'Lincoln Heights' Brings the Love

Here's one of my syndicated feature stories this week -- watch this space for some fun with NBC's "Community," launching Wednesday -- focusing on ABC Family's "Lincoln Heights," which stars two of the nicest folks you'll ever meet.

But don't take my word for it, read on ...

Lincoln_Heights_Nicki_Micheaux_Russell_Hornsby.jpgO n June 21, Nicki Micheaux of ABC Family's family drama " Lincoln Heights " had a little family drama of her own, as she and her husband welcomed a son named Aiden. He joins a 4 1/2-year-old sister, Symone.

But back on a Saturday in May, as Micheaux (left) and " Lincoln " co-star Russell Hornsby (right) sit down for an interview, Micheaux is still very pregnant. She stands and leans over to stretch her back, causing concerned looks from those nearby.

"Just calm down," Micheaux says. "Everybody freaks out. Your muscles cramp up."

Micheaux's pregnancy is not part of the hourlong show's fourth season, which launches on Monday, Sept. 14, at 8 p.m. ET/PT

"No, there is no new addition," Micheaux says. "We're hiding the new addition. Thank God large handbags are in."

Micheaux plays nurse practitioner Jenn Sutton, who had to leave her privileged upbringing behind to move with her husband, police officer Eddie Sutton (Hornsby), back to the troubled Southern California neighborhood where he grew up, in hopes of making a difference.

The Suttons have two teenage daughters, Cassie and Lizzie (Erica Hubbard, Rhyon Nicole Brown), and a son, Tay (Mishon Ratliff). In the extended family are Eddie's alcoholic father, Spencer (Michael Warren), and Nate Ray Woods (Chadwick Boseman), Eddie's older son by an old flame.

This season, the family and the neighborhood look to rebuild after a devastating earthquake, and the Suttons cope with another kind of disruption when a large amount of money comes their way.

One thing's for sure: Eddie and Jenn will shepherd their family and their community through these difficulties together. A solid, functional marriage is a rare thing on television, and that comes home to Micheaux when she runs into fans on the street.

"They say, 'I wish I could grow up and be a wife like you,' " she says, "which is really amazing, and a little daunting, because young people are watching the show, and people who are going through their own marital problems. Marriage is really tough. This couple's been together for 19 years; I've been married for 10 years.

"I love portraying a married couple that communicates about the things that are bugging them and are allowing each other to grow and be different. This man is not afraid to be vulnerable in front of his wife. That's really difficult for men - it was difficult for my husband, at least.

"It's great to see it. Those are the things that help make a couple strong. It's daunting when someone comes up to you and says that you're the role model for them, or that the show is, but it's great."

Hornsby relates a similar experience, when a group of about 10 girls came up to him at a Hofstra women's basketball game and asked for autographs and pictures.

"There's a joy that these young kids are getting from, I believe, seeing this father on television," Hornsby says, "a solid citizen, a quote, unquote, man of the people, if you will, his commitment to his community.

"That warms my heart, to be honest with you."

Not only do Jenn and Eddie love each other, they also like to get a little physical. But Jenn's Lincoln_Heights_cast.jpgnot eight months pregnant.

"Russell and I are big flirts, and that's fine," Micheaux says. "But now I'm pregnant. It's a little different, flirting with a pregnant girl. There are some physical barriers.

"So we had this intimate scene - I'm totally outing you right now, Russell - where we had to be romantic. Russell actually calls the writers in, 'We're not going to do it this way. It doesn't really need to be this sexy.'

"I was in total agreement, because I, too, feel really strange."

Hornsby recalls, "I said to the writers, 'Look, I think you're going to have to rewrite this scene.' Writers get temperamental. (The writer) said, 'Uh, why?' I said, 'I don't think either one of us are feeling very sexual right now.' "

"I have been telling them," Micheaux says, "I want Eddie and Jen to be more sexual, every year. But I'm eight months pregnant, and they're like, 'Here's your hot and heavy scene.' I'm like, 'Gee, thanks.' "

While the scene may have been toned down, Hornsby insists the relationship is not.

"Jenn is very much a woman," he says, "very much a mother and very much a contributor to society and to the community, but at the same time, she doesn't try to encroach or usurp her husband's duties. That's very important."

"It's great to see it on TV," Micheaux says. "It's hard to do it in real life. The characters are people we aspire to be. I don't know if it's even possible, because Jenn's an extraordinary woman. I think, in my life, how much would I sacrifice to make my neighborhood better?

"Those are real questions, and so they're inspiring people."


( Caption for the group shot: Mishon Ratliff as "Taylor 'Tay' Sutton," Nicki Micheaux as "Jen Sutton," Russell Hornsby as "Eddie Sutton," Rhyon Nicole Brown as "Lizzie Sutton," Erica Hubbard as "Cassie Sutton" and Robert Adamson as "Charles" star in "Lincoln Heights" airing on ABC Family).