From ballet to belly: "Dance" adds variety

We're getting to the good part of "So You Think You Can Dance." The 20 finalists have had their first chances to impress viewers; next Wednesday (July 18), two will be sent home. Here's the story I sent to papers.



In some years, “So You Think You Can
Dance” has moved along like a disciplined chorus line.

There were performances one day,
eliminations the next. One person was dumped each week, until only a
few finalists – mostly short, slender kids specializing in
contemporary dance – remained.

And this year? “Hold your breath and
hang on tight, because it's going to be a very fast ride, and pretty
bumpy, too,” said Nigel Lythgoe, the show's creator and judge.
That's due to:

– Fox trimming the show to
Wednesdays-only. Lythgoe wants to stuff all the usual elements –
including group numbers and guest-star performances – into a
tighter space.

– Format changes. This is the first
year with two winners, male and female; each week will oust
one of each.

– And more variety among the

The show is sometimes dominated by
heavily trained contemporary dancers. They “are a little bit more
well-rounded physically and technically,” said choreographer Mia

Still, she said, they also can have a
common drawback. “They're so reliant on … the perfection of
technique and not really about the personalities.”

At times, Lythgoe said, it all seems
too precise. “There's something about formally trained dancers that
beats them around (and takes out) a little bit of heart and passion.”

For the show, one solution is to have
more variety. Only half this year's 20 finalists list contemporary, jazz or modern dance as
their main specialty. There are three ballet dancers and three
ballroom dancers; there's a belly dancer, a step-dancer and guys who
lean to “robotics” and “martial arts fusion.”

After choreographing all 20 for a
number, Michaels singled out two of the ballet people for praise. One
is Daniel Baker, 24, an Australian; the other is Eliana Girard, 21,
from Florida. “She's emotional and she's powerful and her work
ethic is amazing.”

Any variety is helpful, in a field
leaning toward sameness. Michaels found that in her dance days:

For starters, she's 5-foot-11. Many
female dancers have barely topped 5-foot; men haven't been a lot

“It takes much more power to move a
taller body around,” Michaels said. “But when a taller dancer
gets it together, it's so gorgeous …. Tommy Tune (6-foot-6) and a
few people were so massively gorgeous in length.”

She also didn't fit the mode in another
way: “I was always a thicker girl; I've always dealt with a weight
issue (so) I never really got the chance to dance professionally.

“I remember the key moment: It was
one of those auditions where they were like, 'You know, you'll never
dance, because of your body.' And I remember just at that point
going, 'OK, then fine. I will make my own world of dance.' And that's
kind of what I did.”

It's what “Dance” tries. People
with mismatched specialties are thrown together as instant partners.
Choreographers adapt routines for their varied skills; dancers try to
learn quickly. “You have to click into the speed and the
intensity,” Michaels said.

It can be dazzling; it can also be a
fast and bumpy ride.

– “So You Think You Can Dance,”
8-10 p.m. Wednesdays, Fox

– Viewers had their first vote July
11, after the 20 finalists perform as duos.

– On July 18, dancers will perform
again. Then the bottom three men and bottom three women from the
previous week will be announced. They'll solo for the judges, who
will eliminate one of each



Pawn shop: Try not to mix business with pleasure

This is definitely a week when we're glad we remembered to pay the cable bill. In previous blogs, I talked about the scripted shows -- "The Closer," "Perception," "White Collar," "Covert Affairs." Now let's peek at one reality show, "Hardcore Pawn," which returns Tuesday (July 10); here's the story I sent to papers:


Like most of us, Les Gold can be
tempted to buy a fancy car or a glitzy toy.

Unlike most, such temptation can roll
into his workplace at any time. That's a pitfall of owning a pawn
shop. “You have to tale the emotion out of it,” Gold said.

Or have someone else intervene. In the
season-opener of “Hardcore Pawn,” he covets a mega-truck; his son
Seth tries to pry him away.

Sometimes, emotion wins. One couple won
a 2009 re-creation of a classic Mustang in a raffle. “I knew that
was something I would want as my personal car,” Gold said.

After all, he's 61 and grew up in
Detroit in a time when Mustangs and muscle cars ruled. He's been a
fan of the city's cars and its people. “Detroiters are very tough
and very resilient,” he said.

He's also a fan of pawn shops as a
family business. “I made my first sale when I was 7.” His
daughter Ashley waited until she was 9, he said.

It's a misunderstood business, Gold
said, basically a loan shop. Most people – about 90 per cent –
merely pawn something instead of selling it; most are back in a month
to reclaim it. Michigan limits the interest rate to three-percent a
month; others states, he said, soar as high as 20 percent.

His grandfather had a Detroit pawn
shop, where Gold's mom learned the business. “My mother was a very
tough character. You have to be tough. I think that's what Ashley has

Gold opened his own shop in 1978, moved
it to its current spot in 1993 and bought a shop in nearby Pontiac in
2011. There have been surprises along the way, including:

– His kids: “I was sure Ashley
would be in the business, but I never thought Seth would.” Seth
seemed headed to medical school at the University of Michigan, then
reversed; now he's general manager.

– Ashley's life: “When she went to
the Eli Broad College of Business, I never imagined that some day
she'd be married to Eli's cousin.” Now she's Ashley Broad, related
by marriage to the philanthropist who has created art centers (UCLA
and Michigan State University) and the MSU business school.

– The TV show, which became the
biggest ratings-getter for TruTV. “Hardcore Pawn” debuted less
than two years ago (after airing a couple of pilots), but is now
starting its sixth “season” and 69th episode.

That first episode focused on some of
the oddities that reach a pawn shop – a stripper pole, a forklift,
a boat, even a horse. Such things have continued to be a key feature.

People have tried (sometimes
successfully) to sell a Hummer, a hearse, a go-kart, a party bus and
a semi-trailer truck. They've brought in magic tricks and a strait
jacket. They've had a 1947 sex manual, a stag-film collection, a “sex
swing”and a cake designed to house a stripper. Also an alligator.

“Hardcore Pawn” also highlights
moments of anger. Sometimes, that involves the staff – Rich Pyle
raged at Gold in last season's finale, but returns in the opener –
and sometimes the customers. For the latter, Gold has some massive
security guards.

“For security guys, size really does
matter,” he said. “But you'll notice that I didn't wait for them;
I was running out there myself.”

He was. When a customer verbally
attacked Ashley Broad, her dad – a tautly built grandfather – was
rushing after him. It's all part of the pawn-shop world.

– “Hardcore Pawn,” 9 p.m.
Tuesdays, TruTV

– Season-opener airs July 10; it
reruns that night at 1 a.m., then at noon Saturday and 8:30 p.m. July

– Frequent reruns of other episodes.
There are marathons on July 10 (8-11 p.m., midnight to 1:30 a.m.),
July 14 (8-11 p.m., midnight to 1:30 a.m.) and July 15 (4:30-9 p.m.).



Cable's big week: Two more scripted dramas

The broadcast networks keep filling the summer with reality shows and avoiding scripted ones. With a few exceptions -- two well-made Canadian shows (NBC's "Saving Hope," ABC's "Rookie Blue") on Thursdays, leftovers of CBS' "NYC 22" on Saturdays -- the big networks have no new, scripted episodes.

Fortunately, cable fills the gap. On Monday (see previous blogs), TNT returned "The Closer" and debuted the terrific "Perception." Tonight (Tuesday, July 10), USA starts the seasons for "White Collar" and "Covert Affairs." Here's the story I sent papers on Tim DeKay and "White Collar":


When a camera is in your face,
everything seems to change.

Less is more; almost-nothing is almost
perfect. Just ask Tim DeKay, whose “White Collar” is back.

“It took me a long time to realize
that,” he said. “In theater, your job is to share with the

When you're being filmed, however, you
don't want to overshare. There's no need to project a big gesture;
one actor told him: “All you have to do is think it.”

And now “White Collar” revolves
around a micro-gesture by his character, FBI agent Peter Burke.
Surrounded by other Feds, he had to subtly signal Neal Caffrey: Don't
come any closer; run away.

Neal ran, wrapping up last season. In
the two-part season-opener, he's on an island that has beaches,
beauties and (most importantly) no extradition treaty.

Both hours were filmed in Puerto Rico.
“It's fantastic,” said DeKay, 49. “You get to be on a beautiful
island, with all the people you enjoy working with.”

They captured a gorgeous, beach world –
far different from his roots in Ithaca, New York.

Tall (6-2-and-a-half) and athletic,
DeKay played basketball and baseball, envisioning a life as a
major-league pitcher. That notion “vanished pretty quickly” when
he got to Le Moyne College in Syracuse and saw the level of

Fresh from college, he worked for a
casket company in Syracuse, doing community theater on the side. “I
found myself doing so many plays – building sets, acting,

So he quit a job he liked and became a
theater grad student at Rutgers. There, he found a love of theater in
general and of his acting-class scene-partner in particular; they
married and have two children.

And his baseball hopes? In two TV
series (“Carnivale” and “White Collar”), DeKay has played
former baseball pros. He even got to direct one episode with scenes
in Yankee Stadium.

In “White Collar,” he plays an FBI
guy who captures Neal (Matt Bomer), a master thief, then becomes his
friend and mentor. “When I read the pilot script, I felt the crux
of it was on how deep their relationship was.”

It's become a strong friendship. These
guys would follow each other to the ends of the Earth … or, in this
case, to a beautiful island.

– “White Collar.” 9 p.m.
Tuesdays, USA; followed at 10 by “Covert Affairs”

– Third season starts with a
two-parter, July 10 and 17

– The season-opener reruns at 11 a.m.
Satuday (July 14), 11:24 p.m. Sunday and 6 a.m. July 17


Cable is boomig, but Kyra is leaving

Tonight (Monday, July 9) is a boom time for TNT's scripted dramas. "The Closer" returns at 9 p.m., starting its final six episodes; then comes the debut of the terrific "Perception."

My previous blog has the story I sent to papers on Eric McCormack and "Perception"; here's the one I sent on Kyra Sedgwick and "The Closer."


These are visions of cool confidence:
Brenda Johnson striding into an interrogation room … Kyra Sedgwick
striding into a role,

Brenda is the lead character in “The
Closer,” which is now returning for its final six episodes.
Sedgwick is the actress who seems to play her so effortlessly.

So it's interesting to see tiny cracks
in Brenda's world … and to hear of ones (long ago) in Sedgwick's.

Brenda, Los Angeles' deputy police
chief, has been facing intense investigations. “In the last year,
she's had doubts about the choices she's made,” Sedgwick said.

Adding to that are deep tragedies
involving the health of her parents. “It gives you so much more to
play off,” Sedgwick said.

And for Sedgwick's own life? On the
surface, it seems to have always been blessed and breezy.

Sedgwick is descended from people who
signed the Declaration of Independence, started Groton School, owned
and edited Atlantic Monthly. Her mother was a speech teacher and
family therapist, her father was a venture capitalist, her
step-father was an art dealer.

She went to good colleges (Sarah
Lawrence, University of Southern California), also becoming a soap
star at 16. She married well; next year, she and Kevin Bacon have
their 25th anniversary.

Her world was broadened by the years at
the Friends Academy. Her own roots aren't Quaker, but she admired the
concepts. “The philosophy was that God is with all of us, that you
have something to say.”

Still, she recalls somber moods. “I
was sort of a complex, sad child,” Sedgwick said.

There was no specific reason, but you
could include divorce (she was 4 when her parents separated, 6 when
they divorced) and high expectations. Not yet a teen-ager, Sedgwick
was already being asked what she was going to do with her life. “I
was in this point where I needed a creative outlet.”

And then, at 12, she found acting. “It
was like joy – pure joy.”

She obsessed on it, in school and
beyond. At 16, she became the first Julia Shearer on “Another
World.” After college, she did two PBS “American Playhouse”
films,“The Wide Net” and “Lemon Sky” (where she met Bacon).
She did movies and starred in TV's Emmy-winning “Miss Rose White.”

Sedgwick and Bacon lived in the East,
flying off to roles. Then came the script for “Closer,” which
would be filmed in California.

“I said, 'Kev, I think it's great,
but I can't do it.' He said, 'Why not? We'll make it work.'”

They did, for seven years. She spent
half of each year in Los Angeles, focusing on the work; he watched
the kids (now 23 and 20), sometimes flying out there.

“The Closer” piled most of the
drama onto Brenda. “We used a single character to refract all the
points of view …. She acted as a prism,” said James Duff, the
show's creator.

It was an ideal blend of actress and
role. Sedgwick won an Emmy and Golden Globe; for five-straight years,
she drew best-actress nominations in both and frothe Screen Actors

As her contract expired, Sedgwick
decided this would be the final season. That impacts:

– Her co-stars. They move directly to
a show that starts Aug.13, as soon as this ends. “'Major Crimes'
picks up where 'The Closer' leaves off,” said Michael Wright, head
of TNT and TBS programming.

– Her family life. As soon as
Sedgwick ended her series, Bacon landed “The Following,” an
ambitious show that will start mid-season on Fox.

Now these two Easterners are becoming
part of Los Angeles. “We bought a house there, after renting for
seven years,” Sedgwick said. She'll keep bouncing between two
homes, two coasts, two lives. It's a natural extension of that “pure
joy” she first found in acting.

– “The Closer” returns July 9 for
its final six episodes; 9 p.m. Mondays, TNT

– That episode reruns at 11:02 p.m.,
then at 11 a.m. Saturday (July 14) and 8 p.m. July 16

– Other episodes rerun at 2 p.m.



Cable's big night: "Perception"

This is a huge night for TNT and a big week for cable dramas in genteral. Here's the story I sent to papers on Eric McCormack and "Perception," which I think is the best of the bunch. Next, I'll pust the story I sent onf Kyra Sedgwick and "The Closer."


Eric McCormack manages to inhabit
multiple worlds.

He's a Canadian and an American. In one
country, he's thrived in Toronto, Vancouver and Stratford; in the
other, he's done Broadway and Hollywood. He's done comedy and drama,
Shakespeare and a cowboy show; he's a straight guy, best-known for
playing a gay guy on “Will & Grace.”

Now comes another crossover: On TNT's
“Perception,” McCormack plays Daniel Pierce, whose mind drifts
helpfully between the real and the imagined.

On one level, Pierce is your typically
offbeat crime-solver. “There's a light side, a fun side,”
McCormack said. “And there's fear and paranoia. You mix all of that

He's a neuroscience professor who
blurts out his thoughts. “He's abrasive,” McCormack said. “He
doesn't suffer fools. He can be as sharp as (TV's Dr. House) can be.”

His mind is powerful, but his
imagination intrudes. “It makes him extremely empathetic to other
people who suffer from psychiatric and neurological conditions,”
said Ken Biller, the “Perception” co-creator.

Biller and Mike Sussman created a
crimesolving professor whose imagination can, like a helpful dream,
be a way his sub-conscious nudges him. “His brain is like his best
friend and his worst enemy,” McCormack said.

And that means another huge acting
chore, which he seems to enjoy.

McCormack recalls savoring theater
since 1st or 2nd grade. In high school, he
starred in the “Godspell” and “Pippin” musicals. His parents
(his dad was a financial analyst for Shell) were supportive. Next
came a college theater degree, some advanced studies and then
Canada's prestigious Stratford Shakespeare Festival. “I started
with just the spear-carrier roles …. The most interesting times
were reading new works,” McCormack said.

Better roles came slowly. In “Fifty
Seasons at Stratford” (Madison Press Books, 2002), Robert Cushman
wrote of a “Three Sisters” production: “Eric McCormack, then a
small-part Stratford juvenile of four years' standing, had his first
well-taken break as a funny-pathetic Baron Tusenbach.”

McCormack stayed at Stratford a fifth
year, then jumped into the surge of Vancouver film production. He did
American and Canadian shows; he co-starred in the series version of
“Lonesome Dove.” He moved to Los Angeles – he now has dual
citizenship – and eventually landed “Will & Grace.”

He won an Emmy for the role and was
nominated three more times. Playing Will became easy for him; playing
a neuroscientist was not.

“I said to Ken, 'Can we just make
this guy a gay lawyer? It might be a little less work for me,”
McCormack joked. “But he was insistent.”

So the work began. McCormack visited
scientists at UCLA and the University of British Columbia. He met
Elyn Saks, a University of Southern California professor and
associate dean “who wrote a fantastic book” about her own periods
of schizophrenia.

He found that the worlds of reality and
imagination can be varied – and can be lead to good drama.

– “Perception,” 10 p.m. Mondays,
TNT; opener is July 9, after the 9 p.m. return of “The Closer”

– Opener reruns at 12:02 a.m.; then
at 9 a.m. Saturday (July 14) and on Sunday night (technically, Monday
morning) at 12:10 a.m.