"Hear My Song" won't be heard (or seen)

When I saw an advance screener of "Hear My Song" last week, I had mixed feelings. The music was magnificent; so was the direction by Francois Girard. The story, however, was often preposterous.

Still, I couldn't have guessed what would happen next: CBS and "Hallmark Hall of Fame" pulled the film, replacing it with reruns. I could grumble about the poor job they did of getting this information to reporters and viewers. More interesting, however, are the reasons behind the move. Here's the story I sent to papers Monday morning:

By Mike Hughes

Two dependable
forces, CBS and “Hallmark Hall of Fame,” left TV viewers
perplexed Saturday.

That was when the
movie “Hear My Song” was replaced by reruns. The reason involved
accusations of sex-abuse at the American Boychoir School, decades

None of that was
covered in the film, a fictional tale of a hard-scrabble kid who was
transformed by music. “Song” was directed by Francois Girard –
an art-film favorite since the 1993 “Thirty Two Short Films About
Glenn Gould” -- and co-starred Oscar-winners Dustin Hoffman and
Kathy Bates.

But it revived anger
from people who had seen officials try to duck responsibility for the
abuse. The school settled some cases (one for $850,000), filed for
Chapter 11 protection and moved twice.

Created in 1937 in
Columbus, Ohio, the school (Grades 4-8) had thrived near Princeton.
Its choirs sang for several presidents and Pope Paul VI and backed
Beyonce at the Academy Awards.

In 2002, however,
the New York Times wrote: “A dozen alumni from the 1960's to the
1980's described a pattern of sex abuse ... by two longtime
choirmasters and nine other staff members.”

The choirmaster
resigned and the school tried to have the blame confined to its
employees or to the boys, for not reporting it. Eventually, it sold
its campus and moved twice, now to Hopewell, N.J.

All of this is
unfamiliar turf for “Hallmark Hall of Fame,” which tends to be

It began in 1951 by
commissioning the now-classic mini-opera “Amahl and the Night
Visitors” (which, ironically, starred an American Boychoir
student). Then came Shakespearean plays and a switch to original
movies. Hallmark has said the 1986 “The Promise” is “the
most-honored dramatic special in television history,” with Emmys
and Golden Globes, plus a Peapody, a Humanitas and a Christopher.

There have been
three and four films a year, usually pointed to a greeting-card time;
“Hear My Song” -- three weeks before Mother's Day – stood out
for “Hall of Fame” as:

-- A return to a
broadcast network, after some years of being confined to the Hallmark

-- A film not
produced by Hallmark. Originally called “Boychoir,” it had a
brief movie run in 2014; Hallmark bought it and dubbed it “Hear My
Song,” which is also the title of a 1991 film.

Then the backlash
began. Although the school in the film is fictional, it was patterned
after American Boychoir School; some of Boychoir's students are in
the cast and its choir provides the soundtrack. “Song” was shown
at the school, to launch a fundraising campaign.

Last week – too
late for TV magazines and many daily papers – the film was pulled.
“Hallmark was recently made aware of serious allegations of
misconduct made many years ago at a school similar to the one
depicted in the movie,” an announcement said. “After careful
consideration, it was decided that the movie will not air on CBS,
Hallmark Channel or Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.”

The school responded
with its own press release: “Our students and their designated
faculty and staff are being unjustly punished for events that
happened long ago and do not reflect our school today. Our boys ...
are justifiably proud of their work on this movie and our community
shares that pride.”


Hurd's harrowing world -- zombies after us, aliens amonst us


At one end of her career, Gale Anne Hurd was making now-classic movies, led by "Terminator" and "Aliens." At the other, she's fuelling cable with "Walking Dead" and now "Hunters," which debuts on Monday, April 11, and reruns daily. She's a sci-fi master ... erasing all those early doubts. Here's the story I sent to papers:

(Very interesting TV
story on Gale Anne Hurd and her new “Hunters” series. The show
debuts tonight, but reruns every day this week, with new episodes on
Mondays; story works any time, print or Web.)

By Mike Hughes

For decades, Gale
Anne Hurd has filled our screens and minds with everything form
aliens to zombies.

“She's a legend in
the business,” said Julian McMahon, a villain in her new “Hunters”

That status didn't
come easily. When did Hurd first realize she had made it in

“I think it was
when I did the production deal with Fox,” she said. That was the
studio, she said, where executives had once asked: “How can a
little girl like you do a big movie like this?”

Those doubts came
three decades ago, when sci-fi seemed like a male toyland. Now Hurd
has mastered it with “Terminator,” “Aliens,” “Tremors,”
“Alien Nation” and more.“She is someone who is responsible for
my favorite films of all time,” Natalie Chaidez said.

Chaidez (the “Twelve
Monkeys” producer) had been contacted by Hurd to adapt “Alien
Hunter,” a Whitley Strieber novel in which the aliens hide inside
human forms.

“It's a conspiracy
that's just around the corner,” Chaidez said. “It's a conspiracy
that touches you physically, and I think that's something that's very
much in our culture right now.”

Sci-fi is good at
that, Hurd said. “It examines an issue that is very prevalent, but
does it through aliens.”

Perplexed by this is
Flynn, an FBI agent who is moved to the Exo Terrorism Unit after his
wife is kidnapped. Until then, he didn't know there was an ETU ... or
that there were all-powerful aliens; he also didn't know that his ETU
colleague Regan is actually an alien, working to stop her fellow

Regan doesn't fit
into either side, something actress Britne Oldford understands. “It's
about being different,” she said. “As a mixed woman in the
entertainment business,” she knows the feeling.

Being mixed-race was
just part of it when Oldford was growing up. “I was definitely a
big, old nerd,” she said. “I'm kind of an outsider and I observe

She grew up in
Toronto, studied dance and theater, then had regular roles in four
cable series – comedy (“Skins”), drama (“The Divide”) and
scares (“American Horror Story” and “Ravenswood”).

And if you still
haven't heard of her, that's OK. Hurd cast “Walking Dead” without
familiar stars and saw it zoom to the top of the ratings; she's
pretty much done “Hunters” the same way.

“We like to cast
on the basis of auditions,” she said. “A lot of name people don't
like to audition.”

So she chose Nathan
Phillips as Flynn and Oldford as Regan. “She's very tall and
elegant,” Hurd said. Also, “her dance background helps a lot”
with a character who has cheetah-like quickness.

The exception to the
no-name trend is McMahon, already a star from the “Charmed” and
“Nip/Tuck” series. “It's amazing, his commitment and
dedication” to the fierce role, Hurd said.

Chaidez points to
the wild changes in McMahon's hair (“the subject of great
controversy during the shoot”) and to his nearly nude scene. “When
he took off his shirt, the cast swooned.”

For Phillips and
McMahon, this is a return to their homeland. Both grew up in
Australia – where McMahon's father William was prime minister in
1971-2; both have lived in the U.S. for years.

And for Hurd? “It's
a lot of frequent-flyer miles,” she said.

She prefers to be on
the set, which isn't easy with four series -- “Evil Dead,” its
prequel, “Hunters” and the upcoming “Falling Waters” -- being
filmed this year. Then again,she's seen tougher situations.

Hurd had grown up in
Palm Springs prosperity, daughter of an investor. She didn't learn
about Stanford's film program until her junior year, but took some of
the classses while getting a degree in economics and communication.
A former faculty member asked her to work for Roger Corman's
low-budget film studio. “I thought I would be a secretary or an
administrative assistant.”

Soon, she was also
the marketing director and a production manager and more –
sometimes working 20-hour days, she said, for $180 a week. Corman
“believed in equal opportunity,” she said, with bright women and
men getting big responsibility and little money.

One of those was
James Cameron. Their relationship may have crept into his scripts for
“Titanic” (rich woman, penniless guy) and “The Abyss” (couple
working toghether after their marriage crumbles).

She became a
co-writer on his “Terminator” script, a producer on his “Aliens”
and, soon, a producer on her own, now filling our heads with zombies,
aliens and humans in crisis.

-- “Hunters,” 10
p.m. Mondays, Syfy, rerunning at 1 a.m.

-- The opener (10:06
p.m. April 11, rerunning at 1:13 a.m.), airs often. That includes 11
p.m. on Wednesday and Friday (April 13 and 15) and 11:30 p.m. Sunday
(April 17). Also, 6 a.m. Thursday and Monday (April 14 and 18), 8
a.m. Saturday (April 16).


The new idols channel the old sound of Motown

By Mike Hughes

For two young
singers – the final finalists from “American Idol” -- an old
record label looms large.

That's Motown. Now
that “Idol” has finished its 15th and last season:

-- La'Porsha Renae,
22, the runner-up, has signed with Motown. “In my household, if you
made it on that label, it was golden,” she said.

-- Trent Harmon, 25,
the winner, plans to take a “blue-eyed soul” sound to Nashville.
It's a sound he heard a lot as a kid. “My grandmother would play
the Temptations and Michael Jackson.”

The soul sound –
from Jackson to Smokey Robinson and Little Anthony – often had
soaring high notes. “I just realized I could do that in my
middle-to-late college years,” Harmon said. “I think I always
heard that sound in my head, but I didn't know I could do it.”

Then he did it A
LOT. In the key “Idol” moments, he grabbed the audience with

For each of the
show's final three, this is still a time to de-pressurize. “I can't
feel my limbs,” joked Dalton Rapattoni, 20, who finished third.

Added Harmon: “I've
got sleep scheduled for next Friday at 2.”

First, there's the
notion of deciding where to live:

-- Rapattoni plans
to record an independent album in Austin, Texas, but figures he'll
always be based at his home-town near Dallas. “I get stressed out
anywere else.”

-- Harmon will
record in Nashville, but figures he might continue shuffling between
Mississippi (where he grew up, working on his family's ranch and
restaurant) and Arkansas (where he went to college).

-- Renae, however,
says she plans “to relocate very, very soon.” Nothing personal
against Mississippi, she said, but “I just want to start over with
me and my daughter.”

She grew up there,
she said, and obsessed on “Idol” from that first season, when she
was 8.”I thought, 'Yes, this is something I could do.” She
auditioned at 16, with semi-success: “I got a standing ovation from
the stadium, (but) the producers said no. They said I was young and
could come back.”

Back then, she
grants, “I didn't have a lot to sing about.” Now she's has a lot
– a failed marriage, a 1-year-old daughter, time in a homeless
shelter. She plans to bring all of that to her Motown sound.

Rapattoni also had
an earlier crack at fame. He auditioned successfully for IM5, a
Disney boy-band from “Idol” creator Simon Fuller, but was the
first to leave the group; two others have followed.

Then his dad bought
him a plane ticket to the “Idol” auditions. “I don't think I
would have made it on 'Idol' if it weren't for what I learned on
MI5,” he said.

The “Idol”
judges were lukewarm on his voice, but loved his choices ... until
they said he did a song in the wrong key. Actually, he said, he'd
planned to switch that. “It was my bad. I forgot to tell the band.”

Harmon also had one
brush with earlier fame, trying out for “The Voice.” No one took

Then it was on to
“Idol,” where he says people thought: “He talks so country, but
he sings (soul).”

He does, indeed,
talk country. His conversaion is full of “ma'm” and “Mr.” and
a laidback approach. His tastes range from Twitty to Elvis, he said;
country “can be whatever you want it to be.”

The best part, he
insisted, was just being in the “Idol” finale. As they waited for
the announcement, he said, he whispered to Renae: “I don't know
which name gets called, but we just won a car.”

As the Middle East changes, the hatred persists ... sometimes

The good thing about CNN is that it sometimes has the depth that other networks lack; the bad is that it might change its schedule at the last moment. So Fareed Zakaria crafted an in-depth look at the U.S. and Muslims ... then saw CNN switch on the day the hour was supposed to air. Originally set for April 11, "Why They Hate Us" is now set for April 25; here's a revised version of the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Two mega-worlds –
Muslim and Christian – have filled Fareed Zakaria's life.

He grew up in India,
where his dad was a politician and Islam scholar. But most of his
adult life – Yale, Harvard and journalism -- has been in the U.S.,
where he's pondered the rage between those worlds.

After the Sept. 11,
2001 attacks, Zakaria wrote a long Newsweek piece that asked: “Why
do they hate us?” Now his CNN report, “Why They Hate Us,” sees
an altered picture.

“The whole
political orrder in the Middle East” has faded, he said. In part,
“there is no Libya, there is no Iran, there is no Syria.”

Instead, there are
factions, emphasizing different parts of the same book.

Islam is an
“egalitarian” religion, Zakaria said. “There is nothing
in between you and God.” Its Quran (or Koran) is massive –
77,000-plus words – and ancient.

“My father used to
remind me that this was a very old book,” said Zakaria, 52. “For
something written in the 7th century in Arabia, it had a
very progressive spin.”

Women, for instance,
were given half the status of men. That seems awful now – but was a
big jump from the zero status of the time.

Scattered in there
are a few passages of hatred and intolerance ... but Zakaria points
to similar ones in the Old Testament. “Christianity is a great
example of a culture or a religion that was able to” re-intrerpet
itself for changing times, he said.

Most people have
also ignored the harshest parts of the Koran. Some, however, “have
found a way to use Islam to support their thugs.”

Zakaria traces the
hatred back to 1949, when a conservative Muslim was shocked to see
dancing and kissing in Greeley, Colo. He returned home to Egypt and
wrote about Western evils.

And he takes it to
modern times, with the power of the Internet. One American-born
zealot remains a strong influence, five years after he was killed.

In between, Middle
Eastern governments – often supported by the U.S. -- had an effect,
he said. “There's no doubt that the old dictatorships were breeding
grounds for the opposition.”

In the U.S., he
looked for extremes. He found both in the northern Midwest:

-- Hamtramck, Mich.,
feels “more like the European communities.” Once a Polish
enclave, it has added a large Muslim influx. “We were literally
searching for a while” to find that example, Zakaria said.

-- A Minneapolis
neighborhood -- with scenes that didn't make it into the final version of the docuentary -- seems to be the opposite. “It feels very isolated and
ghettoized.” It has also become the leading spot for recruitment of
Americans to join ISIS.

-- “Why They Hate
Us,” 10 p.m. ET April 25, CNN; originally scheduled for April 11, then moved because of political coverage 


Amid California beauty, Jackie Robinson found racism and triumph

Sure, we kind of assume that a Ken Burns documentary will be richly crafted, with depth, intelligence and emotion. But Burns' latest -- "Jackie Robinson," Monday and Tuesday (April 11-12) on PBS -- is particularly good. Burns, 62, and Rachel Robinson (Jackie's widow), 93, talked to reporters about it; here's the story I sent to papers:

(Very interesting TV
story on the “Jackie Robinson” PBS mini-series, Monday and

By Mike Hughes

For Ken Burns, this
was familiar turf: At a classy hotel in upscale Pasadena, Cal., he
was discussing his latest documentary.

But for this film –
a biography of baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson -- there was an
irony: Pasadena, a far different place back in 1920, is really where
the story begins.

When Robinson was 1,
his mother took her five kids and moved from rural Georgia to
California. She would work as a housekeeper and soon buy a small

Nowadays, Pasadena
is a cheery place where Burns was grand marshal at this year's
Tournament of Roses parade. But in '20, he said, the Robinsons met “a
different kind of ... Northern racism.”

At times, Burns
said, it reached extremes. “There were crosses burned on the yard.
The neighbors called the police whenever Jackie and his brothers and
sister rollerskated ....

“The pool in this
apparently enlightened community was segregated. But once a week,
they had 'international day,' when the black and Mexican and Asian
kids were allowed to swim.” Before whites-only swimming could begin
the next day, the pool was drained and refilled.

Mack Robinson,
Jackie's brother, later became “a beloved figure here” as a
mentor, Burns said. But after winning a silver medal in the 1936
Olympics, trailing only Jesse Owens, he couldn't find work.

“He ended up as a
street-sweeper,” Burns said, “and would often wear his Olympic
medal and jacket as he swept the streets of Pasadena.”

Jackie starred at
UCLA in baseball, football, track (the national broad-jump champion)
and basketball. And in his senior year, he met the freshman who
would become his wife.

“I had heard ...
he was 'big man on campus,'” recalled Rachel Robinson, 93. “And I
thought, 'Oh, that's terrible. (He'll be) egotistical ....

“I was all set up
for this bad man. And when he approached me, he had the most
beautiful smile .... His manner was so quiet and respectful and
supportive of me and himself in that conversation, that I think I
fell in love with him on that first day.”

They married five
years later, in 1946, a year before Robinson would break the color
barrier in Major League baseball. His widow describes him as calm at
home, but strident when confronting racism. After confronting a bus
idriver in Fort Hood, Texas, Robinson faced a court-martial and was

But Branch Rickey,
the Brooklyn Dodgers general manger, insisted that Robinson simply
turn the other cheek for the first three years. “His personality
was one of being strong and being vocal,” Rachel Robinson said. “It
was very hard on him and I worried about it having an effect on his

Robinson did face
long-term heart and diabetes problems. He died at 53 in 1972.

By then, however, he
had become a sports icon. He was rookie-of-the-year in 1947, most
valuable player in '49, an all-star six times. His number was retired
by all Major League teams ... except on

Jackie Robinson Day
(April 15), when every player wears No. 42.

His widow went on to
be an assistant professor at the Yale School of Nursing and to start
the Jackie Robinson Foundation. One son, who had drug troubles, died
early, but another son and daughter are active in American education
and in an African coffee cooperative, she said.

Family links are
also important to Burns. When he introduced the 1990 “Civil War,”
his daughter Sarah was an elementary-school kid, handing out press
releases. She went on to create the award-winning “Central Park

Now she and her
husband, David McMahon, have written and co-directed “Jackie
Robinson.” Her dad also co-directed and sees it as continuing thei
story that started with “Civil War.” It tells, he said, of “the
grandson of a slave, making the statement in the largest and most
popular sport.”

-- “Jackie
Robinson,” 9-11 p.m. Monday and Tuesday (April 11-12), PBS