A gifted "newcomer" ... who's been in show business for 20 years

You might have noticed my total lack of comment on the Emmy nominations or Wednesday's "So You Think You Can Dance."

That's because I'm currently trapped in a world in which the average age is 5.5 (or 6.7 if you count a golden retriever). My outside contacts have been limited.

To compensate, partly, here are a couple stories I sent to papers about exceptional shows airing this Sunday (July 17). Here's one:


For “Leverage,” this was a chance
to leap generations.

Sunday's episode has a World War II
veteran tell his story of love and loss. The young actors (Aldis
Hodge and Beth Riesgraf) then re-enact it, via flashbacks.

“We had a dynamic guest star, Danny
Glover,” Hodge said. “With someone as great as that, you want to
sit and hear him tell stories all day.”

Here was a a four-time Emmy nominee,
who turns 65 on July 22. Playing him in those flashbacks was Hodge,
25 and sort of a newcomer.

Or not. “I'm not new at all,” Hodge
said. “I don't feel new, because I've been doing this for 20

Really. By the time he was 10, Hodge
had done TV (“Sesame Street”), movies (“Die Hard With a
Vengeance”) and Broadway (the “Showboat” revival).

None of the jobs were imposing, partly
because of blissful ignorance. “I didn't know what Broadway was,”
he said. “(“Sesame Street”) was just a place where you go to
the set and play around.”

In racial terms, those jobs were
opposites: “Showboat” has a plot reflecting long-ago bias;
“Sesame” is a multi-hued world, where little red Elmo is played
by Kevin Clash, a large black man. Hodge befriended Clash and met a
show-business world where anything seems possible.

He was born in Camp Lejeune, the son of
two Marines. The family soon moved to New York; his brother Edwin
(one year older) also was in “Sesame,” “Showboat” and

There was more; Hodge remembers a
concert at 10. “I thought, man, this is something I want to do.”
He went on to master the clarinet and violin; he also designs
watches, paints and writes.

The acting roles continued, some
elaborate – he was “Voodoo” Tatum, the new quarterback on
“Friday Night Lights” – and some not. Hodge was going to a
21st-birthday dinner with his dad when he told him the
news: That day, he'd landed a regular roles as Alec on “Leverage.”

This lets him work with top directors –
including Frank Oz (Miss Piggy on “Sesame”) – while the
regulars step in and out of scams. It also gives him a budding
romance with Parker, played by Riesgraf.

That relationship has nudged along
slowly – one of the problems with being in a band of scam artists.
“These characters, at their core, are cynical and suspicious,”
said “Leverage” producer Dean Devlin.

But for those flashbacks, Hodge and
Riesgraf play two people in love while facing 1940s bias against
inter-racial relationships. For large chunks of the hour, romance

– “Leverage,” 9 p.m. Sundays,
TNT; reruns at 11

– The Danny Glover episode debuts
July 17; it reruns a week later, at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.


"Dance": A growing passion

Ashley Rich had a basic reason for learning to dance. "I was 3," she told reporters today. "It wasn't so much my interest as my mom's."

Chris Koehl had a stronger reason. "It started with me just trying to avoid reading."

From those modest starts, both soared. A few weeks ago, they had the best "So You Think You Can Dance" moment, a sensational jailhouse routine. "I definitely was excited when I got that," Rich said.

This week, they had to do the salsa -- a first-time experience for Koehl. They were soon ousted, as the show trimmed from 14 dancers to 12.

For Rich, 22, dance has dominated much of her life in California. For Koehl, 21, it emerged gradually in the Dallas suburb of Garland.

"I've always been crazy, active Chris," he said. Then his school had limited choices for an elective -- three book clubs, ballet or jazz dance.

His dyslexia limited that further. "I really, really did not want to do a book club."

Already starting to be interested in hip-hop, he added jazz. He became a dazzlign street dancer and auditioned three times for "Dance"; before this year's show started, he tried to learn other styles in a hurry. "It was a cram course. I would take an hour of ballroom every day, for six or seven days."

Unfortuntately, salsa wasn't one of the ballroom styles he studied. This week, "I walked in there kind of blind-eyed."

After the salsa number,  viewers put Koehl and Rich among the bottom three couples; then judges sent them home. Still, neither complained. "I think the judges know best," Rich said.

Besides, Koehl has faced a bigger problem with his dyslexia. "It was a big wall that I wasn't able to conquer for a long time .... Now, with the help of my family and friends, I've finally kind of knocked that wall down."





Sci fi flurry: Monday brings quirky fun

As I mentioned a couple blogs ago, this is a fine time for science-fiction fans. A great show ("Torchwood: Miracle Day") debuts tonight (Friday), a good one ("Alphas") debuts Monday -- the same day that two fun ones ("Eureka" and "Warehouse 13") return.

The new ones are dead-serious -- as is "Outcasts," on Saturdays -- but the returning ones add whimsy and charm. Here's a light story that I sent to papers, about those shows:


If you like a pat and predictable life,
here's a clue: Try not to be an actor on a Syfy Channel show.

“Sometimes, you open a script and you
go, 'Really? Like, really?'” said “Eureka” star Colin Ferguson.

Allison Scagliotti, the “Warehouse
13” co-star, knows the feeling. “I can be an elf, a mental
patient and a rock star, all in the same episode.”

Both shows illustrate some of that
Monday, in their season-openers.

There is Scagliotti, wailing away on
what is supposed to be Jimi Hendrix's guitar. At the very least, that
should put her several steps ahead of any of her friends who play
“Guitar Hero.”

And there are Ferguson and Salli
Richardson-Whitfield, with a quirk: On this episode of “Eureka” –
the most imaginative, high-tech show on TV – they're riding horses.

For Richardson-Whitfield, who had done
some riding in a couple previous roles, that was OK. “Luckily, I
was supposed to look ridiculous on the horse.”

Stunt riders did most of it anyway,
Ferguson said. “I did have the mean horse. He kept biting on me.”

Those shows now link with the new
“Alphas,” filling primetime Mondays with new science-fiction
drama. “Alphas” is dead-serious, but the others bring a quirky

“I love seeing what the props people
come up with,” Scagliotti said. Her warehouse, after all, is
supposed to be keeping everything from H.G. Wells' time machine to
Pandora's box.

And “Eureka”? That's a town filled
with science geniuses, with Allison Blake sometimes in charge.
“Somehow, through osmosis, I know every bit of science that
everyone else seems to know,” said Richardson-Whitfield, who plays

Ferguson plays the sheriff, in a show
where anything is possible. “They went in to the network and said,
'We want to go back in time, and then come back and change everything
and never address it.”

That offbeat approach also propels
“Warehouse 13” and was one of the appeals for Scagliotti.

She was still a teen-ager at the time,
fresh from a cable comedy, “Drake & Josh.” But she was also
“a big reader, always a bit of a geek.” Scagliotti (now tackling
“Atlas Shrugged”) knew some of the classic stories the warehouse
refers to.

She auditioned with the “alternative
clothes” that Claudia Donovan – computer geek with a dry wit –
would wear. When she got the role, bigger changes followed.

“I'd always had very boring and very
pedestrian brown hair,” Scagliotti said. “There are whole board
meetings on the south end of the NBC building, to deal with how an
actress' hair should look.”

Hers was clipped, given a quirky style
and dyed red. It's a look she's used to for half of each year.

That's when the cast is in Toronto for
filming. “It's hard for some of the people who have families,”
Scagliotti said, “but I, being an unattached 20-year-old, am happy
with it. I'm not No. 1 on the call sheet, so I usually have plenty of
time to myself.”

And when she does work, she might get
to wail a guitar or save a pyramid. It's a fun job.

Syfy Channel Mondays

– “Eureka,” 8 p.m; “Warehouse
13,” 9 p.m.; “Alphas,” 10 p.m.

– The “Alphas” opener, July 11,
is 90 minutes; after that, everything is 60 minutes


Dance: Another fine hip hopper is gone

Luck and life can change quickly on "So You Think You Can Dance."

Two or three weeks ago, Chris Koehl and Ashley Rich had the week's greatest dance number -- maybe the season's greatest. He was in jail, she was visiting and the bars became the ultimate dance prop.

And this week? They were voted to the bottom three by viewers, then ousted by judges. A few comments:

1) Voters have been unkind to alternatives this year, dispatching them to the bottom three. Before tonight, that included the only ballroom dancer, only tap dancer and half of the four hip-hoppers. Tonight, they did the rest, sending both surviving hip-hoppers (Koehl abd Tadd Gadduag) to the bottom.

2) That shouldn't be a problem, because hip-hoppers shine in solos. Judges, however, have seemed to simply ignore the solos. Koehl was great (as was Guaddag), but was ousted; on the female side, Jordan Casanova was merely OK, but was spared.

3) Maybe I should quit griping. There will only be one more week like this one, trimming the field from 12 to 10. Then the finalists get paired with "all-stars" and things get interesting.

4) I thought the opening number and the guest ballet number were so-so. However, the music act (Florence and the Machine) was great.

5) Now we know that Dance Day will be July 30, with three routines -- hard, medium and easy -- to choose from. Nigel Lythgoe feels that means there will be something for everyone. Alas, there really should be four -- hard, medium, easy and Mike.



Sci Fi fans: It's sort of a miracle

This really isn't what we expect in mid-summer.

We expect the TV doldrums -- reruns and reality and throw-away shows. Instead, we get a rich burst of science fiction.

The best news is "Torchwood: Miracle Day," a miracle of show. The first three episodes indicate that this comes close to the quality of "Torchwood: Children of the Earth," the best show of 2009. I'll put my preview story here in a minute.

There's much more sci-fi, all on cable:

-- Fridays: "Torchwood" debuts at 10 p.m. this week, with its compelling, 10-week story.

-- Saturdays: The new "Outcasts" (a pretty good, dead-serious drama) is 9 p.m. on BBC America, following reruns of the wonderful "Battlestar Galactica" series.

-- Mondays: On July 11, Syfy starts a three-show package. "Eureka" and "Warehouse 13" -- each bouncing between light human touches and stern sci-fi -- have season-openers at 8 and 9 p.m., followed by the debut of a sleek and sinewy show called "Alphas" at 10.

-- Also: On July 15, "Haven" starts its season. That's 10 p.m. Fridays ... which, is when we'll be watching the superb second episode of "Torchwood: Miracle Day." Here's the story I sent to papers:



At first, the plan seemed to violate
actor-ly logic.

Actors want to do more, not less; two
years ago, however, John Barrowman learned that his “Torchwood”
series would shrink. “We had gone from 13 episodes (a season) down
to five,” he said.

Could that possibly be a good thing?
Yes, actually; it propelled “Torchwood” to the top.

Now it's back with a new story, 10
episodes and epic expectations. And now this British series is set in
the U.S. “We admire the size and scale of stuff” here, said
Russell Davies, the “Torchwood” creator.

“Torchwood: Miracle Day” starts big
– “one day on Earth, no one dies,” Davies said – and then
grows. He promises a “massive, shattering climax.”

And yes, that's far from the show's
first years.

Davies revived and re-invented the
classic “Doctor Who” series in 2003, then used it to spin off
“Torchwood.” Captain Jack Harkness (Barrowman), unflappable and
immortal, probed odd events.

This was, Davies said,
“monster-of-the-week …. It was always slightly in “Doctor
Who”'s shadow.”

There were two such “Torchwood”
seasons on BBC Three, followed by the five-episode mini-series.

“Torchwood: Children of the Earth”
was complex and ambitious, with aliens demanding our offspring. It
won the BAFTA (British) award for best drama series, the Saturn
(sci-fi) award for best TV show, a Television Critics Association
nomination for best movie or miniseries and much praise. TV Guide's
Matt Roush called it “thrilling, chilling and unnerving.”

Now “Torchwood” is back, again
with a single, self-contained story. In a series, said actor Bill
Pullman, “you are kind of shooting the same bullet a lot …. But
this story is incredibly evolving.”

First we meet his character, who is “a
convicted murderer and a pedophile,” Pullman said. “I'm put
through lethal injections … and I live. That's the beginning.”

It's a crisis, Davies said. “The
Earth relies on people dying. That's how the whole system works.”

With conspirators inside the
government, Captain Jack needs a rogue unit. He has two British
colleagues – Gwen and her husband; they link with a computer whiz,
a doctor and a CIA agent – “very dedicated, very focused and …
kind of a cocky, arrogant guy,” said Mekhi Phifer, who plays him.

This was filmed in the U.S., giving Eve
Myles (who plays Gwen) her first chance to live here. “I had a
little meeting with a coyote,” she said. Her solution? “I threw
an orange at it.”

For the star, however, this is nothing
new. Barrowman is a Scottish native and a British TV star, but his
accent and background are mid-American.

He was 8 when his family moved to
Joliet, Ill., where his dad was vice-president of Caterpillar. There
was no culture shock, Barrowman insists. “It was more of an easy
adventure for me.”

The same happened in reverse, when he
left to study theater at a British school. It was supposed to be a
six-month course, but he promptly became a musical-comedy star – on
tour and on London's West End. Today, Barrowman and his partner
(architect Scott Gill) have homes in London, Los Angele and Cardiff,
Wales, where “Torchwood” used to be set. “It's beautiful here,”
he said, by phone from Cardiff.

Still, he can only be there part of the
year. The world needs to be saved again.

– “Torchwood: Miracle Day,” Starz

– 10 p.m. Fridays for 10 episodes,
starting July 8

– Reruns include 11 p.m. Fridays, 10
p.m. Sundays and Wednesdays