Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour: Day 10 – or – The Day Will Hit the Wall

The TCA tour lasts for about two weeks. That’s two weeks away from your family where you’re spending the majority of your time sitting in a hotel ballroom, listening to panel after panel about upcoming TV shows. Don’t get me wrong: I’m enough of a TV geek that I enjoy it from start to finish, but at a certain point, you find that your enjoyment begins to be regularly supplanted by the desire to just grab your shit and go the hell home. As a professional, I do my best to rise above this, which is why I invariably stick it out ’til the very last panel of the tour, but when you start considering the shit-grabbing and home-going more often than you find yourself thinking, “Say, this show sounds pretty good / awful,” this is what is known in TV critic parlance as “hitting the wall.”

And, baby, I have hit it.

When I woke up on the morning of Day 10 of the tour, I had a headache. It was the first time I’d had one since arriving in Pasadena, and, of course, I took it for what it was: a sign that both my body and mind were ready to return to Virginia. Little did I realize that it was really more of a portent of the evil that would cross my path on this day…but we’ll get to that. With a job to do, I popped a couple of Motrin, swigged some coffee, and entered into the day’s panels, which consisted of shows from the CBS family of networks, which includes, of course, CBS (“Chaos,” “Mad Love,” “The Good Wife”), but also Showtime (“The Borgias,” “Shameless,” “Californication,” “Episodes”) and The CW (“Shedding for the Wedding”). There were also executive sessions for the various networks, as well as one for the “Kick Ass Women of The CW,” featuring stars from “Hellcats,” “The Vampire Diaries,” “Nikita,” and “Smallville.”

Looking at the talent list for the various panels, there were certainly people I wanted to chat with, but I’ve always had trouble picking up interviews for Showtime series, a fact which all but killed my chances with many of the most interesting actors in attendance, including Jeremy Irons, William H. Macy, David Duchovny, and Matt LeBlanc. Heck, I couldn’t even pull a one-on-one with Colm Feore, although I did end up chatting with him later in the evening while pretending to be Canadian. (Don’t ask.) But I did at least make it into post-panel scrums for Irons, Macy, and the ever-gorgeous Carla Gugino, so there’s that, at least. And amongst the cast of CBS’s “Mad Love” is the always amiable Tyler Labine, who I’ve been interviewing at TCA since my first tour, when “Reaper” debuted, so he and I got in a good one-on-one.

Most of my afternoon, however, was spent in a funk. Maybe it’s because I’d hit the wall, but I found myself getting progressively grumpier about the way various actors’ personal publicists were acting. One assured me that I could do a walk-and-talk with their client, who was in a rush to get to another appointment, only to promise the same thing to another writer moments later and leave me in the dust. Another deigned to let me do a one-on-one with her client, then – outside of her client’s line of vision – starting tapping her watch ferociously before I’d even had two minutes of conversation. (This was particularly infuriating because the writers before and after me had neither a time limit nor been “chaperoned” during their interviews.) It was also a major bummer that the evening event was an hour-long cocktail party where the attendees were limited to the shows on The CW which were represented on the network’s panels.

Despite my relatively grouchy attitude throughout the day, there were still some highlights on the panels that are worth mentioning, so here they are…

1. Q: Given Charlie Sheen’s antics over the weekend, how would you characterize your level of concern about him, and what is the network doing to help him?
Nina Tassler (with all due sarcasm): Well, I really didn’t expect that question this morning. So I’m just…I’m really taken by surprise. Look, obviously, we’ve thought, and I personally have thought, a lot about this, and we have a high level of concern. How could we not? But I have to speak to this personally first. On a very basic, human level, concern, of course. This man is a father. He’s got children. He has a family. So, obviously, there’s concern on a personal level. But you can’t look at it simplistically. Charlie is a professional. He comes to work. He does his job extremely well. We are taping tonight, and it’s…it’s very complicated, but we have a very good relationship with Warner Bros. I have a tremendous trust and respect in the way they are managing the situation. So, on a personal level, obviously concerned. On a professional level, he does his job, he does it well, the show is a hit, and…that’s really all I have to say.

2. Question: Jason, what about your character (in “Mad Love”)?
Jason Biggs: Without giving too much away, obviously, I have sex with a sheet cake in the second episode.
Sarah Chalke: We weren’t going to reveal that!
Judy Greer: Way to go.
Jason Biggs: I don’t know if that’s a spoiler alert. Sorry, guys.
Judy Greer: That’s the cake we used for what’s her name’s birthday? Just kidding.
Jason Biggs: Yes. Yes, it was.
Judy Greer: I had a piece of that!
Jason Biggs: No. There are some situations. I wouldn’t say they are exactly, you know, akin to some of the I mean, let’s be honest. Those were very R rated, and some pushing NC 17 scenarios.
Matt Tarses: He loses his pants in Staten Island.
Jason Biggs: But I do lose my pants in Staten Island. So you do see me pantsless, which I think is what my fans demand of me in general and but yeah, there are some I mean, Matt has written, for all of us, some kinds of crazy situations. I mean, it’s inherent to this format, I think, is to create situations that are quite comical and kind of crazy. And for someone who can the person that does it right, they are funny, but they are also grounded in reality somehow, and they are with characters that you like and all that good stuff. And I feel like that’s what’s happening here. So, among those situations, which I believe there are some in every episode, one of them I lose my pants in Staten Island. The other one I have sex with a sheet cake.

3. Q: Freddy, describe what happens when you read a script that says, “Next, Rick eats a scorpion.” What was that like? And when you filmed it…I’m sure you didn’t eat a scorpion, but whatever you were holding…
Freddy Rodriquez: How are you so sure?
Q: It looked realistic. You were holding something that was wiggly and scary. Just describe what it was like when you heard you were going to do it and what it was like to do that scene.
Freddy Rodriquez: Well, to be honest, I wasn’t sure what it was going to be when I got there. And when I got there, if you remember, Tom…
Tom Spezialy: Oh, I remember.

Freddy Rodriguez: …it was a real scorpion. I had a slight anxiety attack, to be honest, right? And then I got over it. And then I asked Brett Ratner to hold it. I would do it if he would hold it, and he refused, and we had an exchange. And after a while I got over it, and it was fun. I mean, when I read the script, there were so many great things that my character was doing in the pilot that I had to be involved even if it had to do with holding a scorpion. It was a real scorpion. I think they put Krazy Glue on the stinger, (but), yeah, it was real.
Q: What does it look like to see that thing wiggling in front of your eyes?
Freddy Rodriguez: Scary. It’s scary.
Tom Spezialy: It peed on him.
Freddy Rodriguez: Oh, yeah, it did. At one point in the night, it just…I didn’t enjoy the experience…it started peeing on me. And I didn’t know what it was. I just thought it was, like, spraying me with some sort of poison or…I wasn’t sure what it was, but it was urine.
Eric Close: Are you sure it was urine?
Freddy Rodriguez: Yeah, it was urine. Gave me golden sunshine, I guess.

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TCA Press Tour, Summer 2010: Day 3

Day 3 of the TCA Press Tour continued with the CBS family of networks, offering us a split day between Showtime and The CW…and if I’m to be honest, my enthusiasm was decidedly higher for the former. I’ve made this comment before, but The CW so unabashedly caters to an audience that’s far younger and prettier than myself (or, really, almost anyone I interact with on a regular basis) that it’s hard for me to get but so excited about their shows…but, of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t be reporting on them, anyway. First up, though, is Showtime, which I am excited about. Seriously, it’s reached the point where I’m pretty sure I prefer Showtime to HBO.

There, I said it…and it feels good.

Showtime Introductory Remarks

Matthew C. Blank, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Showtime, took the stage to welcome the assembled throng, then launched immediately into a series of announcements and remarks, including the following:

“Weeds” guest stars: Richard Dreyfuss, Alanis Morrissette, Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Mark Paul Gosselaar, Peter Stormare, and Linda Hamilton.

“Dexter” guest stars: Julia Stiles, Peter Weller, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Shawn Hatosy, and Jonny Lee Miller.

“Californication” guest stars: Carla Gugino, Rob Lowe, Tommy Lee, Zoe Kravitz, Michael Ealy, and Callie Thorne.

Liam Neeson will be joining his former “Kinsey” co-star Laura Linney for an episode of her new Showtime series, “The Big C.” Also guesting on the show: Cynthia Nixon and Idris Elba.

The network has committed to ten episodes of “Web Therapy,” a comedy developed by and starring Lisa Kudrow.

“Nurse Jackie” and “United States of Tara” will be both be returning for third seasons, as will “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” for Season 4.

Producer John Wells is premiering his new Showtime series, “Shameless,” starring William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum, on January 9th. Also coming in 2011 is “The Borgias,” starring Jeremy Irons and created and executive-produced by Neil Jordan, who’s directing the series’ first two episodes as well. The trailer for “Shameless” looks like the start of another great dysfunctional-family drama for Showtime, and…well, actually, I guess you could say the same of “The Borgias,” although they haven’t really filmed enough of it yet for us to get much of a feel for it. Most of what we were shown was interview clips with Irons and Jordan and footage from the photo sessions for the series, so all I can really confirm is that it looks awesome…but, then, what else would you expect from the network that brought you the gorgeousness of “The Tudors”?

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TCA Tour: Showtime Executive Session

You’ll have already seen my story about Showtime greenlighting “The Borgias,” which I posted because it was easily the biggest news within the network’s executive session, but Robert Greenblatt, Showtime’s President of Entertainment, did have a few more things to say during his remarks…and these are some of them:

* First of all, it must be said that Greenblatt had us from “hello,” offering an opening which couldn’t have been more perfectly designed for his audience. “I’m glad this is the first day,” he said, “because it’s so great when you guys are not sort of at the end of the rope here after rolling your eyes from all of what we’re saying to you, and I hope I can engage you enough today, because I’m sure all of you are just waiting for tomorrow’s NBC presentation. I’d love to get my temporary TCA card so that I could sit in on tomorrow’s session.”

* Coming soon is Showtime’s first foray into the world of traditional reality series. Get ready for “The Real L Word of Los Angeles,” which Greenblatt says will be on the air probably this summer. “We’ve just cast those women,” he said, “so at some point we will parade them in front of you for some kind of grilling…and I mean ‘parade’ in the best sense of the word.”

* When discussing the network’s new series, “The Big C,” a dark comedy starring Laura Linney as a woman dealing with a diagnosis of stage-four cancer, Greenblatt said, “I hope you all got our press announcement yesterday that we greenlighted a series about a character facing a terminal illness; I just want to make it clear that we have not picked up ‘The Jay Leno Show.'” Ouch…and ho, ho, HO!

But seriously, folks, Greenblatt says, “We look at the show essentially as a wake-up call as she begins to kind of look at her life and decide how she’s going to live it for the last amount of time that she has, and I think in the best possible world here, I think what we’ll do with this show is humanize the dilemma of her illness. Obviously, the show will walk the line between drama and comedy, and I don’t think there’s anybody better who could do that than Laura Linney. We’ve also surrounded her with some extraordinary people, an ensemble of great actors: Oliver Platt plays her husband, and we have Gabourey Sidibe, who’s the star of ‘Precious,’ who’s in the show as well.”

The pilot for “The Big C” was directed by Bill Condon, who already has experience with directing Linney and Platt from when they all did “Kinsey” together. We aren’t yet privy to the entire pilot, alas, but Greenblatt offered us a sizzle reel from it, and it looks really good, but for my money, no line topped this one from Linney to Sidibe: “You can’t be fat and mean. You can either be fat and jolly or a skinny bitch. It’s up to you.” The network has ordered 13 episodes, and the series goes into production as soon as Linney finishes her current commitments at the Manhattan Theater Club, with a premiere planned for later this summer.

* Greenblatt also spoke briefly about “Episodes,” the network’s new comedy, which was announced a few months ago. Created by David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik, the series is about a British couple who have a hit series on the BBC and, when an American TV network comes to them and convinces them to come to Hollywood and do an American version of their show, Hollywood just systematically destroys the show.

“Not,” added Greenblatt, “that that would ever happen at Showtime.”

Although “Episodes” won’t actually begin production until the spring, the producers thoughtfully put together a short piece to give us an idea of the flavor of the series…and it was funny. As you may have heard, the series will start the former Joey Tribiani, Matt LeBlanc, who will play himself as the woefully miscast star of the show within the show, and the piece showed us what he had to go through to get the part. (“I’d be playing myself, and I have to read? Fuck Showtime!”) Production on the series starts in late spring, and Greenblatt hopes the series will be on the air in the fall…and if it maintains the tone of what they showed us, then so do I.

  

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Showtime greenlights the perfect series to replace the outgoing “Tudors”

During his welcoming remarks to the Television Critics Association, Robert Greenblatt – President of Entertainment for Showtime – revealed that the network has decided what will take the place of “The Tudors” when the series completes its run at the end of its fourth season.

Get ready for…”The Borgias.”

Greenblatt joked that they wanted to give fans of Showtime’s current period piece the opportunity to enjoy another “demented dynasty,” and, boy, do the Borgias fit that bill. Adultery, theft, rape, bribery, incest, murder…yep, sounds like a premium cable series to me.

“We think it’s a pretty dynamic story to dramatize,” said Greenblatt. It must be: not only will Neil Jordan serve as the executive producer (he will also direct the first two episodes), but “The Borgias” has drawn Jeremy Irons to play the role of patriarch Rodrigo Borgia. Plus, in a nice bit of torch-passing, Michael Hirst – one of the primary behind-the-scenes players on “The Tudors” – will be working on series as well.

“The Borgias” is scheduled to premiere on Showtime in the spring of 2011.

UPDATE – Showtime has issued its formal press release about the pick-up the series, describing “The Borgias” as “a complex, unvarnished portrait of one of history’s’ most intriguing and infamous dynastic families. The series begins as the family’s patriarch Rodrigo (Jeremy Irons), becomes Pope, propelling him, his two Machiavellian sons Cesare and Juan, and his scandalously beautiful daughter, Lucrezia, to become the most powerful and influential family of the Italian Renaissance. And all that power and influence eventually leads to their demise. As Machiavelli once said about his friends, the Borgias, ‘Politics have no relation to morals.'”

Greenblatt also offers this further quote:

“Having blazed a trail with the award-winning ‘The Tudors,’ we wanted to continue to offer our audience a period drama as wicked, witty, and utterly compelling — and that’s what ‘The Borgias’ will be. I can guarantee you’ve never seen a family quite like this before, nor could you make up the outrageous twists and turns of their epic saga if your life depended on it. The directorial mastery of Neil Jordan along with Michael Hirst’s flair for bringing historical dramas vividly to life for a contemporary audience will make ‘The Borgias’ unlike anything else on television.”

  

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