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Docs deal with death in way that inspires, delivers message

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ONE might think a column about two death-related documentaries would be a complete downer.

In fact, this doubleheader review is anything but -- the two films featured here have death as their shared backdrop, but each finds a way to be uplifting in its own way. And one of them is also important because of the public service it provides.

First up is CBS's The Grammys Will Go On: A Death in the Family (which airs tonight at 8 on CBS and Global), an hour-long special that looks back at the 2012 Grammy Awards and the last-minute revisions the show's producers and performers had to make in the wake of Whitney Houston's death less than 24 hours before the event.

As the Grammys' executive producer, Ken Ehrlich, explains in one of many revealing interviews in the special, even before Houston's passing, the 2012 show was shaping up to be a memorable evening -- including a Bruce Springsteen opener, a 50th-anniversary tribute to the Beach Boys, a career-farewell tribute to Glen Campbell, Adele's return to performing after throat surgery and a closing number featuring Sir Paul McCartney and an all-star guitar lineup.

"I was just so proud of where we were with the show prior to learning that Whitney had passed," he says. "I've done 32 of these, and this one just had something about it that was pretty remarkable."

And then, of course, came the news. And immediately, Ehrlich and the Grammys' writers and production team were suddenly faced with the task of creating a much different show on just a few hours' notice.

"Through our sadness, one thing was certain," recalls host LL Cool J. "The Grammys would honour this musical icon, and the show would go on."

And what A Death in the Family offers is a fascinating, hour-by-hour look at how they pulled it off, complete with rare footage from rehearsals and great interview clips with performers who appeared in last year's televised show.

Jennifer Hudson recalls getting a phone call from Ehrlich just minutes after learning of the death of her lifelong musical inspiration; once she arrived in Los Angeles, she was offered a secluded rehearsal space so she could deal with her grief while preparing a tribute song.

Her instruction from the producer: "I don't want you to perform this; I want you to sing this for Whitney."

A year later, Hudson's rendition of I Will Always Love You remains a guaranteed eye-moistener.

Among the artists featured this well-crafted special are Springsteen, Joe Walsh, Bonnie Raitt, Dave Grohl, Alicia Keys, Bruno Mars, Adele, McCartney and Katy Perry.

The show went on, of course, and it was spectacular. It's pretty cool to see how the Grammy people made it happen.

-- -- --

Born of unfathomable sadness but filled with inspiration and hope is the TSN documentary Talk To Me: The Story of James Patrick Peek, which airs Monday at 7:30 p.m.

Produced by the sports network as part of the Bell Let's Talk Day mental-health initiative, the half-hour film follows TSN field producer Mike Farrell as he steps out from behind the camera and interviews a close friend whose family has turned tragedy into opportunity.

Farrell's lifelong best pal, Sean Peek, lost his older brother to suicide in 1999, and the Peek family has been running a memorial golf tournament for the past 13 years to raise funds and awareness for mental health.

James Peek was a straight-A student, captain of his high school hockey team, a promising golfer and the life of every party he attended. But he carried a dark secret -- depression -- and at age 17, felt he could no longer fight the illness.

Younger brother Sean was 13 years old when he came home from school and found his brother dead in the garage.

"It was," he says, "the worst day of my life."

Peek's parents, as well as his two siblings, speak frankly about James's death, how they never saw it coming, and how important it has become to them to provide options to other young people struggling with depression besides the one Peek chose.

"You never want to believe that there's anything wrong with a child of yours," says dad Randy Peek. "I think, probably, the strongest message I could ever give anybody is 'Don't assume anything.'"

Talk To Me is a beautifully crafted film that carries a message of hope -- most emphatically delivered by a couple of 20-somethings who reveal that being able to reach out to the resources created by the Peek family's fundraising efforts literally saved their lives.

It's powerful stuff.

This isn't a descriptive you'll see a TV critic employ often, but here goes: Talk To Me is an important film. It should be seen. Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 9, 2013 G4


Updated on Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 3:36 PM CST: adds fact box

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