A Chat with Rizwan Manji, Parvesh Cheena, and Anisha Nagarajan (“Outsourced”)

Although I mentioned in the intro to my chat with Ben Rappaport that my encounter with him at the 2011 Winter TCA Tour was the first time I’d ever spoken with him, it was not the first time I’d talked to a cast member of “Outsourced.” I had the pleasure of speaking with Rizwan Manji and Parvesh Cheena back in August at the summer TCA tour, and having enjoyed watching the ensemble of the show really come together since then, I took advantage of the opportunity to talk to them again. It was an added bonus, however, that the lovely Anisha Nagarajan, who plays Madhuri on the series (and who I’d not met previously), happened to walk up while we were chatting. All three were jazzed about the way “Outsourced” has been coming along and, perhaps more surprisingly, are actually kind of excited about their new 10:30 PM timeslot, which takes effect tonight.

One housekeeping note: there are a couple of questions within the piece which were asked by my TCA compatriot Bill Brioux, who has a great and appropriately-titled site called TV Feeds My Family. Poor Bill was forced to battle his way through the last half of the tour with an excruciating case of laryngitis, and he asked if – in lieu of trying to croak out all of his questions – he could piggyback on a couple of my interviews, so if you should happen to be one of the few people who reads both of us, let me assure you that any crossover between our pieces on “Outsourced” is totally authorized.

Bullz-Eye: You and I first met back in the summer, for the initial “Outsourced” panel. Are you nervous about being back amongst the critics?

Rizwan Manji: (Laughs) You know what? We’re very excited to be back. We’re glad that we’re still here and that we’re doing so well, so we’re very happy about that. Yeah, I think we’re a little bit more relaxed than we were in August. We were very nervous about what we were going to be asked, and we hadn’t done it before. Now, we’re sort of…we’ve gone to a bunch of different events now, so we’re a little bit calmer than we were in August.

BE: Plus, you guys are a hit now.

RM: Yes! We’re very excited about that!

BE: I liked the show from the get-go, actually. I used to work in a call center, so I had a natural affinity to the concept.

RM: So you’re the real Todd, I guess? (Laughs)

BE: Well, I did my best. In fact, I just spoke with your onscreen nemesis a few minutes ago.

RM: You did…? (Cuts eyes suspiciously around the room, then laughs)

BE: You guys really have some great chemistry together, a hero/villain dynamic or whatever you want to call it.

RM: Oh, thank you! Yeah, me and Ben, we have a tremendous time. We actually even live really close by each other, so we actually even see each other on the weekends. My daughter loves him, and whenever she sees him on TV, she’s always, like, “More Ben! More Ben!” (Laughs) She’s two, and that’s what she can come up with. You know, it’s…I’m so thankful that, as you said, the chemistry worked out, because we never auditioned together. It was one of those things where I found out really late in the game, because, as I think I might’ve mentioned to you in the summer, I auditioned for a different part. So when we actually met was the first time we were reading it for the network, and we were, like, “Oh, my God, this works!” So it could’ve gone horribly wrong, or it could’ve been this, and I’m so happy that we have a little bit of chemistry.

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A Chat with Ben Rappaport (“Outsourced”)

The last time I was out at the TCA tour, I talked to Lucas Neff, the star of Fox’s “Raising Hope,” and I was surprised to find that he was fronting a prime-time comedy when his only prior TV experience involved a couple of scenes in A&E’s “The Beast.” Little did I realize at the time that Ben Rappaport, the star of NBC’s “Outsourced,” was coming in with even less of a television background. I mean, literally, it’s “Outsourced,” and that’s it. When I was in Pasadena earlier this month, I managed to meet and chat with Rappaport for a few minutes about the way his series has been coming along and found out his feelings on the change in the show’s timeslot. Fortunately, it sounds like tonight’s 10:30 PM debut is the perfect way to show newcomers to “Outsourced” just how far it’s come since its debut.

Bullz-Eye: I was actually a fan of the show as soon as I heard about the concept: I used to work in a call center myself.

Ben Rappaport: (Laughs) That’s so great!

BE: Did you have any call center experience yourself?

BR: I did not! My aunt works in a call center, but that’s it. I knew nothing about them…aside from, y’know, occasionally contacting one. (Laughs) But, you know, I didn’t know what was behind them, what was on the other end of that phone. It’s an office, and they have their own office politics and culture there.

BE: When the pilot came out, I know a lot of people kind of bashed it, but how do you think the show has evolved since then?

BR: I think it’s evolved big time! I mean, you know, the term “outsourced” was a way for us to get to India, and now I think everybody’s gotten to know our characters and the relationships and the dynamics. It’s stories about what’s happening between these characters. It’s not political. There’s no agenda there. It’s not sarcastic in any way. We’re just telling a story of people in India.

BE: I was impressed with the direction that it took as far as your romantic storyline. I didn’t expect you to hook up with either of your potential romantic interests quite as quickly as you did.

BR: (Laughs) It was kind of quick, wasn’t it?

BE: Yeah. It’s not bad. It was just surprising.

BR: Yeah, but while it was quick, I think there’s still lots of places to go with it. I mean, I think part of the story might be that it was too quick.

BE: I considered that. Just how long-term is the relationship going to be if they’re willing to jump into the physical side of it that quickly?

BR: (Grins) My point exactly! So we’ll see. We have a long way to go, in terms of fleshing out that whole situation.

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Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour: 9 Memorable Moments from Day 9

For all of the panels that NBC-Universal offered us yesterday, none of them were really chock full of memorable quotes, so I thought I’d go a slightly different route with today’s retrospective and just cite some of my favorite moments from throughout the course of the day…and if you think this is mostly just a way for me to avoid having to trudge through the transcripts, give yourself a hearty pat on the back. Give me a break: it’s Day 9, and I’m very tired from arguing with Kara DioGuardi fans.

And on that note…

1. Bravo’s “Platinum Hit” session

You’ve hopefully already read my open letter to Ms. DioGuardi about my disappointment with the way she handled the inevitable question about her departure from “American Idol,” but that wasn’t the only part about the panel that grated on my nerves. One of the other judges on this songwriting-competition series is Jewel, and…okay, first of all, let me acknowledge that I’m not really a Jewel fan and under threat of death wouldn’t be able to come up with a more recent Jewel song than 2001’s “Standing Still,” but even when it comes to artists I do actively like, I don’t enjoy it when they slip into braggadocio. After Jewel dropped these lines during the panel…

* “I was talking to Steven Spielberg…”

* “I bought my house from all my hits.”

* “Bob Dylan took me under his wing when I was about 20. My first record was considered a failure, but he liked it and he was like, ‘Don’t sell out, don’t change, don’t start doing grunge, just do what you do, stay on the road, stay solo acoustic.’ And I did because he believed in me. And Neil Young was the same way.”

…I pretty much tuned out. I’m sure Jewel’s a very talented songwriter, but as I walked away from the panel, it was more with the feeling that she’s much more talented at namedropping.

2. Oxygen’s session for “The Glee Project.”

Actually, I couldn’t tell you a thing that was said during the session. I was too busy looking at the mike girls – they bring you the microphones to ask questions, then take them to the next person when you’re done – who were dressed in cheerleader outfits for the panel. Yeah, it’s definitely time for me to get home to my wife…

3. Keith David talking about the development of his awesome voice during the panel for “The Cape.”

“I was always a second tenor,” said David. “I was never, you know, Alfalfa. But when about 13, and I was a singer before I was an actor, and all I could sing was loud, and certainly I came into this I came into that Alfalfa transition where all I could do…”

At this point, he switched into a wobbly voice… “is talk like that all the time.”

Back to his regular voice. “And then something began to switch, and now I sound like I sound, you know. I’m grateful to be here because I do get a chance to use all you know, in the first episode, I say I’m using my stage voice. Well, you know, I mean, that was one of the when I read the script, that was one of the funniest moments for me because it’s, like, when I’m auditioning for things, many times I’m told, ‘Can you tone that down a little bit? Can you bring that back?’ So this is one of the few times I’m not always told that. That’s kind of nice.”

4. The “Harry’s Law” panel discussing the age of the show’s star.

By the time someone asked about the fact that Kathy Bates is 60 years old, which is pretty elderly when you consider the demos that the broadcast networks tend to look for, she’d pretty well charmed most of the audience. First, she said she decided on doing the show because, in her character’s first scene, “she had her feet up on the desk, she was smoking pot, and watching ‘Bugs Bunny.’ After that, I was in.” Then, when asked if it was hard to sustain her character’s grumpiness, she admitted, “I come naturally to that. Not to be flip, but I can be a naturally grumpy person…and adjusting to the long hours on the set helped that right along!”

When the topic of age was addressed, which series creator David E. Kelley took it in stride. “Not many networks have come to me recently and said, ‘Can you give me a series with a 60-year-old lead?'” he admitted. “But I have to believe that, given the universe of 500-plus channels, there has to be room on the landscape for one. When we landed Kathy to play the character, (NBC) were beyond thrilled. You can say it’s one thing to have a 60-year-old lead. It’s quite another to have Kathy Bates as your lead. So they probably, with a grain of salt, said, ‘Gee, do we want a series with an older actor?’ But once it became Kathy, there was no hesitation whatsoever.”

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Clippin’ Out: “Outsourced” (NBC)

“Outsourced” is NBC’s new workplace comedy series centered around a catalog-based company, Mid America Novelties, that sells American novelty goods including whoopee cushions, foam fingers and wallets made of bacon, and whose call center has suddenly been outsourced to India. After recently completing Mid America Novelties’ manager training program, Todd Dempsy (Ben Rappaport, off-Broadway’s “The Gingerbread House”) learns that the call center is being outsourced to India, and he is asked to move there to be the manager. Having never ventured out of the country, he is unprepared for the culture shock. Overwhelmed, Todd discovers that his new staff needs a crash course in all things American if they are to understand the U.S. product line and ramp up sales from halfway around the world. The sales team Todd inherits includes Gupta (Parvesh Cheena, “Help Me Help You”), a socially awkward employee; Manmeet (Sacha Dhawan, BBC’s “Five Days II”), a young romantic who is enamored with America; Asha (Rebecca Hazlewood, BBC’s “Doctors”), a smart, striking woman who finds herself intrigued by Todd; Rajiv (Rizwan Manji, “Privileged”) the assistant manager who wants Todd’s job; and Madhuri (Anisha Nagarajan, Broadway’s “Bombay Dreams”), a wallflower who suffers from extreme shyness. Todd also discovers other transplants working in his office building, including an American expatriate, Charlie Davies (Diedrich Bader, “The Drew Carey Show”), who runs the All-American Hunter call center, and Tonya (Pippa Black, “Neighbours”), a beautiful Australian who runs the call center for Koala Air. (Premieres September 23rd at 9:30/8:30c)

  

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NBC: What’s New for Fall 2010

MONDAY

The Event (Mon., Sept. 20 @ 9:00 PM, NBC)

* The competition: “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC), “Two and a Half Men” and “Mike & Molly” (CBS), “Lone Star” (Fox), “Gossip Girl” (The CW)

Starring: Jason Ritter, Sarah Roemer, Blair Underwood, Laura Innes, Scott Patterson, Ian Anthony Dale, Zeljko Ivanek

Producers: Steve Stark (“Medium”), Evan Katz (“24”), Nick Wauters (“The 4400,” “Eureka”), Jeffrey Reiner (“Friday Night Lights,” “Trauma”)

Network’s Description: an emotional, high-octane conspiracy thriller that follows Sean Walker, an Everyman who investigates the mysterious disappearance of his fiancée, Leila, and unwittingly begins to expose the biggest cover-up in U.S. history. Sean’s quest will send ripples through the lives of an eclectic band of strangers, including: newly elected U.S. President Martinez; Sophia, who is the leader of a mysterious group of detainees; and Sean’s shadowy father-in-law. Their futures are on a collision course in a global conspiracy that could ultimately change the fate of mankind.

The Buzz: NBC ain’t playing around with this one: the big question of the summer for TV fans has been, “What is ‘The Event’?” Most of those who’ve seen the pilot seem to at least be hooked enough to come back for Episode 2, though I’m sure no one is counting on finding out what ‘The Event’ is anytime soon. On a related note, there’s some very reasonable concern from folks about whether they’re going to be let down by a promising sci-fi pilot that starts strong but then either peters out early in the season or never gets properly resolved before it’s canceled. (“FlashForward,” anyone?)

Pilot Highlight: There are several moments which will have you raising your eyebrows both at what you’re seeing and what it means, particularly the final scene, but the most effective sequence begins when Sean – who’s on a cruise with Leila – returns from a solo outing to find things aren’t quite the same as he left them.

Bottom Line: The rapid-fire back and forth between past and present combined with people getting the sensation that NBC’s trying for the next “Lost” is going to make it a tough sell for some, but, damn, the first episode sure intrigued the hell out of me.

Chase (Mon., Sept. 20 @ 10:00 PM, NBC)

* The competition: “Hawaii Five-0” (CBS), “Castle” (ABC)

Starring: Kelli Giddish, Cole Hauser, Amaury Nolasco, Rose Rollins, Jesse Metcalfe

Producers: Jerry Bruckheimer (“CSI”), Jonathan Littman and Jennifer Johnson (“Cold Case”), KristieAnne Reed (“The Forgotten,” “Miami Medical”)

Network’s Description: a fast-paced drama that drops viewers smack into the middle of a game of cat-and-mouse as a team of U.S. marshals hunts down America’s most dangerous fugitives. U.S. Marshal Annie Frost is a cowboy boot-wearing deputy whose sharp mind and unique Texas upbringing help her track down the violent criminals on the run. The members of Frost’s elite team are Jimmy Godfrey, an East Texas kid who never grew up and is a true American cowboy; Marco Martinez, a good intelligence guy who loves to talk; and Daisy Ogbaa, a weapons/tactical specialist and a woman of few words. Rounding out the cast is Luke Watson, the fresh-faced newcomer, whose Washington, D.C., upbringing did little to prepare him for the Lone Star State.

The Buzz: It ain’t great. For one thing, Bruckerheimer was nowhere to be seen at the panel for the series (he was apparently on the set of the new “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, but he somehow managed to make it in for ABC’s panel for “The Whole Truth” a couple of days later), and then the panel itself was notably shorter than the ones for some of the other new entries on the NBC schedule. Maybe we shouldn’t make too much of either of these things, though. It’s more likely that it’s just a case where the show was too pedestrian to inspire much in the way of unique promotion.

Pilot Highlight: Nothing, really, and I can’t help but recall that I had this same problem with one of NBC’s pilots last year, too. (Would you please rise from the grave and take a final bow, “Mercy”?) Sometimes, a show arrives, follows its formula, and departs without leaving much of an impression. “Chase” is one of those shows.

Bottom Line: Don’t let the Bruckheimer name suck you in this time. “Chase” is the most by-the-book, formulaic cops-and-robbers drama I’ve seen in awhile, with no “hook” to make it stand out from the pack. If “Hawaii Five-0” doesn’t blow it out of the water, then I’ll have to echo Alex O’Loughlin’s sentiments and concede that I’m completely bewildered and have no idea how television works at all.

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