Pia and the Anthem: A decade-long skill returns on Veterans Day

Some of TV's strongest moments have come from PBS' 4th-of-July and Memorial Day concerts. Now comes a third special, Sunday on Veterans Day. Here's the story I sent to papers about the concert and Pia Toscano, who will have two powerful songs repeated Sunday: 


For half her life, Pia Toscano has sung
the National Anthem or “Go Bless America” to mega-crowds.

Yes, there is joy in "Half the Sky"

Waves of despair seem to fill "Half the Sky." This is a jolting documentary (Monday and Tuesday on PBS) about the mistreatent of women and girl.

The surprise, however, is how much hope and joy the film also delivers. It profiles heroes who beat the odds; here's the story I sent to papers:


Churning through “Half the Sky” are
deep stories of human tragedy.

It's time to call these midwives

The new "Call the Midwife" series will grow on you, in the same way the midwife job grows on the central character.

At first, "Midwife" seems too harsh, too dark, too depressing. As the seven-week series continues, however, it gives us wide-eyed characters worth knowing.

"Midwife" starts at 8 p.m. Sunday (Sept. 30) on most PBS stations. Here's the story I sent to papers:


There are people who spend their lives
in cozy comfort zones.

Cheyenne sings his way from small-town musical to big-city glitz

Trust me on this: Cheyenne Jackson is a terrific singer and a fun story-teller.

Viewers will get a tiny sampling of him Friday. He was the first voice in the opening-night concert at the lush Smith Center in Las Vegas; that night is now a two-hour PBS special (9 p.m. Sept. 21).

Broadway passion burns bright

Imagine "American Idol" on steroids -- more finalists (60), more talent, more pure passion.

That's "Broadway or Bust," a fascinating, three-week documentary series, Sundays on PBS. The first hour has already aired, but you can watch it on the PBS Web site; here's the story I sent to papers:


For a while there, a classic American
art form seemed to be fading.

Sir Ken and I have a lot in common

So it turns out that Ken Branagh -- or Sir Kenneth, as he's now known -- has something in common with me.

In most areas, we're far apart. He's mastered Shakespeare plays; I don't understand them. He's been knighted; I've seen "Camelot."

What we have in common, however, is illustrated by an exceptionally inept serving tray that it took me months to make in shop class. This remains on exhibit at the family cottage -- which my grandfather built, shortly after building his family home. The building-stuff trait bypassed me entirely.

You've gotta love Daniel Tiger

Daniel Tiger is one of those guys you like instantly. He's cute, he's 4, he's well-meaning and he's animated. Even better, he links back to the kindly days of the late Fred Rogers. Daniel's new show -- a "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" spin-off -- debuts Monday (Memorial Day) on PBS. Here's the story I sent to papers:


LOS ANGELES – Daniel Tiger is ready
for his spotlight now. He brings an imposing TV legacy.

Political conventions on TV -- once huge, now ... well, interesting

The storm has stirred up some complications with the Republican convention this week in Tampa. Monday's events -- including Ann Romney's speech -- have been postponed; they'll be compacted into the next three days. Here's the updated version of the convention story I sent to papers:


There was a time (really) when the big
television networks savored political conventions.

Islamic art: massive or intimate

OK, our expectations for Friday-night TV may be fairly low. Still, PBS keeps offering exceptions A prime example, July 6, an elegant look at Islamic art. Here's the story I sent to papers:


Spanning centuries and continents, the
phrase “Islamic art” brings immense range.

It goes from the supersized splendor of
the Taj Mahal to the delicate lettering of Mohamed Zakariya. And now
Zakariya is the starting point for a sweeping PBS special.

Old Inspector Morse: He's younger (and less cranky) now

"Masterpiece Mystery" starts its summer spurt this weekend on a strong note.

Sunday (July 1) brings "Endeavour," a terrific prequel to all those old "Inspector Morse" mysteries. Then are four straight "Inspector Lewis" films. The first (July 8) is excellent, the second is so-so, the third is quite good. I haven't seen the fourth yet.

For now, however, let's savor "Endeavour," and be glad that more early-Morse filmsare being made. Here's the story I sent to papers: