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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A visit with “Brothers”

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I’m no Hollywood insider. Nikki Finke does not rely on me for her tips and I don’t ever expect to attend the Vanity Fair Oscar after party. Nevertheless, there’s one thing I do know about show business: personality goes a very long way in “this town.” And so a few of us press people recently found ourselves the subject of a 50 megaton charm offensive by the four stars of the new Fox sitcom, “Brothers” — C.C.H. Pounder, Carl Weathers, and Daryl “Chill” Mitchell, and one extremely enthusiastic newbie, former New York Giants Defensive End and Fox Sports commentator Michael Strahan. I haven’t seen the show itself yet, which premieres tonight at 8 p.m./7 central, but the visit was certainly a performance I won’t be forgetting.

From long-time writer-producer Don Reo, whose credits run from “M*A*S*H” to “Blossom” and “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Brothers” stars Strahan as a former NFL star who winds up moving in to the house he bought for his parents when a financial reversal puts him in the metaphorical poorhouse. Since this is a sitcom, naturally there will be conflict with his brother, played by Mitchell, and the usual issues with parents Weathers and Pounder. One ace the show will be playing will be guest appearances by some fairly big names playing themselves, including former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, hip-hop star T-Pain, celubutante Kim Kardashian, and the great Clarence Clemons of the E Street Band. Also appearing will be well actress Tichina Arnold from “Chris” and, not playing himself, rap superstar Snoop Dog. Stand-up comic Lenny Clarke will be playing a neighbor on the show.

The show has been getting some additional attention for a perhaps less fortunate reason, in that while African-American actors are featured in more diverse roles these days, it’s the only current show on the networks schedules with a predominantly black cast. That’s largely a reversal of the trend of the past when the vast bulk of decent TV parts for nonwhite actors were on shows like “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times” as well as some of the later, more controversial shows aimed at black audiences like “Martin.”

The first to meet the press were Carl Weathers, perhaps still most famed as Rocky Balboa’s venerable opponent, Apollo Creed, and C.C.H. Pounder, who is taking a break from her usual intense, gravitas-laden, roles on shows like “The Shield” and seems to be enjoying every minute of it. In fact, I’m here to tell you that extremely skilled Ms. Pounder is downright bubbly in person. You heard me, “bubbly” — but in a very smart sort of way.

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The mood was light right off the bat with more than one of us entertainment journos confessing a complete lack of knowledge of sports and Ms. Pounder joining in. Weathers was the exception. “Well, I played for the Oakland Raiders so I hope I know a little bit about football.” And that somehow prompted an impersonation of Butterfly McQueen from “Gone with the Wind” from Pounder. I guess you had to be there.

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Catching Up With… “Lie To Me”

I enjoyed the pilot episode of Fox’s “Lie To Me,” but I’ve been struggling with this season’s plethora of scheduling annoyances – seriously, has there ever been a year when this many good shows were being pitted against each other? – and haven’t been able to catch it since then. I’m pleased, then, that the network has decided to provide the series with a new timeslot on Wednesdays at 8 PM, where I can actually watch it once in awhile. (I can wait on “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and “Gary Unmarried” ’til they get a DVD release, I can just read Mike’s recaps of “The Chopping Block,” right?)

According to Fox’s blurb on tonight’s episode…

“Lightman (Tim Roth) and Foster (Kelli Williams) investigate the disappearance of an 11-year-old girl who may have been murdered. Meanwhile, Loker (Brendan Hines) and Torres (Monica Raymund) must determine whether a famous peace activist is who she claims to be and if her bestselling memoir is true, but Loker’s attraction to the socially conscious woman may be clouding his assessment of her.”

Having already seen the episode, I can tell you a few other things as well:

* Lightman makes the girl’s parents cry before the opening credits roll.

* When handed a huge roomful of people who claim to have tips on where the girl is, he proceeds to narrow down the population to a far more manageable level with two quick statements.

* By episode’s end, we have learned a great deal more about Foster’s personal history, along with why she feels so strongly about this case.

* Loker attempts to offer up a compliment to the aforementioned peace activist. When he feels the need to explain to her how he means it, you will laugh and cringe simultaneously…and you will feel the same effect later in the episode, when he attempts to get his copy of the woman’s book signed.

* Alison LaPlaca guest stars as the woman questioning the veracity of the activist. You may remember her as one of Rachel’s bosses on “Friends” (Joanna, the one who utilized a pair of handcuffs on Chandler), but when I saw her, it just made me realize that “The John Larroquette Show,” where she served as the female foil, really needs to come out on DVD.

* Despite Loker’s initially poor abilities of flirtation, you will probably feel rather sympathetic for him by the time the end credits roll.

Yep, “Lie To Me” is as imminently watchable as I remembered it…possibly even more so, given that the producers seem to be doing a really solid job of spreading the wealth amongst the characters rather than turning it into “Tim Roth and Friends.” Be sure to tune in at 8 PM…yes, that’s 8 PM…so you can enjoy it as much as I did.

  

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