TCA Tour: A Chat with Chi McBride of “Human Target”

You know when Chi McBride is at one of Fox’s TCA parties because you can smell him. Not him personally, but, rather, his omnipresent cigars. When he was at the tour in the summer of 2009 to preview the network’s then-upcoming series, “Human Target,” I ran into him smoking a stogie with Ron Perlman of “Sons of Anarchy.” The scent stuck with me, so when I stepped into the Fox party at the winter tour and caught a whiff of cigar smoke, I immediately followed it to its source and soon sat down for…

Chi McBride: How are you?

Bullz-Eye: I’m good. I hope you saved one of those for Ron Perlman. I remember last time around…

CM: Yeah, you know what, I’ve got a couple with me, so… (Trails off) Is Perl here?

BE: He’s supposed to be.

CM: When he gets here, I’ll make sure he gets one. (Grins and puts his cigar case back in his pocket)

BE: Well, last tour, I talked to Darryl Bell.

CM: Did you?

BE: Yep. We were talking about “Homeboys in Outer Space,” and he said you had a chat with him after you had gone through “The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer.” He said you just told him, “Look, everyone who is criticizing what you’re doing would take your job from you in two seconds. This is one blip on both of our careers, and we are moving on.”

CM: That’s the way I looked at it, you know what I mean? I knew what I was doing, and I knew what I wasn’t doing, you know? People had to say whatever they had to say about it. You know, everybody thought my career was over but me. I said something that my old, wise aunt always told me: “Boy, this, too, shall pass.”

BE: So how did “Human Target” come on to your radar? Was it pitched to you?

CM: Well, what happened was… (Hesitates) You know, what’s funny about it is, it was the first thing I read during pilot season. But, you know, it was the first thing that I read, and what happened was, there wasn’t anything in it for me. Winston was this British character, and the guy was kind of a nervous Nelly kind of guy. So I told my agent, I said, “Listen, there is nothing in this for me, but if somebody does it right, this could be a good show for somebody. Good luck to them.” And, you know, as time progresses during the pilot season, people’s names get bandied about on all different kinds of projects. And I started hearing that people wanted to talk to me about a variety of things. So one of the meetings that I took was with Jon Steinberg and Peter Johnson, the producer and creator of “Human Target.” So we met and we talked about it, and I said, “Well, I’ve got to tell you: there doesn’t really seem like there is going to be a lot to do for me in this, so I don’t know that I’m that interested. And as far as the British accent…I mean, I can do it, but it just seems to be that for the sake of it.” And he agreed. And I told him, “You know, the way I would want to approach it is that I was a guy who was ex-law enforcement, you know, and there is something about my past on the force that I got into this business.” But I didn’t want to, as an actor, be stuck behind a desk. But I wanted the character to feel like this was his chance to be stuck behind a desk with a nice cushy job, getting plenty of money…and that’s good. And that he would end up going out in the field in a sort of “just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in” kind of thing. And that’s the attitude that Winston has toward going out in the field, but he goes out there and he definitely shows his skill set. You know, the thing about Winston that you’re going to learn is that his temperament is not what it seems. He’s a guy who doesn’t have an off switch. And that’s one of the other reasons why he wanted to get out of the chasing-guys-down business. So it’s going to be really interesting. And we agreed on all of these things, and they decided that they wanted us to work together. And you know, I’ve got a wonderful relationship with Warner Brothers Television, so they signed off on it, and here I am.

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TV in the 2000s: 15 Shows Canceled After Appearing in Bullz-Eye’s TV Power Rankings*

*Probably Coincidentally

Back in 2005, Bullz-Eye kicked off a regularly-recurring feature that’s become a staple of our site: the TV Power Rankings, which gives us a chance to offer up our opinions once every six months on the best that television has to offer. Now that we’re looking back at the entire decade in our TV in the 2000s feature, however, it gave us an opportunity to look back at all of the shows that have appeared within the Rankings over the course of its history, and when we did, it was a little eyebrow-raising to see how many of our favorite programs bit the dust almost immediately after receiving accolades from us. We’re pretty sure their cancellations weren’t our fault…or, at least, not entirely. Anyway, take a look back through the list with us, won’t you? If nothing else, it shows that we’ve got good taste, even if the average viewer doesn’t always share our opinions.

1. Arrested Development (Fox, 2003 – 2006) – “Even if this is indeed the end for one of Fox’s all time greatest shows, it is better to have loved and lost…oh, the hell with that, Fox is freaking nuts if they cancel this show.” So said David Medsker in February 2006. But did they listen to him? They did not. “We’re not ones to buy into the whole dumbing-down-of-society thing,” Medsker added, “but if this show gets canned while ‘According to Jim’ lives on, maybe there’s something to it after all.” Oh, yeah, there’s definitely something to it: “According to Jim” stayed on the air until June 2009.

2. Deadwood (HBO, 2004 – 2006) – When it was announced that Season 3 would be the last for the semi-historical look at the wild west, there was really only one name that John Paulsen could call the folks at HBO. We probably shouldn’t use it here, but if you need a hint, it starts with a “C” and rhymes with “sock pluckers.” “Everything about the show – the language, the acting, the story, the sets and the costumes – is colorful,” Paulsen observed in February 2007, “and whether or not HBO wants to admit it, they’re going to miss ‘Deadwood’ once it’s gone for good.” They must’ve been in some serious denial, then: creator David Milch reportedly agreed to do a proper wrap-up of the series through a pair of “Deadwood” movies” for the network, but things never really got beyond the discussion stage.

3. Invasion (ABC, 2005 – 2006) – The fall of 2005 was a good time in prime time for sci-fi fans, with each of the big three networks offering up an entry from the genre, but by the spring of 2006, their cheers had turned to tears. NBC’s “Surface” was permanently submerged after 15 episodes, while CBS’s “Threshold” crossed the point of no return after only nine episodes had aired. Give ABC some credit, however, for at least sticking with their entry for the full 22. “’Invasion’ started slowly, but has steadily ramped up the creepiness,” said John Paulsen in February ’06, acknowledging that, although it gave its audience lots of questions, at least it was providing them with more answers than “Lost” was. Unfortunately, there was still plenty to be answered when the show was canceled, and things got even more depressing when Tyler Labine talked to Bullz-Eye about what might’ve been. “(Creator Shaun Cassidy) had written this bible for the show, and he had written this amazing five-season arc,” said Labine. “We were just floored. Our jaws were literally on the floor after he explained it to us. We were, like, ‘Wow, we’re on for a really great ride!’” What a shame for us all that the ride ended as quickly as it did.

4. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (NBC, 2005 – 2006) – Well, you can’t say that we weren’t honest about offering up both the pros and the cons of Aaron Sorkin’s behind-the-scenes look into a late-night comedy series. “The show is pompous, unrealistic and ridiculously left-wing,” admitted Jason Zingale in February 2007, “but it also makes for some damn good television.” Unfortunately, with an awful lead-in – seriously, who thought that pairing the show with “Heroes” was a good idea? – “Studio 60” didn’t develop enough of a following to earn a second season.

5. Rome (HBO, 2005 – 2007) – In its first season, “Rome” turned up at #18 in the Power Rankings, but by the time Season 2 aired, it had leapt to #6. Not that such success earned the show a third season (it was apparently ridiculously expensive to produce, which you can absolutely believe if you’ve ever seen it, but at least the news of its cancellation came in time for John Paulsen to register his annoyance within the February 2007 Rankings. “As it turns out, ‘Rome’ isn’t the heir to the throne of ‘The Sopranos,’” he wrote. “Instead, sadly, it’s a bastard stepchild, just like ‘Deadwood.’” Creator Bruno Heller was probably even more pissed than Paulsen, having mapped out his vision of the series all the way through its fifth season, but as recently as December 2008, Heller was still sounding optimistic about the chances for a “Rome” movie. “I would love to round that show off,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. Hey, we’re behind you 100%, Bruno.

6. Four Kings (NBC, 2006) – If you don’t remember this sitcom, you’re forgiven, as it premiered in January 2006 and was gone by March. Still, it made enough of an impression to earn Honorable Mention status in the February 2006 rankings. “Four Kings” was created by David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, the duo behind “Will and Grace,” and featured Seth Green as one of its cast members, so you might think it surprising that it was off the air within seven episodes (and with a remaining six episodes still unaired). Looking back, however, the fact that the greatest praise Jason Zingale could heap upon the show in his write-up was that “it’s a worthy quick-fix until NBC finds a better alternative” should’ve given us a clue that it wasn’t long for this world.

7. Jericho (CBS, 2006 – 2008) – It was the little show that could, our “Jericho.” It started with an awesomely dark premise – a nuclear bomb goes off in the U.S., and we view the repercussions through the eyes of a small town in Kansas – and, after figuring out its direction (the attempts to meld some “Little House on the Prairie” aspects to the show were soon phased out), the series found its footing, kicked some creative ass, and was promptly canceled. But what’s this…? The show’s diehard fanbase made enough noise (and sent enough nuts) to get the show a 7-episode second season which lived up to everyone’s expectations and then some. Too bad the same couldn’t be said for the ratings, but those who actually tuned in for Season 2 know how many twists, turns, and outright shocks it included. There’s still talk of a possible “Jericho” movie. We can only hope.

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“Heroes” directors talk “Fugitives,” fans, and (Bryan) Fuller

The return of “Heroes” from its mid-season vacation is coming up fast…the show returns with its latest saga, “Fugitives,” on Monday, February 2…and the folks working behind the scenes are excited about it, even if some of the fans are less than thrilled with the way the show has been progressing in its third season.

“Part of the fun of being a fan is the grousing,” acknowledged Allan Arkush, who not only serves as one of the show’s directors but also as an executive producer. “That’s certainly one of the biggest functions of the internet: to be a place where you can get pissed off and show it. But I thought Tina Fey was pretty funny about it on the Golden Globes. I mean, I didn’t disagree with her point of view on it! It’s fine, but I’ve been reading a lot of reviews of the Season 2 DVDs, and people have been saying, ‘Well, when you look at them in a row, it’s a completely different experience, and now I see how the whole thing is threaded together!’”

Arkush doesn’t tend to read the negative press in that much detail, but he did take particular issue with Entertainment Weekly’s recent smackdown of the “Villains” episode.

“I thought it was way off mark,” he said. “They said something about how it was one of the worst episodes of the year of any show, and I thought, ‘That’s not true at all! This is actually a really good episode!’ It was the one where we went back and showed how Sylar met Elle and showed what Arthur Petrelli had done, and I thought it was fun to kind of go back and see how all of that happened and see parts of their lives that we hadn’t seen, but they said, ‘Oh, it’s a very contrived concept.’ I liked it. It was one of my favorite episodes of the year!”

It’s fair to say, however, that just about everyone – not just fans, but, indeed, Arkush as well – is excited about the return of Bryan Fuller to the “Heroes” family. (Granted, they’re probably not that thrilled that it took the cancellation of “Pushing Daisies” to get him back, but you take the good with the bad.)

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TCA Tour, Jan. 2009: ABC newsflash

Stephen McPherson, President of ABC Entertainment, just emerged onto the stage – after having the Jonas Brothers as his opening act, no less – and offered up the following tidbits of information:

* McPherson wouldn’t commit to when or if the remaining episodes of “Dirty Sexy Money,” “Eli Stone,” and “Pushing Daisies” would air. Maybe this is just my perception, but his comments about his regret that they couldn’t give the producers enough time to wrap up their series properly made it sound like he was saying, “If we had, then we’d probably work a little harder to get them on the air, but since we didn’t…”

* As to the “Scrubs” ratings, he’s thrilled for Bill Lawrence and all the guys on the show. “It’s been great for us,” he said. “Another year…? It’d be tough without Zach (Braff), but Bill and I are talking about it.” The talks, however, would seem to be contingent on how the ratings continue to be, so if you’re watching, don’t stop!

* ABC is not going to be picking up “King of the Hill.”

* “Samantha Who?” has frustrated the network with its numbers, but they’re trying to figure out a second series to serve as a solid comedy block.

* The odds of “Life on Mars” returning for a second season seem to be slightly better than even money. McPherson admits that, as far as his ratings expectations for the series, “the bar is not very high,” given that they’ve always battled with getting ratings in the post-“Lost” timeslot.

* As for the end of “According to Jim,” McPherson thinks this is probably the final run, “but we should probably leave that open.”

* With “Private Practice,” he thinks they’ve “really found the show” this season. “I think we’ve really upped the stakes as far as the quality of the medical stories we’re telling,” he said. “We’re really pleased with the numbers.”

  

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2008: The Year in TV – Will Harris

Once the writer’s strike was over, the television industry got back to business with a vengeance, offering up quite a lot of high quality material…so much, in fact, that my TiVo is STILL loaded down with shows I just haven’t had the time to watch. Seriously, I’ve got three episodes of “My Boys” that I’ve been sitting on since July. There just aren’t enough hours in the day…and I’m a full-time TV critic, for God’s sake! But here’s at least some of the stuff that I dug and despised during the course of 2008…and sometime around 2012, maybe I can offer up a complete picture of 2009.

TOP 3 SHOWS

1. “The Big Bang Theory,” CBS

No other sophomore series came roaring out of the gate like this one. Fears that the show had already jumped the shark by getting Leonard and Penny together were dismissing before the end of the second-season premiere, the addition of Sara Gilbert to the cast was an added bonus, and the suggestion that Sheldon is a sex object to physics geeks is almost too funny for words. Mark my words: this is the year that Jim Parsons earns his first Emmy nomination.

2. “30 Rock,” NBC
There’s no truth to the rumor that you can’t be a member of the Television Critics Association if you don’t like “30 Rock,” but, really, what’s not to like? Tina Fey is both gorgeous and hilarious, Alec Baldwin can’t open his mouth without getting a laugh, and, come to think of it, there’s really no-one in this ensemble who isn’t funny. So why do they keep bringing on all of these guest stars? Beats me. But since they incorporate them so well into the episodes, it’s hard to complain.

3. “Life on Mars,” ABC
When I did my 2008 Fall TV Preview, I hadn’t yet seen the pilot for this series, but if I had, it would’ve beaten out “Fringe” for the top spot on my list of new shows I was most excited about. Rising above its “based on a British series” origins, “Life on Mars” has one of the strongest casts on television (Jason O’Mara, Harvey Keitel, Michael Imperioli, Gretchen Mol, and Jonathan Murphy), a great premise (a police detective gets knocked unconscious in 2008 and wakes up in 1973), and – perhaps most impressively – managed to survive its network’s recent purge of quality dramas. For God’s sake, don’t let it go the way of “Pushing Daisies.” If you haven’t watched it yet, it’s not too late.

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