Equal-opportunity scamming: Theranos stole from the rich

It's not easy, I'd guess, to get the rich to hand you their money. Elizabeth Holmes had the right elements -- charisma, self-assurance ... and a product that seemed great, even though it didn't work. Now she's the subject of two current documentaries, plus a book and an upcoming movie. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

We used to think
scams were just for rubes and suckers. Slick grifters cheated the

That was before
Bernie Madoff bilked the wealthy. It was before Elizabeth Holmes.

Her company,
Theranos, drew prominent backers. “Rupert Murdoch, I think,
invested $125 million,” said Alex Gibney, whose HBO documentary is
Monday ... three days after one on ABC.

Murdoch, the Fox
owner, was in prominent surroundings. Betsy DeVos and others were
multi-million-dollar investors. Two former secretaries of state,
Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, were supporters. Some Democrats
were involved, including former Sen. Sam Nunn; Holmes was a Hillary
Clinton supporter and was considered Chelsea Clinton's friend.

Then it crashed.
“Theranos went fom $9 billion to bankruptcy, almost overnight,”
said HBO's Nancy Abraham. That ended “a tale of hubris, deception
and the dangers of wishful thinking,” as Holmes told of a
revolutionary blood-test machine. And it was the Shultz connection
that helped spur the collapse.

Shultz was on the
board of Theranos, which hired his grandson, Tyler. When Tyler began
having doubts that the product really worked, he told his

“I looked up to
him a lot,” he said. “We would go over to his house all the time
.... It was extremely frustrating when he didn't believe me. He was
definitely on Elizabeth's side for a very, very long time.”

Erika Cheung said
she felt the same frustration, when quality-control tests kept
showing failure. She talked to COO Ramesh Balwani and others, getting
“their insistence (that) 'it works; there's something you're doing
wrong.' And they essentially took out data points and generated,
essentially, a fake result.”

Both became
whistleblowers. After Wall Street Journal reports (by John Carreyrou)
and government probes, Theranos collapsed in 2016.

But how did it get
so far that it had a $9-billion valuation? “None of those investors
ever looked at an audited financial statement,” Gibney said. “That
was jaw-dropping to me.”

He was told that
techno-investing is like that, trying long shots.“There is a whiff
of the casino about some of the investing in Silicon Valley .... So
long as you feel the heat and the vision, you invest.”

And Elizabeth Holmes
– with cherubic face and confident manner -- offered it. In person,
Tyler Shultz said, “she was extremely engaging. She would make you
feel like you were the most important person to her right now (and)
you were critical to achieving this incredible vision that she had
sold you on.”

She had the same
effect on groups, Cheung said. “She was a very charismatic

Holmes spun a story
of innovation and progress. “That's what Edison was good at,”
Gibney said. “That's what Steve Jobs was good at. (But) unlike Jobs
and Thomas Edison, her product didn't work.”

Holmes had seemed
perfect for the times, Gibney said – a young “female entrepreneur
who, by dint of her own tenacity and intelligence, comes up with an
incredible idea .... We all wanted to believe.”

She may have
originally believed it herself, but as the tests kept failing, she
started attacking her critics. Tyler Shultz said his family spent
$400,000 to $500,000 for his legal fees.

Eventually, his view
prevailed. Theranos went bankrupt; Holmes, 35, has been indicted for

And George Shultz,
now 98? Tyler told of a large family gathering last year: “He kind
of stopped all conversation and said that he was proud of me.”

Theranos blitz

-- “20/20: The
Dropout,” 9-11 p.m. Friday (March 15), ABC.

-- “Inventor: Out
for Blood in Silicon Valley,” 9-11 p.m. Monday (March 18), HBO;
reruns at 2:30 a.m.

-- HBO also runs its
film at 11:35 p.m., March 20; 5:30 p.m., March 22; 2:30 p.m., March
23; 11 a.m., March 26. Also, HBO2 has it at 10:10 p.m. March 19 and
11:45 a.m. March 24.

-- More: “Bad
Blood” (2008, Alfred A. Knopf), by John Carreyrou, is being adapted
into a movie; Adam McKay (“Vice,” “The Big Short”) plans to
direct, with Jennifer Lawrence as Holmes.

Amid swirling changes, "Project Runway" is back ... and sorta the same

Juggling networks ... and producers ... and more, "Project Runway" keeps surviving. Now it's back -- with a host who remembers watching it when she was 11. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

In its long
lifetime, “Project Runway” has kept bouncing around.

It's gone from Bravo
to Lifetime and back to Bravo. It's escaped the ownership of Harvey
Weinstein. It's changed hosts and mentors and more.

It even dumped the
original producers ... then put them back in charge. “We keep
saying, 'It's like getting your baby back,” Jane Lipsitz said.

Except, of course,
that babies are never the same after 14 years and 17 TV seasons.

Elaine Welteroth,
one of the new judges, sees the new version of the fashion-design
competition as “the most inclusive iteration of 'Project Runway'
the world has ever seen.” The models are varied in size, the
designers are varied in age, both are varied in race and roots.

This is also the
youngest version. Consider:

-- Karlie Kloss, 26,
the new host. She recalls being a “Runway” fan at 11. That was
long before she became a teen-aged Victoria's Secret model (and,
later, Ivanka Trump's sister-in-law).

-- Christian
Siriano, 33, the show's new mentor. At 22, he became the fourth
“Runway” champion.

-- Brandon Maxwell,
34, one of the judges. When “Runway” started, he was a college
student “from the smallest town ever,” he said, and he was
“watching the show religiously.”

Well, Longview –
an East Texas city of 80,000 -- isn't nearly the smallest ever. “I
need to really quit saying that,” Maxwell said. But it felt tiny
and distant, compared to the New York fashion world.

“I'm somebody who
still doesn't understand which fork to use when you are at one of
those fancy dinners,” Maxwell said. “I really latched onto this
show and it was an educational tool for me.”

Kloss remembers that
feeling as an 11-year-old in suburban St. Louis, with “no access
to the city.”

As it happened, she
had the right advantages. Like Ivanka Trump, she is tall (6-foot-1
1/2), from a comfortable family (her parents are a doctor and an art
director) and married to a Kushner. (Joshua, Jared's younger
brother). And now she's a “Runway” host.

That comes after
turmoil. After five seasons on Bravo, “Runway” jumped to Lifetime
amid lawsuits. (Weinstein, whose company owned the show, ended up
paying a settlement.) Lifetime put Bunim-Murray (the “Real World”
people) in charge, replacing Magical Elves (Lipsitz and Dan

Then came the recent
flurry: Lifetime cancelled the show, after sex-abuse charges against
Weinstein .... whose company was bought in bankruptcy by a new
company ... which returned “Runway” to Bravo .... which brought
back Magical Elves. Also, Klum and Gunn left for Amazon ... and
Lipsitz and Cutforth said they're leaving Elves (which they sold),
but will continue with “Runway.”

“Runway” has had
a wild ride ... but it's basically the show Kloss watched at 11.
“It's this incredible platform to launch designers' careers,” she

Including the career
of Siriano, who will mentor the contestants. “If anyone can give
them advice,” he said, “I think it would be me – someone who
won the show and then built something.”

-- “Project
Runway,” 8-9:30 p.m. Thursdays, Bravo; rerunning at 11:30.

-- Season-opener
(March 14) reruns often, including 2:18 p.m. Friday (March 15), 5:48
p.m. Saturday, 8 p.m. Sunday and 6:30 p.m. March 21.

-- This is the 17th
season; “Runway” began 14-plus years ago, but has doubled up in
some years.

-- Meanwhile,
“Project Runway All-Stars” is in its final weeks, Wednesdays on

The scowling Doc Martin is now a "steely" cop

There are some interesting gems tucked away in the Acorn streaming service -- many of them involving Martin Clunes. There's his "Doc Martin" series, his travelogs ... and now "Manhunt," a quietly involving mini-series that arrives Monday (March 11). Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

In eight scowling,
growling seasons, Martin Clunes has turned grumpiness into an

In “Doc Martin,”
he grumbles through life. What would it be like to live with Clunes,
seeing him before he has his morning coffee?

“I'm much grumpier
than he is,” Philippa Braithwaite said. The role is “so different
to him.”

She should know.
They've been married for 21 years and she produces his key shows,
including “Doc Martin” and now “Manhunt,” a three-part crime
story ... which is another stretch for Clunes.

“I'm not a fan of
the staple fare of TV detectives and murders and things, really,”
he said. “I've had a few of them waved under my nose over the
years, and I'm not that guy. I'm quite happy being a silly doctor in

Then he was shown
the not-yet-published memoirs of Colin Sutton, a retired London
police detective. “I suddenly thought, 'Hey, there's something
worth doing here.'”

Sutton is someone
you might never notice ... but probably should. “For all of his
avuncular qualities, there's a real steeliness to him,” Clunes

Police were stumped
by the 2002 disappearance of Milly Dowler, 13, in a case that became
famous in England. “You just have to say 'Milly' in the UK, and
they know who you mean,” Clunes said.

Then other women
were killed or barely escaped. Sutton resisted the common assumption
that these were unrelated. “I thought he was fascinating,” Clunes
said. “And then it took four years.”

There were “massive”
legal hurdles to clear, he said, plus the effort to be authentic. “We
use the real locations. We use the real killer's house. We use the
real green (park area), the real neighborhood.”

Those are gritty
settings ... the opposite of Doc Martin's seaside town.

“It's nice to come
back into that world,” Braithwaite said. “People are kind to each
other; it's beautiful and it's the kind of place people wish
existed.” And it reached TV by accident.

Craig Ferguson
co-wrote and co-starred in “Saving Grace,” a movie about an
impoverished widow who grows cannabis. It was a low-budget film that
“did better over here” than in England, Clunes said.

He played a
pot-smoking doctor in the film and then in a couple of prequels for
TV. Executives considered a series, Clunes said, but “didn't feel
the need to have a hippie doctor.”

Instead, the
character was rewritten as a grumpy London doctor, reluctantly
working in a small town. The result – on Acorn and many public-TV
stations – has persisted.

“We've often said,
'Thank God, we didn't get a successful returning show in some
horrible industrial village,'” Clunes said. Instead, he's often
“standing around on those cliffs, looking out to sea.”

Clune, 57, wasn't
always a country guy. He was born in Wimbledon, the son of one actor
(Alec Clunes, who died when his son was 8) and nephew of another
(Jeremy Britt, PBS' Sherlock Holmes for years).

Tall (6-foot-3) and,
he says, “funny looking,” he did lots of TV comedy. He was rooted
in London, but then he and Braithwaite “bought this little house
where we thought we would go on weekends.”

That's “just two
counties over” from where “Doc Martin” is filmed, so now it's
their home. He even has two Clydesdales, a new carriage, and a
two-mile route to take them through the woods. It's a leisurely life
... or would be, except that he's “sort of generally working.”

He has a new British
comedy series (“about a horrible driving instructor”), another
“Doc Martin” season, several travelogs ... and now his first
chance to be a TV cop.

-- “Manhunt,”
three-part drama available Monday (March 11) on www.acorn.tv.

-- Acorn also has
Clunes' travelogs and the previous “Doc Martin” seasons, with a
new one coming.

Here's a quick tour of Luke Perry on "90210"

(Right below this, you'll see a brief commentary on Luke Perry, who died Monday. Now a cable channel has set some key reruns for this weekend. Here's the story I sent to papers.)

By Mike Hughes

TV viewers can get a
quick tour of Luke Perry's “90210” years this weekend.

Perry, 52, died Monday, a week after a massive stroke. Fans
can continue to see him on CW's “Riverdale” and on the Pop cable
channel, which will have daytime reruns of “Beverly Hills, 90210”
from the start, beginning Monday.

In addition, Pop is
running five of the key episodes in a marathon from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Friday, repeating them Sunday. The episodes, with lots of spoilers,

11 a.m.: Brandon
meets Dylan McKay, a brooding loner, unaware of his back story. Dylan
is rich, but alone, the son of a crooked businessman.

Noon: Dylan starts
dating Brandon's sister Brenda, creating a rift.

1 p.m.: Brenda loses
her virginity. That's on prom night, with Dylan in his hotel room.

2 p.m.: Dylan's dad
is out of prison and throws a party. Dylan invites both Kelly and
Brenda – whom he tells about his summer romance with Kelly. Brenda
does not take this well.

3 p.m.: The series
finale includes a wedding (David and Donna) and Kelly's decision to
go back to Dylan.

Luke Perry on TV

-- “Riverdale,”
8 p.m. Wednesdays, CW.

-- “Beverly Hills,
90210” key episodes, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Pop; also, the same
time Sunday.

-- “Beverly Hills,
90210” from the beginning, starts 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, Pop.
(Perry arrives in the second episode.)

Luke Perry: His life was echoed by Fred Andrews, Archie's dad

The death of Luke Perry -- only 52 and forever a "90210" teen-ager in many minds -- was a jolting surprise. Here's the quick-turnaround story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Luke Perry soared in
opposite TV roles – the rich teen in Beverly Hills and the
hard-working, blue-collar dad in Riverdale.

And in real life? It
was the latter, all the way.

Perry – who died
Monday at 52, a week after a massive stroke – was a steelworker's
son from Ohio. He was born in Mansfield, a city of 48,000, but grew
up about 15 miles south of there in Fredericktown, which has less
than 2,500 people.

That was far from
the “Beverly Hills 90210” that made him famous ... but similar to
his role in the current “Riverdale.” There, Perry was Fred
Andrews, Archie's dad, a deeply decent man amidst chaos.

That reflects real
life, Perry said last summer. “In small-town America are some of
the nicest people you will ever meet. And they do some of the
craziest (stuff) you have ever heard of.”

In big cities, he
said, it might be easy to be rude to a stranger; in small towns,
there are few strangers. “The guy you get in an argument with at
school might be the same one you're throwing a pass to on Friday or
turning a double play with on Saturday.”

Then there's the
crazy stuff, which “Riverdale emphasizes. “You get to see a guy
like Fred Andrews,” Perry said, “who puts his heart and soul into
raising his son and really does everything to live his life
aboveboard. And here are other people in town; they do other stuff.”

After high school –
where he was Freddie Bird, the school mascot, complete with yellow
tights and red feathers – Perry tried acting in Los Angeles and
then New York. He has talked of having 215 unsuccessful auditions,
before landing a commercial.

After about four
years, he landed soap roles, first as Ned Bates in “Loving,” then
as Kenny in “Another World.” Then, he's said, came another
year-and-a-half of unemployment.

Moving back to
California, he got some small TV roles and then the big one. At 24,
Perry was convincing as a “90210” teen, drawing comparisons to
another small-town Midwesterner, James Dean.

He left the show
after five seasons, but came back three years later to do the final
two. Most of the show's stars have signed on for an upcoming
mini-series (playing exaggerated versions of themselves), but Perry
didn't. In many ways, “Riverdale” fit him neatly ... and reminded
him of the “90210” days.

Fan reaction “is
similar,” he said last summer, “in that it's a lot of screaming
teenage girls .... The audience for '90210' was a lot bigger, because
audiences were just bigger then. But if you listen to them both
coming out of a speaker, they would sound very, very similar.”