TCA Press Tour, Summer 2010: Day 1

Welcome back, my friends, to the experience that has been lovingly described as being “like the Bataan death march, but with cocktails.” I speak, of course, of the Television Critics Association press tour…but, then, if you’re a regular reader of Premium Hollywood, then you already know that I visit California twice a year – first in January, then in July – in order to get the details on what new programs the broadcast and cable networks will be bringing you over the course of the next six months. Myself and my TV critic peers will be spending the better part of the next two weeks in a big ballroom at the Beverly Hilton, watching and listening as the casts and creators of the various new series trot onto the stage, answer our questions and address our issues, and make room for the next series. Then, at the end of most evenings, there’s a big party with most of the folks we’ve seen during the course of the day, and we get the opportunity to chat one on one with as many of them as we can wrangle. Oh, sure, there are free drinks to be had, but when you’re trying to play the part of a proper journalist, you can’t indulge but so much…well, not ’til you’ve gotten all of your interviews, anyway.

Fortunately, the first day of the Summer 2010 TCA Press Tour started slowly, providing visits to the sets of a few series, a trip around the Warner Brothers studio lot, a ride on the latest addition to the Universal Studios tour, and – to ease us in slowly – only two proper panels. We did, however, get a few Q&A ops while at the various sets, some of which were decidedly more impressive than others.

“Desperate Housewives” set visit

Having never watched a complete episode of “Desperate Housewives (I rather expect I’d like it, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day to play catch-up at this point), I had no personal investment in visiting the set for Wisteria Lane, but when you’re a heterosexual male and you’re presented with the opportunity to stand within a few feet of Eva Longoria Parker, you don’t turn it down.

Unfortunately, it took us for-freaking-ever to finally make our way to the set, as our bus driver apparently had no clue as to its whereabouts, aside from the fact that it was located somewhere on the Universal Studios lot. As a result, instead of getting to enjoy a leisurely breakfast on the set before beginning our interaction with series creator Marc Cherry and members of the show’s cast (Longoria Parker, Felicity Huffman, Marcia Cross, and new addition Vanessa Williams), I got off the bus and barely had a chance to grab a cup of coffee and a bagel before the proceedings had begun.

Cherry and the cast appeared, cheerily greeted the assembled critics and thanked us for coming to the set, then split the group, with Huffman and Williams setting up camp in one house and Cherry, Cross, and Longoria Parker in another. Even if Eva hadn’t been in the mix, I knew from previous TCA experience that Cherry is always entertaining, so I followed him and his Housewives inside to hear what they had to tell us about the upcoming season of the show. At first, Eva was going to speak to what we could expect from Gabrielle’s storylines this year, but she stumbled almost immediately, admitting that she couldn’t remember what Cherry had told her she could say and what she couldn’t.

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“Where the Wild Things Are” rides atop the box office.

Where the Wild Things AreAt least this week I have some company in being a bit off the mark.  The estimated grosses for Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers’ adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” overperformed the most optimistic assessments and nailed an estimated $32.5 million. So says jolly Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter, as the significantly less jolly Nikki Finke factually reminds us that Warners chose to push the film as more of an adult picture. The decision certainly seems to have paid off.

It seems likely that the approach widened rather than narrowed the potential audience (parents with kids were likely to show up regardlesss) and added to the “cool” factor, with Cinemascore indicating that younger adults actually seem to enjoy it more than those over 25. In any case, as past somewhat deceptive campaigns I can think of attest, a certain degree of honesty in movie marketing may actually be the best policy.

Also earning more than expected is Overture’s poorly reviewed violent thriller “Law Abiding Citizen.” The macho appeal of the revenge/serial killerish premise, bolstered no doubt by the familiarity of stars Gerard Butler and  Jamie Foxx, proved fruitful with roughly $21.2-3 million estimated, depending on which sites you read.

Colm Meany, Jamie Foxx, and Gerard Butler in

In the #3 spot, “Paranormal Activity” continued to do extremely good business for Paramount with the week’s highest per-screen average ($26,530), netting an estimated $20.1-2 million on only 760 screens, still a fraction of the number of theaters showing competing flicks. As for the small discrepancies in these figures, looking at the numbers provided by Finke, DiOrio, and the Box Office Mojo chart, it sure looks like the glass-half-full DiOrio is rounding up while the glass-half-empty-and-shattered-beyond-repair Finke is rounding down.

Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell in
Though it has precisely zero appeal for yours truly and got almost uniformly bad reviews, audiences are being kind to troubled Universal Studios and Peter Billingsley, the now grown-up star of “A Christmas Story,” with his feature film debut as a director, “Couples Retreat.” The relationship comedy held well and lost a very respectable 47.7% from its opening week, earning an estimated $17.9 million in its second week. Not too surprisingly, then, the #5 spot went to the PG-13 rated horror remake, “The Stepfather,” with an estimated $12.3 million. In this climate, it might have done a bit better if it held onto the R-rating of the original. Lesson for Sony: If you’re making a horror picture, throw in a few extra f-words and maybe a c-word if you can manage it, just for safety.

On the limited release front, “An Education” had a very good weekend. The Nick Hornby-scripted period memoir adaptation from Swedish Dogme alumna Lone Sherfig, making her English-language directorial debut, earned $505,000 in 19 theaters. The Coen Brothers’ adventure in domestic Judaica,  “A Serious Man,” performed its due box office mitvot with an estimated $860,000 in 82 theaters. The #2 movie this week in terms of per-screen average after “Paranormal Activity,” however, was the critically lauded Chilean drama, “The Maid.” True, that terrific $18,000 was on only one screen, but for a satirical drama from Chile, it’s a success worth noting.

Finally, I have to demand that my brothers and sisters in L.A., Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Seattle get down to their local theaters and see the blaxsploitation parody par excelance “Black Dynamite,” post haste. The film earned what a less jolly Carl DiOrio termed a “mild” $2,014 average on seventy screens for an estimated total of $141,000 for Sony’s Apparition films.  Not horrible, but not what a powerful brother like Mr. Dynamite (absolutely no relation to Napoleon D.) so powerfully deserves! And if I read one more blog commenter saying this movie has already “been done” via the disappointing “Undercover Brother” or the pleasantly fun, but not nearly so brilliant, “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” I’ll know the Man is up to his usual tricks and it’s time to take back the movie theaters!

BlackDynamiteMovieStill

  

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