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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A Chat with Megyn Price (“Rules of Engagement”)

If you’re a sitcom aficionado, then there are a trio of shows from which you’ll be familiar with Megyn Price. Her first big claim to fame was starring alongside Al Franken, Miguel Ferrer, and Robert Foxworth in the short-lived NBC series “LateLine,” which was followed by the decidedly longer-lived “Grounded for Life,” which ambled along hilariously for five seasons. Currently, however, she can be found playing the wife to Patrick Warburton on CBS’s “Rules of Engagement,” which returns to the network tonight, March 1st, for its new season. I had a chance to chat with the lovely Ms. Price about all three of these series, but I didn’t let her get away before I needled her briefly about her appearance in “Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector.” Most importantly, though, I finally got to thank her for providing me with my favorite anecdote of the summer 2009 TCA Press Tour. What was it? To find out, you’ll have to join us for…

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TCA Tour: Damages

I loved the first season of “Damages,” but time constraints kept me from following the second season of the series as closely as I would’ve liked. Still, my dedication to the show was such that, when I heard there was going to be a panel for its third season, I wanted to make sure that I’d checked out the screener of the season’s first two episodes before it took place, so that I’d be fully prepared for the event. What I hadn’t realized, though, was that I would be so caught up in those episodes that my first task upon returning home from the tour would be to immediately put Season 2 into the DVD player and watch it immediately. Yes, my love of “Damages” is back with a vengeance…which, given the theme of the series, is absolutely apropos.

There’s only one problem when it comes to discussing Season 3 of “Damages” and it’s this: a key event occurs in the season premiere that I can’t possibly give away. As such, I’m forced to dance around it…which sucks, because, man, I reeeeeeeally want to talk about it with someone.

What we can talk about, at least, is the general premise of the season, which revolves around a suspiciously-familiar concept: a high-profile financier who turns his wealth management business into a massive Ponzi scheme that defrauds thousands of investors of billions of dollars. But, c’mon, this panel took place before an audience of intelligent critics (and, no, that’s not a contradiction in terms, thank you very much), so no one was going to ask, “So, is it a coincidence that this resembles the whole Bernie Madoff situation?” The better question, obviously, was whether or not any other news stories were in competition for use as the thrust of Season 3.

“Well, I don’t know if I’d call it competition,” said executive producer Daniel Zelman, laughing. “But there were several stories we were looking at, not just the Madoff case. There was an attorney named Marc Dreier who fascinated us. You may have seen; he did an interview on “60 Minutes.” But he had perpetrated some $700 million con essentially. And also, a businessman named Allen Stanford had basically created a bank in Antigua that supposedly had billions of dollars in it, but had nothing in it. So we were really drawn to all of these stories, and we’re using elements of all these stories in the story that we’re telling, although coming through the front door, it’s sort of more around the Madoff scenario.”

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How many Schickels is an Altman worth?

Probably for the same reason that you don’t often see movie stars diss other movie stars for their acting, or directors critique helmers they think are less imaginative, film critics and writers tend to avoid making negative public comments about each other’s work. There are exceptions, however. Armond White of the New York Press has made a habit of, apparently reflexively, viciously attacking most of the films praised by other critics while praising whatever all the other critics hate, and then adding an extra step and implicitly, or not so implicitly, attacking all the other critics and viewers who may agree with them for being so intellectually lazy as to not see things in  the same eccentric way as he. So, he’s taken some well-deserved crap, although some writers still harbor some affection for his earlier reviews and sometimes even still find him occasionally insightful. Not me. I could never stand the guy’s insanely self-important writing or verbal pronouncements.

Richard Schickel, however, is a more complicated case. Also a strong documentary filmmaker who mainly covers filmmakers of the classic era and his favorite contemporary director, Clint Eastwood, as well as a highly readable writer, I’ve nevertheless have always felt somewhat suspicious of him going back to his eighties reviews in Time Magazine. Those feelings crystallized to some extent when I heard him and critic Emanuel Levy take to task a rabbi on Los Angeles public radio while discussing Robert Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful.” They all but called him a bad Jew for not finding the film offensive and daring to admit he was moved by it, or at least that’s how I remember it.

Still, I’ve enjoyed not only several of his cinephile-friendly documentaries, but also some really good audio commentaries recently featuring Schickel discussing another one of his — and my — favorites, Howard Hawks. I’ve been in a forgiving mood.

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Then, however, some editor at the L.A. Times had a very bad idea last week. I guess there’s no law that says, say, that if someone hates Picasso or Oscar Wilde or whomever, they should not review a new biography of them.  Ideally, I suppose, by itself that should not be a deal-breaker — as long as the writer in question can step away from their dislike of the subject enough to actually review the book rather than simply yell to the heavens that the revered creator being chronicled is wildly overrated while slipping in some snide remarks at the author’s expense for daring to think her subject is worth composing an entire book about.

Schickel, however, is clearly not big enough to do that, as he proved in writing this anti-Robert Altman screed disguised as a book review for the Los Angeles Times.  You can read Anne Thompson‘s take and then Patrick Goldstein‘s critique and defense of Altman, which also includes a letter from Altman’s one-time protegee, Alan Rudolph, a pretty strong and prolific filmmaker in his own right.

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A Quick Chat with Joan Rivers

There’s little question that one of the most lively panels during the early days of the TCA tour was the one dedicated to Joan Rivers’ new TV Land series, “How’d You Get So Rich?” Or, if you read my coverage of the panel, you may be more familiar with it as “How’d You Get So Fucking Rich?” But, y’know, that’s Joan for you. You can learn just about anything you need to know about the concept of the series by checking out the link to my panel coverage that I just offered up (though I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there’s a new episode of the series airing tonight at 10 PM EST / PST), but after she held court before the crowd of critics, a few of us actually had a chance to speak to her one on one for a few minutes each.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that, were it a contest to see who got the best pull quotes out of Joan, Joel Keller of TV Squad – who preceded me in speaking with her – would have taken the victory (she hadn’t been aware that David Tutera was scheduled to have his own TCA panel, but when he brought it up, she let fly with her thoughts on him in her usual forthright manner), but I still managed to get a couple of good lines from Ms. Rivers about “Z Rock,” “The Celebrity Apprentice,” and “Rabbit Test,” and the closing moments of our conversation will live in my memory forever.

Bullz-Eye: It’s a pleasure to meet you.

Joan Rivers: And it’s a pleasure to…well, we’ll see.

BE: (Laughs) I’ve got only got a couple of minutes, but I’ll do my best.

JR: Ask whatever you want.

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