Life before Bond: A drifting Ian Fleming transforms

Ian Fleming created epic fictional adventures for James Bond ... and apparently lived some semi-epic ones in real life. Now the story will be told in a four-week mini-series starting Wednesday (Jan. 29). Here's the story I sent to papers: 


Manantr Fleld ming ’s role in life seemed clear: He was the other brother,
the one people forgot.

“Ian’s brother Peter was good at everything,” recalled
Douglas Rae, producer of the “Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond” mini-series.
He was “good at university, good in the army, a great writer.”

And the other brother? Ian Fleming’s only resemblance to the
character he created (James Bond) was a fondness for women and alcohol. Then
history intervened.

“The war really made Fleming, in a sense,” said actress Lara
Pulver. “It forced him to find his niche.”

That niche will forever be debated. Fleming later said he
played a huge role in British spying; others aren’t so sure. “The biographies …
all kind of contradict each other,” said director Mat Whitecross. Some repeat
Fleming’s account, others “are kind of more skeptical about some of his tales.”

The real Fleming was “an enigmatic, chameleon kind of
character,” Rae said. As played by Dominic Cooper, he “desperately wanted to be
somebody else, his alter-ego, this … action hero.

That started with his disapproving, upper-crust mother,
Whitecross said. “Probably, Fleming used his mother as the archetypal Bond
villain, the lady with spikes.”

That may have colored his view of an entire sex, Whitecross
said. “I think his relationship with women was, by modern standards, quite
problematic. I think he was quite misogynistic.”

He met his match in Ann O’Neil – upper-crust and daring.
“These two people were so dysfunctional and really kind of pushed each other’s
buttons,” said Pulver, who plays her.

There may have been a darkness to Fleming’s soul and, for a
while, to Bond’s. At first, Whitecross said, Bond was “a very dark, kind of
depressive, quite twisted character. (He’s) reactive most of the time.”

Gradually, that darkness faded. In the novels – and, for a
time, the movies – Bond became lighter, brighter, more dashing. He became like
the author’s maybe-semi-fictional view of himself.

“Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond,” 10 p.m.
for four Wednesdays, BBC America.

Opener, Jan. 29, is preceded at 7:30 p.m. by the
Bond film “Goldfinger” (1964).

Opener repeats that night at 1:30 a.m.; then
Friday night at 2 a.m., Saturday at 4 p.m.



For speech-skippers, Tuesday is the night to (maybe) meet soap actress

On Tuesday (Jan. 28), large chunks of the TV world will obsess on the State of the Union address. That includes ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS and the cable news channels.

But what if you're not interested? As the Tuesday column (hit the TV column part above) says, there are plenty of 9 p.m. alternatives; the choices include "Building Wild" (see previous blog), three shows for fantasy fans ("Supernatural," "Ravenswood" and the amiable "Face Off") and even a prime-time soap opera.

That's "The Haves and the Have Nots," a ratings success for the Oprah Winfrey Network. Here's the story I sent to papers, profiling one of its stars:





Tears – sometimes in abundance, sometimes not – have played
a big part in Jaclyn Betham’s career.


She’s had a lot of them, even in her ballerina days. “People
don’t realize you’re acting when you’re dancing,” she said. “I used to cry
onstage, I would get so involved with the role.”


But in the big moment – auditioning for Tyler Perry’s “The
Haves and the Have Nots” – she went weepless. “The girl I was up against came out
of the room just soaked with tears,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh no, I’ll never
get the job.’”


She got it and her character – Amanda, brainy but troubled –
has grown. (“I think people are going to be shocked at what Tyler let me do
this year,” she said.) So has the show; it:


Drew 2.8 million viewers for this season’s
opener. It was “our biggest (season) premiere in network history,” said Erik
Logan, co-president of the Oprah Winfrey Network.


Matched that in the third episode and may top it
in the fourth. That one starts at the same time (9 p.m. Tuesday) as the State
of the Union speech and could gather new viewers.


Things are going well for a career that started when Betham
was 2. “I had so much energy that my parents put me in gymnastics class and
then dance class.”


Soon, she obsessed on dance. By other standards, Betham –
the daughter of two Long Beach, Cal. teachers – grew up comfortably; in the
ballet world, however, she needed a string of scholarships.


She finished high school early (at 16) and surprised her parents
by delaying college. She danced with the Houston and San Jose ballets and was
the Anaheim Ballet’s principal dancer … which was kind of necessary for someone
who’s 5-foot-9. “I wouldn’t fit in with the tiny ballerinas” in the chorus


Still, she also wanted to act. At her first cold-reading
class “I cried my eyes out” and was promptly signed by a manager. Next came
commercials, small roles … and the “Haves” audition. She got the role – “I was
running around my little apartment cheering” – and was alongside key people.
She got to know:


Perry, who produces and writes the show. “I
didn’t know what he looked like,” she said. “I only knew him as Madea,” the
female alter-ego he plays in comedies.


John Schneider, who plays her dad. Betham only
knew him from “Smallville,” but “my mother, who was a big ‘Dukes of Hazzard’
fan, was really excited.”


Amanda, the person she plays. At first, she knew only that this was a
pre-law student, wealthy and well-mannered. Then she learned of a wobbly past
and assertive future. “In a dark way, she starts to get out of her own”


And that may or may not give Betham a chance to do some more


“The Haves and the Have Nots,” 9 p.m. Tuesdays,
Oprah Winfrey Network. The Jan. 28 episode (going against the State of the Union),
reruns at 10 p.m. and is preceded by a rerun at 8.



Speech-skipping? Try some cabin guys

Here's one of two stories I sent to papers about alternatives to Tuesday's "State of the Union" speech. The other, on a "The Haves and Have Nots" actress, is in the blog above this one:


The task is basic – take cabin-building to new extremes.
Tackling this on “Building Wild” are opposites.

Pat “Tuffy” Bakaitis knows cabins; he has five of his own.
One is just to visit with his family; another is for what he calls his “happy
hour” crew. “It just gets trashed every Friday night,” he said.

Paul DiMeo knew little about the cabin world. “It’s a
lifestyle that a part of me longs for,” he said.

Now he’s getting a crash course in it. When “Extreme
Makeover: Home Edition” ended, DiMeo linked with Bakaitis to form Cabin Kings,
in Upstate New York. Often using found material and volunteer labor, they bring
offbeat designs to off-the-road settings.

Now they have a reality show that could get a boost this
week, when it runs against the State of the Union address. What people may
notice first is the byplay between these Kings.

Bakaitis calls DiMeo a “city slicker,” given to exotic
notions instead of practical ones. That included the time he insisted on using
horses for an uphill haul. “My grandfather worked with horses and the horses
went out with the Indians,” Bakaitis said. “We’ve got excavators now.”

And to DiMeo, this is a chance to expand his world. He’s
working with:

Unusual clients. “We have everyone from Navy
SEALs to dairy farmers to a school teacher to an old veterinarian who also is a
bush pilot.”

Odd ideas. One week, a portable outhouse slid
along a track; this week, there’s a rotating cabin.

And a different lifestyle.

DiMeo’s life has been in Philadelphia, New York and Los
Angeles (where, he says, he owns “70 square feet of land”). He has to admire
the flip side.

Bakaitis, DiMeo said, “has 350 acres and there are just
animals running around and it’s just a world of beauty.” Settings like that
bring a communal notion to building the cabins and enjoying them.

“Having … everyone come together to make this happen,” DiMeo
said, “there’s a great deal of camaraderie.” That continues afterward, in long
weekends of talk, drink and gentle sunsets.

“Building Wild,” 9 p.m. Tuesdays, National
Geographic. The Jan. 28 episode could get an extra audience, in the Eastern and
Central zones it goes against the State of the Union address.


Brits give us the best pirates and dowagers

TV viewers don't expect much on Saturdays ... except on Starz. That's the cable channel that has given us "Da Vinci's Demons," "Dancing on the Edge," "Boss" and, especially, "White Queen." Now it has "Black Sails," a pirate epic.

If you miss the Jan. 25 debut, don't fret. That will rerun Feb. 1, right before the second episode; it also has several more reruns before that. Here's the story I sent to papers, with the various times listed at the end:


Each weekend now, the British give us opposite viewing

Pirates slash, rage and plunder; dowagers sip, snack and
ponder. And a mother-son duo does both.

Maggie Smith is the tart matriarch in “Downton Abbey”
(Sundays on PBS); Toby Stephens is the fierce Captain Flint in the new “Black
Sails” (Saturdays on Starz). Smith has drawn praise and awards, but her son
seems happy with his messier role.

“I appreciate ‘Downton Abbey’ for what it is,” Stephens
said, but “I don’t regularly tune in. It’s not the really the kind of show that
I enjoy.”

He’s played some classy costume dramas, but says “Sails” is
“like going on an exotic vacation.” Which depends on how you vacation. “The
show is sexy; the show is violent,” said writer Jonathan Steinberg.

It’s set in 1715, as the maritime world was changing. For
years, pirates were merely “privateers”; the British government seemed happy
when they disrupted French or Spanish ships.

Now that was starting to change. “People who had been authorized
by the British Crown (to) loot on the open ocean suddenly were criminals,” said
Carmi Zlotnik, the programming chief for Starz.

But as “Black Sails” begins, this is still what Stephens
calls “the golden age of piracy.” Pirates even have their own island, where
rules are scarce. “It’s a world where sexuality and boundaries have completely
broken down,” said Hannah New, who plays the bisexual beauty who runs the

Steinberg’s script mixes several real-life pirates with key
characters from “Treasure Island.” We see the formative years of John Silver
(Luke Arnold) and we see Flint cling to his power.

“It’s a playground for costume designers and everyone,”
Arnold said.

Especially for the actors. Stephens professes a fondness for
high-stakes adventure.

“My mum is great in” costume drama, he said. “I’ve done it.
I don’t want to do it for the rest of my life. (‘Black Sails’) has a fantastic
character, phenomenal production values and a fantastic story.”

And it lets him play pirate, big-time.

“Black Sails,” 9 p.m. Saturdays, Starz; opener, Jan. 25, reruns at 10:10 and 11:20.

First episode (Jan. 25) reruns at 7:50 p.m.
Feb. 1, in front of the second episode.

Between those two, other reruns are: Sunday (Jan. 26), noon and 3, 8 and 9:10 p.m.; then 10 a.m. Monday, 2:09 and 10 p.m. Tuesday, 7:50 and 9 p.m. Wednesday, 3:50 p.m.
Thursday; and 10:45 p.m. Friday.

Raking through a messy (and funny) TV life

This is a busy time in the TV and cable world, as mid-season shows arrive. "Rake" (Thursday on Fox) is an amiable one, with Greg Kinnear as a sharp lawyer with a messy life. Here's the story I sent to papers:


Greg Kinnear’s new shot at TV stardom began years ago and
several continents away.

It would become “Rake,” opening Thursday in a cozy slot
behind “American Idol.” Kinnear plays a smart and charming lawyer whose life is

“He makes sizable mistakes” without changing, Kinnear said.
“He isn’t built like a typical television protagonist. That was kind of what
appealed to me.”

The roots for that began with Australian actor Richard
Roxburgh. “He had a friend at university who was a brilliant guy,” writer Peter
Duncan said, “but every Friday and Saturday, he’d get in a fight with someone
and he would be beaten up.”

 Duncan pondered that
until he read about a messy crime trial. A former lawyer himself, Duncan
decided to make this self-destructive character a lawyer.

So “Rake” began in 2010, with Roxburgh starring. The U.S.
version includes two Australian actresses who weren’t in the original series,
but remember it as fans.

“It just felt like such an intelligent, funny show,” Miranda
Otto said. “Such a grown-up show.”

Adds Bojana Novakovic: “It was a really great thing to see
so many amazing female characters.”

These sharp female characters surround a mess of a guy. Otto
plays his ex-wife, Novakovic plays a prostitute who is his sort-of mistress,
Tara Summers plays an office assistant who rarely gets paid. “She’s here
illegally, … so he’s the only one who will pay her,” Summers said.

This may be the messiest TV life since the troubled fireman
Denis Leary played in “Rescue Me.” To create the American version, Duncan was
paired with Peter Tolan, who led “Rescue Me” with Leary.

The U.S. pilot went too far, Tolan said, with a sadness
overload. They pushed that episode back and started with brighter ones, “to
sort of get an audience comfortable with a guy who’s this much of a

Retained from the Australian version was the title: “Rake”
isn’t the character’s name; it’s an obsolete word for a sort of loose party
guy. “We’re trying to pull in the highly coveted viewership of people who were
alive during the Elizabethan times,” Tolan joked.

He jokes often, inserting bright moments into press
conferences and scripts. Like “Rescue Me,” this show juggles big laughs and
high-stakes drama.

Kinnear has done both in movies, but usually not in the same
project. “It’s probably not done very often,” he said, “because it hard to do …
to find that comedic/drama balance.” Now there are funny ways for him to tackle
messy cases and live a messy life.

“Rake,” 9 p.m. Thursdays, Fox; debuts Jan. 23