Getting ready for the Grammys

Long ago, the Grammys people learned they could create events -- reunions, comebacks, special pairings, more.

Now that's become an artform. Here's a box -- not a full Grammys story, but a helpful guide -- that I sent to papers:



In the final days before this year's
Grammys telecast, producers were still piling on new touches.

They added a Beach Boys reunion, a
dance-music number and more performers and preenters. Here's an update:

– The telecast: 8-11 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 12),
CBS; LL Cool J hosts.

– Before that: Two cable channels –
E and the TV Guide Channel – will be on the red carpet from 6-8
p.m. Also, CBS' “60 Minutes” (7 p.m.) includes an interview with

– The reunion: The surviving Beach
Boys will perform together for the first time in more than 20 years.
That includes three men who started the group in 1961 – Brian
Wilson, Mike Love and Al Jardine; it also includes Bruce Johnston,
who joined in '65 and David Marks, who briefly replaced Jardine in
'62. (Two other originals, Dennis and Carl Wilson, died in 1983 and
'98, respectively.) For the Grammys, they'll perform with Maroon 5
and Foster The People.

– More nostalgia: In the early stages
of Alzheimer's disease, Glen Campbell is doing both a tour and an
album. At the Grammys, he'll perform with Blake Shelton and The Band

– Comeback: This will be Adele's
first live performance since laser surgery on her vocal chord. She
wasn't away for long: Her current album has three No. 1 singles and
six Grammy nominations.

– Another large-scale number: Dance
and “electronica” will be spotlighted in a number with Chris
Brown,David Guetta, Lil Wayne, Deadmau5 and the Foo Fighters.

– The duets: It will be Alicia Keys
with Bonnie Raitt, Jason Aldean with Kelly Clarkson, Rihanna with
Coldplay. And fresh from his second duets album, Tony Bennett, 85,
sings with Carrie Underwood, 28.

– Also performing: Bruce Springsteen,
Katy Perry, Paul McCartney, Nicki Minaj, Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift,
Diana Krall and Maceo Parker. Two of the final performers added were
Joe Walsh – who already had six Grammys – and The Civil Wars,
this year's enigma. It has only done an independent album, “Barton
Hollow,” but drew Grammy nominations for best folk album and best
country duo or group.

– Just presenting: This includes
Fergie, Marc Anthony, Ringo Starr, Reba McEtire, Diana Ross, Drake
and Common, plus country's Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley and Lady
Antebellum. Also presenting will be Ryan Seacrest and actors Taraji
B. Henson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jack Black.


Wolk is back; that's good news

Last season, I was proclaiming James Wolk to be TV's next big star.

Others were, too. There was one problem: His show, "Lone Star," was pulled semi-instantly

Now Wolk is back, guesting on "Happy Endings" beginning tonight (Wednesday, Feb. 8). It's only for three episodes -- but hey, that's one more than the number of "Lone Star" episodes that aired. Here's the story I sent to papers:


So there was James Wolk, properly
prepped for big-time stardom.

He'd gone from a triumphant TV movie
(“Front of the Class”) to the lead role in a series (“Lone
Star”). TV Guide invoked the names George Clooney and Cary Grant
and the phrase “a star is born.”

And then? “Lone Star” was canceled
after two episodes. “It's a very humbling experience,” he said.

Now, 16 months later, Wolk has key
roles in three episodes of “Happy Endings,” the ABC comedy. “It's
a real joy to go to work and kind of play with these guys on set and
use a different skill set,” he said.

Everything is different this time,
including the sexuality. In “Lone Star,” he had separate lives –
diffferent cities, different names – with a wife and a girlfriend;
in “Happy Endings,” his romance is with Max (Adam Pally).

That was an easy transition for Wolk,
who had just played a gay role in a play. “It has to not be
different” than a heterosexual role, he said. “The moments have
to be real.”

Except now there's humor. “You don't
want to (be) the person who sucks the comedy out of anything.”

Fun was the starting points for Wolk,
when he was growing up in Farmington Hills, Mich. His mom was an
artist; his dad owned Sundance Shoes in another Detroit suburb, West
Bloomfield. His parents showed him old Jimmy Durante and “Rat Pack”
comedies; performing was a natural.

So Wolk did community theater and
school shows. “I had some really great high school theater
directors who inspired me,” he said. Next came the prestigious
University of Michigan theater school.

In 2008, a year out of school, he did
“Front of the Class,” the true story of a passionate teacher with
Tourette's syndrome. The Hollywood Reporter called his work
“brilliant, convincing and consistent”; USA Today praised “a
moving, convincing star turn by the virtually unknown Jimmy Wolk.”

That was followed by a failed pilot
film, then “Lone Star.” When it vanished, he did another pilot
film, some “Shameless” episodes on cable and the play. Now Wolk
finally returns to broadcast TV.

He plays Max's opposite, “always
immaculately dressed; you'll see some great vest/tie combos.” He
broke up with Max on Valentine's Day; exactly a year later, they
accidentally meet.

The episodes will come before and after
the real holiday, which Wolk expects to observe mildly. “For
Valentine's Day, I plan on spending the evening with my girlfriend
and probably going to dinner and doing something very relaxing and

Maybe he's had enough excitement for a
while. He's already been TV's next big thing.

– “Happy Endings,” 9:31 p.m.
Wednesdays, ABC.

– The first of James Wolk's three
episodes is Feb. 8


Super Bowl halftime show

I think I can sum up Madonna's Super Bowl halftime show in one sentence: "(Bleep) you, Gaga. I was here first."

Smash: A smashing-good show emerges

It may soon be clear that I think "Smash" is one of the best shows in TV history. It has it all -- passion, pain, characters worth caring about, splendid visuals and great music. Here's the story I sent to papers:


For NBC – often ignored, sometimes
mocked – this is new: Suddenly, it has our attention.

On Sunday, it had the Super Bowl and the
season-opener of “The Voice.”  Tonight (Monday, Feb. 6) brings more “Voice” and
then the debut of “Smash,” a show that seems to have

“We're working with the best of the
best,” Anjelica Huston said.

She's an Oscar-winner, the
daughter and grand-daughter of other Oscar-winners, yet she's overlooked here: Steven Spielberg is producer and the show –
about creating a Broadway musical – is stuffed with people who know the turf. “There are so many people here that come from this world,”
said Megan Hilty, one of the stars. “That keeps it very authentic.”

She has starred in two Broadway musicals
– “Wicked” (taking over as Glinda) and “9 to 5.” Other
“Smash” people have done more.

The original songs from"Smash" are by Marc
Shaiman and Scott Wittman, Tony-winners for “Hairspray.” The
scripts are by Theresa Rebeck, a Broadway playwright. The producers
include Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, Tony-nominees. Other Broadway
people are there for costumes, choreography and more.

And for all of that, “Smash” still depends on two young actresses, competing to portray Marilyn Monroe.

The characters are opposites: Hilty,
30, plays Ivy Lynn, blonde and brassy and a Broadway veteran;
Katharine McPhee Karen Cartwright, a waitress from Iowa, brunette and

Their voices are also opposite.
"I think of myself as
more of a pop artist," said McPhee, the former "American Idol" runner-up, "and Megan has got, like, the big Broadway

Now they play opposites, facing all the detours -- waitressing, rude auditions, lecherous directors and more -- that may seem like cliches.

"The stereotype is there
for a reason," said McPhee, who has (like her character) worked in a restaurant.

There are intense emotions among theater people, Hilty said. "You’re exposing yourself in front of thousands of people. (It) sets the stage for high drama. The adrenaline’s going and the stakes are so high."

It's an ideal setting for drama. Spielberg -- who has produced a couple Broadway plays and seen his movie ("Catch Us If You Can") become a Broadway musical -- suggested the idea to Bob Greenblatt, then head of Showtime.

Rebeck remembers reading about that. "I had been interested in doing a show like this for a lot of years," she said. "And my agent kept saying, 'Don't even bother.'"

Then Greenblatt was hired to run NBC and took "Smash" with him. Spielberg assembled Rebeck and the others.

First, they had to decide what the musical would be about. Shaiman and Wittman suggested old movies; Rebeck went another way.

"I actually have a Ph.D. in Victorian literature and
so I know all these Victorian novels that would make great
musicals," she said. "I had a lot of ideas about feathers and sword

Then Wittman suggested Monroe, who could be an ideal subject. "Her story is one of tragedy, heartbreak,
glamour, love -- all things that make for great drama," Hilty said.

There were doubts: Back in 1983, "Marilyn: An American Fable" died after two weeks on Broadway.

That argument became part of the show. One songwriter (Debra Messing) doubts a "Marilyn" musical, her writing partner (Christian Borle) kind of likes it. A producer (Huston) loves it and talks a talented director (Jack Davenport) into helping.

And then the idea sweeps ahead -- through workshops, auditions and the painful choice between opposite Marilyns. Along the way, there are chances to leap between versions.

We see the same song in a simple, rehearsal-hall production and (in the minds of the people) in grand spectacle. We see it performed by Hilty, by McPhee, by both.

We see a musical that might, eventually, really reach Broadway. And we see a TV show that could be a smashing success.

-- "Smash," 10 p.m. Mondays, NBC, beginning Feb. 6

-- NBC has also tentatively set a rerun for 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11



For Martin Sheen, the roots get tangled

This is the plus side of NBC's recent troubles: It's allowed room for a show like "Who Do You Think You Are?"

A well-made show that tracks people's roots, "Who" has little ratings potential. Still, on Friday its starts its third (and longest) mini-season, this time with a dozen episodes.

That starts with Martin Sheen. Here's a short story I sent to papers:


For many of his 71 years, Martin Sheen
has juggled distant backgrounds.

He's Spanish. His real name is Ramon
Estevez; his son (known as Charlie Sheen) is Carlos Estevez.

He's also Irish, but he's never learned
to speak Gaellic (“that is a very difficult language”) or
Spanish. His life has been kind of busy, with acting and a long
string of social causes and protests.

Now he's searched his roots for the
season-opener of “Who Do You Think You Are?” He promptly found
links with uncles on both sides. “Both of them had risen up against
oppression … and had suffered mightily for it,” Sheen said, “but
stuck to principles.” They were:

– Michael Fieland. He fought in the
Irish war of independence and then fought in the Irish civil war,
opposing the Irish Free State that was created in a British

– Matias Estevez. He “fought
against Franco at the onset of the (Spanish) coup and spent an awful
lot of time in jail and, in fact, received a life sentence,” Sheen

Matias was eventually paroled and later
pardoned. Sheen – who has often been arrested and jailed during
protests – feels he's a kindred spirit.

“Maybe this is some unknown quality
that I have possessed,” h said. “Not to the extent that these
gentlemen did, because they were absolutely heroic.”

Not everyone in his past was heroic.
Don Diego Francisco Suarez, born in 1713, had a wife, a mistress, six
illegitimate children and a moralistic streak.

“He was a bit of a dandy and he was a
judge … and he prosecuted a young lady for a moral crime, if you
will.” Sheen said. And that woman is on another side of Sheen's
Spanish family tree.

“So my great, great, great
grandfather prosecuted my great, great, great grandmother,” Sheen

It's the kind of surprise he found when
he could really explore his distant roots.

– “Who Do You Think You Are?” 8
p.m. Fridays, NBC

– Third season begins with Charlie
Sheen on Feb.3, Marisa Tomei on Feb. 10

– The first two seasons had only
seven and eight episodes; this one has 12

– Others include a cook (Paula Deen),
a football star (Jerome Bettis) and actors – Edie Falco, Helen
Hunt, Rashida Jones, Rob Lowe, Reba McEntire, Jason Sudeikis, Blair
Underwood and Rita Wilson.