Paycheck to paycheck, Katrina finds hurdles, help and survival

This is a splendid time for beautifully crafted documentaries. The "Chicagoland" series (see a couple blogs back) has just started, PBS has upcoming "American Masters" and "American Experience" films and HBO has its slate. Leading the way is "Paycheck to Paycheck," a compelling HBO film (debuting March 17), profiling one woman's efforts to raise three kids on $9.49 an hour. Here's the story I sent to papers:

The mind and music of Phil Spector remain fascinating

From the beginning, HBO's approach has been simple: Make very few movies and make them superbly.

Now comes "Phil Spector." A Pultizer Prize-winner (David Mamet) wrote it and directed two Academy Award-winners (Al Pacino and Helen Mirren). Here's the story I sent to papers:


The world often saw Phil Spector as a
giant figure, a tower of good or bad. It called him:

It's not easy in the shadow of genius

Some nights, TV simply get overcrowded. Tuesday (Feb. 26) is one of those, when our video recorders take over.

There's "Makers," a terrific PBS documentary. (See previous blog.) And there's the start of HBO's "Parade's End" ... which, fortunately, continues through Thursday and reruns Saturday. Here's the story I sent to papers:


Let's forgive Benedict Cumberbatch for
feeling ordinary. Lately, he's been surrounded by geniuses.

Fighting in silence: Deaf men battle the Vatican

Now that the Super Bowl's over, there are plenty of other things to grab out attention. The previous blog deals with a superb new show, "Monday Mornings"; the one that follows this will deal with Tuesday's return of "Smash." First, here's the story I sent to papers, interviewing the people in a deeply involving HBO documentary that debuts Monday (Feb. 4) and reruns often:  



"Ethel": A warm portrait of an unconventional life

Sure, the best kind of documentary is unbiase, impartial, skeptical. Still, there's something to be said for the loving piece by an insider.

Earlier, HBO had an excellent George H.W. Bush portrait, done by his friend. Now it has a delightful Ethel Kennedy one, by her daughter. Here's the story I sent to papers:


To outsiders, Bobby and Ethel Kennedy
seemed like a precise match.

Belafonte -- passion, power and (sometimes) music

There is great power to Harry Belafonte's life. For most of his 84 years he's been sometimes an actor, sometimes a singer, always a passionate idealist. Now he has a new book and tonight (10 p.m. Monday, Oct. 17) an HBO documentary. Here's the story I sent to papers:



Harry Belafonte and his classmates
expected to spend their lives on stage.

Viewing America from fresh eyes on July 4

Like many people, I've had my gripes about the U.S. government. Hey, I was a Wisconsin kid in the McCarthy era, an Army guy in Vietnam; I've seen what happens when fools are in high places.

OK, here are TV's 10 best

The best thing about 10-best lists is that they let us fume, fret and argue -- to ourselves, to anyone nearby or to whoever created the offending list.

With that in mind, here's the story I just sent to papers, with my picks for the 10 best shows of 2010. Fell free to commence griping, by posting a comment here or simply upsetting your neighbors:



Amid the cascade of 10-best lists,
there's an annual trend:

Carrie Fisher: A busy life, well-told

If you're reading this Sunday night, you're probably sulking (properly) about the fact that "Boardwalk Empire" has ended its season. It was the season's best new show, maybe the best new-or-old show.

Don't sulk right away, though. Tonight's HBO special -- Carrie Fisher's one-woman show, "Wishful Drinking" is a delight.

And it you're reading this later, don't worry. It repeats Tuesday and two other times. Here's the story I sent to papers: