Category: PBS

Monica Lewinsky back in spotlight with PBS' two-part 'Clinton'

Monica Lewinsky

Monica Lewinsky has attempted to keep a low-profile after her role in President Bill Clinton's impeachment scandal made her name the butt of many late-night jokes. But she's likely to become a topic of discussion again when PBS airs its much anticipated two-part, four-hour documentary on the former president, titled "Clinton."

The documentary, which premieres on PBS as part of its "American Experience" series on Monday, will shed new light on Clinton's Oval Office affair with his 23-year-old intern through interviews with some of Clinton's closest advisors, some of whom are speaking publicly about the affair for the first time.

Among the former White House staffers appearing on camera are Secretary of Labor Robert Reich and Clinton's former reelection campaign manager, Dick Morris.

In the doc, Morris reveals, "When the Lewinsky scandal broke the President paged me and I returned the call. And he said, 'Ever since I got here to the White House I've had to shut my body down, sexually I mean, but I screwed up with this girl. I didn't do what they said I did, but I may have done so much that I can't prove my innocence.' "

Though she plays a huge role in the story of Bill Clinton's presidency, Lewinsky herself was not interviewed for the documentary. Producer Barak Goodman said at a Television Critics Assn. panel in January of the decision, “We felt it would tilt [the documentary] toward sensationalism.”

After the scandal, Lewinsky went through a period of alternately embracing and avoiding her celebrity. She attended the Oscars with Sir Ian McKellan, became a spokeswoman for Jenny Craig, hosted a reality show called "Mr. Personality," was a correspondent for a British news program and sold a line of handbags.

In 2005, she left the U.S. and moved to London, attending the London School of Economics and graduating with a masters in social psychology in 2006. Though she has given interviews on the subject of the Clinton affair, most notably in an HBO special titled "Monica in Black and White," she has kept an extremely low profile in recent years.

'Clinton' is the latest in a series of in-depth documentaries PBS has produced over the years focusing on the careers of U.S. presidents. For those who can't wait, PBS has made the first part of the documentary available on its website.

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-- Patrick Kevin Day

Photo: Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton at the White House. Credit: Associated Press

'Downton Abbey' recap: Goodbye, cruel world

Maggie Smith in "Downton Abbey"


The Grim Reaper came calling at Downton Abbey this week. But before getting into who shuffled off this mortal coil — that and other spoilers are after the jump — some other catching up.

Mrs. Hughes continues to bring food to Ethel, the former housemaid turned single mom, and conspires to bring her to the attention of the baby's grandparents. As usual, Ethel oversteps her bounds and bursts into the formal dining room, interrupting the aristocracy's dinner while displaying her plump baby. Grandfather is as scornful and dismissive as his son but later relents, offering to take the baby from her. Ethel can't bear to give him up, so it'll be back to the hovel for her.

Meanwhile, Daisy makes a cake, which finally gives her something to do other than make squinchy faces over how she didn't love poor dead William. But then she gets a friendly letter from William's father: yep, more squinchy faces.

Sir Richard offers to pay Anna to spy on Lady Mary for him. Not only does she say no, but she tells Mr. Carson, who decides he cannot work for the man after all and tells Lady Mary why. She's mad, and feeling increasingly trapped.

Anna and Mr. Bates continue their romance. Mr. Bates fears that his wife's death — a suicide — may lead police back to him. Could his wife have framed him (dum dum dum) from the grave? Anna puts her foot down and says he must marry her. He does. They spend a night in a fancy Downton bedroom together.

The same can't be said for Lady Sybil and her chauffeur Tom ... but I'm skipping ahead.

The malevolent, ambitious Thomas has plans for postwar black-market profiteering, but they go awry when it turns out the rationed supplies he's bought were mostly garbage. Thomas has been had, and he's broke, and so he hangs around Downton trying to be simperingly useful. He gets his chance.

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'Downton Abbey' recap: The aftermath of war

Downtonabbey_elizabethmcgovern
Red, red, red. Red dresses, red dressing rooms, an insane red suit worn by Maggie Smith, red rising to the cheeks of an angry Lady Mary convinced that the story being told by a new soldier convalescing at Downton Abbey is not true. But you'll have to wait -- there's more about that after the jump.

Because first, the other big news: the war is over! Lord Grantham interrupts the servants' dinner to make the announcement. Wine flows! Toasts! Happiness all around. Later, everyone gathers to mark the end of the war with a solemn ceremony. Mr. Carson compliments him on it, and it's a sad moment, because Mr. Carson has agreed to depart Downton for the new estate that Sir Richard Carlisle is buying for himself and Lady Mary.

In case you're ever in this situation, you should know that poaching servants is considered bad form.

Although we're told the estate is massive, all we see of it is a deluxe balcony around what appears to be a center atrium or stairway. The series doesn't shoot on many locations, and it may well be part of Downton's real counterpart, Highclere Castle, where most of the series is filmed. This seems to have crept into the dialog, when Lady Mary dryly remarks that the estate has a better stairway than Downton's. That may be all we ever see of it, because Lady Mary is busy deepening her relationship with Matthew, by tending to him without being overly tender. She wheels him around, puts up with his whining, jokes with him with a deliciously dark humor.

Their closeness has got Sir Richard in cahoots with Lady Grantham. Cora seems so sweet, so smiley, so whispery, doesn't she? But that Elizabeth McGovern can be just as slyly manipulative as anyone else at Downton. Sir Richard thinks it's time to put a wedge between Mary and Matthew -- a Lavinia-shaped wedge -- and Lady Grantham agrees.

Why on earth Lavinia would go anywhere with Sir Richard is anyone's guess. Doesn't she hate him? But maybe her love for Matthew is too strong; maybe she regrets leaving. She shows up, and guess what? She's wearing red (well, reddish-brown).

Lady Grantham also orchestrates, with the help of the Dowager Countess, the distraction of Cousin Isobel to other urgent social matters so that Downton can be returned to its peaceful state as a private residence. I would tell you the details, but I was too distracted by Maggie Smith's gravity-defying hats.

Beware, after the jump there be spoilers.

Continue reading »

'SNL' knows that even macho dudes love 'Downton Abbey' [video]

Downton abbey saturday night live spike skit
We already know that "Downton Abbey" has won over a far wider audience than the usual PBS "Masterpiece" fare. But this weekend, a "Saturday Night Live" skit mocked Downton-mania by imagining a crossover between fans of Lord Grantham and the cars, tattoos and extreme sports-loving young male Spike TV viewer.

The spoof  "Downton" ad featured the Spike narrator explaining the premise for dudes: "They've got three daughters named Hot, Way Hot and The Other One." He goes on to describe the beloved, sharp-tongued dowager played by Maggie Smith as an "old lady who looks like a chicken. We hated her at first but then we got high and she made us crack up."

What about the servants? They're "a bunch of tuxedo'd people who live in the basement and their lives suck!" All too true -- though as critic Mary McNamara pointed out this weekend, the show doesn't paint a realistic portrait of the era's class relations.

If "Downton" fans are smart, they'll start campaigning for Maggie Smith to host "SNL" sometime soon. It worked with Betty White.

The video is below, complete with some late-night language:

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-- Joy Press

twitter.com/joypress

Caption: Maggie Smith in "Downton Abbey." Credit: PBS.

 

'Downton Abbey' recap: Oh no, Matthew!

Matthewcrawley_lavinia
Rats lurk, the landscape is barren and the British soldiers ready themselves for a charge against the Germans. Not just any soldiers: it’s the troops led by Matthew Crawley with his faithful assistant William, the former footman. There is much stiff-upper-lipping, and then the quixotic race across a muddy field as the men are shot and bombarded. A few Germans are taken prisoner, but what does that matter when Matthew (and William) are down?

Back at Downton, not one but two ladies feel the cold hand of fate clutching at their men. In the kitchen, Daisy starts (maybe she loves William after all?) and upstairs, a teacup slips from the hand of Lady Mary, who feels a chill.

Actual news takes longer to travel, however, and it’s the middle of the night when Molesley shows up with a telegram meant for Isobel, who herself is off in France aiding the Red Cross. With the entire family standing around in their robes, Lord Grantham tells them that Matthew has been seriously injured and is on his way to the hospital in the village.

Then the camera pulls around and we see the Downton staff waiting behind a threshold, as if held by an invisible force field. “What about William? Is he all right?” Daisy asks. The telegram doesn’t say. It’s the most painful illustration of class difference in the series so far. The Lords and Ladies learn terrible news first, while their servants have to wait before they can even ask, huddled around a corner.

But just when the injustice of the class system starts to rankle, along comes Maggie Smith to make us embrace the elite imperiousness of a Dowager Countess.

After the jump: Maggie Smith’s best lines of the episode, and spoilers galore.

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'Downton Abbey' star Jessica Brown-Findlay talks war, romance

Lady Sybil
On the wildly popular PBS costume drama "Downton Abbey," Jessica Brown-Findlay plays Lady Sybil Crawley, the free-spirited youngest daughter of a British earl. This season unfolds against the backdrop of World War I, and there are many changes afoot at Downton Abbey. The sprawling family home has been converted into a convalescent home for wounded officers, and idealistic Sybil has discovered a new sense of purpose through work as a nurse. She may have also found love with Branson, her family's hot-headed Irish chauffeur.

Speaking with the same posh, velvety diction as Lady Sybil, Brown-Findlay opened up about her character's forbidden romance, why she would love to play Edith, and her starring role in the indie film "Albatross," now in limited release. 

The second season of "Downton Abbey" has quite a different feel, doesn't it?There's a weight to the second series because of the war and how much it changed everyone's lives. Everyone has to kind of roll with the punches far more than they did before. Before it was just a set of rules, and everyone just got on with that. 

Sybil really appears torn about Branson. 

There are many things she needs to take into consideration with that because obviously that kind of pairing, if she was to do that, she'd have to give up a lot in her life so it's a big arc. She struggles with that hugely whilst also just desperately trying to help with the war effort. For me it was far more challenging emotionally to do, which is great. 

Did you expect that their romance would develop as it has? 

I never read it like that in the first series. It was so funny because we hold hands for about three seconds. The amount of YouTube videos made up of this one moment. People are obsessed with them, and they hardly spoke three words to each other! It was quite surprising to me. The way that she is, she doesn't see people in terms of categories or where they are. I think she's rather embarrassed by her status. Maybe in fact it's a very good pairing. 

Did you do any particular research or training to prepare for this season?

I went to the Imperial War Museum. They've got letters and notebooks and diaries of young women who went off and trained as VAD [Voluntary Aid Dispatchment] nurses. I read so many of them. I learned to do hospital bed corners. I really wanted to do it justice. It was a huge sacrifice that these women did make. No one had seen people so injured and so changed. They didn't just have to deal with physical changes from war, they also had to try and nurse and heal the mind. That was a new thing at the time, that shell shock. It's quite a dark and terrifying prospect. I was really adamant to try and have that in my head. 

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Golden Globes: Idris Elba wins for actor in a TV miniseries

Golden Globes: Idris Elba wins for actor in a TV miniseries

This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.

Idris Elba of "Luther" won the Golden Globe award for actor in a series, miniseries or motion picture made for television. Elba beat out Hugh Bonneville of "Downton Abbey," William Hurt of "Too Big to Fail," Bill Nighy of "Page Eight" and Dominic West of "The Hour" for the award.

Elba plays antihero detective John Luther in the series on BBC America. His "Luther" character is able to identify a killer at 10 paces but has suffered a mental breakdown, which resulted from the flawed decision of chasing down a pedophile. Elba has also appeared in "The Wire, " "The Office" and the film "Thor."

The Golden Globes are being held at the Beverly Hilton on Sunday and are being televised on NBC. We'll carry all the breaking TV news and reaction here on Show Tracker.

— Nardine Saad

Twitter.com/NardineSaad

[For the record, 6:45 p.m. Jan. 15: This post originally listed Idris Elba's character as Martin Luther. His character's name is John Luther.]

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Photo: Idris Elba at the 69th Golden Globe Awards. Credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Golden Globes: Kate Winslet wins for best actress in a TV mini-series

Kate Winslet

Kate Winslet, who stars in HBO's "Mildred Pierce," won the Golden Globe for best performance by an actress in a mini-series or motion picture made for television, beating out "Diane Lane" in "Cinema Verite," Emily Watson in "Appropriate Adult," Romola Garai in "The Hour" and Elizabeth McGovern in Downton Abbey."

Winslet plays the title role in the period melodrama about an independent woman at odds with her strong-willed, backstabbing daughter. The Oscar-winning actress will be able to place the Golden Globe beside the Emmy she won last year for the role. In 2009, she had the distinction of winning two Golden Globes in the same year -- for best actress in a motion picture drama for "The Reader" and for best supporting actress in a motion picture for "Revolutionary Road." Winslet received another Golden Globe nomination this year for best actress in a motion picture comedy or musical, for "Carnage."

The 69th Golden Globes are being handed out at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. The ceremony is being broadcast live on NBC.

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Image: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Golden Globes: `Downton Abbey' wins for best TV miniseries

Downton Abbey

"Downton Abbey," the drama about an aristocratic family in pre-World War I England, won the Golden Globe for best miniseries or motion picture made for television. The PBS "Masterpiece" miniseries beat  BBC America's "The Hour" and three HBO films: "Mildred Pierce," "Too Big to Fail" and "Cinema Verite."

The highly acclaimed "Downton Abbey" has already turned into an American favorite. It scored an upset in last year's Emmys by beating HBO, which had a long-standing domination in the prestigious TV movie or mini-series category. The production also won Emmys for writing (Julian Fellowes), director (Brian Percival) and supporting actress (Maggie Smith). The  British production, which had already been broadcast in England, became an unexpected phenomena. A new season premiered last week to huge ratings and critical acclaim.

The 69th Golden Globes are being handed out at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. The show is being broadcast live on NBC. 

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Photo: "Downton Abbey" cast, from left, Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess, Elizabeth McGovern as Lady Cora, Hugh Bonneville as Lord Grantham. Credit: Nick Briggs/PBS

 

Anna Deavere Smith on healthcare, mimicry and President Obama

Anna Deavere Smith's 'Let Me Down Easy' to appear on PBS

Anna Deavere Smith's one-woman show, "Let Me Down Easy," makes its TV premiere Friday on PBS. The playwright and actress ("Nurse Jackie," "The West Wing") conducted hundreds of interviews on the topic of healthcare, wittling it all into her signature collage performance. She assumes the roles of 20 people, including biker Lance Armstrong and former supermodel Lauren Hutton to ordinary patients and the frontline workers who tend to them.

 We spoke briefly with Smith while she was in Los Angeles at the Television Critics Assn. to promote the show's premiere. (Unfortunately, she wouldn't give us any details on the upcoming season of "Nurse Jackie." We tried! )

What prompted the decision to focus on healthcare?

I was invited to do a project for the Yale School of Medicine in the '90s — way long time ago. And I just loved working there. I loved how the people who I interviewed expressed themselves, and it was something that really stayed in my heart. I sort of took five years off from the theaters.  When I was ready to come back and do theater, I thought, ‘Well, maybe that would be a good subject.’ That was in 2005. So then I just started doing lots and lots of interviews. Four years later — and several productions later — when it was time to come to New York, is when President Obama was starting to roll out his healthcare bill. In fact, I did a reading in Chicago of the material at an event. Studs Terkel, who is a mentor of mine, was supposed to introduce me. He was too ill, so President Obama, who at the time was Sen. Obama, introduced me that night. The next morning we had a talk on the phone. I could tell then just how passionate he was about healthcare — this was well before he was even thinking about running for the presidency.

You did countless interviews. What was the one thing you took away when it was all said and done? Because the stories, while they may hint at policy issues, go deeper than that.

Exactly. I think the theme that sort of rose to the top was the idea of "care." Who cares about you? What is the miracle of somebody caring about another person? And having many opportunities to look at utter carelessness, like in the case with Katrina or even material that’s no longer in the play — Rwanda. Two tribes in the same country, the same race, dismembering each other and hurting each other. Genocide.

Your previous works focused on events: "Twilight: Los Angeles" looked at the L.A. riots in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating and "Fires in the Mirror" looks at racial tensions in two Brooklyn neighborhoods following a death and subsequent murder.

Right. And this time around I knew that I didn’t want to make another play with an event. If for no other reason, this was the expectation that people had come to have. Two shows of like, about 20, had events.  And I don’t think that the form that I’m trying to develop requires an event. This play, I think, plays a little more like a piece of music. It gives you the space to think about themes, to come up with what the stories mean to you, what life means to you. I didn’t want to have an event, and yet I still wanted to make an evening of theater that would be coherent. It was just really hard. It’s just a lot of trial and error. What it requires is having people who take a chance on you. People who give you the time and the space and what you need to develop a project. I had a fabulous person in New Haven. I had a friend in Texas who gave me some money to work there. I worked at Stanford Medical School and ultimately started putting the pieces together well enough that I could take it to New York. And then Boston American Reperatory Theatre said, “Come here and work on it.” It’s really the kindness of people in medical centers and theater who helped this become real.

 

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'Downton Abbey' Season 2 premiere doubles PBS ratings

Downton abbey
PBS has dressed up "Downton Abbey" into its biggest hit in years.

Monday's Season 2 premiere of the tart British period satire averaged 4.2 million total viewers, according to Nielsen. And that doesn't include viewers who watched later station replays or on a DVR.

That was double PBS' usual prime-time average and 18% higher than "Downton's" first-season average, according to a press release from WGBH-TV, the Boston PBS-member station that presents the series as part of the "Masterpiece Classic" brand. NBC Universal coproduces the series.

It's also higher than the numbers for some other "prestige" dramas, including AMC's "Mad Men," which averaged fewer than 3 million viewers in its fourth season (it returns for Season 5 later this year). 

Trackers, what do you think of "Downton"? Sound off in the comments.

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-- Scott Collins (twitter.com/scottcollinsLAT)

Photo: Elizabeth McGovern costars in "Downton Abbey," which has become a hit for PBS. Credit: PBS

 

 

Tony Bennett wows TV critics with PBS promo set

Tonybennett

How do you keep the critics clapping? If you're Tony Bennett, it's fairly easy -- you just put on a free show.

The 85-year-old music legend showed up at the TV press tour in Pasadena on Thursday night to plug his PBS "Great Performances" special coming later this month. But he didn't bother with a Q&A. Instead he focused on what he does best: Singing.

With a 10-song, 35-minute set, Bennett pretty much had the hardened journos eating out of his hand. For a jaded crowd that typically doesn't applaud anyone -- much to the annoyance of network executives -- the Bennett reception was notable. You could hear the "ahhhs" when he launched into his best-known numbers -- including "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" -- and the critics rewarded him and his four-piece backup band with not just one, but two, standing ovations. 

All the famous Bennett gestures so memorably parodied by Alec Baldwin and others -- the jaunty salutes, the thumbs-up signs, the overwhelming positivity -- were on display ("Lady Gaga -- what a wonderful singer she is," he said of his partner on his new, top-charting "Duets II" album). Once, he bobbled a lyric and had to improvise with some scat singing. But his voice remains a powerful instrument for a singer of his years, and Bennett has an uncanny knack for blanketing audiences in warmth. It's charm that not even TV critics can resist.

The entire set list: "Watch What Happens," "They All Laughed," "Maybe This Time," "I Got Rhythm," "The Way You Look Tonight," "The Good Life," "For Once in My Life," "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," "The Best Is Yet to Come" and "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?". 

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-- Scott Collins
twitter.com/scottcollinsLAT

Photo: Tony Bennett wowed the critics at the TV press tour in Pasadena with a 35-minute set. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

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