New Year's Eve party is pure America ... sort of

I've long suspected that the best place to celebrate New Year's Eve is in front of a TV set. Apparently, New Yorkers agree with me. At least, that's what Jenny McCarthy says; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Each Dec. 31, large
forces converge to bring a show-business epic to New York City.

There's music,
celebrities, pyrotechnics and a crowd estimated at a million. Surely,
New Yorkers must be excited by this.

Or nor. “There are
no New Yorkers there,” Jenny McCarthy insisted. “They're all in
their tiny apartments, watching us on TV.”

The “us” could
be the ABC folks – Ryan Seacrest hosting, McCarthy reporting,
others (Mariah Carey, Gloria Estefan, more) singing. Or it could
involve shows on NBC and Fox.

In those apartments,
viewers can sample life's pleasures; the Times Square multitudes
don't, McCarthy insisted. “They don't drink and don't eat. They get
there at 9 in the morning and wait.”

By her account, 80
percent of the crowd is from out-of-the-country and the others are
merely from out-of-state. It's a bucket-list thing, something
McCarthy (an out-of-stater) can understand.

She grew up in
suburban Chicago, a sort of standard, blue-collar, Catholic kid ...
until, at 20, she became a Playboy Playmate. That led to Playmate of
the Year, some work as an actress and a lot of work as a TV
personality ... which changed her New Year's Eve habits.

“As a kid,we
always watched Dick Clark on TV,” she said. “In my early 20s, I'd
go to LasVegas and have fun at the clubs. Then I started to be
famous, so I went back to watching it on TV.”

Then she joined the
TV show with Seacrest and (for two years, before his death in 2012)
Clark. She gathered crowd color ... which, she decided, should
include kissing someone at midnight.

“I had my gay
hairdresser find someone,” McCarthy said, “because I knew he'd
choose someone fabulous.” He chose a cop – “very nervous, the
first day on the job” -- one year and a soldier the next.

That changed when
McCarthy started dating Donnie Wahlberg, the “Blue Bloods” actor
and New Kids on the Block singer. They married in 2014 and he's been
there each Eve. “This year, I might have Evan there, too,” she
said. That would be a first for her son, Evan Asher, 14.

McCarthy has to be
ready for any weather. She's already seen it range from “almost 60
to maybe five degrees.” For the latter, she encases herself in many
layers, plus heat patches ... all of which is only a partial
solution. “Your brain works, but your mouth is frozen.”

But she pushes
ahead, avoiding any temptation to go to one of those tiny apartments
where people are free to eat and drink and stay warm.

“New Year's
Rockin' Eve”

-- When: 8-11 p.m.
and 11:30 p.m. to 2:13 a.m., ABC.

-- Live from New
York: Mariah Carey, Thomas Rhett, DNCE, Gloria Estefan with the cast
of her Broadway show; also, Ryan Seacrest hosting and Jenny McCarthy

-- Pre-recorded from
Hollywood: Fergie hosts and performs, with John Legend, Alessia Cara,
Hailee Steinfeld, Niall Horan, Flo Rida, Bebe Rexha, Lukas Graham,
Shawn Mendes, Emeli Sande, Mike Posner, Martin Garrix and Fifth
Harmony with Kid Ink and Tyt Dolla $ign.

-- Elswhere: In Las
Vegas, Lionel Richie; on a cruise ship, Demi Lovato; in New Orleans,
Jason Derulo and Panic at the Disco, plus the Central Time Zone

-- Competing music
sows: NBC (11:30 p.m.) is also in Times Square, with Blake Shelton,
Jennifer Lopez, Alicia Keys and Pentatonix; Carson Daly hosts. Fox
(11 p.m.) is in Miami, with Pitbull, Queen Latifah and Snoop Dogg

-- Also: CNN and Fox
News start their marathon coverage at 8 p.m.; NBC has year-end
specials at 8 p.m. (Kathy Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb) and 10 p.m.
(Seth Meyers).

Sorry, Barney; this beauty doesn't need you now

Actually, "Barney & Friends" is a good starter step on the road to fame. Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato were both on the show; but they were short and from Dallas area, where the show was made.

For Paige Mobley -- growing up in Michigan and towering above her classmates -- being on "Barney" was iffy. Now, however, she's doing something more logical; she's a contestant in the revived "America's Next Top Model." Mobley was back in her home town for Christmas break from college and I found her to be impressive; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

At the age of 3, Paige Mobley announced her career goals.

“My mother says I
was watching 'Barney & Friends' on TV, when I started pointing at
the screen,” she said. “I said, 'Momma, I want to go there. I
want to be in there.'”

Nowadays, she's
overshot that goal chronologically and vertically. At 22 and just shy
of six-foot, she won't be chosen as one of Barney's little friends.

But her broader goal
– to be a performer ” -- is thriving. “I knew she was going to
be famous,” said her older sister Camden. Mobley did theater at 12
and modeled at 16; in college, she's landed a few TV bits. And now
she seems to be one of the frontrunners in “America's Next Top

In December of 2014,
that show ended an 11-year, 22-edition run on the CW network and its
predecessor, UPN. “I was devastated,” recalls Mobley, who had
been considered for a spot that year.

But now, two years
later, it's back. It has a different network (VH1) and different host
(Rita Ora), but the same producer (Tyra Banks) and the same
philosophy, emphasizing diverse models.

One woman works at a
Jamaican restaurant; another speaks the African languages of Wolof
and Mandinka. One is an androgynous bartender whose college emphasis
was poetry; two are identical twins. One told of growing up in a big,
Asian family in a one-bedroom apartment.

And in that mix is
Mobley, a blonde overachiever from suburbia.

Outsiders might view
Michigan from the angle of the Flint water crisis or the Detroit auto
woes, but it also has many places like her comfy home town. “There
is a real emphasis on the arts,” Mobley said.

She was sitting in a
coffee shop in Birmingham, Mich. Just down the street was the
93-year-old theater company where she was the genie in “Aladdin”
at 12. A few miles away were the Cranbrook Institute and the Detroit
Institute of Arts, places to visit memories of Eames, Saarinen and
Van Gogh.

This is an ideal
place for her mother (an artist) and father (a celebrity
photographer). “I was his assistant,” Mobley said. “I used to
traipse along, carrying the equipment.”

She savored the
advice she got from long conversations with rocker Sammy Hagar (“such
a kind, kind man”) and comedian Tracy Morgan (“so passionate
about his craft”). Then, at 16, she accompanied her dad to a
photographers' session. “Someone said, 'Oh good, you brought a

Mobley didn't argue
with that. She modeled that day and continued during high school and
in college on both coasts: First was Pace University, in New York
City. “I loved the fast-paced, driven environment” of New York,
she says, but also felt it “creates a sense of hostility.” So she
went the opposite direction and is studying theater at Loyola
Marymount in Los Angeles.

Along the way, she's
landed a few small roles, including a fun one for Ellen Degeneres.
Mobley played a nerdy computer spokeswoman who ends up dancing with
shirtless tech guys. The “Top Model” people spotted her on the
Internet, considered her for 2014, then inserted her for this
comeback year.

The biggest
surprise, Mobley insists, has been “how justified the drama is.”
The second episode's debate about race relations did happen, she
said ... but was part of a long and thoughtful conversation. “Top
Model” chose the angry part, when Mobley walked away. “I tend to
be very non-confrontational.”

That's something she
learned at her all-girls Catholic high school. Mobley speaks fondly
of the school, the students -- “we went from being friends to being
sisters” -- and the nuns. She won a community service award,
learned values ... and never posed naked alongside a dozen other

She did that,
however, for the third “Top Model” episode. It was “fun and a
little scary”' ... and a big jump from her original “Barney & Friends” goal.

-- “America's Next
Top Model,” VH1

-- New episodes
(simulcast on MTV) at 10 p.m. Mondays, rerunning on VH1 at 1 a.m.

-- VH1 will rerun
the first three hours from 6-9 p.m. Tuesday (Dec. 27), repeating them
from midnight to 3 a.m.; it also reruns the third episode at 5 p.m.
Dec. 30.



Looking for the Christmas list? Try Page 3

Yes, my Christmas-TV mega-list is still here and is still being updated. I've written some other stories since then, however, so now it's further down; on the bottom of this page, hit "Page 3" or hit "next" twice. At this point, I've updated it to be fresh as of the evening of Tuesdays, Dec. 13.

Josh Bell found it all -- classical music, tennis, sex studies -- in Indiana

You find interesting things in Indiana, including the former farms of Bill Monroe, Larry Bird and Cole Porter. Really. And in Bloomington, you'll find the musical roots of everyone from John Mellencamp to Joshua Bell. Bell, who has a PBS special Friday (Dec. 16) is an interesting guy; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Let's say your
mad-scientist goal is to blend opposite forces – to make a
classical-music superstar who is still .... well, sort of normal.

Where do you start?
Try Bloomington, Indiana.

That's where Joshua
Bell – who has a PBS special Friday – grew up. “I tell that to
some people in Europe (and) they say, 'Oh, you're from the middle of
nowhere,'” he said. Still, it offered:

-- An unrushed pace,
where he could try many things. “I played a lot of sports,” Bell
said. “I played tennis (and) basketball.”

-- Extraordinary
music. Indiana University's music school has a top reputation and
about 1,600 students. “It's, I think, the largest in the country.”

Or the
second-largest; North Texas often edges it out. Either way, his
parents found it by accident.

Bell's dad, a
psychotherapist, had taken a job at the Kinsey Institute for Sex
Research – another thing you don't expect to find in Indiana. Once
his parents moved there, Bell said, “they were surprised to see
this music, because they love music.”

Bell started violin
lessons at 4, had several top teachers from the university and at 12
began studying with Josef Gingold, considered a master. By then, he
had already:

-- Done his first
solo recital at 11, which included a dizzyingly difficult piece by
Pablo Sarasate.

-- Prospered in
tennis. At 10, one account says, he was fourth in his age group in a
national tournament.

It was possible to
do both, Bell said, because he was blessed with a knack for intense

“My mother used to
drop me off at the Indiana University Music School and I'd go in the
front door and she'd say, 'I'll see you in five hours.' And then I'd
go out the back door and literally play Pac-Man and all those things
in the '80s for about four of those hours .... I actually learned how
to really cram

and really

Apparently, that
worked. At 14, he soloed with the Philadelphia Orchestra; at 17, he
was in Carnegie Hall, soloing with the St. Louis Symphony.

That was also the
year he signed his first record deal, eventually moving to Sony
Classical. He's had seven albums reach No. 1 on Billboard's classical
charts, winning two Grammys.

He's become a media
event, from playing the Sarasate piece for Johnny Carson at 21 to
doing soundtracks for movies -- “Music of the Heart,” “The Red
Violin” and “Ladies in Lavender.”

These days, Bell
lives in Manhattan and has three daughters and a 303-year-old
Stradivarius violin worth millions. But he also has that Indiana
manner and, at 49, a youthful look.

That makes him
logical for some cultural outreach. “Earlier this year, Joshua
traveled to Cuba as part of an historic cultural mission initiated by
Barack Obama,” said PBS producer Andrew Wilk.

With Dave Matthews,
Smokey Robinson, Usher and others, he met Cubans and jammed with some
of them. That included the Chamber Orchestra of Havana, with
musicians in their early 20s, Bell said. “They played
fantastically. I was so impressed with them – their spirit and

Afterward, he talked
Wilk into a concert special that includes that group, other Cuban
musicians and Matthews. This one isn't live, but it is at the Lincoln
Center, under the banner of “Live From the Lincoln Center,” which
Wilk produces and Bell has done several times.

With “my parents,
that was a regular thing,” he said. “We sat around and watched
live Lincoln Center programs.” There they were – a tennis player
and a sex therapist – watching classical concerts from
half-a-continent away. At that point, Indiana didn't seem like the
middle of nowhere.

-- “Life From the
Lincoln Center: Joshua Bell's Seasons of Cuba”

-- 9 p.m. Friday,
PBS (check local listings)



Fresh views of Van Gogh -- from the ear to the soul

We expect TV to deliver lots of cops and crooks and such; we don't expect it to tell us much about history's great artists. But here we are, with two fascinating films just six days apart. Last Thursday was Pablo Picasso (see previous blog); tonight is a richly revisionist view of the night Vincent Van Gogh is known for. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

For generations,
schoolkids have heard the story of Vincent Van Gogh.

Wasn't he a solemn
and lonely artist who was jilted by a lover – then cut off his ear
and gave it to her?

Now, 128 years after
the event, comes Bernadette Murphy. “EverythingI thought I knew
about Van Gogh, I had to put aside,” she said.

Her research – now
in a fascinating PBS documentary – offers new views of what he cut,
why he did it, who he gave it to ... and what sort of person he was.

“Everybody thought
he was this lonely, solitary character with no money .... None of
that turned out to be true,” Murphy said. “He was a very
friendly, lively man.”

Yes, he hated the
early expectations that he become a clergyman like his father. “He
was unhappy with the whole idea of studying Greek and Latin to become
a pastor,” said David Kessler, a retired librarian (University of
California, Berkeley) who has extensively read letters about Van

He tried working at
his uncles' art-dealer business and soon failed. But his younger
brothet Theo thrived at the same business and promptly became Van
Gogh's patron.

Theo “was
extraordinarily generous,” Murphy said. He suggested his brother
paint in France and gave him a solid salary

And Van Gogh showed
that same spirit, Kessler said. Letters indicated “he was one of
the most generous and caring people you could ever imagine.”

The language barrier
frustrated him, Murphy said, but he had made friends and made plans.
“He had this vision of sort of an artistic community ... where
they'd all hang out, discuss paintings, exchange paintings with each
others.” He even bought 12 chairs for the tiny, yellow house he was

Theo paid artist
Paul Gauguin (who owed him money) to be with Van Gogh in France.
Soon, however, the argumentative side of Vincent's personality
flared. Then two setbacks were almost simultaneous:

-- Gauguin was
leaving, after just nine weeks. The artist-community dream was dying.

-- Theo was getting
married; some day, Van Gogh felt, he would no longer have his

“Those two things
pushed him over the edge,” Murphy said. On Dec. 23, 1888, he cut
his ear and delivered it to a woman. Other questions – how much was
cut and who did he give it to? – lingered.

Then they were
solved, apparently, by a someone with no academic credentials, who
grants she was “never, really, a big van Gogh fan.:

The youngest of
eight children in an Irish Catholic family, Murphy grew up in
England, but visited a brother in France – then decided to stay. “I
thought, 'It's now or never. What were your dreams when you were
younger? Why aren't you doing them?'”

Living in France,
she heard bits of the Van Gogh story and wondered about small
discrepancies. That pushed her to do fresh research. The documentary
shows how she used records and contacts to figure out who received
the ear ... and diligence and luck to learn how much was cut.

Before writing his
1934 novel “Lust For Life,” Irving Stone had done elaborate
research into Van Gogh. Much later, his widow gave his papers to the
University of California, Berkeley, where he had studied. Murphy
began an E-mail dialog with Kessler, who found what he calls “a
very tiny, little scrap of paper, which was written on a prescription
pad by Dr. Rey, with a little diagram and a little note in French,
asking that Irving Stone do good things for the memory of his beloved
friend Vincent.”

On that note was a
diagram showing what had been cut off. It was the entire ear – an
act of despair by a man who was also known for vibrancy and genius.

-- “Secrets of the
Dead: Van Gogh's Ear,” 10 p.m. Wednesday, PBS (check local