Not all of the critics who attend the TCA Press Tour care a lot about PBS’s days of the tour, but I always try to attend as many of their panels as possible. For one reason, I’m a longtime Anglophile, so it’s like shooting fish in a barrel to convince me that I ought to check out a new episode from one of the “Masterpiece” shows. For another, I’m a former record store clerk and music critic, so the concerts are always an easy sell. And then, of course, you’ve got the retrospectives of various actors, films, and televisions series. Basically, there are any number of reasons for me to get excited about PBS…and, as usual, they gave me several this tour.
Breakfast came with an introduction from and a short Q&A with Jose Andres, host of “Made in Spain,” a show which I now feel like I need to watch just because he was so darned charming. After that, we got an update from PBS Kids which was surprisingly unexciting, but I stuck it out because I didn’t want to feel guilty about strolling out with the “Dinosaur Train” and “Super Why” toys that were on table. (My daughter’s going to love them…) From there, we shifted into the big ballroom and spent some time with Jeff Bridges as he talked about his upcoming “American Masters” special, then back to the small ballroom for the “Masterpiece” presentations on “Upstairs Downstairs” and “Zen.”
Back to the big ballroom again for “Bears of the Last Frontier,” but although I was fascinated, I had to slip out early in order to do a one-on-one with Rufus Sewell about his work on “Zen.” Thankfully, I made it back in time for the long but wonderful panel for “The Best of Laugh-In,” featuring Gary Owens, Jo Anne Worley, Ruth Buzzi, Lily Tomlin, and creator George Schlatter. Sadly, I missed most of the next two panels, “Forgiveness: A Time to Love & A Time to Hate” and “Independent Lens: Artists Profiles,” but on the other hand, it’s because I was able to help my buddy Brian Sebastian on interviews with Owens and Tomlin, even getting a few questions in myself.
The evening event was a performance by Harry Connick Jr. in conjunction with his “Great Performances” special, and I thought it was fantastic, if unabashedly jazzy. But, really, if you were expecting anything else, then you clearly haven’t been listening to the man’s music very much. All I know is that he tore the roof off the joint, and I loved every minute of it.
Okay, time for your top 10 quotes of the day. You’ll note more repetition of shows this go-round, but all I can tell you is that there were fewer panels and less instantly memorable moments in some of them. I think you’ll still get a few good laughs from this bunch, anyway, though. See you tomorrow!
1. “I got a little bit nervous when they told me that I had to be speaking in front of TV critics. I knew I was coming here to share time at PBS, but all of a sudden it’s, like, ‘The room is going to be full of TV critics.’ Great: all my life dealing with food critics one by one, and now I’m going to have to be dealing with an entire room of TV critics…?” – Jose Andres, “Made in Spain”
2. “There’s an element in making movies, the collage, that you give all your stuff and then the director cuts it up and makes a different piece out of it. Seeing myself as this young guy (in ‘Tron: Legacy’), it rubbed my fur a little bit the wrong way. You know, it was a bit like…remember the first time you heard your voice on a tape recorder, how weird it sounded to you? Early on in my career…I don’t know if we have time for kind of a long story. You feel like a story or not?
“My first film was called ‘Halls of Anger.’ The movie was about busing white kids into a black school, and I was the white kid who was supposed to be, you know, trying to integrate into the sports and all these things. And the black kids keep beating me up. So now this is the scene here; what I’m going to describe is the climax of the film. And Calvin Lockhart, wonderful actor, is playing the boys’ vice principal. And the scene is; I’ve been beaten up, and now I’m there, and I say, ‘I’m quitting.’ And I’m in tears and everything. He says, ‘No, you got to stick.’ I say, ‘I’ve had it. I’ve had enough,’ you know. So we started shooting the scene, and we did Calvin’s side first. And all my emotion came, and I was thinking, ‘God, I hope I have it when we come back to my side.’ Then they shot all the coverage of all the people’s reaction, and I was there. And then they came to my side, and I kicked ass, man. I was so…it was like fresh, and I got applause from the crew. And I was, like, ‘Oh, man, maybe I should do this acting thing. I’m pretty good!’ Now we cut to Watts, and it’s the premiere of the show, and I’m sitting there with my brother on one side and my father on one side. And I’m saying, ‘Wait till you guys see my…’ Well, you know, not saying it to them, but I’m saying it inside. And here comes the scene. And here it comes. And now they’re on Calvin. Yeah, Calvin, the boys’ vice principal. Yeah. Cut to me. Cut to me. Why aren’t you cutting to me? And now they cut to me…and my face is something like (a grimace). And the entire audience laughs…and I just about had a bowel movement. And if you listened, it was the perfect opposite reaction that I wanted from the audience.
“That was like a real crossroads for me with the acting, because I thought, ‘God, how do you protect yourself?’ And you don’t. You just have to be willing to lay it out there and put yourself in some director’s hands.” – Jeff Bridges, “American Masters: Jeff Bridges – The Dude Abides”
3. “(My performance tonight) was really weak. You know what it is, man? Like, I resorted a little bit of trickery. I haven’t sung a song in four months. I haven’t sat at a piano in four months because I was doing this dolphin movie. I’ve been a veterinarian for the last four months. So it’s unfair in a sense. But you guys didn’t pay to get in here, so I don’t feel that bad about it.” – Harry Connick, Jr., “Great Performances: Harry Connick, Jr. in Concert on Broadway”
4. “Lady Bellamy (on ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’) was played by Rachel Gurney in the first series. The truth of the story is she came into a great deal of money. Her mother died and left her a lot of money. So she went to John Hawkesworth and the other producers and said, ‘Sorry, I’ve got to go, I don’t want to do this anymore.’ So she went down on the Titanic, as you’ll remember, Lady Bellamy did. And either (Rachel) ran through the money, or she got bored, and she wanted to come back, so she went to John Hawkesworth and said, ‘Could you please write me back in, darling?’ And he said, ‘Rachel, the only person who could write you back in is Jacques Cousteau.’” – Jean Marsh, “Masterpiece: Upstairs, Downstairs”
5. “’Upstairs Downstairs’ premiered in England in 1971, it went on for five years, there were probably 68 episodes, and about 15 years ago, Jean Marsh and I were at a reception with Princess Margaret, in England. Princess Margaret was notorious as a party girl, as you all know, and there were great gaps in her own personal history. So Jean…I probably shouldn’t be telling the story, but it’s too late now…Jean was introduced presented to Princess Margaret, who was there in the dress, with the handbag. And the equery sort of whispered in Princess Margaret’s ear and said, ‘Jean Marsh, the creator of the very popular television series ‘Upstairs Downstairs.’’ Blank, nothing. Shakes hand with Jean, and the equery says, ‘You remember, the one about the Bellamy family at Eaton Place.’ And Princess Margaret said, ‘Oh, yes. The one about all the classes.’ Now, Jean’s a very feisty piece of work, and it doesn’t go down well, things like that, with Jean. So Jean is shaking her hand, curtsies, whatever you do, whatever you people do over there, curtsy. And she said, ‘How do you do, ma’am.’ Jean said, ‘Did you see it?’ And Princess Margaret said, ‘No, I was away.’ And Jean said, ‘For five years?’ That’s our Jean.” – Rebecca Eaton, “Masterpiece”
6. Ed Stoppard: Rufus has been Tom (Stoppard’s) surrogate son for about the last 20 years. I’m working through a lot of issues, actually, about this at the moment.
Rufus Sewell: This is a breakthrough.
Ed Stoppard: Yeah, and you’re all here. It’s like an intervention. Rufus, as I’m sure you’re aware, starred in ‘Arcadia’ in 1993. So I would have been 19. I remember going to see it — 18, 19 — and I remember going to see it and sort of slightly having a crush on him, really, truth be told. Have I not told you this before?
Rufus Sewell: No.
Ed Stoppard: Okay. Don’t print that. But basically thinking, “This is…” That was certainly one of those moments in my adolescence where I thought, ‘This is something I’d like to do.’ So I kind of knew Rufus from afar, and we’d sort of bumped into each other once or twice over the years. But, you know, Caterina was quoted in an interview I noted where she was asked, ‘What first attracted you to this project?’ And she said, ‘Rufus Sewell.’ And I kind of felt…I mean, that was also sort of pertinent to me. The idea of working with Rufus was…I was about to say very attractive. That’s not what I want to say at all, but…you know what I mean.
Rufus Sewell: More of a breakthrough than we need.
– Ed Stoppard and Rufus Sewell, “Masterpiece Mystery: Zen”
7. George Schlatter: I must admit, (getting Richard Nixon to appear on ‘Laugh-In’) was my biggest mistake, and I’ve had to live with that ever since he announced that that may have gotten him elected, but Paul Keyes was his closest friend, and I said, ‘Let’s do something. What about Nixon?’ He said, ‘We’ll go talk to him.’ So we went over to CBS, and Paul said, ‘Mr. Nixon, we want you to say, ‘Sock it to me.’ He said, “What is ‘sock it to me’?’ I said, ‘Just say that.’ He did say that. So we got a camera. Now, his guys are still, ‘He can’t do it,’ and we’re in there, and we say, ‘Just say, ‘Sock it to me.'” “Sock it to me.” “No, no, Mr. Nixon. If you could say, like, ‘Sock it to me.” ‘Yes, I’ve got it. This comedy is new for me, you know. Sock it to me.’ So we took six takes to try to get the one you saw, and we were out of there like a porch climber and put it on before anybody really knew what we were doing or knew the effect that it would have. Then we chased Hubert Humphrey all over the country trying to get him to rebut it…and he said that cost him the election.
Gary Owens: Well, you know, I was with Humphrey that particular day. He was doing “Meet the Press” that same day that Nixon came on “Laugh In,” but not together. So I knew Humphrey from my days in the Midwest, so I said, “Let’s go down and talk to him.” Well, he can’t do anything except say, “No,” and at this point, he says, “Well, I’m just starting to do ‘Meet the Press.’ Can you guys come back in maybe an hour and a half, and I’ll ask my advisors what I should do.” Well, of course, we’re waiting around thinking he would do it, and his advisors told him that he’d have his pants sprayed with seltzer and fall through a trap door…
George Schlatter: Not a bad idea…
Gary Owens: …which, of course, you wouldn’t have done. But, so, anyway, his advisors told him not to do “Laugh In.”
George Schlatter: They passed a special bill in Congress that would…they had an equal time provision, a special bill that allowed a political candidate, if it was a nonpolitical statement, under five seconds to appear on a variety show so that Nixon could appear. And I’ve had to live with that.
– George Schlatter and Gary Owens, “The Best of ‘Laugh-In'”
8. “I tried to resist…creating a strong persona because of my father, you know, with ‘Sea Hunt’ and Mike Nelson and all that. I saw how frustrated he was, because he was a very versatile actor, and because he was so successful as Mike Nelson. He got offered a lot of skin diving scripts. That’s about it for quite a while. So I went about not developing a strong persona, and now The Dude has sort of materialized as that. And I’m not so I’m not so stuck on not developing a persona. I figure now my persona is going to be whatever it is, and I’ve got enough material around The Dude that the filmmakers know I can do other things, so I’m not as worried as I once was about that, and I love ‘The Big Lebowski.’ It’s one of my favorite movies. I’m partial. I’m in it. That’s one reason. Even if I wasn’t in it, it would still be one of my favorite movies. It always hooks me. You know, I’m one of the guys who clicks on the TV, and if ‘The Godfather’ comes on, I’ll watch that. I get hooked. I say, ‘I’ll just watch a couple of scenes,’ and I get hooked. And ‘Lebowski’ is like that with me too. I’ll watch a couple scenes, and I’m a goner.” – Jeff Bridges, “American Masters: Jeff Bridges – The Dude Abides”
9. “I remember asking Brian May, the guitar player with Queen, ‘How much did Freddie (Mercury) know…like, really know…about music?” And he said he had a third grade piano education, which is fascinating to me because, when you think about the stuff he did like on any song, like ‘Death on Two Legs,’ whatever song you want to pick, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ would be the obvious choice, and there’s a lot of stuff going on there. You know, what I dug about him so much is he was completely uninhibited as a performer. He just didn’t care. Like, he would just go out and wear what he wanted, even with his sexuality and with the way every nothing mattered. I mean, he wasn’t afraid of anything. As a young performer, that’s what you aspire to: to be able to not care. And the more you sort of restrict yourself with the confines of established art form like jazz and when you start to become successful at it, it becomes more and more difficult to be uninhibited because you like the success, you like what’s happening to you. So you would destroy it by doing anything contrary to that.
“I experienced that when I did these funk records. People you know, they come to my shows to hear me singing ‘It Had to Be You,’ and then we’re playing really weird New Orleans R&B, and so it’s difficult. But Freddie Mercury was one of those guys who didn’t care. That’s extremely rare, I think, to be able to do that, and you couple that with his musical abilities, I wouldn’t say he was the greatest piano player in the world, but he’s certainly intensely musical, and his vocals…like, there’s a guy I wouldn’t want to have a cutting contest with as a singer. Like, I mean, he just…that’s just…it’s, like, silly ability. That’s unbelievable to be able to do that, and even when you listen to his vibrato, it’s erratic. You know what I mean? That’s just talent, straight up talent and creativity. That’s ridiculous. Imagine what he would have been able to do had he been trained. Like, it wouldn’t have affected his spontaneity or creativity at all, I don’t think. I think that’s a big myth when you you know, when you become educated, it takes away from the soulful part. Imagine. I mean, that’s just, like, once a century talent, I think.”
10. “You know, some of (the talk show hosts) are great eaters. Charlie Rose is. Conan O’Brien is. But this is entertainment at 1:00 a.m. If you have anyone at 1:00 a.m. awake, don’t talk to them about the future of humankind through food, you know? When I go to these shows, I know I make a clown of myself. They never sit me in the sofa. I’m, like, ‘What the heck?’ Because I’m an immigrant? They make you cook. You know, they don’t invite Frank Gehry and they put him to make little buildings in the middle of the room. But with chefs, they still make us cook. Like, ‘All right, give me a break.'” – Jose Andres, “Made in Spain”