Is real life like a 1980s soap opera? Sometimes, this true-crime series says

Back in the 1980s, primetime TV was filled with pretty people cheating on each other. Now a cable series puts some of the '80s actors into true stories of sex and betrayal. "Heartbreakers" (10 p.m. Wednesdays on Investigation Discovery) gets confusing because of late switches in episodes; still, it's fun in its own, odd way. Here's the story I sent to papers:


For cable-TV, the 1980s are like some of the sillier toys on
a basement shelf. Every now and then, it’s nice to pull them out and play with
them again.

That’s sort of what the “Heartbreakers” series does. “You
have Carol Seaver involved in a tawdry love triangle,” producer Pamela Deutsch
said. “You have Peter Brady doing some really naughty things.”

Well, sort of. One episode has Tracey Gold (Carol in “Growing
Pains”) as a school secretary who had affairs with the principal (Christopher
Knight, who was Peter in “The Brady Bunch”) and the gym coach (Antonio Sabato).
It’s a true story that shattered two marriages and left one person dead.

Other stories also have stars -- Jack Wagner, Rob Estes,
Jamie Luner, Nicole Eggert – from TV’s past. Many, Deutsch said, are from “sort
of the golden age of the primetime soap.”

It was an era of gorgeous people cheating on one another.
That fits the three-week “Heartbreakers,” which Henry Schleiff, Investigation
Discovery’s president, calls “completely over-the-top entertainment.”

The key was to find true stories that feel as odd as an ‘80s
soap. In one, a charismatic pastor had a decade-long affair with the wife of
his finance chairman. In another, a new husband tried to convince his wife that
they weren’t really broke; it was just a ploy, he said, because he worked for
the CIA.

There are re-enactments, plus news footage of the real
people and memories from their friends, relatives, reporters and more. “To see
footage of the real people, it’s really touching,” Eggert said.

That also kept things from getting too silly, Gold said. “It
is real life (with) real people and you don’t want to approach it as a joke.”

Still, the humor comes through because romance is clumsy. Eggert
attests to that from her own life: “Relationships are hard …. I’ve never been
married and I have two kids.”

(Some sources list a brief marriage, but Eggert said it didn’t
happen – further proof that life is strange.)

Now these actors can tackle perverse characters. “It was a
wonderful opportunity to play off-type,” Knight said. “(Or) maybe this is my
type now.”

He’s had scattered roles over the years, but realizes that
Peter Brady dominates. “I’ve reached a peace with it …. He’s always in the room
before I get there.”

Sorbo said he’s happy to have 12 years of “Hercules” and “Andromeda”
overemployment, plus “all these movies over this last decade.” And now he plays
the private-eye who tells Eggert that her husband isn’t really in the CIA; he’s
just another scheming heartbreaker.

“Heartbreakers,” 10 p.m. Wednesdays on
Investigation Discovery, rerunning at 1 a.m. and then at 7 p.m. Saturdays.

The show has been hampered by late switching of
episodes. Current plans have Jack Wagner, Jamie Luner and Rob Estes this week;
Aug. 27 has Nicole Eggert, Judd Nelson and Kevin Sorbo.

All three episodes are scheduled to rerun from
1-4 p.m. Aug. 31; the third is the series opener (Tracey Gold, Christopher Knight,
Antonio Sabato), currently set for 2 p.m.

Post-Potter life for Radcliffe:At 25, he's still the polite little guy

Even before becoming Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe was inhabiting a British classic. He recalled that recently, while discussing a little cable show -- "A Young Doctor's Notebook" -- that returns Tuesday (Aug. 19) and reruns often. The show is small, clever and quirky; the star is small, clever and thoughtful. Here's the story I sent to papers:


Daniel Radcliffe’s first meeting with American TV critics
had its moments of semi-peril.

Not the press conference itself; even back then – as a
10-year-old who shared the title role in PBS’ 1999 “David Copperfield” – he
took that in stride. “I’ve always sort of enjoyed talking to people,” he said.

The trickier part, he said, was getting there. “I remember
the lift (elevator) button always electrocuted you when you went down. So me
and my mom would, like, flip a coin for who had to press the button.”

He survived and went on to stardom in Harry Potter movies
and beyond. Now, 15 years later, he was talking to some of those same critics
about “A Young Doctor’s Notebook” … the sort of offbeat series that only starpower
can generate.  Producers, he said, told
him: “If you want to get a TV show green-lit, tell them you have Jon Hamm and
Daniel Radcliffe for four weeks over the summer.”

Hamm (“Mad Men”) was attracted to the work of Mikhail
Bulakov, a former World War I doctor who kicked a morphine addiction and became
an acclaimed Russian writer. His “Notebook” had the 1935 version of the doctor
(played by Hamm) talking directly to his 1917 self.

“It was incredibly flattering that he … suggested me to play
the young him,” Radcliffe said.

Also eccentric: Hamm stands 6-foot-2, Radcliffe is 5-5. “The
show is so crazy anyway,” Radcliffe said. “If viewers get hung up on that, then
there’s going to be plenty of other logical problems.”

Height (or lack of it) helped him get those early roles. Radcliffe
– the son of a London literary agent and casting agent – was turning 10 when he
played young Copperfield, whose life quaked as he turned 8.

He had never acted, but director Simon Curtis later recalled
(in Rebecca Eaton’s “Making Masterpiece,” Viking, 2013) that the casting made
sense: “A director friend told me, ‘If you’re casting a kid, cast a kid you
like’ …. He was a lovely boy to have around (and) he’s become an impressive

He was also a polite kid who wrote thank-you notes and asked
Maggie Smith: “Would you like me to call you ‘Dame’?” She burst out laughing …
and a year later recommended him to play Potter.

First, Eaton wrote, he became the youngest British actor ever
brought by PBS to the U.S. for a press conference. She remembered him “sitting
up straight in his chair, feet hardly touching the ground, as he thoughtfully
and respectfully tried to answer questions about Charles Dickens.”

For “Notebook,” it was more distant. Wrapping up his Broadway
run of “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” Radcliffe was interviewed by TV critics via closed-circuit.
He reflected on the notion of doing a dark Russian comedy for British (and now
American) TV.

“There’s a certain joy taken in the bleakness of Russia and
of England,” he said, “reveling in the misery of it all …. While I don’t think
that’s a particularly American sensibility, I do think that America loves dark
comedy. I’m doing an incredibly dark comedy on Broadway at the moment, and
people are loving it.”

In short, we’re ready for this dark plunge: “You’ve got the
same twisted sense of humor as I have.”

“A Young Doctor’s Notebook,” 10 p.m. ET for four
Tuesdays on Ovation, an arts-oriented network on cable, satellite and

Season-opener (Aug. 19) reruns at 5 p.m.
Thursday, 1 p.m. Saturday and late-night Monday (technically, 1:30 a.m.

This is the second mini-season. The first reruns
late-night Thursday (technically, 2-4 a.m. Friday).

Last stand for "Last Comic Standing" finalists

Stop me if you've heard this before ... which you might have. A few weeks ago, I sent papers a story about a promising comedian, Lachlan Patterson. Now he's one of the three survivors in Thursday's "Last Coming Standing" finale. Here's the updated version I sent:



Lachlan Patterson gets a lot of questions, but this one tops
(or bottoms) the list.

“I really hate it,” he said, “when people say, ‘How come
you’re not famous?’”

They might quit asking now: Patterson has added a little
fame, as one of three “Last Comic Standing” finalists; if he wins Thursday, he’ll
get $250,000 … and a development deal for a possible NBC show.

As luck would have it, Patterson already looks like a TV (or
movie) star. He’s 6-foot-4 and handsome.

“My initial impression, when he walked out, was, ‘Oh, This
guy looks like a mannequin. What is he going to do?’” recalled Keenen Wayans,
one of the judges. Others probably wondered the same thing, Wayans said: “If
you don’t fit in that (visual) mold, the audience is always going to doubt you.”

 Then, Wayans said,
clever material erased all doubts. “He’s very sly, you know …. And crafty, as

He’s sly and shy, a quiet Canadian whose dad had warned him against
a comedy career. The dad is a high school guidance counselor, Patterson said,
and “has access to all the information on jobs.”

He was also Patterson’s coach in baseball, soccer and
basketball – which dominated after the kid grew five inches at age 16. Later,
after quitting college, Patterson took a stand-up comedy class.

After doing well in Canada, he moved to the U.S. in 2007.
Three years later, “Tonight” people scouted another comic and saw him. “They
said, ‘We’d really like to use you, but we can’t say when.’”

When the call came, Patterson was needed that night. He
savored the experience – “in Jay Leno’s audience, they applaud jokes” – but
didn’t become famous. For a while, he quit working the national comedy-club circuit;
in Venice, Cal., he surfed, worked nearby clubs and was a dog-walker.

Then “Last Comic Standing” returned (after skipping three
summers) and found its final three.

There’s Nikki Carr, a grandmother of four. “Nikki is one …
whose name I didn’t know before the show,” said Russell Peters, a judge and a
stand-up veteran. She “surprised me with every turn she took.”

By comparison, Peters had seen Rod Man do comedy often over
15 years. “I’ve seen him destroy in black rooms, but this is a mixed room and
it’s a very different game.  When he
destroyed the same way, I (thought), ‘Maybe I’ve misjudged him.’”

All three comics are used to being misjudged. And after
Thursday, one of them might not hear questions about not being famous.

“Last Comic Standing” finale, 9-11 p.m.
Thursday, NBC

Sean Bean -- yes, he alive again -- is ready for the role(s) of a lifetime

Time after time, Sean Bean has given quietly perfect performances. That's something that seems to fit the actor and his roles, including "Game of Thrones" hero Ned Stark. "He exemplified Ned, that quiet strength," Michelle Fairley, who played his wife, said in "Inside Game of Thrones" (Chronicle Books, 2012). "He may not be much of a talker, but he can do a lot with a look."

Bean definitely isn't a talker, but with help from his colleagues, he told about "Legends," an excellent TNT series that starts Wednesday (Aug. 13); here's the story I sent to papers


Sean Bean has raged across the centuries, making war and
(sometimes) love.

He’s been Zeus and Odysseus and Major Richard Sharpe, galloping
through the Napoleonic wars. He’s been Lady Chatterley’s lover, Anna Karenina’s
lover, Lorna Doone’s nemesis.

His Ned Stark was the soul of “Game of Thrones,” until he
was killed. He led a revolt in “Henry VIII,” until he was killed. He was
Boromir in “Lord of the Rings,” until he was killed. “I’ve died a lot of
different deaths,” said Bean, who’s reportedly been killed at least 20 times on
film. “(But) I’m still here.”

Now he stars in cable’s “Legends” cable series, the ideal
job for the guy who’s played everything. “I think one of the attractions was
playing multiple characters, which I have never done before,” he said.

This is a story about FBI undercover work. We first see him
as Lincoln Dittman -- a militia member, shy and stuttering. “People think he’s
a bit goofy, a bit slow,” Bean said.

Except that’s just an undercover identity for the FBI’s
Martin Odum …. and some people aren’t sure he’s really Odum, either. “His
identity is kind of the driving question,” said producer David Wilcox.

Odum has propelled different stories about who he is and
where he’s from. “You watch Martin Odum really transform himself into these
different legends that he’s created,” said co-star Ali Larter.

This character needs to be the consummate actor; so does the
man who plays him. “To watch Sean morph into these different people is incredible
to watch,” Larter said. “I don’t think you’ve seen someone of this quality take
on a role like this.”

Here’s an actor who fits the battlefield. He “belongs to a
rare, dying breed – the believable, manly tough guy …. Sean can make you
believe he’s a man who’s made his place in the world killing people,” D.B.
Weiss, the “Game of Thrones” producer, said in “Inside Game of Thrones”
(Chronicle Books, 2012).

His rough image fits him well. Bean grew up in Yorkshire and
sometimes worked in his dad’s fabrication company. He studied welding, dropped
out of several schools and divorced four times. At first, Hollywood kept making
him a villain, battling Harrison Ford (“Patriot Games”), Nicolas Cage (“National
Treasure”), Ewan McGregor (“The Island”) and Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond (“GoldenEye”).

But there’s a flip side. Bean is Royal Academy of Dramatic
Art grad who became a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He’s done “Romeo
and Juliet” and “Macbeth” and more.

Some British actors take pride in shaking a role off when
the camera stops; some Americans try to immerse themselves deeply. Bean calls
himself “kind of in-between,” but may lean to immersion.

“It is sometimes hard to switch off,” he said. “The more
intense the production is … there is a residue that you take home with you …. You
have to shake it off, to live with your family.”

Martin Odum – like Bean, a man who’s always acting – has
trouble shaking it off. He strains for a relationship with his ex-wife and his
son; he struggles to be himself … whoever that might be.

“Legends,” 9 p.m. Wednesdays, TNT, rerunning at

Opener (Aug. 13) also runs at 10 a.m. Saturday,
then late-night Saturday (technically, 12:31 a.m. Sunday); also, late-night
Sunday (12:31 a.m. Monday) on TBS.

Seeking your approval: Clever folks, just talking

I first noticed Neal Brennan recently, when he did a terrific stand-up comedy bit, complete with three microphones. I should have noticed him much sooner; this guy co-created "Chappelle's Show," a classic. Now he has a low-key and entertaining weekly show that debuts Monday (Aug. 11); here's the story I sent to papers:


This is TV entertainment at its most basic – five people,
sitting around talking.

It works, if the people are clever enough and the subjects
are right. That’s what “The Approval Matrix” is going for, Neal Brennan said. “I
was looking for areas that are not smart enough for Bill Maher, but too smart
for Chelsea.”

Maher’s shows (“Politically Incorrect” and “Real Time”)
could sometimes get serious; Chelsea Handler’s “Chelsea Lately” could sometimes
get silly. By comparison, the first “Matrix” episode asks if this is really a
new TV golden age; the second discusses the effects of fame.

The people talking do know the subject: In the opener,
there’s TV Guide critic Matt Roush, writer-producer-comedian Whitney Cummings,
comedian Julie Klausner and Willie Geist of “Today.” And hosting is Brennan,
who once gave TV a golden half-hour.

Brennan had dropped out of college to write for TV shows,
good and bad. He did stand-up comedy, met Dave Chappelle and wrote a script
with him. That’s when they talked about a TV series built on cinematic
mini-films. “The ideas had to be funny in the first place,” he said.

They were; “Chappelle’s Show” became a big hit until its
star suddenly retired it. Brennan was caught by surprise; “it took me a couple
years to get back” to stand-up, he said.

He did, with skill. One recent routine saw him rotating
between three microphones – one for full bits, one for “orphan jokes” not part
of a bit and one for personal comments. Somehow, it all worked.

Brennan directed one “Mindy Project” episode and a lot of “Inside
Amy Schumer” ones. And he jumped into the notion of a talk show based on the “Approval
Matrix” feature in New York Magazine.

He booked people he knows (“any comedian is a friend of mine”)
or who seemed logical. Some didn’t prepare, but most were worth hearing. “I
told people, ‘If you can’t be funny, you can be interesting.’”

They were. Five people, sitting around talking, can be kind
of entertaining.

“The Approval Matrix,” 11 p.m. Mondays,
Sundance; reruns at 1:30 a.m.

Opener (Aug. 11) then reruns at 11:15 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 14, and 1:45 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 16.