Author Archives: Stacy Jenel Smith

About Stacy Jenel Smith

Started by acclaimed columnist Marilyn Beck in the 1960s, Beck/Smith Hollywood Exclusive is the longest-running syndicated Hollywood column today. Since Beck's death in 2014, it has been written by her long-time writing partner, Stacy Jenel Smith

Lori Loughlin, Cameron Mathison thankful at Hallmark soiree

Hallmark Channel's screening for "Northpole: Open For Christmas," premiering Saturday, November 21 on Hallmark Channel, part of the network's widely popular Countdown to Christmas programming event. This year the network rolls out 17 original movie premieres in November and December. Photo: Bailee Madison, Lori Loughlin, Dermot Mulroney Credit: Copyright 2015 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographer: jeremy lee/Alexx Henry Studios, LLC

Hallmark Channel’s screening for “Northpole: Open For Christmas,” premiering Saturday, November 21 on Hallmark Channel, part of the network’s widely popular Countdown to Christmas programming event. This year the network rolls out 17 original movie premieres in November and December. Photo: Bailee Madison, Lori Loughlin, Dermot Mulroney Credit: Copyright 2015 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographer: jeremy lee/Alexx Henry Studios, LLC

Lori Loughlin is feeling immense gratitude as this Thanksgiving rolls around. The actress has the Hallmark Channel’s simply delightful “Northpole: Open for Christmas” original movie, which debuted Nov. 21. She has more of her “Garage Sale Mystery” movies in the pipeline for Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. And, of course, she’ll be seen again as Aunt Becky in Netflix’s “Fuller House” redux next year.

We caught up with Loughlin at the Hallmark Channel unveiling of the “Northpole” sequel at Hollywood’s The Grove the other night. “I feel so lucky, I feel so blessed. I’ve been working a lot in really wonderful projects with really wonderful people and I’m so fortunate,” she said. “I can’t even believe, actually, that at my age I’m working as much as I am right now.”

Loughlin, who has been married to designer Mossimo Giannulli for 16 years and has two also-gorgeous teenage daughters, looked smokin’ hot in a red lace Elie Saab jumpsuit at the magical holiday event. How does she manage to stay so slim and fit? “I work out. I do a lot of yoga. I do a workout called Body by Simone,” she said. “It’s like a dance cardio class with some free weights. The combination of those now is mostly what I’ve been doing.”

loughlin jumpsuitShe stars along with Dermot Mulroney and adorable 16-year-old Bailee Madison (reprising her elf role) in the tale of a high-end valuation appraiser who inherits her aunt’s run-down New England Inn — of course not knowing that the place is a secret power station for Santa Claus.

The mood was certainly celebratory, as Hallmark Channel President & CEO Bill Abbott announced that more than 75 million viewers tuned Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas fare last year.
Even Santa couldn’t have come up with a better gift.

A young bakeshop owner’s holiday season takes a surprising turn when she finds a body at a local Christmas tree lot and winds up involved in a dangerous murder investigation. With colorful characters popping up as suspects, shady business practices uncovered at the tree lot and holiday romance in the air, the young baker-turned-sleuth must race against time to track down the killer and save the Christmas season. Photo: Alison Sweeney, Cameron Mathison Credit: Copyright 2015 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Bettina Strauss

MEANWHILE: Cameron Mathison was also on hand for the “Northpole: Open for Christmas” event — with his and Alison Sweeney’s “Murder, She Baked: A Plum Pudding Mystery” set to debut Sunday, Nov. 22, on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. “It’s such a treat for me to walk away from the madness of everyday life and make a movie with Alison Sweeney,” notes the “Entertainment Tonight” anchor. “I can hardly wait for the next one to start.”

In fact, the third “Murder, She Baked” movie is already a wrap, and a fourth one is likely to go into production next year. Mathison says that when he went full-time on “E.T.,” it was with the understanding that he would occasionally take on acting assignments.

“It was something we brought in that didn’t take much convincing; it wasn’t make or break,” he recalls. “I think a lot of the ‘E.T.’ audience fits in nicely with Hallmark Channel. It’s a nice supplement.

“All of us on ‘E.T.’ have other things we do,” adds Mathison.

The real juggling challenge is between his peripatetic professional life and his life as a dad to his and wife Vanessa’s 12-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter. “I try to be as hands-on as humanly possible,” he says. “When I’m away, we Skype and FaceTime. I am literally on in the background all the time.”

Not at Thanksgiving, though. Mathison and his family will be spending part of the holiday week on SoCal slopes. They’re also planning a ski getaway to Colorado at Christmas.

“It’s a full and fun time,” he says.

LOUIS VAN AMSTEL WELCOMES GETTING BACK TO PAULA DEEN

Louis Van Amstel relished working on a full-on samba with Tamar Braxton for last night’s (10/12) “Dancing With the Stars” switch-up week performance — but the popular pro says he welcomes getting back to the rather different challenge of dancing with his partner of this season, 68-year-old Paula Deen. He certainly has his reasons. For one thing, he and the Georgia-based foodie have struck up an off-beat friendship. That’s real chemistry the twosome have been showing, ever since their introduction, when Paula planted a surprised Louis’ head upon her ample breast.

There are other kinds of chemistry besides romantic chemistry, he points out.

He’s quick to add that Paula “has come furthest of the older group” of this year’s contestants. “There’s a change in her demeanor, from nervous to less nervous. She’s gone from screwing up big to screwing up less big.” Not surprisingly, Louis disagrees with Gary Busey’s complaints over his axing from the competition two weeks ago, when plenty of viewers anticipated Paula getting cut: “I don’t think it was unfair. He went out exactly where, in my opinion, he should have gone out.”

The other, probably most important reason Van Amstel is happy to be teamed with Paula this season is that it’s a perfect promo for his LaBlast Dance Fitness program. LaBlast Dance Fitness is seven years old now, complete with DVDs, online options and trained LaBlast leaders doing his thing all over the country.

“I really do better with someone like Paula, or Kelly Osbourne, than someone like Tamar,” he says. “My last seven years have been about teaching people to dance and convincing people who don’t think they can dance that they can — people who have to lose a lot of weight, I want to support them. When they see me dance with Tamar, they say, ‘That’s great, but I could never do that.’ When they see me dance with Paula, when they see her transformation, they say, ‘Maybe I can do that too.'”

Paula has lost more than 40 pounds. Osbourne shed 35 in her transformation.

 Van Amstel is hoping to induce more women and men who wish to lose weight and get into shape with his ballroom dance-based program via his Oct. 21-starting “Dance the Pounds Away With LaBlast Fitness” DietBet.com challenge. Participants will have a chance to win money by losing weight via his LaBlast program over four weeks.

Helping people get in shape and get healthy has become much more than a side activity for Van Amstel. It’s now a mission.

A Visit to ‘Innerspace’ With Joe Dante

DanteFilmmaker Joe Dante has seen some of his work reach new heights of popularity well after the conclusion of their theatrical runs. His “The ‘Burbs,” Tom Hanks starrer, for example, “didn’t set the world on fire when it was new,” he says — though the black comedy involving very bad neighbors and a lot of paranoia debuted at No. 1 at the box office. However, he goes on, as a home video release, “it’s become this beloved classic. It’s all because people watch these films through the years and talk about them and these communities of sorts spring up around them and that’s very rewarding.”

Now it’s time for another crazy Dante comedy to find a new audience and be seen again by old fans with the Blu-ray release of “Innerspace.” The 1987 feature had Dennis Quaid as a pilot whose secret mission involves being shrunken down to microscopic size and injected into a rabbit — except he gets into the blood of grocery store clerk Martin Short by mistake instead.

“It looks great on Blu-ray,” Dante finds. “I think comedies are always best seen in theaters with an audience, but this film proven resilient, largely because of home video. That’s true of many pictures of the ’80s that would have kind of been more or less forgotten, if only their theatrical reputations followed them. But home video has gotten them to successive generations.”

“Innerspace” was “one of the only movies I had ever done that hadn’t come out on Blu-Ray, and now it is,” notes the director whose list of comedy-fantasy-fright film fare includes ‘Piranha” and “Gremlins.” Looking back at “Innerspace,” he says, “It was a movie that was a lot of fun to make — one of the best experiences I’ve had.”

The initial pitch for “Innerspace” went like this, Dante recalls: “What if you shrunk Dean Martin down and injected him inside Jerry Lewis — and with that as the concept in mind, the most Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis guys at the time were Dennis and Marty. Dennis had done ‘The Right Stuff,” which made him perfect for it. Marty had been a tremendous success, first on Canadian television and then on U.S. television on ‘SCTV,’ with a particular brand of humor that was very popular at the time, and he was getting movie offers. Usually actors like that don’t get lead offers, but this was the lead and this was, I think, a good career step for him.”

The effects by Industrial Light & Magic were convincing enough not only to win an Oscar, but to make the late film critic Roger Ebert believe that Dante and company had used actual medical film. “I had to send him a little rubber platelet in the mail to show him that all that stuff flying around was actually little rubber things flying into the camera,” he says.

Yes, this was before computer generated imagery, and the ILM guys made “actual miniatures constructed and shot with cameras.”

The down-to-earth, articulate filmmaker is ware that movies mixing comedy with complex fantasy and science fiction — the kinds of films that upon which his considerable reputation rests — “are now in short supply.

Everything is so expensive. Special effects are usually relegated to a 30-minute segment in the middle of Act III in which millions die, or people fight on girders suspended from helicopters. It’s all about spectacle now. The kinds of movies I used to do are I used to do are made for cable — or they’re just not made at all,” says Dante, who most recently has been occupied at the helm of TV’s “Hawaii Five-O.” “So TV is the natural outlet for people who want to buy cat food and pay the bills.”

Although he enjoys the series, the rigid structure of TV drama, with its set character arcs and time limitations, isn’t the creative playground he knew and loved in the past. Then, studio development executives gave filmmakers money and “you knew the movie was going to get made.” Nowadays, everyone is in a scramble to find their own financing, and “it’s very difficult,” admits Dante, who has a number of projects in the works.

“You have to have different irons in the fire,” he notes. “Everybody in town is juggling more than one movie. You have to, because if you meet with a financier and he says, ‘Well, this project isn’t really for us,’ you have to be able to pull out a couple more because you don’t want to waste the opportunity.”

Financiers also tend to fancy remakes, because “with so much money on the line, it seems safer to go with something that’s already been successful,” he points out.

Indeed, “They’ve already remade a number of pictures of mine and they talk about remaking others,” he notes. “The trouble with remakes — and I have no problem with them because some of our favorite movies were remakes; ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and ‘The Maltese Falcon’ were remakes — there’s nothing wrong with remakes, but they sometimes don’t take into account that the original was part of its time. Sometimes these stories don’t push forward into the future into any sense. Someone controlling the purse strings thinks ‘This will be new to kids.’ But for every remake that works, there are two that don’t, and sometimes it’s not the execution. It’s the concept.”

What would Dante think of a remake of “Innerspace”?

He laughs. “When ‘Innerspace’ came out, people said it was a remake of ‘Fantastic Voyage.’ I don’t know, personality-wise, who would fit as well into those parts.”

Dante candidly admits, “I did ‘Innerspace’ partly because I thought it would be a commercial movie and I had just come off a movie that was a critical and commercial disaster (the Ethan Hawke-River Phoenix “Explorers,” which developed a following on home video) and I figured, ‘I’ve got to get back into the mainsteam. So I started off ‘Innerspace’ thinking it was a commercial movie, and then I kept adding all these crazy ideas into it, so that by the end of the picture, it was another Joe Dante movie. I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got to be true to myself. I can’t make someone else’s movie.”

For which fans are grateful indeed.

Remakes, Breakups and Bad Blood Highlight News Out of Summer Press Tour 2015

The broadcast and cable networks and Internet streaming outlets have wrapped up the 17-day promote-athon known as the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour. Many shows were touted by many creators and stars in many panels and parties — so many, it was easy to get lost in the swirl of it all. So here’s a blitz recap of 10 of this year’s top news bites.

Lee Daniels says it’s inevitable, “without question,” that his massive hit “Empire” yields a spinoff. That spinoff will be a prequel that delves into the life of everybody’s favorite flamboyant Cookie, Taraji P. Henson’s one-of-a-kind matriarch character. No word on when the new series will come along, but “Empire” returns Sept. 23.

Jimmy Fallon has signed on to keep doing “The Tonight Show” into September of 2021.

Donald Trump has definitely been fired from hosting “Celebrity Apprentice.” NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt told critics the show will be back in 2016 with a new host, someone who must be big and make a lot of noise.

Maybe there will be a “Downton Abbey” movie. Executive Producer Gareth Neame says there’s been talk of a film and it just might happen, though there is no script or projected start date. Putting money on this one doesn’t seem like a good idea. Nevertheless, it takes a teensy bit of the sting out of the forthcoming farewell at the end of season six (which begins airing on PBS Jan. 3).

THE MUPPETS - The Muppets are back in prime time like you've never seen them before. Romance! Breakups! Success! Failure! Muppets are opening the doors to their homes and offices in this fresh documentary style series that explores these beloved characters as they live their lives in Hollywood. This real-world Muppet series will have something for kids of all ages. (ABC/Andrea McCallin ) DENISE, MISS PIGGY, JANICE

Denise, Miss Piggy, Janice “The Muppets” (ABC/Andrea McCallin )

Kermit and Miss Piggy broke up and he’s purportedly dating a pig named Denise in the ABC marketing department. Well, we all know how celebrities gin up their feuds to create interest in their new movies and shows. Would anyone be surprised if the showbiz savvy Piggy was behind this tactic to bring attention to their new “The Muppets” coming up on ABC Sept. 22. Co-created by Bill Prady (protege of Jim Henson who went on to create shows including “The Big Bang Theory) and Bob Kushell, the new “Muppets” looks like a good prospect for another TV hit.

Louis K.C. is going to take an extended hiatus after season five of his award-winning FX show. He wants to focus on other things and there is no telling when he’ll resume.

FX Chieftain John Landgraf believes that with all the outlets scrambling to put on more and more — and more — shows, we’ve reached a point of “Simply Too Much Television,” so expect a dropoff. But Showtime President David Nevins contends “There may be too much good TV. There’s never enough great TV. We’re trying really hard to make great TV.” So there.

There’s certainly a lot of retread TV. For example, Showtime has a “Twin Peaks” revival going into production next month for a 2016 debut. In addition to “The Muppets,” there’s “Heroes: Reborn” launching Sept. 24. Come midseason, we’ll see the return of Craig T. Nelson as “Coach.” “Prison Break” will return to Fox next year. Everyone involved wants to do a “Law & Order” revival, if the timing can be worked out, according to super producer Dick Wolf. And NBC’s Greenblatt raised the frightening prospect of a new “Alf.”

Wolf also disclosed plans for crossovers between his series, including a “jumbo” four-way crossover, with a story shared by “Chicago P.D.,” “Chicago Fire,” the new “Chicago Med” and “Law & Order: SVU.” That will be in February. In time for sweeps, of course.

Britney Spears will be on the CW’s “Jane the Virgin.” “The Muppets” guests will include Imagine Dragons and Nathan Fillion. But no show is a match for “Empire” when it comes to featuring famous names. This coming season, the show’s Who’s Who includes Pitbull, Chris Rock, Alicia Keys, Al Sharpton and Lenny Kravitz.

Alyson Stoner Talks ‘Sugar Babies’ and More

alyson stonerTo look at Alyson Stoner’s resume, you’d never think she was just 21. The actress-on-the-rise has credits aplenty for someone years older than she — the “Step Up” film franchise, “Cheaper by the Dozen” and the “Camp Rock” movies, her years on the Disney Channel’s “Suite Life of Zack & Cody,” plus her dance career working with names including Missy Elliot and Will Smith, her recording career and more. Come Aug. 15, Stoner will be seen starring in Lifetime’s “Sugar Babies,” a movie inspired by the burgeoning numbers of young women tapping into college funding by offering “companionship” to wealthy men. She also performed the title song. The telefilm underscores the fact the well-spoken actress is all grown up now.

Q: Had you heard of anyone being a sugar baby before you got involved with the project?

A: A friend had just been approached about a month prior to my reading the script and that’s how I was introduced to the idea. My friend ended up declining the offer of companionship, but the offer was pretty deep and pretty favorable. She’s just over 21 and she’s a hungry artist, so she was an easy person to solicit — a beautiful young woman. Actually, that was the reason I was so curious, having had this just happen to my friend.

Q: This concept blew me away, being the mother of a young woman myself.

A: I think it will open up a lot of conversations. This is a hot topic already circulating widely. What I love about the approach of the movie is that we’re opening a dialogue, but we’re not determining for anyone is the what is right or wrong stance or attitude. Some people use a relationship like this all platonically, some with a certain stringent sort of clinical, cut and dried attitude. Each one is so unique and so individual.

Q: Did you like the way your character was developed?

A: There were very few changes to the story, so when I had an issue with anything in the script I had to take the responsibility to reinterpret how I positioned myself in a scene and what direction I chose as an actor. It might not be a change in dialogue but a change in inflection and connotation.

Q: Can you think of an example of that?

A: On paper, Lifetime dramas can be pretty melodramatic and I wanted to keep the performance grounded in reality. I think of the part where we’re in the car and he’s giving me gifts. When you read it on paper, there appeared to be a neediness and an insecurity and giddiness, and those were valid emotions. I wanted to remind the audience that she does think for herself, she does have a moral compass to begin with. There are things I chose in order to portray a strong woman as opposed to a weak target, in order to show that she wasn’t totally victimized but a conscious participant. That’s where it gets really messy — when you start to justify within your own value system, deciding what you want for yourself and what you’ll do to get there. I wanted to create a little more tension and depth.

Q: You character seemed to be thinking a lot in that scene. I was seeing conflicting emotions on your face. There was a lot going on between the lines.

A: We were shooting at night and wearing thin, so it was helpful emotionally. It’s such an intersection of thoughts in a situation like that one. You’re mixing love and money, artificial partnership with genuine affection. You’re wondering where you stand in the hierarchy of his other women and it’s so confusing. Then you add the conflict of actually needing these men, developing a dependence on them. It’s so prevalent. If it’s a business deal, let it be a business deal. But when hearts get involved it gets very complicated. It built so much compassion for women who get caught up and don’t realize it until it’s too late. Some women are very naive and others are very aware. It’s so individual and it plays on so many levels.

Q: What did your friend who was approached think of all this?

A: My friend was not familiar with this world. When she was approached it was very, very innocent and casual. The intrigue was, it turned out to be very alluring to her. She ended up saying no because of personal circumstances. But if things had been different she might have leaned toward getting that support. I think it’s like a drug in that it’s a quick fix. It’s instant gratification for attention, excitement, adventure, an escape from your own reality. I had a talk with her about this film, and told her after having done it I had a lot of appreciation for the attraction of it.

Q: How did you get along with Giles Panton, who played your sugar daddy?

A: The day we met was the day we filmed our first kiss and full make-out scene.

Q: Of course! That seems to be the way it happens a lot in movie shooting.

A: It caught us, we were performing, but it had that kind of lustful energy behind it. We felt the tug right away and it shaped our scenes together beautifully because there was a genuine connection.

Q: You’re so busy with other acting work, your charity work in Ethiopia, your recording. How did this fit in your schedule?

A: We shot this film in 13 days, 16-18 hour days. The crew was there even longer. It was an absurd schedule, but the intensity and pace mirrored the scenes so it kind of tied into the drama. You carve time.

Q: You have the feature film “Summer Forever” rolling out this month.

A: Yes. The last six films I’ve done have been smaller and it’s been exciting to be involved in the roll-out campaigns, going out to the actual demographic and getting feedback, engaging people on social media platforms — you feel like a true team player rather than just going out and being part of where a studio is spending its ad dollars. I think being a hybrid or a multi-hyphenate is becoming commonplace, even mandatory.

Q: What would you like to be doing next?

A: Having done several movies and a series and some animated shows, the most challenging thing would be to break through as a music artist, to really be able to pour my heart and soul into music.

Q: To that end, you’re now at work on a new album. How is it going?

A: We’re very excited, hoping that it crosses a lot of generations and cultures. We’re going for a global classic pop sound like a Janet Jackson or female Justin Timberlake.

Q: Do you have an eta on that?

A: My estimate is probably fall this year.