Somewhere in that pile, there's a new TV season

Amid all the clamor of cable and streaming and more, it's easy to forget this: A new TV season is coming soon for the broadcast networks, officially starting Sept. 21. As usual, it has a pile of new shows, most of them proclaimed as fresh and exciting and such; as usual, a few of them really are. I'll be listing and ranking them over the next few days; first, here's the overview I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

In ancient times –
or maybe it was a few years ago – four networks would be seizing
our attention now.

They'd launch the
new TV season, with 20-some new shows, heavy on cops and comedies.
Many of the shows would be awful, but some would be “Friends” and
“Frasier” and “CSI” and “West Wing.”

And now? NBC
programming chief Robert Greenblatt summed things up succinctly: “Too
many shows. Not enough monetization, Fractured audiences.”:

Too many? John
Landgraf, head of the FX cable networks, said last year that there
were 352 original, scripted TV shows; in January, he upped that to
371. A half-year later, he revised it again: “We believe 2015 will
easily blow through the 400-series mark .... This is simply too much

HBO was once the new
guy, launching distinctive shows (starting with “Sopranos”) that
nipped at the big networks. Now it's being nipped by newer guys.

“Every day,
there's another network or platform announcing that they're (doing
original shows),” said Michael Lombardo, the HBO programming
president. “It's exciting; it's overwhelming.”

For the first time,
new scripted shows have popped up on E, UP, Pop, El Rey, Sundance,
WGN America and more. Those cable channels nudge in cautiously, but
some streaming services – Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, – are leaping in
big. Then there's DirecTV ... and the expanding Sunday dramas on PBS
... and even CW – with “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Jane the
Virgin” and “iZombie” -- stirs new interest.

Facing all of this,
the big networks launch a season that officially starts Sept. 21. It

-- Fewer comedies.
CBS and NBC are each down to one night ... and NBC's night (Friday)
is lame.

-- A quirkier feel
to the comedies, shifting from multi-camera (before a studio
audience) to single-camera (movie-style). ABC's Paul Lee points to
last year's success of “Black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat,”
on the “Modern Family” network. “We've really honed our
position as the home of single-camera, sophisticated family
comedies.” Even CBS – home of multi-camera success with “Big
Bang Theory” and “Mom” – is doing both of its new comedies

-- A fresh interest
in live shows, most of them on NBC. That includes “Saturday Night
Live,” much of “The Voice,” an annual musical (this year, “The
Wiz”) and the eight-episode “Best Time Ever,” with Neil Patrick
Harris doing “a lot of on-the-fly and very spontaneous” things,
Greenblatt said. And the NBC comedy “Undateable” plans to do
every episode live. “That energy really feels palpable when you
watch it and are around the show,” said Jennifer Salke, president
of NBC Entertainment.

-- Lots of fantasy.
We expect that from CW, which is returning six fantasy hours (60
percent of its schedule), with three more waiting their turns. In
addition, NBC adds “Heroes Reborn,” Fox adds “Minority Report”
and the oft-traditional CBS has both “Limitless” and “Supergirl.”
The latter even gets a prime slot on Mondays. “We thought this is a
genre and this is a franchise that would certainly open up and bring
in new viewers,” CBS' Nina Tasler said.

-- Even non-fantasy
shows cranking things up a notch. ABC's “Blood and Oil” has the
same soapy feeling that works for its Thursday shows; NBC's
“Blindspot” and “The Player” have the heightened approach
that helped “The Blacklist” catch on.

-- Less insistance
on shows trying to run endlessly, 22 episodes a year. Harris will
have only eight episodes this season; the acclaimed “Fargo” and
“American Crime” are bringing new stories to FX and ABC. “I
used say, 'Well, can it go five years?'” Lombardo said. “I don't
ask that question anymore.”

-- A surge of music.
That's in reality shows (including the final “American Idol”
season) ... “The Wiz” ... the dream scenes of “Crazy
Ex-Girlfriend” ... a pilot film (“Star”) from “Empire”
producer Lee Daniels ... and, of course, the aftershocks of “Empire”
becoming an instant ratings hit.

most-talked-about and biggest show of the past season was launched on
a traditional broadcast network,” Fox's Dana Newman said. In the
middle of a 400-show overload, that can be impressive.


Who needs adulthood? Not the "Worst" crowd

Sharp, cynical humor can work well on TV, especially when it's a victimless crime, It worked on "Roseanne" because Dan seemed invulnerable to attack; it works on "You're the Worst" because the two characters are equally cynical, bouncing off  each other neatly. Now "Worst" starts its second season Thursday: Here's the story I sent to paprers:


By Mike Hughes

There was a time
when TV comedies only seemed to know two age groups.

There were young
people, of course, fresh and fun and frisky. There were older people,
with houses and sofas and (sometimes) sweaters.

But now the
in-between years seem to be expanding. “Delayed adolescence has
become quite a thing in our culture,” said Aya Cash, who stars in
the “You're the Worst” cable comedy.

Cash, 33 and
married, plays Gretchen, who keeps her possessions in a few plastic
bags. She and Jimmy (Chris Geere) live in his house, but manage to
avoid most grown-up tendencies.

For Geere, 34,
that's a change-of-pace. Back in England, he said, “I have this ...
lovely house and have my wife and child. And then I come here and get
to put on boxer shorts and act like a 10-year-old.”

Their characters
sort of resist adulthood. “There's a deep fear that they have of
being normal,” said Stephen Falk, the show's creator. “There's a
fear of getting stale and old and then you die.”

And yes, Falk fits
that trend, too. “I'm about to have my first child and I'm 43.”

“Worst” works
partly because its characters share a sharp, cynical humor -- zinging
at each other, without inflicting much damage. And that's a trait
Falk can semi-relate to.

Yes, he has a
certain darkness, as do the people near him. His first wife was a
comedy writer; his fiancee is a homicide buff. “She's in a murder
E-mail group,” he said. “They'll get together and have a speaker
talk about famous murders. These women love it.”

Falk considers
himself only a visitor to the dark side; “cynicism is kind of
overrated.” He does believe there's evil in corportate America “and
we're all doomed, but at the same time, I'm happy.”

But he has a cynical
wit that can serve him well. It got him through the early years, when
he wrote scathing recaps for the now-departed “Television Without
Pity” Web site. “It was a lot of work and I broke two VCR's ....
You'd write 6,000-word essays and get paid $75, but it was fun.”

It also let him
study what makes TV shows work or fail. Add in his occasional work as
a script-reader and “it was like a degree in dramaturgy.”

Jenji Kohan hired Falk to write for “Weeds” and “Orange is the
New Black.” In between, he created and ran “Next Caller” ...
which NBC cancelled before it reached the air.

Now he's with “a
network that won't get cold feet, the way NBC did .... They trust
their creators.”

After spending is
first season on FX, “Worst” has moved to FXX, gradually building
up its side characters. “It's always been kind of my sneaky desire
to do more of an ensemble show,” Falk said.

Some of the stories
deal with Gretchen's work as a publicist and Jimmy's as a novelist
... currently encased in writer's block.

And yes, Cash has
seen some of that in real life. Her mother is Kim Addonizio, a poet,
novelist and National Book Award finalist. The daughter of a famed
sportswriter (Bob Addie) and a Wimbleton tennis champion (Paula
Betz), Addonizio has seemed to bring an athlete's regimen to her

Cash remembers her
mom writing for the same hours every day, “even if it was just all
terrible. She would contiue to write through the writer's block ....
I think that taught me something: Just do. Just do until it's right.”

And sometimes, alas,
that involves becoming a grown-up.

-- “You're the
Worst,” 10:30 p.m. Wednesdays, FXX

-- Season-opener,
Sept. 9, reruns at 11:37 p.m. and 1:40 a.m.; others rerun at 11:30
and 1:30


"Explorer" is back and warlords are a target

There really was a time when basic-cable was kind of empty. It had reruns and wrestling and music videos, but few original shows that amounted to much. "Explorer" entered that turf in 1985, becoming one of the best of a small field; now it returns as a monthly series. It's opener (Sunday, Aug. 30) is dark and grim, but also admirably ambitious. Here's the story I sent to papers:


By Mike Hughes

“Explorer” is
back, returning to a cable world it helped create.

This was once one of
the best shows on basic-cable, almost by default. It kept getting
better, but so did everything else. It had five networks, famous
hosts, piles of awards ... then faded out.

But now it's back as
a monthly series, starting with something it couldn't have imagined
in the early days – a dangerous plunge into the world of warlords,
elephant slaughter and tusk-smuggling.

“I wanted to go to
the worst of the worst places, where the most violent people are
going after elephants,” said Bryan Christty, head of National
Geographic Channel's criminal-investigation unit.

The channel wasn't
launched until 1997 overseas and 2001 in the U.S., but “Explorer”
began in 1985.

Back then, National
Geographic did occasional big projects for PBS, but was eyeing this
new cable world. It planned a simple magazine show, using films that
had already been shot around the world.

The competition was
scarce back then. At times, “Explorer” was the only American
buyer for a documentary; it filled up three hours every Sunday.

Soon, it began
adding its own films. “It's the longest-running documentary series
in cable-television history, with more than 2,000 films and nearly 60
Emmys,” said Tim Pastore, now the channel's head of original

Along the way, it
kept moving. It started on Nickelodeon ... spent 13 years on TBS ...
had brief stints on CNBC and MSNBC ... and finally reached the
National Geographic Channel in 2004.

It also tried famous
hosts – Tom Chapin, Robert Urich, Boyd Matson, Lisa Ling, even
Robert Ballard, the man who found the “Titanic.” But by 2011-12,
it was down to occasional films, then disappeared.

Its return links
with a fresh philosophy at the channel.

The NGC reality
shows (heavy on Alaska) may have been indistinguishable from those on
other cable channels; the change began when NGC and Fox revived
“Cosmos,” said Courteney Monroe, the channel's CEO. “I think
'Cosmos' really demonstrated to us that smart, entertaining and
high-quality ... storytelling and Hollywood production techniques can
really draw an audience.”

With its global
reach -- “we are in 171 countries,” Monroe said – Geographic
can amp up its budgets and its ambitions. The “Explorer” debut
offers a prime example.

“We created fake
ivory tusks,” said producer J.J. Kelley, “and did something
nobody's done before, put a GPS tracker” inside.

With that tracker,
he said, they followed the tusks through three African countries and
“into some very dangerous places where everyone else had AK-47s and
we had cameras.”

The result is
chilling, Christy said. It's “a new face of ivory-poaching –
warlords funding themselves.”

And it's the sort of
film no one would have imagined, in the early days of cable and

-- “Explorer”
return as monthly series, National Geographic Channel

-- Opener is 8 p.m.
Sunday (Aug. 30), rerunning at 1 a.m.; also, 9 a.m. Sept. 6.

-- Preceded by
reruns of past “Explorer” hours, noon to 8 p.m. Saturday and
Sunday; followed, at 9 p.m. Sunday, by “Elephant Queen” on sister
channel NatGeo Wild.

-- Upcoming editions
include “Lost City of the Monkey God,” “Cult of Mary” and
Bill Nye's “The Five Stages of Climate Change Grief”


On TV -- and, probably, on tour -- these dancers do it all

This as been a great season on "So You Think You Can Dance." Yes, there's the new "stage vs. street" gimmick, but that's just a start. Often, the "street dancers" have had plenty of stage classes; the "stage" people have studied hip-hop. These guys do it all and do it well,. Now "Dance" is getting ready to start tour-ticket sales (Aug. 28) and for its finale (Sept. 14). Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

The “So You Think
You Can Dance” tour will reach some fancy places, suitable for
cellists and tuxedoes and such.

There's an opera
house in Baltimore and a symphony hall in San Diego. There are
theaters with regal names, including the Majestic, the Palace and
four Paramounts.

But the roots of all
this are much simpler. For Hailee Payne, it started in a tiny dance
studio in suburban Utah; for Virgil Gadson, it started on his front
steps in Philadelphia.

“I watched a lot
of music videos and dance videos with my family,” Gadson said.
Michael Jackson, M.C. Hammer and James Brown were big. His cousins
danced; he was the little kid watching.

He's still little,
at 5-foot-3 -- “I have to make myself look bigger onstage” -- but
he's in something big:

-- The “Dance”
show, Mondays on Fox. It's down to its final six now (including
Gadson and Payne); on Sept. 14, it will have a winner.

-- The tour,
starting a month later, with (so far) 55 shows scheduled in 105 days.
“This will be something,” Payne said. “As dancers, we're
usually selling something or we're behind (musical) artists. But now
people will be coming to see us.”

What they'll see
will range afar. “So You Think You Can Dance” is known for
passionate pieces – in the choreography category alone, it's won
eight Emmys, with more than 30 nominations – and its variety.

This season, for the
first time, the show has split into two sides. Team Stage (including
Payne) ranges from ballet to Broadway, from tap to jazz; Team Street
(including Gadson) goes from krump to hip hop. “We're fighters.
(We) go for it, full out,” he said.

Except that the
lines aren't nearly that precise. Both sides seem ready for anything.

“As dancers, we
always want to get in there and do everything,” said Payne, who
found a studio that would teach it all. “We were wacking and
popping, and locking and housing and ..:”

In the same way,
Gadson has studied some jazz, tap, modern, even ballet, Still, his
start at age 3 was doing Michael moves with his cousin on that front
porch, for his mom (a dental assisatant) and family.

They continued to
study neighborood moves; at 12, they won a contest and a chance to
study dance at Freedom Theatre. Hip hop was strong there, but so were
other styles,including Broadway. “I always told my friends, 'I
wanna be in “The Lion King,”'” Gadson said.

And he did reach
Broadway, dancing in “After Midnight.” The show ran eight months;
then Gadson, who had finished in the top 30 in 2011, was persuaded to
try “Dance” one more time.

For Payne, that show
was always the focus. “When I was 8 years old, I watched the first
season and said, 'I want to be on there' .... I would watch it and
tape it every season.”

At 4, she'd seen the
Radio City Rockettes on TV and announced she wanted to be a dancer.
Her dad (a sales rep and dance fan) and mom (who processes medical
claims) agreed instantly.

Utah is a prime
source of “American Idol” and “So You Think You Can Dance”
contestants. “There are new studios popping up all the time,” she
said. “They sure must want us to be dancers.”

Now she is one,
after hectic preparations. She switched studios four times. She had
to quit softball and didn't have time for prom; “it was just go to
school, go to classes, go to sleep .... But I loved it.”

Both have had
patched-up dance lives Gadson, 28, moved to New York, where he
dances, teaches and tours; Payne, 20, has stayed in Utah, teaching
dance and working part-time as a pharmacy assistant.

But now – for
three-and-a-half busy months – they'll be full-time dancers. “It's
going to be a lot of fun and it's going to be tiring,” Gadson said.
“It's going to be the real tour experience.”

The show

-- “So You Think
You Can Dance” 8-10 p.m. Mondays, Fox.

-- Three weeks and
six dancers remain. On Aug. 31, the show names its final four; it
calls the Sept. 7 and Sept. 14 episodes a two-part finale.

-- Remaining Team
Street dancers, with their specialities: Virgil Gadson, 28, hip hop;
Jaja Vankova, 23, krump; Megz Alfonso, 29, hip hop

-- Team Team Stage:
Gaby Diaz, 19, tap; Jim Nowakowski, 26, ballet; Hailee Payne, 20,

The tour

-- Tickets go on
sale Friday; see

-- Additional Team
Street: Neptune, 25, freestyle; JJ Rabone, 30, contemporary

-- Additional Team
Stage: Derek Piquette, 18, and Edwin Juarez, 24, both contemporary


Looking like Danny Trejo is a great career move, but a tough start

There's a fierce energy to the "Dusk Till Dawn" series that somehow gets us past its flaws. The show is the center of El Rey, the cable -- and satellite and streaming and such -- network that reflect Robert Rodriguez's passion for action. Now "Dusk" starts its second season Tuesday, after a marathon; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Others can grumble
about typecasting in Hollywood, but Danny Trejo has a bigger concern:

As a kid, he says,
he was typecast in life. “There would be a bunch of us together,”
Trejo said. “But the police always went to me.”

He looked meaner,
looked guiltier. That was a bad thing throughout his youth, much of
which he spent behind barrs; then it became a good thing, propelling
an acting career.

As he talked about
this, he was sitting next to his colleague from the “Dusk Till
Dawn” series, creating a visual contrast. There was:

-- Trejo, 71, craggy
and imposing – a reminder of his “Machete” movie roles.

-- Wilmer
Valderrama, 35 and sort of sweet-faced -- a reminder of his “That
'70s Show” years.

For Valderrama, the
fierce “Dusk” is a new esperience. “It lets you exercise
different muscles,” he said.

That's usually just
actor talk, but in this case it's literal: Valderrama hit the gym
between seasons, giving his character (Carlos) a new set of muscles.
“My girlfriend is glad I did it,” he said.

And this is no
standard girlfriend. He's been dating actress-singer Demi Lovato, 23.

When Trejo was her
age, he was occupying a different universe. By various accounts, he
did time in six California prisons until he was about 30. He became a
prison boxing champion and went through a 12-step program, staying
sober ever since. Then his tough image led to an acting career.

“For my first
years, I was Inmate #1, Gang Member 2,” Trejo said. “I was the
bad Latino.”

He played guys named
Spider, Hawk, Sharkey, Scarface, Geronimo and Razor Charlie. That
last one was in “From Dusk Till Dawn,” the 1996 film that saw
crooks – Quentin Tarantino (who wrote the script) and George
Clooney -- hide in a nightspot, unaware it's a vampire hangout. The
film led to:

-- More “Dusk.”
There were two direct-to-video sequels and then the series. It
launched in March of 2014, as the centerpiece of Rodriguez's new El
Rey network; now its second season begins.

-- A steady of Trejo
in Rodriguez movies. One character, named Machete, had supporting
roles in four “Spy Kids” family films, then became the center of
two action films for grown-ups.

Now Trejo and
Rodriguez are back together. Late in the opener (Aug. 25) of the
second “Dusk Till Dawn” season, we meet him as a fierce soul
known as The Regulator.

“I think the
Regulator is kind of a cross between Machete and Marcia Brady,”
Trejo said.

He really did play
Marcia (sort of) in an ofbeat commercial. Trejo does comedy
sometimes, but “Dusk” takes him back to the dark side. The
season's second episode, Rodriguez said, has “Danny eating an
eyeball and being able to see what the guy is seeing. (Then you know)
you are in for a ride.”

Rodriguez directed
the season-opener and the season-finale – which includes a guest
role for Lovato. “I wanted to direct her,” he said. “She has
some great personality ... and she's got great acting chops.”

Back when he was
looking for young Latinas for “Spy Kids,” Rodriguez auditioned a
pair of 10-year-old Texas friends, Lovato and Selena Gomez. He
rejected them then, but both went on to be big stars. Now Lovato will
do an episode alongside her boyfriend, who's had his own

Born in Miami,
Valderrama spent his early years in Latin America. His family fled
north, he said, with little money. “I didn't speak English until I
was in school.”

Then it all worked
out. As a teen, he did plays and a commercial. At 18, he became a
“70s Show” star.

Life is pleasant,
sometimes, if you look sweet; it's tougher if you look like Danny

-- “From Dusk Till
Dawn,” 9 p.m. Tuesdays, El Rey network; second season starts Aug.

-- That's preceded
by a marathon, from 11 a.m.; opener reruns at 10 p.m., midnight, 1
and 3 a.m.

-- El Rey -- via cable, satellite and streaming 00 also has
Robert Rodriguez's “Director's Chair” interviews with other
filmmakers. Reruns are 8 and 9 a.m. weekdays, plus some evenings; the
next new one is George Miller, Aug. 30.

-- El Rey recently
finished first season of “Lucha Underground” wrestling series. It
also has “Miami Vice” reruns and reflects Rodriguez's passion for
action films; see