This big little brother finally has his day

Geoff Stults may be big on TV -- starring in a new series that starts Friday -- but he's not that big a deal in his own family. After all, George Stults is also an actor and has big-brother status. Here's the story I sent to papers:


Stepping into “Enlisted,” Geoff Stults was sort of on
familiar turf.

No, he’s never been a soldier; he’s never led an assault
team or an effort to pull a skier with a tank. But he is a brother, which is
sort of what this comedy is about.

Stults plays Pete, the first-born, idolized by one brother
and tolerated by the other. In real life, George Stults (also an actor) is the
elder brother.

“I’m about 40 pounds bigger than him and much taller,” said
Stults, 6-foot-3-and-a-half. “But he’s still my big brother and he reminds me
of that …. This is the first time in my life I’ve felt like a big brother.”

The idea started with someone who is one. 

“My relationship with my two younger brothers is the longest,
best relationship of my life,” said producer-writer Kevin Biegel. “They’ve been
there with me through really difficult times and really great times. And we’re
still kind of locked into that 16-year-old mentality.”

So Biegel thought of a way to throw brothers into an odd

All are in the Army (as was their dad), but only Pete thrives
on combat. Then he makes a tactical mistake, slugging a colonel; he’s assigned
to a Stateside unit full of bumblers … including his brothers.

“It’s this kind of (Land of) Misfit Toys or ‘Bad News Bears’
in a rear unit …. If you cherry-picked the worst of the worst, they’re in this
unit,” Biegel said. But “they’re surrounded by people who are competent.”

One is the master sergeant, played by Keith David, who’s
done “Platoon” and other dead-serious military films. “I served with their
father,” David said of the character. “And I promised I’d take care of them if
anything ever happened.”

Now he tries to control them and Pete tries to ignore him
while doing big-brother duty.

The Stults boys were born in Detroit and grew up in
Colorado. George, now 38 and 6-foot, had a college wrestling scholarship;
Geoff, 36, was a football receiver, even playing a little pro ball in Europe.
Both were in “7
th Heaven” (as brothers, logically); Geoff has gone
on to regular roles in six more series.

This time, he said, the filming was done in a spot that
“used to be an insane asylum and is now a college … with open spaces and a lot of
things that looked like barracks and things.”

There, actors found that any day could bring a new
assignment, including tank-skiing.  “For
most of us,” Stults said, “it’s like, ‘Hey, this is going to be a great day.’
For one of us, this is the best day of his life.”

-- “Enlisted,” 9:30 p.m. Fridays, Fox

-- Debuts Jan. 10

Here's who's-who in the Abbey

The previous blog is a story I sent to papers, previewing the new "Downton Abbey" season. It's a well-crafted show, but sometimes a tough one to join in progress, with its swirl of changing characters and titles. With that in mind, I also sent papers this character guide:



As “Downton Abbey” returns – 9 p.m. Sundays on PBS, under
the “Masterpiece” banner – it provides an evolving set of characters and
positions. Here’s a quick guide to the start of the season:


Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, has devoted his life
to running the estate. He’s still partly in charge, but with no male heirs,
control went to his nephew Matthew Crawley.

Cora Crawley, the Countess of Grantham, is an American. When
she married Robert, she brought the cash infusion the estate needed.

Lady Mary Crawley, their eldest daughter, restored the
family prospects by marrying her cousin Matthew. He died in a car crash shortly
after their baby son was born.

Lady Edith Crawley, the middle daughter, seemed destined for
spinsterhood. Then she started writing columns for a London newspaper … and
dating the editor. This season, she has big highs and lows.

Tom Branson is the former chauffeur, a socialist who married
the Crawleys’ youngest daughter Sybil. She died of an illness; he remains in
the mansion, raising their toddler. Matthew made him the estate manager, as
part of modernization efforts; now management wobbles between Robert, Mary and

Violet Crawley, Robert’s mother, is the widowed dowager,
with an acerbic wit. She alternately feuds and bonds with Isobel Crawley,
Matthew’s mother, who is a force for modernization.

Others show up often. They include, Lady Rosamund Painswick,
Robert’s sister … Lady Rose MacClare, the dowager’s grand-niece, who is
temporarily at the mansion, but would rather by partying in London … and Dr.
Clarkson, whose track record for saving lives is shaky. 


Charles Carson and Elsie Hughes are referred to strictly as
Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes. As butler and housekeeper, they run the staff with
unflinching precision. Oddly, Carson was once in show business.

John Bates, the Earl’s valet, still limps from a war injury.
He married Anna Smith, was convicted of killing his estranged ex-wife, then was

Beryl Patmore is the good-hearted cook and Daisy Robinson is
her assistant. Young and vulnerable, Daisy falls for men who aren’t interested;
she also bowed to pressure and married a soldier on his deathbed.

Joseph Molesley was Matthew’s valet. He’s still at the
mansion, while looking for work.

Alfred Nugent was hired as a footman, despite objections
that, at 6-foot-4, he’s too tall for the job. Daisy (5-foot-4) likes him, but
he only seems to see Ivy Stuart; Daisy’s life is like that.

"Downton Abbey": A grand structure faces constant change

For decades, PBS' "Masterpiece" delivered high-quality dramas to modest-sized audiences. Then "Downton Abbey" found just the right mixture of classy characters and soap-opera twists. The result has drawn big audiences, lots of awards ... and high interest in the fourth season, which starts Sunday (Jan. 5). Here's the story I sent to papers:



As he began molding “Downton Abbey,” writer Julian Fellows
sent a note that was prophetic.

The first sentence, producer Gareth Neame recalls, described
a stately home in a beautiful park, then added: “It looks as though it will
stand for a thousand years. It won’t.”

The building might last, but the lives inside would keep
changing – sometimes quickly and profoundly. That’s partly by plan and partly
because actors leave … setting up crises for Sunday’s season-opener.

The first three seasons had taken Matthew and Mary (Dan
Stevens and Michelle Dockery) from strangers to marriage and a newborn son.
Then Stevens was leaving to do movies; as the season ended, Matthew was killed
in a car accident.

“I thought, ‘Where can the story go now?’” Dockery recalled.
“We’d spent all this time having this on/off, will they/won’t they
relationship. And then, suddenly, it was coming to an end.”

Others were stunned by the script that ended with the death.
“It was quite shocking to read that,” said Sophie McShera, who plays Daisy, the
young cook. Worse, they had to keep it a secret –- then see the shock of
friends and family who saw the episode on Christmas Day, 2012, in England.

Still, that death seems to typify two things:

For all of its elegance, this ratings hit is
full of soap-opera twists. There have been sudden deaths for Mary’s husband …
and her sister Sybil … and her one-night lover … and Matthew’s fiancé … and
Daisy’s brief husband … and John Bates’ estranged wife. There have been schemes,
accusations – everything except a rape (which happens this season).

Beyond those soapy touches, change was inevitable
in this place and this era. So far, the show has gone from 1912 to 1922 – a
time when British lives and estates were transforming.

Downton had started to change when Matthew took over. He
believed in modernizing and got support from Mary and from Sybil’s widower Tom.
Now his death leaves the estate in limbo, with Mary being little help. “She’s
kind of slowly, throughout the season, coming back to life,” Dockery said.

That gives the new season fresh material, Neame said. “There
is Matthew’s death to get over and this whole change of direction for Mary. And
(we see) all of these characters coming into this modern age.”

Downstairs, Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes (Jim Carter and
Phyllis Logan) run the staff with even-handed honesty. “We do have a mutual
respect,” Logan said of the characters.

Their workers keep being juggled. O’Brien. Molesley is
jobless, Daisy keeps trying.

“She was wide-eyed and a little naïve” at first, McShera
said; she thrived at work (becoming a cook), floundered at romance. McShera has
only a few things in common with her: Both are small and from Northern England;
also, “I’m as delusional as she is.”

And upstairs, there are big changes ahead for Edith, Mary’s hard-luck
sister. She’s dating the editor of a newspaper she writes for. “I like to think
of her as the Carrie Bradshaw of the ‘20s,” said Laura Carmichael, who plays

No, we don’t often hear “Downton” characters compared to
ones from “Sex and the City.” Still, the shows have things in common – Sunday slots,
short seasons and a big fuss when they return.

“Downton Abbey,” 9 p.m. Sundays on PBS' "Masterpiece" (check
local listings)

Two-hour season-opener is Jan. 5

Parade time: size, stars, spectacle and gladiolas

There's no real way to explain why we watch parades, in real life or on TV. Still, it seems to be fun, especially on a holiday. Now comes the Tournament of Roses parade; here's the story I sent to papers:


This is pure Americana, up-close and old-style:

At times, people sit at curbs and cheer things that go by. A
couple times a year, they watch on TV.

Now comes the 125th Tournament of Roses parade.
It offers “the kind of stuff that you used to see in Middle America or
small-town America,” said Al Roker, who will do the NBC commentary.

Actually, there are still plenty of small-town parades, but
not like this.  The rose parade has:

21 marching bands. They range from this year’s
Rose Bowl schools, Stanford and Michigan State, to high schools getting their
first national attention. Schools “hold these bake sales in high school and car
washes and have never been to California before,” Roker said.

44 floats, including a few with music acts –
Natalie Cole, Daryl Hall, KC & the Sunshine Band, and the new “Voice”
winner. Even before that show’s finale, Hoda Kotb – who will do the NBC
commentary with Roker – correctly said that her favorite would win: “Tessanne
(Chin), singing on that float, is going to be awesome.

16 equestrian units.  “You’ve got horses,” Roker said. “You’ve got
horse-drawn carriages …. Native Americans … doing their dances. Ropers doing
roping tricks – all down five miles.”

And flowers everywhere. That’s what differentiates
this from the parade (Macy’s Thanksgiving) that Roper grew up with in New York.

Everything “visible to the eye has to be covered with some
sort of organic plant material,” Roper said. 
Volunteers do it “petal by petal, gladiola by gladiola …. They are
painting seeds.”

That floral touch is also one reason his network has

NBC – with its tradition of dominating the Thanksgiving and
New Year parades -- used to have this to itself, when it also carried the Rose
Bowl game. Then others jumped in.

HGTV was attracted by the flowers; it began covering the
parade commercial-free, using it to launch a day of specials …. RFD was
attracted by the horses; its first float featured Roy Rogers’ stuffed Trigger
…. ABC joined when it grabbed Rose Bowl rights; it continues, now that the game
is on sister channel ESPN.

Others – Hallmark and Spanish-language Univision – will also
be there. Bouncing between channels, viewers can watch masses of mobile flowers,
horses and tuba players. It’s pure Americana.

Tournament of Roses parade, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
ET, NBC, ABC, HGTV, Hallmark, RFD and (in Spanish) Univision.

Hallmark and Univision have previews at 10;
Hallmark reruns the parade until 4 p.m. ET.

A complete rock life really should include ABC's New Year's Eve

 It has become the show that swallowed New Year's Eve. Some 41 years after Dick Clark created it, "Rockin' New Year's Eve" will be almost six hours long. It's also become a must for any music career; just ask The Fray's Isaac Slade, who talks about it in this story I sent to papers:


At first glance, the guys in The Fray have done
approximately everything.

They’ve had three top-10 singles and two top-10 albums.
They’ve done the late-night shows – Leno and Letterman, Conan and both Jimmys –
16 times. They’ve been heard on a dozen drama series.

What they haven’t done is ABC’s New Year’s Eve show. “It
feels like a bucket-list thing,” said Isaac Slade, the group’s lead singer.

Now they can cross that off. On Tuesday, they’re in a lineup
that includes Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke, Billy Joel, Daughtry, Jennifer Hudson,
Enrique Iglesias, Florida Georgia Line and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.

This is the show Dick Clark created nine years before Slade
was born (and 20 years before Cyrus was born). “It’s become a part of the
culture,” Slade said. As a kid in Denver, he said, he watched it every year;
his bandmate, Joey King, told him about “trying to stay up for the ball-drop,
but not making it.”

Once a 90-minute event, “Rockin’ New Year’s Eve” now covers
almost six hours:

8-10 p.m.: Ryan Seacrest, Fergie and Jenny
McCarthy host “30 Greatest Women in Music.”

10-11 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. to 2:11 a.m: Seacrest
and McCarthy are stationed in Times Square for the live portions, which also
include Billy Joel performing in Brooklyn; that’s blended with a tape of a
California party hosted by Fergie and featuring all the rest.

That California party includes Fray doing “Love Don’t Die,”
from its upcoming (Feb. 25) album. To help produce the album, it brought in
Stuart Price (The Killers, Madonna) and OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder.

Tedder was logical, musically and geographically. “We only
live about eight miles apart,” Slade said.

Price, however, was a detour, bringing what Slade has called
an “arsenal of electronic antiques.” That supplemented what Slade called Fray’s
“very human, grounded, organic sound.”

This sort of basic approach has worked for Slade. The son of
missionaries, he started singing at 8, added the piano at 11 and played in a
worship band. In college (University of Colorado, Denver) he was in overdrive. “I
had three jobs, had a girlfriend and was in a band …. I didn’t sleep much.”

The jobs ranged from a coffee shop (“I loved it, but I didn’t
like getting up” at 3:45 a.m.) to producing a TV show. Then he met King (an old
Faith Christian Academy schoolmate) and they created The Fray.

The band finally caught on when a Denver station embraced “Over
My Head (Cable Car).” The single went national and reached No. 8 on the
Billboard chart. “How to Save a Life” – featured prominently on “Grey’s Anatomy”
-- hit No. 3; “You Found Me” hit No. 7.

There are still firsts ahead – the first “Rockin’ New Year’s
Eve” and, next spring, the first child for Isaac and Anna Slade. Slade, 32,
feels rock tours will still allow time for family. “My dad, God bless him, got
two weeks of vacation a year. I’ll be able to spend half my time chillin’ with
my wife and kids.”

New Year’s Eve music

ABC: Ryan Seacrest hosts; 8-11 p.m., 11:30 p.m.
to 2:11 a.m.

NBC: Carson Daly hosts, 10-11 p.m., 11:30-12:30
a.m.;  expected to include Train and “Voice”
winners Cassadee Pope and Tessanne Chin.

Fox: Mario Lopez hosts, 11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.;
J. Cole, Krewella, New Politics, Panic at the Disco.