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A seasoned film critic eyes TV’s biography

At 75, David Thomson is the sultan of cinema criticism. British-born but long based in America, he is the author of nearly two dozen film-related books including “Moments that Made the Movies,” “’Have You Seen…?’: A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films” and “The New Biographical Dictionary of Film.”

Now Thomson has switched his gaze, and his analysis, to the TV medium.

In “Television: A Biography” (Thames & Hudson, $34.95), David Thomson focuses on TV from its individual genres to its broad social impact during the past 70 years. As ever, his writing is bright, puckish and reader-friendly.

At 400 pages, the book is a bit weighty, but not the prose.

But what made Thomson, who had never before put his take on TV between covers, decide to change channels? During a recent interview, he explained.

“I was at a point where I felt that the movies were not really going anywhere very exciting, and that if you were looking for the best American movies, you probably needed to look at television. ‘The Wire,’ ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘Breaking Bad’ — they were so much more ambitious than anything made for theaters.

So I began to develop an historical perspective on TV that I had had on the movies for a long time. I’m much more interested now in thinking about and writing about TV than the movies.”

A VIEWER’S BOOK

“You may have watched a lot of TV but never thought systematically about it. I wanted to do a book which would give you a sense that the totality of the medium had been addressed. Not covered, but addressed. And if you have never watched television, after you read this book I think you can say, ‘I understand what television is.””

A DIFFERENT CREATURE

“Our relationship with TV is different than with almost any medium we’ve had before. It’s all well and good for something on TV to be so riveting that you don’t want to miss a moment. But when you tune in to watch one show, you may end up just watching TV overall. There’s such a lot on television that is sort of tidal — it just washes in and out, over you. You turn it on like you would turn on a light, and you may be doing other things. But even if you’re not watching, it enters into you in ambient ways.”

SHORT LIST

Thomson, film’s consummate list-maker, shared “off the top of my head” a few pick TV hits:

“Monty Python’s Flying Circus” … the BBC version of “The Singing Detective” … live coverage of the funeral of President John F. Kennedy … “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” … “a couple of episodes of ‘All in the Family’ where Edith is just sublime” … the ESPN documentary series “O.J.: Made in America,” which he calls “a major work” … and, of course, “Breaking Bad.”

“But this time tomorrow,” he cautions, “I would revise the whole list.”

TV PRESIDENT

“With Donald Trump in the White House, I think we’re going to get more of the same as with the campaign: His administration will have to be judged as an ongoing TV show. He is a television person, so I think it’s going to be a presidency of shows and moments. My instinct is, in terms of policy, he’s doing to be dreadfully disappointing to his supporters. But on TV, I think it’s going to be amazing _ until it becomes grotesque.”

LOOKING AHEAD

“We watch stories and stars, but it’s more and more evident that, as TV viewers, we go where the technology takes us. My sense of television is that technology has always driven the whole thing, and I think that will continue. I think more sophisticated, interesting fusions of what we still call television with the computer are going to occur. That will be more important than any sort of new genre or new narrative form in entertainment. And I see the end of the movie house. But it’s inevitable that a cellphone will be built into our hands. So maybe a screen could be implanted in our heads. I think that will happen!”

 

Donald Trump remains producer on ‘New Celebrity Apprentice’

Donald Trump is gone from the boardroom of NBC’s reboot of “Celebrity Apprentice” but he’s kept a business connection to the reality show.

President-elect Trump has an executive producer credit on “The New Celebrity Apprentice,” said Clare Anne Darragh, a spokesman for “Apprentice” creator Mark Burnett. She declined further comment on Trump’s participation in the show that taped last February.

Trump’s representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The series debuts Jan. 2 with Arnold Schwarzenegger replacing Trump as host. Schwarzenegger is an executive producer on the new show, as Trump was on the original.

Trump’s continued stake in a TV series is yet another unusual aspect of the election of a businessman and reality star to the presidency. Questions have been raised on how his extensive holdings may intersect with his actions as president.

Trump has said he is delaying until the new year plans to disclose how he will “take me completely out of business operations.”  He previously said that he plans to hand over management of his business to three of his adult children.

That falls short of what some government ethics experts are pushing him for, which is that he sell his assets and put the money in a “blind trust” overseen by an independent manager not related to him.

In TV, a producer’s tasks can range widely, but the credit also can be given as a so-called vanity perk and for compensation without actively working on a project. Trade publication Variety first reported he had retained the title.

NBC, which declined comment, previously faced scrutiny over its business dealings with Trump, which included beauty pageant telecasts as well as “Apprentice.”

In July 2015, NBC said it was severing its business ties to Trump following his claims that many undocumented Mexicans immigrants are criminals and rapists. The network licenses “New Celebrity Apprentice” from MGM, which produces it.

Burnett, a mega-producer whose other programs include “Survivor” and “The Voice,” also answered for his Trump relationship. He released a statement last October distancing himself and his wife, actress Roma Downey, from the GOP contender.

“I am not now and have never been a supporter of Donald Trump’s candidacy. I am NOT ‘Pro-Trump.’ Further, my wife and I reject the hatred, division and misogyny that has been a very unfortunate part of his campaign,” said Burnett, who in 2015 was named president of MGM Television and Digital Group.

The statement followed pressure on Burnett and MGM to make public “Apprentice” outtakes after an Associated Press report that, during the show’s production, Trump repeatedly demeaned women with sexually tinged comments. That report was followed by release of an “Access Hollywood” audio tape with graphic Trump comments.

MGM said in October that it, not Burnett, owns “The Apprentice” and would honor confidentiality and artist’s rights agreements in regard to “Apprentice.” No outtakes were released.

Love, loss and royalty star in TV drama ‘The Crown’

 

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth is known for her dedication to a demanding job. Claire Foy, who plays Elizabeth as a young ruler in Netflix’s The Crown, can claim the same.

Foy accepted the central role in Netflix’s 10-part series when she was pregnant, knowing that filming would begin just a few months after her daughter’s arrival.

“I’d never had a baby before, so I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” the actress said by phone from London. “But I’m so glad I made that decision.”

The Crown reportedly is Netflix’s costliest series to date, pegged at $100 million. The money is on the screen in lavish scenes such as Elizabeth’s coronation and location shooting in Scotland and South Africa.

A second season is already in production.

The Crown opens in the bleakness of post-World War II Britain, with a respite provided by Elizabeth’s marriage to Philip Mountbatten (played with sexy swagger by Matt Smith of Doctor Who).

The scene in which they exchange vows is a charmer, with a nervous-looking Elizabeth coaxed along by teasing smiles from Philip. There’s no film of the ceremony, Foy said, but a preserved radio broadcast inspired the scene’s direction.

“She did sound fragile and very, very little and sort of, not unsure, but she definitely didn’t belt out her vows,” Foy said. Given Elizabeth’s youth, her longtime love for Philip and “the idea of forever and everybody you know is watching you,” it was natural for her to be overwhelmed, she added.

The bride’s expectation of playing helpmate to her new husband and his naval career is ended by the death of her father, King George VI, at 56. Elizabeth was 25 when the royal responsibility she believed to be decades away passed to her.

The drama follows her early years as a monarch in a changing world, along with those in her orbit including her free-spirited sister, Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby), and political leaders Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) and Anthony Eden (Jeremy Northam).

Writer and executive producer Peter Morgan didn’t come to the topic cold: He wrote the 2006 film The Queen, which dramatized the battering that Elizabeth and the royal family’s image took after Princess Diana’s death. It earned an Oscar for star Helen Mirren and a nomination for Morgan. Last year, Mirren received a Tony Award for her portrayal of Elizabeth in Morgan’s play The Audience.

For The Crown, Morgan’s prose rests on the findings of researchers who spent more than two years reading archives, biographies and cabinet meeting minutes, as well as Morgan’s own conversations with people “connected to the Royal Household,” as Netflix coyly put it.

At a news conference, he acknowledged the careful dance between members of the royal family and the production.

“I think that they’re very, very aware of it,” he said, and “countless approaches” were made “through untraceable back channels.”

“And in a way that protects both sides: I want my independence and I’m sure they want their independence,” he said. He believes the family understands the project was done with “some degree of respect,” Morgan said.

“These are people who are used to slander, cartoons, satire. These are not people who are used to being taken seriously. And whilst that might be a terrifying prospect, I think it is also the only worthwhile way of looking at our recent history,” Morgan said.

For Foy, portraying someone with such a crafted public image was a challenge. But ultimately, she said, the goal was the same as with any part: striving for authenticity and humanity in depicting Elizabeth’s loss of a parent, a universal experience, as she takes on “the biggest job that anyone can do.”

“That’s all you hope for when you do a drama,” Foy said. “If you’re portraying anything that anybody has been through, you don’t want people to watch it and not recognize it or feel betrayed by the portrayal of it. That’s true if you’re a queen or not.”

‘Orange is the New Black’ star, show writer get engaged

Orange is the New Black star Samira Wiley and show writer Lauren Morelli are engaged.

The pair posted the same picture on their Instagram accounts Tuesday. It shows a smiling couple and Wiley flashing a diamond ring.

When sharing the picture on Twitter , Wiley wrote, “I’ll do anything with this one.”

Morelli came out publicly two years ago in an article for Mic , where she wrote that she realized she was gay on one of her first days on the set of the Netflix prison dramedy in 2012. She later filed for divorce from her then-husband.

Orange is the New Black is set in a women’s prison and frequently focuses on lesbian relationships.

Wiley plays inmate Poussey Washington in the Netflix series.

 

Cast a wide net among channels when sampling new fall shows

The fall TV season always marks a reset of sorts, signaling an influx of new shows and a respite from reruns.

That’s the way it’s been since TV began, back when there were only three or four networks and dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Well, almost.

But despite this time-honored ritual of rebirth, series’ comings and goings have evolved into a seamless affair that flows year-round, boosted by the ever-escalating number of video outlets.

Dubbed “Peak TV,” this latter-day embarrassment of riches is noted by FX network’s president with a mixture of wonder and dismay.

Speaking to the Television Critics Association recently, John Landgraf forecast that a new peak of some 500 different scripted series would be introduced by TV outlets in 2017.

Of these, he said, “only” about 150 would be offered by the six major English-language broadcasters (ABC, CW, CBS, Fox and NBC, plus PBS).

The rest would emerge on cable and streaming services.

“I do this for a living, I think I have a pretty good memory, and I certainly can’t come close to keeping track of it all,” sighed Landgraf, adding, “While there’s more great television than at any time in history, audiences are having more trouble than ever distinguishing the great from the merely competent.”

Not to mention more trouble even stumbling on shows that viewers might consider great but instead get lost in the shuffle.

For instance, how many viewers will happen upon StartUp, one of the most distinctive and addictive dramas on any lineup? Starring Martin Freeman and Adam Brody in a steamy Miami mashup of techies and drug lords, it premieres Sept. 6 on Crackle, the streaming network known, if at all, for Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”

On MTV, where “gym, tan, laundry” was once the mantra thanks to Jersey Shore, a much smarter situation awaits on Mary + Jane (premiering Sept. 5), a devilish comedy about two gal pals who run a marijuana delivery service in Los Angeles.

And on Hulu, where you may typically binge on Forensic Files reruns, you might be happy to discover Hugh Laurie in the psychological drama Chance (Oct. 19) as a physician perilously different from his role as life-saving Dr. House.

These new arrivals might well escape your notice in the fall onslaught.

But word of other new shows is impossible to miss.

In particular, NBC leveraged its sprawling, much-watched Rio Games to beat the drum for fall newcomers like This Is Us and Timeless.

Both those series are sure to be heavily sampled by the audience. But while many viewers may embrace This Is Us (Sept. 20) as a tenderhearted and touching dramedy about divergent characters who have a lot in common, other viewers may dismiss the show as saccharine and labored.

And while some viewers may see Timeless (Oct. 3) as thrilling and eye-popping, others may dismiss this time-travel romp as clunky in concept and a misappropriation of lavish computer-generated imagery.

While ABC’s sitcom Speechless (Sept. 21) can congratulate itself for its special-needs focus — the family’s teenage son has cerebral palsy (as does the actor who plays him) — some viewers nonetheless may find it cartoonish and, well, not very funny.

While Michael Weatherly is certifiably a fan-fave from his years on NCIS, his much-awaited new CBS drama, Bull (Sept. 20), seems over-reliant on his fast-talking, glib portrayal. For some viewers, his performance as a charming trial consultant gaming the legal system may quickly wear thin.

And while Notorious (Sept. 22) will plant its flag in the Shonda Rimes-ruled landscape of ABC’s Thursday lineup, this dismal poppycock (a hunky defense attorney joins forces with a hot TV producer to promote their respective professional interests) may succeed primarily by exposing how hard it is to pull off what Rimes does so well.

None of this is to suggest that the commercial broadcast networks aren’t a party to TV’s current Golden Age.

Television, almost anywhere you look, is enjoying a renaissance.

But for the most part, broadcast TV has been overtaken by its cable and streaming competition while being forced to chase conflicting goals — to please a necessarily mass audience while taking enough creative risks to not get left in the dust by its more nimble rivals.

Millions of viewers are satisfied with the results.

Now, as ever, broadcast TV serves as a home for the expected, a 22-episodes-a-season respite where the viewer can feel comfortable, not challenged.

Meanwhile, surprises and creative daring greet viewers who look elsewhere — and result, sometimes, in explosive success (consider HBO’s Game of Thrones or AMC’s The Walking Dead, neither of which would have ever gained admittance by broadcast gatekeepers).

Granted, mining shows from the mountain of Peak TV can be a daunting task, especially since on niche media platforms, as with mainstream broadcast, there’s plenty of fool’s gold cluttering the view.

But if this fall season is any indication, TV’s current Golden Age is aglow — and this gold rush clearly leads toward cable and streaming.

WHY IT MATTERS: North Korea and the 2016 election

THE ISSUE: Pariah state North Korea could soon be capable of targeting America with nuclear weapons. Economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation have failed to halt its progress. What can the U.S. do to stop the authoritarian government from building up a nuclear arsenal that threatens the United States and its allies in Asia?

WHERE THEY STAND

Republican Donald Trump says the U.S. can put more pressure on China to rein in its unpredictable North Korean ally. He has suggested that Japan and South Korea could get nuclear weapons to defend themselves rather than depend on the U.S. military. But he’s also ready to meet the North Korean leader.

Democrat Hillary Clinton isn’t contemplating a face-to-face with Kim Jong Un, who has met no other foreign leader. She wants the international community to intensify sanctions on North Korea as the Obama administration did with Iran, which eventually opened the way for a deal to contain its nuclear program.

WHY IT MATTERS

Unlike Iran, North Korea already has the bomb. It has conducted four underground nuclear test explosions since 2006. The most recent test was in January, when it claimed to have detonated a hydrogen bomb — a much more powerful device than in the previous tests — although the U.S. government doubts that claim.

North Korea is also working on ways to deliver nuclear weapons. After five failures, it successfully test-launched in June a ballistic missile that puts U.S. military bases in South Korea, Japan and Guam within reach. North Korea has displayed an intercontinental missile that could potentially hit the mainland U.S., although it has not yet been flight-tested. It could take several more years to perfect that missile, which can be moved by road, making it harder to destroy pre-emptively. The U.S. military has said North Korea may by now have developed a nuclear warhead small enough to mount on such a missile.

The U.S. keeps 28,500 troops based in neighboring South Korea as a deterrent force, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended without a formal peace treaty. North Korea is unlikely to launch a nuclear attack on the U.S. or its allies, a move that would invite its own destruction. But, mindful of the fate of ousted dictators in Iraq and Libya who gave up nuclear weapons programs, Kim is clinging to his. He views atomic weapons as a security guarantee for his oppressive regime. That is the main obstacle to resuming negotiations in which the North could win much-needed aid in exchange for disarming.

International attitudes to North Korea are hardening. The nuclear test in January triggered the toughest sanctions yet, restricting the North’s access to foreign currency and weapons technology, but it remains to be seen how aggressively China enforces them. In a sign of how seriously the U.S. takes the emerging North Korean threat, it is investing in missile interceptors in Alaska and California to combat it. U.S. experts estimate that North Korea has 13 to 21 nuclear weapons, and could have as many as 100 by 2020. That’s about 20 weapons fewer than what India is estimated to have in its arsenal today.

WHY IT MATTERS: Health care and the 2016 election

THE ISSUE: About nine in 10 Americans now have health insurance, more than at any time in history. But progress is incomplete, and the future far from certain. Millions remain uninsured. Quality is still uneven. Costs are high and trending up again. Medicare’s insolvency is two years closer, now projected in 2028. Every family has a stake.

WHERE THEY STAND

Hillary Clinton would stay the course, making adjustments as needed to major government health insurance programs. She’d build on President Barack Obama’s health care law, with one exception — a tax on generous coverage that she’d repeal. Medicare, the health care program for older Americans and the disabled, would get new legal powers to negotiate prescription drug prices with pharma companies. Clinton would also offer some relief from rising out-of-pocket costs, like deductibles and copayments.

Donald Trump would repeal “Obamacare.” But a recent study found his plan would make 18 million people uninsured. Stay tuned, because Trump has also said he doesn’t want people “dying on the street.” Similar to Clinton, he has promised not to cut Medicare. He agrees Medicare should be able to negotiate drug prices, unusual for a Republican. Trump’s campaign has said he may revisit major health care programs once in the White House.

WHY IT MATTERS

Patients from all over the world come to America for treatment. U.S. research keeps expanding humanity’s ability to confront disease. But the U.S. still spends far more than any advanced country, and its people are not much healthier.

Obama’s progress reducing the number of uninsured may be reaching its limits. Premiums are expected to rise sharply in many communities for people covered by his namesake law, raising concerns about the future.

The health care overhaul did not solve the nation’s longstanding problem with costs. Total health spending is picking up again, underscoring that the system is financially unsustainable over the long run. Employers keep shifting costs to workers and their families.

No one can be denied coverage anymore because of a pre-existing condition, but high costs are still a barrier to access for many, including insured people facing high deductibles and copayments. Prescription drug prices — even for some generics — are another major worry.

The election offers a choice between a candidate of continuity — Clinton — and a Republican who seems to have some core beliefs about health care, but lacks a coherent plan.

If the presidential candidates do not engage the nation in debating the future of health care, it still matters.

Even if you’re healthy, deeper national debt affects the economy and in some way everyone’s standard of living, especially the next generation. If the government has to spend more on health care, it comes at the expense of more debt, cuts in something else or higher taxes.

America’s problem with health care spending can’t be ignored or wished away. Political leaders can postpone hard choices, but that will mean consequences even more wrenching when the bill comes due.

This story is part of AP’s “Why It Matters” series, which will examine three dozen issues at stake in the presidential election between now and Election Day. You can find them at: http://apnews.com/tag/WhyItMatters.

WHY IT MATTERS: The Supreme Court and the 2016 election

THE ISSUE: No one likes an even number on a court that makes decisions by majority vote. Yet that’s just what the Supreme Court has been left with, eight justices, since the death of Antonin Scalia in February.

Four cases ended in a tie after Scalia’s death. With Senate Republicans refusing to confirm President Barack Obama’s choice to succeed Scalia, the outcome of the presidential election will determine whether the ninth, tie-breaking justice moves the court right or left. How much can one vote matter?

In key decisions in recent years on health care, gun rights, same-sex marriage, voting rights and campaign finance, the vote was 5-4. And more Supreme Court appointments probably await the next president because two justices will be older than 80 and a third will be 78 come Election Day.

WHERE THEY STAND

Both Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump have made the future of the Supreme Court part of their pitch to their respective party faithful. In talking about the court, Clinton has stressed her support for abortion rights, LGBT issues and immigration. Trump has released a list of 11 conservative state and federal judges whom he would consider nominating if elected.

WHY IT MATTERS

The current vacancy is the moment both sides alternately have wished for and feared. Supreme Court nominations are always important because a justice can serve a quarter century or more. But the stakes are even higher when the president has a chance to put a like-minded justice on the court to take the place of an ideological opponent. Such a switch can change the outcome of some of the court’s most important cases.

That’s the tantalizing opportunity for Democrats and why Republicans have been resolute in refusing to consider Obama nominee Merrick Garland. Though Garland has a reputation as a moderate, he still would be left of Scalia on most issues.

A Clinton victory in November would, with the confirmation of Garland or someone else as the ninth justice, immediately shift the court to the left and result in a majority of justices nominated by a Democratic president for the first time since 1969.

If Trump is elected, he presumably would restore the court’s conservative tilt by appointing a like-minded successor to Scalia.

So the direction of a court closely divided between conservatives and liberals is at stake. The Supreme Court may be the least understood of the three branches of government, but its decisions affect Americans rich and poor.

A switch of one vote would have doomed Obama’s health care overhaul in 2012, kept the heart of a voting rights law in place in 2013 and prevented some Americans from marrying their same-sex partners in 2015.

Chances are Trump or Clinton will have other Supreme Court vacancies to fill, nominations that could cement conservative or liberal domination of the court for decades.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83, Justice Anthony Kennedy is 80, and Justice Stephen Breyer is 78. Justices tend to retire when their replacement is likely to be of similar ideology.

Garland or another Democratic nominee could be expected to reinforce support for abortion rights, look favorably on executive actions to deal with immigration and climate change and be more willing to uphold campaign finance restrictions. Trump’s choices probably would come down on the other side of those issues and be more skeptical about gun control and consideration of race in higher education as well.

This story is part of AP’s “Why It Matters” series, which will examine three dozen issues at stake in the presidential election between now and Election Day. You can find them at: http://apnews.com/tag/WhyItMatters.

WHY IT MATTERS: The opioid crisis and the 2016 election

THE ISSUE: More Americans are dying from opioids than at any time in recent history, with overdose deaths hitting a peak of 28,000 in 2014. That amounts to 78 Americans dying from an opioid overdose every day, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC uses opioid as an umbrella term for synthetic painkillers and for drugs derived naturally from opium (known more specifically as opiates), such a heroin.

It’s not just the use of illicit opiates like heroin that is on the rise — overdose deaths from prescription painkillers have quadrupled since 1999, tracking a similar increase in the amount of these drugs being prescribed by doctors.

WHERE THEY STAND

Donald Trump sees his plans to build a wall along the Mexican border as essential to stopping the flow of illegal drugs into the country. The Drug Enforcement Administration reports the seizure of drugs at the Southern border quadrupled between 2008 and 2013.

Hillary Clinton proposes spending $10 billion to tackle the drug crisis. Her plan would send more money to states to expand drug treatment and mental health services, promote greater availability of the overdose reversal drug naloxone and support better prevention programs in schools, among other things.

WHY IT MATTERS

More than 2.4 million Americans were addicted to synthetic pain relievers or heroin in 2014, according to the latest federal survey on drug use and health. And that number excludes the millions more — family members, first responders, taxpayers — who feel the ripple effects of addiction in their daily lives.

Clinton has called drug addiction a “quiet epidemic.” But it’s one that’s getting louder, as more and more Americans share their stories and prove that drug addiction follows no standard profile of age, race or class.

For decades, drug addiction was viewed as a criminal justice problem, not a health one. The stigma is lessening, but many states simply don’t have the capability to provide treatment and recovery for people who need it, leaving police departments and emergency rooms to fill the void. Lawmakers and advocates are fighting for precious tax dollars to expand services, but the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that just 0.9 percent of people seeking treatment for a problem related to drugs or alcohol received it.

Experts now believe the sharp increase in prescribed painkillers is to blame. People are quick to share stories of being prescribed dozens of pills for pain relief following procedures as simple as wisdom teeth removal. The strength of these medications can easily cause addiction, forcing many people to turn to a cheaper alternative — heroin — when their prescriptions run out. Roughly 75 percent of new heroin users report first using prescription opioids, the government says.

Lawmakers are beginning to take notice: At the meeting of the National Governors Association in July, 45 governors signed on to a compact aimed at tightening prescribing rules. Several attorneys general are engaged in or considering waging legal battles against major pharmaceutical companies, alleging they played down the risks of addiction when marketing their painkillers.

At the same time, the illicit drugs people are turning to are becoming even more deadly. The synthetic painkiller fentanyl, which is up to 50 times as potent as heroin, is now being manufactured illegally. By sight, it’s impossible to tell the difference between heroin and fentanyl, leaving people unaware of the deadliness of the drugs they are consuming. Northeastern and Midwestern states, such as New Hampshire and Ohio, are seeing a dramatic rise in the use of fentanyl. More than 5,000 people nationwide died from a synthetic opioid like fentanyl in 2014, and that number is only on the rise.

As most politicians know, families and communities are demanding change, and fast.

This story is part of AP’s “Why It Matters” series, which will examine three dozen issues at stake in the presidential election between now and Election Day. You can find them at: http://apnews.com/tag/WhyItMatters.

WHY IT MATTERS: China, trade and the 2016 election

THE ISSUE: Tensions have been rising between China and the United States. China is modernizing its military and pressing its sovereignty claims over the disputed South China Sea, an important route for global trade.

The U.S. is pushing back by increasing its military presence in Asia, which China views as provocative. The U.S. also accuses China of unfair trading practices and cyber theft of business secrets. Tough action by either side could spark a skirmish at sea or a trade war that would make many goods in the U.S. more expensive.

WHERE THEY STAND

Hillary Clinton says the U.S. needs to “stand up to China” and press the rising Asian power to play by international rules — in trade, in cyberspace, and in territorial disputes. But she’s also said the two nations need to cooperate where they can.

Donald Trump says the high volume of U.S.-China trade gives Washington leverage over Beijing. He accuses China of undervaluing its currency to makes its exports artificially cheap and he proposes tariffs as high as 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports into the U.S. to force it to trade fairly and support other U.S. policy goals.

WHY IT MATTERS

The U.S. and China are the world’s two largest economies and biggest military spenders. The wider world needs them to get along, to keep the peace and tackle global problems like climate change and a nuclear North Korea. The U.S. and China also depend on each other economically. Two-way trade topped $600 billion in 2015. China is the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt, and by some estimates, Chinese foreign direct investment into the U.S. has started to outstrip the flow of U.S. investment into China.

President Xi Jinping is trying to manage a soft landing for a slowing economy, and boost domestic consumption to reduce China’s reliance on foreign trade to drive growth. That goal is supported by Washington as it could help reduce the U.S. trade deficit with China, which hit a record of nearly $370 billion last year. But China has a mixed record on economic reform. It has allowed market forces to play a bigger role in its currency exchange rate, but the U.S. has other complaints: restrictions on market access for foreign companies, economic espionage, and state subsidies, including cheap imports from China’s bloated steel industry.

China is building Asia’s strongest military and wants to be treated as a global leader, but its assertive behavior has unnerved its neighbors who look to the U.S. to help preserve order.

The U.S. worries that China, which has built several artificial islands in the South China Sea, wants to control crucial sea lanes. China denies this but refuses to compromise in what it says is a historical right to tiny islands and adjacent waters in the South China Sea where five other governments have territorial claims.

The U.S. Navy has periodically sailed close to the islands to demonstrate its freedom to navigate the area, angering China. In July, China rejected an international tribunal ruling in a case brought by a U.S. ally, the Philippines, that invalidated the legal basis of China’s claims. The U.S. hopes China will moderate its position, but it shows no sign of doing so, although Beijing says it is ready to negotiate directly with other claimants.

Such economic and strategic tensions between two world powers can directly affect American jobs, wages, consumer prices and security.

This story is part of AP’s “Why It Matters” series, which will examine three dozen issues at stake in the presidential election between now and Election Day. You can find them at: http://apnews.com/tag/WhyItMatters.