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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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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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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Bendis’s collaborator for FX’s “Powers” pilot revealed

Who says persistence doesn’t pay off?

On Sunday, I spoke with John Landgraf, FX’s President and General Manager, to get the latest update on the network’s attempts to transition Brian Michael Bendis’s “Powers” from comic book to the small screen. Not only did he confirm that the pilot was indeed still in the works, he also let slip that Bendis was now collaborating with an outside writer, describing this other individual as “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.” What Landgraf did not tell me was the name of this writer, as he wasn’t sure if he was allowed to release the information yet, but he assured me that he would get in touch with me once he could.

Well, he just did…and, frankly, I couldn’t be much more excited about it. Bendis’s collaborator is none other than Kevin Falls, the man behind NBC’s late, great “Journeyman.” Given how well Falls kept the mythos and storylines of “Journeyman” weaving in and out, he seems like an excellent pick to work on such a complex series as “Powers” is likely to be. I’ve already dropped a line to Mr. Falls’ folks, in hopes of chatting with him about the gig, so keep your fingers crossed just as tightly this time as you did last time. (It worked pretty well, after all.)

What say you? Are you as jazzed as I am…?

  

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More “Powers” talk with FX’s John Landgraf

You may remember that, back in August, I spoke with John Landgraf, FX’s President and General Manager of FX, to get the latest update on the network’s attempts to transition Brian Michael Bendis’s “Powers” from comic book to the small screen. At the time, he could only reconfirm that it was in development, adding, “We’ve seen a draft of the script, we’ve given the notes on it, and we’re waiting on another draft.”

So what’s the latest update? Is “Powers” dead at FX?

It is not.

“We have a new writer who came in and who’s working with Brian Bendis,” Landgraf confirmed. “He’s a really, really good writer who got really excited about the project. He came in, and they pitched us a new take. Because part of what you’re trying to do with ‘Powers’…and I think I said this to you when I talked to you before…is that you have a great property, a really robust property, but it has to be adapted to become a weekly television series. So you’re asking yourself the question, ‘What stays and what goes?’ For example, the Retro Girl murder story: should that whole story be told in the pilot, or do we introduce it and tell it later? But 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.”

Unfortunately, you may have noticed the same thing I did: Landgraf’s pointed avoidance of revealing the name of this “really, really good writer.” Alas, he’s unable to reveal said writer’s name at present, but he assured me that, when he’s able to do, he’ll be in touch. Yeah, I know, that’s what they all say, but since he remembered our discussion from August, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that my continued enthusiasm will result in getting the information, so watch this space!

  

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