"My job should be a TV series"

As August ends, cable networks are wrapping up some of their scripted shows. Thursday brings the summer finale of "Burn Notice" and "Suits." Before that, Wednesday (Aug. 22) has the season's second-to-last "Necessary Roughness"; here's the story I sent to papers:


Chances asre, this hppens to lots of

On a good (or odd) day at the office,
they say: “Hey, my job should be a TV series.”

Eventually, of course, they scuttle the
idea. Hollywood isn't ready for a show about a podiatrist, a bridge
inspector or a driving-license clerk.

Then there's the exception: Donna
Dannenfelser saw her job – a therapist for pro athletes – turned
into the cable series “Necessary Roughness,” which now has its
high-stakes, two-part season finale.

This didn't come easily, though. “It
took us seven years,” she said. Or 20, counting her career.

Dannenfelser seems to have an easy
knack for socializing. “When we met, we were immediately giggling,”
said Callie Thorne, who stars in the series. “We felt like we had
so much in common.”

Logically, Dannenfelser was using her
people skills as a psychologist and hypnotherapist, struggling to get
started. “I had a small practice and I was separated from my
husband at the time.”

At a Starbucks, she spotted a news
story saying that the New York Jets football team was (again) having
communication problems. Dannenfelser volunteered to help.

“We thought it would be two weeks,”
she said. “It ended up being four years.”

The Jets reached the play-offs and her
practice grew. She dealt with athletes in boxing, basketball, hockey,
golf, wrestling, women's bodybuilding and more.

Dannenfelser wasn't really a fan.. (“I
didn't like sports that much.”) But she was interested in
something that also relates to actors, politicians and others: “The
more high-profile you become, the more isolated you become.”

Therapy sessions were held in her
suburban home. Superstars would pop in, with her children sworn to
secrecy. “Teen-agers do not always understand the word

Her brother, Joe Sabatino, is a fairly
busy actor. (He shows up often in small roles as cops or crooks –
including a long list of separate “NYPD Blue” characters.) He
urged a TV series about her job.

That started the marathon – seven
years overall, four years after she moved to Los Angeles – to
create the show. Simply casting the lead role took four months,
Dannenfelser said.

They emerged with an actress whose
previous character (on “Rescue Me”) was forever in crisis or
rage. “Her people skills were non-existent,” Thorne said.

Now, by comparison, Thorne plays the
consummate people person.

Shaping the series involved re-working
Dannenfelser's life. In the show, the therapist has two kids, not
three. She has a husband who cheated and fled; that's pure fiction,
Dannenfelser said – in real life, there was no cheating and she and
her husband got back together after a two-year separations.

The show also fictionalizes her
patients, employing stereotypes freely. The strongest force is
Terrence “T.K.” King (Mehcad Brooks); he's been shot twice,
injured occasionally and addicted to pain pills. He has raged and
agonized – setting up the season's final two episodes.

It's taken him two years to get to that
point … and taken Dannenfelser two decades.

– “Necessary Roughness,” 10:01
p.m.Wednesdays, USA, retrunning at 1 a.m.; also, 9 a.m. Sundays.

– Season's final two episodes are
Aug. 22 and 29.

– Aug.22 has a separate plotline
about a tennis couple, but other stories cover both episodes: T.K.
crumbles … The therapist's son gets wrapped up in a fantasy-league
scheme … And the team owner secretly bugged her home, getting tapes
of her therapy sessions.

"WakeBrothers": Reality show in a fantasy world

Growing up in Wisconsin, I always heard rumors of this opposite world. There were surfing songs and "Beach Party" movies and more, all claiming that somewhere people spend the entire year in waterfront sunshine.

It seemed like make-believe, of course. But reality shows helpfully remind us that it's real life for some people. Now comes "WakeBrothers," which is moving to Mondays on MTV; here's the story I sent to papers:


Lives like this show up a lot in movies
and maybe in our daydreams.

Two brothers are young and hard-bodied.
They hang out by the water, with lots of bikini beauties nearby; they
work a little, play a lot.

The difference is that these guys (on
MTV's “WakeBrothers”) are real. “This is what we've we've done
our entire lives …. It's just a really fun sport and lifestyle,”
Phil Soven said. “It's all awesome.”

The sport is wakeboarding – sort of
snowboarding meets water skiing. When the “WakeBrothers” season
was filmed, Phil was 23 and ranked No.1; his brother Bob was 20 and
ranked No. 3.

But that isn't what “Wake Brothers”
– now moving to Mondays – is really about.

Part of it is like a surfing movie or
Beach Boys song – the notion of an endless summer of water fun. And
part is sibling-rivalry in overdrive: “We're both crazy in opposite
spectrums,” Bob said.

That includes quirks in their body
clocks. Bob is usually up by 8 a.m., ready for sunshine; Phil says
his wake-up time varies from10 a.m. to 1 p.m. “One time, he slept
until 7 p.m.,” Bob said.

And part is personal quirk. With his
mass of reddish hair, Bob proclaims himself “the ginger menace.”

These opposites compete in the same
sports and in life. “Everything they do is such a competitive thing
in their own personal nature,” said producer John Erhard. “And
then you put them under one roof and it just amplifies that dynamic.”

It's their parents' roof, along a
man-lake in Florida. The elder Sovens occasionally intervene. “They
use the car as the time-out zone still,” Bob said.

Mostly, it's hands-off. Their dad, in
particular, “lives vicariously through the boys,” Erhard said.

Viewers saw that in the series-opener,
when Bob concocted a tough trick. One guy crashed hard, but Bob
conquered it; his pre-determined prize was a brief kiss from one of
the bikini beauties.

During all of this, their father seemed
amused. But should a pro be risking injury on a stunt? Phil – the
sensible one – comes to his brother's defense on this.

“Being a professional athlete in an
action sport,” he said, “is pushing the limits and trying things
that are dangerous …. It's an extreme sport. If you fall and get
hurt, that's part of it.”

There are limits, he granted. “If
there's a contest next weekend, I'm not going to go out and try
something crazy I might get hurt on.”

But the season ends and life continues.
In his endless summer, there's time to be young and crazy.

– “WakeBrothers,” MTV; on Aug.
20, moves to a new slot at 11 p.m. Mondays, rerunning at 1 a.m.

– The following week will have
frequent reruns; that includes noon, 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Aug.27 and
4 and 4:30 p.. Aug. 30.


Potent "Boss" adds fresh talent

In a reasonable world, "Boss" would have huge ratings and a mountain of Emmy nominations. The show crackles with great dialog and titanic political battles.

Our odd world, alas, has given the show tiny ratings and an Emmy snub. Maybe things will be different when the second season starts Friday, with Sanaa Lathan and others joining the show. Here's the story I sent to papers:


In politics – and in political
fiction – careers can be quick and combustible.

People scheme, soar, then (sometimes)
crash. In the first season of “Boss,” that's what happened to the
people around Tom Kane, the powerhouse Chicago mayor played by
Kelsey Grammer.

“He had decimated his inner circle to
such a large degree,” said producer Dee Johnson, who joins “Boss”
this season. “There is an attrition quality which, I think, helps
us. We had to repopulate.”

One top aide (Ezra Stone) is dead, the
other (Kitty O'Neil) is unemployed. Kate's daughter is in jail, his
wife is embittered; now “Boss” repopulates with:

– Ian Harris, an on-loan aide with a
deceptively harmless facade. He's “very smart, sort of, but very
green and trying to catch up,” said Jonathan Groff, who plays him.

– Trey Rogers, a strong force in the
community. He's “a very ambitious young man who comes from a
hostile, hazardous environment,” said Tip Harris, who plays him.

– Mona Fredricks, a force when
working with or against Kane. She's “a politically savvy woman who
grew up… in a community that was very disenfranchised,” said
Sanaa Lathan, who plays her.

There's an trend here: Groff (of
“Glee”) and Grammer have done Broadway musicals; Harris is also
known as T.I., the rap star. “'Boss: The Musical' can be seen at
the Patanges Theatre,” Grammer joked.

Actually, the show is operatic in
intensity, Shakespearean in plot. Battered by guilt and a
neurological disorder he's keeping secret, Kane has fierce dreams and
imaginary conversations with the late Ezra. “He does some pretty …
shocking, horrific things,in the second season,” Grammer said.

And now he faces Mona,the show's one
idealist. “When someone may seem incorruptible, how does Kane get
around that?” asked Farhad Safinia, the show's creator.

Distrusted by Kane and by her former
neighbors, Mona never quite fits in. Lathan knows the feeling.

She spent part of her childhood in New
York with her mother Eleanor McCoy, a singer-actress who twice
reached Broadway. That meant high school in East Harlem, in the
pre-gentrification days.

And she spent part with her dad, Stan
Lathan, a busy producer (“Steve Harvey Show,” “Def Comedy Jam”)
and director. “I went to Beverly Hills High School; I always felt
like an outsider there.”

Lathan could have been like Mona, a
smart suit-type. She got into the prestigious University of
California, Berkley, with vague thoughts of working upstairs. “Maybe
I'd be an entertainment lawyer.”

What she really wanted, she soon
realized, was to be an actress. She graduated from Berkeley and the
Yale Drama School, with dreams of doing the great theater roles.

That would come later: Lathan, now 40,
would do “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” with James Earl Jones (“an
awesome experience”) in London and “A Raisin in the Sun” on
Broadway, drawing a Tony nomination.

To get those roles, she had to build
name recognition in Hollywood. Lathan did the silly sitcoms and
action films, but also caught a refreshing trend – serious films
(“The Wood,” “The Best Man,” “Love and Basketball”) with
black casts.

Now her experiences merge, when she and
Grammer – the former comedy guy – do intense drama. “He's
making you crack up, just before the scene.” TV, like politics,
thrives on extremes.

– “Boss,” 9 p.m. Fridays,
rerunning at 10, Starz

– Season-opener (Aug. 17) reruns
often, including 6:15 p.m. Saturday; 11:30 a.m., 8 p.m. and 11:20
p.m. Sunday; 7 and 10 p.m. Monday


Family tradition: She's practicing medicine (well, TV medicine) after all

Those of us who have been rooted in one place might be awed by Reshma Shetty, one of the "Royal Pains" stars. She's English-turned-American, with Indian roots; she's pre-med turned opera singer turned actress. Here's the story I sent to papers:


For many actors, doing a medical show
is like visiting a foreign country. They're speaking strange words,
doing odd things.

Then there's Reshma Shetty; for her,
“Royal Pains” is familiar turf. “I grew up surrounded by
doctors and patients,” she said.

For that matter, very little seems
foreign in her global life. Her family roots are in India, but she
grew up in Manchester, England and Richmond, Va.; next came Lexington
and Cincinnati and New York.

That's where she works on “Royal
Pains,” set amid the wealth and beauty of the Hamptons. With the
departure of co-star Jill Flint, Shetty's character has grown. “She's
become the third leg of HankMed.”

The company was set up by Dr. Hank
Lawson (Mark Feuerstein) and his brother Evan (Paolo Costanzo).
They're often feuding, leaving Divya Katdare, a physician's
assistant, in the middle.

That's Shetty, in a role that fits her
easily. The only question is why she chose the illogical profession
of acting. “I do come from a very logical family,” she said.

Back in Manchester, medicine was
omnipresent. “Doctors live on the hospital grounds,” she said.

Still, there was a flip side to this.
“In England, there wasn't much to do when you were younger. I could
go out back and imagine …. I would do plays by myself.”

The family moved to Richmond and Shetty
eventually was a pre-med major at James Madison University in
Virginia. Still, she won singing competitions, which cinched things.
She got a Master of Music degree from the University of Kentucky,
then went to the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.

Here she was in the prestigious school
that had Kathleen Battle, Al Hirt, Faith Prince and Broadway's best.
“My class only had 12 people in it,” Shetty said. “Some of them
would debut at the Metropolitan Opera. (But) Cincinnati was a place
for other arts, as well.”

So she acted and sang, then starred in
the touring production of “Bombay Dreams,” the musical produced
by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Then came “Royal Pains” and a role that
keeps growing.

One plot element this season has had
Divya struggling with her wealthy parents. They didn't want her to
have a career; they wanted a pre-arranged marriage.

That seems to show up a lot in TV's
make-believe. “It's not as prevalent as people think,” said

In real life, she chose her own husband
(Deep Katdare, her “Bombay Dreams” co-star) and her career.
That's acting, where medicine feels kind of natural.

– “Royal Pains,” 9 p.m.
Wednesdays, USA Network, rerunning at midnight

– This week's episode (Aug.15) also
reruns at 10 a.m. Sunday and 6 a.m. Aug.22.


Summertime starpower: From Elvis to Kate to Warren William (?)

The whole notion of a summer "dog days" has disappeared from TV. Almost every network -- even CW -- is introducing something in August; TNT and USA are busy and HBO has television's best show ("The Newsroom").

Then there are the annual events -- "Shark Week" starts Monday (Aug. 13) on Discovery, "Summer Under the Stars" continues all month on Turner Classic Movies. Here's a story I sent to papers about TCM's month in general and Elvis night (Thursday, Aug. 16) in particular:


Amid the swarm of Hollywood actors,
which ones have really been movie stars?

Maybe Elvis Presley, who's known to
everyone; or Warren William, known to almost no one. Maybe quiet Gary
Cooper or noisy Anthony Quinn, intense Katharine Hepburn or nimble
Jack Lemmon.

All have upcoming nights on Turner
Classic Movies' “Summer Under the Stars.” That includes opposites
in many things, including acting talent. Some were:

– Strong actors from the beginning.
Making her first movie (after a flood of golden-age TV dramas), Eva
Marie Saint won an Oscar for “On the Waterfront”; it airs at noon

– Shaky, at first. Ava Gardner (Aug.
28) “was not a particularly good actress” at first, said TCM host
Robert Osborne; she became one.

– Deceptive. Gary Cooper (Aug. 26)
was a prime example, Osborne said. “I remember thinking, 'He's
terrific, but he's not doing anything.'” This was minimalism; “you
could see everything on his face.”

– Or unresolved. That's where Presley
– featured Aug. 16, on the 35th anniversary of his
death – fits.

“Elvis got offered some more
interesting things,” Osborne said. “But the Colonel (Tom Parker,
his manager) never let him do it.”

Stories vary, but Osborne is sure that
Presley could have done “The Defiant Ones” and the Barbra
Streisand remake of “A Star Is Born.” Parker said no or had huge
demands; the roles went to Tony Curtis (drawing an Oscar nomination)
and Kris Kristofferson.

Instead, Presley made films that he
(and critics) disliked. In one silly streak (8 a.m. to 2:45p.m. ET
Thursday), viewers will see “Kissin' Cousins,” “Girl Happy,”
“Harum Scarum” and “Double Trouble” – all from a
non-productive streetch of 1964-67.

Still, Presley had his good movies.
Osborne points to:

– “Elvis on Tour” (1972, 8 p.m.),
a concert film.

– “Jailhouse Rock” (1957, 9:45
p.m.). The music is by Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber, who had
earlier seen Presley take “Hound Dog” – their Big Mama
Thornton song – to the top of the charts.

– “Viva Las Vegas” (1964, 11:30
p.m.), “if for no other reason, because it has Ann-Margret,”
Osborne said. She even convinced producers to hire choreographer
David Winters and many of his students. The result had flash, flair
and Presley's biggest box-office take.

In pure name recognition, Presley may
be near the top of TCM's star list. Others are up there, including
Katharine Hepburn (Friday), Lemmon (Aug. 22) and Ingrid Bergman (Aug.

On the flip side, who was Warren
William? “He was this very handsome man who had this melodious
voice,: said Osborne (who, at 80, is a handsome man with an appealing
voice. “He was always cast opposite the best actresses.”

On Aug.30, viewers can see him opposite
Loretta Young, Claudette Colbert, Joan Blondell and more. That night,
at 1:15 a.m., he's Hollywood's first Perry Mason in “The Case of
the Howling Dog” (1934). It's no “Girl Happy,” but it's

– “Summer Under the Stars,”
Turner Classic Movies, through Aug. 31

– Each star featured for 24 hours,
starting at 6 a.m. ET.

– Ginger Rogers, today (Sunday, Aug.12); Deborah Kerr, Monday; James Cagney, Tuesday; Lillian
Gish, Wednesday; Elvis Presley, Thursday; Katharine Hepburn, Friday;
Freddie Bartholomew, Saturday; Eva Marie Saint, Sunday; Anthony
Quinn, Monday, Aug. 20; Kay Francis, Aug. 21; Jack Lemmon, Aug. 22;
Gene Kelley, Aug. 23; Irene Dunne, Aug. 24; Tyrone Power, Aug. 25;
Gary Cooper, Aug. 26; Jeanette MacDonald, Aug.27; Ava Gardner,
Aug.28; Ingrid Bergman, Aug. 29; Warren William, Aug. 30; James Caan,
Aug. 31.