Good news: Mini-series -- ones where stories actually end -- are back

This is the fifth of six stories in the TV season preview I sent to papers. Scroll down and you'll see one on non-fiction; scroll up and you'll see the others.

By Mike Hughes

The good news is
that mini-series are back, big-time.

They had vanished --
so thoroughly that the Emmys temporarily dropped the mini-series
category. Now they've returned, working to tell a deep story, yet
have a real ending. The newcomers include:

The best

-- “Escape at
Dannemora” (Nov. 18, Showtime). Three years ago, the world was
intrigued by the search for two escaped convicts in upstate New York.
Now that story is told from all sides by director Ben Stiller. Benico
Del Toro and Paul Dano are excellent as the cons, but the highlight
is Patricia Arquette's brilliant performance as the prison employee
who was part of the scheme.

The rest

-- “Jack Irish”
(arrived Sept. 10, www.acorn,tv). Guy Pearce, a movie co-star in the
U.S., returns to Australia for his second mini-series as Irish, a
trouble-prone lawyer. It's a good one, with an intense plot that has
international implications.

-- “The Romanoffs”
(Oct. 12, Amazon Prime). Here's an anthology, with a difference:
Characters claim to be descended from Russia's last royal family.
Matthew Weiner created it, with stars including Diane Lane, Amanda
Peet and (from Weiner's “Mad Men”) John Slattery and Christina

-- “Clique” (10
p.m. Wednesdays, Pop, Nov. 7). This six-week, seven-hour British tale
starts with two girlhood friends reaching the University of
Edinburgh. Then one is lured into an elite group leading a lavish –
and dangerous?-- life. Her friend tries to lure her back.

-- “Dirty John”
(this fall, date pending, Bravo). Debra Newell – an interior
designer with talent and taste – knew she liked John Meehan, a
slick and handsome guy. She didn't know he was an ex-con scam artist.
That true story became a podcast and then this film with Connie
Britton and Eric Bana.

-- And “Masterpiece
Theatre” (9 p.m. Sundays, PBS) keeps turning out masterful
miniseries. The current one (“The Miniaturist”) is dark and
dreary, but on Sept. 30, two terrific shows will return, back-to-back
-- “Durrells in Corfu” at 8 p.m. and “Poldark” at 9. That
will be followed Oct. 21 with “The Woman in White,” a five-week
tale that starts with the sighting of a mysterious woman.


Yes, non-fiction still thrives in TV's fantasy, fictiony world

This story concludes the six-part season-preview package I sent to papers. If you scroll up (once I get them all posted), you'll see the other five stories.


By Mike Hughes

Amid a cascade of
make-believe, TV also has its non-fiction moments. Here are examples
this fall:

The best

-- “Great American
Read” (8 p.m. Tuesdays, PBS, Sept. 11). The opener was an overview,
but the remaining episodes offer a fun romp through genres. That
starts Sept. 18 with the broad question of “Who am I?” Upcoming
subjects are: heroes; villains and monsters; romance; and “other
worlds.” During this time, we can keep voting; the Oct. 23 finale
will reveal Americans' favorite book.

-- “Jane Fonda in
Five Acts” (8-10:15 p.m., HBO, Sept. 24). Here is a huge and varied
life, most of which was captured on film. Fonda is frank about every
phase – from Army recruiting celebrity to anti-war activist
(including regrets about her Hanoi trip), from pin-up beauty to
feminism activist, plus a couple of Oscars and much more. It's great

-- “The Mayo
Clinic: Faith, Hope, Science,” 9-11 p.m. Sept. 25, PBS. In a
then-little town (Rochester, Minn.), some Catholic nuns and two
atheistic doctors combined to create medical history. The Mayo
patients have ranged from nearby farmers to Bill Clinton and the
Dalai Lama. This documentary skillfully mixes history with current
portraits of doctors and patients.

The rest (series)

-- “Warriors of
Liberty City” (8 p.m. Sundays, Sept. 16, Starz). Most people know
Luther Campbell as Uncle Luke, the 2 Live Crew rapper who gave the
world “Me So Horny.” But in his alternate life, he leads a
program that helps nudge kids in his tough Miami neighborhood toward
college football scholarships. This is a fairly interesting
documentary ... leading into “America to Me,” the excellent
series that started Aug, 26.

-- “Dancing With
the Stars: Juniors” (8 p.m. Sundays, ABC, Oct. 7). Now the dancers
are celebrity kids, ages 9-14, paired with professional junior
ballroom dancers. There are two past champions involved – Jordan
Fisher co-hosting (with Frankie Muniz) and Adam Rippon as one of the

-- “The Alec
Baldwin Show” (10 p.m. Sundays, ABC, Oct. 14). Once ABC's biggest
ratings night – with “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey's
Anatomy” and such – Sundays now become non-scripted and
lower-cost. In this show, Baldwin will do long-form interviews.

-- “Native
America” (9 p.m. Tuesdays, PBS, Oct. 23). Spanning centuries and
crossing the continent, this four-week series tells of stone
skyscrapers and of pyramids in Mississippi and Mexico. It describes
America's first democracy, 500 years before the Declaration of
Independence ... and tells how horses, brought here for war, became
part of a mobile lifestyle.

-- “Real Country”
(10 p.m. Tuesdays, USA, Nov. 13). Shania Twain is producing the show
and on the panel with Jake Owen and Travis Tritt. They'll judge
individuals, duos and groups, picking a champion after eight weeks.
There will also be visits by Willie Nelson, Trace Adkins, Wynonna
Judd and more.

-- Also: There are
plenty of other cable shows, of course. Ashlee Simpson – whose
sister Jessica once scored with a young-marrieds reality show –
tries the same with her second husband Evan Ross. “Ashlee+Evan”
(10 p.m. Sundays on E) started Sept. 9. A few other examples: Tom
Arnold's “The Hunt for Trump Tapes,” 10 p.m. Tuesdays, starting
Sept. 18 on Viceland; Geraldo Rivera's “Murder in the Family,”
starting Nov. 3 on Reelz; and two people with Netflix shows that will
go beyond their usual comedy: “Norm Macdonald Has a Show,” with
celebrity conversations, starts Sept. 14; “Patriot Act With Hasan
Minhaj” is Oct. 28.


-- “Dark Money”
(10-11:30 p.m. Oct. 1, PBS). Ever since a Supreme Court ruling
de-regulated campaigns, Montana voters have been flooded with
political ads. Most ads are negative, some are false and many are
hard to trace to their actual source. Voters eventually turned
against them, making those attacks help (not hurt) the targets. But
getting to that point took an intense effort by reporters, including
one who lived in his car. It's a potent film, under the “POV”

-- “The Circus”
(9-11 p.m. Oct. 8-9, PBS. Here is true Americana, an “American
Experience” film that captures the dreamers, scoundrels, geniuses
and liars. (P.T. Barnum was all of those, but not the first.) It's a
fun story, filled with serious moments and colorful characters.

For cable and digital, it's a Burt Reynolds weekend

There have been a lot of quick schedule changes, after the death Thursday of Burt Reynolds. The previous blog listed some, but here's one I'm sending to papers, with more networks and more details:

By Mike Hughes

Scouring through
their shelves, cable and digital channels are finding plenty of Burt
Reynolds shows.

Reynolds died
Thursday of cardiac arrest at 82. By Friday, some channels were
adjusting their schedules:

On cable

-- “Fast N' Loud”
episode, creating a replica of the 1977 Trans Am in Smokey & The
Bandit” ... including visiting Reynolds to settle a bet. 9 a.m.
Saturday (Sept. 8), Discovery.

-- “The Bandit,”
a documentary about “Smokey” and Reynolds, noon Saturday (Sept.
8), CMT.

On digital:

-- Johnny Carson
reruns, 11:30 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday, Antenna.

-- “Gunsmoke,” 1
p.m. ET Monday through Saturday (Sept. 10-15), MeTV. Each is an
episode with Reynolds co-starring.

-- “Sonny and
Cher” episodes, with Reynolds as guest, 2 a.m. ET Tuesday night,
Sept. 11 (technically, Wednesday morning, Sept. 12), GetTV; then 11
p.m. Oct. 21.

-- “Dan August,”
noon to 5 p.m. ET Sept. 15 and 22, GetTV; also, Midnight to 4 a.m.
Oct. 21 (technically Oct. 22).

-- “Hawk,” four
episodes each time – Sept. 15 ET, starting 12:50 a.m. (technically
Sept. 16); and Sept. 22, starting 1:10 a.m. (Sept. 23), GetTV. Also,
noon to 5 a.m. Sept. 23.



Catch some Burt Reynods memories this weekend

We can catch some quick Burt Reynolds reruns this weekend,

After Reynolds' death -- Thursday (Sept. 6), at 82, of cardiac arrest -- Antenna TV (a digital channel) quickly scheduled some of his visits to Johnny Carson. Another digital channel, MeTV, is rerunning some of his "Gunsmoke" episodes. And CMT scheduled "Bandit," a documentary about the "Smokey & The Bandit" movies.

Those are the ones that solidified Reynolds' image as the good-ol'-boy Southern hero. Ironically, he was originally a Northerner.

Reynolds birthplace used to be listed as Waycross, Ga. In truth, he's said, he was born in Lansing, Michigan. He was about 10 when his family moved to Florida, where his dad was a small-town police chief.

And yes, that was a big change for a Northern family. “It was in the
dead of summer,” Reynods recalled in 1990. “My sister ... got out
and she said, 'Dear God, I'm in Hell.'"

The quickly scheduled shows are:

-- “The Bandit,”
8 and 10 p.m. Friday (Sept. 7), CMT; then noon Saturday.

-- Johnny Carson
reruns, 11:30 p.m. ET, Antenna (via digital and cable); through Sunday, each will be an episode
with Reynolds as guest

-- “Gunsmoke,” 1
p.m., MeTV, will start Reynolds episodes Monday (Sept. 10) and continue them
through next Saturday, Sept. 15.


Favorite book ever? It's a tough choice for most ... but not for a Potterphile

PBS' "Great American Read" is an  ambitious project, complete with six specials, a finale, a book and more ... leading to an announcement of Americans' most-loved book. Here is the mainbar in a three-story package I sent to papers. Scroll down and you'll find a profile of two of the modern authors, and then a set of interesting little facts.

By Mike Hughes

Right now, Americans
are busy picking their favorite novel.

They have an advance
list – 100 books, spanning 411 years – from a survey. They can
vote Online, while watching PBS' “The Great American Read.” And
yes, there are lots of opinions; let's try:

-- Meredith Vieira,
host of “Read,” which will announce a winner Oct. 23. She's liked
“To Kill a Mockingbird,” ever since reading it in her early
teens. “It really changed my life and the way I looked at things. I
grew up in the suburbs, I didn't know about racism; I didn't know
about intolerance.”

-- Wil Wheaton,
who's both a sci-fi actor and writer. “Heart of Darkness” and
“Ready Player One” (both of which he praises on PBS) are great,
he says, “but I'm really pulling for 'Dune.'”

-- Nicholas Sparks,
whose own book gets his vote. “Hey look, I'm biased. I like 'The

-- Diana Gabaldon.
She also has a book (a series, actually, “Outlander”) on the
list. But for her vote, “it's a dead heat between 'Alice's
Adventures in Wonderland' and 'Lonesome Dove.'”

That leaves her
wondering: Could those stories – whimsy about a little English girl
and a dusty tale of old American cowboys – possibly have anything
in common? Gabaldon said they're “what my husband refers to – in
reference to my work – as the one-damn-thing-after-another school
of fiction.'”

Many people, like
Gabaldon, feel torn. Vierra is also fond of “And Then There Were
None” and other mysteries. “I didn't realize 'til I was really
looking at it that I like a dead body. I like murder.”

Even Paula Kerger,
the PBS head and “a very big and voracious reader,” is undecided.
She leans toward “Great Gatsby,” but “at different moments,
different books have had great impact on me.”

Indecision is
understandable, said Jane Root, the series producer. “It's an
incredibly varied list (with) some literary classics” and some
newer books.

Compiled with a few
rules -- one book per author; a series counts as one – it's varied,
indeed. One book (“Don Quixote”) is 413 years old; eight arrived
in the past decade. including “Gone Girl” and “Ghost.”

The choices are
diverse, so many people are undecided ... and all of them are dead
wrong, says Eliyannah Ysrael. There should be only one choice: “Harry
Potter and I are going to take this thing.”

Her enthusiasm is a
beacon for the series: Many people love their books ... but few more
than Ysrael.

This started 14
years ago, when she was 20, a Chicago State University student in her
home town. Her brother, a 6th-grader, had borrowed a
Potter book from a friend. “My mom had some concerns, because she
had heard ... the book may be too dark.”

Since the mom was
busy – two jobs AND college classes – Ysrael volunteered to look
at it.

“To be honest, I
was going to read a few chapters and just kind of fudge the whole
thing and just say, 'Go for it.' And I took it to my college campus.
I started reading at 7 a.m. in the cafeteria and at 10 that night, I
was getting kicked out. I hadn't left the cafeteria. I had missed all
my classes.

“I couldn't stop,
so I drove to an all-night diner and I stayed up until 7 a.m. and
finished the book.”

She associated
deeply with Harry's friend Hermione. (“Obviously, we were identical
twins,” said Ysrael, semi-joking; she's black and American,
Hermione is white and British.) But she's savored all the characters
... as have her two brothers and two sisters. “You couldn't set the
book down, because someone else would take it.”

Today, Ysrael has a
communications degree and Hollywood jobs as a production secretary
for projects. “But they're not my TV show and movies, so they're
not as important.” Most important is becoming a filmmaker ... and
currently making a YouTube series, “Hermione Granger and the
Quarter Life Crisis.”

Yes, it's about
Harry's friend, now cast as a black Englishwoman in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, Ysrael rereads all the Potter books, at least once a year.
We're pretty sure we know how she's voting.