Yes, magical worlds exist ... on TV and in Vancouver

This is a dandy time for fantasy fans, with their genre showing up on HBO, NBC, ABC, Fox, USA and more. But what about the Syfy Channel, which used to have the genre to itself. It has to keep getting more ambitious, with shows like "The Magicians," which starts its second season Wednesday (Jan.25); here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Young people – and
others – seem to savor the notion of a magical mystery land.

Past generations had
the wizard's Oz and Alice's Wonderland; current ones have Harry
Potter's Hogwarts school. Imaginations stir; possibilities soar.

And the stars of
Syfy's “The Magicians” definitely know the feeling. “I used to
wait for the Hogwarts Express to take me away,” Jason Ralph joked.

Now that's happened,
sort of. As the second season begins, his character and others are in
a land that most people considered sheer fiction.

Ralph plays Quentin,
a pensive sort. He and his childhood friend Julia (Stella Maeve) used
to immerse themselves in novels about the land called Fillory. As
grad students, both applied to the Brakebills magic college; he was
accepted, she wasn't.

That led to the
cascading events of the first season and the new world of the second:
Now these young magicians can wander throughFillory.

Even in
make-believe, Maeve said, that can be impressive. “Most of it is in
one studio – 6,000 square feet .... They have columns of fire and a
beautiful waterfall.”

And anything that
isn't in that studio can be found nearby, said Olivia Taylor Dudley,
who plays Alice. “Vancouver has beautiful vistas; drive 20 minutes
and you can find anything.”

As the season
starts, Julia is negotiating with The Beast and others are wandering
Fillory ... where Eliot was chagrined to learn he's the king. It's a
neat twist for young actors who grew up on fantasy.

“I loved 'The
Neverending Story,'” Dudley said, referring to a Wolfgang Petersen
epic that reached movie theaters in 1984, before she was born. “I
think I watched it dozens of times.”

Maeve's favorite was
“The Princess Bride” (1987), which also arrived before she was
born. And Ralph? Oddly enough, he said he doesn't particularly see
movies; he was a book kid, including Harry Potter.

These three come
from opposite parts of the country and took different routes to their
current world.

Dudley, 31, started
fairly quickly. Growing up in California, she went straight from high
school to holding day jobs while auditioning for acting roles. A
horror-film fan anyway, she got her big breaks in “Chernobyl
Diaries” (2012) and “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension”

Maeve, 27, started
even quicker, growing up in New York. “When I was 4, I did a
commercial for Rooms Plus.” Early in her teens, she was doing
off-Broadway shows and “Law & Order” episodes. Later, she was
the kid sister on CBS' “Golden Boy” and then landed a key role on
“Chicago P.D.,” as the reformed prostitute and drug addict who
was killed during a crossover episode.

By comparison,
Ralph, 30, was a slow-starter, in McKinney, Texas. “I went to the
local community college,” he said. “It turned out that they had a
really good theater school that was a sort of a feeder college for

All three share a
love of fantasy ... and a Charles Manson connection. Ralph and Dudley
were both in “Aquarius,” the Manson series on NBC; that show's
producer, John McNamara, then cast them in “Magicians.” Maeve was
cast to play a Manson woman in a movie, except it never got made.

Instead, all of them
ended up in “Magicians” ... the sort of show where it's possible
to step inside magical mystery worlds.

-- “The
Magicians,” 9 p.m. Wednesdays, Syfy

-- Second season
starts Jan. 25; that morning, the final episodes of the first season
rerun from 6-8 a.m.

-- Season-opener
reruns at 11:40 p.m. Wednesday, then Friday night (technically,
Saturday morning) at 1 a.m.; also, 8 a.m. Sunday. The USA Network
airs it at 10 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31.


Tarzan and Shakespeare co-exist inside Hurst

I'm back from two weeks in Hollywood, interviewing TV people. A few of my stories have alreadty been sent to papers(see previous blogs), but many more are coming,. Here's one, about two quiet hulks in the "Outsiders" universe:

By Mike Hughes

PASADENA, Cal. -- As
Ryan Hurst fills up a TV screen, his characters seems endlessly

He was Opie in “Sons
of Anarchy” and now Little Foster in “Outsiders”; both are big
and bearded, with few words and fractured souls. We begin to assume
this must be the real Hurst; maybe he used to be a glowering
bodyguard from the boondocks.

Well, erase that
assumption. This is a second-generation actor from Santa Monica,
adept with words.

“Primal elegance
(is) interwoven through the tapestry of the show,” Hurst said of
“Outsiders.” It's “sort of Shakespearean, if Tarzan and
Shakespeare were put together.”

And maybe that
summarizes Hurst – Shakesperean soul, tucked inside a Tarzanian
body. He uses a spare, naturalistic acting style – something he
partly attributes to the “Outsiders” star.

“David (Morse) has
been an inspiration and a model,” Hurst said. “There is so much
at play in what he does – not just the words, but between them.”

These are men who
tower over the cast (literally). Hurst, 40, says he's 6-foot-5;
Morse, 63. says he “used to be” 6-foot-4. Hurst has a massive
torso that caused him to be cast as cops and such; his first role (in
“Saved By the Bell”) bore the descriptive name Crunch Grabowski.

Morse first reached
Hollywood as a slender guy, steeped in theater credits and
Esper-method training. On “St. Elsewhere,” he was the doctor that
kept enduring tragedies. Later, he would play mega-figures –
Washington, Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur – plus a good cop on
“Treme,” a vengeful cop on “House” and a vigilante ex-cop in

Now “Outsiders”
has him playing Big Foster Farrell, who has vacant spots in his life.
“He's never been loved,” Morse said. “He's never known how to

After killing his
cruel mother, he became the leader of the Farrells. (Yes, this is
Shakespearean.) They've clung to a Kentucky mountain for generations,
but now a coal company is trying to oust them.

As the season
starts, Big Foster may or may not be dead; his widow or wife may
sieze control. Viewers learn those answers in the season-opener; they
also see his son, Little Foster, on his own.

That's Hurst's role,
heading for big changes. In the season-opener, Little Foster has a
massive fight scene -- “we shot it in a day” -- in a parking lot;
soon, he's taken away from his home.

“It's the first
time he's had to be by himself,” Hurst said. Now he's separated
from the clan “that defends him and defines him.”

As for Hurst, he's
defined by the big-guy-in-Hollywood image.

His dad, Rick Hurst,
played Sheriff Hogg's brother in “Dukes of Hazzard”; his mother
was an acting teacher. Ryan grew up in Santa Monica, got his first TV
guest roles as a teen-ager, then plowed through years of employment
and obscurity, until his two great troles came along. In “Sons of
Anarchy” and “Outsiders,” a brainy, show-biz guy transformed
convincingly into quietly ominous hulks.

-- “Outsiders,”
9 p.m. ET Wednesdays, WGN America

-- Season-opener,
Jan. 24, repeats that night at 10 p.m., 11 p.m. and midnight ET

-- It also reruns at
10:08 p.m. Wednesday, then Thursday night at midnight ET , 10 p.m.
Saturday, 6 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 30.


Now it's all-kids, all-day (really)

For some families, this is the biggest news to arrive lately: Suddenly, PBS' kid shows -- good ones, mostly -- will be available any time. That's true over-the-air in much of the country and via streaming anywhere. Here's the stories I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

PASADENA -- We all
know the feeling: It's 11 p.m., time to unwind; you pour some wine
and catch the “BooBoo Busters” episode of “Sesame Street.”

Or it's pre-dawn and
you'e a tad hung over. It's time for “Odd Squad” or “Splash and
Bubble” or ...

Well, maybe not, but
at least it's possible. The new “PBS Kids 24/7” channel has just
debuted on 108 stations, including many with the biggest viewership.

“We reach 74
percent of the country,” said Lesli Rotenberg, PBS' general manager
of children's media. “By the end of the year, it will be 90

Or it's already 100
percent, if you count the other choice: Anyone can get the channel
now, via computer (
or app.

But is it a good
thing for kids be able to watch constantly? “We don't want children
watching TV all day,” Rosenberg said. “We want them playing; we
want them outside.”

Lives vary, though.
“Believe it or not, there are many children up at night,” said
Paula Kerger, PBS' president.

Some have adjusted
to their parents' work shifts; others, Kerger said, face unusual
situations,. “Many are in hospitals .... We actually heard from
caregivers who said, “We are at a loss sometime, to figure out how
we can keep chidren calm and entertained.'”

And even normal life
doesn't match tradtional schedules. A typical PBS station runs kids'
shows from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., then switches to grown-ups; studies
contradict that approach, Rotenberg said. “We found that kids'
viewing is the highest from 6-10 p.m.”

Kids also view
heavily on weekends, when PBS stations tend to be switch to how-to

There's an advantage
to those times, Rotenberg said. “It allows the opportunity for
shared viewing.”

During the day,
adults may be overbusy, even at home; at night, they can snuggle
alongside the kids. In April, the channel will launch “family
viewing night,” with a movie-length version of one of its series at
7 p.m. Fridays, repeating it on Saturdays and Sundays.

The possibility was
set up in 2009, when TV went digital. The conversion was expensive,
but left a bonus: Digital needs only one-fourth the band space; each
station had room for three more channels.

Commercial stations
often rent that space to small networks – old TV shows, old movies,
home-shopping and more. PBS stations set up channels for the arts or
international shows or more. “A few of our stations had created
their own children's channels,” Kerger said.

Now there's a
national one. It has a few brief spots for local announcements,
Rotenberg said; also, a few stations have their own shows that will
be wedged in.

Buy why bother, in a
world that already has Nickelodeon, Netflix, the Disney channels, the
Cartoon Network, Sprout and Discovery Family? Rotenberg points to:

-- Reaching
low-income families. None of this requires cable or satellite; any
set with a digital antenna can get a local station's extra channels.

-- The quality of
PBS' commercial-free line-up. “It's created to meet needs ....
Everything is tested.”

Families have
noticed, Kerger said. “According to a recent survey, parents rank
PBS Kids No. 1 in preparing their children for school, No. 1 in
developing the skills kids need to succeed and No. 1 in modeling
positive behavior.”

The American Academy
of Pediatrics has recommended zero screen time before age 2,
Rotenberg said. Most people quit watching PBS Kids somewhere between
ages 8 and 10 ... possibly a tad longer if they have younger

But for that sweet
spot between ages 2 and 8 or so, there's now that 24/7 viewing.

-- PBS Kids, on many
stations' digital channel and at

-- “Family Viewing
Night” starts April 21-23, with “Odd Squad: The Movie”



Wars -- from Vietnam to Afghanistan -- ripple through two generations

Nudged into Vietnam by the draft, many people (including me) just sort of got by. William Broyles, however, did much better. He won medals in Vietnam and co-created the superb "China Beach" back home; now, a generation later, he's working with his son (also a veteran) on a new military series. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Wars and warriors have been embedded in the life of William Broyles.

Yes, he's been busy
on the peaceful side. He started Texas Monthly, edited Newsweek, got
an Academy Award nomination for co-writing “Apollo 13.” But
Broyles, 72:

-- Was a Marine
lieutenant in Vietnam. A college guy (Rice, then Oxford), he “always
felt like I was out of place.” But he won a Silver Star and went on
to co-create the “China Beach” TV series.

-- Now is co-creator
and co-producer of “Six,” about tough guys from a Navy SEAL unit
who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This one is being
done with his son David, who was a pararescue man in both those wars.
For the son, unlike the father, warfare was a choice.

“I always had
those examples of military service,” David said. “He was in
Vietnam; both grandfathers were in World War II .... I wanted to be
part of something bigger than myself.”

He had plenty of
show-biz influences. At the University of Texas, he was a
film-festival enthusiast; his dad was writing movies, including Tom
Hanks' “Cast Away,” “Polar Express” and “Apollo 13.”

But David also knew
the grittier life. After his mother remarried, he lived on a Texas
ranch and, straight out of “Friday Nigh Lights,” was the star
quarterback for a champion small-town high school team.

So he aimed for the
top. Becoming a pararescue guy involves two years of training, he
said; 90 percent of the people never make it through.

William had flown
back to Texas to watch every high school football game, but now he
took the opposite approach. “I lived away from it all,” he said,
avoiding any news of the wars his son was in. Afterward, they linked
for “Six”; bringing opposite experiences:

-- William had led
young Marines. “A lot of them were 19 or 20 years old and they
saved me many times .... We're still friends, almost 50 years later.”

-- David worked with
SEALs and others. “These guys are the best of the best .... They
don't have to act tough, because everyone knows they are.”

The father and son
created an eight-week mini-seres that starts with SEALs in
Afghanistan, then flashes forward. Their ex-colleague (Walton Goggins
of “Justified”) has been kidnapped along with a Nigerian teacher
and her students. The guys might try a perilous rescue.

To make it
believable, David sent his actors to a three-day boot camp.

“It was so intense
and so real and scary,” said Barry Sloane, the former “Revenge”

Adds Edwin Hodge:
“We had fears tested that I don't even think we knew we had. I'm
not the greatest swimmer, and on the first day, they had me walking
on the bottom of the pools.”

And things stayed
difficult during the filming. “Like 104 degrees in North Carolina,
wearing 75 pounds of stuff,” William Broyles said.

What emerges, his
son said, is a realistic view of elite warriors:

“I've seen
first-hand the red-hot fulfillment of combat and also the terror of
it .... These guys are often portrayed as superheroes, as
bulletproof, as infallible ....They're actually real people who have
fears and make mistakes and yet they do this incredible job under the
most challenging circumstances.”


-- “Six,” 10:01
p.m. Wednesdays, History Channel

-- Opener (Jan. 18)
reruns at 11:02 p.m., 2:02 and 3:02 a.m.; other reruns include 11
a.m. and 11:03 p.m. Thursday; 10 a.m. Friday; 10 a.m. and 10:03 p.m.
Sunday; 11:03 p.m. Jan. 24; noon Jan. 25.

-- Also on A&E
at 10:01 p.m. Wednesday, rerunning at 2:02 a.m.; then at 11:03 p.m.
Jan. 24 .

The end is (fairly) near for the delightful "Portlandia"

By Mike Hughes

six-plus seasons and piles of praise, “Portlandia” is calling it
quits ... gradually.

Now early in its
seventh season, the show's creators confirmed Saturday that the
eighth will be its final one. They promplty offered solace for
hard-core fans.

“These things
never are finite,” said writer-director Jonathan Krisel, pointing
to other sketch shows (from “Kids in the Hall” to “Bob and
Dave”) that were revived.

Fred Armisen – who
co-stars with Carrie Brownstein – agreed: “After I left 'SNL'
('Saturday Night Live'), I think I've been back every year.”

Besides, Brownstein
said, in modern times comedy sketches never really seem to die.
“People are just discoverihg the show on Netflix and YouTube.”

Brownstein was a
rock musician who linked with Armisen (a part-time drummer) for what
she thought would be a music project. Instead, they created an
amiable satire of the sweet-spirited life in her adopted home town of
Portland, Oregon.

This has always been
a loving sort of satire, Krisel said. “It's very feel-good, with
lots of fun stuff.”

And praise has
followed. “Portlandia” has won Peabody and Writers Guild awards
and four Emmys. It's been nominated for 17 Emmys, including two in
the new category of best variety sketch series.

All of this is
crafted quickly – six weeks of writing and eight weeks of shooting
at Portland locations, to make a 10-episode season. Then the three
race off to other things.

Brownstein revived
her band, wrote a book and did two seasons on the “Transparent”
series. Krisel has simultaneously been a producer and writer on
“Baskets,” “Man Seeking Woman” and “The Kroll Show.”
(“Each show is small,” he said.)

Armisen has ranged
from guest spots to leading Seth Meyers' band; he's also a
producer-writer-star of “Documentary Now” ... which, like
“Portlandia,” was nominated for best variety sketch show.

“It's messy,
complete chaos,” Armisen said of his schedule. “I'll get an
e-mail that says, 'We told you a bout this!'

“I'll say, 'Oh
yeah, this.' Then I'll get on a plane and go somewhere.”

After next season,
that will involve fewer flights to Portland.

-- “Portlandia,”
10 p.m. ET Thursdays, IFC; rerunning at 1 a.m.

-- The season's
third episode airs Jan. 19; the second and third ones rerun at 8:15
and 8:45 a.m. an. 21 and at 4:45 and 5:15 a.m. Jan. 22.