For these artists, ducks are the grand pri

OK, this may be hard to believe: Just as networks are ready to unload their zillion-dollar fall shows, one of the best things on TV is ... well, a documentary about a duck-stamp contest. Really. "The Million Dollar Duck" (9:01 and 10:33 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14, on Animal Planet) has warmth, charm, humor and a tad of suspense. Here's the story I sent to papers:  


By Mike Hughes

The world has enough
people who want to be rock stars, too many who want to be president.

It needs something
more important – people who want to win the Federal Duck Stamp

The contest –
featured in a fascinating cable documentary Wednesday – has been
around since 1934. Like many 82-year-olds, it's slowed down.

“In the early
'80s, there were just under 2,100 entries,” Rob McBroom said. “Last
year, it was 157.”

He's one of them ...
and one of the people profiled in “The Million Dollar Duck.”

The title comes from
the contest's peak years. There's no prize money, but some winners
reported topping $1 million for prints and licensing rights and such.

“It's still worth
a substantial amount of money, but not that much,” Adam Grimm said.
“I wish it were.”

Back in 1999, he
became (at 21) the youngest winner ever. That didn't make him rich,
but it did propel his dreams. A few years later, he says, he
“uprooted my whole family from Ohio – my wife and I and our
(1-year-old) daughter. We moved away from all of our family and
friends, to the remote regions of South Dakota, because I wanted to
be in the central flyway.”

Others in the film
are newer to this. They include:

-- Dee Dee Murry,
who was sometimes less successful than her blind dog. Murry did
serious painting; the dog (holding a brush via teeth) did abstracts.
“She raised over $35,000 (and) we donated it all to dog rescue,”
Murry said.

-- Rebekah Nastav,
who loved painting, but needed a career nudge. She's now 25 and
married, but when filming began (in 2013), she was living with her
parents and working as a mail-carrier in rural Missouri. “I really
didn't start painting ducks until after I started entering the Duck
Stamp contest.”

-- Tim Taylor, 54, a
commercial painter in New Jersey. “A lot of the year, I paint
things like Santa Claus and store windows and Easter bunnies and
stuff like that,” he said. “So I'm happy to go back to ducks.”

-- And McBroom, 42,
Taylor's nemesis.

In Minneapolis,
McBroom makes his living as the office manager of a small record
company and as a part-time art-galley security guard. But his real
passion involves painting flashy abstracts.

As the only abstract
painter in the contest, he drew amusement (“they called me 'the
sequin guy') and scorn. When Taylor wrote scathing reviews, McBroom

“He started making
copies of my paintings and putting in pictures of myself and my
ex-wife and all kinds of stuff,” Taylor said. “Every Facebook
picture I put up, it was in the breast of the bird.”

McBroom prefers to
call these “parodies”; he says Taylor was not amused. “He went

That much, Taylor
agrees on. “I was spitting mad, I'll tell you.” He soon bought
all the Website names with “Rob McBroom” in them, just to
frustrate his nemesis.

That's a quirky
sideline to a contest usually built around good intentions and
beautiful ducks.

The stamps –
originally $1, now $25 – are required for duck hunters, but are
also bought by collectors. So far, $800 million has been raised and
5.7 million wetland acres have been preserved.

“Almost every
animal (relies) heavily on wetland habitat .... It benefits all
wildlife,” Grimm said.

So he lives in the
central flyway, where he can study and photograph the ducks. “I'll
spend several months out of the year, just doing nothing but working
on this painting.”

Taylor does the
same. “I devote about two months of the year to my painting,” he
said. He sometimes moves from New Jersey to South Dakota. There, he
lives with the Grimm family and becomes Uncle Tim to the three girls
... one of them now a Junior Duck Stamp champion.

At times, Grimm
said, life has a strong focus: “I never get tired of painting

-- “The Million
Dollar Duck,” 9:01 p.m. Wednesday, Animal Planet; reruns at 10:33.

The eras mix as Shatner keeps on trekkin'

Fresh from the 50th-anniversary commotion for "Star Trek," William Shatner also has the odd success of "Better Late Than Never," which concludes Tuesday; here's the story I sent to papers.

By Mike Hughes

For William Shatner,
this was an odd blend of past and present, of star-trekking and

He was talking about
“Better Late Then Never,” the offbeat ratings hit that ends its
four-episode season Tuesday. But this phone call was on the 50th
anniversary of the day “Star Trek” debuted.

No, Shatner said, he
never saw the “Trek” success coming. “We were doing a middling
successful program for three years. Everyone thought that was it and
moved on.”

Even with the movie
revivals, he said, confidence was low. “Every one of the movies I
made, .... they burned the sets afterward, because they figured it
was the last one.”

A half-century
later, “Better Late” also gave him no reason to expect success.
“I was so hot and miserable and hurtin', I just never gave it a

Here is a sort of
reality show, with four guys of retirement age – Shatner, Terry
Bradshaw, Henry Winkler and George Foreman – visiting Japan, Korea,
Thailand and more. It was way too hot, said Bradshaw .... who, after
all, comes from Louisiana. If there's a second season, “we're gonna
go somewhere cold.”

And yes, a second
season seems likely, because the ratings have been high. “It's
seriously funny .... And it reaches my people,” Bradshaw said.'

These old guys –
accompanied by young comedian Jeff Dye – knew little about each
other before the show started, Bradshaw said. In fact, he only came
up with the phrase “beam me up, Scotty” because his wife found
“Star Trek” on Google. “I hadn't watched the show.”

They soon found a
contrast: Bradshaw, Foreman and Winkler are known for their outgoing,
gregarious manner; Shatner is not. “I'm pretty much a loner,” he
said. “Very few people get into my life.”

Instead, Bradshaw
said, Shatner seems to be well-read. “How could anybody know that
much about monks or Thailand? .... Me being uneducated, it pretty
much got to me.”

Shatner was also in
good physical shape for someone who's now 85, foiling one plan
Bradshaw claims: “Our bets were on: 'Which country will Bill pass
away in?' ....That would have been a ratings-grabber.”

-- “Better Late
Than Never,” 10 p.m. Tuesdays, NBC.

-- The Sept. 13
episode – the last of four this season – visits Thailand.

Somewhere in that TV landscape, there are some fine choices

OK, now we can get serious about the new fall season. The stories I previously sent to papers (see blogs below) previewed drama, action-adventure, sci fi/fantasy/horror and comedy; now here's the main story:


By Mike Hughes

As a new TV season
nears, network people might seem like storm-trackers, tracing their
own demise. Just ask:

-- John Landgraf,
CEO of the FX networks. There were 417 scripted series in 2015, he
said, and there might be 500 in 2017. “We're ballooning into a
condition of oversupply.”

-- Alan Wurtzel,
research chief at NBC. A typical viewer, he said, spends 1.3 hours a
day watching some sort of video-on-demand; smart phones and other
devices abound, competing with the networks. “This is no longer the
province of early-adopters, 25-year-olds who wear black .... It's

With so many
choices, the sorta-OK show will get overlooked. “Don't try to end
up in the middle,” said Jennifer Salke, the president of NBC

Only CBS can put out
middle-of-the-road shows and expect an audience. Others have to take
chances, to try shows some people will hate and others will like a
lot. Trends this season, which officially starts Sept. 19, include:

-- Comedy stacks –
four shows, from 8-10 p.m. -- are back. CBS strayed from that during
its “Supergirl” experiment, but now it will have stacks on
Mondays and Thursdays ... surrounding ABC ones on Tuesdays and

-- That doesn't mean
“Supergirl” has died, though. It simply moved to the CW, where
seven of the 10 hours are science-fiction or fantasy, four of them
from DC Comics.

-- Fantasy is key in
the search for specific audiences. Marvel will have three shows on
Netflix (“Luke Cage,” “Jessica Jones” and “Daredevil”)
with a fourth (“Defenders”) on the way ... plus “Agents of
SHIELD” on ABC. Two time-travel shows arrive this fall, with a
third (ABC's “Time After Time”) waiting. Some people “are like
'ick' on time-travel, (but) you can't be for everybody,” Salke

-- The obsession
with serialized stories may have peaked. “There's something about
serialized dramas that really compel people,” said Channing Dungey,
ABC's new programming chief. Still, she grew up enjoying zesty shows
in the era of “Rockford” and “Magnum”; this year, she
cancelled “Castle,” but inserted “Conviction” in its spot. “I
would love to see more closed-ended procedurals.”

-- One compromise is
the mini-series, wrapping up a story in 10 weeks or less. “If you
put (ABC's) 'American Crime' in that category, (FX's) 'Fargo' in that
category, I do think that is a great way of storytelling,” Dungey
said. She has a new “Secrets and Lies” mini this fall; coming
later are a new “American Crime” and a Kyra Sedgwick mini, “Ten
Days in the Valley.”

-- Networks can't
resist recycling movies and TV shows. CW has “Frequency,” CBS has
“MacGyver,” Fox has “Lethal Weapon” and “The Exorcist”
this fall, “Prison Break” and “24” later, with “X-Files”
next season. With lots of shows vying for attention, Fox programmer
Dana Walden said, “taking a recognizable title... to build
awareness” makes sense. Still, she insisted, there's some
self-control: “We have a rich and extensive library at the studio;
we could have all reboots.”

-- The key addition
to non-network daytime is “Harry.” Like other shows, it aims for
easygoing talk; unlike others, it will have the talented, nine-piece
band that Harry Connick Jr. tours and records with. “Music's going
to be done in a whole bunch of different ways,” Connick said, “in
spontaneous ways.”

-- PBS will be busy
as usual – intense non-fiction (including political coverage) in
the fall ... arts shows – including a new “Gypsy,” violinist
Joshua Bell and a profile of the “Hamilton” musical – on
Fridays ... and lots of “Masterpiece,” from “Poldark” on
Sept. 25 to “Victoria”taking over the “Downton Abbey” slot in
January. This will be a season of young queens – Victoria, 18, on
PBS and Elizabeth II, 25, on Netflix's “The Crown.”

-- And much more ...
possibly too much. “Audiences are having more trouble than ever
distinguishing the great from the merely competent,” Landgraf said.
“I do this for a living (and) I can't come close to keeping track
of it all.”


TV comedies are back... on some networks, anyway

OK, this wraps up my round-ups of the new fall shows. The previous ones looked at dramas, action-adventures and sci-fi/fantasy/horror. Now that I've sent these to papers,I'll do an overview of the season.


By Mike Hughes

Right now, TV
networks aren't sure what to do with comedies.

NBC ignores them
(mostly), CW skips them (entirely), Fox is happier when they have
cartoon characters. But CBS and ABC each will have a pair of
four-comedy nights..

Add some cable
comedies and you have a busy fall. Here are the new broadcast-network
shows, rated on a 0-10 scale, followed by a sampling from cable and
screening services.

The Best

-- “The Good
Place” (8): In the afterlife sweepstakes, Eleanor (Kristen Bell)
hit the jackpot; she's in the place, reserved for people who had
worthy lives. Alas, her guide (Ted Danson) made a bureaucratic error;
she doesn't belong here. This takes the fish-out-of-water genre to
wonderful extremes. (8:30 p.m. Thursdays, NBC, Sept. 22, but the
first two episodes are 10 and 10:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19)

The Rest

-- “The Great
Indoors” (7): After years of writing about his adventures, Jack
(Joel McHale) gets a jolt: He has to come inside and help edit the
magazine; it's now populated by 20-somethings who are his opposites,
complete with tweets and trophies for participation. These are cliche
subjects, but “Indoors” tackles them well, with the wonderful
Stephen Fry as the boss. (8:30 p.m. Thursdays, CBS, Oct. 27)

-- “Speechless”
(7): Maya keeps moving her family from town to town, seeking the
perfect place for her disabled son. Now they're at a new school,
which she promptly disparages. Maya is wildly overwritten, but Mimi
Driver makes her work; she has great characters in support,
especially a janitor-turned companion. (8:30 p.m. Wednesdays, ABC,
Sept. 21)

-- “Kevin Can
Wait” (6): CBS has convinced itself that this is the next big
comedy, hyping it incessantly. Actually, it's the next OK one. Kevin
James plays a young-ish retiree, starting his new life with his
fellow ex-cops. Then everything changes when his daughter returns.
The result is smoothly adequate. (8:30 p.m. Mondays, CBS, Sept. 19;
moves to 8 p.m. on Oct. 24)

-- “Son of Zorn”
(4): Speaking of fish-out-of-water, imagine going from an island
(where you're a warrior hero) to the suburbs (where you're the only
one who's bare-chested and a cartoon). There are some clever moments,
but they're scattered. (8:30 p.m. Sundays, Fox, but the Sept. 11
debut is at 8)

-- “Man With a
Plan” (3): After the crisp comedy of “Friends” and “Episodes,”
Matt LeBlanc stunbles. He plays a building contractor who's in charge
of the kids, now that his wife returns to work. The pilot, being
reworked, had a few good moments and a lot of cliches. (8:30 p.m.
Mondays, Oct. 24, CBS)

-- “American
Housewife” (2): This has all the flaws of “Speechless” --
overwritten character, easy targets – and none of the redeeming
traits. Katy Mixon makes the lead character seem merely abrasive;
also, she's surrounded by mostly one-note characters. (8:30 p.m.
Tuesdays, ABC, Oct. 11)

Beyond broadcast:

-- “Fleabag”
(7): Adapting her own play, Phoebe Waller-Bridge takes us through a
life of bad choices, bad men and bad business ... often turning to
talk to us in the middle of a scene. It's sometimes quite raunchy and
often very funny. (Amazon Prime, Sept. 16)

-- “Better Things”
and “One Mississippi” (both 7): These shows have different
networks, but the same producer (Louis C.K.) and the same approach –
a slow, droll look at something close to real life. Pamela Adlon's
life is merely messy, with three daughters; Tig Notaro's has been
much rougher, with cancer, an intestinal ailment and her mother's
death. These don't sound like comedies, but in their own quiet way,
they're well-done. Already started: 10 p.m. Thursdays, FX; any time,
Amazon Prime.

-- “Graves” (3):
Some 25 years after leaving office, Richard Graves (Nick Nolte)
suddenly realizes he was an awful president. Now he's on an odyssey
to redeem himself. That's a fairly good concept, but the opener is
often blunt and heavy-handed. (10 p.m. Sundays, Epix, Oct. 16)

-- Many more. MTV
has already debuted “Mary + Jane” (newcomers to the pot-delivery
business) and “Loosely Exactly Nicole” (Nicole Byer as a
struggling actress); they're 10 and 10:30 p.m. Mondays, rerunning
often. HBO's comedies look particularly strong, with Sarah Jessica
Parker in “Divorce” and newcomer Issa Rae in “Insecure” (10
and 10:30 p.m. Sundays, Oct. 9). And coming on TBS are “People of
Earth” (Wyatt Cenac meets a support group for alien abductees) and
“Search Party” (Alia

Shawkat heads a
group of 20-somethings, tackling a mystery).


Time travel? That's the big networks' ultimate fantasy

Here's the third piece of the TV-season preview which I've sent to papers. The previous ones -- see blogs below -- look at dramas and action-adventure; this one has sci-fi, fantasy and horror. Still coming are comedies and a season overview:

By Mike Hughes

Time-trekking is big
on TV now, which makes sense: The big networks wish they could go
back two decades, to a time when they had a monopoly.

They don't, of
course, and that's especially clear in the category of
science-fiction, fantasy and horror: The broadcast-network shows are
so-so; the others are very promising.

Here are the three
broadcast shows, rated on a 0-10 scale, followed by a sampling of the

The best

-- “Frequency”
(6). Strange things happen, it seems, when a ham-radio signal bounces
around the atmosphere. In the 2000 movie, a guy talked to his late
father; now a young cop talks with her late dad, possibly saving his
life and proving he wasn't corrupt. Don't ask us how this works;
somehow, Peyton List and Riley Smith make it human and believable. (9
p.m. Wednesdays, CW, Oct. 5)

The rest

-- “Timeless”
(4). A mysterious guy steals a time craft and maraudes through
history, disrupting things. So what crack team must follow and
un-disrupt? There's a gorgeous historian, a semi-nerdy driver and, of
course, a rogue-ish fighter. It's a flawed and frustrating story, but
it's also beautifully filmed; Abigail Spencer is first-rate, as she
is in “Rectify.” (10 p.m. Mondays, NBC, Oct. 3)

- “The Exorcist”
(2). In a moment of self-delusion, Fox put this in the old “X-Files”
timeslot, figuring it would draw the same passion. But “X-Files”
dazzled with its variety, changing moods briskly; “Exorcist”
trudges through an unrelenting tale. An earnest, handsome priest
tries to help a woman with a possessed daughter. It's all auite dark
and monotone (9 p.m. Fridays, Fox, Sept. 23)

Beyond broadcast

-- “Westworld.”
Back in 1973, Michael Crichton's movie had a familiar,
robots-gone-wild theme; a cowboy town was fun for tourists, until the
robots started shooting back. Now writer-producer Jonathan Nolan
(“Person of Interest”) and producer J.J. Abrams have pushed this
to a new level, as beings begin to realize their entire life is an
artifice. No guarantees yet, but glimpses of this seem extremely
good. (9 p.m. Sundays, HBO, but two-hour opener, Oct. 2, starts at 8)

-- “Wolf Creek”
(5). A decade ago, the “Wolf Creek” movie caused a stir in
Australia, with John Jarratt as a woodsman, bedeviling backpackers.
Now Jarratt repeats his role, but with a twist: This time, there's a
family, including a teen-ager who definitely doesn't want to be
there. Superbly played by Lucy Fry, she becomes key to this
well-executed but disturbing tale. (10 p.m. Fridays, Pop, Oct. 14)

-- “Luke Cage.”
Netflix is quickly becomeing Marvel Central. It already has Marvel's
“Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones”; now Cage – a supporting
character in “Jones” -- gets his own show. Mike Colter –
6-foot-3, with heroic torso – plays the fugitive, a Harlem
crimefighter who has super strength and unbreakable skin. (Netflix,
Sept. 30)

-- “Falling
Water.” Three strangers – a banker, a cop and a trend-spotter –
have only one thing in common: They're in each other's interlocking
dreams ... and they may need to combine to save the world. (10 p.m.
Thursdays, USA, Oct. 13)

-- And “Mars”
could offer a fresh touch to sci-fi. It's a big-budget view of a
mission in 2033, but intercuts scripted parts with comments from
experts. (November, National Geogrraphic)