Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour: Day 10 – or – The Day Will Hit the Wall

The TCA tour lasts for about two weeks. That’s two weeks away from your family where you’re spending the majority of your time sitting in a hotel ballroom, listening to panel after panel about upcoming TV shows. Don’t get me wrong: I’m enough of a TV geek that I enjoy it from start to finish, but at a certain point, you find that your enjoyment begins to be regularly supplanted by the desire to just grab your shit and go the hell home. As a professional, I do my best to rise above this, which is why I invariably stick it out ’til the very last panel of the tour, but when you start considering the shit-grabbing and home-going more often than you find yourself thinking, “Say, this show sounds pretty good / awful,” this is what is known in TV critic parlance as “hitting the wall.”

And, baby, I have hit it.

When I woke up on the morning of Day 10 of the tour, I had a headache. It was the first time I’d had one since arriving in Pasadena, and, of course, I took it for what it was: a sign that both my body and mind were ready to return to Virginia. Little did I realize that it was really more of a portent of the evil that would cross my path on this day…but we’ll get to that. With a job to do, I popped a couple of Motrin, swigged some coffee, and entered into the day’s panels, which consisted of shows from the CBS family of networks, which includes, of course, CBS (“Chaos,” “Mad Love,” “The Good Wife”), but also Showtime (“The Borgias,” “Shameless,” “Californication,” “Episodes”) and The CW (“Shedding for the Wedding”). There were also executive sessions for the various networks, as well as one for the “Kick Ass Women of The CW,” featuring stars from “Hellcats,” “The Vampire Diaries,” “Nikita,” and “Smallville.”

Looking at the talent list for the various panels, there were certainly people I wanted to chat with, but I’ve always had trouble picking up interviews for Showtime series, a fact which all but killed my chances with many of the most interesting actors in attendance, including Jeremy Irons, William H. Macy, David Duchovny, and Matt LeBlanc. Heck, I couldn’t even pull a one-on-one with Colm Feore, although I did end up chatting with him later in the evening while pretending to be Canadian. (Don’t ask.) But I did at least make it into post-panel scrums for Irons, Macy, and the ever-gorgeous Carla Gugino, so there’s that, at least. And amongst the cast of CBS’s “Mad Love” is the always amiable Tyler Labine, who I’ve been interviewing at TCA since my first tour, when “Reaper” debuted, so he and I got in a good one-on-one.

Most of my afternoon, however, was spent in a funk. Maybe it’s because I’d hit the wall, but I found myself getting progressively grumpier about the way various actors’ personal publicists were acting. One assured me that I could do a walk-and-talk with their client, who was in a rush to get to another appointment, only to promise the same thing to another writer moments later and leave me in the dust. Another deigned to let me do a one-on-one with her client, then – outside of her client’s line of vision – starting tapping her watch ferociously before I’d even had two minutes of conversation. (This was particularly infuriating because the writers before and after me had neither a time limit nor been “chaperoned” during their interviews.) It was also a major bummer that the evening event was an hour-long cocktail party where the attendees were limited to the shows on The CW which were represented on the network’s panels.

Despite my relatively grouchy attitude throughout the day, there were still some highlights on the panels that are worth mentioning, so here they are…

1. Q: Given Charlie Sheen’s antics over the weekend, how would you characterize your level of concern about him, and what is the network doing to help him?
Nina Tassler (with all due sarcasm): Well, I really didn’t expect that question this morning. So I’m just…I’m really taken by surprise. Look, obviously, we’ve thought, and I personally have thought, a lot about this, and we have a high level of concern. How could we not? But I have to speak to this personally first. On a very basic, human level, concern, of course. This man is a father. He’s got children. He has a family. So, obviously, there’s concern on a personal level. But you can’t look at it simplistically. Charlie is a professional. He comes to work. He does his job extremely well. We are taping tonight, and it’s…it’s very complicated, but we have a very good relationship with Warner Bros. I have a tremendous trust and respect in the way they are managing the situation. So, on a personal level, obviously concerned. On a professional level, he does his job, he does it well, the show is a hit, and…that’s really all I have to say.

2. Question: Jason, what about your character (in “Mad Love”)?
Jason Biggs: Without giving too much away, obviously, I have sex with a sheet cake in the second episode.
Sarah Chalke: We weren’t going to reveal that!
Judy Greer: Way to go.
Jason Biggs: I don’t know if that’s a spoiler alert. Sorry, guys.
Judy Greer: That’s the cake we used for what’s her name’s birthday? Just kidding.
Jason Biggs: Yes. Yes, it was.
Judy Greer: I had a piece of that!
Jason Biggs: No. There are some situations. I wouldn’t say they are exactly, you know, akin to some of the I mean, let’s be honest. Those were very R rated, and some pushing NC 17 scenarios.
Matt Tarses: He loses his pants in Staten Island.
Jason Biggs: But I do lose my pants in Staten Island. So you do see me pantsless, which I think is what my fans demand of me in general and but yeah, there are some I mean, Matt has written, for all of us, some kinds of crazy situations. I mean, it’s inherent to this format, I think, is to create situations that are quite comical and kind of crazy. And for someone who can the person that does it right, they are funny, but they are also grounded in reality somehow, and they are with characters that you like and all that good stuff. And I feel like that’s what’s happening here. So, among those situations, which I believe there are some in every episode, one of them I lose my pants in Staten Island. The other one I have sex with a sheet cake.

3. Q: Freddy, describe what happens when you read a script that says, “Next, Rick eats a scorpion.” What was that like? And when you filmed it…I’m sure you didn’t eat a scorpion, but whatever you were holding…
Freddy Rodriquez: How are you so sure?
Q: It looked realistic. You were holding something that was wiggly and scary. Just describe what it was like when you heard you were going to do it and what it was like to do that scene.
Freddy Rodriquez: Well, to be honest, I wasn’t sure what it was going to be when I got there. And when I got there, if you remember, Tom…
Tom Spezialy: Oh, I remember.

Freddy Rodriguez: …it was a real scorpion. I had a slight anxiety attack, to be honest, right? And then I got over it. And then I asked Brett Ratner to hold it. I would do it if he would hold it, and he refused, and we had an exchange. And after a while I got over it, and it was fun. I mean, when I read the script, there were so many great things that my character was doing in the pilot that I had to be involved even if it had to do with holding a scorpion. It was a real scorpion. I think they put Krazy Glue on the stinger, (but), yeah, it was real.
Q: What does it look like to see that thing wiggling in front of your eyes?
Freddy Rodriguez: Scary. It’s scary.
Tom Spezialy: It peed on him.
Freddy Rodriguez: Oh, yeah, it did. At one point in the night, it just…I didn’t enjoy the experience…it started peeing on me. And I didn’t know what it was. I just thought it was, like, spraying me with some sort of poison or…I wasn’t sure what it was, but it was urine.
Eric Close: Are you sure it was urine?
Freddy Rodriguez: Yeah, it was urine. Gave me golden sunshine, I guess.

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TCA Press Tour, Summer 2010: Day 2

CBS’s big day of TCA panels kicked off with an Executive Session from the one and only Nina Tassler, the network’s President of Entertainment, who brought us the following tidbits and newsbriefs:

“The Big Bang Theory”: The show is moving to Thursdays. “Certainly, it was difficult, but not in the sense that you don’t have complete faith and belief in the show,” said Tassler. “The time felt right. The show is certainly enjoying an extraordinary amount of support and love, and this was a great opportunity for us to really move it into a strategic place and open the night.”

“Survivor”: The new season of the popular reality series will find the castaways divided into Young vs. Old. The members of the La Flor Tribe will all be aged 30 or younger, while those in the Espada Tribe will all be 40 or older.

“Undercover Boss”: Four of the companies which will appear in the show’s second season have been revealed: NASCAR, DirecTV, Chiquita Brands, Inc., and Great Wolf Resorts.

“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”: Justin Bieber will be playing a character in the season premiere, playing a character that is “quite different from his wholesome real-life persona.”

“CSI: Miami” and “CSI: NY” timeslot changes: “Going into this season, we had very strong development, we really wanted to get a number of those new dramas on the air, and both ‘Miami’ and ‘New York’ are still strong players for us, so we said, ‘Look, we can use them to improve the time periods they’re going into, as well as support new shows that they’re launching side by side with.’”

“Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior”: Janeane Garofalo has been added to the cast.

New gay characters: GLAAD will no doubt be pleased to hear that, according to Tassler, there are three on the horizon for the new season. “You’re going to meet Alicia’s brother in ‘The Good Wife,’ a gay character. We’re also going to be adding a new character to ‘Rules of Engagement.’ Jeff and Audrey’s surrogate will be a member of Jeff’s softball team, and she’s a lesbian. We’re also going to be recurring a character in ‘$#*! My Dad Says,’ the character Tim Bagley played.” I’m particularly happy to hear about that last one, mostly because the scenes between Bagley and William Shatner are arguably the funniest in the pilot.

After Tassler’s remarks and Q&A were completed, she evacuated the stage in order for the day’s show panels to begin, starting with…

“The Big Bang Theory”

At first glance, the fact that “The Big Bang Theory” is the only pre-existing CBS show to get its own panel on the network’s TCA day would lead one to deduce that it’s because it’s so popular. In reality, though, it’s much more likely that the series got the spotlight because they want to make sure it’s still a major player when it returns on Sept. 28th and shifts on the CBS schedule from Mondays to Thursdays. Ah, but who cares why they’re here? It’s just good to see the gang again. Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg, and Kunal Nayyar were all in attendance, along with creators / executive producers Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, and, as usual, they gave us some great, fun stuff.

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TCA Tour: Undercover Boss

During her comments in the executive session, CBS’s President of Entertainment, Nina Tassler, couldn’t say enough good things about the network’s new reality series, “Undercover Boss,” which they’re opting to premiere immediately after the Super Bowl. It’s an act that’s either a sign of unabashed confidence in the series or a total Hail Mary pass, but despite how apropos the latter might be for the timeslot, having seen the pilot episode, I can absolutely see why they would be confident. Tassler said that “everybody who is sitting and watching the Super Bowl, be you 8 or 80, can stay right there and enjoy the program,” and she’s on the money with that assessment: who can’t get behind the idea of a boss coming down from his or her ivory tower and mixing it up with the frontline employees in the company? Everyone can relate to that…which, as it happens, is exactly what its creator, Stephen Lambert, had in mind.

“I was very keen to do something in the world of the workplace,” he said. “There’s so many scripted shows that are set in the workplace, but not that many set in the real workplace in the reality space on network television, and it seemed to me that it’s very relatable. Anybody who has had a boss who has worked in the company will understand this show, and for the person in charge to be able to see what their workers, their employees, are really doing seemed like an exciting idea.

“This is a show where the boss is on a dual mission,” Lambert explained. “One, he wants to find out what’s really going on on the front line, things he can’t see when he’s back at headquarters. Second, he’s looking for the unsung heroes of the company, so he’s looking for people that deserve some kind of thanks, maybe a promotion. It’s the mixture of kind of comedy that comes from the boss trying to do the front-line jobs and the emotion of these people, these coworkers that he spends time or she spends time with having that recognition that can be extremely emotional, and that was the idea behind the show.”

The first boss to go undercover on the show is Larry O’Donnell III, the President and COO of Waste Management (you’ve no doubt seen their trucks cruising around your neighborhood at one point or another), and when you watch the episode, you’ll see him doing everything from picking up trash to cleaning out Porta-Potties. Now, if you’re wondering how undercover he really is, given that he clearly has a camera crew following him, all they know is that he’s just this guy who’s working these frontline jobs…and, to hear him tell it, they got used to the camera’s presence pretty quickly.

“When I first went into this and I actually talked to our senior leadership team, I thought the most difficult part was going to be for me to be able to maintain my undercover status where the employees didn’t figure out who I was,” he said. “There were some managers along the way that recognized me, and I was able to get them off to the side and tell them to go home or stay in their office. You know, people ignored the cameras within about…it seemed like certainly within the first half hour. It was like they weren’t even there.”

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TCA Press Tour: CBS Executive Session

Nina Tassler, President of CBS Entertainment, favored us with her presence this morning at the TCA tour, sitting down for an executive session which provided us with the following quotes and tidbits:

* Regarding the decision to place the new reality series “Undercover Boss” in the plum spot following the Super Bowl, she said that it was a combination of good timing and a good series. “We’re very high on the show, but we spent a lot of time talking about what the right strategy would be,” she said. “We’ve seen five or six episodes of ‘Undercover Boss’ by now, and there is a tone and a quality to the show that we felt was a great fit after the Super Bowl. It is aspirational. It is a feel-good program.
Everybody who is sitting and watching the Super Bowl, be you 8 or 80, can stay right there and enjoy the program. I think 15 years ago, that spot was used to launch new programming. Obviously, in the last 10, 15 years it’s been used more as a platform to get greater exposure for existing shows. But we thought, ‘You know what? We have a great project, we’re very high on it, and we think we’re going to launch another big-branded reality show.'”

* Obviously, NBC’s continued fall from grace via the great failure that was “The Jay Leno Show” was a topic of conversation that everyone wanted Tassler to weigh in on. “Through it all, we have to realize that ABC, CBS and FOX…we’ve all fared, I think, very well during this experimental phase for NBC,” she said. “But if we can harken back to when there was that grand proclamation about 8 o’clock at NBC…? Remember? We all wrote about that: 8 o’clock was over at NBC. They were going to have a whole different strategy developing for 8 o’clock. And then along came 10 o’clock, and they were going to have a whole different strategy for 10 o’clock. You know, I think ultimately, there is no substitute for developing great shows, working with great talent, and getting your program on the air.”

“The unfortunate thing is that our creative community was to some degree somewhat bruised by this,” she continued. “I think that the talent as this was taking place, a lot of people were put out of work. A lot of people really saw this as having a pretty negative impact on our business. But I think right now for us, it just allowed us to get a bigger piece of the ad revenue pie at 10 o’clock, and again, what I have the most trouble with is for their company, their decision to do what they did, to sort of turn that and say that his is a reflection on the whole network business, I think is misguided. Our business is thriving right now. We are enjoying success with new hit shows, as is ABC, as is FOX. So I think at the end of the day, it was an experiment that obviously did not work, but for us, like I said, there’s no substitute for just developing and producing and launching great shows.”

There’s certainly no question that a couple of CBS earned some additional success from viewers’ indifference to “The Jay Leno Show.” As Tassler observed, “We moved ‘The Mentalist’ to 10 o’clock on Thursday night and launched ‘The Good Wife,’ so 10 o’clock has been good business for us.”

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TCA Tour: “Three Rivers” set visit

Hey, everybody, Alex O’Loughlin’s back!

Oh, how I’ve missed Alex O’Loughlin. I can’t even begin to tell you how much abuse I had to deal with during his days on “Moonlight,” all because I thought the pilot for that series was just okay. My dissenting opinions immediately made my article “B.S.,” according to some readers, and I was subsequently forced to endure all manner of commentaries about how gorgeous O’Loughlin was, even though I kept assuring them that I’d probably be more interested in revisiting the series if they’d be willing to praise other aspects of the show that didn’t involve his hotness quotient. The irony…? When I reported how, after the show was canceled, CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler admitted that “the response to ‘Moonlight’ was actually more actor-centric,” I was buried in responses from readers who seemed shocked and offended that she would say something so patently ridiculous.

Well, for what it’s worth, Tassler did at least want to keep O’Loughlin within the CBS family, and she’s gotten her wish by handing him a plum part in the network’s new medical drama, “Three Rivers” (yes, it takes place in Pittsburgh), where he’ll be working within an ensemble which includes Katherine Moennig (“The L Word”), Daniel Henney (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”), Justina Machado (“Six Feet Under”), Christopher J. Hanke, and…Alfre Woodard?

Yep: Ms. Woodard came aboard the series mere days ago, so recently that, when O’Loughlin responded to his first question in the on-set press conference for the TCA members, she did a double-take.

“Let me just say how freaked I am to hear you talk like an Aussie,” she said. “I’m, like, ‘What is he doing faking over here?’ He’s such a believable Pittsburgh boy!”

If you haven’t heard about “Three Rivers” yet, it’s being described by the network as “a medical drama that goes inside the emotionally complex lives of organ donors, the recipients and the surgeons at the preeminent transplant hospital in the country where every moment counts.” We’re being forewarned, however, that “dealing with donor families in their darkest hour and managing the fears and concerns of apprehensive recipients takes much more than just a sharp scalpel.” Pardon me for a moment while I groan at that line, but kudos must go to the series for taking their subject seriously enough to work directly with the organization Donate Life, a national movement to inspire Americans to register as an organ-and-tissue donor.

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