Vet school: Kittys and camels and cows and more


Yes, the big-budget shows are arriving soon, with the networks' fall season officially starting Monday (Sept. 21). While we're waiting, however, there are pleasant-enough cable choices. That includes "Vet School," which debuts Saturday (Sept. 19), against light competition. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

There may be times
when a veterinary student envies the medical-school crowd.

When you're studying
humans, after all, you only have to learn one species. And the vets?

“Their patients
have everything from feathers to fur to scales,” said Lisa Tanzer,
producer of the new “Vet School” cable series. “They ... are
learning multiple body systems, in the same four years that a medical
student goes to school.”

Consider Dan Cimino.
With little Charlie (an eight-week-old kitten) burrowed in his lap,
he was talking about Bradley, who is much bigger. “He was just the
friendliest camel you've ever met. He, like, kind of nibbles on your
face a little bit.”

There's a huge
contrast between a kitten and a camel .... and a visual contrast
between tiny Charlie and Cimino, a former linebacker who was
All-State in high school and a starter at Ithaca College (both in
upstate New York). There's also a contrast in the Cornell students
featured in “Vet School.”

Hannah Brodlie grew
up in Brooklyn, a camel-free area. “We have dogs and cats,” she
said. “One time, we had Edgar the pig; he walked on a leash. And
that's it.”

By comparison,
Cristina Bustamante grew up in Colombia and is surprised by her
Cornell colleagues.

“Some of my
classmates are from New York and had never touched a cow,” she
said. “Where I come from, there are cows on the side of the road
.... What they find exotic, my neighbors have as pets.”

The students' world
would soon expand. Brodlie found herself dealing with farm animals
(“not really in my realm of expertise”) and visiting an alpaca
place, where the owner also has that pet camel.

“When I saw
Bradley, I had to give him a de-wormer shot,” said Aziza Glass, who
grew up near Houston. “So that was awesome.”

Eventually, some
will narrow it down. Cimino originally wanted to focus on surgery,
but now is going for neurology; Glass, by comparison, has now
graduated and is Dr. Glass, a general practitioner. “I really liked
that relationship that you get from being a GP.”

After all, the GP's
are the ones who fuel some of NatGeo's more popular shows.

“I should watch
more, because when I talk to clients, they will say, 'Oh, did you see
that “Dr. Pol” episopde?'” Cimino said. “I'm like, 'Yeah,
yeah, I saw that.'” Like, I don't” have time for TV.”

And when Bustamante
does have time, she's not watching that. “I don't want to come home
and watch more vet tings. I want to watch a crime scene or

-- “Vet School,”
10 p.m. Saturdays, NatGeo Wild, starting Sept. 19



Disney: Dreams, darkness and choosing to remember the happy parts

The new TV season is still a week away, but we're already getting one of its best shows. The "American Experience" profile of Walt Disney (Monday and Tuesday on PBS) is fascinating. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Viewed from a sunny
distance – as he preferred – Walt Disney's life was all roses and

He changed movies
and TV a little and changed animation and vacations a lot. He
propelled Bambi and Dumbo and Mickey, seven dwarves and 101
dalmations and a zillion-and-one happy endings.

And Disney -- the
subject of a compelling PBS profile -- did it with skills that were
hard to define.

“He was a terrible
artist .... He really couldn't draw Mickey Mouse that well,” said
Don Hahn, a post-Disney producer, from “Beauty and the Beast” to
“Maleficent” and beyond. “And he wasn't a musician and didn't
read music, and he wasn't a writer. We are not really sure what he

He's joking about
that last part, because Disney made it clear what he did.

“He said, 'If you
think anything of me, think of me as a storyteller,'” recalled
songwriter Richard Sherman. “He knew what a good story was and he
knew how to tell it.”

And he showed that
storytellers can choose their own endings, even after similar starts.

Disney and Charles
Dickens had idyllic, rural childhoods, transformed by a father's
failure and a move to the city. Dickens' change came at 12, moving to
London and being sent away to work and board. Disney's came at 8,
when his dad's farm in Marceline, Mo., failed; the family moved to
Kansas City.

“His childhood was
tough, as were many children's lives at that period,” said Sarah
Colt, producer of the PBS film. “He was expected to work and he
worked really hard. And he had a very tough father.”

Neal Gabler, a
Disney biographer, agrees: “His father got no pleasure and didn't
want to see anybody have any pleasure.”

With the similar
starts, the storytellers took opposite paths: Dickens wrote about the
hard parts, the child labor and broken families and such; Disney
prefered to re-capture the early parts.

“Marceline is
recreated in Main Street Disneyland,” Sherman said. “That's what
he remembered and that was joy .... He was a great, great believer in
making people happy.”

At home, people
agree, he was the sort of ideal dad shown in his movies. But at work?

“He was a
terrifying father at work,” Gabler said. “The Walt Disney Studio
operated like a cult and Walt was the head of the cult. And everybody
... drank the Kool Aid, at least in the '30s and '40s.”

Then came the 1941
strike by animators. Disney fled the country for 10 weeks, leaving
his brother Roy to settle the strike. When he returned, he was
vengeful; five years later, he was still accusing the strikers of
being Communists, sparking Hollywood's blacklisting.

The strike shocked
him, but he'd had plenty of warning. Back in 1928, when Disney was
making “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” cartoons for producer Charles
Mintz, many of his animators left. “Walt is such a severe
taskmaster and they didn't really want to work for him,” Gabler

Instead, they worked
directly for Mintz, who took Oswald away. Disney fumed. Then, on the
long trip home, he visited Marceline; he also created Mortimer Mouse
(later Mickey) and a new image.

Disney kept taking
daring steps, risking everything. Bankers resisted -- “Disney
absolutely hated bankers,” Gabler said – but Roy kept finding a
way. “He is the older brother by eight years and there is a ...
sort of fatherly way in which they relate to each other,” Colt

And then the
toughest parts passed. When Disneyland opened in 1955, Disney seemed
delighted. When Sherman arrived (with his brother Robert) five years
later, the boss seemed at peace.

“That terrifying
leader, described so very well in the film, was the early Walt,”
Sherman said, “fighting to get to the top. (By the '60s,) he had
created Disneyland, against everybody's better judgement.”

Prior to his death
(late in 1966, at 65, of lung cancer), he could launch “Mary
Poppins,” plan Disney World and envision a life of roses and

-- “Walt Disney:
American Experience,” 9-11 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, PBS



Surprise: Magic is back on TV

There are some remarkably talented musicians out there ... and lately, some of them are getting on TV. Here's a story I sent to papers, focusing on shows Sept. 14-19:

By Mike Hughes

In the high-tech,
special-effects world of TV, this is a surprise: Magic is back.

Yes, trickery -- a
500-year-old art that needs no camera tricks, a skill often tried by
bumbling grade-schoolers and dottering old men – is hot again.
“We're just in a new wave now,” Rick Lax said.

He has a small piece
of that (performing Monday on “Penn & Teller: Fool Us”) and
had a big piece recently, as a TV creator and producer: “I've had a
very charmed video life .... My very first idea ('Wizard Wars') gets
on TV and gets great ratings.”

That's been part of
a revival that includes:

-- “America's Got
Talent.” Its 10-act finale – 8-10:01 p.m. Tuesday, 8-11 p.m.
Wednesday – includes magicians Oz Pearlman, Derek Hughes and Piff
the Magic Dragon.

-- Last year's
winner of the show, Mat Franco. He has a special from 9-11 p.m.
Thursday on NBC.

-- “The Carbonaro
Effect,” with Michael Carbonaro mixing magic and hidden-camera. New
episodes are at 10 p.m. Wednesdays on Tru TV and reruns abound. There
are rerun marathons on Wednesdays (7-10 p.m.) and on weekends,
including 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 7-10 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19.

-- And the CW's
summer shows. “Masters of Illusion” is 8 p.m. Fridays; “Penn &
Teller: Fool Us” is 8 p.m. Mondays, plus a rerun at 9 p.m. Friday,
Sept. 18. “Fool Us” is something CW originally bought as
low-budget reruns from England, then ordered new episodes for this
season and next. “It performed far better than we had ever
anticipated,” said Mark Pedowitz, the network programming chief.

Why the surge? Lax
gives some credit to two 2006 movies, “The Prestige” and “The
Illusionist,” and the 2013 “Now You See Me.” These were no
magician-as-nerd cliches; they starred Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale,
Edward Norton and Jesse Eisenberg. A generation already familiar with
TV specials by David Copperfield, Criss Angel and David Blaine saw
magicians as cool guys.

But there's another
factor in stirring young magicians, he said: “I believe it's
because of the Internet.”

He grants that some
magicians dislike the impersonal nature of seeing and buying tricks
online. “If you grew up in a town that had a magic shop, you could
go there and talk to a real magician.”

That's what he did,
going to a shop in Royal Oak, Mich. He'd been hooked on it ever since
his parents bought him a magic kit when he was 5. “My grandmother
would be baffled and say, 'How did you do that?!?' I saw the effect
it could have on people.”

Lax became obsessed
with performing. At Andover High (near Bloomfield Hills, Mich.), he
was drum major, a playwright and a pianist who performed the first
half of “Rhapsody in Blue” by memory.

He set that aside to
follow his dad's profession as a lawyer. Lax actually did get a law
degree (DePaul), was admitted to the bar and interned with the Cook
County State's Attorney office. “I did enjoy it when I got to court
(on traffic and highway cases), but that wasn't often.”

Instead, he moved to
Las Vegas and communed with other magicians. “We would sit around
and take some objects and try to one-up each other with what we could
do with them.”

That led to “Wizard
Wars” and a two-season, 12-episode run. Now Lax designs tricks for
an Internet company (
and sent an audition tape to “Fool Us.” Soon, he was trying to
fool Penn Jillette and Raymond Teller ... the same guys he'd hired as
his “Wizard Wars” judges.

This was a new
experience, he grants. “I'd never (performed in) a paying show for
adults.” Now he was catching the performance part of TV's magic


Sci-fi shows? They're everywhere now

Here's the story that wraps up my preview of the new season for broadcast networks. Officially, the season starts Sept. 21. Scroll backward here and you'll find the five stories I sent to papers -- an overview and sidebar lists of comedies, semi-comedies, dramas and this one, on fantasy or sci-fi:

By Mike Hughes

Science fiction and
fantasty shows used to know their place.

That was outside the
mainstream, outside the main networks. It was on CW or Syfy (of
course) or the edges of the cable universe.

And now? CBS –
which sometimes confines sci-fi to summers – has two new shows this
fall; NBC and Fox have one apiece. Typical of the upswing is
cable-giant HBO, which suddenly finds itself defined by “Game of
Thrones,” “The Leftovers,” “True Blood” (departed) and
“Westworld” (next year).

“I'm not a fantasy
guy to begin with,” HBO's Michael Lombardo said. “It's not my
natural inclination .... We probably have inadvertently programmed
more other-world series than we intended to. We respond to ... a
fresh, original idea from a really talented creator.”

Those creators grew
up in a Spielberg/Lucas world, so sci-fi keeps growing. Here are the
four new shows on broadcast networks this fall, rated on a 0-10


-- “Supergirl”
(7), 8 p.m. Mondays, CBS, but the Oct. 26 debut is at 8:30. The first
half of the pilot is a delight, as a bright and eager young assistant
(the superb Melissa Benoist) reluctantly uses her powers. The second
half gets kind of steel-hearted and militaristic, but we'll keep
rooting for her.


-- “Limitless”
(5), 10 p.m. Tuesdays, CBS, Sept. 22. A drifting no-account swallows
a pill that gives him immense (and temporary) powers; then people run
around a lot. Bradley Cooper starred in the movie version; he
produces this one and shows up near the end of the pilot, offering
the starpower that the lead actor (Jake McDorman) lacks.

-- “Minority
Report” (3), 9 p.m. Mondays, Fox, Sept. 21. The Steven Spielberg
movie dazzled with its vision of a high-tech, ad-driven world ... and
with its imposing notion of arresting “pre-criminals.” Now this
sequel finds the program disbanded and a hapless young man cursed by
visions of future crimes. The visuals are still impressive, but the
story seems cold and distant.


-- “Heroes
Reborn,” 8 p.m., Thursdays, NBC, Sept. 24. The original series was
a delight, but imploded while trying to do 22 episodes a year. Now
the same creator is back; NBC promises fewer episodes (running on
consecutive weeks), with some old characters (Hiro, Matt, Horn Rimmed
Glasses) and a lot of new ones.


Yes, TV still does drama ... occasionally, quite well

The prime mission of network TV -- killing people and catching the killers -- still seems intact. Here's my look at this year's new dramas. The previous stories took an overview of the season and outlined the comedies and semi-comedies; coming next is sci-fi and fantasy,

By Mike Hughes

As TV keeps
changing, some things stay the same: Bad people kill or harm ... good
people capture or heal ... and both types scheme.

That's the core of
many of the new dramas on broadcast networks this season. At times,
sleek settings – modern Miami and Las Vegas, 1980s Los Angeles –
try to salvage so-so stories.

Here's a look at
many of the new, broadcast-network shows, rated on a 0-10 scale. A
separate list will eye the growing fantasy and non-fiction field:


-- “Blindspot”
(8), 10 p.m. Mondays, NBC, starting Sept. 21. A big duffel bag has
been dumped in Times Square; this has the police's attention.
Emerging from it is a naked woman; this has our attention. She has no
idea who she is, but has soldier skills and informative tattoos.
“Blindspot” may seem copycat, but it has a terrific star (Jaimie
Alexander), taut action and the old “Blacklist” timeslot.

-- “Code Black”
(8), 10 p.m. Wednesdays, CBS; Sept. 30. Think of “ER” on its
toughest, messiest day ... and then make that the usual. With a
gritty style, this is set in a Los Angeles emergency room. It
overdoes rogue-vs.-procedure cliches, but Marcia Gay Harden and
others make it work.


-- “Blood &
Oil” (6), 9 p.m. Sundays, ABC, Sept. 27. For a while, North Dakota
seemed like the new gold rush, the wilder West. It was a setting for
dreams, schemes and brawls; in short, it was ripe for a primetime
soap opera. So now we have a young couple confronting tragedy, luck,
and a magnate (Don Johnson). It's all overblown and the young husband
(Chace Crawford) is hard to luck. But his wife (Rebecca Rittenhouse)
brings humanity to a show that has lots of macho spectacle.


-- “Rosewood”
(4), 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Fox. A free-lance medical examiner zooms
around Miami in his yellow convertible, volunteering to solve crimes.
Miami looks beautiful; so does the guy (Morris Chestnut) and the car.
Still, this keeps descending into cliche arguments between the
maverick hero and the cop (Jaina Lee Ortiz) who doesn't want to be

-- “Quantico”
(3), 10 p.m. Sundays, ABC. Actually, this could turn into a winner.
It has a superb star (Priyanka Chopra) and epic stories involving FBI
recruits. First, though, we must forgive the fact that it copies
how-they-met from “Grey's Anatomy” ... then has several twists
that are beyond absurd.

-- “The Player”
(2), 10 p.m. Thursdays, NBC. TV can't resist piling on new layers,
turning an OK show into an awful one. Our hero (Philip Winchester)
races around Vegas, saving lives. Then Wesley Snipes says thisis all
so rich people bet on the outcome. Viewers have no reason to care or
to watch.


-- “Chicago Med,”
9 p.m., Tuesdays, NBC (Nov. 17). An explosive (literally) episode of
“Chicago Fire” introduced this hospital, with links to the fire
companuy. One fireman's brother is a doctor; another's ex-lover is a
nurse. Then the bomb went off; now this series is set in the rebuilt
hospital. Expect a macho feel, with some added depth from a
psychiatrist (Oliver Platt).

-- “Wicked City,”
10 p.m., Tuesdays, ABC (Oct. 27). Anyone nostalgic for early-'80s Los
Angeles, with Sunset Strip sin and Hillside strangler murders? A
sampling of this series shows a vile killer (Ed Westwick). Over 10
episodes, we'll see if the cops (including Jeremy Sisto) can catch