Bullz-Eye’s TCA 2011 Winter Press Tour Wrap-Up: Kneel Before Oprah!

The TCA Winter Press Tour is an event which never quite seems to live up to the TCA Summer Press Tour…but, then, that stands to reason, as the mid-season series rarely match the ones which hit the airwaves in the fall, right? Still, the experience never fails to be one which I enjoy, mostly because you never know what’s going to be around the corner, and Day 1 really set the stage for that: during the course of 12 hours, I interviewed Betty White, Henry Rollins, and Bruce Jenner, and, thanks to National Geographic, I wore a giant snake around my neck. Not a bad way to begin things…

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Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour: Day 11 – or – The Day The Tour Ended

As I start this write-up of the final day of the Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour, it actually still is the final day of the Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour. Normally, I don’t start these things until the next day, after everything that’s going to happen has happened, but the last panel of the tour wrapped at around 2 PM PST, so as far as I’m concerned, I’m officially off-duty. The only thing left for me to do is pack my bags, grab some food, have a few drinks with friends, and catch my shuttle to LAX…and, yet, I thought about it and decided, “Since I’ve actually got the time to do it, maybe I should go ahead and write up the last few panels before I ever leave Pasadena.”

Makes sense, right? That way, there’ll be nothing hanging over my head to finish when I get home, and I can enjoy at least a day or two of much-needed downtime.

Unfortunately, none of the transcripts are online yet, so you won’t be getting any exact quotes unless the fine folks in the transcription department manage to get them knocked out between now and 2:00 AM (that’s when I have to head down to the lobby), so you’ll just have to make do with a few random recollections for now, and I’ll play catch-up when I’m home, rested, and ready to write again.

Even before John Landgraf took the time to do a teleconference with TV critics to explain why FX had to cancel “Terriers,” I’ve thought he was one of the nicest and most approachable network presidents. Mind you, I blame this really just on one experience with him, when he made good on a promise to reveal the producer who was working on a rewrite of FX’s “Powers” pilot (Kevin Falls, who may or may not still be involved at this point), but the “Terriers” move was a classy one that just helped to underline how I already felt. He sounds hopeful that “Lights Out” won’t follow the same path in the ratings as “Terriers,” and, boy, so do I. I’ve seen the first five episodes of the show already, and I’m loving it.

Next up was Louis CK, who couldn’t have sounded more grateful about the way the critics have embraced his series…but, then, he was probably already beaming from the praise that had just been heaped on him by Landgraf in his introduction. We didn’t really get much of an idea what to expect from Season 2, which stands to reason, since he hasn’t even started production yet. The funniest moment came when FX exec John Solsberg invited all of the critics in the audience to visit the set, something which clearly hadn’t been mention to Louie, who shot him a tremendous “what the fuck?” look.

Even after talking to Elijah Wood at the Fox party the other night, I still couldn’t quite wrap my head around what to expect from his new sitcom, “Wilfred,” about a man who, when he looks at his neighbor’s dog, sees a man in a dog suit who talks in an Australian accent. (It’s based on an Australian series, with the same actor – Jason Gann – playing the dog in both.) Having now seen the pilot, though, I was rather surprised to find myself laughing a lot. It’s absolutely as ridiculous as it sounds, but Gann is hysterical, so I’m now curious to see if it’s going to be more than just a one-off. Of the panel, I really just have one immediate observation: Fiona Gubelmann is cute as a button and has legs that go on for miles.

The last of FX’s panels was for “Justified,” but even with a huge panel, I couldn’t help but notice one face missing: Elmore Leonard, the author responsible for creating the character of Marshall Raylan Givens. As it turns out, he’s been so inspired by the show that he’s now in the middle of writing a brand new novel entitled…you guessed it…Raylan. In his absence, though, Leonard offered a statement in which he raved about the show, particularly the performance of Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens. Funnily enough, though, Olyphant wasn’t asked a question until well into the proceedings, a fact which he noted with mock indignation. (“It’s like they got together and said, ‘Hey, nobody ask Walt (Goggins) or Tim a question. Fuck those guys. Fuck those guys. Nobody say anything to them.’”) I really need to finish catching up on this show before Season 2 kicks off, because I love all that I’ve seen thus far.

After FX’s panel, the network provided us with a free lunch, along with the opportunity to chat with several stars of the shows. I had ridiculously bad timing whenever it came to trying to grab members of the “Wilfred” cast for interviews, but I was pleasantly surprised to see Holt McCallany, who plays Patrick “Lights” Leary on “Lights Out.” Fantastic guy, and we had a really nice conversation about the show and how his character develops over the course of the episodes I’ve seen thus far. He swears the best is yet to come.

Okay, kids, I’m tired of waiting for the transcripts to come in, so I’m…

Dammit! That’s what I get for checking: they all just came in at once. Okay, fine, I’ll offer up a few quotes to close up my coverage. I hope you’ve enjoyed getting my perceptions of this strange event known as the TCA Press Tour. Stay tuned for my final wrap-up sometime soon…and look for further adventures during the 2011 Summer TCA Press Tour!

“What I felt about ‘Terriers’ was that the audience that was watching it, which included many of you and hundreds of thousands, actually, ultimately, in total viewers, millions of people at home, I knew they were going to be really disappointed it wasn’t moving forward, and I thought that they deserved as clear an explanation I could give them as to why it wasn’t, and a chance for you, as their representatives, to sort of have at me and ask why isn’t it coming back and for me to explain myself. I don’t know why networks haven’t done that before. I’ve never done it before. And I guess maybe it’s just that I’m now coming up on seven years in this job. And in seven years, you have some great successes and moments of exultation, and you have bragging rights, and then you have some failures. And I think you just get used to the rhythms of both in your work and eventually you get to the point where you’re capable of embracing your failures, learning from them, and talking about them. I think most programming executives are just fundamentally too insecure or too defensive to get to that point. And maybe I’m just old enough and I’ve been doing it long enough that I can take that tag.

“I think there’s always been a disconnect, unfortunately, between audience taste and critical acclaim. I think in those rare circumstances where you all have near unanimity and are willing to stand up on a table and shout, ‘This is the greatest show of all time,’ I think you guys can move the needle. But I think the reality is that you disagree with each other most of the time. Unanimity is rare, and most of you don’t feel you want to stand up on a table and shout even if you like a show, so you have to raise a huge din. You did raise a huge din on ‘Mad Men,’ and what that did — ‘Mad Men’ has become, by our analysis, literally the most critically acclaimed series in the history of television. (You have) taken it from a dismal ratings failure to ratings mediocrity.” – John Landgraf

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TCA Press Tour, Summer 2010: Day 8

Much as the CBS family of networks split their efforts into two days worth of panels – one for CBS, the other for Showtime and The CW – so did Fox give us some breathing room by placing their presentations for FX’s slate of new programming on a separate day. (I wish to God NBC / Universal would take a cue from their peers. I’m so sick of being rushed through a mishmosh of NBC, USA, Bravo, and SyFy series in one long can’t-stop-won’t-stop day.)

Executive Session

Your personal mileage may vary, but for my money, John Landgraf is one of the nicest network heads currently in the game. He’s very low-key, but he’s always ready to give you a quote when you’re looking for one. Today, he offered up the following bits and pieces about the future of FX.

* “Louie” has been renewed for a second season of 13 episodes.

* Ben Garant and Tom Lennon, late of “Reno 911!,” are going to do a pilot for FX called “The USS Alabama.” It’s another partially-scripted, partially-improvised series, and, according to Landgraf, “It takes place in space on the USS Alabama with a crew of spacefarers who might not be too much brighter than the cops in ‘Reno 911!’”

* There are two other pilots in the works as well, the first being “Outlaw Country,” which will star Mary Steenburgen. “Some really talented young actors have joined that cast,” said Landgraf. “That goes into production in, I think, six weeks. It’s a fantastic script. Something we’re really, really excited about.” The other is “Wilfred,” a comedy pilot based on an Australian comedy series, which completed principal photography last week.

* The “Damages” deal done with DirecTV is different from the one that was done with “Friday Night Lights” in that FX will not be offering up the episodes after they’ve run on DirecTV. “The season that has aired, which was the third season of ‘Damages,’ is the last season it will air on FX,” said Landgraf. “For us, we’re also producers on ‘Damages.’ We’ve been co-owners and co-producers through FX Productions, and DirectTV felt very strongly. They were willing to underwrite it, and to a very substantial amount financially, they enabled it to move forward. That was the deal that Sony worked on very aggressively, but they wanted it exclusively, so this was really the best and only way for ‘Damages’ to move forward. So we stepped aside as a network entity, and we’re still involved as a production entity.”

Sons of Anarchy

I don’t know that there’s any series currently on the air that I feel worse about not watching than “Sons of Anarchy.” Everyone tells me it’s fantastic, I have every reason to believe that those people are right, and yet I just haven’t had the time to go back and revisit the show’s first two seasons. But that won’t stop me from bringing you the info that creator Kurt Sutter and his cast provided to us during the show’s panel, of course.

As far as the “big bad” for Season 3, as it were, Sutter says, “We have a couple dual storylines going in Charming and as well as in Belfast, but I guess if you had to pin it down to one specific adversary, I would say that it’s probably the Titus Welliver character, Jimmy O.”

What of the theme of the new season? “I don’t know if there’s one specific overriding theme,” said Sutter. “I think the theme is always about family and Jax sort of defining his role as a father and as a partner and as a son and as a member of this club, and the Abel storyline drives us through pretty much the entire season, and…I don’t want to give anything away in terms of what that means and where that takes us, but, you know, the thing is our seasons, the actual span of time within our seasons is very short. It’s potentially a couple, two or three weeks. So there isn’t a lot of time that passes where you can have a lot of things unfold organically. So it is a very concentrated period of time which I think helps feed, I think, the sense of urgency for the tasks that they have at hand this season.”

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