We're heading back to Mars now, with science and soaps and human nature

The first season of "Mars" was impressive, an ambitious mixture of sci-fi drama and sci-fact documentary. Now the second season starts Monday (Nov. 12), with expanded drama. The international expedition has been on the planet for five years and faces the intrusion of a private company. It's an interesting blend of art and science, so this story, which I sent to papers, includes actors and an astronaut:

By Mike Hughes

As “Mars”
returns to our TV screens, opposite worlds co-exist.

This is serious
science and fun drama; a fictional story about life on Mars is
punctuated by documentary scenes. “The first season was this great,
creative adventure,” said producer Ron Howard.

And the second
season? “It's more and more psychological,” he said.

Some would say it
has more soap opera ... which isn't such a bad thing. “There's a
reason soaps are so popular,” said actor Esai Morales.

He plays the CEO of
Lukrum Industries, now pushing to make a profit off Mars. The Lukrum
team has landed there, with its commander (Jeff Hephner) ready to
seize opportunities.

It's a story that
includes rage, romance, break-ups, pregnancy and more. “You're
gonna send humans to Mars,” Hephner said. “You're not sending

This link between
arts and astronauts is logical to many people ... including Mae
Jamison, one of the show's consultants. She's a scientist, a doctor
and a retired astronaut, but she also likes performing.

“I did a lot of
dancing,” Jamison said. “I choreographed dance productions in

She pondered both
careers, before her mother settled the matter: “She said you can
still dance when you're a doctor, but you can't necessarily doctor if
you're a dancer.”

Her mother had
always been an inspiration, Jemison said. “She went back to school
and became a teacher; I was always so proud of my mother.”

Jemison followed
that educational emphasis. She was 3 when the family moved from
Alabama to Chicago, where her dad was a maintenance supervisor and
her mom taught elementary-school English and math. She was 16 when
she went to Stanford (majoring in chemical engineering while also
dancing and doing Afro-American studies) and 20 when she started
medical school at Cornell.

Jemison was a
general practitioner in Los Angeles and with the Peace Corps in
Sierra Leone, but the goal was always to be an astronaut. “My
application was in when the Challenger changed everything.”

That 1986 disaster
halted the space program. But a year later, Jemison was accepted; in
1992, aboard the Endeavour, she became the first African-American
woman in space.

The time after the
Challenger was one of many slowdowns, delaying space progress. “How
come I didn't go to Mars?” said Jemison, 62. “It's all about
communication .... We haven't told the story well.”

Hephner is happy to
tell that story and be on a fictional Mars.

When the Challenger
exploded he was a 4th-grader in small-town Michigan, where
his dad was a gym teacher and his mom was a nurse. But he also
sampled the wider world. “I went on an exchange program to France
(for two months) when I was 12. I'd never been on a plane before.”

Basketball also
expanded his world. He was a high school star and a small-college
starter (a 6-foot-2 guard), who then became an actor. Roles have
ranged from heroes (“The Water is Wide,” “Agent X,” “Chicago
Fire”) to the philandering politician in Kelsey Grammer's “Boss.”

It's been a mobile
life, joined by his wife and their children, ages 11, 9 and 8. “It's
been the five of us, experiencing a lot of things ... They're very

That's a trait that
astronauts also need, Jemison said. “They're decisive.”

They need to
contrive quick solutions to problems no one has seen before. And now
– in the second “Mars” season – they face some personal

-- “Mars,” 9
p.m. Mondays, National Geographic, rerunning at midnight.

-- Season-opener is
Nov. 12, preceded at 8 p.m. by an “Inside SpaceX” special; opener
also reruns at11 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17.

Here's a show (and a teen star) for the Halloween season

Sometimes, the universe works things out conveniently. Danielle Rose Russell was born on Halloween ... savors the holiday and all things creepy ... and now stars in "Legacies," which arrives six days before Halloween, full of creepy types. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

To most of us,
Halloween offers a brief diversion – a once-a-year encounter with
bad costumes and good candy.

For Danielle Rose
Russell, it's much more. In various forms, it's an obsession, a
career and a birthday.

This Halloween, on
her 19th birthday, she plans to trick-or-treat, as usual.
It will be “the last Halloween when you can do that without having
to be in a mask,” TV producer Julie Plec told her.

That's because
“Legacies” could quickly make her famous. The show debuts Oct.
25, with Russell starring as the world's only witch/werewolf/vampire
tribred; it's the ideal role for someone obsessed with the holiday
that's on her birthday.

“My family and my
mom and I geek out over Halloween,” Russell said. “Every year, we
start decorating in September. We love it; I still go

And she's savored
all the eerie things connected to the holiday.

“I've always been
so entranced with the supernatural,” she said. “It's a world that
I actually fell in love with (via) 'The Vampire Diaries' when I was
like 13 or 14 .... I was like, 'One day I want to be a part of a
supernatural show like that' .... I've always wanted to be a vampire
in a show.”

Now she is one (plus
a witch and a werewolf) ... inside the universe of Plec's three

“Vampire Diaries”
began in 2009, showing mortal teens and immortal vampires in Mystic
Falls, Va. It added a New Orleans spin-off, “The Originals,” in

Both are gone now –
the “Originals” finale was last season, with “Diaries” ending
a year earlier – but the story goes on. In its final season,
“Originals” set up “Legacies” -- with Russell and other

“You have this
whole new cast of characters and all these young kids and it's super
fresh and super angsty and super new-millennial-wave,” Matt Davis

He plays Alaric
Saltzman, who's been through a lot. At various times in “Diaries,”
he was a history teacher, vampire, a vampire-hunter and ... well,
dead. None of those things are permanent in this universe, so he was
resurrected as a mortal.

As “Vampire
Diaries” was ending, Plec said, he “decided to start a boarding
school for his young twin daughters, who were born from a very dark
and psychopathic-laden witch coven.”

That was the last we
heard of him for a few years ... until “Originals” began wrapping
up. Then we learned that Hope – the daughter of Niklaus (who was
“the nastiest, oldest and fiercest vampire in the world,” Plec
says) and Hayley – was tucked away in Alaric's school.

For Davis, what
started as a four-episode role on “Vampire Diaries” has become
eternal. It “has just blossomed into this 10-year journey that I
would have never, never imagined,” he said.

Viewers won't need
to memorize the details, Plec promised. They'll merely need to “have
a love for teen soap and/or creatures of the night.”

On the one hand,
Russell said, Hope has the same problems as other teens. She's a
“kind of a messy and emotional and, you know, bad-decision-making

On the other, she
has those monsters. “In our second episode, we have a very exciting
new creature.”

That episode falls
on Nov. 1, which is variously known as All Saints' Day, All Hallows'
Day or the middle of the three-day Day of the Dead ... and is the day
after Danielle Russell's maybe-final chance to trick-or-treat while
only semi-famous.

“Legacies,” 9
p.m. Thursdays, CW, beginning Oct. 25

This "rookie" knows about re-invention ... and about sore knees

"The Rookie" arrives Tuesday (Oct. 16), with much to recommend it. The best new show of the broadcast-networks' season, it has action, drama, humor and Nathan Fillion. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

There are roles that
require an actor to stretch far beyond his own reality. Carroll
O'Conner had to be a bigot, Sally Field to be giddy, Warren Beatty to
be impotent.

Then there's Nathan
Fillion's duty in “The Rookie,” the new ABC show about a
middle-aged Los Angeles Police Department rookie. He must seem like
he gets winded when running.

“That is not far
away from my truth,” he said.

One scene in the
pilot had him trying to outrun a suspect and to climb a fence,
neither with any success. Fillion, 47, recalls needing “six pounds
of Epsom salt, (with) bruises up and down my thighs.

“I'm at the point
in my life where if I can have a stunt guy run down the street for
me, these knees will appreciate it .... Kneeling is a stunt for me.”

That fits the show.
Alexi Hawley says this began with a call from a producer who “had
the life rights to a guy who (became) the oldest rookie in the LAPD
and was I interested in putting together that show?”

Definitely. With the
current overflow of TV shows, he saw “how hard it is to find a
fresh way in, especially to a cop show.” Here was a fresh approach;
besides, Hawley is fond of:

-- Shows that can
drop humor into a drama. “Castle” -- which he used to write and
produce -- was like that; so is the “Fargo” series, from his twin
brother Noah Hawley.

-- Fillion, who
showed in “Castle” that he can handle comedy and/or drama. “It's
really hard to make people laugh,” Fillion said. “I think it's
easier to let people laugh at you.”

Hawley envisioned
the central character as 45, but his pilot script had one person
deride the “40-year-old rookie.” Either way, the first hour
allows Fillion to be a hero, a lover and a comic foil.

This also represents
a modern trend. “It used to be that you would get a career and
stick in it no matter what,” Hawley said. “And then maybe you'd
get to your 40s and have a midlife crisis.”

When called a
“midlife crisis,” it's considered a bad thing; when called
“reinvention,” it's an admirable approach to modern life. And
actors are all about reinvention.

The son of two
English teachers, Fillion grew up in Alberta. That's where he went to
college ... and it's where a Richard Chamberlain TV movie was filmed:
“'Ordeal in the Arctic' came to my home town,” he said. “I died
in a plane crash at the North Pole. It was tragic.”

The next year, he
moved to New York for a steady role on the “One Life to Live”
soap opera. He became the fourth actor (and the first adult) to play
Joey Buchanan, the son of the show's protagonists.

Soon, Joey had a
secret affair with his mother's nemesis ... who (while undergoing an
alternate personality) held him hostage in a secret room under his
mom's mansion.

Soaps are like that
sometimes; they're also good training, Fillion said. “You make a
44-minute program every day .... By the end of it, you are ready to
attack anything.”

He stayed almost
four years, got a Daytime Emmy nomination (in the “younger actor”
category), landed some guest roles, moved west ... and sputtered. “I
couldn't get a job .... It was like a year.”

The drought ended
with “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place.” (He was none of those,
but was the boyfriend of the “girl” in the title.) That propelled
a TV career that has included “Firefly” and beyond.

Many of the key
stops have been on ABC, from the first ones (“Ordeal” and the
soap) to “Two Guys,” a “Desperate Housewives” season, “Castle,” several "Modern Family" episodes and now the new series.

“I have been
working for ABC since Jan. 28 of 1994,” Fillion said. There have
been plenty of pauses, but he's become a network veteran ... the sort
who wheezes when he chases a suspect.

-- “The Rookie,”
10 p.m. Tuesdays, ABC, starting Oct. 16

America's favorite novel? Here are the leaders

By Mike Hughes

As voting nears its
final days for “The Great American Read,” one thing is clear: It
helps if a book has a double appeal, to kids and grown-ups.

PBS' “Read”
asked people to choose from a list of 100 favorite novels. A week
before the voting deadline (Oct. 18 at 11:59 p.m. PT), it released a
list of the 10 leaders, in no particular order.

Half of them fit
that youth-or-grownups description. There's “Charlotte's Web,”
“Little Women,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and the “Harry
Potter” and “Chronicles of Narnia” series.

Another one – the
“Lord of the Rings” series – could also fit. That leaves four
books with mainly adult appeal ... all with romance as key parts:
“Gone With the Wind,” “Jane Eyre,” “Pride and Prejudice”
and the “Outlander” series.

That top-10 was
compiled from 3.8 million votes, but the count continues, with voting
at www.pbs.org/greatamericanread.

The “Read”
series has been running at 8 p.m. Tuesdays on PBS. The Oct. 16
episode will look at books that visit other worlds; the Oct. 23 one
will reveal the winner. If you scroll down a ways, you'll find three stories I did last month, when the series was starting.

Surprise: Teeny-tiny CW network grows (a little)

The good news is that the CW network -- always an interesting one -- is adding a night; that starts Sunday, Oct. 14. And the better news is that it's doing it with some good shows, "Supergirl" and the new "Charmed." Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

The CW has always
been a mini-network, a speck alongside the Disney/Netflix/NBC giants.

It went from two
networks (WB and UPN) to one (CW), from six nights to five. It seemed
settled on 10 hours a week, with micro-ratings.

Now comes the
change: The network is adding a sixth night, with two of its best
shows (“Supergirl” and “Charmed”) on Sundays. It has at least
five more scripted series in reserve, making reruns rare, even in the

“It's what we
wanted to do,” said Mark Pedowitz, the programming chief. “We
want to stay in scripted as much as we can, throughout the year.”

His network tends to
be awash in superpowers and the supernatural. One old show (starting
its 14th season) is literally called “Supernatural”; a
new one (debuting Oct. 25) has a teen who's the world's only
witch/werewolf/vampire tri-bred.

Its fans tend to be
young, female and tech-savvy, providing less emphasis on same-day
ratings. “We view the world from a linear, streaming point of
view,” Pedowitz said.

There's delayed
viewing ... and subsequent Netflix runs ... and sales to other
countries, where fantasy does well. Those Sunday shows are prime

“Supergirl” fits
the modern emphasis on strong women; so do the three “Charmed”
characters – bi-racial half-sisters who learn they're witches.
“They're in a university town ... that is really a cultural melting
pot of different ideas, different beliefs,” said producer Jennie
Snyder Urman.

For that matter,
there are different beliefs among the show's writers, said producer
Jessica O'Toole. “We meditate at the beginning of the day.”

The writing staff
even includes a Latino witch, she said. “He and his friends ...
would meet once a week and do spells and put energy out there toward
goals.” It's a CW kind of thing.

CW in brief

-- New night,
Sundays: On Oct. 14, “Supergirl” has its season-opener at 8 p.m.,
“Charmed” debuts at 9.

-- Also new: “All
American,” 9 p.m. Wednesdays; “Legacies,” will be 9 p.m.
Thursdays, starting Oct. 25. The former isn't supernatural; it's the
culture-clash tale of a teen football star moving from a tough
neighborhood to Beverly Hills. The latter is very supernatural,
centering on a witch/werewolf/vampire.

-- Still coming:
“Arrow” opens its season at 8 p.m. Monday (Oct. 15); “Legends
of Tomorrow” starts a week later, a 9 p.m. Oct. 22.

-- The other shows:
“The Flash” and “Black Lightning” on Tuesdays; “Riverdale”
at 8 p.m. Wednesdays; “Supernatural” at 8 p.m. Thursdays;
“Dynasty” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” on Fridays.

-- In reserve:
Three returning shows -- “Jane the Virgin,” “iZombie” and
“The 100” -- plus two new ones, “In the Dark” and a “Roswell”
reboot. Other shows are in the works, including “Batwoman,” and
CW tends to add lower-cost summer shows.

-- Tough times: On
“Arrow,” Oliver Queen is currently in prison for his vigilante
deeds as The Green Arrow ... On “Riverdale,” Archie Andrews is in
juvenile detention for a murder he didn't commit ... On “Black
Lightning,” our hero is sought by police. It's tough to be a good
guy on the CW.