Tuned In: PBS turns spotlight on Patina Miller


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PASADENA, Calif. -- It has been quite a year for actress Patina Miller: The 2006 Carnegie Mellon University musical theater grad won a Tony for her lead role in Broadway's "Pippin," booked roles in TV and film, and now she's in the spotlight on PBS's "Live From Lincoln Center" (9 tonight, WQED-TV).

For tonight's "Patina Miller in Concert," viewers can expect music from a variety of genres -- from classic R&B to Broadway tunes.

"I've been influenced by a lot of music, a lot of people," Ms. Miller said in January at a PBS press conference during the Television Critics Association winter press tour. "I grew up in the church. I don't know if a lot of people know that, but this is basically about my start, this little 9-year-old girl with a dream."

Ms. Miller grew up in Pageland, S.C., where she said there were not many artistic opportunities.

"Movies: That was my way in and watching programs like PBS arts. That was my introduction," she said. "We weren't fortunate enough to go to Broadway and see Broadway shows. So what I learned was from watching TV, watching my favorite actors on television. And I got the bug, and I used to sing around the house all the time and really bug my mom so much."

Ms. Miller attended a summer arts program three towns away, was cast in "Annie" at camp and attended the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities before getting a full scholarship to CMU. She made her Broadway debut in "Sister Act" in 2011.

"My mom and my grandmother were both very strong women, and my mom always said, 'They can tell you "No." You can't be afraid to hear "No." They all might say "No," but at some point, someone is going to say "Yes" and take a chance on you, and you have to believe in yourself and you have to believe in what you do and what you are as a person and stick to that,' " Ms. Miller said. She was back in Pittsburgh last year for the inauguration of Subra Suresh as the new CMU president.

"They prepared us so well," she said of her time at CMU. "We had people coming into our school, guest artists, all the time. We were up-to-date on every different genre of musicals. They really train you there to come out with everything."

Ms. Miller's busy year will just keep getting busier. In addition to continuing to star in "Pippin" on Broadway, she's filming a role in the final two "Hunger Games" movies.

"I filmed part of it in October. They let me off the show to go and do that. So that was very nice of them. And then I start filming a little bit in February, and I'll do a little bit at the end of April through June," Ms. Miller explained. "I play Commander Paylor. She's one of the rebel leaders in the districts. ... So I do have to be physically fit for the role."

In addition, Ms. Miller has landed a role as a press coordinator on the CBS pilot "Madame Secretary" about the personal and professional life of the U.S. secretary of state (Tea Leoni). This show is in contention for a slot on CBS's fall prime-time schedule.

If "Madame Secretary" gets picked up, it will be a return to TV for Ms. Miller, who also had a role on the daytime soap "All My Children" while she was in "Sister Act" on Broadway.

"It was so crazy to be thrust into that world," she said. "You learn you don't have rehearsal time, you just learn your blocking. It taught me how to prepare for everything, and I got to work with a lot of amazing people. Susan Lucci was fabulous; she came and saw me in ['Pippin']."

Ms. Miller said she grew up on daytime soaps and was perhaps destined to appear on one.

"My mom loved soap operas, and her favorite character was Patina on 'General Hospital.' So that's how I got my name," she said. "I hated my name growing up because people called me names, but when I got to be about 12 or 13, the cool thing about me was my name. It made me stand out and realize standing out is good. I started to love it."

Local on 'House of Food'

New MTV reality series "House of Food" (10 p.m. Monday) features former Western Pennsylvanian Amanda Jean Shaw (she chose to go by Amanda Jean on the show). And she has a rough go of it in the first episode of the series, which has seven wannabe cooks living together in a house and being judged by three Los Angeles professional chefs.

For her first dish, Ms. Shaw makes meat cupcakes and doesn't bother making the dough from scratch, using store-bought instead.

"Amanda's cute, but you can't really put a meat muffin on a plate and throw it in front of a bunch of chefs," says fellow contestant Will.

Predictably, the judges are unimpressed with the dish and its preparation. One chef judge asks, "Have you ever read a recipe?"

Other contestants also object to Ms. Shaw's lack of ambition: She says she doesn't want to open her own restaurant, just cook for her family.

Ms. Shaw, a 25-year-old graduate of Pittsburgh Allderdice High School, moved to Los Angeles three years ago. Prior to that she spent some time in New York and lived all over Pittsburgh and had jobs at Hollister at the Waterfront, Buckle at Ross Park Mall and also worked at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center where her father, John Shaw, is an electrician.

At the TV critics winter press tour in January, Ms. Shaw said she is passionate about food and that led her to apply to be on the show. But Ms. Shaw said the pace of a restaurant kitchen is too fast; she'd rather become a personal chef.

"I like to go slow and take my time and enjoy it," she said. "I love taking the time to make the meal."

With her pink hair and tattoos, MTV tries to position Ms. Shaw as a rock 'n' roll drama queen, but that's not how she comes across in the premiere.

"I come from an Italian family and when we talk people might think we're upset," Ms. Shaw said, "but we're just really passionate when we speak."

But her passion -- or lack thereof -- about becoming a chef working in a restaurant turns out to be a big problem for the show's judges, who threaten to send her packing before the end of the series premiere.

'Selfridge' returns

This weekend PBS's "Masterpiece Classic" returns "Mr. Selfridge" (9 p.m. Sunday, WQED-TV) following the third-season premiere of "Call the Midwife" at 8 p.m.

"Mr. Selfridge" star Jeremy Piven said the new series begins five years after season one as it continues to follow the exploits of the American founder of London department store Selfridges.

"One of the beautiful things about doing a series is that you get to continuously explore these characters and their relationships," Mr. Piven said in January during a PBS press conference at the TV critics winter press tour. "He was a big fan of P.T. Barnum and loved putting on a show and was incredibly driven and ambitious. ... We're celebrating five years of the store being successful. And it's a hollow victory because he doesn't have his wife. His real life was like a Greek tragedy. ... He really [understands] that without the love of his life, the success doesn't mean much. So he's very focused on his wife."

Mr. Piven has visited the real-life Selfridges a few times.

"I went in there with, like, a hat on and glasses and stuff like that. So I was kind of under the radar, but there were a lot of double takes," he said. "And then when I went to go buy something, I was really expecting them to treat me well. And, unfortunately, I think the one person who hadn't seen the show was helping me."

'Good Wife' shocker

Kudos to the cast, crew and producers of CBS's "The Good Wife" for keeping the major plot twist in last Sunday's episode from leaking in advance. In this era of spoilers, it's almost unheard of for nothing to leak out. Well done.

In addition, this plot turn -- no spoilers here -- opens up a new direction for the series and helps it to avoid repeating past stories. "The Good Wife" already has been renewed for the 2014-15 TV season.

Kept/canceled

USA renewed "White Collar" for a likely final six-episode season.

History renewed "Vikings" for a third season. And cable newcomer El Rey renewed "From Dusk Till Dawn" for a 13-episode second season.

Fox has pulled the comedy "Enlisted" from its schedule, effective after tonight's episode. "Kitchen Nightmares" will air at 9 p.m. Friday beginning April 11.

A&E pulled reality show "Breaking Boston" after just one episode aired earlier this month.

ABC canceled "Mind Games" this week and will replace it with"Celebrity Wife Swap" starting April 15.

Vote for your favorite (and against your least favorite) prime-time shows in the Post-Gazette's annual online Keep or Cancel poll: http://old.post-gazette.com/tv/poll/default.asp.

Channel surfing

RiffTrax, the movie and TV commentary from some of the folks involved in "Mystery Science Theater 3000," will offer commentary during National Geographic Channel's prime-time shows -- "Bad@$$ Animals," "Unlikely Animal Friends," "My Dog Ate What?" and "Man v. Monster" -- on Tuesday, April Fool's Day. ... That wrap-up movie for ReelzChannel's "Bomb Girls" will make its American debut at 9 p.m. May 26. The first two seasons of the show will re-air in Sunday marathons, three episodes each week beginning at 11 a.m. April 13. ... NBC's "Saturday Night Live" is back with three new episodes: Louis C.K. hosts with musical guest Sam Smith this weekend; Anna Kendrick hosts with Pharrell on April 5, and Seth Rogen hosts with Ed Sheeran on April 12. ... Destination America's "Mountain Monsters" returns for its second season at 10 p.m. next Friday with episodes that include at least nine "monsters" of legend in West Virginia. ... Western Pennsylvania's Lora Hubbard will be a winning trader today on CBS's "Let's Make a Deal" (10 a.m., KDKA-TV). ... WTAE's "Chronicle: Living Like Lou," about Pittsburghers living with ALS/Lou Gehrig's disease, raised more than $130,000 Wednesday night to benefit The Pittsburgh Foundation and LiveLikeLou.org. The program repeats at midnight Sunday and at 8 p.m. Tuesday and next Friday on WTAE's digital subchannel thisTV.

Tuned In online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "The Amazing Race," "Knight Rider" and TV shows on demand. This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge," "The Good Wife," "Surviving Jack," "24" and "Friends With Better Lives." Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

This week's podcast includes conversation about "The Good Wife," "The 100" and "Those Who Kill." Subscribe or listen at http://old.post-gazette.com/podcast.


TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news.

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