Category: Steven Zeitchik

Upfronts 2012: ABC looks to more nighttime soaps for fall

Revenge
ABC is doubling down on nighttime soaps in its bid to get out of third place.

The network of “Revenge” and “Scandal” announced that it will add new shows such as “666 Park Avenue,” about the machinations at an upscale and possibly haunted New York apartment building, and “Nashville,” centering on the scheming among country-music stars and Nashville politicians.

Starring Rachael Taylor, “666” will premiere on Sunday nights at 10 p.m., following “Revenge,” which is moving from Wednesdays to a coveted Sunday slot in an effort to build an evening of soapy drama on the competitive night.

VIDEO: Watch 2012 TV Previews

“Sunday night will be a battle between good and evil from 8 all the way to 11,” Paul Lee, president of ABC Entertainment, told reporters in a conference call on Tuesday, alluding also to the first show of that bloc, the fairy-tale-themed “Once Upon a Time.” “Nashville” will air in “Revenge’s” old slot on Wednesdays at 10 p.m.

It will debut its more male-oriented new hourlong drama, Shawn Ryan's military-themed "Last Resort," earlier in the evening at 8 p.m.

Overall, the network, which this season will finish ahead of only NBC in the ratings race among the four major networks, picked up 10 new shows, including a host of new comedies.

Among them is “Neighbors,” a show from “Crazy, Stupid, Love” screenwriter Dan Fogelman about what happens when a couple moves into a new home and realizes some of the other homeowners are aliens; the series will air in the prized slot behind network powerhouse “Modern Family” at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

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Upfronts 2012: The end is near for '30 Rock'


Tina fey
NBC confirmed Monday that "30 Rock" would end its seven-season run this season with a final 13 episodes.

Speaking Monday at his network's upfront presentation, held once again at Radio City Music Hall, NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt called the multiple Emmy-winning show "synonymous with wit and originality" and said it would conclude with an hour-long series finale. He later told Show Tracker that he thought the series would be "charged up" as it went into its home stretch.

"30 Rock" returned this year in January, its debut delayed by creator and star Tina Fey's pregnancy.

VIDEO: Watch 2012 TV previews

It led off NBC's prime-time slot for the first time, airing at the top of the network's Thursday comedy block at 8 pm. It will reprise that slot next year.

NBC will follow "30 Rock" with "Up All Night" with mainstays "The Office" and "Parks and Recreation" rounding out its Thursday comedies.

Despite the exit of another "Office" cast member (Mindy Kaling, who leaves for a new sitcom on Fox) Greenblatt said the workplace show "still [has] creative juice," noting "explosive story twists" in the coming season.

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— Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Tina Fey as Liz Lemon in "30 Rock." Photo credit: Ali Goldstein / NBC

'Smash's' Christian Borle: Expect show to be 'rebooted' in Season 2

Christian Borle, who stars as Tom Levitt in NBC's "Smash," expects changes to the show in the second season
NEW YORK -- "Smash" fans wondering how the departure of show-runner Theresa Rebeck will affect the drama's second season could get an inkling of the changes by listening to Christian Borle, the actor who plays Broadway composer Tom Levitt on the NBC series.

"I just met [new show-runner] Josh Safran for the first time last week and kind of heard what was on the docket, and it's going to be a totally different ... show," Borle told Show Tracker, alluding to Rebeck's replacement as he used a profanity for emphasis. "The show is almost getting rebooted."

Borle said many of the changes to the show, whose season finale airs Monday night, are still taking shape, but one shift he's certain of -- and excited about -- is a deeper exploration of the things that go into staging a Broadway musical.

"What I think is going to happen with Season 2 is that it's actually going to delve more into the process of the creation and what the writing partnership is, the nuts and bolts of that room," he said. "We looked at it briefly in Season 1 but didn't really; it was kind of, in a way, a shorthand to get us to the next event."

The series has tried to strike a balance between depicting the creative process behind the show and showing the relationship shenanigans of those putting it on, with some viewers criticizing writers for overly soapy developments in the latter category.

Borle was having a snack at a diner down the street from the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, where he is logging as many as two performances daily of "Peter and the Starcatcher," his antic show about pirates and Peter Pan.

Despite the Broadway setting for "Smash," fans of the series get to see a different side of the 38-year-old in "Starcatcher," in which he plays Black Stache, a wisecrack-prone, over-the-top-villain with a penchant for physical comedy. (More on Borle's evolving dual-track career -- he just received his second career Tony nomination for the role -- on our sister blog Culture Monster shortly.)

For all the strong reviews of "Starcatcher," Borle's fictitious Broadway production on "Smash" has weathered criticisms, mainly from people who believe that it takes too many liberties with how a show actually gets put together.

"I've been interested to hear what people's thoughts have been. Some people's criticisms are valid and some people's, to my taste, are not," he said, smiling as he declined to elaborate further. "But it comes back to the same thing as a medical drama or a courtroom drama or a cop show. It's television -- you have to take leaps or people are not going to care."

Still, he did imagine the theater-making aspects that are evolving for the fall.

"What's true about Season 2 is that there's still a core group of people who ... love the theater and want to continue to talk about it as honestly and as truly as possible. But the mechanics are going to change. We shall see if it's for the better."

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-- Steven Zeitchik
twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Christian Borle and Anjelica Houston in "Smash." Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

AMC picks up 'Low Winter Sun,' LaGravenese-Goldwyn project

 

Lowwint

 

The network of "Mad Men" is feeling criminal.

AMC has given pilot orders for "Low Winter Sun," a crime drama based on a dark British miniseries, as well as a new legally themed show from Hollywood veterans Richard LaGravenese and Tony Goldwyn, according to people familiar with the projects who were not authorized to talk about them publicly.

Though both shows are only pilots at this point, there's a strong likelihood they'll end up on the network: AMC has never produced a pilot that it didn't later pick up to series. The new shows could be on the air by the end of next year.

"Cold Case" veteran Chris Mundy will act as writer, executive producer and show runner for "Sun," which examines corruption and revenge among police forces. Relocated from the U.K. to Detroit, it centers on a detective who kills a fellow cop, and the fallout and drama that ensues from that murder.

Produced by a subsidiary of the Dutch television giant Endemol, the original starred Mark Strong as the murderous detective and hit the airwaves six years ago in the United Kingdom, where it scored a BAFTA TV nomination for best drama. Endemol will co-produce the American version with AMC.

The as-yet-untitled LaGravenese/Goldwyn show is an original concept that will center on a district attorney who, when new edvidence comes to light years after the fact, reopens a high-profile murder case involving white defendants and black victims. The show, which will be produced by AMC, is expected to look at the case’s moral dimensions as much as the criminal ones, with an emphasis on racial themes

Oscar-nominated LaGravenese, known for writing films such as "The Fisher King" and "Water for Elephants," will executive produce and write the show. Goldwyn, who most recently directed a legal thriller when he helmed Hilary Swank’s “Conviction” in 2010, will serve as executive producer and director.

The new shows mark the latest turn for a network that, after years of staying away from established genres, tried a cop drama last year for the first time with "The Killing." (It also recently began airing CSI: Miami in syndication.) Despite their familiar settings, the new projects are expected to hew closer to the serialized "The Killing" in tone and character than to the self-contained procedurals on network television.

Among the projects on AMC's recent development slate that did not get picked up in this round were “Sacred Games,” a period Indian crime drama based on an epic novel, and “Turn,” a story of spies during the Revolutionary War; "Sacred Games" remains in development at the network. This marks the first time in its history that AMC is ordering two scripted pilots at one time.

AMC is coming off its biggest hit to date in "The Walking Dead," whose second-season finale last month drew nine million viewers. The network continues to garner acclaim for "Mad Men," which is currently in its fifth season. But executives have been eager to get new shows into the pipeline: AMC last ordered a new pilot nearly two years ago.

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-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Brian McCardie, left, and Mark Strong star in the British version of "Low Winter Sun." Credit: Channel 4

 

MTV: What you need to know about five new shows

Zachstone
NEW YORK -- MTV unveiled a not-so-pregnant-looking Snooki and a very-polished-sounding Alicia Keys at its annual upfront in this city's Beacon Theatre on Thursday. It also teased clips from a host of new shows that you’ll see roll out over the next year, everything from a docu-series about online dating to a scripted comedy about unemployment. Here are the takeaways on the five new series.

“Catfish” -- Neve Schulman stole Sundance Film Festival-goers' hearts as the charming, unusually credulous victim at the center of an online-dating hoax a couple of years back. Now he’s moving from subject to counselor as he helps everyday people explore  “what happens when you fall in love with someone you never met.” From the footage here, Schulman combs through a newly swooning person's online correspondence and takes them to their new paramour's house to see if the online lover is who they say they are. The footage suggested a reality-dating show -- someone falls in love with a person they’ve never met and barely know (it could almost be the “Bachelor”) -- meets “To Catch a Predator.” That's not necessarily a good thing.

“Wake Brothers” -- On its face, the idea of watching two surfer dudes, as Phil and Bob Soven are, fight to win wakeboarding competitions and top each other suggests a glorified look at an X-Games competition. But what could have been self-indulgent comes off as casual and funny, as the brothers — who also brought their act to the stage Thursday — enjoy plenty of genuinely zany and spontaneous moments.

“Underemployed” — A group of early twentysomethings struggle with love and employment in a post-college haze of self-doubt and entitlement. No , it’s not “Girls,” but “Underemployed,” MTV’s spin on the Millennials-adrift genre. Maybe it’s just that the show, from "Six Feet Under" veteran Craig Wright, is being introduced as the rough-around-the-edges “Girls” continues its run in the zeitgeist, but the clips of “Underemployed” showed a series far too slick and glib to be anything close to relatable. The one-liners didn’t quite land either.

“The Inbetweeners”—You’ve seen the types many times before in “Superbad,” “Project X” and other Judd Apatow and Todd Phillips films: teen boys who are not exactly nerdy but far away from cool bumble their way through life and love in high school. You’ll see them again in “Inbetweeners,” Brad Copeland’s adaptation of a British series.

“Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous”—With his showy manner and snarky style, the viral-video star Bo Burnham isn’t to everyone’s taste. But what he displayed in this scripted show—playing a version of himself as a young man trying to make it as an Internet star (complete with meta touches, like Stone filming scenes from his fictional life)--was funny and unusual.  If it doesn’t wear thin or push certain buttons too hard, MTV could have a sleeper on its hands.

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--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Bo Burnham in "Zach Stone is Gonna Be Famous." Credit: Sam Urdank/MTV

'Jersey Shore' spinoff 'Snooki & JWoww' to debut June 21

"Jersey Shore"

MTV announced Thursday it will debut “Jersey Shore” spinoff “Snooki & JWoww” on Thursday, June 21, at 10 p.m., and confirmed the earlier Show Tracker report that the show will be followed this season with teen-girl dramedy “Awkward,” which will premiere after the “Snooki” episode on June 28.

The network will also premiere the second season of its teen-genre series “Teen Wolf” on Sunday, June 3, following the MTV Movie awards at 11 p.m., and then follow it with a second hourlong part in the show's usual slot Monday at 10 p.m.

MTV made the announcement at its annual advertiser upfront, where it teased a number of new programs, including a reality series on wakeboarding champions, an adaptation of a British hit and an adaptation of a hit Sundance documentary.

The youth network touted the docu-series “Catfish,” which is based on the Sundance movie about the increasingly disturbing online relationship between a man and his long-distance girlfriend. It promoted “Wake Brothers,” a reality series with the wakeboard champions Phil and Bob Soven, and “In-Betweeners,” the Brad Copeland series about a group of high school boys struggling through adolescence. The show is a counterpoint of sorts to “Awkward.”

Presentations were also made on behalf of Craig Wright comedy “Underemployed” and the scripted comedy “Zach Stone is Gonna Be Famous,” which stars viral-video comedian Bo Burnham. No air dates were given for the new series.

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--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Snooki and JWoww in "Jersey Shore." Credit: MTV

MTV: 'Snooki & JWoww’ to offer 'new way of looking at pregnancy'

 

Snooki

Of all the people surprised when “Jersey Shore’s” Snooki revealed two months ago that she was pregnant, perhaps none were more taken aback than the executives at MTV.

The network’s toppers had been planning to ride the high jinx of Snooki and gal pal JWoww in a new spinoff series titled "Snooki & JWoww," and the idea of following one of its main characters as she spends many of her nights taking it easy at home -- sans alcohol, no less -- wasn’t exactly what they had in mind.

But the network also believed it could be sitting on a gold mine, and programmers set about crafting a series that would depict its main characters in an unexpected way.

“It’s a very different show -- it isn’t two single pals living in Jersey City anymore,” MTV President Stephen Friedman told Show Tracker of the upcoming summer series. “You’re going to see a very different side to both women -- not just Snooki but Jenni [JWoww], who has a real maternal side.” He added, perhaps with some understatement. “It’s a whole new way to look at pregnancy.”

Because the executives knew about the pregnancy before many of the “Jersey Shore” cast members did, they also, it seems, were able to capture reaction shots from various members of the cast. "We do have some of that,” Friedman said, a gleam in in his eye.

Friedman was speaking from his Midtown Manhattan office on Wednesday, a day before the Thursday-evening upfront presentation that will unveil the network’s plan for the next year, and particularly its summer 2012 bloc.

Among the more salient nuggets:

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'Downton Abbey' star: Season wasn't entirely 'to my taste' either

 

"Downton Abbey" star Elizabeth McGovern said the second season of the British costume drama contained many soap-opera elements, and that she's looking forward to a third season with quieter moments in the Yorkshire estate
After garnering huge buzz in its first season, Julian Fellowes' "Downton Abbey" alienated some critics and fans during its second season. Skeptics pointed to a barrage of soapy plot lines and implausible events (Matthew Crawley's post-war trauma, anyone?)

Surprisingly, at least one of the show's stars also feels ambivalent about what went down recently in Grantham-land.

Elizabeth McGovern, who plays the countess Cora Crawley in the costume drama, says she wasn't entirely pleased with the recent direction of the series about the aristocracy in turmoil, which wrapped up its most recent stateside run on PBS this past February.

"There is a slightly different tone to the second season, partly because the show had to deal with this huge elephant which is the First World War, and in some ways 'Downton Abbey' wasn't set up for that," McGovern told Show Tracker. "What's made the show successful and different is that attention to character detail and that's what the audience likes. ... Writers [in the second season] had to do a lot of glossing over the domestic life, and some of the small moments between characters that characterized the first season."

Then, acknowledging that fans felt a little fatigue at all the fast-moving events, McGovern said, "I was feeling that a little myself. It's kind of a taste thing, and the show in the first season was more to my taste than the show in the second season."

Speaking to promote her Tribeca Film Festival costume drama "Cheerful Weather for the Wedding" (more on that shortly), McGovern said  that "Downton Abbey's" third season will return to the character-oriented roots, as the series picks up after the Great War in 1920. The new season has been shooting in England this spring.

McGovern waved aside reports that new BAFTA nominee Maggie Smith, who plays the scheming Violet Crawley, could be off the show anytime soon. "You're going to see a lot of her in the third season, a real collision of worlds between Maggie and Shirley MacLaine," McGovern said, alluding to the Oscar winner's new part as Cora Crawley's mother.

Born in Illinois, McGovern had a successful run as a film and theater actress in the U.S. before moving to Britain and becoming a television star. She says she is as confounded as anyone by the stateside success of "Downton," which attracted more than 5 million American viewers for its finale.

But she does have a few theories about its success -- namely, that it's a reaction to much of what's on American basic cable.

"Maybe it's an escape from what I perceive as the nastiness of a lot of television that's just trying to be cutting edge, the things very prevalent on TV today with everyone trying to outshock each other," she said. "There's a nastiness that's happened. I think there's something about 'Downton Abbey' that people find it to be relieving -- essentially that these characters are quite nice."

She paused. "And the lack of texting and mobile phones. I think people find that to be a real relief too."

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-- Steven Zeitchik in New York
twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Elizabeth McGovern and Jim Carter in "Downton Abbey." Credit: PBS

'Mad Men' and 'Walking Dead' come together again [Video]

For use on external sites w/exclusive video premieres.

One wouldn't automatically think that "Mad Men" and "The Walking Dead" would share a huge fan base. One's a show about lethal moves in the business world; the other is simply about the undead.

But "The Walking Dead" will feature a shout-out to Don Draper and the Sterling Cooper crowd when it airs its season finale this Sunday. As Rick & Co try to fend off the walkers, the network will showcase a new teaser spot for "Mad Men" that riffs on the "Dead." (You can watch it above.) The spot follows a promo during last week's "Walking Dead" episode in which a "Dead"-like voiceover jokily alludes to a small group struggling to survive (the ad agency staffers) and one man (Draper) keeping them safe.

Though relatively quick, the new "Men"-centric spot offers a visual ode to the "Dead"--think rising and walking--as well as borrowing its musical theme. "Zombies are back," the ad pronounces, riffing on "Mad Men's" larger campaign about everything else --Draper, envy, adultery--being back when the drama's fifth season kicks off March 25.

There's a reason why AMC is using "Walking Dead" as a "Mad Men" marketing platform." The Jon Hamm series is looking to maintain its strong fourth-season ratings as it ramps back up again after a 17-month layoff. "Walking Dead" offers a good weapon--it's a large audience, and it's a young audience.

Do executives worry that those who follow the genre series aren't necessarily concerned with the exploits of the '60s smoking set? "'Walking Dead' has a passionate audience base and 'Mad Men' has a passionate audience base," AMC senior vice-president of marketing Linda Schupack told Show Tracker. "And both of them care about great character drama."

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--Steven Zeitchik

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'Mad Men': John Slattery toasts new business, season [video]

For use on external sites w/exclusive video premieres.

To prime the pump for the return of "Mad Men" on March 25, AMC is running a number of spots both on and off its network. In the latest teaser, which will be airing in off-network venues, marketers remind us that Don, Peggy, Betty and the rest of the gang will be back — as are, needless to say, envy, secrets, adultery and other series elements we know well. You can get a first look at the video by clicking on the player above.

Titled "Good to Be Back," the spot shows a host of characters up to various shenanigans while song lyrics like "I feel like a new man" can be heard in the background.

"To new business," John Slattery's Roger Sterling toasts. Indeed.

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— Steven Zeitchik

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'Mad Men:' New trailer asks if fans missed Don Draper [Video]

For use on external sites w/exclusive video premieres.

The upcoming return of "Mad Men" has fans licking their lips for all things Don Draper. Among the many plot turns to look forward to when the show restarts with a two-hour premiere on March 25?  Draper's marriage proposal to Megan, and the small matter of Joan's baby (and Greg's inevitable disillusionment when he realizes it's not his).

But promoting a show that's been gone for more than 17 months isn't easy. AMC has taken several tacks to tease the upcoming fifth season, the most playful of which has been to, well, acknowledge that the series has been gone a while.

In the exclusive new digital trailer (you can see it above; check back at Show Tracker later today and Wednesday for first looks at other spots), the network set footage from past episodes of the series against Wanda Jackson's 1957 hit "Did You Miss Me?" (Lyrics: "Did you miss me while I was gone/Did you want to kiss me when you were alone?")

In the spot, you can see shots of the show's iconic characters smiling, scheming and, of course, smoking (not to mention engaging in various forms of steamy behavior). The trailer will go out later this week on a number of digital platforms.

Network executives said that rather than pretend everything is picking up where it left off, they decided to nod to the long lag -- and do a double-entendre that could also apply to several character dynamics within the series.

"We wanted to acknowledge that the show's been away a while," Linda Schupack, senior vice president of marketing for AMC, told Show Tracker. "The song works on multiple levels."

Of course, fans might expect some Sterling Cooper-level talent in the "Mad Men" spots -- it's a show whose characters spend their days dreaming up clever advertising campaigns.

For fans scrutinizing the teaser for clues about the new season, there's no new footage from the show -- as a rule, the Matthew Weiner-created series doesn't offer that in its teasers that run before the season starts. But AMC hopes the new montage will allow fans to fill in the blanks themselves.

"The campaign is very simple. But the appeal of 'Mad Men' is that it's powerful enough that people can bring their own thoughts ... to the canvas," Schupack said.

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-- Steven Zeitchik
twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

ESPN's 'The Announcement' relives Magic Johnson's bleakest hour

Magic
The NCAA men's basketball tournament will give sports viewers plenty of hoops to feast on in the coming weeks. But before that happens, ESPN has a more serious subject to address: Earvin "Magic" Johnson's disclosure on Nov. 7, 1991, that he had HIV.

In the documentary film "The Announcement"--which ESPN will premiere on Sunday night after the NCAA selects the teams for this year's tournament--director Nelson George examines the Lakers point guard's stunning revelation from a variety of standpoints (including the player's own, as he addresses the camera in a recent interview from an empty Forum).

It's impossible not to remember the bombshell Forum press conference that autumn Thursday, and, like the JFK assassination or Challenger explosion, where we were when we heard it. "The Announcement" shows what happened behind the scenes: how Johnson learned of his illness, the anxiety over telling family and teammates and the fallout that occurred once he did. The film uses a similar format to many of the network's "30 for 30" films--talking-head interviews, prominent music cues, archival footage--to tell a story that most of us, it turns out, know only superficially.

At a screening in downtown Los Angeles last week, just a stone's throw from where the Lakers now play, Johnson was in attendance, beaming his million-dollar smile as he introduced the movie and shouting out to sponsors who had made the film and its promotion possible. There were many, and Johnson was happy to name-check them all..

Then he got serious for a moment. "Andre was the one who had to go through a lot when you think of 20 years ago," Johnson said, referring to his son, who was 10 at the time of the announcement and was in attendance at the screening. "He didn't know if [his] dad was going to be here."

The network has also been promoting the documentary heavily--commentators reminisced about the surreal period during a break in the Big West championship Saturday night, for instance--and it's easy to see why.

In the film,  we see Johnson and his likable brio as he emerges as a phenom from Michigan State. "I don't know if everyone feels they were born to do something...but I did," he recalls. The winning, and hard-partying culture, surrounding the '80s and early '90s Lakers is on display, expressed through the recollections of celebrities such as Chris Rock. Then Johnson is given the news, and a good-times story suddenly turns dismal. Johnson grapples with the diagnosis, then watches as the NBA and the world grapple too.

Indeed, like "The Fab Five," the network's post-selection film from last year, "The Announcement" takes a scalpel to larger social issues. In this case, it's the fear of AIDS, expressed via the likes of Karl Malone, who declared that it was unfair for Johnson to play because Malone wouldn't feel comfortable guarding him. To watch "The Announcement" is to call to mind a time when a hero was suddenly vulnerable (not to mention a Lakers dynasty abruptly imperiled) but also to remind ourselves of a larger social anxiety over a virus we were only beginning to understand.

"The Announcement" is also deeply personal, a document of a magnetic character and his reaction to terrible news. "I wasn’t scared to announce it; I wasn’t scared of the media. What I was scared of is… would I see [friends and teammates] again?” he says in the film.

Nor is Johnson (treated with a fair degree of hagiography)  the only protagonist: his wife, Cookie, who Laker fans will remember well from the announcement, gets ample screen time and emerges as a three-dimensional character,  first wary, then supportive.

AIDS expert David Ho notes in the film that the drug cocktail Johnson has taken has given the star an immune system nearly identical to that of a person without the virus. Johnson, who has had a successful second career as an entrepreneur behind movie theaters and restaurants, suggests this is  a blessing and a curse: a blessing because it shows what is possible to accomplish with HIV and a curse because it blunts the cautionary aspects of his story.

Sitting in a downtown Los Angeles movie theater watching Johnson look as healthy as ever, though, it was hard not to focus on the former.

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--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Earvin "Magic" Johnson making the announcement on Nov. 7, 1991. Credit: ESPN

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