Bullz-Eye’s TCA 2010 Winter Press Tour Wrap-Up: Simon Signs, Conan Conquers, and Patrick Stewart Just Plain Rules

The 2010 winter press tour of the Television Critics Association took place at the Langham Huntington Hotel and Spa from January 8th – 18th, which you probably already know from the various postings which were done during and have continued since my attendance at the event. It’s a regular tradition, however, that I do a wrap-up piece which summarizes my experiences during the tour, and since I invariably seem to get a positive response from those pieces, I always try to make it as entertaining a read as possible. Here’s hoping I’ve succeeded as well this time as I have in the past…but if I haven’t, I feel certain you’ll let me know.

Most enjoyable panel by a broadcast network: “Great Performances: Macbeth,” PBS.

I’ll freely admit that I was predisposed to enjoy the panel due to the fact that it featured the newly-knighted Sir Patrick Stewart, but I spoke to others afterwards who declared it to have been the best panel of the tour up to that point. Partial credit for the success goes to the critics in the audience, who consistently offered up intelligent questions about the subject matter at hand…and let me assure you that this is not always the case. Even on an occasion when an attempt at going in a unique direction fell flat, such as when one writer asked Stewart if he was familiar with FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” (it’s been called a Shakespearean saga on motorcycles), it led to the revelation that Ron Perlman has played an interesting place in Stewart’s life. “I was having dinner with Ron Perlman the day that I was offered Jean-Luc Picard in ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation,’” he said, ‘so I have always looked on Ron as being a lucky omen. So you mentioning his name today, I hope, means that the rest of the day is going to be brighter than it begin.” At the very least, Sir Patrick’s remarks during the panel brightened mine.

Most interactive panel by a cable network: “The Choir,” BBC America.

Gareth Malone is a man on a mission to bring music to those who may not think that they have an interest in it, creating choirs in various schools in England and helping the youth of today raise their voices in song. We soon discovered that this extended to television critics as well. “In England, everyone knows that when I enter a room, everyone’s going to sing,” Malone began ominously, “so I would like to invite you to leave your Apples and come up onto stage, and we’re going to have a little singsong.” The immediate reaction was less than enthusiastic, with at least one person piping up, “It’s against the bylaws!” Malone would not be denied, however. “It will be very brief,” he assured us. “I’ll be very, very, kind. I promise not to do opera. Honestly, it’s going to be very, very gentle. I promise. Risk it. There won’t be very much. Typists, abandon your typing!” In the end, he managed to get a couple of dozen of us up there…yes, I was among the huddled masses…to perform a not-as-bad-as-it-could’ve-been chorus of “Barbara Ann.” As there is neither an audio recording nor a YouTube clip to prove otherwise, you may feel free to believe that I personally sounded fantastic.

Best intro to a panel from a cable network: “Dance Your Ass Off,” Oxygen.

All I know about this show is what I’ve learned from watching clips on “The Soup,” but when a panel starts off by having its panelists literally dancing their way down the aisles and onto the stage, at the very least, it gets your attention.

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TCA Tour: Parks and Recreation

NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” suffered through a first season which impressed only a handful of viewers and critics, only to return for its second season with everyone suddenly trumpeting it as one of the funniest shows on television. Now, this is certainly not unprecedented for shows from executive producer Greg Daniels, who endured the same fate with “The Office,” and when you think about it, every series has to endure a certain amount of growing pains. But what’s required of a show’s creative team to take a confused show and straighten it out?

“Well, I think it’s fair to say that we make some kind of change to the overall idea of the show for every episode,” said co-creator / executive producer Michael Schur. “It’s a constant process of learning what is good and what is not so good, and there is a little bit of an arbitrary pause, in that our first season is only six episodes, so that was the time that we had the most amount of time to sit around and think about what we liked and what we didn’t like. But there wasn’t, like, a ‘Eureka! Oh, here’s what we do’ moment. It’s just a constant kind of process of shooting episodes and writing episodes and cutting them together, seeing which way the characters seem to be developing and talking to the actors and getting their input. I think that…again, we had this sort of weird mini season of six episodes like ‘The Office’ did, and then we took, whatever, four months off, so when it came back, I think there was a temptation to say, ‘Oh, what has changed now?’ I would like to think that, if we had just been airing continuously, the episodes would have turned out the same way and that it would have seemed like a more gradual evolution, because I think that’s what character comedies are all about: evolution.”

I don’t know about the rest of the cast, but at the very least, Nick Offerman remembers precisely when he firmly grasped his character, Ron Swanson. “When I was originally auditioning for the role, Mike said, ‘I think this guy has a really big mustache,'” he recalled. “I think that was probably the moment. I was, like, ‘Ah, yes, I see…'”

Nonetheless, Ron has evolved a bit since then, something which Greg Daniels spoke to. “I guess it was the ethics episode in the first season where he kind of stepped up and defended Leslie,” he said. “Originally, he was more of an antagonist, I think, because he was a person who didn’t believe in the mission of the department that he was in, she was so optimistic, and they were so at odds. But then they developed a nice kind of grudging friendship, and when we saw how well that worked, we wrote towards it.”

Amy Poehler chimed into the discussion as well, adding, “What was discovered, too, was (that) Ron liked Leslie because she made his job easier.”

“It’s a very symbiotic relationship at this point,” said Schur.

“Co-dependent,” corrected Poehler. With a wink and a nudge, she added, “But we all know what those relationships are like, right?”

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TCA Tour – “The Office” set visit

During my time at the TCA Press Tour, I was fortunate enough to visit the sets of two CBS series (“NCIS: Los Angeles” and “Three Rivers“), two Fox series (“Bones” and “Dollhouse“), and two ABC series (“Castle” and “Private Practice”), but when you get right down to it, my excitement level about all six of those sets probably still didn’t equal out to how psyched I was to visit the set of just one NBC show: “The Office.”

It was an absolutely surreal experience to pull up in front of a building in Valencia, CA, and see a sign which read, “Scranton Business Park,” but it got even more bizarre as we stepped into the Dunder-Mifflin warehouse and immediately saw members of the cast milling about. We were quickly divided into small groups and taken on a tour of the actual Dunder-Mifflin office by cast members, and I was fortunate enough to be part of the group led by Angela Kinsey, who plays Angela Martin on the show.

My wife and I met Angela in 2007 when we attended our first TCA Awards ceremony, as “The Office” had taken home the award for Best Comedy Series that year, so I was already well aware that her real-life personality is the polar opposite of her character’s. She’s constantly laughing, and you could tell that, although she was no doubt drafted into the task of giving us this tour, she loves her job and doesn’t mind talking about it in the slightest. It was incredibly cool to be able to see the intricacies of the various certificates on the walls of the office, as well as the personal photos on each of the desks, but I think my favorite moment was when she told us that Brian Baumgartner, who plays Kevin, still has a post-it on his desk that was written during the very first episode of the show. No, wait, I take that back: it might’ve been when she recited back to us the way she used to have to answer the phone when she was an operator for 1-800-DENTIST. Well, either way, it was a real treat to have her give us the tour personally. We were also given the opportunity to take our photo at Michael Scott’s desk, which I absolutely took advantage of, but all things considered, I think I actually might like this shot from Pam’s desk better:

After the set visit, we returned to the warehouse, where we were each presented with our own nameplates which declared us to be Assistant to the Regional Manager of Dunder-Mifflin…and you can bet that mine sits on my desk at this very moment. From there, we were offered coffee and pastries as we sat down for a Q&A with the cast (minus Rainn Wilson, who wasn’t feeling well) and producers of the show.

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5 Shows Which May Make Bullz-Eye’s NEXT TV Power Rankings

If you’ve checked out Bullz-Eye’s TV Power Rankings for April 2009, then you’ve already seen the site’s picks for the top 20 shows currently airing, several honorable-mention entries, and what series they’re most excited to see return. Given the way new programs are popping up constantly throughout the year, however, it was always inevitable that the voting for the Power Rankings would close just as a few promising series were making their debuts but before their consistency could be properly gauged. Here, then, are five shows which, at least as it stands right now, look like they have the potential to be ranked next time around.

1. “Party Down,” Starz. It’s a longstanding Hollywood tradition for producers to build themselves a gaggle of go-to actors who they can always count on to make an appearance in one of their projects, and although it’s Joss Whedon who has one of the most recognizable posses on television, it’s clear that Rob Thomas is building a pretty solid one, too. In “Party Down,” which focuses on a Hollywood catering company helmed by aspiring actors and actresses, you can’t go more than a few minutes without seeing someone who once appeared on “Veronica Mars.” Ryan Hansen is the only “Party Down” regular who held the same status on “Mars” as well, having played Dick Casablancas, but Adam Scott (“Stepbrothers”), Ken Marino (“The State”), and Jane Lynch, who most recently proved hilarious in “Role Models,” all made visits to “Veronica” at some point or other. Enrico Colentoni had an unforgettable nude scene in the first episode of “Party Down,” and it looks like Kristen Bell will be turning up in the season finale.

Paul Rudd is one of the other co-producers of “Party Down,” and it’s clear he had a hand in bringing some of his favorite talent onto the show as well. Martin Starr, late of “Freaks and Geeks,” is here, and after scoping out IMDb, it looks like Ken Jeong will be turning up in a future episode. With all this talent, you won’t be surprised to learn that this is arguably the funniest new show of the spring season…if seasons even still exist, that is…and is already shaping up to be the place for cool comedians and actors to guest-star. “Crash” may have been a bust as Starz’s first original series, but count on “Party Down” to do for the network what “Mad Men” did for AMC.

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Bullz-Eye’s TCA 2009 Winter Press Tour Recap

Wait, didn’t I just go to one of these press tours…?

Actually, that was back in July, when the networks were busy pimping their new fall schedules; this time, they were presenting us with an idea of what we can expect to see on our favorite broadcast and cable channels from now until they premiere their next fall schedule.

Going out to L.A. in January was a new thing for me, though. It was my first winter tour since becoming a member of the Television Critics Association in 2007 – last year’s was canceled due to the writers’ strike – and, if the rumblings throughout the ballrooms at the Universal Hilton were any indication, it may well prove to be my last January tour. I’m hopeful that this presumption turns out to be inaccurate, but given the current economic climate and an increasing tendency for newspapers and publications to only send their TV critics out for one tour per year, there’s every reason to suspect that the networks will join suit and only be willing to pamper those critics once per year.

Sorry, did I say “pamper”? Of course, I meant, “Treat with the utmost respect.”

It feels a bit odd to be doing a wrap-up of my experiences at the tour before I’ve even had a chance to write up all of the panels I attended while I was out there, but, hey, when you get a good spot on the calendar, you make it work however you can. So still keep your eyes open for my ongoing pieces on the various shows you can expect to find on the broadcast networks during the next few months, but in the meantime, here’s a look at some of the best and worst bits from the January ’09 tour as a whole.

Most enjoyable panel by a cable network: “Rescue Me,” FX.

I’ve been a big Denis Leary fan every since No Cure for Cancer, so I knew the guy was inevitably going to go off on a profanity-filled rant before the end of the panel. What I didn’t expect, however, was that Peter Tolan – who co-created the show with Leary – would start the proceedings by telling Leary to watch his mouth, adding, “If you were going to say ‘cunt,’ don’t.”

From there, the two of them seemingly battled each other in an attempt to offer up the most memorable line. Leary complained about his salary. (“I had a crazy idea of getting paid, like, $250,000 an episode. They put limits on that, let me tell you. That’s Kiefer Sutherland money right there.”) Then Tolan claimed that he was at fault for the show’s fourth-season slump, blaming it on a drug problem and that “I was heavy into a kazillion hookers that year.” Then Leary bitched about how Michael J. Fox was going to guest on “Rescue Me” and get the Emmy that Leary himself has yet to earn. (“Five fucking episodes, he comes in. God damn, $700 million from ‘Spin City.’ He never asked me to do the show. He’s going to walk away with the fucking Emmy. That son of a bitch.”) Then Tolan started mocking Hugh Laurie’s American accent by talking about how he could do a British accent. (“Aye, pip, pip, mate, aye! ‘Allo, Mary Poppins!”) And…well, as you can see, there was really no contest: this may well have been the greatest panel ever.

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