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 – “The Office” set visit

During my time at the TCA Press Tour, I was fortunate enough to visit the sets of two CBS series (“NCIS: Los Angeles” and “Three Rivers“), two Fox series (“Bones” and “Dollhouse“), and two ABC series (“Castle” and “Private Practice”), but when you get right down to it, my excitement level about all six of those sets probably still didn’t equal out to how psyched I was to visit the set of just one NBC show: “The Office.”

It was an absolutely surreal experience to pull up in front of a building in Valencia, CA, and see a sign which read, “Scranton Business Park,” but it got even more bizarre as we stepped into the Dunder-Mifflin warehouse and immediately saw members of the cast milling about. We were quickly divided into small groups and taken on a tour of the actual Dunder-Mifflin office by cast members, and I was fortunate enough to be part of the group led by Angela Kinsey, who plays Angela Martin on the show.

My wife and I met Angela in 2007 when we attended our first TCA Awards ceremony, as “The Office” had taken home the award for Best Comedy Series that year, so I was already well aware that her real-life personality is the polar opposite of her character’s. She’s constantly laughing, and you could tell that, although she was no doubt drafted into the task of giving us this tour, she loves her job and doesn’t mind talking about it in the slightest. It was incredibly cool to be able to see the intricacies of the various certificates on the walls of the office, as well as the personal photos on each of the desks, but I think my favorite moment was when she told us that Brian Baumgartner, who plays Kevin, still has a post-it on his desk that was written during the very first episode of the show. No, wait, I take that back: it might’ve been when she recited back to us the way she used to have to answer the phone when she was an operator for 1-800-DENTIST. Well, either way, it was a real treat to have her give us the tour personally. We were also given the opportunity to take our photo at Michael Scott’s desk, which I absolutely took advantage of, but all things considered, I think I actually might like this shot from Pam’s desk better:

After the set visit, we returned to the warehouse, where we were each presented with our own nameplates which declared us to be Assistant to the Regional Manager of Dunder-Mifflin…and you can bet that mine sits on my desk at this very moment. From there, we were offered coffee and pastries as we sat down for a Q&A with the cast (minus Rainn Wilson, who wasn’t feeling well) and producers of the show.

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TCA Tour – “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson”

When it comes to late-night hosts, I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but…I have almost reached the point where I prefer Craig Ferguson to David Letterman. When it comes to my all-time favorite, I don’t think I’ll ever see a day when Dave will be topped, but there’s just something about Ferguson that comes closer to matching my current sensibilities. In particular, I love the way the guy speaks off the cuff and from the heart. It’s not that other hosts can’t and don’t step outside of the standard talk-show mold to address specific issues of the day, but Ferguson does it every day of the week and throughout the majority of his show, creating a feel of spontaneity where you truly have no idea what he’s going to say next. Plus, he has such a “real person” vibe that you know that, when he does say something, it’ll sound like something that you might say.

Well, you know, if you had a Scottish brogue. And were funnier.

The TCA has had a long-standing relationship with Mr. Ferguson, but I swear to you that his ongoing gesture of buying us pizza whenever we hold our organization’s business meetings has nothing to do with my enjoyment of his show. With that said, however, I can’t say that the messages that he includes with the pizza – like the one below – haven’t made me respect him more. I mean, as someone who has an affinity to the printed word (as opposed to the online word), I have to give him props for this:

Craig stopped by the TCA tour for what was described as an “informal press conference,” which is no doubt why he started the proceedings by saying, “First of all, let me say my wife is standing by me through this very difficult time,” adding that “Buenos Aires is lovely at this time of year.” From there, he was willing to tackle any and all questions that were thrown at him, but before I offer up some of my favorite moments, I must drop this bombshell: he’s considering getting rid of the puppets.

Yes, I know: I’m as upset as you are. And so were many of the others in attendance, several of whom immediately gasped in horror.

“That reaction right there?” said Ferguson. “That’s what I’m looking for: controversy. ‘No puppets? That’s it! To the presses…that don’t exist anymore!’ I don’t know, I’m getting bored with puppets. If I can’t think of anything else to do with them, I’ll have to let them go the way of all flesh.”

As you can imagine, we did our best to pretend that he never made this comment…I don’t think I want to live in a world where “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson” doesn’t provide me with my weekly puppet quota…and instead chose to focus on the funnier and more thoughtful bits of the “press conference.” Here, then, are ten of my favorites…

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TCA Tour: “Glee”

During his executive session at the TCA Press Tour, Fox President of Entertainment Kevin Reilly announced that they’ve finished 13 episodes of “Glee,” assuring us that “the show delivers. It’s fantastic.” While this is exactly the sort of thing you’d expect a network president to say, those of us who caught the pilot episode of the series when it aired earlier this year couldn’t be much more hopeful that Reilly isn’t just talking out of his arse.

It was an interesting experiment for Fox to air the series pilot months before the series was to make its proper debut, but it created the kind of buzz that makes network executives giddy.

“We didn’t really think that a one-time-only play was going to be about ratings,” said Reilly. “It was really a marketing stunt to a certain extent, and it’s something that has ended up being very successful. In fact, it could be the marker for something we’re going to employ more frequently, because our marketing effort in these things get wedged into such a narrow window from the time they’re ready to put out there to the time they air. We wanted people to talk about it and take time to get their heads around it. It did a 4.3 rating ultimately in the Live-Plus-Seven. It’s been sampled by 25 million people between TV, the online site, and Hulu, which has been unbelievably strong. We’re going to repeat it again. We’ve heard the chatter, and the talk continues to get more and more positive.

“We were at Comic-Con last week, which was a stretch for this show,” he admitted. “We were nervous nobody was going to show up. It wasn’t even in the main venue. There were thousands of people out the door, and it was like The Beatles were there. There’s something happening with the show. With that said, we’re both very confident there is a core audience for this show that is going to be there and it will be successful. How much the upside is…? I don’t think we’re looking for this to be necessarily the biggest phenomenon of the fall. It is a little bit of an offbeat show, but we’d certainly love to have it in that square success category. We know it’s a creative success because we’ve now seen the work. So all in all, we like that strategy. It worked very well.”

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TCA Tour: “Lie to Me”

“Lie to Me” is a series which I would’ve watched a heck of a lot more if it hadn’t always been up against a series that I already had an existing addiction to, but every episode that I did see was enjoyable, so I’ve already got my order in for a copy of the Season 1 set, so that I can be properly prepped for Season 2. There’s also another really good reason to be ready for the show’s sophomore outing: they’ve added Shawn Ryan – a.k.a. the man behind “The Shield” – to the series’ production team.

How did such a thing come to pass? In a nutshell, Samuel Baum asked him to join, and although the two hadn’t really known each other, Ryan was swayed both by a sudden opening in his schedule and the company Baum was keeping.

“I came out and helped out a little bit on the last couple episodes as a favor to the studio,” explained Ryan. “I didn’t really know Sam, but I had a couple of my old ‘Shield’ writers who were over there, and I thought, ‘Well, that will be cool.’ I enjoyed it: I got to meet Tim and the rest of the cast, I dug the show. ‘The Unit’ was unceremoniously dumped by CBS, so I suddenly found myself with a little time, and I thought I could bring something to the show. It was something that excited me. You see the actors here: it’s an incredible cast, and I just want to get to know these characters better. And believe me, there’s enough work on a TV show for both Sam and I. So it really is a very cooperative, very friendly relationship. There was no “All About Eve” sort of situation here. There’s plenty for both of us do. In terms of what I think I might bring to it, I think I’m trying to push it a little bit more in a character direction, add a little bit of adrenaline to the show, but really sort of dig deep.”

So by “adrenaline,” are we talking more explosions, or what?

“No, no, I don’t mean that exactly,” Ryan said. ” Listen, the show is ultimately based on a group of scientists. And Mekhi (Phifer) plays a character who is not a scientist. But the fact is they are people who are diving into the middle of charge cases and accusing people of being liars. That can lead to consequences. So I don’t mean adrenaline in a ‘Shield’ sense or a ’24’ sense, but they are going to put themselves in some emotionally and physically harrowing situations at times. And I think the pace of the show will increase slightly. And we have a lot of story to tell, and I just think there’s some juice that can be added to the show in a fun way.”

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