A wild way to find love

No, all reality shows -- even all dating shows -- weren't created equal. Some have been awful, but "Love in the Wild" -- which starts its second season tonight (Tuesday, June 5) -- was quite good last summer. It's even better, now that Jenny McCarthy is the host; here's the story I sent to papers:


Sure, dating looks like fun when you
see it on soap operas and hair-product commercials.

Still, there's a flaw to it. Just ask
Jenny McCarthy, who speaks from what she calls “this wonderful
journey of dating hell I've been on.”

These days, McCarthy hosts NBC's “Love
in the Wild,” which moves romance to the jungles and beaches. In
some ways, she said, that works better than back home, where no one
seems real.

“It takes a long time to kind of
break that fake self,” McCarthy said. “I say you send out 'your
representative' when you first start dating, and that representative
is selling you.”

Such pretenses can vanish on the show
as people start “cliff diving, jumping ropes with snakes, having to
carry tarantulas …. It's like 'Fear Factor' and 'Survivor' all
combined in the same soup.”

Along the way, young singles choose and
un-choose partners. The top two couples from the first season are
still together, McCarthy said; the winners of the second (already
filmed) seem cozy.

McCarthy is sort of an expert on many
issues involving romance and/or sex appeal. She was a Playboy
centerfold at 20, a big stretch for someone from a blue-collar
Catholic family in Chicago. She went on to be Playmate of the Year ….
and has a new photo spread in the edition that comes out June 29,
four months before she turns 40.

She was married for five years to John
Asher, an actor (“Weird Science”) and director (“One Tree
Hill”), then was with Jim Carrey for five years. Lately, she's been
dating Brian Urlacher, the all-pro Chicago Bear linebacker.

During the four weeks of filming
“Love,” however, any romance was on hold. There were words to
memorize. “It's not like I can drag a Teleprompter to the jungle.”

The first season of the show had worked
quite well, but the second brought changes, including:

– Occasional twists. The first
episode, linking strangers, put each woman with two men; after that,
theshow reverts to couples.

– McCarthy taking over as host. “I
wanted to add a little bit more of what I did on 'Singled Out' (her
old MTV show). I kind of messed with them like a big sister would.”

– Prettier settings. The first year
was in the Costa Rican jungle; the second is in the Dominican
Republic, “which is still known for its jungles, but the beaches
there are just breathtaking.”

She lived there for a month with her
son Evan, who is 10 and has shown autism-type symptoms. “Evan fell
in love with the island, I fell in love with the culture and I had a

While watching others fall in and out
of love, she avoided romance. “Then I made out with somebody at the
wrap party,” she joked.

Besides, McCarthy said she wouldn't
literally make love in the wild. “I'm a traditional girl. If
there's not a bed there, you're probably not going to get it.”

– “Love
in the Wild,” NBC

p.m. Tuesdays, except for the two-hour season-opener at 9 p.m. June 5



Movie memories are faster now

Remember when it would take decades before a movie would be considered a classic, suitable for memorabilia?

It's all faster now; "Hunger Games" is still in theaters, but people are already talking about buying collectibles, taking fan tours ... or buying the entire town of District 12.

That's all part of the world of Joe Maddalena and "Hollywood Treasure," which has its "Hunger Games" episode Tuesday (June 5). Here's the story I sent to papers:


Joe Maddalena had figured his life
goal. “I wanted to be the voice of the Dodgers,” he said.

He was well-qualified. He had education
(studying broadcasting at Pepperdine University in Malibu) and
passion; he had organized his first baseball-card show at 12, owned a
million cards by 14.

Then people explained the flaw in his
plan: The Dodgers already had a sportscaster (Vin Scully) who
wouldn't be leaving soon; Maddalena went to an alternate career,
dealing collectibles.

The result? Scully is still there at
84, in his 63rd year with the Dodgers; Maddalena, at 50,
has belatedly started his broadcasting career.

“Hollywood Treasure” is in its
second season, watching him handle TV and movie memories. That has
included the ruby slippers from “Wizard of Oz,” the General Lee
car from “Dukes of Hazzard,” Robby the Robot from “Forbidden
Planet” – and a “Hunger Games” town.

“I read that District 12 was for
sale,” Maddalena said. “I knew I had to see that.”

On sale was a North Carolina ghost
town, Henry River Mill Village. The last person had moved out in
1987, but 20 buildings remained. After it was the setting of District
12 in the movie “Hunger Games,” the owner put the 72 acres for
sale for $1.4 million.

But what about the artifacts
themselves? “I found that they sold them all to a guy named Chuck,
who owned a bowling alley and an auction house.”

That became the June 5 episode of
“Hollywood Treasure,” a sign of changes in media memories.

“We are so instantly barraged by
information,” Maddalena said. It once took decades for something to
become a classic; now he's visiting “Hunger Games” artifacts
while the movie is still in theaters. This season, he visits the
house from the first year of “American Horror Story,” before the
second begins.

His own passion began in Rhode Island,
where his parents were antique dealers. Maddalena liked their work,
but also recognized the value of saving pop-culture memories. “You
can go anywhere in the world and people will be familiar with it.”

Whatever played at the local movie
theater was important. So was the annual TV showing of “Wizard of
Oz” … and whatever was new at the comic-book store. “It was
tactile. If you bought a comic book, you held it up and smelled it.”

Today, his main business involves
history – letters from Washington and Lincoln and such – but he's
also deep into the world of ruby slippers, talking robots and hunger

– “Hollywood Treasure,” 10 p.m.
Tuesdays, Syfy, rerunning at midnight

– “Hunger Games” episode is June
5; also reruns late Sunday night, at 3:30 a.m. Monday



TV chefs: The good life at the dinner table

Amid the swirl of TV cooking shows, there's one to hate ("Hell's Kitchen") and many to like (especially "MasterChef").

The chefs themselves, however, are thoroughly likable. The good times around dinner tables seems to have served them well. Here's the story I sent to papers, timed to the start of this summer's "MasterChef":


For many people, meal time is merely
OK. We have it – quickly and casually – quite often.

And for some, it's much more. “It
becomes a part of life,” said Joe Bastianich, one of the
“MasterChef” judges. “It's when you interact with other
people; it's a key part of your existence.”

Especially for the Bastianichs. Joe has
co-founded more than a dozen restaurants, many of them with his
mother Lidia. He has four wineries; she has a food line. Both write
books; both do TV:

For Joe, it's “MasterChef” on Fox;
for Lidia, it's PBS – “Lidia's Italy” and now “Lidia
Celebrates America.” Both savor what she calls “this magnet that
pulls family and people together.”

And occasionally, famous oursiders drop
in. Consider:

– Graham Elliot, a fellow
“MasterChef” judge. In 2010, his Chicago restaurant was chosen
for Barack Obama's birthday. Guests included Rahm Emanuel (now
Chicago's mayor) and Oprah Winfrey.

– Lidia Bastianich. In New York, she
was in charge of preparing a dinner for Pope Benedict XVI and 50
cardinals. It was a striped bass (this was a Friday), she said, with
a hardy vegetable soup.

“He has a sort of a guardian, if you
will,” Lidia said. “So I was pouring the soup out and (the aide)
said, 'Oh, that's too much.'”

“I said, 'No, the Pope has been
traveling. He needs to eat.' And he ate the whole thing.”

These chefs don't spend all of their
time with popes and presidents, of course. “MasterChef” gives
judges a peek at the regional food choices of blue-collar America.

Last year, it was alligator; they were
not fans. This year, they ate python; “it was gross,” Joe said.

They also ate squirrel, which tasted a
bit like rabbit; Elliot admired the effort involved. “You can't
always go down to your grocery store when you want food. You have to
shoot it, clean it, cook it.”

Even for experts, there will be gaps.
“I don't love Cajun cooking,” Joe Bastianich granted.

It helps, of course, if you've traveled
the world. For Gordon Elliot, that came because his dad was in the
Navy. He went to 15 schools on three continents. “It makes you more
open-minded,” he said. “You're eager to hear the stories.”

Lidia Bastianich is also much-traveled,
but not by choice. She grew up in an Italian region that had been
taken over by Yugoslavia. She was 9 when her family fled to Italy, 11
when it came to the U.S.

All of this, she said, created a
longing for the people back home. “I never said goodbye to my
grandmother, because you didn't tell a child that you were leaving;
it was dangerous …. I longed for her and food was my connection.”

She created Italian-style restaurants,
where her kids grew up. “Restaurants look like fun to a kid, (but)
I told them, 'No, you're in America. You have to get an education.'”

So her daughter got a doctorate in
Renaissance art and researches her books and shows; her son graduated
from prep school and Boston College and became a Merrill Lynch

That's Joe, who wouldn't stay on Wall
Street for long. He returned to the world of food, wine and people
taking their time around a table. “I'm a lucky guy,” he said.

– “MasterChef,” 9 p.m. Mondays
and Tuesday, Fox.

– In the two-part opener, June 4-5,
judges meet 100 contestants and choose 18 finalists

– “Lidia Celebrates America”
specials appear occasionally on PBS; also, “Lidia's Italy” reruns

Yes, it's Detroit rising

Great bursts of idealism ripple through "Motor City Rising," the cable series that runs on the first three Fridays in June. You'll find even more optimism talking to some of the people involved. I met some of them in Detroit (logically enough) and others in Los Angeles; here's the story I sent to papers: 


Nina Friday's first notion of Detroit
was searing. “I thought it was almost post-apocalyptic,” she

The young Russian rocker got that
impression first-hand, when visiting a hard-hit neighborhood. Others
get that same viewpoint mostly through rumor.

Adrienne Williams recalls telling other
artists where she works: “They'll be: 'Detroit? Really?'”

Yes, really. And the cable series”Motor
City Rising” may convince some non-believers.

Williams and Friday are both in
“Rising”; so is Treger Strasberg, who could live anywhere.

She was in Miami when her husband
weighed possible jobs in New York, Los Angeles and more. While he was
being interviewed in Detroit, she reluctantly strolled through nearby

The result? ”I told him, 'I hope your
interview went well, because we're living here.'”

It did go well. Rob Strasberg is chief
creative officer (in “Mad Men terms, the Don Draper guy) of Doner,
a giant ad agency in Southfield. Treger helps Detroiters moving from
homeless shelters; she designs interiors and provides furnishings –
“you'd be surprised what people throw away” – for free.

These people seem to have little in
common. Still, all of them – from Friday, with her red hair and
tattoos to Strasberg, suitable for an upscale fashion magazine –
are part of “Rising.” So is Sean Forbes, who makes sign-language
music videos … and Garnett Mims, who has fitness program … and
Kyle Kentala, a DJ who also skates with the Detroit Derby Girls…
and Will and Julius Smith, twin artists.

Most are young and artistic. Some
(Kentala, Strasberg, Friday) moved to the Detroit area; others grew
up there. Some (Williams, Mims, the Smiths) are black, others are
white. All see opportunity.

“We can do whatever we want to,”
said Williams, a photographer. “If we wanted to shoot a film … at
2 in the morning, we could do it without any budget, without any cops
bothering us.”

Elsewhere, she said, graffiti artists
are fined; in Detroit, they're an asset. “Artists from New York,
(Los Angeles) and Chicago are flocking to Detroit …. That's a
beautiful canvas to start with.”

And a large one. “We have housing for
two million people and we have 713,000,” said Gary Brown, president
pro-tem of the Detroit City Council. “We can (drop to) 650,000, if
it's managed well.”

That brings new space for artists and
others to live and work on a budget. “You can buy blocks in Detroit
for literally thousands of dollars,” said Joel Martin, a music
producer who has ranged from Forbes to Eminem. “It's creating
opportunities that were unheard of.”

Forbes compares it to “the Bronx when
the hip-hop movement started”; Martin compares it to “the pioneer
days, where you can stake a claim.” Here are two examples:

– When her family's fortunes
collapsed with the Soviet economy, Nina Friday fled to Western
Michigan University in Kalamazoo, to study linguistics. She was 19
and “living from floor to floor,” selling her artwork and singing
in a band.

That's how she ended up in a Detroit
show. “I was sort of mesmerized,” recalls Rick Lappin, then the
lead singer of the Ruiners. She ignored his advances, which he finds
understandable considering his show: “I had set myself on fire and
stripped down to a loincloth.”

Years later, after escaping a bad
boyfriend, they met again. Now they're married and she's the lead
singer of The Ruiners, part of Detroit on the rise.

– Treger Strasberg's first
impressions were in Birmingham, where she now lives. “The first
night, the neighbors on either side brought pie.”

Soon, she was just as impressed by
Detroiters and launched her project for women emerging from shelters:
She designs their home-decor and gets the furnishings, from donations
and more. “Many times, we'll be driving along and she'll see
something on the curb and say, 'Pull over,'” Rob said.

The results work, Treger said. In other
cases, the majority of women eventually return to shelters. “We've
done 115 homes and only two have gone back.”

– “Motor City Rising,” 10 p.m.
for three Fridays beginning June 1, Ovation cable channel

I'm still stranded

Everything turned out fine and I finally got off the S.S. Badger story, after the ship was stranded -- a few feet from my home state of Wisconsin -- Thursday for four hours and 20 minutes. Here's the story I sent:


ABOARD THE BADGER – On its first
voyage of the season, the S.S. Badger stranded its passengers for
hours, a few feet from shore.

“This is not an auspicious start,”
said Hugh Hornstein of Muskegon, making his annual opening-day trip
on the ship.

The Badger left Ludington with
considerable fanfare, including politicians, company officials and
Miss Ludington (Jodi Beckman). It held more than 300 passengers, plus
vehicles ranging from a 150-foot semi-truck to the “Baby Badger”
mini-train for kids.

It made it to Manitowac, Wisc., shortly
after the scheduled time of noon CT – but then stopped a few feet
from shore. Announcements said the starboard engine had failed, so
the ship couldn't be docked; they also said tugboats would arrive in
about two hours.

One tug, theWilliam C. Selvick, did
arrive at about 3:20 p.m. CT, ut made little initial progress pushing
the massive ship. By 3:45 p.m. CT, the Badger was being nudged toward
an arrival that would be about four hours late.

A welcoming party had been waiting on
shore. The Badger had free food for people willing to wait in long

Its people resumed “Badger bingo”
and kept up their cheery countenance. “We hang out a little
longer,” Beckham, 20, of Shelby, said with a queenly grin. At that
point, she had been wearing her crown for seven hours; it was, she
said, her first trip on the Badger.