Katie Couric's evolution, Legend on Trump, Perry on Kennedy
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PASADENA, Calif. — A roundup of news Friday from the Television Critics Association winter meeting, at which TV networks and streaming services are presenting details on upcoming programs.
President-elect Donald Trump has two more Hollywood critics: singer John Legend and the creator of a television series on history's Underground Railroad where slaves were led to freedom.
"This country was built on racism and sexism, and I think our soon-to-be-president is again going to be racist and sexist," Misha Green, a creator of "Underground" on WGN, said on Friday.
She and Legend, a producer for the series who also appears as abolitionist Frederick Douglass, were asked about whether their show had adjusted anything for its upcoming second season with the election results in mind.
Green said she hoped the heroes in the series who were fighting injustice would be an inspiration for people today.
Legend said the lesson of the election — and the television series itself — is that even when people see progress, it's not guaranteed to remain.
"We're going through a period where Donald Trump has promised to make us a less just and less free country, and those who believe in justice and freedom are going to have to stand up for it," he said.
Katie Couric, slammed three years ago as insensitive during an interview with transgender women Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox, says she has evolved.
"We can't be afraid to make mistakes on our journey to educate ourselves," said Couric, host and executive producer of "Gender Revolution," a two-hour National Geographic special airing next month.
On an episode of Couric's former talk show in 2014, she asked model Carrera if her "private parts" were different now. The model said she was uncomfortable with the personal topic.
When Couric raised the question with Cox ("Orange is the New Black"), the actress called it unhelpful given the problems of anti-transgender discrimination and violence.
In a Q&A session with TV critics Friday, Couric said the exchanges could have been edited out of the taped show but she chose to leave them in as a "teachable moment" on appropriate or inappropriate ways to have such conversations.
The critical reaction didn't make her shy away from the topic but instead compelled her to become better informed, Couric said.
"Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric," airing 9 p.m. EST Feb. 6, is described by the channel as an exploration of the changing concept of gender in the realms of science, society and culture.
Couric interviewed scientists, activists, families and others to delve into the role of genetics, brain chemistry and modern attitudes on gender identity.
She said the "personal stories are what make this documentary."
Among those featured in the special are JR and Vanessa Ford, parents of a transgender child who was being raised as a boy but who told her parents at age 4 that she was "'a girl in my heart and my brain,'" Vanessa Ford said.
She said she hoped the project would help people get to know her family and relate to them.
"'Hey, here we are. My kid won't eat vegetables either,'" is part of the message, Ford said.
MENZEL AT THE BEACH
Idina Menzel prefers creating roles rather than following in someone else's footsteps. Yet when it came to a remake of "Beaches," the Broadway veteran couldn't turn it down.
Menzel tackles the role played by Bette Midler in the 1988 theatrical film for the Lifetime TV version co-starring Nia Long that airs Jan. 21. She also recorded Midler's No. 1 hit from the movie "Wing Beneath My Wings," a 1990 Grammy Award winner.
"I have been singing this song my whole life, ever since I was a wedding singer and bar mitzvah singer," she told a television critics gathering on Friday. "Every single 13-year-old boy danced with his mother to 'Wind Beneath My Wings.' I was trying to find my own spin on it."
Menzel first gained fame for Tony-nominated roles she originated in "Rent" and "Wicked," for which she won a best-actress Tony. After leaving those shows, Menzel was replaced by other actresses.
"I have learned that the show goes on without you; that people are very talented, and that if something is written beautifully, you can be great, but there's always somebody right there that's just as good," she said. "Sometimes that's hard for me."
PERRY ON KENNEDY
Between a dialect coach who told him to exaggerate the accent and recent experience in a London play that required him to loudly project his voice onstage, Matthew Perry was a little over-the-top when he began filming his role as Sen. Edward Kennedy in a new television miniseries.
"I sounded like Foghorn Leghorn," he said Friday.
The former "Friends" star appears with Katie Holmes, who reprises her role as Jackie Kennedy in "The Kennedys — After Camelot," which premieres April 2 on the Reelz channel.
Perry said playing Kennedy was the most challenging role of his career. "I took this job because it scared me," he said.
Perry's most recent sitcom, CBS' remake of "The Odd Couple," is not likely to return. He said he's drawn to writing, which he expects to be a big part of his career moving forward. He wrote and starred in a play, "The End of Longing," in London and he expects to bring it to New York.
He describes it as a dark comedy with emotional scenes.
"One time I went to my computer to see how many times I could write the f-word," he said. "It was 138. Don't bring your children, but please come."
Associated Press writers David Bauder, Lynn Elber and Beth Harris contributed to this report.
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