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).

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.