On Valentine's Day, love battles zombies and such

It's easy to assume that all of TV's romance movies are the same. (Many of them do use variations of the same plot.) But the two that debut on Valentine's Day are near the top of their field. Hallmark's "Anything For Love" has a clever plot; UP's "Love Finds You in Valentine" is handsomely filmed. They're on a night (Feb. 14) that isn't always lovey-dovey. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

When Valentine's Day
arrives, TV people know just what we want.

How about marauding
zombies, chewing our brains and our hopes? Or an ambitious epic of
drugs, decay and (sometimes) punk music? Or ...

OK, many of the top
shows on Feb. 14 (led by AMC's “Walking Dead” and HBO's “Vinyl”)
seem almost anti-Valentine. So does “My Bloody Valentine,” on
IFC. But you'll find romance on:

-- “The Bachelor
at 20: A Celebration of Love,” from 8-10 p.m. on ABC. The romance
record is actually pretty shaky on “The Bachelor” (19 seasons,
two marriages) and “Bachelorette” (11 seasons, two marriages, a
current engagement). So this will also focus on the wedding of Tanner
Tolbert and Jade Roper, who met on the “Bachelor in Paradise”

-- Movies. There's a
sweetness to Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore in “50 First Dates”
(2004), at 8 p.m. on Comedy Central. But the real classics are
“Frozen” (2013, 7 p.m. on Disney) and “Casablanca” (1942, 8
p.m. ET on Turner Classic Movies).

-- And made-for-TV

Hallmark is big on
these, with marathons from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday,
Feb. 13-14. That peaks at 9 p.m. Sunday, with the debut of “Anything
For Love,” a cleverly plotted film that has two people starting a
romance, unaware that friends have lied for them on an Internet
dating site.

And now there's sort
of a mini-Hallmark that does similar films.

UP (formerly the
Gospel Music Channel) has been adapting “Love Finds You” novels.
“Love Finds You in Valentine” (7 and 9 p.m. ET Sunday) imagines
that Kennedy, a young law-school grad, has just inherited a ranch in
Valentine, Nevada. There, she meets:

-- The foreman, once
a tough city kid who was adopted by a ranching family. After “never
feeling like ... he's part of something ... he found his passion, his
life, his salvation,” said Diogo Morgado, who plays him – and
understands being an outsider. A native of Portugal, Morgado has
ranged from playing Jesus in the “Bible” mini-series to being an
ominous figure in the “Messengers” series.

-- His adoptive
mother, played by Lindsay Wagner, who grew up in California, but
found parts to relate to. “My father's family is from Kansas and
(it) kind of reminded me of some old family stories.”

-- And Kennedy's
crusty grandfather. He's played by Ed Asner, who has crusty down to
an art form.

Asner has seven
Emmys – five of them for playing Lou Grant in both a comedy and a
drama – and 17 nominations. At 86, he's briefly considered quittig.
“I was thinking about it this Christmas,” he said. “But the new
year looks very promising. So I'll forget about retiring.”

Now he has almost a
dozen small roles in the works or recently finished. In a way, he
follows the example of Morris Asner, a native Lithuanian who went
from being a pony-and-cart junk man to a successful scrap-iron dealer
in Kansas City.

“My father learned
from the firemen down the street,” Asner said. “They retired and
a year later, they were dead. So he vowed never to retire and he died
(at 82), still tending his business.”

Now Asner is tending
to his, as people find love in Valentine on Valentine's Day.


Pssst, Nikki is ready to talk sexy (or funny) on cable

Amy Schumer brought something fresh to cable, when she found ways to mix intelligence, with and sex. Now her friend Nikki Glaser hopes to do more of the same. Glaser's show debuts Tuesday (Feb. 9) and reruns often; here's the story I sent to papers:


TV's sexual
revolution – its latest one, anyway – is being led by two pals.

Both are stand-up
comedians, bottle blondes and “Last Comic Standing” losers. Both
are college grads who talk about sex a lot on their Comedy Central
shows. They are:

-- Amy Schumer, 34.
“In March, we'll be premiering Season 4 of 'Inside Amy Schumer' and
we've also picked up Season 5 for next year,” said Kent Alterman,
Comedy Central's programming chief.

-- Nikki Glaser, 31.
“Not Safe With Nikki Glaser” arrives now, pushing things a step
further. “Nikki is a self-proclaimed 'curious perv,'” Alterman

Well, maybe
semi-perverted -- “I'm always thinking about sex, I'm always
talking about it, I'm always making lewd comments to my boyfriend,”
she said -- but definitely curious. In the opener, she visits a
foot-fetish club; she also sees what it takes to have a guy flee from
you on Tinder.

None of this is what
people would have expected when Glaser was growing up in St. Louis.

“I didn't have sex
until I was 21,” she said. “I didn't kiss a boy until I was 17. I
was terrified of boys my whole life. I don't know why. I think it was
my mom's Catholicism. Or trickled-down Reaganomics; I'm not sure
which. Those are just words I've learned.”

The complication was
that she started doing stand-up at 18. “I (was) talking about my
sex life even before I was having sex.”

As her career caught
on, she met Schumer. “We both saw clips of each other when we were
just starting out and we reached out and were like, 'We need to be
friends,'” Glaser said. “Because we just felt we were so alike,
and we've always had the same kind of sense of humor, which is kind
of dark.”

Schumer – who grew
up on Manhattan and Long Island – didn't start stand-up until her
23rd birthday; three years later, she was finishing fourth
on “Last Comic Standing.”

Glaser tried
“Standing” three years later, reaching the semi-finals but
failing to make the top 10. She went on to be in Schumer's movie
(“Trainwreck”) and TV show, popped up in other comedy shows and
finally got the go-ahead for her own Comedy Central show.

It arrives a decade
into her sex life. “The only reason I ever had sex was because I
got drunk .... I was able to have the courage to do it,” she said.
“It was a consensual thing, by the way.”

For the next six
years, she said, she resorted to sex-while-drunk. “And then I quit
drinking at the age of 27 and then I was like, 'How do I do this

It was a tough
transition, she told a room full of TV critics. “I don't know if
anyone here has had sober sex before. It's impossible.”

But years of this
have made her a sort of expert. Future shows will include, for
instance, advice for guys on sending well-posed photos of male
organs. “It's really a public service show,” Alterman said.

Or it's as close to
public-service as one gets on a channel that has Schumer, Glaser,
“Drunk History” and “Time Traveling Bong.”

-- “Not Safe With
Nikki Glaser,” Comedy Central

-- 10:30 p.m.
Tuesdays, starting Feb. 9; reruns that night at 1:04 a.m.

-- Other reruns
include latenight Wednesday, Friday and Monday; technically, the
times are 12:31 a.m. Thursday, 1:05 a.m. Saturday and 12:31 a.m. next
Tuesday, Feb. 16.



Fantasy turns to nightmare when gambling grows

Sure, many of us have been annoyed by the cascade of commercials for daily fanraasy leagues Online. For some people, however, that went beyond annoyance; it became another way to ruin livesa with sports gambling -- but this time legally. On Tuesday, PBS' "Frontline" is going to dig into the subject. Here's the story I sent to papers:

(Interesting story
on a PBS probe of daily fantasy football. The “Frontline” is
Tuesday; story works well in print – features or sports – or

By Mike Hughes

As the Super Ball
fun fades, PBS is re-visiting the darker side of football.

This time, it's not
the damage to the players, but to the fans.

“The best estimate
(is) $100 billion of illegal bets on college and professional
football take place every year in the United States,” said Jim
Glanz, a New York Times reporter whose “Frontline” report views
sports gambling in general and the daily fantasy games – mostly
legal, for now -- in particular.

Some gamblers can't
afford to lose, said Curtis Coburn, a retired detective in Texas. “I
saw people bring their paychecks and sign them over, try to sell a
ring to their bookie.”

Josh Adams was an
Auburn University administrator, in his mid-30s, when his gambling
peaked. His financial losses totaled about $10,000, he said; his
personals losses were more: “I was a terrible son, a bad brother, a
poor boyfriend. And it was because ... gambling got all my

Congress had
attempted to regulate sports gambling in 2006, bringing aftershocks:

-- Many of the
operations moved; the “Frontline” report chases some offshore

-- Fantasy football
leagues were specifically exempted. “Daily fantasy wasn't as big as
it is today,” said Raney Aronson-Rath, the “Frontline”
producer. To get the legislation passed, a loophole was created.

Back then, Glanz
said, fantasy simply involved homemade leagues “in the office and
with our buddies.” People drafted players once, then watched them
up and down through the season.

Then Internet
companies hatched daily games that fit the loophole. “The NFL was
closely involved in lobbying for this exemption,” Glanz said. “And
they didn't speak to us for the piece.”

Indirectly, the NFL
and college teams benefit: They sell TV rights ... which are now
worth more, with the cascade of commercials for DraftKings and
FanDuel spots.

Those unrelenting
spots can annoy some fans ... especially ones who were shattered by
gambling. Fortunately, Adams – who quit gambling on May 13, 2014 –
has missed most of those.

“For the first
football season, I didn't watch a single game,” he said. “(But)
sometimes you have to watch a game because it's Thanksgiving and
you're with family and friends. (This season) I noticed that the
advertising had reached somewhat of a grotesque level.”

That can be tough to
watch he said. “Maybe most people can play fantasy sports normally
and it's fun I am not one of those people .... I started betting when
I was 13.”

The goal wasn't
making money, he said. It was “the excitement – being up $2,000
and bettting it all.”

Then came the
schemes to get a fresh stake . “That's where the real misery lies
.... telling your friend you don't have the $500 you said you needed
to fix your roof.”

Eventually, he
called 1-800-GAMBLER, he said, and began the slow recovery.

The size and haul of
a gambling operation can be enormous, Coburn said. He began by
probing a small operation at a bar in Plano,Texas. “During football
season, sometimes they worked 20 or 50 people on the computers,
sitting there and taking phone calls, and it just blossomed. These
people had ... bogus businesses that they were laundering money
through. They have ATM machines in their homes.”

It was a
billion-dollar-a-year operation, he said. It was stopped, but others
emerged – including the legal ones for daily fantasy. The owners of
two NFL teams (Cowboys and Patriots) even bought stakes in
DraftKings; other teams are linked.

“Major League
Baseball has an exclusive agreement with DraftKings .... In the NFL,
most individual teams have an agreement with one or the other of the
big players,” Glanz said. “Now ... there's probably been some
second-thinking there.”

-- “Frontline: The
Fantasy Sports Gamble”

-- 10 p.m. Tuesday,
PBS; check local listings


Even for the casual fan, this game could be super

The previous two blogs talked about lots of things surrounding Super Bowl 50, but there still seems to be something missing ... Ah yes, the game itself. Somewhere alongside the hype, the music and the commercials, people will play football. This one could be interesting, even for the most casual fan; here's the story I sent to papers:


By Mike Hughes

The massive grasp of
a Super Bowl goes far beyond your intense fan.

“An event of this
size brings legions of casual viewers,” said James Brown, who hosts
Sunday's four-hour pre-game show on CBS. It even has
“believe-it-or-not, a sizable number of first-time viewers.”

Last year's game
averaged 114.4 million viewers; some knew little about the players or
the game. Not to worry; this year's game is a classic match-up, with
some key people. Let's go way back:

In 1987, two great
quarterbacks met in Pasadena. John Elway led the Denver Broncos; Phil
Simms led the New York Giants ... who were in their first Super Bowl.

“I remember
standing in the tunnel at the Rose Bowl, ... thinking, 'This is the
greatest thing that's ever happened to me. All my dreams as a kid,'”
Simms recalled.

His teammates had
different reactions. “One of my offensive linemen, standing next to
me, was crying (and) my starting left tackle was throwing up.”

Gradually, the
Giants pulled together. Trailing 10-9 at halftime, they won 39-20; at
one point, Simms completed 10 straight passes.

Those things happen,
Simms said; people say the quarterback gets in a rhythm. “When you
get that confidence, the coach gets it with you. So the play-calling
gets better; everything changes.”

Elway had two more
Super Bowl losses – 42-10 and 55-10 – as part of the AFC's
13-year losing streak. Then he ended both streaks in 1998, beating
the Packers 31-24. The next year he beat the Falcons 34-14; at 38 –
ancient, by football standards – he was named most valuable player
and retired.

Now jump ahead 17
years. Simms is CBS' Super Bowl analyst; Elway is the Broncos'
general manager.

In his first season
there, Elway saw the Broncos go 8-8 – their fourth straight
non-winning season.

That's when Peyton
Manning – one of the all-time great quarterbacks, but questionable
after a year-long injury – was available; Elway signed him. In the
four regular seasons since then, the Broncos have been 50-14; one
year, Manning was named most valuable player (for the fifth time) but
was promptly drubbed 43-8 in the 2014 Super Bowl.

That put his Super
Bowl record at 1-2 and this season he seemed unlikely to get another
try. “It was incredible, the turn of events for him,” Simms said.

At 39 and battered
by injuries, Manning missed six games and should have missed another.
Playing while hurt, he attempted 20 passes, with only five
completions (for 35 yards), four interceptions and a benching. People
assumed his career was over.

But the Broncos
played well with back-up Brock Osweiler and then with Manning
returning. He edged two longtime foes (Ben Roethlisberger and Tom
Brady), to become the oldest Super Bowl quarterback.

Manning would be the
full focus – if it weren't for the emergence of the Carolina
Panthers' Cam Newton. “His talent, his personality is like nothing
we've seen in the NFL,” Simms said.

Neither man had a
strong passing year; Newton ranked 16th in the NFL,
Manning 27th. But Newton ran for 636 yards and 10
touchdowns; over the past eight seasons, Manning has totalled
minus-34 yards.

The Panthers have
soared – and been overlooked. “They rode into Dallas at 10-0 ...
and they were the underdog,” said Jim Nantz, who will do the Super
Bowl play-by-play for CBS. “People haven't really caught up with
how good they are.”

The Panthers were
15-1 in the regular season, took their play-off games 31-24 and 49-15
and have a dynamic quarterback. “He's 26 years old,” Nantz said.
“He's bound to be the future face of this game.”

But now he meets one
of the past faces. Manning has done it all – except to win a second
Super Bowl, like his boss (Elway) did at the end of his career. Now
he gets perhaps his last chance.

-- Super Bowl
kick-off, 6:35 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS

-- James Brown
anchors “Super Bowl Today” from 2-6 p.m.; other previews start at
11 a.m.


Super Bowl? How about a half-hour preview, plus "Lassie"?

What's coming Sunday, CBS reminds us relentlessly, is not merely the Super Bowl; it's Super Bowl 50. So with that in mind, let's look at then and now. This is part of a package I sent to papers. The blog below this one walks through CBS' day on Sunday (Feb. 7); this one looks way back. Still coming is a casual-fan's view of this year's game.

By Mike Hughes

By now, we assume
that this Sunday will be supersized.

Super Bowl 50 will
be surrounded by spectacle – seven-and-a-half hours of pre-game
shows ... a halftime concert by Coldplay ... a postgame special with
Stephen Colbert. “This really is a national holiday,” said Sean
McManus, chairman of CBS Sports. “It really is a celebration.”

But some people
remember when the game didn't have a number ... or the word “super”
... or a sell-out.

On Jan. 15, 1967,
the “World Championship Game” at the Los Angeles Memorial
Coliseum was listed at 61,946 people – which means there were about
31,661 empty seats. CBS' pre-game show was a half-hour; its postgame
show was “Lassie.” Halftime had marching bands.

The Green Bay
Packers, the National Football League champions, faced the Kansas
City Chiefs, champs of the upstart American Footbal League – which
some people called a “Mickey Mouse league.”

Chiefs coach Hank
Stram decided to have equipment guys wear Mickey Mouse ears in the
locker room and play the theme song as the players came and left. “I
thought, 'We'll have a little fun with this and maybe get them
relaxed,'” he said in “Super Bowl Sunday: The Day America Stops”
(Addax, 2000).

That worked for a
while; at halftime, the Chiefs trailed only 14-10.
The game was on
both CBS and NBC, the regular networks for the NFL and AFL. McManus –
who was 12 and watching with his dad, master sportscaster Jim McKay
-- grants that he may have chosen NBC back then. “I was kind of a
fan of the AFL.”

CBS had Frank
Gifford as its analyst, with Ray Scott calling the first half and
Jack Whitaker the second. “I'm scared to death,” recalled
Whitaker, 91. “And ... here comes the second-half kickoff and all
of a sudden, everything stops. Whistles are blowing; referees are
running around.”

After more
confusion, he said, an explanation “came over the headset: 'Relax
guys, NBC blew it. They were in commercial. They are going to kick it
over again.'”

Then the game became
more predictable: The Chiefs were shut out in the second half and
lost 35-10; Packer quarterback Bart Starr was named most valuable
player ... and repeated that a year later, when the Packers beat the
Oakland Raiders, 33-14

In the third year,
the game was officially named the Super Bowl – and became super.
Joe Namath, quarterback of the AFL's New York Jets – guaranteed a
victory. The Jets beat the Baltimore Colts, 16-7.

For seven of the
next nine years, the AFC would beat the NFC (their post-merger
names). One turnaround then saw the NFC win 13 straight, from
1985-97; then Broncos' quarterback John Elway launched a
counter-streak, winning eight out of 10.

Now the NFC has 26
wins, the AFC has 23 and the game has lots of promotional hype.

That first year,
Whitaker recalls, “we couldn't get a promo .... We got no help at
all. And Bill MacPhail (the CBS sports president) was kind of

Today, promos aren't
a concern for McManus. Five days after the 49th Super
Bowl, he said, CBS had a company-wide conference; ever since, it's
been dripping in golden promos.


It has a high mark
to beat: Last week's Patriots-Seahawks game on NBC set the records
for TV rating (47 percent of all TV homes) and total viewers, an
average of 114.4 million. That compared to 112.2 million the previous
year – and a combined 51.2 million the first year. “It's nice to
have the most-watched show in television history .... but if it's
not, life goes on,” McManus said.


There will total
seven hours of primetime specials ... and 75 hours of previews on the
CBS Sports Network ... and more, on radio and in daytime shows and
newscasts and beyond.

After all of that
comes the 6:35 p.m. ET kick-off. The Denver Broncos – with Elway as
general manager and veteran Peyton Manning at quarterback – face
the Carolina Panthers, with young Cam Newton and one of the best
records in the Super Bowl era. “We have to put into context how
magnificent this season has been for the Panthers,” said Jim Nantz,
who will do play-by-play.

Chances are, they'll
be saying “Super” and “50” a lot. And there won't be 31,000
empty seats.

-- “Super Bowl
50,” 6:35 p.m. ET Sunday (Feb. 7), CBS. Specials at 11 a.m.;
preview at 2 p.m.

-- Earlier primetime
specials involve Super Bowl commercials (8-10 p.m. Tuesday, 8-9 p.m.
Saturday) and halftime shows (9-11 p.m. Friday), plus “NFL Honors,”
9-11 p.m. Saturday.