Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

Showtime having serious series success

There was a time when premium cable channels counted on feature films to attract subscribers. Those days are long gone when it comes to Showtime. The network concentrates more on original series – “Nurse Jackie,” “The Affair,” “Masters of Sex,” “Homeland,” “Shameless,” “Penny Dreadful” – to fill the schedule.

David Nevins, President, Showtime Networks Inc., met with TV critics the day after “The Affair” picked up two Golden Globes Awards. Here are highlights of what he told TV critics:

QUESTION: What makes a perfect Showtime series?

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Amanda Peet once lived near yellow river

“Togetherness,” the new HBO series airing at 9:30 p.m. Sundays, is a look at four adults who end up living under the same roof. Along with a bathroom, they share the same confusion and frustrations about how their lives have not gone the way as they expected.

The four adults are played by Mark Duplass, Melanie Lynskey, Steve Zississ and Amanda Peet.

When it comes to facing the realities of chasing a dream, Peet knows those feelings well.

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CBS has reason to brag about lineup

CBS took over the TV Critics tour with a little bit of bragging. Network president, Nina Tassler, points out that CBS has the top three new shows with “NCIS: New Orleans,” “Madam Secretary” and “Scorpion.” The newtork only launched five new shows. That means “Stalker” and “The McCarthys” aren’t doing as well.

Here are some other highlights from Tassler’s meeting with TV critics.

QUESTION: Stephen Colbert takes over David Letterman’s slot on Sept. 8. Letterman ends his show May 20, what will you be doing during the summer?

NINA TASSLER: What we’re going to be doing this summer is we have a great opportunity to run encore presentations of our new hit shows and our enduring hit shows. So we’re going to be running our primetime, some of our shows from primetime during the summer at 11:30.

Q: Why is “Supergirl” a good fit for CBS?

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Is this guy hotter than your girlfriend?

File this one under news of the weird. Reporter Jim Guy’s story today about a pair of back-to-back robberies at the Super Mall on Olive Avenue and Golden State Boulevard (the former Kmart) is bizarre enough. You can read the full story here, but here’s the Cliffs Notes version of what the cops say happened: Some guys stole some jewelry from the store. As a security guard left to chase them, another guy snatched a woman’s purse in the store. One of the first robbers happened to have a gunshot wound from a separate incident last weekend. And the guy who stole the purse jumped into a stranger’s car in the mistaken belief the driver would help him get away when instead he took him back to the cops instead.

But the best part of this odd tale is in the photo Jim Guy took. The alleged purse snatcher is wearing a T-shirt that reads “Hotter than your girlfriend.” I’m pretty sure that shirt is meant for a woman, first of all. But I’ll let you decide if the T-shirt’s sentiment is true.

And now there’s “Blanche,” the second track from Slim Bone Head Volt

In mid-December Vincent D’Onofrio gave the world the first track from Slim Bone Head Volt, a punk rock spoken word project the actor started with multi-instrumentalist Dana Lyn. The track was instantly one of my favorites of 2014 and on repeat (literally) for days.

Yesterday, the group debuted a second track.

It has me soooo excited for the full album, out March 3.

If “Hampster” represented the punk of the project, “Blanche” is the spoken word. What the song lacks in frenetic motion, it makes up for with haunting string work from Lyn and D’Onofrio’s voice (hints of Henry Rollins?) and poetics.

“The loves of my life are unspoken and spoken all at the same time. In a different time. Is now the time? I’m wet with time.”

The song is streaming now on the blog site Consequence of Sound.

For ‘MythBusters,’ it’s man or mouse

It was a dozen years ago that Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage started looking at myths and legends with the Discovery Channel’s “MythBusters.” Of the 960 challenges they’ve faced, 516 have been busted. It’s myths they never expected to be true that has surprised them the most.

Hyneman tells TV critics that it was a bit of a shock that elephants are actually afraid of mice.

Savage goes on to explain that were in South Africa filming with great white sharks in False Bay that leap all the way out of the water when they went after the elephant myth.

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Local rap duo merge movies and music

In my first column of the 2015, I predicted this would be a big year for hip-hop in Fresno.

My analysis was based on the mainstreaming of hip-hop (both in pop culture and in the local scene) and the rise of standout local talent.

I mentioned Fashawn and others in a short list that I prefaced with the fact that others were left out. For instance: Shake da Mayor and Diego Redd, two rappers have have been representing Fresno for a decade, at least.

Shake was part of the well-known rap group Skhool Yard with Planet Asia and Kubiq. Some will remember his song “Stunna Shades.”

Redd is know for hits like “In the ‘No.”

The pair got some notice of their own in 2014 for their collaboration, 99 North, which was featured in a full-length hop-hop musical of the same name released in October.

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Brec Bassinger gets kick out of ‘Bella’

Brec Bassinger grew up in Texas where high school football is almost a religion. Before the 15-year-old actress moved to Los Angeles, she was a cheerleader. Since football is so beloved, the natural question for her was whether the same pressures were put on girls to go into cheerleading.

“I don’t know if it’s, like, assumed that every girl will try out. Because the school I come from, everyone wanted to do volleyball, like very spread out,” Bassinger says during an interview at the television critics tour going on currently in Pasadena. “But I did become a cheerleader.”

It’s a good thing she became a cheerleader because those skills will help the Texans with her new Nickelodeon series, “Bella and the Bulldogs.” It launches at 8 p.m. Saturday, January 17, on the cable channel.

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CW success comes in a ‘Flash’

The CW kicked off the network portion of the TV Critics Winter Press Tour. In the past, the news hasn’t always been good but the CW has found a formula that is working. “The Flash” is it’s highest rated show ever and the upcoming “iZombie” looks like a solid hit.

Mark Pedowitz, President of the CW Network, met with critics for a mid-season state of the CW talk. Here are some of the highlights.

QUESTION: Is this the last season of “Hart of Dixie”?

MARK PEDOWITZ: Not necessarily. We’re going to see the ratings. We were happy to launch the show in December. It was a little fun holiday gift for the fans as well as getting an opportunity to see how it plays with “Jane the Virgin.” It starts its next original run this coming Friday. We are happy to see how it plays. If it ends, there’s a great finale. If it doesn’t end, there’s a great season finale, but we’re not committed one way or the other yet.

Q: Are you looking at any more DC properties, and are you looking at any other Warner’s properties? Have you ever had discussions about “Lord of the Rings” or anything out of that universe as a series?

MP: We’ve had no discussions on “Lord of the Rings.” I believe that’s a very strong theatrical property that is staying put at the moment with the studio and the feature film side. In terms of DC properties, we are having some preliminary discussions in terms of expanding “The Flash”/”Arrow” universe, but we have not yet fully vetted them out, and that’s really about the extent I can talk about it.

Q: If and when there were to be another “Star Trek” series, would you go afetr it for the CW?

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Here’s what’s up with Pinot Wine Bar

Pinot Wine Bar in the Tower District has been closed for a while now and some of you have been wondering what’s up. The picture at right is the sign that’s posted in the window.

Well, here’s what I know. A while back Juan Leija bought the business from Daniel Renteria, the wine lover who founded it, as Daniel wanted to spend a little more time enjoying his retirement. Leija has said from the beginning that he planned to shut down for a few weeks, do some work inside and reopen under a new name and concept. That’s happening a little sooner than expected, sped along by the transfer of the liquor license. 

“Pinot in and of itself as wine bar is no longer in existence,” Leija says.

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Roger Perry’s latest recordings were pure inspiration … and maybe some caffeine

Roger Perry spent the first 71 hours of the New Year sitting in a little room on the side of his house recording the 10 songs that make up “In My Way,” the CD he’s releasing tonight at Audie’s Olympic Tavern.

“I accidentally took Vitamin C with caffeine,” says Perry, a longtime Fresno musician and well known singer and guitarist.

That would do it.

The album was inspired by the Joe Simon song “Nine Pound Steal,” which Perry stumbled upon while clicking through Youtube. It’s what Perry describes as “real music” — simple production sans any crazy digital affects.

“And he could really sing,” Perry says.

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Five Things You Should Do This Weekend

You could go watch some dudes climb a rock. Or …

1. “Force Majeure
Another beautiful foreign film presented by Fresno Filmworks. This one’s a swede, an actual Swedish movie, not the kind we’re known for.

2. “Inherent Vice
The new film from the guy who did “Magnolia.”

3. Fatty Cakes “Live at the Kirby”
An in-store performance at Tower District Records.

4. Judy Collins
The inspiration for CSN’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” is as busy as ever.

5. Fresno Fuego v. SJ Earthquakes PDL
Pre-season kickoff for Fresno’s official soccer team. It’s a “friendly match” (quotes not mine).

For a full list of music-specific event, be sure to see this week’s BANDGEEEK roundup.

Singer Judy Collins keeps as busy as ever

Judy Collins is multitasking.

She excuses herself from our phone interview and leaves me on the line for a minute to take care of a quick work session. It just popped up and she didn’t want to bother with rescheduling.

Besides, she’s used to handling multiple things at once.

“I’m always balancing five or six things,” says Collins, in advance of her show Saturday night at the Tower Theatre.

At 75 years old, the singer/songwriter/author/actress is a workaholic.

The list of things on her current to-do list includes putting the final touches on a new book (she’s just turned it over to her agent), recording a PBS show for late summer (a follow up to her show at The Metropolitan Museum Of Art in 2009 and last year’s concert at Dromoland Castle in Ireland), starting promotions for the re-release of “Antonia: A Portrait of the Woman” (the documentary she produced in 1974. It earned an Oscar nomination) and finishing a series of recording projects.

That’s ignoring the 100-plus live shows she does each year.

“I’m busy, busy, busy,” she says.

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BANDGEEK: Haunted Summer, Mane Horse and Dictators NYC

Sad to say, it’ll still be another 10 years (at least) before you’ll get to take high-speed rail anywhere to see a good show. That’s fine though, because there is plenty to see right here, right now. I’ve collected this week’s music options in another installment of BANDGEEEEEK!


  • The Notones.
    After Art-Hop party. At Peeve’s Public House. 9 p.m. Free.

  • Karen Marguth and David Aus.
    The Art of the Song. At Bloo Hookah Lounge. 7 p.m. Free. (Flier link)

  • Where the Sidewalk Ends.
    W/Brave City, Santa Mira and Brave At Last. At CYC. 7 p.m. $5. All ages. (Flier link)

  • Mane Horse.
    W/Stateless, Meet me in Montauk, Sleep Spindles, Cabin Fire and Chokeslam. At The Escape to Milf Mountain. 6 p.m. $2. (Flier link)

  • EZ Mark’s Honky Tonk.
    At Full circle Brewing Company. 5:30 p.m. Free.

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    Coachella announces 2015 lineup with AC/DC and …Steely Dan?

    The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival just released the lineup for its 2015 festival, which takes place over the second and third weekends in April.

    It’s what we’ve come to expect from the annual mega-music festival. Much of the three days will be full of obscure (and less obscure) indie rock, pop, hip-hop and electronic music with the headlining spots going Drake, Jack White and … AC/DC.

    That last one comes as a bit of a shock, seeing as the band retired a key member (and almost lost another). Of course, they also released a new album that is getting good reviews.

    Still, the band seems a bit outside the festival’s wheelhouse (as does Steely Dan, which plays late in the day both Fridays). You can see the full-lineup of bands on the festival’s website.

    If you’re looking to go, passes for both weekends (or whatever is left after the pre-sales) will be available at noon tomorrow.

    I won’t go through the full lineup and list my favorites, but I will put out a wish list for area promoters (who often get Coachella bands stopping through on the way to or from the festival).

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    THEATER REVIEW: ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’

    With age can come money, knowledge, wisdom and a newfound grace when performing the dance we call life.

    But as you get older, you lose something special: the ability to think of your future as endless. The path to come no longer stretches out as far as you can see, as it does for the young, with tantalizing (and, yes, often scary) possibilities. With age comes the knowledge that you’ve already made many of the important choices in life.

    Christopher Durang’s spiffy “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” given a rousing performance by Good Company Players at the 2nd Space Theatre, is quite funny, no question about it. In this good-natured homage to Anton Chekhov, Durang mashes together characters and storylines from that towering playwright’s best known works into a happy, silly melange.

    You thought Chekhov was gloomy? In many ways, this present-day outing, set in a “lovely farmhouse” in Bucks County, Penn., is more like a sugar high.

    There’s something more, though. Durang doesn’t push it hard, but a finely honed bittersweet sensibility gives an edge to the play that makes it all the more excellent. Vanya (played by Michael Peterson), Sonia (Joyce Anabo) and Masha (Jennifer Hurd-Peterson), three unhappy siblings, are all grappling with being at least halfway, if not more, through their life journey. And they’re all wondering if they could have done things differently.

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    Alien Ant Farm plays ’50 Shades of Blaze’ Valentine’s show at Fulton 55

    On the heels of this morning’s Catacomb Party lineup announcement, word comes that alt-rock/metal band Alien Art Farm will return to Fulton 55 Feb. 14 for the “50 Shades of Blaze Valentine’s Ball.”

    The show, sponsored by 105.1 the Blaze, in conjunction with the Artourtage promotions team, will feature performances on both floors of the venue from eight local acts including the return of the rock band Stoneshiver, plus Sharks of Dance, Llama Boy and more. Tickets for the show are $20 and on sale now.

    Alien Ant Farm is best known (to me at least) for its funked-up metal version of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.” The band has a new album in the works, which is available for pre-order.

    Get nostalgic and check out the video for “Smooth Criminal” on the jump.

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    Catacomb Party announces partial lineup for 2015 festival

    There was a special pre-annoucement of the Catacomb Party 2015 lineup during its New Years Eve party last week.

    Today, we get the official word of the lineup, well the first round of bands, at least, with more to come.

    It includes its share of locals (with rapper Zee Will as the main draw), plus Fresno-by-proxy band The Stone Foxes and Goldboot, who should be well know to local indie-rock audiences. Leading the list is Chicago songwriter Tom Krell, who performs under the moniker How to Dress Well.

    HTDW may not be a household name, but the guy has strong credibility with those who follow what’s hip. His album “What is this Heart,” received raves on Pitchfork. It received at 8.8 (out of 10)rating. It was also No. 4 on Urban Outfitters list of best albums in 2014.

    Click through the jump to hear a track from How to Dress Well and to see the full list of announced bands. Who has you excited?

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    Donald’s Top 20 Cultural Events of 2014

    Here’s my Sunday column. As always, your thoughts are appreciated.

    UPDATE 01/05: Here’s a bare-bones version of my list:

    1. “The Addams Family,” Good Company Players.
    2. George Akina’s farewell performance in “The King and I,” Good Company Players. 
    3. “Cancer Chronicles,” Chris Sorensen Studio. 
    4. Sarah Chang, Fresno Philharmonic. 
    5. Annette Corcoran, Fresno Art Museum. 
    6. Faure Requiem, Fresno Community Chorus Master Chorale. 
    7. Camille Gaston in “The Mountaintop,” StageWorks Fresno.
    8. Jeannette L. Herrera at Arte Americas. 
    9. The national tour of “Jersey Boys.” 
    10. “Les Miserables,” Fresno Grand Opera. 
    11. “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” College of the Sequoias.
    12. “The Normal Heart,” StageWorks Fresno. 
    13. “The Nutcracker,” Fresno Ballet Theatre and Central California Ballet.
    14. Garrick Ohlsson, Keyboard Concerts. 
    15. “Raw Meat and Dignity,” Fresno Dance Collective (NOCO). 
    16. “The Taming of the Shrew,” Woodward Shakespeare Festival. 
    17. Taylor 2 Dance Company, Tower Theatre.
    18. “Turning Pages: Intersections of Books & Technology,” Fresno State’s Madden Library. 
    19. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” Artists’ Repertory Theatre. 
    20. Wu Man, Fresno Philharmonic.

    People’s Choice: “Summer Soire,” Fresno Dance Collective (NOCO) and Fresno Philharmonic. 

    For “best of” list fans, here are a couple more to peruse focusing on the local theater scene: Lorie Lewis Ham of Kings River Life magazine and Marc Gonzalez of The Road to 1,000.

    Facebook photo of the day: Baby jaguar and photographer version

    Sometimes, Bee photographers get really fun assignments. This photo is proof.

    This is Bee photographer Craig Kohlruss, who was getting some photos of the baby jaguars for this story at Project Survival’s Cat Haven in eastern Fresno County. Staff gave him permission to get right in the enclosure with the 2-month-old jaguars. They climbed all over Craig and Cat Haven president Wendy Debbas snapped this shot. The jaguars are named Nacho (the black one) and Libre (the spotted one) after the Jack Black movie “Nacho Libre.” 

    Keep scrolling for a video of them at play, which I guarantee will be the cutest thing you see all day. 

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    ‘Downton Abbey’ season opener hot affair

    Unless you have been cheating and looking at episodes of “Downton Abbey” that have already aired in England, you finally can watch a episodes from season five starting at 9 p.m. Jan. 4 on Channel 18.1.

    If your plan is to watch the entire season of the popular series, you can’t miss the opener. There aren’t a lot of big moments, but the episode does build a very firm foundation for an interesting year.

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    “Hillbillies” star, Donna Douglas, dies

    One of the great joys of this job has been the chance to interview actors I watched on TV when I was younger. And, yes there was TV when I was younger.

    Generally, it has been a good experience as the actor will talk about what it was like to work in TV long before the era of DVDs, On Demand and the countless other ways to watch programming.

    There were a couple of opportunities over the years to talk with Donna Douglas, who played Elly May Clampett, on “The Beverly Hillbillies.” The actress died Thursday at the age of 81.

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    Jumping for ‘Vanya’

    Many thanks to Benjamin Rawls, aka The Man Without a Shirt, who appears in the new Good Company Players production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” opening tonight (Jan. 2) at the 2nd Space Theatre. We asked the four leading actors to come down to the Bee photo studio as we attempted to replicate the iconic “Vanya” branding from the play’s recent Tony Award-winning run on Broadway. Rawls had to jump up and down many, many times to get the shot. Here’s the resulting photo of Joyce Anabo, left, Michael Peterson, Jennier Hurd-Peterson and Rawls, by Bee photographer Eric Paul Zamora:

    And here’s the Broadway image:

    Here’s your preschool-level First Quiz of the New Year, because it’s always good to ease slowly into new things: What is the significant change we made between the Good Company photo and the Broadway photo?

    You can also read a rollicking interview with Jennnifer Hurd-Peterson and Michael Peterson, a real-life married couple who play siblings in the play, here.

    Theater guide 2015: so many shows to see

    As part of my coverage of the first new play of the 2015 theater season, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” at the 2nd Space Theatre, I included (what I hope) is a comprehensive roundup of the Valley theater scene. (Remember that some companies organize their seasons using the academic calendar and haven’t yet picked their fall shows.) “Into the Woods” and “Mary Poppins” are very popular this year.

    You can refer to my list in my roundup from today’s 7 section. I’ve also copied it here for easy reference on the Beehive.

    Barn Theatre, Porterville

    • “Lilies of the Field,” Jan. 16-Feb. 1

    • “Greater Tuna,” March 27-April 5

    • “Death of a Salesman,” May 29-June 14


    Broadway in Fresno

    • “Camelot,” Jan. 13-14

    • “Guys and Dolls,” March 4-5

    • “Alton Brown Live!”, March 17

    • “Mamma Mia,” April 1-2

    • “The Book of Mormon,” July 14-19


    Pictured: Christy Hathaway plays the title role in The Raisin’ Cain Players production of ‘Mary Poppins,’ opening Jan. 8 in Selma.

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