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Going forward to yesterday, the sequel

As discussed in my last post, more “everything old is new again” stories flitting about…

* There was a time in Hollywood history when A-list actresses, too, could draw at the box office well into their maturity, just like A-list males. If we’re talking about Meryl Steep that time is now. For myself, I can say that I only appreciate Ms. Streep more each year, especially since she’s had the chance to show her comic side.

* A political flash from the past. Nikki Finke relays the news that a quartet of heavyweight thesps — Benicio del Toro, Bill Murray, Robert Duvall, and James Caan — are paying a visit to Cuba. It used to be that such visits would be painted as Hollywood liberals endorsing a communist dictatorship, part of the endless “who’s more hypocritical?” aspect of the liberal-conservative culture wars. As the possibility of more open relations with the island continues to grow, this is no longer really possible. Especially considering that Robert Duvall is a fairly outspoken Republican. Damn those Hollywood limousine conservatives.

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Going forward to yesterday

Some of you may know that I have my own blog, Forward to Yesterday. Today we have numerous items that inspire movie déjà vu of various sorts. Below are just a few and there’s more where that came from. Expect a sequel.

* Steven Spielberg is set to produce, but not direct, a possible series of films based on Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm character. Cinegeeks will recall that during the sixties spy craze Dean Martin starred in four not terribly well regarded, highly tongue-in-cheek films featuring a character who I gather has a lot more in common with Austin Powers than he does with Hamilton’s far grittier and more realistic creation. (I haven’t seen any since I was maybe six or seven at the oldest; I have a vague memory of Martin lounging in a giant bottle of champagne.)

Apparently the thinking here is to update the series, but to hew a lot closer to the books, which Wikipedia explains are about as far from spy spoofs as they could possibly be, and take a more “Bourne”/”24″-like approach (I gather torture plays a part in the first Helm novel, Death of a Citizen.). I’m weird and “Munich” is by far my favorite recent spy film, so I’m kind of sorry Spielberg won’t be doing this. In any case, I actually hope the filmmakers who take this on find their own path. I’m not sure why, but I could see Steven Soderbergh or Alfonso Cuarón nailing this one.

* Original “Alien” director Ridley Scott is attached to a proposed prequel. He did pretty well the first time around; I say it’s high time the kid got another chance.

* Much as I dig both Johnny Depp and Keith Richard, I’m not a fan of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, though I’m rather fond of movies with sword fights in general. Nevertheless, Mike Fleming, who also brought us the Matt Helm news above, is here to tell you that, following up on the upcoming “Nine,” Rob Marshall’s next movie may be “Pirates 4.”

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TCA Tour, Day 2: “The Jeff Dunham Show”

I can still remember the complete wave of confusion that washed over me a year or two ago when a friend of mine asked me if I’d seen Jeff Dunham’s DVDs, “Arguing with Myself” and “Spark of Insanity.” Not because *I* didn’t know who the guy was, but because I couldn’t quite work out how the friend who was asking me knew about him. As far as I knew, he was just this comedian with a purple puppet named Peanut, a guy who’d been working the stand-up circuit for years. To this day, I have no idea exactly what changed and when he suddenly became so huge that my daughter’s sitter was enough of a fan to have his DVDs, but, hey, more power to him.

After the success of his most recent special, “A Very Special Christmas,” which earned more than 6.6 million viewers and was Comedy Central’s most watched telecast ever, it’s no surprise that the network decided to transition Dunham into a weekly series, and since he’s become a household name, why not go with the most obvious title?

Welcome, then, to “The Jeff Dunham Show.”

Give the guy credit: he knows the path he’s taken to get here, he’s thrilled that he’s made it, and he’s not afraid to mock how long it took.

“As I drove here today,” Dunham began, “I realized I was going past the comedy club here in Pasadena called The Ice House, and it was there at The Ice House in 1990 that I did my ninth audition for ‘The Tonight Show’ and was booked to do ‘The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson’ for the first of four times. And if I had known standing there in that parking lot in 1990 that I would be here at this time doing this for Comedy Central, I would have thought, ‘You know what? That just took too fucking long.’”

Of course, Dunham immediately broke out one of his little friends, and who better to present to a bunch of grumpy TV critics than Walter? I try desperately not to offer up actual transcripts of the panels, but given the necessary back-and-forth with a ventriloquist’s act, I’m guessing I’ll be allowed some leeway here…

Walter: Who the hell is the group?
Jeff Dunham: We talked about that earlier today, you know who it is.
Walter: No, I kind of forgot.
Jeff Dunham: Okay, I wrote it down for you.
Walter: Oh, good. Okay. Let’s see, the TV Critics Association Cable Press Tour. That’s it?
Jeff Dunham: That’s it.
Walter: I think our career has peaked. You know, I was thinking to myself just the other day, we’ve had specials on Comedy Central, we’ve opened for the President, but we’ve never done a show for the TV freakin critics. Are you being paid for this gig cash? It is none of that barter crap, is it? We’re not going to get like a year’s subscription to TV Guide for God sake, are we? This is just sad. Let me get this straight: so their job is to get up in the morning, turn on the TV, stuff their pie holes, and then trash the new shows.
Jeff Dunham: I guess.
Walter: This is genius. I want this job. “What’s your dad’s job?” “He tells the world that your dad’s show sucks.” Fantastic.

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TCA Jump-Ahead: “Curb Your Enthusiasm”

It occurs to me that, although I’m trying my best to cover the TCA tour in a chronological manner, there are some panels that you’d like to know about more quickly than I might otherwise get to them. As such, I’m instituting a new category called the TCA Jump-Ahead.

First up: “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

It’s kind of a running joke in the entertainment industry about how every season of “Curb” should be considered the last season of “Curb” until Larry David says otherwise…and, generally, Larry David is glad to tell you that he’s done, he has no more ideas, and he can’t be bothered to try and think of any. Thankfully, David announced last year that he would indeed be moving forward with a seventh season of the cringe-worthy comedy (and I mean that in the best possible way), and since then, there have been multiple rumblings about how various members of the cast of “Seinfeld” would be popping up. In the “Curb” panel yesterday, David finally provided some context to exactly how they’d be appearing.

“For years, I’ve been asked about a ‘Seinfeld’ reunion, as has Jerry and the other cast members,” explained David, “and I would always say, ‘No, there’s no reunion. There’s not going to be a reunion show. We would never do that. It’s a lame idea.’ And then I thought, ‘But it might be very funny to do that on ‘Curb.’ And I kept thinking about the idea. I started to think of different scenarios and how we could pull this off. I called Jerry, and Jerry was game. And I said, ‘Well, I’ll call the others,’ and I did. And we did it. So we’re doing a ‘Seinfeld’ reunion show on ‘Curb.’ We’re going to see writing. We’ll see aspects of the read-through, parts of rehearsals. You’ll see the show being filmed. And you’ll see it on TV.

What will you see? You won’t see the entire show; you’ll see parts of the show. You will get an idea of what happened 11 years later. And within the show, it will be incorporated into regular ‘Curb’ episodes. So the cast members will be playing themselves on ‘Curb’ while all this is going on. You’re not going to see a ‘Seinfeld’ show from beginning to end, but you will see parts of the show.”

And will there be any reference to Michael Richards’ sordid post-”Seinfeld” problems?

“It’s possible.”

The reunion is scattered through the season, and by David’s admittedly questionable recollection, the cast will be on five shows, though they won’t all be on the five shows. (“Jerry’s on five shows, I think,” he said. “The others will be on at least four. Maybe one or two of the others will be on five. I’m not sure.”) The season finale will be about the reunion show and will possibly be an hour long, though David admits that he hasn’t finished editing it yet and can’t say for sure.

There’s just one thing, though: anyone who’s been watching “Curb” for the previous six seasons has to figure that the odds look good for Larry – the TV Larry, that is – to somehow screw up this reunion.

“He might,” said David. “Do you need a staff job for next season? My guy might consider wrecking something like that, yeah. We’ll see what happens. My guy could very well wreck it. I’m not saying he did…”

Want a few more tidbits about the upcoming season…?

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TCA Tour, Day 2: “Glenn Martin, DDS”

Last month, I had a chat with Kevin Nealon in conjunction with his most recent gig for TBS (he’s the standing host of their funniest-commercials specials), and during the conversation, he dropped a little bit of info about his upcoming stop-motion animated Nick at Nite series, “Glenn Martin, DDS”:

“It’s about a family who’s traveling around the country in an RV called the Molar Express. I play Glenn Martin, DDS, and I’m working my practice out of the RV. My wife is played by Catherine O’Hara, and we have a couple of kids. It’s a dysfunctional family, and it’s along the same lines of ‘Family Guy’ and ‘The Simpsons.’ We go to different parts of the country each week and get into a bunch of trouble. It’s stop-motion animation, and they really did a good job with it. I was really impressed with the results.”

It’s a good thing I was able to get Kevin’s comments on the show during our conversation, however, as the TCA panel dedicated to the series was very much under the control of the show’s executive producer, the one and only Michael Eisner. The show was introduced to the crowd by Cyma Zarghami, President of Nickelodeon and MTV Networks Kids and Family, and we would soon know why she was smirking when she asked Eisner, “Michael, do you want to say something before we start?” Worse, most of the things he had to say really didn’t serve to illuminate us very much about the show…or, at least, no more so than Kevin already had last month.

We did, however, learn at least one new thing: “Glenn Martin, DDS” will have a laugh track.

Co-creator Eric Fogel acknowledged that it was something they had experimented with a little bit before finally deciding to go with it, but “we all just really enjoyed the experience with the laugh track. Somehow it seemed like it elevated the experience, made the characters feel more real in a way.”

“It’s kind of tongue in cheek, too,” said Nealon, “because you know there’s not a live audience watching it. I think it goes with the whole feel of the show.”

“I like to imagine that there’s actually an audience of clay puppets out there laughing at the show,” added Fogel.

Here’s the trailer for the series:

I miss the old days of stop-motion animation just enough to be curious about the series on general principle, and while Kevin Nealon might not be my favorite “Weekend Update” anchor, I do think he’s a funny guy. In other words, I’ll be tuning in when “Glenn Martin, DDS” premieres on Nick at Nite on August 17th.

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