Bullz-Eye’s TCA 2010 Summer Press Tour Wrap-Up: From the Big Bang to the Jersey Shore

He’s back.

That’s right, the summer 2010 press tour of the Television Critics Association – that’s TCA to you, see? – has come and gone, leaving in its wake a piece that I love to compile but hate to finish. It’s just that kind of experience: there’s always something else to write about.

I know I say this every time, so you’d think my mindset on the tour would’ve changed by now, but I still continue to get excited when I fly to California and spend the better part of two weeks ensconced in a hotel, watching and listening as closely as possible (which, admittedly, isn’t often as closely as I’d like) to various stars, directors, producers, and writers as they do a dog and pony show to promote their program. I know they get sick of it sometimes, but for my part, I still haven’t. I spend the better part of 48 weeks of the year in Chesapeake, VA, a place where I do not regularly cross paths with the people that you see on your TV screen. As such, I remain excited about the opportunity to participate in these ridiculously cool opportunities, and I still feel like I have to share the experience with you, the reader, lest they begin to seem normal to me.

It’s not normal.

It’s the TCA press tour.

And trust me, unless you’re actually in show business, life doesn’t get much less normal than this.

Most entertaining panel by a broadcast network: “Circus,” PBS. Given the subject matter of the series – yes, it really is about the circus, specifically what it’s like to be part of a traveling circus in 2010 – it wasn’t entirely surprising that the panel kicked off with acrobat Christian Stoinev demonstrating some of his gymnastic abilities, but that didn’t make his performance any less impressive.

Plus, he earned bonus points for incorporating a cute little dog named Scooby into the act, who jumped onto Stoinev’s butt, strolled down his back, sat on his feet, and looked as calm as possible as Stoinev balanced semi-precariously on his parallel bars.

Most entertaining panel by a cable network: “Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town,” IFC. When I walked into the ballroom and found that we’d all received autographed DVDs of the Kids’ latest endeavor, I thought, “Can it get any better than this?” (I’m a sucker for anything autographed.) Indeed, it could, as the Kids – minus Mark McKinney, who’d been called back to Canada because of a family emergency – held court and kept us in stitches.

Some of my favorite moments:

QUESTION: How long had it been since you had cross-dressed professionally before (“Death Comes to Town”), and was that sort of a difficult readjustment for any of you?
SCOTT THOMPSON: Define “professionally.”
QUESTION: With a large crew.
SCOTT THOMPSON: Oh.
DAVE FOLEY: Not just any exchange of money.
BRUCE McCULLOCH: So if you shoot porn with a small crew, that wouldn’t count…?
KEVIN McDONALD: That’s not cross-dressing professionally.
DAVE FOLEY: Yeah. If you put on a nice shirt and give a handjob at the bus station, that still is professional.
SCOTT THOMPSON: Yes, it is.
BRUCE McCULLOCH: And by “handjob,” we mean “Bible reading,” as we like The Bible.

* Dave Foley on the audience response to Scott Thompson’s cancer being in remission: “I’m getting a sense that a lot of these people are on the cancer side. Well, I hope you are proud of yourselves. ‘Oh, dammit, not another one beating cancer. Poor cancer. When will people learn to love cancer?'”

* Scott Thompson: “I had a much easier time making (‘Death Comes to Town’), even though I was fighting cancer, than I did with ‘Brain Candy,’ honestly. It was tougher to fight Paramount. Because, at least with cancer, you can win.”

QUESTION: Do you find that people, when they see you, wanted to just squash your head? Because, like, I’m sitting here, like, resisting.
DAVE FOLEY: Yeah, a lot of time it has no reference to that gesture. It’s people actually want to crush our heads.
KEVIN McDONALD: The first apartment I ever moved to in Los Angeles, 1996, I was in bed the first night, and a couple were having a fight in the floor above me. And he was crying, “I’m going to crush your head,” and I thought they were fans, but it turned out they weren’t.
DAVE FOLEY: Yeah, it was a bloody homicide.
KEVIN McDONALD: It was a bloody homicide, yes.
DAVE FOLEY: But still, you felt flattered.
KEVIN McDONALD: But still, I felt flattered.

* When asked about their current relationship with Lorne Michaels, who introduced them to the U.S., McCulloch said, “I watch him get a haircut once a year when I go to ‘Saturday Night Live,'” while Foley claimed, “I chill his Amstel Light.” (“And drink it,” added McDonald.)

* Kevin McDonald made the bold choice of using the word “guff” at one point, receiving no end of ridicule from his fellow Kids. “It’s a tough word,” said McCulloch,”I know it’s tough to hear.” Thompson gasped and shrieked, “You said ‘guff‘!” Foley, however, offered a practical solution to the assembled journalists. “You can put asterisks in that. Just G-asterisk-asterisk-asterisk for your print,” he said, adding, “Of course, you online media people can just change it to ‘fuck.’”

* “Death Comes to Town” was filmed in North Bay, ON, but Foley said that it was a rarity for locals to come up and acknowledge their recognition of the Kids. “Canadians don’t do that,” explained Thompson. “Yeah,” agreed Foley. “They’d just come up and start talking to you like they knew you. You know, you would be in the grocery store, and somebody would just come up behind you and say, ‘Special K is marked down today. I’m getting the Special K as well. What are you doing later, Dave?’ And that was how you knew they recognized you.”

* The miniseries features Foley playing “the kindly old town abortionist,” which made it a bit difficult to scout for locations. Foley said that they had to keep making up stuff to tell the people of North Bay, saying things like, “Yeah, this scene, it’s a gynecologist’s office,” or “Oh, it’s an obstetrician’s office.” Or, as Scott Thompson claimed, “It’s a very bad day care.” At this, the crowd of critics erupted with a mixture of boos and laughs. “That was good,” Thompson assured us. “That was bad,” Foley assured him. At this, Thompson nodded, grinned, and admitted, “Very bad.”

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Bullz-Eye’s TCA 2010 Winter Press Tour Wrap-Up: Simon Signs, Conan Conquers, and Patrick Stewart Just Plain Rules

The 2010 winter press tour of the Television Critics Association took place at the Langham Huntington Hotel and Spa from January 8th – 18th, which you probably already know from the various postings which were done during and have continued since my attendance at the event. It’s a regular tradition, however, that I do a wrap-up piece which summarizes my experiences during the tour, and since I invariably seem to get a positive response from those pieces, I always try to make it as entertaining a read as possible. Here’s hoping I’ve succeeded as well this time as I have in the past…but if I haven’t, I feel certain you’ll let me know.

Most enjoyable panel by a broadcast network: “Great Performances: Macbeth,” PBS.

I’ll freely admit that I was predisposed to enjoy the panel due to the fact that it featured the newly-knighted Sir Patrick Stewart, but I spoke to others afterwards who declared it to have been the best panel of the tour up to that point. Partial credit for the success goes to the critics in the audience, who consistently offered up intelligent questions about the subject matter at hand…and let me assure you that this is not always the case. Even on an occasion when an attempt at going in a unique direction fell flat, such as when one writer asked Stewart if he was familiar with FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” (it’s been called a Shakespearean saga on motorcycles), it led to the revelation that Ron Perlman has played an interesting place in Stewart’s life. “I was having dinner with Ron Perlman the day that I was offered Jean-Luc Picard in ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation,’” he said, ‘so I have always looked on Ron as being a lucky omen. So you mentioning his name today, I hope, means that the rest of the day is going to be brighter than it begin.” At the very least, Sir Patrick’s remarks during the panel brightened mine.

Most interactive panel by a cable network: “The Choir,” BBC America.

Gareth Malone is a man on a mission to bring music to those who may not think that they have an interest in it, creating choirs in various schools in England and helping the youth of today raise their voices in song. We soon discovered that this extended to television critics as well. “In England, everyone knows that when I enter a room, everyone’s going to sing,” Malone began ominously, “so I would like to invite you to leave your Apples and come up onto stage, and we’re going to have a little singsong.” The immediate reaction was less than enthusiastic, with at least one person piping up, “It’s against the bylaws!” Malone would not be denied, however. “It will be very brief,” he assured us. “I’ll be very, very, kind. I promise not to do opera. Honestly, it’s going to be very, very gentle. I promise. Risk it. There won’t be very much. Typists, abandon your typing!” In the end, he managed to get a couple of dozen of us up there…yes, I was among the huddled masses…to perform a not-as-bad-as-it-could’ve-been chorus of “Barbara Ann.” As there is neither an audio recording nor a YouTube clip to prove otherwise, you may feel free to believe that I personally sounded fantastic.

Best intro to a panel from a cable network: “Dance Your Ass Off,” Oxygen.

All I know about this show is what I’ve learned from watching clips on “The Soup,” but when a panel starts off by having its panelists literally dancing their way down the aisles and onto the stage, at the very least, it gets your attention.

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Bullz-Eye’s TCA 2009 Summer Press Tour Wrap-Up: Cougars, Muppets, Vampires, and Gordon Ramsay, Too!

God bless the TCA Press Tour, where the television industry gives critics from throughout North America the opportunity to play with the folks who live and work in Hollywood. The tour allows us a remarkable amount of access to the stars, producers, directors, and writers of the various shows currently taking up residence on the various cable and broadcast networks. Yes, while I may spend 48 weeks out of the year feeling like a nobody, for those four weeks – two in the summer, two in the winter – which are taken up by the tour, I’m at least made to feel like I’m a somebody. (Really, though, I’m not anybody.)

This was the first time the summer tour had been held after Comic-Con rather than before, so there was a certain amount of grumbling about the fact that the fans were getting a certain amount of information that would’ve ordinarily gone to the critics first, but it must be said that the networks did a pretty good job of pacifying us. And, besides, aren’t the fans supposed to come first, anyway?

Although the content that I managed to accrue during the course of the tour will continue to come your way for quite some time to come, what you see before you is a summary of the highs and lows of the event, mixing stories you may have already read on Premium Hollywood with many that I simply haven’t had a chance to discuss yet. As ever, it was a heck of a good time, full of the kind of moments that leave me grateful that I managed to get that journalism degree from Averett College back in 1992, pleased as punch that Bullz-Eye and Premium Hollywood have given me the opportunity to cover the tour, and, most of all, that there are lot of great readers out there who seem to enjoy the tales I bring back from these strange TCA adventures that I’ve embarked upon.

Let’s get started, shall we?

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TCA Tour: “NCIS: Los Angeles” set visit

I’m a big fan of CBS’s “NCIS,” but I’ll freely admit that I didn’t get in on the ground floor. I didn’t find my way into the series until the second season of the show was released onto DVD, but once I started working my way through the set, I found that it was almost impossible to stop. Ever since then, I’ve been making it a point of watching the show…though, of course, I’m far from the only one at this point. Back then, it was still kind of an under-the-radar series, but, really, how far under the radar can a show possibly fly when the USA Network is running three back-to-back episodes every weeknight?

This heightened off-network profile, combined with the remarkable accomplishment of having its new episodes grow in popularity with each subsequent season, is no doubt why CBS has decided that the time is finally right to gift the show’s fans with a spin-off: “NCIS: Los Angeles.” It’s probably also why the new series has no less than three instantly recognizable faces – Chris O’Donnell, LL Cool J, and Oscar winner Linda Hunt – within its cast.

It’s gotta be tough to break out from a series like “NCIS,” where the fans are about as die-hard as they come, but at least the cast is aware of their responsibilities.

“My biggest concern, and I think for most of us, is to please the current ‘NCIS’ fans first and foremost, because they’re very loyal fans and a huge following,” said O’Donnell. “And, you know, if new people tune into the show, that’s great, but I feel more pressure to live up to their expectations than I do maybe to the network or the studio expectations, to be honest with you. I was overwhelmed how many people were watching the show. It was a similar reaction to when I went on ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ and I would go through the carpool line, and every mom wanted to know what was happening in the show. Everywhere I’ve gone this summer, you know, it’s just…I’m overwhelmed. People that I don’t even think watch TV are coming up to me. ‘What’s going to happen? I love her. I love him.’ It’s amazing. You look at the numbers there, and everyone says, ‘Well, his TV numbers are pulling back, and not as many people are watching network TV.’ I’ve got to tell you, so many people are watching ‘NCIS.’ It’s amazing.”

“I think the main thing for us is just approaching it with humility and being clear that nothing is guaranteed and that our job is to do the best work that we can,” said Mr. Cool J. “We depend on Shane (Brennan, the show’s executive producer) to bring the best stories to the table, and then we will try to bring those stories to life in a great way. And I think that that, for us, is the main focus. Obviously, we want to maintain the current ‘NCIS’ fan base and all of those people that are joining the show. We don’t want to, you know, make them have an allergic reaction to what we’re doing on screen. But I think it’s just about having fun. You know, the pressure part of it…I don’t think anyone here is being arrogant. We’re not making any guarantees or predictions for the playoffs. We’re cool. We just want to do a great show, and we hope that you guys like it. That’s the real thing.”

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TCA Tour: CBS Executive Session

Nina Tassler, President of CBS Entertainment, has honored us with her presence this morning at CBS’s TCA day, and during her executive session, she provided us with the following tidbits:

* When word leaked out – that’s hardly the right phrase, since it was actually included in a network-provided schedule, but we’ll go with it, anyway – that there would be a “Mystery Panel” today, hopeful (perhaps overly optimistic) critics began theorizing that it would be for “The Late Show with David Letterman.” As it turns out, it’s actually for CBS’s upcoming revival of “Let’s Make A Deal,” which Nina briefly detailed for us. It’ll be hosted by Wayne Brady and will premiere on October 5th. And, yes, Monty Hall is involved, but only as an executive producer. Come on, though: an old pro like that surely won’t be able to resist rearing his head onscreen once in awhile. I think we can count on him to show up during Sweeps Week, at the very least.

* Of NBC’s great Jay Leno experiment, she says, “Whatever ratings they get, they’re going to declare victory, so it really doesn’t matter.” As far as CBS goes, however, they’re going to stick with the successes of their 10 PM dramas. (Good plan.) She also got a laugh when she admitted that she thought that NBC’s announcement that Conan O’Brien was the new king of late night “seemed premature.”

* Rocky Carroll will be a recurring character on the new “NCIS: Los Angeles,” but Pauley Perrette will be guesting in the show’s second episode.

* There are nine more “Flashpoint” episodes yet to be aired, and they’re still happy with the way the arrangement of airing a Canadian-produced series on American TV. As such, “The Bridge” will be turning up on CBS in the near future as well. But there are no plans yet to produce any further “Flashpoint” episode, although she says they reserve the right to do so.

* As far as “Harper’s Island” goes, it had some online traction and appealed to a niche audience. “The challenge is to find something that can appeal to niche but that has a broader appeal as well,” she said. She was happy with the series, but “it just didn’t grab on to a bigger audience.”

* Apparently, “CSI” fans’ biggest issue with Laurence Fishburne was that he needed to look “more comfortable in his clothes.” You will be pleased to learn that this is being taken care of.

* No plans for any more “Million Dollar Password” at the moment.

* Her one-liner about Ben Silverman’s departure from NBC: “”I’m really just a D girl, so I wouldn’t comment.”

  

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