"Jewish Journey" brings passion and surprises


The new documentary "The Jewish Journey" covers massive time (almost four centuries) and geography, ranging from Eastern Europe to Egypt and Iraq. At its core, however, are intimate, personal memories. The film shows up at different times in March on public-TV stations; here's the story I sent to papers:

By MIKE HUGHES

For Andrew Goldberg,
this documentary seemed like familiar turf.

Previous films --
“The Armenian Genocide,” “The Iranian Americans” -- took him
to other worlds and other cultures. But “The Jewish Journey:
America” -- now showing on public-TV stations -- reflected stories
he'd heard at family dinners.

His own
great-grandmother had emigrated in steerage with four kids. The
oldest (his grand-uncle) was 5 and had a steep responsibility: “He
had to go upstairs and be a cute little kid, so he could steal food
for the rest of the family,” Goldberg said.

So the subject of
Jewish emigration seemed familiar to him ... yet brought surprises.
That included:

-- The reasons. The
most massive influx was economic, he found, not directly spurred by
persecution. Russia and Eastern Europe simply had little money, food
or opportunity.

-- The diversity.
“In some countries, notably Egypt and Iraq, Jews were very
assimilated,” Lital Levy of Princeton University says in the film.
That ended in the 1950s, propelling emigration.

-- And the effect on
the people left behind. “The parents knew they would never see them
again,” Rabbi Marc Angel says in the film. “They were gutsy
people.”

Younger generations
went to a new world, expecting to never return. For their parents,
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield says in the film, this was final. “You'd
realize it was the last hug you would ever get.”

Mostly, Americans
welcomed these newcomers, Goldberg said, but there were exceptions.
Henry Ford was openly anti-semitic; in 1920, a front-page headline in
his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, read “The International
Jew: The World's Problem.”

In 1924, new
immigration rules harshly limited the arrival of Jews. Fewer than
150,000 were allowed during World War II (compared to six million who
were killed in Europe), he said, only another 150,000 after the war.
“The U.S. ... could have saved countless lives.”

But many of the
people who did arrive prospered. In the film, Holocaust survivor
Melvin Fedebush recalls his father telling him: “You honor us by
living, not by crying,”

It's a philosophy
Goldberg, 46, heard often. “My father always said the best revenge
was living well.”

And many immigants
did. Jewish families brought an emphasis on education and on books,
he said. “In Judaism, people are required to read” instead of
simply having religious leaders read to them.

His dad became a
psycho-analyst in Chicago. Goldberg graduated from Northwestern, got
a Master's degree from Chicago University, then made documentaries
about subjects both distant and familiar.

-- “The Jewish
Journey: America”

-- On public-TV
stations (check local listings) at various times in March

 

Suburban secrets turn lethal on ABC


For people who like TV that's new, odd and interesting, this Sunday (March 1) is way too crowded. There's "Last Man on Earth" at 9 p.m., "Battle Creek" at 10 p.m. and the "Downton Abbey" season-finale filling both hours. Also in both hours is "Secrets and Lies," a suburban crime mini-series that quickly pulls you in. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By MIKE HUGHES

Hollywood knows all
kinds scares. It knows sharks and crocs and giant apes that grab
screaming blondes; it knows creepy, make-believe worlds.

But some of the
scariest notions, director-actor Tim Busfield said, are rooted close
to everyday life. That's the idea behind ABC's new “Secrets and
Lies” miniseries.

“It could happen
to you,” Busfield said. “You wake up one morning and ... your
life is upside-down.”

In this case, Ben
(Ryan Phillippe) is a house painter who lives in suburban comfort
with his wife (KaDee Strickland) and their two daughters. Then he
races into the neighborhood, saying he found a body while jogging.
Soon, a relentless police detective (Juliette Lewis) has him as the
prime suspect.

“Every day, I was
playing a guy whose life was falling apart,” Phillippe said, “who
was being accused, who was being slandered.”

Ben's wife also felt
shattered. Here's a “person you've literally shared a bed with
since you were 19 years old,” Strickland said. “What ... if you
wake up one day and think, '(Is he) capable of something I can't
imagine (him) doing?'”

That's complicated
by side issues and deceptions. The wife may be “angry about,
perhaps, other secrets and lies,” Strickland said.

All of this began as
a six-part Australian mini-series. Kligman – formerly a “Vampire
Diaries” and “Private Practice” producer – was put in charge
of the U.S. version, with room for new twists.

“We've done 10
episodes as opposed to six,” she said. “And because our pace is
faster, we had the opportunity to really go deeper.”

And, perhaps,
darker. Kligman quotes a recent comment from Paul Lee, ABC's
programming chief: “Paul said ...: 'We need more secrets, and we
need more lies.'”

Hey, that's been an
ABC trend lately. From “Scandal” and “Revenge” to “How to
Get Away With Murder.” the network has shown that secrets and lies
can be monstrously scary.

 

-- “Secrets and
Lies,” 10-part mini-series, ABC

-- First two parts
are 9 and 10 p.m. Sunday (March 1); then 9 p.m. Sundays

-- Also, the first
hour reruns at 10:01 p.m. Monday (March 2)

 

"Motown 25"? Now it's sort of "Motown 57" and forever


Most music fades away quickly, but Motown is forever ... just as its TV special said, 32 years ago. Now that special is back as a pledge-drive special on many PBS stations. Here's the story I sent to papers:

 

By Mike Hughes

For one grand
evening in 1983, music history filled our TV sets.

There were Tops and
Tempts, Miracles and Supremes, Smokey and Stevie and more. It was the
first time Berry Gordy would see Michael Jackson moonwalk, the last
time he would see Marvin Gaye.

It was a
ratings-winner and an Emmy-winner, aptly titled “Motown 25:
Yesterday, Today, Forever.” And now comes the “forever” part.

On Saturday, many
PBS stations will rerun the special, to help launch their pledge
drives. “I can't wait to see it again,” Mary Wilson of the
Supremes said by phone.

The special rippled
with talent. “That show was one thrill after another,” Gordy, the
Motown founder, wrote in “To Be Loves” (Warner Books, 1994).

Wilson savored Gaye
(who was killed a year later) but she grants the buzz was about the
“moonwalk” from Michael Jackson. “He hadn't done that before
.... It was reminiscent of Jackie Wilson.”

People also buzzed
about portions that were edited out of the TV version, when
ex-Supreme seemed to spar onstage. “(Diana) Ross swung around and
pushed Wilson backward,” Gerald Posner wrote in “Motown”
(Random House, 2002); she also took the mike out of Wilson's hand.

These days, Wilson
dismisses that as a communication error. She didn't realize that Ross
had planned that moment to call Gordy onto the stage, she insists.
Mostly, she points to the Supremes' triumphs.

“We dared to
dream,” she said, “and we made those dreams come true .... We
helped the world see that black women could be strong and important –
and beautiful at the same time.”

They had auditioned
at Gordy's “Hitsville” headquarters. He liked them, he wrote, but
said he wouldn't sign them until they'd graduated. “Almost every
day after school, the girls were making friends with producers,
trying to get gigs singing background .... They were the sweethearts
of Hitsville.”

There was a family
feel, Wilson recalled. “You could see (Gordy's) father up on top,
fixing the room. They would cook for us. It felt like home.”

And after the
Supremes were signed in 1961, they received the full Motown
treatment. “They taught us how to present ourselves, taught us
harmony.”

And then ...
nothing. Nine singles sputtered, none better than No. 75 on the
Billboard chart. Wilson says she coined the phrase “no-hit
Supremes,” but remained confident. “We were, in our minds,
great.”

The difference came,
she said, when they were linked with the Holland-Dozier-Holland
songwriting team. “Where Did Our Love Go” was the first of a
dozen Supremes singles to reach No. 1.

“We weren't the
neccesarily the greatest singers,” Wilson said. “We were not the
greatest girl group. We just recorded a lot of hit records.”

They had the best in
songwriters, musicians, production ... and image. “We loved
glamour,” she said. “We loved to look good.”

Ross left in 1970
and the Supremes persisted. “What a fighter and a survivor Mary
Wilson was,” Gordy wrote. “She ... was the heart and soul of the
Supremes, ... the glue that kept their legacy alive.”

And for one night in
1983 – now returning via pledge drive – the full Motown legacy
was on display.

-- “Motown 25:
Yesterday, Today, Forever,” 8 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 28) on many PBS
stations (check local listings), with reruns throughout March

 

 

"Battle Creek" is a different cop world


Yes, I really like "Battle Creek," the terrific CBS show that debuts Sunday (March 1). Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

On a network that's
been overrun with cops and crooks, can “Battle Creek” stand out?

Probably. The show
has a comfy time slot – 10 p.m. Sundays, starting this weekend –
and a big build-up. It also has key differences, starting with its
setting.

Other cop shows have
focused on big cities; by comparison, Battle Creek, Mich., is a town
of 52,000. “If anything, it's higher stakes,” said
producer-writer David Shore. “Everything is a lot more personal.”

But not typical.
“Some of the crimes you see are ones you wouldn't see on any other
show,” said Josh Duhamel, who stars with Dean Winters.

The second episode,
for instance, is entitled “Syruptitious”; it's about a
maple-syrup ring. The sixth, “Cereal Killers,” starts at the
city's annual “world's longest breakfast table” celebration.

There's droll humor
here, in a variation on the standard buddy-cop show shows. “They're
not buddies – to say the least,” Shore said. They are:

-- Russ, a police
detective, rumpled and skeptical, using faulty equipment and good
instincts. He's played by Winters, who's used to being banged around
as Mayhem in insurance commercials.

-- Milt, a newly
arrived FBI man, blessed with perfection in looks and in technical
back-up. He's played by Duhamel, who fits neatly. “Josh is a pretty
man,” Shore said.

They were envisioned
12 years ago by writer Vince Gilligan. “I was thinking about the
time-honored trope of putting opposites together,” he said.

The Battle Creek
setting was sort of arbitrary, he granted. “I was fascinated by
the name, because it's got the words 'battle' in it,” he said. “And
yet they make cereal there.”

The real-life
“battle” it was named for was minor – four people involved, one
wounded – but Battle Creek has bigger claims to fame. It had the
first headquarters of the Seventh Day Adventists. It was where corn
flakes were created, spawning the Kellogg and Post giants. It was key
to the Underground Railroad; Sojourner Truth spent her final 16 years
in Battle Creek, which has a giant statue to her.

Some of that was
discovered gradually by Shore (“House”) who is in charge, now
that Gilligan (“Breaking Bad”) is busy with “Better Call Saul.”
The “Battle Creek” show is filmed in California, but Shore and
some of the actors took field trips to the town they were portraying.

Kal Penn, whose
parents emigrated from India, was “surprised by how diverse it is.”
Duhamel, who grew up in a similar-sized town (Minot, N.D.) was
surprised to find a unit for gang-related crimes.

Both talked about
the overall charm. “It's really beautiful, especially in the
downtown,” Duhamel said.

Shore (who grew up
in London, Ontario) agreed. “I've always loved middle-Americans,”
he said. “They've had hard times, but they remain optimistic, they
remain positive.”

Duhamel, as Milt,
seems to fit that mood; Winters, as Russ, provides counterpoint.
Duhamel calls Winters “a New York City kid who has an edge. He grew
up completely different than me.”

Now they play cops,
with Penn (“House”) and others, including Janet McTeer as the
police commander. “The main reason I'm doing the job, obviously, is
that these guys had all been cast and they said, 'We have to have
someone who's as tall as us,'” McTeer joked.

She's 6-foot-1 and
regal, a British star with two Oscar nominations. Winters is 6-1 1/2;
Duhamel is 6-3 1/2 and married to rock star Fergie. They're big
people, in a fictional version of little Battle Creek.

-- “Battle Creek,”
10 p.m. Sundays, CBS, starting March 1

 

Cesar Millan keeps transforming dogs, people and himself


The Cesar Millan story keeps unfolding in intriguing ways. Now a new "Cesar 911" season starts Friday and reruns often; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Cesar Millan's TV
shows are about resurrection and revival, about dogs and people
changing lives.

Then again, he's an
expert on that. He changed his life by walking across the border ...
and by taming the toughest dogs in South Central Los Angeles. He
almost ended his own life; and in December, some Web sites reported
that he'd died of a heart attack.

“I was in Tampa,
Fla., at the time,” Millan recalled. “The neighbors told my
mother (they'd heard) her son had died.”

To her credit, she
was hesitent to believe it, he said. “She said, 'Wouldn't someone
have told me?'”

Eventually, it was
found to be a hoax ... or a botched (and misunderstood) fictional
piece. Either way, Millan found himself retreating. “I spend more
time than ever with dogs .... Dogs stop and smell the roses. They
wouldn't do anything as cruel as a hoax.”

On camera with dogs,
Millan seems endlessly at peace. Five years ago, however, he was
overwhelmed by events – his wife filed for divorce, his favorite
pit bull died and he learned of financial trouble; he took an
overdose of pills ... but was discovered in time.

“I decided it was
not my time yet,” Millan said. “When I got out of the hospital, I
was going to do it my way, with my people.”

So now he dominates
the NatGeo Wild cable network with his new show (“Cesar 911”),
his old show, his Las Vegas special and more. It's the latest
transformation for Millan – who's had many.

He spent his
pre-school years on what he calls his grandfather's farm. “It's not
like you think of a farm in America,” he said. “It's more of a
village,” with different responsibilities for each family. “What
we did was to herd the cattle for the wealthy people.”

He learned a little
about dogs and a lot about people. “What I learned was to be quiet
and observe.”

When he reached
school age, however, “we moved to the city .... That was
challenging for me. Until then, I was always outside; I always had my
freedom.”

Eventually, he knew
what he wanted to do (work with dogs) and where: “In every movie
you see in Mexico, Americans are the heroes.”

So he became an
illegal alien at 21 (later getting his citizenship) and worked jobs –
from dog-grooming to chauffeuring – while learning English. He
found support from people ranging from actress Jada Pinkett Smith to
tough guys in the barrio. “Here was this Mexican guy, walking a
pack of German shepherds and rottweilers .... That's when one guy
called me 'the dog whisperer.'”

That became the name
of his show that started in 2004. It would run for nine seasons,
drawing three Emmy nominations for best reality series; it would also
be the key piece the National Geographic Channel used to launch its
second channel, NatGeo Wild.

There, Millan has
followed with “Leader of the Pack” and now “Cesar 911.” He's
shown that dogs can change their lives – and he can, too. At 45, he
lives with Jahira Dar, 30, a Dominican native whom he calls his
almost-fiance and with his teen son Calvin, who, he says, is getting
a Nickelodeon show. And he continues to train dogs,

“Dogs from Beverly
Hills are rehabbing in South Central L.A.,” Millan said. “Who
would have imagined that was possible?”

-- “Cesar 911,”
9 p.m. ET Fridays, NatGeo Wild, rerunning at midnight; new season
starts Feb. 27.

-- Season-opener
reruns at 10 p.m. March 3 and at 2, 8 and 11 p.m. March 6,
surrounding the second episode.

-- More Milan
reruns: “Dog Whisperer,” 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays; “Love My
Pit Bull,” 1 p.m. Feb. 27; Las Vegas special, 2 p.m. Feb. 27, 2:30
p.m. March 4; also, episodes from the first “911” season, 7, 8
p.m. and 11 p.m. Feb. 27