Good news: Syfy will emphasize sci-fi

This is good news, actually. Syfy (the former Sci-Fi Channel) is planning to push its focus on ... well, sci-fi. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Plenty of people, it
seems, love sci-fi but not Syfy. Now the cable channel hopes to
change that.

“We're going back
to our roots and embracing the genre like never before,” said Chris
McCumber, the SyFy Channel president. That will involve:

-- New series. Next
season, Syfy expects to have shows based on DC Comics (“Krypton”)
and a graphic novel (“Happy!”); it's developing ones based on
classics (“Hyperion,” “Brave New World,” “Stranger in a
Strange Land”) and on “Nightflyers,” from the “Game of
Thrones” author.

-- Familiar movies.
Next year, it takes over the oft-aired Harry Potter and Marvel films.

-- Attitude, which
is first: A June 19 “re-brand” will have a new logo and will
emphasize a Website (
that McCumber hopes will be the all-purpose science-fiction
destination. Then comes daily coverage of the San Diego Comic Con
(“that's our Super Bowl”) on July 20-23 and a build-up to the
channel's 25th anniversary Sept. 24. Aferward, “31 Days
of October” emphasizes the scary side of Syfy.

Originally, this was
the Sci-Fi Channel, a companion to the USA Network. Both joined NBC's
cable world in 2004; in 2009, the name became Syfy and the approach
softened, with reality shows and some movies with little
science-fiction connection.

Then sci-fi soared
in movie theaters, but Syfy slipped. Like many cable networks, it's
seen a decline: The Variety trade paper says Syfy averages 355,000
viewers (down 22 percent in two years) and lists 23 channels that
have more.

So nowit returns to
its roots: It will keep some reality shows (“Face-off” and
“Cosplay Melee”) and some silliness. “'Sharknado' will always
have a place at Syfy,” McCumber said

But instead, he
emphasizes the current shows -- “The Expanse,” “The Magicians,”
“Twelve Monkeys” -- that are steeply ambitious ... and very


Wanna watch food shows? Settle in (and bring some snacks)

If you scroll down to the next story, you'll see a fun view of American food, via two master chefs. Along with that, however, I also sent papers a sampling of TV food shows. Here it is:

By Mike Hughes

Television is
stuffed with food shows these days – so many that viewers might
have little time to eat, much less cook. Here's a current sampling:

On PBS (check local

-- “American
Masters” profiles May 19 (James Beard at 9 p.m., Julia Child at 10)
and May 26 (Jacques Pepin at 9, Alice Waters at 10). The 10 p.m. ones
are reruns.

-- “The Great
British Baking Show” starts its season Friday, June 16.

-- Many other shows
appear on daytime and weekends, often on digital channels.They are
reruns and new shows, with Martha Stewart, Jacques Pepin, Lidia
Bastianich, Aaron Franklin, Ming Tsai, Nick Stellino, Pati Jinish and
many more.

On Fox

-- “MasterChef
Junior” has a two-hour season-finale May 18.

-- “MasterChef”
stars its season May 31; it will be 8 p.m. Wednesdays, followed at 9
by the new “The F Word” -- a competition aired live in most time

-- “Hell's
Kitchen” returns next season. All four shows feature Gordon Ramsay;
this season's non-Ramsay show (“My Kitchen Rules”) had so-so

Other broadcast

-- Several have
short-run competition shows. Most recently, ABC had the Christmastime
“Great Holiday Baking Show.”


Weekday shows that
often have a strong food interest include:

-- “The Chew,” 1
p.m. (noon PT), ABC.

-- “Rachael Ray,”
syndicated to stations; check local listings.

-- “Home and
Family,” 10 a.m., Hallmark, with reruns at noon.

On cable

-- The Food Network
is a staple. A Variety trade-paper list of 113 cable channels puts it
at No. 1 in homes (92.9 million) and No. 14 in average viewers

-- The Cooking
Channel, its sister channel, is in 64 million homes and averages
91,000 viewers.

-- On Bravo, “Top
Chef” recently finished its 14th season. “Recipe For
Deception” and Graham Elliot's “Going Off the Menu” aren't
currently on the schedule.

-- Anthony
Bourdain's “Parts Unknown” is 9 p.m. Sundays on CNN, rerunning at
midnights. His previous shows rerun often on the Travel Channel.

-- And much more.


American food? It's the best ... or the worst ... just ask the experts

PBS viewers can soon catch a couple of nights of strong, food-oriented profiles. There are terrific new hours on James Beard (May 19) and Jacques Pepin (May 26), paired with reruns on, respectively, Julia Child and Alice Waters. That combination, however, leads to a fun and fascinating subject -- the state of American cooking, good or bad. Here's a story I sent to papers; next, I'll have an expanded list of TV-food shows.

By Mike Hughes

Sure, we hear a lot
about French food – or Italian or Greek or more. They're said to be
quite tasty.

But what about
American food ? It's the worst ... or the best ... or both. Just ask
the master chefs featured in some fascinating PBS profiles this

Americans “are
thinking that food should be cheap and fast and easy,” Alice Waters
said. “And that it's OK to eat in the car. We are not concerned
about who is in the kitchen or where the food came from.”

Then again, we have
immense variety and potential. Just ask Jacques Pepin about his
native land.

“In France, people
eat French 99-and-a-half percent of the time,” he said. The same
sort of monotone exists in Italy or Spain or beyond, he said ... but
not here. “There are 24,000 restaurants in New York City. This is
absolutely amazing .... You can go to a Swahili restaurant or Turkish
or French.”

Some Americans
develop broad palates. Now they're inundated with food-oriented
shows, books and talk. “In our time of political correctness,
that's probably the only thing we can talk about,” Pepin said.

PBS has been big on
this for more than a half-century, said program director Beth Hoppe,
“from Julia Child to Martha Stewart” to “The Great British
Baking Show,” returning next month.

And now it has big
competition – especially from Fox, Bravo and two full-time cable

Some shows have an
American/British spin – chaos, competition and a ticking clock.
“This is not what cooking is all about,” Pepin said. “Cooking
is about being together, about love, about sharing.”

Waters agreed.
“Cooking really is something that can be very meditative.”

Now PBS is profiling
some of the masters on May 19 and 26. That includes Pepin, 81 (in a
new hour), Waters, 73 (in a rerun) and two early stars – the late
Julia Child and James Beard.

These were giants,
physically – Child was 6-foot-2, Beard was 6-3 and sometimes topped
300 pounds – and in impact. “Even though his presence was
intimidating, he had a way of really putting you at ease,” said
Beth Federici, who made the Beard film. “He appreciated food so

He could spend hours
preparing it or eating it or simply talking about it, she said. “He
really was talking about farm-to-table as early as 1938 ,,,. He grew
up in Oregon (and) just wanted the rest of the country to know that
you don't have to get your mushrooms from France.”

That was at a time
when most Americans hadn't embraced the “foodie” notion. “I
think that we are just learning how to cook in this country,”
Waters said.

She didn't grow up
around any food traditions; then, at 19, she went to France. “It
was a slow food culture,” Waters said. “People went to the market
twice a day to get food, and they always ate with their families.
They came home (from work), the kids came home from school.”

Pepin missed that
era because he was growing up during World War II, with his father
fighting in the Resistance. His mother sent him away to a farm, where
he drank milk fresh from the cow. “That is (my) first remembrance
of true food.”

Later, as an
American dad, he would re-create the French style of dining. “We
did spend an hour, an hour and a half at night, having dinner .... If
you don't do that, you never speak to the kid.”

Also in the French
style is his daily routine. “I don't really (plan) the cooking
before I go to the market,” Pepin said. “I never know what I'm
going to find.”

Waters agrees. “I
think the biggest mistake is to begin with a recipe .... I go to the
market first, to the farmers market, and then I begin to gather these
ingredients. And then I look in the book, to see how somebody else
has cooked those ingredients.”

This is the European
approach to food – except that she does it in California and he
does it in Connecticut. He's a French chef in his 58th
year in the U.S. -- where, he points out, he's “married to a woman
born in New York from a Cuban father and a Puerto Rican mother.”

And that, perhaps,
defines the diversity of American food.


Just a question

Report: Trump's New York penthouse is actually a third of the size he says it is

Did you ever notice how words that start with "p" tend to be interchangable? This is a headline on; I'm fairly sure it would work if someone changed the word "penthouse" to "penis."


Batman had his own hidden hero

Anyone who grew up with classic comics has seen the name "Bob Kane," creator of Batman, close to a zillion times ... and has seen the name "Bill Finger" close to zero times. But a fascinating documentary -- available starting Saturday (May 6) on Hulu -- points to Finger as the prime Batman creator. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

For years, this was
one of those family-lore things you keep to yourself.

Athena Finger knew
her grandfather had molded Batman. But she wasn't sure others would
believe it.

“They (would)
expect to see a lot of glitz and glamour,” she said. But “I was a
normal child in a normal suburban life. (For) years, I actually
stopped talking about it.”

Now she's talking
again. Several Batman movies and TV shows list Bill Finger as
co-creator; a book and a new documentary back that up.

“Comic fans have
this innate sense of righteousness .... This is a story about a
hero,” said Marc Nobleman, the book's author.

And a villain? That
could be Bob Kane, who took sole credit for decades.

Kane had signed a
deal with DC Comics for a character named Batman. Finger then shaped
the rest, Nobleman insists; “it was 98 percent Bill.”

Still, he let Kane
take the credit. “Bill was desperate to create,” Nobleman said.
“This is at the end of the Depression; he's getting a chance to
write for a living.”

He wrote for Batman
and other comics, plus a few TV episodes and low-budget movies, then
died (heart trouble, at 59) in 1974.

Athena, born two
years later, wasn't a Batman buff. “Comics wasn't really my
medium,” she said

But her dad gave her
some Batman books and talked about the legacy, especially when the
“Batman” movie arrived in 1989. “You could see how passionate
and upset he was.”

Then Nobleman heard
the story. He created 700 pages of research (“I'm a compulsive
personality”) and boiled it into a 48-page children's book.

He's written at
least 88 other youth books, but this became his cause. He was like
Batman, documentary-maker Sheena Joyce said, “working in the
shadows, fighting for justice.”

-- “Batman &
Bill,” at, starting
Saturday (May 6); Hulu is an $8-a-month streaming service with a free
trial period

-- “Bill the Boy
Wonder,” Charlesbridge, 2012