TCA Press Tour, Summer 2010: Day 6

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.

Detroit 1-8-7

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?

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TV in the 2000s: The Decade in Whedonism – 10 Small Screen Masterpieces from Joss Whedon

Like an awful lot of film and TV geeks, and just plain geeks, I’m a pretty big Joss Whedon fan. In fact, my devotion to his unique blend of fantasy and science fiction melodrama, sometimes arch old-school movie-style witty dialogue blended with Marvel comics repartee, strong characterization, and often somewhat silly plots has at times gotten almost embarrassing. A few years back some of my very adult friends were suggesting in concerned tones that I should really marry the man if I love him so much.

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More recently, I thought my fandom was under relative control. But now, I’ve been asked my opinion on the ten best examples of small-screen work in this decade from the creator and guiding force of “Angel,” “Firefly,” the already canceled “Dollhouse,” and, of course, “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.” I only have to be thankful for the fact that first four seasons of “Buffy,” which contain most of that show’s greatest episodes, are disqualified because they appeared on TV sets before 2000. We take our mercies where we find them. (And, yes, if you’re about to catch up with these on DVD, there are a fair number of spoilers below for the various series, though I’ve tried to keep a few secrets.) One word of warning: my relative ranking of these shows is a matter of mood and borders on the random. In other words — don’t hold me to these choices!

Out of competition:

BTVS, “The Body” (“Buffy, the Vampire Slayer”) – This episode usually ranks extremely high when people make these kind of lists. Entertainment Weekly named it as pretty much the best thing Joss Whedon has ever done and maybe the best TV thing ever. The truth of the matter is that, yes, the episode where Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Geller) discovers the already cold body of her mother, Joyce (Kristine Sutherland, a wonderful asset to the show for the five previous years), dead from an entirely natural brain tumor, was probably one of the most remarkable episodes of television ever shown, and probably the only thing I’ve seen that comes close to capturing the essence of what it feels like when someone dies unexpectedly. The problem was, I didn’t find it depressing; I found it real. I didn’t feel any more like repeating the experience than I would the death of an actual loved one.

Whedon – who wrote and directed the episode himself – deserves all the credit in the world for the brave choices he made, including shooting the episode in close to “real time” and not using any music. If I have one complaint with Whedon, it’s his tendency to close emotional episodes with, dare I say it, somewhat drippy montages. His choice to eliminate music from the kind of “very special” show where other creators would lay in with three or four montages of Joyce frolicking in the woods or what have you, shows Whedon is, at heart, an outstanding filmmaker. I’ve never had a problem with his much-noted tendency to kill off sympathetic and/or popular characters. It might anger some fans, but especially if you’re dealing with inherently violent material, there’s something morally wrong about not dealing with the fact that good people are just as mortal as bad people. Still, I don’t enjoy watching this episode. If this were a movie, maybe I’d be more in awe or eager for profundity. However, if I’m going to be honest, I can’t call “The Body” a favorite and I can’t be sure it’s one of the “best.”

#10, Shiny Happy People (“Angel”) – Fans of the spin-off about Buffy’s ex, the vampire-with-a-soul detective (David Boreanaz), and various assembled demon-hunters and occasionally friendly demons, will be scratching their heads at this choice. It’s an unpopular episode from a widely and justly derided storyline involving a very weird affair between Angel’s unbalanced super-powered teenage son from another dimension, Connor (Vincent Kartheiser, now of “Mad Men“), and a suddenly evil Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), a former high school mean girl turned lovably complex grown-up foil for her vampire boss. And, yeah, it was a little freaky for Cordy to give birth to a fully grown creature called Jasmine.

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However, as played by the wondrous Gina Torres of the then recently-canceled “Firefly,” Jasmine was freaky in a good way. A being whose god-like ability to create an instant sense of peace, happiness, and complete obedience, is somewhat set off by the fact that she’s actually a deformed and decaying, if not entirely evil, monster who must consume people to live, she was every charismatic leader and every great screen beauty rolled into one monstrous ball. More than anything else, “Shiny Happy People” reminded me of Don Siegel’s 1956 film verson of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” It was another believable demonstration of how we humans are only too willing to surrender our our humanity to the first apparently completely beauteous and 100% wise being who comes along. You know, like Oprah, only less powerful.

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