Bullz-Eye’s TCA 2011 Winter Press Tour Wrap-Up: Kneel Before Oprah!

The TCA Winter Press Tour is an event which never quite seems to live up to the TCA Summer Press Tour…but, then, that stands to reason, as the mid-season series rarely match the ones which hit the airwaves in the fall, right? Still, the experience never fails to be one which I enjoy, mostly because you never know what’s going to be around the corner, and Day 1 really set the stage for that: during the course of 12 hours, I interviewed Betty White, Henry Rollins, and Bruce Jenner, and, thanks to National Geographic, I wore a giant snake around my neck. Not a bad way to begin things…

It felt like there was more star power on hand than usual for a winter tour…but, then, having Oprah in your midst kind of skewers your perceptions on that sort of thing. I suppose it’s a testament to how many famous people I’ve met over the years, though, that one of the biggest reasons I look forward to the tour is not because of who I might interview but, rather, because I’ll get the chance to hang out with the friends I’ve made within the TCA. All told, it was another great time, but, as ever, when it was over, I was more than ready to get back home to my family and share my memories with them…and with you, too, of course.

Well, let’s get on with the reminiscing, shall we?

Oh, but one word of warning: if you followed my daily dispatches during the tour, then a couple of these stories will sound strikingly familiar, but please rest assured that the majority of the material has not been copied wholesale and is, in fact, 100% new. Swear to God.

Most entertaining panel by a broadcast network: “Made in Spain” (PBS)

Not being a foodie, I wouldn’t have known José Andrés prior to his kick-off of PBS’s first day at the TCA tour if he’d been standing next to me…and, even then, I wouldn’t have known that I was supposed to care who he was. After several minutes of clips from the first season of “Made in Spain,” however, I was already in love with the series, and when Andres himself took the stage, it was impossible not to be charmed by him. He’s a sweetheart of a guy for whom food truly is life, but he’s also a hoot.

Most entertaining panel by a cable network: “An Idiot Abroad” (Science Channel)

I was seriously bummed when I heard that no one from “An Idiot Abroad” was going to be in attendance for the show’s panel, but I figured, “Okay, at least they’ll be there via satellite.” In retrospect, there’s no way they could’ve been funnier if they’d actually been onsite. Naturally, just being in Karl Pilkington’s presence was enough to inspire Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant to dissolve into a fit of giggles, but they were utterly warranted this go-round.

Here, see for yourself:

Most annoying panel: “Platinum Hit” (Bravo)

Between Kara DioGuardi handling a question about “American Idol” about as poorly as she possibly could have – read more about that here – and Jewel dropping names like they were hot potatoes (“I was talking to Steven Spielberg…”), I’m hard pressed to think of any panel that left a worse taste in my mouth.

Panel which had the least need for an audience: “The Best of Laugh-In” (PBS)

It wasn’t entirely surprising that a panel consisting of Lily Tomlin, Jo Anne Worley, Ruth Buzzi, Gary Owens and George Schlatter would be able keep things moving along without any of the critics in attendance actually needing to ask a question, but they kept passing the conversational ball back and forth until someone in the crowd finally had to stand up and ask if it was okay to ask a question. Schlatter instantly shot back, “We’re trying to talk here!” Laughter ensued, as did plenty of questions about the history of “Laugh-In.” “Are you guys having fun?” Schlatter asked later. “Because we’re having a ball!” Must be what keeps them looking so young: you’d never in a million years believe that Worley – that’s her in the feathered boa, in case you hadn’t guessed – is 73 years old.

Funniest panel that you probably had to be there to appreciate: “Community” (NBC)

The only person not in attendance was Chevy Chase, who was described as being “very under the weather,’ but his co-stars more than made up for his absence. If I tried to tell you about it, though, you’d probably just stare blankly at me. Some of the funniness came from the giggling of the various panelists, some it involved one-liners which would require a lengthy amount of set-up for you to appreciate, some of it was totally visual, and…well, you get the idea. But it really was hilarious, I swear. The most easily-translatable moment is probably Donald Glover’s story about how they had to teach Betty White the lyrics to Toto’s “Africa” on the set. “I assumed she knew ‘Africa,’” he said. “I was, like, ‘Everybody knows that song!’ But, like, that song was out when she was already old. She was already 50-something.”

Greatest Moment of Complete Honesty During the Tour: When I approached Jack McBrayer (“30 Rock”) to ask him a question, he agreed, but then he looked down at my recorder and said, “Oh, my! You’re not going to record this, are you? I’d rather you didn’t.” At this point, he performed a perfect mock aside, holding a hand to his mouth and whispering, “I’m a little bit tipsy!” So I turned off my recorder. Kudos to you, Mr. McBrayer. Would that more actors had that blend of good humor and common sense.

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A Chat with Rizwan Manji, Parvesh Cheena, and Anisha Nagarajan (“Outsourced”)

Although I mentioned in the intro to my chat with Ben Rappaport that my encounter with him at the 2011 Winter TCA Tour was the first time I’d ever spoken with him, it was not the first time I’d talked to a cast member of “Outsourced.” I had the pleasure of speaking with Rizwan Manji and Parvesh Cheena back in August at the summer TCA tour, and having enjoyed watching the ensemble of the show really come together since then, I took advantage of the opportunity to talk to them again. It was an added bonus, however, that the lovely Anisha Nagarajan, who plays Madhuri on the series (and who I’d not met previously), happened to walk up while we were chatting. All three were jazzed about the way “Outsourced” has been coming along and, perhaps more surprisingly, are actually kind of excited about their new 10:30 PM timeslot, which takes effect tonight.

One housekeeping note: there are a couple of questions within the piece which were asked by my TCA compatriot Bill Brioux, who has a great and appropriately-titled site called TV Feeds My Family. Poor Bill was forced to battle his way through the last half of the tour with an excruciating case of laryngitis, and he asked if – in lieu of trying to croak out all of his questions – he could piggyback on a couple of my interviews, so if you should happen to be one of the few people who reads both of us, let me assure you that any crossover between our pieces on “Outsourced” is totally authorized.

Bullz-Eye: You and I first met back in the summer, for the initial “Outsourced” panel. Are you nervous about being back amongst the critics?

Rizwan Manji: (Laughs) You know what? We’re very excited to be back. We’re glad that we’re still here and that we’re doing so well, so we’re very happy about that. Yeah, I think we’re a little bit more relaxed than we were in August. We were very nervous about what we were going to be asked, and we hadn’t done it before. Now, we’re sort of…we’ve gone to a bunch of different events now, so we’re a little bit calmer than we were in August.

BE: Plus, you guys are a hit now.

RM: Yes! We’re very excited about that!

BE: I liked the show from the get-go, actually. I used to work in a call center, so I had a natural affinity to the concept.

RM: So you’re the real Todd, I guess? (Laughs)

BE: Well, I did my best. In fact, I just spoke with your onscreen nemesis a few minutes ago.

RM: You did…? (Cuts eyes suspiciously around the room, then laughs)

BE: You guys really have some great chemistry together, a hero/villain dynamic or whatever you want to call it.

RM: Oh, thank you! Yeah, me and Ben, we have a tremendous time. We actually even live really close by each other, so we actually even see each other on the weekends. My daughter loves him, and whenever she sees him on TV, she’s always, like, “More Ben! More Ben!” (Laughs) She’s two, and that’s what she can come up with. You know, it’s…I’m so thankful that, as you said, the chemistry worked out, because we never auditioned together. It was one of those things where I found out really late in the game, because, as I think I might’ve mentioned to you in the summer, I auditioned for a different part. So when we actually met was the first time we were reading it for the network, and we were, like, “Oh, my God, this works!” So it could’ve gone horribly wrong, or it could’ve been this, and I’m so happy that we have a little bit of chemistry.

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A Chat with Ben Rappaport (“Outsourced”)

The last time I was out at the TCA tour, I talked to Lucas Neff, the star of Fox’s “Raising Hope,” and I was surprised to find that he was fronting a prime-time comedy when his only prior TV experience involved a couple of scenes in A&E’s “The Beast.” Little did I realize at the time that Ben Rappaport, the star of NBC’s “Outsourced,” was coming in with even less of a television background. I mean, literally, it’s “Outsourced,” and that’s it. When I was in Pasadena earlier this month, I managed to meet and chat with Rappaport for a few minutes about the way his series has been coming along and found out his feelings on the change in the show’s timeslot. Fortunately, it sounds like tonight’s 10:30 PM debut is the perfect way to show newcomers to “Outsourced” just how far it’s come since its debut.

Bullz-Eye: I was actually a fan of the show as soon as I heard about the concept: I used to work in a call center myself.

Ben Rappaport: (Laughs) That’s so great!

BE: Did you have any call center experience yourself?

BR: I did not! My aunt works in a call center, but that’s it. I knew nothing about them…aside from, y’know, occasionally contacting one. (Laughs) But, you know, I didn’t know what was behind them, what was on the other end of that phone. It’s an office, and they have their own office politics and culture there.

BE: When the pilot came out, I know a lot of people kind of bashed it, but how do you think the show has evolved since then?

BR: I think it’s evolved big time! I mean, you know, the term “outsourced” was a way for us to get to India, and now I think everybody’s gotten to know our characters and the relationships and the dynamics. It’s stories about what’s happening between these characters. It’s not political. There’s no agenda there. It’s not sarcastic in any way. We’re just telling a story of people in India.

BE: I was impressed with the direction that it took as far as your romantic storyline. I didn’t expect you to hook up with either of your potential romantic interests quite as quickly as you did.

BR: (Laughs) It was kind of quick, wasn’t it?

BE: Yeah. It’s not bad. It was just surprising.

BR: Yeah, but while it was quick, I think there’s still lots of places to go with it. I mean, I think part of the story might be that it was too quick.

BE: I considered that. Just how long-term is the relationship going to be if they’re willing to jump into the physical side of it that quickly?

BR: (Grins) My point exactly! So we’ll see. We have a long way to go, in terms of fleshing out that whole situation.

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Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour: Day 11 – or – The Day The Tour Ended

As I start this write-up of the final day of the Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour, it actually still is the final day of the Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour. Normally, I don’t start these things until the next day, after everything that’s going to happen has happened, but the last panel of the tour wrapped at around 2 PM PST, so as far as I’m concerned, I’m officially off-duty. The only thing left for me to do is pack my bags, grab some food, have a few drinks with friends, and catch my shuttle to LAX…and, yet, I thought about it and decided, “Since I’ve actually got the time to do it, maybe I should go ahead and write up the last few panels before I ever leave Pasadena.”

Makes sense, right? That way, there’ll be nothing hanging over my head to finish when I get home, and I can enjoy at least a day or two of much-needed downtime.

Unfortunately, none of the transcripts are online yet, so you won’t be getting any exact quotes unless the fine folks in the transcription department manage to get them knocked out between now and 2:00 AM (that’s when I have to head down to the lobby), so you’ll just have to make do with a few random recollections for now, and I’ll play catch-up when I’m home, rested, and ready to write again.

Even before John Landgraf took the time to do a teleconference with TV critics to explain why FX had to cancel “Terriers,” I’ve thought he was one of the nicest and most approachable network presidents. Mind you, I blame this really just on one experience with him, when he made good on a promise to reveal the producer who was working on a rewrite of FX’s “Powers” pilot (Kevin Falls, who may or may not still be involved at this point), but the “Terriers” move was a classy one that just helped to underline how I already felt. He sounds hopeful that “Lights Out” won’t follow the same path in the ratings as “Terriers,” and, boy, so do I. I’ve seen the first five episodes of the show already, and I’m loving it.

Next up was Louis CK, who couldn’t have sounded more grateful about the way the critics have embraced his series…but, then, he was probably already beaming from the praise that had just been heaped on him by Landgraf in his introduction. We didn’t really get much of an idea what to expect from Season 2, which stands to reason, since he hasn’t even started production yet. The funniest moment came when FX exec John Solsberg invited all of the critics in the audience to visit the set, something which clearly hadn’t been mention to Louie, who shot him a tremendous “what the fuck?” look.

Even after talking to Elijah Wood at the Fox party the other night, I still couldn’t quite wrap my head around what to expect from his new sitcom, “Wilfred,” about a man who, when he looks at his neighbor’s dog, sees a man in a dog suit who talks in an Australian accent. (It’s based on an Australian series, with the same actor – Jason Gann – playing the dog in both.) Having now seen the pilot, though, I was rather surprised to find myself laughing a lot. It’s absolutely as ridiculous as it sounds, but Gann is hysterical, so I’m now curious to see if it’s going to be more than just a one-off. Of the panel, I really just have one immediate observation: Fiona Gubelmann is cute as a button and has legs that go on for miles.

The last of FX’s panels was for “Justified,” but even with a huge panel, I couldn’t help but notice one face missing: Elmore Leonard, the author responsible for creating the character of Marshall Raylan Givens. As it turns out, he’s been so inspired by the show that he’s now in the middle of writing a brand new novel entitled…you guessed it…Raylan. In his absence, though, Leonard offered a statement in which he raved about the show, particularly the performance of Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens. Funnily enough, though, Olyphant wasn’t asked a question until well into the proceedings, a fact which he noted with mock indignation. (“It’s like they got together and said, ‘Hey, nobody ask Walt (Goggins) or Tim a question. Fuck those guys. Fuck those guys. Nobody say anything to them.’”) I really need to finish catching up on this show before Season 2 kicks off, because I love all that I’ve seen thus far.

After FX’s panel, the network provided us with a free lunch, along with the opportunity to chat with several stars of the shows. I had ridiculously bad timing whenever it came to trying to grab members of the “Wilfred” cast for interviews, but I was pleasantly surprised to see Holt McCallany, who plays Patrick “Lights” Leary on “Lights Out.” Fantastic guy, and we had a really nice conversation about the show and how his character develops over the course of the episodes I’ve seen thus far. He swears the best is yet to come.

Okay, kids, I’m tired of waiting for the transcripts to come in, so I’m…

Dammit! That’s what I get for checking: they all just came in at once. Okay, fine, I’ll offer up a few quotes to close up my coverage. I hope you’ve enjoyed getting my perceptions of this strange event known as the TCA Press Tour. Stay tuned for my final wrap-up sometime soon…and look for further adventures during the 2011 Summer TCA Press Tour!

“What I felt about ‘Terriers’ was that the audience that was watching it, which included many of you and hundreds of thousands, actually, ultimately, in total viewers, millions of people at home, I knew they were going to be really disappointed it wasn’t moving forward, and I thought that they deserved as clear an explanation I could give them as to why it wasn’t, and a chance for you, as their representatives, to sort of have at me and ask why isn’t it coming back and for me to explain myself. I don’t know why networks haven’t done that before. I’ve never done it before. And I guess maybe it’s just that I’m now coming up on seven years in this job. And in seven years, you have some great successes and moments of exultation, and you have bragging rights, and then you have some failures. And I think you just get used to the rhythms of both in your work and eventually you get to the point where you’re capable of embracing your failures, learning from them, and talking about them. I think most programming executives are just fundamentally too insecure or too defensive to get to that point. And maybe I’m just old enough and I’ve been doing it long enough that I can take that tag.

“I think there’s always been a disconnect, unfortunately, between audience taste and critical acclaim. I think in those rare circumstances where you all have near unanimity and are willing to stand up on a table and shout, ‘This is the greatest show of all time,’ I think you guys can move the needle. But I think the reality is that you disagree with each other most of the time. Unanimity is rare, and most of you don’t feel you want to stand up on a table and shout even if you like a show, so you have to raise a huge din. You did raise a huge din on ‘Mad Men,’ and what that did — ‘Mad Men’ has become, by our analysis, literally the most critically acclaimed series in the history of television. (You have) taken it from a dismal ratings failure to ratings mediocrity.” – John Landgraf

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Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour: Day 10 – or – The Day Will Hit the Wall

The TCA tour lasts for about two weeks. That’s two weeks away from your family where you’re spending the majority of your time sitting in a hotel ballroom, listening to panel after panel about upcoming TV shows. Don’t get me wrong: I’m enough of a TV geek that I enjoy it from start to finish, but at a certain point, you find that your enjoyment begins to be regularly supplanted by the desire to just grab your shit and go the hell home. As a professional, I do my best to rise above this, which is why I invariably stick it out ’til the very last panel of the tour, but when you start considering the shit-grabbing and home-going more often than you find yourself thinking, “Say, this show sounds pretty good / awful,” this is what is known in TV critic parlance as “hitting the wall.”

And, baby, I have hit it.

When I woke up on the morning of Day 10 of the tour, I had a headache. It was the first time I’d had one since arriving in Pasadena, and, of course, I took it for what it was: a sign that both my body and mind were ready to return to Virginia. Little did I realize that it was really more of a portent of the evil that would cross my path on this day…but we’ll get to that. With a job to do, I popped a couple of Motrin, swigged some coffee, and entered into the day’s panels, which consisted of shows from the CBS family of networks, which includes, of course, CBS (“Chaos,” “Mad Love,” “The Good Wife”), but also Showtime (“The Borgias,” “Shameless,” “Californication,” “Episodes”) and The CW (“Shedding for the Wedding”). There were also executive sessions for the various networks, as well as one for the “Kick Ass Women of The CW,” featuring stars from “Hellcats,” “The Vampire Diaries,” “Nikita,” and “Smallville.”

Looking at the talent list for the various panels, there were certainly people I wanted to chat with, but I’ve always had trouble picking up interviews for Showtime series, a fact which all but killed my chances with many of the most interesting actors in attendance, including Jeremy Irons, William H. Macy, David Duchovny, and Matt LeBlanc. Heck, I couldn’t even pull a one-on-one with Colm Feore, although I did end up chatting with him later in the evening while pretending to be Canadian. (Don’t ask.) But I did at least make it into post-panel scrums for Irons, Macy, and the ever-gorgeous Carla Gugino, so there’s that, at least. And amongst the cast of CBS’s “Mad Love” is the always amiable Tyler Labine, who I’ve been interviewing at TCA since my first tour, when “Reaper” debuted, so he and I got in a good one-on-one.

Most of my afternoon, however, was spent in a funk. Maybe it’s because I’d hit the wall, but I found myself getting progressively grumpier about the way various actors’ personal publicists were acting. One assured me that I could do a walk-and-talk with their client, who was in a rush to get to another appointment, only to promise the same thing to another writer moments later and leave me in the dust. Another deigned to let me do a one-on-one with her client, then – outside of her client’s line of vision – starting tapping her watch ferociously before I’d even had two minutes of conversation. (This was particularly infuriating because the writers before and after me had neither a time limit nor been “chaperoned” during their interviews.) It was also a major bummer that the evening event was an hour-long cocktail party where the attendees were limited to the shows on The CW which were represented on the network’s panels.

Despite my relatively grouchy attitude throughout the day, there were still some highlights on the panels that are worth mentioning, so here they are…

1. Q: Given Charlie Sheen’s antics over the weekend, how would you characterize your level of concern about him, and what is the network doing to help him?
Nina Tassler (with all due sarcasm): Well, I really didn’t expect that question this morning. So I’m just…I’m really taken by surprise. Look, obviously, we’ve thought, and I personally have thought, a lot about this, and we have a high level of concern. How could we not? But I have to speak to this personally first. On a very basic, human level, concern, of course. This man is a father. He’s got children. He has a family. So, obviously, there’s concern on a personal level. But you can’t look at it simplistically. Charlie is a professional. He comes to work. He does his job extremely well. We are taping tonight, and it’s…it’s very complicated, but we have a very good relationship with Warner Bros. I have a tremendous trust and respect in the way they are managing the situation. So, on a personal level, obviously concerned. On a professional level, he does his job, he does it well, the show is a hit, and…that’s really all I have to say.

2. Question: Jason, what about your character (in “Mad Love”)?
Jason Biggs: Without giving too much away, obviously, I have sex with a sheet cake in the second episode.
Sarah Chalke: We weren’t going to reveal that!
Judy Greer: Way to go.
Jason Biggs: I don’t know if that’s a spoiler alert. Sorry, guys.
Judy Greer: That’s the cake we used for what’s her name’s birthday? Just kidding.
Jason Biggs: Yes. Yes, it was.
Judy Greer: I had a piece of that!
Jason Biggs: No. There are some situations. I wouldn’t say they are exactly, you know, akin to some of the I mean, let’s be honest. Those were very R rated, and some pushing NC 17 scenarios.
Matt Tarses: He loses his pants in Staten Island.
Jason Biggs: But I do lose my pants in Staten Island. So you do see me pantsless, which I think is what my fans demand of me in general and but yeah, there are some I mean, Matt has written, for all of us, some kinds of crazy situations. I mean, it’s inherent to this format, I think, is to create situations that are quite comical and kind of crazy. And for someone who can the person that does it right, they are funny, but they are also grounded in reality somehow, and they are with characters that you like and all that good stuff. And I feel like that’s what’s happening here. So, among those situations, which I believe there are some in every episode, one of them I lose my pants in Staten Island. The other one I have sex with a sheet cake.

3. Q: Freddy, describe what happens when you read a script that says, “Next, Rick eats a scorpion.” What was that like? And when you filmed it…I’m sure you didn’t eat a scorpion, but whatever you were holding…
Freddy Rodriquez: How are you so sure?
Q: It looked realistic. You were holding something that was wiggly and scary. Just describe what it was like when you heard you were going to do it and what it was like to do that scene.
Freddy Rodriquez: Well, to be honest, I wasn’t sure what it was going to be when I got there. And when I got there, if you remember, Tom…
Tom Spezialy: Oh, I remember.

Freddy Rodriguez: …it was a real scorpion. I had a slight anxiety attack, to be honest, right? And then I got over it. And then I asked Brett Ratner to hold it. I would do it if he would hold it, and he refused, and we had an exchange. And after a while I got over it, and it was fun. I mean, when I read the script, there were so many great things that my character was doing in the pilot that I had to be involved even if it had to do with holding a scorpion. It was a real scorpion. I think they put Krazy Glue on the stinger, (but), yeah, it was real.
Q: What does it look like to see that thing wiggling in front of your eyes?
Freddy Rodriguez: Scary. It’s scary.
Tom Spezialy: It peed on him.
Freddy Rodriguez: Oh, yeah, it did. At one point in the night, it just…I didn’t enjoy the experience…it started peeing on me. And I didn’t know what it was. I just thought it was, like, spraying me with some sort of poison or…I wasn’t sure what it was, but it was urine.
Eric Close: Are you sure it was urine?
Freddy Rodriguez: Yeah, it was urine. Gave me golden sunshine, I guess.

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