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History network's new Roots doesn't negate the original


Newcomer Malachi Kirby is the new Kunta Kinte. History network photo

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
No scripted television drama -- before or since -- has hit home harder than the original Roots.

Initially viewed by ABC as a noble but highly risky enterprise that almost assuredly would be an audience turnoff, the 1977 version ran for 12 hours over eight consecutive nights. It climaxed on January 30th, just before the pivotal midseason February “sweeps” ratings period began in earnest. That was intentional. ABC wanted to be done with Roots before it potentially could do any real ratings damage. Instead the two-hour finale, on Sunday night, Jan. 30th of that year, commanded an astounding 71.1% of all television sets in use while drawing over 100 million same-night viewers. Roots as a whole received 37 Emmy nominations, many of them multiple nods in the same categories. It ended up winning nine awards, including for “Best Limited Series” and for acting by Louis Gossett, Jr., Olivia Cole and Ed Asner.

So why remake it via a four-part, eight-hour production that premieres on Memorial Day and continues Tuesday through Thursday at 8 p.m. (central) on History, Lifetime and A&E?

The official talking point, on the part of producers, is that the original Roots has grown dated and doesn’t “speak to” the many younger viewers who were born after it first aired. They supposedly want something more dynamic and relevant -- in addition to more action and visceral violence. ABC’s sequel to Roots was subtitled The Next Generation. The remake essentially is Roots: The New Generation, with original maestro David L. Wolper’s son, Mark, at the helm along with LeVar Burton (the original Kunta Kinte) among others.

The soundtrack for the original Roots indeed can be positively creaky at times. As is the conveyor belt of familiar old-line white TV actors brought in to give America at large a sense of comfort -- even in the roles of white devils. The likes of Lorne “Bonanza” Greene, Chuck “The Rifleman” Connors and Ralph “The Waltons” Waite all played abusers while Asner (Lou Grant) got off easy as a slave ship captain who had a crisis of conscience that wasn’t depicted in the Alex Haley book.

Still, the old Roots remains replete with scenes of considerable emotional power. They’re also played out at length rather than hurried along, whether it’s Chicken George (Ben Vereen) poignantly trying to explain himself to his long-suffering mother, Kizzy (Leslie Uggams), or Kunta Kinte a k a “Toby” (John Amos) and his wife, Belle (Madge Sinclair), begging their master not to sell Kizzy off.

The original Roots also has a scene in which Kizzy hopes to be reunited with her parents, but instead learns that her father died two years earlier after Belle was sold off. Kizzy’s scene at her father’s spare grave provides a sense of closure that’s missing from the new Roots, in which Kunta Kinte (invigorating newcomer Malachi Kirby) and Belle (Emayatzy Corinealdi) simply disappear after Tuesday’s Part 2. In contrast, the 1977 Roots has Kizzy scratching out “Toby” and etching “Kunta Kinte” on the stone over his final resting place. Upon further review in preparation for this review, the scene still resonates.

Both versions begin in Kunta Kinte’s homeland of Juffure, West Africa, circa 1750. Family dynamics and young Kunta’s road to becoming a Mandinka warrior are more fully fleshed out in the new Roots. But he’s still destined to be sold by his father’s African enemies to an English slave ship. The onboard conditions en route to 1767 Annapolis, Maryland are unsparingly brutal. As are all of the English captors, who spout lines such as “Don’t look at me, monkey” and “A dead nigger is money lost.”

Kunta Kinte eventually is taken to the Waller farm in Virginia, where the supplicant slave Fiddler (an effectively nuanced performance by Forest Whitaker) is ordered to groom the newcomer. James Purefoy, who played the sadistic villain in Fox’s The Following, is back for another go as despotic farm owner John Waller.

The indelible flogging of Kunta Kinte occurs near the end of Monday night’s opening chapter. It’s far more brutal than the original terrifying scene, with Kunta repeatedly defying orders to “say your name so you know who you are!” He eventually murmurs “Toby” before Fiddler kneels over him and tries to begin a healing process.

Part Two jumps ahead to 1782 and the Revolutionary War. Kunta is on the lam again and initially duped into fighting for the British Redcoats, who are promising freedom in the end. But the slaves instead are used as cannon fodder (none of this was in the original Roots) before Kunta wises up, rebels and later is recaptured. The severing of a portion of his foot jibes with another chilling scene in the original Roots.

Throughout the drama, the filmmakers flash back to dream-like scenes in Africa, with Kunta steadfastly avowing his heritage and determination to be free. But the tragedies and indignities keep piling up. “I hate this country!” Kunta exclaims. “America will never be my home!”

Kizzy’s eventual betrayal, in the eyes of her masters at least, leads to her being sold to another despot, North Carolinian Tom Lea (an effective Jonathan Rhys Meyers in place of the original’s almost cartoonish Chuck Connors). He immediately rapes Kizzy, who births George (Rege-Jean Page) as a result. By the early moments of Part 3, the story has jumped to 1828, with George dubbed “Chicken George” for his skills in training them to be formidable cock fighters who help to line Tom Lea’s pockets.

Unlike the original Roots, Kizzy falls in love with a freed former slave rather than a still groveling fast talker who was played by Richard Roundtree. In either case, heartbreak is still around the corner, for both Kizzy and the ultimately betrayed Chicken George.

The climactic Part 4 incorporates scenes from the Civil War’s Fort Pillow massacre, in which surrendering black soldiers within a white Union regiment are slaughtered by Rebel troops because of their color. Chicken George (who barely looks a day older) finds himself in the midst of all this while back at the plantation a thoroughly evil slave holder named Frederick (Lane Garrison) is holding fast to his venomous ways. Anna Pacquin, as Nancy Holt, is worked in rather awkwardly as a white plantation spy. This is easily the weakest of the four parts, although the new Roots does end more powerfully than the original with Haley’s (Laurence Fishburne) walk through the history of what he’s written. The real-life Haley presided matter-of-factly, and rather flatly, through the closing minute of the original.

The re-imagined Roots indisputably has its moments, but not as many of them as its still very compelling predecessor. But virtually anything of note is fated to get a makeover in times when hundreds upon hundreds more networks and streaming outlets vie for attention. The History network, in on-air partnership with Lifetime and A&E, has brought forth a Roots that stands tall on its own, but without surpassing the production that once gripped a nation and should still be seen by viewers of all ages. It brought a wealth of African-American performers to prime-time’s front lines. Almost 40 years later, that’s still a history well worth remembering and re-appreciating.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

More comic book mayhem in AMC's bloody, soul-searching Preacher


Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) tries to curb his evil ways in Preacher. AMC photo

Premiering: Sunday, May 22nd at 9 p.m. (central) on AMC before resuming new episodes on Sunday, June 5th at 8 p.m.
Starring: Dominic Cooper, Ruth Negga, Joseph Gilgun, Lucy Griffiths, W. Earl Brown, Anatol Yusef, Tom Brooke, Derek Wilson, Ian Colletti
Produced by: Sam Catlin, Seth Rogen, Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, Evan Goldberg, Neal H. Moritz, James Weaver, Vivian Cannon, Ori Marmur, Jason Netter, Ken F. Levin

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Still indulging its post-Mad Men yen for blood-splattered serial storytelling, AMC ventures into the night Sunday with Preacher.

I’ve never read or seen any of the Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon comic books on which it’s based. But judging from the first four episode made available for review, substantial additions and subtractions are being made in terms of Preacher’s original “universe.” Thanks, Wikipedia. Otherwise, hard-core fans can sort it all out and react accordingly.

Sunday’s opener (with new episodes then resuming on the Sunday after Memorial Day weekend) literally begins in “OUTER SPACE,” which is spelled out in large block letters before Preacher starts veering sequentially to:

30,000 FEET UP

Something from on high is making various forms of preachers explode, including (according to a TV news report) Tom Cruise at the Church of Scientology. That alone forgives a lot of sins.

But Preacher’s main venue is the dusty little West Texas town of Annville, where Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) is trying to go straight as a minister who wears a clerical collar under a black shirt with silver-tipped collars. His All Saints Congregational Church has a constantly changing marquee. We’ll give away just the first one: “Open your ass and holes to Jesus.”

Jesse, now inhabited by a “mysterious entity” that makes him somewhat super-powered, was raised as the son of a rather crazed, but soft-spoken preacher man. Recurring black-and-white flashbacks fill in some of the blanks of little Jesse’s formative past. As a grown-up, he hooked up with bad girl Tulip O’Hare (spiffily played by Ruth Negga), with whom he’s tried to part ways. But she pursues him to West Texas and strives to convince Jesse that “we are who we are” -- and there’s no use in fighting it.

Preacher’s principal third character is a prototypically heavy-drinking Irishman known as Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun), who shows himself for what he really is during a furious fight sequence aboard a luxurious airliner. Cassidy then also makes his way to Annville, where he might easily be mistaken for the “Mayhem” man in those Allstate insurance commercials.

The violence in Preacher is no more graphic than that in AMC’s The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead or Into the Badlands. But an early demonstration is off-putting to say the least. Fully into her badass mode, Tulip kills and mutilates some unsavory looking guys in the presence of two little farm kids. “Awesome,” they twice exclaim, with the little girl gazing in full, enraptured admiration of her new heroine as Tulip drives off. Mind you, the kids were never threatened by her adversaries, so she wasn’t saving them from anything. Instead they’re innocent bystanders who in a sense learn at a very early age that real-life carnage is very cool, not frightening. Still not a good look for any TV series.

Besides Tulip and Cassidy, Annville’s encroachers include “government agents” DeBlanc and Fiore (Anatol Yusef, Tom Brooke). Sent from on high, they’re in hot but clumsy pursuit of Jesse, who possesses something within that they want him to do without. It’ll take a chainsaw to extricate whatever that is.

The incumbent Annville populace includes Sheriff Hugo Root (W. Earl Brown) and his badly deformed son, Eugene (Ian Colletti), also known as “Arseface.” The town bully, Donnie Schenk (Derek Wilson), also enjoys physically abusing his wife, who says she very much likes being on the receiving end and seems to really mean it. Again, many viewers might very justifiably take offense. This has nothing to do with political correctness, but everything to do with promoting violence as wholly pleasurable for both women and kids.

Trying to preside like a potentate is Odin Quinncannon (Jackie Earle Haley), rat-like owner of the town’s biggest employer, Quinncannon Meat & Power.

Annville does have one seemingly “normal” denizen, the widowed Emily Woodrow (Lucy Griffiths), who’s also the church’s organist and bookkeeper. She clearly has a strong liking for Jesse, but stays pretty much in the neutral zone during the first four episodes. Publicity materials, however, describe Emily as “harboring a whole lot of dark and debased desires.”

Episode 2, initially set in 1881, gets off to a fully original and novel start that serves as a very gruesome bridge back to present-day Annville. Hours 3 and 4 slow to a crawl at times, with Jesse still fighting off temptations while telling Cassidy, “I feels like there’s a big blender in my gut. And inside that blender there’s everything: love, hate, fire and ice . . . all God’s creation inside of me.”

Preacher’s first season will be 10 episodes. They can be thrillingly crazed at times, maddeningly off-putting at others. In other words, “a big blender” of a supernatural tale that sometimes is the equivalent of the godawful-looking drink Sheriff Root mixes for his son, whose portal only allows for sipping through a straw.

Verily, though, this also is a series that quotes the straight arrow wisdom of Tom Landry in the first sermon we get from Jesse. He can’t keep it on track, though. So his preaching falls apart while Preacher sometimes just barely manages to keep its overall story together. Even so, seeing how it all comes out in the bloody wash for now seems like a risk and an adventure worth taking.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Another triumph for Cranston in HBO's superb All the Way

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Spitting image: Bryan Cranston as LBJ and the real deal.

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JFK has been center stage far more than LBJ on screens small and large.

But in terms of a chops-licking acting challenge, the strong-arming, deep-drawling, oft-uncouth son of Stonewall, Texas is the role to beat.

Bryan Cranston, who won a Tony Award for his portrayal of LBJ on Broadway, returns to conquer him again in HBO’s film adaptation of All the Way. Premiering Saturday, May 21st at 7 p.m. (central), it’s another five-star triumph for the former Breaking Bad star. So much so that they might as well engrave his name on another Emmy Award after he won four of them as chemistry teacher turned drug lord Walter White.

Cranston, without benefit of any heavy prosthetic encasement, bears a striking resemblance to the wheeler dealer who became President after the Nov. 22, 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy. It’s a remarkable transformation, with Cranston commanding every scene he’s in with the able assistance of a solid supporting cast. But this is Cranston’s baby through and through. Whether breathing fire, belittling or sweet-talking, his Lyndon Baines Johnson surely is the definitive one.

The film (and it’s very much a film, not a static taping of the play) begins with three shots ringing out on that awful day in Dallas. LBJ is soon in the saddle, staring at his inherited vacant desk in the Oval Office.

“Accidental president. That’s what they’ll say,” he tells his loyal and resilient wife, Lady Bird (sturdy work by Melissa Leo).

“Well, we’ll have to change that next November,” she tells him.

Directed by Jay Roach and with an executive producer team that includes Steven Spielberg, All the Way is reminiscent of the latter’s Lincoln in its depiction of horse-trading and infighting in pursuit of passing the first portion of what would be the Johnson administration’s landmark Civil Rights Act. But where Lincoln was quietly determined to get his way, LBJ is loudly intent on getting the votes needed to bust up a Senate filibuster.

“I’m comin’ for ya, Dick,” he informs longtime friend Richard Russell (Frank Langella), the segregationist senator from Georgia. “Now I love ya more than my own daddy. But if you get in my way, I’ll crush ya.”

Although prone to insecurities (“I could drop dead tomorrow, and there wouldn’t be 10 people who’d shed a tear”) and misgivings about going too fast, this is not the historically inaccurate, villainous LBJ of the feature film Selma. The President and Martin Luther King, Jr. (Anthony Mackie) have their differences, as does King with the increasingly impatient Stokely Carmichael (Mo McRae). Still, they’re basically on the same page and in pursuit of the same goal -- a sweeping voting rights act to follow legislation that officially outlaws discrimination based on race, color or national origin. J. Edgar Hoover, played by Stephen Root in All the Way, is the devil incarnate in both films.

LBJ’s principal White House ally is his guff-taking vice president, Hubert Humphrey. Bradley Whitford, who first came to national prominence as White House Chief of Staff Josh Lyman in The West Wing, outwardly seems like an odd choice to play the portly, balding Humphrey. But he’s surprisingly effective and affecting in the role. At one point, he tells the self-pitying boss man, “I stood up for you, Mr. President.”

“Somebody who matters,” LBJ retorts. That’s gotta hurt. The President then chides Humphrey for being “so thin-skinned.”

LBJ also can be more fun than the law should allow, instructing his White House tailor in the early going, ”Not too tight in the bung hole. And leave some room for my nut sack.” And if that’s not coarse enough, he describes Humphrey as nice before adding, “Nice is what you call a gal with no tits, no ass and no personality.” Donald Trump . . . oh, never mind.

All the Way is instructive as well. In the early 1960s, the Deep South remained solidly Democratic. But LBJ’s championing of the Civil Rights Act changed all of that. Although he won the 1964 election in a landslide over Barry Goldwater, the Republican carried Russell’s Georgia as well as Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina and Louisiana. It was the first time that Georgia had ever voted Republican in a presidential election. In 1960, JFK had beaten Republican Richard Nixon in all five of these Deep South states.

Sensing the outcome in the 1964 election after he signs the Civil Rights Act in July of that year, LBJ tells Humphrey, “The Democratic Party just lost the South for the rest of my lifetime. And maybe yours. What the (bleep) are you so happy about?”

All the Way, which cries out for a sequel, ends with a victory party for LBJ, who first narrates morosely, “The sun will come up and the knives will come out . . . They will gut me like a deer.”

Vietnam was on his horizon at that point. And the war ended up both draining his spirit and overshadowing the legacy of a man who got things done domestically and eventually also pounded home the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This is a riveting film with a bravura performance by Cranston, who’s been the signature television actor of the past decade. All the Way again shows there’s nothing he can’t do -- with the exception of giving a bad performance.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Two new dramas and a Supergirl for The CW this fall


The apocalypse is nigh (maybe) in No Tomorrow. CW photo

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Still gaining respectability by leaps and bounds, The CW fittingly is making a home for Supergirl after parent network CBS grounded her. Two new dramas also are being added to the fall lineup as part of Thursday’s announcements.

As usual, the five-nights-a-week/two-hours-a-night network has little to report on the cancellation front. Only America’s Next Top Model, Containment and Beauty and the Beast won’t be back while freshman series Supergirl, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow will get sophomore seasons.

Four returnees -- Reign, iZombie, The 100 and The Originals -- are being held back for midseason re-starts. And Supernatural starts up again in the fall with its 12th season.

Here are The CW’s two new fall series:

No Tomorrow (drama) -- “Risk-averse” Evie Callahan (Tori Anderson) meets “free-spirited” Xavier Holliday (Joshua Sasse), who has breaking news for her. Earth has just eight months and 12 days left before an asteroid wipes everybody and everything out. So why not live it up? The CW is too young and cool to use the term “bucket list.” But that’s what this amounts to as Evie, Xavier and some pals strive to fill out his “Apocalyst.”

Frequency (drama) -- New York detective Raimy Sullivan (Peyton List) is determined to prove she’s nothing like her crummy, corrupt father, Frank (Riley Smith), who’s long been presumed dead after disappearing two decades ago. But wait. The old man’s voice suddenly crackles through his old ham radio. And maybe he wasn’t so bad after all. Or as CW publicity materials ask, “Can they rewrite the story of their lives without risking everyone they love?”

Here is The CW’s night-by-night fall lineup:

Jane the Virgin

The Flash
No Tomorrow


DC’s Legends of Tomorrow

The Vampire Diaries
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

There’s also one new midseason series:

Riverdale (drama) -- Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, Ms. Grundy and Josie and the Pussycats take on live-action forms in this seemingly somber Twin Peaks-ian take on the enduring comic book high schoolers. That’s because the town is still reeling from the summertime death of a golden boy named Jason Blossom. “Riverdale may look like a quiet, sleepy town, but there are dangers in the shadows,” says The CW. It’s a cast of mostly young unknowns save for Twin Peaks alum Madchen Amick, who plays Betty’s “overbearing” mother, Alice.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

New season upset: CBS adds the most fall shows


Kevin James will ham it up in Kevin Can Wait. CBS photo

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CBS traditionally has launched fewer new fall series than its competitors, in large part because of its year-to-year success stories.

That changed Wednesday, even though the Eye Network again ranked a solid No. 1 in total viewers (for the 13th time in 14 seasons) and edged NBC for the top spot among advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds with a considerable lift from Super Bowl 50.

Six new series are coming this fall, one more than ABC announced and twice as many as either NBC or Fox will bring into battle. This also marks a difference in strategy, with NBC and Fox in particular stockpiling a wealth of midseason series while scrimping on the fall in hopes of someday becoming rerun-free. On Monday, Fox touted a 2016-17 season with 90 percent original programming.

CBS also is banking more heavily on old-school star power rather than heavy doses of unknowns. Kevin James (King of Queens) and Matt LeBlanc (Friends) are returning to front freshman sitcoms, as is former Community star Joel McHale. The network also has a fall reboot of MacGyver. And its two midseason dramas star Bill Paxton and Katherine Heigl.

The freshman series Life In Pieces, Code Black and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders will return for sophomore seasons. But CBS has a heavier than usual casualty list, topped by the end of lengthy runs for both The Good Wife and Mike & Molly. Also cancelled are CSI: Cyber, Limitless, Rush Hour, Person of Interest and Angel From Hell. Supergirl likewise is leaving CBS, but will fly on its sister network, The CW.

CBS also is shifting NCIS: Los Angeles from Mondays to Sundays and bridging its Tuesday night pairing of NCIS and NCIS: New Orleans with the new drama Bull. The Amazing Race, Undercover Boss and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders all will be back in midseason.

Here are CBS’ six new fall series:

Kevin Can Wait (comedy) -- James plays a newly retired married cop with three kids who looks forward to laying and playing around, “only to discover he faces tougher challenges at home than he ever did on the streets.” Expects lots of bellowing.

Man With a Plan (comedy) -- LeBlanc likewise plays a dad with three “messy kids.” Cutting back from his contractor business while his wife rejoins the workforce, he discovers that life as a stay-at-home dad is a living hell and the couple’s “little angels are maniacs.”

The Great Indoors (comedy) -- McHale stars as a well-traveled adventure writer whose magazine suddenly goes web-only. This leaves him to supervise and babysit an infantile group of young online “journalists” (quote marks courtesy of CBS) with next to no knowledge of the outside world.

Bull (drama) -- This one is drawn from the “early career” of Dr. Phil McGraw. Except that the lead character is named Jason Bull (Michael Weatherly direct from NCIS). CBS describes him thusly: “Brilliant, brash and charming, Dr. Bull is the ultimate puppet master as he combines psychology, human intuition and high tech data to learn what makes jurors, attorneys, witnesses and the accused tick.” Executive producers include McGraw (billed as “Dr. Phillip C. McGraw” in publicity materials) and, for some reason, Steven Spielberg.

MacGyver (drama) -- The venerable Mr. Fix-It returns to create a “clandestine organization within the U.S. government.” He still excels, of course, at “unconventional problem-solving” via his fount of “vast scientific knowledge.” Lucas Till stars, with CSI: Crime Scene Investigation veteran George Eads as a maverick ex-CIA agent.

Pure Genius (drama) -- It’s centered on a state-of-the-art Silicon Valley hospital with an “ultra-modern approach to medicine.” The crack team of docs is funded by “billionaire genius” James Bell (Augustus Prew), who persuades another maverick (see MacGyver) to be his Chief of Staff. Dermot Mulroney plays that role in a series that also includes a “maddeningly literal” doctor named Talaikha Channarayapatra (Reshma Shetty). Mr. Mxyzptlk so far is not a member of the team.

Here is CBS’ night-by-night new fall lineup:

The Big Bang Theory and Kevin Can Wait (until Thursday Night Football ends in late October)
Then it’s:
Kevin Can Wait and Man With a Plan, plus the season-starting lineup of:
2 Broke Girls
The Odd Couple

NCIS: New Orleans

Criminal Minds
Code Black

Thursday Night Football
Then, on Oct. 27, it’s:
The Big Bang Theory
The Great Indoors
Life In Pieces
Pure Genius

Hawaii Five-0
Blue Bloods

Crimetime Saturday
Crimetime Saturday
48 Hours

60 Minutes
NCIS: Los Angeles
Madam Secretary

Here are CBS’ two new midseason series:

Training Day (drama) -- It begins 15 years after the feature film ended, with Bill Paxton playing “morally ambiguous” detective Frank Rourke and Justin Cornwell co-starring as the “unvarnished” Kyle Craig, who poses as Frank’s trainee in order to spy on him.

Doubt (drama) -- Katherine Heigl rebounds from Grey’s Anatomy and NBC’s failed State of Affairs to star as attorney Sadie Ellis. She’s fated to fall in love with client Billy Brennan (Steven Pasquale), a pediatric surgeon accused of murdering his girlfriend 24 years ago. Dule Hill (Psych) and Laverne Cox (Orange Is the New Black are among the co-stars. And Elliott Gould pitches in as a “revered legal lion.”

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

ABC adds five fall newcomers, keeps four freshman series and subtracts 10 for next season


Minnie Driver (right center) heads the cast of Speechless. ABC photo

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ABC is adding five newcomers to its fall lineup while retaining four series from last year’s freshman class.

But three of those four -- Dr. Ken, The Catch and The Real O’Neals -- have been anything but ratings dynamite on a network that needs some major reconstruction under new entertainment president Channing Dungey. The network also has given a second season to Quantico, which showed more signs of life on Sunday nights.

“Our new shows reflect the inclusive and empowering storytelling that defines the ABC brand,” Dungey said in network-speak as part of a late Tuesday morning announcement. But the casualty list is heavy. Canceled by ABC are Castle, The Muppets, Nashville, Marvel’s Agent Carter, The Family, Wicked City, Of Kings and Prophets, Blood & Oil, Galavant and Beyond the Tank. Still, there’s always America’s Funniest Home Videos, the fall-down-go-boom staple that’s back yet again as Sunday night’s leadoff hitter.

Among the returnees, Scandal and American Crime will await midseason berths while The Middle is being dislodged from its longtime Wednesday, 7 p.m. (central) berth and being relocated to Tuesdays at the same time this fall.

Earlier this week, NBC and Fox announced 2016-17 seasons in which the freshman midseason series far outnumber the puny output of fall newcomers. ABC is the first network -- on paper at least -- to have more new series in the fall than later on. One leftover from ABC’s May 2015 announcements, a new version of Uncle Buck, is scheduled to finally premiere on June 14th.

Here are ABC’s five new fall series:

Designated Survivor (drama) -- No longer a part of Fox’s latest incarnation of 24, Kiefer Sutherland takes his man-of-action street cred to a “conspiracy thriller” in which he plays a lower-level cabinet member who becomes president after a devastating terrorist attack. He’s now determined to “prevent the country and his own family from falling into chaos” after being “thrust into one of the most difficult presidencies in history.” Natascha McElhone, Maggie Q and Kal Penn are among the co-stars.

Conviction (drama) -- Former First Daughter Hayes Morrison (Hayley Atwell from Agent Carter) takes a job from her “sexy nemesis” to avoid doing hard time for cocaine possession while also keeping her mom’s Senate campaign free of scandal. She’ll now be part of the newly formed Conviction Integrity Unit.

Notorious (drama) -- It’s inspired by the true-life stories of TV gadfly and criminal defense attorney Mark Garagos and cable news producer Wendy Walker, who are this show’s executive producers. Piper Perabo stars in what’s supposed to be a “provocative look at the unique, sexy and dangerous interplay of criminal law and the media.”

American Housewife (comedy) -- A “confident, unapologetic wife and mother” of three raises her family in entitled, snobbish Westport, Connecticut. Katy Mixon and Diedrich Bader star as Katie and Jeff Otto.

Speechless (comedy) -- Minnie Driver also plays a mom -- a “mom on a mission who will do anything for her husband” and three kids, the oldest of whom has special needs.

Here is ABC’s night-by-night new prime-time fall lineup:

Dancing with the Stars

The Middle
American Housewife
Fresh Off the Boat
The Real O’Neals
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The Goldbergs
Modern Family
Designated Survivor

Grey’s Anatomy
How to Get Away with Murder

Last Man Standing
Dr. Ken
Shark Tank

Saturday Night Football

America’s Funniest Home Videos
Once Upon a Time
Secrets and Lies

ABC also has announced these four new midseason entries:

Still Star-Crossed (drama) -- It’s the network’s fifth series from Shonda Rhimes, following Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder and The Catch. This one picks up where Romeo and Juliet left off, chronicling “the treachery, palace intrigue and ill-fated romances of the Montagues and Capulets in the wake of the younger lovers’ tragic fate.” A passel of mostly unknowns makes up the ensemble cast.

Time After Time (drama) -- H.G. Wells is transported to contemporary Manhattan to pursue Jack The Ripper. He also finds a “young woman who captivates him.” Freddie Stroma plays H.G. and Josh Bowman is The Ripper.

Downward Dog (comedy) -- Baylor University grad and former Dallasite Allison Tolman, who came to fame during the first season of FX’s Fargo, stars as a “struggling millennial” who owns a “philosophical” hound named Martin.

Imaginary Mary (comedy) -- Jenna Elfman makes another return to prime-time, this time as a “fiercely independent career woman” whose life goes topsy turvy when she falls in love with the divorced dad of three kids. She also has an imaginary friend who reappears to help her out. Saturday Night Live alum Rachel Dratch voices Mary.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Fox joins NBC in skimping on new fall series


Cheryl Hines dickers with Zorn in new live action/animated comedy. Fox photo

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Fox is also taking the minimalist approach, launching just three new series in the fall, including two adapted from hit feature film franchises.

NBC was first at bat Sunday with its new plans. They also include just a trio of newcomers for the fall but a truckload of replacements down the road in an effort to avoid reruns. In its Monday morning announcement, Fox said that 90 percent of its programming will be first-run throughout the season, which is the “most ever in network history.”

“Our audience is not interested in repeats,” Fox Television Group co-chairman and CEO Dana Walden said in a teleconference with TV writers. Nor is anyone else’s audience.

Fox has renewed the first-year series Scream Queens, Rosewood and Lucifer while sacking freshmen Grandfathered, The Grinder, Minority Report, Second Chance, Bordertown, Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life and apparently Houdini & Doyle, which was given just two episodes to prove itself after premiering on May 2nd. The series is not listed among the network’s returnees.

The X-Files, which had a six-episode limited run this season, may return but not until fall 2017 at the very earliest.

“I believe everyone is on board to do another installment of the show,” Walden said. But conflicting schedules prohibit stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson from resuming their X-Files roles anytime soon.

This season’s return was no ratings blockbuster, but X-Files performed appreciably better than returnees such as Scream Queens, Rosewood and Sleepy Hollow, which somehow will be back for a fourth season. Fox also announced that its post-Super Bowl 51 attraction will be 24: Legacy, a continuation of the franchise without Kiefer Sutherland or the Jack Bauer character.

Here are Fox’s three fall newcomers:

Lethal Weapon (drama) -- Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans, Sr. pick up the roles played by Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.

The Exorcist (drama) -- Geena Davis is in it this time, as a mother beset by recurring nightmares. She turns to “the new face of the Catholic church,” Father Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera) for help and guidance. But he ends up clashing with traditional devil battler Marcus Brennan (Ben Daniels), a Templar Knight groomed by the Vatican to evict evil spirits.

Son of Zorn (comedy) -- The cartoon title character (voiced by Jason Sudekis) returns from his faraway Pacific Island home in hopes of winning back his human ex-wife and teen son (Cheryl Hines, Johnny Pemberton), who now live in Orange County. But the former Mrs. Zorn is now engaged to a character played by the ubiquitous Tim Meadows.

Here is Fox’s night-by-night fall lineup:


Brooklyn Nine-Nine
New Girl
Scream Queens

Lethal Weapon


Hell’s Kitchen
The Exorcist

Fox Sports Saturday

NFL On Fox
The OT/Bob’s Burgers
The Simpsons
Son of Zorn
Family Guy
The Last Man On Earth

A cavalcade of new midseason series is also coming. And here they come:

24: Legacy (drama) -- Again there’s no smiling allowed as a new team battles an old foe -- terrorism. The cast includes Jimmy Smits as a senator campaigning for the presidency while his wife, Rebecca (Miranda Ott), former head of CTU, is torn between wanting to be First Lady and saving the world. Otherwise the new man of action is Corey Hawkins as U.S. Army Ranger Eric Carter.

Star (drama) -- From Empire creator Lee Daniels, here’s the saga of three young women singers who yearn to be -- stars. Queen Latifah is cast as their surrogate mother while Benjamin Bratt is a talent agent looking to jump-start his stalled career. Newcomers Jude Demorest, Ryan Destiny and Brittany O’Grady play the three up-and-comers hoping to “navigate the cut-throat music business.”

Pitch (drama) -- Kylie Bunberry (Under the Dome) stars as Ginny Baker, who’s called up by the San Diego Padres to become major league baseball’s first woman pitcher. She’ll have to throw strikes to the team’s “ruggedly handsome star catcher,” played by the now inevitable Mark-Paul Gosselaar.

APB (drama) -- It’s a new cop show with a “high-tech twist” -- as if that’s anything new. The cast includes Justin Kirk, Natalie Martinez and Ernie Hudson.

Prison Break (drama) -- Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) will have to pull a modern-day Jon Snow after being killed in the final episode of the previous incarnation. Dominic Purcell also is back as his brother, Lincoln Burrows, along with other previous co-stars Robert Knepper, Rockmond Dunbar, Sarah Wayne Callies and Amaury Nolasco.

Shots Fired (drama) -- This 10-hour “event series” explores the “why done it?” and “who done it?” in the aftermath of racially charged shootings in a small Southern town. It all sounds very much like ABC’s American Crime, and can only hope to be half as good. But there’s a solid chance of that with a cast that includes Oscar/Emmy-winner Helen Hunt as a North Carolina governor in a re-election campaign. Richard Dreyfuss and Stephen Moyer (True Blood) are also part of the ensemble.

The Mick (comedy) -- Presenting another highly dysfunctional family. Kaitlin Olson heads the cast as a ”brash, two-bit hustler” who winds up with guardianship of three “high-maintenance and ill-parented” children after her estranged sister and billionaire husband free the country to escape federal fraud charges.

Making History (comedy) -- A nerdy computer science professor learns how to time-travel and falls in love with Paul Revere’s daughter. But might this “alter the outcome of the entire American Revolution?” The best known name in the cast is Leighton Meester (Gossip Girl) as Deborah Revere.

Kicking & Screaming (reality) -- Ten survivalists and their “pampered partners” are going to “face the toughest challenges of their lives.” The grand prize is $500,000.

My Kitchen Rules (reality) -- Celebrity duos try to out-cook one another in this Americanized import from Australia. So far the celebs include Andrew Dice Clay, Lance Bass and Naomi Judd, who will be judged by Curtis Stone and Cat Cora.

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NBC offers just a trio of fall newcomers (but with much more to come)


Happily ever thereafter: Kristen Bell, Ted Danson in The Good Place. NBC photo

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Touting its ongoing “momentum,” NBC is out CBSing CBS with just three new series in its 2016-17 fall prime-time schedule.

That’s half the number unveiled last May and assuredly a record low for the Peacock, which headlined its announcement late Sunday morning with “NBC augments its stable schedule.” CBS, again the runaway leader in the total viewers Nielsen ratings, traditionally has had the fewest fall newcomers. But NBC, which will finish a close second among advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds, has set a seemingly unbeatable low bar among the Big Four broadcast networks.

The Peacock has renewed five freshman series, led by the Steve Harvey-hosted midseason smash Little Big Shots. Also getting sophomore years are Blindspot, Shades of Blue, Superstore and Chicago Med. Not that there haven’t been a slew of cancellations, some of them announced months ago. The final list is: The Mysteries of Laura, Crowded, Game of Silence, Undateable, Heartbreak, Heroes Reborn, Truth Be Told, The Player, Telenovela, Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris and You, Me and the Apocalypse.

An announced Coach reboot starring Craig T. Nelson never aired due to creative shortcomings. And The Carmichael Show, which premiered last August and returned this spring, got an 11th hour reprieve after NBC and Twentieth Century Fox studios settled a disagreement over how many episodes would be ordered. The two sides agreed on 13, but the renewal came to late to include The Carmichael Show in NBC’s fall season announcement.

Among fall’s three newcomers, the sitcom The Good Place easily houses the most star power. It’s fronted Ted Danson, who’s returning to the network that made him a star in Cheers, and Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars, House of Lies).

NBC also is getting the second half of Thursday Night Football, kicking it off on Nov. 17th after CBS finishes with its slate of games.

Night-and-time switches aren’t nearly what they used to be, given all the options of watching TV programming on a viewers’ schedule rather than at the appointed hour. But for the record, NBC is switching Blindspot from Mondays at 9 p.m. (central) to the Wednesday leadoff spot, where it replaces The Mysteries of Laura.

Here are more details on the Peacock’s trio of fall freshman:

Timeless (drama) -- A “mysterious criminal” steals a secret time machine and uses it with an intent to destroy “America as we know it by changing the past.” Teaming to thwart him are a scientist, a soldier and a history professor (but not a tinker, a tailor or a candlestick maker). Goran Visnjic from ER and Extant is the most familiar face amid a cast that also includes Abigail Spencer and Matt Lanter.

This Is Us (drama) -- Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimigilia and Sterling K. Brown (fresh from playing prosecutor Christopher Darden in FX’s acclaimed The People v O. J. Simpson) star in a “refreshingly provocative and honest” tale about a “unique ensemble whose paths cross and their life stories intertwine in curious ways.” Imagine this: some of them even share the same birthday, says NBC.

The Good Place (comedy) -- The aforementioned Danson and Bell team up in the afterlife in hopes of making her a better person than she was down below.

Here is NBC’s night-by-night fall lineup:

The Voice

The Voice
This Is Us
Chicago Fire

Law & Order: SVU
Chicago P.D.

The Good Place
Chicago Med
The Blacklist

Caught On Camera with Nick Cannon
Dateline NBC

Saturday Dateline Mysteries
Saturday Night Live (encores)

Football Night In America
Sunday Night Football

NBC also has a post-Summer Olympics “reality” hour and a wealth of new midseason series, plus the returns of Shades of Blue, Little Big Shots, Hollywood Game Night and a new version of The Celebrity Apprentice with Arnold Schwarzenegger and without Donald Trump.

Here are the bench players:

Midnight Texas (drama) -- A remote Texas town is infested with vampires, witches, psychics, hit men and other assorted denizens who are not what they seem. It’s adapted from the Charlaine Harris series of books after her Sookie Stackhouse novels were the basis for HBO’s True Blood. Starring are people named Francois Arnaud, Dylan Bruce, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Arielle Kebbel and Yul Vazquez among others.

The Blacklist: Redemption (drama) -- It’s a “thrilling” spinoff starring Famke Janssen, Ryan Eggold, Edi Gathegi and Tawny Cypress.

Chicago Justice (drama) -- Relentless executive producer Dick Wolf adds to his windy city franchise with a dedicated group of prosecutors. Philip Winchester and Carl Weathers head the cast.

Emerald City (drama) -- Isn’t ABC already doing this with Once Upon a Time? But here’s NBC with the fantasy saga of a 20-year-old Dorothy Gale and a K9 police dog who are swept into a “mystical land of competing realms, lethal warriors, dark magic and a bloody battle for supremacy.” Vincent D’Onofrio and Adria Arjona star.

Taken (drama) -- Clive Standen (Rollo from Vikings) steps in for Liam Neeson in this “origin story” of former Green Beret Bryan Mills. Jennifer Beals is also in the mix.

Great News (comedy) -- Tina Fey co-executive produces a workplace laughter in which mother and daughter must somehow withstand each other as staffers in a TV newsroom. Andrea Martin plays mama.

Marlon (comedy) -- Marlon Mayans plays an “immature” father (in sitcomdom there’s no other alternative) who strives to raise two kids with “very together” ex-wife (Essence Atkins).

Powerless (comedy) -- DC Comics superheroes are played for grins, with High School Musical alum Vanessa Hudgens starring as an insurance adjuster “specializing in regular-people coverage against damage” caused by them. But what happens when she becomes a cult hero in her own right?

Trial & Error (comedy) -- A wet-behind-the-ears New York lawyer played by Josh Segal journeys to a teeny Southern town to defend a wacky poetry professor (John Lithgow) accused of murdering his wife. “Making a Murderer can be funny!” says NBC. That refers to the controversial Netflix documentary series, which was decidedly unamusing.

Better Than Never (Aug. 23rd after the Summer Olympics) -- This one sounds more intriguing on paper than any of the above. William Shatner, Henry Winkler, George Foreman and Terry Bradshaw are let loose in Asia “on their own with no schedule and no itinerary.” NBC promises “hilarious cultural experiences, heartwarming spectacles and unexpected twists.”

First Dates (reality) -- Ellen DeGeneres executive produces and Drew Barrymore narrates this “voyeuristic look at a variety of real first dates happening throughout one night at the same restaurant in Chicago.”

The Wall (reality) -- Has Trump demanded a finder’s fee yet? LeBron James’ production company otherwise is behind this survival game “set in a large glossy arena centering on a colossal 40-foot wall.” Contestants are asked to combine “quick thinking, shrewd strategy and a little luck.”

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Fox's Coupled is the latest to get its dating game on


Some of the very, very excitable ladies of Coupled. Fox photo

Premiering: Tuesday, May 17th at 8 p.m. (central) on Fox
Hosted by: Terrence “J” Jenkins
Starring: Babes and Hunks
Produced by: Mark Burnett

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Both the niceness and sound barrier-breaking “Whoooos!” are off the charts in Tuesday’s premiere episode of Fox’s Coupled.

It’s another very much concocted “reality” romance show from the network that previously presented the appreciably seedier (so far) Temptation Island, Paradise Hotel and Forever Eden.

But Coupled also is from Mark Burnett, who has more money than Fort Knox after striking it rich time and again with Survivor, The Apprentice, Shark Tank, The Voice and Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?. Betting against this guy is a risky proposition, although 2010’s failed Sarah Palin’s Alaska showed that he’s not infallible.

In this one, a dozen super-thrilled women are deposited amid dream beachfront surroundings in Anguilla. During an exceedingly long buildup by host Terrence “J” Jenkins, viewers are informed that “meeting someone special in today’s world -- it’s not easy. You make split-second decisions about love based on photos and a flick of the wrist.”

Therefore, in an effort to help, Coupled will unleash a “constant stream of accomplished, eligible guys looking for love.” And just so you know, the women who just can’t wait to meet them are “not here to stay single. They’re here to get -- coupled.”

The force-fed, claws-coming-out “drama” is entirely absent in Tuesday’s opening hour. Talyah, Dominique, Alicia, Alyssa, Alex, Brittany, Kristin, Lindsey and the others all seem reasonably stable throughout the premiere episode. Dominique, a statuesque, 29-year-old attorney, boasts that “I am THE catch of 2016.” But she says so charmingly and then laughs disarmingly. So it’s not nearly in the same off-putting league as thrice-married Cary Deuber of Real Housewives of Dallas, who says in each week’s introductions, “I’m not a trophy wife. I’m a lifetime achievement award.”

None of these women are teenagers and some are in their 30s. Nonetheless, they’re repeatedly referred to as “girls” by both host Jenkins and the first hunk to debark, a 26-year-old musician named Alex. It’s an antiquated, beauty pageant-ish, Donald Trump way of looking at things on a show produced by the guy who made him a reality show kingpin. But boys will be boys.

Otherwise here’s how the thing works. Each dude spends literally a few seconds with each of the women. They then decide to take a left turn back to the bungalow area or a right turn to the Tiki bar. The latter direction indicates interest in proceeding further. Alex, who prototypically frets about all of the women rejecting him (“I’m freakin’ out inside”) instead finds seven of them at the bar. Then he quickly gets a text message from the host: “Yo, Alex! Choose 2 by sunset.” Yo, he does.

While Alex and his chosen pair strive to get to a “deeper level” on the beach, the remaining women go kinda nuts by the pool, where they whoop, jump up and down and drink without any vixens readily evident. Not that some can’t be aggravating, particularly hyper-bubbly 23-year-old Alex, a “radio personality” from Louisville. She knows what she wants, though: “I want a conservative husband. I want to live in the South. I want to have guns in my house.”

The other Alex soon chooses one of his two finalists and takes her to the “Couples Villa.” Meanwhile, Coupled replenishes the stock with 29-year-old Amari, a digital ad executive instructed by host Jenkins to be “Denzel Washington for the rest of the day.” The bar-or-bungalow process repeats itself.

A tease for Episode 2 indicates that some of the women might start playing dirty. Which would be kind of a shame. Because in the early stages, Couples manages to dodge all of that and perhaps even establish a rooting interest in the happiness of these unattached beauties. There already are far more than enough posers and she-devils populating TV’s dating/mating genre.

Oh hell, what am I talking about? I won’t be watching future episodes of Coupled anyway. Those who succumb, though, could do worse than this.. Such as Conveyor Belt of Love, Chains of Love, Who Wants to Marry My Dad?, Dating in the Dark, Room Raiders, The Littlest Groom and My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance. Faint praise to be sure. But Coupled rises above them all to take its rightful place as -- at the very best -- a guilty summertime pleasure.

GRADE: C-minus

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PBS' Janis: Little Girl Blue revisits what drove and quickly consumed Port Arthur's most famous outcast


Janis Joplin singing the blues that made her happy. PBS photo

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She should have been the pride of Port Arthur, Texas.

Janis Joplin instead got the back of the hand from most of her high school classmates and finally fled Texas all together in 1963 after winning an “Ugliest Man” contest. The city waited until 2008 to place a historical marker in front of her childhood home on what would have been Joplin’s 65th birthday. By that time she’d been dead for 38 years from a drug overdose.

PBS’ two-hour Janis: Little Girl Blues (Tuesday, May 3rd at 7 p.m. central), directed by Amy Berg and presented under the American Masters banner, is a story of pain, gain, torment, triumph and lifelong insecurity. Janis Joplin wanted you to want her -- and not just as a blues-belter whose very short career took off like a rocket at the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival. Her periodic “Dear Family” letters, read throughout the film by singer Chan Marshall, bespeak a longing to make them proud or at least accepting of the new beginning she’d made in San Francisco, where the drugs and sounds of the ‘60s were an inseparable and often lethal mix.

Joplin and her first band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, burned bright and flamed out in a hurry after she became restive. Former BB&THC mates Dave Getz, Peter Albin and Sam Andrew (who died in February 2015) all contribute new interviews for the film. Getz speaks wistfully of the “sense of camaraderie” they had until Joplin quickly transcended them in the eyes of certain music critics.

One of the more searing commentaries came from James Konrad of the Temple City, CA Free Press. “It’s a shame about Big Brother and the Holding Company, it really is,” he wrote in 1968. “Their lead singer, Janis Joplin, is the most important female vocalist to emerge since Aretha Franklin, but the musicians in the band are only slightly better than competent, and can’t begin to come up to her level.”

Trying to explain the subsequent breakup to an interviewer, Joplin said, “You exhaust the good that you can do for each other.”

Her subsequent formations of the Kozmic Blues and Full Tilt Boogie bands had some calling for a reunion with Big Brother. Joplin also fell in and out of love, embraced and renounced heroin, and became a favorite of Dick Cavett, who welcomed her to his nightly ABC talk show show on three occasions. The most memorable, in this view, came on June 25, 1970, when she opened with “Move Over” and basked in a full-throated audience ovation before sitting down to converse with Cavett and later, an eclectic guest lineup of Raquel Welch, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Chet Huntley. The entire show is available for free online via Shout Factory and is also streamable on the Roku app. It’s quite something, both as a time capsule and of Joplin at the height of her singing powers. She’s also awed by Fairbanks’ account of how he met one of her idols, F. Scott Fitzgerald, as the then schoolboy son of the very famous Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Talk shows actually had conversations back then.

Cavett remains coy on whether he and Joplin were ever more than just friends. “Was she romantically attached to me?” he says in Little Girl Blues. “I would hope so. I will level with you. We may or may not have ended up -- intimate. I just, you know, my memory is so bad.” He holds that thought and then laughs.

Singer “Country Joe” McDonald is more direct. They lived together for several months, but he was never in love with Joplin, McDonald says. “There was no sizzle going on.”

Joplin’s two younger siblings, Laura and Michael, are also interviewed for the film. And Kris Kristofferson drops in very briefly to talk about Joplin’s recording of his “Me and Bobby McGee,” which was released three months after her death and remains the only No. 1 hit she ever had.

Shortly before her passing, Joplin returned to Port Arthur for her high school’s 10th reunion. She first told Cavett of her intentions during a final Aug. 3, 1970 appearance on his show. It was in large part to show them all how big she’d become. But the old wounds never healed.

“I didn’t go to the high school prom,” she told an interviewer in Port Arthur.

“Well, you were asked, weren’t you?” he asked.

“No. I wasn’t,” she said emphatically.

While in the Marines, your friendly content provider saw Joplin and Big Brother perform during a September, 1968 stop at San Diego’s Community Concourse. On the afternoon before the show, she announced their impending breakup. But the show went on and their handful of hits rolled out, including “Ball and Chain” and “Piece of My Heart.”

It now seems so very long ago, and of course it was. Janis: Little Girl Blue vividly and often poignantly revisits her short life -- and hard and fast times. Cavett recalls having dinner with Joplin one night and asking her to reassure him she wasn’t doing heroin anymore.

Her answer -- “Who would care?” -- stopped him in his tracks, Cavett says.

All too soon, it would stop her, too.

GRADE: A-minus

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