"Wife Swap" turns Tommy Davidson into the quiet, normal one

Onstage, Tommy Davidson has sometimes been a whirl of activity. But now he's the quiet-normal-traditional guy ... at least when paired with Corey Feldman on "Celebrity Wife Swap." That episode, the season-finale, airs Sunday (Aug. 19); here's the story I sent to papers:

(Fun TV story about
Tommy Davidson and the “Celebrity Wife Swap” season-finale,

By Mike Hughes

Tommy Davidson is no
expert on traditional-style families.

He was found in the
trash (literally) and raised amid chaos. His grown-up years have been

But now the
“Celebrity Wife Swap” season-finale pegs him as the normal guy.

-- Sent Amanda Moore
– then Davidson's fiance, now his wife – to the home of actor
Corey Feldman. He shares it with three women, she said: “There's a
'main angel' and 'angels in training.'”

-- Sent Courtney --
that main angel -- to Davidson's house, where she found a different

Courtney, who eats
only fruit, was greeted by Davidson making a hardy meat barbecue.
Moore, a businesswoman, was greeted by a suggestion that she change
into some lingerie.

None of this was his
idea, he said. Davidson, 51, doesn't watch reality shows, but Moore
does and thought he'd be ideal. “People don't know him as a family
man and as a really good father.”

Anything like that
would be an accomplishment, when you consider the early odds against

When he was 18
months old, Davidson has been told, he was found in the trash in
Mississippi. He was adopted by a well-meaning couple and whisked to
Colorado, Wyoming (yes, his adoptive family tree includes a cowboy)
and Oregon.

He was 5 when the
family reached Washington, D.C., a week after Martin Luther King was
killed. A black kid with white parents, he had been unaware of racial
rage; now he was surrounded by it.

Davidson was raised
mainly by his mother, who was busy as a housing-union presoident. “I
was a latchkey kid,” he said. “She was a single mom in the '70s,
working hard.”

He did various jobs,
eventually becoming an assistant chef. Then friends nudged him to try
an open mike at a D.C. strip club. Comedy came easily, he said. “It's
something that's in me.”

Soon, he was opening
for music stars – Patti La Belle, Luther Vandross, Anita Baker and
Al Jarreau; just three years into his career, he was hired by Keenen
Ivory Wayans for the “In Living Color” show.

“The hyperactive
talents of Tommy Davidson (had) the versatility to mimic” M.C,
Hammer and Spike Lee, Nelson George wrote in the show's companion
book (Warner Books, 1991).

This was an all-star
line-up, including Jim Carrey, Damon Wayans and David Alan Grier .
“Keenan was very professional,” Davidson said. “He had people
who did stand-up, impressions, acting.”

And Davidson could
tackle anyting, including music. “He seems like he's a reserve, but
he's actually an important part of the ensemble,” Wayans told
George. “He's the guy who comes on in the clutch.”

Davidson went on to
do stand-up tours, co-host Magic Johnson's talk show, guest on
comedies and be a voice-cast regular on “The Proud Family” and,
currently, “Black Dynamite.”

His personal life
has been scattered, but in recent years he's been with Moore, an
opposite force.

She's tall
(5-foot-7-and-a-half) and blonde; he's not. Her parents were together
45 years; his weren't.

And personality?
“I'm creative, more of a free spirit,” he said. “She's
organized, very task-oriented.”

A single mom with a
pre-school son, she created a store (Lil Posh Resale) in Costa Mesa,
in California's Orange County. Davidson describes their home as

That's not how
Feldman describes his world. He has the Corey's Angels talent agency,
managing women and booking them for lingerie parties.

Soon, Moore was in
lingerie and Courtney was at a barbecue. Wife swaps can be

-- “Celebrity Wife
Swap” season-finale

-- 10 p.m.
Wednesday (Aug. 19), ABC



They spend their lives telling crime stories

There are a lot of true-crime stories out there, some of them tacky and some not. Now Chris Hansen (of "Predator" fame) opens a show, alongside some others with crime-tale pros. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

in America, it's not easy to fill an entire network with classy crime

So the Investigation
Discovery channel has included plenty of what its president, Henry
Schleiff, calls “entertaining, but, candidly, over-the-top

It has Roseanne Barr
hosting “Momsters” and soon (Oct. 9) will have Wendy Williams
with “Death by Gossip.” It has “Tabloid” and “Who-the-bleep”
and, of course, “Sex Sent Me to the Slammer.”

But beyond all the
quirks, Schleiff says he wants shows with “credible experts who
bring context.”

The latest addition
is Chris Hansen, whose 20 years at NBC included the controversial “To
Catch a Predator.” His “Killer Instinct” debuts Monday, on a
network that already has ex-cop Joe Kenda (“Homicide Hunter”) and
former FBI profiler Candice DeLong (“Deadly Women”)..

These people don't
necessarily agree on approach. For instance:

-- After digging
deeply into a case – and the series-opener is a nasty one –
Hansen expects to toss it aside. “I'm able to separate it,
compartmentalize it .... It's what I've always done.”

-- Kenda can't do
that. “It's burned into your brain with a laser knife,” he said.
“It never goes away.”

Kenda sees endless
possibilities. “Humans are capable of anything; humans are violent
by nature.”

And DeLong tries to
figure out why. She was a psychiatric nurse, sometimes working with
prisoners who were in for 30 days of observation. “A lot of the
nurses would run away from those people,” she said. “But I was
drawn to them. I wanted to know what made them tick.”

That led to work at
the FBI and its Behavioral Science Unit. She was even portrayed by
Jean Smart in a 2003 TV movie, “Killer Instinct.”

That title always
seems to work; now it's used by Hansen, whom Schleiff calls “truly
one of the country's best crime reporters.”

His interest started
when he was a 10-year-old in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., riding his bike
to watch the search for Jimmy Hoffa. Much later, Hansen would be a TV
reporter in Detroit.

The key, he said, is
learning to deal with police, with victims ... and even with
criminals. “I give them respect. And I get inside their heads and
understand the way they think.”

Hansen was hired by
“Dateline” in 1993, focusing on breaking stories. A decade later,
he linked with an activist group to create “To Catch a Predator”
segments. Volunteers posed as kids Online; then cameras caught those
who responded.

The result produced
strong ratings and strong attacks. Critics accused the show of
entrapment and of profiting from misfortune. That peaked when a
target committed suicide.

By 2009, “Predator”
had ended. When Hansen left NBC four years later, many people
attributed it to fallout from “Predator” and from his
extramarital affair, which had gone public. Hansen, 55, insists his
departure “was very amicable.”

Now he's working on
several projects, including a Kickstarter push to fund “Hansen vs.

First is “Killer
Instinct,” which opens by revisiting a Cleveland area where 11
women disappeared, mostly in 2008. Hansen interviewed neighbors,
relatives of the victims and one key figure.

“Vanessa Gay ...
was kidnapped, tortured, and – for whatever reason – he allowed
her to escape,” he said. “And as she's going to the bathroom
before he lets her go, she sees a headless corpse of a woman wrapped
in plastic .... It is the most compelling victim interview that I've
ever done.”

-- “Killer
Instinct,” 10 p.m. Mondays, Investigation Discovery, debuting Aug.

-- “Homicide
Hunter,” 10 p.m. Tuesdays; the Aug. 18 episode is preceded by
reruns from 4-8 p.m.

-- “DeadlyWomen,”
10 p.m. Fridays, preceded by reruns at 8 and 9; also, DeLong's
“Facing Evil” has reruns from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug, 25.


"Downton" says a slow goodbye to an elegant era

The "Downton Abbey" years have been splendid -- high standards and high ratings, precision and politeness and the occasional jolting death. Now the last scenes will be shot Saturday (Aug.15), for a final season that starts in January. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

British studio Saturday, an elegant era will end. “Downton Abbey”
films its final scenes.

Chances are, there
will be tears. There already were, when filming wrapped in key spots.

“We've started
ticking off the locations,” Hugh Bonneville said, when the actors
made a recent stateside visit. That included the final scenes to be
shot in Highclere Castle, which served as his family's mansion. “That
was ... full of memories and emotions.”

After filming there,
the actresses who played his daughters lingered. “We didn't want to
leave,” said Michelle Dockery, who plays Lady Mary. “Laura
(Carmichael, who's Lady Edith) and I wandered around for the last
time and suddenly, we didn't want to go home.”

Instead, they sat
and had either “a big cry” (Carmichael's version) or “a bit of
a cry” (Dockery's).

Viewers won't need
any immediate tears. The show doesn't return until January and then
has a full sixth season. The year is 1925; Edith is running a
newspaper, Mary is managing the estate, Bates and his wife still face
suspicion in the death of her attacker and, “Masterpiece Theatre”
chief Rebecca Eaton said, “Thomas is up to no good.”

Also, Carson and
Mrs. Hughes are engaged now, but don't expect them to get all gushy.
At work – which is most of the time -- they still call each other
by their last names.

As the network's
all-time ratings leader, “Downton” has been a big plus for PBS
during pledge drives (one of which is going on now) and budget
hearings. Still, there was the realization that it would end.

“I think these
shows have a life expectancy, when they're really successful, (of)
six, seven, eight years,” said producer Gareth Neame. “Maybe we
could have gone to a Season 7 or a Season 8, but the ... best thing I
can hear is for you to say, 'I don't want the show to end.'”

The actors insist
they didn't want an end, for reasons practical -- “I'll miss being
in a hit TV show,” said Elizabeth McGovern, who plays Bonneville's
wife – and emotional.

There were the last
scenes in Bampton, the town (population 2,500) where village scenes
were filmed. And the last ones in Highclere, the mansion that was
built in 1839, on the foundation of a Medieval palace. “It felt
like in a split second, it wasn't our home anymore,” Carmichael

Now the final weeks
are being shot on a film set. Some actors talk fondly of swiping a
prop or two, but McGovern says she'd like to steal the elegant mood.

“I miss the peace
of it,” she said. “We're so inundated with information all the
time and with stuff we don't really need to know .... I think that's
part of the appeal of escaping to this world.”


HBO shows us a hero and a seething controversy

Every now and then, HBO tackles something that that the other networks don't even try -- a massive movie or mini-series, with texture and complexity. The lates is "Show Me a Hero," which debuts Aug. 16 and continues for two more Sundays; here's the story I sen t to papers:

By Mike Hughes

in 1999, “Show Me a Hero” presented real-life urban politics as
an epic battleground.

The non-fiction book
stepped back a decade, to a court order requiring public housing in
Yonkers. Passionate people raged; colorful characters emerrged.

This was, said HBO's
Kary Antholis, a “tale of race, politics and redemption.” And it
was ideal for David Simon, the former Baltimore newsman who had
launched “Homicide” and “The Corner.”

Simon wanted to do
“Hero” for TV, but other projects -- “The Wire,” “Generation
Kill,” “Treme” -- intervened. Now, 16 years later, he's finally
produced and co-written a six-hour HBO mini-series.

“The great irony
is that (near Yonkers), the same fight, with the same rhetoric ... is
going on right now,” Simon said.

housing was once considered a splendid idea, said LaTanya Richardson,
who plays one of the new residents. “It was built to help people
who came back from the war.”

Then it became
something else, Simon said, “basically stacking the poor and
hyper-segregating the poor in massive housing projects,” often in
areas where jobs had vanished.

By the '80s, that
“stacking” approach had changed; scattered housing was proposed.
Still, the old image – giant towers of crime and despair –

So Nick Wasicsko,
who had been a cop and a city councilman, campaigned against public
housing. In 1988, at 28, he became the nation's youngest big-city

The government,
Simon said, was “wholly white, (with) no outlet for black political
action or Latino political action in Yonkers.”

Emotions seethed,
the courts stayed firm ... and Wasicsko began to lean toward
compromise and compliance. “Learning about the real Nick Wasicsko,
I fell in love with him and I really wanted to understand who he
was,” said Oscar Isaac, who plays him.

This is a giant,
Shakespearean story – but in the Lear/Romeo/Macbeth sense of
darkness. Wasicsko took some heroic steps; for the title of her book,
Lisa Belkin adapted the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote: “Show me a hero,
and I'll write you a tragedy.”

There were powerful
forces pushing in that direction, including Hank Spallone, another
cop and councilman. “He was very charismatic,” said Alfred
Molina, who plays him. “He would walk into a room and kind of suck
up all the energy.”

He died in 2009, but
Simon did have one chance to meet him. “David told a great story
about Hank meeting them in a diner,” Molina said, “arriving 45
minutes late and then saying, 'No, I can't sit. I can't sit. I can't
stay' .... And then spoke for about a half-an-hour.”

These men were
surrounded by swarms of angry people. “We did have to embrace
chaos” to make the mini-series, director Paul Haggis said.

Using the actual
locations, when possible, he had 400 speaking roles. He had a giant
story of a time for heroics and for tragedy.

-- “Show Me a
Hero,” 8-10 p.m. on three Sundays, beginning Aug. 16, HBO.

-- Opener reruns
that night at 1:05 a.m.; also 5 p.m. Tuesday, 9 p.m. Wednesday, 11:30
p.m. Saturday (Aug. 22), 4:30 p.m. Aug. 23; more on other HBO


Inside the tortured soul of "Rectify," less is more

"Rectify" is one of those classy shows that have drawn big praise and (so far) small audiences. It's worth catching, epecially with the season-finale Thursday (Aug. `13). Here's the story I sent to papers:


By Mike Hughes

Aden Young steps into his “Rectify” role, there's an instant

The voice slows, the
face stiffens, the emotional mask seems to settle in. He becomes
Daniel Holden, who spent 19 years in prison for a murder he may not
have commited.

“He's a product of
Hell,” Young said. “What he brings is incredible darkness.”

In other roles,
Young is capable of saying many words, some quite florid. He even did
“Hedda Gabler”

(opposite Cate
Blanchett) in his native Australia.

But “Rectify”
requires something ... well, less. He plays a man who spent decades
suppressing emotions “in order to survive. (But) we've seen him let
the (rage) out of the box a few times.”

The show –
wrapping its short second season Thursday – has won a prestigious
Peabody Award, while depicting a damaged man who's seen lives
crumble. “He doesn't recognize the damage he's done to the people
around him,” said Ray McKinnon, the show's creator.

Especially to his
sister Amantha, the one person who believed in him comepletely. “She
is a product of Hell as well,” said Abigail Spencer, who plays her.

Bright and
beautiful, Amantha could have gone somewhere else and started a new
life. Instead, she stayed in this little Georgia town and worked for
her brother's release. Still, she – and viewers – have never had
proof he's innocent; he reluctantly signed a confession, in a plea
bargain that averted a new trial. “She's starting to wonder, 'Why
did I spend the last 20 years on this,'” Spencer said.

McKinnon, 57, has
been busier as an actor – Rev. Smith in “Deadwood,” Lincoln
Potter in “Sons of Anarchy,” etc. -- than as a writer. But he's
kept trying scripts, he said, and became intrigued by the tidea of
wrongfully convicted men, set free. “All of a sudden, you have
these lost years to deal with.”

He added extra
layers: Daniel's case still wasn't resolved; he returned to a town –
a little like McKinnon's own home town of Adel, Ga. -- where most
people assume he's guilty.

In real life,
McKinnon has known tragedy, with the death (unexpected, linked to a
medical condition) of his wife, actress Lisa Blount.

Young witnessed a
slowly evolving tragedy: When he was 9, his family moved from Canada
to Australia, where his dad – Chip Young, once a well-known CBC
broadcaster – spent years with a lupus-like ailment. “For a man
who was so vibrant to have a debilitating disease is very difficult,”
he said, yet there was also an upbeat presence: Much later, Young
even directed an eight-moinute short film based on a children's book
his dad wrote.

By comparison,
Spencer seems to have had a childhood as breezy as the name of her
home town suggests. In Gulf Breeze, Fla., her dad was the area's
surfing master.

“It was a
beautiful place,” she said. “We went to the beach every day ....
We lived a minute away.”

acting career came quickly, She was still a teen-ager when she played
Becca in the soap “All My Children.” Plenty of TV roles followed,
some in major projects; she's played Jon Hamm's mistress (in the
third season of “Mad Men”) and Colin Farrell's ex-wife (in the
current “True Detective”).

the same time, she's Amantha, in a cloud of pain. “She smokes a
lot,” Spencer said.

also feels deep despair. It's an emotion “Rectify” visits often
and well.

“Rectify” season-finale, 10 p.m. Thursday, Sundance; rerunning at
1:10 a.m.

Many more reruns, always at odd times: 4:20 a.m. Friday, 5:20 a.m.
Saturday; 4:15 a.m., 6 a.m. and 11:50 p.m. Monday (Aug. 17) and 3:30
a.m. Wednesday (Aug. 19).