Kellie Martin finds some goofiness between the tears


Kellie Martin has been terrific at her specialty -- dead-serious TV drama -- for decades. Now, however, she occasionally gets to be silly. That includes a fun-enough movie that debuts this weekend, Oct. 20-21. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By MIKE HUGHES

Kellie Martin get a chance to be silly
now. Consider that the universe being fair.

“I've had plenty of chances to cry,”
she said.

She has, you know. She's been acting
for 30 of her 37 years and spent a chunk of her teens doing
Emmy-nominated and wrenching work on”Life Goes On.” When her own
series (“Crisis Center”) started, she failed (before the opening
credits) to stop a suicide. When she became an “ER” regular
(shortly after her own sister died of lupus), her character was
brutally assaulted.

There's been more, but Hallmark seems
to be on a one-channel mission to reverse that. Last year was
“Smooch,” in which her daughter thought her frog has turned into
a man; as luck would have it, the man she found was a handsome and
amnesiac prince.

And now comes “I Married Who?”
Martin plays a sober young woman who accidentally gets drunk and
marries a TV star, then must explain this to her fiance.

Such things don't happen much in real
life – except the part about a normal person marrying a TV star.
Martin met Keith Christian, at Yale; “He had no idea who I was,
because he grew up on a ranch in Montana,” she said.

That was during her TV-movie phase –
“If Someone Had Known,” “A Friend to Die For,” etc. Extending
her spring break slightly, she even had the title role in “The Face
On the Milk Carton.”

Martin went on to get her degree in art
history; Christian got a law degree. Now they've been married 13
years and have a daughter who's almost 6. They split their lives
between California, Montana and South Carolina, where she's an “Army
Wives” regular.

It's a good life, Martin says. And on
occasion, Hallmark lets her be goofy.

– “I Married Who?”

– 9 and 11p.m. Saturday (Oct. 20) and 1 and 9 p.m.
Sunday, Hallmark Channel

 

"Ethel": A warm portrait of an unconventional life


Sure, the best kind of documentary is unbiase, impartial, skeptical. Still, there's something to be said for the loving piece by an insider.

Earlier, HBO had an excellent George H.W. Bush portrait, done by his friend. Now it has a delightful Ethel Kennedy one, by her daughter. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By MIKE HUGHES

To outsiders, Bobby and Ethel Kennedy
seemed like a precise match.

Each was lean, athletic, competitive.
Each grew up in a family that was big, rich and Catholic.

Still, there were huge differences.
“The Kennedys were very organized,” Ethel, the subject of a new
HBO documentary, told reporters. “Dinner was always served at 7:15;
if you were a minute late, it really wasn't worth it. In my family
(the Skakels), you never knew when dinner was going to be. It could
be at 7 o'clock; it could be at 10.”

There were bigger differences, on the
political side. The Skakels were Republicans, the Kennedys were
Democrats; Ethel was a spirited campaigner, Bobby was a reluctant
one.

As they raised their own family, they
came closest to the Kennedy tradition. Dinners were organized,
especially, she said, the Sunday ones:

“Everyone going around the table had
to tell something about what was going on in the world,” she said.
“It was an adult conversation and they responded to it beautifully
.... I think it helped make them aware that there are a lot of people
out there who don't live the way they live and who need help.”

Some of the kids became activists or
politicians. The youngest, Rory, became a documentary-maker who has
received an Emmy (for “The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib”) and strong
praise for others, especially “American Hollow,” her classic
Appalachian portrait.

Still, she avoided, films about her
family. Eventually, after much nudging by HBO, she asked her mother
and was surprised to get a yes. “She hadn't done an interview in 20
or 25 years.”

So Rory interviewed her mother and
siblings. Usually, she said, “we're not kind of a 'share all'
family.” So she was hearing things she'd never known, like “the
sea mammal that she would have in the car, picking up the kids”
from school. Or the suggestion.

Touring J. Edgar Hoover's FBI with some
of her kids, Ethel Kennedy saw a suggestion box. Using her
distinctive pen, she suggested: “Get a new director.”

Looking back at that comment now, she's
sheepish. “It was rude,” she said, “and I apologize for that.”

Her daughter, however, finds it
typical. “Throughout my life, my mother has been somebody who
speaks truth to (powerful people), very freely and openly and often.”

Rory Kennedy recalls the time that she
and her brother Douglas wanted to join a Washington protest against
Apartheid in South Africa. She was hesitant to ask her mother.

“Without missing a beat, she said,
'Great, I'll drive you down there. Let's go right now.'

“And, you know, we drove down and we
got arrested and she couldn't have been more proud.”

– “Ethel,” 9 p.m. Thursday, HBO,
repeating overnight at 4:30 a.m.

– Also: 1:45 p.m. Sunday, 6:45 p.m.
Oct. 24, 9:45 a.m. Oct. 27, 3:15 p.m. Oct. 29

 

"Underemployed" is an overachieving comedy-drama


Sometimes, happy surprises show up at odd times and places. One of those is "Underemployed," which debuts at 10 p.m. Tuesday on MTV.

That's while the presidential debate is still going on. You can safely catch the debate, because "Underemployed" repeats instantly at 11:04 -- and often after that. Just make sure you catch it; I found the opener to be a dandy comedy-drama blend, full of characters worth knowing. Here' the story I sent to papers:

By MIKE HUGHES

There's one subject actors are experts
in. That's being “Underemployed,” the title of MTV's new series.

To many people, that phenomenon –
college grads, settling for being temps and interns and such – is
new to a modern generation. Actors, however, this has always been
making do with odd jobs.

“I was getting a lot of (personal
assistant) work, which was almost soul-crushing,” Michelle Ang
said. There she was, working “on set ,around actors doing what I
would want to do. But I was … taking out the trash and getting
copies.”

Sarah Habel, another “Underemployed”
star, actually liked her getting-by job. “I love waitressing,”
she said. “Waitressing is fun.”

Still, she said, it had its bad days.
“This woman changed her baby's diaper at the table and then handed
me the dirty diaper to throw away.”

Such moments have been part of actors'
lives for generations. In New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere, they
pack into tiny apartments, grab odd jobs and wait for the big break.

The difference lately is that others
have found that same world;many college grads have scrambled. “The
show is based on my son, who is 23, (and) his friends,” Craig
Wright said.

Wright is a playwright who has been
focusing lately on TV dramas, as a writer and producer of “Six Feet
Under,””Brothers & Sisters,” “Dirty, Sexy Money” and
more. This time, he's created an hour-long comedy-drama, based on
young people he knows.

“My son is interested in
architecture,” Wright said. “His friend Miles is a model. His
friend Sofia was a writer. I tended to follow reality.” His show
has:

– Sofia, an aspiring novelist,
working at a doughnut shop. She's played by Ang, 28, a TV star in
Australia and New Zealand (with Malaysian roots), who had to start
over when she moved to the U.S.

– Miles, a would-be model. He's
played by Diego Boneta, 21, the only actor viewers are likely to
recognize. He had recurring roles in two teen dramas – Javier in
“90210,” Alex in “Pretty Little Liars” – and was the male
lead in the “Rock of Ages” movie. “It's been an amazing ride,”
he said.

– Lou, working on environmental
causes, and his girlfriend Daphne, a singer. They're played by Jared
Kusnitz, 23 (Toby in “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”)
and Habel.

They share a life with Raviva (Inbar
Lavi), a Russian immigrant who rarely speaks or and rarely intakes
calories. Viewers might assume they have a difficult life.

Still, there's the flip side. The late
Jonathan Larson said he loved his years he depicted in “Rent,”
with friends packing into a New York apartment. Habel finds that
reasonable.

“It's the friendships,” she
said.”It's the urban family that you create when you're fresh out
into theworld and you don't have that same safety net that you do
growing up.”

It can be a fun time – even if life
sometimes hands you a dirty diaper.

– “Underemployed,” 10 p.m.
Tuesdays, MTV.

– Debuts Oct. 16; rerunning at 11:04
p.m. and 2 a.m.

– Reruns each day, including
Wednedsday at 8 p.m. and midnight; then 4 and 9 p.m.Thursday; 11:30
a.m. and 6 p.m.Friday; 11 a.m. Saturday; 3:20 and 11 p.m. Sunday, 1
p.m.Monday; and 9 p.m. Oct. 23, leading into the second episode.

 

Johnny Cash: A world of "Hurt" and/or goofy fun


If you must bump into someone, in a dark alley, who has tattoos, long hair and a big belt buckle, try to make it Shooter Jennings. This is a likable guy -- fast-talking, friendly, full of stories about his dad (Waylon Jennings) and his dad's famous friends. He's also the logical person to talk to, now that a Cash series is on cable over the next three weekends; here's the story I sent to papers:

By MIKE HUGHES

Television is ready to give us Johnny
Cash again.

That still leaves the bigger questions:
Which Cash, which mood, which music?

“Johnny refused … to be contained,”
said David Wild, a Rolling Stone music critic.

So “Song By Song,” on the Ovation
channel, catches the range. Each half-hour focuses on one Cash song
and where that stood in his life.

At one extreme is “A Boy Named Sue,”
from a Shel Silverstein poem. “(Cash) had kind of fallen off the
landscape,” said Kris Slava, Ovation's programming director. “He
reconnected by going to the prisons and then coming up with this kind
of jokey novelty song. It was his biggest hit ever.”

At the other was “Hurt,” originally
by the Nine Inch Nails. The video showed Cash after 70 years of hard
living. It's “so exquisite … painful and brutal,” said country
singer Grace Potter.

The Grammys and the Country Music
Association called it the best video of the year; NME, the music
magazine, called it the best video of all time.

There were more sides to Cash, from
gospel to Bob Dylan folk. “He came from the rock-and-roll side of
things and made a giant impact on country music,” said Shooter
Jennings, Cash's godson.

And his personality was just as varied,
Jennings said. On one side, “Cash was, like, goofy”; on the
other, :”he was a really spiritual dude.”

And he had a deep friendship with
Waylon Jennings, Shooter's dad. “Cash and my dad grew up exactly
the same way,” Shooter said, “They both picked cotton; they both
would sneak and listen to the Opry.”

They also had simultaneous addictions.
“They had an apartment together and both lied to each other and
said they weren't doing drugs,” Shooter said.

Habits were kicked slowly. Cash focused
on his new wife June Carter and her Christian faith. Waylon Jennings
said it was his son who caused him to kick addictions, but Shooter
also credits his mom, country singer Jessi Colter. “She stayed by
my dad in very hard times.”

In 1985, four sobered icons – Cash,
Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson – became the
Highwaymen. For Shooter, age 6 at the time, an evolving friendship
began.

He recalls the silly Cash, who sawed
the legs off hotel chairs and tables, then called the bellboy and
complain that everything was too low. He recalls the fun guy whom
Shooter hand-picked as his replacement godfather: “Johnny threw a
roller-skating party for me and my friends.”

And from his early teens, he recalls
talks with Cash. “The conversations were usually pretty intense.”

Shooter would grow up to be a hybrid
like his dad and godfather. He's a musician who ranges from hard rock
to country, a friendly and talkative guy whose long hair and tattoos
may confuse people. He's a country guy who lives in New York with
Drea de Matteo (of “Sopranos” fame) and their kids, ages 5 and 1.
“Actually, I think her (Italian) family and my redneck family have
a lot in common,” he said.

That's the crossover spirit –
something his godfather understood. “Johnny Cash is … very much
himself,” Slava said. “He transcends genres.”

– “Song by Song,” 8 and 8:30 p.m.
ET on three Sundays, Ovation

– Oct. 7: “I Walk the Line” and
“Ring of Fire”; they rerun at midnight and 12:30 a.m. Preceded
by Cash's concerts in Folsom (5 p.m.) and San Quentin (7 p.m.)
prisons.

– Oct. 14: “Jackson” and”A Boy
Named Sue,” preceded by reruns of the others at 7 and 7:30.

– Oct. 21: “Sunday Morning Coming
Down” and “Hurt”; they rerun at 11 and 11:30 p.m. Preceded by
all four previous episodes, 6-8 p.m.

 

 

A plane crash -- passengerless, of course -- can be good television


I like planes a lot (and boats and trains more), dislike plane crashes, but rarely think about them. Now comes a surprisingly interesting TV special that showed people spending millions to crash a former airliner and study the results. Here's the story I sent to papers:

 

By MIKE HUGHES

For anyone who has toyed with a model
plane or a remote-control car, this was the ultimate adventure.

People spent millions to buy a former
airliner and crash it on the desert. They recorded everything, for
the benefit of science and cable-viewers.

“That's probably the most exciting
thing I've done,” Leland “Chip” Shanle said.

His life wasn't lacking in excitement.
It has included 18 years as a Navy pilot;now he and David Kennedy
were trailing a passenger-less plane, trying to control its crash via
remote-control.

“These are great gentleman, real-life
'top guns,'” said Simon Andreae, programming chief of the Discovery
Channel, which turned it into a two-hour documentary Sunday.

They were the final link in an imposing
task: Crash a plane without destroying the evidence. “From a
scientific perspective, we absolutely did not want this thing to
burn,” said Tom Barth, an engineer.

That happened when the government tried
this in 1984, the experts said. The plane was instantly engulf in
flames, destroying any useful information.

That doesn't happen in a typical crash,
they said. They bought an old Boeing 727 for $450,000, named it Big
Flo and got Mexican-government permission to crash it in the desert
near Mexicali.

This would be recorded by 38 cameras
and more. Some of the crash-test dummies are high-tech, costing about
$140,000 apiece and recording the impact at 32 body points.

Still, much of this would depend on the
landing. The co-pilot and engineer would parachute from the plane
early. Just three minutes from impact, pilot Jimbob Slocum would
jump.

In her final minutes, Big Flo would be
remote-controlled by Shanle and Kennedy, from a trailing plane.
Neither man has played with remote-control toy planes, but they have
done the real thing – flying planes remotely, so they could be
fired upon in Navy exercises.

Now they were tackling the largest
plane ever managed by a handheld remote. Problems persisted:

– The plane they were planning to
trail with had a broken fuel pump. They turned to a second plane,
which had trouble keeping up with Big Flo's minimum speed.

– A sensor, which was supposed to
trigger the plane's recording equipment, failed during a test.

– And peril continued on the ground,
long after the crash. One engine kept running for 48 more minutes,
Barth said, the other for two hours.

Some plans were reshuffled quickly –
and successfully. “A back-up plan that works is a thing of joy,”
Kennedy said. “But believe me, it was extremely tense.”

This was so emotional, he said, that
he drove alone to his California home “just to decompress.”

Scientists found some quick
information. (Yes, a seatbelt seems to help; so does ducking your
head into the seat in front of you. And the seats in the back may be
safer than the first-class ones upfront.)

Scientists and engineers began probing
details. Meanwhile, Kennedy felt some emotion: “To see Big Flo get
broken apart like that – well, we just hope that it's done
something really important.”

– “Curiosity: Plane Crash,” 9-11
p.m. Sunday, Discovery.

– Repeats at midnight; also, a week
later at 10 a.m. Oct. 14