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Z on TV Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV
Cancer documentary featuring Hopkins takes risks, reaps rewards

"Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies" is one of the biggest, boldest, bravest and, ultimately, most inspiring documentaries I have ever seen.

Set in large part at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins Hospital, the PBS film from producer Ken Burns and director Barak Goodman is big, at an estimated cost of $13 million, and bold in taking on nothing less than the history of cancer and research efforts to conquer the deadly disease from the Middle Ages on.

But what makes this production so daring, inspirational and worthy of six prime-time hours Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are the personal stories Goodman and his team found at Hopkins among the patients, family members, doctors, nurses and researchers with whom the film crews embedded. Great documentaries are usually the result of access gained, wise choices made and great risks taken, and "The Emperor of All Maladies" is steeped in all three, thanks in large part to the verite treatment of these personal sagas.

One story features 14-month-old...

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First look at a final struggle for the soul of 'Mad Men'

I can’t believe how cold the opening episode of the last season of “Mad Men” left me.

How did I once love this series so much and how could I now be so indifferent to its final stretch of seven episodes that begins April 5 on AMC?

Creator Matthew Weiner, who wrote the April 5 episode, sent along a letter with all the story lines he doesn’t want reviewers talking about. By the time you get to “Don’s romantic life,” there is not much left on the table for discussion.

If I even mention the title of the opening song, I’m giving away the year in which the episode is set, and that’s another thing Weiner says is a no-no.

That’s OK. I don’t want to be accused of spoiling any fan’s pleasure.

I fell out of love with this series when it stopped aspiring to be The Great American Novel and settled for being The Great American Glossy Magazine Cover – or maybe just a sexy and pretty catalog cover for men’s and women’s clothing.

In other words, “Mad Men” lost me when it became more artifice, staging...

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New Ken Burns documentary features Hopkins cancer care unit

A new Ken Burns-produced documentary on cancer premiering on PBS later this month features several patient stories and interviews conducted with clinicians and scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, "Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies" will air nationwide on PBS stations on March 30, March 31 and April 1. The six-hour documentary, for which Burns was the executive producer and chief creative consultant, will air in three two-hour episodes at 9 p.m. each night.

The Cancer Center was one of two facilities where documentarians filmed clinicians and patients "in their daily journey with cancer," according to a news release on the project from the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center office of public affairs.

Dr. William Nelson, the center's director, was quoted in the news release as saying, "Because cancer is so feared and is now ranked by the World Health Organization as the deadliest of all diseases, we...

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Hits like 'Empire' signal major shift in look of network TV

Diversity sells.

That's the takeaway from the 2014-2015 network TV season. And as a result, primetime network television, the largest stage in American popular culture, is never going to be as white again.

From "Empire" on Fox to "How to Get Away with Murder" on ABC, the networks bet bigger than ever on series featuring nonwhite characters in leading or featured roles this year, and as the season enters its homestretch, they are reaping the rewards.

Working within a business model where as many as four out of five new series are regularly canceled, the networks are batting almost .500 in the number of rookie shows featuring characters of color that will likely be renewed.

CW has already announced a second season for the telenovela-cum-sitcom "Jane The Virgin," with Latina leading character Jane Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez). ABC has not made it official yet, but star Viola Davis and the producers of ABC's "How to get Away with Murder" have let fans know that the series from creator...

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Former WBFF reporter Melinda Roeder joins CBS affiliate in Atlanta

Melinda Roeder, winner of 12 regional Emmys while at WBFF (Fox45), is joining WGCL-TV, the CBS affiliate in Atlanta, she said today.

Roeder left the Sinclair-owned station in late December in the wake of Fox45 airing a misleading video of a Washington protest that falsely depicted protesters as chanting, "kill a cop."

"They terminated my contract without cause," Roeder said in a Sun interview at the time, referring to one of several actions taken by WBFF management in the wake of airing the video.

Roeder, who joined WBFF in 2007, won seven Edward R. Murrow awards in addition to the Emmys. The last three years, she often worked with producer Stephen Janis, who told the Sun Sunday that he is leaving the station at the end of the week to join The Real News Network.

"I'm excited to be working in a top 10 market, but most importantly, I will be working again for a general manager that I worked for years ago in Lexington, Kentucky," Roeder said in an email to The Sun. "He's obviously...

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Kevin Spacey to produce, host CNN docu-series on presidential campaigns

It looks like Kevin Spacey can't get enough of the Oval Office.

The Academy-Award-winning actor who is now starring in Season 3 of "House of Cards" as President Frank Underwood is going to produce and host a six-part documentary about presidential campaigns to air on CNN in 2016.

I had mixed feelings about CNN President Jeff Zucker's commitment to documentaries when his first slate of productions was announced. But outside of a serious mis-step or two, like CNN airing a love song to George H.W. Bush, "41 On 41," which was funded by Bush's presidential library, Zucker's documentary effort has brought better ratings to CNN and some culturally informative programming to cable news TV in general.

Here's the press release from CNN. The talk about "dramatic recreations" sends a chill up my journalistic spine, but I'll tune in based on the talent involved to see where Spacey takes it.

Academy Award winning actor and producer Kevin Spacey will bring a thrilling, six-part mini docu-series to...

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