Havana may be crumbling a bit, but it's doing it cheerfully

Right now, Geoffrey Baer is back home in Chicago, filming the latest of his river-journey specials. On Tuesday, however, we'll see him far from his comfort zone, in an entertaining visit to Cuba. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Geoffrey Baer is
used to criss-crossing the nation for PBS specials.

He's shown us “10
Towns That Changed America” ... and 10 parks .. and 10 homes ...
and 10 buildings. He's taken river journeys through his Chicago home
town. But now “Weekend in Havana” has whisked him to fresh turf.

“I had never been
to Havana,” Baer said. “I really didn't know what to expect.”

Well, he sort of
expected crumbling buildings, crumbled lives and old American cars.
He found all of that (plus some newer Russian cars), but also found
surprises. “What amazed me was to see a night life that could have
been in Soho.”

Yes, Cubans' basic
pay is tiny, redeemed partly by the fact that the government takes
care of housing, health, education and more. But some people
supplement that with outside money – anything from tourism to music
tours. Baer found young people with money to spend.

Some packed into a
former factory building, now repurposed with nightclubs, galleries
and performance spaces. Others went to mini-restaurants, tucked
inside private homes.

“They used to
operate in secrecy,” Baer said. “They were sort of a precursor to

He traveled with
jazz pianist Roberto Fonseca and flamenco dancer Irene Rodriguez,
both the products of arts academies. “The government is very
pro-arts,” Baer said.

In the city, he
found noise, color, street musicians and odd little “coco taxis”
that are sort of like riding in a coconut. Away from the city, he
visited the cottage where Ernest Hemingway wrote “The Old Man and
the Sea” and more

“Hemingway adored
Cuba and thought of himself as a Cuban writer,” Baer said. “He
lived in Cuba longer than anywhere else.”

Then Hemingway and
other Americans departed. Now some are returning, at least for a

-- “Weekend in
Havana,” 8 p.m. Tuesday (July 18), PBS



Yes, locally-made movies can have a Hollywood feel

(This is a story mainly for people in the Lansing, Mich., area, relating to film screenings on July 16 and 30. If you're not near Lansing ... well, there are TV stories below, with more on the way.)

By Mike Hughes

This once seemed
semi-impossible – a Hollywood-looking movie on a Michigan budget.

But in a two-week
stretch (Sunday and July 30), two films have Lansing screenings. You
can credit improved technology, plus:

-- Good sites, odd
hours: Walking to work in Detroit, David Tappan goes past the Fisher
Building; then he actually saw its elegant lobby. “I thought, 'This
is perfect.'”

Filming “Chocolate
and Cigarettes” there meant starting at 8 p.m. and ending at
sunrise. “Confidence of a Tall Man” had opposite hours: Set at
Zoobie's, an Old Town bar, it shot from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

-- Keep it short:
“Chocolate” is 15 minutes, “Confidence” is 31.

-- Use Michael
McCallum: He's the “Chocolate” star and the “Confidence”
director. “He's kind of an actor's director,” said Johnny
DeMarco, that film's star.

-- Add outsiders:
“Chocolate” co-stars Jenna Sofia from New York and Alora Smith, a
Detroit-area actress who moved West. For a Skype try-out, she was in
Hollywood and McCallum was in a Lansing bar. “It's not the ideal
audition scenario,” Tappan granted.

-- Show range:
McCallum plays tough guys in many films, including “Confidence”;
now “Chocolate” has him floundering in love. “I've had my
troubles with romance,” he said. “I had a deep pool of experience
to draw from.”

-- Elegance helps.
“Confidence” opens with a gorgeous saxophone solo from Gary
Clavette; “Chocolate” -- seeking a Federico Fellini feel – even
has two ballroom dancers.

-- Have a story.
“Chocolate” is bittersweet; “Confidence” borrows DeMarco's
bar-manager memories.

-- Audacity helps.
DeMarco is the guy who, new to acting, travelled to New York to seek
a “Sopranos” role; he was rejected, but encouraged. Tappan, 24,
moved from California to join Detroit's emerging film community. “My
friends thought I was crazy,” he said. Now he has a movie.

Movie parties

-- “Chocolate and
Cigarettes,” doors open 8 p.m. Sunday, UrbanBeat Event Center, 1213
Turner St., $5 cover charge. Film at 9 p.m.; music by Jeff Shoup jazz

-- “Confidence of
a Tall Man,” doors open 8 p.m. July 30, Tavern and Tap, 101 S.
Washington Ave., $10 cover charge; includes music by two of the
people – Alex Mendenall of Lansing, Jim Shaneberger of Grand Rapids
– on the film's soundtrack.

-- Both are the
first public showings of the films, made in Detroit and Lansing,
respectively. Many of the actors will be there. “Confidence” has
DVD's and CD's for sale; “Chocolate” has posters.


Twin power reaches TV reality ... again

By Mike Hughes

Two years after
winning a summertime cable competition, some designing twins are at it

This time, Claire
and Shawn Buitendorp, 27, are jumping to the top -- “Project
Runway,” a leader in ratings and in longevity. And this time,
they're not a team; they compete with each other.

On Aug. 17, “Runway”
starts its 16th season (plus five all-star editions) and
its first to deal with sizes from 0 to 22. The 16 contestants work
alongside top names, including hosts (Heidi Klum, Tim Gunn), judges
(Nina Garcia, Zac Posner) and guests (Katie Holmes, Demi Lovato, Kate
Upton, Olivia Munn, Maggie Q, Yolanda Hadid, Kelsea Ballerini and

The twins are used
to that. They grew up (in Grand Ledge, Mich,) far from show business, but their father, Geoffrey, has been a stage manager for
rockers, presidents and corporations. The first person to wear one
of their dresses was Katie Perry – 25 times, in concerts. They've
designed for musician Lindsey Stirling, two “American Idol”
finalists and for their own fashion spread in Teen Vogue.

After graduating
from Grand Ledge High (2008), Lansing Community College and the
University of Michigan, they set up their brand, at shockandawww.com.
They also competed in “Twinning,” a 2015 VH1 show that separated
twins, then tested their intuition and knowledge of each other.

They won and hoped
to be hosts of a second season ... except there wasn't one. Instead,
a bit later, “Runway” beckoned.

The Buitendorps –
who split their time between Grand Ledge and New York anyway –
quietly slipped off to film the season. They couldn't tell people
they were on the show until the Lifetime cable channel made the
announcment; now they're waiting for permission to give spoiler-free

The contestants are
widely scattered, including ones from Taiwan and Puerto Rico and two
each from New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta ... and Grand Ledge.

itS, k

For Trace, this one is easy -- singing about soldiers

Each 4th of July, PBS offers great music and -- at times -- strong emotion. This year, some of that emotion comes from Trace Adkins, the towering country star with the chaotic-but-compelling life. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Yes, Trace Adkins'
wild ride has had twists, turns and odd detours.

But occasionally,
it's had moments that seemed easy and obvious. One came when his
record producer handed him “Still a Soldier,” his latest single.

“He just knew he
was lobbing one over the plate for me,” said Adkins, who will sing
it Tuesday, during the “Capitol Fourth” concert on PBS. “He
knows how I feel about this.”

Adkins has long been
an admirer of soldiers, past and present. He's talked with veterans.
He's seen how the experience can stick with them, both for bad
(post-traumatic stress disorder) and good. “You know if the phone
rang and they got called back, they would do it – even if they're

And he can relate to
those vets. “I've visited them at Walter Reed (National Military
Medical Center); I'm able to lift my shirt up and show my scars.”

His biggest scar --
“from the neck to the navel” -- came when he said the wrong thing
to his second wife, when she was holding a gun. The bullet went
through his heart and both lungs.

Adkins hasn't been a
soldier, but he's been told by a doctor that he has PTSD. He's had
major injuries playing football, working oil rigs (one finger was
severed), driving a band's bus and more. “I've always tended to be
a little accident-prone,” he wrote in “A Personal Stand”
(Random House).

Adkins admitted in
that book, back in 2007, that he's been an alcoholic and into drugs
and depression; it wasn't until 2014 that he went into rehab.

Still, that
combative life is just one side of his ride. Adkins talks warmly
about small-town Louisiana life, about church and his years singing
bass in a gospel quartet. This 6-foot-6 roughneck has had lots of
feminine influences. “God is the ultimate practical joker .... He
saw fit to bless me with five daughters,” he wrote. Add in his
three wives and “I'm constantly surrounded at home by females.”

That brought one of
his hits: “My oldest daughter was going to get married,” Adkins
said. “I wanted something to sing at the wedding and Lee Miller
said he had this song.”

Miller and Ashley
Gorley had written “You're Gonna Miss This,” about savoring even
life's most chaotic moments. In 2008 it became Adkins' third song to
be No. 1 on country charts.

No, Adkins isn't yet
to the “miss this” phase, with plenty of kids (ages 12 to 32) and
grandkids nearby.

And life keeps
finding new twists. He's covered the full range -- reality shows,
game shows, award-show hosting – on TV. “It's something I really
had to force myself to do,” he said.

He even done
“Celebrity Apprentice” twice, being runner-up (to Piers Morgan)
the first time and winning the second. He may be able to tell us what
the real Donald Trump is like.

“He's the same,”
Adkins insisted. “The person that we see on the news is the same
(as in casual moments). There's that uber-confidence.”

Adkins started with
little confidence, surviving as a saloon singer. “I would get to a
place on a Tuesday night and there wouldn't be anyone there.”

By comparison, there
will be swarms Tuesday, with an estimated 300,000 or more people on
the Capitol lawn. Adkins has done the Memorial Day concerts there –
“you feel the momentousness” -- but this will be his first Fourth
... and his chance to sing about people who are still soldiers.

-- “A Capitol
Fourth,” 8 and 9:30 p.m. Tuesday on most PBS stations

-- John Stamos hosts
and sits in with the Beach Boys. The Blues Brothers (Dan Aykroyd and
Jim Belushi) are joined by Sam Moore. Also, people from country
(Trace Adkins, Kellie Pickler), pop (Mark McGrath, Four Tops), gospel
(Yolanda Adams) and Broadway (Laura Osnes), plus Disney star Sofia
Carson, “Voice” winner Chris Blue, the National Orchestra and

-- Also at 8 p.m.
(rerunning at 10) is NBC's coverage of the Macy's fireworks in New
York. It has Kenny Chesney, Meghan Trainor, 5 Seconds of Summer and
the Radio City Rockettes.


A hard-edged Jane Tennison made TV history; now she's young and wide-eyed

The original "Prime Suspect" mini-series was just what PBS needed -- tough, gritty, contemporary. Now, 25 years later, an excellent prequel shows the main character on her first case. In the U.S., that will run as 90-minute movies on three Sundays, starting June 25; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

At first, Jane
Tennison seemed to be in the wrong time and place.

The time was
1991-92. The place, PBS, was cozy; it was filled with “drawing-room,
Agatha Christie-type mysteries,” recalled Rebecca Eaton, the
long-time “Masterpiece” chief.

Now it was adding
Helen Mirren as Tennison, a new detective chief inspector. Her male
employees were bitter; her cases were dark and gritty. “We thought
we were going to be one and out,” Eaton said.

Instead, “Prime
Suspect” had seven mini-series (six two-part, one three-part); it
drew raves and a dozen awards, mostly from England. And a decade
later, it's back ... sort of.

“Tennison” is
set in 1973, when she was starting. “Jane Tennison in her 20s is
very different, ... because she is young and naive and fresh-faced,”
said Stefanie Martini, who plays her.

Unlike her
colleagues, she doesn't smoke and she only drinks reluctantly. That
will change.

“This incredibly
powerful woman, (whom) Jane Tennison evolves into, had to go through
a man's world,” said Sam Reid, who plays the senior detective she
works with on her first case.

Tennison is on new
turf – which Martini, 26, understands. “It's all pretty new for
me in the same way,” she said.

Fresh from the Royal
Academy of Dramatic Arts, Martini landed three splashy roles – the
lead in the “Doctor Thorne” mini-series, a masked princess in
“Emerald City” and now this.

Like Tennison,
Martini grew up middle-class; unlike her, that was in villages in
northern England. “I'm more similar to Mary Thorne,” she said,
“(with) a kind of simple upbringing.”

But she can relate –
a little -- to Tennison's passion. “She's more work-focused and
like a straight line,” Martini said. “I'm much more kind of

Now Tennison is
taking her on a straight line into TV history.

-- “Prime Suspect:

-- In the U.S,, will
run as 90-minute movies at 10 p.m. on three Sundays, starting June 25