Farewell to Meridian 6 theaters

If you live in the Lansing, Mich., area, make sure you go to the Meridian Outer 6 theaters this weekend. They close after Monday, creating a big hole for film fans. Here's a basic, newsy story; more later:

The Meridian 6 movie theaters are
closing this weekend, after 25 years.

That will leave the East side of the
Lansing area – once the strongest place for filmgoers – with no
movie theaters for the first time in more than 40 years.

The first Meridian Mall four-plex
opened in 1970, with a second one in '75. The Meridian 6 – then
called the Merician Outer 6 – was added in 1986 and continued after
the others closed.

It has struggled in recent years,
however, as parent firm AMC ran into financial troubles and didn't
modernize. Two other local theaters – Celebration Cinema and the
NCG theaters in Eastwood – have been built with stadium seating,
digital projection and 3-D capability.


Ellerbee: From party time to a wise old aunt

Sure, Linda Ellerbee is a revered figure these days, someone who has talked to kids via "Nick News" for 20 years.

But she's also been a brilliant news reporter and anchor, talking to grown-ups. And -- like many news people -- she's had some fun.

In her autobiography, Ellerbee described a drunken colleague who thought he was going to the rest room of his hotel; instead, he relieved himself over the atrium restaurant. Many people are appalled by this, she wrote, by she just treats it as a cautionary note: Now she always gets one of those little umbrellas for her drinks.

That's vintage Ellerbee; meanwhile, the current version has a terrific special Thursday, telling kids about the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Here's the story I sent to papers:


What we should notice about Linda
Ellerbee are her sharp mind and her incisive wit.

On this particular day, however, what
we notice first is that her retro-style tennis shoes are a bright
orange. It's a look that few other 67-year-olds could pull off.

Ellerbee's special for kids on Thursday
helps launch TV's September surge of World Trade Center reports. It
also continues her ongoing, on-air transformation.

There was a time when Linda Ellerbee
fit the image of hard-living, hard-drinking reporters. Her
autobiography offers rowdy accounts of misdeeds by her and by others.

These days, however, she does specials
on Nickelodeon, the kids' channel. To viewers, she might be that
eccentric aunt everyone needs. “Or some bizarre, raggedy neighbor,”
Ellerbee suggests.

All of this has happened sort of by
accident, she said. “I was ready to go with the traditional life,
with a family and husband. (But) my husband left when I was 28, with
two kids.”

So Ellerbee dove into news work,
something that fits her. She writes easily, talks easily, has lots of
opinions and few filters. Working for the Associated Press in Dallas,
she wrote what she calls “a very chatty letter,” then
accidentally sent it on the news wire. “It was a self-inflicted
wound,” she said.

But the letter was clever enough to
draw the attention of the news director of a Houston TV station.
Soon, Ellerbee was working there, then going on to WCBS in New York
and to the networks.

In the years that followed, she drew
raves. She won an Emmy for her writing on ABC's “Our World”
(1986-87); when she and Lloyd Dobyns did “NBC Overnight” (1982),
the duPont Columbia Awards called it “possibly the best written and
most intelligent news program ever.”

After “Our World,” however,
Ellerbee left the networks. With former ABC newsman Rolfe Tessem, she
started Lucky Duck Productions, doing documentaries for at least a
dozen networks.

The key came in 1991, when Nickelodeon
wanted a Gulf war special for kids. “We knew if they saw kids on
television talking about their fears and concerns, it would be OK to
have those concerns themselves,” Ellerbee said.

That launched what became “Nick
News.” Twenty years and eight Emmys later, it is “recognized for
speaking directly and respectfully to kids,” said Marjorie Cohn,
Nickelodeon's programming chief.

A 1992 special set the tone: Magic
Johnson, the basketball star, had arrived at the set fairly late,
Ellerbee said, and didn't know that four of the kids were (like him)
HIV-positive.“This little girl sat next to him and he reached out
and held her; she was 6 years old.”

Viewers could see that Johnson was
deeply moved when he learned she had AIDS. Today, 19 years later,
both are living with a disease that had been considered quickly

Ellerbee had her own health crisis that
year; now she's a 19-year breast cancer survivor.

Her life has been complicated; prior to
her relationship with Tessem, four marriages ended in divorce or
separation. Her career, however, has thrived and “Nick News” has
prospered. “I had forgotten how smart kids are,” Ellerbee said,
“and how spontaneous they are.”

In an Internet age, they are filled
with information, some of it wrong. “You hear a kid say, 'I heard …
the planes were Japanese.' 'I heard Saddam Hussein attacked us' ….
'I heard 9/11 never happened.'”

For Ellerbee, that day was vivid. She
was returning to town when traffic to Manhattan was stopped.

Some people were already at the Lucky
Duck office, a dozen blocks from the World Trade Center. Ellerbee,
could only watch from a distance; a decade later, her special –
including kids who were much closer to the event – offers fresh

– “Nick News” special on the 10th
anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks

– 9 p.m. Thursday (Sept. 1),

– Also Thursday: Discovery has the
second half of “Rising: Rebuilding Ground Zero” (8-11 p.m.);
National Geographic reruns the second half of “Inside 9/11” (8-10





It's a Quirky way to do business

We have to admire anyone who daydreams productively during math class. So now Ben Kaufman -- whose cable show "Quirky" debuts Tuesday -- is our new hero. Here's the story we sent to papers:


OK, kids should probably pay attention
in class. If they must daydream, however, they could follow Ben
Kaufman's example:

“I was sitting in the back of math
class, trying to think of how I could listen to music,” said
Kaufman, whose invention show (“Quirky”) is debuting on cable. He
envisioned retractable iPod earphones.

His parents (a lawyer and a
businesswoman) soon bankrolled the idea with a second mortgage on
their Long Island home, reportedly for $180,000. “It wasn't an easy
sell,” Kaufman said.

That was seven years ago, when he was
17. The rest happened quickly:

– 2005: Mophie – a company named
after his dogs, Molly and Sophie – was born.

– 2006: A magazine (Inc.) listed
Kaufman as the top entrepreneur under 30 and said Mophie had $1
million in annual sales. The company was quickly adding iPod
accessories – arm bands, belt clips, splitters, cases that included
bottle openers and key chains.

– 2007: Kaufman sold Mophie and was
ready to start anew.

– 2009: His new company, Quirky, was
born. It's the basis of the cable show.

Kaufman is fond of “crowd-sourcing”
– throwing an idea onto the Internet, where people suggest changes
and vote on possibilities. “Everything is questioned and everything
is transparent,” he said.

Now those ideas show up on TV, along
with the people who created them. “Behind each of those products is
a great story,” Kaufman said.

In the series opener, viewers meet a
Milwaukee college student who envisioned a pivoting power strip. They
also meet a mom with an all-in-one pasta strainer. The Quirky
designers work on the ideas.

Not all ideas are equal, of course.
Kaufman considers that power-pivot to be one of the best; he
considers “an edible Frisbee” one of the strangest.

Still, all are the kind of ideas that
drift through minds during math class. Now they have a place
somewhere in the cable-TV universe.

– “Quirky,” 10 p.m. Tuesdays,
rerunning at 1 a.m., Sundance Channel

– Debuts Aug. 30

– More reruns throughout the week.
Repeats of the opener include 7 p.m. Wednesday, 10 a.m. Thursday, 9
p.m. Friday, 11:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday, 10 p.m. Monday (Sept. 5)
and more.


In search of buried treasure

This is that end-of-summer time when odd things pop up on our TV sets -- including antiques on the young-hip Fox network Here's a story I sent to papers, on a show that starts Wednesday (Aug. 24):


By Mike Hughes

Even as kids, Leigh and Leslie Keno
knew that old stuff is somehow valuable.

“Since we were about three-feet,
four-feet high, we were treasure hunters in upstate New York,”
Leigh (or Leslie, it's sometimes hard to tell by phone) said. They
were “digging for old bottles, in old foundations of buildings.
We'd go to refuse sites and dig down for 19th-century glass (or) barn

Two important notes:

1) Kids, don't try that near home. Lots
of parents don't like you digging through refuse for old glass.

2) It did, however, work just fine for
the Kenos. They've moved upscale now, being involved – one at an
auction house, the other at an antique store – with sales
reportedly totaling billions.

They also have TV fame – first PBS'
“Antique Roadshow,” now Fox's “Buried Treasure.”

For four Wednesdays, viewers will see
the Kenos visit homes and talk to people about their lives and
possessions. “The viewer doesn't know until the end, what the piece
actually is (worth),” Leslie said.

There are plenty of antiques shows on
cable these days, but “Treasure” differs because it's on a big
network … and because it centers on identical twins.

“We do have this twin talk,” Leslie

Leigh agreed – as twin-talkers often
do. “We'll spot the same thing at the same time,” he said.

They may agree 90 percent of the time,
Leigh said, but there are exceptions. “I was wrong recently about a
very rare Egyptian piece and Leslie said, 'I know that's right.' And
I said, 'Ah, I think it's a 19th-century copy.' It turned out to be
300 B.C.”

All of this is like those early days.
“We went with our parents to flea markets and antique shows, …
from 6 in the morning until night, searching for treasures,” Leslie
(or maybe Leigh) said.

And at times, those early experiences
shape modern finds.

“We used to hide (letters) when we
were little kids, in the registers of the floors of our old, 1860
farmhouse,” Leslie said. They remembered that once, while visiting
people who thought their ancestors might have hidden valuables. “We
checked the registers,” Leslie said, “and sure enough, there
(was) gold there … and also some jewels.”

At times, they get to deliver good news
– even the marriage-saving kind. Leslie recalls one couple, “very
much in love; married, I think, about five years.”

He kept buying and old things. When she
finds them, “she sells them on eBay or just throws them out.”

The Kenos intervened, Leslie said. “He
had a painting worth potentially tens of millions of dollars.”

Marriages do need help sometimes. They
don't have the benefit of a twin connection.

– “Buried Treasure”

– 8 p.m. for four Wednesdays on Fox,
beginning Aug. 24


Friday night fights (bigger, messier) are back

Surrounded by large, lethal men, David Hill was cautious. "This is one of those press conferences where you don't want to make anyone angry," he said.

Hill is chairman of Fox Sports, where things usually are civilized (baseball, soccer) or semi-civilized (football). Today he announced something very different -- a massive deal with UFC.

"There's no yesterday in (TV)," Hill said. "Television is all about the next big thing." And now he sees that as mixed-martial-arts -- the punch-tackle-kick turf of UFC. The deal:

-- Moves "The Ultimate Fighter" to the FX cable channel, with a slightly changed format. The reality portions will be taped during the week of the broadcast, then will lead into a live fight. That will total 26 Fridays -- two 13-week cycles -- a year.

-- Adds six other Friday fight nights on FX, plus four fight nights on Fox.

-- Incorporates Fuel, another Fox-owned cable channel. It will have pre-fight and post-fight shows.

And what about "no yesterday"? Well, in the early days of TV always had people fighting on Fridays. "Friday night fights" (technically, "The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports") ran from 1946 to 1960 on NBC.

By modern standards, Hill said, those seem tame. "Watching two guys with gloves is kind of two-dimensional."

Fake-fighting (pro wrestling) replaced it -- first on UPN and CW, now on cable. The "WWE Smackdown" runs from 8-10 p.m. Fridays on Syfy, which may be proof that it's fiction.

Now the UFC moves to FX. That's a network that's been known for "Justified," "Sons of Anarchy," "The Shield" and more -- shows that are smart, subtle, layered and (at times) fiercely violent. Mixed-martial-arts fits right into that -- except, of course, for smart, subtle  and layered.