A new Van Peebles lands a starmaking role

Imagine that you’re a Van Peebles – smart, charismatic, almost absurdly handsome.
Many possible careers loom, but there’s the obvious one – be a movie or TV star.
Mandela Van Peebles (shown here with his dad) went that route. “I graduated college and I tried getting a regular job,” he said. “And I just thought, ‘Wow, that was really hard!’”
So he got an irregular job, as an actor. Now he co-stars in “Reginald the Vampire,” which debuts at 10 p.m. Wednesday (Oct. 5) on Syfy, after the “Chucky” season-opener at 9. Read more…

Tubman and Douglass: Opposites sparked freedom

As Blacks fought for freedom, two people took opposite approaches.
Harriet Tubman was almost invisible. A tiny person, rarely photographed, she slipped in and out of the South as a spy, a scout and, especially, a master of the underground railroad.
Frederick Douglass (shown here) was the opposite, a man of many words and images. “He wrote so much and he spoke so much and there were so many great speeches,” filmmaker Stanley Nelson said.
Now Nelson – an Oscar-nominee and two-time Emmy-winner – has made films about both people. “Harriet Tubman: Visions of Freedom” and “Becoming Frederick Douglass” will be at 10 p.m. Tuesdays (Oct. 4 and 11, respectively) on PBS and then online. They follow 9 p.m. episodes of Henry Louis Gates’ “Making Black America” — an amiable look at clubs, institutions and traditions, continuing through Oct. 25. Read more…

October brings fresh take on vampire saga

As October begins, TV re-discovers its interest in all things creepy.
It’s time for more “Chucky,” more “Halloween,” more vampires and zombies and such. For most networks, this is a seasonal blip; for AMC, it’s a way of life.
On Halloween of 2010, the network introduced the zombies of “The Walking Dead.” That’s continued for 11 seasons and several spin-offs. It returns now, to air its final eight episodes at 9 p.m. Sundays – each one followed by an “Interview With the Vampire” (shown here) episode.
This is “the largest and most significant effort we’ve ever embarked on,” network chief Dan McDermott told the Television Critics Association. “We’re building around the iconic works of Anne Rice. We purchased 18 books.” Read more…

Life transforms, among the wooly mammoths

(Interesting little story about the amputee actress from Michigan who co-stars in “La Brea,” which starts its second season Tuesday, Sept. 27, on NBC. This works any time, print or Web. As with any of my stories, feel free to share it with other Gannett papers in Michigan.)

By Mike Hughes
As the second “La Brea” season begins, Zyra Gorecki’s world transforms.
She’s the Michigan actress who plays Izzy, a teen who spent the first season simply being a victim. Izzy had lost her leg in an accident … lost connection with her dad because of his emotional turmoil … then lost her mom, who was swallowed by a giant sinkhole, ending up in 10,000 BC.
As the second season starts (9 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27, on NBC and then on Peacock), some of that has changed. Izzy and her dad plunged into an alternate sinkhole, ending up in prehistoric Seattle.
“It was really weird just thinking about, like being in 10,000 BC and having a fake leg and all of the garbage that goes with it,” Gorecki said. Read more…

“Monarch”: a regal mix of soap, stars & songs

Dottie Roman and Elizabeth II had a lot in common, you know.
Both were queens – one of country music, the other of the British empire. Both will remain visible – one via flashbacks, the other via stamps and money and such. And both planned their own funerals.
The differences are also important, of course:
— Dottie is fictional, portrayed by Susan Sarandon(shown here, center) in “Monarch,” at 9 p.m. Tuesdays on Fox. Elizabeth, we’re told, was real.
— At her funeral, Dottie suddenly soared above the stage – a giant, holographic image, singing powerfully. Elizabeth didn’t … but it would have been really cool if she did. Read more…

He rescued his sad mom … and his sagging life

Like many young actors, Scott Prendergast was drowning in debts and doubts.
He twas 35, with no money, no insurance and $27,000 in credit-card debt. “My mother was constantly having to step in and save me and fix my life,” he told the Television Critics Association.
Then a crisis turned everything around. Parts of that – 17 years later – are being re-created in “So Help Me Todd,” which debuts at 9 p.m. Thursday (Sept. 29) on CBS.
Skylar Astin plays Todd, an unemployed detective who is hired by his mom, a big-time lawyer. Prendergast wrote the script and is a producer, which makes things complicated. “You’re basically casting a proxy of yourself,” he said. “And then someone is playing sort of a version of your mother.” Read more…

Love is elusive when you leap through time

Fictional romances are rarely convenient.
Lovers are separated by geography or war or politics or society. Still, they have it easy compared to Ben (shown here) and Addison in the “Quantum Leap” reboot.
“It’s like the long-distance relationship from Hell,” said Martin Gero, the series creator. “They’re separated by time and space …. They can’t touch.” At first, Ben doesn’t even recognize his fiancee Addison … and doesn’t recognize himself.
That unfolded in the series opener, which reruns at 8 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 24) on NBC (and any time on Peacock), before the second episode at 10 p.m. Monday. Ben adapted a high-tech program that randomly flings him into the bodies of other people in other times. The first fling involved a decent chap who was, alas, a getaway driver.
Read more…

Burns’ film eyes a hesitant world during Holocaust

One of Ken Burns’ first films celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty.
Immigrants described their joy at seeing the statue and feeling the impact of its words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free,”
Now, 37 years later, the statue sometimes appears in Burns latest film – the richly emotional, six-hour-plus “The U.S. and the Holocaust,” at 8 p.m. Sept. 18-20 on PBS. We’re soon reminded that most of those masses were blocked from the U.S. and other countries; for many, that was a death sentence.
“We’ve always had the idea of welcoming immigrants,” Burns told the Television Critics Association. “But we’ve also always had the idea that we didn’t want to let anyone else in.” Read more…

The new season: Here’s a preview

(As the new season nears, I wanted to put my three season-preview stories in one easy-to-find spot. Here they are; I’ve updated them slightly and will continue to. First, an overview of the broadcast networks, which used to dominate each fall.)
A new TV season is ready to go..
It has a starting date (Sept. 19), a few shows and a lot of promos. What it lacks is the old blend of Hollywood hope, hype and a sense of something big.
There have been big things lately, but not on the broadcast nrtworks, the ones that send out shows for free (with commercials) over the air.
A “Game of Thrones” prequel on HBO collided with a “Lord of the Rings” prequel on Amazon Prime, both spending mega-money – reportedly $200 million for 10 HBO episodes, $465 million for eight Amazon ones. What’s a mere broadcast network to do? Not much; consider: Read more…

Bard’s Black lover? It’s a dance-song-poetry blend

This show sounds like an implosion of borders and genres.
Here is Will Shakespeare in Olde England and a lover (maybe) with African roots. The show links ballet, poetry and two musicians, one Italian, the other African-American; it was created in Nashville.
That’s “Black Lucy and the Bard” (shown here), at 9 p.m. Friday on PBS, under the “Great Performances” banner. It makes sense when you meet Caroline Randall Williams, a true genre-buster.
“I really get to merge these things fully and try to tell the story of my Black American body, but also engage with the Anglophilic part of my brain,” she told the Television Critics Association. Read more…