Category Archives: TV

TV pioneer Norman Lear is impossible to stifle. PBS celebrates his career in “Just Another Version of You”

We call it 90 minutes of good times. How else would you explain a PBS special–the first documentary about the television legend– celebrating the career of Norman Lear? Savor American Masters: Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You on Blu-ray and DVD.  Enjoyed the special on PBS? Take note that the home releases include more than 12 minutes of bonus features.

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Bea Arthur and Bill Macy in an episode of “Maude”.

Largely responsible for the explosion of bold American television in the ’70s, the writer/producer is synonymous with the sitcom. With unprecedented access to Lear, his work and his massive personal archives, the special combines stories from his turbulent childhood and early groundbreaking TV success (think All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Good Times, Maude) and social activism.

The documentary also features colorful stories from Lear’s family, friends and collaborators, including John Amos, George Clooney, Alan Horn, Bill Moyers, Rob Reiner, Phil Rosenthal and Russell Simmons, as well as cinéma vérité moments with Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Jon Stewart, Amy Poehler and Lena Dunham.

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Rob Reiner and Carroll O’Connor bickering (as usual) in “All in the Family”.

Breaking down the fourth wall to create an evocative collage where past and present intermingle, Oscar-nominated filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady reveal a psychologically rich man whose extraordinary contributions emerge from both his personal story and his own self-professed childlike view of the world.

The documentary traces how a poor Jewish kid from Connecticut started writing for The Colgate Comedy Hour with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, created All in the Family and became one of TV’s most successful showrunners.

All character-driven, with theatrical sets and live audiences, Lear’s TV series changed not only the face of national television but the content of national discourse. Bringing provocative subjects like war, poverty and prejudice to 120 million viewers every week, Lear proved that social change was possible through an unlikely prism–laughter–and created some of the greatest moments in television history.

Co-produced by Ewing and Grady’s Loki Films and THIRTEEN’s American Masters series, Just Another Version of You doesn’t shy away from the controversies Lear stirred with his TV series and advocacy organization People For the American Way (PFAW). The documentary also highlights his later years touring the country with the Declaration of Independence and promoting his memoir Even This I Get to Experience, spending time with his tight-knit family, and developing new productions.

Look at this way: Lear can never be stifled.

Premiere pitmaster Aaron Franklin serves up some might tasty menus

More food for thought, served by PBS Distribution and premiere pitmaster Aaron Franklin. Feast on BBQ With Franklin, 10 half-hour episodes that celebrate the traditions, techniques and histories passed along through generations, while serving up a new take on this distinctly American passion. The tour guide for this adventure is the owner and chief firestarter at Austin’s Franklin Barbecue, Aaron Franklin, widely regarded as one of the most influential pitmasters in the U.S.

Part pilgrimage, part noble quest, the series brings viewers into Franklin’s world as he visits notable BBQ joints and their legendary masters, tries new recipes, answers burning questions such as “Is it done yet?” and shovels wood at his own BBQ pits.

BBQ With Franklin is based on the popular YouTube web series of the same name, created and launched in 2012 by KLRU-TV, Austin PBS. The broadcast series serves as an entertaining blueprint for barbecue buffs as Franklin treks across Texas, talking with big thinkers in the world of barbecue, from an old-timer pit boss to today’s game-changing BBQ artisans. The journey is full of experiments and detours, as Franklin cooks brisket in his backyard, builds his own smoker from scratch (out of a 250 gallon propane tank) and ponders whether or not to go whole hog by barbecuing a whole hog. Along the way, the Master of Central Texas ’cue serves up some of his hard-won knowledge and unlocks the secrets behind truly great barbecue for the backyard pitmaster.

Aaron Franklin’s interest in BBQ started with the backyard cookouts that he and wife, Stacy, would throw. When they opened up a small barbecue trailer on the side of an Austin, Texas, interstate in 2009, they had no idea what they’d gotten themselves into. Today, Franklin Barbecue has grown into the most popular, critically-lauded and obsessed-over barbecue joint in the country (if not the world)—and Franklin, a 2015 James Beard winner, is the recipient of every major barbecue award there is, including Texas Monthly’s coveted Best Barbecue Joint in Texas award and Bon Appétit’s Best Barbecue Joint in America. Six days a week, crowds stand in line for hours for a taste of his mouth-watering brisket. Franklin’s barbecue has been celebrated by everyone from Jimmy Kimmel to Anthony Bourdain to President Obama.

Seconds anyone?

“Craft in America: Teachers” offers an inside look into artists who share creative lessons

PBS Distribution teaches us another valuable lesson by releasing the eighth season of Craft in America: Teachers, the Peabody Award-winning series. This time ’round, the program delves into artists committed to sharing the skills and passion for craft with students of all ages.

Craft in America: Teachers takes an inclusive approach to education and craft, emphasizing that it is never too early–or too late–to acquire skills and appreciation for craft. The education covered in this episode starts with kindergarten exploration and discovery; goes through high school and university where the curriculum becomes simultaneously more liberating and challenging; and develops into the curiosity and enthusiasm of lifelong learning.

These artists/teachers are a special breed. They are found in classrooms and workshops ensuring that their hard-earned wisdom and practical skills are passed on. Across the country these craft artists are dedicated to education–inspiring, evaluating, critiquing and praising their students’ achievements.

The program begins with the artistry of Navajo weavers Barbara Teller Ornelas and her sister Lynda Teller Pete, both of whom learned the craft of weaving the time-honored way–through family. Often this method of teaching begins with observation, when skills are absorbed. This legacy of learning is essential to Navajo weavers. The Teller sisters spent summers with their grandparents in Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, ancestral home of the Navajo people, in an environment where weaving “is a way of life.”

In early childhood they were introduced to weaving by their mother, Ruth Teller, who instilled the belief that beauty and harmony should be woven into every rug. We film as they teach outdoors amidst the extraordinary natural beauty of the Canyon. They recount the story of Spider Woman who, as ancient legend has it, taught the Navajos to weave. Our cameras then move with them to the Idyllwild Arts Native American Arts Program, where in the summer, they teach the practice of Navajo weaving atop a mountain overlooking Palm Springs, California.

The program travels to Honolulu, Hawaii, where artist Mark Mitsuda introduces professional glass forming techniques to his students at Punahou School. In 1972, his mentor Hugh Jenkins started the high school glass program at Punahou, using recycled milk and mayonnaise bottles as raw materials. Mitsuda took charge of the program after Jenkins’ retirement in 1998. Since its inception, participation in the program has doubled. Underscoring the inter-generational mission of teaching, Mitsuda says that what he learned from Jenkins, he now passes on to his own students.

“I feel fortunate to be teaching something that I feel passionate about and being able to inspire other people in the place that inspired me to first go into glassblowing.” Mitsuda’s early work was a balance between conceptual and functional, slowly he was drawn back to making objects of utility which he finds in his teaching especially, carry tremendous meaning for the student in the process of learning.

The program next travels to Omaha, Nebraska, where Therman Statom, a major figure of the Studio Glass Movement, decided to start programs for underserved inner city students and economically challenged youth.

“I think teaching is the highest form of advocacy in terms of influencing the world or having the chance to be a part of something that you can change,” he explains. Cameras capture Statom at work in his studio and the excitement of his class at the Hot Shops Art Center, witnessing how art and glass blowing inspires youth.

Alfred, New York is home to Alfred University, School of Art and Design. Here, students perfect their craft and learn to become professional artists. The College of Ceramics includes a graduate program where conceptual thinking elevates the approach to clay. Professor Linda Sikoradescribes the program: “We teach many disciplines alongside what might be more strictly categorized as craft. This is deliberate and allows our students to become broad thinking in terms of visual and material culture regardless of how they specialize. It is also, I believe, what keeps our program vital and contemporary.”

Queen Latifah and a bunch of newcomers promise a gay ol’ time with the new series “Star”

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Gee, we hope the Queen doesn’t show up on “Star” this way . . .

A star is born. Well at least not until December 14, when Star, a new series featuring original music and stunning music performances, set for a special  premiere on FOX. Republic Records and Twentieth Century Fox Television have entered a partnership to present music from the show.

Created by Academy Award and Golden Globe nominee Lee Daniels, co-creator and executive producer of Empire, and Tom Donaghy, Star follows three talented singers–running from their pasts and desperate for a new start–with ambitions of stardom, as they navigate the cut-throat music business on their road to success.  But reality soon dawns on the girls’ fantasies, and they start to learn that ambition often comes at a cost.

“Monte Lipman and his team at Republic Records continue to be at the forefront of what’s new and evolving in today’s current music scene,” says Daniels. “They know how to push boundaries and take risks–which is the essence of this new series and our group of girls.  We’re looking forward to what is going to be a beautiful collaboration.”

Adds Mark Pearson, Executive Vice President, Brand Management and Digital, TCFTV: “Monte, Tom and everyone at Republic demonstrated a passion for STAR that impressed us all. They understood the show, they had a vision for what to do with our performers and they offered really innovative A&R and marketing ideas. Republic is the perfect musical partner for Lee and Tom’s inspired new series.”

So what the fuss? Meet Star (played by newcomer Jude Demorest), a tough-as-nails young woman, who came up in the foster care system and decides one day to take control of her destiny. Star tracks down her sister, Simone (second newcomer Brittany O’Grady), and her Instagram bestie, Alexandra (third newcomer Ryan Destiny), and together, the trio journeys to Atlanta with the hope of becoming music superstars.

Queen Latifah stars as Carlotta, a surrogate mother to the young crew;  the series will also feature guest star Lenny Kravitz.

Watch the official trailer for STAR HERE

 

 

Dig in! Chef Vivian Howard offers a mighty tasty fourth season of “A Chef’s Life”

More food for thought, brought in a delicious serving by PBS Distribution: The release of the Peabody and Emmy-winning docu-series A Chef’s Life, Season 4 on DVD. (The program is also available for digital download.) The character-driven series takes viewers inside the life and kitchen of acclaimed Chef Vivian Howard and her restaurants located in the low country of eastern North Carolina.

This season Vivian takes viewers on a culinary journey that stretches from Kinston to Portland to the Big Apple. Things kick off in melodic gear with a benefit dinner where The Avett Brothers play second fiddle and spring onions take center stage. The program explores a lush landscape of watermelon, sunchokes, field peas, catfish, mayo and other unlikely food stars.

The program spans both American coasts, and the self-professed “Collard Queen” cooks cabbage and crowns it king. Vivian also realizes a longtime dream and embraces her new role as cookbook author;  this season takes viewers into the high-pressure and rewarding business of book writing. Major staff changes at the restaurant, a heavier workload and the drama of heightened emotions make each portion of this fourth season all the more delicious.

Some more tasty info: The program won a Peabody Award in 2014, a Daytime Emmy Award in 2015 and a James Beard Award in 2016.  Dig in!

“The Durrells in Corfu” is rewarding, though producers are under fire for “straight-washing”

We promise this won’t be Greek to you. Indeed, the PBS Masterpiece drama The Durrells in Corfu is a terrific event. Keeley Hawes stars as an intrepid widow who decamps from dreary 1930s England to a sun-dappled Greek island with her four recalcitrant children, ages 11 to 21, in this adaptation of conservationist Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals and its two sequels.

Missed it on the tube? The Durrells in Corfu is now on Blu-ray and DVD; the program will also be available for digital download.

Co-starring with Hawes, who plays Louisa Durrell, are Josh O’Connor as her eldest son, Larry, the instigator of the family’s sudden move to Corfu and a budding writer on his way to becoming the famous novelist Lawrence Durrell; newcomer Callum Woodhouse as son number two, Leslie, an impulsive firearms enthusiast; Daisy Waterstone as daughter Margo, a man-crazy teen; and Milo Parker as 11-year-old Gerry, who only has eyes for wildlife and grew up to be a world-renowned naturalist.

Also appearing are Alexis Georgoulis as Spiros, a Greek taxi driver and all-around fixer for the disoriented Durrells; Yorgos Karamihos as Dr. Theo Stephanides, Gerry’s zoological soulmate; and Ulric von der Esch as Sven, a handsome Swedish expat, living his own bucolic fantasy on Corfu, into which he entangles Louisa.

A tight budget and desperation—not holiday-making—originally drive the Durrells to sink their meager savings into boat fare to Corfu, where they hope to find a refuge more welcoming for their unconventional ways than the stuffy UK. They arrive on an island with no beach resorts, night clubs, tourist shops, or even electricity—for this is 1935. What Corfu does have is endless opportunity for living, loving, shooting and animal collecting—depending on your preferences.

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Ulric von der Esch as Sven: gay in the books, straight in the film

Gerald Durrell drew on (and embellished) the family’s real-life adventures to create three bestsellers: My Family and Other Animals (published in 1956); Birds, Beasts, and Relatives (1969); and Fauna and Family (1978).  The PBS drama has come under pressure: Producers of the ITV drama are still under fire for changing the storyline to make a gay character straight. Handsome Sven, kisses Louisa Durrell in the show, but in the book by conservationist Gerald Durrell, Sven prefers men.  In 1971 novel Fillets of Plaice, Sven says of Louisa: “She’s so beautiful, in fact, it almost makes me wish I weren’t a homosexual.”

ITV’s response? “The series is loosely based on Gerald Durrell’s books and is not intended to be true to life. Characters originally included have been adapted and new characters have been created.”

Screenwriter Simon Nye created an adaptation that has a bit of the epic quality of Greek myth: There’s Gerry’s enchantment with the marvelous animals that populate the island; Margo and Leslie’s quest to cast a spell on members of the opposite sex; Larry’s titanic struggle to produce a novel that someone will publish; and Louisa’s futile stratagems to force her children to get jobs.

But the central odyssey is the children’s search for a suitable mate for their lovelorn mom. Of course, success hinges on whether mother and offspring can agree on what constitutes “suitable.”

HBO offers the perfect holiday present for those addicted to really good TV shows

Stop gifting your friends and family members with ugly sweaters, uglier ties and “stuff” that they would love to stuff . . .

HBO is making holiday shopping easier than ever this year, offering TV fanatics the chance to give a gift everyone can enjoy—the HBO NOW gift card. HBO NOW gift cards are available now in denominations of $25 and $50 at Walmart, Best Buy and GameStop stores throughout the U.S. and will launch at H-E-B grocery stores in Texas later this month . . . just in time for TV fans to add an HBO NOW subscription to their holiday wish lists.

HBO NOW provides audiences with instant access to all of HBO—addictive series, unforgettable movies, thought-provoking documentaries, thrilling sports programs and entertaining comedy and music specials—across a variety of their favorite devices, including Android phones and tablets, Amazon FireTV, Fire Tablet, iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and Samsung Smart TVs.

Subscribers can catch the latest must-see box office hits like Deadpool, The Revenant, Ride Along 2 and Sisters, plus HBO’s amazing line up of current series including Game of Thrones, Westworld, Silicon Valley, VEEP and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, plus the recent seasons of Ballers, Vice Principals and Girls. HBO NOW also features every episode of every season of HBO classics like The Sopranos, Sex and the City, True Blood, The Wire, Six Feet Under and Deadwood

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The Sopranos: Still a bloody good time!

 Whether your best friend is a Carrie or a Samantha, your brother is a Dinesh or a Guilfoyle, or your father is a Stark or a Lannister, the HBO NOW gift card is the perfect gift to help everyone on your wish list channel their inner HBO star.  

“Forces of Nature” offers a four-part PBS/BBC documentary that may knock you out of your seat

It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature. The forces that have kept the Earth on the move since it was formed billions of years ago are explored in a series so fascinating, it may knock you of your seat. Really.

Forces of Nature, a BBC co-production, will hit DVD and Blu-ray on November 1 from PBS Distribution. The program will also be available for digital download.

In each of the four episodes, the series illustrates how we experience Earth’s natural forces, including shape, elements, color and motion. Although we can’t immediately feel the motion of Earth’s fundamental forces, we witness the consequences, such as tidal bores surging through the Amazon rainforest or the intense and ruinous power of hurricanes.

Shape 
We can’t directly see the forces that govern Earth, but we can see their shadows in the shapes of nature that surround us. If we understand why these shapes exist, we can understand the rules that bind the entire universe.

Elements
The forces of nature make Earth a restless planet, but they also turned our ball of rock into a home for life. How did our planet’s ingredients, the chemical elements, come together and take that first crucial step from barren rock to a living world?

 Color
Earth is painted in stunning colors. By understanding how these colors are created and the energy they carry, we can learn the secret language of the planet.

Motion
The forces of nature have kept Earth on the move since it was formed billions of years ago. Though we can’t feel the motion, we experience the consequences–from tidal bores surging through the Amazon rainforest to the ruinous power of hurricanes.

 

Go tell it on the mountain: Jennifer nettles releases her first Yuletide CD

 

Christmas is being doubly good to Jennifer Nettles. She stars in Dolly Parton’s straight to DVD Christmas special, and she’s prepping for the season early with the release of her first holiday album, To Celebrate Christmas, out October 28 on Big Machine Records. The 10-track collection highlights Jennifer’s signature Country twang while her enthusiastic spirit illuminates the mix of festive anthems and traditional standards.

Wrapping each track with care, Grammy-winning producer Julian Raymond joined Jennifer in the studio. The project shines with star-studded collaborations, including dynamic harmonies with Tony Award-winner Idina Menzel on “Little Drummer Boy,” and the jazz-influenced melody alongside American-soul sensation Andra Day on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman.” Friend and mentor, 40DD-17-36 Parton, penned “Circle Of Love.” 1

“I’m such a lover of this season and all of the magical feelings that surround us during the holidays so it will be exciting to share it with fans at our live shows,” coos Jennifer. “Especially since the birth of my son, who arrived to us in December, I’ve found even more joy Christmas traditions and music. Having both Idina and Andra lend their idyllic voices to some of my favorite songs is the bow on top!”

 

 

“Poldark Season 2” comes to Blu-ray and DVD, a must on PBS fans’ Santa’s wish list

Neither pestilence, starvation nor betrayal can stop Ross Poldark from fighting for justice in his native Cornwall. Aidan Turner returns as the ex-officer, class warrior, lover and mining entrepreneur, called by The New York Times “the noblest, hottest, most down-to-earth hero.”

Also back is co-star Eleanor Tomlinson, playing Demelza, the miner’s daughter who is Ross’ equal in passion, wit, and daring—which is, of course, why they marry.

PBS Distribution will be releasing Masterpiece:  Poldark Season 2 on DVD and Blu-ray on November 22, 2016. The program will also be available for digital download.

New this season—or thrust into prominence from last—are Gabriella Wilde as Caroline Penvenen, a flirtatious young heiress under the watchful eye of her rich uncle, Ray, played by John Nettles; Luke Norris as earnest young doctor Dwight Enys, who only has time for his patients—and for Caroline; and Henry Garrett as Captain McNeil, Ross’ old comrade from the war, now hunting smugglers and an opportunity to woo a certain married lady.

All of these characters inhabit the imaginative world created by Winston Graham in his bestselling Poldark novels, published between 1945 and 2002. Comprising 12 volumes, the epic commences in 1783, as British officer Ross Poldark returns to Cornwall, fresh from the American Revolutionary War. Poldark: Season 2 takes the plot into Graham’s fourth volume, Warleggan.

Viewers of the first season will recall that Ross shocks his relatives and neighbors when he shows up from America, since all had presumed him dead. Then he sets about upending their lives—threatening the copper mining interests of his uncle and cousin, Charles and Francis Poldark, and the rival operation of upstart George Warleggan. He is also ensnared in a romantic web that connects him, Francis, and George to the beautiful Elizabeth. Nevertheless, Ross happily marries Demelza and they have a daughter. But in the final episode of Season 1, an epidemic takes the child away, and a shipwreck and drowning are blamed on Ross.

So at the start of Poldark Season, Ross stands accused of murder and “wrecking”—luring a cargo ship to the rocks for plunder. It’s a capital offense, the judge is unsympathetic, hostile witnesses have been bribed and Ross appears headed for the gallows. It’s just the first in a string of suspenseful episodes every bit as precipitous as the steep cliffs of Cornwall.