TV captures an in-between age of great promise and awful jobs

"Kevin From Work" has the feeling of an independent movie -- smart and quirky and mostly pleasant. It's also part of a fresh push by cable's ABC Family, to capture teens  and 20s as their life unfolds. The show debuts Wednesday (Aug. 12); here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

There's a big throng out there that TV networks like and advertisers

These are young
people, teens and 20s, in a state of transition. They're “somewhere
between their first kiss and their first kid,” said Tom Ascheim,
president of ABC Family. The keep finding pivotal moments in work, in
love and in life.

Those are the people
ABC Family is trying to reach with its new shows, both reality --
“Job or No Job,” “Startup U” -- and an amiable comedy called
“Kevin From Work.:”

Kevin is an ordinary
chap. “He's doing a job that he's not passionate about,” said
Noah Reid, who plays him. “He's figuring out how to pay his bills
and how to stay afloat and how to get along.”

And in the cubicle
across from him is Audrey (Paige Spara), bright and beautiful and
dating a hunky guy. Kevin feels the quirks of cubicle life. “When
you don't want to be anonymous, it's difficult to kind of break out
of that clutter,” said Aaron Kaplan, one of the show's producers.

He remembers that
from his early days in a Hollywood agency; Barbara Adler, who created
the show, recalls her early jobs as a production assistant and “not
being able to keep anything private.”

The young actors are
fresh from that phase; they still remember their day jobs ... mostly.

Reid – who started
on Canadian TV when he was 10 – said he's only had one outside job,
running a VIP parking lot for the Rogers Cup tennis tournament. It
was “what my friends would call my only honest job – and it
quickly became a very dishonest job” when he started taking bribes.

Jordan Hinson, who
plays his eccentric sister, has never had a day job. She started on
“Eureka” (playing the cop's daughter) at 13 and has been an
actress ever since.

But the others
understand the first-job frustrations faced by their characters and
the viewers. Consider:

-- Matt Murray, who
plays Kevin's friend. His job was to have fake symptoms, for people
taking medical exams. “I'm young, so it was always an STD; I had,
like. syphilis ... And then on weekends, I worked at a drag bar, as a
bus boy. Listen, a man has got to live.”

-- Spara. Fresh from
college, she got a job narrating bus tours to spots depicted in the
“Gossip Girl” TV show. She'd never seen the show, she said, until
doing some last-minute binge-viewing. “A lot of toutists were kind
of iffy about my skill.”

-- Punam Patel, who
plays her roommate and has real cubicle experience. A University of
Florida journalism grad, she worked in Atlanta, editing and writing
for magazines. “It ranged from, like, cool fashion magazines to,
like, boring construction and business magazines.” She tried to be
social there, with mixed success. “A lot of people are strictly
there to punch in and punch out.”

Eventually, it all
worked out. Murray worked as Duncan in the current season of “Rookie
Blue,” before jumping to “Kevin.” Spara did a diamond
commercial; an agent promptly signed her and told her to move to Los
Angeles. That was followed by“two straight years, audition after
audition after audition ... and getting nothing.” And then came a
big role as Kevin's vision of unattainable perfection.

Patel took longer.
She stayed in those offices, before considering a stab at comedy. For
her parents – convenience-store owners who emigtrated from India,
with practical values – that was iffy. “My dad went, 'Ugh,' but
my mom surprised me. She said, 'If that's been your dream, you should
pursue it.'”

So she moved to
Chicago and studied with the famed Second City comedy troupe. When
Aidy Bryant landed a “Saturday Night Live” spot, Patel inherited
her spot in stage shows. Now comes “Kevin.”

For her – and for
Spara – this is vitrually the first TV job. Their careers have
clicked ... sort of the way it happens in the daydreams of ABC Family

-- “Kevin From
Work,” 8 p.m. Wednesdays, ABC Family.

-- Debuts Aug. 12,
with two episodes; the first episode reruns at 10:30 p.m. Friday;
latenight Saturday (technically, 1:30 a.m. Sunday) and 10:30 p.m.


Louganis breaks the surface of life

By Mike Hughes

times, Greg Louganis soared above other athletes.

He won two gold
medals as an Olympic diver in 1984, then did the same in 1988. At a
1982 world championship, he became the first diver with a perfect
score from every judge.

“You could not
beat footage of Greg Louganis at his peak,” said Cheryl Furjanic,
who has made a compelling HBO documentary. “You've never seen
anything so beautiful.”

And afterward? By
all logic, said Ken Hershman of HBO Sports, you might guess he would
have “a charmed life, that he would be celebrated and cherished,
all glitter and gold.”

Not so. The film
shows Louganis struggling to avoid losing his home, after tough
decades. Some of the trouble involved being gay in the macho setting
of 1980s sports; still, that was just one of many ways that he'd felt

At 8 months,
Louganis was adopted; “I didn't always have a great relationship
with my dad,” he said.

What he did have was
“a work ethic .... going from dancing/acrobatics when I was a
year-and-a-half, going to gymnastics when I was 6 and 7 and then
diving when I was 8.”

He didn't do well in
classes (he later learned he was dyslexic) or socially (always
rushing to practices). In high school, his social connection came
from helping coach divers and the girls' gymnastics team. “Those
gals kept me alive .... I did try to kill myself, ... but those girls
gave me a purpose.”

His other purpose
was diving. Louganis won the Olympic silver medal in 1976, at 16, and
missed '80 because of the U.S. boycott. Then came the triumphs in '84
and '88.

He was a star, which
could havbe meant big money. “1972 started the commercialization of
the Olympic games with Mark Spitz,” Louganis said. “And then
'76, Bruce Jenner.”

But the 1984
Olympics were overloaded with American stars, including Edwin Moses
and Mary Lou Retton. “Advertisers just rallied around Mary Lou,”
Louganis said.

Besides, rumors had
spread that Louganis is gay, an image ad men avoided.

Early in '88,
Louganis learned he's HIV-positive; he kept it a secret for seven
more years. “I knew those (would be) my last competitive dives,
because we still viewed HIV/AIDS as a death sentence.”

Except it wasn't. “I
never thought I'd see 30,” he said, “And then 30 goes by. And
then 40 goes by .... I'm going, 'Oh (crud), I've got to get a job.'”

Even the most
obvious job – Olympics coverage – fell through. Louganis did some
pre-Olympics work for NBC in 1992, but then “somebody slipped out
my HIV status” and the network backed away.

At the 2016
Olympics, Louganis will do some coverage for Global TV, along with
some coaching. “I'm continuing to mentor for USA Diving .... We've
got some wonderful hopefuls to look forward to.”

That's his first
official job in diving in decades – which is what Furjanic said
spurred the documentary: “Why would the greatest diver in the world
be away from diving for 20 years?”

She found a complex
life, with money problems magnified by a bad break-up. Louganis does
personaL appearances, gets some jobs as an actor (his college major)
and sold his medals to avoid foreclosure.

He succeeded; now
he's sold his home and moved in with Johnny Chaillot, a paralegal.
They married in 2013. “It added an incredible depth to our
relationship,” Louganis said. “I fall in love with him more and
more each day.”

At 55, Louganis has
spent 20 years being openly gay, 27 knowing he's HIV-positive. This
was no death sentence; it was one piece of a complicated and
compelling life .

-- “Back on Board:
Greg Louganis,” debuts 10 p.m. Tuesday, HBO.

-- Reruns Friday
(Aug. 7) at 3:15 p.m. and 1 a.m. Also, 8:15 a.m. Sunday; 10 a.m. Aug.
12; 7:30 a.m. Aug. 15; and more.

-- Earlier: Louganis
co-wrote the 1996 book “Breaking the Surface”; it became a 1997
cable movie starring Mario Lopez.


Carbonaro makes us (sometimes) believe in magic

If you haven't discovered "The Carbionaro Effect" yet, give it a try. It mixes magic and hidden camera in fresh ways, thanks to Michael Carbonar's improv skills. The show seems to rerun often; here's the story I sent to papers at the beginning of this week, updating the times listed at the end of the story:

By Mike Hughes

For most magicians,
the task is simple (sort of): Do something impossible, right in front
of people.

But for Michael
Carbonaro, whose cable show is starting its second season, that's
just the start. Next, he has to convince them that that it really
happened ... and that it's no big deal.

shoelaces? A three-foot object in a one-foot box? A postal shipment
bearing a birthday cake, its candles already lit? Carbonaro shrugs,
offers a faux explanation and waits for people to react.

they'll just go, 'OK,'” he said. “I'll think, 'Really?'”

Hey, you can
convince people of anything if you combine magic skills with a look
of deceptive innocence.

The idea began in
2011 on Jay Leno's “Tonight Show.” Carbonaro set up as a
convenience store clerk, startling customers while hidden-cameras
roll. Now he's expanded that; he's in stores, hotels, supermarkets,
mail-drop places. As “The Carbonaro Effect” continues, he adds

“I asked one
woman, 'Do you ever watch 'The Carbonaro Effect'?” he said. “She
started to tell me all about the show, but she still didn't reconize

This requires a
skill-set that happens to fit Caronaro neatly.

He grew up on Long
Island, in the days when tricks weren't just distant things sold on
the Internet. “You could go to the magic store and see them done
right in front of you.”

Then came a key
moment: “A neighbor guy dressed as Big Bird for birthday parties.
My mom said, 'You could probably do that and make some money.'”

Soon, a 13-year-old
Carbonaro was spending three hours in a clown suit, doing puppetry,
magic and more. He made $35 and became a show-business professional.

At New York
University, he tried “dance, music, acting, voice-training,
everything.” Afterward, he got some TV guest roles (comedy,
mostly), but it was magic that let him stand out.

Most people,
Carbonaro said, have a “wedge of belief.” He just has to concoct
some explanation for the impossible. “When we're getting ready, I
come up with a few little things .... I might say, 'Oh, it's because
of the molecular structure.' But a lot of it I have to improvise on
the spot.”

And sometimes, he
succeeds. “It's joyful,” Carbonaro said. “We're not making
people look like fools.”

Besides, in modern
times that wedge of belief is widening. We've seen driverless cars,
smart glasses and smarter watches; self-tying shoelaces could be

-- “The Carbonaro
Effect,” Tru TV

-- New episodes at
10 p.m. Wednesdays; season-opened
July 29,

-- Reruns include
11:31 p.m. Friday (July 31); Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., 7-10 p.m.,
10:30-11 p.m. and (latenight) midnight to 2 a.m.; Sunday, 6-8 p.m.,
10-11 p.m.

-- On Wednesday,
Aug. 5, reruns start at 3 p.m, leading into the season's second new
episode, at 10.


World be warned: A new sharknado attack is coming

"Jaws" made us afraid to go into the watter; now the "Sharknado" films make us afraid to go near the sky. The third one debuts Wednesday (July 22), lookig a lot like the second one, only bigger and messier. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Americans have
always been diligent about sending our culture overseas.

We've exported
Broadway and the blues, poets and Perlman and jazz and more. And now
comes the next step: In a one-week stretch, at least 87 nations will
see “Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No.”

Yes, it will be
different from the first two “Sharknado” films. They had an
ordinary chap (Ian Ziering) fighting flying sharks with an ordinary
chainsaw; in the third one, he has a golden chainsaw.

This is strange
stuff ... something director Anthony Ferrante says he realized in the
editing room of the first one. “I turned and said, 'This is
probably the wierdest movie that will ever air on Syfy.'”

What he didn't
predict was the pop-culture stir. “I had made so many movies,”
Ferrante said. “You don't think: 'Oh, this is going to break
through.'” But it did; consider:

-- The “Sharknado”
debut drew 1.4 million viewers, a hugh number for the Syfy cable
channel ... then somehow went to 1.9 and 2.1 million for the next two
airings. It soon dominated Twitter messages.

-- “Sharknado 2:
The Second One” topped that easily – 3.9 million viewers for the
first airing, 1.8 million for the second that same night, then more
... plus, Syfy says, the most Tweets in TV history.

-- And now the third
film debuts Wednesday, with more of everything – more gore, more
cities in danger (from Washington, D.C., to Orlando), more sharks
descending, more odd guest stars.

At one point,
Ferrante was trying to get Bill Murray to play the shark-fighting
president. “I knew it wasn't going to happen,” he said. But he
did get Mark Cuban and Ann Coulter to play the president and
vice-president; and a larger role, as Ziering's father, went to David

“He was really
excited about the idea of playing a curmudgeonly dad,” Ferrante

Others took smaller
roles, including es-Playboy stars, ex-Congresspeople and an ex-Hulk
(Lou Ferrigno), plus Jerry Springer, Ne-Yo and many more.

They knew this could
be big. Originally, no one knew that; Ziering once said he only did
the first film to be eligible for insurance. “I thought, 'Well, no
one's ever going to see the movie.' Boy, was I wrong.”

That first one
brought a familiar challenge, Ferrante said: “You take a
$200-million script. “Then you have to do it for a million bucks.”

He had written
and/or directed many movies for Syfy or video, none of which you hear
about at Academy Award time. They bear such titles as “Boo,”
“Scream of the Banshees,” “Headless Horseman,” “Haunted
High School” and, of course, “Leprechaun's Revenge.”

But he also tried
other scripts, including ones with a random reference to a
“sharknado.” Syfy rejected the script, but liked the word. Soon,
“Sharknado” films were being written by Thunder Levin.

These don't try to
explain why sharks can fly. “It's not National Geographic or
anything,” Tara Reid, who co-stars with Ziering, said before the
second film.

Instead, the films
simply go for fun. “I was a kid in a candy store,” Ferrante said.

This required lots
of special-effects, he said, done on the cheap. “A lot of the
actors had never been on a visual-effects movie .... Ian didn't know
me from Adam.”

Eventually, Ziering
was agreeing to come back after the filming was finished, to add a
scene in which he leaps into the mouth of a shark, then chainsaws his
way out. That became a classic, the strangest scene in “Sharknado”
history ... until a scene late in “Sharknado 3” makes it seem
kind of normal.

-- “Sharknado 3:
Oh Hell No,” debuts 9 p.m. Wednesday, Syfy, repeating at 11:05

-- Also, at 7 p.m.
Saturday (leading into the 9 p.m. debut of “Lavalantula,” about
lava-spewing tarantulas) and 9 p.m. Sunday, following a shark-movie
marathon at 9 a.m. and “Lavalantula” at 7 p.m.


After three millennia, Tut's promoted to action hero

There's always something grand about the King Tut story. A current traveling exhibit (now at the Grand Rapids Museum in Michigan) captures some of that, with replicas of his tomb artifacts; now a mini-series also captures his story ... and adds some fictional touches. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

By now, modern
Earthlings figure they know King Tut.

They've seen his
mummy, seen his treasures, heard his history. They know him ... at
least, better than most people who died more than 3,330 years ago.

But now they can see
him in a fresh light, as a ruler, a lover, an action hero and ....

Action hero? “That's
our suspension of disbelief,” said Avan Jogia, who plays Tut in a
new cable mini-series. “We made him more of a warrior king.”

In real life,
historians feel, Tut may have been tall and slender, possibly with a
slightly curved spine. He died at 18, of unknown cause; he was no

But he was an active
ruler. Breaking from his elders, he took control. He moved the
capital, restored old gods, fixed relationships with nearby tribes.
“He must have had an incredible will,” Jogia said.

So now he's shown in
love, war and palace politics. A key part of that is Ankhe, who is
his half-sister AND his wife. “She's a survivor,” said Sibylla
Deen, who plays her. “It all comes from a place of trying to
preserve” the family dynasty.

Deen seems to savor
the role. “It's a good time for ethnically ambiguous actors,” she

She's from
Australia, with Pakistani roots on her dad's side. Now she's
simultanously playing royalty in Egypt (“Tut”) and in the Middle
East (“Tyrant”).

Jogia is from
Canada, with Indian roots on his dad's side. His best roles –
starring in “Twisted,” co-starring in “Victorious” -- haven't
been particularly ethnic.

At 23, he's meeting
the goal he set long ago: “I asked what was the job where you can
be everything.”

That's acting. His
parents, a hairdresser and a real-estate agent, were skeptical, but
let him audition. He landed some commercials and small roles in U.S.
shows being filmed near his home in Vancouver.

At 16, he left
school and his parents gave him six months to find a job in Los
Angeles. “Victorious” followed; now he's been a pharaoh, filming
fight scenes on 102-degree days.

And Deen? She sort
of lives in Los Angeles, but not really. “You just expect to be
traveling all the time,” she said.

She got her first
hints of that at 13, acting with the Australian Youth Theatre and
traveling to New Zealand, China and the U.S. After some success in
her home country, she moved to New York in 2009 and started over;
now, at 32, she's had success ... and constant travel.

“Tyrant” shot
its pilot in Morocco ... started its first season in Tel Aviv ...
moved abruptly to Turkey amid the danger of violence ... and now is
filming the second season in Budapest.

That's four
countries in two seasons ... plus “Tut,” filmed in Morocco. “If
I have a call to get up at 5 in the morning and I'm working until 2
a.m., it doesn't make much difference where I live,” Deen said.

Besides, Morocco is
lovely and she “managed to buy a beautiful rug.” She plans to put
it in her apartment ... assuming that she'll eventually get back to
this century and this continent.

-- “Tut,”
three-part, six-hour miniseries on Spike, co-starring Ben Kingsley.

-- 9 p.m. Sunday
through Tuesday, July 19-21, rerunning at 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.

-- On Monday, the
previous episode reruns at 7 p.m.; on Tuesday, both rerun at 5 and 7

-- Entire
mini-series also runs at 6, 8 and 10 p.m. next Saturday, July 25.

-- “Tyrant,”
also with Sibylla Deen, is 10 p.m. Tuesdays on FX, rerunning at 11.