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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CBS: What’s New for Fall 2010

MONDAY

Mike & Molly (Mon., Sept. 20 @ 9:30 PM, CBS)

* The competition: “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC), “The Event” (NBC), “Lonestar” (Fox), “Gossip Girl” (The CW)

Starring: Billy Gardell, Melissa McCarthy, Reno Wilson, Katy Mixon, Nyambi Nyambi, Swoosie Kurtz

Producers: Chuck Lorre and Mark Roberts (“Two and a Half Men,” “The Big Bang Theory”)

Network’s Description: a comedy about a working class Chicago couple who find love at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. Officer Mike Biggs is a good-hearted cop who sincerely wants to lose weight. Mike’s partner, Officer Carl McMillan, is a thin, fast-talking wise-guy who, despite his teasing, encourages Mike on his road to slimness and romance. While speaking at an O.A. meeting, Mike meets Molly Flynn, an instantly likeable fourth-grade teacher with a good sense of humor about her curves. For Molly, focusing on smart choices isn’t easy while living with her sexy older sister, Victoria, and their mother, Joyce, both of whom flaunt their effortless figures while indulging their healthy appetites right in front of her. Mike also faces temptation at the diner he and Carl frequent, where they’ve become friends with a Senegalese waiter, Samuel, to whom dieting is a foreign concept. Mike and Molly found each other in the most unexpected of places. Now, they’re about to find out where their quest for companionship will take them.

The Buzz: Even the people who hate the show’s abundance of fat jokes…I’m one of them, and I’m pretty sure I’d still be one of them even if I wasn’t overweight…aren’t arguing with the odds of a Chuck Lorre show becoming a success, especially not on the night of the week that’s spawned his biggest hits.

Pilot Highlight: when Mike speaks to Molly’s class and reveals the origins of his career in law enforcement…or, really, anytime Mike and Molly are together. They’re a ridiculously cute couple.

Bottom Line: If the writers don’t put the show on a low-fat-jokes diet immediately – there are, no weight pun intended, a ton of them – in favor of embracing the great chemistry between Gardell and McCarthy, viewers’ romance with the show will be short-lived, but Lorre’s track record is such that we’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he’ll get “Mike & Molly” into shape sooner than later.

Hawaii Five-0 (Mon., Sept. 20 @ 10:00 PM, CBS)

* The competition: “Castle” (ABC), “Chase” (NBC)

Starring: Alex O’Loughlin, Scott Caan, Daniel Dae Kim, Grace Park, Karyn Manning

Producers: Peter Lenkov (“24,” “CSI: NY”), Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci (“Alias,” “Fringe”)

Network’s Description: a contemporary take on the classic series about a new elite federalized task force whose mission is to wipe out the crime that washes up on the Islands’ sun-drenched beaches. Detective Steve McGarrett, a decorated Naval officer-turned-cop, returns to Oahu to investigate his father’s murder and stays after Hawaii’s Governor persuades him to head up the new team: his rules, her backing, no red tape and full blanket authority to hunt down the biggest “game” in town. Joining McGarrett is Detective Danny “Danno” Williams, a newly relocated ex-New Jersey cop – a working man in paradise who prefers skyscrapers to the coastline – but who’s committed to keeping the Islands safe for his 8-year-old daughter; and Chin Ho Kelly, an ex-Honolulu Police Detective, and former protégé of McGarrett’s father, wrongly accused of corruption and relegated to a federal security patrol. Chin’s cousin, Kono, is a beautiful and fearless native, fresh out of the academy and eager to establish herself among the department’s elite. McGarrett, repairing his relationship with his estranged sister Mary Ann, vows to bring closure to their father’s case, while the state’s brash new FIVE-0 unit, who may spar and jest among themselves, is determined to eliminate the seedy elements from the 50th state.

The Buzz: If it’s not the strongest of the season, it’s pretty close. CBS is waging a seriously impressive tightrope-walk of an ad campaign, playing up as many of the familiar elements as possible – you’d better believe the theme song remains the same – while also underlining that this is a modernized reboot rather than a continuation of the old show. And how about that cast, huh? Well, I suppose you’ve got to have pretty people to fit in with the gorgeous landscape…

Pilot Highlight: The opening sequence sets up the series – and McGarrett’s tortured past – in seriously kick-ass fashion, confirming that this is not your (grand)parent’s “Hawaii Five-0,” but the more sentimental viewers will giggle with glee when McGarrett finally gets to deliver his signature line, “Book him, Danno.”

Bottom Line: The combination of a familiar title, a solid ensemble, the beautiful backdrop, and O’Laughlin crossing his fingers and putting his faith in the power of the “third time’s the charm” rule should make this into a hit.

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TCA Tour: Undercover Boss

During her comments in the executive session, CBS’s President of Entertainment, Nina Tassler, couldn’t say enough good things about the network’s new reality series, “Undercover Boss,” which they’re opting to premiere immediately after the Super Bowl. It’s an act that’s either a sign of unabashed confidence in the series or a total Hail Mary pass, but despite how apropos the latter might be for the timeslot, having seen the pilot episode, I can absolutely see why they would be confident. Tassler said that “everybody who is sitting and watching the Super Bowl, be you 8 or 80, can stay right there and enjoy the program,” and she’s on the money with that assessment: who can’t get behind the idea of a boss coming down from his or her ivory tower and mixing it up with the frontline employees in the company? Everyone can relate to that…which, as it happens, is exactly what its creator, Stephen Lambert, had in mind.

“I was very keen to do something in the world of the workplace,” he said. “There’s so many scripted shows that are set in the workplace, but not that many set in the real workplace in the reality space on network television, and it seemed to me that it’s very relatable. Anybody who has had a boss who has worked in the company will understand this show, and for the person in charge to be able to see what their workers, their employees, are really doing seemed like an exciting idea.

“This is a show where the boss is on a dual mission,” Lambert explained. “One, he wants to find out what’s really going on on the front line, things he can’t see when he’s back at headquarters. Second, he’s looking for the unsung heroes of the company, so he’s looking for people that deserve some kind of thanks, maybe a promotion. It’s the mixture of kind of comedy that comes from the boss trying to do the front-line jobs and the emotion of these people, these coworkers that he spends time or she spends time with having that recognition that can be extremely emotional, and that was the idea behind the show.”

The first boss to go undercover on the show is Larry O’Donnell III, the President and COO of Waste Management (you’ve no doubt seen their trucks cruising around your neighborhood at one point or another), and when you watch the episode, you’ll see him doing everything from picking up trash to cleaning out Porta-Potties. Now, if you’re wondering how undercover he really is, given that he clearly has a camera crew following him, all they know is that he’s just this guy who’s working these frontline jobs…and, to hear him tell it, they got used to the camera’s presence pretty quickly.

“When I first went into this and I actually talked to our senior leadership team, I thought the most difficult part was going to be for me to be able to maintain my undercover status where the employees didn’t figure out who I was,” he said. “There were some managers along the way that recognized me, and I was able to get them off to the side and tell them to go home or stay in their office. You know, people ignored the cameras within about…it seemed like certainly within the first half hour. It was like they weren’t even there.”

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TCA Tour: Comedy Showrunners Q&A – “The Big Bang Theory” / “Two and a Half Men”

During the TCA tours, there’s an understandable tendency for the networks to pimp their newest programming, but once in awhile, they do manage to offer us a panel that shines the spotlight on an established show. In this case, it was actually two shows: “The Big Bang Theory” and “Two and a Half Men.” On the panel were Chuck Lorre (co-creator of both series, executive producer on both shows), Bill Prady (co-creator of and executive producer on “The Big Bang Theory”), and Lee Aronsohn (co-creator of “Two and a Half Men,” executive producer on both shows). I’m not going to tell you that I wouldn’t rather have had actual cast members on the panel, but given the comedic credits of this trio, it was unsurprising to find that we got quite a few laughs during the course of the conversation.

First, though, let’s go ahead and acknowledge the elephant in the room right away, shall we? You know that someone had to ask about Charlie Sheen, and while they did, one must applaud the restraint of the collected TV critics that the question didn’t come up until several minutes into the panel. Predictably, the guys went for the joke before offering up a proper answer.

“I’m sorry, what happened with Charlie?” asked Lorre, innocently.

“I don’t know,” said Aronsohn, poker-faced. “Something happened?”

Lorre then slipped into serious mode. “We put on a show last night, and it went extremely well,” he said. “We had a great week, and the audience was wonderful last night, so we’re just going about our business. Charlie is a consummate pro. He shows up and he delivers, and last night was one of our strongest episodes. It was just terrific.”

Okay, let’s get into the meat of the panel a bit more, which was – thankfully – far more about the shows themselves rather than the sordid personal lives of one of their stars.

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TCA Press Tour: CBS Executive Session

Nina Tassler, President of CBS Entertainment, favored us with her presence this morning at the TCA tour, sitting down for an executive session which provided us with the following quotes and tidbits:

* Regarding the decision to place the new reality series “Undercover Boss” in the plum spot following the Super Bowl, she said that it was a combination of good timing and a good series. “We’re very high on the show, but we spent a lot of time talking about what the right strategy would be,” she said. “We’ve seen five or six episodes of ‘Undercover Boss’ by now, and there is a tone and a quality to the show that we felt was a great fit after the Super Bowl. It is aspirational. It is a feel-good program.
Everybody who is sitting and watching the Super Bowl, be you 8 or 80, can stay right there and enjoy the program. I think 15 years ago, that spot was used to launch new programming. Obviously, in the last 10, 15 years it’s been used more as a platform to get greater exposure for existing shows. But we thought, ‘You know what? We have a great project, we’re very high on it, and we think we’re going to launch another big-branded reality show.'”

* Obviously, NBC’s continued fall from grace via the great failure that was “The Jay Leno Show” was a topic of conversation that everyone wanted Tassler to weigh in on. “Through it all, we have to realize that ABC, CBS and FOX…we’ve all fared, I think, very well during this experimental phase for NBC,” she said. “But if we can harken back to when there was that grand proclamation about 8 o’clock at NBC…? Remember? We all wrote about that: 8 o’clock was over at NBC. They were going to have a whole different strategy developing for 8 o’clock. And then along came 10 o’clock, and they were going to have a whole different strategy for 10 o’clock. You know, I think ultimately, there is no substitute for developing great shows, working with great talent, and getting your program on the air.”

“The unfortunate thing is that our creative community was to some degree somewhat bruised by this,” she continued. “I think that the talent as this was taking place, a lot of people were put out of work. A lot of people really saw this as having a pretty negative impact on our business. But I think right now for us, it just allowed us to get a bigger piece of the ad revenue pie at 10 o’clock, and again, what I have the most trouble with is for their company, their decision to do what they did, to sort of turn that and say that his is a reflection on the whole network business, I think is misguided. Our business is thriving right now. We are enjoying success with new hit shows, as is ABC, as is FOX. So I think at the end of the day, it was an experiment that obviously did not work, but for us, like I said, there’s no substitute for just developing and producing and launching great shows.”

There’s certainly no question that a couple of CBS earned some additional success from viewers’ indifference to “The Jay Leno Show.” As Tassler observed, “We moved ‘The Mentalist’ to 10 o’clock on Thursday night and launched ‘The Good Wife,’ so 10 o’clock has been good business for us.”

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