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…

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Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour: Top 5 Quotes from Day 5 (+ 1 Great Anecdote)

Day 5 of the Winter 2001 TCA Press Tour felt mildly anticlimactic after the previous day, with its strong focus on entertainment-related panels. I still maintain my “PBS rocks” mantra, but all things being equal, it might’ve been nice if they’d mixed up the proceedings a bit more, maybe putting Jeff Bridges and the “Best of ‘Laugh-In'” panels on different days.

Instead, we started with a panel for “PBS Newshour,” moved into a via-satellite appearance by Placido Domingo for his “Great Performances” special, and then slid into several panels in a row which, God bless them, simply weren’t as scintillating overall as one would’ve liked them to be. “Black in Latin America” did had Wyclef Jean on hand, which was kind of cool, and I’m very intrigued by the concept of “NOVA: Smartest Machine on Earth,” about a computer that’s going to compete on an episode of “Jeopardy,” but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that either kept me riveted from start to finish. Ironically, though, a panel I’d planned on skipping – “American Experience: Freedom Riders” – turned out to be so fascinating that I stayed ’til the bitter end, thrilling to every word. From there, we got a few sneak previews of future PBS projects, most notably Ken Burns’ look into Prohibition, and had a long-winded but still entertaining panel from highly underrated talk show host Tavis Smiley, but after that, the triple-threat of “Frontline: Are We Safer,” “Where Soldiers Come From,” and “StoryCorps” was more than sufficient to leave me wishing and hoping for the evening event to arrive sooner than later.

Finally, the event did arrive, and, boy, was it worth the wait. “Great Performances: Hitman Returns – David Foster & Friends” features the imminent songwriter performing his songs with vocal help from several other artists, and we’d been forewarned that at least one of them would be turning up and joining him onstage for his TCA performance, but believe me when I tell you this: it’s one thing to know that Donna Summer’s going to be in the house, but it’s quite another to actually have her belting out “Last Dance” only a few feet away from you. The woman turned the Langham’s Venetian Ballroom into a discotheque, and it was fucking spectacular.

Best moment of the tour…? Try one of the best moments of any TCA tour ever.

And, now, on to our quotes…

1. “The world of conventional television recording has pressed down the length of a report from three minutes to two and a half minutes, to two, to one and a half, to now one minute and 10 seconds, becoming more like a radio spot on a lot of the network news, there are actually stories that need telling that can’t be told in a minute and 10. Sorry. You just can’t. You could be a clever journalist. You could be a good writer. You just can’t do it.

The (PBS) Newshour is a great place to do that, but also, because of the new online opportunities, a place to bring the tremendous cargo that you come back from the rest of the world with in your reporter’s notebook, in your camera, and find another way to tell ancillary stories, to tell stories that didn’t make it into the main report, to start a dialogue with viewers, and really to do the other part of coverage that you can’t necessarily do on television. And also because a flight from Maputo, Mozambique, takes 31 hours, you’ve got a lot of time to work on your reporter’s notebook on the way back.” – Ray Suarez, PBS Newshour

2. “You live almost a life of tragedy constantly on the stage and you are rehearsing those big dramas, but, of course, you concentrate at the performance and even in the rehearsals, but doesn’t have to touch you. I know many people, many actresses, that were having problems after playing ‘A Streetcar Named Desire,’ for instance. And I believe that, after all, you are acting. You cannot let yourself in the suffering. That’s the reason I am a happy person.

Of course you have your sad moments in life, like we all have, like tragedies, losing dear people, dear relatives, parents, friends. But you live optimistically a life, which I like to live. But as I say, I love to be happy, but I love to suffer on the stage. On the stage it’s wonderful, the suffering. I like also the comedy, but I am better at suffering.” – Placido Domingo, “Great Performances: Placido Domingo – My Favorite Roles”

3. “As Watson’s developed over the years, it’s had a lot of silly answers. There’s quite a variety of them. I guess one of my favorites is we asked it what do grasshoppers eat and the answer was ‘kosher.'” – David Ferucci, “NOVA: Smartest Machine on the Planet – Can A Computer Win on ‘Jeopardy’?”

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Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour: Top 10 Quotes from Day 4

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”

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The 2010 Primetime Emmy nominations are in!

Bright and early this morning…by which we mean 8:40 AM EST / 5:40 AM PST…the nominees for the 62nd Primetime Emmy Awards were announced by Joel McHale (“Community,” “The Soup”) and Sofia Vergara (“Modern Family”). It ended up being a worthwhile gig for one of them, at least, with Vergara pulling in a Supporting Actress nod for “Modern Family.” Maybe that’s why McHale seemed so stone-faced. (Seriously, did someone tell McHale that he wasn’t getting paid if he didn’t keep his smart-assery in line ’til after the nominees were read? The only time he cracked anything approaching a joke was when he preempted Vergara’s mangling of Mariska Hargitay’s last name.) Anyway, here’s a list of who got the glory…and, in the case of Best Actress in a Drama, who got the shaft.

Outstanding Comedy Series:

* Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
* Glee (Fox)
* Modern Family (ABC)
* Nurse Jackie (Showtime)
* The Office (NBC)
* 30 Rock (NBC)

My Pick: “Modern Family.” There’s no question that “Glee” is award-worthy, but not necessarily as a comedy, which is also where “Nurse Jackie” falters in this category. I feel like “The Office” and “30 Rock” coasted in on their past merits this year, but “Curb” got a huge boost from the “Seinfeld” storyline, so it’s the only real competition here. Still, the buzz on “Modern Family” is all over the place. I can’t imagine it won’t bring home the glory.

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TCA Tour, Jan. 2009: “Great Performances: ‘Chess’ In Concert”

Remember “One Night in Bangkok”? Good ol’ Murray Head. Everyone thinks of him as a one-hit wonder in the States, but he’s really a two-hit wonder, having scored a top-20 single back in ’71 with “Superstar,” from “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Possibly not coincidentally, both singles featured lyrics from Sir Tim Rice, though a lot of Americans don’t realize that “One Night in Bangkok” is from a musical as well…not that anyone would blame you, given that the show from which it originates – “Chess” – was a gargantuan flop when it made its Broadway debut.

Most would argue, however, that the problem lay not with the musical itself but, rather, with the decision to change “Chess” from its original West End set-up by changing the story, adding different settings, characters, and plot elements, re-ordering the score, and redesigning the set to make it all more cinematic.

Certainly, Sir Tim is less than complimentary when discussing the Broadway production.

“To be honest, it was not good,” he said. “A huge book was added in, and I’m not criticizing the writer of the book particularly, but it was already too long, and to stick in a whole new play on top of it…? It went on. You know, it was a long show: thermos, flask, and a razor. It was just…it was not right. And it flopped on Broadway, but there’s a huge interest in the show, because the songs were…you know, if I may be immodest, the songs were very good. And it kind of went out and every director said, ‘Well, I can improve on this.’ And I’m not sure…well, they probably improved on the Broadway version, but they didn’t really get back to what it was.”

Who better to finally succeed at doing so, then, than Sir Tim himself?

PBS will be airing “”Great Performances: ‘Chess’ In Concert,” and although it will probably still never quite be perfect in the eyes of its creators (Rice wrote the lyrics, Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson – late of ABBA – wrote the music), it’s certainly a lot closer than it used to be.

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