"This Is Us" ... and this is, really, very moving

By Mike Hughes

almost a half-century of TV roles, Gerald McRaney should be kind of

Or maybe not. “I
was crying the first time I saw this episode,” McRaney said.

He won't be the only
one. The “This Is Us” episode -- 9 p.m. Tuesday on NBC – is
deeply and quietly moving. “This is one I've wanted to do since the
beginning,” said Dan Fogelman, the show's creator.

In the first 11
episodes, “Us” has had a tricky architecture: Each hour leaps
between the current lives of three adults – twins and their adopted
brother, born the same day – and their childhood.

The result has done
well in the ratings, while gathering awards and praise. “Dan is
doing a beautifully crafted show that is very emotional,” said Gary
Newman, whose Fox Television produces the show, but sold it to its
competition, NBC.

For one episode,
however, Fogelman has set aside his own formula. There are no
time-shifts here; except for a moment at the end, the entire hour
focuses on the night the kids were born.

We get a deeper view
of the young parents and of two key people that night – the
firefighter who found an abandoned baby and Dr. Nathan Katowski, the
widower who delivered the others.

The show's
characters have one thing in common, said McRaney, who plays the
doctor: “These are good, decent people.”

They clearly have
flaws, which we're still learning about. Viewers have many questions
about the dad who – somewhere between the childhood scenes and
nowadays – has died. “This is still a flawed man,” said Milo
Ventimiglia, who plays him. “He has his demons; he has his

But mostly, he tries
to do the right thing. “This is all part of the human experience,”
McRaney said. “Yes, we are capable of doing bad. But we are also
capable of doing much good.”

The showis a detour
for Fogelman, who's been writing comedy for TV (“Galavant”) and
movies (“Guilt Trip,” “Crazy, Stupid Love” and animated
films). He brought two drama series to the Fox studio:

-- “Pitch” was
on the Fox network and promptly died in the ratings. Its 10 episodes
have already aired.

-- “This Is Us,”
however, was sold to NBC. “It was a show that seemed consistent
with 'Parenthood,' with 'Friday Night Lights' that NBC had some
success with,” Newman said.

He was right. Like
“House” previously, “This Is Us” is made by Fox, but airs on
NBC. “We have the No. 1 new (TV drama) at our studio,” Newman
said. “'This Is Us' is going to be a lucrative, important show for
us and will live in our library for the rest of time.”

And now it has this
episode, with a quietly potent scene in which Dr. K talks to his
wife's gravestone. “All I had to do was think of my own wife and
how much I would miss her,” McRaney said.

He's been married
for 27 years to Delta Burke, the former “Designing Women” star.
For McRaney, there are key lessons in the “This Is Us” stories.

“I'm pushing 70,”
he said. “You've got to engage in life and in all the good people
around you.”

-- “This Is Us,”
9 p.m. Tuesdays, NBC; the special, day-of-birth episode is Jan. 17

Beyond the norm, a freeform fantasy succeeds on Freeform

The good thing about having a fantasy show on cable (or on CW) is that it's likely to last. That's where shows tend to persist; now ,,, after just three episodes, "Beyond" has been renewed for a second season. The show (9 p.m. Mondays on Freeform) is an interesting one; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

For the “Beyond” stars, this was a Hollywood experience and

Their show has young
Holden (Burkely Duffield) emerge from a 12-years coma, overwhelmed by
the world. Its star makes that believable, producer Tim Kring said:
“Burkely is not a very jaded guy.”

Duffield agreed.
“Holden and I are both overwhelmed .... It's an amazing sort of
time in my life.”

And then it got a
bit more amazing: Breaking into the Television Critics Association
conference, Tom Ascheim (the president of the Freeform channel) had
an announcement: Only three weeks into the show's existence, he's
renewing “Beyond” for next season.

Yes, that came as a
surprise. “My adrenaline is just pumping right now,” said
Jonathan Whitesell. “This is life-changing.”

Whitesell and
Duffield are young Canadian actors, 25 and 24, early in their
careers. “I've (been an) extra,” Duffield said. “I've done
commercials. I've done background work. I've had guest (roles).”

And now he's
starring in a series that will be around for a while. “You can find
the cast at the nearest Mercedes dealership,” joked Adam Nussdorf,
the “Beyond” creator.

The show's quick
success is a sign Freeform may be finding its way, a year after its
identity switch.

This was one of the
first cable channels, the Christian Broadcasting Network. It became
the Family Channel, then the Fox Family Channel and then ABC Family.
After 15 years under that name, it changed last January to Freeform.

In its final ABC
Family years, the channel was known for dramas about teens in crisis
-- “Switched at Birth,” “The Fosters,” “Pretty Little
Liars” -- and a lone fantasy show, “Stitchers.” It added
another fantasy (“Shadowhunters”) on the day of the changeover,
with “Beyond” added a year later.

Yes, young people
like fantasy. “I go back to 'Kyle XY' in the ABC Family days,”
Aescheim said.

That show (from a
decade ago) had a handsome teen-ager with no memory and odd
abilities. It set a pattern – pretty teens meet high-tech fantasy –
that continues to work.

In “Beyond,”
another handsome guy awakes blankly, slowly learning about:

-- Changes in this
world over those 12 yeares. His younger brother (Whitesell) finally
admits that their parents have separated.

-- And alternate
“realms.” A mysterious beauty (Dilan Gwyn) says his mind visted
them when his body was in that coma.

This is a grown-up
with a12-year-old's sense of awe. “We had to sort of see the
innocence in his eyes – a kind of openness that Burkeley had,”
said Tim Kring, one of the show's producers.

On the big networks,
Kring had one show that scored big (“Heroes”) and some that
wobbled. But cable may be the place where young viewers can expect to
find wild concepts.

The show's first two
episodes aired Jan. 2 (colliding with bowl games), each topping a
million viewers. The third (facing the college football championship
on Jan. 9) fell to 600,000. By then, Freeform had taken the offbeat
step of making the entire season available Online.

Gwyn, who's from
Sweden, has a much different interpretation: “Fourteen million
people had seen it in the first week, or something like that. Like,
that's more than the population of Sweden .... Now I'm doing a second
season of a big show for Freeform in the States. So it's just blowing
my mind.”

That's not literal,
of course. In real life, minds don't get blown ... unless, perhaps,
they enter the realms.

-- “Beyond,” 9
p.m. Mondays, Freeform, after the 8 p.m. “Shadowhunters”; the
fourth hour is Jan. 16

-- Also on Hulu and
on Freeform's website and app


Indoors and in their computers, these actors are at home

Like most reasonable humans, I sound foggy and look worse in the mornings. But the young actors of "The Great Indoors" look and sound disturbingly good then. I was talking to them Friday, when the ratings numbers arrived for the previous night's episode. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

numbers and decimals buzzed about, these young actors were in their

“A 1.9? Really?”
asked Shaun Brown, 28. “That's our best yet. Nine million!”

Mintz-Plasse, 27, promptly consulted his phone. “9.67 million,
actually,” he said.

In some circles –
smarphone, smart-folk circles – this was the equivalent of a
post-game celebration, only without the Gatorade dump. “The Great
Indoors” had had a good night in the Nielsen ratings.

In the show, those
two play millennials, alongside Christine Ko, 24, and Susannah
Fielding, 31. Their tech skills confound Jack (Joel McHale, 45), a
baby-boomer outdoorsman.

Some of that
requires sheer fiction, of course. “Joel is actually really good at
this stuff,” Brown said. “Stephen Fry (59), too. He's been
showing us some stuff.”

But yes, these young
actors seem fond of numbers – especially ones like this. Last
Thursday (Jan. 5), they drew 1.9 million viewers ages 18-49, tying
their best total, and 9.67 million overall.

That was partly
because “The Big Bang Theory,” had one of its best nights of the
year. In the post-”Bang” slot, “Indoors” had a 42 percent
drop in total viewers and 47 percent drop in 18-49.

Still, that made it
the second-most-watched show of the night, which is enough. “I was
in the elevator and someone said, 'Congratulations,'” Ko said. “I
didn't know what for. A 1.9!”

On this particular
Friday morning, Ko looked less like a technocrat and more like a
star, in a sweater and skirt strewn with rose designs. Brown looked
fairly hip himself, in dark blazer and white T-shirt.

Adjusting to any
situation is sort of his specialty. Like many actors, Brown grew up
in a military family, living in several countries. “You end up
always being ready for new people and new situations.”

Eventually, his
dad's Washington, D.C., assignment let him spend high school in
suburban Maryland. Brown could prepare for the career eyed by his
mother (a doctor) and father (an Air Force colonel).

“I thought I was
going to be a heart surgeon, because that's what I was told by my
parents,” he said. “Then I saw a surgery.”

He did not enjoy it,
but did savor doing “West Side Story” in a high school that had a
strong theater program. From then on, he was a
singer-dancer-actor-choreographer. After college, he even did a
musical-theater version of the “Madagascar” movie.

“It was supposed
to be a two-year tour,” he said. “It lasted four months.”

Still, that was
enough. Since he had sub-let his apartment, he could take all his
tour money and go west.

In Los Angeles,
Brown got a lot of guest roles and then the big one, as Mason in

The pilot film –
mostly mocking the millennials – drew some skepticism from his
friends. Subsequent episodes have made the young people wiser,
especially when teaching Jack the art of video dating.

No, Brown – with a
steady girlfriend for three years – hasn't done any video-dating;
his colleagues, however, have. “There aren't any surprises,”
Mintz-Plasse said. “You meet some nice people.”

And if you're lucky,
you can talk with them about numbers, apps and decimals.

-- “The Great
Indoors,” 8:31 p.m. Thursdays, CBS


The story repeats: A young queen, a complicated crown

In history -- and in TV shows -- this makes strong drama: A young woman
suddenly, surprisingly finds that she's the queen. Her reigh seems
tenuous ... and lasts for generations. Now "Victoria" debuts Jan. 15 on
PBS; another epic story, "The Crown" -- which has just won the Golden Globe for best drama series -- is already on Netflix. Here's the
story I sent to papers.

By Mike Hughes

Separated by more
than a century, these true stories ripple with history and humanity.

A young woman
suddenly becomes queen of England. That's the start of two lush

-- “Victoria”
debuts Sunday (Jan. 15) on PBS' “Masterpiece Theatre.” It tells
of the 18-year-old who suddenly became Queen Victoria, with no
preparation. She had lived “a sheltered life ... having not spent a
night alone without her mother,” said Jenna Coleman, who plays her.

-- “The Crown,”
already available on Netflix and now the Golden Globe winner for best
dramaseries. It tells of Elizabeth II becoming queen at 25, decades
before she expected to. “Her instinct is very much (leaning toward)
her love and her husband and her childen,” said Claire Foy, who won
a Globe for playing her. But she was “realizing that's not
necessarily what her job is.”

Victoria's 63-year
reign would be the longest in British history ... until it was topped
by Elizabeth, who reaches the 65-year mark on Feb. 6.

For Elizabeth, this
came decades before it was expected. “The Windsors have a tradition
of living a long time,” said Peter Morgan, the “Crown” writer.
“I think she could reasonably have expected 20, maybe 30 years”
of crown-free life. Instead, her dad died at 56 and her life

At least, she had
preparation; consider Victoria:

“She was very
ill-prepared,” said Daisy Goodwin, the “Victoria” writer.
“She'd basically been held hostage by her mother and John Conroy”
her mother's comptroller. “They were hoping that the previous king
would die before she was 18, so they could rule the country through

They just missed;
she was 27 days past her 18th birthday when her uncle,
King William IV, died.

From the first
moments, Goodwin said, she took control – starting with her name.

“Everybody called
her Drina, because her first name was Alexandrina. And she said, 'No,
I ... want to be called Victoria,' which was not a name that anybody
was called at the time. It was a completely made-up name,” seeming
to say she'd be victorious.

Back then, Goodwin
said, women couldn't vote and married women didn't have property.
“That makes it all the more extraordinary that this 18-year-old
girl is the most powerful person in the country.”

Adds Coleman: “And
she's 4-foot-11.”

This tiny teen-ager
had slept every night in her mother's bedroom. She had never been in
a room alone with a man, Goodwin said; now she would be in rooms with
the leaders of government.

At 19, Victoria
married Albert, a German prince. They differed vertically (he was
about a foot taller, Goodwin said), but had other things in common.

“They had both
come from rather dysfunctional families,” Coleman said. “Victoria
grew up without a father; Albert grew up without a mother. (That)
united them in wanting to create a pure ... family.”

That wasn't the
norm, Goodwin said. It “was the first time (England had) a king and
queen who ... actually liked each other. Albert was certainly the
first royal male who didn't have a mistress.”

The “like”
became lust: For their cottage, Albert even designed a device to lock
the door from bedside; they would have nine children.

He died after only
21 years of marriage and the widowed queen rules for almost 40 more
years. A half-century later, Elizabeth would become the next young
queen. She “was a shy, retiring sort,” who looked forward to some
quiet country years, Foy said.

Then she became
queen. “Both their lives changed irrevocably,” said Matt Smith,
who plays Phillip. “He then had to walk two steps behind her for
the rest of his life.”

Yes, that's the Matt
Smith who starred in “Doctor Who” ... and the Jenna Coleman who
was, for a time, his “Who” co-star. Now she's Victoria and he's
Elizabeth's husband, stepping into British history.

-- “Victoria,” 9
p.m. Sundays in the “Masterpiece” January-February slot that was
filled by “Downton Abbey” for six years; it's an eight-episode
season, with a two-hour opener Jan. 15

-- “The Crown”
10-part season, already on Netflix


The parade begins, spreading envy through the North

Growing up in Wisconsin, I had one clear realization each January: I'd really rather be in Pasadena. Apparently, others had that same feeling. Now -- on Jan. 2, not Jan. 1 -- comes the annual parade, with Mark Steines as one of thehosts. Here's te story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Long ago – not the
previous century, but the one before that – a Pasadena man decided
it was time for his home town to show off.

“In New York,
people are buried in the snow,” Charles Holder reportedly said.
“Here, our flowers are blooming .... Let's hold a festival to tell
the world about our paradise.

The first rose
parade debuted on Jan. 1, 1890; later, via TV, it would bring envy to
the shivering North.

In Chicago, Bob
Newhart used to watch it and wish he lived in California; in Iowa,
Mark Steines had the same reaction. “It was cold and windy” at
home, he recalled, and he stared at those Pasadena scenes. “It
might have been something from the 4th of July.”

Both men, like many
Northerners, eventually moved West. In 1991, Newhart became the
parade's grand marshal; this year, Steines becomes co-host of the
Hallmark Channel coverage,

“There's so much
tradition involved,” Steines said. “And such a neighborly

He'll host with
Leeza Gibbons, the most recent “Celebrity Apprentice” winner ...
which continues his life of interesting women. Steines has been
married to a former Miss America and a doggy-book author; he's hosted
Hallmark's daytime show with three women. He's not in Iowa any more.

Back in Dubuque,
Steines was an All-State linebacker, going to Northern Iowa on a
football scholarship. He became a TV journalist who drew attention at
the 1988 Republican convention, when some people thought he was Tom
Cruise. That led to a funny news report, new jobs and occasional bits
on ESPN and “Entertainment Tonight.”

Steines became the
“ET” co-host in 2004, then moved on in 2012 to Hallmark's
ambitious, 10-hour-a-week “Home and Family.” Paige Davis was his
co-host for six weeks; “from the get-go, she was not happy there.”
For three-plus years, Cristina Ferrare – former actress, ex-wife of
controversial auto boss John DeLorean, now married to former ABC
chief Tony Thomopolous – was there. “Cristina is such an amazing
chef,” Steines said. Now Debbie Matenopoulos, formerly of “The
View,” co-hosts.

Other interesting
women are in his personal life. In 2013, he and Leanza Cornett (who
was Miss America 1993) ended their 17-year marriage. Two years later,
he was charmed by a “Home and Family” appearance by author Julie
Freyermuth and her tiny rescue dog Norbert.

Steines and
Freyermuth married last August, with a blended home that includes the
3-pound Norbert and Steines' sometimes-100-pound golden retriever
Fred. “They're both very attentive when we're in the kitchen,” he

He's 15 years older
than his wife, but says it's a logical match. “She's an old soul;
she likes '60s music. We both like to get to bed early, we both get
up early.”

He has to do that.
By 8 a.m. Monday, Pasadena time, he'll be busy describing the Rose
Parade and making people in Iowa and Chicago terribly jealous.

-- Rose Parade, 11
a.m. to 1 p.m. ET Monday, Jan. 2, on ABC, NBC, HGTV, Hallmark and

-- Hallmark has a
preview at 10 a.m. and repeats the parade at 1 p.m. The parade is
also the backdrop for “A Rose For Christmas,” at 8 p.m. Sunday,
Jan. 1.

-- Mark Steines
co-hosts the Hallmark coverage with Leeza Gibbons and appears briefly
in “A Rose For Christmas.” His “Home & Family” is at 10
a.m. weekdays (except Jan. 2), repeating at noon.