"Grease" adds some quirky-Frenchy fun with Carly Rae

In front of us was a stage full of pretty people -- the stars of Fox's upcoming (Jan. 31) "Grease: Live." Still, I kept being drawn to Carly Rae Jepsen. Short and slight and cute and almost giggly, she seemed like the 1950s dream of a girl-next-door girlfriend. In short, she's perfect to play Frenchy in "Grease." I talked to her after the session and sent this story to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Carly Rae Jepsen
recalls a long-ago chat that helped propel her career.

She was 8 or so, on
a car ride. “We were listening to Bob Dylan and I asked my mother
what it would take for me to become famous as a singer,” she
recalled. “And she told me, 'Just have a weird voice.'

“I remember taking
that to heart and not trying to sound like anybody other than how I

It's not your usual
rock-star, pop-star sound, but it's served her well. In 2011, her
“Call Me Maybe” was the top-selling song worldwide.

And it's not your
usual rock-star persona. Jepsen, 30, is short (5-foot-2) and slight,
with a gentle manner, just this side of giggly. That makes her
perfect to play Frenchy – the overwhelmed beauty-school drop-out --
in Fox's live “Grease” musical.

Back in her
high-school production, Jepsen starred as the sorta-perfect Sandy. “I
could not walk in heels the way” Julianne Hough, the current Sandy,

She was growing up
in a folky family in Mission, amid the mountainside, Canadian beauty
of British Columbia. “It was very much a musical home We would get
costumes and put on our shows.”

In high school she
did “Grease” and “Annie” and “The Wiz”; along the way,
she said, she felt encouraged. “My parents would always make me
believe the world was my oyster.”

It almost wasn't.
She needed part time jobs – barista and bartender and such – to
get through performing-arts school in Victoria. She finished third on
“Canadian Idol” and had to release her first album independently.
Then “Call Me Maybe” made her famous.

Now she's surrounced
by others who grew up in musical worlds.

“I feel like
'Grease' has just always been a part of my life,” Vanessa Hudgens
said. She plays Rizzo now and started this TV-musical surge a decade
ago with “High School Musical.”

Hough – who stars
in this one alongside Aaron Tveit – remembers doing the show in her
basement when she wasa 5. “I was Sandy and then, during the dance
scene, I turned into Cha Cha, and then I went back to Sandy.”

Kether Donohue, who
plays Jan, was Frenchy in an 8th-grade production. Now
it's Jepsen's turn to be Frenchy, which means she:

-- Has the only new
song. “I was really surprised when they said, 'We're writing a song
for Frenchy.'”

-- Is crooned to
reassuringly by Boyz II Men. “They made the song their own,” said
producer Marc Platt, but “it's still 'Beauty School Dropout' ....
It's been really, really fun.”

-- And shows off her
hairdo misadventures. Frenchy “gets to rock many a 'do,” Jepson
said, “from red to pink to yellow and beyond ....She is just not so
skilled in beauty school She tries and tries again.”

So did Jepsen, back
when she didn't sound or look like a pop star. Then she became one.

-- “Grease: Live”

-- 7-10 p.m. Sunday,
Fox; live in Eastern time zones, tape-delayed in the West

-- Directed by
Thomas Kail (“Hamilton”) onstage and on several Warner Brothers
spots; then the characters converge for the final, carnival scenes


The nanny's back, but the stiff upper lip is gone

One of the good things about TV is that there are places for just about everything. There are plenty of channels for zombies and vampires and political candidates; there are also a few feel-good places. One of those is UP, which is starting a variation on the old "Supernanny" idea. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

When the
“Supernanny” show hit two continents, it was wrapped in familiar

Coming to the rescue
in a British-style taxi was Jo Frost, a dour-looking nanny in a stern
suit. This was “more of a caricature – you know – the suit, the
quaint British taxi,” Frost said.

It worked well;
modern people really wanted Mary Poppins or Nanny McPhee at their
doorsteps. But it only reflected part of her work, she said; her new
show -- “Jo Frost: Nanny on Tour” -- does the rest.

“We never saw the
times when I'm outside with the kids, just having fun,” Frost said.
“People who know me say I'm always having a good laugh.”

Now the new show
offers visual hints of that. The suits are gone; Frost is sometimes
shown wearing bright blue or red. The taxi is gone; she crosses the
U.S. in a blue bus, making a splash in each town.

When Frost did other
shows, “neighbors would show up at the door, seeking some quick
advice,” said Amy Winter, general manager of the UP cable channel.
So now “each episode will feature a community day, where families
from each town are able to come and ask Jo any range of questions.”

UP? Formerly the
Gospel Music Channel, it's finding its niche, Winter said. “At a
time when other networks are walking away from family entertainment,
we are doubling down.”

Alongside lots of
reruns -- “7th Heaven,” “Touched By an Angel,”
“Gilmore Girls,” “Moesha,” even “Supernanny” -- the
channel has movies, some of them original. (Next is “Love Comes to
Valentine” on, appropriately, Feb. 14.) It's tried one new drama
series (“Ties That Bind”) and occasional reality shows. Now two
of them -- “Bringing Up Bates” and “Nanny on Tour” -- are
paired on Thursdays.

The “Nanny”
opener (Jan. 28) has some rough moments, especially when a South
Carolina 2-year-old decides to fill his entire restaurant visit with
screeching. Better times are ahead; just ask one of the kids Frost
visited. “It was very fun .... Well, some parts were like fun,”
Kaitlyn Sauers said.

Her parents, both
cops, have limited time to be with Kaitlyn and her brother. “Every
day is hard,” said her mom, Irene. “At the end of the day, you
just feel completely beat up and walking uphill all day.” So she
sent an E-mail to Frost. “The very next day, I got a call back.”

For Frost, 45, this
work has filled her adult years. Some Americans might think of being
a nanny as a giddy way to see the world; that's not how it's seen in
her native England, she said. “The business of professional
child-care is very well-regarded.”

She started in 1990
and soon was lucky. For five years, she worked for the family of John
Lloyd, a producer whose TV shows -- “Spitting Image,”
“Blackadder,” “Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy” -- helped
define British wit. “He is a very kind, good man ... and a loving

Other experiences –
good ones, mostly – followed. In 2004, she was chosen for

It was a clever
concept, Frost said, soon copied in other fields. “There was 'save
my restaurant' or 'save my hair salon' or whatever.”

The show moved to
the U.S., but Frost dropped out in 2011. She's tried other shows --
“Extreme Parental Guidance” and “Family Matters” in England,
“Family S.O.S.” on cable's TLC – but now comes “Nanny on
Tour.” Her company runs the show and she can base it out of
Southern California, where she lives with fiance, who is a locations

From there, she can
cruise the country in her nannymobile, sort of being herself. “I
can wear colorful tops (without) the stiff-upper-lip image.”

Unless, of course,
kids act up. Then the no-nonsense nanny is back.

-- “Jo Frost:
Nanny on Tour”

-- 8 p.m. Thursdays,
UP; repeating at 10; debuts Jan. 28


Outside the grid, there's violence, warmth and ATV-riding bandits

There are many reasons why I'm not planning to join an off-the-grid commiunity, somewhere in the wilderness. One involves my desire for a steady form of food and drink; the other involves an unwillingness to miss "Big Bang Theory.":

Still, there's great potential there for dramas. "Outsiders" -- which debuts Tuesday (Jan. 26) on WGN and reruns nightly -- offers a rich tale of an outside culture. Here's the story I sent to papers:


By Mike Hughes

In a high-tech
world, people might ponder the notion of hitting disconnect.

“There's a freedom
to not having to be attached to your phone,” said actress Christina
Jackson. “(There's) a desire to be able to get away from
technology, even if it's only for a weekend.”

OK, but how about
for a lifetime? That's in “Outsiders”; it debuts Tuesday on WGN
America, whose president (Matt Cherniss) calls it “visceral” and
“wildly original.” Surprisingly, he's telling the truth.

In Appalachia, a
company wants a mountain vacated, so it can blast for coal. The
complication is that an extended family has been there almost

“The Farrells are
holding onto land ... for over 200 years,” said Peter Mattei, the
show's creator. Now “they just want to live the way that they live
and (they'll) fight the power in order to do that.”

The way they live
isn't what viewers are accustomed to. “We can't be loud, we can't
be raucous,” said writer-producer Peter Tolan. “We're used to
following the laws.”

The Farrells aren't.
In one early scene, they drive their all-terrain vehicles through a
big-box store, grabbing and smashing, while the clerk (Jackson)
stares in awe.

That may remind you
of “Sons of Anarchy.” Indeed, Ryan Hurst (who played Opie in that
one) is Lil Foster here; he helped design tattoos in both shows. “I'm
a tattoo fantatic,” he said. “If I'm not an actor, I'd be covered
in them from head to toe. I go to tattoo conventions, just to see
great artists.”

But there are other
things to compare “Outsiders” to. Mattei talks about everything
from the Ben-Ishmael Tribe (in 19th-century Indianapolis)
to the movie “My Side of the Mountain.” Tolan discusses the gulf
separating “the haves and the have-nots.” And we start to think
of Prince Charles, when we hear David Morse discuss his character,
Big Foster.

“He's a guy who
was never allowed to be fully himself,” Morse said. “He's just
been rotting, basically, for a long time ... until he gets to be in
power, which has been kept from him by his mother.”

Prince Charles has
never, to our knowledge, attempted regicide .... but many previous
royals have. Big Foster takes his place (albeit fictional) in that
human timeline.

involves several people you don't expect to see in a fierce tale. For

-- Paul Giamatti
usually lands cranial roles, from “John Adams” to “Billions”;
his company produces this. “I don't get to play badass guys (on)
ATV's ... but I do like watching that kind of thing,” he said.

-- Morse is a deep
and quiet guy who was first known for his long-suffering “St.
Elsewhere” character. Now he's the one inflicting pain.

-- Tolan is a gifted
comedy writer who co-wrote “Analyze This,” created “The Jim
Gaffigan Show” and co-created “Rescue Me,” with Denis Leary. “I
wrote a lot of drama on 'Rescue Me.'” he said.

That's true, but
he's also a thoroughly funny guy. Now “Outsiders” has him
shifting tone. “It's a very subtle kind of humor,” he granted.

It has deep layers
of tragedy, including a deputy sheriff who fights loneliness and
despair. “You don't often see a guy who's an oxy (oxycontin)
addict” as a cetnral character, Tolan said. But this guy has every
reason to be depressed. “He's horribly fearful of these people.”

In this troubled
world, small batches of humor emerge, Tolan said. “I've been
telling Peter (Mattei): 'You need to tell me if it's too light.'”

He hasn't heard that
so far. “Outsiders” is at its best when avoiding limits.

-- “Outsiders,”
9 p.m. Tuesdays, WGN America.

-- Opener debuts
commercial-free on Jan. 26; reruns that night at 10 p.m., 11 p.m. and

-- Also, opener
reruns at 11 p.m. Wednesday (Jan. 27), 10 p.m. Thursday, 11 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 10 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 1


A musical life leads to a new cable show

Life has whisked Donovan Leitch from Beatles-era London to Hollywood sunshine. Despite lots of detours, he's kept his passion for music and has an interesting new show on Sundays. Here's the story I sent to papers:


By Mike Hughes

world is full of talented music people, Donovan Leitch says.

Some do it
full-time; some double as waiters and actors and accountants. Many
deserve to be noticed.

Now he produces and
hosts a show that does that. “Breaking Band” finds an emerging
act and links it with a rock star as a temporary mentor and duet

This is turf Leitch
knows well; he's spent most of his 48 years somewhere near the music
world. “I'm told there are photos of me as a baby, in George
Harrison's arms,” he said.

Yes, George Harrison
of the Beatles. Leitch's dad was also named Donovan Leitch, but was
simply known as Donovan. A Scottish singer-songwriter, he soared
briefly; in 1966, “Sunshine Superman” and “Mellow Yellow”
reached No. 1 and 2 on Billboard's U.S. chart. He faded for a while,
but was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.

Leitch could have
grown up around this. (“I was essentially born on the stage,” he
said.) But when he was 3, his parents split and his mother moved with
the kids to the Hollywood Hills.

Like his mother
(Enid Karl), Leitch has been a model. Like his younger sister (Ione
Skye, star of the teen classic “Say Anything”), he's an actor.
Still, music is a passion. “I wish that was all that I did.”

He's been in bands –
Camp Freddy, Nancy Boys and now Royal Machines – and been a
producer; he's also met lots of music people, some of whom hit it
big. “Every mentor on the show is a friend of mine.”

For the opener, he
linked Dave Navarro (Jane's Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers) with
Andie Case, a gifted Seattle singer-songwriter who has emerged on the
Internet. For the third episode, he wasn't sure who to pair with
Sebastian Case. “There really are no heavy-metal bands in the U.S.
right now.” Eventually, he found the Finnish band called Santa

Yes, a band from
Finland ... named after a California city it had never seen ...
worked with a rock star from Canada and the U.S. ... in a show
produced and hosted by an English-born guy from Hollywood. The rock
world gets kind of mobile sometimes.

-- “Breaking
Band,” 9:30 p.m. ET (6:30 p.m. PT) Sundays on AXS, the cable
channel (formerly HDNet), created by Mark Cuban

-- Starts Jan. 24,
paired with the 9 p.m./6 p.m. “Rock & Roll Road Trip With Sammy

-- Opener links Dave
Navarro and Andie Case. Others are: Moby and Runaground, Jan. 31;
Sebastian Bach and Santa Cruz, Feb. 7; Robin Zander and Set The
Charge. Feb. 14; Belinda Carlisle and Sick of Sarah, Feb. 21; and
Marck McGrath and Stick Figure, Feb. 28.


Two centuries later, a new Blackbeard is ready to rule

The people at Starz use the word "epic" a lot. Fortunately, they have the shows to back it up. "Black Sails," which returns Saturday (Jan. 23),is a massive series ... and now has added a massive actor who seems to fit. Ray Stevenson is an engaging chap offscreen and a menacing soul onscreen. Here's the story I sent to papers:


By Mike Hughes

Stevenson keeps visiting the supersized characters of movies and TV.

He's been two giant
Marvel men – Volstagg in the “Thor” films and The Punisher in
(logically) “The Punisher.” He's sailed the Mayflower and entered
King Arthur's court.

And now – as
“Black Sails” opens its season – comes maybe the biggest
character of all. “Edward Teach was 6-foot-4,” Stevenson said.
“The guy was a colossus.”

Stevenson, 41, also
happens to be 6-4 and big-bodied, but that seems less colossal
nowadays. Teach lived 200 years ago, building a reputation that gave
him his nickname – Blackbeard.

That makes him ideal
for “Black Sails” now. “(We) wanted someone to come in and turn
(things) upside-down,” said producer Jonathan Steinberg.

The show has merged
real-life pirates (Charles Vane, Anne Bonny) with the fictional ones
(John Silver, Captain Flint) from Robert Louis Stevenson's “Treasure
Island.” It always planned to add Blackbeard, Steinberg said. “It
was a constant process of, 'Is it time yet?'”

Now it is. Vane and
Flint have merged ... Silver has lost his leg ... the pirate island
has become vulnerable ... and Blackbeard can arrive, stirring things
up. He has brief-but-thunderous scenes in the opener Saturday, then
wedges himself into the plot next week.

“I was up for
Blackbeard on (NBC's) 'Crossbones,'” Stevenson said. “Then John
Malkovich came.”

Under Malkovich, the
character was slim and sly; now he returns to his supersized form.

One might assume
Stevenson spent any non-acting years being a bodyguard or a
longshoreman or such. Actually, he was an interior designer.

As a kid in Ireland
and England, he had considered acting, then figured it was out of
reach. He went to art school , worked as a designer, then changed his
mind. At 29, he was finally out of theater school and getting small
roles ... and then bigger ones.

Stevenson savored
the role of a loyalist in “King Arthur” (2004); the next year, he
starred with Kevin McKidd in “Rome,” playing a character he
loved. “Titus Pullo literally changed my life.”

That's in a career
sense – starring in an epic HBO series – and a personal one. It
was while filming in Italy, Stevenson said, that he met Elisabetta
Caraccia. “She was my landlord; now we have three children.”
She's an anthropologist, which makes her “one of the greatest
people to travel with.”

As it happens, his
job includes lots of travel. “Black Sails” has built sprawling
sets in Capetown, South Africa, including giant ship replicas.

On-board, actors
must pretend they're in maritime adventures. “In the storm
sequence, it was pretty easy to do that,” said Toby Stephens, who
plays Flint. “You had, like jet engines propelling water sideways
at us at about one hundred miles an hour. So that didn't take much

This is Stevenson's
second recent maritime tale, after playing a key Mayflower figure in
the “Saints and Sinners” mini-series. “I'm a history nerd ....
I love immersing myself in that sort of period.”

Especially when he's
on a re-created ship from two centuries ago. “They (were) at the
forefront of their technology,” he said. “The rigging on these
big ships is almost as complex as the electrical wiring on a 747. And
they opened the world.”

-- “Black Sails,”
9 p.m. Saturdays, Starz; second season starts Jan. 23

-- Season-opener
reruns often, including 10:03 and 11:07 p.m. Saturday; 10:35 a.m. and
1:40, 7 and 8:05 p.m. Sunday; 3:05 and 10 p.m. Tuesdays; 3:35 and 9
p.m. Wednesday; 10:40 p.m. Friday (Jan. 29); and 7:55 p.m. Jan. 30,
leading into the second episode.