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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2010 Year End TV Review: Jason Zingale

It was an especially transformative year of television, at least for me, as my TV viewing diet underwent a bit of restructuring. Once-favorite shows began collecting dust on the DVR (sorry “Burn Notice,” but you’re losing your sizzle), and in the case of a few (like “Chuck”), were deleted altogether. Consequently, NBC’s “Community,” which spent most of its freshman season on the fringe of receiving similar treatment, is now the highlight of my Thursday nights. That’s because while shows like “Burn Notice” and “Chuck” are pretty much running on dead fumes at this point, “Community” has just begun to hit its groove. “How I Met Your Mother” also bounced back from an off-year with some of its funniest episodes to date, “Glee” and “Castle” continue to be as guilty as they are pleasurable, and the new season of “Top Chef” might just be the best yet. But none were able to crack my Top 5, which goes to prove that while there might have been a few misses this year, the hits were a lot more memorable.

year_end_terriers

1. Terriers

Clever, funny, dark and provocative, “Terriers” may have wowed critics with its flawed characters and rich storytelling, but that didn’t change John Landgraf’s recent decision not to renew it for a second season. I don’t blame the FX President for the low ratings (most networks would have given up after only a few weeks), but I do blame the rest of America for failing to tune in to the best new show of the season. Yes, you heard right. Although I enjoyed “The Walking Dead” and the overrated “Boardwalk Empire,” the buddy detective drama delivered better acting and writing week in and week out. Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James had unparalleled chemistry as the scrappy private investigators (the titular terriers, if you will) caught in the middle of the case of a lifetime, so it’s a shame that we won’t get to tag along on any of their further adventures – especially since the season finale left things wide open. Another brilliant but cancelled television show that, ten years from now, will still be missed.

year_end_modern_family

2. Modern Family

It hasn’t even completed its second season, but “Modern Family” already seems destined to become a comedy classic. It’s that good, and anyone who says otherwise should get an X-ray to see if their funny bone is broken. Of course, considering that it’s one of the most-watched shows on TV, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t agree. But for those who still haven’t experienced the funniest half-hour of television, it’s about time that you do, because there isn’t a single show that even comes close to matching the number of laughs in an average episode. And although the writing staff certainly deserves some credit, it’s cast members like Ty Burrell, Ed O’Neill and Sofia Vergara who make every joke that much funnier. Even the kids are funny, and that’s saying a lot from someone who isn’t particularly fond of child actors. It’s almost unbelievable the way the show fires on all cylinders so consistently, but that’s what separates a great show from a good one, and “Modern Family” is nothing if not that.

year_end_sons_of_anarchy

3. Sons of Anarchy

The third season of FX’s outlaw biker drama may not have been its best, but after a sluggish start, the series redeemed itself by getting back to the kind of top-notch storytelling that fans have come to expect. Many of those fans were quick to criticize the ambitious Ireland subplot that dominated most of the season, but along with fleshing out some of the club’s back story, it also set the stage for what turned out to be a killer finale. Many of the supporting players got lost in the background this year, but Charlie Hunnam gave the performance of his career, guest stars Paula Malcomson and James Cosmo proved themselves worthy additions to the cast, and Ally Walker put the finishing touches on what might just be the best TV villain in quite some time. The show may have stumbled a bit along the way, but no matter how you felt about the season as a whole, those who stuck around for the long haul were given plenty of incentive to come back next fall.

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Greetings to the New Series: “Terriers”

One hates to fall back on the hoary old “if you looked up such-and-such in the dictionary, you’d find a picture of (INSERT NAME HERE)” cliche if it can possibly be helped, so rather than bringing up the topic of character actors and plugging the name “Donal Logue” between the parentheses, can we at least agree that there are precious few individuals who are so readily identified as “that guy who was in that thing we watched that time”?

I mean, seriously, God love you, Donal, but it takes a real character actor to be able to headline two seriously funny sitcoms (“Grounded for Life” and “The Knights of Prosperity”), one of which ran for five freaking seasons (that’d be the former), and still be known as “that guy who was in that thing we watched that one time.”

Still, my fingers are crossed that Logue’s latest series, FX’s “Terriers,” will be the one that finally cements his name in the collective consciousness of today’s TV viewers…and, for that matter, let’s hope it also helps out his co-star, Michael Raymond-James, because these two guys have got some great chemistry going on. Fortunately, with a trio of executive producers that includes Shawn Ryan (“The Shield”), Ted Griffin (“Ocean’s Eleven”), and Tim Minear (“Angel,” “Firefly,” and “Dollhouse,” as well as several series not created by Joss Whedon, including “Wonderfalls”), it was always a given that “Terriers” would capture the attention of the critics, and by virtue of being on FX, the chances of the show surviving long enough to build a decent-sized audience are pretty solid.

Oh, and did we mention that it’s also really, really good?

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If it’s been six months, it must be time for another “Powers” update from FX

Once every six months, I head out to L.A. for the Television Critics Association press tour, and whenever I’m there, I check in with John Landgraf, President and General Manager of FX, to get a status update on the network’s pilot for their adaptation of Brian Michael Bendis’s awesome comic book, “Powers.”

The first time, he said, “It’s in development We’ve seen a draft of the script, we’ve given the notes on it, and we’re waiting on another draft. But I liked it.”

The second time, he said, “We have a new writer who came in and who’s working with Brian Bendis. He’s a really, really good writer who got really excited about the project. The new writer and Brian have got a good take on it. They came in about two months ago and pitched what they were doing, and it was great.”

You’ll no doubt note, as I did, that he didn’t reveal the name of Bendis’s collaborator, but he assured me that he’d tell me the writer’s name as soon as he was permitted to do so…and, to my amazement, he did so a few days later. The new writer turned out to be none other than Kevin Falls, late of NBC’s much-mourned “Journeyman.”

Well, here we are again, sir. What have you got for me this time?

“We’re working on it!” said Landgraf, who – as you might expect – remembered me as soon as I came up to make my bi-annual request for information. “We just had a meeting, actually, with Brian Bendis and Kevin Falls and Michael Dinner, who’s a writer/director, about 10 days ago – just before Comic-Con – and it went great! And a lot of what it is, really, is…Brian, I think, has said this, but the best adaptations are not slavish in the way they translate the adaptation from one medium to another. ‘Powers’ is obviously just a great series of books in and of itself, but a lot of it is how to translate that into the right tone of series. We’ve made headway all along the way; I think we just wanted to put a finer point on it.

“From our standpoint, we don’t feel that the world of costumed superheroes on television has been very successful. Not only hasn’t it been that successful from a commercial standpoint, but more importantly to us, it hasn’t been that successful from a creative standpoint. Part of what you have to figure out is how to use the medium. If you’re making a Marvel movie, you have a $150 or $200 million budget, you can do massive stunts, and use CGI to create a big, bombastic, larger-than-life version of the world. How do we bring the same level of innovation to the genre that ‘The Shield’ brought to the cop genre, or that ‘Nip/Tuck’ brought to the medical genre, and how do make the sort of scale and production of television an asset? I think what most people who’ve gone down that road have done is tried on a limited amount of time and budget to do as close to what a feature film would do with the material as possible, as opposed to really honing in on the virtues of television, and I think ‘Powers’ is a uniquely good property to do that with, actually. That’s what Bendis and (Michael Avon) Oeming were doing: looking through the whole world through a different prism. As opposed to coming through the front door, they were coming through the side door. I’m excited about it.

“We just want to get it right if we move forward,” Landgraf continued, “but the truth is…gosh, I’ve been at the channel for seven years, and we’ve only made one drama pilot in seven years that we haven’t gone to series on. For us, we work really hard and as long as possible on the script, and then we work as hard as we can on getting the pilot exactly right. We don’t make pilots experimentally. Once we move forward on the pilot, we’ve sort of honed in and understand what the creatives are trying to execute and how to help them get there. I hope we’ll be able to move forward with ‘Powers.’ I’m really excited, and I’m very encouraged by the process so far and where it sits now, so I’m pretty optimistic.”

So you might have some good news for me in January, then?

“I might!”

Let’s all keep our fingers crossed tightly for the next six months, shall we?

  

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“Damages” moves to DirecTV

Jan 19, 2010 - New York, New York, USA - Actors TED DANSON, GLENN CLOSE, MARTIN SHORT, ROSE BYRNE and TATE DONAVAN attend the Season Three premiere of FX's 'Damages' held at the AXA Equitable Center. © Red Carpet Pictures

In a deal not completely unlike the satellite’s move to partner with NBC to save “Friday Night Lights,” DirecTV has announced that it is the new home of the FX drama “Damages.”

DIRECTV and Sony Pictures Television will team up to bring the award-winning DAMAGES, starring Glenn Close and Rose Byrne, back with brand new episodes to be produced early next year and debuting exclusively on DIRECTV. Emmy winner Glenn Close, Emmy nominee Rose Byrne and other principal cast members will return for the new episodes.

Unlike DIRECTV’s current deal for Friday Night Lights, whereby the show airs first on DIRECTV and then on NBC, the new episodes of DAMAGES will air only on DIRECTV. Additionally, DIRECTV will have the rights to air previously produced seasons 1 through 3.

“FX was very proud to have developed one of the best scripted series on television, but, in order to have a future, the show needed DIRECTV and we are thrilled they stepped in,” said John Landgraf, President & General Manager, FX Networks, who also heads FX Productions. “Sony Pictures Television is a great production partner and we at FX Productions are excited for these next two seasons.”

The key thing to note here is that, as it stands, “Damages” will never air on cable television again. DirecTV will be the only place that fans can (legally) see new episodes as they are released. It appears that without such a move, there wouldn’t have been a fourth season.

The third season of the critically-acclaimed drama brought five more Emmy nominations to bring the series total to 19.

  

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