The Bullochs make tough love seem kind of lovely

Many people haven't heard of Rusty and Julie Bullock ... or of the cable channel (UP) they're on. If they met them, however, they'd like them instantly; here's the story I sent to papers:



Julie Bulloch was a high school senior, working in the
guidance office that day. That’s when, she recalls, “this little, cocky
football player” strolled in.

She had a pleasant, rooted family in Lakeland, Fla.; he was
a tough teen who had moved around Alabama, before reaching Florida. They were
opposites … and, like in the movies, fell in love.

Now they’re married, with two kids, a granddaughter … and 33
young people who, at various times, have lived with them. “She’s super
compassionate and I tend to be the opposite,” said Rusty Bulloch, who manages
to hide his own warmth for a millisecond or two.

That’s at the core of “Bulloch Family Ranch,” a feel-good
reality show on a feel-good network (UP) that seems to fit the family’s
philosophy “There are good people everywhere,” Rusty said.

Especially at their home, where they raised two athletic
kids. Amanda did softball, basketball, cheerleading and more; Brodie
quarterbacked the high school football team to an 8-2 record.

What would happen after they left? “I was actually thinkin’
we’d be out of the kid business,” Rusty said.

Not nearly. When a teen and her mom had tension, they asked
if she could live with the Bullochs. That was 18 years ago and others keep
arriving.  “The maximum we had was three”
at a time, Rusty said.

Everyone lived by Rusty’s tough-love rules and everyone did
chores. “No one wants to clean the horses’ stalls,” Brodie said. “It doesn’t
smell good and it’s not exactly sanitary.”

These two opposites actually have some key things in common.
Both are big on God and hard work; Julie says she “grew up around horses” and
Rusty says he’s a “country cowboy” at heart.

He’s also a farrier (shoeing horses) and a football coach. That
last part has been a big jump for someone who admits he grew up around racial

Many of the guys staying with the Bullochs have been
football players, including some major ones. Bilal Powell, a fourth-round pro draft
pick, has started some games as a New York Jets running back; Claude Davis also
was signed for a Jets try-out, then was dropped after a marijuana arrest.

That’s a reminder that life is complicated, “It’s an
unending love …. The door is always open,” Rusty said.

One of the previous guys at the ranch was jailed for probation
violation. In the season-opener, Julie invites his girlfriend and their daughter
to stay at the ranch.

Amanda Bulloch-Masek, who has a 3-year-old daughter and has
had three recent miscarriages, was startled by that. “To have someone move in
with a child that is my child’s age and she’s pregnant was very emotional and
very hard on me,” she said.

Rusty was surprised, too. “Trust me, at (51) years old, I
know why young people have children,” he said. “It’s very trying to go from (taking
care of) 18-to-22 year-olds to a 3-year-old.”

There are also two guys staying with them; there won’t be
any more, Julie said, despite all the attention TV has brought. “We’ve probably
had at least 150 children offered to us, as young as 6 and as old as 64.”

“Bulloch Family Ranch,” 9 p.m. Wednesdays, UP
(formerly Gospel Music Channel), repeating at midnight. Season opens Feb. 26.

These are masterful times for "Masterpiece" producer

There really was a time when "Masterpiece" seemed to be wobbling. The underwriter had left and the British shows were becoming scarce; so were the viewers. Then a remarkable comeback began, peaking Sunday (Feb. 23), with the two-hour "Downton Abbey" season-finale. Much of that centers on Rebecca Eaton, now in her 29th year as the "Masterpiece" executive producer. Here's the story I sent to papers:


At first, this might seem a tad off-kilter.

Here is Rebecca Eaton, the “Masterpiece” master, the person
who brings “Downton Abbey” and other classy British dramas to America. Now she’s
poolside at a Pasadena hotel.

Out of place? Not completely. “I learned to swim here,” she
said. “I had my junior prom in this hotel.”

She grew up as a California girl, even if she didn’t fit the
image. “I was reading about Mr. Darcy and Mr. Rochester when everyone else was
going to the beach.”

And then she found her place. She brings these fictional
people – Darcy in “Pride and Prejudice,” Rochester in “Jane Eyre” -- to the
U.S. Her show peaks Sunday with the two-hour “Downton” finale.

“’Masterpiece’ is 43 years old and arguably at the top of
its game,” Eaton said.

She’s been executive producer for 29 years, including slow
ones. Cable competed for costume dramas, the British quit making them, PBS budgets
never budged. “Masterpiece” wobbled … then recovered.

Eaton mentions the heroes of the comeback. Kenneth Branagh
kept doing “Masterpiece” films, including his praised “Wallander” mysteries … Gillian
Anderson brought her “X Files” popularity when she did stunning work in the
2005 “Bleak House” and as host ... and the British brought back an old favorite.

“The BBC was doing a bunch of Jane Austen’s works” in 2009,
Eaton recalled. The kid who read about Mr. Darcy became the grown-up who
combined old and new for a PBS package of all six Austen tales. It was the
ultimate package, she said – “cute guys, beautiful dresses, heartbreaking

Still, the big step was “Downton,” a show rejected by
everyone, Eaton said – “even NBC,” which owned the producing company.  She said no, because she’d committed to a
revival of the similar “Upstairs, Downstairs.” Then “I heard Maggie Smith had
been cast. And Simon Curtis, who is a friend, called.”

Curtis, the acclaimed director of “My Week with Marilyn” and
the “Cranford” series, called to say this show (co-starring his wife Elizabeth
McGovern) seemed exceptional. “Masterpiece” joined the project, which blended
old elegance with new storytelling styles. It became “appointment viewing,” Eaton
said, setting PBS records; it also put a spotlight on everything else, from “Selfridge”
to “Sherlock.”

For Eaton, this seems like natural turf. “She has that gift
of enthusiasm and curiosity,” Branagh wrote in the preface to her memoir. And “she’s
had a big impact on the careers of a lot of British actors.”

In roots, she’s a Boston-born intellectual, with a
smattering of Broadway belle. Her father was a New Hampshire guy who taught
English literature at MIT; her mother, Katherine Emery, was a Southerner who
became a stage star and also did movies.

But in 1948, when Eaton was a baby, her dad became Cal Tech’s
dean of students; her mother did films for a few years, then stopped. “Being an
actress and stopping cold-turkey had to be hard on her.”

California wasn’t that easy for Eaton, a bookworm in a
bikini-beach world. She finally felt at home at Vassar and then during a summer
internship in London. “I truly felt I had to live there.”

Now she does, sort of. Living in Boston, she makes
occasional trips to California and frequent ones to London, for co-production deals.
There, she lives in the worlds of Darcy and Rochester and friends.

“Masterpiece Theatre,” 9 p.m. Sundays, PBS
(check local listings). Two-hour finale Feb. 23; after pledge drives, “Mr.
Selfridge” starts its second season March 30.

“Making Masterpiece” memoir, Viking, 2013;


A breezy route to Internet fame

When I chat with about my life, I might get the attention of two or there people (all of them related to me), tops. When Tyler Oakley does, he gets millions.

Oakley does it on the Internet. At 24, he's charming and instantly likable, perfectly suited for this age of instant stardom. Now he's one of the people in an intriguing documentary Tuesday (Feb. 18) on PBS' "Frontline." Here's the story I sent to papers:


This is a new kind of fame game, built from “likes” and
“tweets” and such. And some people win big.

Meet Tyler Oakley, Internet star. At 24, he has 3.8 million
YouTube subscribers … and 1.9 million Twitter followers … and Facebook and
Tumnblr and Instgram and a solid income.

“It is a career,” Oakley said, but “it’s not a job. It’s my
favorite thing I could ever do.”

He’s featured Tuesday on PBS’ “Frontline”; so is Ceili
Lynch, a teen-ager in Mount Vernon, New York. On the Internet and beyond (as
Ceili Everdeen) she might put in four hours at a time, re-tweeting and
re-blogging anything about “The Hunger Games”; the lone reward is to be listed
among the top 100 fans.

They’re part of a savvy generation, said author Douglass
Rushkoff, producer of the PBS hour. They know “how ‘likes’ work, how to create
networks, how to build that, how to play this system.”

What they may not realize, he said, is how thoroughly they’re
part of companies’ strategy. “Advertising and marketing and public relations …
morph into this other thing.”

A decade ago, Rushkoff’s “Merchants of Cool” described how “street
teams” search for the cool kids to copy. Now that has vanished; the street is
the Internet and Oakley is one of the cool kids.

He’s fresh-faced and enthusiastic, a self-described “fangirl”
whose favorite subjects include the pop group One Direction and “Glee” co-star
Darren Criss. He lives in San Francisco now, but emerged from places with
tough, blue-collar images – Jackson, Mich., and Michigan State University.

Oakley’a three best friends had gone to three different
colleges and he heard about video blogging. “I thought, ‘Wow, I have a camera.
I could do that.’”

On-cameras, he talked about his life and his passions. “I
remember I saw that I had 100 people. I thought, ‘I don’t have 100 friends.’”

And then he had many more. He switched his major from
education to communications. By the time he graduated, he had 100,000
subscribers. He worked in marketing for a tad – first for MSU, then Chictopia –
but, after moving to San Francisco, focused on himself.

“I committed to a schedule,” Oakley said. “I committed
myself to working and developing my brand. And I started working with others
and building my team.”

That would be harder to do now, starting from scratch, he
said. “It’s a saturated space. You have so much competition. (When) I started
in 2007, it was a very different atmosphere.”

But people keep trying. “These are kids who were born with
‘American Idol’ when they were 5 years old,” Rushkoff said. They seek instant
fame, quick approval; and sometimes, they get it.

“It’s always a little bit bizarre,” Oakley said. “I’m just
sharing myself …. I never had a motive; I never had any reason like wanting to
work with brands or anything.” Now he gets paid to mention them; almost by
accident, he’s a new merchant of cool.

“Frontline: Generation Like,” 10 p.m. Tuesday,
PBS (check local listings)

Fallon: The talk-to-anyone guy gets his moment

Sometimes, it's important to mention when you were wrong ... and, especially, when you were right.

I was right about thinking Conan O'Brien made a big mistake by rejecting the "Tonight" compromise -- Jay Leno telling jokes at 11:35 p.m., Conan doing "Tonight" at 12:05 a.m. -- that NBC offered. When he moved to cable, he dropped from b road public attention.

But I was dead-wrong about my doubts a bout Jimmy Fallon hosting late-night. The guy is a natural, simply because everything is easier for him: He doesn't have to force or fake anything; he's genuinely fond of people, comedy and (especially) music. Now he takes over "Tonight" in its 60th year: Here's the story I sent to papers:


This may be the ideal test for a talk-show host: Go talk Tom
Cruise into busting an egg on his face.

Jimmy Fallon did, which is why he may be a natural for
taking over “The Tonight Show.”

The idea was “egg roulette” – a dozen eggs, only three of
them soft-boiled. Cruise and Fallon would take turns busting them on their
foreheads; the first with two soft-boiled ones loses.

“His publicist said, ‘No, absolutely not,’” Fallon recalled.
“I go, ‘I am going to talk to him. This is a talk show; that’s what I do.’”

It is; he’s the talk-to-anybody guy. At “Saturday Night
Live,” colleagues would shy away from the music guests; Fallon would boom in,
chatting with the Rolling Stones and others.

Other talk hosts, from Johnny Carson to David Letterman, have
been considered shy or distant offstage; Fallon is not. At 39, he remains the
cheery Irish kid from suburban New York, chatting easily.

“Jimmy’s the least exclusive comedian I know,” said Josh
Lieb, who is producing Fallon’s “Tonight” show. “He really does want to include
the entire country in his (late-night) conversation.”

He’ll talk to anyone – and talked Cruise into the egg stunt.
By coincidence, Cruise got the soft-boiled ones on his first two tries. “He’s
covered in yolk,” Fallon recalled. “I started laughing …. He’s like, ‘Why would
I ever do the show?’ …. And now he’s a friend of the show; he’s been back
numerous times.”

He had joined a tradition that goes back to when late-night
TV began 60 years ago. “It was all about being fun and silly and goofy,” Fallon
said. “Steve Allen was the first guy to sit in a plate with ice cream and
pretend he’s a banana split and get chocolate syrup all over him …. It should
be goofy and fun.”

That view has varied among the late-night masters. Carson
and Jay Leno focused on the verbal – long monologs and sit-down desk routines.
Conan O’Brien has shorter monologues, plus short stunts and sketches. In his
early years, David Letterman would try anything.

And the new guys? Seth Meyers – who will follow Fallon,
beginning Feb. 24 – is verbal, known for writing and delivering the “Saturday
Night Live” newscasts. “We are very excited to get out there every night and do
jokes about the news, topical jokes,” Meyers said. “We want to have a really
strong monolog.”

Fallon – who is moving the show back to its old base in New
York City -- is a sketch-stunt guy. However, Leno told him late-night fans want

“He said, ‘You have to make your monolog longer,’” Fallon
recalled. “Because at one point, we were doing a … four-minute monolog. And he
said he was doing around 10 or nine minutes.”

Fallon has been working on that, but the other parts come
easily. There’s music, a personal passion. On his final late-night show,
Falloln played with both Buckwheat Zydeco and the Muppets; U2 will be his first
“Tonight” music guest, followed by Lady Gaga, Tim McGraw, Arcade Fire and
Justin Timberlake.

And there’s conversation and such. Will Smith will be the
first guest; there may or may not be some silliness of the egg-breaking,
human-banana-split variety.

“The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” debuts

First week, during the Olympics, starts at
midnight. Beginning Feb. 24, it will be at 11:35 p.m., with “Late Night With
Seth Meyers” following at 12:35 a.m.

Opening-night guests are Will Smith and U2.
Then: Tueday, Jerry, Seinfeld, Kristen Wiig and Lady Gaga; Wednesday, Bradley
Cooper and Tim McGraw; Thursday, Michelle Obama, Will Ferrell and Arcade Fire;
Friday, Justin Timberlake.  

Wedged in the middle, CNN keeps re-inventing itself

This has been a hectic time for CNN, amid re-shuffling and re-inventing. The latest switch, announced this week, is to HLN (formerly Headline News), its short-form spin-off; it will become social media-oriented, forever watching what is trending,

We'll keep a skeptical eye on that, but the main channel remains solid. CNN usually does good work; at times -- with its documentaries and some upcoming series -- it does great work. Here's the story I sent to papers, shortly before the HLN announcement:


hasn’t been easy lately for CNN.

starters, it’s in an overcrowded field. “When we look at the cable news
landscape, (it’s) not a growing niche,” said Jeff Zucker, the CNN president.

he’s in the middle of that niche. Fox News (“the Republican Party …
masquerading as a cable channel,” Zucker argues) gets the conservative viewers
and leads the in the Nielsen ratings. MSNBC gets liberals; CNN gets the
in-between … and third place.

mission? “I think CNN needs to be looking out for the rest of us,” Zucker said.

Or, at
least, to find ways to be different. In his first year, Zucker has tried a lot.
He’s revived “Crossfire” and “Inside Politics”; he tried – and then scuttled –
a second Anderson Cooper hour.

He’s also
had a fresh emphasis on documentaries. Some (30-35 hours a year) are by CNN’s
own unit; others are outside projects that CNN co-produces or buys. Many, led
by “Blackfish,” have drawn praise.

are fantastic documentaries being made,” Zucker said. Other networks “that used
to be an outlet for (them) have moved more into reality … and so there was an
opening for us.”

He’s also
nudged CNN into non-fiction series, with several – two from Robert Redford, one
from Tom Hanks – coming this spring.

result so far? The best Zucker can do is to compare 2013 to 2012 – MSNBC was
down 20 percent, Fox down 5 percent, CNN even and HLN (its short-form
offspring) up. Still, CNN is third and all face the same problem: “There are
many places where you get that kind of news,” he said.

Spurlock, the filmmaker (“Super Size Me”) illustrates that. As a college
student, he watched CNN cover the Baghdad bombing. “Here was this news
organization in the middle of it; it was riveting.”

And 22
years later? “I follow multiple news organizations all day,” Spurlock said.

For CNN,
Spurlock is part of the problem – a generation that is quick to switch channels
to other news networks, the Internet, newspapers, radio and more. But he’s also
part of one solution.

year, CNN introduced some amiable series -- Anthony Bourdain toured the food
world in “Parts Unknown”; Spurlock inserted himself into situations in “Inside
Man.” This year, both will be back in April, with Spurlock’s subjects ranging
from income disparity to the quest for eternal life.

Six other
series will join them soon, including Hanks’ look at the 1960s and two Redford
series that have shown impressive pilot films:

“Chicagoland” (starting March 6) is a sleek and engrossing look at
Chicago. It’s from the people who drew praise for the Newark series “Brick
City,” using a similar approach – following everyone from the mayor to his
detractors and the people on the streets.

 “Death Row Stories” (March
9). It views people who were convicted, then freed.