World be warned: A new sharknado attack is coming

"Jaws" made us afraid to go into the watter; now the "Sharknado" films make us afraid to go near the sky. The third one debuts Wednesday (July 22), lookig a lot like the second one, only bigger and messier. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Americans have
always been diligent about sending our culture overseas.

We've exported
Broadway and the blues, poets and Perlman and jazz and more. And now
comes the next step: In a one-week stretch, at least 87 nations will
see “Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No.”

Yes, it will be
different from the first two “Sharknado” films. They had an
ordinary chap (Ian Ziering) fighting flying sharks with an ordinary
chainsaw; in the third one, he has a golden chainsaw.

This is strange
stuff ... something director Anthony Ferrante says he realized in the
editing room of the first one. “I turned and said, 'This is
probably the wierdest movie that will ever air on Syfy.'”

What he didn't
predict was the pop-culture stir. “I had made so many movies,”
Ferrante said. “You don't think: 'Oh, this is going to break
through.'” But it did; consider:

-- The “Sharknado”
debut drew 1.4 million viewers, a hugh number for the Syfy cable
channel ... then somehow went to 1.9 and 2.1 million for the next two
airings. It soon dominated Twitter messages.

-- “Sharknado 2:
The Second One” topped that easily – 3.9 million viewers for the
first airing, 1.8 million for the second that same night, then more
... plus, Syfy says, the most Tweets in TV history.

-- And now the third
film debuts Wednesday, with more of everything – more gore, more
cities in danger (from Washington, D.C., to Orlando), more sharks
descending, more odd guest stars.

At one point,
Ferrante was trying to get Bill Murray to play the shark-fighting
president. “I knew it wasn't going to happen,” he said. But he
did get Mark Cuban and Ann Coulter to play the president and
vice-president; and a larger role, as Ziering's father, went to David

“He was really
excited about the idea of playing a curmudgeonly dad,” Ferrante

Others took smaller
roles, including es-Playboy stars, ex-Congresspeople and an ex-Hulk
(Lou Ferrigno), plus Jerry Springer, Ne-Yo and many more.

They knew this could
be big. Originally, no one knew that; Ziering once said he only did
the first film to be eligible for insurance. “I thought, 'Well, no
one's ever going to see the movie.' Boy, was I wrong.”

That first one
brought a familiar challenge, Ferrante said: “You take a
$200-million script. “Then you have to do it for a million bucks.”

He had written
and/or directed many movies for Syfy or video, none of which you hear
about at Academy Award time. They bear such titles as “Boo,”
“Scream of the Banshees,” “Headless Horseman,” “Haunted
High School” and, of course, “Leprechaun's Revenge.”

But he also tried
other scripts, including ones with a random reference to a
“sharknado.” Syfy rejected the script, but liked the word. Soon,
“Sharknado” films were being written by Thunder Levin.

These don't try to
explain why sharks can fly. “It's not National Geographic or
anything,” Tara Reid, who co-stars with Ziering, said before the
second film.

Instead, the films
simply go for fun. “I was a kid in a candy store,” Ferrante said.

This required lots
of special-effects, he said, done on the cheap. “A lot of the
actors had never been on a visual-effects movie .... Ian didn't know
me from Adam.”

Eventually, Ziering
was agreeing to come back after the filming was finished, to add a
scene in which he leaps into the mouth of a shark, then chainsaws his
way out. That became a classic, the strangest scene in “Sharknado”
history ... until a scene late in “Sharknado 3” makes it seem
kind of normal.

-- “Sharknado 3:
Oh Hell No,” debuts 9 p.m. Wednesday, Syfy, repeating at 11:05

-- Also, at 7 p.m.
Saturday (leading into the 9 p.m. debut of “Lavalantula,” about
lava-spewing tarantulas) and 9 p.m. Sunday, following a shark-movie
marathon at 9 a.m. and “Lavalantula” at 7 p.m.


After three millennia, Tut's promoted to action hero

There's always something grand about the King Tut story. A current traveling exhibit (now at the Grand Rapids Museum in Michigan) captures some of that, with replicas of his tomb artifacts; now a mini-series also captures his story ... and adds some fictional touches. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

By now, modern
Earthlings figure they know King Tut.

They've seen his
mummy, seen his treasures, heard his history. They know him ... at
least, better than most people who died more than 3,330 years ago.

But now they can see
him in a fresh light, as a ruler, a lover, an action hero and ....

Action hero? “That's
our suspension of disbelief,” said Avan Jogia, who plays Tut in a
new cable mini-series. “We made him more of a warrior king.”

In real life,
historians feel, Tut may have been tall and slender, possibly with a
slightly curved spine. He died at 18, of unknown cause; he was no

But he was an active
ruler. Breaking from his elders, he took control. He moved the
capital, restored old gods, fixed relationships with nearby tribes.
“He must have had an incredible will,” Jogia said.

So now he's shown in
love, war and palace politics. A key part of that is Ankhe, who is
his half-sister AND his wife. “She's a survivor,” said Sibylla
Deen, who plays her. “It all comes from a place of trying to
preserve” the family dynasty.

Deen seems to savor
the role. “It's a good time for ethnically ambiguous actors,” she

She's from
Australia, with Pakistani roots on her dad's side. Now she's
simultanously playing royalty in Egypt (“Tut”) and in the Middle
East (“Tyrant”).

Jogia is from
Canada, with Indian roots on his dad's side. His best roles –
starring in “Twisted,” co-starring in “Victorious” -- haven't
been particularly ethnic.

At 23, he's meeting
the goal he set long ago: “I asked what was the job where you can
be everything.”

That's acting. His
parents, a hairdresser and a real-estate agent, were skeptical, but
let him audition. He landed some commercials and small roles in U.S.
shows being filmed near his home in Vancouver.

At 16, he left
school and his parents gave him six months to find a job in Los
Angeles. “Victorious” followed; now he's been a pharaoh, filming
fight scenes on 102-degree days.

And Deen? She sort
of lives in Los Angeles, but not really. “You just expect to be
traveling all the time,” she said.

She got her first
hints of that at 13, acting with the Australian Youth Theatre and
traveling to New Zealand, China and the U.S. After some success in
her home country, she moved to New York in 2009 and started over;
now, at 32, she's had success ... and constant travel.

“Tyrant” shot
its pilot in Morocco ... started its first season in Tel Aviv ...
moved abruptly to Turkey amid the danger of violence ... and now is
filming the second season in Budapest.

That's four
countries in two seasons ... plus “Tut,” filmed in Morocco. “If
I have a call to get up at 5 in the morning and I'm working until 2
a.m., it doesn't make much difference where I live,” Deen said.

Besides, Morocco is
lovely and she “managed to buy a beautiful rug.” She plans to put
it in her apartment ... assuming that she'll eventually get back to
this century and this continent.

-- “Tut,”
three-part, six-hour miniseries on Spike, co-starring Ben Kingsley.

-- 9 p.m. Sunday
through Tuesday, July 19-21, rerunning at 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.

-- On Monday, the
previous episode reruns at 7 p.m.; on Tuesday, both rerun at 5 and 7

-- Entire
mini-series also runs at 6, 8 and 10 p.m. next Saturday, July 25.

-- “Tyrant,”
also with Sibylla Deen, is 10 p.m. Tuesdays on FX, rerunning at 11.

Yes, drunken geeks can be fun

This change has happened in one jolly generation. Comics and videogames were once confined to the basement ... as were the people who savored them. Now they've moved upstairs and into the spotlight. The latest example is Zachary Levi's game show, which starts next Thursday (July 16). Here's the story I sent to papers:


By Mike Hughes

Zachary Levi wisely
chose to be born in 1980.

Parts of the '80s –
Reagan and Wall Street and hair bands and such – may have been lost
on him. But there was something more important: “I was 4 years old
when Nintendo came out,” he said.

The Nintendo
Entertainment System soon added its key game. “As soon as I saw
'Super Mario Brothers,' I was hooked,” he said.

So were other
people, which is why “Geeks Who Drink” -- with Levi as producer
and host – should have an audience. It's a cable game show designed
after something that's popular in bars; on a set that looks like
tavern, drinks flow heavily and people answer questions about sci-fi,
videogames and more.

That neatly fits
changing times. “What it means to be a nerd has evolved,” Levi

The original
definition – never that accurate – was a bunch of guys who never
got the girls. They stayed in the basement, while the handsome,
athletic guys had all the fun.

By comparison, this
show's pilot film has:

-- Women as half the
contestants, overflowing with pop-culture knowledge.

-- Two jock-type
actors as captains: Eric Christian Olsen co-stars in “NCIS: Los
Angeles”; Scott Porter was the first “Friday Night Lights”
quarterback, before co-starring in “Hart of Dixie.”

-- And Levi, 34, who
is tall (6-foot-3) and handsome and sometimes romantically
successful. (He had a brief, six-month marriage to Missy Peregrym,
the “Rookie Blue” star.) And a self-professed nerd.

“Nerdi-ness is all
about being passionate,” Levi said. “There are food nerds and car
nerds and ...”

There are also lots
of computer-comic-videogame nerds .... something that got easier as
all of those things improved. Today, Levi spends lots of time playing
“Call of Duty” and “Destiny” and “Borderline” and such.
“They're just bigger and brighter and more immersive .... With
'Mario,' it was all just moving in the foreground, all very linear.”

Comics and movies
also improved, brightening a mobile childhood, as his dad's job kept
moving. Levi was born in Louisiana and finished high school in
Ventura County, Cal., with many stops along the way; that:

-- Shaped his
actor-ly personality. “I had to be an outgoing kid, moving around
so much.”

-- Deepened his
interest in comics and videogames. “You can take them with you when
you move.”

-- Saw him
auditioning for plays and musicals, “maybe the nerdiest thing I've
ever done.”

And the most
successful. Levi has gone on to do a little music – singing “I
See the Light” (from “Tangled”) at the 2011 Oscars, starring in
Broadway's 2013 “First Date” -- and a lot of acting.

There were four
seasons for the ABC comedy “Less Than Perfect,” five for the NBC
light adventure “Chuck.” He was Fandral in the second Thor film
and this fall he has “Heroes Reborn.” That's NBC's “Heroes”
reboot; it may be ideal for a generation in which nerds are cool and
geekdom is a bar game.

-- “Geeks Who
Drink,” 11 p.m. Thursdays, Syfy, repeating at 1 a.m.

-- Opener, July 16,
also at 8 a.m. July 18, 5:30 and 8:30 a.m. July 19, 5 a.m. July 20, 6
a.m. July 22.


A 35-year-old event ... a 23-year-old star ... and a whole lot of people

For sheer quantity -- of stars, of fans, of music -- few events match PBS' 4th-of-July concert. This year's event ranges from country to classical, from veterans (Barry Manilow, Alabama) to 23-year-old phenom Hunter Hayes. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Right now, living
inside Hunter Hayes' world might seem kind of scary.

He's 23 and looks
19, in a genre once filled with grizzled baritones. He's “a young,
hot country star,” Jerry Colbert, the creator of PBS' “A Capitol
Fourth” concert, says accurately.

And now this lad
will sing to the multitudes – a crowd estimated at 300,000-plus –
at the 35th fourth-of-July concert. Colbert has seen such
veteran as Mel Torme and Joe Mantegna filled with emotions.

He also remembers a
young Faith Hill being awestruck. “She came off the stage and said,
'That was the biggest crowd I've seen in my life.'” And that was
just the rehearsal, with a mere 50,000 or so.

So now Hayes should
be dazzled ... except he's seen mega-crowds, back in his formative
years: “When I was 5, I played with Hank Williams, Jr., at the
Texas Motor Speedway,” he said.

The crowd that day
has been estimated at 185,000 or more. “It was awesome,” Hayes
said. “I looked out at that and said, 'This is what I want to do in
my life.'”

He was in the right
place for that. Hayes grew up in Breaux Bridge, a Southern Louisiana
town of 8,100, near Lafayette, a center of Cajun culture. “You hear
great music everywhere,” he said.

His parents aren't
musicians, but were encouraging. “My dad (a mechanic) is the
biggest fan in the world,” Hayes said. “He can tell you everyone
who did anything.”

Hayes' grandmother
gave him a toy accordion when he was 2; a real one followed. At 4, he
played “Jambalaya” on cable's Nickelodeon; at 5, he was with
Williams before that mega-crowd. At 6, he was an accordionist in “The
Apostle”; the film's star, Robert Duvall, gave him his first

This might suggest a
cute-kid-with-a-guitar cliche, but Hayes comes across as
dead-serious. “I love writing,” he said. “Any time I get,
that's what I'm doing. There's so much creativity you want to use.”

While many musicians
accuse streaming services of underpayment (or non-payment), Hayes is
upbeat. “I have faith that they'll work out the money part,” he
said. “But that's why you do this, for people to hear it .... I
have so many songs waiting to be heard.”

And one of them drew
extra attention. “Invisible” -- a song for any teen who feels he
doesn't fit in – reached No. 7 on Billboard's country chart, his
fourth single in the top 10. (“Wanted” was No. 1; so weew two
albums). He sang it at the Grammys, then got excited when Paul
McCartney was backstage.

“I thought,
'Should I go up to hin? What could I say?'” Then he didn't have to
decide: McCartney walked up to him, shook his hand, said “that was
a remarkable performance” and stayed to chat.

It's the sort of
star moment you can get at the Grammys ... or at “Capitol Fourth.”
This year ranges from pop (Barry Manilow, Nicole Scherzinger) to
country (including Alabama) and classical.

That range is part
of the 35-year evolution. “We started out as more classical,”
Colbert said, “when we had (Mstislav) Rostropovich as the

That first year,
Pearl Bailey was the singer and startled Rostropovich by reacting to
the crowd and repeating a chorus. Classical folks don't improvise

Ever since, “A
Capitol Fourth” has been about fun. “Barry Manilow has said, 'I
can't wait to get up there,'” Colbert said. “Dolly Parton was all
fired up.”

And even someone
who's done it all – been cheered by the Texas masses, been praised
by Sir Paul – might end up being excited.

TV's Fourth-of-July

-- PBS: From
Washington, D.C.: Barry Manilow, Nicole Scherzinger, Alabama, Hunter
Hayes, Meghan Linsey, Lang Lang and Ronan Tynan, plus KC and the
Sunshine Band and the National Symphony

-- NBC: From New
York: Kelly Clarkson, Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley, Meghan Trainor,
Flo Rida.

-- Both start at 8
p.m. Saturday and end with fireworks. NBC repeats at 10 p.m.; most
PBS stations (check local listings) repeat at 9:30.



Campbell's final tour brought joy, pain and frustration

Glen Campbell was the Blake Shelton of his era, only more so. He was a country star -- nice voice, great guitar work -- with the sort of easygoing humor that audiences savor. As he retreated into Alzheimer's disease, friends and family planned a documentary about his farewell tour. The result drew an Academy Award nomination and airs Sunday (June 28) on CNN; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

In a few quick
minutes, James Keach absorbed the Glen Campbell experience.

He sensed the joy
and frustration of knowing a genial country star whose memory is

Campbell and friends
were visiting Keach to plan what would become an Oscar-nominated
documentary, now making its cable debut on CNN. “My son walked by
with his guitar,” Keach recalled. “He (Campbell) said, 'Hey, I
play the guitar. Let me show you something.'”

Soon, Campbell asked
why he was there; he was reminded that he was planning a movie about
his struggle with Alzheimer's disease. “He said, 'I don't got
All-zheimer's, I've got part-zheimers.'”

Later, Keach's son
happened to walk by again with his guitar. Campbell's reaction? “He
said, 'Hey, I play the guitar. Let me show you something.'”

This was a warm and
funny guy who often forgot things ... and who was planning a concert
tour that acknowledged his problem. “Glen is bringing (Alzheimer's)
out of the closet,” Keach said.

He has a past worth
remembering. Campbell was “a critically respected, mainstream
country-pop star” says the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock &
Roll (Fireside, 2006). Adds All Music Guide to Country (Backbeat
Books, 2003): “His smooth fusion of country mannerisms and pop
melodies and production techniques made him one of the most popular
country musicians.”

Those mannerisms
came naturally. Campbell grew up near Delight, an Arkansas town of
less than 300, in a family that had 12 kids and much music. He did
studio work for everyone from Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darrin to Elvis
Presley and the Beach Boys ... who then hired him as the replacement
when Brian Wilson quit touring. “Glen was a nice guy, a hell of a
musician,” Wilson wrote in “Wouldn't It Be Nice” (1991, Harper
Collins). “His falsetto was good enough to cover my parts.”

Then Campbell went
solo. Tommy Smothers saw him on Joey Bishop's late-night show and
“flipped over Campbell's material, his guitar, and his singing, and
his affable, down-home, aw-shucks, casually comfortable personality,”
David Bianculli wrote in “Dangerously Funny” (Touchstone, 2009).

Soon, Campbell was
Smothers' summer replacement and then had his own show. He ruled
country and even saw two singles (“Rhinestone Cowboy” and
“Southern Nights”) reach No. 1 overall.

But this amiable
country guy also had three divorces and a drinking problem. The
pivotal years were 1981-2 – a tumultuous romance with Tanya Tucker
... a return to religion ... and marriage to Kim Woollen, a former
Rockette dancer. “She's an amazing woman,” Keach said.

Keach's involvement
had started with his friendship with Johnny Cast. He produced Cash's
“Walk the Line” film, which led to a suggestion that he direct a
film about Campbell's farewell tour. “I thought, 'OK,
five-and-a-half weeks; let's film it.'”

Then the tour kept
growing. “The reviews were great and the audience couldn't get
enough of him,” Keach said. Five weeks stretched to two-plus years,
with 151 concerts.

Gradually, problems
grew. Low notes bothered Campbell; he changed keys often, requiring
his band – friends, plus two sons and a daughter – to shift. “He
was getting frustrated onstage,” Keach said.

In November of 2012,
Campbell gave his final concert. Two years later, he was in a
long-term home. But the Oscar-nominated film offers a warm tribute to
Campbell, 79, and his wife and kids.

“They've been
raised very well,” Keach said. “They were able to roll with the
punches. It was probably one of the best times of their lives,
because they spent so much time with their dad.”

-- “Glen Campbell
... I'll Be Me,” 9 p.m. ET Sunday, CNN; reruns at 10:48 ET