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Sparks fly over Maher's booking of provocateur Yiannopoulos

Bill Maher's decision to book conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos on his HBO show drew quick condemnation from another guest.

Jeremy Scahill, a journalist who's appeared frequently on "Real Time with Bill Maher," posted on Twitter that he won't appear as a panelist Friday because of Yiannopoulos and what he represents.

"He has ample venues to spew his hateful diatribes. There is no value in 'debating' him," Scahill tweeted. Appearing on Maher's show will give Yiannopoulos a major platform for "his racist, anti-immigrant campaign," wrote Scahill, co-founding editor of The Intercept news website.

Scahill said he respects Maher's show as an arena for debate and discussion but called Yiannopoulos "many bridges too far."

HBO confirmed that Scahill had canceled.

"If Mr. Yiannopoulos is indeed the monster Scahill claims - and he might be - nothing could serve the liberal cause better than having him exposed on Friday night," Maher said in a statement released late Wednesday.

In an email Wednesday to The Associated Press, Yiannopoulos said that "public shaming and grandstanding don't work any more. ... Thanks for proving my point for me, Jeremy Scahill! You can look forward to pulling out of a lot more shows in the next few decades."

Yiannopoulos writes for Breitbart News, considered by many a platform for the so-called "alt-right" movement, an offshoot of conservatism that mixes racism, white nationalism and populism.

His Twitter account was suspended last year after a series of racially insensitive tweets aimed at "Ghostbusters" actress Leslie Jones, who is black. Yiannopoulos has denied he is a white nationalist or racist.

In his email, Yiannopoulos decried what he called examples of "left on right political violence," including chaotic protests that erupted at the University of California, Berkeley, earlier this month over his planned speech, which was canceled.

"But sure, my speech is the real threat," he said.

He has a forthcoming book, "Dangerous," to be published by a Simon & Schuster imprint geared to conservatives. Slammed by criticism from the Chicago Review of Books and others, Simon & Schuster said it doesn't condone discrimination and said the book is about free speech.

Yiannopoulos is scheduled as Friday's opening interview guest for "Real Time." Others set for the show include round table guests Larry Wilmore and former Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston and, for a mid-show interview, Leah Remini.

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Lynn Elber can be reached at lelber@ap.org and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber.

Trump criticizes 'fake media' on Flynn story

President Donald Trump stepped up his attacks on the "fake media" Wednesday but the media was fighting back, objecting to a presidential news conference that avoided tough questions and, in the case of one MSNBC program, banning presidential aide Kellyanne Conway from the air.

Trump tweeted and voiced complaints about the media's treatment of his ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn and the "criminal" leak of details on Flynn's discussion with Russians. Flynn is out after less than a month, with White House saying Trump lost confidence in him for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about talks with the Russian ambassador.

The president held a news conference prior to meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As he did during the past week following meetings with leaders of Canada and Japan, Trump called on reporters from friendly news outlets.

On Wednesday, he chose David Brody, a columnist for the Pat Robertson-founded Christian Broadcast Network, and Katie Pavlich, editor of the conservative web site townhall.com.

Brody invoked Flynn, asking if the national security job vacancy would affect the administration's attitude toward the U.S. nuclear deal with Iran. Trump used that question to complain about unfair media treatment of Flynn. He blamed people upset with his victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton for being responsible for media leaks.

Pavlich asked Trump about compromises he would seek from Israel and the Palestinians to achieve peace.

The questions left other reporters frustrated by a lost opportunity to ask about reports that the Trump campaign had been in contact with Russian officials before his election. Trump smiled and walked away when one reporter shouted out if he could ask about Flynn.

"I wanted to jump up and say, 'You fired him. Why did you fire him?'" said ABC News' Jonathan Karl.

CNN's Jim Acosta said the administration was clearly trying to avoid questions, adding that Trump could "only be shielded for so long."

Conway, meanwhile, won't be answering questions on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program, at least for a while. Show co-host Mika Brzezinski said Wednesday that Conway wouldn't be allowed on the three-hour public affairs program, which has had a love-hate relationship with Trump over the course of the campaign.

Brzezinski said she won't book Conway, "because I don't believe in fake news or information that is not true. Every time I've seen her on television, something's askew, off or incorrect."

It's been a rough stretch for the presidential counselor. She said on MSNBC Monday that Trump had "full confidence" in Flynn, hours before he lost his job. A government ethics panel urged the White House to discipline her for urging Fox News Channel viewers to buy Ivanka Trump's products. NBC's Matt Lauer admonished her, "Kellyanne, that makes no sense," during a "Today" show interview on Tuesday.

Then there was Kate McKinnon's portrayal of an unhinged Conway on "Saturday Night Live."

CNN said last week that it had turned down a chance to book her on Jake Tapper's Feb. 5 program because she had credibility issues; Conway has said she told them she was unavailable that day. Tapper then interviewed Conway on his weekday program two days later, although she hasn't been on the network since. The White House has banned its officials from appearing on the network.

NBC News said Brzezinski's statement reflected the views of one program, not the network as a whole. The decision is potentially confusing for both viewers and NBC executives, said Mark Feldstein, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland. What are viewers to think if a source is deemed not credible enough to be on one show but appears on the same network three hours later?

While she wasn't on "Morning Joe," she was on NBC News' higher-profile "Today" show on Tuesday.

She's not the only Trump administration official who has clashed with the media over facts. Trump aide Stephen Miller was scolded by an angry George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday for not giving evidence to support a claim of voter fraud. White House press secretary Sean Spicer was criticized after his first White House briefing for giving untrue statements about the inauguration.

"Where do you stop?" Feldstein said. "Conway isn't the only member of the administration who has a truth-telling problem. It starts at the very top. Can you stop putting Donald Trump on the air if what he says is false? You can't. He's the president of the United States."

CBS News "Face the Nation" host John Dickerson, while emphasizing he's not talking about the "Morning Joe" decision, said it's important to get the administration's views on the record, whether or not they prove accurate.

"Part of my job is allowing the administration to explain itself to people and not interrupt them so much they can't ever get their point of view across," Dickerson said. "They say what they believe, and then you interrogate them."

He said he wished he could ask questions that came with a dose of the truth serum sodium pentothal "to get the perfect, truth-filled answers, but that is not going to happen."

Making 'Portlandia': Brainstorming, basketball, improv

The "Portlandia" brain trust is gathered to hash out another round of endearingly goofy tales set in a mythical (sort of) Portland.

Laptops dot the conference table where stars Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen sit with fellow writers of the IFC comedy. Their modest office is in a gentrifying industrial section of Los Angeles with the whimsical nickname Frogtown — so perfectly "Portlandia," now in its seventh and next-to-last season.

The story currently under discussion: What the mayor's wish to secede from the United States could mean for the Oregon city (see the result at 10 p.m. EST Thursday, with Kyle MacLachlan back as the mayor and Kumail Nanjiani as an unyielding bureaucrat).

"I just want more Saturday and Sunday. Two each," one writer suggests as the mayor's vague intent.

"He keeps saying, 'I just want the weekend.' And Fred and Carrie are like, 'What does that mean?'" another scribe chimes in.

"Shorts. Flip-flops. Eating a banana on the front lawn," is helpfully offered.

This group stream of consciousness meanders delightfully on. The mayor wants to set up a tax shelter to attract billionaires. Or maybe he went to Iceland and realized countries outside America are OK, too.

But what about the downside of secession? Portland's split from the U.S. would be treated like a cable customer trying to end a contract, and it wouldn't be pretty. There are the penalty fees, of course, and demands for return of federal equipment including flagpoles and court gavels.

And how would a Portlander cross the border to see, say, a Beyonce concert? Would a passport be required?

Most TV writers' rooms feel like creative conspiracies, but this one even more so. Brownstein and Armisen conceived the series with fellow executive producer Jonathan Krisel, and the two of them play various and sundry characters.

Ideas and notions are thrown out casually, to be either built on or supplanted by the next creative burst of thought. Only Brownstein's determined effort to work pianist-composer Dave Grusin into an episode provokes gentle teasing, until she finally surrenders.

"I'm willing to let Grusin go. I'll just hang out with him in LA," says Brownstein, whose fame pre-"Portlandia" was musical, including as a founding member of the rock band Sleater-Kinney. She and former "Saturday Night Live" cast member Armisen, himself a musician, are longtime friends.

Also on hand this day for idea-swapping and a lunchtime game of basketball — an outside hoop is the big perk — are writers Alice Mathias, Graham Wagner and Karen Kilgariff. But the script that emerges is only the beginning of what viewers ultimately see, a "loose blueprint" for filming in Portland, as Krisel puts it.

"The shooting becomes our rewriting ... because it's so heavily improvised," he said in an interview. "And that's kind of the secret of the show, that once you've got this simple premise and you've brainstormed it and written it, then on the day (of taping) you can just have fun with it."

He compares the show to an art project, such as a painting or sculpture, which ultimately finds its own final shape.

"You don't try to micromanage it," Krisel said. Except, it seems, in the editing room, where the goal is to cobble together the very best, "laugh-out-loud funny moments" out of the many takes done for each segment. That can even require a "Portlandia" version of computer-generated special effects, such as moving coffee cups around to preserve continuity.

"The end goal is to make a piece that everybody has ownership over and everybody's proud of because everybody contributed to it. I think there's a communist, socialist vibe to 'Portlandia' to make it work," Krisel said, with a laugh.

The comedy does revel in its own brand of leftiness. Brownstein once compared Portland itself to "more a mind-set than a place," telling The Associated Press in a 2014 interview that it's "an exemplary city in how befuddled it can sometimes be by its own attempts at progressiveness and kindness."

For Krisel, the flaws-and-all depiction in "Portlandia," although affectionate, led to a brief crisis of confidence after the presidential election.

"We were making fun of ourselves and we thought it was funny, and the world was, 'Actually, we hate those people,'" he recalled thinking. He felt an urge to protect "Portlandia" by halting it, but decided instead to stick with what he calls "just a funny show."

"It's like candy to watch. People have said they're going through something difficult and they put on 'Portlandia' and it's a breath of fresh air," he said. "Sometimes the world is so scary, as it is now, and you just need something to make you laugh."

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This story has been corrected to reflect that the writer's name is Mathias, not Mathis.

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Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at lelber@ap.org and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber.

'Love Actually' update to air on 'Red Nose Day Special'

Whatever happened to the characters from "Love Actually"?

Viewers will find out thanks to Richard Curtis, the writer-director of the beloved 2003 feature, who has created a short reunion film to air as part of Comic Relief's "Red Nose Day Special" on NBC in May.

Cast members revisiting their roles from the romantic comedy include Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley, Andrew Lincoln, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy and Rowan Atkinson.

The 10-minute "special sketch" is from Curtis, who promises it will be "very much in the spirit of the original film and of Red Nose Day."

"The Red Nose Day Special," which airs for its third year on NBC on May 24, is produced by Curtis. On British TV, it — and the reunion film — will air March 24.

2 tough guys meet their match in Maggie Siff on 'Billions'

Last season, "Billions" performed a delicate balancing act.

Chuck Rhoades, the powerful and perverse U.S. Attorney (played by Paul Giamatti), was locked in a legal cage match with hedge-fund titan Bobby "Axe" Axelrod (Damian Lewis). But through it all, Wendy Rhoades kept a foot planted in both worlds: as the wife of Chuck and top aide to Axe.

Now, in this Showtime drama's sophomore season, the equilibrium is shattered. Wendy has separated from her husband and bolted from Axe's firm, leaving those combatants to clash even more ferociously.

The only sure thing about the narrative shakeup: Wendy Rhoades can take care of herself, and, when necessary, cut Chuck and Axe down to size. On a show that pits two Alpha Males against each other, Wendy stands tall as a reigning Alpha Woman.

"This season you see her trying to walk a line with each of them while she maintains her dignity and distance," says Maggie Siff, who brings Wendy vibrantly to life. "To find her own moral center, she had to shed the two of them."

On the premiere (Sunday at 10 p.m. EST), you'll see Wendy spurn Bobby Axelrod's overtures to return as the in-house psychotherapist and performance coach.

"There's this thing that happens when we're in a room together," she says sharply as he works his charm. "But I'm shutting it off. I HAVE shut it off."

And you'll see her stand up to Chuck when he rages, "I always knew I'd end up smeared by Axelrod's poison," for which he blames his wife as having served as the carrier: "Proximity is enough."

"I no longer have proximity to it," she sneers, "and YOU no longer have proximity to ME."

Wendy is an unusual character for series TV, and a distinctly different character than Siff has played in the past. And yet all her women share a common bond: They're strong, smart and commanding even in a crowd dominated by men.

For six seasons on FX's hit drama "Sons of Anarchy," Siff played Tara Knowles, the physician wife of a motorcycle-gang leader who could hold her own, and then some, in that wild-and-woolly world. (At least, until she was stabbed to death in her kitchen with a barbecue fork by, ironically, another woman: her mother-in-law and the club's grande dame.)

"When we first started that series (in 2008) I didn't expect it would become the sensation it did," says Siff in her quiet, thoughtful way, "but it tapped into something tribal in the audience's psyche. It was so pulpy in its violence, yet also had this operatic family drama at its center even when the violence crossed the line — MY line, at least. There were scenes I couldn't watch!"

Siff came to "Sons" from her brief but emblematic stint early in "Mad Men," where she played Rachel Menken, the bold heiress and boss of a New York department store who became romantically involved with ad man Don Draper.

Unlike so many of his conquests, Rachel soon recognized that their relationship was not one for the ages. She cut her ties with Don, this caddish married man and dad, when he proposed they leave it all behind and run away together.

Years later, Don (and the audience) would learn that Rachel had died of leukemia — but not before she made a brief comeback.

Siff was pleased to shoot this fleeting encore for the series' final season.

"I always wanted Rachel to circle back through that world," she says.

But the one-minute scene she was asked to play (the only portion of the script she was privy to) made no sense to her, especially after series star Jon Hamm tipped her off that her character was dead.

"I said to (series creator) Matt (Weiner), 'What's going on?' He said, 'It's a dream. Just do a dream!'"

She did, with a chinchilla coat obscuring tell-tale evidence that she was pregnant with Lucy, now 2½, by her husband, design consultant Paul Ratliff.

"I had no idea how the scene lived inside the episode until I saw it on TV along with everybody else," she says.

A woman who began her career in experimental theater in Philadelphia and then off-Broadway, the Bronx, New York native, now 42, admits to surprise at her repeated success in TV drama.

But surprise has been a driving force in her career, she explains: "You have to surrender yourself to what finds you in this life."

Despite no sign of surrendering, she finds herself now in an acclaimed drama alongside two leading men she calls "phenomenal actors and phenomenal human beings.

"Damian is so subtle but so precise as an actor," she says, "while Paul charges out of the gate with so much life. Their energies are very different. It's fun to float between them as scene partners."

And for "Billions" viewers, there's more fun ahead watching Siff power between them as the forceful link in this tangled tale.

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EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore@ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier. Past stories are available at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore

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Online:

http://www.sho.com

Queen Latifah to be honored as an entertainment icon

Queen Latifah will get the royal treatment at the upcoming American Black Film Festival Honors.

The Oscar-nominated actress is set to receive the Entertainment Icon award at this year's ceremony, to be held in Los Angeles on Friday. The star of "Star" on Fox says she is honored to receive the award.

"It means so much to me coming from fellow entertainers and my peers."

Queen Latifah got her start as a rapper almost three decades ago. Besides her Oscar nod for "Chicago," she's also been nominated twice in Emmy acting categories and won a Golden Globe.

The American Black Film Festival Honors will air on BET and Centric at 8 p.m. EST on Feb. 22. Other honorees include Terrence Howard. Actress Regina Hall will host the event.

Nielsen's top programs for Feb. 6-12

Prime-time viewership numbers compiled by Nielsen for Feb. 6-12. Listings include the week's ranking and viewership.

1. "Grammy Awards," CBS, 26.07 million.

2. "NCIS," CBS, 15.57 million.

3. "The Big Bang Theory," CBS, 14.15 million.

4. "The Walking Dead," AMC, 12 million.

5. "Bull," CBS, 10.78 million.

6. "Blue Bloods," CBS, 10.65 million.

7. "Grammy Awards Red Carpet," CBS, 10.07 million.

8. "Hawaii Five-O," CBS, 9.86 million.

9. "This is Us," NBC, 9.57 million.

10. "NCIS: New Orleans," CBS, 9.01 million.

11. "Grey's Anatomy," ABC, 8.46 million.

12. "60 Minutes," CBS, 8.43 million.

13. "MacGyver," CBS, 8.02 million.

14. "Kevin Can Wait," CBS, 7.91 million.

15. "Scorpion," CBS, 7.76 million.

16. "Mom," CBS, 7.57 million.

17. "The Bachelor," ABC, 7.48 million.

18. "The Great Indoors," CBS, 7.44 million.

19. "Modern Family," ABC, 7.34 million.

19. "Superior Donuts," CBS, 7.34 million.

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ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co.; CBS is a division of CBS Corp.; Fox is owned by 21st Century Fox; NBC is owned by NBC Universal.

'SNL' keeps up Trump-inspired winning streak

NBC's comedy institution "Saturday Night Live" reached its largest audience since 2011 with last weekend's episode hosted by President Trump impersonator Alec Baldwin and featuring the return of Melissa McCarthy portraying White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

The show reached 10.8 million viewers, the Nielsen company said. To put that in perspective, the late-night show had a bigger audience than all but four prime-time programs on TV last week. Among younger viewers, only the Grammys had better ratings.

The viewership estimate is only a portion of their audience; it doesn't count millions of people who recorded the program for later viewing or watched clips of its skits online.

McCarthy opened Saturday's show with her Spicer portrayal and Baldwin, who has been host for a show-record 17 times, rolled out his version of Trump appearing on "People's Court." Kate McKinnon also did an impersonation of Trump aide Kellyanne Conway in a "Fatal Attraction" type relationship with CNN's Jake Tapper; she also impersonated Jeff Sessions and Elizabeth Warren.

It was the most-watched episode of "SNL" since Jan. 8, 2011, a show that featured Jim Carrey and the Black Keys. "SNL" ratings generally jump during election years and fade — but interest in the Trump administration has kept the numbers high.

NBC wouldn't put forth an executive to talk about its good fortune on Tuesday. James Andrew Miller, an author of an oral history of "Saturday Night Live," noted how Trump's tweets about the show have helped give it new life (he did not offer a Twitter critique on last weekend's show). There have been reports that NBC is also mulling a prime-time edition of the show's "Weekend Update" segment.

"Even if he's not tweeting about it, they know that someone in the White House is paying attention to it, and I think that increases the currency of the show," Miller said.

Trump has helped other comics, too. HBO's John Oliver returned Sunday from a three-month hiatus to his best ratings for a season premiere. For the second straight week, CBS' Stephen Colbert, who has concentrated on pointed political comedy in recent months, beat NBC's usually dominant "Tonight" show in viewership, Nielsen said.

The Grammys were the biggest TV event during the past week, reaching 26 million viewers for its biggest audience since 2014.

CBS easily won the week in prime time, averaging 10.3 million viewers. ABC had 5.1 million viewers, NBC had 4.5 million, Fox had 3.1 million, Univision had 1.9 million, the CW had 1.6 million, Telemundo had 1.5 million and ION Television had 1.3 million.

Fox News Channel was the week's most popular cable network, averaging 2.89 million viewers. HGTV had 1.666 million, AMC had 1.665 million, USA had 1.59 million and MSNBC had 1.4 million.

ABC's "World News Tonight" topped the evening newscasts with an average of 9.1 million viewers, NBC's "Nightly News" had 9 million and the "CBS Evening News" had 7.5 million.

For the week of Feb. 6-12, the top 10 prime-time shows, their networks and viewerships: "Grammy Awards," CBS, 26.07 million; "NCIS," CBS, 15.57 million; "The Big Bang Theory," CBS, 14.15 million; "The Walking Dead," AMC, 12 million; "Bull," CBS, 10.78 million; "Blue Bloods," CBS, 10.65 million; "Grammy Awards Red Carpet," CBS, 10.07 million; "Hawaii Five-O," CBS, 9.86 million; "This is Us," NBC, 9.57 million; "NCIS: New Orleans," CBS, 9.01 million.

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ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co. CBS is owned by CBS Corp. CW is a joint venture of Warner Bros. Entertainment and CBS Corp. Fox is owned by 21st Century Fox. NBC and Telemundo are owned by Comcast Corp. ION Television is owned by ION Media Networks.

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Online:

http://www.nielsen.com

Clarification: TV-NBC-Euronews story

An early version of a Feb. 14 story about NBC purchasing the television news network Euronews said Deborah Turness was running the new partnership. She is running NBC's side of the partnership.

Woman chained in container says she was raped daily

A South Carolina woman who spent two months chained inside a large metal container says her captor raped her daily and warned that if she ran or tried to hurt him, she would die.

"He told me as long as I served my purpose, I was safe," Kala Brown told Phillip McGraw, the host of the television show "Dr. Phil."

It was the first time she has talked publicly since her Nov. 3 rescue, which authorities say helped them solve seven slayings in the area dating back 13 years. Police said Todd Kohlhepp, a real estate agent with his own firm until his arrest, killed Brown's boyfriend, a couple who had been missing nearly a year and four people at a motorcycle shop in 2003.

Brown said she and her boyfriend had gone to Kohlhepp's rural property Aug. 31 to help him clear some underbrush from trails. After the couple followed him to a two-story garage on the 95-acre property, Kohlhepp handed them hedge clippers and bottles of water. He said he needed to get something inside and came out a few minutes later shooting, Brown said.

He shot Charles Carver three times in the chest, she said. He gagged Brown and handcuffed her ankles and wrists. Kohlhepp took her to a "pitch black," 30-foot-long storage container nearby, chained her by the neck in a back corner and raped her, she said.

He "let me know that if I tried to run, he'd kill me. If I tried to hurt him, he'd kill me. If I fought back, he would kill me. And then he raped me," Brown said in episodes that aired this week. "He would rape me twice a day, every day."

Kohlhepp, 45, faces murder, kidnapping and weapon charges. He is not charged with sexual assault. Spokesmen for the sheriff and prosecutor declined to address the rape allegations or whether more charges are forthcoming. His attorney did not return messages.

Police said Kohlhepp acknowledged the grisly cold cases after authorities granted him several requests, including letting him speak to his mother.

The Associated Press normally does not identify victims of sexual assault but is naming Brown after she publicly identified herself.

The day after her rescue, investigators found Carver's body in a shallow grave on Kohlhepp's property. Brought to the site in handcuffs, Kohlhepp showed authorities the graves of the couple missing since December 2015.

Brown, who had previously cleaned several of Kohlhepp's properties, said he made sure only Carver accompanied her to his land, telling her "he didn't want anyone else knowing where he lived."

Nothing seemed awry over the several months she periodically worked for Kohlhepp, she said: "He was nice, polite, just a regular businessman. ... No red flags."

Brown said Kohlhepp told her he killed Carver because "it was easier to control someone if you took someone they loved."

She thought Kohlhepp was infatuated with her and didn't want to kill her, even saying he would let her go and give her money "if he ever got old and sick," she said. He explained Stockholm syndrome, in which a hostage starts feeling sympathetic toward their captor, and said "it would kick in and we'd be happy together."

She remained tied up, even when he took her to the garage apartment to eat, she said.

When Brown heard people talking outside the container the morning of Nov. 3, she panicked, thinking maybe he had brought someone else. When she realized help had come, "I started screaming and hitting the walls," she said.

"I knew my family would never stop looking, but he was so careful, I couldn't see how I could be found so soon. I was scared it really wasn't happening," she said. "And when they finally got the door open and I saw the police uniforms, I was relieved."

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This story has been corrected to reflect that the couple had been missing for nearly a year, not two years.

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