Campbell's final tour brought joy, pain and frustration


Glen Campbell was the Blake Shelton of his era, only more so. He was a country star -- nice voice, great guitar work -- with the sort of easygoing humor that audiences savor. As he retreated into Alzheimer's disease, friends and family planned a documentary about his farewell tour. The result drew an Academy Award nomination and airs Sunday (June 28) on CNN; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

In a few quick
minutes, James Keach absorbed the Glen Campbell experience.

He sensed the joy
and frustration of knowing a genial country star whose memory is
fading.

Campbell and friends
were visiting Keach to plan what would become an Oscar-nominated
documentary, now making its cable debut on CNN. “My son walked by
with his guitar,” Keach recalled. “He (Campbell) said, 'Hey, I
play the guitar. Let me show you something.'”

Soon, Campbell asked
why he was there; he was reminded that he was planning a movie about
his struggle with Alzheimer's disease. “He said, 'I don't got
All-zheimer's, I've got part-zheimers.'”

Later, Keach's son
happened to walk by again with his guitar. Campbell's reaction? “He
said, 'Hey, I play the guitar. Let me show you something.'”

This was a warm and
funny guy who often forgot things ... and who was planning a concert
tour that acknowledged his problem. “Glen is bringing (Alzheimer's)
out of the closet,” Keach said.

He has a past worth
remembering. Campbell was “a critically respected, mainstream
country-pop star” says the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock &
Roll (Fireside, 2006). Adds All Music Guide to Country (Backbeat
Books, 2003): “His smooth fusion of country mannerisms and pop
melodies and production techniques made him one of the most popular
country musicians.”

Those mannerisms
came naturally. Campbell grew up near Delight, an Arkansas town of
less than 300, in a family that had 12 kids and much music. He did
studio work for everyone from Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darrin to Elvis
Presley and the Beach Boys ... who then hired him as the replacement
when Brian Wilson quit touring. “Glen was a nice guy, a hell of a
musician,” Wilson wrote in “Wouldn't It Be Nice” (1991, Harper
Collins). “His falsetto was good enough to cover my parts.”

Then Campbell went
solo. Tommy Smothers saw him on Joey Bishop's late-night show and
“flipped over Campbell's material, his guitar, and his singing, and
his affable, down-home, aw-shucks, casually comfortable personality,”
David Bianculli wrote in “Dangerously Funny” (Touchstone, 2009).

Soon, Campbell was
Smothers' summer replacement and then had his own show. He ruled
country and even saw two singles (“Rhinestone Cowboy” and
“Southern Nights”) reach No. 1 overall.

But this amiable
country guy also had three divorces and a drinking problem. The
pivotal years were 1981-2 – a tumultuous romance with Tanya Tucker
... a return to religion ... and marriage to Kim Woollen, a former
Rockette dancer. “She's an amazing woman,” Keach said.

Keach's involvement
had started with his friendship with Johnny Cast. He produced Cash's
“Walk the Line” film, which led to a suggestion that he direct a
film about Campbell's farewell tour. “I thought, 'OK,
five-and-a-half weeks; let's film it.'”

Then the tour kept
growing. “The reviews were great and the audience couldn't get
enough of him,” Keach said. Five weeks stretched to two-plus years,
with 151 concerts.

Gradually, problems
grew. Low notes bothered Campbell; he changed keys often, requiring
his band – friends, plus two sons and a daughter – to shift. “He
was getting frustrated onstage,” Keach said.

In November of 2012,
Campbell gave his final concert. Two years later, he was in a
long-term home. But the Oscar-nominated film offers a warm tribute to
Campbell, 79, and his wife and kids.

“They've been
raised very well,” Keach said. “They were able to roll with the
punches. It was probably one of the best times of their lives,
because they spent so much time with their dad.”

-- “Glen Campbell
... I'll Be Me,” 9 p.m. ET Sunday, CNN; reruns at 10:48 ET

 

Poldark: A throwback hero rides again


This is just what TV viewers need to round out their summer choices. Reality shows and cable dramas are fine, but "Poldark" adds something more -- a big, sweeping, scripted series on a broadcast network. It debuts Sunday (June 21) on PBS: Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Lately, TV has been
redefining just what a leading man does.

He cooks meth or
runs a Mob or, at least, does advertising. He divides our emotions.

“There just aren't
that many heroes around in drama, in American television,” said
Rebecca Eaton, PBS' “Masterpiece” chief. “Everyone is quite
compromised, ambivalent as a hero.”

Now she has the
opposite of that, with Ross Poldark. “His moral compass is so in
the right place,” said Aidan Turner, 31, who plays him. “He's
fair. He's honest. He has a real sense of integrity.”

He's a throwback.
How far back do you go to find someone like this? Maybe to:

-- 1975, when the
original “Poldark” aired on PBS. “It was a huge favorite,”
Eaton said. It was also the first time “Masterpiece” had a
long-running series.

-- Or 1945. That's
when Winston Graham wrote his first Poldark novel. He would write 11
more, through 2002.

-- Or the 1780s.
That's when the story is set.

Returning to
Cornwall after involuntary duty fighting against the American
revolution, Poldark finds a changed world. His mine has closed, his
loved one has married, his estate is decaying.

His own status is in
an in-between state, Turner said. “He's the working-class hero of
the (workers) in Cornwall, but he's also respected among the gentry.”

He battles
authorities and bears scars, one of them literal. That required
Turner to make daily visits to the make-up trailer, he said. “It's
nothing compared to what I've just come off.”

Turner's career has
been full of make-up and make-believe. He was a vampire in the
original, British version of the “Being Human” series ... and a
werewolf in the movie “Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” ... and
Kili, a heroic dwarf archer in the “Hobbit” films.

And yes, those
Hobbit tales prepared him to be Poldark. Turner -- a city kid who
grew up as an electrician's son in Dublin – suddenly had:

-- Time to actually
learn how to ride a horse. “It was a line on my (resume) for a long
time, and I thought, 'I've got to start learning how to do this.'”

-- A chance to
absorb the beauty of the New Zealand settings where “Hobbit” was
filmed.

Then his “Poldark”
role let him ride along seaside England. “The landscapes are so
epic .... It's wonderful as an actor to get to see some of these
locations; otherwise, I might not ever see them.”

Eleanor Tomlinson --
who co-stars as Demelza, the high-spirited urchin – agreed. “It's
so romantic,” she said. “You're standing on a cliff, with these
amazing hair extensions.”

For Turner – real
hair, no extensions – there was a chance to savor authenticity. The
house used for exteriors of Ross Poldark's home was build in the
1600s; in some early episodes, he worked with the actor who had
played Poldark 40 years ago.

Robin Ellis, now 73,
plays Rev. Halse in two episodes. The first is an intense one, with
Halse as the judge and jury in a poaching case involving Poldark's
friend.

“I was really
going at him,” Turner said, “getting quite angry. I stormed out
of the courtroom and slammed the door .... Robin just caught my eye
and ... gave me the little wink. And I thought, 'Oh,

what a wonderful
thing for the original Ross Poldark to do.'”

-- “Poldark,” on
PBS' “Masterpiece Classic”

-- 9 p.m. Sundays,
starting June 21; check local listings

 

Yes, it's time for some cross-cultural, kick-butt bounty hunting


Two of TV's darkest times -- Fridays and summers -- are getting a boost form the Syfy Channel. Last week (June 12), "Defiance" and "Dark Matter" settled in; now comes the third part of the night: "Killjoys" is a jaunty show with an impressive new star; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Even on TV, with all
its global diversity, there's been a gap: We haven't really had a
Nigerian-Norwegian heroine who's a kick-butt, intergalactic bounty
hunter.

Now that's filled:
Hannah John-Kamen, 25, stars as Dutch in Syfy's new “Killjoys.”

Yes, she sort of
fits into a sci-fi show. “My brother was majorly into 'Star Wars'”
she said. “(And) I'm a huge graphics-novel fan.” She reels off
graphic favorites, from Watchmen -- “visually, it's beautiful and
captures the drive of the story” -- to Batman's darker moments.

And the “Killjoys”
action? John-Kamen, who's British, has never kicked an alien in real
life, but she's had years of dance – from ballet to jazz, tap and
salsa – and was ready for the fight choreography. “It does seem
to come naturally to me,” she said. “I was able to pick it up in
the first 20 minutes.”

Besides, her varied
roots make it easy to accept new things. She's kept in contact with
both her parents' cultures, but said, but grants “it's easier for
me to go to Norway.”

Her dad, who's
Nigerian, is a forensic psychologist, the sort who might be called
into a police or court case; her mom is a former Norwegian model. Add
them up and you might have an idea for an Idris Elba/Scarlett
Johansson mini-series; you also have John-Kamen's life.

She grew up in
northern England, obsessing early on performing. She did some
training at the National Youth Theatre in London and graduated in
2011 from the Central School of Speech and Drama.

Soon, she was swept
into the starring role in sort of show that could make careers. “Viva
Forever” was written by Jennifer Saunders (“Absolutely Fabulous”)
and stuffed with songs from the Spice Girls.

“I had such a
great time,” John-Kamen said. “It was an amazing experience.”

Critics were less
amazed; they praised her and attacked the show, which folded quickly.

Since then, she's
had steady work guesting on English TV and now starring in
“Killjoys,” which is from people who know the genre. It's written
by Michelle Lovretta (Syfy's “Lost Girl”) and produced by the
people who make BBC America's “Orphan Black.”

The 10-episode first
season was filmed in Toronto – partly in elaborate sets, partly
outside – and mixes action with light moments. “Even the name
'Dutch' is kind of odd,” John-Kamen said.

At its best, it
might have some of the offbeat flavor of Syfy's now-departed
“Warehouse 13.” Indeed, Aaron Ashmore (who co-starred in the
final three seasons of that show) plays Dutch's partner. He's a
lesser bounty-hunter – a Level 3, compared to her Level 5 – but a
better talker. He's also the opposite of his brother (played by Luke
Macfarlane, who was Scotty on “Brothers & Sisters”), a tough,
ex-soldier.

Both guys are
Canadian, so they could always provide her with tips for getting
around Toronto. Then again, she could offer better guidance for a
trip to Norway and Nigeria.

-- “Killjoys,” 9
p.m. Fridays, Syfy, debuting June 19; repeats at midnight

-- Opener also
repeats Sunday at 4:30 a.m. and midnight (technically, 12 a.m.
Monday) and Thursday, June 25, at 10 p.m.

-- Part of a new,
three-hour block; a week earlier, Syfy opened the second season of
“Defiance” (8 p.m.) and the first of “Dark Matter” (10)

 

Paula Abdul's back to dance, after some detours


"So You Think You Can Dance" is clearly the best reality show on TV, sparked by skilled contestants, clever choreography and judges who care about what they're doing. Now Paula Abdul has joined the judging panel; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Let's forget any
talk about aptitude tests and vocational guidance. Paula Abdul made
her decision early.

“I was 4 years
old,” she said, “when I ... stood up and proclaimed that I'm
going to be an entertainer.”

Then she became one,
with a slight hitch:

Many people know
Abdul strictly from music. She was “a true MTV-era success story,”
the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Fireside, 2005)
said, with six No. 1 singles; later, she was an “American Idol”
judge during its eight peak years.

Still, that was a
detour from her main goal. “I fell in love with dancing,” she
said; now she's back in that world, as a “So You Think You Can
Dance” judge.

That first career
decision, at age 4, came after she saw Gene Kelly in “Singing in
the Rain,” she said. Her parents went along. (It was a Jewish
family in California; her mom was a Canadian-born pianist, her dad
was a Syrian-born owner of a sand-and-gravel business.) At 7, her
lessons started.

“I did training in
some ballet and tap and jazz and mondern and musical theater,”
Abdul said. “(I) fell in love with it and I just knew from an early
age that I would be a choreographer.”

She soon got her
chance. A former high school cheerleading captain, she became a Laker
Girl at 18, was in charge at 19 and was hired to choreograph the
Jacksons at 20.

Then she became “the
youngest to ever receive an Emmy for choreography,” she said. That
was at 27 (for “The Tracey Ullman show”) and 28 (for the American
Music Awards).

By then, however,
she had branched out. Urged by Janet Jackson, Abdul started doing her
own music. “I may not be the best dancer and I'm not the best
singer,” she admitted in “I Want My MTV” (Dutton, 2011), “but
I do know how to be a brilliant performer.”

And she was working
with the best. Her early videos were directed by David Fincher, who
would later get Oscar nominations for “Benjamin Button” and
“Social Network.”

The package worked,
the Rolling Stone encyclopedia says. There were “catchy hooks,
perky bubblegum-fun arrangements and glossy videos that displayed
Abdul's true strengths – her stylish, high-energy dance technique
and plucky girl-next-door charm.”

The first album sold
seven million copies and had four No. 1 singles; the second had the
other two. Abdul's career declined by the time she turned 30 ... then
was revived by “Idol” a decade later.

At first, Abdul
seemed all wrong for a show that included Simon Cowell's harsh
comments. In “I Don't Mean to be Rude, But ...” (Broadway Books,
2003), he describes her almost quitting several rimes. Once, he says,
“I found her backstage, crying her eyes out.”

But she adjusted to
her role as the nice one and viewers became fond of her, even during
moments when her comments seemed spacy. It was only after the “Idol”
years that she returned to dance.

Abdul had her own
short-run CBS show (“Live to Dance”) in 2011, guested a few times
on “So You Think You Can Dance” and then did a season of its
Australian show.

Now she's a regular
in the American version, just as it tries a new format: After
auditions, dancers will be split into “street” and “stage”
teams, led by tWitch and Travis Wall.

“There's going to
be a competitive edge that we haven't seen,” Abdul said, with
viewers “seeing these young dancer and the tremendous athleticisim
and ... tenacity and drive.”

And yes, she might
occasionally try some moves. “When it comes to dancing, I can't
contain myself.”

-- “So You Think
You Can Dance,” 8-10 p.m. Mondays, Fox

-- Auditions –
with Nigel Lythgoe, Paula Abdul and Jason Derulo judging – continue
through June 22. Then a Las Vegas round will select teams -- “Street”
(coached by tWitch) and “Stage” (Travis Wall)

 

The Steves: Opposite (or not) guys changed the world


Yes, it's good to change the world and make a fortune. It's also good to do it early and then savor life. That seems to be where Steve Wozniak is now; he resurfaces Monday, as one of the experts in a fascinating cable documentary; here's the story I sent to papers:

 

By Mike Hughes

True creativity, we
often hear, comes in mismatched pairs.

Lennon and
McCartney? Jagger and Richards? Holmes and Watson? June Carter and
Johnny Cash? They were very different from each other in all the
right ways.

Now the opening
night of cable's “American Genius” seems to introduce two more
such duos – at 10 p.m. the Wrights (Orville and Wilbur), who flew;
at 9, the Steves (Jobs and Wozniak), who computed.

These were total
opposites – or were they? “We were very similar in values ....
Our goals were always the same,” Wozniak insisted, by phone.

In image, they were
opposite extremes. Jobs was lean, handsome, charismatic and
articulate; he was also, people said, abrasitve. Wozniak was the
chubbier guy, working out the computer details. “I could not
possibly have run a business the way he did,” he said.

Or theorized. “Steve
Jobs was a way-future, forward thinker (with) almost a
science-fiction way of seeing things .... I was not so much a
theoretical scientist as a practical one.”

Still, he said, the
similarities were there. “We had a five-year history together”
before creating Apple. They shared similar tastes in music, in
philosophy, in a belief that businesses could do good deeds.

And they had an
obsession with computers, Wozniak said. “Even though it cost as
much as a house, I was going to ... own my own computer .... I didn't
want it for the purposes it's used for today. I just wanted it
because I was a computer geek. I could write programs and ... impress
my friends.”

This was a field in
which big things can happen by accident; just ask Biz Stone, the
Twitter co-founder. “We were just doing something goofy and fun,”
he said. “And we thought, 'Wouldn't it be neat if we could figure
out what our friends were up to without even asking them?”

This sort of
free-form thinking is crucial, said Bill Nye (of “science guy”
fame). “What keeps the U.S. in the game is innovation. All these
guys innovate; they create new things.”

And sometimes they
get it very wrong. Wozniak points to the work he and Jobs did on the
early Macintosh. “Every decision to make it tiny also made it (less
powerful).” While the overall computer market was increasing
tenfold, Mac sales were stagnant.

But after Jobs
returned to lead Apple in 1997, a dozen years after he'd been fired,
he led a comeback that continued after his death (of cancer, at 56)
in 2011.

By then, Wozniak had
moved on to other things. “I always wanted to be two things – an
engineer and a teacher,” he said. “So I went back and I taught
5th- and 9th -graders, and I taught teachers
for eight years, full time .... My wife has been a teacher for 14
years, and it's a big part of my life.”

He's also started
music festivals, competed on “Dancing With the Stars,” moved to
New Zealand and more. “I have a life philosophy that you should
always include an element of fun.”

And the fun is
easier when you've already surpassed your dreams.

“We didn't think
we'd ever have a computer that had enough memory to hold a song,”
Wozniak said.

Now computers
(almost) hold the world, as molded by some semi-matched American
geniuses.

-- “American
Genius,” 9 and 10 p.m. Mondays, National Geographic, repeating at
midnight and 1 a.m.

-- Opener, June 1,
has computers (Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates) at 9 and airplanes (Wright
Brothers vs. Glenn Curtiss) at 10.

-- Those will rerun
at 7 and 8 p.m. June 8, leading into looks at radio (Philo Farnsworth
and David Sarnoff) at 9 p.m. and newspapers (Joseph Pulitzer and
William Randolph Hearst) at 10.