Black colleges bring soaring past, uncertain future


It's a huge subject -- much too big for one documentary or one fictional series: The historically black colleges bring more than 150 years of soaring history and complicated sociology.

Still, a PBS documentary Monday (Feb. 19) is a good starting point; so is the fictional "The Quad," which returns to cable's BET on Feb. 27. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

At first, the idea
was modest: Slaves were free now, but uneducated. Create some
colleges for vocational skills.

Then things got much
bigger. Historically black colleges “are producing an extraordinary
number of new leaders in this country,” said Michael Lomax, head of
the United Negro College Fund.

Their graduates
include icons of the past – Martin Luther King, Jr., Booker T.
Washington, Thurgood Marshall, W.E.B. Du Bois – and present,
including Oprah Winfrey, Spike Lee and a new wave of elected
officials. The schools are “carrying the responsibility and the
weight of producing black scientists overall,” said Mary Schmidt
Campbell, president of Spelman College.

They also face
plenty of problems, which TV viewers can see via a documentary (on
PBS Monday) or cable fiction (“The Quad,” returning Feb. 27).
Enrollment is down; money is tight.

Such problems
confront schools of all types, Campbell said. “Over the past 10 or
20 years, there have been many colleges and universities that have
gone out of business. HBCU's (historically black colleges and
universities) are no different.”

Overall, their
impact has been shrinking. The Pew Research Center found that in
2015, 8.5 percent of all black college students were at HBCU's; in
1980, the percentage was twice as high.

The total number of
such schools has shrunk from a reported 121 in the 1930s to 102
today. Some are wobbling; the PBS film briefly visits Morris Brown
College, which once had 2,500 students over 34 Atlanta acres; now,
after a financial scandal, it has fewer than 50.

Still, there's the
flip side. “Spelman is thriving,” Campbell said. “Howard is
thriving, Hampton is thriving, Xavier is thriving. There is a whole
slate of HBCU's that are thriving.”

And the overall
effect is still huge. “This is a big community – 102
institutions, over 300,000 students,” Lomax said. “They produce
50,000 graduates a year.”

And in a way, their
success helped create the problem: Thurgood Marshall, from the
prestigious Howard Law School, successfully fought the concept of
“separate-but-equal” education; his court victories opened up
fresh possibilities for black students.

Where do the HBCU's
stand, in an era of wider choices? Some people see them as starter
schools.

“About 70 percent
of the students ... are low-income,” Lomax said, “versus about 34
percent of all colleges .... I would say around 50 percent are the
first in their familes to attend.”

But others see them
as much more: Given lots of choices, they still prefer the HBCU;
consider three people who chose Florida A&M:

-- Anika Noni Rose
was a lawyer's daughter from Connecticut who wanted a fresh
experience. “It was probably the only time in my life when I was
completely surrounded by my own culture,” she said. Now she's a
Tony-winning actress, playing an HBCU president in “The Quad.”

-- Roy Wood Jr., a
comedian and “Daily Show” correspondent, chose an HBCU school,
just as his parents did. “I'm a 17-year-old kid and I need to
prepare myself for a different America than most white kids will
see,” he recalled.

-- Peyton Alex
Smith plays a “Quad” student and aspiring rapper. “I've never
been around that much black excellence,” he said of his Florida A&M
years. “Everybody wanted to succeed.”

That's typical of
the black-college experience, Campbell said. “It's a safe place,
and it's also a demanding place. HBCU's have very high expectations.”

That wasn't always
the case, said Stanley Nelson, producer-director of the PBS film.
Many of the schools had white leaders, strict rules and low
expectations. The extreme was the Fisk president in the 1920s. “He
was afraid of black sex .... He had canceled fraternities, canceled
some of the sports teams.”

Then the school
invited Du Bois – a Fisk graduate whose daughter was a student
there – to be a speaker. “Du Bois goes there and ... says, 'Go
out in the world and be wonderful.' He tells the students to protest
... The students hold this massive strike and the president is
removed.”

It began an era of
unrest – first aimed at the colleges, then at society. “Black
colleges have always been politically engaged,” Campbell said,
starting with “the lunch counter sit-ins in the early '60s.”

Now this isn't
always politics from the outside. “This January,” Lomax said,
“four new mayors in this country are graduates of historically
black colleges.”

Three are in cities
– New Orleans, Atlanta, Birmingham – once segregated. The other
is St. Paul, Minn.

Melvin Carter grew
up there, the son of a St. Paul cop and a county commissioner. He
graduated from Florida A&M, then returned to Minnesota for
graduate school and stayed.

Now he's mayor of a
city that the 2010 census listed as 60 per cent white and 16 per cent
African American. HBCU grads have gone far from the vocational-school
days.

-- “Independent
Lens: Tell Them We Are Rising,” 9-10:30 p.m. Monday, PBS

-- “The Quad,”
10 p.m. Tuesdays, BET; it returns Feb. 27

 

The boy-next-door at 76: John Davidson's still cute, still busy


Sitting in the audience one night, I spotted the name "John Davidson" in the program for a touring production of the "Finding Neverland" musical.

That's odd, I thought. I wonder if he's related to the famous John Davidson; maybe he's a son or a grandson or ...

Actually, this was THE Davidson, the classic leading-man of a previous TV generation. He's still busy at 76, doing strong work in "Neverland," while also taping some bits for the Game Show Network. The latter may be his ideal niche; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Game shows seem to
be eternal. So do game-show stars.

“I can still look
cute when you clean me up,” John Davidson, 76, said after a Game
Show Network gig.

He said that
whimsically; Davidson has had a mixed relationship with his
cute-choirboy look.

“In my mind, I was
a rebel,” he said. Other people only saw the handsome
boy-next-door, a perpetually polite guy who was the son of two
ordained Baptist ministers. (Yes, two.) That made him perfect for
musicals and game shows ... both of which he's still doing.

Most 76-year-olds
are readily available for employment. But when GSN wanted him to tape
some appearances, he had to squeeze it into his regular job –
touring in the “Finding Neverland” musical.

“I shot it all on
a day off,” Davidson said. “Then I flew back on the the red-eye.”

During his GSN day,
he taped bits for a couple “Classic Saturday” nights -- one aired
Feb. 10, the other is pending -- and for “Daily Draw.” He also
pitched ideas to the network's development people.

“I thought they'd
want some young guy to host,” Davidson said. “But they said, 'You
have to realize, our target audience is over 50 ... I guess that
explains Alex Trebek and Pat Sajak.”

Sajak, 71, and
Trbek, 77, still dominate early-evening ratings with “Wheel of
Fortune” and “Jeopardy.” The games – like the stars – seem
to go on forever.

CBS' “The Price is
Right” and ABC's “To Tell the Truth” started 61 years ago. At
least four ongoing games are in their 50s, three in their 40s. That's
in TV, where five years is considered a triumph.

The games have
thrived by filling the variety-show void, Davidson said. “This is
the new variety.”

His mentor, Bob
Banner, first spotted him in a stage musical. “He said, 'I want to
fashion your career as a variety star. I think you could be the male
version of Carol Burnett.'”

Banner starred
Davidson in the TV version of the “Fantasticks” musical and even
created a summer show (“The Entertainers”) around Burnett and
Davidson. From there, Davidson guested on lots of variety shows and
did some acting – co-starring in the Sally Field series “The Girl
With Something Extra” and with Lesley Ann Warren in two Disney
musicals.

“I had a crush on
(Field) and on Lesley Ann Warren,” Davidson said. “I was married
at the time, but they were both challenging and intellectual women.”

Meanwhile, variety
shows were fading. A few (Burnett, “Saturday Night Live,” “In
Living Color”) survived with great sketch comedy; the others ended.

Davidson did talk
shows – his own in the daytime, guest-hosting for Johnny Carson at
night – and games. On “Hollywood Squares,” he was both a master
bluffer and then the host; he also hosted “$25,000 Pyramid,”
“That's Incredible” and “Time Machine.”

Increasingly, stars
were glad to do games. “You can be seen with your name right below
your face.”

It's been a busy
life for Davidson and for people close to him. (His dad performed
weddings for Dick Clark, Kenny Rogers and other celebrities.) By all
logic, he would have retired long ago.

Instead, he's done
nightclub shows and musical tours – first “Wicked” and now
“Finding Neverland,” with “just the best role I've ever had.”

In strong voice,
Davidson does the double role that Kelsey Grammer tackled on Broadway
– a producer discouraging J.M. Barrie from writing “Peter Pan,”
Captain Hook telling him to write it.

This isn't just
gimmick casting: In some cities, “Neverland” doesn't even promote
the fact that he'll be there. “People open up their programs and
see my name and say, 'Wow, what's he doing here?'”

Occasionally, he
asks that himself. Traveling with his wife, Davidson is working six
days a week.

“A year can be a
long run,” he said. “You start to look forward to the end ....
I'm looking forward to being back home (in New Hampshire) and playing
Scrabble with my wife by the fireplace.”

Or, to doing a Game
Show Network show. By game standards, he's sort of in his mid-life.

Finding Davidson

-- On stage:
“Finding Neverland” is in Detroit though Sunday, then Milwaukee,
Kansas City, more

-- On video:
Musicals “Fantasticks” (1964), “The Happiest Millionaire”
(1967), “The One and Only Genuine Original Family Band” (1968).

-- Also: Albums (see
www.johndavidson.com),
occasional reruns on the Game Show Network.

 

 

Hey, dogs get their Olympics too


As I sit here watching the Winter Olympics -- tough start, lots of guys plunking on the ice -- I realize that others need their chance in the spotlight ... especially dogs. Now one cable channel has its Barkfest, another has the Westminster show. I had a chance to talk to two interesting dog owners; here's the story I sent to

By Mike Hughes

Sports fans know the
story: You have years of work and worry; at the end, you get a trophy
or a scholarship or a big paycheck or ... well, a ribbon.

“A 40-cent
ribbon,” said Brandi Ritchie.

That's the prize for
the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which is the centerpiece of a
doggy week on cable. Owners might get other rewards – especially
good breeding fees for a winner.

Still, Remy
Smith-Lewis said, this isn't something to do for profit. “It
doesn't come out. (You figure) the time that we spend, the travel. I
don't think I even share that with my fiancee. She'd probably kill me
if she saw the receipts.”

Smith-Lewis and
Ritchie both have dogs in this year's show and are featured in a
“Road to Westminster” documentary. Both of them – a black man
from California, a struggling mom from small-town Texas -- counter
the dog-show image of wealthy WASPs from New England.

They also contrast
with each other. Smith-Lewis is a front-runner; his dog, Manly, is
the No. 1-rated water dog, making his final trip to Westminster after
twice being runner-up. Ritchie is an underdog; after decades of dog
shows, she's finally landed her first trip to Westminster.

“My parents
dabbled in dog shows when I was young and I was in the ring at 5
years old,” she said. “It was a passion that really grew inside
of me. It was like a fire.”

That fire would face
steep odds, especially when she was a single mom who could only
afford to enter one or two shows a year. Now she's 38, married, with
a kennel business and sons (21 and 17) who are almost grown. She can
go to shows, but has to do the grooming and handling herself; a
couple years ago, when she was 5-foot and 252 pounds, that became too
much.

“It's very
taxing,” she said. “I told my husband, 'I can't do it any more.'
I was crying.”

The answer was
gastric bypass surgery. Today, 101 pounds lighter, she seems vibrant;
so does Donkey Kong, her Chinese crested dog.

Smith-Lewis didn't
grow up with a dog, but he was fascinated. “We'd be playing T-ball
in the park and I would drop the bat and go pat a dog.”

He was intrigued by
the fact that Bill Cosby had a dog in shows. Then his mom took him to
one “and I was just blown away.”

Remy-Lewis began
working at kennels and meeting the handlers, especially Bill
McFadden. “When I was 12, I needed a ride to a dog show. I
cold-called his wife.”

A relationship – a
mixture of mentor, parent and friend – was forming. Now Remy-Lewis
has day jobs (he has a spa business and a jewelry business ) and is
co-owner of Manly; McFadden is the handler.

Usually, both are
there. Remy-Lewis grooms, encourages ... then paces like a nervous
stage mom. “We work hard all week and then you have this 20
minutes,” he said. “And then it's all over.”

Yes, it's stressful.
“For those couple of minutes in the ring, it's everything,”
Ritchie said.

But both insist that
they – and their dogs – are enjoying themselves.

“It's happy, fun,
treats, love,” Remy-Lewis said. “Manly is my dog. He sleeps on my
bed; he runs in my backyard .... Win, lose or draw, I think we are
still winners. We get to take these dogs home.”

Lotsa dogs (all
times ET)

-- Westminster
Kennel Club Dog Show, 8-11 p.m. Monday (Feb. 12) and Tuesday, Fox Sports 1;
reruns, at 8 and 11 p.m. Thursday and Friday, NatGeo Wild.

-- The daytime
portion of Westminster is on NatGeo Wild, from 1-4 p.m. Monday and
Tuesday.

-- That's part of
the NatGeo “Barkfest.” A “Road to Westminster” documentary is
8 and 9 p.m. Sunday (rerunning at 11 p.m. and midnight) and 6 and 7
p.m. Friday.

-- Doggy doings start at 5 p.m. Friday (with the new "Science of Dogs" at 8 and 11); 7 a.m. Saturday (with a Dr. Pol marathon at night); 7 a.m. Sunday (with "Road to Westminster" at 8 and 11 p.m.); noon Monday (with
“A Dog Saved My Life” at 8 and 11 p.m.); noon Tuesday (with a
Cesar Millan marathon from 4 p.m. To 2 a.m); 7 p.m. Wednesday; 8 p.m.
Thursday; and noon Friday.

 

In brief: Here's the TV line-up for the Winter Olympics


If you scroll down, you'll find two stories previewing the Winter Olympics, Feb. 8-25. Those are in a preview package I sent to papers, along with this schedule:

By Mike Hughes

Here's a quick
summary of TV's Winter Olympic coverage; all times are ET:

-- The ceremonies:
The opening is 8-11 p.m. Friday, with Mike Tirico and Katie Couric
anchoring. (Most of the Olympics will be live, but this is
tape-delayed; on the West Coast, it will be shown twice, at 5 and 8
p.m. PT.) The closing ceremony will be Feb. 25; expect some
spectacle.

-- The extra-early
start: From 11 p.m. Wednesday to 10 a.m. Thursday, the NBC Sports
Network will have a lot of curling, plus some Alpine skiing and ski
jumping.

-- The early start:
On Thursday, a day before the opening ceremony, NBC has a full night
of figure skating and freestyle skiing, from 8-11:30 p.m. Also, the
NBC Sports Network has curling, from 8 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.

-- After that: The
NBC Sports Network has virtually non-stop Olympics. Others vary.

-- The first
weekend: On both days, NBC goes from 3-6 p.m. On Saturday, it's also
8-11 p.m. and 11:30 p.m to 3:30 a.m.; on Sunday, it's 7-11 p.m. and
11:35 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. Also, on both days USA has women's hockey at
7 a.m.

-- Weekdays: NBC
goes from 3-5 p.m., then from 8-11:30 p.m. and 12:05 to 4:30 a.m.
Also, CNBC has curling from 5-8 p.m. and USA has lots of hockey,
including 2:30 a.m. and 7:10 a.m. Feb. 13-14 and 7 a.m. Feb. 16.

-- Figure-skating
(teams). Much of the figure skating will be in prime time, from
8-11:30 p.m. The first weekend involves separate medals for teams:
Thursday has the short programs for men and pairs ... Saturday has
the finals for pairs and the short for women and ice dancing ...
Sunday has the finals for men, women and ice dancing, wrapping up the
team medals.

-- Figure-skating
(individuals). Once the team medals are set, the individual
competition begins. It will be pairs on Feb. 13-14, men on Feb.
15-16. ice dancers on Feb. 18-19, women on Feb. 20 and 22. On Feb.
24, the medalists can shed all the rules and perform in an
exhibition.

 

Winter Olympics: Americans get their fix of swirling sprites and soaring snowboarders


The Winter Olympics start Thursday (Feb. 8), so it's time to get serious about it. If you scroll down one, you'll see a fun story I sent to papers, focusing particularly on NBC's Apolo Ohno. Now here's a look at some of the events and people likely to draw American viewers. One more thing, with some TV-time details, is next.

By Mike Hughes

As the Winter
Olympics arrive, NBC likes to offer grand vistas and great
traditions.

Its viewers,
however, often want more. They want events that Americans understand
... and maybe have a chance to win..

Many Americans have
never quite understood the luge, the bobsleigh or the skeleton. NBC's
Mary Carillo once said the two-man luge looks “like a bar bet gone
bad.”

Some find curling
and cross-country skiing too slow, short-track speed skating too
fast, the biathlon too weird. (Yes, it involves skiers with rifles;
at least they're not texting.)

But there's much
more, with strong American prospects.

“So much of Team
USA's strength involves the female athletes,” said Mike Tirico, who
will be NBC's main anchor. He points to the effects of gender-equity
rules that started 45 years ago. “Title IX's multiple generations
now are yielding strong women's teams in so many American sports.”

Some of the key
events and people are:

-- FIGURE SKATING:
Americans have savored this, ever since the wins by Peggy Fleming
(1968), Dorothy Hamill (1976) and Scott Hamilton (1984). This time,
they have a front-runner among men (Nathan Chen), but not among
women.

By comparison,
Americans used to scoff at ice dancing ... until Meryl Davis and
Charlie White won the silver medal in 2010 and gold in 2014. Now the
U.S. again has strong medal contenders, with the brother-sister duo
of Alex and Maia Shibutani.

Boosting NBC is the
relatively recent addition of a team event. That adds three more
days; the 18 Olympic days will include 12 days of figure-skating,
much of it in prime time.

The team portion
starts Thursday – before the opening ceremony -- with the short
programs for men and pairs. Saturday has the pairs finals and the
short program for women and ice dancing; Sunday has the men, women
and ice dancing finals and the team medals.

Then it starts all
over, with individual competition – short program one day, then
finals. Pairs will be Feb. 13-14, bringing some Valentine's Day
passion. Men are Feb. 15-16, ice dancing on Feb. 18-19, women on Feb.
20 and 22 and an exhibition by the medalists on Feb. 22.

-- SKIING: Here's a
prime example of the American women, with an old and new star.

In 2010, Lindsey
Vonn became the first American woman to go gold in downhill. She was
out with an injury in 2014, but is back; in the weekend before the
Olympics, she took her 80th World Cup victory.

And the new star is
Mikaela Shiffrin. In 2014, at 18, she became the youngest person to
win Olympic gold in slalom; now, at 22, she's favored in several
events.

-- SNOWBOARDING:
This is another event with old and new stars.

The familiar one is
Shaun White, who went gold in 2006 and 2010, then finished fourth in
2014. He's back at 31, after surviving a tough crash during training.

And the newcomer is
Chloe Kim, who would have made the 2014 team ... except she was too
young (13) to qualify. Now she's ready at 17, with a string of gold
medals in Winter X Games.

-- HOCKEY: For five
Olympics, hockey fans thrived. The National Hockey League took a
break, letting players join their home-country teams.

The Canadians won
three gold medals, the Czechs and Swedes took one apiece. Americans
took silver twice, losing to Canada in 2002 and 2010.

This year, however,
the team owners aren't going along and the pros won't be there.
“Clearly, it does disrupt the NHL season,” said Jim Bell, head of
NBC's Olympic coverage. He talks hopefully of “a good storyline
developing should some young Americans emerge, as they did in
(1980).”

And Tirico points to
the U.S. women, who “might become one of the biggest stories for
both hockey tournaments.” They took gold the first time women's
hockey came to the Olympics (1998), then have been won silver four
straight times, always with Canada going gold.