Two centuries later, a new Blackbeard is ready to rule

The people at Starz use the word "epic" a lot. Fortunately, they have the shows to back it up. "Black Sails," which returns Saturday (Jan. 23),is a massive series ... and now has added a massive actor who seems to fit. Ray Stevenson is an engaging chap offscreen and a menacing soul onscreen. Here's the story I sent to papers:


By Mike Hughes

Stevenson keeps visiting the supersized characters of movies and TV.

He's been two giant
Marvel men – Volstagg in the “Thor” films and The Punisher in
(logically) “The Punisher.” He's sailed the Mayflower and entered
King Arthur's court.

And now – as
“Black Sails” opens its season – comes maybe the biggest
character of all. “Edward Teach was 6-foot-4,” Stevenson said.
“The guy was a colossus.”

Stevenson, 41, also
happens to be 6-4 and big-bodied, but that seems less colossal
nowadays. Teach lived 200 years ago, building a reputation that gave
him his nickname – Blackbeard.

That makes him ideal
for “Black Sails” now. “(We) wanted someone to come in and turn
(things) upside-down,” said producer Jonathan Steinberg.

The show has merged
real-life pirates (Charles Vane, Anne Bonny) with the fictional ones
(John Silver, Captain Flint) from Robert Louis Stevenson's “Treasure
Island.” It always planned to add Blackbeard, Steinberg said. “It
was a constant process of, 'Is it time yet?'”

Now it is. Vane and
Flint have merged ... Silver has lost his leg ... the pirate island
has become vulnerable ... and Blackbeard can arrive, stirring things
up. He has brief-but-thunderous scenes in the opener Saturday, then
wedges himself into the plot next week.

“I was up for
Blackbeard on (NBC's) 'Crossbones,'” Stevenson said. “Then John
Malkovich came.”

Under Malkovich, the
character was slim and sly; now he returns to his supersized form.

One might assume
Stevenson spent any non-acting years being a bodyguard or a
longshoreman or such. Actually, he was an interior designer.

As a kid in Ireland
and England, he had considered acting, then figured it was out of
reach. He went to art school , worked as a designer, then changed his
mind. At 29, he was finally out of theater school and getting small
roles ... and then bigger ones.

Stevenson savored
the role of a loyalist in “King Arthur” (2004); the next year, he
starred with Kevin McKidd in “Rome,” playing a character he
loved. “Titus Pullo literally changed my life.”

That's in a career
sense – starring in an epic HBO series – and a personal one. It
was while filming in Italy, Stevenson said, that he met Elisabetta
Caraccia. “She was my landlord; now we have three children.”
She's an anthropologist, which makes her “one of the greatest
people to travel with.”

As it happens, his
job includes lots of travel. “Black Sails” has built sprawling
sets in Capetown, South Africa, including giant ship replicas.

On-board, actors
must pretend they're in maritime adventures. “In the storm
sequence, it was pretty easy to do that,” said Toby Stephens, who
plays Flint. “You had, like jet engines propelling water sideways
at us at about one hundred miles an hour. So that didn't take much

This is Stevenson's
second recent maritime tale, after playing a key Mayflower figure in
the “Saints and Sinners” mini-series. “I'm a history nerd ....
I love immersing myself in that sort of period.”

Especially when he's
on a re-created ship from two centuries ago. “They (were) at the
forefront of their technology,” he said. “The rigging on these
big ships is almost as complex as the electrical wiring on a 747. And
they opened the world.”

-- “Black Sails,”
9 p.m. Saturdays, Starz; second season starts Jan. 23

-- Season-opener
reruns often, including 10:03 and 11:07 p.m. Saturday; 10:35 a.m. and
1:40, 7 and 8:05 p.m. Sunday; 3:05 and 10 p.m. Tuesdays; 3:35 and 9
p.m. Wednesday; 10:40 p.m. Friday (Jan. 29); and 7:55 p.m. Jan. 30,
leading into the second episode.


For superheroes, it's now a team project

If you like comid-book superheroes -- hey, who wouldn't? -- then these are good times. We have Avengers and Guardians and now Legends, in an ambitious new show that starts Thursday (Jan, 21). Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

first, the superheroes invaded our screens one at a time.

There was Superman,
Spider-Man, Batman, Hulk; each got his own movie or TV show or both.

And then came the
notion of putting them together. There were Avengers and Guardians of
the Galaxy and the Justice League; and now comes the new “Legends
of Tomorrow.”

The who? This is “a
rag-tag group of heroes and rogues,” said CW network spokesman Paul

They join a network
filled with sci-fi shows, some dead-serious. “Legends” takes
another route.

“It is fun,”
said Mark Pedowitz, the CW program chief. “It's big; it's lighter
than 'Arrow' and 'Flash' .... I want popcorn with me anytime I watch

This started, he
said, when he “woke up in the middle of the night (with) a bad
idea” -- a heroes-and-villains show. That was molded into a new
idea, using lesser-known heroes from DC Comics.

Rip Hunter is a
time-traveler, determined to stop Vandal Savage from destroying the
Earth. Now he gathers a team, which he assumes will only be needed
once. He “doesn't want to spend any time with these people,” said
Arthur Darvill, who plays him. “He hasn't chosen them because he
likes them.”

Some are hard to
like. Heat Wave and Captain Cold – played by former “Prison
Break” brothers Dominic Pursell and Wentworth Miller – are tough,
nasty and self-centered.

On the flip side is
The Atom, the one person eager to be a hero. Brandon Roush, the Iowa
guy who plays him, says that fits. “This is part of my nature, I
guess. So it's fun to play (him), because it's a lot of me coming

Between those
extremes are:

-- White Canary, who
was killed and resurrected on the “Arrow” series. “After dying
and coming back to life, she's kind of seen if all,” said Caity
Lotz, who plays her. Now she's “like, 'whatever goes.'”

-- Hawkman and
Hawkgirl, who have been lovers through many lives, since his days as
a prince in ancient Egypt. “They bicker quite a lot,” said Ciara
Renee, who plays Hawkgirl, opposite Falk Hentschel. “But you can
tell, even though they're fighting, that there's an underlying

-- And Firestorm,
whose existence is complicated: Two mismatched people sometimes share
a body.

The actors are just
as mismatched. Victor Garber is 66, Canadian, with six Emmy
nominations and four Tony nominations; Franz Drameh is 23, mostly
unknown and British ... with the accent to prove it.

“I said, 'I don't
really understand what you're saying' ... and then he broke into this
flawless American accent,” Garber said. “I thought, 'Well, this
boy's talented.'”

This ragged
collection must save the world, with the help of some huge special

“The degree of
difficulty on this show ... is so much higher than it is on any of
the other shows,” said Marc Guggenheim, the writer who developed
the series. “You've got a guy who shoots a heat gun, a cold gun,
two people who fly, two people with sets of computer-generated wings
(and) a guy in a suit who shrinks down and flies.”

And that's not
counting Firestorm. It's an odd collection; you'd probably need that
to keep Vandal Savage from destroying the world.

-- “Legends of
Tomorrow,” CW

-- 8 p.m. Thursdays;
opens Jan. 21, leading into the season-opener of another fantasy
show, “The 100”

-- Opener reruns
Tuesday, Jan. 26


Kardashian kascade kontinues: Khloe's new show and more

OK, I haven't heard any complaints lately that there aren't enough Kardashian shows on TV. Still, more are on the way -- starting with Khloe's dinner-party show on Wednesdays, then following with a view of her late father's involvement with the O.J. Simpson case. Here's the story I sent to papers:


By Mike Hughes

PASADENA -- The fates have
decided we just don't see enough Kardashians on TV.

Now that will be
rectified ... often. For instance:

-- Khloe Kardashian
launches her own show Wednesday. “Kocktails with Khloe” will, she
said, be like “the kind of fun dinner parties that I tend to have
at my house all the time. People seem to just let their hair down and
have a few drinks. And we play a ton of games.”

-- Robert Kardashian
(her dad, who died in 2003, at 59) is a key figure in a mini-series
about the trial of his friend, O.J. Simpson. “Robert (was) the
heart and the conscience of the whole thing,” said David Schwimmer,
who plays him. “He's the only person, of the key players, who had
nothing to gain.”

-- And Caitlyn
Jenner – formerly married to Khloe's mom, Kris Kardashian Jenner –
is shooting the second season of the “I Am Cait” reality show.
“You are going to see a lot more of the Kardashians' and Cait's
ever-changing relationship,” said producer Andrea Metz.

That's in addition
to the “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” cascade. “The success
of the show is unbelievable,” Caitlyn Jenner said. “I mean, they
are going – I don't know – past 450 episodes.”

Not quite, but
there's a lot. One source ( lists 161 “Keeping Up”
episodes, 60 episodes of spin-offs and 30 of Kris Jenner's talk show.
And now “Kocktails” is here.

“It will be very
current, very fresh and feel very real and very authentic,”
producer Craig Pilgrim said. “Khloe has a very natural way of
making someone feel incredibly comfortable right away.”

Each week will have
three or four guests, Khloe said, in a studio that replicates her
home. There will be games, drinks and conversation, ranging from
serious issues to pop culture.

“I love the speed
of pop culture ... how one day we're infatuated with one thing and
the next we forget that what we were so into it,” she said.

The Simpson
mini-series depicts a moment when she discovered the effects of fame.
Two years after his divorce, Robert Kardashian, a prosperous
businessman, was taking his four kids to a restaurant. A receptionist
got excited and gave them immediate seating. He had been on TV often
during the early days of the case, with Simpson staying at his home;
now he was on the “dream team” of lawyers.

“Robert was not a
criminal-defense lawyer, he was a business lawyer,” Schwimmer said.
“He was really only on the defense team to, in a way, babysit O.J.
and be there for counsel.”

Here was one friend
Simpson could count on, producer Scott Alexander said. “Kardashian
was such a wonderful character, in terms of his conflicts (and)
trying to be loyal.”

Only four or five of
the 400-some scenes include the Kardashian kids, producer-director
Ryan Murphy said. Still, there's perhaps TV's oddest line of dialog
referring to a future pop-culture star: “Please don't shoot
yourself in Kimmy's room.” And there's Kardashian warning his kids
that “fame is fleeting.”

Actually, it isn't.
There's been almost a decade of fame for Kourtney, Kim and Khloe
Kardashian (ages 36, 35 and 31), their brother Rob (28) and their
half-sisters Kendall and Kylie Jenner (20 and 18), plus their
parents. Kris Kardashian Jenner had her talk show; now Khloe tries an
alternate approach.

“It's like a
little dinner party .... I want the conversations to be really raw
and gritty and honest and natural,” she said. “So it's still
going to be proper, naughty and risque. That's why we're doing it for
late-night, because that's more me.”

-- “Kocktails With
Khloe,” 10 p.m. Wednesdays, FYI (formerly Biography Channel);
opener, Jan. 20, reruns at 11:01 p.m. and at 1 and 2 a.m.

-- “Keepiing Up
With the Kardashians” has new episodes at 9 p.m. Sundays on E, plus
plety of reruns: 8 a.m. to noon and 8-10 p.m. Wednesday (Jan. 20);
8-11 a.m. and 8-9:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 a.m. to 12:30 pm. Friday; 11
a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday; and most of 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday
(Jan. 24).

-- “American Crime
Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson,” a 10-week miniseries, debuts
Feb. 2 on FX.

-- Also: “I Am
Cait” starts its second season March 6 on E; “O.J.: Made in
America,” a five-part documetnary mini-series, debuts in June on

Showtime gives us drama twists by the billions

During the rare, blessed times when cable gives us something for free, it tries to show off its best stuff. Now it's Showtime's turn, with a free weekend Jan. 15-17 ... and this time, it definitely has good stuff. The movies "Imitation Game" and "St. Vincent" are first-rate, but the real gem is "Billions," debuting at 10 p.m. Sunday. I have zero interest (or less, if possible) in Wall Street, and I don't even pretend to understand the characters' techno-speak. But I love great drama and the "Billions" episodes I've seen -- six so far -- are terrific. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

PASADENA -- As our techno-TV
world gets more complicated – and more expensive – there are
temporary pauses.

One is coming now:
“We're making Showtime available to over 70 million households for
a free preview weekend,” said David Nevins, the channel's

That's on most cable
systems Friday through Sunday (Jan. 15-17). It's a stretch that was
chosen to display the channel at its busiest, led by the “Billions”
debut. At night, it has:

-- Movies at 8 p.m.
Friday (Bill Murray's quirky comedy-drama “St.Vincent”) and
Saturday (the Oscar-nominated “Imitation Game”).

-- Boxing, with
Deontay Wilder defending his WBC heavyweight title against Artur
Szpilka at 10 p.m. Saturday.

-- “Shameless,”
the ragged comedy-drama. It reruns its sixth-season opener at 8 and
10 p.m. Friday, then has the second episode at 9 p.m. Sunday.

-- “The Circus,”
a weekly look at the political season. It startts at 8 and 8:30 p.m.

-- And “Billions.”
It debuts at 10 p.m. Sunday, with Wall Street titans colliding.

On one side is the
district attorney, who keeps putting people away for insider trading.
“I actually looked at this guy and thought, 'Wow, I play the guy
who wins a lot,'” Paul Giamatti said.

And on the other is
Bobby Axelrod, a Wall Street trader who may be unbeatable.

“Bobby is a
blue-collar guy who ... lives by a code of honor, a set of street
rules, if you like,” said Damian Lewis, who plays him. He's from
“communities where loyalty is fiercely protected and people are
dispatched with ruthlessly.”

His wife shares
those roots. “The money wasn't given to them,” said Malin
Akerman, who plays her. “And they fight fiercely for it.”

This may remind
viewers of Lewis' “Wolf Hall” role last year, as an English king,
battling a sharp lawyer. “The defining difference ... is that Henry
VIII was born into quite a lot of power,” Lewis said.

And power is
something these characters lust for. “You think about money,”
said Andrew Sorkin, a “Billions” producer. “But I think, at
some level, it's as much about power and really about pride.”

Sorkin knows that
turf; he's a financial reporter whose “Too Big to Fail” book
traced the Wall Street collapse. Now he has two very big forces who
assume they're too big for failure.


Dan Rather: A political pro does Willie and Benicio and such

At 84, Dan Rather seems basically unchanged -- a solid, sturdy Texan who ended up at all the power points. Now he's doing cable interviews and seeming like he's happy there. The other day, I had a chance to interview him close-up; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

presidential-election year begins, Dan Rather is back on TV.

“I think this is
some of the best work of my career,” he said. “Although some
might say that's damning it with faint praise.”

But no, he's not
talking about anything political. These are interviews with Willie
Nelson, Benicio Del Toro, John Fogerty and other names we wouldn't
link with Rather.

“I've interviewed
Saddam Hussein,” he said. “I've interviewed every president since
Harry Truman -- but I've also done other kinds of interviews. So, for
that matter, did Ed Murrow.”

Murrow crafted CBS'
reputation for sturdy, serious reporting; he also did “Person to
Person” interviews with Dean Martin, Liberace, Harpo Marx and
beyond. Rather has ranged from Vietnam to Iraq, but he's also
interviewed plenty of actors and musicians and more.

“The difference is
that even in a '60 Minutes' interview, I would only get eight or 10
minurtes,” he said. Now cable gives him an hourlong slot, for one
person. “It's a privilege,” said Rather, 84, “and I take it
seriously ... I don't know if anyone else gets to do that, except
Charlie Rose.”

Rose – whose
interviews air latenight on PBS – shares that enthusiam: “I hope
we never lose a long-form, one-on-one conversation, because I think
it is revealing .... You have time to explore.”

And for a Willie
Nelson interview, Rather would seem to be ideal. He's been known to
offer country songs and Texas folk-isms. Many modern news anchors
have white-collar, suburban backgrounds, but Rather (like former NBC
anchor Tom Brokaw) has blue-collar roots. “I've worked in an
oilfield,” he said. “I know what it's like to do manual labor.”

A ditch-digger's
son, Rather put himself through what's now Sam Houston State
University, then became a TV reporter. He drew attention for Texas
coverage ranging from a hurricane to the John Kennedy assassination.
Soon, he was a key CBS reporter in the Vietnam and Watergate era,
then took over as anchor in 1981.

His grip on the job
faded after complaints that a memo on George W. Bush's military
record couldn't be verified. Rather left the anchor job in 2005 and
left CBS a year later, writing that he wanted “to once again do
regular, meaningful reporting.”

But where? Rather
describes what he thought would be a casual chat with the man who
owns the Dallas Mavericks and the cable channel now called AXS: “Mark
Cuban is as blunt as a pimple on your nose. He asked me, 'What do you
want to do?' I said I wanted to do more investigative reporting.”

So “Dan Rather
Reports” aired on the network from 2006-13, then was followed by
“The Big Interview,” which he says suits him neatly. “I've
always considered myself a curious person.”

Some interviews are
easier than others. “Willie Nelson, I think, I could interview in
my sleep .... Benicio Del Toro? Of course I knew his work (including
an Oscar for “Traffic”), but I didn't know much about him.” For
both, he said, he did elaborate research – just as he does for
political interviews.

And what about
poltics? Rather still writes about it, but now that's Online,
including and the Huffington Post. Like any political
“expert,” he said, he's been wrong, but likes to point to the
times he was right: “When Donald Trump got into the race, I said it
would be a mistake to underestimate him. Whatever else you might
think of him, he's smart.”

In one essay, Rather
wrote about retiring baseball star Derek Jeter: “What must this
past season have been like for a man with still so much life before
him? (Now) he will have to redefine his life.”

That can be done, of
course. Rather keeps redefining his own life in his 80s.

-- “The Big
Interview,” 8 p.m. Tuesdays, AXS TV (formerly HD Net)

-- John Fogerty was
Jan. 12; next are Benicio Del Toro on Jan. 19 and Willie Nelson on
Jan. 26