For now, the new "Star Trek" series is a journey into the unknown


By Mike Hughes

LOS ANGELES -- The
new “Star Trek” series is only four months away, but fans still
don't know many of the basics.

Some of that is a
choice by the “Trek” people. “You'll get a little more
information in October,” producer Bryan Fuller told the Television
Critics Association. “We'll keep building the ... reveal.”

And some is by
circumstance: He doesn't know all the answers, either.

The lead character,
for instance, may or may not be a minority. “We haven't cast her
yet,” he said, “so we don't know what level of diversity she will
be.”

And the scripts are
still fluid. Usually, Fuller molds the first one alone, he said, but
that's not possible “at the pace at which we are launching this.”

In its first two
years, CBS All Access has been a spot to stream what has already
aired. Most people view recent episodes, said All Access chief Mark
DeBevoise; 10 per cent dive deeper into the library.

But now comes its
first original series: “Star Trek: Discovery” will air its opener
on CBS in January; after that, all the episodes (13 per season) will
only be on the $6-a-month All Access.

“We think there's
the potential for 15 million-plus viewers on our premiere episode”
on CBS, DeBevoise said. So there will be no dallying; here's what
Fuller told reporters:

-- For the first
time, “Trek” won't center on a captain. “We've seen six series
now, from captains' points of view. (Now we want) to see a character
from a different perspective on a starship.”

-- And for the first
time, this will have a heavily serialized first season. There will be
other stories along the way, but the season will focus “on a
journey that is going to teach her how to get along with others in
the galaxy .... To truly understand something that is alien, she has
to first understand herself.”

--This is set about
a decade before Kirk becomes captain. By some counts, that makes it
about 2256; that's about 90 years after the “Star Trek: Enterprise”
series begins and 85 years after the Romulan War.

-- Yes, these people
could meet Kirk's crew ... but not in the first season, which will be
too busy.

-- The crew will be
more diverse than usual. “We'll probably have a few more aliens
than you normally do in a 'Star Trek' cast. Usually, you've got one
person with a bumpy forehead and then seven others who look
relatively human.”

-- A least one
person will be gay. Fuller -- who's gay and a life-long Trekker --
remembers his first gig on a”Trek” series. “I still have, in a
file folder in my garage, the hate mail that 'Star Trek: Voyager' got
because there was a rumor that Jeri Ryan's character was going to be
gay.”

-- Then there's that
name. “Trek” fans sometimes go with initials – TNG (“The Next
Generation”), DS9 (“Deep Space 9”) and such. Now “Star Trek:
Discovery” steps in. “There's a reason we call it 'STD.' It's not
a nebular you're flying through; it's cloudy discharge.”

That comment
reflects Fuller's approach. Many of his shows -- “Pushing Daisies,”
“Wonderfalls,” “Dead Like Me” -- reflect his offbeat wit.
“Brian Fuller is weird, funnier than anyone you'll ever see,”
said Alex Kurtsman, who is producing the new show with him.

“Trek” has had
some funny moments in the past; “'Bride of Chaotica' is hilarious,”
Fuller insists. Many, however, have been about as funny as a Vulcan
zoning commission meeting.

For now, Fuller
might sideline his humor. When “I got to do 'Hannibal,' (it) was a
completely different muscle.” (“STD”) will be “almost like a
hybridization of those lighter tones with the darker tones.”

CBS' quick-fix: For now, this is a white-male domain


By Mike Hughes

LOS ANGELES -- The
commotion at CBS lately has been a quick-fix – hurriedly adding
minority actors to new and returning shows.

“We need to do
better,” said Glenn Geller, the network's programming chief.

In fact, he said it
five times today (Wednesday) to the Television Critics Association.

That need becomes
obvious with the six shows CBS will introduce this fall; each centers
around a white male. Viewers will have to wait for mid-season to see
a lead role going to an actor who is black (Justin Cornwell in
“Training Day”) or female (Katherine Heigl in “Doubt”). The
other networks, by comparison, keep having both in starring roles.

For now, Geller can
merely:

-- Try a second
pilot for “Superior Donuts,” aiming for mid-season. It has “the
amazing young comedic talent Jermaine Fowler,” Geller said. “There
were many things we liked, ... especially Jermaine.”

-- Plug lots of
people into shows, sometimes moving them from recurring to regular
spots. There are 16 people being added; some are white, but the list
is strong on Latino actors (Wilmer Valderrama and Jennifer Esposito
on “NCIS,” Adam Rodriguez on “Criminal Minds,” Christina
Vidal on “Training Day”) and blacks. That includes Duane Henry
on “NCIS,” Boris Kodjoe on “Code Black,” Nelsan Ellis on
“Elementary” and more. Aisha Tyler will double on “Criminal
Minds” and “The Talk”; Justin Hires jumps from starring in the
failed “Rush Hour” to supporting in the new “MacGyver.”

In supporting casts,
Geller said, “we are actually more diverse than last year;”

That brings back the
old image of TV as a place where whites star and blacks are
sidekicks. Once “Rush Hour” vanishes (Aug. 20), CBS will have
only three shows -- “NCIS: Los Angeles,” “Elementary” and
“Scorpion” -- in which a minority is in a lead role.

Most lead characters
are also male and heterosexual, leading people to wonder what
happened.

For almost a decade,
the programming chief was Nina Tassler – a diverse person whose
mother was Puerto Rican and who has studied to be a cantor. Among
other things, she nudged CBS to its first superhero, with the
“Supergirl” series.

Geller, who took
over the job 11 months ago, was expected to continue that push. He's
gay and said diversity is “obviously a very personal subject to
me.”

Some new shows
(“Bull” and “The Great Indoors”) have gay characters, he
said. On existing shows, “Code Black” viewers will learn than
Malaya (Melanie Chandra) is gay and “NCIS: New Orleans” viewers
will meet a new gay character, an FBI agent played by Vanessa
Ferlito.

Then there's “Doubt”
co-star Laverne Cox. “She's going to be the first transgender
actress ever to play a transgender series regular character,”
Geller said. “I mean, that is huge.”

She's also black,
but the most diverse shows will wait until mid-season. For now, CBS
is all about white male heterosexuals.

In a way, that's
part of the super-safe approach Geller took to his fall schedule. The
science-fiction shows are gone -- “Limitless” cancelled,
“Supergirl” shuttled to CW – and familar faces prevail.

CBS is pushing Kevin
James, Matt LeBlanc, Joel McHale and Michael Weatherly. It is a safe
schedule, the type that raises few objections ... except that now,
it's raised some big ones.

Hip hop is born (again) on TV, amid endless optimism


By Mike Hughes

LOS ANGELES -- At first, Nelson
George didn't know he was witnessing a revolution.

Like his friends, he
was grasping for a world beyond Brooklyn. “We were talking about,
'How do we get on? How do I get to be a writer? .... How do I move
into the city.'”

Then, in the late
'70s, he saw music people with that same passion. It was the birth of
hip hop, which the lush Netflix mini-series “The Get Down” now
details. At its core, George said, was “that energy of
possibility.”

He's a “Get Down”
writer and consultant – logical for a guy who lived in the
epicenter of hip-hop. More surprising writer-producer-director Baz
Luhrmann, who's from the other part of the world.

“I grew up in a
very small country town (in New South Wales, Australia), in the
middle of nowhere,” said Luhrmann, 53. “Eleven houses; we had a
black-and-white television.”

Luhrmann would go on
to make colorful movies -- “Great Gatsby,” “Romeo + Juliet”
and more. He was sitting in a Paris restaurant, he said, when he
spotted a photograph of early hip-hoppers.

“I remember
thinking, 'Gee, how did so much creativity come from New York in that
moment?'”

George, 58, has
written books on hip-hop, but doesn't have a quick answer. In part,
he says, it was a fortunate blend of styles (rock, disco, R&B)
and of cultures.

Grandmaaster Flash,
58, was born in Barbados, but grew up in the Bronx. DJ Kool Herc, 61,
was born in Jamaica and moved to the Bronx at 12. One night, Luhrmann
said, Herc confided that hot dogs were at the core of this
revolution:

“He said, 'My
father, who was from Jamaica, ... helped me build my first music
machine and said, “Why don't we play music to get the kids off the
street, and Mom will make hot dogs.”'”

George vividly
recalls the first time he saw a Herc event: “A white van pulls up.
This really tall Jamaican guy gets out with his boys. They pull out
these giant speakers. They bring out milk crates ... full of records
and plug it in. They unplug the bottom of the light speaker, pull it
through, and – boom, the get-down is happening.”

Soon, others
mastered turntables and old records. “We didn't have musical
instruments,” Grandmaster Flash said. “Our instruments were
turntables, mixer .... I came up with a system that allowed me to ...
by the movement of my hand, extract that drum beat.”

To do that, he kept
grabbing more vinyl. “Flash was going to record stores and buying
... what they call 'cut-out records,” George said.

Back then, George
was an intern at the New York Amsterdam News, a black newspaper based
in Harlem. At a place called Downstairs Records, he said, someone
told him: “These kids ... are buying all these $1.99 records. They
are cleaning me out. Whar are they doing with them?”

George didn't know,
but he soon found out: They were changing America, first with
turntables and dance moves, later with rap.

Now that's been
re-created by Luhrmann, using lush visuals, driving music and
(mostly) fictional characters played by unknown actors.

“We have this
incredible young cast,” George said. “So when you look at it, ...
you're seeing youth, you're seeing energy. You're seeing optimism.”

-- “The Get Down”

-- 12-part
mini-series, on Netflix beginning Friday

There's mad variety to this "MadTV" cast


By Mike Hughes

LOS ANGELES -- Chances are, Carlie
Craig and Jeremy Howard won't be competing for the same roles.

He's black, she's
blonde. He's 6-foot-2 (“6-3 on a good day”), she's 5-foot. He's a
well-sculpted 250 pounds, she's less than half that.

Still, they have
this in common: They're enthusiastic Southerners, part of the new
“MadTV” cast. “I have literally prepared my whole life for this
show,” Craig said.

We may have
mentioned that Craig – spending part of her 25th
birthday with the Televsion Critics Association -- is enthusiastic.
Credit that to her dad in Florida (“as a tennis coach, he spends
his whole life motivating people”) and to her mentor in Los Ageles.

That's Todrick Hall,
who does ambitious musical numbers on the Internet. Craig auditioned
for him, was rejected, but asked him to keep her around as a
production assistant; by the time he had a brief MTV show, she was
busy on-camera and in production. “He's the best gay dad I could
ever have,” she said. “He took me under his homosexual wing.”

Howard's motivator
was his mom. Doubling as a pastor and a Home Depot employee, she
helped people who needed to repair their souls and/or their drainage
pipes.

“She started the
church in our house,” Howard said. “I used to set up chairs; then
she got a storefront.”

He became her
musical youth minister, then moved to a bigger church when hers
folded. Then came Los Angeles; “I thought I was going to be a
dramatic actor.”

Instead, he was
steered toward comedy and placed in the CBS Diversity Workshop. That
workshop produced others in this ultra-diverse “MadTV” crew:

-- Michelle Ortiz,
the daughter of Mexican immigrants, grew up bilingually and
theatrically. “I'd walk around the house being Shakira or Urkel,”
she said. “My mom says she knew I'd be an actress.” She spent
half of a summer-abroad studying opera in German and the other half
studying theater in Russia; “I actually sat in (Konstantin)
Stanislavsky's chair.” Then she went from method-acting to comedy.

-- Amir K moved to
the U.S. with his parents when he was 5, after the Iranian
revolution. “They gave up everything,” he said. They did well in
California, where his dad was a structural engineer. “I spent a lot
of my teen years surfing and skating.” He tried to have a grown-up
career -- “in real-estate, I made a lot of money and then lost it
all” -- but when his parents returned to Iran, he decided to try
comedy.

Returning to TV
after a six-year break, “MadTV” was revived with some elaborate
casting. “I auditioned six times,” Howard said He landed a spot
alongside Chelsea Davison, Lyric Lewis, Piotr Michael and Adam Ray,
plus Craig, Ortiz and Amir K.

Their work
alternates – a week of shooting sketches on-location, then a week
preparing to work in front of an audience, with two alumni hosting.
Those elements are the re-arranged into two episodes.

Craig said it's fast
and frantic and fun – mostly. “We have lots of wigs, and I'm very
tender-headed.”

-- “MadTV,” 9
p.m. Tuesdays, CW

-- Aug. 9 is a new
episode, the third, hosted by Aries Spears and Debra Wilson; Aug. 16
reruns the second episode, hosted by Ike Barinholtz and Bobby Lee.

Wanna be a TV star? Learn how to do fake-tech


The Television Critics Association awards arrived this weekend,with good news about worthy shows, some of them -- "Mr. Robot," "The Americans," "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" -- underappreciated by the Emmys. More on that later; meanwhile, here's a story I wrote about the actresses in "Mr. Robot" and other tech-savvy shows.

By Mike Hughes

LOS ANGELES -- In
the olden days, actors had a simple routine during auditons:

Often, they were
asked if they could ride horses and shoot guns. Most said they could;
most couldn't.

And now? Modern
roles have fewer horses, more computers ... and, still, lots of
people faking it.

On “Agents of
SHIELD,” Skye is a master hacker. “I'm horrible at it,” said
Chloe Bennet, who plays her. “I have to ask about 800 times, to
make sure I got it right.”

On the upcoming
“StartUp,” Izzy has a world-finance plan that requires technical
brilliance. “I'm extremely tech-illiterate,” said Otmara Marrero,
who plays her.

And “Mr. Robot”
-- fresh from the Television Critics Association award for best new
program -- is filled with tech wizards. Most are played by people who
aren't.

“I feel like we
all shou;d know how to do all that stuff,” Grace Gummer said. “But
I definitely don't. Don't know how to write code and can barely sync
my iPhone.”

No, this isn't a
gender thing. When playing one of TV's first computer-whiz guys (in
the 1998 “Three”), Bumper Robinson described his expertise: “I
know there is such a thing as a computer.”

Carly Chaikin, a
“Mr. Robot” co-star, can easily top that: “I'm medium
tech-savvy,” she said. But “there are times when I call Apple and
I'm like, 'The spinny thing, I don't know how to ...'”

And she may be more
advanced than Rami Malek, the “Mr. Robot” star. “I did have to
help Rami type,” Chaikin said, “because I'm a fast typer and he
did that (hunt-and-peck method).”

All of these people
have a good excuse: They are actors, after all, and not required to
have real-life skills. Indeed, Gummer's mother (Meryl Streep) has
also does some acting.

Stephanie
Corneliussen, another “Mr. Robot” co-star, has no such parental
excuse. “My father was one of the first programmers, in the late
'60s, before the Internet, in Denmark,” she said. “So he has vast
knowledge about technology that he's tried to teach me.”

By some accounts,
she learned well; “Stephanie is surprisingly very good,” Chaikin
said. Corneliussen doesn't see it that way: “I can't keep up with
all the millenials.”

On “Mr. Robot,”
however, they are all brilliant. Spurred by the mysterious Mr. Robot
(Christian Slater) and the intense Darlene (Chaikin), Elliot (Malek)
created a hack so powerful that it shattered evil E Corp and
destroyed the economy. Only at the end of the first season did he
(and viewers) realize the rest: Darlene is his sister; “Mr. Robot”
is just someone he imagines, in the image of their father.

As the new season
began, Elliot was in mental retreat, Darlene was pushing ahead, his
childhood friend Angela was warily working for E Corp, an FBI agent
(Gummer) was trying to bring then down ... and the enigmatic Joanna
(Corneliussen) was scheming.

“It's incredible,
the women Sam (writer-director Sam Esmail) gave us on the show,”
said producer Dawn Olmstead. “And it's not based on being someone's
spouse or girlfriend.”

Chaikin has seen her
IQ double – from a dim ditz in “Suburgatory” to an angry
genius. That reflects reality, she said: “There are so many women
in tech. And there are such amazing female hackers.”

And there are a lot
of smart women playing them on TV. Just don't expect them to fix your
computer.

-- “Mr. Robot,”
10:01 p.m. Wednesdays, USA, rerunning at 1:01 a.m.; this week's hour
has late-night reruns on Thursday night (midnight) and Friday night
(2 a.m.)

-- “StartUp”
starts up Sept. 6 on Crackle

-- “Agents of
SHIELD” returns this fall on ABC