TCA Press Tour, Summer 2010: Day 8

Much as the CBS family of networks split their efforts into two days worth of panels – one for CBS, the other for Showtime and The CW – so did Fox give us some breathing room by placing their presentations for FX’s slate of new programming on a separate day. (I wish to God NBC / Universal would take a cue from their peers. I’m so sick of being rushed through a mishmosh of NBC, USA, Bravo, and SyFy series in one long can’t-stop-won’t-stop day.)

Executive Session

Your personal mileage may vary, but for my money, John Landgraf is one of the nicest network heads currently in the game. He’s very low-key, but he’s always ready to give you a quote when you’re looking for one. Today, he offered up the following bits and pieces about the future of FX.

* “Louie” has been renewed for a second season of 13 episodes.

* Ben Garant and Tom Lennon, late of “Reno 911!,” are going to do a pilot for FX called “The USS Alabama.” It’s another partially-scripted, partially-improvised series, and, according to Landgraf, “It takes place in space on the USS Alabama with a crew of spacefarers who might not be too much brighter than the cops in ‘Reno 911!’”

* There are two other pilots in the works as well, the first being “Outlaw Country,” which will star Mary Steenburgen. “Some really talented young actors have joined that cast,” said Landgraf. “That goes into production in, I think, six weeks. It’s a fantastic script. Something we’re really, really excited about.” The other is “Wilfred,” a comedy pilot based on an Australian comedy series, which completed principal photography last week.

* The “Damages” deal done with DirecTV is different from the one that was done with “Friday Night Lights” in that FX will not be offering up the episodes after they’ve run on DirecTV. “The season that has aired, which was the third season of ‘Damages,’ is the last season it will air on FX,” said Landgraf. “For us, we’re also producers on ‘Damages.’ We’ve been co-owners and co-producers through FX Productions, and DirectTV felt very strongly. They were willing to underwrite it, and to a very substantial amount financially, they enabled it to move forward. That was the deal that Sony worked on very aggressively, but they wanted it exclusively, so this was really the best and only way for ‘Damages’ to move forward. So we stepped aside as a network entity, and we’re still involved as a production entity.”

Sons of Anarchy

I don’t know that there’s any series currently on the air that I feel worse about not watching than “Sons of Anarchy.” Everyone tells me it’s fantastic, I have every reason to believe that those people are right, and yet I just haven’t had the time to go back and revisit the show’s first two seasons. But that won’t stop me from bringing you the info that creator Kurt Sutter and his cast provided to us during the show’s panel, of course.

As far as the “big bad” for Season 3, as it were, Sutter says, “We have a couple dual storylines going in Charming and as well as in Belfast, but I guess if you had to pin it down to one specific adversary, I would say that it’s probably the Titus Welliver character, Jimmy O.”

What of the theme of the new season? “I don’t know if there’s one specific overriding theme,” said Sutter. “I think the theme is always about family and Jax sort of defining his role as a father and as a partner and as a son and as a member of this club, and the Abel storyline drives us through pretty much the entire season, and…I don’t want to give anything away in terms of what that means and where that takes us, but, you know, the thing is our seasons, the actual span of time within our seasons is very short. It’s potentially a couple, two or three weeks. So there isn’t a lot of time that passes where you can have a lot of things unfold organically. So it is a very concentrated period of time which I think helps feed, I think, the sense of urgency for the tasks that they have at hand this season.”

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Greetings to the New Show: “Archer”

archer

FX’s new comedy series, “Archer,” has a decidedly Adult Swim feel to it, and that isn’t at all coincidental. Created by Adam Reed (“Space Ghost Coast to Coast,” “Sealab 2021” and “Frisky Dingo”), “Archer” is everything you’d expect in an Adult Swim series – from its crude animation style to its adult-themed humor. Still, it might be a little too refined for Cartoon Network’s late night line-up, which is why it works so perfectly on a channel like FX. Though the basic cable network has succeeded in making several first-rate dramas over the years, they’ve yet to crack the comedy nut beyond “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” They may have finally found a worthy pairing in “The League,” but if FX hopes to create a Thursday night comedy block to compete with the big boys, “Archer” is exactly what they need.

Set at the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS), a spy agency where espionage and global crises are merely opportunities for its highly trained employees to confuse, undermine, betray and royally screw each other, the series stars H. Jon Benjamin as Sterling Archer, a 007 wannabe who craves the perks of the job without doing any of the work. Joining Archer at the ISIS office is his domineering mother and boss, Malory (Jessica Walter); ex-girlfriend and fellow field agent Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler); head accountant Cyril Figgis (Chris Parnell); lovesick secretary Cheryl (Judy Greer); and human resources director Pam (Amber Nash).

It’s a great cast for an animated series, but despite all the recognizable names, it’s relative unknown H. Jon Benjamin who steals the show. Anyone who’s ever watched cult classics like “Dr. Katz” and “Home Movies” are probably already familiar with Benjamin’s trademark voice, but he’s an absolute riot in “Archer” and the main reason the show works as well as it does. In fact, while I had already seen the pilot episode months before during its top secret preview on FX, it didn’t stop me from watching it again. It’s easily the strongest of the first five episodes, although “Training Day,” where Archer trains Cyril to become a field agent, and “Diversity Hire,” where Malory hires a black-Jewish agent to fill a minority quota, are good as well. There’s also an “Arrested Development” mini-reunion when Jeffrey Tambor guest stars as an U.N. intelligence officer in “Killing Utne.”

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It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: A Very Sunny Christmas

The trio behind “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” has cooked up some of the most unpolitically correct humor in the history of TV, but for “A Very Sunny Christmas,” they’ve dialed it down considerably, instead relying on more gratuitous tactics – like language, nudity and gore – to score laughs. Split up into two stories, the holiday special follows the gang as they prepare for Christmas Day. While Dennis and Dee try to teach Frank a lesson by taking him through his own version of “A Christmas Carol,” Mac and Charlie try to cope with the fact that their Christmas memories aren’t as great as they remember them. The episode culminates with a Claymation musical number that features Hermey the Mischief Elf, Sam the Snowman, and the California Raisins dressed up as KKK members.

Though the former subplot definitely has its moments (a sweaty, naked Danny DeVito not being one of them), the latter is easily the funnier of the two, whether it’s Mac losing his temper or Charlie going nuts on a mall Santa. Still, for a show that’s just beginning to earn an audience beyond its cult fanbase, it takes a lot of nerve to release a 42-minute Christmas special straight to DVD. Though you can’t really blame the creators for making this kind of executive decision (this has Fox’s greedy little fingerprints all over it), the show itself really could have been a lot better. Instead, you get a mediocre extended episode for about five dollars less than the cost of an entire season. It’s not exactly a great way to win over new viewers, and certainly not the way to treat old ones either. This is strictly for diehard fans only, but even they may have issues with ponying up the cash for something that FX is bound to air for free eventually.

Click to buy “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: A Very Sunny Christmas”

  

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The Return of Bullz-Eye’s TV Power Rankings

Ever since the writers’ strike, the television industry has been in a state of flux. Most networks still can’t figure out what works from what doesn’t, while the current economic climate has forced others to simply give up. Whether or not “The Jay Leno Show” is a success for NBC is debatable, but by surrendering the 10 p.m. time slot, they’ve greatly decreased their chances of bringing in new viewers. We would be exaggerating if we said the decision affected Bullz-Eye’s latest edition of the TV Power Rankings, but our Winter 2009 list does seem suspiciously familiar. Still, it isn’t without its surprises, as a longtime favorite returned from an extended hiatus to claim the top spot, while buzzworthy rookies like “Glee” and “FlashForward” also made impressive Top 10 debuts. At the end of the day, however, the real winner is HBO, who walked away with three of the four top spots, thus reestablishing themselves as the best network around.

A few examples from the piece:


5. Glee (Fox): There isn’t a show on this list that we love and hate with the same enthusiasm that we have for “Glee.” It contains some of the best-drawn characters in Fox’s history (aspiring diva Rachel Berry, adorable germaphobe Emma Pillsbury, cantankerous alpha female Sue Sylvester), and the iTunes chart-burning musical numbers, lip synching aside, are deliriously fun. Imagine, then, if they didn’t make these characters jump through such ridiculous hoops. Will’s wife is actually going to take her fake pregnancy to term? Emma agrees to marry Ken, but only as long as they never tell a soul? (Those plot threads brought to you by Bad Idea Jeans.) Yet for each blunder the show makes, they come up with something as brilliantly funny as Finn’s technique for not climaxing (he thinks about the time when he hit the mailman with his car), or the drama queen freak show that is Sandy Ryerson (a pitch-perfect Stephen Tobolowsky). Getting Josh Groban to do a cameo as a horndog version of himself, meanwhile – and hit on Will’s drunk mother – was a moment of “Arrested Development”-style genius. Yes, it’s made mistakes, but “Glee” gets a spot in our Top Five because no other show on TV sports dialogue like “mentally ill ginger pygmy with eyes like a bush baby.” But man, it would be a wonderful world if they did.David Medsker

15. Dexter (Showtime): Like “The Sopranos,” Dexter always has a theme that is explored within a season as a backdrop to the episodic progression of the show. Last season, it examined friendship within the context of Dexter’s secret world, and Jimmy Smits was brilliant as his first and only pal. This year explores the facets of intimate relationships, and balancing work and the rest of your life as it relates to it. Dexter (played with brilliant sincerity and conviction by Michael C. Hall) is struggling to find balance between his work as a blood splatter analyst, a new dad of an infant, stepfather to his wife’s kids, and his hobby of killing and dismembering other bad guys, while his entertainingly foul-mouthed sister Deb implodes the most stable relationship of her life when she sleeps with returning lover and retired FBI agent Frank Lundy. John Lithgow is also scary good as the Trinity Killer, the latest object of Dexter’s attention. When Trinity kills Lundy and wounds Deb while making it look like another killer’s signature, Dex is commanded by the ghost of Harry to seek revenge, making this season as entertaining as any in the past – no easy feat considering how consistently good this show has been.R. David Smola

Honorable MentionCougar Town (ABC): Yeah, yeah, we know: the title’s a bit dodgy. But Bill Lawrence, who co-created the show with Kevin Biegel, has said, “The roll of the dice I’ve made is that the title is noisy and that people will be aware of this show.” True enough, though the fact that the series stars Courtney Cox would’ve probably done a pretty decent job of putting it on people’s radar, anyway. The pilot alone was strong enough to suggest that “Cougar Town” could prove to be the perfect series for female viewers who’ve outgrown “Sex and the City,” but with enough of a dysfunctional family element to fit perfectly into the closing slot in ABC’s new Wednesday night comedy line-up. Although the show continues to hone its comedic formula, the trio of Cox, Christa Miller and Busy Philipps clicked immediately (particularly the latter two, with their characters’ diametrically opposed personalities), and the relationship between the teenaged Travis and his man-child of a father rings true with its blend of unconditional love and complete embarrassment. Now that Jules’s fling with Josh is over, however, we’re curious to see who’ll be next on her slate to date — and how long this one will last.Will Harris

Returning in 2010Lost (ABC): Here we are, folks. After five seasons of confusing viewers with one of the most elaborate mythologies on television, “Lost” is finally in the home stretch. Want to know what the heck that smoke monster really is? How about the weird statue? Heck, what about the Dharma Initiative itself? All will supposedly be revealed in the sixth and final season of one of the smartest, most fearless shows network television has ever bothered to offer. Of course, this being “Lost,” we still have something to bitch about – namely, that the goddamn Olympics will interrupt the show’s final 18 episodes – but if we’ve waited this long to determine the ultimate fate of our favorite island castaways, what’s a few weeks of curling and cross-country skiing? We’ve all had our issues with the way “Lost” has unfolded over the years, and the show isn’t the phenomenon it was in its first couple of seasons. To cop one of the fall’s most popular phrases, though, this is it – and if there’s ever been a serialized drama with the guts to stick the landing and make its finale truly count, we’re betting it’s “Lost.”Jeff Giles

Check out Bullz-Eye’s TV Power Rankings in their entirety by clicking here or on the big-arse graphic you see before you. Also, be sure to check out the accompanying interviews with folks associated with the various shows, including David Goyer (“FlashForward”), Kurt Sutter (“Sons of Anarchy”), Jonathan Ames (“Bored to Death”), and Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”).

Did any of your favorite shows miss the cut? Let us know by replying below!

  

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TCA Tour: FX Executive Session

John Landgraf, President of FX, just sat down and gave us his Executive Session, and here’s what came out of it:

* FX pursued six pilots this time around – three dramas, three comedies – and they’ve already picked up two of those. The first is an animated series entitled “Archer,” which stars Aisha Tyler, Chris Parnell, and H. Jon Benjamin, and is set at ISIS, an international spy agency where global crises are merely opportunities for its highly trained employees to confuse, undermine, betray and royally screw each other. (I’ve seen the first episode and it’s very Adult Swim, but that’s to be expected from a show created by Adam Reed, the man behind “Sealab 2021” and “Frisky Dingo.”)

The second, “Lawman,” was developed by Graham Yost (“Boomtown”) and stars Timothy Olyphant (“Deadwood”) as Raylan Givens, a character created by Elmore Leonard in his short story, “Fire in the Hole.”

* The network is also working with Louis CK, is looking into “Terriers,” created by Shawn Ryan and Ted Griffin, and a pilot entitled “Lights Out,” which was written by Justin Zackham (“The Bucket List”) and stars Holt McCallany, Elias Koteas, and Melora Hardin.

* Landgraf was absolutely not surprised about the lack of Emmy nominations for “The Shield.” I find that sad.

* The current “Rescue Me” season,, which Landgraf says they are “unbelievably satisfied” with, will consist of 22 episodes, and FX has picked up 18 more for next season, though they are contemplating expanding that order. When the show returns next summer, it will probably be earlier than it was this year. (The delay was predominantly due to the writer’s strike.)

* “Testees” will not be back for a second season on FX, but it will have a second season…in Canada, where it was apparently more successful.

* Announcements regarding the cast of Season 3 of “Damages” will hopefully be made within the next week or two, and Landgraf says, “I don’t think anyone in this room would guess who they’re going to.” The network was naturally disappointed with the ratings of the series in Season 2, but he admits, “It’s a very demanding show. It’s one where you can’t watch 3, 5, 7 episodes out of 13. You’re either in or you’re out.” This obviously doesn’t fit the current mindset for TV viewers, who he describes as being “more interested in dating than marriage,” but the series is what it is.

“If we came back with ‘Damages’ and it was Patty Hughes as Perry Mason, and every year she broke someone down on the stand and got her man or woman, you guys would literally be eviscerating me,” said Landgraf. “And I would deserve it.”

Lastly, here are the premiere dates for your favorite – and soon-to-be-favorite – FX series:

Sons of Anarchy,” Season 2 premieres on September 8th
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” Season 5 premieres on September 17th
Nip/Tuck,” Season 6 premieres on October 14th
Archer,” premieres in the fall
Damages,” Season 3 premieres in January 2010
Lawman,” premieres in the spring of 2010
Rescue Me,” Season 6 premieres in the spring or summer of 2010

  

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