There was a time when the phrase "mid-season replacement" would strike fear into the hearts of TV viewers, with the beginning of every new year serving as a time for the networks to dump leftover series into the laps of unsuspecting viewers, thereby filling the void left by the fall's quickly canceled shows and crossing their fingers that maybe one or two of them might actually prove successful. Nowadays, however, the television landscape has reached a point where time doesn't have the same kind of meaning anymore.
Bullz-Eye's Will Harris is in attendance at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Los Angeles, getting the scoop on what you can expect to see on the small screen over the course of the next few months, and if you take a look at the series being offered up by both cable and broadcast networks in early 2009, you see that the quality is a hell of a lot better than it used to be at this time of year. Not that it's ALL great, you understand....
The Biggest Loser: Final Four:
Last night on “The Biggest Loser,” there was a small bit of redemption. Well, maybe a huge bit of redemption, and a bigger bit of even more gameplay. Here is how it went down….
Host Alison Sweeney told the contestants after the last elimination that there would be a yellow line and a red line at the next weigh-in, meaning two eliminations and the Final Four selection. Then they showed The Alliance, aka Brendan, Patrick and Frado, mouthing off about how the winner of the show was sitting in that room and that it was all working “according to plan.” Bogus!
Then they had to meet up with Alison and Olympic gymnast Nastia Liukin for a Subway-sponsored challenge, an obstacle course with single eliminations per round. Elizabeth was out first, followed by Mark, Ada and Frado. Then it was between Patrick and Brendan, and Brendan won, with the prize being $10K and a whole bunch of sandwiches.
During workouts, Bob singled out Brendan for not giving it his all in recent weeks, and then Bob and Jillian had a campfire chat with everyone, literally, to get a feel for where their heads were at. After that it was time for the “pounds back on” challenge, in which they had to strap on all the weight they had lost, and shed it after various rounds of stepping or running. The winner would get a one pound advantage at the weigh-in, as well as a home gym valued at $25K. Wow. So thankfully the running part helped Ada win, and not one of The Alliance.
Then it was time for the weigh-in. Ada went first and lost 6 pounds, giving her a 7-pound weight loss. Elizabeth lost 4…uh-oh. Mark lost 7, which wasn’t good enough. Patrick lost a whopping 12 and Frado lost 15, after which I started to tell Mrs. Mike that something was wrong–like those guys were taking pills or something to shed extra pounds. I mean, how can they possibly have lost that much more weight than everyone else? So Mark and Elizabeth were below the line but Ada was also in danger. It was time for Brendan to weigh in…would he lose double digits as well? Nope! He lost 5 pounds, which put him below the red line and sent him home. Good freaking riddance, as nice a guy as you might be.
Frado was trying to cheer him up instantly, saying, “Bro, you keep in touch, okay?” as Brendan was STILL ON THE SCALE. I think Frado was inwardly thrilled. So Mark and Elizabeth were below the yellow, and one would be going home. Brendan, Patrick and Ada were Final Four bound.
After Elizabeth and Mark stated their cases, it was time to vote. Elizabeth was below the line for like the ninth time, while Mark was for maybe the first time. And last week he had voted for Frado to stay so that he could compete with him. He was expecting The Alliance to do the same for him. So Ada voted for Mark, because duh, he’s the bigger threat….and so did Patrick, which means so did Frado, but we didn’t have to see Frado’s back-stabbing vote. Mark was pissed, and rightly so. Patrick said, “You would have done the same thing,” but he was wrong about that.
So holy crap, Elizabeth is in the Final Four. That shows what a gameplay-driven season this has become. I mean, seriously, Elizabeth?
Anyway, Brendan has gone from 362 pounds down to 237 so far; and Mark has dropped from 421 to 248. Good for them. And now the Final Four will go home and probably run a marathon before weighing in for the final time, after which America will vote someone off to make it a Final Three.
I so want Ada or even Elizabeth to win now. What do you think? Let me know in the space below and thanks for reading!
A Quick Chat with Joan Rivers: There’s little question that one of the most lively panels during the early days of the TCA tour was the one dedicated to Joan Rivers’ new TV Land series, “How’d You Get So Rich?” Or, if you read my coverage of the panel, you may be more familiar with it as “How’d You Get So Fucking Rich?” But, y’know, that’s Joan for you. You can learn just about anything you need to know about the concept of the series by checking out the link to my panel coverage that I just offered up (though I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there’s a new episode of the series airing tonight at 10 PM EST / PST), but after she held court before the crowd of critics, a few of us actually had a chance to speak to her one on one for a few minutes each.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that, were it a contest to see who got the best pull quotes out of Joan, Joel Keller of TV Squad – who preceded me in speaking with her – would have taken the victory (she hadn’t been aware that David Tutera was scheduled to have his own TCA panel, but when he brought it up, she let fly with her thoughts on him in her usual forthright manner), but I still managed to get a couple of good lines from Ms. Rivers about “Z Rock,” “The Celebrity Apprentice,” and “Rabbit Test,” and the closing moments of our conversation will live in my memory forever.
Bullz-Eye: It’s a pleasure to meet you.
Joan Rivers: And it’s a pleasure to…well, we’ll see.
BE: (Laughs) I’ve got only got a couple of minutes, but I’ll do my best.
JR: Ask whatever you want.
BE: You were talking earlier about your continued relevancy, and I just wanted to say that I’m a big fan of your work on “Z Rock.”
JR: I love “Z Rock.” Love “Z Rock”.
BE: How did that gig come about? How were you pitched the show?
JR: They sent me the pilot. Did you ever see the pilot?
JR: Can’t get funnier. “Stick a Statue of Liberty up your ass.” I mean, I laughed out loud. They said, “Would you do an episode?” I said, “I want to be on it.” I asked them, literally, and that’s how it started. Every time I’m in town and they’re in town and we get together, they put me on. I love the boys; I think Lynne is a genius. And, of course, I can’t remember the other comedian who is so brilliant on it, but…you know, the one that plays the gay…
BE: Oh, right, the bar owner. (Writer’s note: the comedian’s name is Big Jay Oakerson.)
JR: Oh he’s so good. He’s so good. It’s just a joy to work with them. And it’s improvisation. I come out of Second City, you know.
BE: So when you did “The Celebrity Apprentice,” was it always going to be you and Melissa, or did they approach you first? Or even her first?
JR: They approached us separately, but somebody was very smart. There was no mother/daughter team that really works. I think it was the smartest thing they did. I think it brought such another color to the show. The mother/daughter dynamic was obviously one of the high points of the show.
BE: Well, my wife was cheering you on the entire way.
JR: Isn’t that nice?
BE: Yeah, I was in the other room working, and she’s yelling, “You’ve got to come watch. Joan’s got to win! If she doesn’t win, I’m going to need some help!”
JR: (Laughs) Oh, that’s so great. That’s so great.
BE: Was there ever any point where you thought you might not win?
JR: All the time. I did not know, and…no one believes this, but we sat down (during the finale), and I still did not know. I thought he was going to say, “Joan, you’re very good, but you’re too emotional. And Annie (Duke) plays it tough and that’s what business is all about.” But it’s not what business is all about anymore. After Bernie Madoff, no. You play honorably. It’s not lie and cheat and steal to get your way. It’s get it right or don’t get it. So I truly didn’t think I was going to win. And she thought…she stood up. Go watch it. He goes, “Annie,” and she stood up…and then he goes, “Sorry.” It looked like she had osteoporosis. She shrunk.
BE: Joel (Keller from TV Squad) brought up your appearance in PBS’s“Make ‘Em Laugh” special a minute ago.
BE: Did you see the entire special?
JR: I just watched parts of it. You know what the best part of that was? W.C. Fields. He can still make you laugh. And Fanny Brice can still make you laugh. When they’re good, they’re good. I love watching the ones to see why they were great.
BE: Is there any comedian who you would consider one of your peers, who didn’t make it as big as you always thought they should have?
JR: Yeah, there are a couple that didn’t make it as big as I thought they should. David Brenner, I think, should be further along, because his mind is a great mind. There’s a girl named Lynne Kop…uh, from…I’m very bad on names, but from “Z Rock.” Lynne….
BE: Oh, right, Lynne Koplitz.
JR: Right. She is so ready, you know, like a full bloom. And she’s not getting that recognition, and it kills me. If I had a late night show, she would be on it so fast. Yeah, I think she deserves recognition. Lily Tomlin, I think, she went into movies. She took a different turn. I think she was one of the incandescently wonderful on stage.
BE: How do you look back at “Rabbit Test,” which you wrote and directed in 1978?
JR: It’s funny. I think we got a very short shrift. You look at “Borat” and you look at “Brüno” and go look at “Rabbit Test.” It’s just as silly and funny. And the critics…we had one of the mothers in the film, she was having gas, but she took the meal, she wanted to be nice. So she sprayed it with Lysol, and then brought it out. Every critic said. “This is disgusting, this is terrible.” We were too soon. Too soon.
BE: Do you have any idea if it will ever see the light of day on DVD?
JR: Um, probably…not.
Joan’s assistant: Everybody asks that question.
JR: That, and “The Girl Most Likely To…” (which Rivers wrote) is another one that got lost in the shuffle.
BE: Well, it seems like if it does come out, you’d be ready to do the DVD special features.
JR: Oh, you’re damned right. You’re damned right.
BE: And last one, since I know I need to wrap it up: have you ever found it hard to be able to keep your risqué edge in standup, being a female comedian?
JR: Not now. The only good thing about…I said this before, but the only good thing about age is that I get out there and I say I’m working better than I ever worked. That started about seven years ago in Edinburgh. I just said, ‘Oh, what, am I going to censor myself?” I’ve been fired, I’ve been broke, I’ve been bankrupt, I’ve had to go to court to get my name back, I’ve been publicly humiliated. Screw all you. Now I’m going to tell you what I really think about Jennifer Aniston, that little miss boo-hoo. So, no, I don’t censor myself at all now.
BE: Actually, when I was watching your panel, I changed my Facebook status to read, “Joan Rivers is on stage. She has dropped at least seven f-bombs in the last 60 seconds. She is awesome.”
JR: Oh, that’s very sweet. But, you know, fuck is in the vernacular now. It was good enough for Shakespeare. When Jane Fonda can say “cunt,” it’s over. It’s done.
BE: Well, thank you very much, Joan.
JR: You said you’ve got a wife…? Where is your wife? Where is home?
BE: Home is Virginia, and wife will actually be arriving any minute. In fact, I should be getting a phone call from her any time now, saying that she’s at the airport.
JR: Great. Are you going upstairs to your room or staying down here?
BE: I am going to go check out the next panel, whatever it may be.
JR: Oh, I was going to send that to your wife. (Gestures to a rose in a vase, sitting on a nearby table)
BE: Well, I won’t refuse that.
JR: Want to run it up to your room?
JR: Run that right up to your room. Trust me, you’ll get lucky tonight.
BE: (Laughs) Thank you, Joan.
JR: Oh, sure.
A Chat with Darryl Bell of “Househusbands of Hollywood”: It feels a little disingenuous for me to talking up a series which I can’t even watch in my area (Cox Communications in Hampton Roads, VA, has yet to pick up Fox Reality), but as someone who works at home and has a 4-year-old daughter, I respect the concept of “Househusbands of Hollywood” enough to do at least a little bit of promotion for it. I’ve already detailed the TCA panel about the show, but when the opportunity to sit down with one of the cast members – Darryl Bell, late of “A Different World” – became available, I couldn’t resist. In addition to his time spent on the “Cosby Show” spin-off, Bell has worked with Spike Lee and done time on a rather infamous sci-fi sitcom, but he’s still very much a working actor. He’s also the significant other of former “Cosby” kid Tempestt Bledsoe, a relationship which led him to this reality-show endeavor…and led me to my first question.
Bullz-Eye: First off, you two seem to be almost a ringer on the show. You’re not even husband and wife yet!
Darryl Bell: That is a good way to put it, Will. We are the ringers. That’s probably caused the most frequently asked questions, like, “You guys are the only couple who is not married, you’re the only ones without kids, so what are you doing here in a show called ‘Househusbands’?” The short answer to that has been Marilyn Wilson. Marilyn’s a good friend, produced Temp’s talk show. Marilyn and I have been out, pitched shows’ and tried to sell other things. We’ve worked together in that capacity. It was her assurances that we’re trying to do something that’s fun and not trying to ambush anyone or be mean spirited. “Come be a part of this, because we think you guys are hilarious.” Apparently, the more that I have even talked to other friends, they are, like, “Oh, we’ve been saying for years that you guys should have your own reality series, because you are just funny.” It just happened to come in this format. I don’t know that we would have agreed to have done this for anyone else. So, there you go.
BE: It makes it a little hard for me to ask, “Is it weird being a ‘Househusband’?”
DB: And I don’t know what that means for me, anyway, only from the standpoint that people ask me that because I’m on this show. But in terms of work-wise, it’s just like…even in the series, when Tempest was coming back from on location, shooting the film, I was going on location to shoot this show for TV One. That’s really the nature of our relationship. You know, it’s rare that we’ll both be doing something at the same time, but we’re always in this cyclical gig that is being a working actor in Hollywood. That’s just how our lives have operated. I was just saying in another interview, when Brad is off shooting a movie, Angelina isn’t always shooting one. She’s somewhere with the kids. Or when Angelina’s shooting and Brad is somewhere…? That’s just the way it works.
BE: So what kind of husbandly responsibilities do you have? I mean, do you chip in, doing the dishes or whatever when she’s not there?
DB: I mean, I can’t really call it husbandly duties. Our house is not a pigsty, but I can say that some of that is attributed to the housekeeper. You know what I mean? That helps out a lot. I can only say that when I think of that…when anything breaks, like most men, it’s, like, “Darryl, come fix it,” you know? I get that. But as a regular responsibility, that’s not me.
BE: Is there anything you do that would typically be considered a gender-specific thing, something that one would normally expect a wife to do?
DB: For us, no. For us, I guess that’s what has been so good: we have talked about not having an ego about anything. She likes to cook, so she has cooked for me, but I’ve cooked for her, you know? So from a relationship standpoint of view, I can’t say that…we don’t have any specifically defined roles, other than, as many men will find the case, she wanted pets and yet somehow they are my responsibility. You know how that works out.
BE: Hey, I feed our cat.
DB: Exactly, exactly. And what man asks for a cat? That’s just not the way it works. I want a Neapolitan Mastiff, but the reason I don’t have one is because she wanted a cat.
BE: Sure, that seems fair.
DB: That’s a whole different relationship kind of issue, you know what I mean? It’s not specific to the show, but that’s how it worked out.
BE: So is there any interaction with you two and the other couples? Because I literally just got a copy of the screener, so I haven’t seen the show to know.
DB: As actual couples, we don’t get together until the end, but there’s a lot of interaction between the other guys. We get together to do the “man cave” segments together. And we all went on specific outings together. I spent time with Billy, Charlie and Danny spent time together, and Grant and Billy, so individually we did things together that we also shared in that respect. And then we all talked about that, and that was fun. The interactions between us…we all like each other, you know, so it was fun to hang out with each other and get to know each other a little bit.
BE: Did you know any of them beforehand?
DB: No. I’m not sure if anyone else did, but we got to know each other through this. That was really it. I certainly can say that we are now linked together forever. (Laughs) So that’s not a bad thing, they are a good group of guys.
BE: So how much acting do you do nowadays?
DB: Often. All the time. The only reason I’m here is because I had to have another pilot audition moved just to be here. That’s one of the interesting things about the life of an actor, is oftentimes the work we do, you can’t always see, you know? For a pilot that was shot but didn’t get aired, or auditions you’ve got to go on, and development meetings and all this sort of thing. That’s part of the job. You know, when I listen to Ron Howard talk about how “this is a film that was ten years in the making,” I’m, like, well, during those ten years, even though he does a film every couple of years, in between it’s about working on what the next one will be. That’s the life of an actor. When you look at the television landscape now, there isn’t a whole lot of television that you go, “That’s great,” you know? Even film-wise. Look, some of our biggest film stars now are doing television. Kyra Sedgwick is on TV; Laurence Fishburne is on TV; Glenn Close is on TV; Jeff Goldblum is on TV. A lot of our film actors are doing television and doing great work on TV. But with the industry so fractured with all of the channels now, it’s just that finding good work and a good project for you has become increasingly difficult. You’d think it would be easier, but it actually has become more difficult. So what can you do? Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I’m getting ready to shoot a new pilot for a talk comedy genre show next week. So we’ll see how that works out.
BE: Is that for TV One?
DB: TV One is the other project. This isn’t necessarily for TV One, although they are one of the folks that we have talked to about it. But we’ll see what happens.
BE: I want to ask you about a couple of other things you have done.
BE: How did you get involved with “School Daze”?
DB: I was a student, came home for the weekend, saw Spike Lee at a screening of “She’s Gotta Have It,” I asked him for a part in his next film, and I got it.
BE: Wow, it was that easy?
DB: That is the abbreviated version, but that is basically what happened. “She’s Gotta Have It” was playing on 68th and Broadway in Manhattan. I ended up there as a result of a fight with my girlfriend at the time. Because I was at Syracuse…I left school to drive down to where she lived in Brooklyn, which was in the deepest part of Brooklyn, and she wanted to go see “She’s Gotta Have It.” I’m, like, “It’s only playing in Manhattan. It took me four hours to get here, and now we’ve got to drive another hour to get it?” And so it led to this big fight. Needless to say, she won and we were on our way to Manhattan to go see “She’s Gotta Have It.” When I got there, Spike was outside selling t-shirts. I asked, “How much are the t-shirts?” They said, “Ten bucks.” I said, “Well, that’s too expensive for a t-shirt,” and they said, “Well, what would you like?” “A part in his next movie.” “Go ask him.” So I did. I told him they were too expensive, and he said, “Are you an actor?” I said, “Well, sometimes.” He said, “You either act or you don’t.” I said, “I do.” Spike gave me his address, told me to send him a picture and a resume. I didn’t have an agent, wasn’t acting. I was an economics major on my way to work for my father’s brokerage firm in New York. And I got back to school, got a friend of mine who was a photography major to take head shots for me, sent them to Spike, got an audition and booked it. So I left school to go do “School Daze,” and after “School Daze,” the movie wrapped up in May, which is when I should have graduated. Instead of going to summer school, I had planned to come to Los Angeles for the summer. I came to L.A., my first month here I witnessed a freeway shooting, I was in an earthquake and caught the chickenpox. So there you go, that was my introduction.
BE: Welcome to California.
DB: Yes, exactly. And then right after that, in August, September…you know, right for pilot season in 1987, which was the regular television cycle at the time…they were casting for “A Different World.” And I never looked back.
BE: Nor should you have.
DB: I’ve been fortunate. I have been very lucky.
BE: You know, I have to ask about “Homeboys in Outer Space.”
DB: Yeah, go.
BE: When they first pitched you the show, how did they pitch it to you?
DB: The original script for “Homeboys” was very clever. And it was satirical and it was funny, because one of the biggest fans of “Homeboys” was Roseanne Barr. I remember talking to Roseanne, she came up to me and said, “You know, the problem with ‘Homeboys’ is that they went cartoonish. It should have been satirical like ‘In Living Color,’ then it would have been great.” That was the original plan, but as often happens, shows take on a life of their own. Once we got started, we did one episode where we went to the planet of whatever, and there was a network executive who said, “That’s the show!” And the next thing you know, we were going to “The Planet of…” every week, and the comedy would ensue. What’s interesting is that I remember when I was concerned about it, I called Dr. Cosby to ask him, “What do you think?” He said, “It’s not the worst thing on television, but it does remind me of bad Saturday morning cartoons.” I’m like, okay, well, if that’s the worst thing about it. Now, the legend of “Homeboys” has become much more incendiary than the actual show. It’s funny how I usually challenge most people who talk about how much they disliked “Homeboys” to name me five episodes. Most of them can’t, because they just bought into the “oh, it’s awful, just the title. Oh, it’s terrible.” What’s interesting is that I had a great conversation with Chi McBride, who was doing “The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer,” which was infinitely…if you want to talk about in terms of the imagery of what was wrong, that show was much more infamous than “Homeboys.” Yet it’s not remembered in the same way because the title didn’t grab you in the same way. I remember Chi pulled me aside and he was, like, “Look, everyone who is criticizing what you’re doing would take your job from you in two seconds. All of them. So all I can tell you is that this is one blip on both of our careers, and we are moving on.” And, look, Chi has moved on, as have I. I want to say that right after “Homeboys” went off…I can’t remember if that’s when I was doing Diane English pilot or if that was another pilot with Carol Burnett, and neither of those ended up making it to air, but what I’m saying is that those are the people I was working with right after, you know what I mean? “Homeboys” has never been an impediment to my career or my ability to work. It’s just been the topic that everyone loves to rehash in terms of “we just think it was terrible, it was awful” and so forth.
BE: Well, I’m a “Star Trek” guy, and James Doohan was on there, so that alone made me at least want to tune in and check it out.
DB: James Doohan was on there, and so was George Takei. And…oh, why can’t I say Adam’s name? Um…Adam West?
DB: Adam West was on there, and so was…oh, I can’t tell you the other gentleman’s name, but he was Gomez from “The Addams Family”.
BE: John Astin.
DB: John Astin. Thank you. John Astin, who was just the sweetest guy. But, I mean, Adam West was cool, too.
BE: In other words, it had sci-fi street cred.
DB: It did. That’s what I’m saying. That was the whole point…and James Doohan was the sweetest guy. Oh, he was just so wonderful to us. But…I want to say it was a UPN show, but I believe either Paramount or the Roddenberry estate was unhappy that we were satirizing Scotty as a character. So then James Doohan came out of the show, and when James Doohan came out, I was, like, “Oh, no.” That was one of the things that was so good about the show, that you had actually got him to have fun with this role. And I thought that’s the way this show was going to be portrayed. It’s one of the things that to me was interesting about what “Homeboys” could have been. Because whenever people talk about the future, if you look at some of the best futuristic movies, from “2001: A Space Odyssey” and all the others, generally African Americans aren’t there. I mean, it’s like we don’t make it to the future, except in the “Star Trek” series. Those are the few places. I had the privilege of meeting Nichelle Nichols at the NBC 75th Anniversary, and she was just like a queen. She was so regal and so wonderful; she was terrific. Just being able to say to her “thank you for being one of the pioneers that opened doors for me to be able to do what I do” was terrific. You say you’re a Trekkie, right?
BE: Oh, yeah.
DB: Interestingly enough, someone was saying to me that it has been long rumored in folklore that she and William Shatner’s kiss was the first interracial kiss on television. But, actually, no, that’s not true. It was Sammy Davis, Jr. and someone else in an earlier picture. And then they said that their kiss wasn’t even the first interracial kiss on “Star Trek.” It was when Captain Kirk kissed the Asian actress who was the warrior and the tear could make you fall in love….? Their kiss was the first quote, unquote interracial kiss. I was, like, “Look at that, I learned something.” And I even made you go “wow,” I think.
BE: You are correct. I did not know that.
DB: They were, like, “Yeah, that actually preceded that.” But I still like giving “Star Trek” credit, just because it sounds good. (Laughs)
BE: What’s your favorite project you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love that you thought it deserved? I guess you can include pilots in that, given that you’ve worked with some big names in pilots.
DB: Wow! Wow, that’s interesting, and I will tell you that it’s a toss-up. I would say in one sense, it would be the pilot I did with Jim Burrows, which we all thought was terrific, but it just happened to come at a time when reality TV…how’s this for irony? Reality TV was just starting to take off, and I want to say that it was “Meet the Parents,” “Average Joe,” “The Apprentice,” and I think they were about to do “Average Jane.” I think that was coming up, and all of them were taking up our blocks in NBC lineup. Additionally, they had already agreed and dropped $55 million on the Siegfried and Roy animated series.
BE: Oh, “Father of the Pride.”
DB: Yeah, “Father of the Pride” was coming up. So they had all of these things they had already committed to that I guess they didn’t they know would be successful before the upfronts. But by the time they had already renewed them for a second season, the window for available space for television wasn’t good. They had ordered, like, 24 pilots, and this was like Jim Burrows, Larry Wilmore, who had gotten an Emmy for “Bernie Mac,” and Henry Winkler was in a part. We even got a day off filming the pilot, which never happens, but it was because it was so tight. And it didn’t get picked up. So I was disappointed in that. But the other answer to your question would be “A Different World.” Dr. Cosby always said that our show was the goose that kept laying the golden eggs, but they never wanted to credit the goose. They always wanted to say that we were a show that was a beneficiary of our time slot. Notwithstanding the fact that I think in our third season, we beat “Cosby.” They also never wanted to give, I think, Debbie (Allen), Susan (Fales-Hill), and the writing staff credit for being as funny and topical as they were with the shows that still hold up now on AIDS, war, racism, and all the things that we did. We’re still one of the 50 highest rated shows in television history.
DB: It’s been in syndication for 17 years. We’re only the second show in television history to debut at the number two spot, behind “Bewitched.” I could go on, I’m good with the numbers. You know, everyone in the cast was always, like, “If you want to know the details, you’ve got to ask Darryl,” because I remember all that. So that would be the only other thing. People tend to look at our show, some people, under the umbrella of “Cosby” success and don’t give the people who put in a lot of good, hard work and were really good at what they do, for our show. But, you know, for what that show didn’t get in terms of that kind of recognition, to have shared the stage with Whoopi Goldberg, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll…I mean, it paid dividends in so many other ways. It was the best.
BE: Do you still talk to Kadeem Hardison and Jasmine Guy, or at least keep up with them?
DB: Yep. I saw Jasmine in New Orleans last week. I was hosting a symposium on Hollywood, and Jasmine was there choreographing a number. Kadeem just texted me ten minutes ago. Let’s see, I’ll see Debbie probably sometime this weekend, she’s doing something at the dance academy. I usually call her about “So You Think You Can Dance” all the time. Dawnn (Lewis) and I were at a function together not too long ago. So yeah, we don’t all get to see each other collectively, but we do still see each other from time to time, and it’s always love.
BE: And I should close with one more about your current show.
DB: Go ahead.
BE: So what are your expectations of “Househusbands of Hollywood”? Are you going in with concerns about them being too invasive, or…?
DB: You know, I really don’t know. I can’t say that I have any expectations. I’m curious to see what will happen. If I’m to judge by most of the questions we have gotten so far, I think the challenge is going to be for people to be able to get past the title, to see what the show is really about. And if that happens, that could be fun. And we’ll see where it goes from there. So it will be interesting to see what happens. So my expectations are that we will either change some minds and be really successful, or something that I haven’t conceived of will be the answer. (Laughs) One or the other, right?
A Chat with Aidan Turner, Russell Tovey, and Lenora Crichlow of “Being Human”: One of the most consistent pleasures of the TCA Press Tour for an Anglophile such as myself is the opportunity to get the scoop on the latest UK imports to arrive on BBC America. In 2007, I was introduced to “Jekyll” and “Torchwood,” and in 2008, I very quickly fell in love with “Gavin and Stacey” and “Primeval.” This time around, the picks to click were “The InBetweeners” and “Being Human,” and although I’ll be waiting a bit to offer up my conversation with the folks from the former, I’m running a bit late in posting my chat with the cast of the latter. “Being Human” actually made its BBC America debut when I was still in Pasadena, but now that I’m playing catch-up, I wanted to share with you the lovely courtyard conversation that I had with the show’s trio of stars: Aidan Turner, Russell Tovey, and Lenora Crichlow.
Join us now as we embark upon…
Bullz-Eye: So when you guys were pitched the series…I mean, I’m sure you get this all the time, but on the surface, it sounds almost like it could be a Saturday morning cartoon.
Aidan Turner: That’s what I thought it was, actually. I thought I was going to do a voice over for a cartoon.
AT: No. (Laughs) But I hear you.
BE: Were you familiar with Toby (Whithouse’s) work beforehand?
Russell Tovey: I was, personally. When it was pitched to me, I thought it sounded terrible, so I said yeah. (Laughs) There’s a few shows in England that are actually kind of not very good. They’re fun for students, but they’re not, like, credible, really. I thought this could be something like that show, just with a bit of sci-fi put in. In my head, it didn’t really compute, but in reading it, you realize it’s more than that.
AT: I mean, I hadn’t heard of Toby at all. I was aware there was a pilot when my agent pitched it to me…which was a funny phone call, because I kind of couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was, like, the most obvious idea in the world, but you think, “This just can’t work.” But then the brilliant thing…and Toby’s such a brilliant writer…is that you read it and suddenly, almost from the get go, it’s original and it’s real and it’s steeped in this sort of truth, this beautiful world of realism. It just seems to work. Russell was part of the (original) pilot, but I made a decision not to watch the pilot. I don’t know why, really. I just…well, it didn’t work, first of all, and I thought, “Maybe that’s a sign I shouldn’t do it.” Yeah, so…I don’t know. Then it just turned over, and it just all worked. And then I met these guys, and they were cool, and we got on so well. And the whole team just works together so well, the crew and everybody. It’s just a joy, it’s an absolute joy.
Lenora Crichlow: Same story, really. Even now, when people who haven’t seen the show come across the show and I’m explaining it to them, I find myself halfway through going through what it’s about, and…it actually sounds quite off-putting. (Laughs) I’m looking at their faces, and I can read that they just think it’s not their cup of tea. I can totally understand, because when it was pitched to me, I thought a bit like the boys: “Oh, this just sounds ridiculous.” It’s only when you get into the meat and bones of the story and the characters that you realize there is something there for everybody, everyone. I suppose that’s what gives it the difference. The sci-fi element…it can only happen as a result of these very human issues and traits and relationships. That’s what makes the difference.
AT: I think that, with the show, people are surprised because the idea does sound ridiculous, but that’s the beauty of being a part of something like this. It’s that, immediately, when people see it, they go, “Oh, okay, I get it now. It’s not what I thought it was going to be.” So I think we’re lucky we have that element, because it gets people from the beginning, you know?
RT: The themes to me sounded American in its concept and scale. I think that’s why our first impression is, “Yeah, if this was America, it would be okay, but in England, we can’t compete.” There hasn’t been a massive track record of hit shows that have got something so kind of “out there.” My first instinct was that it sounds brilliant but it will never, ever come to fruition of what you really aspire it to be. But, however, it has and it can compete with your American shows, which is such a great thing for us. Respectfully to your shows, they are like the top of the pyramid. They are the icon that we look to, to get inspired. People are saying this show is kind of comparable to that and can be put in the brackets with that. What an honor. We’re just absolutely over the moon.
BE: I think there’s almost a “Buffy” feel to it at times.
RT: Yeah, great. And “True Blood,” people are saying. I mean, none of us have seen “True Blood.” Have you seen it?
AT: No, I haven’t seen it.
RT: But we know that has gotten massive reception, a massive audience, and we’re being compared to that and compared to “Buffy.” That’s great for us, we’re just so chapped.
BE: Well, I’m sure the phrase “British ‘True Blood’” is going to be thrown around a lot, because on that show there’s a shape shifter, there’s vampires, and other sordid types of characters.
(At this point, my wife – who had been traveling from Virginia to meet me at the press tour – arrived at the hotel after a highly extended ride on an airport shuttle van and joined us in the courtyard. Fortunately, I had forewarned the trio that her arrival was imminent, and as proper gentleman, Messrs. Turner and Tovey immediately leapt to their feet.)
RT: This is Mrs. Harris?
BE: This is Mrs. Harris.
RT: Hi, Mrs. Harris. How are you doing?
AT: Hello. Hi, Mrs. Harris.
LC: Hi, Mrs. Harris. Welcome. Pull up a chair.
Jenn Harris: I was the last drop off.
RT: Oh, my goodness.
AT: Well, you made it.
LC: You’re here now, that’s the important thing.
BE: And for the record, she has seen the first episode, and she loved it, too.
AT: Oh, fabulous.
JH: It’s awesome.
LC: Oh, great.
BE: Yeah, it’s funny that you say that about the British and the American shows, though, because between “Dr. Who,” “Torchwood,” and “Primeval” recently, British sci-fi is actually on a real roll at the moment.
RT: Do you like “Primeval”? Did that do well?
BE: I do like it, yeah. I don’t know how well it’s really done here, but it was pitched to us at TCA last year, and I was a fan right out of the gate.
JH: We enjoyed it.
BE: So did either of you guys approach your iconic monster roles with any particular forethought as far as other vampires or werewolves from the past?
AT: Yeah, I don’t know. It’s weird: you can do all this research, you can watch the movies and read the books, but at the end of the day…it’s not even a choice you make to be original, it’s just sort of something that happens. I don’t know if you can play up to any sort of idea of what people have of a character. I think that’s where you’re going to make a mistake. What you really do…and maybe it’s a cliché to say, but, you know, the writing is so good that it sort of does it itself. It does, the character…it’s an easy transition, you know? You just kind of slide in and, yeah, the script does do it for you, and the characters just evolve through Toby’s writing, which is just sensational.
RT: Your only research would be basically what other people have created, because these aren’t real life things. I mean, a ghost possibly exists, but vampires and werewolves don’t exist. You’re basing what you think your performance should be on what people have done before, based on something that doesn’t exist. What you do is treat it like a human being, like with the writing, and then that’s…
AT: It’s the essence of the show, isn’t it? Which is so lovely. That’s what makes it really deep, is that these guys want to be human, they want to be…
RT: It’s fresh, and we’re rewriting the rules.
LC: I think the biggest research for…well, not the biggest research, but a huge part of the research for us is just on our characters. Essentially, that’s what they are. The werewolf, the ghost, and the vampire side of each of our characters is quite…it’s something that we are quite objective about at times. For me, anyway, my biggest research was, who is Annie? Before I dealt with Annie as a ghost, it was more, “What is she like?” And then the ghost element is just as beguiling to me as it is to her. Do you know what I mean? So that journey is something that you can just play with. Because, I mean, there’s only so much research you can do to play a ghost or a vampire, really. Essentially, Russell had to play George.
AT: It’s great we don’t have to play the supernatural. It’s by proxy that these people happen to be yadda, yadda, yadda. But we don’t have to play it, which is great, you know? It’s just the people, the real people.
BE: So, Lenora, does Toby have a rules and regulations guide for your character? As far as, like, the clothes, which I’m sure you’ve heard about more than once.
LC: Oh, yeah, the clothes… (Laughs) Annie can’t change. Her clothes do kind of adjust slightly with her, but I’m not quite sure where that rule came from. It came from his mind, I think.
AT: I think budget. We didn’t have enough money for your costume change.
LC: I think it was the budget. It was BBC Three we started on, let’s don’t forget that. So one, the budget, but two, it kind of actually makes sense and it all adds to Annie’s frustration, or adds to her sort of being trapped. The house is completely like a prison, almost, and that’s like her uniform. Her costume actually becomes very much a part of her character, and that is when we see it morphing and stuff like that, is when she’s feeling differently.
JH: And it keeps coming back. Like, there’s one episode where she’s fixing her hair and she’s totally changed, she looks totally different, but then she walks out and she looks the same.
LC: Exactly the same. Or she gets a bit more confident, and maybe she will shift a layer, but then it’s very soon back and she’s wrapped up again. And it’s an aid. It’s become sort of a thing that even though, yes, I’ve got one costume, it’s something that the costume designer has been able to help me use and play with, to kind of just sort of all add to her ghostliness.
BE: Well, I guess along the same lines, but for all of you, what’s your favorite aspect of your character to play?
LC: I love Annie’s energy. I think she’s always looking for the bright side, and she’s positive. And for a ghost and someone who’s dead, she’s really, really optimistic. And I like that energy about her. She’s always able to…
JH: And a little sneaky.
LC: A little bit. (Laughs)
JH: But in a cute way.
LC: In a very cute way, yeah.
AT: Well, I think with Mitchell, he’s just…he’s flawed, you know? He’s a troubled soul, and he’s an addict, you know? He wants to be a good person and he wants to live a life that he considers, you know, moral. And he wants to address those issues, as opposed to someone like Herrick, who just doesn’t care anymore, you know? He wants to completely embody what he represents, and he’s happy with that journey, too. But I think Mitchell just wants to get on a positive road. So, essentially, you’re dealing with someone who’s incredibly flawed that wants to take the right road. So I guess it’s his courage and his bravery and his…yeah, yeah, it’s interesting, you know? It wouldn’t be as interesting if I was playing a vampire that was just after the blood lust all the time. That would get incredibly boring, you know. This is a huge journey for Mitchell, and it will always be a struggle. You know, if we go to Series Three, I can bet he’d still be struggling with it. I don’t think it’s ever anything that he is going to completely overcome. So that’s interesting, and it’s cool to kind of play somebody that’s always teetering on possibly falling back off the wagon again and stuff. You know, it’s exciting.
BE: There’s a Britishness about it, too, in that he’s kind of going, “I really feel bad about this, but…”
AT: Yeah, yeah. “Let me apologize, I’m a vampire.” But that’s what makes him real. We all know people like that, you know, that have those kinds of problems and issues, and they deal with them. So we have to feel different about it, and it’s just complex. There’s so much there to play with Mitchell, you know?
RT: I like George’s neurosis. I think it’s fun to play, and I like the fact that they allow me to just go up and down the scale tonally in my voice. He’s just a great stuttery, nervous character, and as an actor, to play somebody who’s kind of a bit twitchy is…it’s rewarding.
JH: You want to help him, but you don’t know how.
RT: Yeah, he needs help, completely.
BE: You had a great spotlight in the second episode with one of your fellow werewolves. Was that fun to play against somebody who was going through the same kind of things and yet knew more about it than yourself?
RT: Yeah, yeah, it’s great. I mean, every script we read is just…before we get it, like, you start and we don’t know what’s happened at the end of the show. Like, we’ve only read one and two and three. You just get so excited about what’s coming up, and that’s fresh. Yeah, it was brilliant, and Dean Lennox Kelly is a wicked actor. This story line…it’s just great dialogue that you don’t really get as an actor a lot. It’s a rarity when you’re given something and you’re getting these words to say, which you love saying. And the scenes, which you completely go, “Oh, I love this.” I really like the dynamic, and you work with people you love. It’s just a gift. This show is a complete gift, basically.
BE: Are the transformations a pain?
RT: Are they a pain? Sometimes.
AT: Quite literally, sometimes.
RT: Yeah, I have to wear contacts, and I’ll have the makeup put on. I’ve got very sensitive skin, so it flares up every now and then. And my teeth…yeah, it’s a long process, and I’m screaming my head off. But, again, that’s rewarding. The compliments I have had on them, the transformation stuff, has been great. And also Philip, who did the animatronics and puppetry of it all, is brilliant. So that again…I think that’s such an important aspect of the show, is the transformations. You don’t really see…you see Annie sort of disappearing towards the end, but…Annie is constantly there, Mitchell has teeth, and your eyes are done on CGI.
AT: Yeah, but it’s so rarely. We’ve only done it a couple of times, which is great, too, because we don’t rely on it. We don’t play on it. Again, it’s just something that you sort of feel as you watch the show, it just has to happen. It’s not something like you get bored of seeing or you feel like the show is trying to show off. Essentially, it comes down to the characters. That’s what’s so beautiful about it.
RT: The way our transformation is, is like completely exposing, and they wrote it as that. So if I went half-heartedly, if I was, like, going “ahhhhh” while doing it, I think it could really shift the balance of the piece. Do you know what I mean? You have to commit to it and go for it, because every bone in your body is breaking and all your insides are changing. And it’s the most immense pain you will ever feel. If the audience doesn’t believe that, then I think that’s failure.
JH: Was it crazy watching it?
RT: Was it what?
JH: Was it crazy watching the transformation onscreen?
RT: It’s weird when you watch it back on the monitor because we have…you can have playback there, and I like doing that. (To the others) Do you like doing that? Yeah, I like watching back afterwards to judge and say, “Oh, yeah, I got away with that.” But they have these two heads, these animatronics heads. So there’s me and there’s one that’s more like me, but they can push bits out. And then there’s another one which is like me, the final wolf. So when you watch it back on the monitor, you’re, like, “God, yeah,” and then you’re, like, “Oh, that isn’t me I’m watching.” That was really weird. Yeah, it is strange. I think my mum finds it strange, doesn’t like it. There’s a scene where I get…probably a spoiler, but I get beaten up, and Mitchell rescues me. That’s how he and George met. George has been attacked by a load of other vampires, and Mitchell broke it up, and they became, like, this codependent friendship/relationship, like “The Odd Couple.” I get beaten up in this scene, and my mum said, “I can’t watch you, I’m almost really upset.” Because, basically, she sees…you know, I’m in character, and I think, “Mum, it’s not me, it’s George.” But she sees her son getting the shit kicked out of him, and she doesn’t like it.
BE: In the first episode, the vampire attack out in the alleyway was pretty gory. Did you hear back from viewers or BBC Three about the goriness?
AT: Well, this is what you were just talking about. It’s that scene, isn’t it?
LC: No, no.
RT: That was a different one.
AT: Oh, right, yeah. Well, yeah, that was pretty gruesome, yeah. Yeah, (Annabel Scholey) did an amazing job. I remember that.
RT: She was great.
AT: She was amazing. No, we didn’t hear back whether anything was too gory. I think that they are the boundaries we can push on the show. I mean, naked bodies as well. And, Lenora, you get naked a bit too. I don’t know if there are any boundaries for this show. Maybe next season will get completely crazy with that.
RT: It’s suspected, I suppose. The audience would expect to see blood and guts.
AT: And loads of it, and that kind of thing. But I remember watching that on the playback and being quite moved, actually. She was amazing in that scene. It was actually a tough day to shoot that one as well, we were pushed for time and stuff.
RT: Yeah, we shot that scene in like 15 minutes.
AT: That’s right. But it’s fine because the blood tastes really good. It’s minty. Treacley and sweet.
BE: And, lastly, who is the coolest person you’ve heard from that’s a “Being Human” fan?
RT: Alan Bennett liked it.
LC: Stephen Fry.
AT: Stephen Fry! I’m a huge fan of Stephen Fry. I love him. He’s a man of incredibly high intellect, and if he likes our show, I think that’s a huge thumbs-up for us. So, yeah, I think that was a big one for me.
RT: Russell T. Davies is right here.
LC: Oh, gosh, yeah Russell.
RT: He loves it, so that’s always good. A lot of writers have said they’re fans. You don’t really realize who’s seen it because you just do these shows and they go out and you don’t realize who’s watching it. But if someone I run into like that goes, “Oh, I’ve seen it and it’s great,” you’re, like, “Wow, I really respect you, and that’s really lovely. Thank you.”
LC: We’ve had an incredible response from people within the industry, which is always, I think for actors, where you really start to feel, you know, touched by those compliments.
Bullz-Eye’s TCA 2009 Summer Press Tour Wrap-Up: Cougars, Muppets, Vampires, and Gordon Ramsay, Too!: God bless the TCA Press Tour, where the television industry gives critics from throughout North America the opportunity to play with the folks who live and work in Hollywood. The tour allows us a remarkable amount of access to the stars, producers, directors, and writers of the various shows currently taking up residence on the various cable and broadcast networks. Yes, while I may spend 48 weeks out of the year feeling like a nobody, for those four weeks – two in the summer, two in the winter – which are taken up by the tour, I’m at least made to feel like I’m a somebody. (Really, though, I’m not anybody.)
This was the first time the summer tour had been held after Comic-Con rather than before, so there was a certain amount of grumbling about the fact that the fans were getting a certain amount of information that would’ve ordinarily gone to the critics first, but it must be said that the networks did a pretty good job of pacifying us. And, besides, aren’t the fans supposed to come first, anyway?
Although the content that I managed to accrue during the course of the tour will continue to come your way for quite some time to come, what you see before you is a summary of the highs and lows of the event, mixing stories you may have already read on Premium Hollywood with many that I simply haven’t had a chance to discuss yet. As ever, it was a heck of a good time, full of the kind of moments that leave me grateful that I managed to get that journalism degree from Averett College back in 1992, pleased as punch that Bullz-Eye and Premium Hollywood have given me the opportunity to cover the tour, and, most of all, that there are lot of great readers out there who seem to enjoy the tales I bring back from these strange TCA adventures that I’ve embarked upon.
Let’s get started, shall we?
Most Enthralling Panel by a Cable Network: “P.O.V. – Patti Smith: Dream of Life,” PBS.
As someone who has spent the majority of his journalistic career as a music critic (and, even before that, spent a decent chunk of time as a record store clerk), I was easily as excited about this panel as anything else on the schedule. I mean, c’mon, Patti Smith? She’s a legend…and the audience treated her as such: the questions were well-considered, and in turn, Patti’s answers were well-constructed, informative, and entertaining. Despite my excitement, I had somehow developed an expectation that she might be reserved and, indeed, perhaps a bit prickly with her responses, but she was smiling and laughing and enjoying herself. When she broke out her guitar at the end of the Q&A and proceeded to favor us with a couple of songs, I dare say I wasn’t the only one who was completely mesmerized. After Patti’s performance, we absconded to a PBS-sponsored cocktail party, where writer Marc Allan – a veteran attendee of the TCA Tour – said that this might’ve been the single best panel he’s ever attended. I don’t know if time has tempered the immediacy of his reaction, but the more I think about it, the more I think he could well be right.
Funniest Panel by a Cable Network: “Bored to Death,” HBO.
There was always a pretty good chance this panel was going to take this category by storm, given that it was going to feature Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson, and Zach Galifianakis, but I had no way of knowing how hilarious the creator of the show, Jonathan Ames, was going to be. Granted, Galifianakis still won the day by offering up enough great lines to warrant my compiling a full-fledged Top 10 list of them, but it was Ames’ quick wit that sent me to eBay to pick up one of his books. (I opted for “Wake Up, Sir!” If anyone else has any recommendations for others, however, I’m ready to hear them.)
Most Enjoyable Panel by a Broadcast Network: “Gordon Ramsay: Cookalong Live, Hell’s Kitchen & Kitchen Nightmares,” Fox.
By the time Fox took the stage for their various panels, we were well past the halfway point of the tour, and most of us had begun to hit that invisible wall which makes us start to zone out of the proceedings and just start wishing we were back home. Fortunately, Chef Ramsay decided that he wanted to add a bit of interactivity to the proceedings, and given that he was there to talk up his latest series, “Gordon Ramsay: Cookalong Live,” it made complete sense. As such, he invited the audience of critics to follow a recipe and whip up the topping for their own serving of Baked Alaska. It would be fair to say that I did not do spectacularly (one look at mine, and he sadly sighed, “Oh, mate…), but it was a lot of fun nonetheless.
Most Unnecessary Panel by a Cable Network: “Dark Blue,” TNT.
Not that it’s a bad show, but what was the point, really? The series had already been on the air for a few weeks by the time of the panel, but not long enough for most of us to have developed any particular dedication to it yet. Worse, TNT preceded it by offering up scenes from their upcoming series, “Men of a Certain Age,” starring Ray Romano, Scott Bakula, and Andre Braugher, which made us far more interested in knowing more about that show.
Most promising new broadcast network program that I didn’t know anything about before going into the tour: “Life UneXpected,” The CW.
Given how many programs are already premiering in the fall, I made it a point to try and avoid watching episodes of series that wouldn’t be arriving until January, but that was definitely a mistake on my part when it came to “Life UneXpected,” starring Kerr Smith and Sheri Applebly. The video presentation showed a sweet and intriguing new series about a teenage girl who reunites with her biological parents. It’s so unlike anything else on The CW these days that Dan Fienberg of Hitfix.com asked the producers outright, “Is there any concern that you may have made this pilot for a network that doesn’t exactly exist? Because this is sort of a warm, fuzzy, family, everybody-together pilot, and if you look at The CW’s shows for the Fall, they’re less that.” But Paul McGuire, president of entertainment for The CW, assured us that “Life UneXpected” is “a series that’s going to be something special à la ‘Gilmore Girls,’” so let’s hope the network gives us the chance to enjoy this series as long as we did that one.
Most promising new syndicated program that I didn’t know anything about before going into the tour: “The Dr. Oz Show.”
I can honestly say that I’ve never sat through an entire episode of “Oprah,” so I didn’t really know anything about Dr. Mehmet Oz except that he’s apparently been a staple of her show for some years now. But as he told us about his new daytime series by using a PowerPoint presentation which absolutely felt like something he’d put together (rather than, say, a precisely prepared creation done by the boys in Marketing), then followed it with a Q&A session, it was remarkable how he held everyone’s attention. I’ll say to you what I said to my peers: if it had been a pyramid scheme, he’d have my life savings by now. It was that impressive. When his show premieres this fall, God help me, I think I might actually sign up for a TiVo season pass.
Panelist who most knew his audience, for better or worse: Ken Burns.
He was there to discuss his new PBS series about America’s national parks, but before the panel began, he became aware of something that had gone missing from our tables.
“When the doors opened, there was a companion (‘The National Parks: America’s Best Idea’) book as a centerpiece at each table,” Burns noted, “and I now notice they’ve all disappeared. This is obviously something every table will have to deal with on your own, who among you has the book, but we want to say that we will have enough books for everybody, and if you will just leave us your card or write down your name, we will send you the book. We had hoped not to burden you with the weight of this heavy tome, but clearly there are 25 among you here - and I don’t want to call anyone out - who have decided that it is not too heavy a burden to take.”
Um…oops? But for the record, had my swiping of the book from the table turned into a thorny legal issue, I was already prepared to cite the case of Finders v. Keepers as precedent.
The panel that every 15-year-old girl (and, let’s be honest, quite a few women of other ages)in America was jealous of me for experiencing: “The Vampire Diaries,” The CW.
You can bet that CBS is still kicking themselves over the fact that they canceled “Moonlight” just as the combination of HBO’s “True Blood” and the “Twilight” films were about to make vampires into Hollywood’s hottest commodity, but at least The CW had the good sense to fast-track the development of this popular book series into a TV series. Sadly, the majority of the show’s cast members – including Ian Somerhalder, late of “Lost” – weren’t able to make it into Pasadena in time to attend the panel, but I feel certain that the presence of Paul Wesley would’ve been more than enough to keep the average teenage girl swooning throughout the proceedings.
Largest panel that really only needed to consist of one person: “Cougar Town,” ABC.
During the course of his many remarks in the “Cougar Town” panel, creator Bill Lawrence joked that he’d told his cast, “Hey, you guys want to come to Pasadena while I talk for a while?” And when I say “joked,” I mean he was probably being completely and totally serious. Lawrence has often said that his childhood dream was to grow up and become a talk show host, and it’s never more evident than when he’s holding court during one of his show’s panels. It’s not that he steals the show as much as it is that the critics know how entertaining he can be, so they defer to him with their questions…and when they do, he takes the ball and runs with it.
Most awesome visit to the set of a network show: “The Office.” I sat at Michael Scott’s desk, I sat at what used to be Pam’s desk (she’s in sales now, you know), I was given a tour of the set by Angela, and those who come to my office will now seen that I have been declared an Assistant to the Regional Manager at Dunder-Mifflin. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Biggest mixed-bag visit to the set of a network show: “Bones.” It’s always nice to see David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel, and it was cool to see Booth’s base camp at the FBI, but we’d been promised a look at Bones’s lab at the Jeffersonian and were denied as a result of filming commitments. Understandable, sure, but it was still a major bummer.
Best off-site visit that was in no way connected to the tour: I arrived early enough on the day before the tour started that I was able to go to dinner – my first-ever experience eating Ethiopian – with one of my Popdose colleagues, Jon Cummings, then attend the so-called “Girls Night Out” concert at Molly Malone’s as part of the International Pop Overthrow. It was great to finally see the Paula Kelley Orchestra, but the best part of the evening was definitely the performance by Kay Hanley, late of Letters to Cleo. Sadly, she didn’t break out anything from “My Friends Tigger & Pooh,” but she still rocked the hell out of the joint. I was dead on my feet by the end of the night, but it was totally worth it.
Best party by a cable network: Food Network.
In addition to meeting Brian Boitano, host of the awesomely-titled series, “What Would Brian Boitano Make?”, the latest round of “Iron Chef” contestants each had their own booth where they were making their signature dishes for your dining enjoyment, some of which were positively to die for. Eric Greenspan made a Tallegia grilled cheese and short rib sandwich on raisin bread that I could’ve eaten all night, Robert Trevino created a combination of manchego cheesecake with pata negra that blew my mind, and Jose Garces threw together a sandwich consisting of a pork belly bun with Togarashi mayonnaise that seemed to be universally praised. Great stuff all around.
Best party by a broadcast network: CBS.
The function took place at the Huntington Library, and it technically wasn’t just a CBS party, since it also incorporated the folks from The CW and Showtime, but we’re still going to let them have it on a technicality. I didn’t get as many interviews during the festivities as I did at the other network parties, but it was so star-packed that it was hard to complain because…well, what, like I can moan about the fact that there was too much talent there? Every time I turned around, someone awesome was walking past me, from LL Cool J to John Lithgow to the cast of “The Big Bang Theory.”
In addition, it was a beautiful venue…though, to be fair, just getting away from the hotel upped it a notch. (All of the other broadcast networks stayed within the grounds of the Langham, which is where the various panels took place.) The combination of all of these factors definitely made it the most memorable gathering of the second half of the tour.
Recurring trend of the tour: writers trolling for Ben Silverman one-liners. CBS’s Nina Tassler replied to something he’d said about her in the past, saying, “Well, you know, I’m really just a D girl, so I wouldn’t comment on that.” When the topic came up during Fox’s session, Peter Rice said, “I assumed you were going to ask if he was going to judge on ‘Idol’ next season.” Bill Lawrence opened the “Cougar Town” panel by saying, “So, Ben Silverman…” (Unfortunately, he never really let loose about the man who’d headed NBC during the network’s final season of “Scrubs,” instead asking the rhetorical question, “Can you say ‘off the record’ to 230 people?”) Even NBC’s Angela Bromstad got an unintended laugh when she began her response about Silverman’s departure by saying, “Well, I think that this has always been Ben’s plan.” What, to inspire half a dozen punchlines during the course of the TCA Press Tour? If so, I think it’s fair to consider it a success.
Best panelist rants: Thomas Jane, during HBO’s “Hung” panel.
From the moment Jane said to one critic, “Speak into the mike and tell me how you feel about my penis,” it was clear that things were probably going to be interesting, and when he assured us that he prefers the word “cock” over “dick,” we knew that theory was correct. But while his panel-ending comments about how he feels about prostitutes were probably in jest, our favorite moment came in the midst of his reply to a question about how he felt about the show when it was first pitched to him.
“You know, the fact is that it’s all fucking fate and luck, man. This is fate and luck that we are all up here together talking to you about a show about a guy with a big dick. Right? Fate and luck. There is no reason this show should be good. The show should be bad. It’s about a guy with a big dick who fucks people for money.”
Nice, Thomas, very nice. You kiss Patricia Arquette with that mouth…?
Best anecdote that I heard from someone who I wasn’t even interviewing at the time: Megyn Price.
When I walked up to Drew Carey so that I could revisit an earlier discussion with him about his favorite bad movies (in 2007, he assured me that “Boat Trip” was so bad that it was actually a must-see), Price – of CBS’s “Rules of Engagement” – proceeded to tell a story about how she used to make a point of going to see certain shows on Broadway simply because they looked like they’d be horrible.
“David Cross and I decided that we were going to go to ‘Footloose,’ because we were, like, ‘It’s gonna be so bad that it’s gonna be fun!’ So we’re sitting in the theater, and we decided at intermission that we were just gonna do shots. We were, like, ‘It’s gonna get better, because now we’re all drunk!’ So we go back in and we sit down, and these boys in front of us, who were, like, fifteen and were clearly there under duress from their mother, turn around and say to David, ‘Hey, you’re in ‘Mr. Show.’ We thought you were cool.’ And he was so bummed for the longest time! He was, like, ‘No, no, if you’ll just let me explain…! I’m here ironically!’”
Cheapest thrill of the tour: Shaking hands with Robin Williams.
There’s generally at least one person per press tour who leaves me feeling completely unlike a professional journalist and turns me into a total fanboy. In January, it was Ozzy Osbourne. In July, it was Robin Williams. I had a fleeting moment where I had to choose between taking a photo and shaking his hand, and although the photo would’ve been more permanent, I went for the memory. If he hadn’t been in the process of leaving, I would’ve told him that I’d been a fan ever since I wrote a fan letter to “Mork and Mindy” and, in return, ABC sent me a postcard with his pre-printed autograph (and Pam Dawber’s, too), but in the end, I was succinct and just said, “I’ve been a fan for a long time.” In return, he said, “Oh, thanks, man, I really appreciate it,” and it’s a testament to his acting abilities that he said it in such a way that it really felt like he hadn’t heard the exact same thing a million times before. Or maybe he really does still enjoy having people tell him that.
Best piece of swag: Who doesn’t like free stuff? Granted, the networks have cut back, so it’s not like we’re getting bombarded with awesome swag the way we used to, but there’s still some pretty cool stuff being offered to us. I particularly liked the “Fringe” flashlight which sends out its beam in the same of a butterfly, and my daughter dug the PBS Kids tote that she’s now using as her library book bag, but all told, I think the win has to go to the Dunder-Mifflin nameplate that I received after my tour of the set of “The Office.”
Coolest moment of the tour for my wife: Oh, man, there was a lot of competition this year. Was it having Jim Parsons from “The Big Bang Theory” recognize her from their conversation last year? Was it getting her picture taken with Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”) and Sam Trammell (“True Blood”)? Or was it geeking out and getting to meet Doctor Who himself, David Tennant? I just checked with her, and she says that, since she didn’t really get to talk to Tennant very much, she’s going with her conversation with Parsons. But, y’know, that’s her answer today. It could change tomorrow.
Coolest moment of the tour for my daughter: This was also a good tour for my daughter, in that Sofia Vassilieva thanked her for being a fan of her work in “Eloise at the Plaza” and Yeardley Smith said “hello” to her as Lisa Simpson, but as much as she enjoyed those moments, they ultimately paled in comparison to the fact that her daddy also met three residents of “Sesame Street” and asked each of them if they’d mind offering her a personal greeting.
Coolest moments of the tour for me: As I’ve mentioned before, it’s all pretty cool to me, since I spend 48 weeks out of the year in Chesapeake, VA, and therefore don’t get the opportunity to mingle with the stars on a regular basis, but with that said, what I’m particularly enjoying is the fact that some of these folks are actually starting to remember me from our previous encounters. Pauley Perrette jumped at the chance to take our picture again (in our first encounter, she demanded to hold the camera in front of us and take the shot herself, assuring me, “I’m really good at this!”), pointedly saying to the publicist who offered to take it for us, “No, no, this is our thing.” Talk about surreal…but even that couldn’t top the fact that, as soon as Bill Lawrence spotted me, he thrust out his hand and said, “Will, what’s up? How’s it going, buddy?” He then introduced me to his wife, Christa Miller, and told her about how I had met up with him at the College of William & Mary, in Williamsburg, VA, then made sure I knew that he’d be heading back to W&M again soon. Before I let him continue his rounds with the other critics, I asked if I could grab a quick shot of the two of them together, and I don’t mind telling you that it’s probably my favorite photo of the entire tour.
Coolest person I still haven’t gotten to talk to, even after three tours: Hugh Laurie.
I did at least manage to enter his gravitational field this time, but he slipped away from the throng within fifteen minutes of the Fox function’s kick-off.
Most intimidating person to talk to: Chevy Chase.
Actually, this suggests that I actually talked to him. In truth, I opened my mouth to ask a question, only to have him say that he needed take a break for a few minutes. But given that the conversation immediately prior to that involved his discussion about how he used to participate in a regular poker game with Johnny Carson, Steve Martin, Neil Simon, and Carl Reiner (not to mention the fact that I was standing close enough to him that I could’ve – but didn’t – run my finger down the dimple in his chin), it was hard to be unaware of his place in television history. I was fully prepared to approach him later, but he never failed to be surrounded by a crowd, so it never came to pass. Oh, well, maybe next year.
Least intimidating person to talk to (and I mean that in the best possible way): Ed O’Neill.
When I arrived at the ABC party, I saw him stroll out of the main ballroom and onto the patio, so I thought, “Okay, maybe I can catch up with him out there.” As it turned out, there was almost no one on the patio, and after Ed grabbed a drink from the bar and sat down, I caught his eye and raised my recorder uncertainly. He immediately waved me over, and although it ended up starting off slightly awkwardly (he’d thought I was the person who’d asked him the first question during his panel earlier in the day), we ended up having a great one-on-one chat for several minutes, talking about his new series, “Modern Family,” contributing to David Faustino’s online series last year, and his work with David Milch over the years. Did you know that Milch, creator of “Deadwood,” had originally written the part of Al Swearengen for Ed? True story.
Most genuine celebrity: It’s getting harder and harder to pick one of these, since I’m consistently discovering that a lot of celebrities are pretty genuine, but I’m gonna have to give the nod to Jim Parsons from “The Big Bang Theory.” The guy is up for an Emmy this year, but he’s just as nice a guy as you could possibly hope to speak with. He was at the TCA Awards, and when I saw him at the CBS party, he immediately lit up and commented how nice it was to see me again, and before he left, he made a point of coming over and asking if I would be at the Warner Brothers party later in the week. “If so,” he said, “I’ll see you there!”
Person Who Necessitated the Institution of a Three-Strikes-And-You’re-Out Rule: Hayden Panetierre.
To put this in proper context, you must understand that, in almost twenty years of doing interviews, I don’t even have anyone who’s earned two strikes, but Hayden went three for three at the NBC parties I’ve attended over the course of my trio of summer press tours.
In 2007, I managed to ask her precisely one question, which she answered lazily before wandering away. In 2008, I waited patiently for an interview as she finished a casual conversation, and although both she and her publicist clearly saw me, they both turned and walked in the opposite direction when the conversation was over. I unintentionally but audibly said, “Oh, no, you didn’t,” at which point her publicist attempted to pacify me by assuring me that she had to go to the ladies room and would be back. (She wouldn’t be.) This year, I decided I’d give it one more shot.
As I was steeling myself for her impending indifference, a colleague came up and said, “Do you want to double-team her?” Just as we were heading her way, another critic beat us to the punch by calling Hayden’s name…and I saw Hayden’s eyes roll as far back as she could muster, then turned and offered about the most fake smile imaginable, in no way hiding the “I don’t want to be here, let alone answer your questions” look in her eyes. My colleague and I approached nonetheless, and we watched as several other writings entered the newly-created scrum. After the fourth or fifth time Hayden reacted to a new tape recorder as if someone was thrusting a knife at her, I finally just said, “Screw this” (albeit under my breath), and bailed out, but I got the impression that the scrum broke up not long afterward, anyway. C’mon, Hayden, if you don’t want to be at the party, don’t come to the party…and if you have to be at the party, then at least pretend to be civil, would you? We’re not paparazzi. We’re TV critics.
A buddy of mine has a far better relationship with Hayden and her publicist than I do, and he says he’s going to do what he can to hook me up with a phoner with her. Despite the newly-instituted rule, I would be willing to make an exception for a one-on-one interview, mostly because it would be nice to actually confront her – politely, of course, because that’s how I roll – about my experiences with her at past parties. But will I get the chance to do so? Stay tuned…
To see more of Will's TCA Winter Press Tour coverage, head over to Premium Hollywood!