NBC plans a mild fall ... and a wild, un-mild mid-season

Over the next few days, all of the networks will announce their fall schedules. NBC was first; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

NBC's viewers
needn't worry about much sudden-change whiplash this fall.

Yes, the network has
lots of new shows planned – including a second “Blacklist,” a
fourth Chicago series and fantasy tales with vampires and the land of
Oz. But all of those will wait for mid-season.

For the fall, NBC
plans only three shows (two of them with fantasy twists). Along the
way, it will:

-- Dump every
current comedy except two. “The Carmichael Show” will wait until
midseason; “Superstore” will be (at least temporarily) on
Thursdays, when CBS comedies rule.

-- Drop some dramas,
including “Heartbeat,” “The Mysteries of Laura” and “Heroes.”

-- Move others --
“Blindspot” to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, “Chicago Med” and
“Blacklist” to 9 and 10 p.m. Thursdays.

NBC can stick to
small moves, because it's bolstered by its unscripted shows: “The
Voice” and “Dateline” each get two nights a week; for a
five-week stretch, pro-football will do the same.

CBS and NBC are
splitting the weekday football schedule. For five Thursdays, CBS has
the games; that's when NBC airs its only comedies -- “Superstore”
and the new “The Good Life,” in which a wayward woman (Kristen
Bell) accidentally goes to the afterlife, then returns to do better,
with Ted Danson's help. Then NBC gets five Thursday games, putting
those comedies in limbo.

Its two new dramas
get better slots, neatly tucked behind “The Voice.” They are:

-- “Timeless,”
inheriting the “Blindspot” place on Mondays. It has three people
– a scientist, a soldier and a history professor – trying to
catch fugitives in the past, without disturbing other events.

-- “This Is Us”
on Tuesdays, about people whose lives entwine in unusual ways; Mandy
Moore, Milo Ventimiglia and Sterling K. Brown star.

If that all sounds
modest, NBC has much more planned for mid-season. That includes
returning “Carmichael,” “Shades of Blue” and “Little Big
Shots.” It also includes the “Blacklist” spin-off (using the
Tom Keen and Susan Hargraves characters) and the fourth Chicago
story; “Chicago Justice” will be set in the state's attorney

Other dramas may be
wilder. “Emerald City” re-imagines “The Wizard of Oz” ...
“Taken” is a prequel to the Liam Nesson movies ... “Midnight,
Texas” is from the books of Charlaine Harris (“True Blood”),
with more vampires and witches and such.

Also planned for
mid-season are four new comedies – including one produced by Tina
Fey and another based loosely on Marlon Wayans' life – and several
reality shows, including Arnold Schwarzenegger taking over “Celebrity
Apprentice.” Here's the fall line-up:

-- Mondays: “The
Voice,” 8 p.m.; “Timeless,” 10.

-- Tuesdays:
“Voice,” 8; “This Is Us,” 9; “Chicago Fire,” 10.

-- Wednesdays:
“Blindspot,” 8; “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” 9;
“Chicago P.D,” 10.

-- Thursdays:
“Superstore,” 8; “The Good Place,” 8:30; “Chicago Med,”
9; “Blacklist,” 10. (Football takes over on Nov. 17 and for four
Thursdays in December.)

-- Fridays: “Caught
on Camera,” 8; “Grimm,” 9; “Dateline,” 10.

-- Saturdays:
“Dateline,” 8; “Saturday Night Live” reruns, 10.

-- Sundays:
Football. (Other shows take over in January.)


Branagh -- from epics to Swedish solace



Some of this TV season's finest moments are coming up in its final three weeks. That's when PBS airs the last season of "Wallander" movies; here's the story I sent to papers.

By Mike Hughes

Kenneth Branagh
keeps leaping between extremes.

He goes from epic to
intimate, from sprawling movies to tidy TV shows.

The movies he's
directed – including “Thor” and “Cinderella” -- have been
massive and colorful, with action and fantasy. His “Wallander”
mystery movies on PBS are pretty much the opposite.

“Wallander” --
returning for three Sundays -- fits its setting. “The first things
that struck us (were) how big it was,” Branagh said of rural
Sweden, “how flat it was, how far away it seemed, how isolated.”

All of those are
traits shared by Kurt Wallander, the police detective he plays.

The “Wallander”
mysteries are filled with quiet understatement. Indeed, it's tough to
grasp the fact that Branagh was starring in one of them while he was
planning his “Thor” movie.

Back then, Tom
Hiddleston – like Branagh, a Shakespearean actor – was playing
his “Wallander” assistant; Branagh had just cast him in “Thor”
as Loki. He recalls Hiddleston's “kind of very youthful, wide-eyed
kind of innocent-looking expression as he thought, 'Really? I'm going
to be doing that? Really? We're going to be in space and we'll be in
the middle of all that kind of adventure?'”

And now? Hiddleston
has gone on to be Loki in three more movies, with a fourth on the
way; he doesn't have time to do “Wallander.”

Branagh, however,
does. He keeps returning to “Masterpiece” in different projects.
“The series has had no better friend than Sir Ken,” said Rebecca
Eaton, the “Masterpiece” producer.

This feels like
familiar turf, Branagh said. “I grew up watching television, so it
was very important.”

That was in Belfast
until he was 9 and then in England. He became a hybrid – British
accent, Irish soul, blue-collar roots (his dad was a carpenter who
started a specialty company) and upscale education.

Branagh, now 55, did
the classics and at 27 starred in the “Fortunes of War”
miniseries, which would change his life. He fell in love with his
co-star, Emma Thompson; they married, divorcing six years later. And
he made his first trip to Los Angeles, to talk to reporters at a
“Masterpiece” press conference.

The flight was six
hours late and “people had been well-refreshed at that stage,”
Branagh recalled, bringing a loose night of music and laughs. “The
next day, I went for a walk in Beverly Hills .... You really felt the
distance and you thought, 'How amazing that this thing called
'Masterpiece' is gathering all these people together on the other
side of the world to talk about ... our work.”

Branagh twice
rejected offers to be the series host, Eaton wrote in “Making
Masterpiece” (Viking, 2013). Still, she wrote: “Ken has remained
a great and loyal friend to 'Masterpiece' and seems to understand
better than most actors, what a 'Masterpiece' broadcast can do for a
British actor's career.”

TV has always seemed
vital, he said. “My family weren't theatergoers, but we did watch
television. We went to the movies. And I was just aware ... of how
influential was the shared conversation about art or entertainment
you'd seen in your living room.”

So when he read the
“Wallander” novels, it seemed logical to film them for
“Masterpioece,” shooting in the Swedish locations they described.
“It's the land of the big sky, small houses, certain kinds of
colors used,” Branagh said. “And everyone seemed to be in a
rather melancholic painting.”

The project has
included 12 TV movies, shot in four three-film batches, spread over
seven years. Reflecting the novels, Wallander sometimes went abroad
... and, at the end, showed his age.

So this year's first
film finds Wallander in South Africa; the next two find his mind
retreating, Branagh said. “His own particular isolation ... makes
thimgs pretty tricky, if he is starting to become forgetful.”

There's no
Thor/Cinderella solution here. There's a bright and lonely man,
facing a premature fade.

-- “Masterpiece:
Wallander,” 9-10:30 p.m. Sundays on PBS (check local listigs)

-- Final season has
three films, May 8, 15 and 22

Branaepis eneth ag, NasterMMr

Janis: A search for truth, joy and powerfully passionate music

Janis Joplin's life was perfect for "American Masters," filled with extreme high and lows, plus immense talent and moments of quiet subtlety. So it shouldn't surprise us that the film airing Tuesday (May3) is ... well, masterful. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

For Laura Joplin,
the letters were an unexpected treasure.

One day, she
recalled, she mentioned that she might write a book about her sister

“Mother got up and
she walked down the hallway,” she said. “And she came back with
these letters, literally wrapped in a faded red ribbon, and handed
them to me. And the past just rushed over me.”

Those letters became
the core of a book (“Love, Janis”) and now of a compelling
“American Masters” documentary on PBS. They showed Janis Joplin:

-- Fragile, grasping
for a place in life. “I wanna be happy so bad,” she wrote.

-- Then a sudden
rock star. “I just stumbled around being a music kid and fell into
this. Incredible.”

-- And then at the
top. “There's a real good chance that I won't blow it,” she

She soon died of a
heroin overdose, but her sister doesn't see this as the cliche of a
downward spiral.

Janis was starting
to savor life, Laura said; but, like many people in 1970, she also
did drugs. “We do her a grave injustice by presuming that she blew
it .... She had an accident.”

For Laura, this
older (by six years) sister was “the girl who read 'The Wizard of
Oz' to me and took me by the hand and walked around the neighborhood.
Those were wonderful memories.”

That was in Port
Arthur, a Texas town where their dad was a Texaco engineer. “We
grew up in a family that talked about ideas,” Laura said. “Our
parents wanted us to express them and supported them.”

Others didn't. The
film says Janis was kicked out of the choir for not following
directions. (“She liked rocking the boat,” Michael Joplin, four
years younger than Laura, says in the film.) In high school, she was
a civil-rights activist targeted by the Ku Klux Klan; in college, she
was devastated by a fraternity stunt that had her elected “ugliest
man on campus.”

But for a time,
Laura feels, college live in Austin, Texas “was heaven for her. It
was full of all these creative people. The story is she walked into
this apartment and there was a guy sitting on top of the
refrigerator, playing the banjo. And she turns to her friend and
says, 'I think I'm going to like it here.'”

Her music tastes
expanded in Austin and soon fit neatly into San Francisco. “Janis
had a career in singing a lot of folk music and folk blues,” Dave
Getz said. “And she liked people like Odettta.”

She had some false
starts in San Francisco; at one point, friends sent her home to
straighten out. But she was back when Getz's band, Big Brother and
the Holding Company, auditioned for a female singer.

“Even before she
came, (we knew) she was going tobe the one we were looking for,”
Getz said. “And when she opened her mouth and sang with us at the
first rehearsal, ... it was just, 'Yeah, that's it.'”

The band had already
been doing “Summertime,” he said; “when she started singing it,
it went into a whole other stratosphere.” She locked into blues
classics by John Lee Hooker and Howlin' Wolf. “And then Janis
started presenting her songs. That was also a revelation.”

She gave a
powerhouse performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, but the
cameras weren't rolling; the band's manager hadn't signed film
rights. Joplin was furious and argued backstage; the agreement was
signed and the band was given an extra stage slot, preserved on film.

That “was the
turning point for Janis,” Getz said. It was when “she became more
like the star of the band and who people really came to see .... She
got tremendous attention after Monterey Pop.”

Three years and
several bands later, Joplin told Getz that she was going to call
herself Pearl. He disliked the idea, he said; she was “kind of
creating the myth of what she was about.”

But people loved
that sassy, brassy myth. When the “Pearl” album came out in 1971,
it reached No. 1 on the Billboard chart; so did its single, “Me and
Bobby McGee.”

By then, however,
Joplin had died. “She cleaned her act up and she was really excited
about her last album,” said Amy Berg, who made the PBS film.
“Things were going real well for her.”

Then the overdose
ended a bright and varied life at 27.

-- “American
Masters: Janis: Little Girl Blue”

-- 8-10 p.m. Tuesday
(May 3), PBS (check local listings)


Seriously? Postponed again?

When and if you ever get to see "Why They Hate Us," I think you'll consider it a solid, thoughtful report on a tough subject, The problem is getting to see it: Somehow, CNN has managed to postpone it for the second time. Here's the brief I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

CNN has postponed
its “Why They Hate Us” documentary ... again.

Fareed Zakaria's
film – an elaborate look at U.S.-Muslim relations – was
originally scheduled for April 11, then was bumped by political
coverage. It was re-scheduled for today (April 25).

At 3 p.m. ET today –
when the network's Web site was still listing the special -- a CNN
spokesperson said it had been bumped again. There was no word on why
it was postponed or when it might air.


Prince memories continue

TV has done a strong job of presenting memories of Prince in the days after his death. Particularly impressive was what "Saturday Night Live" did: In an empty theater, Jimmy Fallon -- a guy who loves music and musicians -- talked passionately about Prince as he introduced tapes of his "SNL" performances.

More things are being added. At 9:30 p.m. Tuesday (April 26), Fox will rerun the "New Girl" episode that had Jess and Cece invited to a Prince party. And today (Monday) and Tuesday, documentaries are on cable's AXS. They're mentioned in the final paragraph of this story (which is otherwise outdated) that I sent to papers:


By Mike Hughes

Memories of Prince
will continue to fill cable-TV this weekend.

After his death (at
57) Thursday, MTV switched its logo to purple and focused on his
videos and the “Purple Rain” movie. News channels had clips and

Now that continues.
Here are examples from three channels:

-- VH1 will take
over the airings of “Purple Rain,” the 1984 movie that's also on
Amazon Video. The film won an Academy Award and a Grammy (both of
them for its overall score) and was nominated for a Golden Globe for
the song “Why Doves Cry.” That will be at noon and 10:30 p.m.
today (Friday, April 22), 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 9
p.m. Sunday.

-- At 8 p.m.
Saturday, the Oprah Winfrey Network will rerun an “Oprah Winfrey
Show” interview. In 1996, Winfrey visited Prince's Paisley Park
studio in Minneapolis.

-- AXS reruns a
“Rock Legends” hour on Prince and has the TV debut of a
documentary, “Slave Trade: How Prince Re-made the Music Business.”
Those will be back-to-back at 1 and 2 p.m. ET Saturday and at 8 and 9
p.m. ET Tuesday. On Monday, “Legends” will be at 7 p.m. and
“Slave Trade” at 11.