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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Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour: Top 10 Quotes from Day 2

The first half of the second day of the Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour belonged solely to the Turner networks, who had been notably MIA from the summer tour. Although there were unconfirmed reports that they were not entirely thrilled with the dates that had been set for that tour, as most of their summer programming had already premiered by the time the tour kicked off, but during the opening remarks, we were assured that “we ask for time on the critics tour schedule when we can make it worth your while.” Fair enough, then.

After an “Adventure Time”-themed breakfast from Cartoon Network, Adult Swim brought on a plethora of panelists for “Childrens Hospital” (everyone in the above photo was in attendance, plus executive producers Jonathan Stern and David Wain), TNT followed with “Franklin & Bash,” “Falling Skies,” and “Men of a Certain Age,” then HLN and CNN wrapped things up by getting real and presenting the new talk shows from Dr. Drew Pinsky and Piers Morgan, respectively. Given that I ended up pulling one-on-one interviews with Malcolm McDowell, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Breckin Meyer, Garcelle Beauvais, Ray Romano (and Jon Manfrellotti), Scott Bakula, and Henry Winkler, I am hard pressed to have an unkind word to say about the Turner experience…except, that is, the fact that I diligently and politely contacted publicists for both networks and studios in an effort to nail down interviews in advance but was still ultimately left to fly by the seat of my pants and spend the morning in catch-as-catch-can mode.

Our working lunch was brought to us by the unlikely tag-team of BET (“The Game,” “Let’s Stay Together”) and Playboy TV (“Brooklyn Kinda Love,” “Swing”), and from there it was on to the Discovery family of networks: Animal Planet (“Taking on Tyson,” a look into Mike Tyson’s love of pigeons…yes, seriously), Science Channel (“An Idiot Abroad,” with Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, and title character Karl Pilkington), Investigation Discovery (“The Injustice Files”), and the mothership, the Discovery Channel (“Gold Rush – Alaska” and “Kidnap & Rescue”).

By then, the excitement / cynicism in the room was palpable: it was time for the OWN Network presentations. We’d been promised a welcome from Oprah, but we didn’t get one. Instead, we got an introduction from network CEO Christina Norman. She’s a very nice lady, but it wasn’t quite the same, and she admitted as much when she came onstage after a lengthy series of clips featuring Ms. Winfrey, saying, “I know: after all that Oprah, I am a massive disappointment to all of you.” Her Majesty did indeed deign to participate in a Q&A with us, but not until after we sat through panels for “Your OWN Show” (10 finalists compete to get their own series on the network), “The Gayle King Show,” and “Our America with Lisa Ling.” After Oprah held court, using what my esteemed colleague Bill Harris of the Toronto Sun referred to as the George W. Bush Technique, which involved offering incredibly lengthy answers in order to minimize the number of questions actually asked.

After the Q&A came to a close (and you can believe that it only ended when Oprah wanted it to end), we were all invited to attend the evening event which, although it was ostensibly brought to us by the OWN Network, nonetheless featured attendees from shows throughout the Discovery family of networks. This resulted in my having close encounters with Mike Tyson, author James Ellroy, and…well, I didn’t actually get to talk to Oprah, but I did stand very close to her (along with Carson Kressley and Nancy O’Dell, hosts of “Your OWN Show”) and breathe the same air as Oprah, so my understanding is that I will now never get cancer…which is nice, of course, but, damn, I really could’ve used a new car.

I know, you wish I’d gotten a new car, too. Don’t be sad, though, as I’m already sad enough for both of us. Besides, I’d much rather you read my selections for the top 10 quotes of Day 2 and leave me wallowing in my own car-less misery. No, don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine…just as long as you don’t forget to come back for my coverage of Day 3.

1. “The one note we did get (for ‘Children’s Hospital’), it was from Warner Brothers…I hesitate to even tell you this, but when we turned in our first script for the web series, Warner Brothers called us up and said, ‘Um, do you think you could cut the shot where we actually see the Twin Towers burning?’ And we were like, ‘Yeah, do you know what? That’s a great note.’” – Rob Corddry, “Children’s Hospital” (Adult Swim)

2. “I actually improvise all my own parts. I don’t know why they hire writers. I enjoy ad-libbing greatly, because I…basically, I can’t remember what the hell I’m doing. What’s the show called?” – Malcolm McDowell, “Franklin & Bash” (TNT)

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American Idol: Seacrest learns to fly

Last night’s “American Idol” results show was as hilarious as it was annoying, but not because of anything that was planned. We’ll try to sum it up quickly….

First, Ruben Studdard, Season 2 champ, sang his new single. Ruben sounded great as always, but didn’t appear to sweat as much as usual. That’s because he’s lost a ton of weight….now he looks like a little mountain instead of a big one. Dude is still BIG, but he’s really tall too. Anyway, Studdard told Ryan Seacrest he’s now a vegan and working out regularly. Good for him, and good for cows and pigs and chickens everywhere. He also announced that he’ll be touring with Clay Aiken this summer, the dude he beat out in Season 2. Hey, why not?

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Better late than never, it’s your Friday and weekend movie news dump

Since I took a day off earlier in the week, I’ve got probably enough material for fifteen separate blog posts, but just one will have to do…

* Since about Wednesday (my day off) items about the upcoming Superman film being presided over by Christopher Nolan have been rolling out. First Latino Review broke the news in Spanglish that writer David Goyer, who has been involved with Nolan’s Batman franchise from the start, would be on board. Now IESB (via Bad Guy Wins) reports what it says are rumors that  the director of the Superman film will be Christopher’s writing partner brother, Jonah, making his directorial debut.

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That seems reasonable enough especially given that Nolan’s going to be busy with the third instalment in his Batman franchise. I get a bit more skeptical about the idea that Nolan will be sticking around to direct the long-mulled Justice League movie which would presumably include the new Supes (whoever he may be; sorry Brandon Routh), the current Batman (just as long as no one gets into his eyeline), and Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern, but I suppose anything is possible.

* I could spend the next week trying to figure this one, but negative PR campaigns against Best Picture Oscar nominees have become de rigeur in recent years and the shrapnel is flying in more than one direction around “The Hurt Locker.” First there were stories from Pete Hammond and a typically voracious Nikki Finke about anti-“Avatar” e-mail blasts by producer Nicolas Chartier. Today there was a far more substantive front page news story in the Los Angeles Times on some disagreements among military people about the film’s putative claims to authenticity. The most serious allegation — which doesn’t appear to be anywhere close to being proven — charges that the crew drove a Humvee into a Jordanian village in order to film angry locals.

Though I think quite highly of Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a frequent guest on Rachel Maddow’s old radio show, I think his criticism is way off-base and was surprised to see him on the anti-“Hurt Locker” side. I don’t think anything in the film indicates that the dangerous-seeking behavior of Jeremy Renner’s character is supposed to be typical, but simply one person’s reaction to an insane situation. Still, it’ s easy to understand why some might kind of forget the movie, though attempting to mirror reality to some degree, makes no claims to being anything other than fiction.

Steve Pond covers the push-back by reporter-turned-screenwriter Mark Boal.

The Hurt Locker

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“A Christmas Carol” wins the weekend, but “Precious” gets the early Xmas cheer

Not quite Jim Carrey in Robert Zemeckis and Disney’s new CGI “A Christmas Carol” was pretty much destined to take the weekend, and it did with an estimated tally of $31 million. However, Nikki Finke noted that the film was expected to make, she says, at least $4 million more. I am inclined to think that the word that this version of Dicken’s holiday classic might be too scary for very young viewers might have given this entry a bit of a winter chill.

Variety, however, added insult to injury and the #1 movie found itself a subhead on its opening weekend. The trade paper of record instead led with the record-breaking per-screen average of the first new Oscar contender of the winter season, Lions Gate’s “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire” which only placed 13th on the Box Office Mojo charts with an estimate of $1.8 million — but did so with an truly awe-inspiring per-screen average of $100,000 on 18 screens in L.A., New York, Chicago, and Atlanta. For comparison, the week’s second highest per-screen average went to “La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet,” a new dance documentary by cinema vérité legend Frederick Wiseman with $14,000 on a single screen. This is obviously a ridiculously good start for a dysfunctionality-driven drama with some markedly uncommercial aspects to it. I also have to wonder if the theaters it was playing in were somewhat larger than the usual arthouse venues.

The association of “Precious” with after-the-fact executive producers Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, who both literally bought into the film after seeing it but will be reportedly donating whatever money they make on the film to charity, obviously paid off here with largely African-American audiences. There’s little reason, however, to expect that the film won’t “cross over” with all ethnicities thanks to Oscar buzz and mostly great reviews. Still, I’d also argue that more traditional art-house style numbers later in its run are a real possibility. It is worth noting that the nine theaters it’s playing in the L.A. area are demographically fascinating, straddling predominantly black areas and the liberal, indie-friendly west side of town and have me resisting the urge to give you a history of Los Angeles ethnic politics. Somebody knows what they’re doing.

precious

Holding up the #2 spot is, not surprisingly, the Michael Jackson documentary, “This Is It,” which has ridden good worth-of-mouth to drop less than 40% and earn an estimated $14 million on its second weekend. Doing perhaps a bit better than expected, given that stars — at least stars with an average age north of 40 — no longer seem to have much impact at the box-office, the name-laden satirical comedy, “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” managed an estimated $13.3 million in the #3 spot. Considering the $25 million budget, pretty modest for a film with four fairly major actors, and the “meh”-to-sub-“meh” reviews for a movie that should be critical cat-nip, that’s really not bad at all. Being the only new comedy in some time probably helped.

Nipping at the goat-starers’ heels was “The Fourth Kind,” which engages in some “based on a true story” quasi-mock-doc shenanigans. Though I made sport of it last time, there really is a sucker born every minute and enough of them had $10.00 handy this weekend for the science fiction flick to net an estimated $12.5 million. Somewhere, the ghost of William Castle is smiling.

The weekend’s other new release was one-time “Donnie Darko” whiz kid Richard Kelly’s dark science fiction tale, “The Box.” Not too surprisingly, the “Twilight Zone”-like tale fell short of “Paranormal Activity” — hanging in very nicely with an estimated $8.6 million and sure to cross the $100 million mark shortly — and came in at sixth place with an estimate of roughly $7.9 million.

  

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