Wanna be a TV star? Learn how to do fake-tech

The Television Critics Association awards arrived this weekend,with good news about worthy shows, some of them -- "Mr. Robot," "The Americans," "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" -- underappreciated by the Emmys. More on that later; meanwhile, here's a story I wrote about the actresses in "Mr. Robot" and other tech-savvy shows.

By Mike Hughes

the olden days, actors had a simple routine during auditons:

Often, they were
asked if they could ride horses and shoot guns. Most said they could;
most couldn't.

And now? Modern
roles have fewer horses, more computers ... and, still, lots of
people faking it.

On “Agents of
SHIELD,” Skye is a master hacker. “I'm horrible at it,” said
Chloe Bennet, who plays her. “I have to ask about 800 times, to
make sure I got it right.”

On the upcoming
“StartUp,” Izzy has a world-finance plan that requires technical
brilliance. “I'm extremely tech-illiterate,” said Otmara Marrero,
who plays her.

And “Mr. Robot”
-- fresh from the Television Critics Association award for best new
program -- is filled with tech wizards. Most are played by people who

“I feel like we
all shou;d know how to do all that stuff,” Grace Gummer said. “But
I definitely don't. Don't know how to write code and can barely sync
my iPhone.”

No, this isn't a
gender thing. When playing one of TV's first computer-whiz guys (in
the 1998 “Three”), Bumper Robinson described his expertise: “I
know there is such a thing as a computer.”

Carly Chaikin, a
“Mr. Robot” co-star, can easily top that: “I'm medium
tech-savvy,” she said. But “there are times when I call Apple and
I'm like, 'The spinny thing, I don't know how to ...'”

And she may be more
advanced than Rami Malek, the “Mr. Robot” star. “I did have to
help Rami type,” Chaikin said, “because I'm a fast typer and he
did that (hunt-and-peck method).”

All of these people
have a good excuse: They are actors, after all, and not required to
have real-life skills. Indeed, Gummer's mother (Meryl Streep) has
also does some acting.

Corneliussen, another “Mr. Robot” co-star, has no such parental
excuse. “My father was one of the first programmers, in the late
'60s, before the Internet, in Denmark,” she said. “So he has vast
knowledge about technology that he's tried to teach me.”

By some accounts,
she learned well; “Stephanie is surprisingly very good,” Chaikin
said. Corneliussen doesn't see it that way: “I can't keep up with
all the millenials.”

On “Mr. Robot,”
however, they are all brilliant. Spurred by the mysterious Mr. Robot
(Christian Slater) and the intense Darlene (Chaikin), Elliot (Malek)
created a hack so powerful that it shattered evil E Corp and
destroyed the economy. Only at the end of the first season did he
(and viewers) realize the rest: Darlene is his sister; “Mr. Robot”
is just someone he imagines, in the image of their father.

As the new season
began, Elliot was in mental retreat, Darlene was pushing ahead, his
childhood friend Angela was warily working for E Corp, an FBI agent
(Gummer) was trying to bring then down ... and the enigmatic Joanna
(Corneliussen) was scheming.

“It's incredible,
the women Sam (writer-director Sam Esmail) gave us on the show,”
said producer Dawn Olmstead. “And it's not based on being someone's
spouse or girlfriend.”

Chaikin has seen her
IQ double – from a dim ditz in “Suburgatory” to an angry
genius. That reflects reality, she said: “There are so many women
in tech. And there are such amazing female hackers.”

And there are a lot
of smart women playing them on TV. Just don't expect them to fix your

-- “Mr. Robot,”
10:01 p.m. Wednesdays, USA, rerunning at 1:01 a.m.; this week's hour
has late-night reruns on Thursday night (midnight) and Friday night
(2 a.m.)

-- “StartUp”
starts up Sept. 6 on Crackle

-- “Agents of
SHIELD” returns this fall on ABC

At ABC, a changing world for dramas ... and some day, maybe, a black "Bachelor"

world hasn't had its first black “Bachelor” yet, but it will have
more prospects.

“We need to
improve the pool of diverse candidates in the beginning,” said
Channing Dungey, who is in her first year as the ABC president.

As the first black
person to be in charge of a major network's programming, she has a
key role in this. ABC's “Bachelor” and ”Bachelorette” shows
have fallen into a familiar pattern: A white man or woman (with one
Latino so far) surveys a field that includes one or two black
prospects ... who seem to be sent home in the second or third week.

The new “Bachelor”
is almost always someone who just missed on “Bachelorette,” and
vice-versa, Dungey said. So the next key is getting a better mixture
of contestants to start.

That comes on a
network otherwise known for its diversity in comedies (“Black-ish,”
“Fresh Off the Boat”) and for its top black producers of dramas:

-- John Ridley is
preparing for his third season of the Emmy-nominated “American
Crime,” which keeps finding new ways to view race and class.

-- Shonda Rhimes has
four dramas on ABC next season and often fills all three hours on
Thursdays, the most productive night for TV advertising.

Only two of Rhimes'
shows -- “Grey's Anatomy” and “How to Get Away With Murder”
-- will be ready this fall. “Scandal” is pausing for Kerry
Washington's pregnancy; “The Catch” is pausing after switching
show-runners in the middle of its first season.

Filling the missing
Thursday spot in the fall will be “Notorious,” which isn't from
Rhimes ... but shares her feeling for breathless, soap-style shocks
and twists.

All of those shows
are far from what Dungey, 47, grew up on in Sacramento. “I watched
a lot of television,” she said. She listed a batch of favorites –
from “Rockford” to “Magnum” -- most of which solved a mystery
at the end of each hour.

Ironically, one of
her first actions as ABC president was to cancel “Castle,” the
network's only close-ended mystery. Its Monday spot will go to
“Conviction,” with Hayley Atwell as the daughter of an
ex-president, now nudged (after some wayward years) into re-examining
past convictions.

The network does
need more close-ended hours, Dungey granted. “We have often
(regretted) the cancellation of 'Body of Proof.'” In the three
years since ABC dropped that Dana Delany mystery, it has filled its
Tuesday slot with a string of expensive, open-ended failures.

Another approach
involves stories that feel like a mini-series. “Secrets and Lies”
(returning this fall) and “American Crime” (returning at
mid-season) each tell a 10-week story, then come back the next season
with new characters.

Now Dungey has just
approved “Ten Days in the Valley,” which has an overworked TV
producer (Kyta Sedgwick) suddenly in the midst of her own
missing-daughter ordeal. After its 10-episode run (possibly next
spring or summer), it could return with new stories for the same


Olympics: Fears and hopes burst into overdrive

By Mike Hughes

Olympics always seem to bring dreams and fears, many of them
misplaced. But all of that hits new extremes in Rio de Janeiro.

People talk –
often – about the zika virus and security woes and banned athletes
and economic decay and, for athletes in open-water events, pollution.

“In some cases,
the best they've been told is, 'Try to keep your mouth closed,'”
said Bob Costas, NBC's primetime anchor. “That's rather difficult
when you are swimming.”

But alongside that
is ... well, the sheer joy of Brazil.

“The place is so
physically commanding and exotic and beautiful,” said Mary Carillo,
an NBC reporter and commentator. “The people are so warm and
friendly and I got to run around for a couple weeks.”

So did other people
doing features, she said. “Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski went to
Carnival and celebrated as only they could. They are as close to
Brazilian partiers as any North Americans can be.”

They're also former
Olympic skaters; Carillo is a former tennis star. NBC's team ranges
from athletes to a 76-year-old ex-anchor. “Tom Brokaw, in his 50th
year (with NBC), went down the Amazon and went to southern Brazil
with the Gauchos,” Carillo said.

The reports will
have plenty of chances to talk about Brazil's troubles, Costas said.
“It's not just that the president faces impeachment – more than
half of their Congress has already been indicted or is under
investigation for some kind of corruption. And the ecoonomy (is) in a
deep, deep recession.”

Still, there are the
festive parts. That's what viewers want after a rough year, Carillo
said. “I think America is ready to cheer (for) not only the
Americans, but everybody else.”

Well ... a lot of
NBC's attention will clearly be focused on Americans. Costas did
single out two superstars from other countries – Kohei Uchimara of
Japan, the dominent male gymnast, and Usai Bolt of Jamaica, the super
sprinter. But he put them in a category with two Americans.

“Simone Biles
(could become) the greatest all-round female gymnast of all time ....
Michael Phelps is already the greatest swimmer in Olympic history
.... We're talking about Mount Rushmore-type stuff.”

Those are in events
his primetime broadcasts will feature – swimming, diving,
gymnastics, the emerging popularity of beach volleyball and, in the
second week, track-and-field. Beyond that, Costas said, there will be
“a little bit of indoor volleyball (and) the gold-medal basketball

And what about the
rest – the 6,700 hours, scattered over 16 days on NBC and cable.
How will we find what we want? “I have no idea,” said Jim Bell,
NBC's executive producer. “Good luck.”

Bell did promptly
say that he was joking, then suggested nbcolympics.com. He also said
the open water has been tested and found safe for swimmers and the
zika threat is mild in this cooler time of Brazil's year. Also: “If
you download the Olympics app, I promise you'll find it and figure it

Gerina Piller
probably hopes so; she's a golfer, one of the many sports that don't
make NBC's prime time. “I definitely never thought I'd be in the
Olympics,” she said with a laugh. “How could I? This is the first
time they've had (golf) in 112 years.”

Piller grew up in
Roswell, N.M. (no she didn't see any alien after-effects) and started
golfing at 13. Now, 18 years later, she was ranked No. 29 in the
world last year and has a shot at Olympic glory.

Her event doesn't
start until Aug. 17, so she could sit to one side and listen to NBC
people talk to the Television Critics Association. Then they played a
spectacular video, backing a new Katy Perry theme song for the
Olympics. “I've got goosebumps,” Piller said afterward.

And that's precisely
what NBC figures other viewers will soon have.

-- Olympics, opening
ceremony Friday, closing ceremony Aug. 21

-- Events covered by
NBC and its cable channels

NBC aims (again) for that Olympics springboard

By Mike Hughes

the Olympics gobble up our TV time, NBC will try (again) to use them
as a springboard to its new fall season.

“You're going to
see a lot of promos, obviously,” said Robert Greenblatt, the
network chairman. Also, there will be:

-- An Olympic-themed
episode of “Superstore,” wedged into the games-coverage on Aug.

-- A half-hour look
at “The Voice” auditions, following the closing ceremony on Aug.

Beyond that,
Greenblatt said, there won't be any shows getting an early,
post-Olympic start. That strategy has failed in the past; “you get
a lot of viewer fatigue,” he said.

His network has been
in a mixed position lately – adequate ratings for scripted shows,
but big ones for reality and special events. This fall, NBC has only
three new scripted shows – the comedy “The Good Place” and the
drama “This Is Us,” plus “Timeless,” a detour for the

“We had heard so
many pitches on time-travel,” said Jennifer Salke, the NBC
president. Then the network gave this one its best spot, on Moday's
behind “The Voice.”

Mostly, though,
Greenblatt and Salke talked to the Television Critics Association
about their specials and events, including:

-- Jimmy Fallon
hosting this year's Golden Globe ceremony. That's in January, which
is when the new “Celebrity Apprentice,” with Arnold
Schwarzenegger doing the firing, arrives.

-- A concert
celebrating Tony Bennett's 90th birthday.

-- The next live
musical. “Hairspray” will include Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson,
Derek Hough, Harvey Fierstein and more.

-- The success of
“America's Got Talent” this summer, with Simon Cowell (who
produces the show) as one of the judges. He'll be back next year.

-- And “The
Voice,” with Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys stepping into two of the
judge/coach chairs. Greenblatt said he sees no prospect of Blake
Shelton and Adam Levine leaving the other two spots. “They love the
show. And they love the paychecks.”

"Mr. Robot" turns the "nerd culture" into an unblinking powerhouse

The first season of "Mr. Robot" started and ended spectacularly. Its unrelenting opening scene gave us the central character at his best; its closing moments belted us with a surprise. Now the 10-episode second season is finally here, debuting Wednesday (July 13) and rerunning often. Here's the story I sent to papers: 

By Mike Hughes

These days, TV
producers have lowered their expectations. Nothing starts big; the
best shows slowly find an audience.

That's what Sam
Esmail was hoping for when he created “Mr. Robot,” a young-hacker
drama. “I consider myself a nerd,” he said, “so I figured I'd
get at least the nerd base .... It would be this small, little cult
thing. But it wound up being a lot bigger than that.”

A LOT bigger. As it
starts its second season, “Mr. Robot” already has prestigious
Peabody and American Film Institute awards. It won Golden Globes for
best-drama and supporting actor Christian Slater ... and Critics
Choice awards for those two plus star Rami Malek. Critics at TV
Guide, Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly called it the best show
of the year; the upcomiong Television Critics Association awards have
also nominated it as the best overall.

Slater, who has had
failures on TV and alcohol-related arrests in real life, finds
himself gradually accepting success. “I'm always sort of, you know,
like 'So far, so good.'”

And Esmail savors a
leap from his boyhood, when “girls rejected me a lot. I loved
being on the computer and I loved going to the library and reading
.... When you are a funny-looking Egyptian growing up in Jersey and
in South Carolina, it kind of gets rough sometimes.”

He became a film
buff, wrote some scripts that drew attention (but haven't been
filmed), then was the writer-director of a movie (the 2014 “Comet”)
and now “Mr. Robot.” No longer rejected, he suddenly had a
fiancee (Emmy Rossum, his “Comet” star) and a hit.

The praise began
after the first “Mr. Robot” scene, in which Elliot Alderson
(Malek) verbally eviscerates a pedafile with quiet – and,
seemingly, unblinking – precision.

“There's so much
turmoil and strife going on in his head,” Malek said, “that I
think the only thing he can do at times is try to hide .... There's
just a level of focus, when I'm in there; I just don't blink.”

Like Esmail, Malek
is an American of Egyptian descent; his most visible role has been as
the young pharaoh in the “Night at the Museum” movies. But he's
also had roles – from “The Pacific” to “Mr. Robot” -- that
had nothing to do with his ethnicity. “I want to have a very
diverse career,” he said.

After that first
scene, Elliot met an intense stranger (Slater), who nudged him into a
mega-project: Bring down E Corp – Elliot calls it Evil Corp; in his
mind, so does everyone else – and wipe out debt.

There's much more,
viewers later learned: That stranger doesn't exist. Elliot imagines
him – giving him the persona of his late father – while pushing
himself into audacious action.

The hard part was
keeping that a secret, Malek said. It “was difficult at times, when
you are on set and you are telling other actors, 'Just try not to
look at him.'”

The first-season
finale gave viewers the truth ... and showed that Elliot had created
financial chaos.

As the new season
starts, he's trying to withdraw, but others push on. His old friend
Angela is working for E Corp. Their former boss Gideon is being
probed by an FBI agent (Grace Gummer). The E Corp legal chief finds
her orderly world shattered. And Darlene, Elliot's sister, keeps
pushing for more and bigger hack attacks. “She's tenacious and
persistent,” said Carly Chaiken, who plays her.

And Elliot? Still
plagued by that imaginary stranger, he tries to sink into monotony.
Now another stranger (Craig Robinson) keeps trying to recruit him.

It's a tough ride
for the actors, who have many things to fret about ... including
changing passwords at home. “Mr. Robot” has that effect, Slater
said. “It raises your level of awareness and paranoia.”

“Mr. Robot,”
10:01 p.m. Wednesdays, USA Network; season opens July 13

Opener, with few
commercial breaks, runs 91 minutes; subsequent runs are two hours –
that night at 11:32 p.m. and 1:32 a.m., then 11 p.m. Thursday
(rerunning at 2 a.m.) and 9:30 a.m. Saturday.