Emmys coming: Here are the key nominees

A lot of names and titles will flash past us Sunday, during the Emmy ceremony. If you scroll up, you'll see my preview of the show itself; here are some of the key nominees:


Here’s a list of some of Sunday’s top Emmy nominations, plus
some stray comments:

Best comedy series: “Modern Family,” ABC; “The Big Bang
Theory,” CBS; “30 Rock,” NBC; “Louie,” FX; “Veep” and “Girls,” HBO.

Comment: “Modern Family” has never lost, in a category that cable
can’t dominate. It may win again, which would be fine; still, it would be nice
to see “Big Bang” win.

Drama series: “Downton Abbey,” PBS; “Mad Men” and “Breaking
Bad,” AMC; “Homeland,” Showtime; “Game of Thrones,” HBO; “House of Cards,”

Comment: The cable shows are just too much – too deep, too
edgy, too expensive – to beat. But now an Internet force, “House of Cards,”
might top them.

Movie or miniseries: “Behind the Candelabra” and “Phil
Spector,” HBO; “American Horror Story,” FX; “The Bible,” History; “Political
Animals,” USA; “Top of the Lake,” Sundance.

Comment: There are some wildly over-rated films here,
including the likely winner – the flawed-but-interesting “Candelabra.” Still,
it’s good to see “Top of the Lake” nominated.

Reality competition: “The Amazing Race,” CBS; “The Voice,”
NBC; “So You Think You Can Dance,” Fox; “Dancing With the Stars,” ABC; “Project
Runway,” Lifetime; “Top Chef,” Bravo.

… and: Variety series: “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert
Report,” Comedy Central; “Saturday Night Live” and Jimmy Fallon, NBC; Jimmy
Kimmel, ABC; Bill Maher, HBO.

Comment: In the last decade, “Daily Show” has won 10 times, “Amazing
Race” nine times. This happens simply because they’re better than the rest;
life works that way occasionally.

And now, with one comment at the ed, here are some of the
acting nominations:

Comedy, actor: Jim Parsons, “Big Bang”; Alec Baldwin, “30
Rock”; Louis C.K., “Louie”; Matt LeBlanc, “Episodes,” and Don Cheadle, “House
of Lies,” Showtime; Jason Bateman, “Arrested Development,” Netflix.

Comedy, actress: Tina Fey, “30 Rock”; Amy Poehler, “Parks
and Recreation,” NBC; Lena Dunham, “Girls”; Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”; Laura
Dern, “Enlightened,” HBO; Edie Falco, “Nurse Jackie,” Showtime.

Drama, actor: Hugh Bonneville, “Downton Abbey”; Bryan
Cranston, “Breaking Bad”; Jon Hamm, “Mad Men”; Damian Lewis, “Homeland”; Jeff
Daniels, “The Newsroom,” HBO; Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards.”

Drama, actress: Connie Britton, “Nashville,” and Kerry
Washington, “Scandal,” ABC; Michelle Dockery, “Downton Abbey”; Claire Danes, “Homeland”;
Vera Farmiga, “Bates Motel,” A&E; Robin Wright, “House of Cards.”

Movie or miniseries actor: Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, “Behind
the Candelabra”; Al Pacino, “Phil Spector”; Toby Jones, “The Girl”; Benedict
Cumberbatch, “Parade’s End.”

Actress in a movie or miniseries: Laura Linney, “The Big C,”
Showtime; Helen Mirren, “Phil Spector”; Jessica Lange, “American Horror Story”;
Sigourney Weaver, “Political Animals”; Elisabeth Moss, “Top of the Lake.”

Overall acting comments: A few networks – HBO, Showtime, AMC
– dominate the drama and movie nominations. Indeed, all five movie-or-mini
actor nods are for HBO.

We’ll never object to Danes winning for her remarkable “Homeland”
work … but it would be nice for Tatiana Maslany to at least be nominated for
her brilliant work in “Orphan Black,” now rerunning at 10 p.m. Saturdays on BBC
America; she won the Television Critics Association’s top award for drama. And
one piece of good news: The superb Moss has nominations for both a series and a

The Watsons take a journey for the decades

This one is of particular interest to Michigan people: Tapping into his Flint roots, Christopher Paul  Curtis has created award-winning books; now one of them will be a cable movie Friday. Here's the story I sent to papers:


It’s been a long trip, taking the Watsons from Flint to
Alabama to our TV sets.

Fictionally, the trip started in 1963. As literature, it began
in 1995; the TV idea began a few years later.

“It’s been a 10-year journey,” producer Tonya Lewis Lee
said. “We have pitched it to many places.”

They found an unlikely one: “The Watsons Go to Birmingham”
debuts Friday on the Hallmark Channel.

Hallmark is a feel-good channel, as cheery as a birthday
card; is this any place for a story with a civil-rights theme? “’The Watsons’
is first and foremost a film about a family,” said producer Nikki Silver.

In this case, the family’s journey south accidentally
collides with the last stand of segregation. And the story represents a giant
journey for its Michigan author.

Christopher Paul Curtis grew up in Flint, with blue-collar
roots. For 13 years, he worked in an auto plant, just as his dad did. But there
were other influences: His mom was an educator, one grandfather was a bandleader,
the other was a Negro Baseball League pitcher.

So Curtis grew up with an artistic side. Fresh from high
school, he was in the Lansing-based Suitcase Theatre. At the auto plant, he
wrote during breaks. Later, after working in Windsor, he took a year off and
wrote “Watsons” by longhand in the Windsor library.

The result won a Newbery Honor, one of the highest prizes
for children’s literature. (Curtis would go on to win the top prize, a Newbery
Award, for “Bud, Not Buddy.”) The New York Times listed it as one of the year’s
100 best books, the only children’s book on the list.

Curtis, 60, is now a fulltime author and speaker, living in
the Detroit area. The notion of filming his book was boosted by timing, Silver
said. Hallmark has started a Friday-family-film project with Walden Media and
others; key dates arrived this year. “It’s the 50
th anniversary of
the march on Washington, the 50
th anniversary of the (Birmingham)
church bombing …. Maybe it was just meant to be.”

The film drew some top people, including director Kenny Leon
(who made the TV versions of “Steel Magnolias” and “A Raisin in the Sun”) and
Tony-winner Anika Noni Rose. It also had some quirks:

There is a key Michigan man in the cast (David
Alan Grier of Detroit), but he plays a Southerner.

 The whole
thing was shot in Atlanta, including scenes of a frigid Flint winter. “I
thought we did a pretty good job … on an 80-degree day,” Leon said.

What emerged, he said, is a film about heroics. “Ultimately,
this is a film about love. It’s about family love and … loving and embracing
our history.”

“The Watsons Go to Birmingham,” 8-10 p.m.
Friday, Hallmark

Repeats at the same time a week later.

It's never "Sunny" at awards time

You'll hear plenty this week about the big Emmy nominees on HBO and AMC and such. Instead, let's look at the oft-overlooked. Here's a story I sent to papers:



As Danny DeVito tells it, he knew
pretty early that his show would stick around.

“We never got nominated for
anything,” DeVito said. “And we never got any awards …. So I
always figured that's really good sign … we were going to be a
long-running show.”

He's joking, perhaps, but there's also
some truth behind it:

– DeVito's first series (“Taxi”)
won 18 Emmys – including three straight as best comedy series. It
lasted only five years and was canceled by two networks.

– His second, “It's Always Sunny in
Philadelphia,” is in its ninth season and has been renewed for its
tenth. It's a key element in the new FXX cable channel. The Emmys
have ignored it … and vice versa.

“I didn't even realize that the
nominations came out,” said Kaitlin Olson, one of the stars. “I
think a couple days later … I was like, 'Oh, right. It's a shame
again this year.'”

Had she checked, she would have found
that “Sunny” has its first nomination – for best stunt
coordination in a comedy. This isn't one of your high-profile

Now comes a “Sunny” response
Wednesday, just four days before the Emmys. “It's called 'The Gang
Desperately Tries to Win an Award,'” said Charlie Day, one of the
writer-stars. “They realize that all these other bars win awards
and they've never won any award. So they go to the other bars (and)
try to change themselves to fit in that formula.”

Other bars have bright lights and
cheery music. There's a black friend and an unspoken love and …

What this soon becomes, of course, is a
satire of shows that actually get awards.

The “Sunny” people seem to really
want to be at the Emmys … even if DeVito – who already has an
Emmy and a Golden Globe from his “Taxi” days – feigns

“There's the traffic,” he said.
“And then you've got to put the suit on. It's a pain.”

  • “It's Always Sunny in
    Philadelphia,” 10 p.m. Wednesdays, FXX

  • The awards episode is Sept. 18,
    rerunning that night at 11:30 p.m. and 1 a.m.; it also reruns at 11
    and 11:30 p.m. Saturday and 10 p.m. Sept. 24

  • The actual Emmys are 8 p.m. Sunday
    on CBS; most categories are lumped into the Creative Arts Awards, at
    9 p.m. Saturday on FXX

  • Previous seasons of “Sunny”
    rerun at odd times on Comedy Central and WGN America.

  • “Sunny” has had a few
    nominations elsewhere – two People's Choice (favorite cable
    comedy) and four Satellite (two for best comedy, plus ones for
    DeVito and Day). It's lone win was a 2011 Satellite Award for best
    comedy series.


One more time: Here are the "Dance" champs

In a late -- and wise -- move, Fox has decided to rerun its "So You Think You Can Dance" finale tonight (8-10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13).

The finale offers a terrific, two-hour stretch of dancing, then picks instantly likable champions. Alas, I'm about to spoil the surprise on that; here's the story I sent to papers, interviewing the winners:


Sometimes, reality-show producers really do get it right.

That happened this summer, when “So You Think You Can Dance”
was linking strangers to form 10 duos. One combination paired Amy Yakima, 19,
and Fik-Shun, 18.

“We have the same work ethic,” Yakima said. “We’re

And now they’re winners. On Tuesday, they each won $125,00
as the show’s male and female champions; that finale reruns Friday.

“Dance” creates duos for a few weeks, then splits them up
and has them dance with “all-stars” from previous seasons. The Amy-Fik duo
seemed to click quickly.

That could involve the Midwest work ethic. She’s from
Michigan; he’s originally from Kansas.

Or it could be that they’re similar physically (he’s 5-foot-6-and-a-half,
she’s 5-3, both are cherubic) and emotionally. “We’re both happy-go-lucky,”
Yakima said.

Indeed, the two fit so well that some viewers hoped they
were dating each other. “That’s not really happening,” Fik-Shun said. “She has
a boyfriend.”

Other things could have become obstacles to their dance
partnership. His specialty is hip-hop; hers is jazz. “My boyfriend’s a hip-hop
dancer,” Yakima said. “I’ve just grown up taking a lot of classes.”

That’s the other big difference: Yakima has been taking
classes since she was 3. Now she could pass some of that on, Fik-Shun said. “She
explains it in a way I can understand …. I’m a visual learner, so when I see
it, I have to mimic it.”

Yakima said she also learned from him. “He taught me how to …
actually listen to the music and not just do the steps.”

Both pushed hard to make an impression onstage, Fik-Shun
said. “Amy always drilled that into my head to go big … because we’re small

Yakima, a doctor’s daughter, grew up in Northville (near
Detroit), surrounded by people – cousin, sisters, mother – who loved to dance.
Fik-Shun started in Wichita, where he was dancing at 2. He was in 6th
grade, he said, when his family decided to move to Las Vegas, so he could have
more dance chances. (His dad started a martial-arts school there and
occasionally does security work.) He was in 9th grade when a friend
suggested  “Fik-Shun”; that replaced his
given name (Du-Shaunt Stegall) on stage.

Both are taking some Online courses – Yakima in computer
graphics, Fik-Shun in communication. “I figure, if I’m not dancing I’m probably
talking,” he said.

There may not be time for that now; Yakima, for instance, has
quite a to-do list:  “I want to do
(dance) companies, I want to do music videos, I want to go on tours – I want to
do it all. I just want to dance.”

--  “So You Think You Can Dance” finale, reruns 8-10
p.m. today (Friday, Sept. 13) on Fox





Re-tooled "Latifah Show": This time, she's ready

Monday (Sept. 15) is phase two of the battle for daily attention in non-network time slots. Last week brought Arsenio Hall (the opener was OK, but not great) and Bethenny Frankel; Monday brings Queen Latifah, who could quickly catch on. Here's the story I sent to papers; scroll down a ways and you'll find the ones last week on Hall and Frankel, plus an overview. In between is my TV-season preview:



Let's think of this as a very long
retooling process.

The original “Queen Latifah Show”
began when its host was 29. It ran two years and drew shrugs.

Now, 14 years later, “The Queen
Latifah Show” is considered this year's strongest daytime newcomer.
Latifah's become a star whose guests will be older (the first is John
Travolta) and younger.

Pop star Willow Smith, 12, has already
put in her name. “She said to me, 'I want to go on Auntie Latifah's
show,'” said her mom, Jada Pinkett Smith.

Jada is one of the show's producers,
along with her husband Will Smith (another of the first-week guests)
and others. “One of the things I love about Latifah is that she's
fearless,” she said. “So I just want her to have fun, to have a
good time.”

This was already an interesting person
back in 1999, when the original show debuted. She was born in Newark
(as Dana Owens), went to Catholic schools there, lived nearby and
went to Irvington High School, where her mom taught. She kept
conquering new worlds – basketball in high school, rap at 18, then
the “Living Single” situation comedy at 23.

Since then, she's kept adding things.
“I really have never looked at things as impossible,” Latifah

She enjoys recalling people's
astonishment: “'So let me get this right: This girl wants to rap in
a male-dominated field and call herself Queen Latifah? OK, now she
wants to act? …. Now you want to make a musical, now you want to do
a jazz album? You want to ... rob some banks?'”

Some of her biggest moves came after
that first talk show died. Some of her movies failed, but “Chicago”
brought her an Oscar nomination. She sang at the Super Bowl and the
Academy Awards, hosted a White House concert, did duets with Tony
Bennett and Stevie Wonder and more.

She accumulated famous friends,
including rocker Lenny Kravitz. He'll be a first-week guest and his
company designed and built the set.

“I call it 'Big Sexy,'” Latifah
said of the set. “It is pretty big and very sexy. (It's)
contemporary. It looks like nothing else on TV.”

It includes chatty spaces, where she
can talk with non-show-business people who hsve uplifting stories.
And it has bigger concert spaces. “We love music, so … we have to
have everybody,” Latifah said.

That even includes country. Latifah
said she hopes to have Garth Brooks; Jada Pinkett Smith mentions
“Toby Keith, who's a friend of ours.”

The list goes on, said Corin Nelson,
another of the producers. “She loves country, she loves pop, she
loves R&B, she loves rap, she loves jazz.” She seems to like a
lot of things and people … which can be very handy when you have a
daily talk show.

  • “The Queen Latifah Show”

  • Weekdays, starting Monday
    (Sept.16), on a non-network line-up; check local listings