Rick Bentley

Hollywood Notebook: Impressive ‘American Crime’ continues; ‘The Muppets’ couple crisis


A year ago, it looked like network television was on the ropes. Providers such as Netflix, Hulu, Crackle and Amazon were producing the kind of quality shows only network executives would see in their dreams. But the networks didn’t buckle. They fought back with programming ranging from campy soap “Empire,” which took over water cooler conversations, to strong action show “The Flash.”

There were also quality programs such as “American Crime,” which took a new approach to the network way of doing business. Instead of forcing a series creator to make 22 episodes, a more modest order of 10 episodes was produced. That meant the quality level was much stronger from beginning to end.

“American Crime” was presented that way and the ABC drama, from Oscar-winning writer John Ridley, brought back quality to the network. “American Crime” picked up 10 Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Limited Series; Felicity Huffman for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series; Timothy Hutton for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series; Regina King for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series; Richard Cabral for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series; and Ridley for Outstanding Writing in a Limited Series.

King picked up the Emmy.

“What made the Emmy nominations so special is that people really looked at all aspects of what we were trying to do in front of thee camera, behind the camera,” Ridley says. “They found value not only in people like Tim who has a lot of experience, but also in Richard, who is so new.”

ABC top executive Paul Lee says that a new round of “American Crime” will be back, and while many of the characters are returning, the story is completely different.

“This one is going to be based in an elite school, and it’s going to be the balance between education at an elite school and at a public school. The story is incredibly interesting, really good,” Lee says.

Ridley is a little concerned about trying to do a follow-up because the first production set such a high bar.

“The first 10 were an experiment,” Ridley says. “You don’t know if you are going to get past the writing stage, get a pilot, get on the air. It got on the air and the people were watching. We are tackling a subject matter that I hope we can cover with a high degree of sensitivity but with a great level of exploration.”

Power couple falls apart

The Muppets have returned to television with a new series on ABC. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and the rest of the gang. It took some last-minute negotiations to get the show on the air.

Miss Piggy was the holdout.

I don’t normally like writing about the personal lives of celebrities, but Kermit and Miss Piggy have been such a moving story for so many years that anything about their lives is big news. The fact they have gone their separate ways is as big as if Brad and Angelina had ended their relationship. It’s really bigger.

Kermit tries to explain what happened.

“People change, so do frogs and pigs. We were together for a long, long time, and it’s personal. I don’t want to go into it too much. There will be an official statement released. Meanwhile, I don’t want to betray anything,” Kermit says.

Kermit has moved on and has started dating Denise. She’s a pig who works in marketing at ABC.

“You know, she’s a pig. I do have an attraction to pigs,” Kermit says.

Miss Piggy has also moved on and is now an item with Topher Grace. Kermit isn’t bothered because he and Miss Piggy have an entirely professional relationship.

“I am taking a behind-the-scenes role in Piggy’s show as the executive producer,” Kermit says, to which Miss Piggy adds, “Yes. Very behind the scenes.”

Kermit goes on to say, “We’re both professional adults. I think.”

Miss Piggy counters, “I have no problem working with my ex.”

How well they work together is being revealed on “The Muppets.”

Rick Bentley: 559-441-6355, @RickBentley1