After 40 years, the Son of Sam case still makes an impact

Yes, things have been a bit dark during my stay in sunny California. The first story I sent back -- scroll back a few -- was on the Unabomber; this one is on Son of Sam. Along the way, I've also been talking to people about war shows and crime shows and the occasional monster,

Still, I promise that brighter things are coming up. Anyway, here's the Son of Sam story I sent to papers, with some key documentaries this weekend, Aug. 4-6,

By Mike Hughes

was on an October evening, more than 40 years ago, that Carl Denaro's
life transformed.

He was 20, his
girlfriend was 18; they were in her car in Queens, when bullets
shattered the window.

It was “wrong
place, wrong time,” he said. “I had no idea who shot me.”

She sped the car
away and had only minor injuries. He had a bullet in is head and
eventually needed a metal plate. Still, it would be almost a
half-year before he knew he was a “Son of Sam” victim.

Next Thursday (Aug.
10) marks the 40th anniversary of the capture of David
Berkowitz, who confessed, ending a year-long ordeal. “New York City
was truly in a state of panic,” said Henry Schleiff, president of
the Investigation Discovery channel. “It was terrorized.”

Now his channel
takes a fresh look at what became an obsession. “We wound up with a
lot of leads, probably in excess of 2,000 leads,” said Marlin
Hopkins, then a Queens homicide detective.

The first shooting
was in the Bronx on July 29, 1976; one woman, 19, was killed and
another, 18, was wounded. Three months later, Danaro was wounded in
Queens. “The working theory was that it was a drug deal gone
wrong,” he said. “I wasn't a drug dealer, but I couldn't tell the
cops who shot me. So for about six months, I was kind of victimized

There were more
shootings – a 16-year-old girl became a paraplegic ... Christine
Freund, 26, was killed. Then things changed on March 8, 1977, with
the death of a Columbia University student.

She “was shot 100
yard from where Christine Freund was shot,” Hopkins said. “When
that bullet was recovered, we matched it .... That started the ball

It matched fragments
in the Danaro case and more. Officials talked of a serial killer who
was shooting young women with long hair; Danaro, who had
shoulder-length hair, may have been shot by mistake.

The panic expanded
on April 17, when a man and woman, 20 and 18, were killed in the
Bronx. This time, the killer left a letter. “He was packaged for
the media,” said Scott Bonn, a Drew University criminology
professor. “He gave himself his own brand name, 'Son of Sam.' He
wanted attention.”

There were more
letters and two more shootings – the first wounded a man and a
woman, the second killed a woman and left a man nearly blind. But
that second one also brought the key clue.

A passerby had
noticed a car getting a ticket for parking near a fire hydrant; she
also saw a man acting suspiciously nearby. Police traced the ticket
and found the car of Berkowitz, who confessed.

“He was stoic,”
Hopkins said. “He was very lucid. He spoke in detail about each

Hopkins considered
him “psychotic.” Bonn draws a distinction between “psychotic”
-- a Ted Bundy type who is naturally evil – and a “psychopath,”
turned evil by circumstance. “He had been abandoned by his birth
mother and he grew up to be a frightened and ultimately angry and
rageful individual.”

Bonn and Berkowitz
(now 64) corresponded for two years, then met in prison for four
hours in 2013.

“The images that I
had,” Bonn said, “were this sullen young man ... And the David
Berklowitz today looks like an elf, like a gnome-like character with
bulgng red cheeks. And he came bounding in. He gave me a huge hug. He
insisted that we pray together, because he now calls himself Son of

-- “Son of Sam:
The Hunt For a Killer,” 9-11 p.m. ET Saturday (Aug. 5),
Investigation Discovery, rerunning at midnight; also, noon ET Aug.
10, the day of the capture

-- Also: “The Lost
Tapes: Son of Sam,” 10 p.m. Friday (Aug. 4), Smithsonian,”
rerunning at 1 a.m,; then 2 p.m. Saturday, rerunning that night at 2
a.m., and 2 p.m. Aug. 6.


It's tru -- oops, true: This channel finally gets attention

By Mike Hughes

channel has been with us approximately forever.

It was Court TV ...
and then Tru TV, the reality channel ... and now Tru TV, the comedy
channel. This time, we might actually notice it.

“When you're the
little guy, you can take big swings,” said Chris Linn, the
channel's president.

There have been some
interesting swings lately, including “I'm Sorry” ... and “Adam
Ruins Everything” ... and “The Carbonero Effect,” a show that
seemed to defy TV logic.

“A 'hidden-camera
magic show' is the worst pitch ever,” Linn said. “It sounded

Instead, it's funny
and charming; now comes another odd swing: “The Chris Gethard Show”
was a live show on public-access TV, was a taped show on the Fusion
channel and now jumps to Tru.

As Gethard tells it:
“Tru was like, 'You wanna do it live again?' And I was like, 'That
sounds like a great idea!' But in my head, I was like, 'That could be
a very bad idea!'”

There he'll be each
Thursday, going live with what has been described (accurately,
Gethard says) as “an island of misfit toys.” His co-host, Shannon
O'Neill, calls herself “just a real cool chick”; their announcer,
Murf Meyer, describes himself as a former heroin addict and “current
functioning alcoholic.” Mixed in are celebrities, phone calls and
sometimes a hula hoop.

“What I don't
want,” Gethard said, “is anything middle-ground.” Which is the
idea behind this version of the network.

It started in 1991
as Court TV, showing trials. In 2008, the Turner cable people
switched it to Tru TV, a failed stab at reality. In 2013, Linn
arrived, bringing experience (via MTV and Nickelodeon) with young
audiences. He made the switch to humor.

That's a crowded
field, with ComedyCentral and TBS, plus large chunks on IFC,
Freeform, Disney, the Cartoon Network, small streaming sites and big
networks. Still, Linn said this is what young viewers want. “Comedy
is currency for millenials; they like to share it.”

The key, he said, is
to find unique people and give them room. Adam Conover (“Adam Ruins
Everything”) was on the
... Andrea Savage (“I'm Sorry”) was jumping from mainstream
acting to
... Michael Carbonaro was acting in small films and doing “magic
clerk” bits for Jay Leno ... Gethard had mostly been on public
access TV in New York.

Now they have shows
on Tru TV, which, Linn says, has seen its viewers' average age drop
from 43 to 33. Somebody, it seems, may finally be noticing it.

Tru sampler

-- “The Chris
Gethard Show” is live (live-on-tape on the West Coast) at 11 p.m.
ET Thursdays. The Aug. 3 opener reruns at 3 a.m., then at 5 and 11
p.m. Saturday and 3 a.m. Sunday.

-- “I'm Sorry”
has new episodes at 10 p.m. Wednesdays, with a previous episode at
10:30. It has reruns that night at 2 and 2:30 a.m. and then at 7 and
7:30 p.m. Saturdays.

-- “Adam Ruins
Everything” has new episodes at 10 p.m. Tuesdays. The Aug. 1
episode – facts and myths about dating – reruns that night at 2
a.m., then 4 p.m. Sunday and 9:30 p.m. Aug. 8. Other episodes rerun
6-8 a.m. Satuday (Aug. 5); 4:30-6 p.m. Sunday; 10-11 p.m. Sunday;
9-11 p.m. Monday.

-- “The Carbonaro
Effect” is aping new episodes. Its reruns include 3-8 p.m.
Wednesday (Aug. 2); 3-7 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday; 9-11
p.m. Sunday; and 5-8 p.m. Wednesday (Aug. 9).

Here's a fresh (and funny) refill of Canadian comedy

This is an interesting week for new cable arrivals. Scroll down and you'll see stories I sent to papers, about series that debut Tuesday and Wednesday (Aug. 2-3). Now here's another Wednesday one, this time about a clever new sketch-comedy show:

By Mike Hughes

Canadians, of course, are verty good at many things.

That includes
hockey, curling, truth-telling and moose-hunting. It also includes
sketch comedy.

From “SCTV” to
“The Kids in the Hall” to many of the “Saturday Night Live”
guys, Canadians have brought subtle wit to sketches. And now
“Baroness Von Sketch Show” brings us a new batch.

“We knew it wasn't
going to look like a classic sketch show,” Carolyn Taylor said.

That's partly
because all four regulars are women; guys are added at the fringe,
only as needed.

But it's more
because of the approach. This is filmed movie-style, with no
laugh-track and no audience. “If you have an audience, it affects
you,” Taylor said. “You just start doing it bigger and louder.”

The Canadian way
tends to be quietly clever. “Baroness” packs lots of bits – 13
to 15 of them in a half-hour show – each with its own setting. A
few have big plot twists, but most involve everyday quirks.

“The things we
tend to focus on are human dynamics,” Meredith MacNeill said.

She launched the
idea and is the semi-outsider in the group. She's the only one who'd
never been in the Second City improvisation troupe; she's also the
only one who'd never written for “This Hour Has 22 Minutes,” a
Canadian show satirizing the news. And she's also the only one who
spent 13 years in England, studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic
Arts and doing Shakespeare.

Then MacNeill
retreated to Canada. “I was a single mom and I had no money .... I
just had a suitcase and I lived with my parents at 37. (These were)
very amazing life choices.”

She worked on ideas
for a sketch show and asked Taylor to take charge. Taylor brought in
longtime comedy colleagues Aurora Browne and Jennifer Whalen ... who
is Canada's Tina Fey; she'd been head-writer of “22 Minutes” and
created two other shows, “Instant Star” and “Little Mosque on
the Prairie.”

The women filmed a
sample of their sketches, using one camera; they now use two.

That first version
included a notion that continues – the “red wine ladies,” who
pick any excuse to drink heavily. “The network, CBC, (said), 'I
don't know. It doesn't really have, like a traditional structure,'”
Browne said. “We are like, 'Trust us, women want to watch other
women getting drunk.'”

The network stayed
out of the way; so far, “Baroness” has had a six-episode first
season and a seven-episode second season, both now reaching U.S.
cable. That may not sound like much, but these half-hours are
carefully crafted. “We overwrite by a long shot,” Browne said,
“and we overshoot.”

By the second
season, settings were more elaborate. “We do a post-apocalyptic
scene that's sort of in a 'Mad Max' world,” Taylor said. “We go
onto the Titanic. We shoot something in space.”

But even when the
setting is large, Taylor said, the humor remains focused on small,
human quirks. “We do impressions of your family members and your

-- “The Baroness
Von Sketch Show,” 10 p.m. ET Wednesdays, IFC, rerunning at 1 a.m.

-- Opener (Aug. 2)
reruns at 6:45 a.m. ET on Sunday, Aug. 6, and 4:15 a.m. ET on Monday,
Aug. 7.


What do daddies do? Rob Lowe takes his sons on quests for ghosts and aliens

My interest in ghosthunting-type reality shows is approximately zero. Still, I found it kind of interesting to see the "Lowe Files" opener -- which debuts at 10 p.m. Aug. 2 on A&E -- and very interesting to hear Rob Lowe and sons talk about their oddly adventurous life. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

What's it like when your dad is a Hollywood star with a fluid

Rob Lowe's sons say
it was great when they were chasing monsters. “When we were really
young, we would go on Sasquatch hunting trips,” said John Owen

His brother Matthew
agrees. “Bigfoot ... was always the one I was most excited for.”

But that was long
ago and maturity has intervened – for the kids, at least. John
Owen, 21, studies science technology at Stanord; Matthew, 23, is in
Loyola Marymount's law school.

And what have they
been doing lately? The father and sons scurried around on weekends,
looking for ghosts ... and Bigfoot ... and a “wood ape” ... and
alien-abductees ... and even an undersea alien base.

Hey, blame it on the
drive-in movies. In 1972, when Rob Lowe was 8, he saw “Legend of
Boggy Creek.” He says it had “a guy in a horrendous suit, you
know, terrorizing people. And it so traumatized me that I was
obsessed with Bigfoot forever on.”

He passed that on to
his kids, John Owen said. “(He'd say,) 'We're going looking for
Sasquatch. Let's get the baby monitor on the roof and (search) for
aliens. Whatever ridiculous thing it was that day.”

Now Rob is reviving
that on TV. “It's like the 8-year-old boy trapped in a 53-year-old
man's body's sort of dream,” he said.

Crammed into
weekends, between their classes and his work on “Code Black,”
they had adventures that Rob calls “Anthony Bourdain in a blender
with Scooby Doo.”

Some of the trips
found nothing, John Owen said. “We would come out of some episodes
and be like: 'Well, that was a bust, totally a bust.”

But others were like
the one that will be shown in Wednesday's debut.

“Preston Castle,”
as it's now called, was a reformatory in central California from 1894
to 1960. There were several deaths there, including the 1950 murder
of the head housekeeper. Closed for 50 years, it's been used for
tours and a low-budget scripted movie.

Other ghost-hunter
shows have been there, but Rob said they hit the jackpot. “The
furniture was moving and the voices were talking and the lights –
all of that.”

And when other
adventures failed ... well, John Owen said that happens a lot with
his dad. “He likes to entertain these fantastic, ridiculous ideas
.... It's hilarious what he believes in. To give him some credit,
it's way more fun to be around somebody like that.”

And some old pals
would encourage this. When Rob and his brother Chad were young, their
mother moved them from Dayton, Ohio, to Malibu, where they grew up
alongside Sean Penn, Dean Cain, Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen ...
who much later told Rob's kids that the moon is hollow.

“In fairness,”
John Owen said, “he had pretty good talking points.”

Some of this was
total nonsense, the Lowes say, and all of it was interesting. “It's
just more fun to believe,” Rob said.

And what about
Sheryl Berkoff, his wife of 26 years and the boys' mother? She did
make sure they had a shaman for the Preston adventure, Rob said, but
she's mostly a skeptic with real-life concerns.

She couldn't care,
he said, “whether we were killed by Sasquatch, Bigfoot, shot by
rogue hunters. But she was very concerned that we might get ticks.”

-- “The Lowe
Files,” 10 p.m. Wednesdays, A&E.

-- Opener (“Preston
Castle” reformatory) is Aug. 2, rerunning at 11:03 p.m. and 2:03
and 3:04 a.m. It then repeats at 3 p.m. Friday, 1 and 2 p.m.
Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday and 2 and 4 p.m. Aug. 9, when the second
episode deals with alien abduction.


In a tiny, quiet space, the Unabomber created horror

The Television Critics Association sessions have started now, filled with fascinating people and stories. Here's the first one I'm sending, on a mini-series that starts Tuesday, Aug. 1:

Bettany was walking through someone else's life.

It wasn't a long
walk. This building – a re-creation of the cabin where Ted
Kaczynski became “the Unabomber” -- is prison-cell small.

“He lived in a
10-by-8 cabin, with no running water or electricity, for 20 years,”
said Bettany, who plays him in a new mini-series. There – in two
spurts – he mailed homemade bombs to strangers.

This cabin
re-creates what the FBI found after it arrested Kaczysnki in Montana
in 1996. Scattered are the essentials – Wonder Bread wrappers,
Quaker Oats boxes, flashlights, saws, even a guitar-zither.

There's one
hand-made chair – no company was expected – and an abundance of
books and working material. “He made the epoxy out of the hooves of
animals and the bombs ... from the roots of mushrooms,” Bettany
said. “He sort of created C4 out of that stuff.”

And then he mailed
his bombs, killing people he didn't know. Fear spread.

“When I was a kid,
I was scared of the Unabomber, because he could just send ... anybody
a package at any time and destroy you like that,” said Andrew
Sodroski, who wrote and produced the mini-series.

This is the
Discovery Channel's first plunge into a scripted mini-series. It fits
the channel, Sodreski said, because it focuses on the FBI profiler
who helped catch Kaczinski. “You have this man who is just an
ordinary, blue-collar cop who discovers a whole new field of
forensics .... That is so Discovery.”

Jim Fitzgerald
pushed “linguistic forensics” -- figuring who might have written
an anonymous piece. He wanted the FBI to meet the demand that a
“Unabomber manifesto” be released to newspapers.

“The FBI does not
negotiate with terrorists,” said Chris Noth, who plays Fitzgerald's
boss. So “that was a big deal that it was in the papers. That
never happened before.”

And it worked. David
Kaczynski read it, contacted the FBI and said the author might be his
brother. Firzgerald analyzed other writings and agreed, which was
enough to get a search warrant.

“I think David
felt really tormented,” Sodroski said. “He really wanted to save
his brother. He didn't know how and he felt an obligation to the
world to turn Ted in.”

David is played by
Mark Duplass, who knows fraternal quirks, after two decades of
filmmaking with his brother Jay. “We spiritually and emotionally
unabomb each other all the time,” he said.

The leads are played
by two men who also are known to action fans. Sam Worthington – who
starred in “Avatar” and is currently makig the sequel – plays
Kaczynski; Bettany – who is Vision and the voice of JASPER in the
“Avengers” movies -- is Kascynski.

That left Bettany
trying to figure out what it would be like to be alone. “I've got
three kids, a dog, a cat and a wife,” he said. “There's no
aloneness in my life, you know.”

So he “experimented
by absolutely turning off my phone and not being in contact with my
family, even, for three days.” One thing he learned: “The amount
of time there is in a day is extraordinary.”

Still, that time was
spent in “a very, very nice cabin with a pool.” What would
Kaczynski's life be like?

Bettany studied the
FBI's list of books in the cabin. They were “fascinatingly cliched
in that they were like Joseph Conrad's 'The Secret Agent' and Fyodor
Dosoyevsky's 'Crime and Punishment' and Arthur Koestler's 'Darkess at
Noon.' They were all about ... the man who feels like an alien in
society and commits a crime that he can't come back from.”

From that cabin, Ted
Kaczynski committed horrid crimes that spurred fear, rage and the
innovative use of linguistic forensics.

-- “Manhunt:
Unabomber,” Discovery and Investigation Discovery

-- Eight-hour
mini-series; the opener is 9-11:02 p.m. Aug. 1 and reruns often;
subsequent ones are 10-11 p.m. Tuesdays