‘Night Will Fall’ Reveals Untold Stories of Liberated WWII Concentration Camps

It was the movie from 1945 that had barely seen the light of day —until last night. Reels upon reels of raw footage recorded by military and newsreel cinematographers after the liberation of Nazi concentration camps by Allied forces are the basis of “Night Will Fall,” a powerful documentary that HBO ran Monday, on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the most notorious of the death camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The images are hauntingly searing, particularly scenes of well-dressed German citizens walking through concentration camps amid piles of emaciated bodies– some naked, some in inmate uniforms – all frozen in a grisly diorama of hellish death. It was as if the Allies were forcing them to bear witness by saying, “Look at what was done in your name.”

The documentation of mass extermination was the motivation behind recording the horrific discoveries at Bergen-Belsen, Dachau and Auschwitz in the immediate aftermath of the Nazis’ declining power during World War II. The plan, as envisioned by Sidney Bernstein of the British government’s Ministry of Information and aided by supervising director Alfred Hitchcock, was to create a harrowing film titled “German Concentration Camps Factual Survey.”

Reports of the atrocities at the concentration camps had quickly made their way to Great Britain and to the United States. Bernstein had traveled to Bergen-Belsen a week after the camp’s liberation to see the devastation firsthand.

Despite all the best efforts and the artistic pedigree of those involved and the initial support it received, the documentary provides a revealing look at why the film was never widely seen. It was supposed to be screened in Germany after the fall of the Third Reich. But by May 1945, with the war in Europe finally over, priorities from earlier in the year had changed.

“Night Will Fall,” narrated by Helena Bonham Carter, directed by André Singer and produced by Brett Ratner and Sally Angel, features archival interviews with Hitchcock, director Billy Wilder and the Ministry of Information’s Bernstein, who went on to found Granada Television.

It provides insight from concentration camp survivors, several of whom identify younger versions of themselves in the footage. Soldiers who liberated the camps and those who shot the footage are also interviewed, testifying to the horror they experienced.

“This was not only an extraordinarily gripping story but was potentially important in bringing a different perspective to the story of the Holocaust,” Singer said about the documentary. “Once I watched ‘German Concentration Camps Factual Survey,’ I knew we could make something both different and importantly powerful.”

In 1952, London’s Imperial War Museum (IWM) inherited the rough cut of five of the six planned reels of the film, along with 100 compilation reels of unedited footage, a detailed shot list and a voiceover script with the commentary.

A five-reel rough cut had screened at the 1984 Berlin Film Festival and later aired on PBS’ “Frontline,” but four years ago, the IWM began an ambitious project to digitize and restore the footage, including the never-before-seen sixth reel, all of which served to transform the grainy images of the past into the vividness of the present, making its scenes of tragic devastation an unforgettable lesson to all who witness them.

(“Night Will Fall” encores on HBO2 January 27, January 31, February 6 and February 10 and on HBO January 29 and February 7, 12, 15 and 24.)

–Hillary Atkin

CNN’s ‘Voices of Auschwitz’ Bear Witness to Nazi Death Camp Horrors

They were just children. Four of them, three girls and a boy, growing up more than seven decades ago in upper or middle-class families, surrounded by arts and culture, without many cares in the world.

And then, unspeakable horror. Uprooted from their lives and torn from their families, they found themselves at the world’s most notorious death camp, Auschwitz, trapped in the gruesomely efficient Nazi killing apparatus, where 1.1 million people were murdered during World War II.

Each somehow found a way to survive, whether through sheer inner strength or being plucked from certain death in the gas chambers because of their budding talents. One was a musician, another a fashion designer, another a tailor. The other was a twin, whom the infamously sadistic Dr. Josef Mengele experimented upon.

70 years after Auschwitz was liberated by Russian troops, these four incredibly resilient survivors tell their stories to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in “Voices of Auschwitz,” a one-hour documentary.

Viewers will meet Eva Kor, Martin Greenfield, Renee Firestone and Anita Lasker-Wallfisch and hear their remarkable tales of living through the hell on earth that was Auschwitz.

“I never knew it was a problem to be Jewish,” Kor tells Blitzer, as they stand near the tracks where cattle cars disembarked her, her mother and her sister Miriam and tens of thousands of others into the concentration camp. Amidst confusion and chaos, they entered under the infamous sign that bears the motto “Arbeit Macht Frei,” which translates into “Work Will Set You Free.”

That day on the selection platform was the last time Kor would ever see her mother, who was sent directly to the gas chamber.

For the next nine months, Eva and her sister Miriam were housed in a rat-and lice-infested bunk with 300 other children and subjected to medical experiments daily. They were forced to stand naked for eight hours at a time. She recalls Mengele’s sadistic laugh.

Despite the daily torture, Eva was determined to survive, telling Blitzer, “I was not going to perish here in Auschwitz.” When liberation finally came on January 27, 1945, at 4:30 p.m., Eva and Miriam were at the front of the line as the children were led out of Auschwitz. There’s a photo of them being led to freedom, which she poses with, but says she doesn’t remember being at the front of the parade, just the joy of being liberated.

The three other survivors also tell their stories of torture, loss, hopelessness and, finally, liberation and survival.

Firestone’s skills at drawing evening gown designs and being a seamstress spared her from the gas chamber. Similarly, Greenfield was recruited as a tailor, after his original job laundering Gestapo uniforms. And Lasker-Wallfisch was spared because she could play the cello and was put into a makeshift orchestra.

All went on to use those skills in life-long careers.

“I am not possessed by fear and anger—and that is a victory,” says Lasker-Wallfisch, while Firestone admits, “I’m in shock and awe and amazement that I’m still here. I wake up with it, I go to sleep with it,” she says of her nightmarish imprisonment at Auschwitz.

Preserving the stories of these and other survivors is the mission of the Shoah Foundation, and Blitzer talks to its founder, director Steven Spielberg about the project’s genesis, which was inspired while he was making 1993’s “Schindler’s List.” An extra on the Holocaust film came up to him and asked if he had a tape recorder to record her own personal story of survival.

“This will be the last significant commemoration,” Spielberg says of the 70th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation. “But all the survivors will become teachers in perpetuity.”

(“Voices of Auschwitz” premieres on CNN Wednesday, January 28 at 9 p.m. PT/ET.)

–Hillary Atkin

 

All Together Now: It’s a New Family Comedy on HBO

Indie film fans will fondly remember 2011’s “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” about a 30-year-old slacker played by Jason Segel who lives in his mother’s basement. With millions of people feeling the pinch of a shrunken economy and cutbacks around every corner, the movie resonated on many levels with a core yet small audience.

Now its creators, Mark and Jay Duplass have brought that same sort of schlumpy/normcore sensibility to their first television comedy, “Togetherness,” with eight half-hour episodes set to run on HBO.

Whether they are single or married with children, the Eastside Los Angeles-set “Togetherness” is about what happens to everyday people in their late 30s and early 40s who actually don’t have it together, like the couple at the center of the domestic comedy.

The Jeff-like character is played by Steve Zissis, a boyhood friend of the Duplass brothers with elements based upon his life as a struggling actor in LA. It’s a commonplace story that will likely have a different real-life ending, in this case making the actor a well-known commodity.

As “Togetherness” opens, Zissis’ doughy—and we mean that literally–character is being evicted from his apartment and has decided to go back to his hometown of Detroit before his best friend, played by Mark Duplass, comes to the rescue with an offer to bunk at his family’s home.

At the same time, his wife’s sister, who has the unlikely occupation of leasing kids’ bouncy houses, goes through a painful breakup and needs a place to stay.

With these four characters–Melanie Lynskey playing the wife and Amanda Peet her sister–thrown together under one not very large roof with a couple of kids underfoot, “Togetherness” is about getting to the truths of contemporary relationships without the commercial slickness seen in other family comedies.

The Duplass brothers spoke recently about their process of bringing “Togetherness” together. Here is an edited version of the conversation:

 

Q: Together you have written, directed and produced more than 20 movies. How is working on a series different from working on a film?

Mark Duplass: The main difference is being able to track the very intricate, subtle interactions between the characters. When you’re dealing with the 90-minute format of a movie, you’ve set the whole thing up, then you’ve got a good chunk in the middle where you can dig into things, and then you’ve got to wrap it up. With TV, you put the ball in the air and you have tons of time to mine all of those awkward, funny, sad interpersonal relationship dynamics that really get us excited about storytelling.

Q: Why did you bring “Togetherness” to HBO?

MD: The thing that makes HBO really exciting is that they bet on their filmmakers. They help you when you need it, but they don’t necessarily try to develop you too much or push you too much in one direction. It was really exciting to be able to make a show and be fully supported, but also to do exactly we wanted to do.

Q: With Mark in one of the lead roles, it begs the question: Does any of the show come from personal experience? What other influences went into creating the show?

Jay Duplass: Mark and I spent a ton of time in our 20s trying to be very referential, trying to be the Coen brothers and failing miserably at that. Then we lucked into this experience where we started making fun of ourselves on screen. The first movie we ever made that was really any good was a seven-minute short film about a guy trying to perfect the personal greeting of his answering machine and failing to do so, and having a nervous breakdown, which actually happened to one of us in real life.

This show is an extension of our caveman style of filmmaking. Mark and I did not grow up in Hollywood. We didn’t know anyone in the industry, and we didn’t have any awareness of people who made movies until we went to college in Austin and saw what Richard Linklater was doing. We’ve always made things by hand and represented our own world, and I think “Togetherness” is probably the truest and most accurate thing that we’ve ever done.

The show is about being in your late 30s, living on the East Side of LA, having kids and trying to be a family person, and trying to also make your own dreams come true. That’s really just the stuff of our lives and the conflict of our lives. In terms of drawing inspiration, we just talk about our own lives and the lives of our best friends and our family, and all the material comes from there.

Q: How do you work together?

MD: Every project is a little different in terms of how we approach it, but this is the most intensely collaborative project we’ve done, because it’s bigger in scope. We’re functioning in a lot of roles and we’re preparing a bit more on this show than we normally do. There are just natural lines that get divided, where Jay and I talk about who is going to take the lead at this one given moment. We’ve never had an issue with crazy ego stuff about letting one person take the lead, which is important because you can’t have two people sitting in the driver’s seat at all times trying to push the pedal and fight with each other. It’s a great comfort to know that if I’m feeling grumpy and uninspired, Jay will push a little bit harder and get things done.

JD: One thing that’s nice is when stuff goes down, Mark and I can discuss it between the two of us, and be super honest.

Q: How did you find your collaborative voice for “Togetherness”?

MD: Jay and I discovered our voice through the conversations we’ve had our whole lives, where we’re up an hour or two late and a little bit tired, and either crying or laughing about something that’s going on in our lives. If we feel like we have one major strength, it is to look at the pain and the struggles of intimacy and friendships and your dreams, and take one step back and realize how stupid and funny you look in the middle of all of it.

Q: What is it about minor victories in life that inspire people to keep going?

JD: We’ve realized that the big victories never tend to be exactly what you think they will be, whereas sometimes the minor victories are the ones that really count. For example, everyone tells you how wonderful it is to have children, but in our experience 90% is struggle and 10% is totally, absolutely beautiful and validates the whole experience. Take this morning: Before I took my two-year-old son to school, we were rushing and rushing, and he said, “I want stay with you, Dad.” That made up for the whole last month when he’s had a sinus infection and has been whining nonstop. That kind of little victory, that’s what life is like and that’s what we’re trying to represent.

Q: In the show, Brett’s best friend and Michelle’s sister both move in with the married couple. What is the dynamic of this foursome?

MD: Alex and Brett are soul mates in a way, but the arrival of Tina makes things much more complex. What’s really interesting to us is how group dynamics change, depending on who’s in the group and how many are in the group.

Q: What does music bring to the show?

JD: We spent a lot of time on the music, more than on any other project, because we have four equally strong lead characters. Brett is into Rush, really intense prog-rock. Michelle is into ‘80s New Wave. Tina’s probably into hair bands, so in the pilot, you hear Sebastian Bach. We imagine that Alex grew up in Detroit, so he listens to old-school rap.

Q: What does ““Togetherness”” mean to you?

JD: “Togetherness” is a double-edged sword. At first you think it can be a saccharine feeling, where you want to be with your family and snuggle up together. The other side is that you feel trapped, and the only thing that you want to do is escape.

(“Togetherness” premieres Sunday, January 11 at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.)

–Hillary Atkin

 

‘Selma’ Brings MLK and the Civil Rights Movement to Vivid Life

Director Ava DuVernay has said she doesn’t like historical black pictures, and she’s made sure that her “Selma” stands out from the rest in its tone, in its focus and in its style of storytelling. It’s already nabbed four Golden Globe nominations and five Critics’ Choice nods that are a testament to her work.

Unbelievably, although the US civil rights movement has been chronicled extensively, this is the first feature-length film with Martin Luther King Jr.– brilliantly played here by David Oyelowo– as its central character. Even as he contends with FBI surveillance of his home and activities, he is shown dealing with the personal strains of his efforts, which won him the Nobel Peace Prize.

“Selma” focuses on a few critical months in 1965 with Selma, Alabama as the proving grounds for King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference to fight for blacks being able to register to vote.

Even though they are legally able to, the racist power structure of the newly desegregated South prevents them from actually exercising that right, aided and abetted by Alabama Gov. George Wallace, law enforcement and local politicians and judges.

Tom Wilkinson plays LBJ, who is also resistant to King’s pleas to step in and make things right– until a confluence of events forces him to do so, culminating with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The events of nearly 50 years ago, including the storied march from Selma to Montgomery, are even more resonant in light of current civil rights protests taking place.

“Selma” opened in select cities on Christmas, and goes wide on January 9.

Christian Bale as Moses Powers ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’

The opulence, sophistication and the sheer spectacle of ancient Egypt as the backdrop for one of the most resonant tales in the Old Testament is brought to vivid, 3-D life by director Ridley Scott in “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”
It’s the story of Moses, played evocatively here by Christian Bale, who was raised into a life of Egyptian privilege and “knighthood” before learning he is actually the son of Hebrew slaves and is exiled to the desert by Ramses, (Joel Edgerton) the Pharoah’s son and a rival for the ruler’s attention and affection.
With a gritty realism and an unexpected depiction of the character of God, Moses takes his place as leader of the Jewish people to deliver them from slavery in Egypt, sacrificing for a time the family life he’s created.
The religious may find the film not faithful enough to scripture. The secular will enjoy the dramatic interpretation of a story for the ages, complete with vivid and haunting imagery of the ten plagues.

An All-Star Rousing Tribute to Bruce Springsteen Rocks PBS

Bruce Springsteen fans will devour every second of the two hour and 12 minute tribute to him recorded at the 2013 MusiCares person of the year benefit and airing as part of the PBS Arts Fall Festival.

From the opening introduction by fellow New Jersey native Jon Stewart to Neil Young’s punk rock version of “Born in the USA” to Elton John’s heartfelt “Streets of Philadelphia” to the climactic performance by the Boss himself leading the E Street Band in blazing renditions of his iconic ”Thunder Road” and “Born to Run” and then into an epic finale with all the evening’s performers, the program is a tribute as well to the power of music.

As Springsteen and his wife Patti Scialfa look on proudly from their table–and often rock out and sing along–an array of noted musicians across multiple genres perform his songs before a crowd of 3,000 people, many of whom are shown in cutaways having the time of their lives.

Spotted in the crowd: Sean Penn, Les Moonves and Julie Chen, Rita Wilson, Conan O’Brien and Judd Apatow. Springsteen’s daughter and mother were also in attendance.

Nearly every number is a huge highlight, from John Legend performing a piano-driven arrangement of “Dancing in the Dark” to Tom Morello and Jim James shredding their guitars on an electrified version of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” to Patti Smith playing her smash hit co-written with Springsteen, “Because the Night.”

Recording Academy president Neil Portnow gave Springsteen a crystal trophy and lauded his humanitarian work in addition to an illustrious career that began with his 1973 Columbia Records release “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.”

Since then, Springsteen has released a total of 18 studio albums, taken home 20 Grammy Awards and won an Oscar for best original song from 1993’s “Philadelphia.” And of course he’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor.

But the ever modest legend gave a low-key yet powerful speech lauding the magic of music after thanking John Legend for making him sound like Gershwin and Neil Young for making him sound like The Sex Pistols.

“I’ve seen it before, and been part of the magic of music, he said. “Music is life. The earth and stars rolling through the heavens, the winds whistling and the birds singing. Musicians are a brotherhood and a sisterhood. We’re the wrong people, but sometimes we hit it right.”

Here’s the set list from the evening:

  1. “Adam Raised a Cain” (performed by Alabama Shakes)
  2. Because the Night” (performed by Patti Smith)
  3. Atlantic City (performed by Natalie Maines, Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite)
  4. “American Land” (performed by Ken Casey of the Dropkick Murphys)
  5. My City of Ruins” (performed by Mavis Staples and Zac Brown)
  6. I’m on Fire” (performed by Mumford and Sons)
  7. American Skin (41 Shots)” (performed by Jackson Browne and Tom Morello)
  8. My Hometown” (performed by Emmylou Harris)
  9. One Step Up” (performed by Kenny Chesney)
  10. Streets of Philadelphia” (performed by Elton John)
  11. Hungry Heart” (performed by Juanes)
  12. Tougher Than the Rest” (performed by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill)
  13. The Ghost of Tom Joad” (performed by Jim James and Tom Morello)
  14. Dancing in the Dark” (performed by John Legend)
  15. Lonesome Day” (performed by Sting)
  16. Born in the U.S.A.” (performed by Neil Young and Crazy Horse)
  17. We Take Care of Our Own” (performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band)
  18. Death to My Hometown” (performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band)
  19. Thunder Road” (performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band)
  20. Born to Run” (performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band)
  21. Glory Days” (performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and full ensemble)

Oh, what a night.

(A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen premieres as part of PBS Arts Fall Festival on Friday, December 5 at 9 p.m. ET/PT)

–Hillary Atkin

 

Getting the Goods on ‘Girfriends’ Guide,’ Bravo’s First Original Scripted Series

In the past decade or so on cable television, Bravo has launched many popular shows that have become part of the pop-culture zeitgeist, from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” to the “Real Housewives” franchise to “Inside the Actors’ Studio,” “Top Chef” and “Watch What Happens Live!”

Yet one thing it has never done is aired its own original scripted series, until now, with tonight’s premiere of “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.”

The new program gained notoriety recently when its slightly risque ad campaign was pulled from city buses and subways in New York and Los Angeles for being “inappropriate.” It showed series star Lisa Edelstein displaying her wedding ring finger, sans ring, with the slogan, “Go find yourself.” The campaign ended up running on tour buses and in phone kiosks.

Edelstein plays Abby McCarthy, a self-help author whose career crumbles as she navigates a separation from her husband. Seeking advice from others who have gone through similar situations, she confronts unexpected and life-changing experiences.

Created by Marti Noxon, whose credit list includes “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Mad Men” and “Glee,“ the series was inspired by Vicki Iovine’s “Girlfriends’ Guide” books.

Noxon and Edelstein dove into the show’s elements in a recent phone call with television reporters. Here is an edited version of their conversation:

Q: Is it meaningful to you both that this is Bravo’s introduction to scripted television as an original scripted television show?

Lisa Edelstein: They picked a great project and that was the first sign that it was a great network to be on. And because they’re so excited about it, they have really put everything into it. They’ve given us a lot of love and a lot of freedom and I feel really very trusted by the network and the studio, which is an unusual place to be. So we’re very fortunate. Very, very fortunate.

Marti Noxon: Yes. I agree. We’ve had an incredible amount of support from Bravo and it’s exciting, I mean obviously if we fall flat on our faces, that will be a bummer, but if the show works then we’ll feel like it’s a fit with the network. It feels exciting to be able to set the tone and start a conversation that I think a lot of viewers will be interested in.

Q: Lisa, what was it about the premise of this show in general and about your character in particular that made you want to do this?

Lisa Edelstein: During “House,” that was seven years of playing a very balanced woman. I mean from clothing to her ability to respond to things. So it was really exciting when Marti sent me the script because, here was the woman who seemingly had it all together and was actually falling apart. All the scenes were opening and I really looked forward to being able to explore that and I love that it’s funny and dramatic at the same time. It’s so smart and Marti is an amazing boss, so that was also a plus.

I love that Abby is so vulnerable. That’s she’s very smart and very successful but also a little bit like a little girl. She’s a little lost. I love her struggle and I love her sense of humor. I mean — she’s a great, really, really, great, well-rounded character.

Q: Do you guys think that Abby will be considered the next Samantha?

Marti Noxon: No. I think there’s an obvious comparison to “Sex and the City” and I’m flattered by those because that show obviously was a phenomenon, but I think that if we had a hope in terms of comparison, Abby is the new Carrie because it’s not about age anymore, it’s about the quest.

Lisa Edelstein: Right. Yes. Our show isn’t so much about the romping – the romps, the sexual romps. It’s a little bit more of a raw exploration of what it means to find yourself in the world again.

Martin Noxon: Right, Abby’s not a cougar. And she’s not all that sex in the way that Samantha was, but I think that sex is part of her discovery and figuring out what feels right and what doesn’t.

Lisa Edelstein: She’s not searching for her boys again. I mean, she’s searching for everything. Every way that she’s defined herself up to the point of the pilot is now taken away.

Q: Marti, where did you get the inspiration for some of the supporting cast as well as for Abby?

Marti Noxon: One of the things that I found really fun and unexpected about going through a divorce was that you end up being friends with other people going through the same thing. And that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re people you would have been friends with, so I ended up in one instant hanging out with a much younger woman who I always thought was sort of a trophy wife. I judged her because she was so beautiful.

And we do that sometimes. We just think well, she’s been taken care of and so I can’t relate to her and of course because you’re both going through a similar thing when someone introduced us, I realized, no, she’s a person just like me and in a way, knowing helped me get rid of my assumption about what it is to be an extraordinary beautiful woman. I learned a lot more about the pitfalls and my assumptions were blown away and that was really the inspiration for Phoebe. Let’s take a look deeper into what we think about these women and men, what is the reality. They have all kinds of issues of their own.

And the Lyla character was based on a friend of mine who’s just going through a really, really ugly divorce and I always feel like she’s my rage.

She’s the voice of vengeance. But also the vulnerability underneath that. Because underneath that anger you’re still a little bit, you’re still a lot attached. A lot of characters came from those kinds of people and feelings inside of me. And then of course Abby is the person I wish I’ve been. She’s braver and more open to having more feelings than I did. And she also gets to say the things I wish I’ve said in a moment but only later that I regretted.

Q: Some viewers maybe expected a comedy in the vein of “The Starter Wife” and may be surprised at how serious the show is.

Marti Noxon: I think there’s a lot of lighter moments in the show but it was never intended to be a comedy first. I wish that we could be in the same world as some of the Richard Curtis Working Title romantic comedies that have a lot of funny people in them but they’re not — but I would say that they also feel relatively grounded and you kind of want to be with those people and they’re not afraid to dip into the much more serious side. I would think about that scene in “Love, Actually” where Emma Thompson has to excuse herself from opening presents and she goes into her bedroom and just weeps. Because she knows the truth about what’s going on with her and her husband and that’s just a funny, delightful movie in so many ways, but there’s a woman who realizes her husband is cheating on her. We wanted to have that time where we can shift tones readily and some of the episodes are much more romp-like.

Q: Tell us about Paul Adelstein’s role on and off camera.

Marti Noxon: He wrote episode four and he’s a consultant. He and I have been friends ever since we did “Private Practice” together and I always thought since that I wanted to work with him again. He’s such as a deep and talented actor and I wanted Jake not to be just an obvious person you could write off as the bad guy. And I think as the show progresses, you’ll really feel the complexity of two people who’ve grown up together, trying to figure out if they really do want to do this or if they don’t want to do this and in a way rediscovering each other through the process.

Marti Noxon: And a lot of where the story went was unexpected for all of us I think because once we saw how Paul and Lisa worked together, it encouraged me to push the story more into the direction of both Jake and Abby’s journey. So it’s not really just a chick show. A lot of men have come up to me and said, “I would watch the show.” It was full of surprise, you’re actually giving the guy a voice and he’s not just an asshole. I find that very gratifying.

Q: How did you collaborate with Vicki Iovine, and tell us about that part of the creative process going back to her books.

Lisa Edelstein: Well, there’s no real book “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce,” to be clear. I think Vicki was more of a leaping off point. The idea of a person who writes — because she did write a “Girlfriends’ Guide” series and she did have a really public messy divorce.

Marti Noxon: Meryl Poster, who’s the sort of instigator, she’s a producer on the show — we had lunch and she said, “I wish you would write about divorce, so many of my friends are going through it.” In this day and age, it’s so different than it used to be for a lot of us where women might be the bread winner or it’s not uncommon for women now to pay alimony and for the men to have raised the children and all that. This was so compelling, but I said I thought divorce as a concept sounds like it’s such a bummer, then she thought for a second and she said, “Well, did you ever read the Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy?”

And I was like, “Of course, it’s one of the books you get when you’re pregnant.” I mean you get, “What to Expect” which I always say is sort of how to kill your baby, terrifying. It’s just a book of all the things we might do wrong, and then there’s “Girlfriends’ Guide” which is chatty and forgiving and genuine and very honest and it kind of relaxes you and makes you feel like you’re not alone. So she said Vicki had just gone through this divorce while she was writing “Girlfriends’ Guide to Getting Your Groove Back,” she found out that her husband — and this is not the scenario on the pilot — but her husband was cheating on her and her marriage fell apart. She still had to go on a book tour, for “Getting Your Groove Back.” And I was like, “Well that is a show.”

And she literally texted her that moment and said, “What do you think about doing a show “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce”? And immediately, Vicki texted back, “Yes. ” And that was the beginning. But the show is not Vicki’s life, Vicki is already remarried.

Lisa Edelstein: Right, I’m not playing Vicki or trying to portray Vicki in any way.

Marti Noxon: Yes. She’s remarried. Her ex-husband is Jimmy Iovine.

Lisa Edelstein: And she’s got a lot of enthusiasm and a great sense of humor. She loved the full process.

Marti Noxon: You know she’ll tell the truth, even when you don’t want to hear it. But I would also say it’s just a very unusual thing we’re doing, which is we’re creating a fiction from a life that is well known in public. Like it’s true up to this moment and now we’re creating a fiction around the book that’s from an existing series of books and in real life, and everything from that point on is made up. So, I don’t know that that happens very often but Vicki is working on a “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” and I think she’s getting it right out there.

(“Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” premieres Tuesday, Dec. 2, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.)

–Hillary Atkin

Hallmark Hall of Fame’s ‘One Christmas Eve’ Premiere Event

What better way to kick off the holiday season than a festive premiere event for Hallmark Hall of Fame’s comedy “One Christmas Eve,” which stars Anne Heche, Kevin Daniels, Carlos Gomez and Brian Tee in a holiday caper with the tagline “Chaos is coming to town.”

Held on November 18 at West Hollywood’s Fig & Olive restaurant, the cast took to the red carpet along with canine stars of the film – beagle puppies that are an integral and heartwarming part of the story.

Guests enjoyed cocktails and hors d’oeuvres before heading upstairs to dinner in a private room where they were also treated to clips from the film and a special surprise– as each received a plush beagle with the full length film on a dog bone shaped USB flash drive hanging from its collar.

There were oohs and aahs all around as the stuffed animals were handed out and carefully tucked away at the beautifully decorated three-course sit-down dinner.

Hallmark Hall of Fame president Brad Moore was in high spirits as he gave a speech that celebrated the new partnership between Hallmark Hall of Fame and the Hallmark Channel where, for the first time ever, a Hall of Fame movie will premiere– rather than on a broadcast network.

Moore also noted that Heche has now starred in three Hallmark Hall of Fame movies, while her boyfriend, James Tupper, only has one on his credits, while welcoming him to jump on board others.

Other cast members attending included Griffin Kane and Ali Skovbye, alond with Crown Media Holdings President and CEO Bill Abbot. Director Jay Russell and executive producer Brent Shields were also on hand for the festivities.

“One Christmas Eve” premieres on the Hallmark Channel on Sunday, November 30 at 8 p.m. ET/PT as part of the network’s “Countdown to Christmas” programming lineup.

New Docu Asks: Is a College Education Worth the Cost

What used to be taken as generally accepted wisdom– that the path to success in our society includes a college degree– is called into question in a thought-provoking documentary, “Ivory Tower,” which asks the burning question of whether college is worth the cost.

College tuition has spiraled out of control in the past four decades– in absolute terms, it’s escalated at a rate of more than 1000% since 1978, far outpacing the cost of healthcare or any other goods and services. In another surprising statistic, student loan debt has surpassed the $1 trillion mark– more than the U.S. credit card debt.

Public universities face particularly dire straits as their funding has been drastically reduced and rising intuition only makes up a portion of the losses.

In just the latest example of the seemingly endless cost increases, the University of California Board of Regents is scheduled to vote today on whether to raise tuition by 28% over the next five years for students in the 10-campus UC system.

“Ivory Tower,” which will make its television premiere on CNN after its world premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, was directed and produced by Emmy-nominated filmmakers Andrew Rossi and Kate Novak.

From the hallowed halls of Harvard University to community colleges struggling for funding, the documentary examines new models for accessing higher education fueled by technological advances that portend a transformational breaking point.

It looks at how colleges struggle to balance their mission for higher learning with the need to compete with other institutions for the best and brightest faculty and students – and the pressure to pivot university funding towards capital enhancements like state-of-the-art sports facilities, luxurious dining halls and research labs that may gain prestige but do not always lead to better learning experiences.

“We were surprised at how rapidly outside forces are changing education,” said Rossi, in an interview describing his experience making the film.  “Institutional change has been at the core of almost every movie I’ve made, from the upheaval in the newspaper business depicted in ‘Page One: Inside the New York Times’ (2011) to the death of grand, formal dining experienced by the Italian family in ‘Le Cirque: A Table in Heaven’ (2008) to the advent of legal same sex marriage in Massachusetts, as documented in ‘The Sky Did Not Fall’ (2004).”

Rossi says when production started on “Ivory Tower” in the spring of 2012, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs – the free, digital versions of some of world’s best college classes) were just beginning to capture the imagination of technologists and the media. Now, some colleges and state university systems are examining whether MOOCs can help broaden access to a college education while reducing costs.

“Here was a revolutionary force that could upend the ossified traditions of lecture-driven education, allowing for cost savings that might rescue future students from crippling student loan debt,” he said.

As for the solution to the student loan debt crisis, he says it must come from its constituents — informed parents and students who should demand that the current system change by being open to a broad range of choices for professional preparation, not all of which will include going to a traditional four-year college.

In the film, the complex issues of the costs of higher education are brought to life in interviews with professors including Columbia University’s Andrew Debanco, author of “College: What It Was, Is, And Should Be” and students like David Boone, who won a full scholarship to Harvard after a hardscrabble life in a Cleveland ghetto.

Yet the benefits that Boone enjoys are becoming increasingly difficult for other American university students to attain, even as Harvard continues to be the role model for almost every institution of higher learning in the United States, setting a precedent for constant expansion and improvement.

The documentary also looks at education in what are known as “party schools,” and how that that can mean that some students are shortchanged academically and do not get learning value for their tuition money.

But the news is not all bad. Rossi and Novak find that other unique programs hold the potential for life-changing college experiences.

Rossi says that overall, the landscape is shifting.

“Online courses will get better and add more to the competitive landscape that impacts tuition, and the credit bubble for student loans has to change.  The job market is not stable enough for most people to count on uninterrupted employment for an entire career.  But, we’re just at the beginning of this market disruption – we don’t know how or what the college experience will look like at the end of this transition.”

Still there are burning questions that need to be answered now for students looking ahead to the future, and after making the documentary, Rossi has some advice for them.

“Get to know what you’re getting into before you sign the acceptance letter,” he said. “Students need to think of college with a long view – what will it prepare me to do with my life?  Are there experiences I need from a particular college that are worth the debt it will cost me?  Will the school I’m considering help me get into graduate school if that’s part of my professional development plan?”

Sounds like questions that could also engender insightful answers to college admission application essay questions.

(“Ivory Tower” airs on CNN November 20 at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET/PT.)

–Hillary Atkin

Who Would Want Three Sagging Breasts, Asks AHS: Freak Show’s Angela Bassett

Angela Bassett has had a long and diverse career on television and film, but there’s something she’s never been asked about any of the characters she’s played: Is she or isn’t she a she?

Until now. As Desiree Dupree on FX’s “American Horror Story: Freak Show,” that question hung in the air until a recent episode.

Bassett joined the “AHS” ensemble last year when she appeared in “Coven” as New Orleans voodoo queen Marie Laveau. Most of her scenes than were with Kathy Bates and Jessica Lange. This year, she mostly plays off Michael Chiklis and Emma Roberts.

The character of Desiree was introduced to the audience as being “intersex,” something that in a bygone era was called a hermaphrodite. But while her biological and gender identity was recently revealed, Bassett says she’s still in the dark about her character’s full story arc — and also how Desiree and Marie might be linked in a larger “American Horror Story” universe, as co-creator Ryan Murphy recently alluded.

The Oscar-nominated actress spoke by phone recently to talk about her character’s evolution, the breakup of her relationship with Dell, the character played by Michael Chiklis, and the nitty-gritty details of shooting with an uncomfortable three-breast prosthetic, Desiree’s signature characteristic. Here is an edited version of the conversation:

Q: When you signed on for “Freak Show,” did you know what the part was? What was your reaction when you found out what the part was?

Angela Bassett: I didn’t have a clue whatsoever what the part might be, what it might encompass, when I signed on. I just knew I had a great time the previous year, and if that was any indication, it was going to be a wild ride. I think it was about two weeks before I was scheduled to come down to start shooting that I got the hot off the press script. I sat down to read it to see and I remember wondering, “Now, how am I going to know who I am?”

Then you read the stage direction, “African American woman in her 40s, hermaphrodite, three breasts, and a ding-a-ling.” You’re like, oh, my gosh. You immediately close the pages, and have to walk around, and process that for a minute. You’re thinking, “What does that mean?” If they thought I was crazy demonic last year, what are they going to think this year? I just knew that it was absolutely going to be something that I had never done before. What does an actor crave, but new challenges? This certainly was going to be one of those.

Q: Do you feel like the “American Horror Story” cast is sort of a family of performers, and do you feel like more of a part of that now that this is your second time on the show?

AB: Absolutely. I feel like it is a traveling troupe of performers. This year I feel more a part of the family. You know, having been here before, having established those relationships, not the brand-new girl. We’ve got some other new faces. I feel like I’ve been around the block at least one time with them. I feel more comfortable. I was excited. I’m still excited, but I feel more a part of the family this year, most definitely.

Q: How does it feel to try on another character? Is there a learning curve? Is that the challenge within itself?

AB: As an actor you’re used to putting on characters, taking them off, becoming someone else, doing your research, working on that. I think what I found most challenging about television and shedding one character and having to come up with another is that there’s this lag time before I get to actually see what the characters are looking like, or sounding like, or how they’re coming across. We start filming in July and the first episode is in October. As an actor who wonders if you’re getting it right because you don’t have the immediate reaction of the audience just yet — that’s the little caveat. I can’t say it’s a real crazy frustration. If there were something that you had to call that, that would be it for me.

Q: Now that we know Desiree is 100% female, is that going to change how you approach the character and how Desiree acts?

AB: No. I don’t think it’ll change how I approach or how she acts. I think she’s comfortable with who she is, by and large. I think she’s just had to find a way to work and survive in a world that she’s always been reaching for what she calls normalcy, to have a family, a real family, and children of her own. I don’t think it’s going to change and make her more feminine or whatever it might be. They might write her so differently, so I’m open, but I don’t anticipate it’ll change the way that she behaves. I think what influences that is how she’s treated, how she’s treated by others.

Q: Do you think she might demand a different kind of treatment now, especially from Dell?

AB: Well, she’s walked out on him. She does demand a different kind of treatment. I guess honesty. Honesty for one, but that’s just not a desire of her as a freak, it’s just desire for her as a human being.

Q: How does your character view Michael Chiklis’? Do you think that she really sees the good in him in spite of his being kind of a bully, and a monster?

AB Yes. I think that there was a time when he was kind, and good to her, and believed in her, and made her feel valuable and special. I think that there have been moments over those years when they’ve been together where he’s crossed the line with her in the things that he says. He’s begged for forgiveness. It’s that same old thing, sometimes it happens, when people are abusive physically. I think there’s been maybe some emotional abuse throughout the years, but … never crossing the line, and completely crossing the line, or she’s weighing, if I give this up, what do I lose? Can I move on from this? Can we move on from this? Can we remain together?

I think there has come a point where he crossed the line of no return. She thought she knew who he was, but she found out she was living with the enemy. There’s something about him that was dishonest and disloyal. They were there for each other. They told each other their painful truth. I think he crossed the line. Sometimes that happens and you can’t go back. You can’t make yourself go back.

Q: What’s the process that turned you into Desiree? How does she get that third breast and how long does it take to put on?

AB: Well, I go into my regular makeup artist. She applies the appliance to me, so that it’s there basically. Then I go over to the special effects trailer where her husband makes sure the edges and everything sort of blend seamlessly. From there, he and the other special effects gentlemen will begin to apply the paint. … They spray it on. They’ll start with the brown. They’ll go to the red, and yellow, and green. It’s amazing these colors and undertones that they claim you possess. You’re like, oh, those are weird, weird colors. Then he’ll take a photograph of it to make sure that it appears as if it’s my own and based on that he’ll maybe go in, and do so more painting, and carry on.

It takes maybe from start to finish about an hour, just enough time to check out a Netflix episode of “Orange Is the New Black” or something.

Q: What was your initial reaction when you first tried on the prosthetic?

AB: Well, I was glad it wasn’t on my face. I’m claustrophobic. The initial appliance was extremely heavy. I think it was made of silicone. It started out fine, but after about hour number 12, it became hot and heavy. I believe it started sagging, which I’m like, what is the point of having three sagging breasts? No, this is not good. They reworked it and made it out of foam, which I was so, so pleased about because it’s the difference of night and day. Still, after about 12 hours of that internal heat, you begin to sweat. You begin to itch. You can’t really provide relief because you can’t get to yourself. You’re scratching foam. It’s much lighter. It’s much more bearable. I guess I’ve grown accustomed.

(“American Horror Story: Freak Show” airs on FX Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.)