Day 6 of the TCA Press Tour was all about the American Broadcasting Company – that’s ABC to you and me – presenting their slate of programming for Fall 2010, along with a couple of new entries that are technically midseason entries but will likely find themselves slotted into the schedule sooner than that. (You know how it goes: there’s always a show or two that gets the boot within a couple of episodes, thereby giving one of the relief squad a chance to go in early.)
Give Kevin Brockman, ABC’s head of publicity, full credit for getting the first big laugh of the day: he walked onto the stage holding a giant stuffed pink elephant named Binky, allowing him to be flanked by the real elephant in the room while addressing the metaphorical one, which was the somewhat unexpected departure of Steve McPherson, the network’s former President of Entertainment.
“On Tuesday, we issued a statement announcing Steve McPherson’s resignation from ABC Entertainment Group,” said Brockman. “I realize you all may have questions, obviously. That is what you do for a living. But to save us some time and hopefully make this as productive as possible, I just want to say that Tuesday’s statement still holds. It is literally all we are going to say on the subject. So you may ask, but you will get the same answer. So I’m just saying please know that is the statement. We have given it. We will give it again if we need to. But in the spirit of trying to make things as productive today, just realize that that’s where we are. We really have nothing more to add.”
And, indeed, they did not. Someone tried a bit later in the morning to get Paul Lee, McPherson’s hastily arranged replacement, to say something on the matter, but…well, we’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s talk about the panel that preceded Mr. Lee’s executive session.
Can it really be possible that “Detroit 1-8-7” is the first police drama to be set within the city of Detroit? That would seem to be the case, and yet it seems like such an incredible oversight that it’s never been done before. More impressive, however, is the fact that the show is actually being filmed in Detroit.
“There are a lot of benefits to shooting in Detroit,” said producer David Zabel. “Included in that is that there is a bit of an infrastructure forming of crew. We are filling out our crew with a lot of locals. A lot of locals are working on the show, and hopefully in the long run what will then happen is that a lot of the locals who are working at mid-level positions are going to get better at these jobs and rise up and be doing more of the key department-head work as well. Overall, they’ve been doing quite a bit of feature work in Detroit, so there’s some aspects there that are well in place, but there are some things that are a little bit of a learning curve, and we’re sort of going through that together. A lot of the key department heads are from Los Angeles for now, but the vast numbers of the crew are largely local hires. In certain key departments we had to bring from L.A. in order to have qualified people so that we could deliver the show. Also, they are shooting seven features right now in Detroit, so even the talent pool that exists locally in Detroit is spread a little thin right now. But as the series goes on, I think we’re going to get more and more people that are local working on the show.”
As happy as I am for Detroit that they’ve got this series filming in their fine city, I must say that I got more than a little bored with the plethora of questions about that particular aspect. I was much more interested in the fact that the original conceit of the series as seen in the pilot which was screened for us in advance of the TCA tour – the detectives were being filmed as part of a documentary – has been thrown out the window due to the fact that, as a result of an unfortunate event in Detroit, the city has banned documentary filmmakers from following police officers around. With that having been put into play, they couldn’t exactly show such a thing going on within “Detroit 1-8-7,” now, could they?
Fortunately, Zabel is convinced that the show can rise above this change in format.
“We have this tremendous cast, and hopefully we’re going to have great writing and great directing,” he said. “We have it so far, and we hope we’re going to keep having it. In some ways, while the documentary conceit was very interesting and compelling as a pilot, in the ongoing series in the long run, we were actually going to feel a little hampered by that and hemmed in, and it certainly was going to limit the ability that we had to sort of send characters into different directions and explore different character arcs and emotional lives and what the actors were going to be able to do. So it freed us up as storytellers, writers, directors, and actors to explore a lot more than, I think, in the long run we would have been able to do had we stuck with the conceit of the overt documentary.”
They’re now in the process of doing the re-shoots for the pilot which were necessitated by the change in format. Zabel estimates that they only needed to adjust 15% of the show, but in some cases they had to rewrite, redirect, and re-shoot an entire scene just to eliminate one little moment where somebody looked at a camera. Ugh.
Given that Michael Imperioli is in the cast, the question was posed as to whether he would be forced to hide his decidedly New York tendencies in favor of going a bit more Detroit-ian with his vocabulary. “My character was in New York before he was in Detroit,” explained Imperioli. (Hey, what luck!) “He has been on Detroit homicide for 10 years, and he spent time working as a detective in New York, and something happened there that hasn’t been really specified. I just read Episode 3, and I learned a little bit more. I learn a little bit more about this character every two weeks as the scripts come in, but something happened that is obviously dark, and it brought him to Detroit, and either he’s escaping something, or it propelled him to go, but he’s not necessarily native.”
Although he’s played both cops and criminals, Imperioli hesitated at the suggestion that there are similar motivations behind following both occupations, though he admitted that their origins may be related.
“In New York, which is the city that I know the best, and where I grew up in New York, which is very close to the Bronx, Mt. Vernon, New York, people who lived in the same neighborhood could have gone in either direction,” he said. “You know, they might have been brought up with the same traditions. And in my neighborhood it was Italian-American. And they may have had similar…you know, they went to the same schools, maybe economically they were on the same level, and socially they were on a very similar level, but because of certain influences and causes and conditions, one goes this way, one goes that. I think the motivation to be a police officer is very different than the motivation to be a criminal. I mean, what I’ve noticed, doing research into police and detectives, is that they really believe in what they do and they want to make their city a safer place to live for the citizens.”
To bring this thing full circle, I’ve got to close by mentioning the jab one of the critics made at poor James McDaniel regarding one of the previous occasions in which he played a cop. Perhaps you’re familiar with a little show called…”Cop Rock”? McDaniel grinned at the reference to the series, but it sounded like he might be getting serious for a moment when he first began to talk.
“A lot of people talk about Detroit, and they haven’t been there, yet they have a negative impression of it,” he said. “I’m from Harlem. I moved to Harlem in 1985, and people would say, ‘Oh, you live in Harlem. You know, I can’t go above 110th Street.’ They’ve never been there. Well, a lot of people talk about ‘Cop Rock’…”
That’s when we knew he was teasing us.
“They talk about ‘Cop Rock’ and they tear it apart, but a lot of them have never seen it,” said McDaniel. “It’s the Detroit of series. But i’s the little engine that could…and my heart will always be with ‘Cop Rock.'”
ABC Executive Session
Normally, the reason I write about a network’s executive session is because there’s a series of random comments and announcements about various programs within their roster, be it upcoming guest stars, special events, or even new programming for the midseason, but in the case of ABC’s executive session, all anyone really wanted to know was what Paul Lee, a.k.a. the new guy, was going to be bringing to the network. The problem was that the poor fellow had only been in his new position for all of 36 hours and simply didn’t have a great deal to offer in the way of specifics insofar as what’s coming up for his reign at the top of the network food chain.
Make no mistake, though: Lee wanted to be here.
“I was on vacation with my wife,” he began, and I shaved off the vacation beard this morning, because I’ve been, I think, about 12 years in the U.S., and I’ve done probably more than 20 TCAs, and I do have to say that I really don’t think the success of either BBC America or ABC Family would have been anything that they were without sort of the debate and the controversies and the buzz and the interest that comes out of this room. So I wanted to thank you guys all for that.
“I’m clearly very excited with this opportunity,” Lee continued. “As far as I’m concerned — and you can probably tell from my accent — at least 12 years ago I was an outsider. This is one, in my view, of the premier, iconic American storytelling brands. I grew up watching this on far-off shores, and it’s a great honor to be a part of that. So I am, as you can probably guess, super unprepared. I’ve been in the job for 36 hours. I apologize in advance if I don’t have all the answers to all the questions. I’m looking forward to rolling my sleeves up and getting those answers over the next few weeks.”
Unfortunately, he didn’t actually have any answers…and, really, why would he? But since the remainder of the panel was really just a lot of hypothetical questions followed by best-guess answers with no assurances of accuracy, there’s little point in wasting any further time here, except to wish Mr. Lee the best of luck with his new gig…because – all together now – he’s going to need it.
It’s a good time to be a former member of the “Friends” cast: Courtney Cox has a hit series with “Cougar Town,” Matt LeBlanc and Lisa Kudrow both have series coming to Showtime, and Jennifer Aniston…well, her movies might not be great, but you can’t say she isn’t keeping busy. If Matthew Perry’s of a mind to make a comeback, now’s certainly as good a time as any…and since he’s actually the one who came up with the idea for “Mr. Sunshine,” one would presume that he is recovered from the disappointing showing of his last series, “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” and ready to take on television once more.
“One of the things that I came away from that show and watching Aaron (Sorkin) and all those brilliant people writing it is that I thought I wanted to take maybe a shot at writing something,” said Perry. “Actually, the reason that my character is selfish and has only thought about himself is because I know somebody, you know, who that was the case for for a long time. So to take a comedic look at that, I thought, was interesting.”
As the panel progressed, Perry eventually clarified that the character was, for all practical purposes, based on the man he used to be.
“I like to say that this character is me, like, five years ago before any possible enlightenment could have come into my life,” Perry said. “But, you know, I’m very in touch with that kind of drive. You know, a selfish guy trying to have a better life and how confused a selfish person would get if he were told that the way to have a better life was to just be nicer to people and care about people. You know, that kind of person is confused when the answer is, like, ‘Be really nice to Nate, and ultimately you’ll be happier.’ I don’t know that that’s for all people. So that’s a character that I thought would be fun to explore in a sea of sort of dysfunctional people and a fun arena in which for it to take place.”
So you’re really nice these days, huh?
“Me?” asked Perry. “I’m much nicer.”
In “Mr. Sunshine,” Perry’s character runs a sports arena, a job we haven’t really seen before on television. In order to get a feel for the position, Perry spent a day with the gentleman who does the same job for the Staples center. (“I will continue to bother this guy throughout the process,” he assured us.)
“You know, what drove us to want to do a show at this place was, if you have sort of a dysfunctional family working in such a huge venue, what if we had cameras on how crazy some of these people who are, but they have to get it together every night because 18,000 people are showing up. As a kid, I was just real excited and thrilled to go to any of those places. When I was a kid, it was The Forum, and I just had this feeling of just sort of excitement, and the people work there must feel that, too. We were just trying to think of a place where kind of the most interesting, insane things can come in. So, you know, the first few that we’re talking about is…you know, there’s a Bruce Springsteen concert, but the next night, there’s a lingerie football game, and that’s actually an episode that I’m very much looking forward to shooting. Because they’re women. And they’re wearing lingerie. And they’re playing football…which gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘illegal use of the hands.'”
After a charity laugh from the crowd, a dejected Perry claimed, “I worked on that all the way here.”
I promise you, the show’s funnier than that. Or, at least, I thought it was, anyway.
Body of Proof
It seems all too easy to look at the visions of gorgeousness that are Dana Delaney and Jeri Ryan and make a joke about how they put the “body” in “Body of Proof,” and yet throughout the panel it was all I could think of. So let’s just pretend that I’ve made the joke, and that way we can just move on with our lives, okay?
Dana Delaney is coming off a pretty decent couple of years, having spent some time on Wisteria Drive as a cast member of “Desperate Housewives,” then turning in a great guest appearance on “Castle.” Frankly, it’s about time she got her own show, and from what I’ve seen of the pilot of “Body of Proof,” it seems to have the potential to succeed as a Friday night series. But, then again, I thought sure that “Women’s Murder Club” would pull an audience then, too, and that thing sank like a stone, so you might not be able to trust me on this. Either way, though, she’s excited about playing the role of Megan Hunt, a former neurosurgeon who, after being injured in an accident, becomes a coroner.
“She’s complicated, she’s smart, and she’s definitely complex,” said Delaney. “I just met and had dinner with a female neurosurgeon, and she said she watched the pilot with trepidation because nobody ever gets it right, but she was really pleased. It’s very rare for a woman, especially at my age, to become a neurosurgeon. It’s a lot of years of work, a lot of years of school, and you’re not really allowed to have a personal life, so I kind of see her as an addict that was addicted to the job, addicted to the power, addicted to all that kind of thing, and then she lost it all. She lost her husband. She lost her child, and lost her job. It’s almost like she’s now needing to redeem herself. It’s basically like the character Charon, where the River Styx and carrying the bodies over. I think she sees this now as her redemption. That that’s what she’s doing.”
As far as Kate Murphy, Jeri Ryan’s character in the series…well, actually, I wasn’t really even going to talk about her, since Dana’s really the thrust of the pilot, but why miss an opportunity to offer up a picture of Jeri Ryan, y’know? Besides, the producers talked about her character, anyway, so we might as well.
“We actually wrote the role for Jeri,” said executive producer Matthew Gross. “Originally, the character was of Indian descent. But when, you know, she came across our eye, we felt that we had to have her in the show because she does add another element to the chemistry, as you put out, and what’s interesting about the show and the dynamic between the two is that Jeri’s character, Kate, is basically going on the same track that Megan went on in terms of putting career first, about identifying herself through her job, and Megan’s going to try and impart and imbue in her the mistakes that she made in the past, and of course, she’s not going to listen.”
“At first,” added executive producer Christopher Murphey. “The pilot is so centered on Megan’s character, and the rest of the characters in the pilot seem basically there to service her, but I think it’s our obligation in telling our stories that are multilayered and complicated that we open up the universe in which Megan is the center of. Peter (Dunlop, played by Nicholas Bishop) is her right-hand man medical investigator. Kate is her titular boss, but they will all be part of Megan’s journey, and they will have journeys of their own as well. I think the idea is to have a rich, fully sort of fleshed-out world and the characters that lived in it.”
When I first watched the trailer for this series, which takes a faux documentary format as it takes a look at a high school class ten years after its graduation to see where the students are today, my first reaction was to lean over to one of my fellow critics and say, “The only way I want to watch a show about this bunch of twentysomethings is if it involves them getting picked off one by one.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen…although it looks like at least one of them bites it, so, y’know, you take your solace where you can find it.
“My Generation” comes to us from Noah Hawley, whose previous series, “The Unusuals,” I liked better than this one…although, yes, I know, it’s a little early to start throwing stones at a show when its pilot technically still isn’t even intended for review purposes yet. Fair enough: I’ll put a moratorium on making any further comments and just let Hawley tell us the origins of his new series.
“The show was born in Sweden, as all great shows are,” explained Hawley. “There was a half-hour program in Sweden called ‘On God’s Highway,’ which Warren Littlefield found and brought to ABC, and they brought it to me. It was a half-hour. It was more of a mockumentary, basically following these three guys in high school and then coming back, in their case, 15 years later and just seeing what that gap was. It was a really funny show, but there was also a poignancy to it because of the time gap and what they thought they would be when they grew up and sort of how they turned out, and it seemed like a really fascinating premise to me, the ‘Seven Up!’ series premise with a lot of inherent drama in it, but also comedy as well.
“In terms of why you would make it an hour,” Hawley continued, “what justified turning it into a drama instead of just a comedy, there were two things in the coming up with the American version of it. One was that we would use the documentary format in a different way. Instead of making it a classic mockumentary, which is basically just some verité-style filmmaking with some interviews, we would make an investigative documentary. We would use a lot of the tools of great documentaries, ‘Capturing the Friedmans’ to be one of them, where you really are investigating who these people were and what their journeys are, sometimes pushing these characters further than they want to go. There’s a feeling that you’re invading their privacy a little bit and that, as a viewer, you’re seeing stuff that they don’t necessarily want you to see. And then the other element of it was in shortening the time frame between the year 2000 and the present day and making it 10 years, we sort of looked at the sea change that had occurred around the world in the last 10 years. And that seemed like really fertile ground as well to tell stories not just about these characters’ personal lives, but putting it in the context of the larger world around them.”
Additionally, the documentary style gives Hawley the flexibility to move around chronologically with a little bit more freedom as the series progresses.
“Hopefully you’ll see the show for a few years,” he said. “We had to decide, in going forward in the series, what the present is versus the past because the past is that this documentary film crew shot for a year in the year 2000 and followed the senior class of the high school. Now coming back 10 years later, we’re saying that the first season takes place over three months, basically from April 2010 to June 2010. And what this allows us to do is not only contextualize the past in terms of real-world events, but also to tie the episodes in the present to sort of real days, you know, and to real events so that we can tie it in. This also allows us, at the end of the first season going forward to the next season, to jump ahead a year.
“Let’s say that we hypothetically with two characters who are going to be getting a divorce at the end of Season 1,” said Hawley. “But then you could come back in Season 2, it’s a year later, and maybe they have a child. And you’re like, ‘Well, what happened?’ Because this show is kind of based on the idea of character mysteries. How did the overachiever in high school turn into the surf bum 10 years later? And how did the woman who was going to go off to Hollywood and be famous end up as sort of the real housewife of Austin, Texas? By jumping ahead a year, you know, we’re able to sort of refill that well. What it also allows us to do is hopefully, by Season 3, we don’t really have to tell high school stories anymore because where the past is kind of moving forward. So really in a ‘Seven Up!’ kind of way, we’re watching these characters grow up.”
In truth, I do like the idea of this show. It may just be a generational thing, where I’m looking at these twentysomethings with the eye of a 39-year-old, thinking, “These kids are going to be complaining about how bad they’ve got it, and they have no freaking idea how much worse it may yet get for them.” Hopefully, the show will rise above that, though. We’ll just have to wait and see.
No Ordinary Family
Now this is what I’m talking about! Yeah, I know, selling me on a superhero show is like shooting fish in a barrel, but I watched the pilot, and I just thought it was loads of fun. There’s no attempt to set a dark tone, a la “Heroes.” Instead, it offers a look at how a real family might deal with suddenly finding themselves in possession of superhuman abilities. Yes, there’s a slight resemblance to “Heroes” just by virtue of its subject matter, but there’s arguably even more similarity to “The Incredibles,” which might be why creator Greg Berlanti views “No Ordinary Family” as being – shocker! – a family show. At the very least, he’s not afraid to acknowledge that it might hold echoes of other existing properties.
“I’m not sure I would say it’s a total original as much as it’s kind of, in some ways, a fun throwback to some of the action adventure series that I used to love and watch as a kid, blended with, hopefully, a great family show,” said Berlanti. “I think as audiences get more and more sophisticated, you look for ways to sort of blend genres, so with this, we tried to sort of blend all the fun of a show, a big action show, with a real fun, intimate family show and see what happens. I think that distinction is not something that everybody can find everywhere else on the dial. I think, in addition to that, there’s a real broad appeal. There’s something for everyone, you know, different ages. These days more and more it seems like shows are structured towards this niche or that niche, the show’s for men or the show’s for women above 30. And it seems like with this, we wanted to make something that the whole family could watch together…and, unfortunately, those shows, I think, are fewer and fewer.”
Star Michael Chiklis, however, prefers to make a musical analogy. “Everything comes from somewhere, from some influence, and if you look at any great musician, they have influences throughout their lives growing up,” he said. “They listen to all these different musicians, and they take and they borrow from all of them, and that sort of amalgam of different influences manifests itself in them being an individual artist. That’s the way I kind of feel about this show. It borrows from a lot of different things that we’ve loved, and because it’s an amalgam of all those things, it ends up being something completely unique and different.”
Chiklis’s co-star, Romany Malco, earned some serious bonus points from me when it was his turn to chime in on the situation, successfully convincing me that his guy may be almost as big a TV geek as I am!
“I grew up watching ‘Man From Atlantis’ and ‘Greatest American Hero’ and, you know, ‘The Fall Guy’ and ‘Superman’ and ‘Batman,’ but they all seem to have gone away,” said Malco. “As Greg mentioned, the times have changed. The audiences have become a lot more sophisticated. One of the things that I think is really interesting about this particular show is you actually see these superpowers being used rather than necessarily to save the world, but to save a family. Also, I notice in Michael’s character, particularly, this newly found independence, this sense of purpose, and it’s interesting seeing like a regular human being going through the process of identifying what his purpose on the planet is gonna be, and then Jimmy’s character and the way he keeps his superpowers a secret to basically make a mockery of the teachers. So it’s, like, comedic, but it’s very heartfelt and inspiring. It’s just like a really nice balance for what I consider to be more sophisticated audience.”
“I really don’t think of this show as a sci-fi show,” said Chiklis. “‘The Fantastic Four’ is a superhero movie. It’s sci-fi 100 percent. Yes, there’s that element of the superhero thing, but what we’re trying to do is meld different genres together and make a new thing. And this is really at its core — I can’t emphasize this enough — a family show. It’s a family drama about a family that’s somewhat dysfunctional and is trying to work through all manner of different problems that all families face in this day and age. The superhero element or the super-power element, rather, really just creates such a broad palette for us to paint on and have fun with and be that much more entertaining, so this has great appeal to people who might not be interested at all in sci-fi. Some people’s heads turn off when you say sci-fi. They just go, ‘Oh, that’s not for me.’ I submit that people who aren’t really particularly interested in sci-fi would be interested in this show because it’s innately relatable on a familial level. Yet, people who are into sci-fi will be into the show too, because it has that element. So again, like a musician who borrows from all these different great musicians, their own style comes out of it, and this is something entirely new.”
“In the writers’ room, when we come in, it’s always, ‘What do we want to say with these characters this week?’” said Berlanti. “And that’s the same rule that it’s sort of been in any of the character shows I’ve ever worked on. If we’re fortunate enough to go many, many years, it would all lead up to…the end of the show would be the comic book. You know, the end of the show would be how the family finally all got together and did whatever they did in the sci-fi world. But to me, there’s a billion stories to tell before that moment.”
“One last little caveat,” said Chiklis. “This isn’t ‘Heroes.’ It isn’t ‘The Incredibles.’ This is ‘No Ordinary Family.’”
Hey, I’m in.
The Whole Truth
Maura Tierney could not have looked or sounded less thrilled to be part of the panel for “The Whole Truth,” and it made me very, very sad. She’s one of my favorite actresses, but, man, you would’ve thought that the proceedings were to be followed by the arrival of a firing squad. I’m sure it was predominantly because she was dreading the idea of having to answer a steady stream of questions about her cancer, which – hallelujah! – is now in remission, but even so, she was starting to drag me down with her lack of enthusiasm.
Prior to her diagnosis, Tierney was originally set to take on the role on “Parenthood” that ultimately went to Lauren Graham. In the case of “The Whole Truth,” however, the role was originally written for her by series creator Tom Donaghy, given to someone else because they didn’t think she was available, but, due to the ever-changing circumstances of Hollywood, ended up back in her lap after all.
“I wasn’t really thinking about doing another show,” Tierney admitted. “But I really responded to the character that Tom wrote, I guess, because (he) wrote it for me. My ego’s not involved there at all. But I thought it was a really, really appealing character, it’s funny, and I thought it was interesting to find a character that had such sort of a great sense of humor, yet was so driven.”
When asked if her health scare had affected her perspective on the importance her work in any way, Tierney hesitated for a moment at the immensity of the question, then said, “I probably have a new perspective on everything, in general. It’s a really wonderful feeling to know that people are caring about something that you do, that I’ve been doing for 20 years. I think it’s a blanket statement that my perspective has, and probably should change more than it has, quite honestly, but as far as work goes, well, yeah, partially. You know, Tom and I are friends, like actual real friends, not Hollywood friends. We went to college together. We’ve known each other for over 20 years, and it’s a priority for me now to be able to work with people who I really like and trust. So that will be a factor because I feel like, yeah, it’s too much time involved of your life to not enjoy it. So I guess that’s somewhat adjusted.”
Better With You
Although I must admit that “Better With You,” with its heavy-handed laugh track and often groan-worthy punchlines, is probably my least favorite of ABC’s sitcom offerings this season, there are still a couple of pretty decent reasons to give it a shot, the first being JoAnna Garcia, who’s as super-cute as ever and, at one point, delivers a line so perfectly that I had to hit the “rewind” button so that I could hear her deliver it again. What I didn’t expect, however, was that the premise of the show – a young couple gets engaged after dating for only two months, which causes her sister and her parents to reevaluate their own relationships – would result in a moment in the panel that was arguably funnier than anything in the pilot.
The question was addressed to Garcia and her co-star, Jennifer Finnigan, and it started out like this:
“How would you react in real life if someone had that quick of a marriage proposal in two months? Jennifer, you were engaged for a couple years, I think, before you were married. And, JoAnna, you’ve been engaged a couple times…”
As the laughter started, Garcia held up her hand. “I just want you to know,” she began, “that is going to go down in record books. I might tell the story on the talk show at some point, so we’re going to need to talk later, and I’m going to need a little bit more about you so we can make this whole thing work.”
Then, as she attempted to answer the question seriously, she started to stumble. “I got engaged after…well, my current engagement that I’m actually going to follow through with…” She stopped. “This is an absolute nightmare. I just want you guys to know that I have started to sweat.”
Eventually, Garcia confirmed that she and her fiancee got engaged after dating for 10 months…but later in the panel, she admitted, “I’m still sweating.”
Hey, look: it’s another heart-warming reality series that I’ll probably never watch! This one, however, didn’t originate on ABC. You may remember “Secret Millionaire” from when it made its debut back in 2008 as part of Fox’s lineup. Now it’s moved over to ABC for its second season, and…what a surprise…it’s supposed to be even better now than it was then!
“The FOX show was successful when it aired and won four of its time slots,” said Natalka Znak, executive producer. “As producers, we’re delighted, though, that it’s now on ABC because it feels like a totally natural home for it. It’s also been produced in the U.K. for a number of series, and I have to say I love the U.K. show, I thought the FOX show was good, but I think this show is amazing, and it’s impossible not to watch it without getting to the end and, you know, feeling like you need to go and do something, feeling that, you know, something extraordinary has happened while you’ve watched the show. It’s an incredible show. It really is.”
James Malinchak, one of the show’s millionaire participants, admitted to skepticism when first pitched the idea of doing the show. “I’ve dedicated my life to helping to serve people and uplift people,” he said, “and I was nervous about folks on the show being hurt in some way. And when (the producers) and I were talking at my house, I could just see it in their eyes that they really wanted to do something good and try to bring a positive awareness to America and put more hope back into not just folks on the show and into us, but into America as a whole. Leslie really wanted us to have a life-transformational moment. I think when we’re successful in a certain aspect, I think we start to drink our own Kool-Aid, and we seem to forget some tough times that maybe we had. And for me personally, it was one of the greatest experiences I ever went through. And I went on the show, thinking I was going to be some guy writing some checks to some deserving people, and by, like, the second day, I mean, I didn’t really worry about my business. I didn’t care about any of it. And I met some of the most amazing human beings I’ve ever met in my life. And it just…it brought me back down to earth, let’s put it that way, and put my feet back on the ground. So I’m very grateful that I had this opportunity, because it changed me more than I think I changed them with the money.”
Tony Branch, one of the recipients of the money, was completely dumbfounded when he learned the true identity of his new friend James. “When you watch television and you hear things like this or read it in the newspaper, it’s always happening to someone else in someone else’s state or country or city,” said Branch. “When Mr. Malinchak told me, I literally looked him in the eye and said, ‘No, you’re not. Me and you was just sweeping floors and passing out basketballs. What are you talking about?’ Then I realized, looking at Leslie and a couple of the camera crew, and there was tears coming out of their face; and at that point in time, I was out on my feet. I’ve been knocked out before, but now I know what it feels like. The only thing I heard was ‘Waa-waa waa-waa-waa.’”
Another one of the millionaires, Gary Heavin, made a very interesting comment about how much can be accomplished by tackling poverty and financial woes on the grassroots level and by having good people just help out other good people
“Going out into the community and hands-on and being immersed in that poverty, we saw good being done in extraordinary ways by amazing people, I’m an entrepreneur. Diane and I are the founders of Curves, the women’s fitness franchise. So we know what it takes to care for people. The solutions that we have in our country, they’re going to come from good people like these guys who get up every day and give it their all…and it restored our faith in humanity, to tell you the truth.”
I’ve been writing up today’s panels for so long that I’m no longer sure exactly when I started, so I’m glad that ABC ordered their day so that I’d know I’d reached the conclusion of their coverage. Sure, it’s kind on the nose for the network to have ended the day with a show called “Happy Endings,” but at least it’s funny…which was a pleasant surprise, actually. I have to say that I wasn’t entirely sure about a sitcom starring Elisha Cuthbert, given that “The Girl Next Door” did far more to show off her assets than it did her gifts as a comedienne, but given that the ensemble includes Eliza Coupe (late of “Scrubs”), Casey Wilson (“Saturday Night Live”), and Damon Wayans, Jr. (who’s very much his father’s son) and is produced by Jonathan Groff (“Andy Barker, P.I.”), it’s easy to give it a little bit of room to grow.
Plus, for what it’s worth, Cuthbert is willing to admit that she herself has room to grow.
“I wish I could say this is what I was looking for and it came about and it was all perfect,” she said. “I just knew that if I was going to come back to TV, I really wanted to be a part of something that I felt passionate about and that I was excited to go to work to do every day. And at that time, this script came, and I read it, and I just felt like it would be different. It was a little daunting, but I kind of got excited about that, and these guys have been helping me, and I’ve just been really excited about it all. When it came my way, I went, “Wow, this actually might be the right next step.’ This is so great because we all get to bounce off one another and find the relationships between one another. We’re all so different, but it’s been really comfortable. I mean, it’s been just a lot of fun. Honestly, sometimes we have too much fun. We have to zone it in and go, ‘Wait, we have a scene to shoot!'”
The premise of the show involves Alex (Cuthbert) abandoning Dave (Zachary Knighton, late of “FlashForward”) at the altar, an event which seriously throws a wrench into a group of friends who, at their own admission, haven’t met any new friends in more than a decade. When the question was raised as to whether “Happy Endings” would follow a plot arc or stick to more of a traditional sitcom format, Groff seemed indicated that they’d try to do a bit of both.
“I think we dealt ourselves a pretty hefty hand at the end of the pilot, which is this huge seismic issue which is going to affect this group of friends,” said Groff. “So we want to respect that and explore that as far as it’s really interesting. On the other hand, you do want to be able to have every episode stand alone, and the reality that sometimes they’ll want to change the air order for various reasons or people will just watch things out of order these days…you want to make sure everything is not completely reliant on what came before it. So it’s sort of an in-between answer, honestly.
“Dave and Alex have a lot to work on and a lot to deal with to really live up to the promise of the pilot, which is that we’re going to try to not break up this group because of what happened to us, so we’re going to sort of back up and dig in deeper and see how they actually manage to do that. And then we’re also just going to do lots of stories that maybe deal with the impact of some of this. Alex might need a new roommate. That’s Elisha’s character. Or are Jane (Coupe) and Brad (Wayans) going to move to the suburbs? What’s it like for Dave and Max to live together? But a lot of it is just also telling stories about friends in their late 20s and what that’s like and when a couple of them are married, a few of them have different career trajectories, and sister relationships and all that stuff.
“I think the main thing we’re going for, to some extent, is a funny reality where people talk to each other,” Groff explained. “It’s not a lot of hugging and telling each other that they love each other. It’s people who deal with issues, and when somebody bugs them, they deflect it through humor or sarcasm or whatever. So there will be a lot of that, I think, where the characters are just interacting with each other in a way where they have their shorthand that will be entertaining to watch as they kind of go through their lives.”