Kennedy coverage: TV at its best

A half-century ago, television seized our attention with its coverage of the John Kennedy assassination. As the Nov. 22 anniversary nears, its has a huge quantity -- and, often, impressive quality -- of specials. Here's the round-up I sent to papers:


As the 50th anniversary of the John Kennedy
assassination nears, TV will be busy.

Cable and PBS have a cascade of specials, many of them
repeating often through the Nov. 22 anniversary. The broadcast networks and
news channels have a few separate specials, but also plan extensive coverage
during their regular shows.

Here’s a chronological list of new films (subject to change),
with some of the rerun times:

“JFK: The Final Hours.” With great diligence and detail,
this project talks to the people who were there, fronm Secret Service agent
Clint Hill to a mariachi musician and kids in the crowd. We see them then and
meet them now, catching rich memories. (8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8, National
Geographic; reruns at 6 p.m. Sunday and Nov. 15)

“JFK: The Smoking Gun.” This controversial film, claiming to
find a second shooter, debuted last Sunday and reruns often. (8 p.m. Friday,
Nov. 8, Reelz; also 5 p.m. Sunday, followed at 6 by “JFK: Inside the Evidence”;
then 10 p.m. Tuesday and 5 p.m. Nov. 15)

“50 Years of Questions.” This takes a new look at the assassination
and the Warren Commission’s report. Also, “Killing Kennedy” co-author Bill O’Reilly
discusses the impact of events. (9 p.m. Saturday, Fox News Channel, rerunning
at midnight)

“Killing Kennedy.” Rob Lowe and Ginnifer Goodwin play John
and Jackie Kennedy; their scenes seem a bit 
shallow, but there’s a deep portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald and his wife
(Will Rothhaar, Michelle Trachtenberg). 8 p.m. Sunday,National Geographic,
rerunning at 10 p.m. and midnight; same times Nov. 15, 9 a.m. Nov. 17)

“American Experience.” The assassination and its aftermath
are only a brief blip here. Instead, we get a brilliant portrait of Kennedy’s
life, stuffed with historians and old footage. Other films have covered this,
but few have been so detailed about Kennedy’s near-paralyzing physical ailments
and his transition from casual playboy to serious world leader. (9-11 p.m.
Monday and Tuesday, PBS)

“Capturing Oswald.” This is co-produced by Kate Griendling,
whose grandfather was the homicide detective handcuffed to Lee Harvey Oswald
when he was shot. (10 p.m. Tuesday, Military Channel; same time Nov. 22)

“Nova.” Fresh from its “Experience” portrait, PBS uses
another of its top shows. A fresh forensics team examines the assassination
evidence. (9 p.m. Wednesday, PBS; followed at 10 p.m. by “JFK: One PM Central
Time,” which focuses on Walter Cronkite’s CBS reporting that day.)

“The Sixties: The Assassination of President Kennedy.” CNN’s
film project focuses on the Warren Commission report. (9 p.m. Thursday, CNN)

“As It Happened: John F. Kennedy 50 Years.” Bob Schieffer
was a 26-year-old Fort Wayne newspaper reporter that day. He ended up spending
hours with Oswald’s wife and mother-in-law, taking them to the Dallas police
station and then staying there. He tells that stories and others, intercut with
clips of Cronkite’s CBS coverage. (9 p.m. Nov. 16, CBS)

“The Day Kennedy Died.” Leslie Woodhead (“The Hunt for Bin
Laden”) uses a minute-by-minute approach, mixing old footage and photos, plus
new interviews. We meet the woman who reluctantly housed Oswald the night
before the shooting, the man who drove him to work and the man wrongly accused
of the killing, plus a doctor, a secret service agent and more. (9 p.m. Nov. 17,
Smithsonian, repeating at midnight; same times Nov. 22, also 10 p.m. Nov. 18, 5
p.m. Nov. 21)

“JFK: The Lost Tapes” uses audio recordings – some newly
released, others re-mastered – from Dallas police, Dallas radio and Air Force
One. (7 p.m. Nov. 21, Discovery)

“Primary.” This 1960 film starts a night of Kennedy
documentaries by Robert Drew. (8 p.m. Nov. 21, Turner Classic Movies; followed
by “Adventures on a New Frontier (1961) at 9:15, “Crisis” (1963) at 10:30 and “Faces
of November (1963) at 11:45. Mel Stuart’s “Four Days in November will be at
midnight, followed by Cliff Robertson as Kennedy in “PT 109” (1963) at 2:15

“Where Were You?” Tom Brokaw was still a University of South
Dakota student, 23, at the time of the assassination. Here, he combines NBC’s
past footage, plus fresh memories. (9 p.m. Nov. 22, NBC)

Also: Nov. 22 will bring more reruns and new specials. At 8
p.m., for instance, the History Channel will debut “JFK Assassination: The
Definitive Guide” and “Lee Harvey Oswald: 48 Hours to Live.”

Nuclear power: Dreams dashed and (maybe) revised

After decades in front of TV sets and movie screens, I've seen all the reasons to fear nuclear power. Now a remarkable documentary -- airing Thursday and Saturday (Nov. 7 and 9) on CNN -- stirs some re-thinking; here's the story I sent to papers: 


Stepping into an abandoned nuclear plant may be like
entering a somber time capsule.

Here are the hopes and nightmares of a previous generation,
now scuttled. Robert Stone -- whose remarkable, revisionist documentary reaches
CNN Thursday – has visited two of them:

A $6-billion Long Island plant. “It was kind of
creepy going into the control room,” Stone said. “There were spilled coffee
cups, old newspapers …. It was like walking into a mausoleum.”

The Chernobyl power plant in the Ukraine. “It’s
a deep, dark place,” he said.

Both represent the reversal of nuclear hopes after two
disasters – Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979 and Chernobyl disaster in
’86. The Long Island plant was built between 1973 and ’84, but soon abandoned;
other U.S. plans were scuttled.

And now, decades later, some people are having second

“I’ve been anti-nuclear-power-plants,” said Stone, 54. “I
wasn’t an activist, but I was very much against them, like others from my

His first documentary (the 1988 “Radio Bikini”) eyed the
aftershocks of unregulated testing of nuclear bombs in the Pacific; his 2009 “Earth
Days” traced the start of the environmental movement.

The latter included Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole
Earth Catalog, who reversed himself and now favors nuclear power. “He was one
of the first high-profile people who did that,” Stone said. “That opened my
mind to this.”

He met other eco-activists who now favor nuclear plants. “If
climate-control is the ultimate issue of our time,” Stone said, then all clean-energy
sources are needed. The powerful countries are trying to trim their use, but emerging
nations keep industrializing. “It’s the equivalent of adding a Brazil each year
…. If you do the math, there’s no way” that other sources – wind, solar, etc. –
can keep up.

Chernobyl, he said, was an anomaly, an awful design that no
one else is using. Some countries have continued their emphasis; France gets
most of its power from nuclear plants.

And, surprisingly, some people still live near the Chernobyl
plant. “They moved back about a year later,” Stone said. Their lives resumed,
alongside a dark symbol of abandoned hope.

“Pandora’s Promise,” 9-11 p.m. Thursday, CNN,
repeating at midnight and 3 a.m.

 Also, 7
p.m. Saturday

Halloween? On TV it's cute and cuddly ... or maybe raw and nasty


Our responsibility for the next few days, it seems, is to sit in front of TV sets and stare at an avalanche of Halloween shows. Here's a list I sent to papers, for the stretch that starts Tuesday, Oct. 29. Also, please read the previous blog, dealing with a thoroughly entertaining film about the guys who do TV and movie make-up so disturbingly well.


Halloween, TV tells us, is a time of comedy and candy and
cartoons … and of slashers and screamers and swarms of zombies. Both extremes
fill our TV sets this week; here’s a sampling:


“Nightmare Factory,” 8 p.m. Wednesday, Epix and
It’s an entertaining documentary about the makeup artists who make everything
look so creepy.

“Faceoff,” 9 p.m. Tuesdays, Syfy, reruns at 11. This reality
competition for make-up artists wraps up its season Oct. 29 and Nov. 5. Also on
Oct. 29, the entire season (so far) reruns at 10 a.m.

“Naked Vegas,” 10 p.m. Tuesday, Syfy. A body-painter show
starts Oct. 29 with a naked zombie wedding.


On Thursday, almost every PBS show has a Halloween episode.
There are also episodes Wednesday on “Clifford” and “Martha Speaks” and Tuesday
and Wednesday on “Arthur.”

“It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” reruns at 8 p.m.
Thursday on ABC.


All of ABC’s comedies – 9-10 p.m. Tuesdays, 8-10 p.m.
Wednesday – have Halloween touches. Also, CBS’ “The Millers” goes
trick-or-treating at 8:31 p.m. Thursday.

“SNL Halloween,” 8-9 p.m. Thursday, NBC. Here’s a collection
of “Saturday Night Live” sketches.

Comic movies, Thursday, cable. There are three good ones – “Ghostbusters”
(1984) at 8:30 p.m. on Comedy Central and an “Addams Family” double feature
(1991 and ’93), 7 and 9 p.m., ABC Family.


“Halloween” (1978), the well-crafted film that started the surge,
airs at 8 p.m. Wednesday on AMC.

The first “Twilight” film (2008) is on ABC Family at 7:30
p.m. Wednesday … the same time that the third one (2010) is on FXX. And at 8
p.m. Wednesday, BBC America has “Interview With the Vampire” (1994).

At 8 p.m. Thursday, films include “Gremlins” (1984) on CMT, “The
Lost Boys” (1987) on VH1, “Mary Reilly” (1996) on TV Guide and “The Pit and the
Pendulum” (1961) on Turner Classic Movies.


NBC has just launched its Friday scares – “Grimm” at 9 p.m.,
“Dracula” at 10.

Also, there’s “Sleepy Hollow” on Fox and a lot on CW – “Vampire
Diaries” at 8 p.m. Thursdays, “The Originals” (its spin-off) at 8 p.m.  Tuesdays and “Supernatural” at 9 p.m. Tuesdays.

Cable includes “Haven” (10 p.m. Fridays, Syfy) and zombies –
“The Walking Dead” at 9 p.m. Sundays on AMC and the mini-series “The Returned” at
9 p.m. Thursdays, starting (appropriately) on Oct. 31.

Amid the rotting mulch of zombie life -- true artistry at work

As horror films soar -- on Halloween and beyond -- the make-up masters start to get their due. A fascinating cable documentary Wednesday takes a look; here's the story I sent to papers: 


Frank Darabont managed to sum up Greg Nicotero succinctly
and fondly: “He sprang from the rotten mulch of the zombie tradition.”

Hey, in their world that’s high praise – especially at Halloween

He says that in “Nightmare Factory,” a cable documentary (8
p.m. Wednesday on Epix and about people who give us our
and most gripping movie and TV images. These are writer-directors like Darabont
(“The Walking Dead”) and make-up masters like Nicotero.

The make-up guys are rock stars … almost literally. “Most of
us were musicians,” Nicotero, 50, says of the days when they were young and
long-haired. “We had the rock ‘n’ roll” feeling.

They’re artists and craftsmen and … well, maybe full of
themselves.  “Special makeup artists are
the biggest divas in show business,” director John Carpenter (“Halloween”) says.

Such comments in the documentary give us a rich view of horror
people – both make-up and directing – who have key things in common. “You give
up sanity and health and all those things,” Carpenter says.

But where – other than rotting mulch – do they spring from?
Family influences help. “When I was pregnant with Gregory, I read every blood­­-curdling
book I could get my hands on,” Shari Nicotero says.

Her son also saw classic horror films – with his grandfather
(who collected them) and on the midnight “Chiller Theatre.” That was in
Pittsburgh, where George Romero had made the 1968 “Night of the Living Dead”; as
a boy, Nicotero visited the sites where “Dead” and its 1978 sequel were filmed.

Then, vacationing in Rome, his family happened to be at a
table next to Romero. A friendship began; Nicoterro helped with the 1985 “Day
of the Dead” … then announced he was quitting his pre-med studies. His dad, a
doctor, was not pleased. “You guys will do nothing with (long) hair like that,”
he said.

They did a lot, separately and then together. “We were the
kids (your) mothers wouldn’t let you play with,” Andy Schoneberg says. They
were the kids who’d had monster magazines and monstrous images.

And they reached Hollywood at the perfect time: Horror’s new
wave – Carpenter’s “Halloween” (1978), “Friday the 13
th (1980),
“Evil Dead” (1981) – had had micro-budgets and makeshift make-up. For the films
that followed, however, audiences kept cranking up their expectations.

Now horror is no longer a splinter item. Vampires top the
box-office; “Walking Dead” – molded by Darabont in its first season and with
Nicotero leading the make-up – rules TV. It has more young viewers than any
scripted show (broadcast or cable), more total viewers than any except “Big
Bang” and “NCIS.”

Even in a computer-graphics age, directors often prefer
hand-crafted work. Nicotero’s make-up has gone beyond horror in movies
(“Narnia,” “Oz,” “Transformers,” etc.) and on TV. He has Emmys for “Dune” and “The
Pacific,” plus two for “Walking Dead.”

He has a career that’s big, busy … and, at Halloween time,
quite important.



Cooking gets a rock 'n' roll, do-it-yourself makeover

Cooking shows keep zooming onto TV and the latest has a kind of rogue-ish, rock 'n' roll touch. Here's the story I sent to papers:



Let’s say you have a high-achieving father, a leader of men.
Your goals are simpler; you just want to cook. How do you break it to him?

For Graham Elliot, it was easy:  He had already dropped out of school, with
visions of being a rock ‘n’ roll guitarist; anything else might be seen as a
step up.

“Maybe you should go to jail or juvie (juvenile hall) when
you’re 16,” Elliot joked. Then anything would be viewed as a triumph.

He talked about that while reflecting on his latest TV
venture. Already a judge on “MasterChef” and the current “MasterChef Junior,”
he hosts the pilot for a cable series, “Covert Kitchens.”

This one seems to fit the modern mentality of many chefs,
Elliot said. “The new generation is more punk-rock, tattooed, against the

These people don’t wait for corporate invitations. One trend
has instant restaurants in odd places.

Now “Covert Kitchens” turns that into a reality task. In the
pilot, Elliot said, a chef is given a car garage. “He has 36 hours and $3600 to
do everything – the food, the restaurant, the staff.”

Elliot can view this from both sides now. He’s:

Solidly in the establishment. Elliot runs two
restaurants in Chicago, one a high-end spot where President Obama celebrated a
birthday with Oprah Winfrey and others, the other a bistro; he’s also starting
one in Greenwich, Conn.

Still a rock guitarist, which is how this

Elliot, 36, grew up in Washington State and elsewhere, with
a dad who was big in the Navy. “He was an enlisted man who became
sailor-of-the-year …. He was very goal-driven.”

So much that he became an officer, reaching captain (just a
step below admiral). By comparison, the son’s goals didn’t start until he was
17 and working in kitchens; culinary school and fame followed.

Lately, cooking-interest has become bigger and Elliot has
become smaller. Once just short of 400 pounds, he’s lost more than 100 since
getting stomach surgery. “People keep saying I look younger.”

Meanwhile, cooking has propelled. “MasterChef Junior” shows
that, with kids 8 to 13, already focused. Some, said fellow judge Gordon Ramsay,
“were going for (cooking) lessons once or twice a week. (Their) standard of
food was extraordinary.”

And “Covert Kitchens” shows that with young chefs, ready to
create instant restaurants.

“Covert Kitchens,” 11 p.m. Sunday, Spike; reruns
at 2 a.m.

“MasterChef Junior,” 8 p.m. Fridays, Fox.