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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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TCA Tour, Day 2: “How’d You Get So Rich?”

I’m still not happy with TV Land for giving up their “all classic television, all the time” format in favor of bringing in a new crop of reality shows that, quite frankly, we could see on virtually any other network on the dial. But with that said, I have to admit that their latest endeavor – “How’d You Get So Rich?” – is a unique concept that I haven’t seen anywhere else, introducing viewers to hard-working, regular folks who went from rags to mega-riches by coming up with ideas and inventions that are pretty simple.

The show’s host…? Joan Rivers. And, boy, does that woman know how to liven up a TCA panel.

“I don’t know about any of you,” she began, “but, you know, you walk down a street and somebody goes past you in a Maserati or a Lamborghini or whatever those stupid cars are, and you go, ‘How did they get so fucking rich?’ Our show is ringing the doorbells, walking in, and talking to nouveau riche people…and it is so great because they will answer you. They are stupid enough to tell you where their money came from. No ‘oh, well, I don’t think I should talk about it.’ No, it’s, ‘Oh, yes. It’s $4 million, and my husband made it in drugs.’ Our follow-up show is ‘How’d You Get So Fuckin Poor?’ That’ll be hosted by the Madoffs. And everyone will say the same thing: ‘Because of you!’”

But, seriously, folks, you can tell that she really does love the show…not that it stops her from making fun of some of the individuals who are spotlighted on it, or from coming right out and saying that some of the inventions that these people have gotten rich from are so dumb / obvious that they’ll make you want to kill yourself.

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Will “Funny People” be a sad clown at the box office?

Whatever my reaction to it winds up being when I finally see “Funny People,” Judd Apatow has my respect. As a producer, writer, and sometime director of mostly R-rated comedies, he’s enjoyed a level of unusually consistent box office and artistic/critical success over a large number of movies that only Pixar, which takes much longer to make its very different brand of crowd-pleaser, can top right now.

Making good movies requires taking risks, and Apatow is taking one right now with a film that is being described as a tragicomedy and with his only hedge being a cast dominated by popular comic actors led by Adam Sandler. That the film seems to be largely dividing critics and generating confused reactions would, if I were Apatow or Universal, make me a little nervous. Actually, Universal may be more nervous than Apatow. As Nikki Finke and everyone else is reporting tonight, the hyphenate comedy guy just inked a 3-picture deal with them, so he’s set for the time being.

Variety‘s Dave McNary reports that box office predictions vary pretty widely for the film, from the low twenty millions to the mid-thirties. No wonder. A casual look around the wilds of Rotten Tomatoes indicates that the Apatow’s third feature as a director after “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” is far different piece of work and what you might call “difficult.” As far as I can remember, this has almost never indicated an immediate box office success — better to have critics universally detest the movie, it seems, than be conflicted. Movies that elicit this kind of reaction have more than once emerged years later as cult hits or even, as in the case of “Blade Runner,” legitimate classics. On the other hand, Adam Sandler’s name will count for something, and the presence of Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, among others, certainly won’t hurt. But, on the other other hand, we’ve seen the power of stars amount to less than expected results more than once over the last year or so.

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TCA Tour, Day 1: “Lopez Tonight”

I like George Lopez. I didn’t much care for his sitcom, “The George Lopez Show,” but after watching the PBS documentary, “Brown is the New Green: George Lopez and the American Dream,” I realized just how funny the guy was. I mean, when he talked about his battling with ABC over his attempts to portray a typical Latino-American family on television (“They said, ‘There’s nothing here that indicates that a Mexican family lives here. There’s not a tortilla maker.’ I said, ‘My tortilla maker was my grandmother!’”), it made me laugh harder than I ever did at an episode of his actual sitcom. As such, the idea of seeing Lopez in a situation where he’s able to be himself rather than a scripted character is one that intrigues me, and after seeing the way he handled himself in front of an audience of jaded TV critics, I have no doubt that his wit is quick enough to serve him as the host of his very own TBS talk show, “Lopez Tonight.”

Of the clips which were offered up of the show, the best was unquestionably the one that featured a filmed conversation between Lopez and President Obama.

And, yes, it’s real.

“I supported Barack Obama during his campaign,” said Lopez. “He spoke to me, and he said that he needed the Latino vote, never thinking that, in the Presidential candidate, those 38 votes would mean the difference between a Democratic president and a Republican president. He called me three weeks ago, and we had a very lovely conversation, a little bit about the kids and a lot about Iran. He is a great guy, and I can consider the 44th President of the United States a close friend of mine. Thank you. And I grew up poor.”

So does that mean that we can expect to see the President turn up on “Lopez Tonight” as a guest?

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TCA Update: HBO Executive Session

The HBO executive session with Michael Lombardo (President, Programming Group and West Coast Operations) and Richard Plelpler (Co-President) just wrapped up, and here were the highlights:

* Before Plepler and Lombardo took the stage, we were treated to the trailer for the network’s new 10-hour miniseries, “The Pacific,” produced by Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and Gary Goetzman. Let’s just go ahead and give the Emmy now, shall we?

* “True Blood,” “Hung,” and “Entourage” will all be coming back for new seasons next summer.

* Conversations are underway to potentially bring back “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.”

* Neither was willing to offer up any information about how Evan Rachel Wood would look as the vampire queen at the end of the second season of “True Blood,” for fear that they would suffer some horrible fate at the hand of Alan Ball. They did, however, assure us that surprises are in store, and that it totally delivers.

* “Little Britain USA” is not coming back, but they’re talking about bringing creators Matt Lucas and David Walliams back for some specials. It’s still in the development stage, but the intent is to come back with a whole new cast of characters and a whole new approach to their television appearance. In short, they will be back on HBO, though whether it will be at the end of next year or later remains to be seen.

* Season 2 of “Eastbound and Down” will begin shooting it sometime at the end of winter or the beginning of spring, and it will air next year.

* David Simon’s new series, “Treme,” will be on the air next April, fingers crossed. The current intention is for “The Pacific” to premiere mid-March, and, at the end of its run, ‘”Treme” will begin.

* The pilot just wrapped for Martin Scorcese’s “Boardwalk Empire,” and they are anxiously awaiting a cut from Marty so that the series can receive a green light. Provided it’s as good as they’re presuming it will be…and, thus far, “everything we’ve seen is fantastic, big, everything we hoped it could be”…their fingers are crossed that a pick-up is imminent.

* As for Season 3 of “Flight of the Conchords,” the official word is, “When they’re ready, we’re ready.”

* They have begun receiving episodes for Season 2 of “The Life & Times of Tim,” and they describe them as “funnier than the first,” but they haven’t yet figured out where they want schedule the show. They do, however, have an upcoming series that could fit the bill nicely…

* They’ve ordered an animated show from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, based on their long-running series of podcasts. I’m saying it right here: the time is right for Karl Pilkington mania to grip the States!

* Although the histrionics of Jerry Rice probably didn’t help things any, the big reason that the Bengals are the focus of this season of “Hard Knocks” rather than the Cowboys is that the network wanted to open up a new team to the audience and show a different organization and the habits and attitude of that team.

* Season 4 of “Big Love” is scheduled to kick off in January.

* Season 3 of “In Treatment” is something they’re trying to put together, but given that the show was adapted from an Israeli series that only ran for two seasons, they’d have to create all-new scripts for a third season. Still, it’s a good sign that Gabriel Byrne is “very interested” in returning.

* And, lastly, they are forever trying to figure out a way to extend the length of Bill Maher’s seasons, in order to give him more time on the air. Whether that’s a good thing or not, you be the judge.

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TCA Tour, Day 1: “Dark Blue”

There was a certain amount of exasperation amongst the critics about Turner’s decision to offer up a panel for a show that’s already been on the air for a few weeks (“Dark Blue”) rather than one for an upcoming series that we’re all rather excited about (“Men of a Certain Age,” starring Ray Romano, Scott Bakula, and Andre Braugher), and to be fair, I was feeling it myself a little bit. I get that, when you’ve got a Jerry Bruckheimer production amongst your stable of shows, you want to be sure that you’re promoting it as much as possible, but…it’s already on the air. Worse, it was like pouring salt in the wound to show us a clip from “Men of a Certain Age” that piqued our interest even further about that series.

Oh, well. So be it.

If you haven’t caught “Dark Blue” yet…well, it only made its debut on July 15th, so it’s not too late to get onboard. I was so busy trying to get ready for the TCA tour that I never had a chance to write it up for Premium Hollywood, but here’s the trailer for the series, to give you an idea what it’s all about:

“Dark Blue” was created by Doug Jung, who had previously worked on “Big Love.” It’s a bit of a change of pace, obviously, but as he admitted, “You could say that about polygamy for everyone.”

Still, the two series have more in common than one might immediately think.

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