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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2010 Year End TV Review: Scott Malchus

2010 was another great year of television, despite the fact that most of the new fall network shows were forgettable. While the big four seem to have a handle on coming up with new comedies, they still can’t develop innovative dramas to compete with the cable channels. Fox made an attempt with their excellent “Lone Star,” but viewers stayed away and the series was quickly cancelled (despite support from the network president). With Lost leaving the airwaves, it seems that if you want to watch something other than a procedural, you’ll have to tune to AMC, FX or HBO. That’s not to say that there aren’t some great cop, lawyer or medical shows (“The Good Wife” immediately jumps to mind), but the TV landscape is wide open enough that stories about all walks of life should be able to survive.

Best Drama: Friday Night Lights (Direct TV/NBC)

There was a lot of great drama on television this year (“Southland” was exceptional, “Lost” went out in glorious fashion, “Men of a Certain Age” was moving and effective), but I would be remiss if I didn’t place “FNL” at the top of my list, just where it has been since the show premiered in 2006. It’s hard to believe that this will be its last season. No other show has me cheering and laughing and crying week in and week out. Even during the cringe worthy moments (Julie’s affair with the TA) I can’t bring myself to raise the remote and fast forward through them. I’ve stated time and again on Popdose that this show is the most realistic portrayal of small town life I’ve ever seen on television, with beautifully written and acted characters, smart direction, and perfect music selections to create the mood of each scene (not to mention W.G. Snuffy’s poignant score). I love the Taylors; I love the community of Dillon, Texas; and I love Friday Night Lights.

Best Comedy: Modern Family (ABC)

A tough category. There are so many strong comedies on television right now, including NBC’s Thursday night lineup and ABC’s Wednesday shows. Of all of them, “Modern Family” makes me laugh the hardest; so hard that my wife and I have to rewind to hear the second and third jokes of each scene. With a great cast and insightful writing, “Modern Family” is a modern classic.

Best Reality: The Biggest Loser (NBC)

I generally hate reality shows on network television, however there is something truly inspiring about “The Biggest Loser” that grabs me every week. Here is a series about people seriously having to take back their lives otherwise they could die. The money at the end never seems to be as important as the health benefits they receive. Unlike most of the reality competitions shows, the inspiration that comes from watching “The Biggest Loser” occurs from watching every contestant, not just a select few. Obesity has overtaken our country and the men and women of “The Biggest Loser” prove that you can take back your life and that you are in control of it.

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True Blood: Season 3 – A Preview

On Sunday, June 13, the blood will once again be flowing on HBO as “True Blood,” the series based on “The Southern Vampire Mysteries” novels by Charlaine Harris, rises from its hiatus and returns for Season 3. Since the show made its debut in 2008, the “Twilight” films have become a full-fledged pop culture phenomenon, and The CW piggybacked on their success by adapting L.J. Smith’s “The Vampire Diaries” into a weekly drama for a fang-friendly demo, but neither offers quite the same blend of sex, blood, and beauty with a decidedly dark sense of humor quite like “True Blood” does.

As you may or may not remember, I blogged my way through Season 2 of the series, but while I enjoyed it as often as not, man, was I annoyed by the finale. In fact, I’d forgotten quite how annoyed I was until I went back read my last blog of the season, which closed with these lines:

Obviously, I’ll be back for Season 3, but when I return, I’ll probably still remember how disappointed I was with the way Season 2 ended. It wasn’t bad, but given how great the majority of the preceding episodes had been, it should’ve been a hell of a lot more gripping from start to finish than it actually was.

Ah, yes, it’s all starting to come back to me now…both the memories of the episode and the aforementioned disappointment.

One of the greatest strengths of the first half of Season Two became one of its most profound weaknesses by the end of the 12-episode run: the character of Maryann Forrester, played by Michelle Forbes. There’s no question that Maryann was a great villain when she arrived, but it soon reached a point where it felt like she was only sticking around to keep other storylines moving along. Given that this point occurred well before the season finale, it got to be a bit of a drag. How odd, then, that it should have felt utterly wrong to have killed her in the middle of the season finale, but it’s true: killing her at that point only served to make the remainder of the episode feel thoroughly anticlimactic.

Still, when “True Blood” wrapped up its second season, it did so by unabashedly leaving several storylines fluttering in the breeze, two of which struck me at the time as being more prominent than the others: Sam’s visit to his foster parents, a trip which sends him on a quest to find his real parents, and Sookie and Bill’s date, which kinda sorta results in their engagement but, more importantly, sees Bill captured with a silver chain and kidnapped. When I blogged the season finale, I referred to the latter event as “arguably the least satisfying cliffhanger of the year, since there’s absolutely no reason to think that Season 3 will kick off with the revelation that Bill’s dead,” and although I pride myself on avoiding spoilers, I don’t think it necessarily qualifies as such if I tell you that the season premiere finds Bill still very much undead. As for Sam…well, he’s still on the road, but that’s all I’m willing to say at this point.

We shouldn’t forget, however, about some of the other residents on Bon Temps, LA. You remember, of course, that Jason Stackhouse, in a well intentioned but poorly informed moment, shot Eggs stone dead. Detective Andy, however, covers for him and basically says, “You weren’t here, you didn’t see anything, now move your ass,” but that’s not going to stop Jason’s guilt, nor is it going to serve as a salve for poor Tara’s emotional wounds. Remember, too, that Jessica made the very unfortunate decision to step out on Hoyt in favor of a one night stand…boy, vampires really give that phrase a whole new level of meaning, don’t they?…with a truck driver. Poor bastard. He’s got about as much chance at having a happy ending as Eggs does. And Eric…? I rather expect that he and Sophie-Ann are going to have a serious talk in the very near future.

So what can we expect to see on “True Blood” in its third season, aside from picking up where these stories left off? Well, given that things are reportedly supposed to follow Harris’s Club Dead, it’ll be no surprise to fans of the books to hear that fur will fly in the very near future…werewolf fur, to be precise. I don’t know how much of Sam’s family we’ll end up seeing, but at the very least, actors have been cast to play his father and younger brother; also on the familiar side of things, Alfre Woodard is going to be popping up as Lafayette’s mother. Lastly, there’ll be a bit of royalty this season as well, with Denis O’Hare portraying Russel Edgington, the Vampire King of Mississippi.

Yes, I was disappointed with Season 2, and, no, I haven’t been nearly as excited about Season 3…but, dammit, the closer it gets, the more interested I find myself in wanting to see how things are going to play out, and this trailer upped my curiosity level considerably.

Are you feeling the same way? Feel free to comment below…and, starting on Sunday night, don’t forget to pop back by after each episode and check out the latest entry in our “True Blood” blog.

(Still not sufficiently jazzed about Season 3? Check out our “True Blood” fan hub!)

  

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Greetings to the New Season: The CW – UPDATED

And so we come to the last of the big network upfronts…if, that is, you consider The CW to be a big network. I’m not saying I don’t, you understand. I just mean that there are still some people out there who haven’t yet accepted Fox as being a real network, so you can only imagine what they think of The CW.

But I digress.

Sort of.

It probably is worth noting that, unlike ABC, CBS, NBC, and, yes, even Fox, The CW held their upfront without providing photos, let alone videos, to accompany their new fall series…and since there are only two of them, you’d think they could’ve at least managed to throw together logos for them to serve as preliminary artwork. Instead, I’m stuck falling back on the tried and true network logo.

Yawn.

Okay, sorry, that really was a digression…and, as it turned out, a mostly unnecessary one, since the photos had appeared on The CW’s press site by 10:30 AM EST. Still, that was well after the press release about the fall schedule went out…a press release which, FYI, required two revisions due to various accidental omissions. I’m just saying.

Anyway, on with the show(s)…

MONDAY

8 – 9 PM: 90210

9 – 10 PM: Gossip Girl

TUESDAY

8 – 9 PM: One Tree Hill

9 – 10 PM: Life Unexpected

WEDNESDAY

8 – 9 PM: America’s Next Top Model

9 – 10 PM: Hellcats: a coming-of-age story about Marti Perkins, a young, pre-law student at Lancer University in Memphis, Tennessee. Marti is cool, hip and alt, but her world flips upside down, literally and figuratively, when she loses her scholarship, and realizes the only way she can stay in school is by reigniting her dormant teen gymnastic skills to win a place on Lancer’s legendary cheerleading team, The Hellcats. Against her every instinct, Marti goes for it and makes the squad, and is thrust into a world of camaraderie, backstabbing and the intersection of sports, backroom academia and big money.

Marti’s new roommate, Savannah Monroe, a petite, peppy Texan, is among the diverse cast of athletes, undergrads, family and friends, all set on the sprawling campus of a powerhouse college football program in the deep South. The series stars Aly Michalka as Marti Perkins, Ashley Tisdale as Savannah Monroe, Heather Hemmens as Alice Verdura, Robbie Jones as Lewis Flynn, Matt Barr as Dan Patch, with Sharon Leal as Vanessa Lodge and Gail O’Grady as Wanda Perkins. “Hellcats” is executive produced by Kevin Murphy (“Desperate Housewives”), Tom Welling (“Smallville”), and Allan Arkush (“Heroes,” “Crossing Jordan”). The pilot was directed by Arkush.

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TCA Tour: The Vampire Diaries

What is it about the pilot episodes for vampire series that leave me generally indifferent to them? I’m a sci-fi and fantasy guy from way back, so you’d think it’d be like shooting fish in a barrel for a show about the undead to win me over, but I was underwhelmed when I first screened CBS’s “Moonlight,” and although the feeling wasn’t quite as intense, the sensations were definitely similar after I checked out The CW’s “The Vampire Diaries.” More surprising, however, was that my wife – a dyed-in-the-wool fan of both “Twilight” and “True Blood” – felt the same way I did. I had been resigned to the fact that we’d be adding it to the TiVo queue no matter what my opinion of the series might be, but, no, it didn’t earn much more than a shrug from her, either. It’s clear that neither of us are arbiters of taste for the nation as a whole, however, as the show recently took home the award for Best New Drama categories at the People’s Choice Awards.

Hey, fair enough: I gave “Moonlight” a second chance when it came to DVD, and I’ll do the same with “The Vampire Diaries.” When it comes to TV, I’m always ready, willing, and sometimes even hoping to be proven wrong.

Given that I have no particular frame of reference to the goings-on in the show, I’m having to kind of guess what information that emerged during the course of the show’s latest TCA panel is of particular interest to fans, so here’s hoping that you’ll appreciate some of these facts:

Are we going on see the cork being pulled from the church basement bottle, as it were?

“Oh, you mean the tomb?” asked Kevin Williamson, the show’s executive producer. “Well, you know, quite possibly, yes. I mean, that’s the fun of the back nine (episodes). Yes, Damon has an agenda. He’s going to save Katherine. He’s going to do everything possible he can to get to her. And so, yeah, that tomb is still in play.”

When are you going to explore more into the teacher? Is he a Van Helsing-type, or is he a vampire? Because there’s definitely something with him.

“Yes, there’s definitely something with him,” agreed Williamson. “We’re going to have fun. He just sort of has blown onto the scene, and we haven’t had a chance yet to sort of explore his background and stuff, but in the upcoming episodes, we’re actually going to learn more about him. We’re going to see some of what his past was like and what brought him to Mystic Falls, and we’re going to see what his little agenda is…because, you know, everyone’s got a little agenda.”

“We’re going to meet his wife in flashbacks, played by Mia Kirshner,” revealed Julie Plec, Williamson’s fellow executive producer.

Is Vicki really dead?

“Vicki is dead,” confirmed Williamson. “I’m so sorry. She’s gone. However, she will live in spirit and stuff, and it’s going to take a long time for Jeremy and Matt and his family to truly get over Vicki and maybe possibly start learning the truth about what happened to Vicki. That’s something, I think, Jeremy is going to struggle with. Of course, we now have Matt’s mother coming to town, so Vicki will still be talked about, but, unfortunately, Vicki left us. She was our very first vampire casualty.”

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