Agatha is back ... and village life is lethal again


Acorn is a dandy screening service that's stuffed with shows from England, Australia and beyond. And now it has rescued Agatha Raisin, a fun character who is sort of like Lucy Ricardo turned blonde crimesolver. Her next movie arrives Monday (Nov. 19); here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Two versions of
Great Britain seem to co-exist.

There's the real
world for most people, in crowded cities. And there's the other world
– villages, vicars, knitting clubs, tea parties -- where TV's
murder mysteries take place.

“Agatha Raisin,”
now returning with monthly movies, acknowledges both. Agatha, an
overwrought public relations person in London, inherited a house in a
folksy village; murder mysteries ensued.

The result gives
Ashley Jensen – the “Ugly Betty” and “Extras” co-star –
room to play. “There's this daft and eccentric quality” to
Agatha, she said. “I kind of push the envelope.”

And yes, cozy
villages do still exist. There are the places where “Agatha Raisin”
is filmed, including Biddestone, population 498. “It's beautiful
countryside,” Jensen said. “The sun shines a lot more.”

And there's her home
town. Annon is a Scottish coastal town of 8,900, complete with a
castle and a 19h-century town hall. Robert Burns worked there, Thomas
Carlyle studied there, Jensen played there.

“I grew up in
lovely country,” she said. “I loved school; I did everything.”
That included sports, Girl Guides, winning a Duke of Edinburgh Award
and, especially, the National Youth Theatre.

After college, she
did TV supporting roles, then got a big break in “Extras,” as
Ricky Gervais' socially inept friend. “It was a platonic
friendship,” she said, “which there haven't been many of on TV.”

Jensen got a British
Comedy Award, an Emmy nomination and a fresh following. Then came the
four seasons of “Ugly Betty” and more British shows.

Producers suggested
she play Agatha Raisin, who's been in 29 novels by M.C. Heaton. “I
thought, 'This is just a delight of a character.'”

There was a movie
and eight one-hour episodes. Then “Agatha” was cancelled ... and
uncancelled.

Acorn, an American
streaming service specializing in shows from England and beyond, took
over. “No one was more surprised than I was,” Jensen said, “when
Acorn stepped in and said this was going to be on America first and
was going to be 90-minute movies.”

The new movie offers
lots of room for big, visual moments. That's Jensen in a garbage can
... and stuck in a window ... and having a VERY bad hair day ... and
then in a fundraising burlesque show.

“When I saw the
film of the burlesque scene, I thought, 'That's not bad for a lady
who's not 25 any more,'” said Jensen, 49. “It was actually very
liberating and fun to do.”

-- “Agatha Raisin
and the Wizard of Evesham,” available starting Monday on
www.acorn.tv

-- Acorn is a
streaming service, $4.99 a month (after a trial period) and $49.99 a
year. It focused on British shows, with a library that includes “Doc
Martin,” “Foyle's War,” etc. With the competition from Britbox,
it has put more emphasis on Australia and beyond, and on directly
funding British shows.

-- “Agatha” is
Acorn's first turn as the lead producer. The monthly movies will
reach the U.S. first.

 

A nuts-but-true prison-escape story becomes a compelling mini-series


There are lots of good TV shows and a few truly great ones. The latest (and, almost, greatest) is "Escape at Dannemora," a superb, seven-week mini-series (debuting Nov. 18), with director Ben Stiller getting amazing work from Patricia Arquette, Eric Lange, Bonnie Hunt and more. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

In the summer of
2015, a New York prison escape seized national attention.

“I just thought it
was nuts,” Eric Lange, a co-star of the “Escape at Dannemora”
mini-series, recalled. “It was mind-blowing -- sex in prison,
cutting through steel.It was all like this big soap opera.”

For 170 years, the
prison held everyone from Lucky Luciano to Tupac Shakur, without
escapes. Now two murderers were free; three weeks later, they were
shot (one fatally) within 35 miles of the prison.

Fresh details kept
emerging in the news, recalled producer Brett Johnson. “When you're
watching it in real time: 'Holy (crap), this guy's a painter .... His
paintings are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.' And then you find
out she was having sex with both” men, prior to their escape.

“She” is Joyce
“Tilly” Mitchell, a worker convicted of aiding them. In “Escape,”
Patricia Arquette creates Tilly's unusual sound (“we had a great
dialect coach”) and look.

This was a chance,
Arquette said, “to show a woman who enjoys sex, who doesn't have
this type of body that Hollywood people are supposed to have.”

Arquette didn't
arrive with a Tilly body, but she built it. “We became buddies,
trying to gain weight,” said Lange, who plays Lyle Mitchell, her
husband. “We'd sit at the table, eating pasta.”

In two months, Lange
put on 40 pounds. “It totally affected how I walked, how I did
everything.”

It helped him adjust
to the heaviness of the world these people inhabited.

Dannemora is a town
of 3,900 people – almost 3,000 of them prisoners – just 25 miles
from Canada. “They call it 'Little Siberia,'” Lange said. “They
say there are two seasons – winter and July.”

The mini-series
people – who did some filming outside the prison and in the town –
recall the mood. Arquette calls it “desolate.” Ben Stiller, who
directed, talks of “the heaviness they were living with.” Paul
Dano, who plays one of the escapees, recalls “the smell, the
temperature in the air, the sound.”

The town has “a
lot of really lovely people,” Lange said. Some had adjusted to a
no-frill life. “The most exciting part of Lyle's day is, 'Where are
we going to eat today?' And for him, that's enough.”

His wife is
different, Arquette said. She “is kind of bored and wants to feel
alive. I'd hear these stories of all these people who were having
affairs .... I think we as a species want to feel alive.”

Tilly “would play
the top-40 music station in the tailor shop all the time,” Stiller
said. “Here's 40 convicted felons and one civilian worker and one
corrections officer in a room.”

The Mitchells had a
working-class, Americana life -- something Lange, 45, can relate to.
He grew up near Cincinnati, in Hamilton, with a dad who worked with
software and a stay-at-home mom.

“I was alway in
choir,” he said. “I would drum, I would play the piano, I would
sing.” When there was no choir available to high school freshmen,
he tried the drama club. “The curtain went down, then went up again
and everyone clapped. That was it; I was sold.”

He did lots of
theater at Miami (Ohio) University, then found jobs in California.
Many were in heavy dramas – the villain in the first year of “The
Bridge,” the station chief in “Narcos,” the coroner in “Wind
River,” Mitch in a stage “Streetcar Named Desire.” But he also
played the theater teacher in “Victorious,” a broad teen comedy
that propelled Ariana Grande, Elizabeth Gillies and more.

A casting director
asked him to audition for “Escape” and sent a tape of Lyle being
interviewed. “He seemed befuddled and confused,” Lange said. “It
was really quite moving.”

Lange added a wig
and fake teeth and auditioned. Forty pounds later, he entered a
“nuts” world.

-- “Escape at
Dannemora,” 10 p.m. Sundays for seven weeks starting Nov. 18,
Showtime

-- Opener reruns
daily – 11:05 p.m. Sunday, 9 p.m. Monday, 7:55 p.m. Tuesday, 10
p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 9:30 p.m. Friday, 10:30 p.m. Saturday
(Nov. 24), 1:55 and 6:55 p.m. Nov. 25.

It's time to map out your Christmas-show viewing plans


Each year. I put together this mega-list of Christmas TV shows and send it to papers. Here it is; I'll keep updating it as more news arrives.

 

By Mike Hughes

Old-timers might
recall when Christmas was a day, or maybe 12 days. Now it's a
marathon..

Back in 1996, the
Family Channel created “25 Days of Christmas.” Since then, the
channel has changed its name three times and has decided 25 days
aren't nearly enough. Now it's called Freeform and started it
“Countdown to 25 Days of Christmas” on Sunday (Nov. 18).

By then, the
Hallmark Channel has already shown two new Christmas movies. It has
20 more this season ... plus another 15 on Hallmark Movies &
Mysteries.

Still, the real rush
starts with the parades on Thanksgiving morning. Here's a list of the
key things – new TV movies, specials and cartoons, plus reruns of a
few of the key cartoons and movies.

Everything is
subject to change and to extra details. A few networks have said when
their new shows will rerun, but many haven't; two (Fox and NBC) –
have been slow with any specifics. Still, here's a guide to what's
set so far, for a busy (and long) Christmas TV season.

Parades

-- Macy's parade, 9
a.m. to noon Thursday, Nov. 22, NBC. It's the 92nd year
for the parade, which has 12 bands, 26 floats, 59 balloons and 1,200
dancers and cheerleaders. NBC, with the “Today” people, also
plans music by John Legend, Martina McBride, Diana Ross, Leona Lewis,
Pentatonix and more.

-- Same parade, 9
a.m. to noon Thursday, CBS. This network has Kevin Frazier and Keltie
Knight hosting, with the casts of the Tony-winning “Dear Evan
Hansen” and the new “King Kong” musical.

-- Hollywood
Christmas Parade, 8-10 p.m. Dec. 14, CW. Nancy O'Dell is grand
marshal. Erik Estrada, Laura McKenzie, Dean Cain and Montel Williams
host, with music on two stages.

-- Christmas Day
Parade, 10 a.m. to noon ET Dec. 25, 9-11 a.m. in other time zones,
ABC. Jordan Fischer, Sarah Hyland and Jesse Palmer host in the Disney
parks. There's music by Fisher, Gwen Stefani, Andrea Bocelli (alone
and with his son Matteo), Brett Eldredge, Aloe Blacc, Maddie Poppe,
Olivia Holt, Dcappella and Why Don't We.

Cartoon classics

-- “How the Grinch
Stole Christmas,” 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23, NBC. Also, 8 p.m. Dec. 6
on TBS, followed by “Elf on the Shelf” at 8:30. Dr. Seuss and
Chuck Jones created one of TV's all-time greats.

-- “Frosty the
Snowman,” 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23, CBS, with its sequel, “Frosty
Returns,” at 8:30. They're also at 9 and 9:30 p.m. Dec. 8.

-- “Rudolph the
Red-Nosed Reindeer,” 8-9 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 27, CBS; also, 8 p.m.
Dec. 8.

-- “A Charlie
Brown Christmas,” 8 p.m. Dec. 6; also, 8 p.m. Dec. 20. Like
“Grinch,” this is one of the all-time best. Rounding out the hour
are short bits adapted from the “Peanuts” comic strip.

“A Christmas
Carol”

-- “Mickey's
Christmas Carol,” 9 a.m. Dec. 5, Freeform; also, 7 a.m. Dec. 6 and
Dec. 15; 7:30 a.m. Dec. 18; 11 a.m. Dec. 21. It's a gorgeous
half-hour.

-- “A Christmas
Carol” (1938), 8:30 a.m. ET Dec. 2, Turner Classic Movies; also, 8
p.m. ET Dec. 16 and 6 p.m. ET Dec. 24. Reginald Owen stars.

-- “Disney's
Christmas Carol” (2009), 8:50 p.m. Nov. 28, Freeform; alsom 6:40
p.m. Nov. 29; 9:50 p.m. Dec. 7; 2:20 p.m. Dec. 8; 9 p.m. Dec. 12;
9:15 p.m. Dec. 15; 5:10 p.m. Dec. 17; 4:10 p.m. Dec. 24; 12:40 p.m.
Dec. 25.

Comedy

-- “I Love Lucy
Christmas Special,” 8-9 p.m. Dec. 14, CBS. Here are two classic
episodes, with color added by computer. There's a Christmas one
that's included each year, followed by a newly colorized one, with
the men and women trying to prove they could have survived in the
pioneer days.

-- “The Dick Van
Dyke Show – Now In Living Color,” 9-10 p.m. Dec. 14, CBS. This
isn't really about Christmas, but makes a cozy companion to Lucy,
with two colorized episodes.

-- “Greatest
Holiday Commercials,” 8 p.m. Dec. 18, CW. At 9 is “Greatest
Holiday Video Countdown.”

Mostly music

-- “The Soul &
Spirit of Christmas,” 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23, GetTV (via digital
and cable) , rerunning at 10 p.m. and midnight; many more reruns,
starting with 10 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 25, rerunning at 1 a.m. CeCe and
BeBe Winans lead a gospel-star line-up singing holiday classics;
others are Anthony Hamilton, Take 6, Karyn Hawthorne and Kyla Jade.
Except for this new special, GetTV sticks to old shows – including
the Christmas specials of decades past.

-- “Christmas in
Rockefeller Center,” 8-10 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28, NBC. Expanded
from the usual one-hour special, it has Martina McBride, Diana Ross,
Brett Eldrege, Kelli Pickle, Pentatonix, Darci Lynn Farmer and Tony
Bennett singing with Diana Kall.

-- “A Legendary
Christmas,” 10 pm. Wednesday, Nov. 28, NBC. John Legend does songs
from his new album, in an hour that includes his wife Chrissy Teigen
and others.

-- “Magical
Holiday Celebration,” 9-11 p.m. Nov. 29, ABC. Jordan Fisher and
Sarah Hyland host from Disney World, with Jesse Palmer in Disneyland.
Performers include Fisher, Gwen Stefani, Meghan Trainor (joined by
Brett Eldredge for one song), Aloe Blacc, Maddie Poppe, Why Don't We
and a duet with Andrea Bocelli and his son Mateo.

-- “Christmas
Holiday Party,” 8 p.m. Dec. 1, Disney (but Nov. 23 on the DisneyNOW
app). Fisher hosts with the “Coop & Cami” kids, with music by
Stefani, Elderdge, Asher Angel and Meg Donnelly.

-- “CMA Country
Christmas,” 8-10 p.m. Dec. 10, ABC; also, 8 p.m. Dec. 22. Reba
McEntire hosts, with people from Nashville (Brad Paisley, Martina
McBride, Brett Eldredge, Dustin Lynch, Old Dominion) and beyond –
Tony Bennett, Diana Krall, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Lindsey
Stirling.

-- “Amy Grant's
Tennessee Christmas,” 8 p.m. Dec. 10, Hallmark. Grant is joined by
her husband Vince Gill, plus Kellie Pickler and Michael W. Smith.

-- “iHeartRadio
Jingle Ball,” 8-9:30 p.m. Dec. 16, CW; also, 8 p.m. Dec. 25.
Performers include Shawn Mendes, Cardi B, Camilla Cabello, many
more.

-- Christmas at the
Mormon Tabernacle Choir,” 9 p.m. Dec. 17, PBS; also, 9 p.m. Dec. 24
and 10:30 p.m. Dec. 25 (check local listings). Sutton Foster, a
two-time Tony-winner, sings; Hugh Bonneville (“Downton Abbey”)
does a reading.

-- “A Home For the
Holidays,” 8-9 p.m. Dec. 21, CBS. It's the 20th year for this
special, which mixes top singers (still pending) with warm stories
about adoption.

More specials

-- “A Happy &
Friends Yule Log,” concludes at 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 22, Hallmark
Movies & Mysteries. The 24-hour marathon has adoptable kittens
and puppies. plus ducks, bunnies and a piglet.

-- National
Christmas Tree lighting, with music, 10 p.m. Dec. 2, Ovation and
Reelz. It's a living tree, a Colorado blue spruce, surrounded by 56
smaller trees representing each state and territory.

-- “Pop Up Santa
Holiday Special,” 9:30-11 p.m. Dec. 3, Freeform; also, 8 a.m. Dec.
4; 11 a.m. Dec. 11; 7 a.m. Dec. 20. Feel-good surprises range from a
military base to a children's hospital to an epic family reunion.
Ballerina Misty Copeland and former football star DeMarco Murray
help.

-- “Disney's Fairy
Tale Weddings: Holiday Magic,” 8 p.m. Dec. 8, Freeform; also, 11
a.m. Dec. 10; 1 p.m. Dec. 19. One wedding at Disney World has a Mary
Poppins theme; another has a performance by Martina McBride. Allison
Holker and Stephen “tWitch” Boss host this one and “Pop Up
Santa.”

-- “Masters of
Illusion: Christmas Magic,” 8 p.m. Dec. 23, CW. Guests include
magicians (Jonathan Pendragon, Murray SawChuck, etc.) and Christmas
Choir.

More cartoons

-- “Santa Claus is
Comin' to Town,” 8-9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23, ABC. Young Kris Kringle
(Mickey Rooney) finds his goal in life. It's also on Freeform at 4:05
p.m. Dec. 5; 4:25 p.m. Dec. 8; 9:30 a.m. Dec. 9; 11 a.m. Dec. 16;
11:30 a.m. Dec. 21; 12:40 p.m. Dec. 25.

-- “Grandma Got
Run Over By a Reindeer,” 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23, CW; also, 8 p.m.
Dec. 19.

-- “Trolls
Holiday,” 8:30 p.m., Nov. 23, NBC. Anna Kendrick and Justin
Timberlake star.

-- “Robbie the
Reindeer: Hooves of Fire,” 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, CBS; with its
sequel at 8:30. These are drolly clever British shows, re-dubbed by
American actors.

-- “The Story of
Santa Claus,” 9-10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, CBS. Ed Asner is Santa.

-- “Olaf's Frozen
Adventure,” 8 p.m. Nov. 29, ABC; also, 8 p.m. Dec. 19. This debuted
last year, with songs from the “Frozen” stars -- Josh Gad,
Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel.

-- “Toy Story That
Time Forgot,” 8:30 p.m. Nov. 29, ABC; also, 11:45 a.m. Dec. 23,
Freeform. During a play date, the toys are stranded with some
delusional action figures.

-- “Mickey's Once
Upon a Christmas, 1:05 p.m. Dec. 2, Freeform; also, 7 a.m. Dec. 3;
1:30 p.m. Dec. 12; 7:30 a.m. Dec. 15; 8:30 a.m. Dec. 20; 7 a.m. Dec.
21.

-- “Winnie the
Pooh and Christmas Too,” 8:30 a.m. Dec. 3, Freeform; also, 7:30
a.m. Dec. 8; 7 a.m. Dec. 9; 7 a.m. Dec. 11; 10:30 a.m. Dec. 21.

-- “Mickey's Twice
Upon a Christmas,” 3 p.m. Dec. 12; also, 9 a.m. Dec. 15; 10 a.m.
Dec. 20; 8:30 a.m. Dec. 21; 11 a.m. Dec. 24; 8 a.m. Dec. 24.

-- “Disney Prep &
Landing,” 8 p.m. Dec. 13, ABC, with its sequel at 8:30; also, 8 and
8:30 p.m. Dec. 23. On Freeform, they're at 2:25 and 2:55 p.m. Dec. 22
and 7 and 7:30 a.m. Dec. 25. These look at the high-tech crew that
prepares each of Santa's stops.

-- “Shrek the
Halls,” 8:30 p.m. Dec. 19, ABC. The good-hearted ogre tries to
understand the holiday.

-- “I Want a Dog
for Christmas, Charlie Brown,” 8-9 p.m. Dec. 21, ABC.

 

Home and food shows

-- “Holiday Baking
Championship” and “Christmas Cookie Challenge,” 9 and 10 p.m.
Mondays, Food Network.

-- “Holiday Wars”
and “Holiday Gingerbread Showdown,” 8 and 9 p.m. Sunday (Nov.
25), Food Network

-- “The Great
Christmas Lights Fight,” 8-10 p.m. Mondays, ABC, Nov. 26, Dec. 3
and Dec. 17, plus an “all-stars” special at 10 p.m. Dec. 10 and 9
p.m. Dec. 21. In each hour, four homes compete with mega-displays; a
judge (Taniya Nayak or Carter Oosterhouse) chooses a winner.

-- Holiday cooking
specials with country stars, noon Dec. 1 (Trisha Yearwood) and Dec. 2
(Martina McBride), Food Network.

-- “The Great
American Baking Show: Holiday Edition,” 8-10 p.m. Thursdays, ABC,
starting Dec. 6; opener reruns at 8 p.m. Dec. 8. Judges include a
Spice Girl (Emma Bunton) and “Spice” Adams.

-- “A Hearty
Holiday Feast,” 9 p.m., Dec. 18, PBS. Lidia Bastianich tries
Midwestern traditions.

-- “Gingerbread
Giants,” 9 p.m. Dec. 23, Food Network

Movies

A few films that
originally showed in theaters have now become big at Christmas time.
Some have Christmas themes, some don't, but all make popular holiday
viewing:

-- “The Wizard of
Oz” (1939), 6:30 and 8:45 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 22, TBS; also, 5:45
p.m. Nov. 23.

-- “Love,
Actually” (2003), 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23, TBS; also, 5 p.m Dec. 1
and 9; 8 p.m. Dec. 21; 10 a.m. Dec. 22.

-- “It's a
Wonderful Life” (1946), 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, USA; 8 p.m. Dec.
24, NBC.

-- “A Christmas
Story” (1983), 8 and 10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, TNT; also, 8 p.m.
Dec. 24, TBS; then 10 p.m., midnight, etc., for 24 hours.

-- “Holiday Inn”
(1942), 10 p.m. ET Sunday, Nov. 25, and 8 p.m. ET Dec. 8, Turner
Classic Movies. It's the black-and-white film in which Bing Crosby
introduced “White Christmas.” He later did “White Christmas”
(1954), which AMC airs Tuesday, Nov. 27, at 1:15 a.m. (late Monday
night) and noon.

-- “Meet Me in St.
Louis” (1944), noon ET Dec. 1, Turner Classic Movies; also, 8 p.m.
ET Dec. 16; 6 p.m. ET Dec. 24. Judy Garland stars in this one (singing
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”) and “Oz.”

-- “The Sound of
Music” (1965), 7-11 p.m. Dec. 16, ABC.

-- “Beauty and the
Beast” (1991), 8-10 p.m. Dec. 24, ABC.

New TV movies (the
top prospects)

-- “Christmas
Everlasting,” 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, Hallmark. Lucy returns to
her home town, harboring guilt. From the prestigious “Hallmark Hall
of Fame,” this stars Tatyana Ali, Dondre Whitfield, Dennis Haysbert
and Patti LaBelle.

-- “The Truth
About Christmas,” 9 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 25, Freeform; also noon Dec.
3; 11 a.m. Dec. 13; 11:55 p.m. Dec. 21. Can truth and politics
co-exist? A political consultant is running her boyfriend's mayoral
campaign. A confrontation with a toy-store Santa leaves her unable to
resist spilling the truth.

-- “Life-Size 2,”
9 p.m. Dec. 2, Freeform; also, 12:40 p.m. Dec. 9; 11:55 p.m. Dec. 15;
1:30 and 11:25 p.m. Dec. 20; 11:55 p.m. Dec. 23. Back in 2000,
“Life-Size” had a sweet kid (Lindsay Lohan, then 13) bring her
doll (Tyra Banks) to life. Now the sequel has Lohan in support, Banks
as the doll and Francia Raisa as a young toy-company CEO who needs
some guidance.

-- “No Sleep Til
Christmas,” 9 p.m. Dec. 10, Freeform; also, 11 a.m. Dec. 13. The
husband-and-wife Annables (Dave and Odette) play insomniac strangers.

-- “'Call the
Midwife' Holiday Special,” 9-10:0 p.m. Dec. 25, PBS (check local
listings). On Christmas Day, British TV has special versions of top
shows. In this one, a new nun brings four Chinese orphans.

More new TV movies
(November)

-- “Christmas at
the Palace,” 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 22, Hallmark. A skating
choreographer bumps into Alexander, unaware he's royalty – dubbed
by some “The Grinch King.”

-- “Pride,
Prejudice and Mistletoe,” 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23, Hallmark.
Returning home fo Christmas, Darcy (Lacey Chabert) must plan a
charity event with her former rival.

-- “Poinsettias
for Christmas,” 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23, Lifetime. Ellie's father
(John Schneider) asks her to rush home for an emergency: The family
business has a contract to provide thousands of poinsettias for the
annual parade ... but so far, the flowers haven't turned red. Doesn't
anyone have spray paint?

-- “Every Day is
Christmas,” 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, Lifetime. Toni Braxton plays
a workaholic who ignores love – then gets a Christmas visit. Gloria
Reuben and Michael Jai White co-star.

-- “Christmas on
Honeysuckle Lane,” 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, Hallmark Movies &
Mysteries. Returning home to sell their late parents' home, siblings
sift the belongings and find a surprise.

-- “Christmas
Harmony,” 10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, Lifetime. Kelly Jakle plays
(yes) Harmony.

-- “A Shoe
Addict's Christmas,” 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 25, Hallmark. On Christmas
Eve, Noelle (Candace Cameron Bure) is accidentally locked inside the
department store where she works. Soon, she's visited by the spirits
of Christmases past, present and future.

-- “Jingle Belle,”
8 p.m. Nov. 25, Lifetime. Returning home to write music for the
Christmas pageant, Isabelle (Tatyana Ali) is startled to find that
the show is directed by her old duet partner.

-- “Christmas
Cupid's Arrow,” 9 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 25, Ion. It's a variation on
“Cyrano de Bergerac.”

-- “Christmas
Perfection,” 10 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 25, Lifetime. An American woman
wakes up in an Irish village.

-- “A Christmas
Prince: The Royal Wedding,” Nov. 30, Netflix. This is a sequel to
last year's success.

-- “A Very Nutty
Christmas,” 8 p.m. Nov. 30, Lifetime. There's a guy in Melissa Joan
Hart's house who may be the Nutcracker Prince.

And more new ones
(December)

There are a lot
here, so we'll bunch them by date:

-- Dec. 1:
“Christmas in Evergreen: Letters to Santa,” 8 p.m., Hallmark; “A
Twist of Christmas,” 8 p.m., Lifetime; “Welcome to Christmas,”
9 p.m., Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.

-- Dec. 2:
“Christmas Catch,” 7 p.m., UP; “Merry Wish-mas,” 7 p.m., TV
One; “A Majestic Christmas,” 8 p.m., Hallmark; “The Christmas
Pact,” 8 p.m., Lifetime; “Northern Lights of Christmas,” 9
p.m., Hallmark Movies & Mysteries; “A Wedding for Christmas,”
9 p.m., Ion.

-- Dec. 7:
“Christmas Lost and Found,” 8 p.m., Lifetime.

-- Dec. 8: “Santa's
Boots,” 8 p.m., Lifetime; “Homegrown Christmas,” 8 p.m.,
Hallmark; “Memories of Christmas,” 9 p.m., Hallmark Movies &
Mysteries; “Rent-an-Elf,” 9 p.m., Ion.

-- Dec. 9:
“Christmas With a Prince” (there are lots of princes during
holidays), 7 p.m., UP; “Christmas Wonderland,” 8 p.m., Hallmark;
“A Christmas in Tennessee,” 8 p.m., Lifetime; “Once Upon a
Christmas Miracle,” 9 p.m., Hallmark Movies & Mysteries; “A
Snow White Christmas,” 9 p.m., Ion.

-- Dec. 14:
“Christmas Around the Corner,” 8 p.m., Lifetime.

-- Dec. 15: “A
Gingerbread Romance,” 8 p.m., Hallmark; “Christmas Pen Pals,” 8
p.m., Lifetime; “Time for Me to Come Home for Christmas,” 9 p.m.,
Hallmark Movies & Mysteries (with Josh Henderson as a country
star, based on Blake Shelton's song); “Country Christmas Album,”
9 p.m., Ion.

-- Dec. 16: “Coins
for Christmas,” 7 p.m., TV One; “Christmas on Holly Lane,” 7
p.m., UP; “Hometown Christmas,” 8 p.m., Lifetime; “Entertaining
Christmas,” 8 p.m., Hallmark; “Reunited at Christmas,” 9 p.m.,
Hallmark Movies & Mysteries; “A Christmas in Royal Fashion”
(yes, there's another prince), 9 p.m., Ion.

-- Dec. 22: “Jingle
Around the Clock,” 8 p.m., Hallmark; “Small Town Christmas,” 9
p.m., Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.

-- Dec. 23:
“Hometown Holiday,” 7 p.m., UP; “Christmas Made to Order,” 8
p.m., Hallmark; “Christmas Bells are Ringing,” 9 p.m., Hallmark
Movies & Mysteries.

They finally met their livesaving, leg-saving heroes


The first season of "We'll Meet Again" created some terrific reunions. Now the second season will start strong on Tuesday (Nov. 13); here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Roger Wagner was
sure he would lose his leg; Dave Johnson was sure he would lose his
life.

Then heroes
intervened; now – 50 and 46 years later – they've had a chance to
thank them.

Both are in the
season-opener of PBS' “We'll Meet Again,” with dramatic Vietnam
stories.

As a finance clerk,
Wagner seemed out of danger. But clerks took rifle practice, firing
at a hill; one day in 1968, someone fired back. Soon, he said, he was
waiting for surgery in Long Binh. “They said, 'We have to let you
know we're going to amputate your leg.'”

And then ... they
didn't. “I came out of surgery and (the nurse) told me that they
had saved my leg.”

It would be a
half-century before he learned the full story: Dr. Mayer Katz had
only been a surgeon for six months when he tried a difficult
procedure, using an unneeded vein as a replacement.

Johnson's crisis
came four years later. He was a captain, doing his third tour, when
his helicopter crashed 15 miles into Cambodia. Surrounded by gunfire,
he and his men had no way out ... until Bruce Grable heard his
distress call and daringly landed his 98-foot Chinook 'copter.

In later years,
Wagner and Johnson tried unsuccessfully to find their saviors. Then
they contacted the people at the PBS show. “They made it like an
adventure,” said Johnson, 78, “like an odyssey.”

Both had emotional
reunions. “I was speechless,” Wagner said. “All I could do was
just think about ... holding the hands that saved my leg .... He's 82
(and) just retired last year. The things that he's done for people
are just marvelous.”

With the leg healed,
Wagner even played on a college tennis team. He's 71, divorced, a
retired postal worker; “I live in Las Vegas and play a lot of
golf.”

And Johnson? “I
spent 26 years in the Army ... and had a couple of jobs after that.”
He's been married 54 years and has two children -- both pre-schoolers
on the day their dad's life was saved.

-- “We'll Meet
Again,” 8 p.m. for six Tuesdays on PBS, starting Nov. 13

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 dram -- 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
robots.”

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
college.”

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
adaptable.”

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
problems.

-- “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.