Beach Boys, TV and D.C.: A monumental combination

Each year, PBS' Memorial Day eve concert brings some talented -- and far-ranging -- people. The two stories I sent to papers involve people separated by a half-century: One (see previous blog) is Trent Harmon, 25; this one meets Mike Love, 75, and the Beach Boys:

By Mike Hughes

The Beach Boys will
be back in a familiar spot Sunday – singing to the masses (and to
TV viewers) in Washington.

“We have a huge
history with Washington, D.C.,” Mike Love said. “It's been
monumental – literally.”

That last part is a
pun about national monuments, but the first part is an
understatement: For a six-year stretch, Love says, the band had
Washington shows each 4th of July; once, they did two

Ctowd estimates are
fuzzy, but he was told the band drew 900,000 people in Philadelphia
that afternoon and almost as many in Washington. “They could only
hold 750,000; we got a standing ovation.”

This time, it's a
different holiday (Memorial Day eve) and the approach is varied. The
concert will range from country (Trace Adkins) to classical (Renee
Fleming, Alfie Boe), plus “American Idol” alumni Trent Harmon and
Katharine McPhee.

Harmon, 25, was born
shortly before the Beach Boys turned 30 and Love turned 50. “A few
years ago, I won radio tickets to see them play,” he said. “Man,
they put on a great show.”

They've survived
turmoil within the group – and from the outside world.

In 1983, Secretary
of the Interior James Watt announced that there would be no more rock
bands at the Capitol, because they attract “the wrong element.”
Without mentioning any group by name, he said: “We're not going to
encourage drug abuse and alcohol, as was done in the past.”

The uproar was
instant. “Nancy Reagan called and apologized,” Love said. “She
said, 'Ronny and I have always been big fans.'”

The Beach Boys
returned the next year. Meanwhile, the PBS telecasts, which had begun
in 1981, became ratings hits; in '89, PBS added the concerts on
Memorial Day eve.

Either event is
logical for the Beach Boys, Love said. “We've had letters from
Vietnam veterans, telling how much our music has meant to them.”

It's an American
sound – songs about fun and sun and blue-sky freedom. “It's the
same kind of music we used to sing at my cousin Brian's house, with
my sister Maureen,” Love said.

That's Brian Wilson,
whose brothers (Carl and Dennis) started joining in. Brian talked at
length about the harmonies of the Four Freshmen and the Everly
Brothers and more.

In 1961, the three
brothers became the Beach Boys, along with Love and Al Jardine,
Brian's former football teammate. Like the Beatles and the Rolling
Stones, this had two opposites at the core.'

“I both envied and
felt indimidated by my cousin Mike,” Brian wrote in “Wouldn't It
Be Nice” (HarperCoillins, 1991). “Tall and blond, he exuded
confidence and swagger. He had a big ego. He wasn't especially nice.
I looked at him and knew I couldn't measure up.”

Brian was the genius
at composing music and blending sounds. “I've never known anyone
who knew as much about vocal music,” Love said.

Love provided many
of the early lyrics. He didn't surf – only Dennis Wilson did –
but he knew the California life of convertibles, blondes and
sunshine. He became the guy who talked to audiences; by early 1965,
Brian had quit the road and focused on the studio, with Bruce
Johnston joining the group.

By the end of that
year, the Beach Boys had already had eight top-10 Billboard hits
including two (“I Get Around” and “Help Me Rhonda”) that
reached No. 1. The next year, “Good Vibrations” also was No. 1.
“I wrote the words to that on the way to the studio,” Love said.

That song turns 50
on Oct. 10; the classic “Pet Sounds” album turned 50 on May 16.
Love – married, with four ex-wives, nine children and decades of
transcendental meditation – seems vibrant at 75.

He and Johnston
bought the band and tour with it, with others – including John
Cowsill, former drummer of the Cowsills – filling the other slots.
“We did 172 concerts last year,” Love said. “That's not bad for
someone who was 74.”

-- “National
Memorial Day Concert,” 8 p.m. Sunday, PBS; repeats at 9:30 (check
local listings)

-- Beach Boys plan
to do five hits. Also performing: Trace Adkins, Katharine McPee,
Renee Fleming, the National Orchestra. Gary Sinise and Joe Mantegna
host; Trent Harmon sings the National Anthem.


National Anthem time for "Idol" winner: Stay calm and sing pretty

Each summer, two of the classiest TV events are the PBS concerts on Memorial Day eve and on the 4th of July. Now the former will be Sunday, ranging from country (Trace Adkins) to classical (Renee Fleming). This story is one of two I'm sending to papers, previewingSunday's concert. Coming up is a Beach Boys story; here's one on Trent Harmon, the 15th and final "American Idol" champion.

By Mike Hughes

Im0agine you're
Trent Harmon, the final “American Idol” champion.

You're 25, from
small-town Mississippi, just starting your national career. On Sunday
– to launch a PBS Memorial Day eve concert that ranges from the
Beach Boys to classical stars -- you'll be singing the National
Anthem in front of a mega-crowd.

Yes, this should be
nerve-wracking – except Harmon's been in tight spots before. There
was the “Idol” gauntlet, including a week when he was isolated
with mononucleosis. “I thought I was pretty tough,” he said, “but
that was something.” And there were times:

-- Singing the
Anthem at baseball games ... moments before he had to step to the
mound as pitcher.

-- Starring in a
children's-theater production of “Joseph and the Technicolor
Dreamcoat,” before 6,000 or 7,000 people. “For a 14-year-old,”
he said, “that's 600,000 or 700,000.”

-- And the one time
he didn't think he would make it through the song.

That was at the
funeral of a friend. He and Harmon had planned and ordered a
custom-made guitar; on the day it arrived, Harmon learned his friend
had died, an apparent suicide.

At the funeral,
Harmon gave a talk and said he would try to do “Amazing Grace,”
but wasn't sure he could; he asked a few friends to try to sing
along. “The entire congregation stood up and sang,” he recalled.
“Tthere must have been 700 or 800 people. It was a beautiful

That song (“Amazing
Grace”) has been in his head for two decades now; his mother taught
it to him when he was 5. He did lots of musicals, but there were

-- Baseball. He was
a high school pitcher, the same as 2011 “Idol” winner Scotty
McCreery. (“He's definitely a better golfer than I am,” Harmon
said.) Harmon did land a non-scholarship spot on the University of
Arkansas – Monticello baseball team, but soon decided music was his

-- The family
businesses. Harmon worked at the farm/ranch and was a waiter at the
restaurant. “Even now, when I'm out with people, I'm refilling
their drinks.”

Still, the music
persisted. In college, he was in a worship band and discovered he
could break into a falsetto, just like the early Michael Jackson
record he used to hear at his grandmother's house. In 2014, he tried
out for “The Voice” and failed; no chairs turned around; his
tryout never aired.

That was his fault,
Harmon said. He had chosen a song (Nick Jonas' “Jealous”) that
had only been out for a week and judges weren't familiar with. The
experience “really helped prepare me for 'Idol.'”

This time, he didn't
tell his parents he was trying out. He slipped off for auditions and
more, flying back home and doing some restaurant shifts between
rounds “so they wouldn't think I was up to no good.”

That helped him
focus, he said. When they learned he was on the show, he asked them
not to go there. “That surprises some people, but I ask them, 'Did
you bring your mom and dad to work with you?'”

Eventually, “Idol”
brought them there anyway. They saw their son become its final

With no concert
tour, he's been able to focus on his upcoming album; Harmon talks of
country music with a “blue-eyed soul” feel and has been
co-writing with Nashville pros.

First, there's his
Anthem duty. He's already done a couple times recently, at the
Richmond International Speedway (before a NASCAR race) and in Las
Vegas (before the Manny Pacquaio/Tim Bradley fight). Jordin Sparks,
the 2007 “Idol” champion, advised him to sing in a relaxed,
unforced way ... and to remember the words.

“That's what we
should do all the time,” Harmon said. “Just sing pretty and
remember the words.”

-- “National
Memorial Day Concert”

-- 8 p.m. Sunday
(Memorial Day eve), repeating at 9:30, PBS (check local listings).

-- Music by Beach
Boys, Trace Adkins,Katharine McPhee, classical stars Renee Fleming
and Alfie Boe and the National Orchestra. Gary Sinise and Joe
Mantegna host; Trent Harmon sings National Anthem.


Surprise: Lowly CW is in a state of excess

OK, here's one more look at what's ahead this fall. The previous four blogs look at the plans for the four big networks. This morning (Thursday), CW added is line-up; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

For a last-place
network, the CW is in a rare state of excess.

Its fall line-up,
announced today (Thursday), keeps four current shows on the shelf.
“The Originals,” “iZombie,” “The 100” and “Reign”
will all wait until mid-season; so will a new show that's a
more-serious twist on the “Archie” comic books.

The surplus was
boosted when the network suddenly inherited “Supergirl.” After
being vigorously promoted on CBS last year, it now slides to CBS'
little-sister network.

The CW had already
renewed all of its current shows and is adding three new ones – one
fantasy (“Frequency”), one not (“Riverdale,” the Archie
story) and one in-between (“No Tomorrow”).

“Supergirl” gets
the same slot it had at CBS, 8 p.m. Mondays, pushing the much-praised
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” to a perilous Friday slot. “Supernaturals”
moves to Thursdays.

In many ways, CW is
deep in last place. It averages two million viewers this season;
others range from 11 million for CBS to 5.8 million for fourth-place

But it does better
among ages 18-49, which advertisers prefer; its one million compares
to others ranging from 2.9 million for CBS to 2.3 million for ABC.
And it shines in ages 12-34.

It also focuses on
fantasy and female leads, both of which fit “Supergirl” ... and
the reworked “Frequency.” The movie had a man finding a radio
frequency that let him talk to his late father, 30 years in the past;
the new version has a woman talking to her late father, 20 years in
the past.

The other new fall
show, “No Tomrrow,” finds a precise-and-cautious woman in a
romance with an in-the-moment man who says he knows exactly when an
asteroid will destroy the Earth. While her friends study his claim,
she shares his fondness for embracing life.

And “Riverdale”?
The comic characters are there – iBetty, Veronica, Jughead, even
Josie, before her Josie and the Pussycats pop group catches on. But
there are also serious concerns, including the death of a golden-boy
teen and the end of Archie's affair with one of his teachers. The
fall schedule:

-- Mondays:
“Supergirl,” 8 p.m.; “Jane the Virgin,” 9.

-- Tuesdays: “The
Flash,” 8; “No Tomorrow,” 9.

-- Wednesdays:
“Arrow,” 8; “Frequency,” 9.

-- Thursdays:
“Legends of Tomrrow,” 8; “Supernatural,” 9.

-- Fridays: “Vampire
Diaries,” 8; “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” 9.


CBS this fall: The new-old look of sitcoms, "Friends" stars and "MacGyver"

Now the TV-tinkering is complete. Over the past four days, the big networks have announced their fall schedules. Here's the story I sent to papers about CBS, which announced its plans this morning (Wednesday), the previous blogs look at ABC, Fox and NBC.

By Mike Hughes

After two years of
tossing aside situation comedies, CBS is back to its old ways.

It will have four
sitcoms on Mondays and four more on Thursdays (after a brief football
break). Most will be multi-camera shows, done before a studio

“There's no doubt
I have a love of comedies, particularly multi-cams,” said Glenn
Geller, heading into his first fall as programming chief.

Kelly Kahl, the
scheduling chief, calls it a “back-to-the-future” schedule. That
seems especially true on Mondays, with shows topped by two “Friends”
stars – Matt LeBlanc (“Man With a Plan”) and Matthew Perry (the
returning “Odd Couple”). The night starts with “Kevin Can
Wait,” from long-time CBS star Kevin James. “It's exactly what
you would expect from Kevin James,” Geller said.

To revert to the
comedies, the network had to dispose of some fairly successful

-- “Supergirl,”
a big deal last season, will now slide over to CW (co-owned by CBS)
... where many people had said it belonged in the first place.

-- “Limitless”
is off CBS, but Geller said there are talks about selling it

-- And “CSI:
Cyber” is gone ... making it the first time this millenium that CBS
doesn't have a “CSI” show. “It may come back in another
incarnation,” Geller said.

The network also
held “Amazing Race” off the fall schedule, to make room for
“MacGyver,” being rebooted by the producer who did the same thing
with “Hawaii Five-0.”

Other dramas are
moved around a tad. “Scorpion” goes to 10 p.m. Mondays ...
sliding “NCIS: Los Angeles” to 8 p.m. Sundays, which nudges
“Madame Secretary” to 9. “NCIS: New Orleans” goes to 10 p.m.
Tuesdays, so that Michael Weatherly can have the 9 p.m. slot, right
after his former “NCIS” show.

Weatherly plays “a
fascinating character,” Geller said – the real-life Phil McGraw,
in his days (long before he was TV's “Dr. Phil”) when he was a
jury consultant.

The other new drama
is “Real Genius,” with a fresh cyber-twist: A computer genius
creates a hospital, bringing together top minds.

That's one of the
shows that will have to wait a bit. For five Thursdays, CBS has
football; “Big Bang” moves temporarily to Mondays, giving James'
show a big lead-in. After that, the Thursday line-up – including
the new Joel McHale comedy “The Great Indoors” -- begins and
LeBlanc's show settles into its Monday spot.

Waiting for
mid-seson will be two dramas (“Training Day” with Bill Paxton,
“Doubt” with Katherine Heigl) and three reality shows -- “Amazing
Race,” “Undercover Boss” and the new “Hunted.”

The fall line-up:

-- Mondays: “Kevin
Can Wait,” 8 p.m.; “Man With a Plan,” 8:30; “2 Broke Girls,”
9; “The Odd Couple,” 9:30; “Scorpion,” 10.

-- Tuesdays: “NCIS,”
8 p.m.; “Bull,” 9; “NCIS: New Orleans,” 10.

-- Wednesdays:
“Survivor,” 8 p.m.; “Criminal Minds,” 9; “Code Black,”

-- Thursdays: “Big
Bang Theory,” 8 p.m.; “The Great Indoors,” 8:30; “Mom,” 9;
“Life in Pieces,” 9:30; “Pure Genius,” 10.

-- Fridays:
“MacGyver,” 8 p.m.; “Hawaii Five-0,” 9; “Blue Bloods,”

-- Saturday: Reruns.

-- Sunday: “60
Minutes,” 7 p.m.; “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 8; “Madame Secretary,”
9; “Elementary,” 10.


ABC fall line-up: Lots of sitcoms, lots of Shonda, no "Castle" or "Nashville"

This is the crowded time when networks unveil their fall line-ups. The previous blogs looked at NBC and Fox; now ABC is definitely going in a different direction. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Maybe situation
comedies aren't dead after all.

After two networks
set fall line-ups with fewer sitcoms, ABC went the other way. “We
think we have a distinctive brand of family comedies,” said
Channing Dungey, the network's new programming chief.

NBC will have only
two sitcoms this fall, Fox will have four (plus cartoons); ABC will
have 10.

It continues its
four-comedy Wednesdays, but moves “The Middle” to Tuesdays, which
has four more. The two Friday ones stay put; that leaves room to
renew “Real O'Neals”and add:

-- “American
Housewife,” the new title for what was “The Second Fattest
Housewife in Westport.”

-- “Speechless,”
with Minnie Driver raising three children, one of them with special

The comedy emphasis
means “Marvel's Agents of SHIELD” keeps moving later. Originally
at 8 p.m., it went to 9 and now to 10. That may let it “get a
little edgier, maybe a little darker,” Dungey said.

The other Marvel
show, “Agent Carter,” was cancelled, but its star instantly has a
new home. In “Conviction,” Hayley Atwell plays an ex-president's
daughter, avoiding a sentence by working for an office that
re-examines convictions. Dungey calls it “the procedural we've been
looking for.”

That's been a
problem at ABC, which has been strong on serialized dramas –
especially the Thursday ones from producer Shonda Rhimes – but weak
on shows that end a story each episode. Its lone success with that
was “Castle” ... which has now been cancelled.

Also cancelled are
“Nashville,” “The Family” and several quick failures. Also,
“Scandal” will start late, due to Kerry Washington's pregnancy.
With that many drama holes, ABC has “Conviction,” plus:

-- “Designated
Survivor” at 10 p.m. Wednesdays. Keifer Sutherland plays a lowly
cabinet member who suddenly becomes president, after a devastating

-- “Secrets and
Lies” at 9 p.m. Sundays. That's a crime mini-series that's been
waiting a while. ABC showed critics an impressive pilot film in

-- “Notorious,”
at 9 p.m. Thursdays. It's based loosely on the real-life
relationship between a charismatic lawyer and a TV producer.

That last one offers
a surprise – a non-Rhimes show, piercing her Thursday domain. Not
to worry, Dungey said: “Shonda has five shows.” Eventually,
“Scandal” and “The Catch” will return to Thursdays;
“Star-Crossed,” a Rhimes period piece filmed in Spain, may be on
another night.

Like other networks,
ABC is holding back some of its more distinctive shows for
mid-season. That includes two mini-series – the third “American
Crime” story and “When We Rise,” the eight-part gay-rights
drama from Dustin Lance Black, an Oscar-winner for writing “Milk.”

It also includes
“Time After Time,” based on the movie that had H.G. Welles
chasing Jack the Ripper through time. It will fit neatly with “Once
Upon a Time” on Sundays, Dungey said. The fall line-up:

-- Mondays: “Dancing
with the Stars," 8 p.m.; “Conviction,” 10,

-- Tuesdays: “The
Middle," 8 p.m.; “American Housewife," 8:30; "Fresh
Off the Boat," 9; “The Real O'Neals," 9:30; “Agents of
SHIELD," 10.

-- Wednesdays: “The
Goldbergs," 8 p.m.; "Speechless," 8:30; "Modern
Family," 9; "Black-ish," 9:30; “Designated
Survivor," 10.

-- Thursdays:
"Grey’s Anatomy," 8 p.m.; "Notorious," 9; "How
to Get Away with Murder," 10.

-- Fridays: “Last
Man Standing," 8 p.m.; "Dr. Ken," 8:30; ; "Shark
Tank," 9; "20/20," 10.

-- Saturdays:
College football,

-- Sundays:
“America’s Funniest Home Videos," 7 p.m.; "Once Upon a
Time," 8; "Secrets and Lies," 9; "Quantico,"