Those startng-out years -- no money, no work, no problem (sort of)


After a shaky start, Freeform formerly (ABC Family) has had some surprisingly good shows. Despite occasional flaws, "The Bold Type," "Good Trouble" and more are first-rate. They share a common theme -- new places, new jobs, new friends and/or loves. And that's something their actors understand. Here's te story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

PASADENA, Cal. --
One chunk of life keeps fueling TV shows.

That's when kids
nudge into their grown-up years. It's key to many shows ...
especially Freeform ones.

“When you're 18,
you don't realize the challenges you're facing,” Maia Mitchell
said. “You look back at it in hindsight and say, 'That was tough!'”

These days, her life
seems breezy. She's starring in her second series on the Freeform
network (“Good Trouble,” spinning off “The Fosters”) and has
done two “Teen Beach” musicals for Disney.

But things sputtered
for a while. “I ran out of money and moved back home” to
Australia, she said. “That wasn't so good, because my friends had
left for college.”

Her “Good Trouble”
colleagues know the no-money feeling. “If someone ever gave me a
gift card, I would sell it for the minimum value,” Sherry Cola (who
plays Alice) said.

And Josh Pence, who
plays Dennis? “I lived in an RV in the streets” of Venice,
Calif., he said.

He was a Lyft driver
until filming started. Others on the show also flailed at day jobs.

Emma Hunton (who
plays Davia) was a nanny; so was Zuri Adele (Malika), among other
things. “I enjoyed teaching yoga a lot,” Adele said.

Cola was on a
“street team” for a radio station; Katie Stevens – who stars in
Freeform's “The Bold Type” -- had a sweeter job: “I worked at
Sprinkle Cupcakes in the Grove (shopping center).”

Stevens was 16 when
she auditioned for “America Idol,” 17 when she tied for eighth
and went on the “Idol” tour. She moved cross-country (from
Connecticut to Los Angeles) ... “and then nothing for four years,”
before starring in “Faking It” and “The Bold Type.”

Hunton had a similar
gap: At 16, she moved cross-country to take over the role of Ilse in
Broadway's Tony-winning “Spring Awakening.” It was a
life-changing time, in an apartment with a chaperone.

“I didn't know how
to do my laundry,” she said. “I had to learn how to make
mac-and-cheese.”

It was fun. (“In
California, I didn't have a driver's license, but with New York's
subways, you can go anywhere.”) But the show ended a year later and
little else followed. Hunton lived communally in a converted
warehouse, “with some trailers that we rented as Airbnb.” Then,
ironically, she got the job on “Good Trouble” ... where
characters live communally in a converted movie theater.

Some people were
prepared for lives in transit. Adele alternated between parents on
each coast ... went to Spelman University in Atlanta ... and then to
UCLA for grad school. Pence went from Santa Monica to the Ivy League
(Dartmouth) to backpacking in Germany, then to the vagaries of
acting.

He had a big role in
“The Social Network” ... sort of. Pence, who's 6-foot-4, played
one of the towering Winklevoss twins ... aware that Armie Hammer
would later be digitally edited into both roles.

Kevin Costner –
who once was the “Big Chill” corpse -- sympathized. “He said,
'Don't be in a rush.'”

They met when Pence
played the hot-shot quarterback in Costner's “Draft Day.” Four
years later, the unrushed Pence has a regular TV role; others have
also found steadier lives:

-- Hunton, who
wasn't great at macaroni-and-cheese, now has a house and a husband
who's a chef. “At least, I'll never go hungry,” she said.

-- Stevens films
“The Bold Type” in Montreal, but spends much of her time in
Nashville with her fiance, Paul Digiovanni. (He wrote “How Not To,”
which reached No. 1 in country airplay for Dan + Shay.) The former
teen singer is now surrounded by other people's music. “I love
being around it.”

-- After retreating
to Australia, Mitchell was asked to send a “Fosters” audition
tape. Instead, she borrowed money, flew back to California, blew the
first audition (“it was a trainwreck”) and landed the second. For
a time, she shared an apartment with another Aussie actress.

“We called it an
Australian embassy,” she said, because fellow counrymen crashed
there. “I would try to sneak out to work without waking anyone up.”

It was hectic and
fun and sort of like an episode of many Freeform shows.

-- Freeform,
formerly ABC Family; several shows eye early-adult lives of new
places, jobs and friends

-- “Good Trouble,”
8 p.m. Tuesdays; “Grown-ish,” 8 p.m. Wednesdays; coming are a
“Pretty Little Liars” spin-off, a “Party of Five” reboot and
the return of “The Bold Type”

-- Freeform also
does youth-oriented supernatural shows -- “Siren” is 8 p.m.
Thursdays; returning later are “Shadowhunters” and “Cloak and
Dagger”

 

Mason jars us with her dancing/acting/knitting life


So far, "Roswell, New Mexico" has been a fairly good series, somehow juggling soap, sci-fi and serious drama. For one next episode (Feb. 5), it has an added advanage, in some time zones, as an alternative to the State of the Union address. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

PASADENA, Cal. -- Nine years ago, a
Miami teenager had a burst of fame.

Jeanine Mason became
the “So You Think You Can Dance” champion, raising the question
of where she would go from there. Las Vegas? Broadway? Oblivion?

Well, she does
sometimes work in Las Vegas ... but the one in New Mexico. She stars
in “Roswell, New Mexico,” spending her workday pondering
outer-space aliens. Her spare time is spent:

-- Knitting.
“Jeanine knitted hats for Lily (Cowles) and I, with little aliens
on them,” co-star Heather Hemmens said.

-- Or dancing. “I
do all the time,” Mason said, “particularly when we're out and
about in Santa Fe.”

Dance is how it
started for her. At 3, she was studying ballet and – reflecting her
Cuban roots – flamenco. She added jazz, hip-hop, modern and more;
in 2009, at 18, she became the fifth person (and the first Latina) to
win the “So You Think You Can Dance” title.

And then? She mostly
switched gears, graduating from UCLA and auditioning for acting roles
... a frequent route for dancers. “I grew up admiring the showmen –
the Rita Morenos and the Sutton Fosters,” she said. But “I will
always be a dancer at heart.”

Her first major role
(“Bunheads,” starring Foster) linked acing and dancing; other
roles didn't. Mason was an Israeli princess in “Of Kings and
Prophets” and Dr. Sam Bello in “Grey's Anatomy.”

In the “Roswell”
books, the central character is Liz Ortecho, Mason said. “There was
a big part of this story that was about this woman's Latin-ness.”

But when he first TV
version arrived in 1999, she became Liz Parker. TV was like that.

Now the reboot
restores her Latin roots. Liz is a medical researcher, returned to
the town where her dad has a diner. He's undocumented, a story that's
important to Carina MacKenzie, who wrote the reboot.

“My mom's
Egyptian,” MacKenzie said. “I was ... the blonde, blue-eyed girl
who was going to Islamic school on Sundays.”

After the Sept. 11
attack, she found herself overhearing anti-Muslim hatred “from
people who didn't know that they were talking about me. So (the show
is) a little bit of a story about passing, about not looking like the
enemy that people are looking for.”

In this case, three
people belatedly hatched from pods left by a 1947 UFO crash. They've
worked to assimilate. “We've got a cowboy, a housewife and a cop,”
MacKenzie said. “They look like the most ethnically cleansed
version of America, (but) they're holding a secret.”

The cop has loved
Liz since high school, thrusting the show into multiple worlds. It's
partly a soap, partly a serious drama and partly fun for UFO buffs.
The New Mexico settings provide:

-- Romantic
backdrops. “You point a camera toward the sun and two people kiss
and you're Steven Spielberg,” said producer/director Julie Plec.
“You can ... shoot a vista that you would get in 'Lawrence of
Arabia,'”

-- A chance to take
field trips to the real Roswell. Most of the actors have done that.
“It was vast and open and there was a UFO museum,” said Cowles,
who plays an alien. “I had a sublime time.”

-- The small-town
feel of this fictional Roswell. Most off the filming is done around
Santa Fe, but the show's downtown is 65 miles away in Las Vegas, a
town of about 14,600. Frequently used for filming (including “Wyatt
Earp” and “Longmire”), it has a folksy feel, MacKenzie said.
“It's like the hat store, next to the boot store, next to the book
store that's called 'Tome on the Range.'”

Adds Mason: “And
there is a knitting store for me.”

Hey, that's
important if you're a dancer-knitter-actress in a UFO drama.

-- “Roswell, New
Mexico,” 9 p.m. Tuesdays, CW

-- In some time zones, that gives it an extra edge on Feb. 5: It's the only entertainment show on a broadcast network, going against the State
of the Union address.

Being herself keeps Busy busy


The Television Critics Association sessions are busy now, giving us lots of stories for the future, plus some for right now. Here's the latter, about "Busy Tonight," the talk show that runs most weekdays on cable channel E

By Mike Hughes

PASADENA, Cal. -- In
a world filled with unemployed actors, Busy Philipps was the
exception.

She was ... well,
busy. She went from “Freaks and Geeks” to “Dawson's Creek,”
from “ER” to “Cougar Town” to lots of guest roles.

Then she found
bigger success – including her new talk show – without any
make-believe.

“After 20 years of
playing some incredibly beloved characters,” Philipps said, “the
thing that people freaked the (bleep) out about was me. And when I
started putting that into the world, that was the response that I
was getting: 'Can we see that girl on television?'”

That was the persona
that she presented on Instagram, in talk shows and in her memoir. It
was sort of the fun friend that you want to have for a night of wine
and conversation.

That's what draws
people to “Busy Tonight,” said Tina Fey, one of its producers.
Guests “get to have a real conversation. (They) are, like, 'I'll do
that one because it looks easy and fun.'”

At first, Philipps
focused on friends – Mindy Kaling (her first guest), Kristen Bell,
Fey, Ike Barinholtz, Lauren Graham and such. Then she branched out.
“Patti LaBelle was one of my favorite moments.”

And there was the
Oprah moment.

For fun, the set had
a special phone where Oprah Winfrey was free to call at any time.
Then she did.

“That was a true
surprise,” Phillips said. “They really kept it from me.” That
day, she had a major cold -- “I've literally been sick since the
beginnig of December” -- and maybe lots of cold medicine.

Caissie St. Onge,
the showrunner, remembers talking to Philipps after Winfrey's call:
“She was very weepy, (but) she said, 'I feel better. I'm fine.'”

Fey's conclusion:
“Oprah can heal people.”

All of this is part
of the Busy experience. Shows start with a humorous verbal blitz and
end with Philips looking into the camera and saying, “I love you.”

It's a personal
approach that has always worked for her. She grew up in the Chicago
suburb of Oak Park and then in Scottsdale, Ariz., quickly getting
that “Busy” nickname. She even worked at toy fairs, playing
Barbie's kid sister, “Cool Teen Skipper.”

Philipps started at
Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, but soon was cast in “Freaks and
Geeks.” It only lasted one season (despite strong reviews), but she
dated co-star Colin Hanks for years afterward.

Other roles kept
piling up, including the six-season run of “Cougar Town.” Then
Fey cast Philipps in a comedy pilot that the networks passed on.

“I really, really
liked Busy in it,” Fey said. “I thought she was incredibly
charismatic and telegenic and knows here way around the joke. And so
she kind of floated this idea.”

She wanted a talk
show that's more like a conversation -- one that fit viewers who have
lives like hers. She's 39, married for 12 years (to Marc
Silverstein, the “Never Been Kissed” and “I Feel Pretty”
screenwriter). Their daughters are 5 and 10 and their lives are
crowded until late in the day.

“I was just sick
of watching 'Friends' reruns before I went to bed,” Philipps said.
“I've seen them all so many times; I have them memorized. I wanted
to make a show I could watch before I went to sleep.”

If so, her bedtime
has now been pushed back an hour. The show started (Oct. 28) in a 10
p.m. slot on cable channel E, but now has been nudged to 11; that
sort of adds an extra hour to the busy Busy life.

-- “Busy Tonight,”
11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, E

Super Bowl Sunday: Music, talk, beer ... and a belated Brady-vs.-Rams rematch


The Television Critics Association sessions have started now, including a look at "The World's Best," which follows the Super Bowl. Here's the updated story I sent to papers, previewing the varied events (including football) that make up Super Bowl Sunday:

 

 

By Mike Hughes

PASADENA, Cal. --
This Sunday will, we're told, be a super day. It's also a day for the
world's best of ... well many things.

These are some of
the best football teams (the Rams and Patriots) ... and singers
(including Gladys Knight and Adam Levine) ... and commercials. And
after all that, “The World's Best” will debut. “This is a very
big swing for me,” said producer Mike Darnell.

He's taken big
swings before, from “American Idol” to “Joe Millionaire,” but
“World's Best” adds size, spectacle and some originality. “This
is truly new,” said producer Alison Holloway.

Then again, Super
Bowl Sunday has always bee about size and spectacle. It has seven
hours of people talking about football and three or four hours of
people playing football ... which is where we'll start:

Flash back 17 years
– that's about two generations in football – to the 2002 Super
Bowl. It seemed like a mismatch.

On one side, the St.
Louis Rams were soaring. They had the best regular-season record
(14-2), the top-scoring offense and the top quarterback. Kurt Warner
led the league by a bunch in passing yards, passing touchdowns and
quarterback average.

On the other side
were the New England Patriots. They were 11-5 in the regular season
and had a quarterback in his second season. In his first year (after
being the 199th person drafted), Tom Brady had completed
exactly one pass, for six yards.

The result? Brady
and the Patriots won, 20-17. Since then, they've been back for seven
more Super Bowls, winning four of them. The Rams have never returned
... until now, for a belated rematch.

Having finally
returned to their home in Los Angeles, the Rams are the ones with a
young quarterback – Jared Goff, 24 and in his third pro season. In
Alanta, they face the Patriots, who still have Brady, now 41 and
semi-eternal. Now let's back up and look at the full day on CBS:

Pre-pre-game

-- 11:30 a.m., ET:
“The Other Pre-game Show.” Adam Schein hosts a show that's only a
half-hour ... which, in many civilizations, is considered more than
adequate to preview anything.

-- Noon: “Road to
the Super Bowl.” This is the annual NFL Films project, using
high-octane editing and camerawork to capture the season in an hour.

-- 1 p.m.: “Tony
Goes to the Super Bowl.” As a player, Tony Romo never got to the
Super Bowl. (The Dallas Cowboys have been there eight times, but the
most recent was in 1996.) Now Romo – retired as a player, but three
years younger than Brady -- will be there as CBS' top analyst. First,
he has this special, tracing the season and talking to former and
current stars.

Pre-game

-- 2-6 p.m. ET: “The
Super Bowl Today.” James Brown, Ian Eagle and Amy Trask host, with
lots of guests, including Phil Simms and Boomer Esiason.

-- 6 p.m: Coverage
moves to the field. Knight, 74, will sing the National Anthem; long
linked with the Motown sound, she had her first success in her home
town of Atlanta, before signing with the Detroit label at 24.
Performing “America the Beautiful” is the Atlanta sister duo of
Chloe and Halle Bailey. Just 20 and 18, they've already recorded for
Beyonce's label and opened for two of her tours.

The game

Kick-off is 6:30
p.m. ET, with Jim Nantz doing play-by-play, Romo doing analysis and
Tracy Wolfson and Evan Washburn on the sidelines.

This year's
Patriots, just like that one sin the 2002 game, were 11-5 during the
regular season; the Rams were 13-3, the league's best record.

Still, the New
Orleans Saints were also 13-3 ... and their fans will insist (quite
strenuously) that only an officiating failure kept the Saints from
getting the Super spot; football has lots of strenuous discussions.

Halftime show

Levine is mostly an
NBC star. He and Blake Shelton are the only judges who catch every
edition of “The Voice,” a ratings giant.

But now he has the
CBS spotlight, with Maroon 5 headlining. The show also has Travis
Scott and Big Boi – who grew up in Atlanta and found success there,
both solo and in the Outkast duo.

Post-game

At 10:30 p.m. ET or
so, CBS will debut “The World's Best” ... which may be the
world's busiest.

Performers–
ranging from singers to “hypno-dog,” “flying taekwondo man,”
“drowning man” and “the giants of light – will perform. Half
their score will come from a wall of 50 experts from 38 countries;
the other half will be from the judges -- Drew Barrymore, Faith Hill
and RuPaul. “We were not prepared for the emotional effect,”
RuPaul said.

There's also some
laughter, with James Corden as host. Ben Winston – a producer for
Corden's shows (including this one) – sees that as key: “There's
comedy with a godsmacking amount of talent.”

There will also be
some talent on the football field; it could be a super day.

 

Triplets finally found each other ... then joy ... then anger


"Three Identical Strangers" is a fascinating film -- giddily fun at first, then dead-serious, then leaving you with important questions about everything from parenting to scientific ethics. Now it airs Sunday (Jan. 27) on CNN, rerunning the following Saturday. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Documentary movies
seem to come in all types.

There are fun, fuzzy
ones ... and deep, dark ones ... and ones that stir soul-searching
debates. And there's Sunday's “Three Identical Strangers,” which
does all of that.

“I wanted the
audience to experience it the way the guys did,” director Tim
Wardle said. “There was the joy they felt at first; it just leapt
out.”

At 19, they learned
that they were identical triplets who had been separated at birth.
They swirled through TV shows, parties and more. They savored their
similarities, he said, and ignored the rest. “One of he guys said,
'We wanted to believe it all. We were falling in love with each
other.'”

Only later did they
focus on the deeper questions: Why were they separated? Why weren't
they – or their adoptive parents – ever told? That led to
discussions of the ethics of a psychiatric study.

“We were a science
experiment,” David Kellman says in the film.

“This was like
some Nazi (crap),” Bobby Shafran says.

Getting the story on
film was difficult, Wardle said. “It was four years. I got engaged
and married and had a child in the time it took to make this.”

The result drew a
Sundance Festival jury award ... a National Board of Review pick as
one of the year's five best documentaries ... and best-documentary
awards from critics in Detroit, Dublin and San Diego.

It has stirred two
reunions of secretly separated twins. “The ripples are everywhere,”
Wardle said.

At first, he wasn't
sure he could get the film started; the guys were hesitant. “They
hadn't really spoken to each other, except for perfunctory things, in
22 years.”

Once they did,
however, they told the story with zest: By wild coincidence, Shafran
and Eddie Galland went to the same small college, a year apart.
Friends helped them figure out that they were twins ... the story was
big in newspapers ... and Kellman realized these were his triplet
brothers.

“It was a fairy
tale story,” Hedy Page, a relative, says in the film. “People
need to hear wonderful things.”

Then came the
less-wonderful part: The truth was withheld from the triplets (and
several sets of twins) for the sake of a psychiatric study. Wardle
had trouble getting anyone to discuss it on film.

“I talked to some
very prominent psychiatrists,” Wardle said, “and they'd say, 'I
don't know what you're talking about.' We started to doubt our own
research.”

Eventually, he
filmed two people – one in La Jolla, Cal., the other in Ann Arbor,
Mich. -- who had worked on the study. After the film came out, the
research notes – never published – were released; many of the
people who had denied involvement, Wardle said, “were there at
every meeting.”

Those notes, he
said, include “a lot of psychobabble .... Because they were
Freudians, there was a lot of emphasis on the (adoptive) mothers.”

The real story may
be the fathers. One was cheerful and fun-loving ... one was stern and
strict ... one, a doctor, was diligent but often absent. Their
adoptive sons reflected that, sometimes tragically.

There were other
surprises in those papers, Wardle said. “Eddie had a failed
adoption before this.”

It's a
sometimes-dark story ... with a bright aftermath. Ethical standards
are tighter these says, Wardle said. And “one of the best things is
that this really has brought people back together.”

The guys are friends
again ... as are their daughters. There are family reunions as people
recall their parts in what started as a fuzzy fairy tale.

-- “Three
Identical Strangers,” 9-11 p.m. ET Sunday, CNN (barring breaking
news), rerunning at 11.

-- Also the
following Saturday, Feb. 2, at 9 p.m. and midnight ET.

-- Dr. Sanjay Gupta
has a related CNN podcast series. It includes the filmmakers, experts
on twins and on bioethics, and several twins including astronauts
Mark and Scott Kelly