The real "Black Hawk Down" story remains an epic

Nowadays, these three men have vastly varied lives. One is a firefighter, one runs an aerospace company, one is a country-music singer. Back in 1993, however, they were linked in one fierce story -- which has been told in books, in the movie "Black Hawk Down" and now in a cable special. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

This was going to be
a quick mission, two hours tops. Army Rangers would zoom into
Mogadishu, capture two Somali rebel leaders, and leave.

Then everything
exploded; 18 Americans were killed, 72 were wounded. The story has
been told in a movie (“Black Hawk Down”), books and now the
opener of a National Geographic Channel series.

All of this was
happening to young men. “I had literally just turned 21 years old
the day before,” Randy Ramaglia said.

After growing up in
a small town, he'd enlisted at 18. “I wanted to be part of
something larger than myself,” he said.

Many in the Ranger
unit were still teen-agers during that Mogadishu battle, but Keni
Thomas was 23. Growing up in Florida, he had always wanted to be a
Ranger like his dad ... even if he didn't quite fit in.

“He was always a
singer-songwriter,” Ramaglia said, and “somewhat of an anomaly
within the unit, Most of us were not artistic. (Keni) actually had
hobbies that didn't involve Rangering.”

On Oct. 3, 1993,
several Rangers were playing Risk; then came the call for the
Mogadishu mission.

It went smoothly,
with the two leaders captured and extracted within a half-hour. Then
a Black Hawk helicopter was shot down; a second helicopter rushed to
the site and was also shot down. Two snipers managed to protect the
second crew and hold off the mob, until running out of ammunition.
Both men were posthumous Medal of Honor winners.

As a Ranger squad
tried to rescue the crew, its leader was wounded. Thomas suddenly
became the squad-leader, for an 18-hour ordeal that included getting
the wounded into armored vehicles, then fighting on foot, to reach a
secure soccer stadium.

For Mike Durant,
this lasted much longer. He was 32 at the time, a New Hampsire
native, a career Army man and the pilot of the second helicopter. The
only survivor, he had a broken leg and a badly injured back, but was
hauled away by the mob.

“There were
moments of sheer terror,” he said, “when I was sure I was going
to die .... And there were moments where I actually laughed in

“The treatment was
very hostile initially. (To them,) I represent everything bad in
their life .... But as they got to know me better, things improved
and they became more human.”

Former Ambassador
Robert Oakley arrived to negotiate, as the U.S. amassed 10,000 troops
at a nearby airfield. After 11 days, Durant was set free.

He stayed in the
military for eight more years, retiring with 22 years of service; now
he has an MBA and runs an aerospace company. Ramaglia stayed for 18
months, then became a career firefighter.

And Thomas? He
re-enlisted and remembers a pivotal day: “I was sitting out there
in the woods somewhere, going,'I wish that somebody would just start
something, so we could go back to combat.'”

This, he realized,
wasn't a good attitude. At the end of his hitch, he moved to
Nashville; he remains a country singer-songwriter, with two 2005
singles on the Billboard country chart. One (with Vince Gill and
Emmylou Harris) reached No. 47, another (with Blackhawk) was No. 56.

He and Durant have
each written books about their experience. Now Thomas feels this
Geographic series, “No Man Left Behind,” reflects what he
learned. “The day you enter the Ranger residence .... you are
taught, take care of each other .... That's a heck of a
responsibility to put on a 20-year-old kid.”

-- “No Man Left
Behind,” 9 p.m. Tuesdays, National Geographic, rerunning at 11.

-- The June 28
opener, “The Real Black Hawk Down,” also runs at 9 and 11 p.m.
Thursday, June 30, then at 5 and 8 p.m. July 5, prior to the second


"Roadies": a rock 'n' roll epic, decades in the making

I see lots of TV shows, many of them good and a few great. But it's still exciting when something really exceptional comes along. The latest is "Roadies," a Cameron Crowe series that starts Sunday (June 26) on Showtime. Like its subject (rock 'n' roll), this has chaos, comedy, nudity, drama, eccentric people and a great soundtrack. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Don't expect Cameron
Crowe to rush something.

This is someone
who's spent months researching a magazine article, years developing a
movie. His hits -- “Jerry Maguire,” “Almost Famous,” “Say
Anything” -- are separated by large gaps.

“Roadies,” his
remarkable new Showtime series, was nine years -- or 42 years – in
the making. Crowe, 58, started developing it in 2007; much earlier,
he decided road crews are at the heart of rock 'n' roll.

These aren't just
people getting a paycheck, said Carla Gugino, one of the “Roadies”
stars. “The people who choose these professions are obsessed with
music and obsessed with the band.”

The musicans and the
roadies even start to blend, Crowe said. “If you see a Stevie Nicks
solo tour, you kind of see a lot of women in shawls working on the
show. Or a Neil Young tour, they kinda got those Pendletlon shirts

Back when he was 16,
Crowe was hired by Rolling Stone to do a cover story on the Allman
Brothers. He reportedly spent three weeks with them, even
interviewing everyone in the road crew.

This was not your
usual teen life. By the time Crowe graduated from high school in San
Diego (at 15, after skipping some grades), he'd already started
writing about rock for underground papers. He went on to Creem and
Rolling Stone; audaciously, he sought David Bowie, who didn't do

“I was 16,” he
recalled. “I was sitting in my bedroom in San Diego, and the phone
range one night, and it was David Bowie.”

Crowe would spend
the next six months with Bowie and crew. He emerged with an expanded
respect for rock people in general and Bowie in particular. “Even
then, which was kind of a wild period in his life, he was always
obsessed with music and art and never the business.”

His rock-journalism
career flourished, but then Crowe shifted: At 22, he spent a year in
high school under an assumed name, emerging with the book and movie
“Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982).

Crowe soon began
directing his own films, but was never that separated from rock. He
kept writing for Rolling Stone and others. He was married for 24
years to Nancy Wilson of Heart. Many of his films had a rock feel --
“Singles” captured the mood and sound of Seattle grunge – and
some went further.

“Pearl Jam Twenty”
(2011) was an acclaimed documentary. “Almost Famous” (2000)--
about a teen journalist traveling with a rock band -- won an Oscar
for his script annd lingered in Crowe's mind.

“I was really
struck by the fact that 'Almost Famous' spoke pretty loudly to
people,” he said. “It was a very perosnal movie that I didn't
expect would kind of touch people in that way. And I wanted to
revisit the world.”

So he developed
“Roadies,” bringing in producers J.J. Abrams (“Star Wars: The
Force Awakens”) and Winnie Holzman, whose writing has ranged from
“My So-Called Life” to Broadway's “Wicked.”

This time, the focus
is on the road crew for an arena band. “It really is like staging a
battle – the trucks and the equipment from town to town, loading in
and loading out,” Luke Wilson said.

And with that come
sex, humor, joy and impending disaster. It's “crisis-control
constantly,” Gugino said. “You have a very short period of time
to solve a lot of problems.”

She and Wilson play
two of the road leaders, working under an eccentric rock veteran (Ron
White). Then there's a young idealist (Imogen Poots), who fidgets
when a British business type (Rafe Spall) is suddenly in charge.
“It's like a corporate system that Rafe's character represents,”
Poots said.

Ultimately, of
course, this is not a show about businessmen. “People are driven by
music,” Crowe said. Nothing else matches “the way music can
change a situation, a life or relationship .... So the premise is:
Let's just celebrate music and the people who are so passionate about

-- “Roadies,” 10
p.m. Sundays, Showtime; debuts June 26, rerunning at 11 p.m. and 1

-- Reruns include: 8
and 11 p.m. Monday, 9 p.m. Tuesday, 10:20 p.m. Wednesday, 10 p.m. and
midnight Thursday, 8 and 10:35 p.m. Friday (July 1), 7 and 11:05 p.m.
July 2, 8 p.m. July 3


Jesse Metcalfe's summer: Making love and killing zombies

Two summer shows -- "Dead Rising: Endgame" and "Chesapeake Shores" -- have only three things in common: The star (Jesse Metcalfe), the film setting (Vancouver) and the fact that they were made by humans. Beyond that, these shows cover the exact opposites of our species. For Metcalfe, that adds up to an interesting summer; here's the story I sent to papers.

By Mike Hughes

Let's designate
Jesse Metcalfe as a summer star.

This is his time to
be sweet, sensitive and pensive. It's also his time to slash zombies.

We can see him in a
soft, wateride setting, strumming his guitar. And we can see him run
and leap, while beheading and bedeviling the walking dead.

Hey, actors are
supposed to have variety, right? “That was the reason I took the
role,” Metcalfe said.

He's talking about
“Dead Rising: Endgame,” a high-octane, high-body-count movie
that's just been released on Crackle. In one scene, he's rushinging
down an escalator, leaving a backwash of blood and body parts. “I
was pretty banged up by the end of it,” he said.

By comparison, his
“Chesapeake Shores” series will debut in August on the Hallmark
Channel. Like so many Hallmark projects, it's zombie-free.

Most of his roles
have been that way. Metcalfe went from being a lothario (“Desperate
Housewives,” “John Tucker Must Die”) to being warm-hearted in
“Dallas” and Hallmark's “A Country Wedding.”

Underneith all that,
he says, is a would-be action hero. That goes back to his California
and Connecticut childhood.

“My first thing
was being a cowboy,” Metcalfe said. “I would go to bed with my
hat and my guns on.”

Then, at maybe 5, he
had his Superman phase. There were times when his mother, a
bus-driver, would bring him to work. “I would be sitting behind her
in my Superman tights.”

Metcalfe played
basketball and baseball, before focusing on theater at New York
University. He left school when he landed the soap role of Miguel on
“Passions”; then came “Desperate Housewives.”

“It was just one
of those auditions where you don't know what to expect,” Metcalfe
said. Soon, he was the lawn boy whom Gabrielle seduced, doing 30
episodes and becoming famous.

There was a
short-lived crime show (“Chase”) and then a break: In “Dallas,”
he was Christopher Ewing; like his adoptive dad (Bobby Ewing), he
was a good-hearted hero, surrounded by deceit.

“I really thought
that would last longer than it did,” said Metcalfe, 37. “But I
had a chance to work with some legendary people.”

Hallmark cast him as
a country music star in “Country Wedding” and even had him record
three songs. Then came the similar role in “Chesapeake Shores.”
This time he's a former country singer who's back to his home town,
where his high school girlfriend has also returned.

That's the opposite
of a zombie film, but one Canadian region handled both projects.
“Chesapeake Shores” is filmed amid the beauty of Vancouver
Island; “Dead Rising” was done inside a movie studio that used to
be a post office. “There were all kinds of interesting passageways
to go through.”

And in any of them,
of course, there could be the walking dead, waiting to eat him.

The “Dead Rising”
videogame series began in 2006, with a journalist battling zombies
inside a shopping center. Metcalfe starred in the first movie version
and now takes the story to its conclusion.

Desperate to stop
conspirators (Dennis Haysbert, Billy Zane), he's trying to get a tech
whiz (Marie Avgeropoulos of “The 100”) to the core of the enemy
domain, before millions are killed. That requires lots of action,
lots of bloodshed. And he never gets to pause and sing a country

-- “Dead Rising:
Endgame,” available any time at

-- “Chesapeake
Shores” is scheduled to debut Aug. 14 on Hallmark.

-- Crackle is the
streaming service owned by Sony. It has many past series --
“Seinfeld,” “Firefly,” “NewsRadio,” etc. -- and movies.
It also has some original TV shows, including “The Art of More”
and Jerry Seinfeld's “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” The
“Dead Rising” films (“Watchtower” and “Endgame”) are two
of its first original movies.


Beach Boys, TV and D.C.: A monumental combination

Each year, PBS' Memorial Day eve concert brings some talented -- and far-ranging -- people. The two stories I sent to papers involve people separated by a half-century: One (see previous blog) is Trent Harmon, 25; this one meets Mike Love, 75, and the Beach Boys:

By Mike Hughes

The Beach Boys will
be back in a familiar spot Sunday – singing to the masses (and to
TV viewers) in Washington.

“We have a huge
history with Washington, D.C.,” Mike Love said. “It's been
monumental – literally.”

That last part is a
pun about national monuments, but the first part is an
understatement: For a six-year stretch, Love says, the band had
Washington shows each 4th of July; once, they did two

Ctowd estimates are
fuzzy, but he was told the band drew 900,000 people in Philadelphia
that afternoon and almost as many in Washington. “They could only
hold 750,000; we got a standing ovation.”

This time, it's a
different holiday (Memorial Day eve) and the approach is varied. The
concert will range from country (Trace Adkins) to classical (Renee
Fleming, Alfie Boe), plus “American Idol” alumni Trent Harmon and
Katharine McPhee.

Harmon, 25, was born
shortly before the Beach Boys turned 30 and Love turned 50. “A few
years ago, I won radio tickets to see them play,” he said. “Man,
they put on a great show.”

They've survived
turmoil within the group – and from the outside world.

In 1983, Secretary
of the Interior James Watt announced that there would be no more rock
bands at the Capitol, because they attract “the wrong element.”
Without mentioning any group by name, he said: “We're not going to
encourage drug abuse and alcohol, as was done in the past.”

The uproar was
instant. “Nancy Reagan called and apologized,” Love said. “She
said, 'Ronny and I have always been big fans.'”

The Beach Boys
returned the next year. Meanwhile, the PBS telecasts, which had begun
in 1981, became ratings hits; in '89, PBS added the concerts on
Memorial Day eve.

Either event is
logical for the Beach Boys, Love said. “We've had letters from
Vietnam veterans, telling how much our music has meant to them.”

It's an American
sound – songs about fun and sun and blue-sky freedom. “It's the
same kind of music we used to sing at my cousin Brian's house, with
my sister Maureen,” Love said.

That's Brian Wilson,
whose brothers (Carl and Dennis) started joining in. Brian talked at
length about the harmonies of the Four Freshmen and the Everly
Brothers and more.

In 1961, the three
brothers became the Beach Boys, along with Love and Al Jardine,
Brian's former football teammate. Like the Beatles and the Rolling
Stones, this had two opposites at the core.'

“I both envied and
felt indimidated by my cousin Mike,” Brian wrote in “Wouldn't It
Be Nice” (HarperCoillins, 1991). “Tall and blond, he exuded
confidence and swagger. He had a big ego. He wasn't especially nice.
I looked at him and knew I couldn't measure up.”

Brian was the genius
at composing music and blending sounds. “I've never known anyone
who knew as much about vocal music,” Love said.

Love provided many
of the early lyrics. He didn't surf – only Dennis Wilson did –
but he knew the California life of convertibles, blondes and
sunshine. He became the guy who talked to audiences; by early 1965,
Brian had quit the road and focused on the studio, with Bruce
Johnston joining the group.

By the end of that
year, the Beach Boys had already had eight top-10 Billboard hits
including two (“I Get Around” and “Help Me Rhonda”) that
reached No. 1. The next year, “Good Vibrations” also was No. 1.
“I wrote the words to that on the way to the studio,” Love said.

That song turns 50
on Oct. 10; the classic “Pet Sounds” album turned 50 on May 16.
Love – married, with four ex-wives, nine children and decades of
transcendental meditation – seems vibrant at 75.

He and Johnston
bought the band and tour with it, with others – including John
Cowsill, former drummer of the Cowsills – filling the other slots.
“We did 172 concerts last year,” Love said. “That's not bad for
someone who was 74.”

-- “National
Memorial Day Concert,” 8 p.m. Sunday, PBS; repeats at 9:30 (check
local listings)

-- Beach Boys plan
to do five hits. Also performing: Trace Adkins, Katharine McPee,
Renee Fleming, the National Orchestra. Gary Sinise and Joe Mantegna
host; Trent Harmon sings the National Anthem.


National Anthem time for "Idol" winner: Stay calm and sing pretty

Each summer, two of the classiest TV events are the PBS concerts on Memorial Day eve and on the 4th of July. Now the former will be Sunday, ranging from country (Trace Adkins) to classical (Renee Fleming). This story is one of two I'm sending to papers, previewingSunday's concert. Coming up is a Beach Boys story; here's one on Trent Harmon, the 15th and final "American Idol" champion.

By Mike Hughes

Im0agine you're
Trent Harmon, the final “American Idol” champion.

You're 25, from
small-town Mississippi, just starting your national career. On Sunday
– to launch a PBS Memorial Day eve concert that ranges from the
Beach Boys to classical stars -- you'll be singing the National
Anthem in front of a mega-crowd.

Yes, this should be
nerve-wracking – except Harmon's been in tight spots before. There
was the “Idol” gauntlet, including a week when he was isolated
with mononucleosis. “I thought I was pretty tough,” he said, “but
that was something.” And there were times:

-- Singing the
Anthem at baseball games ... moments before he had to step to the
mound as pitcher.

-- Starring in a
children's-theater production of “Joseph and the Technicolor
Dreamcoat,” before 6,000 or 7,000 people. “For a 14-year-old,”
he said, “that's 600,000 or 700,000.”

-- And the one time
he didn't think he would make it through the song.

That was at the
funeral of a friend. He and Harmon had planned and ordered a
custom-made guitar; on the day it arrived, Harmon learned his friend
had died, an apparent suicide.

At the funeral,
Harmon gave a talk and said he would try to do “Amazing Grace,”
but wasn't sure he could; he asked a few friends to try to sing
along. “The entire congregation stood up and sang,” he recalled.
“Tthere must have been 700 or 800 people. It was a beautiful

That song (“Amazing
Grace”) has been in his head for two decades now; his mother taught
it to him when he was 5. He did lots of musicals, but there were

-- Baseball. He was
a high school pitcher, the same as 2011 “Idol” winner Scotty
McCreery. (“He's definitely a better golfer than I am,” Harmon
said.) Harmon did land a non-scholarship spot on the University of
Arkansas – Monticello baseball team, but soon decided music was his

-- The family
businesses. Harmon worked at the farm/ranch and was a waiter at the
restaurant. “Even now, when I'm out with people, I'm refilling
their drinks.”

Still, the music
persisted. In college, he was in a worship band and discovered he
could break into a falsetto, just like the early Michael Jackson
record he used to hear at his grandmother's house. In 2014, he tried
out for “The Voice” and failed; no chairs turned around; his
tryout never aired.

That was his fault,
Harmon said. He had chosen a song (Nick Jonas' “Jealous”) that
had only been out for a week and judges weren't familiar with. The
experience “really helped prepare me for 'Idol.'”

This time, he didn't
tell his parents he was trying out. He slipped off for auditions and
more, flying back home and doing some restaurant shifts between
rounds “so they wouldn't think I was up to no good.”

That helped him
focus, he said. When they learned he was on the show, he asked them
not to go there. “That surprises some people, but I ask them, 'Did
you bring your mom and dad to work with you?'”

Eventually, “Idol”
brought them there anyway. They saw their son become its final

With no concert
tour, he's been able to focus on his upcoming album; Harmon talks of
country music with a “blue-eyed soul” feel and has been
co-writing with Nashville pros.

First, there's his
Anthem duty. He's already done a couple times recently, at the
Richmond International Speedway (before a NASCAR race) and in Las
Vegas (before the Manny Pacquaio/Tim Bradley fight). Jordin Sparks,
the 2007 “Idol” champion, advised him to sing in a relaxed,
unforced way ... and to remember the words.

“That's what we
should do all the time,” Harmon said. “Just sing pretty and
remember the words.”

-- “National
Memorial Day Concert”

-- 8 p.m. Sunday
(Memorial Day eve), repeating at 9:30, PBS (check local listings).

-- Music by Beach
Boys, Trace Adkins,Katharine McPhee, classical stars Renee Fleming
and Alfie Boe and the National Orchestra. Gary Sinise and Joe
Mantegna host; Trent Harmon sings National Anthem.