Cooking shows rise (or sink) to a new level

As cooking shows fill our TV sets, they offer lots of sleek settings.
“The contestants are always working in these fabulous, million-dollar kitchens,” said Matt Cahoon, a creator of the new “Next Level Chef” on Fox. They have “the best equipment in the world, using the highest-end ingredients that money can buy. And that’s not real life.”
Now real life – or three variations of it – arrives. “Next Level Chef” debuts after football (at about 8 p.m. ET) on Jan. 2, then moves to Wednesdays. It instantly shows its extremes.
“We’ve got these three incredible kitchens, three stories high, 85,000 tons of steel,” said Gordon Ramsay, who produces the show with Cahoon and Lisa Edwards. (The structure is shown here, with Richard Blais, Ramsay and Nyesha Arrington.) Read more…

Even New Yorkers need cowboy skills

There’s a Hollywood tradition that most actors follow:
If a producer asks if you can ride a horse, you say “yes!” Then you rush out and try to learn.
That was trickier for Melissa Joan Hart (shown here with Duane Henry), whose “Mistletoe in Montana” debuts Friday on Lifetime. She and her mother produced the film; it’s hard to lie to your mom, harder to lie to yourself.
“I worked all summer on lessons,” Hart said, including “lasso lessons. I knew there was archery involved and square dancing, but I was just like … ‘I just wanna get comfortable on a horse.’” Read more…

Pandemic resilience: Mitchell and mega-concert return

Standing in a massive – and empty – concert hall, Brian Stokes Mitchell (shown here) had a bittersweet feeling.
He’d been there years earlier, when it was packed with sound, spectacle and people. There were 21,000 in front of him then, more than 500 more behind him in the chorus and orchestra.
And now? “The bitter part was that there weren’t any people there,” he said. “But the sweet part was that we were still able to make a show. We were still able to celebrate.”
The result is “20 Years of Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir,” airing twice on PBS (8 p.m. Dec. 13 and 24) and four more times on BYU TV. It offers epic moments in the past and adds a few new ones. We see Mitchell singing alone with a pianist – and, in an amazing number, backed by 300-plus choir members, each recorded separately at home. Read more…

Once a camcorder cheapie, “Sunny” makes TV history

In the 72-year history of TV’s situation comedies, one show now has a top spot.
“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (10 and 10:30 p.m. Wednesdays on FXX, then on Hulu) has started its 15th season. That puts it above “Ozzie & Harriet,” as the longest-running sitcom (cartoons excluded). And yes, that surprises:
– Some of the show’s stars. Glenn Howerton and Caitlin Olson (second from left and center( have never seen “Ozzie & Harriet” – which ended a decade before they were born.
– John Landgraf, the boss of FX and FXX. This success, he said, would have seemed “impossible when we first watched the pilot shot on a home camcorder and made for $200.” Read more…

She’s a downsized spark for TV comedy

Douglas Adams, the late “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” author, had a vertical theory of humor:
All truly funny people, he said, were 6-foot-5-inches tall.
That might have seemed true in his native England. But now, in the U.S., it’s off by a foot-and-a-half.
Meet Quinta Brunson (shown here, foreground) , who is about to rescue us from a slow year for network-TV comedy. She’s the producer, star and sole creator of “Abbott Elementary,” which has an advance showing at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday (Dec. 7) on ABC, then gets a regular spot next month. She’s listed at 5-foot, but some of that is wishful thinking. Read more…

White Christmases finally find diversity

This is the season of sameness, which is fine … sometimes.
We like having the same Christmas cartoons and songs and such. But too often, Christmas movies have seemed to have the same plots and the same Caucasian actors.
Now, belatedly, that’s changing. Corbin Bleu points to “A Christmas Dance Reunion” (8-10 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5, on Lifetime), shown here, as an example.
This is a romance, he said, that “has nothing to do with the fact that we’re Black …. I wish I was able to see a lot more of that onscreen, when I was a kid and watching all these holiday movies.” Read more…

“College girls'” obsession: comedy and/or sex

Many of us, perhaps, grew up imagining lives as rock stars, astronauts or sports heroes.
Not Mindy Kaling. She recalls a “single-minded desire to become a comedy writer. I’ve had that urge since I was 16.”
That explains a central character in “The Sex Lives of College Girls” (shown here) the new HBO Max series. Bela (Amrit Kaur), the daughter of Indian immigrants, has just arrived at an Ivy-League-type college, obsessed with getting on the campus humor magazine. Read more…

Smokey’s undaunted? Well, not always

We might guess that Smokey Robinson is undaunted by life.
He’s been a singer, songwriter, producer and company vice-president. He helped build Motown Records, in the recording studio and beyond. He even made the drive (with Berry Gordy) between Detroit and Owosso, to get the label’s first records – getting stuck in the snow twice.
So is there anything that overwhelms him? “I’ve tried to learn to play the guitar about three or four times,” said Robinson (shown here), 81. “I cannot do it.”
This confession came in a video press conference about a TV movie. “Miracle in Motor City” – 8 p.m. Sunday (Nov. 28), Lifetime – has a mom (Tia Mowry) trying to land Robinson for a Christmas church concert in Detroit — leading to another confession: “Church used to terrify me,” Robinson said. Read more…

Anthrax story: a real-life thriller with a quirky twist

Twenty years ago, Americans – already stunned by the 9/11 attacks – had a new crisis.
Lethal doses of anthrax were being mailed. Five people died, 11 were seriously ill; and then it stopped.
What didn’t stop was the FBI investigation. Seven years later, after some missteps, it pointed to a suspect. Now that’s being retold in “The Hot Zone: Anthrax” (shown here), from 9-11 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday (Nov. 28-30) on National Geographic. Read more…

They fought for the U.S. … which then wanted to deport them

John Valadez had become an expert on subjects of bias, law and Mexican-Americans.
Still, this was new to him: Two brothers (shown here), both U.S. war veterans, said they were fighting deportation.
“I wasn’t sure whether or not to believe him,” Valadez recalled. “It seemed really weird.”
But it turned out to be true. The result – almost a decade later – is “American Exile,” at 10 p.m. Tuesday (Nov. 16), on PBS. Read more…