wasn't such a bad thing. “One of the reasons why
'The Simpsons' is what it is,” Groening said, “is because of the
time constraints. Very high-velocity comedy that got faster and
faster ... became the 'Simpsons' style.”

-- And the whoosh of
attention came partly because Fox reached virtually every home. If
“Simpsons” had debuted on Netflix, Bart might never have become
an icon.

But he did, stirring
new generations ... including some of the “Disenchantment”
actors. Eric Andre, who voices Luci, was 5 when he started watching
“The Simpson.”

Groening and
Weinstein “shaped my world view with 'The Simpsons,' which was the
first piece of (craziness) on television,” Andre said. “These are
like my comedy fathers. My two dads.”

Jacobson figures she
was 8 or 9 when she became a “Simpsons” fan. “My brother and I
were obsessed with it,” she said. “I definitely feel like a lot
went over our heads, but in a great way. I love it.”

That can help comedy
evolve, Weinstein said. His own humor might have emerged from the
shallow depths of Scooby-Doo, but theirs started higher.

“They grew up
watching 'The Simpsons,'” he said. “So (they've) evolved past us.
They're actually funnier than we are.” And now they have extra
channels to use that humor on.

--
“Disenechantment,” debuts Aug. 17 on Netflix

-- Among the series
reaching Netflix this month: “All About the Washingtons,” a
comedy, debuted Aug. 10, with Rev Run and family. Coming are “The
Innocents” (teen shapeshifters) on Aug. 24 and the second season of
the acclaimed “Ozark” on Aug. 31.

 

Rob Riggle: A funny, flying, jet-skiing life


My Television Critics Association has wrapped up now, after 18 busy days of interviews. The stories, however, will go on semi-forever. Mostly, I wait until shortly before a show is coming on; here's one I sent to papers, keyed to Aug. 23:

By Mike Hughes

LOS ANGELES -- The
world rarely gives us funny pilots or clever military officers.

When we hear “This
is your captain,” we don't expect levity. That may be just as well.

But Rob Riggle
provides an exception. “I always wanted to fly,” he said, but he
also grew up on Bill Murray movies -- “Stripes,” “Caddyshack”
and “Ghostbusters.” He eventually straddled both; he's:

-- Done a little
flying, privately. He left the Navy's flight school, but is now a
retired lieutenant colonel with 23 years in the Marines Corps
Reserve.

-- Done a lot of
comedy. That's ranged from “The Daily Show” to the new “Ski
Master Academy.”

Ski master? “I
just always thought it would be funny to have a jet ski academy,”
he said.

So he assembled his
comedy friends, some obscure and some not. Paul Scheer, from “Human
Giant” and “The League,” is there; so is Eliza Coupe, the
former “Happy Endings” and “Scrubs” star.

She's juggling two
series: On “Future Man,” she's a superhero; in this one, she's a
townie called Preggo.

“My (character's)
mother got the name when she was pregnant with me,” Coupe
semi-explained. “They call me Preggo, too, even though I'm not
pregnant.”

Her role requires
what Riggle calls “a big, Dogpatch accent.” That may seem like a
stretch for a college grad from New Hampshire, but Coupe said she
savors big characters. “I did a one-person show, to show what I can
do .... I don't like to do boring characters.”

That show won her
the 2006 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival award for break-out performer and
put her alongside other comedy souls, including Riggle.

He grew up in
Kansas, the son of an insurance guy. Riggle was a frat guy at the
University of Kansas and added a Master of Public Administration
degree from Webster University.

He was still in
college when he got his pilot's license. He thought about being a
pilot in the military, but ended up as a public affairs officer in
Albania, Afghanistan, Liberia, Kosovo and New York.

The military people
rarely saw his comedy side, he said ... but the comedy people often
heard about his military side. On “The Daily Show,” he was, among
other things, the “military analyst.”

And yes, he said,
one world feeds the other. “Arrogance is wonderful to see in
athletes or the military.”

So he plays a guy
who buys a jet-ski academy to break out of a mid-life crisis. It's an
iffy dream, approached with ample arrogance.

-- “Ski Master
Academy.” debuts Aug. 23 on Crackle, an ad-supported streaming
service

-- See
www.sonycrackle.com

 

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