Brief encounters from the TCA Press Tour: Cable, pt. 1, Frank Caliendo interview, Ed Asner

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There are a lot of great things to be said for the TCA Press Tour, but as a writer, the best thing about the event is that it provides us with unparalled access to the stars and producers of just about every show on television. The dirty little secret, however, is that the access is often limited to only a few questions. Last year, we managed to combine several of our close encounters into a single piece, which we called "Brief Encounters from the TCA Press Tour." This year, we decided to blatantly recycle the idea...oh, sorry, we decided to make it an ongoing tradition. (That sounds better, doesn't it?)

Ed Asner (“Generation Gap,” Hallmark Channel)

Bullz-Eye: When I asked Jamie Kaler, from the sitcom “My Boys,” about the possibility of an actor’s strike, he got really excited and said, “Ed Asner called my house the other day! Well, a taped recording of Ed Asner…” But you could tell he was excited even by the recording.

Ed Asner: (Laughs) Well, we’re not talking about strike. We’re just talking about voting against the actors’ acceptance. But it’ll pass.

BE: You’re pretty sure of it at this point?

EA: From what I hear. From certain straw polls I’ve heard. It’d be a long time before we’d actually go on strike, anyway. They’re gonna prolong…or delay, anyway…any referendum as long as possible.

BE: Do you still enjoy getting your hands dirty, as it were, with the political process?

EA: Oh, God, yeah. There aren’t enough people doing that. I’m a mouthpiece; I blare out the headlines. other finer people do the grunt work, creating the logistics and the numbers. But there’s a line against SAG this year that’s…it’s like the perfect storm. First of all, there’s the chaos that exists in the industry, anyway, and then this year with the writer’s strike, and the directors rolling over, and they’re starting to negotiate with us, but, ‘No, we want to negotiate with AFTRA,’ who started out with us and then left us…thank God, we’re good to be rid of them…creating a deal that we would not want for AFTRA, so now they can lay that on us. So it turns into a perfect storm. (Sighs)

BE: Just out of curiosity, have you gotten any feedback from “Lou Grant” now being available through iTunes?

EA: Oh, yeah.

BE: Do you think it’ll ever make the jump to DVD?

EA: I have no idea. But the wonderful thing about the series, I must say, is that it’s not dated…no matter how archaic the typewriters might be!

Gina Bellman (“Leverage,” TNT)

Bullz-Eye: I’m a big fan of “Coupling” and “Jekyll,” but did you ever hear much about how “Jekyll” was received here in America?

Gina Bellman: No, I didn’t hear much about it at all! I don’t really know how it did here. But, usually, BBC America are incredibly supportive. I know they played it, but I don’t know if they played it more than once.

BE: Yeah, I know it aired, but I just didn’t know if you’d gotten much in the way of American feedback.

GB: The only feedback I got was that Jimmy (Nesbitt) was nominated for a Golden Globe, which was great.

BE: Ah, yes, we got to see him perform last year at the BBC America party. A few drinks in, and he was up at the microphone, serenading us.

GB: Oh, yes, he likes to…did he do Frank Sinatra?

BE: He did, actually.

GB: Yes, he loves to do a bit of crooning.

BE: How was “Jekyll” to work on?

GB: “Jekyll” was an amazing job for me, probably my favorite job I’ve ever done, because I already had a good relationship with Steven (Moffat), and I think he maybe wrote…well, I mean, he didn’t write the character for me, but I know his writing so well that I just felt like I fit like a glove into that character. And it was a nice break from doing comedy.

BE: And how is “Leverage” going for you thus far?

GB: Well, we’ve only done the pilot, and I’ve read the first two scripts, and I’m very delighted and very, very excited about it. I think it’s going to be really smart, fun, and entertaining. I’m really pleased with the quality of it.

BE: What do you know about your character?

GB: She’s a chameleon. She’s desperate to become an actress, but she doesn’t have any skills as an actress unless she’s breaking the law, and she can’t understand why she’s got so much conviction when she’s on a con but absolutely no conviction when she’s on the stage. So it’s a really nice character that I’m excited to play.

BE: Last question: did you ever actually see the American version of “Coupling”?

GB: I did. I went to one taping.

BE: What did you think?

GB: Well, you know, I think comedy shouldn’t be diluted. I think it was tentative. It was a very tentative adaptation, and what I think is great about the writing in “Coupling” is how bold it is. And I think that was probably…y’know, people put it down to cultural differences, and I don’t agree. I think comedy is universal. But I think they did dilute the humor of “Coupling” to make it more palatable, and I think they shouldn’t have messed with the tone of it.

Frank Caliendo (“Frank TV,” TBS)

Bullz-Eye: It probably won’t surprise you that some of our staff were among the people who were rebelling against the barrage of promos for your show last year.

Frank Caliendo: (Laughs) You know, I had people saying, “I’m not gonna watch it just because there were too many promos for it.” I’m, like, “Listen, that’s a ridiculous way to look at it. I mean, whatever, just try it!” And, honestly, I liked it. I was very proud of the show last year, but this year’s blows it away. It’s a much better show.

BE: I loved the “Star Wars” sketch you showed in there.

FC: That’s awesome, and there’s lot of that stuff. There’s an “Indiana Jones” sketch, too. There’s some fun, different kinds of things that I haven’t seen done that we tried. It’s edgier, goofier, and these other guys are just great.

BE: Is the guy who does Obi-Wan in the “Star Wars” sketch the same one who does Harrison Ford?

FC: Yep. His name’s Mike McCrae. He did a Letterman set where he did Vince Vaughn and a bunch of other people. I’ve known him since years ago, when he was in Houston. He’s a stand-up comic…and that’s the thing, too, that we’re all stand-up comics, so we’ve got our jokey stand-up comedy background, but this year, the stuff is more like the Groundlings and Second City. So it’s a little bit different, and I’m really happy with it.

BE: What’s your favorite obscure impression that you do?

FC: That I do? Well, there’s Jim Rome. That’s very weird. And I like doing Jeff Goldblum. But I’m trying to think if there’s one that’s really…hey, how about Max Wright? Remember the dad from “ALF”? (Launches into a note-perfect Max Wright impression) “Lynn! ALF, please don’t eat Lucky!” You know…? It’s weird, and it’s great, but you can never do it anywhere!

Jennifer Coolidge (“Living Proof,” Lifetime)

Bullz-Eye: How did you enjoy working on Christopher Guest’s films?

Jennifer Coolidge: Loved it. I wish he did one every year.

BE: What’s your favorite of the ones you’ve worked on?

JC: I think I had the best time on “Best in Show,” because I’m an animal person, and they had all those dogs. And we were up in Vancouver, and it was just a blast. We were all away from home, and we had lots of fun.

BE: Who is your favorite person from his regular ensemble to be teamed up with?

JC: I would go to Hell if I said anyone in particular, but any of those people. I would do anything with anyone from that group.

James Corden (“Gavin & Stacey,” BBC America)

Bullz-Eye: My wife and I watched the screener we received of the first two episodes, and we really enjoyed it.

James Corden: Oh, great!

BE: Despite the occasional sight gag, like you wearing your girlfriend’s thong, it’s a really sweet show at heart.

JC: Absolutely, it is.

BE: Was sweet your ultimate goal, though?

JC: Yeah, we always wanted to make something where the results would be positive and had a warmth about it, and that I think represented the world that Ruth and I know. But most people in the world get on with their friends and love their families and are looking to fall in love…or do fall in love, or have fallen in love…and we wanted it to represent the world that we live in and know about, and that’s what it is. We both come from very solid families, and we wanted it to reflect that. We wanted it to not feel like it was being dark or edgy just for the sake of it. We wanted it to have a positive warmth about it.

BE: My wife and I actually met when we worked together, and as we were watching the beginning of the second episode, when Stacey’s not picking up on Gavin trying to tell her that his boss has just walked up by pretending that it’s a business call, she said, “Oh, she’s not very good at this workplace romance stuff, is she?”

JC: (Laughs) Brilliant.

BE: What was the inspiration for making it a workplace romance like that?

JC: My best friend, who’s called Gavin, met his now-wife that way, and I just told Ruth about it, and we thought it was an interesting way of bringing them together. We thought it was more interesting than internet dating or a website. You know what I mean? Things like that. We thought this way was more interesting than that.

Tony Curtis (“Private Screenings: Tony Curtis,” Turner
Classic Movies)

Bullz-Eye: I just finished reading Chris Lemmon’s book about his dad, and I enjoyed the poem you submitted for it. What was the best part about working with Jack Lemmon?

Tony Curtis: Well, you know, Jack was an extraordinary man. Whatever you saw on the screen, his ability was much bigger than that. And he didn’t suffer from it. That’s just the way he was. He was very interior. He had a lot of dilemmas he was fighting, and that was a conflict as an actor. And I being a psychiatrist / actor, I tried to make it easy for him.

(Another writer asks Curtis about his favorite female leading lady, and he cites Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, and Debbie Reynolds.)

BE: What about Wilma Flintstone?

TC: (His eyes light up and he smiles) Oh, wasn’t that great? Stony Curtis!

BE: I’m showing my age, but that was the first thing I ever saw you in.

TC: Oh, yes. Oh, that was grand!

Cheech Marin (“Second Honeymoon,” Hallmark Channel)

Bullz-Eye: You and Tommy Chong did a couple of online bits for Sen. Obama.

Cheech Marin: (Surprised) Yeah, we did! Where’d you read about that?

BE: Where I read about everything: on

CM: (Laughs) Oh, okay!

BE: Can you tell me a little bit about them?

CM: Well, they called us up, because I’m an Obama fan and supporter, as is Tommy, and said, “We’re doing a whole bunch of commercials for him. Would you like to be a part of it?” So we made up something funny and filmed it the other day, and hopefully they’ll use it. But we have a habit of endorsing candidates who are way out ahead in the polls, and then they end up losing, so I don’t know if that’s a good sign or not!

Soledad O’Brien (“Black in America,” CNN)

Bullz-Eye: You mentioned Bootsy Collins during the panel…

Soledad O’Brien: (Grinning) Ah, I love Bootsy Collins!

BE: Well, who doesn’t? But how did he play into the documentary?

SO: Well, he’s not in the documentary, but he’s in one of the side pieces that we did in conjunction with the documentary, where we asked him to come in and, really, just talk about his experiences. I mean, Bootsy Collins is an amazing, interesting guy. So he’s not in the documentary, but he’s one of maybe ten different side pieces that I did that’ll appear online about black men over the course of the last 40 years.

BE: Were you a fan of his before? Or at least aware of him before?

SO: Yeah! Definitely aware of him before, but a huge fan of him now, because he’s just so…he’s great! And thoughtful, and interesting. Y’know, we had to edit out a lot of… (Starts giggling)

BE: (Laughs) Sorry…? A lot of what?

SO: …um, things he was saying that cannot be said online. (Laughs) But he’s really smart and thoughtful. He was great.

Robert Osbourne (Host, Turner Classic Movies)

Bullz-Eye: I’ve caught a lot of films on TCM that I’d never seen but that I’d heard about for years…like, say, “Skidoo.”

Robert Osbourne: (Laughs) Oh, yes. Well, I love the channel from that standpoint, because it’s a chance to see…I saw a movie that, again, I’d always heard about but never seen. It was called “Hostile Witness,” with Ray Milland, and it’s a courtroom drama that he’d done as a play, and I’d always wanted to see it. We showed it…and it was the worst movie I’d ever seen! But I love the fact that I’ve seen it now and I have a point of reference to it. You know, all of our movies are not gems, but I think that if you love movies, even bad ones like “Skidoo” are still worth seeing.

BE: And have you also seen “Skidoo”?

RO: I have! Oh, yes, I have.

BE: Do you have a favorite bad movie that, even though it’s knowingly bad, you still can’t resist it?

RO: Well, “Valley of the Dolls” come pretty close. And “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” comes close, too. “Myra Breckinridge” is pretty bad. Yeah, there are a lot of bad movies! But they’re guilty pleasures and fun to watch, anyway.

BE: Is there any film that hasn’t yet made it to Turner that you’d like to see on there?

RO: Yes, I think they’re negotiating that we’re…well, this year, we’re getting something like a hundred Fox films that we can show once, and I think they’re working on eventually getting more picking on the Fox library. There are movies that we’ve never shown, like “Laura,” “Leave Her to Heaven,” some of the Betty Grable films, and all that. I’d love for us to be able to show those, because that’s a whole part of the movie culture, Betty Grable, that we’ve never really been able to go into, because she was exclusively at Fox, so we just haven’t had a chance to get into that.

BE: What do you think of the idea of some of the more cult titles to be released on, say, iTunes rather than a physical format?

RO: Well, I wouldn’t mind, but I think…I’m one who thinks that the more movies that are out there, the more it stirs up enthusiasm for movies. So, yeah, I think they should be available on any format you want. The only thing is that I’m sorry some people might judge movies seeing them on iTunes, because, certainly, the best way to see movies is not even on TCM. It’s seeing them in a movie theater, uninterrupted and all that kind of thing. But, y’know, iTunes has become so important to people that it’s inevitable, I guess, that they’ll be shown that way. But to watch “Ben Hur” on a laptop or something is not the best way. But the interesting thing is that a really good movie seems to hold up no matter what form it’s shown in.

BE: Last question: what’s your favorite underrated performance by an actor?

RO: I think it’s a series of underrated performances, and it’s not the dancing but the acting of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in their movies. It’s the fact that they do it so simply and so honestly, particularly when they’re singing a song, when they’re really acting the lyrics. You know that actors would go in, and they’d do it quickly and move on to the next scene. They never thought that those movies would last more than one showing, but the fact that they did them so quickly and yet they still hold up so well seventy years later…? And you can’t catch them, when they’re doing a song, ever being dishonest when they sing a single lyric. I think they’re amazing, and they never got credit for being actors. Ginger won an Oscar, but not for her Fred Astaire movies, and they’re just…I’m just stunned when I see them. People always talk about their dancing, but they also never talk about Fred Astaire as a singer, and he’s a great singer!

BE: I actually have a Verve greatest-hits disc of Fred Astaire.

RO: Yeah, he’s a wonderful singer! He always made songs sound good! So I’d have to say Fred and Ginger, yeah.

Kevin Michael Richardson (“The Cleaner,” A&E)

Bullz-Eye: I just wanted to say that I was a huge fan of “The Knights of Prosperity.”

Kevin Michael Richardson: Oh, thanks, man!

BE: Do you, as I do, feel that it totally got the shaft by ABC?

KMR: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. It was just left out in the lurch. They couldn’t lock into getting Mick Jagger (for the series), so you figured, ‘Well, what are you gonna do?’ And I guess once they couldn’t get through that, they just kind of let it drift away.

BE: When I first saw that pilot, I thought it was the funniest show of the season, but I kept waiting for them to put it on, and once they did, they didn’t seem to care much about it.

KMR: No, it’s politics, man. But now I’ve got this nice slice of drama here, so I’m feeling pretty good about it. It’s my first one, so I’m very excited about that.

BE: In your cartoon voiceover work, you worked on the “Clerks” animated series. Is that how you ended up with a role in “Clerks 2”?

KMR: Yeah, I met Kevin, and I guess he requested me. He asked for me, and he told me that he wanted me to do this part. I’d run into him at premieres and stuff, and we would just talk and rap, so he just remembered me. That was a very cool thing for him to do. I know it was only, like, one line, and… (Laughs) …I guess the film didn’t really do too good! But it was a lot of fun to do. He’s a great guy.

Jane Seymour (“Dear Prudence,” Hallmark Channel)

Bullz-Eye: How did you enjoy your appearance on “How I Met Your Mother”?

Jane Seymour: I loved it. I loved it! Those guys are hysterical, the director (Pamela Fryman), she’s brilliant, and I had a lot of fun on that show.

BE: Were you familiar with the show before you went on it?

JS: Not that familiar. But I watch it now whenever I can. I think it’s really brilliant, and I’ve told them that I’d love to come back whenever I can. But I think they have much more hip people like Britney Spears.

BE: Still, you did a memorable turn.

JS: Well, apparently, I got good ratings. I like to think that we brought the “Dr. Quinn” crowd over to watch “How I Met Your Mother” and introduced them to something different.

BE: Way to skew the demographic.

JS: Yes, and we did that with “Wedding Crashers,” too…and that was definitely changing a demographic!

Kellee Stewart (“My Boys,” TBS)

Bullz-Eye: So I admit it: I didn’t discover the show until it came to DVD, but I fell in love with it, and when I reviewed it, I gave it top marks.

Kellee Stewart: (Claps) Yay!

BE: So how did you find your way onto “My Boys” in the first place?

KS: Just a regular audition, and a regular callback. But when I went in for my screen test, I met Jordana (Spiro) prior, and we did a little practice read with Betsy Thomas, who created it. I did the screen test, went to my car to leave, and the phone rang. They said, “You’ve got the job, turn around, don’t leave,” and I went straight to a table read. And that’s when the Stephanie and Kenny saga happened.

BE: Yeah, I remember seeing that on the DVD special feature.  So it was your idea to just spontaneously say, “Hello, Kenny,” with that withering delivery.

KS: Well, I thought, “How can I get a laugh out of, ‘Hi, Mike, Hi, Kenny”?  And it was only because Kenny was the second name that the joke worked. But I said it sarcastically, and he just threw it back at me.

BE: Based on what you were just saying, the camaraderie between you and Jordana must’ve started pretty quickly.

KS: Yeah, very much so. I mean, it was instant. And I think the whole cast was like that. We all had the same experience as we got to know each other. We all have the same kind of sense of humor, and it shows on the show. Stephanie was the sort of character where…you have seven cast members in the ensemble, and you only have 22 minutes, and to develop each character takes time, so it wasn’t until the second season when we really understand what Stephanie’s about.

BE: As far as Stephanie’s relationships on the show, do you think they’re going to continue to be recurring rather than permanent?

KS:  Um…I don’t know!  I think that, right now, she’s not as focused on finding a man as she is analyzing them all. That would be my take on it.  I don’t know where they’re going to go, but, right now, no love interest for her.

BE: Have you been hearing from a lot more people discovering the show since it’s come out on DVD?

KS:  Yes! You’ll hear it in the grocery store, asking, “Are you the friend on ‘My Boys’?”  That kind of thing. But, yeah, people are gradually discovering it, but they’re getting hooked right away, and that’s what I think is the cool part. They see one episode, and they want to see more. We love doing it, and the writers are so great because they’re bringing up situations that actually happened in their lives, but they’re things that happen in our lives! Like, if I tell the writers that this guy flirted with me the other day and it was horrible, it’s gonna wind up in the next episode!  But that’s what’s so great, and I think that’s why the audience can relate to it so much.

BE: Do you have a favorite episode from the first season?

KS: (Instantly) “Douchebag in the City.”  For sure.

BE: That’s mine, too, and it was Jamie Kaler’s, too, when I spoke to him.

KS: It’s the funniest thing, because how many douchebags do you really know, and how much do you really want to tell them, “Dude, you’re being a douchebag”?  It was the best!  When we were shooting it, Betsy came out and said, “You guys, I think this is the funniest thing we’ve ever shot. For real.” And at the time, we didn’t know that it was going to turn out to be so funny, but we knew the concept of it was hilarious, so we just kept crossing our fingers behind our backs. But I thought it was great.

BE: Speaking of crossing your fingers, have you heard anything about a third season yet?

KS:  We don’t know yet!  They’re still crossed. I can’t see why not, though. It’s a great show!

Nicole Sullivan (“Rita Rocks,” Lifetime)

Bullz-Eye: You’re playing a singer in the show, but you implied during the panel that your music taste is not necessarily cutting edge.

Nicole Sullivan: Oh, it’s the worst. The worst.

BE: What were some of the favorite songs of your youth?

NS: Oh, God, I loved ABBA, and…this is so uncool…I loved “Thank You for the Music.” Ugh! I used to play it and sing and dance my ass off, with my little cassette player. That’s all I had. It was as if I was a secretary in 1975, working for the Nixon office.

BE: When they first approached you at “The King of Queens” about doing a regular role, what was your reaction?

NS: I had done a role, a guest spot, on one of the last episodes of Season 4, and they said, “We want to make you a regular, but in an entirely different role.” And I thought, “Oh, my God, it’s ‘I Love Lucy’ casting, where I play a different person every week! I love it!” But I was thrilled. I’ve known Leah (Remini) for years – we did a show together called “Fired Up” – and I’ve known Jerry Stiller since I was six years old, because Ben Stiller and I went to theater school together when we were kids. So it seemed to be a no-brainer. And I met my husband on the set, so it turned out to be the right decision!

BE: When you found out that you were going to have to be singing on this new show, were you intimidated at all?

NS: Intimidated? I almost threw up on my feet. You should’ve seen how nervous I was when they changed the song in the pilot to Otis Redding. Originally, it was something cute by the Beatles, but then they changed it to Otis Redding, and I’m, like, “I’m not soulful and black! I can’t do this!”

BE: Hey, if Jon Cryer can sing (“Try a Little Tenderness”), you can do it.

NS: (Bursts out laughing) Well, I’ll just say that Tisha Campbell saved my butt. She’s so talented that she makes it sound good.

BE: Have they gotten into any details about what kind of songs you’re going to be doing in the future? Will it be strictly covers, or will you work up to originals?

NS: I’ll be honest with you: I think they’re still debating it. When it comes to songs, everybody loves different stuff, so I think there are a lot of cooks in that music pot right now, and I don’t know where the chips are gonna land.

BE: Hopefully, they’ll check on your strengths and / or limitations?

NS: I mean, that’s what I want to say: “Talk to me first! I’ll audition the song! Just pick the right one, for God’s sake!”

BE: “We’d love if you’d do ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.’”

NS: Or, “Hey, how about a Mariah Carey version of…” Oh, no. No.

Carnie Wilson (“Outsiders Inn,” CMT)

Bullz-Eye: So what are the chances of ever seeing another Wilson Phillips album?

Carnie Wilson: Glen Ballard has been trying to contact the three of us and trying to get us in the same place at the same time, which is hard. We’ve got six kids between us! That’s kind of a dream, but I think that, in the next year, we’re going to start preparing. We’ve got a lot of songs in the refrigerator, as I like to say, so maybe we’ll get together soon and start writing again. But I’m focusing on a few new things right now, so my attention’s kind of diverted from music at the moment. I do concerts with my sister – we do dates as the Wilson Sisters – and I’ve got a clothing line coming out, which is really exciting. And another book proposal is out, too, for a book about addiction, a private struggle that nobody really knows about, which I thought was really important to write. That’s enough!

BE: What were your thoughts about how the covers album you guys did (California) turned out?

CW: Oh, I loved it. I thought it turned out beautifully. I really loved working with Peter Asher. My favorite cut is “Old Man.” When the harmonies come in during the chorus, it really blows my mind.

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