Yes, an action hero has feelings and emotions and such


I'm not sure how many people will stay up after the Academy Awards, to catch the local news and then the "Whiskey Cavalier" debut. More might wait until the next Wednesday (Feb. 27), when "Cavalier" repeats its opener. Either way, they'll see a slick, entertaining hour; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

We've had plenty of
superspies who are strong and silent, cold and cunning and kind of
stiff.

It may be time for
the opposite. In “Whiskey Cavalier,” Will Chase (Scott Foley) is
an FBI guy who feels everyone's emotions, especially his own.

We meet him after a
devastating break-up. That's “a great way to introduce a different
side to (an) action man,” Foley said.

He collides with his
opposite – CIA agent Frankie Trowbridge. “She is built on
emotional independence,” said Lauren Cohan, who plays her.

Viewers expect a
love-hate relationship, but the opener is mostly hate-hate. The gun
keeps changing hands and various people are confined to the car
trunk.

The idea,
screenwriter David Hemingson said, began when an FBI friend phoned
him at 2 a.m. to discuss his troubled romance. “This is the first
guy through the door, gun out. He is an American hero, (and) what he
wants is what we all want, which is love.”

Hemingson has mainly
done comedy; he linked with another comedy guy, Bill Lawrence, the
producer of “Scrubs,” “Cougar Town” and more. The result is
something Foley, 46, compares to the long-ago fun of “Remington
Steele” or “Simon and Simon.”

It stars people who
were total strangers, he said. “I know for a fact that she has
never seen an episode of 'Scandal.'”

That's his previous
super-schemer role. As Cohan, 37, tells it, Foley “hates the fact I
said, 'My mom is a huge fan.' He said, 'I hear that a lot.'”

They're based in
Prague, with an international cast -- including Foley's Polish-born
wife Marika Dominczyk, as Tina Marek – and ambitious European
scenes.

That includes “the
ski slopes in Austria,” Lawrence said. “We shot on speedboats
down the River Thames .... We are shooting for a good-time popcorn
ride.”

-- “Whiskey
Cavalier” debuts at 11:35 p.m. ET Sunday (Feb. 24) or later, after the
Academy Awards and local newscasts.

-- The pilot film
will then rerun in the show's regular slot, at 10 p.m. Wednesday.

Charley Pride: A detour brought country music fame


By Mike Hughes

Charley Pride has
achieved all of his goals ... or, perhaps, none of them.

“I was going to go
to the major leagues and break all of the (baseball) records that had
been set by the time I was 35 or 36 years old,” he said.

Then life
intervened. There were injuries and Army duty and more; in his
alternate life he became, as Michael Kantor – producer of PBS'
“American Masters” -- put it, “the country music superstar
(who) broke racial barriers through grit, perseverance and sheer
talent.”

And luck. Pride –
the subject of a “Masters” profile Friday – points to purchases
by each parent; his”

-- Mother ordered a
guitar “from Sears Roebuck for $14. I picked cotton to buy it.”
--
Dad “bought this Philco radio and nobody touched the dials on that
radio but Daddy. His favorite show was 'Mr. District
Attorney.'”
Telling the story to the Television Critics
Association, Pride soon recited the opening for the show, imitating
the announcer's authoritative tone. Soon, he was imitating Jimmy
Durante, Lawrence Welk, an Irish promoter; he's like that, seeming to
assimilate easily.

He also imitated the
most important voices t from that Philco – the announcer for the
Grand Ol' Opry.

Growing up in
Mississippi, Pride had also heard the blues. But it was the Opry on
the radio that made the biggest impact ... and became his fallback
career.

First, he poked
around minor-league baseball – Fond du Lac, Wis.; Boise, Idaho;
Nogales on the Mexico-Arizona order – interrupted by the Army. Then
came the Negro League team in Memphis.

“I did real well
that year,” Pride said, “but tey didn't want to give me a raise.
So I answered an ad in the Sporting News.”

That's how he ended
up with the Cincinnati Reds' team in Missoula, Mont. He pitched four
games in relief (7 innings, 8 hits, 3 earned runs) and was cut. So a
Mississippi guy ended up in Helena, Mont., doing triple duty –
working for a smelter ... playing on the factory baseball team
(hitting .444 his first season) ... and singing before games and at
local clubs.

He was discovered in
Montana and stayed there for a decade, even as his country career
soared. In the all-white world of country music, Pride became a star
before fans had seen him. Early records called him Country Charley
Pride and had no photo.

Pride recalled an
early appearance, as the opening act before a mass audience. He told
people: “I realize it's very unique, me coming out here on a
country music show, having a permanent tan. I ain't got time to talk
about pigments; I only got 10 minutes. I'm going to do my three
songs, and if I have time, I'll do maybe a Hank Williams song.”

He did ... then
ended up signing autographs until the evening show. “And that's the
way it's been.”

Others have played a
key role, including producers, managers and Rozene, his wife of 62
years. “She is something,” said Barbara J. Hall, who made the PBS
film. “We should be doing a movie about her .... It's just a great
story and a great family.”

-- “American
Masters: Charley Pride: I'm Just Me,” 9 p.m. Friday (Feb. 22), PBS

On Oscar night, the headless host faces controversy


The Academys are Sunday (Feb. 24), complete with a rarity -- no one to host. Here's the story I sent to papers; I'll follow with details in an extended box.

By Mike Hughes

Most Academy Award
ceremonies – good, bad or bland – have had one redeeming trait.

Sure, there might be
obscure winners and lame songs; acceptance speeches might drone on,
with lists of managers and agents and such. But at least there's a
host – a Jimmy or Johnny, a Billy or Whoopi – to offer some sharp
humor in the opening and at other key times.

Now comes Sunday's
ceremony and the host is ... well, no one.

“The main goal ...
was to keep the show to three hours,” said Karey Burke, ABC's new
programming chief. “So the producers – I think wisely – decided
to not have a host and (let) the movies be the stars.”

At least, she has
the right movies for that.

The Oscars draw big
audience when they have frontrunners people have seen. The highest
recent ratings came with “Titanic”; some of the lowest came with
“Moonlight” and “The Hurt Locker.”

This year? When the
best-picture nominations came out, Gregg Kilday of the Hollywood
Reporter called it “the most commercial crop of nominees in years.”

At that point, one
nominee (“Black Panther”) had already made $1.3 billion and
another (“Bohemian Rhapsody”) was about to pass $800 million. “A
Star is Born” had $410 million, with $89 million for
“BlacKkKlansman,” $46.7 million for “The Green Book,” $42.5
million for “The Favourite” and $39.5 million for “Vice,”
with “Roma” just getting started in the U.S.

(By comparison,
“Moonlight” and “Hurt Locker” ended up making $56 million and
$49 million, but a good chunk came after the Oscars.)

Viewers might not
care about the money, but they do care that these are films they've
seen. “These are big, popular movies .... I think people really
care to see who's going to win,” Burke said.

Even some of the
songs will hold interest; there's a Kendrick Lamar one from “Black
Panther” and a Lady Gaga one from “StA ar is Born.” There was a
rumor that the show would do those two and skip the other three, but
Burke says that's not true.

Trickier is the
hosting issue. The producers picked Kevin Hart, but there were
complaints about homophobic jokes and tweets in the past; he
apologized (ineffectively), then withdrew.

That brought s
decision: For the first time in 31 years (and sixth time in 90 years)
there will be no host.

Burke promised there
will still be a big opening -- “we ae not going to go straight into
people thanking their agents” -- and a tidy show “at a brisk
three hours.”

That's important
because she plans to follow (after local newscasts) with the debut of
“Whiskey Cavalier,” ABC's best recent shot at an hourlong hit.

Scott Foley stars as
a lovelorn FBI agent, in a show with fast action and snappy dialog.
“I wanted to do a show that reminded me of the shows that I grew up
watching,” Foley said. “'Remington Steele,' 'Moonlighting,' 'Hart
to Hart,' 'Simon & Simon.' I miss those light, one-hour shows.”

Now he may get off
to a big start – if the Oscars manage to be a light, three-hour
show.

At last: "This Is Us" gives Beth problems, a story and a mom


By Mike Hughes

PASADENA, Cal. --
For two seasons of “This Is Us,” troubles seem to ricochet
everywhere (almost).

The three siblings
had plenty of them. So did their parents ...and Randall's biologic
dad ... and Kate's husband ... and most of the people along the way,
leading to an obvious question: What about Beth?

“I was constantly
hearing: 'When are we going to get a backstory episode about Beth?'”
said Dan Fogelman, the show's creator.

Now we get one
Tuesday (Feb. 19), after a careful set-up. Beth finally has her own
set of problems.

At first, she was
the near-perfect one, juggling a big career while forever being there
for her husband Randall and their kids. Now she's lost her job,
argued with Randall, felt adrift ... and become more interesting.

“With me (Beth)
going through my own struggles, (we're) uncovering the character and
discovering more about her,” said Susan Kelechi Watson, who plays
her.

That makes it an
ideal time to learn more about her.

“A lot of people
were yearning for a Beth backstory, just because everybody really
loved the character,” said Eboni Freeman, who wrote Tuesday's
script. She came up with the idea by “pulling from Susan's dance
background and my dance background.”

After her mother has
a fall, Beth drives to see her, joined by her cousin Zoe. We soon
learn about Beth's early obsession wit ballet ... and about the
intense mother who had her doubts about it. The key step involved
casting Phylicia Rashad, “Cosby Show” fame.

That was imposing
for Watson, said Melanie Liburd, who plays Zoe. “She was like, 'Oh
my God, I grew up watching you on TV! You'rre amazing!'”

Then they locked
into scenes that ranged from rage and regret to warmth and nostalgia;
Beth finally had her backstory.

-- “This Is Us,”
9 p.m. Tuesdays, NBC

-- The key Beth
episode is Feb. 19

TV discovers that some convicts might be innocent (really)


"Presumed Innocent" is a pretty good show with a very good message: Some of the people in prison simply aren't guilty. That idea is also part of an upcoming HBO documentary series; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

PASADENA, Cal. -- On
TV, the prosecution side clearly has a winning streak.

That's been true in
fictional shows and, especially, in the surge of true-crime tales.

“True-crime has
focused on the whole law-and-order watch,” said Susan Simpson, a
defense lawyer. “The prosecutors – the good guys – solve the
crime and win the day.”

But what about the
flip side – people who are exonerated after years (or decades) in
prison? “There are people who have lost 15-20-30 years of their
lives,” writer-producer Danny Strong said.

Now he's part of a
modest backlash. It includes:

-- “Proven
Innocent,” which debuts Friday on Fox. Produced by Strong
(“Empire”), it's the fictional tale of a young woman, freed after
a decade, who works as a lawyer, seeking other exonerations.

-- Occasional
documentaries. On March 10, HBO has “The Case Against Adnan Syed,”
a four-parter focusing on a young Muslim man who was convicted of
killing his former girlfriend.

“Systems protect
themselves,” said Rabia Chaudry, who's been working with Simpson
and others, in an effort to free Syed. That's especially true, she
said, in a high-profile case. “Any time a wrongful conviction seems
to be getting successfully challenged, the system closes down.”

Or, at least, it
stays out of the way. It's rare, Strong said, for officials to
re-investigate. “They feel they already have the guilty party. It's
up to the (defense) lawyers to prove them wrong.”

In the fictional
world of “Proven Innocent,” one quirky investigator must try to
find a flaw in a mountain of convincing police evidence.

He's played by
Vincent Kartheiser (Pete on “Mad Men”), linking Strong's worlds
as an actor and writer.

These days, Strong
is known for writing tough, topical scripts; he's received two Emmys
for “Game Change,” a nomination for “Recount” and praise for
“Empire.” But he's also an actor, who does prestigious shows
(currently, “Billions”), but started on the “Saved By the Bell”
reboot.

Stone, who's
5-foot-2, easily played a teen-ager on that comedy. “I was just out
of college and I couldn't believe it, to be on a show.”

So yes, the guy who
once played Noogie is now producing taut, issue-oriented dramas. When
writer David Elliott pitched some ideas, Strong jumped at the one
about a defense lawyer.

In real life, there
are some large efforts in this. (The Innocence Project says that in
its 27 years, it has brought the exoneration of 362 convicted felons,
20 of them on death row.) But this would be smaller.

Madeline (Rachelle
Lefevre) spent a decade in prison, before she was exonerated. Now she
has a law degree; linking with the lawyer who freed her, she defends
other convicts.

That requires a
stretch in logic: Each week, she's supposed to ponder the case she
was convicted for, while also solving another one. Audiences, Strong
said, have “become used to that on TV -- a nine-year case is
settled in 43 minutes.”

These cases are
especially tough because she faces a slick prosecutor, Gore Bellows.
After the pilot film was shot, the network wanted the role to be
recast with Kelsey Grammer.

Strong admits to
opposing the change ... but now says Grammer fits perfectly. Bellows
“is a passionate prosecutor .... He believes he is serving the
community.”

He puts people in
prison ... just as TV often does. This time, however, some of them
will be proven innocent.

-- “Proven
Innocent,” 9 p.m. Fridays, Fox; debuts Feb. 15

-- “The Case
Against Adnan Syed,” four-part documentary starts March 10 on HBO